The walk out from Muskrat Shelter to Deep Gap, NC was a thoughtful time for me. A year ago this trip was just a thought, a dream really, something I really couldn’t believe I could do. But as with most things in my life I planned it anyway. I figured if I planned it, got some people to hike with me, told lots of people I was going, then I would do it. And I did! In the end it was more than a just a hike to me. It was my first long distance backpack, 85 miles!
I remember about a year and a half ago I was sitting up at Crescent Rock on the AT in Virginia with Sidekick Pauli eating lunch when a group of boy scouts came up the hill. There was one scout who was about ten years old, younger than the rest, hiking along with his pack. He stopped to say hello and I asked him, “How far are you guys going?” “50 miles!” he replied, with a smile that infused me with happiness.
I thought if this little kid is out here living the life, then what am I waiting for? I am 45 years, turning 46 this year, and refuse to waste even one more minute doing things I see as unimportant in the greater scheme of my life. I have three distinct passions…hiking, dogs and math. And I have successfully built my life around those three.
Hiking the Appalachian Trail through Georgia was a passion. I needed to see the beginning. I needed to feel the beginning. I needed to know the beginning. Even though I have been a hiker on the AT for some time, most of my hikes have been short outings or two day backpacks around Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania. I grew up, until age 12, in the woods. I can’t say I appreciated the barrel stove or outhouse back then…but I certainly miss the simplicity of it all now. I feel the most at home in the woods, tramping down a trail, living in a way that requires me to focus on only a few things…food, water, sleep, and putting one foot in front of the other. I wasn’t sad when I got to Deep Gap, NC. I was in a bit of shock. I had done this thing, seen it through.
How the heck did I actually pull it off? The trail was waiting for me to be ready and when I was, the pieces just fell into place. I had help from Low Rider, and without her, much of the logistical stuff would have been a nightmare! I am also so thankful there were a few dames in Georgia who hiked with me. When I got my rental car and started driving back to Maryland, I did cry. Not because it had ended, but because it has begun. My life is mine. I get it. I know what it means to be free. I know what it means to be able to live free. And that is why the trail waited for me. I had to be ready to accept that freedom. Because freedom isn’t all lovely sunshine filled days with turquoise skies and puffy white clouds. Freedom is about walking, one foot after the other, through both the sunny days and the days filled with heavy fog and rain and seeing both as necessary and beautiful. It is not being afraid to fall flat on my face, because I know I can and I will get up and keep walking. It is being nervous to rock hop across a creek that is rising during a thunderstorm, then crossing it not just one time, but three because I thought I might have gone too far and decided to backtrack (then backtrack again). It is getting to a clearing and looking back hoping to see the mountains I have climbed only to find myself staring blankly into the infinite leafy abyss of the forest…then feeling my heart burst with pride anyway. Freedom is living my life just as it is given to me! These are the experiences I was meant to have. They are my own, special and memorable, mine.