When you register a thru-hike with the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC), they send you a cool tag for you to attach to your pack. The tag has the iconic AT logo on the front and the Leave No Trace principles of camping on the back. Each year, the ATC produces a different colored tag for thru-hikers. When we thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail in 2017, we were given yellow hiker tags for our backpacks.
While this tag does not magically bestow some power or energy onto you as you hike, it still means a great deal to a great number of thru-hikers. This tag becomes a way for others you might come in contact with along the trail to recognize that you are indeed thru-hiking. This tag becomes a piece of gear that travels all the way from Georgia to Maine (or from Maine to Georgia or from wherever you start to wherever you end). But, the tag for thru-hikers that complete trail becomes a cherished souvenir of sorts, a symbol of a long and arduous journey.
Today, I realized that I have lost my yellow, thru-hiker tag.
Ever since we completed the trail in 2017, I had been keeping my tag on my day pack…which also functions as my everyday backpack…and my school backpack…and my travel backpack. So, for almost the past two years, that small, yellow tag traveled with me to almost everywhere I went.
And, I have no idea when or where the tag would have fallen off. All I do know at this point, however, is that I lost it.
I lost a symbol of a long and arduous journey. I lost an important (for me) indicator of our thru-hike. And, I lost one of the most cherished souvenirs from the Trail that I had. But, now it’s gone and has left no trace.
When I realized that I had lost my tag, I was immediately overcome with a crushing sense of guilt for being so silly to think that keeping it on a pack that goes with me everywhere I go would not fall off. I was remorseful for losing track of something that, to me, was sacred in multiple respects. While it was just a small piece of recycled plastic, it carried so much more weight than you might expect.
What I started to notice in this guilty remorse, however, is that it seems that I have lost a little bit more than just a small, yellow tag that accompanied me on MoonShine and I’s thru-hike.
There’s this theory within the field of psychoanalysis that claims that small, repetitive actions (habits) are actually symptoms of a much greater–and often subconscious–reality. For instance, if you constantly forget to take out the garbage cans the night before the garbage trucks come and it causes you to continually miss getting your garbage picked up…it might not be the case that you are simply a forgetful person. Rather, there might be some suppressed or repressed reason why you try to avoid taking the garbage out each week (i.e. some traumatic childhood memory of being forced to take the garbage out each week).
Right now, I am starting to think that there’s a deeper reason surrounding me losing my yellow AT tag. After all, if that tag really was special to me, why would I have kept it in a place where it was prone to fall off (which MoonShine pointed out to me on multiple occasions)? Why would I not take the tag off my pack and put it somewhere safe or special? And–most significantly–why did it take me so long to realize the tag was gone in the first place?
My hunch is, at this point, none of this crushing guilt and remorse has to do with the tag itself. Rather, this feeling–which is not fun at all–has to do with the fact that I have continually and utterly neglected thinking about and reflecting on MoonShine and I’s thru-hike. I have lost my drive to remember the Trail. I have misplaced its smells, its tastes, its pains, its laughs, and its beauty. MoonShine has tried so many times to motivate me to write the book we keep telling everyone we are writing. And, I always come up with some excuse or “forget” about it. This guilt over a small, yellow tag–so it seems–is not really about a small, yellow tag at all. It is about my act of forgetting the Trail and my failure to deliver on a promise I made to MoonShine, our support system, and the Trail itself.
And, I don’t know how to apologize for all of that…so I decided to write. I decided to just begin with where I am…in this strange space of crushing guilt and veiled forgetfulness.
I ask of each of you for your forgiveness in my neglect and I long for your accountability to stop ‘forgetting’ and ‘misplacing’. I ask for you to help me and join me in remembering, once more, the Trail and all that rests in the subconscious.
And, if you happen to stumble upon a small, yellow tag with my name on the back…let me know.
Want to know more about our upcoming Mountains-to-Sea Trail thru-hike? Or, want to know how you can play a part on our trek? Head over to our support page. Be sure to leave your comments and questions below. Thanks for reading!