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A journey – on and off the trail

A journey – on and off the trail
When Ben Miller, our Environmental Science Teacher, set out to hike the Appalachian Trail this past summer, he was well prepared and ready to face arguably the hardest challenge he had ever faced. In just under two months, Mr. Miller completed 900 miles of the Appalachian Trail – appropriately earning himself the trail name “Quick.” He kicked off our 2023-24 Grounded in Maine, Connected to the World Speaker Series to talk about his journey – and not just the one on the trail.

Mr. Miller has been an avid backpacker for most of his life. Starting young as a Scout, he discovered that the feeling he loves the most is being on the trail, fully immersed in his surroundings. After years of hiking and experiencing new surroundings, he decided to put his skills to the test – by hiking the Appalachian Trail. To put his decision to hike the Appalachian Trail (AT) in perspective, Mr. Miller shared the following sentiment: “When you start enjoying a hobby, you start looking for the next thing to do. If you’re getting into knitting or crocheting and you’ve finished a couple sets of socks, you’d start looking for the next project, maybe a sweater. If you’re getting better at a sport, you start to seek out challenges that are appropriate for your skill level.”

Mr. Miller’s choice to hike the AT was no different. He wanted to challenge himself. And what better way to challenge yourself than to set out on a 2,190-mile-long hike? For some background, the AT is a footpath that runs along the East Coast from Georgia to Maine, starting at Springer Mountain and ending at Mount Katahdin. Mr. Miller prepared himself for months for this challenge. He trained for and completed a trail marathon, and ran about 530 miles before setting foot on the AT. 

After preparing with long-distance runs and testing countless brands of nut butter, Mr. Miller set off on the next part of his journey – the hike. He traveled from Maine to Georgia by train, and once he set foot on the trail at Springer Mountain, he was off. He hiked twelve hours a day, pushing his physical, emotional, and mental limits. To embrace the feeling of being fully immersed in nature, he decided to hike in silence – no podcasts, audiobooks, or music: “The world around us has become so busy. We need to practice being bored. When you’re bored, when you’re not doing much of anything, or focusing on a simple task, your mind can wander and it becomes possible to explore the inner portions of your mind.”

He met interesting people along the trail – from a migrant fruit picker, a steelworker turned alpaca farmer, to a fjord scientist from Alaska – and found himself surrounded by a community of supportive strangers. He shares, “Different people from many places and backgrounds all met together to share in an experience. Most everyone could pick up like old friends on the trail and share a part of themselves with a stranger”. 

After some time on the trail, he developed a shin splint in one leg, leading to an overuse injury in the other. It began to be clear that he not only wouldn’t meet his initial goal, but his secondary goal was also out of reach. At that moment, he wanted to quit. He had made these goals, and was disappointed that he wouldn’t achieve them. He decided to keep hiking, but after 150 miles on an injured ankle, he chose to get off the trail. It took time, but he realized that his trip was not a failure – it was a journey. He went as far as he could in the time that he had. He could have stopped so many times, but he made a choice to keep going. Every single step of his journey was a choice. Because of that, he was successful. “Life is the same, little choices define the outcome,” he shares. 

During his hike, Mr. Miller saw a saying etched into a piece of wood, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” He relates his hiking journey to sustainability. The facts show that the Earth is getting warmer and we must act quickly. Like a single step of his hike, taking the first small step towards sustainable living is the same. You don’t quit if you can’t see or reach the final goal, you keep going and realize you made progress along the way. Like individual steps adding up to a 900-mile hike, small choices you make to be sustainable will lead to a bigger change. Mr. Miller poses us to think about one little thing we can start doing to begin our journey toward sustainability. From recycling to choosing to walk short distances instead of driving, the options are endless. What can you do to start your journey?