Thursday, January 08, 2009


Hi all. Three months since summitting, a pretty odd feeling to go from counting the time past summit in days, then weeks, and now months. Talked to a buddy, Matthewski, a few weeks ago who warned, "wait until its been as long as the time you spent on the Trail." That will be weird, but perhaps not as scary as the anniversary of my start date on March 30. Also got to see Snack, who with her friend Snap, are a great pair of great trail buddies. Orion and I only spent a week with them, in central VA, but it was memorable, and seeing her again last week was fun.

I am also finally turning in my 2000-Miler Application, the form the ATC uses to record thru-hikes. I will be official! The form asks the usual questions of dates, ages, etc., but also asks for a trail summary. Some hikers were able to complete theirs soon after summitting, but I could not, preferring to let the experience sit around for a while. But its done now, and I thought you might appreciate what I wrote:


For six and a half months I hiked the Appalachian Trail, from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Katahdin in Maine. The details of my experience are now fading, but what I am left with is how fully human the Trail allowed me to be.

The scale of the Trail and the time needed to thru-hike it perfectly interrupts the normal egotism of civilized life. I climbed the bare bones of ancient continents that humans never walked on. I felt tiny and timeless under the same moon and stars as our ancestors once stared at. I lived every day surrounded by the uninterested cycle of life, watching sprouts inch out of the humus, grow full and green, and slowly drain away in the cold leaving a final show of color. I woke to songbirds, walked with woodpeckers, slept with owls at night. I huddled through storms and slacked through heat and bent into winds and shivered in cold. Almost daily, I was reminded of my powerlessness and unimportance.

Through walking, I was given a perspective that is uniquely pedestrian, and therefore human. I know what a mile, a yard, a foot is. I know how they relate to my body. And consider my body – after the first month or two, I realized the Trail started doing more than exercising my body. It was bringing out the ancient homo sapiens frame buried deep within, the body given to us through two million years of walking and surviving and mating, the body that exists for most people as a memory buried under softened muscles and accumulated fat, a mere prop for hands and eyes. I used it as it was meant to be used, upright in motion, horizontal when resting, with the ability and need to consume all the fats and protein I could get my hands on.

I experienced a social humanity I was once certain did not exist. We moved from individuals and couples to become small tribes, as our ancestors once lived, banding together as support groups, unified by our common purpose. Get through the tough physicalities of the South, mental trial of Virginia, distractions of the mid-Atlantic, and cold emptiness of Maine. And I’ll never forget that magical milk of humanity: the so many friends, family, and strangers who ported us, fed us, housed us, and cheered us on. The innocence that surrounds such unrequited kindness is beautiful.

For six and a half months I enjoyed freedom of thought; what could be more human? Most uninitiated people are afraid of that idea, equating it with intimidating boredom. But without media distractions, without jobs that impose on your thoughts, without the material goals of life to concentrate on, minds will widen. We spent every day as gods, sitting atop mountains, observing society thousands of feet below us.

With a campfire to rest our eyes on, our minds and ears were free to converse, and not simply talk at each other. We shared stories, that most ancient and human way of conveying information. What’s more, people had the patience to participate as listeners. Our conversations grew wider and more intimate as the Trail wound on. Fears, joys, deaths, loves, nothing was too sacred. I grew as close to fellow hikers, people I might have known for two days, as I have with anyone, ever.

There is no meaning in hiking the Trail, despite all the searching for one that some people, myself included, do. It simply exists, and amazingly so. It is a conveyance, a catalyst, a tool for any of us to explore our own humanity, our instincts, our raw abilities. It’s a human construct, intertwined through nature, in whose service we may connect intimately to something as large as life itself.


jackie said...

Awesome trail summerary, Awesome pictures. If your trail log and trail summary are examples of your literary expression then, most assuredly, you should give thought to writing a book. You have a wonderful gift of making words come alive, painting memorable and thought provoking 'pictures' for the reader.

jackie said...

oops.....summary, Where, oh where, is Spell Check when you need it?

Mom Rairigh said...

Shawn...As I read your summary I marveled at the way it was written and expressed....It brought tears to my eyes and a chill to my being for to have experienced such a time as your is something most of us can only dream of...Jackie is write, you have a major gift...use it and write a book if have the abilty to touch, grab and keep a persons interest and need to know and explore more through your eyes...I Love you...Mom

P.S. I would like to take this summary to the New Castle Weekly Paper and have them publish it...It is truly worth ready and absorbing....

Anonymous said...

blog is amazing! very inspiring