Our President referred to the “Tallahassee Trail” recently, apparently an erroneous attempt to discuss the Appalachian Trail (at the 0:20 mark in the video below).
My knowledge of hiking the AT is confined to what I have read in AWOL on the Appalachian Trail, A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail, Life Unbolted, and conversations with my friend Patrick (author of Life Unbolted) and a few other friends and relatives who have spent time on the AT. I have never set foot on the AT.
This, however, is what I recall from what I read (in bold) with the Tallahassee counterpoint below in italics:
The Appalachian Trail was started around 1930, the result of an initiative by regional planner Benton MacKaye that began in 1921 for a “utopian” hiking trail.
I suppose you could say Tallahassee was begun in its earliest periods (the Native Americans who first lived here, the Spanish people who established missions here in the 1960s) more out of need than of recreation. However, I suspect those settlers had an appreciation for our region’s abundance and natural beauty.
The AT was the first national scenic trail established by law (in 1968, with a largely unpublicized assist apparently from First Lady Ladybird Johnson).
I’m not sure what we have in Tallahassee that is the equivalent. As far as federal issues that stand out in our history though, is much of the litigation around a little thing called the contested 2000 presidential election. And we know Trump has strong opinions about federal election integrity.
The trail is full of beauty.
This is the aspect of the AT I most want to see for myself. The books I’ve read about it paint lovely pictures and it would be incredible to see them in person. Tallahassee, too, is FULL of beauty. We are so fortunate.
The trail is full of difficulty.
Tallahassee has its challenges too (spend time here in August and you’ll see what I mean!). We have our own hurdles to overcome — intrinsic issues with hunger, especially among children; too much crime, urban planning challenges.
People go to the trail for different reasons, but it all boils down to the fact that they are searching for something.
Many people are in Tallahassee for the same reason I am — they came to school and then ended up staying. No matter the reason we arrive here, and no matter how much we love it, all of us are on our own quest to either find ourselves, find bliss, or both.
People on the trail have to depend on the kindness of strangers.
One thing I always thought when reading about hiking the AT is “I’m not sure I’d be able to hitchhike or ask for things.” I suppose I would go hungry many times! We need each other here in Tallahassee, too. Just check out the annual Fill-a-Truck to fill food pantries for the summer, how we all made sure to share power and coffee and generator time after our hurricanes, how we are banding together right now to help our neighbors in Eastpoint affected by a terrible fire.
The trail is ever-changing.
Even if a hiker visits the same exact spot annually on the same day, it will never be the same. Vegetation will change; weather conditions will vary; soil will have eroded. Tallahassee, too, evolves all the time. Businesses come and go; politicians gain (and lose) power. But the heat and the inability of anyone to use a traffic signal will go on forever!
It is an accomplishment to achieve your goals on the AT.
My hat is off to anyone who can hike the entire AT. This is not an easy task at all. My hat is also off to all of the incredible people who make Tallahassee such a great place to live.
In thinking through why the president may have been confused between the Appalachian Trail and the (non-existent) Tallahassee Trail, I tried to draw some conclusions (even though I suspect the reason may have just been ignorance. After thinking through the categories above, it strikes me that he was especially off due to these three factors:
Everyone belongs on the AT
Anyone can walk the AT with the right physical conditioning and willpower. Furthermore, there are NO WALLS intended to keep people out. Everyone is welcome.
Our city paved the way for civil rights for everyone, as commemorated by a trail that is much shorter than the AT (it’s about half a mile) but long on reverence for our history as a community growing together toward improving civil rights for all. It’s the Tallahassee-Leon County Civil Rights Heritage Walk.
Finally, an image that comes to mind is actually from Wild, by Cheryl Strayed. She walked the Pacific Crest Trail rather than the Appalachian trail, but the image applies.
In her book, Strayed talks about her decision to walk the trail. She lived in the midwest somewhere at the time (I think), and went to her local REI to stock up on everything she would need. She bought all the “right” things — right backpack, the perfect sleeping bag, everything the books said she would need.
Her bag was so heavy she couldn’t even put it on!
Maybe the president was confused because he went into this presidency as unprepared for the realities and responsibilities as Cheryl Strayed struggling under the crushing weight of things people told her she should have but that she didn’t have enough experience to reject.
Running a country sure isn’t a time to be winging it.