My thru-hike almost ended before I started

“Next!”

That was me. It was 4:30 in the morning and I was at the customs in the Miami International Airport. I was tired after 8 hours flying from Belo Horizonte (we say BH, like you call Los Angeles LA). I walked three steps, put my passport on the desk and said “good morning”. The officer started asking the usual questions:

– What is the purpose of your trip?

It’s tourism this time, I said.

– How long are you intending to say in the US?

At this time I could lie and say that, like many other tourists, I was going to spend a week in Orlando and then go back to Brazil. Because I have a B1/B2 visa, for tourism and business, I would get the permission to stay for 6 months, anyway. However, I said the truth: “Five months. I’m going to hike the Appalachian Trail.”

The officer moved her face from the computer screen and looked at me in the eyes. Her facial expression became serious. Then she made a few more questions: do you have a job? A wife? Children? How much money do you have in cash? Five months? A hike?

I answered all the questions calmly. When she put my passport aside I asked her to put my boarding pass together.

– You can have it. I’m retaining your passport. Step aside please, sir.

Remember that I said that even having a visa and having visited the US a dozen times before, I had no guarantee that I’d get in? That’s what came to my mind.

I waited for a century while she passed my documents on to another person. After he came back and said something to her that I couldn’t understand. In my mind it was something like “I’ve checked his Facebook Page and a recent post at The Trek and he’s telling the truth: there’s a trail called Appalachian and he’s going to thru-hike it.” She called me again:

– Sir, you are welcome. Five months walking, that’s what you said? You are allowed to stay until October 10th. Enjoy your stay.

That century was actually no more than 15 minutes. Minutes of terror. I was sweating. My mouth was dry. I couldn’t go back to Brazil after a whole year of planning… The words came out of my mouth trembling: “thank you”, I said. My Appalachian Trail will start this Saturday. My adventure had started already.

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Comments 7

  • Avatar
    Lil' Santa : Apr 14th

    That is scary. Glad you were allowed to enter the US. Have a great hike!

    Reply
  • Avatar
    Montana : Apr 14th

    Jeff:

    Glad you made it through Customs.

    Just give me a Shout if you need anthing. I can “Drop Ship” anything to you along your trek.

    I can order rather quickly from Amazon.com and will have it shipped to you anywhere for pick-up. Let me know about food you may like, equipment you may need or a Free Night at a hotel of your choice.

    I am a long distance “Trail Angel” who has dreamed of hiking the AT for many years. Hopefully, my heart will cooperate & I can get on the trail next year.

    Reply
  • Avatar
    Zach : Apr 14th

    And the journey begins! Never a dull moment. You’re a great writer, Jeff!

    Reply
  • Avatar
    Ruby Throat : Apr 15th

    You made it through customs…Katahdin is definitely in your future! Hope to see you out there.

    Reply
  • Avatar
    JASH : Apr 18th

    Love your story. So your Trail Name could be passport. Everyone you meet you can tell your way cool story. Once you are on The Trail for awhile you can develop different versions. The short elevator speech version and the Mac Daddy around the campfire version complete with floggings and torture.
    Happy Trails and like many have said, your adventure has begun Passport.

    Reply
  • Avatar
    Arlene (EverReady) : Apr 18th

    The same “hold my breath” moment when my friend, Unhinged and I, crossed the border from Canada early March 2015. The Customs Officer laughed that we were going to hike from “where to where?”, but not our husbands who were driving us to Springer Mountain then back home. It is certainly an adventure even before the first step up Springer! Good luck on your journey! It is well worth it!

    Reply
  • Avatar
    Mark Stanavage : Apr 18th

    Welcome to America! Enjoy your hike. Best of luck to you.

    Reply

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