"How many do you think would have nerve enough to just camp in all of those remote places you did, let alone, scramble over those many high places where your cleats were barely gripping the slick rocks? Even now I can vividly see those almost impossible climbs and descents you crawled over with little mention in your writings. Your blog made it sound like a leisurely walk in some hills. But we know better, don't we?"
A former thru-hiker sent those words to me in an email, and I can't think of a way to better describe what's been going on in my mind the last month. (Has it been a month already?)
I don't know how many times Seth and I discussed this on the trail. We expected the transition back to "real life" to be an interesting and strange one, but I never imagined that in those first couple of weeks I would feel so isolated in the midst of familiar surroundings.
The conversation I remember most vividly took place on our second to last day on the trail. We had done thirty miles the day before, and were hoping to get twenty-five in that day. We were anxious and sad and exhausted. We were within minutes of Abol Bridge and the Baxter State Park boundary, and we talked yet again about the end and what it would be like to be finished. "How can we make them understand?" I remember saying. "Unless you've walked through days of mud and rain...", your hands and feet white and spotted with open sores from being wet for so long; unless you've sat cooking dinner getting swarmed by gnats or mosquitoes that buzz into your eyes and ears, that bite you through your clothing, that bite between your toes and leave your feet bloody; unless you've felt that anxious jump in your stomach that fills your entire body when your foot slips out from under you on a wet rock slab, and your mind has screamed that you can't fall again because every fall puts you that much closer to the one that ends your trip, and this might be the one, and it can't be the one because you're not done yet, you're not ready to go home; unless you've muscled across a cold, raging river and felt the relief when your shaking legs feel the solid ground on the other side and you've stepped out into 45-degree air with soaking wet feet and clothes; "unless you've walked through days and days of pain...", every step sending an awful pain through your foot and you've woken up the next morning and it's still there, and the next day, and the next day, and you've felt that same pain for every step of every mile for days and days and days; and unless you've seen that mountain rising in front of you and known there was no avoiding it, and you've pulled your exhausted body and aching feet up the rocky climb to be rewarded with a view of nothing but more trees..."How can you understand?" And just seconds after I said this we exited the woods onto the road that led to Abol Bridge, and in the distance was Katahdin staring down at us. We both stopped in admiration and I was crying...crying for the days I'd conquered, crying for the inevitable end, and crying at the thought that, No, no one is going to understand.
It's hard to explain to people what I've done--"Did you have a nice trip?" "Yes, it was great."--is about the extent of it, but in my mind that adjective means a lot more than the simple fact that I enjoyed myself. Still, there is a part of me that doesn't want people to understand; I have something that's mine, and everyone else should find a peace of their own.
I think this will be my last entry. To everyone who followed me and encouraged me, thank you.
To everyone who dreams of an adventure, go do it.