This is the first installment of a three part series documenting a recent hike I took along the Appalachian Trail. It was a simple three hour trek that reacquainted me with the Zen of simple moments.
I was getting close.
The main square of Bethel, Pennsylvania lies at the foot of the Blue Mountain range. If you speed when passing through the town, you’re already somewhere else. I made a left hand turn and lost it in my rear view as I began my ascent. I would be hiking at an elevation that snakes up to a peak of just over 1,400 feet- modest stuff for the Trail when you consider the Great Smoky Mountains reach almost five times that height. Still, when you drive up to the 501 Shelter, you understand this isn’t going to be a walk in the park. Your ears pop and you experience a few white knuckle moments when you peer out through the clearings; naturally hewn apertures of rolling valleys that look as if they were painted by Cezanne from his seat on the moon. My eyes feasted on the sights as if a little boy peering out from the missing pickets of a fence. The scale of it pinched at my nervous system and made my insides squeal.
There are 2,179 miles worth of trek along the Appalachian Trail. Each step a possibility, each yard a different challenge, each mile a humbling truth. I have hiked it scores of times, from different places and heights; in all kinds of weather and with every single one of my prevailing thoughts being the same: If the world ends now, I’m good.
After parking, I walked across the two lane road and navigated a gradual slope that served as a barrier; protecting the ancient silence from the hum of everyday living. I stood inside the quiet and I let the surroundings drink me in. I proceeded through my checklist- two sets of gloves, a couple packs of hand and feet warmers and my cap. The air was damp and chilly and the forecast was calling for a chance of rain, so everything I packed and wore was waterproof- it’s my inner Boy Scout that comes out to play, even on simple hikes such as this one.
There were several inches of snow on the ground and my footsteps spoke a foreign language as a result of this. The accent of this delightful sounding language would change according to the specific trudge- an elongated grunt through the deep plunges, a whimsical snort on the quick trespasses. I had miles to go, and a smile on my face as my breath formed miniature cumulus clouds when it collided with the densely packed winter air.
Jack Kerouac believed the mountains to be timeless fascinations, what with all the patience that was tucked inside their belly. Hundreds of thousands of years worth of sitting there, watching the world grow up. This is why a good hike in the mountains will provide you with an education.
As an earnest pupil, I would abide.