How will I meet the AT this time?
It seems I instantly romanticized my previous hike. Reading my 2010 journals, I found no struggles or hardship. It’s as if I walked a manicured boulevard with all you-can-eat buffets, sunsets, and sappy vistas. To this day, I romanticize even the worst parts of my hike. The only pain remembered is embedded in my muscle memory. All of the hypothermia, heatstroke, ankle rolls, and bad company is treated with gallows laughter, water over the riverbed. I never checked the weather. I didn’t plan for obstacles. I just met them head on and let them bleed out on my inch thick mat as I slept.
Even with peachy nostalgia, I wonder how I will meet this trail. The trail is as different as I am today. My body has created new cells, hair, and flesh, the trail has a new route, dirt, and trees. Every time I hike a trail, I’m sure the next landmark is around the corner, hopping around the bend, I’m once again disappointed. I keep walking until I don’t care. A knowing smile creeps up and that’s how I think the first thousand miles will be. Some things will be the same, but they’ll feel different because we’re both five years older.
Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont will stick out the most. I’ll probably stop at places I’d already been so as to re-capture something from before. In 2013, I road-tripped the east coast going passed the Great Lakes through New England up to where my paternal grandmother’s side grew up in Greenville, ME. It’s the town over from Monson, so I decided to stay at the Lakeshore House. Besides, I’ll take any excuse to visit the trail.
I was out of place. Lakeshore was full so I slept in a tent set between the dock, a truck, and the shore. All the long-haired hikers were so immersed in each others brotherly bond that I was a stranger. I tried to strike up conversation with some at the bar, but they weren’t really there. They’ve had this conversation a thousand times before. They were just putting one more zero before the 100-mile wilderness. Most are drawn so thin at this point that they’re hoping for the end so they can re-calibrate. I hope that doesn’t happen to me when I reach Springer. Rather, that I have the drive of Bernard Moitessier, who instead of winning the Sunday Times Golden Globe race, (solo non-stop circumnavigation by boat) turned aside by Cape of Good Hope and continued the adventure instead of admitting that he had, or wanted, to stop.
Despite these strange feelings, I hiked three miles to Leeman Brook Lean-To. It was harder than I remembered. Last time, I breezed past this shelter to Chairback Gap Lean-To with only four days of food and a three-pound bottle of champagne, but this new hike saw me throwing a bunch of stuff in my pack with little tact or detail. Every small bend and mound was a trial and I constantly rubbernecked around each corner hoping for Leeman Brook. Once again, the NOBO’s shared comradery in the shelter sharing few pleasantries with me. I don’t blame them, I know the feeling, they just want to be done. They don’t have any room expanding, they just want to deflate like the balloon reaching it’s maximum pressure.
Now in 2015, This I will hike with seven days worth of food even though the sign says to have ten days. To me, one of the hardest mountains was Mount Nesuntabunt followed by a nearly flat stretch of thirty miles. What-Time-Is-It? and I were psyched for this flat stretch, but when reached there was no challenge, no elevation gain to look forward to. We stopped and looked at each other and shared a knowing look. He used to say “ain’t no thang” as we made an ascent. This stretch was really “no thang,” but that’s not the point. Times past I would curse whoever intentionally threw the trail into a rollercoaster of spines. Now it’s all I ever wanted. I wanted the trail to be easy, now that I had it, I didn’t want it.
Yet, now, it’s all I want these days. Working on the road climbing cellphone towers when I wanted to be climbing mountains. Three hundred feet in thirty minutes. How about Mount Lafayette in a few hours and a few thousand feet gain. That’s what I’m talking about. Camping by some flowage in Wisconsin was giving me so much bliss I couldn’t wait to be on some lake in Maine waking up to the morning dew. Hell, even rain is something I pray for.
My parents and I will be stomping through the White Mountains and Acadia before they drop me off at Mt Katahdin. I hope I can convince my dad to climb up with me. I sprinted up last time slapping the new sign. This time I’ll walk up with no trail legs, but a fresh heart. I’ll become Bard the Changeling again.
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