BACKPACKING is a Learning ExperienceJul 29, 2021 12:04PM ● By Jared Zornitzer
Three books in, I thought that I was familiar with what I would encounter on the trail. I went into my section-hike of the Appalachian Trail (AT) with preconceived ideas of what it would be like. After a mere three days, I gained a wealth of knowledge which has given me a more realistic perception of it. I was humbled by the power of Mother Nature and grateful for its gifts in ways that could only be achieved through firsthand experience.
We faced lows during our trip that we were not prepared for. Through reading books and researching the AT, I found out beforehand that bad weather and wildlife can create obstacles for hikers. We passed two nights with minimal sleep due to torrential rain and ominous animal noises in nearby woods. We hiked many miles during the day through rain as well. No preparation can adequately prepare you for the feelings of discomfort due to putting on wet clothes each morning, fatigue due to lack of sleep, or fear of bears and coyotes outside your tent. These were all wake up calls for things that are commonplace on the trail and that I will have to get used to.
At the same time, certain aspects of being out on the trail surpassed my hopes. There was not a single moment in all of my three days on the trail when I was not inwardly smiling and cherishing this experience unlike any that I had before. I enjoyed stepping away from my normal, busy life and living in the outdoors. I embraced the days spent away from technology and living by the time of the sun. I was a quick learner on the trail and am now confident in my ability to filter water from creeks and streams, set up a tent and cook trail food. I truly loved the hike and acquired a newfound passion for backpacking.
These revelations came clear to me while watching the sun set over the Smokey Mountains on a bald near our shelter. It was one of the most beautiful feats of nature that I have ever witnessed. The sky was adorned in hues of pink and blue, while layers of mountains extending into the horizon released clouds of mist from the day’s rain. All of this formed a surreal landscape and left me in awe of the world that we live in.
This sunset capped off a rainy and overcast day. Rain is sure to come, and I acknowledge that a thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail is a remarkably difficult task. However, just like the sun came out and gave us a beautiful ending to the day, nature has the potential to uplift and there will always be parts of the journey to be grateful for.
Jared Zornitzer is a full-time college student at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, NY studying engineering. An advocate of balancing work and school with exercise and healthy living, he loves hiking, biking, running, cooking, spending time with family and friends, and learning in his classes.