On the 17th November 2009, Adam Bagerski reached Mexico having hiked around 2700 miles south from the border with Canada. The trip had taken 148 days. I remember, back in 2001, sitting in a restaurant in North Carolina listening to Adam describe his plans to hike another long distance route, the Appalachian Trail. I had been captivated as he described how it started in the depths of Georgia and wound itâ€™s way up along the ancient Appalachian mountain range, 2179 miles, before finishing on Mount Katahdin in Maine. Later that night, I might have left the restaurant feeling a little envious that I wasnâ€™t about to embark on this remarkable journey. However, such thoughts quickly gave way to those of inspiration and excitement – is this not the very reason why we surround ourselves with friends?
Adamâ€™s most recent endeavour, the completion of the Continental Divide Trail (CDT) from Canada to Mexico, wrapped up the Triple Crown of long distance US hikes – having tackled the Appalachian Trail of the East Coast in 2001 and the Pacific Crest Trail of the West Coast in 2005. The CDT runs through Rocky Mountains, by way of Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, and New Mexico. To the west water flows to the Pacific and to the east it runs to the Atlantic. Less than fifty people attempt to hike the length of the trail each year, and the task is made that much harder by only being around 70% complete – the remainder of which you are on your own. When I asked him why he did it he said that -
â€œThe simple answer is not to work. Summer vacation is not over-rated. It never was, we were just too young to understand itâ€™s whole valueâ€.
He then went on to describe his desire to complete the three long distance trails before turning thirty -
â€œIt was a goal, as simple as that. You have to have them in life to feel like you are moving towards somethingâ€.
In the build up to, during, and then after each hike, I found myself giving a good deal of thought to Adamâ€™s trips. I suppose at the juncture of each journey I took the opportunity to look at my life – not in any fundamental way, more of a nuanced reflection on how I felt about the direction I was heading. Taking the time to consider the positives and learn from the negatives of our decisions and undertakings is vital to our development. The experiences of our friends put those of our own into a perspective that prevents us from becoming conceited or overwhelmed. I asked Adam what he considered to be the highs and lows of his trip. He mentioned the days when the temperature wouldnâ€™t rise above freezing, or the times when he couldnâ€™t get relief from the heat, or the relentless mosquito bites that drove him to distraction. However, he felt the greatest challenge was posed by the times he found himself stuck in his own head -
â€œYour hardest day could be your lowest day mentally. The terrain could be easy as pie, but if you brain is down and out its hard to gather motivation for the longest day youâ€™ll ever haveâ€.
In relating his thoughts on the highlight of the 2700 mile hike there was no hesitation -
â€œFor me, hands down, the most memorable moments are the ones that last a lifetime. The friends you meet and the bonds that are formed. You meet the best folk in the world out there. A day spent on the trail is equal to a week in the real world. The more time you spend with these folk the more exponentially the friendship grows. You will always know these people. They become war buddies without the war and I donâ€™t know what is better than that.â€
In the build up to Adam finishing the CDT, and thus completing the Triple Crown, I wondered how he would feel about it all. There are always more hikes, other adventures, and new journeys, but I felt nervous for him.Â Perhaps I also felt a little sad personally that this journey was coming to an end – one that I had vicariously been a part of for almost ten years. That is not to say I regretted not taking him up on his offers to join him on the trail – for I took my own my path and have had, and continue to have, my own adventures – but there was something comforting about having him out there, in the woods, doing something most people couldnâ€™t imagine. The question of how he felt was the first thing that I asked him once he got through with the CDT -
â€œNot good. Not bad. It was a long time coming. There is always a sense of sadness when a chapter of your life comes to an end, but there is always a sense of excitement because it means a new chapter is about to start. As you do these things more and more, they become – in a way – less important. Itâ€™s always the first one or two (hikes/businesses/adventures), which change your life. The rest just become fuel for how you want to live your lifeâ€.
So much of our existence is determined by those around us. Friends are integral to the very fabric of our society – we rely on one another for companionship, advice, laughs, tears, and support. However, friends are also essential in challenging us to step outside of our comfort zones. To encourage, through actions and behavior, the grasping of opportunities. The action itself is not of enormous importance, and by no stretch of the imagination does it need to be emulated, but it must give pause for thought. This is not about jealously, insecurity, or sycophantic pandering. Friendship is defined by inspiration, for without it we would never take the first step on our most exciting adventures -
â€œAll Iâ€™m doing is chasing my dreams. Anyone can do that, everyone once in their life shouldâ€.