My first Appalachian Trial
Last week while taking a mid day break at a shelter I was trying to find a hostel for the evening my hike came screeching to a halt.
The week prior I was explaining how while on the trail your physical human contact is so limited. Aside from fist bumps to prevent spreading germs you really don’t have much physical contact. As a member of the everyone gets a hug category of people, this was something I hadn’t given much consideration until I needed just that.
As I began to plan my thru hike I spoke to very few people about my intentions. One of the first was a close friend of mine living in Boulder Colorado at the time. Stacey Reynolds and I worked as raft guides together during the summers and went to college together. We became very close friends through the years despite living on opposite sides of the country. She was one of my biggest supporters throughout the planning and saving stages of my hike preparations. She was always making sure I was on track and on budget to improve my life in this way. She also helped me to edit many of my posts. As an avid hiker and photographer, who better to help keep me motivated?
Stacey agreed to be a lifeline for me if I ever wanted to leave the trail. Should I ever have enough bad days or want to go home she would talk me off the ledge. But only after she listened to my sorrows according to her. She was my go to. She came to visit me in PA during one of my shakedown hikes in preparation for my thru hike last spring. We did an AT section hike near Caledonia State Park. She got some great photos and taught me a few pro tips on taking better photographs.
As I tried to find lodging for the night from the trail I learned Stacey was involved in a car accident and the world lost an amazing woman. I was in the middle of nowhere and my go to person was now gone. I was devastated and I was all alone. I convinced myself long ago I would save my first trail tears for Katahdin. It was not to be. I frantically collected my gear, told my hiking partner what happened and that I needed to leave immediately and just hike. I needed to make sense of what had happened.
The next few hours and the following day were by far my hardest days on trail. I woke up the next morning and honestly did not want to hike. My head and my heart just weren’t in it. I was lost and needed to find my way back to a better place. I piddled around town to resupply and made it back to the trail before lunch. These were the slowest miles I put on the AT to date. I just walked around aimlessly and stopped many times to try to not think about what had happened to no avail. I texted some friends and family to fill them in on what happened. But nothing seemed to help.
Another good friend of mine and I spoke about what had happened the following day. He knew it was a difficult time for me being so far away from my own loved ones. After he listened to my sorrows he suggested I do something to remember her by. I had to figure out what that could be because the rut I was now fully in was getting deeper. With all of my trail family already ahead of me I could feel my hike falling apart at the seams as I crawled up the trail.
Shortly after Stacey went home from the shakedown hike she mailed me a You Are Beautiful sticker. No letter, no card, just a simple little sticker. One which I remembered I had placed on the very same Nalgene I had been carrying in my pack since Springer Mountain. It made me think back to how influential she had been on my decision to leave corporate America. To reconnect with myself and take the absolute journey of a lifetime. My spirits began to improve as I thought of ways to help myself stay motivated.
I knew I was getting closer to the Tennessee and Virginia border on my way to Trail Days. Virginia is home to 540 miles of the Appalachian Trail. I decided to use these as my motivation to keep going. I needed to be public with my intentions to help hold myself accountable and make sure I stay motivated. I decided to make a donation in her name to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. In order to keep myself motivated I wanted to base my donation off the number of days I spend getting through Virginia. I could go home or sulk my way through and pay the price. Or I could keep moving and catch up to my trail family. As well as donate some money to a fantastic organization also responsible for this amazing journey I am on. I finally decided I would donate $10 to the ATC for every day I spend in Virginia. As a goal oriented person this is just the medicine the patient needed.
Thursday I crossed into Virginia and made it to Trail Days. I also got to meet up with members of my original trail family that I had been trying to catch since Hot Springs. I met people for the first time face to face I had only previously known online. Met some trail rockstars like The Real Hiking Viking and that other guy in his snapchats. I was surrounded by an entire community of hikers. Some I hadn’t seen in weeks. Everyone received hugs. It was exactly what I needed to bring me back to a better place.
The clock is ticking and I can’t wait to do a 20 mile hike today. West Virginia, I will see you soon!
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