One full week since I climbed the amazing Mt. Katahdin. I was warned going into this that my life would change, that I would change and that nothing would ever be the same. Part of me wonders if I really listened to that advice. I spoke with a good trail friend last night and the word I came up with when talking to her was shock. Shock. That fully describes, as best as one word can, how I feel. EVERYTHING is different. I suppose everyone is the same, just how I view things has changed. I walk through this drab world now, hard, rough, beauty obscured by geometric giants. Every smell threatens my nose, swirling scents of a fake world. Tar, rubber, gas, oil, plastic, perfume, cologne. The sounds are harsh and too vibrant. I no longer pause to listen, I am bombarded with shooting planes, screeching tires, angry horns. I feel like I don’t belong in this world that tries to hammer itself over your head. Yet, I remain calm and focus on blocking it out as meditatively as possible. I’ve never been one to lie or pad my thoughts when it comes to how I feel and/or my opinions. That hasn’t changed, and so this is an honest offering up to the question I’ve been asked most frequently: how are you?
The answer: I am calmly shocked 🙂
Life is full of decision making and consequences. Let me start by clarifying something. What I have been doing for the past six months is not a vacation. It has been hard work and work that I have both loved and loathed. Waking up when the sun comes up everyday to walk anywhere between 15-25 miles a day is physically and mentally taxing. And it has been my job. I’ve learned that loving your job is as important as respecting it and taking a break from
It. I’ve had forced breaks, such as blisters and trench foot. I’ve had chosen breaks, or vacations, such as trail days and the fourth of July. I am explaining all this because the general consensus seems to be that I have been on vacation. And to then follow up with my decision to finish, despite some consequences could have those that think I’m living it up for six months slightly confused. The reality is, when you go away, life keeps living without you. I have one more year left of grad school. Unfortunately, it starts very soon and I have over 200 miles to go. Literally, an impossible feat in Maine when you are trying to complete it in 10 days. Most people out here have the luxury of time. They don’t have a deadline. I however, don’t have that luxury. From where we are, that would mean 30 mile days. That would not be fun work. It would be hell and it would make my rapidly deteriorating knees very worse. It has been a very hard decision, but, Skrambo and I are jumping ahead to the 100 mile wilderness to finish our journey. It matters more to finish the trail on an enjoyable note, doing much more manageable miles. We are coming back next summer to hike the sections we missed from time constraints and injury. But, either way, the lesson here, something I fully stand by, is that our journey went in this direction. This was how our thru-hike went and how it was supposed to go. I embrace it. I’ve loved it. And I am looking forward to enjoying the 100 mile wilderness and most of all, Katahdin.
A lot can happen in a year. I don’t think it’s very often we have the opportunity to reflect on that. A year ago from today I was finishing a three day hike in the whites, where I was testing my ability to handle multiple overnights in order to prep for the A.T. I was also going through a great deal of emotional turmoil. Flash forward to now, the exact day, one year later. I am hiking the same exact mountains. Literally, the same exact ones. This time, as I crossed South Twin, went over Guyot and lingered by Zealand Falls I felt completely new and different. I’ve realized the changes the A.T. has brought to my life along the way, but, this was truly an epiphany moment. I love myself, my life, my journey so much more. I am not left wanting for something better anymore because it already exists. I’m so very satisfied with the decisions I’ve made and the choice to only deal with the now and not the undefined future. On the trail, if you spend too much time over analyzing life the trail seems to remind you to focus on what is right in front of you. Such as tripping on a tree root (which happened twice on this day). The trail constantly reminds me to be in the moment, understand it and enjoy it for what it’s worth. And man, the whites, my home, are worth so much.
Recently, I was blessed with some amazing trail magic. People continue to surprise you, if you let them. The first magic came when Adam, who has been following my project from the beginning, offered to slack pack my friends Skrambo, Late For Dinner and I. The plan: masterful. Jump ahead at a road crossing to do a tough, steep section that is better done without full packs, then we can finish with the best part of the whites: the presidentials. Adam drove a very, very long way to do this, with his adorable son in tow. Listening to his peak bagging stories in the car on the way to Pinkham notch was pretty awesome. I’ve been talking about my peak bagging adventures for days, and to hear someone else’s experiences on trying to complete the 48 4000 footers in NH was a bit refreshing. Reminded me of home. His son was soon dubbed Mountain Man because he kept asking if he was climbing mountains today, so cute! Because of Adam’s trail magic we were able to climb 7 4000 foot mountains, 3 of which count for the NH 48. The views off the Wildcats were spectacular, looking back on Washington and seeing where we would be in a few days was an indescribable feeling. We made it off the mountains in time to miss the rain and got to sit, dry in a car on our way to our shelter for the evening. Without Adam, that day would not have been possible. A true trail angel, he really helped us on our way to Katahdin.
That brings me to our shelter for the evening. Susan. What an amazing person she is. She had become a fan of Late For Dinner’s trail journal and had invited him to stay at her home. A chance run in with her for me and Skrambo also turned into a place to stay, right in Franconia. Home cooked meal, shower, laundry and best of all the start of a great friendship that helped us charge up for the whites. Susan’s positive energy and excitement is contagious. The best part of it all? A unique experience hiking the Franconia ridge. She happens to fly glider towing planes. As Skrambo and I made our way over Lincoln and on our way to the top of Lafayette, she flew by giving the standard plane hello as her wings bounced back and forth. We both screamed in excitement….possibly freaking out every day hiker in sight. Seeing Susan fly over us on that ridge line was certainly the best way to make our thru-hike unique. We couldn’t stop smiling for hours. Thanks to our very special angels, I can excitedly say: Maine, here we come!!!!
So many people out here are starting to be fearful of the end of the trail. Katahdin is coming closer everyday, and there is a constant worry of adjusting to the real world. I fall into the fear trap upon occasion, but, more often than not I am not fearful, but excited. Yes, to tell the truth, I’d rather spend the rest of my life as a wandering adventurer. And who knows, maybe that will happen. But, each new change is something to appreciate. The trail was an unknown, a challenge, a life change and something that could have easily been feared. However, I took on the challenge with energy, enthusiasm and hope. I hope my fellow thru-hikers look at the R.W. not in fear, but as another challenge, another A.T. We adapted to the trail, we can adapt to the normal world again too. And maybe, we are now better equipped….
Will be hiking Moosilauke tomorrow. Anyone want to slack pack me and my friend Skrambo through the Whites?? 🙂 we also welcome road crossing trail magic.
But, seriously, I finally feel like I’m home. Loving NH.
400 miles left!
Back on the trail, not much to report, just keeping my hopes up that my feet keep up. I had a great drive back to Vermont with my mom. I want to thank my family for caring for me the past week, if it weren’t for them, I would have been in a bad way. I also want to thank an acquaintance that is making sure I can financially finish the trail. Without your kind loan I would not be making it out of Vermont. Also, thanks for the mail drops…friends and followers! Cannot wait to get to Hanover and see the goodies you all sent.
Much love and eternal gratitude,