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.