My IAT adventure, described below, came to an abrupt halt only ten days into my Ireland trek. I'd already met a diversity of wonderful people and walked with great anticipation of what lay ahead. Hit hard by covid, unfortunately what the future held was isolation in a North Ireland hotel, weeks of recovery with friends in the Highlands of Scotland, then a return to the States, my body and my funds exhausted. Perhaps someday I will pick up the trail again, but now my life is focused on settling into a new home in the small town of Bluff, Utah.
In 2021, I wrote the first text for this webpage (preserved below), describing the International Appalachian Trail and my hopes in following the IAT. Originally, I set out to walk in all 23 IAT chapters to celebrate my 60thyear, following an amazing network of routes established by inspirational people. The venture continues but is morphing as I go.
Nothing is static, not even the earth beneath our feet. Yet events of the past few years have brought changes that impact the globe and also affect individuals in deeply personal ways, bringing to our awareness the ephemerality of all things. Constant change is felt, a lived experience.
So as I move into the next phase of my IAT journey, my thinking and planning have changed. The IAT history remains as a foundation for the idea of the trail; it is alive and continues to inspire, thanks to the passionate energy of a diversity of people. That the bedrock of ancient mountains connects an arc of countries across the Atlantic Ocean is a fact that cannot be changed. The basis of my trek holds firm. And always the people I interact with are enthusiastic and willing to help as best they can.
Yet the on-the-ground walking, the crossing of borders, the actuality of IAT chapters and their participation, the existence of trails in all the countries: these things are not so hardfast in these changing times, especially with a pandemic lingering on. Planning has been more complicated than envisioned in the beginning – though never did I think this would be easy! Then, as the omicron variant descended last January, I gave up any idea of traversing all the European IAT countries this year.
So I’ve slowed down, shifted goals, pausing to look long and hard at each step. This makes my journey all the better, richer, and more meaningful; visiting fewer countries allows for more time and interactions with both people and place. My goal of exploring the unity and connections of our world while celebrating the natural and cultural diversity across the countries has not changed. To truly immerse in the IAT vision – “thinking beyond borders” – will be more possible with that extra time to BE there, to absorb the land and its life.
It seems now more than ever, thinking beyond borders and dissolving boundaries is essential for this earth that is our home. Global cooperation is needed to address the crises that envelop this planet. Unfortunately, our planetary problems show without doubt our global connections. Biodiversity loss, climate change, pandemics, war: no single country, no single continent can address these things. We are all connected. My walk is meant to explore those connections, finding the concrete examples of our relationships and the intangible meanings within those bonds.
Already I have made connections, “met” people through emails and will hopefully see them in person as I go – wonderful people who have made planning easier with their information and passion.
In May, 2022, the month that I write this, I will set out across the Atlantic with open heart and curious mind. I will begin this next part of the IAT in Northern Ireland, at the Ulster American Folk Park outside of Omagh, at a celebratory launch of the renewed Ulster-Ireland IAT trail, which I will subsequently walk, covering a selection of sections. Then up to Scotland, down through England and Wales, with a swing over to the Isle of Man, out to Norway and back to Scotland. Six countries at most – IF everything goes as planned. I’ll be blogging and posting on Instagram as I go.
It seems the IAT will most likely be a lifelong project. Thank you to those who make it possible. You all know who you are.
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: yellow marks the Appalachian-Caledonian remnants