Posted by: davepidgeon | March 25, 2009

Freedom to hike wherever


A white blaze marks the pathway known as the Appalachian Trail.

A white blaze marks the pathway known as the Appalachian Trail.

I’m at work and sometimes I grow weary, frustrated and freakin’ annoyed with the echo chamber that is politics, whether its in Washington, D.C. or Harrisburg. So when I’m in the newsroom and can’t take the talking heads and the inane arguments and politics-of-the-stupid, I take a mental backpack. I log onto sites like and search photos of national parks or, fill my mental pack with stuff, feel the goosebumps and take a trail in my imagination.

But this week I found myself a little morose about it.

Now is a great time to check out as the horde of hardy Appalachian Trail thru-hikers and the wannabes are moving northward through Georgia into the Carolinas and the Smokies. The journals are soaked in optimism or frustrated melancholy, depending on the success of that writer’s hike. And when I read ’em, the sweet smell of the damp woods rises to my nose, the sound of branches brushing against my pack swirls in my ears and image of dirt trail through a green wood makes my heart quicken. 

This week, however, I came to accept something I’ve always known. I’m not very likely to ever complete my own thru-hike unless a.) I come across an unexpected large pile of $$$ that allows me to quit my job or b.) I become a teacher and take a 6-month sabbatical to hike. And since neither appears likely – I don’t play the lottory or stock market and schools usually don’t let you take sabbatical so you can go walking – I will be relegated to weekend warrior status or maybe I could take a week’s vacation.


Hiking the Appalachian Trail in Shenandoah National Park as the path crosses Hogback Mountain.

Hiking the Appalachian Trail in Shenandoah National Park as the path crosses Hogback Mountain.



This isn’t a lamentation; please don’t confuse it as one. I’ve always said the advantage of not thru-hiking the A.T. means I can go hiking wherever I want whenever I have the time, rather than be committed to a single trail. And I don’t need a thru-hike to “find myself,” as so many use the experience; I wish all those who do use the trail to find their identity the best of luck. But I’m 30 years old, about to get married, have enjoyed mild success as a writer, blessed to have a brigade of friends who enjoy laughing a lot; I’ve solved my identity crisis.

That doesn’t mean, however, I don’t from time to time lay awake at night wondering about the might-have-been. I was never all that close to starting a thru-hike, but I obsessively read in books and at about doing one . I put together a budget plan. I started buying gear for the “someday.” A.T. maps would lay on my bedroom floor or hang from my living room walls, the red line marking the pathway through and around squiggly green topolines, and I was like a cat trying to catch an elusive string.

Those days are about five or six years past. A lot has changed. I still backpack, but I don’t harbor those aspirations to walk from Georgia to Maine in one trip the way I used to do. Well, maybe deep down in the cellar of soul I do, but that is where it will have to remain for now. Maybe 30 years from today when I retire, I can be the old guy out there trying to keep up with a new crop of hikers as we together strive for Katahdin. For now, though, while I may not have the freedom the A.T. so willingly provides those who hike her 2,100 rugged miles, I say embrace the freedom of not thru-hiking the trail, a freedom that allows me to hike anywhere I choose.



  1. Great post, man. It was hard for me to go back to reading for a long time after my thru-hike dream ended.

    Instead of hitting the trail, I met a girl and moved her to Florida with me on a whim. There are times I wish I would have made it to Springer that March and Katahdin that September, but then I would’ve missed out on discovering that the girl I stole from Maryland would end up being the love of my life.

    I was going to write a bunch of hiking metaphors here to liken your new journey with the wife to what it must be like to hike the AT in one shot, but you’re the professional writer so you do it 🙂

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