A Journey North by Adrienne Hall

When I can’t physically travel, I travel by reading books. The most recent being A Journey North by Adrienne Hall about the 6 month date her boyfriend asked her out on.

Now you’re probably wondering, what kind of date lasts 6 months? The answer: hiking the Appalachian Trail (AT).

They started hiking in February 1996 and finished in July of that year. Adrienne and her boyfriend Craig kept daily journals about their time on the trail. In her book, she shares her reflections from these journals along with the history of the trail, environmental concerns, cultural attitudes towards nature, and the organizations that protect and support the AT.

When I pictured hiking the AT, before reading this book, I thought of beautiful trails meandering through the woods with the sun filtering through the trees and gazing for hundreds of miles from the top of mountains. Ha. I should’ve known better, especially given the fact I spent a week and a half in April of this year hiking in the rain. The year Adrienne and her boyfriend hike the AT, Maine and New Hampshire set records for the amount of rain they got. Adrienne and Craig spent most of their 6 month date in the snow or getting rained on. If I hiked the AT that year I don’t think I would’ve made it. I’m solar powered – I need my sunshine.

However, I am very intrigued by what my AT experience would be like. Having 6 months to think about life and the world could be an incredible adventure or I could return a little insane from listening to only the sound of my brain yammering on for over 2,100 miles.

“Maybe I didn’t understand why I was out there. Maybe I didn’t have a good enough sense of what would be gained by walking. Maybe I had some things to think about.” (pg 64)

I really like the point Adrienne makes when she writes:

“There really is no correct way to hike the trail, and anyone who insists that there is ought not to worry so much about other people’s experiences. Hikers need to hike the trail that’s right for them and do what they feel they need to do to achieve their goals, whether that means touching every inch or bypassing a rugged section on a snowy day.” (pg 65)

I believe that this principle applies to all aspects of life. Each of us has to be confident enough to walk our own path and do what is best for us, even if that looks different than the path the person next to us. Life isn’t about copying others, it’s about chasing our dreams.

I also found it interesting when Adrienne addressed how her experience as a woman  hiking the AT was different than the experience of the men, whom greatly outnumbered the women. During her hike, she speaks about running into only one other woman thru-hiker and about how she had to leave the huts to change clothes.

“Many of the men, including Craig, liked to hurry through the day’s mileage and relax at camp in the afternoon. I found myself racing to make miles instead of stopping along the way to take in my surroundings. Parts of my AT experience didn’t feel like my own, and I wrestled with ways to claim my own experience. I tried to take my time, feel the connection, and be proud of my place and my identity. I tried to walk my own walk and nobody else’s. Every mile I had to make a conscious effort to slow down and demand my own experience.

Recognizing that my experience may be different from the experiences of my male friends was the first step. Understanding that my feelings are grounded in a history of women communing with nature was the second step. To define my own journey and feel confident in pursuing it was the hard part. It was something that would take more than one hike to work through. It may take a lifetime to truly see my place and define myself, but on the Appalachian Trail I got one step closer.” (pg 151)

It would be hard to have your own experience on the AT or any trail if your hiking partner’s habits are not similar to your own or if you have extra things to worry about like privacy or personal hygiene during those special times of the month. (For those of you who don’t know me personally, I am using the word “special” sarcastically here.)

Overall, I would highly recommend reading A Journey North. Even if you never plan on hiking the Appalachian Trail, it is fun to learn about.