Dear Sapling

Dear Sapling,

     I am so proud of you. I gave you your name because I said you bend but don’t break. Like a small tree in a violent storm you have displayed the courage to fight too many obstacles during our month on the AT. Off the top of my head you’ve battled: heartache, knee pain, digestive issues, ankle problems, blisters, the effects of being cold and wet at high altitude, a hip that needed to be “popped” several times daily, an overly heavy pack for someone your size… and perhaps toughest of all- an intense dad walking right behind you half of every hike who asked you to do more than you could do.

In the movie A League of Their Own Tom Hanks famously said, “There’s no crying in baseball.” I felt the same way about thru hiking, until I didn’t.

At our stealth camp at mile 288 I could see it was over. It had ironically been your very best day on Trail and I saw that your Legs were coming in and you were the most pain-free you’d been all trip. But I’d pushed you for a couple more miles an hour earlier and while you’d obliged there was a sense of resignation in you. I didn’t see joy or happiness in your development. I didn’t see a drive to knock out 12 to 15 miles, day after day, week after week, month after month.

So what did I see? Someone that I loved and who was hurting. Someone that wanted to lay down near streams and take naps while listening to the water babble softly. Someone that would gently push strands of beautiful blonde hair from her sun-kissed face while happily gazing upon the mountains for long stretches of time. Someone who wanted to stop and identify snakes and birds and animal sounds often. Someone that wanted to Hike and not March. Someone that wanted to feel and not stifle pain. Someone that wanted to take joy in the mountains and not necessarily conquer the trail miles across them every… single… day.

Someone that was herself and only part me.

So in the stealth camp, while we sat on that log knowing it couldn’t continue and I became too choked up to talk, you asked me what I was feeling. I couldn’t bring myself to say it. But here it is. I knew that you’d grown up to be the beautiful young woman you’ve become, and that likely our time being with each other so much in life was coming to an end. Parting ways out here would spill over into regular life. And I couldn’t stand it… your idea for a hike was better than mine. In my heart of hearts I know it is.

I could try to keep explaining but it feels meaningless. Just know that I love you, I’m proud to be your father, I’m proud of how you’ve hiked, and if anyone broke it’s me- you’ll always be my Sapling.

I love you Madeline,


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Comments 15

  • Wanda Hale : Apr 20th

    I hope you aren’t stopping your hike and just maybe taking a short break and proceed following the things you have learned from so far. Take your time, take care of youselves, enjoy the hike and Gods beautiful creation. God bless.

  • kb : Apr 20th

    I will miss your musings should you pack it in. The trail wins most of time. But it gives back what can’t be taken from you. The trail
    will miss you two.

  • thetentman : Apr 20th

    Good luck. Whatever is next.

  • Lewis Sharman : Apr 20th

    Well. Juste breathe. The coolest (and wisest) person I met on my thru-hike was a guy named Rich who we’d hiked with on and off for nearly 4 months. One morning just before we got to Maine he was looking off into the trees, smiled, and said “Well, I think this is enough”. He’d had a great hike, and – most importantly – had enjoyed it FOR ALL THE RIGHT REASONS. I know you know exactly what I mean. What an attitude. I remember feeling a little… jealous… at the time. He had grasped what was important, and I wasn’t sure I had what he had. It seems you both have it, and I’m glad for you. The great adventure. It’ll be FINE.

  • CB : Apr 20th

    Well, I’m gonna miss you two! At my daughter’s wedding several years ago I listed many of the gifts she had given to us over the years and I ended with, ‘there will be many more of her gifts to come.’ (I wept then, too.) I’ll offer this to you: Sapling has many more gifts to add to what she has already given you! But, I get it, these markers in life can take your breath away. I’m gonna miss ya’ll.

  • Flash : Apr 20th

    Everyone has to hike their own hike because life is too short to go on someone else’s journey. You two have made strong memories on this hike and that is priceless. I am sending you both my best wishes for health and joy in the days ahead.

  • Jenifer Maloney : Apr 20th

    We’re so proud of both of you with your grace, heart, and determination- Sapling & Captain! You rock! And you take the beauty with you and impact the lives of others in a multitude of ways! “Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us, or we find it not.”-Ralph Waldo Emerson

  • pearwood : Apr 20th

    Beautiful words. Thank you.

  • Bluewhale : Apr 20th

    Beautifully said. You two are lucky to have each other.

  • Julie : Apr 20th

    I enjoyed reading about you two’s adventures. The fact you and your daughter hiked together for such a distance is amazing. It’s memorable. It’s really, really special. I look forward to reading about your future adventures together and/or separately. You’re such a good writer I hope you continue writing and adventuring. Blessings to you both.

  • Wendy O’Connor : Apr 20th

    Ahh the eloquent writings of an English teacher. Beautifully written and even a bit of a cliffhanger. Will you continue on without Sapling beside you? Be safe out there! Sure do miss your face!

  • Black eyed Susan : Apr 20th

    Well, all the best to you both. You kept it real for us here in our homes. Hope to hear more on or post trail. Thanks for the journey. Great success story!!!

  • Lynnette Spanola Eastlake : Apr 22nd

    Congratulations on being brave enough to take this on and for making a lifetime of memories! Anyone can say “hey, try going from here to there and see if you can do it” but in my mind it really is more about just exploring new things and appreciating what has been put on this planet for us to enjoy and hold dear. Looking forward to reading about other journeys!

  • Benny welch : May 4th

    Your hike was inspirational to me..I’ve lived in the greatest place in the world all my life..cherokee north carolina…my father started taking me hiking through the Great Smoky Mountains when I was 5 years old..many times that we’ve camped …rain snow and sleet. I enjoy my father’s leadership and company..he’s been gone 25 years now. Your story has helped me revisit my past experiences with my father..I’m sure you’re story has touched many hearts..may the Great Spirit accompany you forever.

    • George Preiss : May 5th

      I can’t thank you enough for this comment Benny… somehow it has touched me as much or possibly more than my blog spoke to you. Either way, the Great Spirit is at work in us both. Happy weekend!


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