Whether it’s back to school or off to college, ’tis the season. Excitement, fear, anxiety, separation anxiety, self-confidence, so many emotions roll through students and parents alike. Most of us have strategies for navigating each new launch into an unknown.

Twenty-one-year-old Michael Wack is learning new strategies every day as he walks more than 1,000 miles of the Appalachian Trail.

Michael took time off from Carroll Community College and his job at Carroll Lutheran Village and launched on March 26 from Springer Mountain in Georgia.

In early July he rounded the hills of Harpers Ferry, W. Va. and took a break long enough to say hello to his family (and hitch a ride to Jeannie Bird Bakery for breakfast) before hitting the trail again.

Embedded in his tales of the trail are pieces of advice that students, especially those bound for the first year of middle school, high school or the first year of college school should heed.

Hike Your Own Hike

“There is a saying on trail – ‘Hike your own hike,’” Michael told me. “If someone is doing something that is unusual, don’t judge them. Don’t worry about what they are doing. Focus on your own hike – savor it.”

Trail Magic Abounds

Michael quickly learned that even though he is often alone, kindness abounds. Just when something bad happens, something good often follows. Hikers call that kindness, those inexplicable fixes, those finds “trail magic.”

Sometimes the magic is planned but anonymous – like the time hikers found a cooler of iced water in a spot where the kind donor(s) had to invest serious effort and time to get it there. Sometimes the magic is marketed – like the time Michael’s family fired up a grill and served hot dogs and hamburgers to hikers who spotted their “Trail Magic” sign.

And sometimes, trail magic just happens.

“I met this guy whose tent cover got a hole in it because a branch fell on it,” Michael said. “He didn’t know what he would do; it would take too much tape to fix it and he didn’t want to buy a new piece of material. When we got to the next shelter, there was a brand-new role of duct tape sitting there.”

You Earn Your Name

Hikers are often given trail names, Michael explained to me. Like nicknames assigned by others at summer camps, trail names are earned after specific experiences – from the quirky to the noble ones.

Michael Wack’s trail name is Pace, a name he earned after his first long leg of the Appalachian Trail. Chicken and Tree are other names he could remember.

As you pack bags and backpacks for your children, rip out this column and stick it in there too. And as next generations launch, let’s remind them to earn a name for which they are proud to be known. (Honest, Funny, Kind, Napper, Grit)

Let’s remind them that even in unfamiliar places there is infinite kindness and there will be inexplicable solutions to problems that might seem insurmountable.

And finally, let’s assure them that it is OK to hike their own hike without knowing where their paths will end.

Amazing Peace,

Lisa Moody Breslin