Comparing the JMT to the AT

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I have been done with the JMT and off the trail now for almost two months but already it seems like a lifetime ago. When I look at pictures from my hike I am still amazed by the beauty and so many of them bring back a rush of memories that play in my head like a movie. When I close my eyes it is easy to remember the moments.

While I was hiking the Appalachian Trail in 2008 I met an older man and his grown-up daughter. The man was behind his daughter by half an hour and as was often true of many on the AT, he was happy to stop and chat for a few minutes before heading off by himself. He was tired and sore and walking slowly, weighed down with a heavy pack and weary muscles. He shared that this wasn’t his first time backpacking and that each time out was difficult. He admitted that despite the challenges, when he was done and back home, he would look back on the trip fondly and all of the struggles would be forgotten.

Time has a way of sugar-coating the memories, making the highs so much higher and the lows so much smaller.

He was right on with his observation. In the midst of the hiking, the act of walking step after step after step is sometimes overwhelming. The mountain passes can seem endless and at the bottom it is daunting to imagine actually reaching “the top.” But each and every time, steps turn into miles and days into weeks and before long it’s all over and you’re sitting at home on the couch with your feet up and smiling as you relive the moments and feel grateful that you saw it through to completion.

Toward the end of my trek on the Appalachian Trail I so wanted to be done and thought the likelihood of ever backpacking again was low. I fantasized about burning my backpack and swore I’d never set foot on a trail again. A woman I met one day–“Sam Wise” told me I was wrong, that I would miss the trail and want to be out in the woods again. She was right.

Like hiking the AT, the JMT was a wonderful experience and though I sometimes felt overwhelmed by the whirling mosquitoes that stole my sanity and by the hard work of climbing mountains, I am infinitely grateful I overcame the challenges. The sparkling crystal clear lakes, winding rivers, colorful wildflowers and postcard scenery made it all worthwhile. To be surrounded by such beauty everyday was an incredible experience and often I felt lucky beyond measure.

The JMT experience was similar –lots of hard work, biting insects, great scenery, opportunities for solitude and serenity–to my AT experience, but also different. I sometimes missed the sense of community that was so prevalent on the AT. On the AT there seemed to be a natural camaraderie between hikers, all of the thru hikers united by the giant challenge of walking it from end to end and thus, having common ground that made for easy conversation. On the JMT it seemed many hikers were too caught up in “getting there” and did not readily exchange greetings or stop to chat. Some did not even say hello, just kept on walking and that made me shake my head and wonder how it could be. However, that being said, I did meet some who were more than happy to talk and were traveling at a similar pace as me.

I also missed the use of “trail names” on the JMT–most hikers seemed unaware of this idea and simply introduced themselves by their “real” names. Depending on the situation, I often said I was the “lollygagger” despite that they probably had no idea what i was talking about.

The AT certainly had beautiful places but the JMT had a higher level of beauty that seemed always extraordinary.aa4-2

The JMT is a trail unlike any I have ever been on and each day was one photo opportunity after another.

Now that I am done I feel the need to do some research and see what other beautiful trails are out there, knowing now that backpacking and camping beneath a ceiling of stars is in my blood. I have learned that I can do it and that for me the rewards far outweigh the challenges.

“But can’t you hear the wind? It is calling you. Let us probe the silent places, let us seek the luck betide us, let us journey to a lonely land I know. There’s a whisper on the night wind, there’s a star agleam to guide us, and the wind is calling…. let us go.”

 –Robert Service

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