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One Step at a Time 3 min read

One Step at a Time

Can you imagine walking the entire Appalachian Trail? Probably, but can you imagine walking the whole thing and having to imagine the scenery because you were blind?

By Cary Littlejohn
One Step at a Time Post image

Currently, my knees hurt. As do my calves. But in the best possible way; it’s pain resulting from overzealousness on the first true hike of the spring. Beautiful weather and the company of my dad and my dog (but luckily no others in a relatively crowded state park, judging from the parking area), and we ended up walking much more than we intended.

It’s a great feeling to realize we’d gotten lost in the pure enjoyment of a hike. It prompted us to imagine hikes and trips we haven’t taken. As we schlepped up a hill, we’d wonder aloud how we’d fare on the Appalachian Trail.

We’d stop to catch our breath, sitting on a fallen tree, sipping water from our bottles, and my mind would jump to the negative, that somehow because we’d needed to rest we were unworthy of the AT. I know this is nonsense because every soul on the Appalachian Trail, from day-trippers to thru-hikers, has to stop for rest and water. Because of its national reputation and prestige, one might assume that only hikers of a certain level of experience need apply. In reality, that’s not the case; many hikers are rank amateurs. This fact gets lost in translation; the trail holds a mystique, a larger-than-life aura that makes it seem like it’s not conquered the exact same way every other trail is conquered: one foot in front of the other.

One foot in front of the other is a solid mantra for this time in our lives. Our daily lives feel small due to stay-at-home orders and lack of variability in our daily routines, as I pointed out a week ago when I highlighted a great story about brothers hiking to reconnect. That story felt timely in ways the author couldn’t have anticipated during the summer in which he wrote it. Today’s recommendation is similar, but it’s an even older story. Twitter is so often a Dumpster fire of a website, full of terribleness and stupidity. But there are undeniable bright spots, and one of them is the relatively new account called City Reads, a selection of excellent city magazine writing curated by 5280’s Robert Sanchez.

A few days ago, City Reads suggested a 2009 profile from Charlotte Magazine about a blind man who hiked the entire Appalachian Trail; it won the 2010 City and Regional Magazine Award for Personality Profile.

How unlikely is such an accomplishment? For some perspective, consider these facts:

The Appalachian Trail can be a solitary place, even though as many as 4 million people visit some part of the trail each year. Many come for the day. Far fewer attempt to thru-hike the entire 2,175-mile stretch from Georgia to Maine. Fewer complete it. This year, 1,250 hikers set out from the southern terminus at Springer Mountain, Georgia, fully expecting to make it to Katahdin. One hundred dropped out within the first thirty miles. Another 100 quit before making it to Fontana Dam, North Carolina, where the trail crosses into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, is the home of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (which keeps these statistics). It is also the trail's emotional midpoint, and only half of the 1,250 thru-hikers made it this far. Katahdin is still more than 1,100 miles away from Harpers Ferry.

A hiker with good health and in possession of all of his or her five senses would struggle with a thru-hike. Author Jeremy Markovich’s profile of Trevor Thomas hammers home the added level of difficulty; even Thomas’s adopted trail name, Zero/Zero, reminds us how different Thomas is from us as we use our 20/whatever vision to read the story. While Thomas was not the first or only blind hiker to hike the entirety of the AT, it’s an excellent look inside his journey.

An innocuous section in the story spoke to me in its newfound global pandemic relevance:

Some cannot take the physical demands of walking more than a dozen miles, day after day, with close to fifty pounds on their backs. Feet blister. Spines strain. Muscles ache. Others cannot mentally handle what appears to be an infinite trip through an endless green tunnel. After every bend, over every hill, and past every town, there is just more trail.

Some show up for the adventure. Others come to escape their jobs. Nearly all find out that hiking the trail is a new occupation. Every day, they wake up, eat, break camp, and hike. It is work.

Who can’t relate to that description of the mental challenge right now? Who doesn’t yearn for an outdoor escape right now, even if caused a bit of physical discomfort along the way? Who can’t find inspiration in an unlikely accomplishment conquered by an even unlikelier accomplisher?

This story is exactly what you didn’t know you needed right now. Read it here:

Blind Faith | Charlotte Magazine

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