Post-Hike #1: Northstar
For twenty years, I dreamed of doing an AT thru hike. Northstar dreams of other things. Don’t get me wrong – Northstar loves a good road trip, has done a half-dozen 100- to 600-mile hikes in Europe, and spent plenty of time in tents over our 40+ years together. But her dreams are reserved for less tortuous things, like staring into our granddaughter’s eyes and making her laugh.
I did what I could to make our AT trek her thing, or at least ours. But at its core, a thru hike was her gift to me. An impossibly huge gift.
How Huge is Huge?
How huge? Think of it like this:
Imagine a time when your significant other asked you to do something for them. Let’s say it was something you didn’t mind doing but wasn’t your favorite thing in the world. Maybe doing it would be a little inconvenient for you, but not too much. You’d still do it, right? Of course, you would. What’s a little inconvenience compared to the dreams of the person you love most in the world?
Now imagine that they asked you to do that thing every day, all day, for six months, and that doing it would take you away from everyone you knew and prevent you from doing most of the things you liked doing.
Most of us would flat out refuse. Others might say no reluctantly, try to compromise, or figure out some kind of payback. Not Northstar. She said, “Of course!”
Not Too Huge For Northstar
And then she did it. Not just without complaints, but joyfully and with purpose. It’s almost incomprehensible.
Above and Beyond
Especially in light of what she endured.
When we arrived at Amicolola State Park in Georgia, Northstar was still recovering from Shingles, which made even things like sitting in the driver’s seat very painful. Her Shingles pain had subsided by the time we made to Virginia, but it never fully disappeared. In Virginia she caught norovirus, probably from a hiker she rescued, and she also battled the ticks Gus brought home daily.
In Maryland, one of those ticks finally got her, giving her the telltale bullseye rash, which required two weeks of antibiotics, with all the worries of yet another chronic illness and the side effects of modern antibiotics.
Besides the ticks, the rest of the insect world never gave her a break. Mosquitos, gnats, chiggers, flies, spiders, and bees ignored me and sought her out, painting her lovely skin with innumerable rashes, welts, and scars.
But Wait, There’s More
While shuttling me on the labyrinth of Appalachian back roads, she got lost, stuck, broke down, locked out, detoured, and dead ended. Driving a 20-foot long, 9-foot-high, 7-foot-wide van down hundreds of miles of poorly marked, narrow, muddy, pot-holed forest roads is not for the faint of heart. Especially when Google Maps gives out or sends you to a horse trail instead of road and you have to find way to turn around on a muddy one-lane road bordered by swamps or low-hanging trees.
Because she spent most days in the woods out of cell coverage, she got lonely. Some passing hikers were friendly to her. A few were awesome. Most were indifferent, as hikers tend to be towards any non-hikers who aren’t giving them food or rides. A few, which is a few too many, were heart-breakingly rude. Shame on them.
Most nights, after she’d picked me up, I was exhausted, leaving me little bandwidth for anything but eating, blogging, and sleeping. So, she’d cook dinner (I’d do dishes), listen to my videos while I distilled my notes into a blog, and then help me write and edit the blog. And then I’d be up early and out the door long before her normal business hours. Then she’d get up and figure out what she needed to do to find me at the end of the day.
A Day in the Life of Northstar
A few readers have asked what she did all day while I hiked. Mostly, she faithfully did the work to pull off my dream – shuttling, finding campsites, resupply shopping, van maintenance, managing the home front, cooking dinner, and a fair bit of waiting for me at trailheads when I was late. And on rainy days, and from Pennsylvania to Massachusetts, she entertained the ever-energetic Gus after he was banished from hiking in tick country.
Whenever she found cell coverage, she connected with her friends back home. Having adult children doesn’t mean you stop being Mom, so she spent a lot of time listening to our kids on the phone and making faces at our granddaughter on FaceTime. She also mentors some young women at church, which means regular, intentional contact with them. And when time allowed, she explored, read, and wrote (if you like creative non-fiction devotionals check out her blog “Grace Calls Me” www.tumblr.com/grace/gracesentme). She’s the really talented writer in the family.
But mostly, she kept me going. Northstar’s default advice to me over the 42 years we’ve known each other has been to slow down, take a break, stop, and rest. For this adventure, I told her I needed her shift from her default.
So she did. Whenever I hit a low point, she’d remind me of how far I’d come and tell me she knew I’d finish on Katahdin. Sometimes, she’d hint that I’d sorely regret it later if I quit. A few times, she flat out told me I could not quit that day. But she did convince me to ask Alaska for a reprieve so we could slow down a little – solid advice which probably saved my hike.
Last night, as we were talking and reminiscing about the trip, Northstar thanked me for never getting mad at her for wrecking the van. How could I? She did this huge thing for me. Her gift was so much bigger than a few dents the insurance will (eventually, though not hurriedly) take care of.
Thank you so much, Northstar. I would never have climbed Katahdin without you. Even if, by some miracle, I had made it to the end on my own, it would not have meant as much.
I love you. You are truly my Northstar.
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Great tribute to Northstar!
Hi Jon, I agree with some others that this also made me a little teary. I’ve followed you since August after rediscovering the AT through Mighty Blue’s podcast….
…this is the post that matters most.
Congrats to you both on the summit.
This made me a little teary. Your love and devotion – to each other – is such a gift.
(I miss your posts, good to get an update!)
Please write a book about your thru hike. I will buy your book!! I loved following you on your thru hike. You are funny .pithy. sarcastic and very informative .Loved your posts about Gus and Northstar. What a sweet tribute to her- kudos to her for her support! What a trooper. Your pictures were awesome. I am happy you finished but sad because no more posts. I read them daily and looked forward to them. Ok must close.Glad y’all got home safe.
Lovely tribute to an amazing woman ⭐
… now about “The Incident”?
Jon,great post about Northstar! Really enjoyed your journey and getting to know your family. It is an accomplishment personified to hike this trail as a thruhiker in your 60s. The support was paramount to make it happy. Your frankness is appreciated and hope that some of the agism experienceed can be discussed in the trail community. I hope you continue to hike and consider hiking the Oregon Coast Trail. It beautiful, w many great vistas to boondocks in. Thanks for your great pics along the way, especially towards the end of this journey and for expressing and help grow your spirituality. Also, you get what the trail is about regarding helping to work through difficult issues, especially the time you spent w your nephew. Take care, 2 Spirits
I’ve been lurking and reading all along, and enjoying everything you’ve written about your adventures. This was my favorite post of all.
Awww. So sweet. And so true! The “other” trek that Northstar made was a journey of love! And I’m so glad you not only shared your appreciation of her but if the trials she went through. You didn’t mentioned the worrisome days when you were late or not where you were supposed to be. Those days must have been the hardest. So glad you both got the experience of a lifetime. And that you made it. Together! 🎉💕
Beautiful tribute. You are both blessed and highly favored
You two have a couple of amazing stories to tell.. thanks for sharing a bit of Northstar’s…
As one half of a couple that does everything together, it’s always fun hearing the adventures of those cut from a similar cloth..
Truly your best blog post that I’ve read. Brought tears to my eyes. And after the devastation I’ve been feeling since the events in Lewiston, I’m grateful for another white male in my life who gives me hope. Thank you, Jon
Been following you throughout your adventure. Well done. Wonderful acknowledgement of your loving wife, Northstar. May your journey together continue to be loving and spiritually strong.
Time to reveal The Incident.
Hi Jon !
I followed your hike – looked forward to reading it every day! You write beautiful details and I often popped out laughing at your humor. Thank you for allowing me to hike vicariously through the interesting way you write. Today I read this love story to Northstar ! Your relationship is a wonderful thing. I’ve noted your relationship also with God and it is inspiring!
Wishing you and your family much happiness and health! Thank you so much for allowing me to be able to read your adventure!! Hug Gus for me!
Love being able to put a face with Northstar. This is so sweet. Thanks fir sharing…all of it.
It’s about time you brightened our morning with an update. I’ve been going through withdrawal.
You are a wise and extremely blessed man. May none of us well blessed husbands forget to love our wives as Christ loves the Church.
Hike on, my brother (and sister).
You are blessed, Jon. You are amazing, Northstar. Now, can we please, please, please have the ‘Incident’ story?
I would keep Northstar and sell the van.
Thank you both for a great summer of fun. I am glad you both pulled off such an audacious feat. Congrats again and 3 cheers. I’ll bet you both were a bit surprised at how many friends you made on a trip through the Eastern Rainforest.
PS. I am rooting for the Rangers. The Diamondbacks are not my favs at least since 2001.
Thanks for sharing what was going on behind the scenes. Northstar is an incredible Lady.
A great and spectacularly deserved tribute to Northstar; thank you for making it public!
You are truly blessed.
Great tribute to Northstar! Thank you!
And blessings as you recover and move forward!
Wonderful story. I’ve not been reading these blogs for some time but your tribute to Northstar interested me. I loved your thoughts on hiking and the way you presented it. Now I’m really interested in reading your journal. Oh yeah…..Yes, shame on those hikers that were rude to her. Grrrrr!!!
As Drew Smith once said, “maybe we will emerge on the other side a bit wiser…slower to anger, quicker to forgive, more mindful of our place in the universe, more aware of how dependent we are on others and on the planet that supports us, more willing to care for both. One can hope.
Awwwmannn. Welcome to the club where all us guys married up!
What a beautiful post! I’d love to read some of Northstar’s writing. Unfortunately, the link to her blog doesn’t seem to be working.
Jon, I have also read and thoroughly enjoyed all of your posts–they have all been honest, entertaining and very well written. You both make a beautiful couple and you are blessed to have each other! Please continue to write and congratulations to both of you on completing your most recent journey together.
Beautiful tribute to your Northstar. No one makes it through life alone. You are a fortunate man.
Now The Incident could it be Vanguards and the swamp detour?
Start: Somewhere, Arizona
End: His Time, when called
Weather: Perfect as usual
Earworm: Jon Legend All of You
Meditation: Matthew 22: 35-40
Plant of day: ☘️🌵
Best Thing: North Star ✨⭐
Worst thing: Really? Got nothing
Originally the earworm was going to be “write a book, write a book” and plant of day was going to be.. see earworm.
Beautiful Prose Jon. Northstar, pleasure to meet you. Really I enjoyed this telling as all your tellings. Love is the key. Thank you for sharing yours. Peace to you both. Shalom! Well done 👍… Jeff
JON: There has been
? I don’t know the rest… ????
The correct url for Northstar’s blog is: https://www.tumblr.com/gracesentme
Enjoyed reading your posts!
In reading and enjoying your blog over the months, I thought a lot about Northstar, and how the heck she managed the down time and how you talked her into it! Great tribute and an incredibly crucial part of you story.