Of course we wonder about the banal complications like work, money, rent… the typical trappings of living which we’ve eschewed for the past few months. We start remembering routines, places, people – things we’ve missed and things we intend never to return to.
But, truly… most importantly… how and where will we spend our time, and with whom? This adventure has made these questions very evident, though the answers are less so…
Living a life unencumbered by former expectations about career and life paths, we are momentarily consumed by a sense of freedom and personal responsibility. We are forced to live for the day each day we decide to continue on this trail. This state of being is made possible by a strong ethical and moral code that allows us to care for each other, our trail community, and our world. What we do for money does not define us – rather, we expect and seek a holisitic life, where we can share time, space, food and dreams. This is now and a future more important than any currency.
The simple answer to the question is YES.
Yes to what is next, yes to now, yes to this moment. We choose to answer yes to living and yes to the people with us, and yes to the communitiy that surrounds us. Through this simple affirmation, we seek to realign ourselves with a life that enables us to express these higher ideals through our everyday action – through mindfulness and attention – and through saying yes at every moment to those things we believe in.
Surprisingly, this journey often renders us clueless when it comes to events in the “news.” Although we are in close proximity to some of the most developed and longest settled parts of the US, our phones rarely get service and we experience long breaks in contact from media-mediated life.
Imagine our surprise last week arriving at Shenandoah National Park, and finding it completely deserted. During October’s “leaf season” the park receives 240,000 visitors using walking trails, scenic roads, campsites, cabins, motels, waysides, and taprooms. The Appalachian Trail crosses scenic Skyline Drive more than 20 times, so a thru-hiker’s experience is typically social, crossing roads and having access to car-culture, restaurant meals, laundry, showers and beers.
Our experience was markedly different. We walked on deserted Skyline drive, cowboy camped at outlooks, stayed in abandoned shelters, and stopped at shuttered waysides to fill up on water and tap power with nary a beer in sight. In the end, we saw more bears than humans.
Having the park to ourselves was an unexpected gift, but one that came with a cost.
Entering Wanesboro after seven days of silence we have had a chance to hear the reasoning behind this goverment shutdown. The finger pointing and ineptitude of law makers is astounding; their selfishness and self-aggrandizement is shameful. This theatre of distraction is not what defines us, and these talking heads do not reflect our collective voice. The noise of the media – the epic drama of political power – dehumanizes us all.
Returning to mediated life was a rude awakening from a sublime dream – the spell was broken by a string of curses that sounded like car crashes, like an alarm going off or a siren signalling a fire.
After walking through 11 states and sharing the trail with veterans of various wars, retirees, highschool and college students and graduates, teachers, artists, doctors, engineers, mechanics, grocery clerks and people from all walks of life, I can say these politicians do not represent the shared vision of America I have seen.
The Appalachian Trail is a publicly stewarded resource that facilitates the best expression I’ve seen of a true Union. The trail is a sovereign state – one where care and respect of one’s self and others allows for a self-governing system. Individuals can surpass menial judgments and meaningless divisions of class, stature, or success while simultaneously expressing values of personal responsibility, kindness, and adventure. The AT represents an autonomous society where unexpected kindness from strangers – personal gifts of time and resources – are far more valuable than any currency.
How can we speak to you, America? How can we change the voice we hear broadcast on every station, from every television and device- the alien voice dominating our shared narrative- into our own? How can we turn this desperate cry into a song we share? How can we sing together, America?
So we tried this thing – all the kids are doing it, and it seemed cool at the time. It’s called the Four State Challenge. Deemed a fun-run by some, a death march by others, we considered it more of an ill tempered booze cruise involving a clown car and our pal PotatoShake. The idea is to set foot in four states – Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia and Virginia – in 24 hours. It requires walking about 45 miles, as we found out. Here are photos taken from when we started at the Mason/Dixon line at 3:50 am and taken about every 10 miles, with the final in Harpers Ferry just before we finished 18 hours later at 10:50 pm…