Why hiking? Why now? It is a mysterious thing. A thing that has been reborn in me since moving to Arizona.
The place I grew up in Pennsylvania was not more than 45 minutes away from the Appalachian Trail. Every autumn, my dad would load us into the car to go for a hike on that infamous trail. We always hit the same spot. At the top of Blue Mountain. Some years We’d go southbound, the trail wide, mostly smooth, not terribly steep, eating apples in the crisp autumn air. Other years We’d go northbound, the trail rocky, steep, scrambling, working hard to reach the top of that small mountain. Now I wonder why we only hit that one tiny section?
I recently went home to Pennsylvania to visit my family. After watching a really cool documentary about the Appalachian Trail, I couldn’t wait to get on the trail again. But this time, I found a brand new spot, one I’d never hiked before.
The day was perfect. Cold and mostly clear blue skies. Snow still on the ground from a previous storm. I brought my niece along for fun and quality time. I wondered how I never appreciated winter before as much as I appreciate it now?
“I will make with them a covenant of peace and banish wild beasts from the land, so that they may dwell securely in the wilderness and sleep in the woods.” Ezekiel 34:25 ESV
As we walked into the woods, the birds were singing. I marveled because I don’t remember birds in the winter from before. I always thought they all flew south for winter. It was a glorious day for hiking. My niece poured out her soul to me about her life. I learned things about her I never knew because of lack of time and the physical distance between us. I felt so privileged to have this intimate conversation with her, to hear about her life directly instead of through the filter of others in the family. Hopes. Dreams. Plans. It was such a sweet hike.
We tramped through the snow. Over rocks. The path mostly level. We saw bear tracks, deer tracks, squirrel tracks, turkey tracks. We never saw the animals that made those tracks, just the evidence they had been there.
I was excited when we reached the goal of the hike, the Leroy Smith shelter. Until I watched the documentary, I didn’t know the trail was sprinkled throughout with these shelters. Beautiful shelter. A lean to with 3 walls and a roof. Up off the ground. A sign on the wall pointed to the privy just up the hill. On the left wall, there was a place for the logbook filled with inscriptions from all the people who had passed by this way. I was thrilled to be able to mark our hike in the logbook for the next people passing through. The shelter was equipped with a broom for sweeping and a giant fire pit in front for warmth.
After spending some time at the shelter, taking photos, using the privy, we made our way back to the trailhead. Our hike was 7 miles out and back. My niece spent the rest of the day and the next resting, not being used to traveling so far. At one point she asked if she should work out because she’s coming to visit this summer to hike with me in Arizona. I chuckled and told her if I can do it, she can do it. 🙂
The Appalachian Trail. Now I dream of completing the whole thing. Counting the other small hikes I’ve had on the trail, I have 10 miles down, 2158 miles to go. Ha!