March 05, 2005

On the trail

One of my favorite former students e-mailed me this week from the airport in Atlanta, Georgia. She was leaving in the morning to begin an adventure; she is going to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail. Before she's done, she will have hiked more than 2,100 miles, up and down hills, along the crests of mountains, through woods filled with white-tailed deer and black bears. She will hike through fourteen states, including the one I live in. She'll be carrying a full pack, with everything she needs for the next couple of months, although she will make periodic stops to buy food and send e-mails home to let her parents know she is okay.

I've known SmilingStudent since her first year in college, when she took a writing class with me. During her senior year, she organized a student group whose ambitious goals included everything from setting up Midnight Runs to feed local homeless people to doing everything they could in their power to remove Bush from office. Like many of us, she was devastated last November when the election swung to the right. She's taking a summer now to hike from Georgia to Maine, getting her body and her soul into shape to tackle all the difficult years of activism ahead of her. She's going to do some soul-searching and figure out what she wants to do for the rest of her life. She's promised me that she will keep a journal.

I am thinking of her today, as she hikes through the woods in Georgia, moving fast to keep ahead of the warm weather as spring creeps northward. Right now, she's just getting into the rhythm of her journey, and she has many miles to go before she passes through the state where I live.

Just as the train track at the end of my road connects me to friends west and east, from Chicago to Manhattan, I like the idea of a footpath that stretches along the eastern seaboard, connecting me to friends as far north as Maine and south all the way to Georgia.

About 2,000 people each year attempt to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail. Ninety percent of them do not succeed. I bet SmilingStudent will. If she passes through your state, give her a hug from me.

12 comments:

Dr. H said...

Go, SmilingStudent!

jo(e), I love that you develop such great longer term relationships with your students. I think I'm more likely to do this than not, but I don't have models of others profs here who do so, so sometimes I wonder if I am crossing a line. It feels right to me, so I go with it.

This is partially why I write and read blogs -- to feel more normal and accepted. I love it when I find my people -- whether it's online or otherwise. Thanks for helping me feel comfortable with myself, jo(e).

Nels said...

Hey, the trail is just a few miles from here. I actually haven't been there yet, but she'll be up here this summer, I bet. Maybe I should run by and say hi and step on the trail myself.

Scrivener said...

Oops, I've already missed her. But I'm waving her godspeed.

American Psychopath said...

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profsynecdoche said...

I am so deeply jealous of this student that I can barely speak. Damn her, and her mature, eco-sensitive soul-searching. Why couldn't she just go to law school like everyone else?

Friday Mom said...

Here's hoping SmilingStudent makes it! I wish her godspeed for the journey. She's lucky to have you help her reflect on it.

dr. m(mmm) aka The Notorious P.H.D. said...

I enjoyed that Bill Bryson book about hiking the trail, so I have a sense of her challenge. If SmilingStudent sends you updates, I hope you'll share the gist of them. It might be cool for her to know that hundreds of bloggers are cheering her on.

Ianqui said...

Agreed. Let us know if she sends you updates about the trail.

When I started hiking for real a few years ago, I became fascinated by thru-hikers. I read all of these online journals and learned a lot about the AT. Whenever we go to a park that has the AT running through it (Shenandoah, for example), I try to hike a little part of it--lame, but it gives me a thrill. I don't think I'd ever really be able to thru-hike, so I like to read about people who do.

New Kid on the Hallway said...

Good luck to SmilingStudent! I hope she makes it - would love to hear updates along the way. I don't think a thru-hike is something I could ever do - I don't even camp - but I gave great respect for the motives and strength of those who do.

Scrivener said...

ianqui: We used to live in Charlottesville, and I hiked stretches of the AT in Shenandoah once a week almost every week we were there. There's nothing lame about that at all. It may not be thru-hiking, but it's beautiful nonetheless.

Waterfall said...

Good luck to SmilingStudent! I thru-hiked a few years ago, and it is an experience I will never forget. Glad she's decided to make the attempt--that first step is always the hardest.

We live near the Smokies, so if she wants to take a break to stay with a couple of old thru-hikers, please let me know. Visit my blog and leave a comment, and I'll get back to you.

Mary Stebbins Taitt said...

This is something I've always wanted to do. The Northville-Placid trail I hiked alone end to end is only 1/17.5 as long as the Appalachian Trail! Quite a difference! Mary :-)