We Hiked 100 Miles and Lived!

100 Miles

I sit on the deck of a small Airbnb just outside of Franklin, NC. My watch says 9:00 p.m., hiker midnight, since most hikers on the trail are sound asleep by this time. Dad comes out on the deck with a couple of beers in his hand, he reaches one out to me and says, “One more before bed?”  He sits down beside me, puts his hand on my knee, and smiles.

Dad doesn’t always have a lot to say, there are days on the trail when I imagine that we don’t say 100 words to each other. We are comfortable with the silence. It’s not scary or awkward, it’s just that we both don’t always feel like every piece of time demands to be filled with senseless words. So, when he speaks, I listen.

“I’m proud of us, Bub. We made it 100 miles. I wasn’t sure we would, but we did.” We never discussed not making it, but we both knew that there was always uncertainty.

I asked him how we could ever get people to understand what it’s like on the trail. He took a long drink and said, “I have no idea, it’s just really, really hard.” I’ll drink to that.

“It’s hard.” It’s such a simple and lackluster phrase, but very accurate. The difficulty comes from all directions. Muscles ache, bruises linger, sleep evades, and exhaustion permeates, but those difficulties are only the beginning. When you escape the world with just a pack on your back, it humbles you. Things that used to get you through the day are no longer there. No drink before bed to numb your body, no playing on your phone to numb your brain. All you have is what you can fit in your pack and hold in your heart.

The Sound of Silence

Sometimes the most important moments are when all the noises are quieted, and you are alone to see how fleeting life really is. The quietness of the trail has had a great effect on Dad and me. It has been well over 25 years since we have spent substantial time together. Actually, this may be the most time we have ever spent together. We aren’t unlike most other fathers and sons. Parents work, kids grow, kids leave to start their lives, distance falls between the previous generation and the next, time builds walls between them, and the cycle repeats with the next generation. Harry Chapin got it right in his old song Cat’s in the Cradle. Hiking the trail quickly breaks that cycle. It’s like the great reset button. Suddenly the walls time has built begin to fall and you realize that the roles you have played in each other’s lives have changed but are in so many ways still the same. The differences are subtle but so full of meaning. When we make camp each night, he doesn’t tuck me in as he did when I was little. Now he asks me to tuck him in. That’s even the phrase he uses, “Bub are you ready to tuck me in?” That marks the end of our day together. I help him into his hammock, take off his shoes, pull up the liner he sleeps in, and make sure he is secured from the cold in his sleeping bag. This is the good stuff.

Just Breathe

The trail isn’t unlike life in most ways. We all pack what we can and carry it across the ups and downs of our short lives. Some of us have cheap packs that are tattered and worn, while some of us have expensive packs that are new and shiny. But as in life, so is the trail. Some people with the cheap packs march on and on with sunshine on their backs while others with shiny packs stumble and fall. But the opposite is also true. There is no rhyme or reason. We all cross beautiful peaks that fill our hearts with joy, and deep ravines that test our strength to go on. But at the end of the day, we all are just picking up our packs and walking as far as we can.

We have headed off the trail for a few days. The weather is getting too dangerous for us to stay any longer. We will head back to our respective homes. We will heal up while Winter makes his last stand and will be back on the trail in the days ahead.

I was hoping that the trail would bring me plenty of funny stories to tell. And I think she still will. Right now, though, I think she is being like Dad, she wants me to walk and listen first. That’s ok, I’ll be listening.

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Comments 1

  • Thunder Road : Apr 3rd

    Really enjoyed reading this, I hope you make it back and keep on truckin’..


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