In the 1980s, I started hiking with a guy I barely knew. He couldn’t have been more different than me. He was an introverted analyst type and a Tigers fan. I was an extroverted literary type and a Red Sox fan. It was soon apparent that we both shared a passion for hiking though, and that became our bond.

We had decided to hike Vermont’s Long Trail, (a 200-plus mile path that runs from the Massachusetts border to Canada) over a series of 3-day weekends. For about 100 miles, the Appalachian Trail and the Long Trail are one and the same. One evening, during our five year journey on the Long Trail, my buddy Wayne paused between spoonfuls of chili to say, “You do realize that we are hiking the Appalachian Trail, don’t you?” 

“Yes”, I said. “But at this rate, it will take us 30 years.”

“So what?”, he asked.

So what indeed.

It still amazes me that a twelve word observation has had such a profound impact on my life. Our hike on the AT became the 28-year trip of a lifetime. Everything changed over those nearly three decades — the gear, the menu, our friendship — in all cases for the better.

Was it all ice cream and puppy dogs? Certainly not. (How can anything worth doing ever be?) Few things test your resolve like spending your days scrambling over mountains with 60 pounds on your back. Yet, few things are more inspiring than sitting on a mountaintop in complete silence watching the sun disappear over the horizon.

The annual ritual of choosing where to hike, trip planning and being out on the trail for days or weeks on end has been a continuous source of joy and has held a powerful life lesson, quite literally that of following your path, even when you’re not certain where it’s leading.