AWOL on the Appalachian Trail

By David Miller



Originally published





Nov 3, 2021


Dec 24, 2021

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About the trail
Northern Georgia to Maine
The trail does not avoid peaks—it seeks them out. Neither is it particularly straight.
About 20% of those who aim to do so actually complete it. These people are known as “through-hikers.”
You must reach Maine by October 15th, else the park encompassing Mount Katahdin (the end point) closes.
It normally takes 6 months at 12 miles per day. A quick hike is 4 months. It’s about 5 million steps. More than two thousand miles.
The AT is often called “the green tunnel: miles of trails covered in trees.” No views.
Author’s pre-AT life
“My life is precariously normal”.
“My father is having bypass surgery and my mother is battling cancer. My opinion of ‘later’ is jaded. I am going to Maine.”
On moving from college to the corporate (large company, software engineering) ladder: “The commitments, the approvals, wound themselves around me like invisible threads…the taming of my life in which I was complicit”
Luggage / baggage / possessions / freedom
“There is nothing in my pack that I don’t need”. Shaving off every ounce matters.
This includes not bringing a full tube of toothpaste—only carry precisely what you will need
Someone who picks him up when he tries to hitch into a town shared that they escaped communist Hungary and fled to the US. On communism versus capitalism, he reflects “We can vote away freedom as easily as it can be taken away”. This goes beyond politics and applies to his life as well. We all have freedoms, and the decisions we make (which are all “votes”, per James Clear in Atomic Habits) can restrict or expand our own freedom.
At a town along the trail with a particularly large number of department stores: “The stores have no draw at all for me. Months of scrutinizing everything that I carry have conditioned me to view possessions as burdens.”
“[My pack] is a slave to gravity, and wants to dive into the ground”
The pack is a metaphor for the things we carry with us. The items we use most tend to be towards the top. The others go to the bottom. Many we are better without. The pack is obligations. Relationships. Our information diet. Opinions.
As he completes parts of the journey, he removes the corresponding pages of his guide book, as they have served their purpose and are no longer needed.
Upon completing the journey, he reflects: “excess is a burden, even when you are not carrying it on your back”
Names and identities
Many through-hikers adopt nicknames which they use both in conversation and in logs that they write at each shelter along the route.
A common talking point amongst through-hikers was, why hike the AT? “Doing something because you have always wanted to do it sounds a bit circular, but it is as common a reason as any.”
“Hiking the AT is pointless. What life is not pointless?”
“Through-hiking is a forced simplification of myself. I cannot be pulled in many different directions at once”

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