From Goatman to Fathermule: 5 Lessons from the Appalachian Trail for (New) Dads
Imagine: you’re so tired that your brain has gone from autopilot to system crash, then back to the semi-normal waking dream of reality. You haven’t had a sit-down meal in a week. You only shower when necessary for social decorum. Sleep comes in fits: was that a noise? What noise was it, and what does it want? That can’t be the sun already, can it? I wonder what day it is?
Welcome to the Appalachian Trail. Or, alternatively, welcome to fatherhood! A few years before I became a new father, I was Goatman, AT LASHer (Long-Ass Section Hiker) and editor of this very blog.
Join me as we explore how my experiences on long distance hikes have prepared me for the journey of fatherhood.
1. Hike Your Own Hike
It is a trail cliché, but like most over-used terms, it’s overuse stems from its basis in truth. When you begin your journey on the Appalachian Trail, you will be getting a lot of advice, told a lot of tales, and asked to process a lot of new information. The same is true when you announce your impending fatherhood. Take it all in. Now, step back and breathe. This is your journey, new dad. Though other feet have tread on this dirt and other people have blazed this path before, now it is your turn. No one has ever been you, so make it your own.
2. Your Mind is your Most Important Piece of Gear. Take care of it.
Humans have been raising children for way longer than the Appalachian Trail has existed, obviously, but both endeavors have changed in our modern world due to the technology available to help along the way. While good gear is important and gadgets are fun, keep in mind: Grandma Gatewood did not have the latest trail runners and your grandma did not have warm baby wipe dispensers. What they did have was a human mind capable of flexibility, endurance, patience, and kindness. Just as most hikers can’t push marathon miles every day, remember, new dad, to take time for yourself. While “zero days” may be a thing of the past, a good “near-o day” does a world of good. No technological fix will ever take the place of good mental health practices.
3. Plan. And Plan to have Plans Change.
Loki. Coyote. Eris. There’s a reason the gods of trickery are ubiquitous across human culture. Planning is an integral part of both parenthood and long distance hiking. Not being prepared can lead to terrible situations, of course. Quick grocery run sans diaper bag? Poopy diaper apocalypse in aisle 23. Cut weight from your pack by bounce-boxing your puffy and base layer? Mountain top snowstorm in June. These things will happen, but you cannot let them ruin the experience. Be flexible. Ride the waves of chaos and they may just lead you somewhere great. In the end, no plan will ever survive reality, so learn to improvise. They don’t call it Murphy’s Hypothesis for a reason.
4. One Foot in Front of the Other, One Mile at a Time.
There will be tough times. Boy, will there be tough times. Whether you are summiting your third peak of the day on wobbly legs or holding your screaming child for the third time that night on wobbly brain, you will reach a wall. This wall is not the wall that you cannot scale. You may have to stare at it for a while until the holds appear, but they will appear. Slow down. You were built for this. Sleep will come, Virginia will end. Perhaps not tomorrow or the next day, but keep your feet moving, and look, here it comes. Just around the bend.
5. The Hardest Days are the Best Days. Later.
Tired. Filthy. Hungry. Time starts to crawl away from the edges of your vision and all goes on forever. And then something happens and it breaks. Breaks into smiles, laughter, cuddles, a good night of sleep, a well cooked meal with family and friends all around. You look back and say, “What a ride!” This is what it’s all about- life, raw and unfiltered. Every blister a story, every spit-up-ruined shirt a fond memory. And it doesn’t stop here, dad, oh no. The trail never really ends. Enjoy the journey.
by: Craig Buckley
Photos courtesy of Katherine Buckley