There are many ways for a human to live their life, and I feel exceptionally fortunate to have found a version that fulfills me on both physical and spiritual levels. Long distance trails are my church. I’m drawn to them not only to test the strength of my body, but also expand my appreciation of long days spent in solitude. Lost in my thoughts in the untrammeled wild areas our ancestors had the foresight to set aside and protect, the stresses of modern life float away. Like a snake shedding its skin, it doesn’t take long for the anxieties caused by too much city life to peel away. Every time I set foot in an area that has been protected from relentless industry and our seemingly insatiable quest to cover the planet with concrete, I silently send a prayer of gratitude to the men and women who saw value in setting spaces aside for us to enjoy.
It sounds melodramatic, but long distance hiking literally saved my life. Prior to my first hike, I was slipping into a life of drug and alcohol abuse. Without a sense of purpose and direction, I lacked the ability to functionally participate in our culture, and easily could have slid further down the rabbit hole of addiction. Hiking kept me sane. It changed me on a fundamental level, allowing me to blossom and open up to my newfound community. Returning to the woods was like going home. Not only did the experience teach me respect for the planet, but a new appreciation for the communities that the trails pass through. I came to the long trails a broken man, but found in these experiences a renewed appreciation for our planet and the inhabitants I share it with.
My most recent foray brought me to the Florida Trail. I hadn’t heard many glowing reviews of this route–probably due mainly to the extensive road walk sections required to piece together the areas where actual trail has been laid down. Walking along a paved road while high speed traffic whizzes by isn’t very pleasant, but the sections of the FT that are true trail more than make up for it. While the rest of the country was blanketed in snow, I was able to hike through unique ecosystems in shorts and a tank top, seeing flora and fauna I’d only read about in books. Having lived the past 10 years in the Pacific Northwest, I was enchanted by the Florida Trail. The only alligator I’d ever seen was in a zoo…and there they were, just lounging in the sun like enormous, leathery solar panels! I’d never set foot in a swamp before, but on the FT I got to tromp directly through them and see cypress groves covered in moss. So many interesting plants and animals! I can’t wait to watch the Friends of the Florida Trail grow and connect the dots, eliminating the road sections and building new tread through that hidden gem of a state.
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