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.
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.
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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