Recently, I had the wonderful opportunity to lead a Creatio hiking trip on the Appalachian Trail (AT) for the LifeTeen Young Adult Conference. I have to admit – because I had climbed twelve 14,000 ft peaks in Colorado this summer, I thought it was going to be a walk in the park. But one forgets about the humidity – and mosquitoes. Thank you Colorado.
While walking, I made a few reflections about the AT which I would like to share. Before I share those, some quick statistics on the AT:
- Distance of the AT = 2200 miles (more or less), changes slightly every year due to trail maintenance / reroutes
- 3,735 people attempted to walk the entire AT in 2017 (these people are called thru-hikers)
- Only 20 percent of the people who attempt to walk the entire AT actually do it
- The # of people walking the AT continues to increase greatly every year. 2,000+ more people attempted to thru-hike the AT from 2010 to 2017 (155% increase)
People hike the AT for different reasons, but a common theme can be found amidst the reasons people gave here – that people desire something greater than what secular life has to offer. Of course, there are many people who simply walk to “prove they can do it” or an physical challenge such as losing weight. On the flip side, most people walk the AT trying to answer the deeper questions of life, such as discerning what to do in life, dealing with a tragedy, not finding peace, etc. As I was walking, I thought: does the Appalachian Trail provide answers to people seeking meaning in life?
For starters, the AT has much to offer: community along the trail, silence, simplicity, and the opportunity to encounter nature. The setting provides a space for seekers to recall how they have lived their life, almost like an extended retreat. Walking along the AT for many months can make a person encounter themselves and form a desire to answer the big questions of life.
One thing I saw only vaguely on the AT was spiritual support that guided travelers in their long walk. In general, people seem to be “on their own” to the questions that they are searching answers for. As a Christian and a Catholic, I believe we ought to do more to guide these pilgrims on their journey!
Let’s take a step back and do a Google search. Googling “Appalachian trail catholic” yields many interesting things, the primary inquiry being people searching for ways to get to mass while walking the AT.
This post and many others reveal that not only are there many Catholics on the AT, but that they are also attempting to live their faith out. Are we as Catholics doing enough to reach out to those on the AT, especially the Catholics that walk it? Some google searches did not reveal many Catholic ministries on the AT – but perhaps there are more that I couldn’t find. I immediately think of many things that could be done to support the spiritual needs of pilgrims. For example: how great it would be to have a small Catholic chapel on the AT for weary pilgrims to lay down their burdens to the Lord!
As a starter, I have modified an existing Google custom map of the entire AT and added a “Catholic” layer with many different Catholic churches along the way. I haven’t added mass times because that would be a much greater time investment but maybe if some folks wanted to help out that could happen pretty easily. Please share your ideas below![googlemaps https://www.google.com/maps/d/u/1/embed?mid=1hRuBruWTT9rWSwS7iK8_LbaZ7Vk&w=640&h=480]
In addition, there have been many other creative initiatives for sharing the faith on the AT. For example: the oldest hostel on the Appalachian Trail is located in the basement of the Church of the Mountain in Delaware Water Gap, Pennsylvania. Regarding their unique way of evangelizing those on the trail, the pastor at Church of the Mountain said: “A hiker is typically quite open to some very big conversations because I think being on the trail lends itself to contemplative thinking, meditation, asking yourself the big questions… You don’t have the same distractions on the trail that you have in everyday life.”
Another interesting idea comes from the Methodist Church, who raise financial support for full time chaplains on the AT that walk the entire thing. Also: a married couple felt God call them to start the Appalachian Trail Servants which runs a ministry that organizes Christians that walk on the AT (and many other hikes for that matter).
I think many good things can improve the spiritual experience hikers have while walking on the AT. The New Evangelization calls us to share our faith in new and creative ways. Many of the people who walk along the AT are seeking answers and Christians can walk with them on their journey. Christian ought to give their time and energy to supporting the spiritual needs of these travelers on their path.