Dreams & Mile 137.3

Sitting on a bench at the Nantahala Outdoor Center, thinking back on the past few weeks, I can’t help but smile from ear to ear. All those years of yearning, & months of planning, came & went in a flash. I’ve gone 137.3 miles on the Appalachian Trail. I’ve hiked 10 miles in the rain, set up camp in the rain, cooked in the rain, packed up in the rain, and have done it all again the very next day. The first 2 weeks on trail were very wet, and the way I see it, a hearty welcome from the AT.

It becomes very clear pretty quickly that a thru hike of the AT is much harder both mentally and physically than anyone can plan for. Unless you’ve been out here and done it, all the prep in the world will still leave you running the gambit of emotions. I read Zach’s book straight through in one sitting. It struck a chord with me then, but fully resonates now. The AT is not about who’s bigger, faster, stronger, has lighter gear, has better food, has better whatever. The AT is about you. Only you have to walk each step, push through each climb, steady yourself on each steep decent. Force yourself to eat enough. Force yourself to put dirty wet clothes on. Because just on the other side of that bend.. the clouds will clear. The pain will subside. And the light will shine down on endless mountains. Just long enough to fill you up.

The brutality of the trail rewards in moments of wonder and awe. There is indeed magic in these mountains, it’s so obvious to see. The one caveat to this promise is, you have to be open to it. “You must embrace the suck.” Life is hard. We have responsibility, people depend on us. We go to work, we try to contribute. And if you’re lucky enough in life to be able to attempt the grueling physical and mental challenge of thru hiking the AT, don’t you owe it to yourself first and foremost to be open to the possibility of life? That means the hard moments – along with the great ones.

I’ve met people from all walks of life. Each one has a story. Some will make it the whole way. Some will quit by choice somewhere in between. Some will be forced to stop due to injury. And some will will just keep on walking. But they can all have the experience they sought coming out here, or even something greater. You just have to embrace life. Live in the moment. Stop to look around and up at night. And try to be the best version of yourself.

People are so quickly reduced to their core spirit out here, you can only be who you really truly are – and that’s why the hiker community is full of such love & compassion. Today, I’ll get up from this bench and camp under the stars. My only job is to walk, and time is dictated by sunlight left in the day. There are only a very few things in life I’m certain about, but how bright the future truly is…. Well that’s number 1. The AT is hard. The AT is unkind and cruel. But the AT is infinitely more kind, caring, and well.. Magic. ..As long as you’re open to it.

“Dreams come true; without that possibility, nature would not incite us to have them.” – John Updike

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