Thru-Hiking the Appalachian Trail

The Journey IS the Destination

katahdin-

Call me crazy but living outside for five months sounded like my kind of adventure.

There’s a bumper sticker on my Toyota with the words, “my other car is a pair of boots.” Years ago when I bought it, I had no idea those words would become reality and that someday I would walk from Georgia to Maine.

“Someday” for me began on May 4th when I set out with my brother from Georgia’s Springer Mountain on the world-famous 2175 mile foot path called the Appalachian Trail. This meandering trail follows the backbone of the eastern U.S. through 14 states, ending in Maine on what the Abenaki People call “The Greatest Mountain”–Katahdin, in Baxter State Park.
 Before we’d even left Georgia, it became obvious my brother and I had different priorities and different paces.

Known on the trail as “The Lollygagger”  I was always finding reasons to stop. There was such beauty!

I wanted to take it all in, record it in my mind, in my journal and with my camera so I could share it later. My brother didn’t share my desire for lollygagging and left me to go on ahead, continuing on the same path, only at a faster pace. Though saddened at the prospect of continuing alone I was determined to finish what I’d started. Of the 3-4000 people that try to walk the entire trail each year less than 500 succeed. I wanted to be one of them!

 I found satisfaction in living simply and in knowing I was totally self-sufficient, able to carry on my back everything necessary for survival.

But while hiking and camping by myself was something I was comfortable with, the details of getting into and out of towns and “re-suppling” overwhelmed me. Emerson once said, “The greater part of courage is having done it before.” I saw the truth in this as with practice things like hitchhiking and eating at restaurants alone got easier.

I learned there was value in talking to strangers and that most people are kind and generous.

Many went out of their way to help: waiting while I did my grocery shopping, shuttling me around town, offering food, a hot shower, wishes for safe travel. Without wanting anything in return. Encounters with these “Trail Angels”(as hikers call them) account for some of my most memorable moments.

 

Other memorable moments came from my willingness to dally. Alone and on my own schedule, I prioritized making time to enjoy the places I’d worked so hard to reach, sharing stories with people I met and allowing for “detours” to off-trail attractions. I found a balance between making the necessary miles and lollygagging. There were nights I stopped well before dark because I’d reached a spot I couldn’t pass up–a site beside a pond or on a mountain.

How rewarding it was to step out of my tent and watch the sun rise up through the fog, painting the sky glorious shades of orange and gold or to get into a canoe at dawn and paddle out into the mist.

Or, after a steep and difficult ascent upon reaching a flat rocky slab, I sat to soak up the sun and enjoy the view. It was with a sense of awe that I looked out at row after row of mountains stretching in every direction and realized I had been on top of some, only hours or days ago!

 I often felt rich beyond anything money could ever buy, was sometimes overcome with pride and joy– like a child learning to ride a bike, wanting to shout to the world, “Look, I’m doing it!

Of course there were moments when I felt only exhaustion, discouraged and unhappy that I’d committed to what seemed sometimes like an impossible task, when the burning pain in my feet and the aching in my joints was too much to bear. No wonder so many people quit! It was easy to understand given the sheer difficulty of the trail– mountain after mountain to climb, the path littered with obstacles: boulder fields, near-vertical passes, slippery rocks, ankle-deep mud, roots, rain-filled rivers to ford. Add to that hot humid afternoons, biting insects, cold, rainy days, hail, thunder and lightning storms, frigid fall temperatures. At times when I felt I could walk no more, when I wondered if I had what it took to make it, I thought of all the people rooting for me and I pictured myself in Maine.

katahdin-2654I closed my eyes and imagined myself on Katahdin, the sun on my face, the world spread out around me, my arms raised in victory.

And every time, it was enough. I took a step and walked on. And on. And on. Days became weeks, steps became miles.Until a cloudy day in October when I reached Katahdin, making the vision reality.

Standing on that mountain was my proudest moment, a shining example of strength of body and mind uniting to achieve success.

I believe that I am a better person for overcoming the challenges and richer for making the journey as important as the destination. I can look back without regret, confident I got the most out of my experience. Sometimes I can’t help but exclaim– I walked from Georgia to Maine!  Like the words on my bumper sticker, my other car REALLY is a pair of boots!!

Click HERE to Read more about my journey on the AT

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