My epiphany arrived on a beatiful day at mile 376 and my hike came to an end.

First day back:

I slept well enough my first night back on the trail and woke about 5:30 – didn’t want to get up. It hadn’t rained much or heavily but enough to soak everything when I emerged from my tent. Packed up everything except a protein bar. I wasn’t hungry and, to be honest, I wasn’t looking forward to hefting myself along the trail. The sky was gray but there was a porthole of sun striking the distant mountain range so I was hopeful for a partly sunny day, at the least no rain.

I attempted to fix my hiking pole, first with super-glue (which didn’t hold) and then sheer determination. The first section of the pole was, for some reason, jammed up into the ‘handle’ and there was no ‘fix’ to it since I couldn’t grasp it, the rubber ring having slid right off. I thought, ‘something else to spend money on’, and then attached it to my pack and started my day – awkwardly – with one pole (I’d scan the trail for a substitute and eventually find one about an hour later).

I smugly thought I’d done well to pitch my tent when and where I did; the white blaze about 15 feet from camp came to an abrupt halt in front of a wall of stone. There were two paths, so to speak, and neither looked to be well-used. I will say that this part of the trail was being ‘remodeled’ – it was evident by the few stone steps and a cable pulley was suspended from a tree not too far away. I hesitantly headed in one direction, switched up and went in the other. Both trails seemed to dwindle to growth and in neither direction was there a white (or blue) blaze. Ultimately I followed one trail that proved to be decorated with BOTH a white and a blue blaze (this went on for ~ a mile) and knowing that the shelter was one-half mile off the trail I was internally already swearing that I had not better find myself at the shelter and then have to turn back. BTW: Guthook did indicate that I was on the right path but the blue blazes were a little disconcerting.

The morning moved along slowly, the sun became less shy and it’s light punctured the green canopy highlighting multitudes of laurel with buds or blooms; pink or white. I meandered along the path, as it is a state park, so wide gravel or stone steps were more frequent than boulders and packed earth. I paused often to take a photo or to take a drink of water as the foliage created a humid atmosphere below. I reminded myself that, although I can go at my own pace, I did still have to at least make an effort to get some miles in, eight or ten would be a good start.

The shift:

I wasn’t feeling excited or energized or even interested in what my destination was to be for the day. I hadn’t even looked over either guide to see where the next shelter was located or where I could find water. I knew eventually I’d come to Bear Mtn. Resort. ¬†During about 3 hours of plodding, I began losing my initiative, I began asking myself Why? – Why am I doing this?

I hadn’t seen another soul in hours. The sun was out. It was warm but tolerable. I had food, water and my feet/knees felt fine. I thought of that admonition: don’t quit on a bad day. In other words, if it’s a “good day”; sunny, beautiful and without ‘problems’ and you are just not feeling it, you want to quit and you feel okay with that, that’s the day to do it.

I moved along and tried to focus on the solitude, the trees, plants, bird-songs and my reason for being out here. I knew I’d wanted a change, a retreat from my life, time to think or not think, exercise, change of view, a challenge, meet new and healthy people, make friends – enjoy the ‘magic of the Appalachian Trail’.

And yet I just wasn’t satisfied. I reflected on why I was on the trail, what it meant to me, did it matter if I finished, what have I accomplished, what would I do if I quit, what have I learned.

My Epiphany:

I reached the peak or a peak; I had a view of the next ridge of mountain, I had a reclining-rock-chair in an open area where it was evident that someone had sat here before, three feet from a fire-pit. I ate some turkey-jerky and drank Propel infused water ¬†and thought…

I started this journey because I didn’t know what else to do with myself/my life. I was bored and unhappy, I had an unsatisfying job and I was surrounded by unhappy, unhealthy people, I felt removed emotionally from my children and no longer maintained any friendships. I wanted a change and didn’t know how to do it but quit everything and leave. I hoped the AT would provide magic, an epiphany, a new source of energy and options. I wanted to hike myself into a changed person and I thought 2,189.8 miles would do it.

I sat on that rock and looked at those green mountains under that azure blue sky with the slowly moving white clouds and all I thought was … I want to go home.

I called my daughter and gave her the heads up: I’m going to Bear Mtn. Resort and tent overnight but, probably tomorrow, I’d be headed home.

Having decided that, I felt better. I felt that I had accomplished a few things, that I’d left my comfort zone and, not only survived but grown. I walked the next couple of hours taking in the last of the AT that I’d see. Only now did some through hikers pass me along the trail and some day hikers were out enjoying the park. I toured the Perkins Memorial Tower and then made my way down to the Inn. By now my knees were starting to burn and become very stiff, my feet hurt and, something new, my ankles were painful. The last mile was awful and if I had not already decided to end my journey this may have put the last nail in the coffin. By the time I reached the inn I was limping; I removed my boots for my Tevas and limped into the Hiker Cafe where I got two hot dogs and ordered a beer – which they didn’t have (any left) so a Coke. Then I arranged for a taxi – back to Croton-Harmon station where I boarded the Amtrak for home. I was so relieved.

It turns out I only needed to thru-hike about 376 miles (not 373.3 or 370.6, no) to finish ~ to finish what I started, to find some answers. I know more revelations will come in my future because what you learn about yourself from backpacking the AT is unveiled days, weeks and months afterward.

I am persistent and strong and I can accomplish whatever I chose, I chose not to continue along the AT and although I thought completing the entire trail would be something that would make my children proud of me I realized they only want my happiness. Their support was for me and what would make me happy, not the trail. I realized that characterizing myself as a ‘loner’ is incorrect; I enjoy and need the company of quality, healthy and vibrant people and I became acutely aware that I miss the relationships of family and friends. In an atmosphere where the world’s biased noise-pollution is suspended, I became more relaxed and open without reservations or judgments and thus receptive to opportunity and asking for what I need and I’d found that most people are genuinely good and glad to reciprocate. Minus the highs and lows of temperament, I realized that I felt a new optimism and lightness of spirit and found that what makes my heart full is my family. I didn’t need to wander the woods searching any more.

~ BuzzCut, section hiker.

 

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Comments 12

  • Mig Whitt Trail Name YIPPEE. : Jun 11th

    I think you have accomplished a lot. I found out after leaving the PCT this year (Ankle injury) that family is what mattered most. It is very hard to hike alone, I tried it and didn’t like it. People are much better but they must be positive ones. You have learned a valuable lesson. You still may get back on trail someday. Don’t worry if you do or don’t, it is all part of life. You succeeded. YIPPEE>

    Reply
    • BuzzCut : Jun 11th

      Thanx Yippee:

      It was never about finishing the trail – unfortunately “completing” the AT (or PCT, etc) is a ‘goal’ that has superceded what’s more important; what you derived from the experience of backpacking – regardless of total milage. It’s the culture of the world, looking at the long-distance ‘goal’ instead of what’s right in front of us. I understand it, the goal to finish the entire trail – and maybe I will someday – but I got what needed from it, when I needed it.

      I am very happy with what I did accomplish, the friends I made, what I learned about myself. I still think about it but I know I just need to get out (in NH) and get some time in with the mountains – it doesn’t have to be a backpacking marathon.

      Take care of that ankle and best wishes to you with whatever you do,
      ~BuzzCut

      Reply
  • Ruth morley : Jun 11th

    Buzz cut, it sounds like you’ve made the right decision for yourself. You gave it another try , just to be sure. Congrats on hiking hundreds of tough miles and experiencing something most people wouldn’t be brace enough to attempt.

    Please post at least once more to let your followers and trail friends how things are going.

    Im so glad I met you.

    Reply
    • BuzzCut : Jun 12th

      HI again and thanks for your input.

      Yes, I was considering (just how long do post-hikers continue posting?) posting again…I am hoping that the experience has a ripple effect -much like a stone thrown in a pond- from which I continue to reap the rewards – and write about.

      Another few hikers and I are planning a section of AT here in NH in a few weeks…I am a little anxious to see how my feet/knees hold up but, unlike thru-hiking, 3-4 days is more tolerable.

      Keep in Touch Ruth,

      ~BuzzCut

      Reply
  • craig von bargen : Jun 13th

    Life is hard, that is why it is called life. It is much harder than work. You said you are in mid life crisis in your bio, bored, unhappy, surrounded by unhealthy, unhappy people. Do you know how many others share this same thought/feeling. “Removed emotionally from my children”, good to know I am not the only one who feels that way.
    Regardless of the distance you achieved, you did accomplish what we seek in the AT, to learn more about ourselves. I can relate to you post, perhaps many others waiting their turn/time to hike the AT feel the same. You accomplished much.
    Quoting Annie Lennox song “Why” – “And this is how I feel, do you know how I feel? ‘Cause I don’t think you know how I feel, I don’t think you know what I feel, I don’t think you know what I feel, You don’t know what I feel.
    Peace and Joy fellow traveler, you have learned much in your white blazes. We do need each other, but the world gets in our way.

    Reply
    • BuzzCut : Jun 15th

      Thank you Craig for your comment. I think I did accomplish what I sought on the AT and, maybe, had I continued I’d have “accomplished” more but, for now, I’m content with my aborted journey – there’s always other paths, journeys and more ways to learn and grow.

      ~BuzzCut

      Reply
  • Alpaca : Jun 13th

    I never comment on these so I don’t know why I am now.

    Yep, I Thru hiked in 2016. 62 year old dad / husband / camping and hiking hater. But I made it.

    I think I hiked for similar reasons but you are probably more honest than I.

    When I finished my hike I didn’t get this great rush feeling of accomplishment at all. I really didn’t feel this mission completed thing. I just felt so glad to be off the trail at that point.

    Then 4 weeks later all I wanted to do was get back on it.

    But I will share with you that now 9 months after I finished I finally think that I arrived at the point that you did when you left the trail.

    Same hike. Same result.

    So I think I want to say, “it’s ok” , “really. You did good.”

    Reply
    • BuzzCut : Jun 15th

      Alpaca –
      thank you so much for your comment. I especially appreciate that, somehow, my post inspired you to do something you “never” have done and that is reach out to someone with your words. I also don’t “usually” comment unless I am moved to do so, feeling like – one more voice doesn’t really make much of an impact when so many others have already spoken but…you never know if YOUR words are the ones that will strike a chord – resonate with someone.
      That you finished and just felt glad to get off the trail (delayed gratification is still gratification) was what I wanted to avoid. I witnessed many “thru-hikers” who ‘just wanted to be done’, they were not ‘happy’ – focused, yes, determined, yes, but there was a certain quality missing – in my opinion – despite being on the AT and doing, allegedly, what they wanted. I did not want to be “that person”. I’m not a tri-athlete who pushes just to be able to say “I did it” in comparison with others…not my thing.
      So, thank you for recognizing that – and thank you again for saying it!
      ~BuzzCut

      Reply
  • Bill Smith : Jun 14th

    If you set out to thru- hike the AT, you have officially one year to do this, as per the ATC. Officially, there is no such title as “thru-hiker” – only 2000 miler.

    You set a goal and do not stop until you reach that goal even if it sucks and is boring. That is what seperates 2000 milers from other hikers. The elite. The best of the best.

    Reply
    • BuzzCut : Jun 15th

      Thank you Bill for your comment, I was not aware of the official requirements per the ATC; good to know.

      Regarding your (second paragraph)…I’ll use an analogy: One might set a goal to become a physician but during the course of the school years via opportunities, experiences and an open mind, they realize that it’s the socio-political impact of the arts that really makes them want to get up in the moring and the ‘goal’ is revised. Maybe the initial goal was an illusion determined by what others had done, deemed ‘more’ important or more ‘elitist’ in comparison with the majority.

      Thank you, Bill, for your thoughts. I understand and, on another level, agree with your point; I just don’t share it at this time on this particular journey, thus, the addage HYOH (i.e.: see Alpaca’s comment).

      ~BuzzCut
      btw: I wouldn’t place a bet on it but I don’t think I used the words ‘sucks’ and ‘boring’ in relation to the trail although a swarm of no-see-ums in your face ‘sucks’.

      Reply
  • checklist : Jun 19th

    your goal was to learn something and you did that without a doubt. it takes so much strength to hike 376 miles and just as much to know when to stop. thank you for sharing some of those miles with me. I hope to curse at rocks and laugh with you again some day!

    Reply
    • Karyn : Jun 19th

      I’m still repairing but I am hoping by the time you reach NH I’ll be ready to knock off some of those blazes with you!!
      I won’t say it was “fun” but I will say it was worth it.
      ~BuzzCut

      Reply

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