Lessons from the Appalachian Trail

Gus Umanzor '08 Appalachian Trail hike

Agustin "Gus" Umanzor '08 wrote this blog post about how Landon's Lower School motto — with its emphasis on honesty, hard work and generosity — guided him on his successful attempt to hike from one end to the other of the Appalachian Trail, the world's longest hiking-only footpath. This journey took Gus approximately 2,190 miles, up and down 464,500 feet in elevation gain/loss, and through 14 states from Georgia to Maine. Gus completed his Appalachian "thru-hike" in four months, and wrote this three weeks into the trek.

"Be honest. Do your best. Help the other fellow." This is the Lower School motto at Landon School, and it was ingrained in me and other Landon alumni throughout our Landon tenure. I remember [teacher] Al Goddard in fourth grade first mentioning the motto and stating its importance. Little did I know that this motto would be what I keep falling back on while on the Appalachian Trail. Many things on the trail have reminded me about this motto and its importance.

Be honest

I have to be honest with myself, my body and the trail every day. I couldn't be out here or have put in this many miles if I wasn't honest with myself about my mental and physical abilities. There is no one else out here to help me wake up, pack, eat, and hike the miles. I need to be honest with what my body says. If it needs a break, I need to listen. I also need to be honest with the trail. It is still the boss and it tells me how far I hike every day.

Do your best

That is all I can do every day I am out here — try my very best. I wake up every morning and I give it my all. There hasn't been a day that I haven't felt like I have given it my absolute best try.

Help the other fellow

We have all been helping one other along on the journey. From giving me water, helping with first aid, sharing food, or providing emotional support and knowledge, there have been countless people that have helped me make it this far. This entire attempt has been filled with helping the other fellow. "Trail magic" is the epitome of this. The magic I have received has been from generous people willing to help complete strangers. Simple acts of kindness like giving me stamps, food or rides. Or those strangers that leave treats, such as soda or honey buns, on the trail for hikers. I will never meet these people, but their random acts of kindness have played a role in my journey.

Of the three components of the Landon Lower School motto, helping the other fellow has been the most remarkable about this attempt so far: random people helping other random people with no expectation of reciprocity. I've had people tell me that a thru-hike helps restore one's faith in humanity, and I am definitely beginning to understand why.

Click here to read more on Gus's blog.