What hiking taught me about the human spirit

I am blessed with the good fortune to live near some incredible hiking trails, including a large section of the Appalachian trail. I love the peace and quiet I find while hiking, especially in the fall and winter when the trails are less populated. I find being alone on the trail allows me to better experience the sounds of the wind whistling through the trees, birds chirping and insects buzzing. I can sync my soul with nature and put my mind at ease.

Now with the warming weather, more people are out hiking, so my opportunities for solitude are limited. However, I still enjoy getting outside, and try to hit the trails on weekday mornings when the crowds are manageable. Also, there is a difference between crowds on a trail, and crowds in general. Something aboout being out in nature reduces the stress and annoyance of being around large groups of people. I can’t help but feel good.

I find my fellow hikers, whether novices or experts on a months-long excursion, share this same spirit. While, we may have widely different views, and might even despise one another in a different space, on the trail none of that seems to matter. Here we all share one purpose, the desire to be one with nature.

During the spring and summer, many hikers working their way up the full length of the Appalachian trail find themselves in the New York/New Jersy area. On a recent trek through a popular section of the Appalachian trail in New Jersey, I met a young man from North Carolina who was making his way up from the start of the trail in Georgia to the end of the trail in Maine.

We had a bit of small talk, and helped each other out by taking photos of one another in front of the beautiful view of the mountains and valley below.

We wished one another well as he turned to continue on toward Maine, and I headed back down toward my car.

As I was heading down the trail, I encountered a group of hikers who were clearly new to this trail, and maybe hiking in general. I saw they were heading off the trail, and guided them back. I told them not to feel disheartened, as that section of the trail was not marked well, and how I often lose my bearings. They thanked me and continued on. I hope they made their way toward their destination.

Surrounding those two experiences were small interactions with various hikers of all ages, races and skills. I saw couples sharing a morning walk, families with young children, groups speaking English and others speaking languages I couldn’t identify. Everyone I met greeted me with a smile, a nod, a wave or a “good morning.” We respectfully shared the trail, moving out of the way when needed to let someone pass.

In a time when the world has seemed very cruel and hopeless to me, the beauty of humanity I witnessed while hiking has lifted my spirit and reminded me human kindness and goodness is all around.

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