I hiked 350 miles on the Appalachian Trail this summer (2016) and the one thing that stuck out during my experience was how wonderful people are. In honor of International Peace Day, I’d like to share the following:
* I had a random woman give me a ride to town when I was needing it most after a very long and hot day.
* Total strangers would see my pack and ask me about my trip. Some had hiked and others had not. All of them gave me props and encouragement on my journey.
*I am not a faith-based person, but many people offered to pray with me about my journey. When I explained my atheistic stance, they simply said, ‘OK. Well, have fun and be safe’ or offered caring hugs.
* Most woman were overwhelmed that I was a solo hiker but all though it an extremely empowering endeavor and strong statement.
* Many people I encountered off trail felt motivated to get on the trail themselves after hearing my story.
All of these chance encounters are wonderful but the most stunning of all was with the hikers themselves. I met them all; Thru hikers, Section Hikers, LASHers (Long Ass Section Hikers), Weekend Warriors and hikers that were just out for the day.
* The age range of those I met was 3-87
* Most of them were male, but the women hikers were always just as bad ass and dedicated to their wander in the woods.
* I encountered: Black, White, Asian, Indian, Hispanic of every size and shape.
* All the world was represented: Ireland, Germany, Portugal, Russia, England, Australia, Mexico, India, Denmark, United States (and multiple states within)
* Careers varied greatly as well. Teacher, Lawyer, Exterminator, Student, Astro Physicist, Baker, those on a break from school/work, the unemployed and even the homeless (this one is an entire blog post by itself).
Big deal, right? This is a major hiking system in the US and you’re going to meet a very diverse group of people. These people weren’t just run-of-the-mill. They were the very embodiment of peace on earth.
A typical day would see me northbound on the trail soaking up Civil War history (actually on the trail) in West Virginia, cursing the rocks of Pennsylvania, slogging through mud in Maryland or marveling at the beautiful vistas in New Jersey. But the magic came when I met other hikers.
Absolutely, without exception, every person I said hello to on the trail said hello in reply. Hikers shared information about trail conditions, water sources, points of interest and hazards of the trail they’ve just traversed and that you were about to enter. Safety is a big thing on the trail and everyone is happy to point out potential pit falls (sometimes, literally!).
Nights in the shelters/campsites were always filled with hiker talk. At first, this drove me nuts. Who cares if your Sea to Summit bag has a 650 down lift? Do you really need to talk about and show me the festering blisters on your putrid feet? But talk always turned to their trail plans, where home was, their families/kids/pets, connecting the dots in our lives, sharing food, sharing water and making a game plan to make sure there was enough room for everyone in the shelter.
I later started to roll with it and realized something extremely important. We always talked about things we had in common. Let me say it again, we always talked about things we had in COMMON.
There was very little talk of politics (and boy, is this the year for talking politics!) and never talk about religion. No one ever said: ‘You’re black’, ‘You’re a Muslim’ or ‘You’re an idiot to vote for ______’. No. Not ever. The trail was our neutral territory, our sheltered space, our common ground.
Here’s hoping that we will no longer have a day of peace, but a lifetime of peace the world over.