Lessons from Hiking the Appalachian Trail

By Lauren Mickler

This spring break, I hiked the Appalachian Trail with Young Life at UNF. This was my first time backpacking anywhere, though certainly not my first time camping. I decided sort of last minute to go, so I didn’t have a lot of time to train for this physical challenge. We hiked at least 13 miles over the course of two and half days. The third day was by far the most difficult for me because we were hiking uphill for half of the day. And I’m not talking a gentle incline, either. I’m talking full on lunging up the side of a mountain. By the time I got up to the top of the first peak, I was nauseous, panting, and on the brink of tears. As soon as I sat down, there was nothing I could do to stop them from rushing down my face. I focused on my breathing, knowing that this would pass. The leader of the trip came over to me and held me steady and waiting for me. I told him that I was crying because of physical reasons, not emotional, which is a first for me. I explained all the reasons that I might be breaking down, one of which was the fact that most of us, including myself got maybe 2 hours of sleep, if any, due to the cold wind rushing through the shelter. The team I was with took some of the heavier things out of my pack, and helped me along, and before I knew it I was feeling ten times better. However, before I knew it, I was crying again. This time it was emotional. Let me back up to the beginning of the trip.

I prayed to God during the first day while hiking to our shelter for the night. “Please, God, show me where you want me to go. Lead me to where you want me to be. May my will align with yours. Show me the way.” Mostly, however, I was focused on not slipping on the ice and mud that covered the trails. When we got to our second shelter the next day, I was tired and sore and ready for bed. To my dismay, that didn’t happen for quite a while. Soon I was laying huddled in the darkness going over everything I was doing wrong. The people I hadn’t talked to, the things I didn’t do or say, the jokes no one laughed at. All the while beating myself up for choosing a spot on the ground next to an open window.

During the little time that I could actually sleep, I remember having a dream. I was in my adolescent home, and my parents pulled up in a car. They stepped out and moved to get something out of the backseat. As they turned to walk toward me, I recognized myself as a toddler, no more than 2 years old. She had big, bouncy, blonde curls and bright blue eyes. She was happy and open and so adorable. Seriously, I was so unbelievable cute. Little me kept giving people kisses on the cheek, and hugging everyone. I woke up wishing I could stay in that dream with myself.

We all know that is impossible, and before I knew it I was on a chilly, windy, muddy, steep mountain side struggling to keep walking. And the second time I started crying it was because I realized why I had that dream. The only difference between me and that little girl was time. I am the same open, caring, loving little girl that I’ve always been. The way that I loved myself in my dream; unconditionally, was how I want to love myself always. Not just because I look good, or because I did something healthy, but because I am worth loving at my core. I cried silently while trudging up the next peak, trying to keep pace with those in front of me. I cried because I felt like God was holding me and telling me that They didn’t need me to take on the whole world right now. God was telling me that I’m important enough to care about. I matter enough to spend time loving, even if it’s just for me. After that, my feet didn’t hurt as bad.

After the two large peaks we climbed up, which still took me longer than the other people in our group, we went downhill for the rest of the day. Eventually, we got back to the hostel where we started. This time, however, I was very sweaty and dirty and my ankles hurt. All of us were laying or sitting wherever we could. As we drove down the mountains, through the Christmas tree capital of the world, I pictured my tot-self sitting on my lap, looking out the window with me.

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