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.