Ten states, 1,137 miles, three months and ten days. Where did they go? How are they suddenly a blur of the past? The myriad faces, extraordinary places, epic views, repetitive tasks, challenging steps of closing an unconquerable distance at a mere 2MPH pace, moments of feeling indescribably alive have, in hindsight, flown by faster than the wind on top of Mount Katahdin. My first day as a hiking noobie, on one hand so long ago, seems like just yesterday. Being the type A person that I am, I spent hours doing ample research and reading about the endeavor ahead of me before embarking on this adventure, however, one can’t truly understand the insurmountable journey until actually living it. Though routine in its daily activities of climbing, descending, filtering water, cooking dinner, setting up camp, and taking it all down a few hours later just to hit the repeat button, there has been nothing boring about the first half of this walk in the woods…face to face encounters with bears, moose spottings, rock mazes, hitch-hiking, ground sleeping, longing homesickness, kindred spirits, lifelong friendships, dehydrated meals and poptarts, a Christmas morning feeling when receiving a resupply package from my family and friends, nights stealth camping alone in the woods and other nights of slumber party chats and card games in shelters. Comical instances of setting my campstove on fire, and moments requiring vigorous determination to continue forcing myself to hike when absolutely spent; times of trudging in a dreary cold rain or delighting in a sunny warm day walking on a ledge with a view of the tiny world living below; the burden of wearing a 35 pound backpack ten to twelve hours a day on a recently broken back makes sweeter the delightful ease of an occasional slackpacking day.
There is socializing and spoilage at hiker hostels, laughter so hard it actually hurts, pleasure in simplicity, glorious happiness accompanied by needing very little, camaraderie of hikers convening at a shelter for lunch discussing the trail behind and ahead. Relationships with people are what bring out the magic in a thru-hike…open-minded trail friends from all walks of life on a pilgrimage of purpose, generous spirits of trail angels who help to restore one’s faith in the selflessness of people, local townsfolk in awe of a thru-hiker’s trek who pump out endless, excited questions and inspire us to keep on walking. The trail provides picturesque storybook views, song birds whose wind chime melodies add to the beautiful peace to the forest, mountain tops that make the perfect setting for a relaxing picnic lunch break, crystal clear swimming holes, pedicure soaks for sore feet in a cold mountain spring, campfires and conversation, chatty brown squirrels angry at the intrusion into their woods, tenacious kangaroo mice inhabiting the shelters, the haunting wails of a loon swimming across a Maine lake with her mate, occasions of belting out childhood songs in the woods or simply relishing the music of nature itself, recurring friends who were meant to be part of my journey, zero days of swimming, corn hole, and games of pool, genuine help and support from strangers, the joy of trail magic in its many forms, trail towns where businesses and residents welcome hikers with open arms and warm smiles, ethereal sunsets reflecting on a glassy lake, cowboy camping on a beach under a dark sky and playing connect-the-dots games with the innumerable stars above, wild berries on mountain balds, and the liberation of never knowing the day of the week.
Daily life on the trail brings with it distinctive experiences which include quiet peace of an early morning waking forest, the layer of silk spider webs one wears as a “reward” for being the first hiker on trail, humbling occasions of slipping and falling face down or being sucked into mud four feet deep and moments of confidence after reaching the summit of an arduous climb. Waterfalls, river fords, butterflies, rock hops across streams, fields of wild flowers, playful chipmunks, moose, deer, wild apples, rattlesnakes, cornfields, road walks, forest and its changing disguises, trail of rocks and boulders, mud and broken bog boards, worn out shoes that are always wet, friends who stick together as tightly as family, blissful freedom of caring about nothing more than this step. Then the next. My brother’s last advice to me as he and Daddy dropped me off in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia June 5 has resounded in my ears everyday: “Take it one step at a time, Ally.” One step at a time has finally led to the blur of ten states, 1,137 miles and three months, ten days of memories. “It’s not the mountains we conquer, but ourselves.” ~Sir Edmund Hillary
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