In summer 2021, I began a journey that will take me across many countries, walking solo and with friends, often carrying a heavy pack but sometimes just taking a stroll, perhaps even contributing to a bit of 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 that stretches across 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 create a trail connecting with the Appalachian Trail, one that continued on 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 IAT 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 about 300 million years, when continental plates crashed together, forming the Appalachian-Caledonian Mountains in the middle of the supercontinent of Pangea. Fast forward about 155 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.
The IAT came to my attention several years ago when I was studying the geology of Scotland. There it was: geology unites the Scottish landscape with the terrain of eastern North America. Looking for images to illustrate that point for a talk, I ran across the IAT website. 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 this walk is 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 that 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 is an exploration of what nature inspires that transcends culture. Wonder, I think. Joy. Wellbeing and peace. The world could use more of those things these days.
I turn 60 in January, 2022; the walk began in 2021, the year I started living my sixtieth year. A warm gathering in Portland, Maine was the beginning, when I met with co-founders Dick Anderson and Don Hudson, IAT coordinator Bill Duffy, and walker Cotton Joe, who has covered something like 2000 miles of the IAT in various countries. Their encouragement and supportive information set me off. I am deeply grateful.
In 2021, I walked two sections of the IAT: Maine’s Katahdin Woods and Waters and Iceland’s Kjalvegur Trail. Already, my world has expanded with the camaraderie of a community of walkers, and the inspiration of incredible landscapes. In 2022, I hope to carry on, and in 2023, follow the trail down through Canada and come back to where it all started, in Maine.
I will be blogging, meeting people, and communicating about the IAT journey with the email: RPontheIAT@gmail.com
From the IAT website
From Pangea to today: the yellow is the
Appalachian-Caledonian mountain remna