Trail is Life
I am at the southern end of what is known as the 100 mile Wilderness. This section of the trail is one of the most remote. For 100 miles I will carry everything I need, food and shelter, without any option for resupply or connection to what the guidebook describes as ‘services’ and ‘amenities’.
Once I exit this wilderness, I will be 15 miles from the summit of Katahdin, the final peak and end to the Appalachian Trail.
There is a huge range of feelings coursing through my mind and heart at this time. The terrain has been easier the past few days and my mind has found opportunities to hyper focus on dreams of home.
At the same time I am hyper aware of the beauty that surrounds me and this hike. Maine is absolutely, incredibly gorgeous. These woods are deep, and unbelievably quiet. Ponds and Lakes lap at the side of the trail. Mosses and curly white birch trees soften the landscape to a dreamy state.
As I have mentioned before, this trail is an exercise in being present. Now, more than ever I feel, I must remain in the present moment rather than rush ahead. That being said, my eagerness for the finish is not a discredit to the journey.
If one looks at the trail as an escape, a vacation, or a respite from ‘normal life, then yes — my desire to finish is a desire to return. But I do not have a desire to return.
I have a deep desire to continue.
Today I had the pleasure of meeting a friend for the first time. He is a former thru-hiker (1974) and we were introduced through family friends before my hike. Steve has been a supporter and follower of my journey from the beginning. He lives 20 minutes away from Monson, ME — the final town before the 100 mile wildnerness — and we planned to rendezvous this afternoon before I continued hiking.
In the years since his hike he as been asked, “How did you transition? How did you re-integrate to life off the trail?”
His response sparked a similar feeling in my own heart.
“I never left.” He replies.
Steve did not continue hiking on the AT after reaching the summit of Katahdin. He got married, had children, built homes, and volunteered in Baxter State Park in Maine. His answer signals more of a continuation of the hiking and backpacking mindset and lifestyle.: A continuation of mindfulness, an ability to survive on just what a family needs and nothing more, a commitment to preserving our parks, and to always hike.
This hike IS life. Not forever, but for a time. For me it is not an escape, a pause button or a stop button on my life. This hike is a part, and a continuation of my life. My eagerness to come home is rooted in a motivation to continue the arc of events and relationships that lead me to start walking 5 months ago in Georgia .
My trail family, who you may have become familiar with throughout this blog (Bru, Prime, Walkman, etc.) are days ahead of me and are scheduled to reach the summit on September 6th. I’m so proud of them and happy for their finish. I am sad that I will not summit with my Day-1 friends.
So for today, I revisited a conversation I had with Bru in Hanover, New Hampshire. We were sipping beers and waiting on pizza one evening and discussing a hiker’s post on Instagram. This hiker, Legs, chose to leave the trail before completing the hike.
His post communicated a desire to ‘get back to life’ and ‘back to things’ he had been working on before hiking. The decision made me sad, because he was a lovely friend, but it also sparked the thought in my mind — he made the hike seem as though it was in the way, hindering, his regular life.
Getting off trail is a decision I fully support. No goal is worth the effort if it is not something you want fully. There is no judgement in my assessment of this decision.
During the conversation, Bru and I both seemed to agree that the Trail IS your life. How you consider the trail in the arc of your existence is integral to the mental state needed to hike 2,000+ miles. If the hike feels like you’ve pushed the pause button for too long, then yes, not finishing seems like the best idea. Why leave your life behind?
Bru did end up describing the trail as a way to either put your life on pause or stop. He views this as an opportunity for when he returns home. Though our word choice isn’t the same, he and I both are pointing to the same sentiment: going home is not to return to a life that has been waiting. It is to go home to a life that was before the trail, but must be changed because of the trail.
Steve mentioned today that he picked up on my anxiousness to return home. I felt a bit guilty — I don’t want to rush through this, I don’t want to crush miles at the end to the point that I don’t notice faces on the trail, or a breathtaking view. I want to be in this to the last mile. When he and I spoke about this topic he quoted from the book Dharma Bums , “When you get to the top of the mountain, keep climbing.”
I’ve tucked myself in a quiet corner of the hostel. The windows are open, a breeze blows through and I can feel the cool Maine air tinged with autumn. This moment of writing and sharing keeps me grounded to the present. That being said, I’m packed up and ready to hike out.
My deep, unquenchable desire to finish at this point keeps my feet moving. I can’t sit still. This restlessness is not because I want to return to a life a left, it comes from a desire to continue climbing.