By Richard Mabey Jr.
My father firmly believed that when a boy hiked in the woods, for four or five days, he could not help but come to a greater understanding that God really does exist. That there is a Wisdom guiding the universe, that is much greater than that of the smartest person on earth. My father would often cite the example of God’s infinite wisdom, in that trees absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen. Thus providing us with an essential element of life.
In the midst of Autumn, I remember there was always something called “The Teachers’ Convention” that would be a time when there would be no school. It was usually on a Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. It was during “The Teacher’s Convention” that Dad would schedule a four or five day sojourn of the Appalachian Trail for Boy Scout Troop 170.
We would start in upper New York State and usually end our hike of the AT in Fayetteville, Pennsylvania, along Route 30, which is also known as the Lincoln Highway. It would be a time of contemplation, of enjoying conversations with friends, of learning the hard lessons of self reliance, and also of learning the importance of water. For me, it was a golden opportunity to know my dad a little better.
We would hike beneath the golden yellow, the rusty red, and burnt orange leaves of the elm, the oak and the maple, for miles and miles and miles. The sun would glisten between the tree branches. The wind would create a gentle breeze. Squirrels would rustle the branch endings of trees. From time to time, a group of deer would be seen by a stream. And, we were always mindful of keeping an eye out for snakes.
In the Late Autumn of 1970, I was in my senior year of high school. That year, only one other scout leader was able to go on the long walk in the woods. Mr. Thomas Crooks was Troop 170’s newest Committeeman. He was not an experienced hiker. His son, Tommy Jr., had also just joined Troop 170.
I remember that about a week before we went on the hike, Dad and I were working on a project at my father’s basement workbench. Dad simply said to me, “Richie, I’m glad that you’re going on this hike with us. I’ll be leaning on you a lot.” I still cherish the remembrance of those words that my dad sincerely said to me.
When you hike the Appalachian Trail, everything you need for your hike is on your back, inside your framed backpack. Although your sleeping bag is generally tied to the bottom of your big backpack. But your food, your tarp to sleep under, your change of clothes, your poncho, is all in your backpack. Plus, the weight of your canteen pulls down upon one of your shoulders. It really is not an easy undertaking at all.
I was very studious in high school and would regularly make the honor roll. My application for Eagle Scout was now at the National Boy Scout Headquarters in New Brunswick. It was now just a matter of being processed, before being able to be presented with the coveted rank of Eagle Scout. Just about every week, I wrote an article for the old Lincoln Park Herald.
It was somewhere in Eastern Pennsylvania, along the Appalachian Trail, that Dad decided it was time for all the scouts to take a break for lunch. Dad and I sat on this big boulder and ate our peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Mr. Crooks was a bit of a distance from us, eating lunch with his son. The other scouts had all found logs, fallen trees, and boulders to sit upon to eat their lunches. A kind of comfortable silence fell between my father and I as we at our sandwiches.
I remember that Dad looked down upon the earth, looked out to see all the boys happily eating their lunches, taking sips of water from their canteens. Then Dad looked out to the horizon.
“I’m proud of you son. You know your life’s gonna be a lot different when you start college. Your studies are going to take a lot of your time. This might well be the last big hike we take together,” Dad said as he looked into the horizon, then took a momentary look into my eyes.
“You’ll do well, I know you will,” Dad said to me in a rather quiet voice.
“Thanks Dad,” I said to my father. “I’ll do my best.”
“I know you will son,” Dad replied. A silence fell between Dad and I for a few moments in time.
“Well, we better get these boys moving. We’ve got ground to cover,” Dad said to me.
I called the boys together. Most of the scouts had finished eating their sandwiches. And once again we all began the fun, the adventure, the enchanted wonder of hiking the old Appalachian Trail.
Richard Mabey Jr. is a freelance writer. He hosts a YouTube Channel titled, “Richard Mabey Presents.” Richard most recently published a book of poetry and short stories. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.