Cynthia Viola Photography

Appalachian Trail Reflections

PersonalCynthia ViolaComment
Don’t waste a whole life on just a half try. It’s all or nothing.
— Mutemath
Appalachian Trail North Carolina

“Welcome to the A.T.” he said as he laughed, “where you pour your heart out to complete strangers.”

As I considered whether or not I had anything new to say about the trail this time, I skimmed through some of my previous posts about my trail name and what I eat. I almost decided one or two social media posts would cover it, and then I remembered the people I met.

Every different type of person imaginable can be found on the trail when it comes to profession, age, where we live, stage of life etc… But one thing we all seem to share is a genuine love for humanity, the environment and connection. I feel like there is a deep seed that longs to connect with others. Whether you hike with a group of friends, your love, alone, or with someone you’ve just met, you can hear in conversations around the fire or hostel table the moments when we reach out to bridge a gap between anything that makes us different.

Stories flourish about the similar trail struggles we share from aching knees to pesky mice stealing food and the gratitude shared for trail angels who leave bottles of Gatorade at road crossings. But at the end of the day when camp is set up and you’ve got another hour of daylight, the stories drift to another level.

When my new friend started sharing why he was on the trail (to determine if he should divorce at age 64) all the rest of us began to share both our good and bad experiences with it to offer perspective for his dilemma. Before we knew it 4 people who’d never met from NC, St. Louis, New Orleans, and Austin, with 4 very different jobs, in 4 different decades had found something in common and connected in a way that made us both care for each other and desire to look after each other as we hiked forward in the coming days.

I don’t know what my new friend will decide but I know for a moment he felt valued, encouraged and connected. We all have unique paths but they are far more similar than they seem at a glance. If we’re willing to open up for even a moment we might just find what we’re searching for.

Appalachian Trail Tennessee

On another note, nothing is more magical than dancing in a field of a thousand fairies at midnight.

OK so maybe they were lightning bugs but they felt like fairies. We had woken up in the middle of the night and when I stepped outside my hammock I was absolutely astounded. The forest was moving and it has never felt more alive than it did in that moment. If you turned on your headlamp for a second they all went away and it just looked like regular trees and bushes. As soon as you turned out the light, they all lit up and came to life - a thousand tiny eyes watching and being present with you; there was no other response than to dance along with them.

Our new friend Claude the baby bear also surprised us by wandering into camp the next morning just to say hello. His little nose was covered in pollen and we simply talked to him as we quickly packed up camp. We found two of his other larger friends as we hiked as well. Watching a giant bear charge through the forest at full speed is an incredibly sobering experience. Everything shakes. The trees, the ground, even the air. That’s the moment you realize you’d never be able to outrun them if the charge was in your direction instead. All you can do is thank the bear for letting you pass by, for giving you another day to adventure on. Gratitude fills the air and you somehow feel more alive. When you take a moment to step out of the routine, the world has a way of opening up a box of magic you never knew existed. As Mother Teresa says, “If only we have eyes to see.”

May we all open our eyes to the wonders and people around us.