April 13, 2015:
Today I celebrate my four month anniversary hiking the Appalachian Trail, and after careful thought, the end of my thru hike. Here, mile 1,922.0- Bethal, ME, with one broken trekking pole and two worn out shoes, marks the end of my trail.
Although I maintain the ability to say I’ve made it from Georgia to Maine, I have voluntarily demoted myself to LASHER (Long Ass Section Hiker) status. As Janet MissJanet Hensley would say, I thoroughly hiked the AT.
I cannot begin to describe the amount of fun I’ve had throughout my travels, but after leaving behind many friends to crank mileage, my passion became solely a chore. What fun is reaching the finish line if you have no one with you to celebrate? What is the beauty in a pretty view you can’t stop to enjoy?
As I mentioned in a previous blog post, this trip was intended to be a journey. Somewhere along the way, my adventure became more focused on the destination; today, I formally reject that mentality.
Feeling I “had to” cover a predetermined distance each day left me unable to enjoy the many detours that fill space in between point A and B with memories and meaning. It left me unable to relax, and unable to be happy. I felt rushed and at times, put myself in compromising situations trying to reach mileage goals in difficult terrain, bad weather, and late hours. I felt guilty days I felt sick. I felt saddened every time my friends stayed in a town, where I too wanted to stay, but could not.
The miles, my friends, are only a small fraction of the adventure.
I recall sitting in Miss Janet’s van when she explained that thru hiking almost destroyed the intention behind the Appalachian Trail. She described the pathway as something you should always be able to return to, finding something new with each encounter. It is not supposed to be rushed. It does not have to be completed in one season. Miss Janet is correct.
With even one more week, I could comfortably hike all 2,189.7 miles, but I know in finishing with time I possess, I would either injure myself or leave hating the trail, never to return. I would rush myself off to law school, jeopardizing my future there. Instead, it is time for me to move on…
In leaving now, I am better able to prepare for the next chapter in my life & better positioned resolve some of the loitering troubles I’ve ignored. I’ve gotten what I originally hope for out of the trail many, many miles ago, I’ve made it to Maine, & I am off to new and different challenges.
That being said, however, I WILL finish each and every mile left in my hike but armed with no agenda and no schedule. I intend to stop at every campsite that feels right, and say yes to any and every ridiculous side bar that comes my way. I love the AT & I purposefully stopped shy of “And-Over”, Maine. It ain’t over yet 😉
Looking back on my thru-hike attempt, I smile. It was truly a unique experience:
-I walked north
-I walked south
-I carried my pack and, at times, left it in the care of people I barely knew
-I traveled in order
-I traveled out of order
-I pink blazed, yellow blazed, orange blazed, blue blazed, and white blazed.
– I chased the midnight rider
-I hiked in the early morning
-I hiked in the late evening
-I had a standoff with a moose alone in the dark, then spent my very first night alone stealth camping
-I managed to thumb my way to Virginia Beach with three friends, six rides, twenty-four hours, and one overnight stay in a dugout
-I sunk knee deep in mud, then stood there for a minute pondering my life
-I walked soaked from the rain
-I walked soaked from my sweat
-I was hailed upon twice, while the sun looked down upon me and the lightning flashed in the clear sky
-I walked the right way
-I walked the wrong way
-I rewalked miles twice because I was unsure & got lost finding a place to use the bathroom
-I fought gnats
-I murdered mosquitos
-I spent an hour chasing mice away from my pack on the top of a mountain, while I ate copious amounts of the food that fills ten year olds’ dreams
-I ate from the hiker box
-I ate from the dirt
-I ate food from strangers without hesitation or concern
-I took a river bath
-I took a beer shower
-I was the filthiest I’ve ever been in my entire life
-I slept in shelters
-I slept in my tent
-I stayed in hotel rooms and hostels and floors shoulder to shoulder with strangers and rodents
-I broke out of church
-I snuck back into church
-I drank boxed wine and had late night conference meetings
-I felt rich amongst the hiker group
-I felt poor amongst society
-I accepted 75 cents from the homeless people, who gave my friends and I the money for a city bus ride so we would not be stranded
-I was treated like a hero
-I was treated like a bum
-I felt on top of the world and humbled by the struggle to get there
I hiked my own hike.
It was the journey of a lifetime and, looking back, I loved it all.
While I have so much left to say in the closing of this chapter, I wanted to pause for now recognizing the hikers, trail angels, and hostels who contributed to my amazing experiences. Each one of you got me to where I stand today, and I look back fondly upon the memories we share.
The trail community is filled with truly inspiring people, who built up my faith in humanity & trust in mankind. To my friends on the AT, who embraced me for the smelly, acne ridden, dirty hiker trash I became, I already miss you beyond my ability to describe.
Until next time…
Happy trails my friends 😎