Two Questions from The Gathering

By Steve Barbour, Executive Director, STA

Delivered to the Class of 2022 at the Annual Gathering of the Sheltowee Trace Association and the members of the 2022 Hiker Challenge on December 3, 2022, in Frankfort, Kentucky.

Thanks, everyone, for participating in the 2022 Hiker Challenge, completing the Trace on your own, and volunteering to help us keep the Trace open and accessible for all users.  We appreciate each of you and want you to know that the Trace goes on because of you.

I want to share a few stats with you, if I may.

For the record, since we started the challenge in 2012:
     1228 have registered for the Challenge,
     959 have shown up to participate,
     536 have completed the Challenge, and
     56% of the participants finished the Trace.

For 2022, we started with:
     243 registered,
     168 came out to hike,
     89 completed the Challenge, and
     53% of the participants finished the Trace.
Stephen W. Barbour, STA Executive Director

In these final moments of our time together, I want to ask you a couple of questions.

Question One- What does it take to complete the Challenge, complete a section, or a thru-hike of the Trace?

In orientations, phone calls, and emails, I’m often asked what the hardest part about the Hiker Challenge or thru-hiking, the Trace?  Each of us will have a different answer, but mine is Sunday. 

It seems to me, in my experiences in life, the second day, the second time around, can be the hardest.

I remember the second time I jumped out of a perfectly good airplane way back in June 1973 – yes, I am that old.  On that second jump, I was more scared than the first, even though I had that initial jump under my belt.  I now had that experience, and I knew what to expect, but I was now more terrified.  In fact, the second time I landed so wrong, I banged my head. 

It is the same in my experience for those of you who have now completed the Challenge.  Sunday, for many of you, was more of a challenge than Saturday.  And for those of you who have completed the Trace now a second, third, fourth, or 9th time, it doesn’t really get easier.  You knew what to expect, but the Challenge still challenged you.   

What does it take to complete the Challenge, complete a section, or a thru-hike of the Trace?

Determination, luck, perseverance, yes.  And add one more sort of the next level above these excellent qualities, grit.  As some of you know, this year, I read the book Grit by Angela Duckworth.  The full title is Grit, The Power of Passion and Perseverance.

I read the book in search of some answers on why some succeed and complete the Challenge, and some don’t succeed.  Absent the family or work events that take some away, why do others succeed but struggle and others breeze on through. There is, of course, lots of science behind her work over the years, determining what it is, how it is, and how we use it – grit.

Steve Barbour is a tireless fighter and advocate for the Sheltowee Trace and other trails, including hiking, bike, ATV, and horse paths. He partners with numerous state and Federal agencies and businesses in three states to support outdoor adventures.

I’ll encourage you to read the book and just share some of the highlights as I fully believe they answer my questions about how some succeed at the Challenge and some don’t find success. They are not just relevant for hikers, but for a lot of the challenges we face in life.  And that is, after all, one of the reasons we do the Challenge – to give some that sense of accomplishment – an achievement that can carry on into life.

Grit requires both passion and perseverance.  You can have all the talent in the world but fail if there is no passion for what you are doing. Grit helps people stick to their commitments.  It’s a difficult commitment to hike one weekend a month for 11 months. 

Grit is more about stamina than intensity.  The Hiker Challenge, we hope, taught you that there are some who will run out, complete the section in one day – intensity, nothing wrong with that, and others, most, who work on that stamina to complete it in a couple days. Grit is about working on something you care about so much that you’re willing to stay true to your goal of finishing.  This holds true for those thru-hikers who are out for multiple days. Hold true to the challenges in life.

To those unable to finish this year, who had to bail for whatever reason, the gritty person will be disappointed, even heartbroken, but not for long. I could go on. The bottom line is you got here today because of a mix of talent, passion for achievement, and perseverance, which add up to grit. You got grit.

Question Two – In the end, what is the Trace experience to you and to me?

With some thanks to my friend Dianna Schweitzer who share this with me and she has grit:

“The Sheltowee Trace. It’s kind of like marriage. You enter into the commitment because it’s the right time in your life. You have the right companion to go through it with. All your friends are doing it, so you “may as well.”  You don’t sign up because it’s going to be fun and games, although there will certainly be good times. You know it will be long, both the path overall as well as some of the sections.  You may have a certain idea what it’ll look like. Sometimes it matches the image that you had in mind, but sometimes it’s a shocker. Some are in it for the beauty. Some people are in it for the long haul.  Some people are not quite sure why they’re in it!”

After facilitating the Challenge for 11 years, I’ve seen all types. The exuberant youth, like newlyweds, expecting good times and seeing the bliss. “I’m in it until the end, they proclaim.” And some are right. I’ve seen the older folks that realize what they are in for right away, and continue with eyes wide open. Others look at them and think, “there’s no way they’ll make it,” but they do.

Even Steve Barbour got tired once. That is why he needs your help. Join the Sheltowee Trace Association and volunteer to help maintain and improve Kentucky’s longest trail.

Some may sign up for the excitement. Both marriage and the Trace will offer some. But when the newness wears off, it is something bigger that keeps people showing up. Some bow out when it gets too tricky or hard. Others should seemingly quit, but despite injuries, family and work obligations tugging at them, and even the tragic loss of family members, these people carry on. And no one really knows if they should keep going. Not even them.

The trick is to put one foot in front of the other, keep signing up, and if you still can, then you do.  

Unlike a minister, rabbi, or priest, I haven’t witnessed “the happiest day of your life,” but I have witnessed you having an unforgettable experience. Is it unforgettable because of the beauty your heart and soul captures while on the trail and the sense of accomplishment that drives you to return again or to take on new trails and trials?  In part, that is likely true.

More accurately, it is unforgettable because of the whole spectrum of the Challenge; the doubting, cursing, crying, laughing, the losing your way, the encouragement of other hikers, and the beauty of the sun coming up over the Twin Arches.  The fear of seeing a 9° forecast, packing your heavy pack, and heading out anyway.

I have, in a way, been a midwife- the person that enables you to have this experience, an experience that brings joy, pain, a feeling of accomplishment, and no doubt a tremendous feeling of relief when it is over!

All around us, as we participate in the Challenge, and hike month after month if we open our eyes, our minds, we see multiple metaphors that are relevant to our daily lives- metaphors that take us from one day on the Trace to the next in life.

Noted philosopher Harry Wicks said it best recently in a Facebook post.

“The last portion of the Trace at the Burnt Mill Bridge was downstream along the river. We ended our hike, and the river continued on – as life goes on.” 

As hard as it to say farewell, to bid the experience goodbye, we know we are stronger from participating.

To all of you 2022 End-To-Enders, thank you for making the commitment and thank you for your passion and perseverance. It has been satisfying seeing such a large group- a record number complete- the Challenge on our 11-year anniversary! 

Good luck to you in the future, and hopefully, I will see some of you on the Trace again soon.

Stephen Barbour is a decorated veteran of the United States Army and has served as the Executive Director of the Sheltowee Trace Association since its inception in 2009. He has created and piloted the annual Sheltowee Trace Challenge to great success each year. His service to the hiking community cannot be calculated.

© 2022 Stephen W. Barbour

Visit the Sheltowee Trace Association for more information about the trail of the Challenge.

About sdbowling

Director of the Breathitt County Public Library and Heritage Center in Jackson, Kentucky.
This entry was posted in Hiker Challenge, Hiking, Sheltowee National Recreation Trail and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Two Questions from The Gathering

  1. Steve Barbour says:

    Thank you Stephen for your support and for sharing this on your blog. sb


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