In 2002, Murphy (Barfy) Barton threw out the idea of hiking The Appalachian Trail (AT) to raise money in Julianna's memory. He and my other friends, Jeff Price and Dave Guyer, wanted to help me in some way. Looking back, it is truly ironic that Barfy, the guy who despises wasted effort like exercise, offered up this idea. But this is a perfect illustration of Murphy's persona. Only a truly great person would propose to do something he truly hates for the greater good. On further reflection, maybe only a complete moron would do this.
At the time of this hiking suggestion, I vaguely knew the Appalachian Trail existed. I had recalled seeing signs for the Appalachian Trail near Harrisburg so I knew it crossed through Pennsylvania, but that was about it. I certainly had no idea it ran from Georgia to Maine and that tens of thousands of people actually hiked this trail each year. Why would you? What was the appeal? To say I knew nothing about hiking was not an exaggeration. In my life I had never hiked, never camped, never was a boy scout and never even spent a night in a tent. But in the months after Julianna was taken from us, I would pursue anything to release my sorrow, even hike.
I began my research after Murphy's initial proposal. I bought a few books, I surfed the internet, and I talked to people I knew. My close circle of friends were also not the outdoorsy types. After some research I found one person I knew who was familiar with the AT. He had actually section hiked the Appalachian Trail before. He confirmed the beauty of the AT and the feasibility of this effort. He even offered to help in our preparation. Good people are everywhere if you look in the right places.
I was now bolstered about the idea of hiking the AT for Julianna. After digging a little deeper into my research, I learned the Appalachian Trail was designated the first national trail in 1968 and totaled 2,168 miles. It travels through fourteen eastern U.S. States. What truly amazed me was the fact that the AT is maintained by volunteers. As many as 6,000 men and women per year give their time to the trail. The volunteers donate over 200,000 man hours a year to keep the trail functional for thousands of other hikers, such as the four of us. We could not do what we are doing without the generosity of these wonderful folks.
Originally, The Appalachian Trail was the brainstorm of Benton MacKaye, who conceived this idea shortly after his wife died in 1921. At the time, Mr. MacKaye, a trained forester interested in land preservation and conservation, was deeply concerned with the negative effects he was observing in American society. The American people at the time had just gone through the devastation of World War One and were all living in a burgeoning full-throttle industrial society.
He witnessed a society in which there was not enough work for everybody and yet there was ineffective use of available leisure time. His vision was to create a trail which would allow city dwellers (Industrial workers) to experience nature while hiking. He believed the trail could provide three opportunities for Americans of this time - 1) Recreation 2) Health and recuperation and 3) Employment. He had envisioned setting up work community camps along the trail. These camps would provide employment opportunities and would eventually become full fledged study and farm camps. In the end, only the third idea never came to fruition.
The first section of the trail opened in 1925 in New York State. A fella by the name of Myron Avery, the first person to hike the entire Appalachian Trail in 1936, was most responsible for building the AT. Early on, Mr. MacKaye, the idealist, worked together with Mr. Avery, the pragmatist, to plan and execute the trail completion. They parted ways after Avery agreed to move a section of the trail to accommodate a commercial development. Avery continued the dream and was the AT's most influential proponent in its early years and was later president of Appalachian Trail Conference (now Conservancy) from 1931 until 1952. The Appalachian Trail Conservancy is a non - profit organization responsible and dedicated to conserving the AT.
After hiking the trail for several years, I now understand the appeal. Each time we hike we all experience a spiritual renewal and a cleansing of our minds. The beauty of the environment and the simple task of getting from one point to another is a wonderful change of pace. Being away from all of life's distractions while facing an intense physical struggle is rewarding on several levels.
For me, it gives me time to pray and think of my beautiful Julianna. It also gives me the time to spend with three of the greatest human beings I know. Most importantly, it puts my life in perspective and makes me appreciate the simple things in life we possess.
I now understand our journey in life occurs one step at a time... savor each one of them.