After the Hike (4 Years Later)

Today marks the 4th year anniversary of my completion an Appalachian Trail (AT) thruhike. Thruhikers call this day our “trailversary”.  The date, 9/23, holds special meaning for me, thus the name of this blog – Coaching Recovery 923.  The numbers prompt me to post on the 9th and 23rd of each month (I did a lot better last year than this year).

I look back and still am amazed I finished the thing… who was that guy? Yet, the AT resides deep within me, a powerful imprint on my soul that compels me to sleep outside most nights.  A screen gazebo, tarp and futon set up on the back deck keep the bugs and elements at bay.  And for those single digit winter nights, I cheat a little bit, and plug in an electric blanket.

The adventure transformed me in other ways besides an unusual sleeping arrangement.

I believe I am a better leader, therefore a better person. For someone who does not think highly of himself, just seeing that in print is somewhat remarkable. So here’s how I feel I’ve developed.  These attributes are relevant for those of us in leadership roles and recovery coach roles.

  1. Strategic. On the trail, life simplifies, reduced to walking, water, food, clothing and shelter. I developed consistent approaches (strategies) to assure success. After I returned, I retained the ability to simplify challenges.  At CCAR, we talk about the difference between urgent and important when it comes to competing priorities.  As Dwight Eisenhower said, the urgent is seldom important and the important is seldom urgent.  Being strategic means devoting sufficient time and energy to the important.  
  1. Patient. Early in my recovery I made the dire mistake of praying for patience.  I soon found myself in multiple situations that required patience…infuriating! Time slowed down out on the trail, I didn’t need to respond to circumstances and challenges immediately. I took time to think and consider options. I let things develop and waited for the right opportunity. I asked myself repeatedly, “How important is this?” In the grand scheme of life, relatively few items rise to the level where it needs my fervent attention and dedication.
  1. Intentional. Each day I set goals, sometimes by myself, but usually with some other fellow hikers. Goals included how many miles to hike, resupply options, special landmarks to visit, where to stop for lunch, where to get water, where to set up camp, etc.  I didn’t always meet these goals, but I set out each day intentionally.  I’m still doing it. I respond to the changing recovery support service landscape, but don’t necessarily react. I frame this perspective as being “proactive rather than reactive”. 
  1. Encouragement. I would not have finished my AT pilgrimage without the support of others. My family lifted me on more than one occasion. My trail family walked with me. My recovery sponsor wrote me at a low moment; “You only have two noble options left, finish this thing or die trying!” Some might not think this encouraging, but I read it and smiled. He knows me very well and his words were spot on.  He motivated me. I have stepped up my encouragement game.  As a leader, my words and actions carry power to elevate others. It took me awhile to realize this (thanks Yoly). I do not take that privilege and responsibility lightly.  I encourage you to encourage others often; we don’t do enough of it.
  1. Primary Purpose. With 20 years under my belt as an employee of CCAR, I consider myself blessed to work within my purpose each and every day. In March 2015, I started the trail with the life purpose of “carry the message of recovery”. I’m not sure where or when my it shifted, but it did. My refined purpose is now to “coach recovery”.  I thrive in recovery. I thrive while coaching.Today I live every day practicing both.
Phil Valentine
Phil Valentine

In 2015, I finished a thruhike of the entire Appalachian Trail, a trek of 2,189.2 miles. It took 189 days and 6 pairs of boots.  During that sacred time, my purpose in life became more precisely defined.  I am, simply, to coach recovery.  Recovery saved me from an early demise and brought purpose to my tattered life.  I have learned that I’m a coach to my very core. I am blessed to put the two together. I started work at the Connecticut Community for Addiction Recovery (CCAR) in January 1999.  I became the Executive Director of this recovery community organization in 2004.  I have trained the CCAR Recovery Coach Academy© dozens of times and have a hand in modifying, improving and adapting various recovery coach curricula.  I’m old enough now to start considering my legacy. This is one way for me to share lessons learned in my recovery, in my role as Executive Director and a trainer. When I engage with others, I present the same messages repeatedly.  It’s time to write them down.

Phil “Right Click” Valentine
Recovery established 12.28.87

8 thoughts on “After the Hike (4 Years Later)”

  1. Absolutely and amazingly encouraging words my friend. I am in awe of what you have done, and the respect I have for you is like I have for my father. xx

  2. Joanne McMurray

    Hi Phil,
    That was an amazing read. Thanks for sharing your thoughts
    and your experience making the trail your home. 189 days.
    I believe you are a very wise man. Take care and thanks again.

  3. Thank you for sharing these thoughts today. You helped me to stop, focus and gain some perspective in the moment. Which was much needed. I count it a blessing to have been able to cross your path.

  4. Thank you for sharing this Phil. This helped me to slow down and focus on what’s really important in my life. So much to be grateful for.

  5. richard c sanko

    ‘Right Click’ hey, with age comes wisdom from intention and experience. Thank you for sharing your’s. The self-awareness, the ability to be reflectively introspective lends itself to becoming comfortable in one’s own skin. Reading your posts I am thankful to live today in ‘recovery’. The question that i seek answers to is what is ‘recovery’? What is it that I am trying to ‘recover’?

    The word recover suggests that it is something which I had previously and no longer am in possession of. To be a person in ‘recovery’, what is it that i had previously in this stream of life and had lost that i desire to have back now with the commitment of the desire to stop using to live more fully alive, present and at peace.

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