When someone asks me why I hiked the A.T., several answers come to mind. “I did it for the adventure,” or “I did it to experience nature,” or ” I did it to get in shape” I might reply. These are the socially acceptable answers; however, they are all lies. The true answer is too complicated to state simply. Most people who ask me “why?” are not looking for a treatise on motivational psychology. In fact, most are not really even seeking an answer. Usually, they are really saying “What are you? Crazy?” But if you really want to know why I labored through mountainous terrain for five months, I’ll tell you.
Among other things, I am an expert on the functioning of the human brain. My research on this topic can be summed up by stating that I have tried to use a human brain for over fifty years. Here is what I have discovered. We are all two-headed creatures. One head, which I have termed “Grong,” has been handed down from our ancestors since soon after the nervous system first evolved. The other head, which I here-to refer to as “Poindexter,” is a relative newcomer to our family tree. Grong is emotional and impulsive. Poindexter is rational and careful. Every decision we make, every action we take results from a tug-of-war match between Grong and Poindexter. Sometimes Grong triumphs, resulting in sexy actions such as shooting a tailgater or pepper-spraying a shopping competitor. More often, Poindexter wins, resulting in boring actions like pulling over to let a tailgater pass, or avoiding shopping on Black Friday to begin with.
We all know Poindexter pretty well. He is our conscious and rational thought. Grong, on the other hand, is a little more mysterious. He manifests himself through dreams, emotions, and impulses. Most of the time, Poindexter keeps a rein on Grong. Let me illustrate this concept further. What would happen if Poindexter were to suddenly take a vacation when I was in a public place, say, for instance, the produce department of my local grocery store………
“Food everywhere! HUNGRY!” I think. I pick up an avocado and tear off the skin with my teeth. I cram it into my mouth. “Um! GOOOOOD!” I go for watermelon next (I’m kind of thirsty after the avocado). I grab one, raise it over my head, and throw it on the floor. “Grong SMASH!” I exclaim. Dropping to my hands and knees, I scoop fistfuls of the juicy melon’s innards into my mouth (never shop when you’re hungry). A grocery clerk spots me on my hands and knees, grunting as I slurp mashed melon off the floor. “Excuse me” she offers tentatively, “may I help you?” I pause, annoyed at the interruption. “WOMAN!!!!” I exclaim. I tear off my clothes, but by then the clerk has tottered around the corner and into the next isle. I begin to pursue, but my attention is soon diverted as I pass the ice cream section. I see a man selecting a carton of chocolate chip mint. “MINE!!!” I grab the carton from the dumbfounded shopper, who, not expecting to have a naked man with watermelon all over his face contest his selection, backs off quickly. I sit on the floor and begin consuming my hard-won treasure.
Well….I think you get the point. Without Poindexter, you wouldn’t last long in mainstream society. On the other hand, without Grong, you wouldn’t have any fun. What do Grong and Poindexter have to do with why I hiked the A.T.? Well…for me, making the decision to hike the A.T. was Poindexter rewarding Grong for taking the back seat since years ago, when I went to preschool and started learning to share. Grong likes to walk. I don’t know why. Maybe this impulse was selected for recently, say because my ancestors were nomadic. On the other hand, maybe the impulse to move or die is left over from the amoeba stage of my family history. The point is, Grong likes to walk much like your pet hamster likes to run on his exercise wheel.
Furthermore, walking is one of the only actions liked by Grong that remains socially acceptable even when performed to the extent of his satiation. Most of Grong’s favorite things, such as eating, sex, and sleeping, would lead to public scorn and ridicule if performed in excess. Compulsive walking, on the other hand, tends to foster respect and sometimes even fame, at least among those whose Grongs also like to walk.
Potential respect and fame are OK, but the most fabulous result of excessive walking, is that you can eat horrendous amounts of food without getting fat. In the thru-hiker’s realm, good food is only periodically available. The thru-hiker may go for days eating nothing but what he can carry. When he finally reaches a store or restaurant, the ravenous thru-hiker is in virtual heaven. He then partakes in guilt-free gluttony (hunger is the best sauce after all). So, I could pretend that I hiked the A.T. for an admirable reason, like getting close to nature. But the truth of it is Poindexter gave Grong a double treat. “Go ahead” Poindexter exhorted, “walk until you’re sick of it, and by the way, you can eat anything and everything you want.”