A leap of faith, photo story-telling inspired by @vickyloras


Imagine a pilgrimage…

where you trekked for month after month…

and each step took you somewhere you’d never been before…


Vicky Loras challenged her PLN to share a story, personal or professional but a decisive one. There are over 20 tales on her blog and Vicky’s challenge brings out details that we might not otherwise encounter in 140 characters or in an average blog post. MERCI Vicky !!!!

Without further ado, I’d like to share one of my favorite stories that (re)defined my path… it requires a 290-word introduction, and I promise you it’s worth reading on.

(and my challenge to you… which is your favorite photo ?)


As a teenager I was gaga over French.

My father had never been abroad (ok, Mexico 5 days) and my mother had only spent a few weeks in Europe, so it was a leap of faith on their part to ship me off to France when I was only 17. I spent 6 months in a wonderful host family in the BEAUTIFUL Southern Alps region.



I caught the bug BIG TIME.


The language bug.

The travel bug.

The adventure bug.

The try-something-new bug.

AND, also the MOUNTAIN bug.


After my senior year of high school I got a scholarship to study languages and sociology and continued to travel whenever I could.  After college, though, I wasn’t settled on a single professional path and instead of choosing something I’d studied, I leapt sidewise and took a $7.25/hr job as a cook at a very fancy new FRENCH restaurant in Cincinnati, the town where I grew up.

The next three years were spent cooking, adventuring (Mexico for 9 months), and all the while I taught English, French and Italian, sometimes part-time, sometimes full-time.  I finally honed in on teaching as my profession of choice and I applied for Teach for America in 2005.  It’s an admirable program that pairs young passionate teachers with underpriveleged areas throughout the US, and it would’ve allowed me to teach and also do my MA in Education on the side.


I didn’t get in.

Before the T-for-A rejection, I was in Los Angeles and had been working 70-hour weeks cooking at night and teaching EFL in the mornings.  I was young and enjoyed being busy, but after a few months of that kind of grind it started to get old.  Plus, I wanted a “real longterm classroom environment” and had hoped to teach ESL to Latino immigrants (as I spoke Spanish).

When the rejection came, my gut said:  ”head home and figure out the next step” so I did.  I worked for the family business (violins), saved money for a few months, and kept seeking other teaching options for the fall.



I had had a dream for a number of years

and decided to take a leap of faith that summer.




That summer over 4 months I walked on average 25km a day, advancing slowly over the 3500km of The Appalachian Trail.  It was the experience of a lifetime.  THE ICING ON THE CAKE was… right before I started, I had secured a position teaching English at ShanDong University in China, so I was ‘free’ to walk and not worry about what was next.


The trail was varied, as was the weather…



Despite what you might imagine, it wasn’t solitary.  After the first month, I’d met tons of folks “thru-hiking” and even one fella with whom I would walk the next 3 months.  On the trail, everyone had “trail names”.  I was Soeur Hawk and my hiking buddy was 007. ;-)



Oh, and there were more than just humans on that trail…



a wild pony of the Grayson Highlands in Virginia


Nearly 2-meter long 'Northern Black Racer' snake


BEASTS OF THE NIGHT !!! ... know what they are ?




Closest I got to a black bear... 30 meters... you'd shake too ;-)


It was much more than ‘just’ walking.

I don’t know that any other experience in my life taught me more about

1) being present to my surroundings

2) seeing challenge in a positive manner

3) our connection with the Earth

4) persistence

5) enjoying the NOW of life without ‘distraction’


I could go on and on…


But really… it was fun !

We often slept in shelters like this one Though, sometimes we were adventurous and slept in the elements


There were fires… but not many.  When ya hike all day, yer kinda happy to just eat a good meal and lay low in the evening.




And it was beautiful… and there were moments I’ll never forget…



People aptly called "Trail Angels" would leave coolers of drinks and food for hikers to enjoy... oh the bliss... a coke in the middle of a 40km day !

Family came to hike too--- brother and cousin (and another cousin earlier)

taking pictures that would horrify my mom


there really are holes that big in some trees !

Pink Lady’s Slipper (why not Lady’s Pink slippers ?)


Culinary meets Kraft food... wild morels and macaroni and cheese = bliss


All good things must come to an end, and the Appalachian trail ends at Mount Kathadin.

We dressed ‘uniquely‘ for the memorable event…



I’ve been lucky to have wandered and enjoyed many cultures, professions and friends in my life, but those four months were probably the most blissful I’ve ever experienced.  It was simple living. Focusing on the now.  In-joying life.

I swear I’ll do it again… when I can find the time ! ;-)


AND, I’m more than happy to answer any questions you might have.

It’s great to reminisce and share so THANKS for reading.


Cheers, Brad (or Soeur Hawk)



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About Brad

--- i'm a learner-teacher, language geek, outdoorsy kind-of-guy --- U might miss the next tweet... Wanna subscribe by email ? ;-)
  • Clive (@CliveSir)

    A great tale, Brad! Makes me want to get out there right now!

  • http://blog.edulang.com Brad Patterson

    Funny… i know EXACTLY what you mean ;-)  Hopefully one day soon, eh !  

    Thanks Clive.

  • http://twitter.com/cerirhiannon Ceri Jones

    lovely … really lovely :)  
    I was torn between the sunset (always a sucker for sunsets)  and the fire, but the fire won out, love the look on your face … a lot of in-joying going on there! 
    thanks for sharing, what a great, great way to tell a story 

  • http://www.tesoltraining.co.uk/blog/ Bren Brennan

    REALLY nice post, Brad. When i saw ‘T-of-A rejection’, I read T&A for a second!
    Like the other commentors, it makes me want to get out the old boots again and go hermit on everyone’s ass!

  • http://twitter.com/seburnt Tyson Seburn

    I’ve always known that you had done some things like this (just look at the photos you post or the personality you have) but it is delicious to read your more personal summary of one particular travel! I haven’t done anything outdoorsy (like camping not in a trailer) for an extended period (like 2 weeks) since I was about 16.  I’m not sure I’d be equipped physically or emotionally anymore to do so, though there’s a part of me who really misses just being somewhere outdoors, quiet, at night, with a fire.

  • http://twitter.com/vickyloras Vicky Loras

    Hi Brad! (or, Soeur Hawk : )

    What an absolutely beautiful, super, amazing post!!!!! Thanks so much for sharing all your experiences and beautiful pictures! You took us on a great trip and as I have not done much travelling in my life, it was so super for me! What great things you have seen, people you have met, things you have done! (What are the beasts of the night? ; ) I liked the story of the Trail Angels, the places you have seen, the animal pictures and whew – ya managed to scare me too with that one on the cliff : )))

    Thank you so much for this beautiful post and for sharing some details of your life which bring us even closer to our great friend : )))

    Big big big grande hugs,

  • http://vickyloras.wordpress.com/2011/10/09/blog-challenge-whats-your-story/ Blog Challenge – What’s Your Story? « Vicky Loras's Blog

    [...] Patterson, a very good friend in France, has published his photo-blog story: Beautiful post and pictures! : Imagine a pilgrimage… where you trekked for month after month… and each step took you [...]

  • http://blog.edulang.com Brad Patterson

    ;-)  Glad you liked it Bren.  

    I’ve had the hermit temptation a number of times and have even kind of given it a try (another story).  The thing about these 4 months was that I’d never spent more time with people.  I was almost never alone, and the moments when I was it was often magical.  Really alone.  Somewhat in nature’s hands and fragile.  

    I’d love to be there again.  Soon !

    Cheers, b

  • http://blog.edulang.com Brad Patterson

    Thanks Ty  !  ;-)  (warm blush)

    Funny thing is I’d never done anything more than an over-night before I was 25 and decided to do 4-months worth.  I had done tons of hikes, but nothing long-term.  I’d wondered as well if I’d be physically/emotionally capable and I think that challenge invigorated me.  

    Be outdoors, far from urban noise, pollution, craze… at night, with a fire.  OUI OUI !!!  Haven’t done it in almost a year and would love to get back out… the winter’s coming on and that’s a special time to be outside.  It’s even more quiet.

    Thanks for always sharing your thoughts, here, there and everywhere.  A true pleasure.  Cheers, b

  • http://blog.edulang.com Brad Patterson

    Hey Ceri.  Glad you enjoyed it !  Moi aussi ;-)

    That fire picture defines an age for me… was such a wonderer those days and I think I was asking the fire to tell me its story !  That night was one of the coldest of my life… probably -20C and I slept under a cliff ridge… the fire was so warm and wonderful that it ended up melting my BRAND NEW boots… oh well, felt good !

    Cheers, b

  • http://blog.edulang.com Brad Patterson

    eeeeeeyyyyy Vicky, my inspiration ;-)

    The Trail Angels were the coolest.  We’d run into them every few days or weeks and sometimes they just left stuff sitting there, other times they greeted you or even put you up for a night with a home-cooked meal.  Some of the warmest generosity I’ve felt in a very long time.  

    Pic 1 was the first Trail Angels we ran into on my second day on the trail with my cousin.

    Pic 2 were these guys that sent up camp and fed meals everyday to thru-hikers.

    Pic 3 is this guy that pulled his car up alongside the road we hiked past in New York and had SO MUCH tasty food !  He did that every weekend.  So cool.

    Another guy once fed 12 of us baked potatoes, LOBSTER, and other delish food in the middle of nowhere in Maine… amazing.

    Trip of a lifetime Vicky, and this is the first time I’ve shared it on the net.  Thanks again for the inspiration !    Cheers, b

  • http://iasku.wordpress.com/me/ Chiew Pang

    Truly inspiring, Brad. It takes great courage and a certain touch of masochistic insanity to do something like that, but  what you gain from it is something you don’t gain from all the books in the world or from all the great teaching you might have had the pleasure of receiving. Bravo! The Trail Angels – isn’t it simply touching to know no matter where you are there are really kind-hearted people, who give something for nothing?
    I doubt if you’d ever be able to repeat this journey – it’d be better to do a different one – but, whatever journey you may embark on next, just don’t do that head stand again, will you? ;-)

  • http://twitter.com/naomishema Naomi Epstein

    what  a reminder of why I never a miss a post of yours!
    Reading your posts is always an ecouragement to take leaps of faith, to be curious about words and life and loook for the adventure in everything! Sometimes its one, sometimes another, but there is always something to discover!

  • http://twitter.com/vickyloras Vicky Loras

    What super people! So kind of them. The goodness of some people just touches your heart. As has yours and your friendship! So happy to know you. Hope to see you soon buddy : )))))

    Big big hugs,

  • http://blog.edulang.com Brad Patterson

    Hey Badger-

    LOVED checking out your site and I’ll immediately share this which gave me pangs of nostalgia and is a much more dynamic experience of the entirety of the trail as you lived it.

    5 millions steps in 5 minutes:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=cJsltQtpBM4

    Look forward to hearing more about your book.  Interesting that you mention increasing the success rate of thru-hikers… would love to discuss that thought more and of course it is a pyschological trial, but honestly it was only with the squeeters in 90 weather in Jersey (especially at night) that I thought twice.  Tons of folks run into physical problems too.

    Long story short, thanks for stopping by and I’ll shoot you an email to chat more.

    Cheers, Soeur Hawk

  • http://blog.edulang.com Brad Patterson

    Thanks for stopping by, bud !

    Funny you mention masochism… i suppose all endurance athletes could be described that way and yet I don’t know that they identify with it.  I don’t, but viewed from the outside, I could see how that’s the perspective.
    Trail Angels were amazing.  Amazing.

    I’d like to do it again, but maybe North-to-South which ends up being much more solitary.  Or, I’ve had other friends I hiked with who have gone on to hike both the PCT and CDT in the US (longer and more technically challenging than the AT).  Think I’d do that… or the Camino de Santiago, but I would really like to hike again like that.

    For you, and just for you, Chiew, I’ll not do the handstand, but at that point in my life I was teaching yoga and was very in control… still… please don’t show my mom ;-)

    Cheers, b

  • http://blog.edulang.com Brad Patterson

    Naomi, you’re awesome and made my day, night and weekend.

    That is life… always something to discover.  Wonderful to be sharing w/ you here, there and everywhere… looking forward to the lasagna… ;-)

    cheers, b

  • http://twitter.com/jemjemgardner Jemma Gardner


    Finally found some time to come and read this, and you have stirred up some serious emotions!! What an incredible journey. Your pictures are amazing, my favourite is still the headstand though, closely followed by the falling ducks and the sunset. 

    I have the dream (which came within one month of happening about 3 years ago, long story) of cycling to Moscow, getting the Transiberian Express across the Gobi (and getting off to cycle across some of it too), then cycling from Beijing down through Vietnam and seeing where the world takes me from there. I have all the kit, I have the desire, life just got in the way. 

    I need to get out there. 
    It’s stories like yours that remind me what I need to do!

  • http://blog.edulang.com Brad Patterson

    It’ll happen, Jem.  It’s always a timing thing.  Your desire is there (and the kit !)

    I have a french acquaintance that did Paris-Beijing 100% in reclined vélo.  I love travelling by bike but honestly I find it more tiring than by foot.  I did 1000km 2 summers ago in France and it’s magnificent when you see on average 3 castles a day.  LOL.

    I can’t imagine what it would be like to traverse Mongolia, China and Vietnam (though had a friend who did the last n Laos too).  That’s a different journey altogether.

    When you find the time for your journey, keep me posted.  I’d LOVE to accompany you for a week… and if I’m in china, I’ll be your interpreter ;-)

    Thanks again for your kind words and make it happen, Jem !

  • Adam Beale

    Cool post, Brad. I love all the photo’s. Your sporting a great beard in the picture with the horse. The trip sounds awesome. I have read about the Appalachian trail and would love to try it some day. I thin of all the photos, the best has to be the one of you (I think it’s you) and the dog crossing the makeshift bridge. Not sure who is concentrating the hardest, you or the dog.

  • http://blog.edulang.com Brad Patterson

    haha… funny story, Nadiyah.  Amazing how little ‘tricks’ like that can make a baby smile.

    Thanks for your kind words.  I do feel very lucky and that handstand was pretty invigorating !

  • http://blog.edulang.com Brad Patterson

    Haha… the dog ;-)  That’s actually a photo of one of the buddies I hiked with every now and again.  You should really consider the AT.  It was the time of my life.  Since my trip, I’ve had a few other friends who have done it as well and I think it was a life-defining experience for them too.

    The beard was nearly 3 months of growth.  Only time I’ve ever done that and it’s kind of fun to have a beard to play with ;-)  Thanks for stopping by, Adam !   Cheers, b

  • http://authenticteaching.wordpress.com Willy

    thanks amazing, dude!

    i like the beard.  and the hair in the first picture is kinda getting back to be trendy :-)

  • http://blog.edulang.com Brad Patterson

    The beard is a winner… even better pics on facebook where I’m mid-way thru shaving it off.  lol

    Trendy… wow… first ever for me !  I guess that means I’m stuck, 10 years behind and 10 years ahead ;-)

  • http://twitter.com/DavidWarr Language Garden

    Great to have your life pieced together. Favourite pic? The photoshopped one of you doing a headstand over a sheer drop. Why, it even looks real.

  • http://blog.edulang.com Brad Patterson

    haha… David, always nice to hear from you, mate !

    Your the first to challenge it… and maybe not the last.  Glad i didn’t fall… wouldn’t have been a kodak memory ;-)

  • http://twitter.com/mattledding matt ledding

    I prefer the falling ducks picture.    (Professional defect: what a great starting point for a student written story…)

  • http://blog.edulang.com Brad Patterson

    That’s by far one of my favorite photos ever… defines how much fun I had hiking with 007… and yes, that is a professional defect (from both your teaching and creative art pasts [which are really one-in the same]) that’s simply lovely !  cheers matt !

  • http://blog.edulang.com Brad Patterson

    just to give a bit of background… there was a big tower by it and we assumed (cuz we didn’t see it happening) that it was some kind of game.  There was a kiddie pool too and we thought that kids tried to throw rubber duckies into the kiddie pool from 10 meters up.  Ahh… life

  • http://twitter.com/nutrich Richard Whiteside

    Love it. 

    That’s all!

  • http://blog.edulang.com Brad Patterson

    Thanks, man.  I loved it too !

  • http://twitter.com/cherrymp Cherry M Philipose

    Never late to catch up with the tale of a trail n that too of a wonderful member of my PLN. Really amazed at the kind of life you’d Brad n really glad to see many Twitterers here – though we haven’t met through posts like this we keep learning about n discovering each other. :) Thanks for posting this B B-).

  • http://twitter.com/cherrymp Cherry M Philipose

    Never late to catch up with the tale of a trail n that too of a wonderful member of my PLN. Really amazed at the kind of life you’d Brad n really glad to see many Twitterers here – though we haven’t met through posts like this we keep learning about n discovering each other. :) Thanks for posting this B B-).

  • http://blog.edulang.com Brad Patterson

    Hey Cherry !  Thanks for stopping by and sharing such a heart-warming comment.

    That was the journey of a lifetime, and you’re right, we’re all on a journey here too that is quite wonderful… never would’ve imagined that I could be connected to so many passionate educators around the world.  A-MAZING.    Cheers, b

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