Thursday, October 11, 2012

One Year Later

The ambient parking lot light that leaks in through my apartment window faintly illuminates the map of the AT hanging on my bedroom wall. It's not enough that I can make out the state lines, or even the continuous path marked across those fourteen states, but it makes no difference. I've looked at that map so many times that I don't need to see it to recall the memories that it contains. I studied it hopefully at Standing Bear Farm in Tennessee, unbelieving that the past few weeks had gained me only a few inches of progress. I felt a rush of excitement when I saw it displayed at Grace Hiker Hostel in Waynesboro, Virginia, because I had almost made it halfway. I was proud to see it hanging on my parents' kitchen wall when I left Massachussetts to go home for my sister's wedding, and I stared in sadness and disbelief at the same map in the bathroom of the Lakeshore House laundromat in Monson, Maine, knowing my journey was nearing its end.

No, I don't need to see it, but in daylight hours I find myself standing in front of it, studying it as closely as I did for those seven hiking months, feeling the same hopefulness and disbelief and pride and sadness and excitement. One year later and, when I allow them to be, those feelings are strong as ever. I don't think they will ever diminish.

In daylight or in darkness, the map is my portal. I can stand on a mountain as I fold the laundry or I can close my eyes and fall asleep to the rhythm of footsteps and trekking poles. I can relive any day, any hour, any step.

Tonight I choose to be on Abol bridge, standing silently in the golden hour and crying for the inevitable end that stands so closely in front of me. I feel the exhaustion in my body and the excitement in my heart as I watch the shadows lengthen in the sunset for one last time. And tomorrow...

Tomorrow I will choose to walk across the tablelands of The Greatest Mountain, reliving seven beautiful months of freedom and adventure in one final mile. I will kneel behind the weathered sign and hold my arms in the air because I know that I will always be a thru-hiker.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Springer Fever

Has it been a year already?

I remember the nerves I felt as I left Amicalola Falls State Park a year ago. I kept questioning myself and my decisions. What made me think I could complete such a seemingly impossible task? Would the reward be worth the effort?

Today, a year since I started and roughly five months since I finished, I wonder why those questions were even in my mind. Impossible? Hardly. The reward? Greater than I could have imagined.

It's amazing how much my experience still affects me. I feel a strange ache in my left foot when I walk, I refer to grocery shopping as "resupplying," and I crave Pop Tarts, peanut butter, and Knorr sides. I'm so jealous of all the people starting their thru-hikes this year.

Seth and I are going back to the trail this weekend/next week to do some trail magic and hike for a few days. I'm curious how the hike will be mentally, as well as physically. I can't wait to see a white blaze,  and I'm almost looking forward to waking up with a hiker hobble again!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Okay, The Thoughts Are Still Coming

I don't consciously think about the trail much. The memories are like the ticking of a clock--ever present, but only an influence when I make the effort to listen. And with my upcoming move to Florida (to be with Seth), my effort has been focused elsewhere.

My sleeping bag and pad have been hanging in a closet since I got home, and of course I'm taking both with me. As I pulled my sleeping bag off the hanger, it brushed my trekking poles which had been leaning against the closet wall. They gently landed at my feet: "Hey, remember us?"

I picked them up mindlessly, set them out of my way, and then felt an urge to glance back toward them.

In that moment, I did remember. I remembered everything.

I picked the poles up again--my battered, beaten, 2000-miler poles, and I cried.

I stood there staring at my trekking poles in my hands, and I noted every single scratch. Every single speck of dirt. Every chunk of bare carbon fiber where the paint had chipped, and every nick in the rubberized handles. I got the same feeling in my chest that I felt when I tore the last page out of my guidebook on my final night on the trail--that "it's really over" feeling. I felt overwhelmed, as if by storing things away I'd been neglecting to face the fact that this adventure was truly finished. An unconscious "out of sight, out of mind" concept had taken over.

I rolled up my sleeping pad in the same manner I had for day after day, remembering each morning on a hard shelter floor or in the moisture-laden confines of my tent. My chest ached, but I knew my heart was trying to smile. As much as I've left behind, I still carry with me some 30 pounds worth of the pride of an accomplishment, the power of a dream, and a sense of freedom that not many understand.

I think I'll bring those trekking poles with me to Florida.