Halfway to Maine and Miles to Go Before I Sleep
The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep. – Robert Frost
The Appalachian Trail Conservancy in Harpers Ferry, WV, is recognized as the unofficial half way point of the Appalachian Trail. It is located at mile marker 1,023.1 of the 2,190-mile trail so it’s not actually halfway. Thru-hikers stop in to register and have their photo taken in front of the ATC sign. OneFoot was thru-hiker 961. He was told the trail completion rate looks to be on the decline this year with an above average number of hikers leaving the trail before reaching this point. Statistics won’t be available until the end of the hiking season, and even then there’s some ambiguity. It’s not easy out there.
With (nearly) half of the trail behind us, we thought we’d share some thoughts on how the journey is going compared to our pre-hike conceptions. After literally years of preparing for this journey, I think we are both surprised at some aspects of this thru-hike.
OneFoot’s View From the Trail
These words are from OneFoot’s trail journal. I can’t possibly say it any better so I won’t even try:
It’s half over! Some days it feels like I have been out here forever and other days, like today in Harpers Ferry, it seems like a flash. I think my biggest surprise is just how hard this trail is on a day in and day out basis. I really thought that as a longtime section hiker, I knew what I was doing. In reality, I had no idea. I also didn’t realize just how different thru-hiking is compared to section hiking. Thru-hiking is tough but if you can do it, and I hope I can, it’s an unbelievable experience.
Creating an incredible bond between total strangers is a regular thing on the trail. With one look we know, yeah, he or she knows exactly what the hell I did to get here to this place at this moment. That is something remarkably special. The risk/reward ratio is so stacked in favor of the reward side, it is amazing. I took a chance with this hike. I put myself out on a limb. I said, “Hey, I’m going to hike 2,190 miles.” That’s a pretty bold statement with plenty of room for embarrassment or failure but it’s so worth it.
The trail has humbled me, as well. I really believed that 100-plus mile weeks would be no problem. Sounds easy, right? Walk 15 miles a day for seven days and you did a 105-mile week. Well, all I can say is it’s much harder for me to do than I thought it would be. It’s a real emotional roller coaster. The highs are so unbelievably high and the lows for some can get really dark. I had a week or so of low spirits but for the most part it’s been incredible.
Should Be Good’s View From Home
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed below are mine and mine alone. Other support people may not share these views and that’s OK. Just as the hikers need to hike their own hike, support people need to support the hike in our own way. I accept that I’m totally invested in this adventure, perhaps to a fault. I wouldn’t change a thing. Embrace every moment, every emotion, every step.
First and foremost, I am most surprised by how emotionally attached I am to OneFoot’s journey. He has had some real ups and downs and I am right there with him. When he is up, I am so up! I’m smiling and singing and practically floating through my day. When he is down, I can hardly think straight. I just want to make it better and I know I can’t. If I read the weather in the morning and I see sun and mild temperatures, I am ecstatic. However, “rain, heavy at times” makes me crazy. He ran out of A&D ointment this week and I was immediately on the phone to stores in his next town to see if they carried it. He didn’t ask me to do this. I just wanted to fix it and make it better for him. Then there was the shoe fiasco. I so wanted to fly down and meet him at a trailhead with a new pair of shoes. I remind myself that this is all part of his journey. Adapting to the situation and problem solving on the fly is part of thru-hiking. I’m not actually at Mission Control even though I’d like to think so.
Tethered to My Phone
Guilty. I am so guilty of this. My phone is with me all the time now just in case he calls or texts. Is this healthy? Probably not. But I don’t plan on changing that. I’m thinking that when he finishes the trail, I may go on a 30-day cell phone detox. OK, maybe just a week. A day. Cell phone detox for one day. Yeah, that’s it.
I Am Not a Thru-hiker
When visiting OneFoot on the trail, I am so aware of this. I love meeting and talking with his fellow hikers. However, I recognize that I’m not one of them. They share an unspoken language. They are experiencing a life I don’t fully understand and will never know. Having shared this journey with Ray through daily talk, texts, and pictures, I didn’t think the divide would be so great when I met other hikers. It is and I’m OK with that. Those hiking this hike deserve that connection, that reward.
As far as pace, OneFoot is right where I thought he’d be. He has the time and money to go at his own pace. At 50 years old, he’s not as young or fast as some of the other adventurers out there. He’s not trying to keep up with anyone and I’m proud of him for that. As he makes his way north, he plans to take his time and do some slackpacking with support from me, his mom, and his aunt. For much of the summer, I’m taking Fridays and Mondays off and will be trailside in our Roadtrek motor home. OneFoot has even talked of not hiking on Sundays so that we can resume our tradition of Sunday dinner together. How awesome would that be? Bet there are some hungry hikers out there who will appreciate coming upon our Sunday trail magic dinner. I love that OneFoot is taking the time to experience it all, on and off the trail. I didn’t expect this and it has added so much to this adventure.
Fear of Ending the Hike
This fear is so real. We’ve said from the beginning that this is a thru-hike attempt. Maine is not guaranteed. Illness, injury, choice – he could leave the trail at any time. Having hiked over half of the AT already, there is certainly no failure or shame in what he’s accomplished. But, if the day comes before Maine when he leaves the trail, I know I will carry some guilt. Could I have done more for him? Was I positive enough? Are we letting people down? Yup, the fear is real.
Support From Others
The support we receive from family, friends, and total strangers is truly amazing. Phone calls, texts, and so many comments on Facebook. OneFoot and I were both taken aback by the folks who showed up for the happy trails soirée we hosted in March. The army pushing him to Maine continues to grow. I am most amazed at the followers and comments from his former Department of Correction colleagues. A prison is not an affable work environment. Pretty much a wall goes up around the officer when the uniform goes on. That’s how it has to be. Sadly, sometimes that wall stays up even at the end of a shift. It can be hard to separate from the job. Work-life balance? Corrections is pretty heavy and that scale doesn’t always tip back. Yes, they make some connections, and some friendships, but it’s hard to be yourself. Perhaps even dangerous to be yourself in those surroundings. Now, we are feeling the support of so many from the DOC pulling for Ray and living the adventure through him. It makes me realize what a great group of people Ray was blessed to work beside. To those who have put the career behind them, I say bravo! Go live your dream. To those who still report for duty every day and feel like your time will never come, it will. Stay strong, stay smart. Keep that retirement goal close at heart and plan to make your dream, whatever that may be, a reality. Your day is coming. Be ready.
Thank you, truly, thank you to all who have supported OneFoot’s AT adventure throughout this first half. We look forward to sharing what’s still to come. Here’s to blue skies, mild temperatures, and Maine!
Until the next white blaze,
OneFoot and Should be Good
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