I just realized I did not post this on my blog last fall after I wrote it.
The Hike of 2016
As many of you know, it has been a dream of mine to hike the whole 2176 miles of the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine. The goal was to do it during the summer of 2017 when I turned 65 so I could be on Medicare and the government could pay the bill if I broke a hip.
But when I found a friend who said she would do a section hike with me in the spring of 2016, I couldn’t pass that up because I didn’t know If I’d ever find someone to do the whole thing with me in 2017, and Ed said I couldn’t go alone (he is pretty smart). So, in January of 2016, Peggy and I began to plan and prepare for a section hike of the trail. We decided to do the 540 miles in Virginia, starting on May 15 in Damascus. We heard it was the easiest part and were sure we could do it in forty days.
When Ed and I were coming home from Florida on the 1st of April that year, I talked him into stopping at Amicalola Falls in Georgia where you get on the approach trail that goes to Springer Mt (the southern trailhead of the AT). I got to walk a little bit and talk to a few hikers who were starting their through hikes. Their excitement was contagious. But since only 1 out of 10 actually finishes, I wondered which ones would be in Maine in the fall. It usually takes about six months to do it all.
On May 15, as planned, Peggy and I met in Damascus, VA for the start of our hike. It just happened to be the weekend of the huge trail days celebration that is held there every year. There were hundreds of hikers there, and once again, the excitement rubbed off.
But it didn’t take too long on the trail before the excitement wore off. The evening of the second day, when I was exhausted and cold after climbing two mountains, I slipped while crossing a stream and hurt my leg. But what choice did I have but to go on. Once you’ve committed to hiking that green tunnel, you just don’t want to get off it. What an adventure those 40 days on the trail were. We did not get to backpack all 540 miles because of my old feet and tired knees, but we did do 430 miles, shuttling through the miles we missed.
When we arrived in Harpers Ferry, W.Va we were both physically exhausted and down 20 pounds. They say you burn 5000 calories a day hiking up and down mountains, and there is no way you can eat that many calories a day, especially since you have to carry your food on your back, getting off just once a week to resupply.
But it wasn’t the physical change in me that counted. It was what I brought off that trail in my heart and in my mind. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been one of those people who was always planning for tomorrow and failing to enjoy the day I was living in. I remember living in the moment as a child, and the trail taught me to do that again.
I came away with a renewed adoration for my God too. The splendor He created for us to enjoy is so varied. We see it, not just in nature but in our fellow human beings. There were only a few nights when I couldn’t sleep in my tent on the trail and had to sleep in a shelter with strangers from all over the country. One night it was me and Peggy, a lawyer, a laid off coal miner, a kid who was going to medical school in the fall, an 18 year old girl who was hiking the trail alone and a young married couple on their honeymoon. Talk about diversity and beauty! I was reminded often that we are not to judge others because we have not walked in their shoes and we don’t know where they have come from.
In September, I talked my husband into taking me to Baxter State Park in Maine so I could climb the mountain and the northern terminus of that magnificent trail. I had been to the start of the trail in April, hiked the middle for 40 days and I needed to put the finish on this experience.
On a clear beautiful day, I hiked 5 ½ miles to Baxter Peak on Katahdin Mountain in Maine. They say if you can climb it, you can climb any mountain on the trail. It’s probably true, I could barely walk the day after that climb. It was excrutiating! But, having been through childbirth, I can say it was a little like that. When you go through it, you feel like you are going to die, but when it’s all over, you know it’s been worth it. From the summit of Katahdin Mountain, I had a 360 degree view. From that point on earth I could see other mountains and valleys around me and beautiful lakes at my feet. I’ve never experience anything so breathtaking (except my own newborn babies).
But what made it especially moving for me was a young couple who joined me there. They had started in Georgia in April, hiked the same 430 miles in the middle that I hiked, and now they were here at the end with me. I did not hike all 2176 miles with them, but I got to celebrate the end of their trip with them. And it felt like I was at the end of my journey too.
Be glad of life because it gives you the chance to love and to work and to play and to look up at the stars.” - Henry Van Dyke