Take it from the Top


Optimist hiking one of the many balds in Virginia

I am going to paraphrase some Nietzsche from some lectures I’ve been listening to on my iPod while I hike along with some of the Nietzsche that I remember from college to discuss the memories from my thru hike of the AT 11 years ago with my friends Animal and Rocket Cop.

The idea from Nietzsche that I liked so much on the lecture had to do with the notion of eternal recurrence. The story goes something like this: suppose that at some point later in life, a demon visits you and says that you are destine to repeat every moment of your life, every feeling, every decision, and every aspect of your current life. Not only will it be repeated once, but it will be repeated over and over again. The point of this is likely to scare some, but also to show the importance in making every moment count and to live this life to the fullest extent possible with the time we have. I will have more to say about this in a bit but this has been an idea that has been on my mind a lot while hiking lately.

Another thought has to do with the hiking of the AT itself and how this is my second time thru hiking the AT. Many have asked why I would do it again and what I remember about the trail from the previous trip. First, I’m hiking with my wife this time and she has not hiked the AT before. Second, I am a different person than I was 11 years ago. The trail may not have changed but I have and there is much to get out of the trail experience, despite having seen the AT scenes before, there is much to see from my current eyes. It is like reading a book more than once at different times in one’s life; there is something new because you’re new.

Regarding what I remember about the trail, the short answer is I don’t remember much. I certainly remember very little of the scenery. I remember some of the names of places and I have ideas of what certain things will look like when I look ahead and see landmarks that we’re approaching; sometimes I’m accurate and sometimes I’m way off base. The things that come back the most are feelings I had and times I spent with people I care about. For example, as we approached I-77, I remembered the moth incident where I was night hiking alone and got a moth stuck in my ear. I hiked to the interstate where a sheriff picked me up and took me to a hospital. Oddly enough, a hiker I was telling this to tonight talked about a police man he met in a town a ways back that told a story about a young hiker with a bug in his ear that had to be taken to the hospital. No telling if that was me, but it’s a pretty unique story.

We were in Daleville, VA this past week and as we were getting close to town, I told Julie that I expect that we’ll simply pop out of the woods and Pizza Hut will be right there on the trail. At that moment, the time with Animal came flashing back. We too ate at the Pizza Hut and then, on a hot July day after going to the Post Office, noticed that the house next to the Post Office had an in ground pool in the backyard. We went to the front door and said we were hiking the AT and due to the heat, could really use a dip in the pool. They were happy to oblige and even brought us lemonade. I remember hiking out that night and meeting up with Rocket Cop with big grins on our faces, telling him about our good fortunes.

They are simple things but I remember these things along with the feelings of freedom and independence I felt on the trail. I learned about all sorts of adventures and how I could create my life into whatever I decided.. Life was my artwork to create and this feeling of responsibility for the outcome being completely up to me was very powerful back then and is still today. Nietzsche’s response to the demon telling about eternal recurrence was something along the lines of “play it again” or “take it from the top”. He viewed life as an artwork and with music in mind, said that he would be happy to live this life over and over again. At this point, I am happy to be hiking the trail again, remembering the first trip and creating new memories on this trip, and like Nietzsche, when it comes to this life, I am proud to say that if it were somehow the case that I were able to live this life over, I’d happily say, “take it from the top” and “play it again”.

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