Therefore, he urges his fellow mariners to join him on another great adventure. When Ulysses proclaims that it is “not too late to seek a newer world,” he is charging all with the responsibility, the duty to continue on the quest to become the person we were intended to be. He reminds us not to “rust unburnished, but to shine in use.” He challenges us “to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”
I believe that for all of those “over 60” would-be thru hikers of the Appalachian Trail that Tennyson’s words ring true. Like Ulysses, we are perhaps seeking a “newer world,” a world for some free of obligations and stress; for others a world free of loneliness or boredom. The “retired” hiker wants to replace the perhaps daily feeling of “wondering what he is going to do” with wonderment. He wants to breathe deeply from the mountain air; he wants purpose again in his life. And like Ulysses, the older thru hiker is seeking. He still seeks meaning in a life that may have only a decade or two remaining.
The youthful hiker, however, may be attempting to make some sense of a post college existence. He may be escaping from the rigors of a classroom to a carefree, solitary jaunt through the woods prior to settling into the routines of responsibility. And he hopes that what he learns on this pre-full time employment peregrination will sustain him in the years to come. He may flaunt his youth as he bounces over tough terrain, but simultaneously he will appreciate the less agile footfalls of the aging hiker. And as the miles and days go by, each will view the other with respect and admiration as they walk together toward Katahdin.
The Appalachian Trail can toughen you or break you. It can offer you solace and contentment; it can bring you to your knees with frustration and pain. Ulysses knew frustration as he tried to navigate his way back home, but he also knew solace as he found moments to rest under the stars. Like so many aspects of life, we too are engaged in an odyssey of sorts. We expect to confront obstacles that may force us to take a detour on the road of life. We also hope for a path that will provide us perspective and direction. Whatever the reason for hiking, all are pilgrims together on the Appalachian Trail.