Hiking, Self Care, Travel

Life lessons I learned hiking the Appalachian Trail as a homeless hiker

Appalachian Trail hiker learns life lessons as homeless hiker

 

Homelessness is often equated with despair, and misery, and hopelessness. But maybe there is another side to this issue. Maybe, as crazy as it sounds, choosing to leave the comforts of home can be a liberating adventure.

An unusual group of people, including perpetual travelers, digital nomads, and long-distance hikers, often make the conscious decision to become “homeless.” This means giving up certainty about where they are going to sleep each night. Far from family and friends. Going to a favorite restaurant to order the usual isn’t an option. The job that provides regular income is long gone. They see these challenges, and rather than follow the logical path, decide to plunge into the unknown.

I became one of these intentionally “homeless” people last year. I wanted (needed?) to hike the entire Appalachian Trail. For nearly 6 months, I lived off what I carried on my back and the generosity of others, many of whom I had never met before. In this new world, shaving was discouraged, every day was casual Friday, and the only rush-hour was a frenzied race to reach the All-You-Can-Eat before they switched to dinner prices. It was glorious.

The experience provided countless life lessons and other perks, many of which I didn’t appreciate until months after completing the hike. Perhaps I didn’t fully appreciate these life lessons from nature at the time because I was too close to the experience to have the right perspective. Either that, or I was too busy complaining about bugs, or an insatiable hunger, or an elusive mountain summit, or bugs.

I’m gonna blame the bugs.

However, now that I’m comfortably settled in my writing chair with a whiskey in arms reach and the A/C humming in the background, the lessons learned while hiking the Appalachian Trail waft around me with the undeniable clarity of well-crafted memes. I consider these lessons gifts. And I’d like to share a few with you.

 

I’m flexible, so long as everything is exactly the way I want it.

Before joining the ranks of homeless hikers, my need for control bordered on compulsive. As a surgeon, this was a valuable trait. I strived for absolute control in the operating room. All pertinent data about my patient was collected and memorized. Room temperature and lighting were carefully calibrated before each procedure. My team knew which instrument to deliver based on rehearsed gestures. EVERYTHING and everyone was sterile. There was even a specific playlist depending on the procedure I would be performing. This sampling of practices ensured optimal outcomes for the patient, and maximal stress for me (along with my poor team who had to endure hours of George Winston at a time).

That all changed once I hit the Trail.

When it rained, I got wet. When it snowed, I got wet, and cold. And when the stream I hiked 6 miles to reach was dry, I dehydrated. However, each mountain peak that cost so much sweat to reach was cause for celebration (maybe not the dozen false summits I passed on the way there). The bears and squirrels and wild flowers and the crisp breeze were wonderful demonstrations of life’s power and beauty. I found some of the best sleep I’ve had in years on wooden platforms mushed between a dozen snoring, farting, smelly hikers I didn’t know but would quickly become friends.

I had no control over any of this. For the first several weeks, it was infuriating. Once I recognized the futility of trying to control the uncontrollable, I began to relax. I hiked towards the unknown. And left the stress of trying to manage all of life’s variables behind.

 

Altruism exists

I don’t know where I learned it, but “you don’t get something for nothing” was a maxim that stuck. I looked for the ulterior motive before accepting help from a friend, and I tried to avoid any situation that would force me to depend on anyone for anything.

This isn’t possible for the homeless hiker. Whether it’s a ride from the Trailhead into town for resupply and a much-needed shower, borrowing another hiker’s water filter, or countless other circumstances beyond my control, I quickly realized that I couldn’t make it without lots of help.

I could wrap my head around situations where I either reimbursed or bartered for the things I needed. But generosity from others, particularly strangers, who expected nothing in return amazed me. We call it Trail Magic and it’s real. I recently wrote about childlike wonder and creativity as a kind of magic I wanted to believe in again but this is different.

Imagine piles of food and cold drinks left on the side of the Trail for hikers to enjoy. There’s also a note asking us to call if supplies run low so it can be replaced. Or imagine a couple loading several mangy hikers into their new Mercedes for a ride to town. Instead of taking our donation, they pay for our meals after wishing us a great hike. Random acts of kindness like these and countless others eventually blunted my skepticism. In time, I hardly paused when a stranger offered to let a friend and I stay in their home for a few days, and handed us the keys to one of their cars so we could run our errands.

I now believe that people are capable of altruism. And that we are worthy of this gift.

 

Obstacles do not block the path, they are the path (Zen proverb)

The tendency is to follow the easy path, or the straightest path, especially when tired or rushed. Towards the end of the day, my brain is busy visualizing how delicious my dehydrated mash potatoes will taste, and my body wants to explore horizontal positions for several hours. On really long days, when the Hangry is strong in me, I stop paying attention to trail markings. That’s usually when I realize things aren’t quite right, that I’m not on the Trail anymore. I’m lost. Backtracking means doubling the “extra” time I have to hike to reach my destination for the night, but wandering blindly through the woods in search of a shortcut is the surest path to becoming even more lost.

Inevitably, when I backtrack to the last trail blaze, the Trail leads me up a steep rock face, down into a ravine, or across a stream, whichever represents the most difficult end-of-the-day obstacle. I feel like there might be a life lesson here. Regardless, the Trail lesson is: when in doubt about the direction to go, look for the most challenging path first.

 

Get rid of the unnecessary stuff

  • Gear: Every “extra” lb. carried in my pack for the whole AT requires the same work as trying to carry 2,189lbs for one mile.
  • Hygiene: Showers are optional. Shaving is heretical. But still gotta brush the Skittles and Snickers out of our teeth regularly.
  • Distractions: It’s ok to miss Game of Thrones (although one hiker would plan his hikes to reach town in time to catch the latest episode). Social media is a great way to stay in touch, but posting to Facebook while hiking over slick rock in the rain is an embarrassing way to shatter an iPhone, and an ego.

 

Growth doesn’t stop at the end of the Trail

9 months passed since completing the Trail, enough time for a pregnancy. While I’ve regained more than half of the 53 lbs.  I lost during this hike, pretty sure it’s mostly Snickers, Pepsi and pizza.

I’ve grown in other ways as well:

  • I shower semi-regularly
  • My wife is suspicious of my budding romance with our air conditioner. (It’s purely platonic)
  • We waste very little food.
  • I pay more attention to the real-world corollaries for Trail markings to confirm I’m still on the right path in life.
  • I recognize the value in connecting with others, even when I’m wandering around alone in the woods.

 

This list of lessons learned as a homeless hiker is far from complete. What began as an adventure and a much-needed retreat from civilization also became one of the most educational experiences of an already academically rich life. (Yay learning!)

What have you learned during your travels?

 

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224 Comments

  • Reply Bel July 6, 2017 at 6:14 am

    This is an awesome post, Gabriel! Being homeless on a trail sure teaches you a lot about yourself – what you are capable of both positive and negative. I like how much you realize that there are people out there who are willing to help without expecting anything in return or that you don’t really care about what happens to Game of Thrones (especially when you are experiencing your own real hunger games in the Appalachian…?) . I learned during a few of my trips that true colors do come out (both good and unfortunately, bad) when you’re with someone 24/7 on a trip and that showering is optional ? Mostly, like you, I learned that you don’t really need much (material things) to be happy. Thanks for sharing this I truly enjoyed reading it.?

    • Reply Gabriel July 6, 2017 at 7:17 am

      Missing Game of Thrones was a bit of a struggle, but my wife and I promised each other we would wait until I finished the Trail so we could watch it together.
      Your point about true colors coming out is very true. While I started this hike alone, there were large sections I spent hiking with good friends or with my Trail Family. Tensions can get high, especially when the stresses of miles and aches and smells and conflicting desires tried to tug us in different directions. But, getting through these moments strengthened relationships in a way that I really miss.

      As Monica and I prepare to hike the Camino de Santiago together, I’m a little bit nervous, and aware that there will be plenty of whining/bitching sessions. But I’m confident that she has the patience and resolve to endure the worst of my tantrums;)

      • Reply Bel July 6, 2017 at 7:58 am

        I believe couples should travel a lot together to strengthen relationships and to learn patience ? Camino de Santiago would be an exciting adventure for you and Monica!

  • Reply Invisibly Me July 6, 2017 at 6:17 am

    Wow, I’m in awe…. I don’t think I could physically do anything like this but the experience sounds incredible, and obviously you’ve learned heaps and grown in lots of ways (I’m not talking about the pizza and Snickers!)
    Caz x

    • Reply Gabriel July 6, 2017 at 7:09 am

      hehehe don’t discount the healing powers of a good Domino’s pizza and Snickers. I’m pretty sure I move a little closer to Nirvana with every bite (and I’m willing to keep putting in the effort until I can conclusively prove one way or another;) )

  • Reply Arionis July 6, 2017 at 6:18 am

    I loved every word of this Gabe! For me this is perfect timing. I just spent three days over the holiday weekend on or around the AT. I got to do some hiking and spent some time among thru, section, and day hikers. It was awesome! We also hosted trail magic at a trailhead right off the Blue Ridge Parkway. Everyone thanked us for it but I had to admit that I think I was getting more out of it than they were. However, me being me, there was a little drama during the trail magic. I’m in the process of writing a post about it now.

    • Reply Gabriel July 6, 2017 at 7:06 am

      Thanks so much Ari, and I thought about you a few times as I wrote this.
      I will say it again when I see your related post, but THANK YOU SO MUCH for providing Trail Magic. It’s experiences like these that really make otherwise impossible journeys unforgettable adventures!

  • Reply Dina July 6, 2017 at 6:19 am

    That’s an amazing adventure! Well done, Gabe. And what an excellent narrative, you have me thinking now. I really loved reading about your experience, it sure is a good way to declutter the inside and the outside. And 53 Ibs!! We don’t have a telly so I wouldn’t miss Game of Thrones desperately, but the hardest thing would be to hike without my camera and all the electrical gadgets for camera stuff. Once I’m ready to walk off without the massive camera stuff, I definetely have a great load off my shoulders. I’ll have to come back for more, Gabe. You have triggered a lot in me now. 🙂
    Warm greetings from sunny Norway,
    Dina x

    • Reply Gabriel July 6, 2017 at 7:04 am

      Wonderful Dina! It doesn’t surprise me at all that your already full life doesn’t include a telly.
      And I have to confess that I despite my newfound passion for minimalism, (especially when it means carrying gear on my back) I hiked with an iPad pro and Kindle and 2 iPhones and all assorted gear (nearly 3 kg in total) so I could practice sketching and stay in touch.
      I tell myself that this extra weight contributed to the success of my “hiking diet” but really, art and nature and exploring all go hand-in-hand for me. So I consider it “essential gear.”
      Enjoy the sunny weather in Norway!

      • Reply Dina July 6, 2017 at 7:52 am

        Love this comment, Gabe. My camera is essential for me too. And I like to think, the camera opens my eyey to the surroundings. makes me for alert for the beauty around us. Klausbernd likes to question all his actions and he does this in absolute effortless way integrated in daily life. My camera rucksack is a true burden, easily a load of 15 kg. I have decided to treat myself to an iphone 7plus, the camera is supposedly very good. A new experinece! 🙂 Now I have an old 4s and use it to stay in touch, apart from that I’m not a phone person. Many years ago I was contemplating joining a buddhist retreat for three weeks, three weeks with meditation and yoga mainly in silence. I was adviced not to bring my beloved book for writing. It made me decide against the retreat. At that time I easily spent 2-3 hrs a day writing and thought I couldn’t do without it. Today, I think it would have been good experience. 😉 I’m like you ?, always eager to learn. ?
        Hugs x

        • Reply Gabriel July 6, 2017 at 9:33 am

          15kg of camera-related gear- Thats a workout!
          And the buddhist retreat sounds amazing, aside from the yoga part (I still have a lot of work to do with flexibility), and I am assuming they would be happy to let me bring my iPad so long as I only watched one or two shows/night 😉

          I hope your recent (and beautifully photographed) trek through Scotland satisfied a bit of your eagerness to learn. I know I enjoyed following along.

          • Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, MCC, SCAC July 6, 2017 at 11:12 am

            Think relaxation not “work” for flexibility, Gabe. And patience. So worth the time it takes, since keeping the muscles flexible as we age works true magic – but forcing will never work.
            xx, mgh

      • Reply Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, MCC, SCAC July 6, 2017 at 10:07 am

        AH! Here is the answer to my former question. You added over 6 pounds to your pack with electronics alone – so that’s how you managed to hike-a-little/blog-a-little. So your trips into various towns must have included finding places to recharge – how difficult was that?

        Most important question: next trip will you do the same or take 6# of Snickers instead?

        LOVED reading this positive “lessons” post. Of all the random acts of kindness I’ve read about, surely the Trail Angels rank among the most satisfied. I love reading any and all reminders that, despite the negative focus of our media, our world really is populated by many generous and loving people with wonderful hearts. Maybe the best lesson of all?

        I loved reading a bit about your OR control too, tho’. George Winston? GREAT choice for focus!
        xx,
        mgh
        (Madelyn Griffith-Haynie – ADDandSoMuchMORE dot com)
        ADD/EFD Coach Training Field founder; ADD Coaching co-founder
        “It takes a village to transform a world!”

        • Reply Gabriel July 6, 2017 at 10:25 am

          Thanks so much Madelyn! I must be doing something right if a few of my “lessons” resonated with you as well. You are a fount of well-researched and encouraging information.

          And you should check out George Winston, not quite as peppy as Rhianna, but something about his piano concertos is so focusing that I can still “see” entire surgical procedures just by listening to a few songs.

          • Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, MCC, SCAC July 6, 2017 at 11:08 am

            No need – I’m already a Winston fan. I’ll bet the people on your tables were quite soothed by your choice as well.

            Thanks for the endorsement, but I think all of us resonate well with anything uplifting. I do my best to seek it out these days – so thanks again for a healthy dose of same (accent on the “healthy”) 🙂
            xx,
            mgh

  • Reply Phelipe Di Amaral July 6, 2017 at 6:36 am

    Wow! Amazing post! I loved it!

    • Reply Gabriel July 6, 2017 at 6:59 am

      Glad you enjoyed and thanks so much for stopping by!

  • Reply SickChristine July 6, 2017 at 6:42 am

    Hiking the AT is on my bucket list. I don’t know how well this busted up leg would do, but I at least want to try. One day. I absolutely love your writing. I feel like I could never tell you that enough.

    • Reply Gabriel July 6, 2017 at 6:58 am

      hehehehe I feel like I should be quoting Princess bride here: “At least once more my lady” (in a platonic way ofc-I don’t want my wife and your husband would beat me;) ).

      And one of my good hiking friends is Stacey Kozel. Last year she became the first paraplegic hiker to hike the Trail. At the risk of sending my own comments to the Spam folder, here’s a link to a post I wrote a while ago that you might be interested in: http://www.almostunsalvageable.com/handful-of-hiker-heroes-part-ii/

      • Reply SickChristine July 6, 2017 at 7:21 am

        Just let your wife know she can take me down easily, weak leg and all. That should put her at ease. Lol! I will check out that link. Thank you.

        • Reply lisakunk August 24, 2017 at 11:36 am

          This conversation has me thinking about my almost 21-year-old son who’s joy in life is to be outdoors. Hiking on the ground or climbing up the tallest tree. I have written about him on my blog lifestoriesandbeyond.com several times. He crushed his kneecap into six pieces back in November and it totally changed his world. He was unable to bend his leg for many months and after physical therapy finally was able to drive again and bend it only about 45°. But at least that was something. His second surgery to remove the wires that held his kneecap together to heal and also were probably preventing it from bending properly were removed. At that point his wonderful surgeon was manipulating his knee as was planned and being overly happy that he bent it to 130° he went one smidge more before he heard it pop. Thank goodness Sam was still sedated as his surgeon had broken the kneecap in two again. Sam was back at square one with his leg immobilized and unable to do physical therapy. When he went in for that second surgery he had an appointment to start therapy the next day. It would be many weeks before therapy would happen. I’m giving all this background because this young man, while going through all of these trials and tribulations with his painful knee somehow managed to go with his outdoor recreation leadership class which by the way is his minor in college, on a 12 mile backpacking trip and he climbed the tallest point in North Carolina. That would be Mount Mitchell. You would think we would be surprised at that but we were not. Our extremely determined son went outside pretty soon after his first knee surgery and said mom I’m going to climb a tree. And I responded OK have fun. His dad realized he was not kidding and followed him outside making a video of him shimmying up a rope using only his arm strength to climb high up into his favorite tree. I’m telling you all this because I have a feeling that if you put your mind to it you might just do that Appalachian trail hike someday. I wish you well.

          • SickChristine August 24, 2017 at 12:05 pm

            Thank you so much.

          • Gabriel November 5, 2017 at 5:34 am

            I love these stories, and hiking the Appalachian Trail truly was an extraordinary experience. I’m sometimes amazed when I look back to realize that I actually made it. Will be fun to see what the next adventure is…

          • lisakunk November 5, 2017 at 7:59 am

            My 2 21year-old sons will probably be hiking a portion of the Appalachian trail this summer. I look forward to reading your stories and passing them onto them.

  • Reply Didi July 6, 2017 at 7:22 am

    Such amazing post. So recognizable too.

    Sometimes letting go the ability to controll brings you so much closer to “controling” your life’s happiness.

    Im glad i left my biotechnology research wirld behind me as that made it even worse. Still a long way to go but improving bit by bit.

    Keep going on the right track Gabe!

    • Reply Gabriel July 6, 2017 at 7:46 am

      Medical research is such a draining field isn’t it? When I look back, I recognize that I was trying to do too much at one time. The responsibilities of being a surgeon and scientist and lecturing didn’t leave any “ME” left to live.

      Now I, like you, and finding my way, step by slow step. But the journey is too much more enjoyable.

      Thank you so much for the comment Didi!

      • Reply Didi July 6, 2017 at 8:00 am

        Not only draining, I lost myself, who I really was. And although I still find the medical field intresting I’m so much more happier in having work where I can be “me”. Although I am really not the typical army employee (standing at attention wearing high heels and a pink coat does stand out ?), it’s accepted i can be me.
        Maybe I am the only person left that still needs to learn to embrace the true “me” completely.

        Enjoy your journey! And remember when you feel insecure about what people think about you that a reall you is always much better than a “forced into something” you.

        • Reply Gabriel July 6, 2017 at 9:38 am

          hehehe you are not alone in the search to “embrace the true me.” many of us are on the same path.

          And now I have an image of you standing at attention in heels and a pink coat 😉 Reminds me of an old movie made in the States called “Stripes” with Bill Murray.

          • Didi July 6, 2017 at 10:04 am

            I dont know knoe the movie (might need to see it now).
            I do hope the “true me” doesn’t remind people of Bill Murray…….?

          • Gabriel July 6, 2017 at 10:17 am

            hehehe nope. Just the unusual attire in a military setting 😉

          • Didi July 6, 2017 at 10:35 am

            That’s what you get when they decide to hire one civilian in a brigade staff?

          • Gabriel July 6, 2017 at 10:36 am

            hehehe

  • Reply DailyMusings July 6, 2017 at 7:23 am

    Quite an adventure that surely changed your perspective. Having to cope with the challenges, seeing the good in people, all making for a richer life when off the trail I suppose. Just reading about it made me nervous though- I am not one to venture out onto unmarked trails, or leave the comforts I am used to 🙂

    • Reply Gabriel July 6, 2017 at 7:50 am

      hehehe living outside my comfort zone is still something I’m getting used to as well. Sometimes I wonder why I do it, but then I have moments like these when I remember the opportunities I never would have found if I stayed at home.
      If I had your writing and camera skills, the drive to explore probably wouldn’t be as great. But while I’m hunkered down here in my cave reliving past experiences, I love that I can pop on over to your blog and enjoy a virtual reprieve!

  • Reply travelersnottourists July 6, 2017 at 7:43 am

    Thank you so much for sharing the lessons you learned on this adventure. I loved how you say they are gifts as I believe all lessons in life from adventure are majorly transformative.
    My favorite part is when you talked about how you were flexible and happy when everything was going exactly the way you wanted it to go. I have been working on this as well recently.

    • Reply Gabe Burkhardt July 6, 2017 at 1:41 pm

      Thanks so much for stopping by and for the great comment! I wish you luck finding flexibility in the real world. (I found it easier on the Trail than in the real world).

  • Reply Writing to Freedom July 6, 2017 at 8:32 am

    Great lessons and reminders from the trail Gabe. I guess there is hope for us yet! Like you, I learned about being more flexible, appreciating nature and simple kindness, and that I really didn’t need much stuff. Thankfully, I didn’t have to sleep with 6 smelly strangers! I mostly traveled in my VW camper. Boy do I miss her and the adventures.

    • Reply Gabriel July 6, 2017 at 9:40 am

      I’m sure. The luxury of having your own space and choosing your direction each day sounds really awesome as well.

      The next series of adventures is right around the corner. At least thats what i keep telling myself…

      • Reply Writing to Freedom July 6, 2017 at 9:40 am

        Hard to see much travel for me. 🙁

        • Reply Gabriel July 6, 2017 at 9:46 am

          I’m sorry to hear that brother.

          And I don’t want to be that guy – the one that always tries to “spin” life to ensure the shiny side is always up, so I hope you’ll forgive me if this comes across as overly optimistic, but one of the things I’ve come to enjoy so much about the blogosphere is the chance to take endless “virtual” trips through the lens and words of others.

          I know its not nearly the same as feeling that chilling pre-dawn breeze as you curl around a cup of hot chocolate waiting for the sun to rise or the satisfaction that comes from making it to a hard-won destination despite a series of endless challenges.

          For me, sometimes it comes close…

  • Reply the incurable dreamer July 6, 2017 at 8:35 am

    Love this post, Gabe! It is so hard for me to imagine you in an operating room because the trail is where you belong. And I don’t just mean the AT or whatever trail you might be on, but the unpredictable trail of life. The unknown is the place I imagine you. You know, where you are continually seeking to learn and gain understanding – of everything. You are my inspirational Nomad, and your stories from the paths you have walked and places you have seen help me keep believing that one day my feet too will break new ground. That day can’t come soon enough. Your post today has ignited a fire inside me to let go even more and find a way to get this show on the road. There are so many places for me to see and lessons to learn, and I want it. Like now. Thank you, thank you for writing this and inspiring me to keep dreaming, and reaching.

    Ps…I just googled George Winston – good choice!

    • Reply Gabriel July 6, 2017 at 9:57 am

      How do you DO that woman!!! Every time I see a comment from you I get this goofy 5-year-old kid grin. Sometimes there is a mild lacrimal event -but we’re not going to talk about that because my Manly Man status is already under review for conduct unbecoming…

      “Your post today has ignited a fire inside me to let go even more and find a way to get this show on the road.” Thank you for this Tanya. And shut up. Not weeping. It’s allergies.

      I’m so glad we met AFTER I retired from the military and left the life of surgeon and scientist behind. I’m proud of the service I rendered and like to think that I may have helped a few others along the way, but that guy was not very much fun to be around.

      Re: George Winston, “Joy” is definitely a keeper.

      • Reply the incurable dreamer July 6, 2017 at 12:58 pm

        HAHA! Gabe, I freaking love you, and every time I see your name, it brings a massive smile to my face. So, to know that my comments bring you the same kind of joy (allergies – ha!) makes me feel like I just won the damn lotto! Thank you, for that. And I have no doubt that when you were out there saving lives, you did it with the same commitment and passion I see in your writing, and indeed, you helped many! I think you are the bee’s knees and I can’t wait for you and Monica to visit the west coast so we can toast our shared admiration and friendship. What a magnificent day that will be!

        • Reply Gabriel July 7, 2017 at 5:39 am

          I’d love that Tanya! Next year, we’ll plan a trip. That sounds perfect!

  • Reply usathroughoureyes July 6, 2017 at 9:04 am

    As always Gabe this post is one of amusement and strong and heart warming truisms. As Audrey prepares for her annual 2 weeks on the trail she snickered and related to all you note. Struggles sure do teach some valuable lessons.

    • Reply Gabriel July 6, 2017 at 9:58 am

      Thanks so much Tom. And I’m waiting to share in Audrey’s hike this year. It’s going to be wonderful!

  • Reply Almost Iowa July 6, 2017 at 9:07 am

    As Monica and I prepare to hike the Camino de Santiago

    I have always wanted to do that.

    • Reply Gabriel July 6, 2017 at 9:59 am

      Never too late.
      And I sure hope we get to go soon too. Life stuff keeps getting in the way forcing us to keep pushing our start date back.

  • Reply #themaskwriter July 6, 2017 at 10:05 am

    such amazing lessons, gabriel! you are a very courageous person, it must have been really scary to hike for so long, uncertain of where to sleep, what and if you’ll eat, etc.

    i hope that one that i’ll take that step as well. i love being around trees and long walks, so it seems a good fit. (:

    • Reply Gabriel July 6, 2017 at 10:20 am

      I don’t know about courageous, but I’ll take the compliment.
      And I hope you do get the chance to enjoy an extended stay in nature. I find it incredibly relaxing and invigorating and rejuvenating.

      • Reply #themaskwriter July 6, 2017 at 5:01 pm

        the closest i’ve been to nature is camping, but that’s a bit more passive. 😀

  • Reply Glenn Tyree aka. Deets July 6, 2017 at 11:37 am

    Hi Sketch,
    It great to know you made it to Katahdin. Some good comments and in many ways I came to enjoy the homelessness of the AT. EMAIL gtyree5@icloud.com
    DEETS

    • Reply Gabriel July 6, 2017 at 11:39 am

      Holy Crap! DEETS how are you my friend?
      If I read correctly from your blog, you had ankle problems that slowed (stopped you in NH)?

  • Reply josypheen July 6, 2017 at 12:07 pm

    I love this post Gabe!

    It is so cool that you are still learning now it’s been a while since your adventure. Thanks for sharing your wisdom and yay for hiking into the unknown.

    • Reply Gabriel July 6, 2017 at 12:21 pm

      When it comes to life lessons, I think I’m a slow learner. But I guess the advantage is that I get the chance to keep enjoying experiences long after I’ve settled back into my writing chair.

      • Reply josypheen July 6, 2017 at 1:38 pm

        I think that is probably a better way. It gives you more time to think and really digest your experiences. I mean as long as you don’t get hangry again! 😉

  • Reply D. Wallace Peach July 6, 2017 at 12:55 pm

    Having grown up as a hiker, I can so relate to your lessons, and you’re right, Gabe, there are many more. They apply to life off-trail too, and I hope you carry them with you throughout your life.
    I remember the moment I discovered the immense amounts of free time even though the whole day was occupied with walking. There were no carpets to vacuum, tables to wipe, laundry to fold, or stuff to put away. We cleaned our pot, plate and spork, and washed a pair of underwear that we dangled from our packs to dry. That’s it! I miss the hiking days and that freedom.

    • Reply Gabriel July 7, 2017 at 5:38 am

      The more I learn about your fascinating life and talents D., the more engaged I become. I’m learning firsthand that you are a brilliant writer (and wonderful blogger), but I wasn’t aware that you had so much experience as a hiker in your youth. You’re right about the simplicity of the hikers life: freedom from what I call “house husbanding duties” is another great benefit.

      I’ve nearly finished the 4th novel in “the Rose Shield” series and I’m hooked! I have no idea how you’re going to force the despicable Cull Tar back across the sea, or help Catling escape the domineering manipulation of friends and foes who compel her to use her power over Influence for misguided/evil purposes.

      I’m resisting the urge to turn this into a glowing book review (I’ll save that for Amazon and Goodreads), but I will say that your are a talented writer, each of the 5 novels I’ve read so far are immersive, engaging, and magical.

      I’m happy to be another one of your adoring fans!

      • Reply D. Wallace Peach July 7, 2017 at 9:08 am

        Aw. Thank you, Gabe. You tore through that series. I hope the ending is satisfying!

        I miss my old hiking days. The longest hike was a month in the Rockies. It was a blast and I have so many wonderful and funny memories. The old body/knees can’t do that any more, but it was wonderful. I hope you return to the trail now and then as long as you can. 😀

  • Reply desertcurmudgeon July 6, 2017 at 1:19 pm

    Excellent, Gabe! I found this post to be extremely inspirational and perhaps a wake-up call to my complacent apartment-dwelling ass.

    • Reply Gabriel July 7, 2017 at 5:40 am

      hehehe don’t you hate it when your ass falls asleep?

  • Reply Dippy-Dotty Girl July 6, 2017 at 2:21 pm

    This is a gem of post, Gabe. Six months on the Appalachian Trail, after a profession as a surgeon, has to be life altering. I would love to get out and do this trail but I do not know if I have it in me not to have a shower everyday or squat in the wild for days and encounter leeches and all kinds of nature’s creatures. One of my inspirations is Bill Bryson.

    Have you considered writing a book about your experiences? It would be fascinating to read. P.S.: Altruism exists. That is a heartening thing to hear. We need to hear more of it in this world that we live in today – it gives us hope.

    • Reply Gabriel July 7, 2017 at 5:50 am

      Bill Bryson is hilarious, and I suspect he played a part in getting me out on the Trail. Despite losing the respect of a large portion of the hiking community for “exaggerating” the amount of Trail his actually hiked, there is no denying his writing talent.

      I certainly don’t have his writing talent, however, publishing a memoir is on the bucket list, so I’m giving it a try. I’ll need a year or two (at least). In the meantime, blogging has become an unexpected passion.

      • Reply Dippy-Dotty Girl July 7, 2017 at 11:51 am

        I am sure he has exaggerated but I will take it 🙂 He can uplift me from the blues in a trice. Just one sentence and I shake visibly. I have actually embarrassed myself by sitting in cafes and snorting as I read a Bryson. And in this I do not exaggerate.

        I think you should give it a go no matter how much time you might take.

        • Reply Gabriel July 7, 2017 at 2:00 pm

          hehehe I know what you mean. My nose is still recovering from a Pepsi snortle caused by the intro of “In a sunburned country.”

          • Dippy-Dotty Girl July 7, 2017 at 7:30 pm

            I am guessing that would have to be Australia?! 😀 I think it is Down Under and I have missed out on reading it yet. I also relate to his utter love for the UK. I found my emotions echoed in ‘Notes on a Small Island’, and thought, there’s a soulmate.

          • Gabriel July 8, 2017 at 4:11 am

            Yup. The book cover is a big Kanga. And I’ll have to read “Notes on a small Island” too.

          • Dippy-Dotty Girl July 8, 2017 at 9:07 am

            Our shipment from the UK arrives today and with it all the books. There are a few Brysons I cannot wait to read and some to re-read. Last year, there was a literary festival in Althorp (Princess Di’s maiden home in Northamptonshire). It was a stone’s throw from our place and I was itching to go because Bryson would be there, but see what love does. It was my husband’s birthday and we chose to go into the countryside instead. Sacrifices!

  • Reply Liesbet July 6, 2017 at 3:22 pm

    What have I learned during my travels? Where do I begin?? Definitely some of the same things you have learned on the trail.

    This post totally resonates with me, being kind of a homeless person myself. These are great insights and experiences. The kindness of strangers is one of those things that make me believe in society again at times! So nice of random non-hikers to leave food like that! We experienced similar acts of kindness while sailing the world as well, especially in French Polynesia.

    I think one of the nicest things to be on the trail for so long (just like sailing in remote areas, or going on vacation) is to (have to) ignore social media and the internet.

    (Part one)

    PPS: This comment seems to be too long, as my “post comment” seems to gave disappeared. Trying to find a way to post it… I am posting it in two times…

    • Reply Gabriel July 7, 2017 at 5:52 am

      hehehe I thought of you as I wrote this Liesbet. You and your husband are certainly “perpetual travelers.” And You have such amazing stories to tell!

  • Reply Liesbet July 6, 2017 at 3:22 pm

    (Part 2)

    Isn’t it interesting how we can see everything more in perspective when we are not in those uncomfortable situations anymore? We are happy about these experiences, but usually not fully until after we are done with it. I am at the part in my memoir, where I am reliving our terrible three-week crossing of the Pacific Ocean right now (I do know it was pretty terrible, based on memories and notes from back then) and it is so easy to brush it off as “neh… it wasn’t that bad” as I sit on a chair in a non-moving room, with a full belly and not sweating nor being cold and wet. Hah! You gotta love your comforts and appreciate them when you have them.

    PS: I do hope you get to write that memoir about the hike – which will be a little bit like the trail itself: exhausting and at times frustrating, but worth it in the end with many lessons learned and friendships formed. 🙂

    • Reply Gabriel July 7, 2017 at 5:56 am

      So true! Viewing our lives through the retrospectoscope from the comforts of home is often more entertaining than enduring the challenging/tragic parts.

      Really excited to read about your Pacific crossing!

  • Reply rgayer55 July 6, 2017 at 3:44 pm

    Excellent post, Gabe. You may get giggles from my posts, but I always learn something from yours. It’s more than coincidental that I’ve been researching various Life Lessons posted on the web within the last week.

    I’m giving a brief presentation on Personal Branding at an Ozark Writers League quarterly meeting in August. Life Lessons is a big part of what makes each of us unique. They are powerful learning experiences and contribute greatly to our personal and spiritual growth. As T.S. Eliot said, “It’s important NOT TO have the experience and miss the meaning.”

    • Reply Gabriel July 7, 2017 at 5:59 am

      That’s awesome Russell. I don’t miss the days of giving presentations at conferences, but I suspect you’ll do great. And wish I could be there. I could use the tips on personal branding. Don’t know if there is much of a market for “househusband hikers living abroad who enjoy sharing their latest Art Therapy project”…

      • Reply rgayer55 July 7, 2017 at 6:35 am

        I’m sure that topic would draw quite an audience. 🙂

  • Reply Di July 6, 2017 at 8:57 pm

    Hello Gabe….
    Where to begin.
    This is awesome for so many reasons. Your first paragraph had me smile, after we just learnt my hubby and I are moving to London for a period of time for his work.
    So your life stories and lessons about removing yourself from everything we know and relying on either ourselves or the random acts of kindnesses from others really touched me. So too did living with less…
    What heartwarming deeds those kind people offered you. Altruism is certainly all around if this is an example.
    Thank you for such a wonderfully entertaining and thought provoking post. It was fun to get a sneak peek into your life as a surgeon…
    I see you are planning to walk the Camino…I’ll eagerly await your thoughts about this too…
    Warm wishes,
    Di ???

    • Reply Gabriel July 7, 2017 at 6:05 am

      Hey Di! Really glad you enjoyed the post, and hope it triggered some of the exciting possibilities as you prepare for a move to London. I loved living there (briefly) and hope you both do as well.

      Are you planning to keep blogging during the transition? (I sure hope so, but can certainly understand how difficult it is to juggle all that goes into a successful blog along with the myriad responsibilities and challenges of a big move)

      • Reply Di July 8, 2017 at 4:58 am

        Hello Gabe…
        I really did enjoy this post. You always entertain and offer something to ponder over…
        I’m glad you enjoyed your time in London. You have certainly lived a large life already. So many new beginnings for you in different countries. Something I am only having the chance to experience now.
        Yes, I do plan on keeping up with the blog even if it’s a slightly different flavour. I’ll hopefully have some new topics and an expat life to recount…thank you for asking and for your kind thoughts.
        Hope your weekend is wonderful my friend ???

        • Reply Gabriel July 8, 2017 at 5:07 am

          I’m sure it will be exciting Di. My only word of warning is to be patient in learning the language. I still don’t consider myself fluent in British, so the switch from Australian may also be a bit jarring 😉

          • Di July 8, 2017 at 5:33 am

            Oh Gabe… that’s awesome to read. A little chuckle after a busy Saturday!
            Thank you for the heads-up! Note to self…’patience my dear…’ ?
            ???

  • Reply Mick Canning July 7, 2017 at 2:29 am

    It certainly teaches you what really matters in life, Gabe. People and how you relate to them, the basic necessities, time is not important (other than closing time!), and an open heart and an open mind.

    • Reply Gabriel July 7, 2017 at 6:06 am

      Exactly Mick. Especially an open heart and mind. Still have a lot to learn here, but I’m willing to keep going to class.

  • Reply Maggie Wilson July 7, 2017 at 6:30 am

    “Obstacles do not block the path, they are the path.”

    Cutting and pasting and storing for further usage.

    This fits with another mantra of mine. “Thanks for the lessons you teach.” Ostensibly meant for the teaching moments brought to us by the asshats we encounter. That is, being grateful for what we learn about ourselves and the light that is shone upon our own… um, opportunities for improvement.

    But in this case, I will say, thanks for the lessons you share.

    • Reply Gabriel July 7, 2017 at 6:47 am

      I knew you were my kind of people Maggie, but seeing you use “asshat” confirms it.

      And I know what you mean, I have a nasty habit of calling these “character building experiences.” My wife is helping me break the habit, one shoe to the back of the head at a time 😉

      • Reply Maggie Wilson July 7, 2017 at 8:10 am

        I have the same habit. Still waiting for that growth spurt though.

        Would you believe? This is the first time EVER I’ve used the word asshat in public? I don’t know what that says, but I’m saying it!

        • Reply Gabriel July 7, 2017 at 2:06 pm

          It says your AWESOME. And I’m the duly elected representative of awesome here in Romania (I ran unopposed) 😉

  • Reply mydangblog July 7, 2017 at 11:39 am

    Wow! Your writing is so wonderfully vivid that I feel like I’m there–I thoroughly enjoyed this. Except for the part about being wet. I hate being wet–I don’t dry well…

    • Reply Gabriel July 7, 2017 at 2:04 pm

      I hear you. While I’m much better about it now, for the first several weeks I felt (and probably smelled) like a wet dog. Now, I’m one of those people who feels the rain, while others just get wet. (paraphrased from Roger Miller)

  • Reply Dave Ply July 7, 2017 at 1:16 pm

    That’s quite the swing, from buttoned down military surgeon to who knows what the day will bring on the trail. Not surprising there were a few lessons there. I haven’t travelled at quite the extremes as a through hiker, but seeing the world has cured me of many provincial attitudes (I hope). People are much the same everywhere, us versus them doesn’t make a lot of sense outside of fear of the unknown. And the thing is, you don’t have to be a world traveler to discover this, you just need to step outside your comfort zone. Obstacles are the path of greatest growth.

    • Reply Gabriel July 7, 2017 at 1:59 pm

      “People are much the same everywhere, Us vs Them doesn’t make a lot of sense outside the fear of the unknown. And the thing is, you don’t have to be a world traveler to discover this, you just need to step outside your comfort zone.”

      Well said Dave

  • Reply Sheri @trail2peaktheadventurouspath July 7, 2017 at 2:10 pm

    Loved this post, Gabe. And altruism is real. I really believe it’s in us all, and you can find opportunities to let it out and express it whether you be on the trail or in the downtown core. I’m quite glad you came through this experience more whole… and that you keep sharing little tidbits and life lessons learned with us as you muddle through the aftermath of The Trail and adapt to your new life.

    • Reply Gabriel July 7, 2017 at 2:14 pm

      Examples of altruism is a bit more difficult for me to find in busy city centers (probably because I’m hiding out or daydreaming abut being back out on the Trail) but you’re right. Altruism exists.

      • Reply Sheri @trail2peaktheadventurouspath July 7, 2017 at 2:20 pm

        It’s always there if you look for opportunities to express it… if you’re the one being altruistic. ?

        • Reply Gabriel July 7, 2017 at 2:25 pm

          If it’s ok with you Sheri, I might borrow this line. The next post (and sketches) will probably touch on this. My attempts to “pay-it-forward” in Bucharest turned me on my head. Instead of giving a charitable donation to a homeless woman, I found a dear friend.

  • Reply JT Twissel July 7, 2017 at 3:05 pm

    Don’t drive in any country where they drive on the wrong side of the road. Always carry food and water if you’re going to the mountains. That’s about it for lessons learned.

    I admire you for getting away from it all. I have been on those kinds of adventures but no more!

    • Reply Gabriel July 8, 2017 at 4:17 am

      your comment reminds me of yet another valuable life lesson I neglected to mention…

      No matter how thirsty we are, DON’T eat the yellow snow 😉

  • Reply Ann Coleman July 7, 2017 at 4:43 pm

    I’ve never been a hiker, but I still love this post! I think anything that takes us out of ourselves, and forces us to exist in a way we have never lived before is almost always a good thing (with the possible exception of being carted off to jail or a POW camp). I am in awe of the fact that you were able to hike for so long….you’ve posted about it before, but someone I missed that you were on that trail for so long….and it seems as if the lessons you learned from it will be with you for the rest of your life. Good for you!!!
    PS: Don’t feel guilty about your love affair with the air conditioner. Every one needs one secret passion.

    • Reply Gabriel July 8, 2017 at 4:14 am

      Just ONE secret passion? Don’t know if I can give up the Snickers…

  • Reply Buffy Devane July 8, 2017 at 5:02 am

    You write so well, sir… you don’t seek to romanticise the “homeless hiker” lifestyle but the magical aspect of it shines thru, nevertheless! Inspirational. 🙂
    And I concur with the comment above… if I were more creative I would write an ode to my own air conditioner this summer. 😉

    • Reply Gabriel July 8, 2017 at 5:11 am

      Just let that sweet sweet magical machine whisper her wondrous words of wisdom. Works for me 😉

  • Reply Ritu July 8, 2017 at 5:06 am

    What a truly awesome experience Gabe!!! You learn so.much in the university of life!!!

    • Reply Gabriel July 8, 2017 at 5:12 am

      So true. I almost wish I would have done something like this 25 or 30 years ago.

      • Reply Ritu July 8, 2017 at 5:33 am

        My only regret… that we didn’t travel before the kids came along!

  • Reply globalhousesitterX2 July 8, 2017 at 5:21 am

    Not much else to add that has not already been said! Yes, to going bush and having some space 🙂 Enjoyed reading your post, Gabe.

    • Reply Gabriel July 8, 2017 at 5:45 am

      Thanks so much for stopping by, and hope you find that Space!

  • Reply ellenbest24 July 8, 2017 at 6:25 am

    I come here #socialSaturday to be inspired, inthralled an okay inspired some more (excuse the obvious alliteration I just had to) and I haven’t been dissapointed. How many talents does one person get? A surgeon, a hiker/survivalist, a blogger, who writes beautifully by the way (just incase you didn’t spot that). Your wife … or saint that she seems to be, is more than happy to have you literally go find yourself and tapes your favorite show to share on your return. Now that surely is love, described very differently from the usual descriptions but gut wrenching love none the less. You write amusing thought provoking and to some life changing posts. Bugger you are handsome too… sorry I couldn’t resist putting that in.
    The trail magic you speak of is the way the world should be, I may not get to adventure the way you have, but each day I strive to either have or write an adventure, and I sleep knowing I gave it my best. The tenuous link we have on life must not be taken for granted, it can stop in a moment turn on a sixpence then it would be too late. My journey here taught me to keep being positive moving forward and believing in humanity as well as myself.
    Thank you.

    • Reply Gabriel July 8, 2017 at 6:39 am

      Ellen! What a wonderful comment (and thanks for following)! I couldn’t agree more about my uber patient wife. In fact, she checks ALL the boxes on our perfect-for-each-other checklist: independent, resourceful, and miraculously tolerant of my feeble attempts to play househusband when I’m not out playing in the woods. Despite your insightful observations, I was a little leary of your taste (we all know I look like a goofy kid hiding under a scraggly hat and a flimsy attempt at a goatee) 😉

      Your last observation is dead on. Life is short. We don’t know when the ride will end. Better make the best of it while can!

      • Reply ellenbest24 July 8, 2017 at 7:00 am

        Ah but you get a certain way through this life and ( sorry about this but) everyone over 1 or under fifty looks wonderful… youth is beauty that is for sure. Have a great weekend.

      • Reply ellenbest24 July 8, 2017 at 7:02 am

        P.s. The husband of mine is wonderful too. He sailed the world with Robin Knox-Johnston for his life changing adventure.

        • Reply Gabriel July 8, 2017 at 7:05 am

          THAT sounds AWESOME!

          • ellenbest24 July 8, 2017 at 7:10 am

            He did the first clipper venture race. then sailed a 1912 five schooner called the Elise of London, across the Caribbean for six months. You two would have stories to tell if you were to meet.

          • Gabriel July 9, 2017 at 9:43 am

            “When land meets sea” sounds like a cool title right?

            This reminds me, you might be interested in meeting a fellow blogger and her husband (Liesbet @ roaming about.com) who spent more than a decade traveling the ocean, and now are perpetual travelers.

          • ellenbest24 July 9, 2017 at 10:01 am

            Sounds like a title to me.? thanks Gabe I will look her up.

  • Reply Modern Gypsy July 8, 2017 at 6:26 am

    This is an awesome post! I read about the Appalachian Trail in Cheryl Strayed’s Wild. It sounded romantic and foolish and brave and enriching. And your post reinforces all of that. Almost makes me want to go out hiking. Almost. 😉

    • Reply Gabriel July 8, 2017 at 6:41 am

      Loved Wild! I’m sure I’ll be heading to the Pacific Crest Trail (on the West coast rather than the East coast) soon.

      hehehe so glad I could (almost) get you out hiking 😉

  • Reply Deb's World July 8, 2017 at 7:03 am

    What an amazing post Gabe! You tell it like it is and for that I’m very thankful. Really enjoyed reading your story and seeing your list of benefits and how you’ve grown. Thanks so much for your inspiring post.

    • Reply Gabriel July 9, 2017 at 9:44 am

      Absolutely Deb, it’s my pleasure!

  • Reply abmo14 July 8, 2017 at 7:18 am

    I came upon your blog this morning. What a great read. I fell in love with hiking about 7 years ago. I live near one of the most beautiful parks in Wisconsin and travel all over the state to other trails. I consider myself the luckiest girl in the world to have my favorite past time so close to get to. I did a four day hike on the Appalachian trail 2 years ago and had the time of my life even if it didn’t always feel like it when I was out there. I was amazed at how in tune I became with the creatures and landscape around me and how easy it was to forget about the daily grind. I recently purchased a tiny 750 square foot cottage to live in. It sits on a channel of a lake and up on a hill. It makes me feel like I’m in a tree fort. I can let a half hour pass drinking my first cup of coffee just watching the little critters running around my property and listening to water flowing in the lake below. I am pretty sure there is a little affair going on with a couple chipmunks and I also have an unspoken respectful relationship with the wasps in the nest on my deck. I don’t bother them and they don’t bother me. Banker by day nature nerd by night. All because of a 4 day trail hike. It’s amazing what a little nature will do for the soul.

    • Reply Gabriel July 9, 2017 at 9:38 am

      That sounds idyllic – a cozy little cottage nestled in the woods. I can almost envision Snow White or Sleeping Beauty singing with the animals 😉 I hope the commute to the Bank isn’t too brutal.

      Thanks so much for stopping by, and please feel free to come back any time the mood strikes. We’re just getting started here.

  • Reply April Munday July 8, 2017 at 7:19 am

    Thank you. Very thought-provoking. Discovering that people are kind and generous was probably worth all the blisters and aching feet.

    • Reply Gabriel July 9, 2017 at 9:32 am

      Fortunately, I think I have goat’s feet, so blisters and foot problems were rarely an issue, so I really came out ahead on this experience.

  • Reply Leigh Davidson July 8, 2017 at 7:25 am

    Hey Gabe I really enjoyed this and will share on my vet site. I think many will enjoy the wisdom you share.
    Happy travelling!

    • Reply Gabriel July 9, 2017 at 9:29 am

      Thanks so much Leigh! I love it when fellow bloggers share!

  • Reply Oristel Guenael July 8, 2017 at 8:41 am

    “Growth doesn’t stop at the end of the Trail” YES!
    “Obstacles do not block the path, they are the path (Zen proverb)” YES!

    YES! YES! YES! YEssss to everything! You nailed it, my friend. Keep on moving

    This is a great post! Being Homeless does teach you about yourself and about life. It is a whole different world.

    • Reply Gabriel July 9, 2017 at 9:23 am

      Thanks Oristel, who knew learning could be such an exciting (and fun) adventure right?

  • Reply Amy July 8, 2017 at 8:45 am

    What an adventure, Gabe! I requires extraordinary physical and mental power to the finish line. The “Growth” have become part of our daily life lesson (except the growth of 52 pounds… 😀 )
    Enjoy the well written experience. Thank you so much for the post! 🙂

    • Reply Gabriel July 9, 2017 at 9:22 am

      Thanks Amy. As I look back on the thousands of iPhone pics I took, I wish I had your skill and experience with a real camera to really showcase the experience.

  • Reply Julie July 8, 2017 at 10:26 am

    I’ve hiked small portions of the Appalachian Trail and portions of the absolutely gorgeous Bruce Trail. I heard that the Finger Lakes Trail in NY connects them and that it is possible to hike from Tobermory (at the top of the Bruce Penninsula) all the way to Georgia. When I was young, I hoped to someday hike that whole way.

    Now that I’m older, I’d settle for living near the trail and providing some magic for those who hike through.

    After reading Hiking Through by Paul Stutzman, my hat is off to you.

    • Reply Gabriel July 9, 2017 at 9:17 am

      I’ve heard, and hiked portions of, several of the parallel and interwoven Trails near the AT, but never heard about a Trail running from NY to GA, but it wouldn’t surprise me.

      And thanks so much for providing Trail Magic!

  • Reply A Gypsy's Tale by Brooke Breazeale July 8, 2017 at 11:11 am

    So inspiring, Gabe. I don’t know if I could do it, although I can relate to some of these lessons after 6 months in Congo, biking across Ireland for 3 weeks, and living in foreign countries for periods of time. The kindness of strangers is so beautiful, and I definitely am more cognizant of doing what I can to help visitors in ‘my country’ with whatever might make their day or experience better. And, yes, creature comforts become a minor obsession upon return.

    For me, these include: things that smell good, my nespresso machine (or just anything that doesn’t resemble nescafe) not having to wear a headlamp to find my way to the bathroom…or just having a bathroom. 🙂

    I hope you are sitting contently next to your air-conditioner, relishing in all things non-dehydrated and perishable…

    • Reply Gabriel July 9, 2017 at 9:04 am

      You have such a brilliant perspective Natalie, and I suspect your extraordinary experiences (and wonderful writing style) play a big part in that.

      I have no idea what a “nespresso machine” is, but it sounds coffee-licious. Enjoy!

  • Reply Lisa Orchard July 8, 2017 at 4:43 pm

    Sounds like you had a kind of a spiritual journey. I’m glad you were able to do it. I think it’d be awesome to hike that trail. Kudos to you for hiking the whole thing!

    • Reply Gabriel July 9, 2017 at 8:52 am

      Thanks so much Lisa!

  • Reply barbtaub July 9, 2017 at 2:21 am

    What a wonderful post! I loved reading every word.

    I’ve never been homeless, and never hiked the entire AT either. But when we were first married (new baby, no money, husband a brand new professor still finishing his thesis, wife unemployed) we couldn’t afford “real” vacations so instead joined the PATC (Potomac Appalachian Trail Club) where, in exchange for volunteer trail maintenance hours, we were allowed to use PATC cabins. You had to hike in to reach them—and hike out carrying all used diapers—but each isolated cabin had wonderful views, water, a cooking grill of sorts, a table, and bunks. We did it a LOT of volunteering and a fair amount of cabin camping. I’m pretty sure that those idyllic breaks also directly accounted for the presence of Child #2 and (we’re very slow learners) Child #3.

    • Reply Gabriel July 9, 2017 at 8:47 am

      Glad you enjoyed Barb.

      The PATC is one of the BEST trail clubs along the entire AT. The trail is well-maintained (and marked), the shelters nearly luxurious, and the water sources easily accessible. Looking back now, that whole stretch is one of my favorite. Thanks so much for all the volunteer work you and your family put into it for us.

      I’ve heard about “Trail babies” before and I always suspected a stork or at least some kind of squirrel was involved. Now I know…

  • Reply angelanoelauthor July 9, 2017 at 3:08 pm

    I can totally relate to the transactional or “what’s in it for me/them?” mindset. I felt that way for what seems like forever. I never trusted that anyone would do something for me without expecting some sort of return. Why did I think that? I think because in my heart of hearts I didn’t do anything for someone else without expecting something in return–why should others be any different? Only when I started to see efforts I made as “no strings attached” did I start to believe others capable of the same. When I “go out of my way” for someone now, it’s because I want to, not because I want to make them feel obligated to return the favor. The truth is, I can’t repay some of the kindnesses of others. I just can’t. They offered me gifts in words, or things, or actions. I accepted the gift with what I hope is a grateful heart, knowing I did nothing to earn the gift and can do nothing to reward them. But, I CAN give to others with the same spirit. Trail Magic is a lovely name. I think hikers of every kind–even those that never set foot on an actual trail but are traversing the world in one way or another–can benefit from feeling the effects of altruism as both a giver and receiver.
    I wish I’d learned how to see beyond the transaction or what I thought was an obligation before mid-life. But that’s how long it took me. I’m sure glad I see it now. And I’m grateful to read about your journey. It proves the point of the Zen proverb you shared. The things we overcome because they’re in our way, are the way–and we get there when we get there.

    • Reply Gabriel July 10, 2017 at 10:08 am

      I’m not surprised at all that you see the essence of altruism so clearly Angela. “The truth is, I can’t repay some of the kindnesses of others. I just can’t.” I suspect this was my ah-ha moment. When the overwhelming generosity of others became more than I could balance, and I was forced to just accept it. To be grateful.

      I know that I still have a lot to learn, but I think we’re on the right path!

  • Reply Andrea Stephenson July 9, 2017 at 5:04 pm

    Great post Gabe, and very valuable lessons – lessons that seem to point to the deeper meaning of life and community.

    • Reply Gabriel July 10, 2017 at 9:48 am

      Thanks Andrea and I think you’re right.

  • Reply Becca Barracuda July 10, 2017 at 10:16 am

    Wow, Gabe, what an amazing experience you’ve had. What an inspiration! (Although, to be honest, I’m glad for your air conditioning and whiskey within reach 😉 I’m not sure I could ever do something like that, but I admire you so very much for it. What a beautiful post!

    • Reply Gabriel July 10, 2017 at 2:20 pm

      I’m grateful for the air conditioning and whiskey too! But… the mountains are calling again 😉

  • Reply Parul Thakur July 10, 2017 at 10:24 am

    First things first, that’s an impressive feat. I am sure it wouldn’t have been easy by any standards.
    Second, I loved these lessons and I for sure want to read more. About the trail and how it panned out.
    Whenever I have travelled, one thing that strikes me is that life is much more that the job, house and chores most of us worry about tirelessly. I have learnt that people are helpful and good. We need to trust them 🙂
    A lovely post you got there!

    • Reply Gabriel July 10, 2017 at 2:19 pm

      Thanks Parul! I suspect you’ve got a head start on me with these lessons (not because you’ve been around longer, but likely because you’re a faster learner when it comes to the important stuff).

  • Reply EJediting July 10, 2017 at 11:29 am

    I love it when you wrote “growth doesn’t stop at the end of the trail.” – – we can use that in every aspect of our lives. I mean, growth doesn’t stop when you achieve that BIG ONE – (for me, PhD), or when you retire, or when you “grow up” or even when you get really, really old. In fact, I hope that I continue to learn and grow forever. Even after life. Hopefully there’s continuing education in Heaven.

    • Reply Gabriel July 10, 2017 at 2:17 pm

      That’s a wonderful notion, and one I wholeheartedly agree with… that we are capable of being perpetual learners.

  • Reply Caroline A. Ocheng July 10, 2017 at 1:49 pm

    That’s an awesome post. It appears you had a great hike, thank you for sharing your lessons with the world.

    I liked all the lessons especially the bit about altrusim. Like you, it took me a while to learn that there are people that are altruistic, people that simply derive joy from giving of themselves, their resources for others. I love the conclusion..” that we we are worthy of this gift”

    • Reply Gabriel July 10, 2017 at 2:16 pm

      Thanks so much for stopping by and glad your enjoyed!

      That last bit (about being worthy) is a lesson I’ll likely need to relearn from time to time.

  • Reply astoldbytony July 10, 2017 at 2:33 pm

    I really enjoyed reading this post. It’s amazing how you can learn so much in the real world and apply those tools to life itself. This makes me want to hike more often!

    • Reply Gabriel July 12, 2017 at 9:16 am

      I know right? Who knew playing in the outdoors could be so much fun AND educational 😉

  • Reply Retirementallychallenged.com July 10, 2017 at 11:26 pm

    I loved reading about your adventure and the lessons learned on the trail. I love to hike but I’ve never been on a trek so extensive and so alone… perhaps one day. If you ever decide to hike the Pacific Crest Trail, I’m sure a few of your west coast fans – me included – would love to cheer you on.

    • Reply Gabriel July 12, 2017 at 9:06 am

      Hiking the PCT is definitely on the bucket list. Might be late in 2018 before we get there, but Monica tells me she wants to go on any future long-distance hikes with me. We’ll have to see how our “luxurious” stroll along the Camino de Santiago goes first.

  • Reply bedlamanddaisies July 11, 2017 at 8:18 pm

    I find that I have the hardest time accepting help. I’m not sure that I’m looking for an ulterior motive, but I tend to do everything myself. I loved reading about what you learned on your hike. I need to spend more time doing some of the hikes on the Appalachian Trail that are nearby!

    • Reply Gabriel July 12, 2017 at 9:12 am

      I’m glad you enjoyed the post. It certainly was a life-changing experience for me (and so many others).

      I absolutely understand the urge to be independent. Relying on others is not a skill that comes naturally to me, but I’m working on it.

      I remember a post you shared several months ago about your time near McAfee’s Knob (and Dragon’s tooth). Loved it and I can see the bliss you find by exploring the outdoors too!

  • Reply KaylasFootPrintsinFlour July 12, 2017 at 5:15 am

    I absolutely loved this!

    • Reply Gabriel July 12, 2017 at 9:13 am

      Thanks for the comment and for stopping by! Feel free to come back or explore as much as you’d like.
      We’ll leave the light on for you 😉

  • Reply Barb Knowles July 12, 2017 at 1:23 pm

    I know this isn’t the part of the post that I’m supposed to focus on and I’ve read other AT hiking posts before but YOU WERE A SURGEON? Or do you mean that like I WAS A ROCKET SCIENTIST. That’s not a great example because my uncle actually was a rocket scientist lol. What a contrast to 6 months of hiking. I can see the need for total control over your equipment, some decisions etc. But the weather? No way.
    I love your writing, as you know. This is a great post. If the surgeon was a joke, please let me know.

    • Reply Gabriel July 12, 2017 at 1:52 pm

      Hey Barb! I can see how it would be surprising, my writing is often playful and witty (unless I’m whining about my latest depressive episode)- not what you’d typically expect from a retired military surgeon. It’s experiences like these that have helped me reclaim some of the joy and meaning I believe we should be searching for in life.

      I wasn’t a rocket scientist, but I was a military surgeon.

      And you are so right… recognizing that I couldn’t control everything (especially the weather) was a big eye-opener.
      Thanks for the comment Barb!

      • Reply Barb Knowles July 12, 2017 at 1:55 pm

        Now you’ve opened up a whole new line of conversation. I come from the long grey line of West Pointers and was born at Elmendorf AFB in Anchorage. I want to know EVERYTHING (everything appropriate lol) about your military experience. This is so cool/interesting/unexpected. But then the comments I just made are being made by an Air Force Brat who is bipolar and talks A LOT and loves to write <3 <3

        • Reply Gabriel July 12, 2017 at 2:54 pm

          hehehe looks like I’ve reeled you in now Barb! Guess you’ll have to keep coming back to see where the next steps in our path lead us 😉

          There are endless stories waiting to be shared, right?

          • Barb Knowles July 12, 2017 at 3:20 pm

            You better believe it!

  • Reply Unexpecteded gifts from my homeless friends - (Almost) Unsalvageable(Almost) Unsalvageable July 12, 2017 at 6:55 pm

    […] lessons I learned while hiking the Appalachian Trail. (If you’d like to read it, you can visit here.) I spoke at length about the hardships (and perks) of living as a homeless hiker. But the thing […]

  • Reply coreynasfell July 15, 2017 at 9:26 am

    This is brilliant, just brilliant. ??????

  • Reply Sarah July 16, 2017 at 1:25 pm

    An inspiring adventure!

    • Reply Gabriel July 17, 2017 at 9:44 am

      I absolutely was. Thanks for stopping by Sarah!

  • Reply Pina Marek July 16, 2017 at 1:53 pm

    This is one great article! I loved reading it. So true. And also your writing is so great!

    • Reply Gabriel July 17, 2017 at 9:46 am

      Thanks Pina for the comment and for following! I’m glad you enjoyed. Please feel free to stop back by anytime the mood strikes.

  • Reply havepaprika July 16, 2017 at 3:41 pm

    A wonderful post. Life isn’t exactly straightforward, and is surprising in many ways. Loved the humorous touches, and the honesty too.

    • Reply Gabriel July 17, 2017 at 10:02 am

      Life definitely isn’t straightforward, but that’s usually a good thing. right?

  • Reply amindfultravellerblog July 17, 2017 at 3:45 am

    Such an inspirational post Gabe. Have just discovered you from Big Up Your Blog.
    Each one of us can take a piece of this and reflect.
    Thank you
    Lorelle

    • Reply Gabriel July 17, 2017 at 9:56 am

      Isn’t BUYB AWESOME! Thanks for following. I’m sure we’ll be seeing each other quite a bit now that you’re in the “cool kids” Facebook group 😉

      • Reply amindfultravellerblog July 17, 2017 at 3:43 pm

        Lol….. yes I am. Great support for someone just starting out. Still lots to learn though. Thanks Gabe. ?

        • Reply Gabriel July 18, 2017 at 4:36 pm

          You and I both. But I think we’ve found the right classroom to study in 😉

      • Reply amindfultravellerblog July 18, 2017 at 4:50 am

        ? funny…. great to meet you.

        • Reply Gabriel July 18, 2017 at 4:31 pm

          You too!

  • Reply intenttowin July 17, 2017 at 6:59 am

    For awhile I was in the local Middle TN chapter of the Sierra Club. One woman from my hometown walked the entire trail. She talked about how she only came off the road to pick up supplies she had basically mailed to herself or friends would mail them at designated times. She talked about her shins shattering and toe nails coming off when the terrain was especially rocky. I admire the people who make the trek.

    • Reply Gabriel July 17, 2017 at 9:57 am

      ahhh yes. Shin splints and shedding toe nails. The badge of any long-distance hiker.

  • Reply craighole July 17, 2017 at 7:18 am

    Doing an AT thru hike is one of those amazing growth opportunities. Glad you learned from it 🙂

    • Reply Gabriel July 17, 2017 at 9:51 am

      It absolutely is. Did you complete a thru hike as well? (and I’ll be heading over to your blog to check it out as soon as the dust settles here)

      • Reply craighole July 17, 2017 at 10:06 am

        Not yet. It’s on the hike bucket list though. Even my short 7 day hikes are learning experiences though.

        • Reply Gabriel July 17, 2017 at 10:08 am

          Section hikes are awesome. Just enough time to sweat the city stink off and rediscover a fondness for Trail Mix and dehydrated mashed potatoes.

  • Reply Mahesh Nair July 17, 2017 at 8:02 am

    This proverb “Obstacles do not block the path, they are the path” gave me goosebumps. I have heard of it before but it’s deeper when read from the context of your experience. Thanks for sharing. Best!

    • Reply Gabriel July 17, 2017 at 9:50 am

      I thought about this proverb as well a lot towards the end of my hike. Gotta admit, I don’t always like how true this is;)

  • Reply Remnants of Wit July 17, 2017 at 8:04 am

    Wonderful post! Congrats on being featured on WordPress Discover! I was ashamed to say that I wasn’t following you– (I thought I was???) Anyway, that’s fixed now 🙂

    • Reply Gabriel July 17, 2017 at 9:49 am

      Thanks Monica! And no worries, Sometimes the email notification isn’t activated when you follow someone on WordPress. (you can update this on your “manage” tab next to Followed Sites on your WordPress reader.

  • Reply backwardsisbetter July 17, 2017 at 12:30 pm

    Reading this was so inspirational for me. I especially appreciate how you translated the trail markers on the trip to trail markers in life. They are there if we are willing to pay attention.

    • Reply Gabriel July 18, 2017 at 4:46 pm

      So true. Wouldn’t it be awesome if we could pick up a pair of special glasses that would help us see these trail markers in life? Like night vision goggles, but even more helpful.

  • Reply Unbound Roots July 17, 2017 at 1:16 pm

    Once again, thank you for an awesome post! I love having an insight into your adventures.

    • Reply Gabriel July 18, 2017 at 4:39 pm

      So glad you enjoyed! And hopefully, there will be more where this came from. (Guess we’ll both have to stick around to find out 😉 )

  • Reply Barb Knowles July 17, 2017 at 2:40 pm

    Congratulations on being “Discovered!” The recognition is awesome and so completely deserved. I just want to say congratulations over and over. CONGRATULATIONS!

    • Reply Gabriel July 18, 2017 at 4:38 pm

      Thanks Barb. While I haven’t been featured twice as you have, I feel like we might be off to a decent start. If nothing else… it’s a lot of fun right?

      • Reply Barb Knowles July 19, 2017 at 3:31 pm

        That’s for sure! And a lot of new people will enjoy your blog now and you will be able to find a lot of interesting blogs that are new to you, as well. <3

  • Reply Wendy Weir July 17, 2017 at 2:48 pm

    Look who’s all featured here and stuff on WordPress Discover! Such a worthy one you are, too, to be featured here. Congratulations, Gabe. You are one of the good guys, to be sure.

    • Reply Gabriel July 18, 2017 at 4:37 pm

      hehehe I hope this doesn’t mean I have to start acting like a grownup now 😉
      Cheers Wendy!

      • Reply Wendy Weir July 19, 2017 at 3:10 pm

        I don’t even understand this “acting like a grownup” business. You’re golden!

  • Reply AniK July 17, 2017 at 11:59 pm

    This is a wonderful post and I am glad I came across it. Being homeless and money-less is terrifying and yet I feel people maybe driving themselves too hard to not be homeless. Stressing out and making themselves ill just so that they can hold on to their possessions. I am not judging – just that it’s sad.
    I live in Dubai and what I see here are couples working 10-12 hours, making good money of course but too tired and worn out to enjoy spending it, y’know what I mean? If you don’t have time to enjoy good food or watch your children grow, then what’s the use of having all that money?
    Whew! I almost went on a rant there 🙂 Sorry!
    I will be visiting your blog regularly now that I know there’s good stuff here!

    • Reply Gabriel July 18, 2017 at 4:34 pm

      Anik! So glad you stopped by, and sounds ike you lead a fascinating life in Dubai. I absolutely agree that working-hard-so-we-can-work-hard is a miserable way to live (I did it for several decades). Living simply and in the present is a far more rewarding.
      And I’m looking forward to stopping by your blog as well once the dust settles here.
      Cheers!

  • Reply defneali July 18, 2017 at 10:28 pm

    I enjoyed reading your writing. It’s truly amazing to leave everything behind and wander into the unknown just to find the most unforgettable paths and appreciate the things that are our riches.

    Love to you brother✨

    • Reply Gabriel July 19, 2017 at 2:47 am

      Man I love getting these comments! “…wander into the unknown just to find the most unforgettable paths…” These words sound like they’ve been spoken by someone with plenty of experience.

      Love ya Back!

      • Reply defneali July 19, 2017 at 4:03 am

        Yes, I’ve been quite on a journey. Different from yours of course but have the same means. ✨

  • Reply A few comments about building my blog community - (Almost) Unsalvageable(Almost) Unsalvageable July 19, 2017 at 2:43 am

    […] Discover featured a recent post about Life Lessons I learned while hiking the Appalachian Trail. The dizzying trill of overlapping notifications gave me a brief glimpse of what life must be like […]

  • Reply healingpilgrim July 19, 2017 at 6:32 am

    What a captivating story of adventure and homeless-ness! Reminds me of parts of Cheryl Strayed’s WILD. Even though I haven’t walked the AT (yet), I hiked the Camino de Santiago across Spain a few years ago. From the looks & sounds of it, I’d say that you’re more than ready to give it a go 😉 Buen Camino, Gabe! (from another longtime G Winston fan)

    • Reply Gabriel July 19, 2017 at 8:48 am

      So jealous! I’ve been trying to convince my wife that we need to hike the Camino -SOON. (She says the word I really want to use is “coerce,” but I’m pretty sure it’s a language barrier thing;) )

      I’m totally looking forward to checking out your blog now. not only are you a fellow traveler, but you clearly have great taste in music!

  • Reply djandess July 20, 2017 at 9:30 am

    Awesome post! I’ve always wanted to hike the AT and always been envious of those who’ve done it. One of my favorite quotes has always been “Excessive comfort is bad for your character”. I’ve had some rough outings and walkabouts that didn’t exactly go as planned, but as you said, they always seem to teach us a lesson. Great blog. Looking forward to more!

    • Reply Gabriel July 22, 2017 at 7:18 am

      Glad you enjoyed! And if you get the chance, I think you’ll love the AT, whether its sections, or the whole 2,200 miles. It’s all good for the body, and even better for the soul.

  • Reply Jennifer July 20, 2017 at 1:55 pm

    I love hiking the AT in the White Mountains, maybe someday I’ll be a thru hiker, mostly likely NOT. I prefer hut hiking and having someone else make the breakfast and dinner for me. I’ve given rides to thru-hikers and even reassured one thru hiker who was concerned that it took her 8 hours to hike from GreenLeaf hut to Galehead hut—it’s not unusal. I am in awe of any hiker who does the whole route. So my hat off to you dear sir.

    • Reply Gabriel July 22, 2017 at 7:28 am

      Wow- the Whites are one of the most challenging (and breathtaking) sections on the entire AT. So if you’ve enjoyed this section, I’m sure thereat of the AT would be no problem -except the stretches where u have to make your own breakfast, and no showers for a week at a time, and the mice crawling over your head in the shelters, and… You know what. Maybe I should just stop here and say… Yay AT! 😉

  • Reply restlessjo July 24, 2017 at 9:49 am

    All these people can’t be wrong, Gabe! You’re a gifted writer, and I seem to remember you’re not so bad in the art department either. 🙂 🙂 I don’t remember reading before that you were a surgeon (in the military?). That would scare the hell out of me. I’ve just come back from a failed blood donor session and that was action enough. But the best thing, Gabe, is that you’re a really nice chap. You have the gift of making people smile.

    • Reply Gabriel July 24, 2017 at 9:57 am

      Thanks Jo. Yup I was a military surgeon (and there were times it scared the hell out ofme too). But that last (the nice chap with a gift of making people smile) is the part I’m must delighted to hear.

  • Reply Essential backpacking gear for long distance hikers - (Almost) Unsalvageable(Almost) Unsalvageable July 30, 2017 at 4:47 pm

    […] Update: I recently completed a thru-hike on the Appalachian  Trail. You can read about a more extensive discussion of lessons learned here […]

  • Reply smzang August 12, 2017 at 8:47 pm

    Splendid! Informing, informative, life changing!

    Thank you!

    • Reply Gabriel August 12, 2017 at 9:15 pm

      So glad you enjoyed and thanks for stopping by! Feel free to come on back anytime the mode strikes. We’re just getting started here;)

  • Reply GAURAV August 16, 2017 at 1:30 am

    Such fantastic post.
    Sometimes letting go the ability to control brings you so much closer to “controlling” your life’s happiness. I believe Traveling is something which can shape up your life and let you feel the best feeling of your life as it’s an endless tail of fun, excitement, and extraordinary pleasure.
    Keep going on the right track, Gabe!

    • Reply Gabriel August 20, 2017 at 11:27 pm

      very true. The best path to regaining control is by accepting that we CAN’T control everything (or even most things).

  • Reply Life lessons I learned hiking the Appalachian Trail as a homeless hiker — (Almost) Unsalvageable – Suman Das Freelancer August 25, 2017 at 12:24 pm

    […] via Life lessons I learned hiking the Appalachian Trail as a homeless hiker — (Almost) Unsalvageable […]

  • Reply Sharanya Sridhar September 8, 2017 at 6:19 am

    Hey! Just wanted to say…I loved every word of this..and I would love you to check out my blog too, as it’s on the same lines!!

    • Reply Gabriel November 5, 2017 at 6:06 am

      Sorry about the delayed reply, just returned from another long hike. Once I get settled in again, I’ll be looking for your blog!

  • Reply dinkgo September 12, 2017 at 4:06 am

    Oh wow! We visited Palm Springs last year and talked a lot about the AT “There they are, behind the windmills, in the woods, up on the mountain paths. Hiking alone, as couples, in groups.. ” When I did my hospitality management studies I read a lot about the different kinds of pilgrimages people make in their lives for various reasons – spiritual and unspiritual. And there are so many ways you can make one. As personal learning experiences they are exceptional if one let’s them to be. Like you, as travelers we’ve probably learned a lot about not being able to control everything. Being more ok with the world around not being perfectly as we’d like it to be. Good writing, started following you. Mikaela from DINKgo

    • Reply Gabriel November 5, 2017 at 6:13 am

      Beautiful words Mikaela! And so true.

  • Reply Agness of aTukTuk October 26, 2017 at 5:36 am

    Wow! This is such an enlightening and powerful post from which I’ve learned a great deal. Thanks for sharing your experience!

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