Learning on the Move

On the Way to Maine

On the Way to Maine

In Oscar Wilde’s 19th century comedy The Importance of Being Earnest, Lady Bracknell asks John Worthing whether he knows everything or nothing. She poses this question when she is interviewing him regarding his marriage proposal to her daughter, Gwendolyn. Mr. Worthing’s reply is, “I know nothing, Lady Bracknell.” When it comes to an Appalachian Trail thru hike, I might cite the same answer. As I prepare for my AT venture, I sometimes feel as if I know nothing. Sure, I’ve hiked over 1000 miles of the trail in sections; however, section hiking is only a mere microcosm of a thru hike.

From the first day of a section hike, the backpacker, whether seasoned or a rookie, knows that his hike is going to end in a few days or at the most two or three weeks. Knowing this, he may already be in the “countdown to completion” frame of mind from the outset. No matter what circumstances he faces, there are at all times only a few days remaining. Plus with a section hike, there is also the opportunity to “cut it short” if conditions aren’t favorable. Section hikers often take several years to complete the trail.

The thru hiker, on the other hand, knows from the beginning that if his hike is going to be successful, he will be on the trail for five or six months. Even the faster hikers face over four months of continuous hiking. Sure, days become weeks, and weeks eventually become months, but it takes a lot of days of hiking to reach a point where an end is in sight. The monotony of the trail at times can be overwhelming, especially when four or more consecutive nights are spent in the woods. This is why I feel like a stay at a hostel or a motel is mandatory at least every four or five days. With some creative maneuvering, this is possible.

So as I continue to prepare for my attempt at a 2013 thru hike, I’ll keep remembering that, like John Worthing, I definitely come closer to knowing nothing than I do to knowing everything. In reality, I do of course know some things. What I do know I hope will help me in overcoming what I don’t. I also hope that my ignorance of certain aspects of a thru hike may be beneficial as I seek to discover and learn from my shortcomings. Therefore, in the next few weeks, I will continue to research gear in order to make practical and intelligent choices for a thru hike. I’ll also read all that I can from former thru hikers in an effort to learn and benefit from what knowledge they have to share.

When I set out from Springer next spring, I may still not know everything, but as the days and weeks go by, I know that I’ll learn from those who accompany me on our journey north. I’ll try to keep an open mind and a willingness to accept suggestions and benefit from occasional criticism. After all, it is more probable that the hiker who knows nothing, but is willing to learn as he hikes, will have a greater chance of success than the hiker who departs from Springer thinking he knows everything there is to know about a thru hike. If you see me on the trail and have a suggestion, please let me hear it. I fully expect to rely on my fellow pilgrims to make it all the way to Katahdin and the end of the Appalachian Trail.

Categories: 2013 AT Hike Prep. | Leave a comment

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