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.