In summer 2021, I began a journey across many countries, one that will find me walking solo and with friends, carrying a heavy pack or perhaps just taking a stroll, and hopefully contributing to trail work along the way. I will be walking the International Appalachian Trail (IAT).
The IAT website provides an overview of this global network of trails: 22 chapters on either side of the Atlantic Ocean, united through both human cooperation and the earth’s geology. The trail was the brainchild of Dick Anderson, who in 1993 came up with the idea to continue the Appalachian Trail into Canada. Anderson reached out to his friend and current Maine-IAT president Don Hudson; together, they turned an idea into a reality, helped along by other Maine conservationists. It didn’t stop there, and one by one other countries joined the informal organization, until today there are 22 chapters from Maine to Morocco, carrying out the IAT mission: “Thinking Beyond Borders.”
That is the wonderful human cooperation.
To understand the geology connecting the IAT countries, look back 250 million years, when continental plates crashed together, forming the Appalachian-Caledonian Mountains in the middle of the supercontinent of Pangea. Fast forward 200 million years, and those plates are moving apart, splitting Pangea and leaving strands of the Appalachian-Caledonian mountains and their geological formations along the east coast of North America, in Greenland, Iceland, Europe, and down into Africa. The countries with IAT sections are all connected by that same ancient geology and tectonic processes, speaking to the unity of the earth.
The IAT came to my attention several years ago, when I was studying the geology of Scotland, only to learn how geology unites the Scottish landscape with the terrain of eastern North America. Looking further, I ran across the IAT website (https://iat-sia.org/). The allure could not be denied. The IAT intrigued, pulled me in, called to me to walk its sections, to explore an idea. I set a goal: for my 60th year walk a section of the IAT in every chapter.
But it’s not about me, nor about covering miles. It’s about an idea: to explore in nature and in culture the unity found in diversity; to celebrate the diversity while learning about the commonalities within the differences; to experience how nature and culture are not divided by boundaries but united by our mutual existence on this Earth. It’s about humanity’s belonging within the greater community of life, and how that sense of belonging inspires – just what? And so, this is also an exploration of what nature inspires that transcends culture. Wonder, I think. Joy. Wellbeing and peace. The world could use more of those elements these days.
I turn 60 in January, 2022. In 2021, the year I am living out my sixtieth year, I started at the beginning of the IAT in Maine, meeting its founders in Portland. Then, because of the covid-related uncertainties of the Canada border, rather than continue north as originally hoped, I went off to Iceland. In 2022, I hope to carry on, and perhaps not until 2023, come back to where it all started. In Maine.
I will be blogging, meeting people, and communicating thru a new email: RPontheIAT at gmail com. More to come…