Miles to Go
At the camp where I work, our director and my good friend, Paige, shares an important piece of wisdom with the counselors at the end of pre-summer orientation: “The days are long, but the summer is short.” The days at camp start very early and end well past sunset, and they’re packed with hours and hours of fun and activity. They are long and exhausting (in the best possible way). At some point, though, August arrives and the campers go home, and it feels as if the entire summer has flown by. I’ve been thinking of Paige’s wise words often over the past month or so and have come to the realization that they currently hold true for me as well. Days on the trail are long. I wake up at 5:30am, hike for 10-12 hours (sometimes even more), and lay my head down 20 to 25 miles from where I began. It’s often hot, the mosquitoes are relentless, and afternoon thunderstorms are the norm. There are points when I look down at my watch to find only 15 minutes have passed since the last time I checked. But then I reach the top of a climb and look out across the mountains and realize that I’m in Vermont and it’s mid-July, and that’s when I ask time to please slow down. While days on the trail are long, the journey is short.
A few days ago I passed a small sign mounted on a tree. It read “Katahdin 500 miles”. I stared at it for several minutes while attempting to process the range of emotions I was experiencing. There was joy, pride, and disbelief, but there was also sadness. There have been days of significant struggle over the past 3.5 months, but I’ve never wished that this journey was over. While I am extremely excited to reach Katahdin, I’m equally as excited about the days between now and then. I simultaneously want time to slow down and speed up. I’m ecstatic at the prospect of reaching this goal that I’ve held for over 15 years of my life, but I really don’t want it to end. I’m getting ahead of myself, though, as the toughest miles of the trail lay ahead of me now. In a couple of days, I will enter the White Mountain National Forest (also known as “The Whites”), which is well known for its difficulty and extreme weather. Anything could happen between now and Katahdin – an injury, Lyme Disease, etc., so my goal is to enjoy every step and remember that each minute counts.
Since my last post I’ve walked through five states! Instead of describing each state in detail, I’ve decided to share with you a couple highlights and/or stories from each place. And so, without further ado, the last month of my life:
New Jersey is gorgeous. In fact, it was the most surprising state on the trail. It’s full of beautiful views, lovely ponds, and LOTS of bears. The first day I was hiking through the Garden State, I saw a bear that was at least 1,000 pounds (or maybe 400). The next day I saw three cubs and a mama bear (yikes!). The bears didn’t bother me, but they also didn’t run away as quickly as I’d hoped. I think they’re pretty used to humans in New Jersey. I also saw a rattlesnake! And a famous ultra runner! That’s right, I met Scott Jurek. He went on to set the new Appalachian Trail speed record (46 days, 8 hours, 7 minutes). He was an incredibly friendly person who took the time to stop and chat with me before blasting off up the trail.
My time in New York is scarred by the diagnosis of Lyme Disease. After nearly a week of not feeling well (extreme exhaustion, serious aches and soreness, chills, nausea), I went to an urgent care in Peekskill and got the news. Lyme is a pain in the butt and can cause serious, lifelong complications if not treated quickly. I began to feel better after 24 hours on antibiotics, and have now completed the entire 14 days of Doxycycline. Lyme definitely slowed me down – hiking ten miles felt like thirty, and small chores around camp seemed momentous. I’m happy to report that I now feel like my old self again: strong and full of energy.
Connecticut is the “Gateway to New England” and is really quite beautiful. Most hikers really don’t like road walks (myself included, for the most part), and there was a long one in CT. Due to a large bridge being rebuilt, the AT was rerouted three miles around it, all of which was on a road. As it turns out, I loved the detour! I got to walk through a sleepy village on the morning of July 4th and really enjoyed looking at the beautiful houses and farms. As I walked by one especially lovely property, the family invited me onto their front porch for coffee and conversation. What a treat! As it turns out, the homeowners also have a home in eastern North Carolina that’s very close to where my parents live. Small world!
The Berkshires of Massachusetts really are quite dreamy. We were reintroduced to long climbs in Mass, and the views were worth the efforts. I was lucky enough to stay at Upper Goose Pond Cabin, a deluxe trail shelter that even has mattresses on the bunks (this is pretty unheard of for a free shelter). The cabin is right on a beautiful pond that was perfect for swimming and lounging beside. The experience was highlighted by a breakfast of blueberry pancakes prepared by the cabin’s caretaker.
Another highlight from my time in Massachusetts was camping at Tom Levardi’s house in Dalton. Tom welcomes hikers to stay for a night in his back yard, and even provides bikes for them to ride around town. I am a huge bike lover and have really missed riding this summer, so getting to cruise around town on two wheels at dusk REALLY renewed my spirit and filled me with joy.
I’m just outside of Woodstock, VT right now. Only 20 miles of trail lie between here and the New Hampshire border. I don’t want Vermont to end! There is no way I could choose a highlight from this state, because it’s all been so wonderful. I’ve been extremely lucky to have fantastic weather the entire time I’ve been here, so I haven’t had to deal with too much of the mud that Vermont is known for. I witnessed sunrise and sunset from Killington Peak, laid on a huge boulder in the sun in the middle of Big Branch River, hiked through spruce forests, cooled my feet in several pristine mountain lakes, and sampled a fair share of Vermont maple syrup and cheese. I’ve heard that Vermont is great, and now I get it. I’m in love with this state!
Physically, I’m feeling great. I’m trail fit and ready for the challenges that await me. Mentally and emotionally, I’m so very happy. My dad came to visit me this weekend which really filled me with joy. I told him how happy I am out here; happy to the point of tears. He reminded me of something Jim Valvano said in his famous “Don’t Ever Give Up” speech: “To me there are three things everyone should do every day. Number one is laugh. Number two is think — spend some time time in thought. Number three, you should have your emotions move you to tears. If you laugh, think and cry, that’s a heck of a day.” I agree.
If you’d like to send me mail, my next mail drop is:
C/O General Delivery
Gorham, NH 03581
Please hold for AT thru-hiker
My next post will be a report from the Whites! Until then, peace be the journey.
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Wonderfully inspiring. Keep it up!