OneFoot’s AT Adventure: It’s Life on Steroids
“You’re out there for days, weeks and months by yourself where you have nothing to deal with other than your own thoughts, dreams and especially who you are as a jerk – the way you’ve conducted your life and the way you’ve treated people. Because the trail is indeed a life changing experience for everyone if they’ll open up and talk to you about it. One of the mysterious things about hiking the Appalachian Trail is the impact it has on people’s lives. But the real demand is being able to live with yourself out there for days and weeks and months and deal with the reality that you’re frail and that you have faults. In the normal day to day activities we can put that aside and when we start thinking about it we can turn the TV on or get in the car and go downtown. We can do any number of things to distract ourselves from having to deal with the reality of who we are.” – Nimblewill Nomad
Several years ago, OneFoot set out to hike the 100-Mile Wilderness. That attempt came to an abrupt halt when an injury took him off the trail. We learned that his pain was caused by iliotibial band syndrome (IT band) and that, my friends, is when OneFoot learned the importance of stretching. He made some changes to his physical routine by incorporating exercises learned in physical therapy. He was able to resume his running, strength training, and backpacking. His intended plan for that trip many years ago was to summit Katahdin. After having to cut that trip short he decided to save Katahdin for the day he finished his long dreamed of Appalachian Trail thru-hike. Since then he’s been to Baxter but never summited Katahdin. Until now.
Monson to Millinocket
As anticipated, the 100-Mile Wilderness offered some of the best scenery and most peaceful surroundings on the trail. Even so, OneFoot did some of his biggest mileage days of the whole trip through the area and finished this section in about four-and-a-half days. He was feeling good and strong and ready to bring the trip to a close. This is an emotional section for many northbound thru-hikers and OneFoot was no exception. The realization of the enormity of what he was about to accomplish set in. He was also missing home and knew he’d soon be reunited with his family. It was in the last days of this section, as he entered Baxter State Park, that he let his emotions run wild. He was going to be a thru-hiker. This was really going to happen. He reached Millinocket days before our anticipated summit. With some last-minute schedule finagling and a most gracious and supportive boss, I was able to alter my schedule for the week and scoot on up to Maine earlier than planned. OneFoot and I shared some good days together in advance of summit day. We talked about the hike, reflected on where we’ve been in this life, and where we want to go. At times, we just sat in quiet amazement.
We arrived at Togue Pond Gate at 5:50 a.m., just ahead of the scheduled 6 opening. It’s a bit of a drive from the gate to Katahdin Stream Campground but we were on trail by 6:45. We shared some good conversation for the early part of the walk. It was a bit surreal to be on the trail heading to Baxter Peak on Katahdin. All the years of planning and dreaming came down to these five miles. For OneFoot, the trail was quite reasonable. We heard many say that the Hunt Trail (AT) to the summit was very difficult. OneFoot thought the trail’s reputation was a bit exaggerated. With 2,185 miles done within the previous six months, I’d say he was in pretty good shape and well prepared for these final miles. For me? It was a challenge for sure and totally lived up to the reviews, in my opinion. There were times that I wondered if we’d done the right thing, having me along for these miles. As I watched other thru-hikers pass us on their way to the summit, I wondered (sometimes aloud) if OneFoot was missing out by keeping to my pace. He assured me he was right where he wanted to be and we both had worked hard for this dream. Eventually, I stopped asking him and just started to enjoy the walk and the magnificent views. I was right where I wanted to be, as well.
The trail gods were shining on us when we reached the summit. It was a perfect New England fall day with bright sunshine and cool temps. I went ahead of OneFoot so that I could record the moment he lived the dream. I touched the sign and whispered a thank you to the trail. We waited a bit for the line of hikers to clear the sign and then it was OneFoot’s turn. Although I had imagined what the moment would be like, the reality was so much more. In that moment we both held the dream that we had wanted for so long. Words escaped me and the tears flowed. Love. Pride. Accomplishment. Amazement. It was overwhelming. So many emotions were waiting at the summit. Ray “OneFoot” Galli was an Appalachian Trail thru-hiker.
We didn’t linger for too long at the top. We were anxious to get down off the mountain and share this triumph with his family who were waiting at the trailhead. For the trip down, we chose the Abol trail. “Less mileage but much steeper” is how this trail was described in reviews. In this case much steeper meant slide on your butt from rock to boulder to rock for about a mile. Oy! That was a tough one and not just from my perspective. OneFoot agreed and questioned, in retrospect, if that was the best route to take. What’s done was done and we continued our descent until we reached Ray’s family who were set up at the trailhead waiting to greet their newly crowned AT thru-hiker. That evening we enjoyed a big dinner at the Scootic In Restaurant which seemed to serve at the gathering place for hikers. It was fun taking in these moments with so many others who shared the same journey. Breakfast the next morning was at The Appalachian Trail Café before we set out for the ride home. OneFoot’s comment on the way home? “It feels good to be heading south.”
How’s the Adjustment Going?
Truly, OneFoot hasn’t struggled with the move away from trail life. He is happy to be home and very grateful for his time and lessons on the trail. He always said he wasn’t running away from anything when he set out on the trail. It was the experience and challenge he was after. I think his age and place in life have helped with the ease of returning to “cotton life,” as they call it on the trail. We returned home on Saturday. Sunday was football and family dinner. Pasta, of course. On Monday I returned to work while he unpacked and reorganized his outdoor gear. Tuesday? Well, on Tuesday he went out and got a part-time landscaping job. He’s not one to sit around even after completing a 2,190.90-mile walk. I’ve definitely noticed differences in his personality and demeanor. He learned a lot about himself out there and about the person he wants to be. I’m watching and listening and trying to learn from him. I am also realizing how disconnected he was from the goings on in the world. How wonderful it must have been to be removed from all the negativity in politics and society. He is totally out of touch with such stuff and I wish he could stay like that.
I seem to be having a greater adjustment curve. I still find myself taking my phone with me everywhere, just in case he calls. I was driving home from work on Tuesday feeling a little down. I was used to going home to an empty house. Then I remembered he would be home and we would soon enjoy our new routine of cocktail hour followed by dinner. The independence and self-reliance I discovered while he was away isn’t going anywhere. We are finding ways to incorporate our new roles and patterns with those we’ve established over the last 30 years.
So What Is Next?
The PCT? The CDT? We were blessed with a big following of family and friends on this AT adventure and folks want to know what is next. Although OneFoot has no immediate plans for another thru-hike, he is considering some time on the Pacific Crest Trail. Or the Long Trail. A month or so sounds like a reasonable goal for the next adventure. Neither of us is interested in another long-term separation. As mentioned before, we do plan to take Molly the Roadtrek out for an extended road trip next summer. That itinerary remains a mystery at this point. There’s so much we want to see.
One of the greatest blessings of this journey has been the people. We have said this many times but it bears repeating. OneFoot shared the trail with so many awesome and amazing people. Together they shared goals, dreams, laughs, fears, frustration, and sometimes tears. Only those who walked the walk truly know what it took to get to any given point on the trail. As Nimblewill Nomad has said, the trail is a great leveler of humanity. It’s a pretty incredible idea that you can throw some strangers together from all different backgrounds, give them a common goal to aspire to, and then watch as they work together and support each other to reach that end. Hey, isn’t that how the world is supposed to work? Perhaps the trail makes it look easier because the goal is so clear. Much like family, these hikers had their ups and downs, highs and lows, differences and squabbles. And much like family, they will forever share a bond that runs deep and true.
Just as important to this experience were the people off the trail. Team OneFoot provided above and beyond moral support and trail magic. Our faithful family and friends offered love and encouragement before, during, and now after the trail. What we find just as amazing is that this journey offered so many opportunities to renew relationships. College friends, former neighbors, childhood friends, and relatives (we’ve reconnected with so many cousins on both sides of our families). The blessings of the trail will live on through those reestablished relationships.
There Is no Let. There Is Love.
Before OneFoot left for the trail I gave him a compass pendant to wear on this journey. I told him I wanted to be sure he could find his way home. That compass has traveled with OneFoot from Georgia to Maine, all 2,190.90 miles. On Sunday, he endearingly returned it to me and it will now and forever share space on my cairn necklace. This journey was never about “letting” him go away for six months. This journey was about loving him and loving us enough to support and encourage this dream. It was about growth, renewal, and appreciating that life is a verb.
In these blogs for The Trek, we are supposed to share our experience and detail what this thru-hike is like. We find this is a bit like The Breakfast Club, when the characters think Mr. Vernon is crazy for making them write an essay telling him who they think they are. To paraphrase from that movie, you see a thru-hike as you want to see a thru-hike. In the simplest terms, it’s a walk from Georgia to Maine. But it is so much more. OneFoot says it’s difficult to capture and describe this experience but I think he does a darn fine job here. From OneFoot’s journal: “My thru-hike wasn’t pretty. It wasn’t a four months and I’m done kinda hike. It was a grind it out every day, dig deeper, keep moving forward effort. I always thought that I knew what a thru-hike would be based on my history of section hiking. I was convinced it would be the same experience only longer. I was wrong. Horribly and wonderfully wrong. It is so much more. It is more fulfilling, more rewarding, more humbling. It is more painful, more emotional, more physically demanding. It is life. Life on steroids.”
That Was the Last White Blaze, for Now
And so, our dear friends and followers, we’ve now come to the end of OneFoot’s AT adventure. He has done what he set out to do. Thank you, sincerely, for following along. If you take away anything from these last months, let it be that your dream is yours to capture and always choose kindness. It’s a special world out there on the trail. Who says that feeling ever has to end?
Until the next adventure,
OneFoot and Should be Good
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