Skylines and sleeping bags
I expected to have views that would take my breath away, but I didn’t imagine this particular one would hit me so hard. My eyes took in the green of the tree canopy and how it gradually turned to blue, fading into a jagged skyline that looked like the one I used to draw as a kid: short, medium, and tall buildings, some with points stretching high in the sky, as if Pinocchio had his nose turned toward the heavens after a particularly long day of lying.
It was New York City.
We were standing on top of Black Mountain in New York, and at 1,160 feet, it looked like I was staring directly into the Center of the Universe. This view was unexpected. I felt as if I was eavesdropping. And then I felt very small, and incredibly far away.
After taking a few pictures, we continued to head north to the West Mountain Shelter, which is six-tenths of a mile off the A.T. I’m not sure how many thru-hikers actually take the time to walk that extra bit, but for those wondering, yes, it is worth it. The eight-person shelter, built in 1928, is stone, and it overlooks the countryside and the Hudson River. Hikers are rewarded with another view of New York City, this one perhaps even more impressive because you can watch the City lights from your sleeping bag. They are stars of another kind.
I went to sleep that night feeling homesick and as if I was missing out on something. It was strange that a view of NYC could make me feel that way, because I have no ties to the place. I’ve visited a few times, sure, and I have good (and bad) memories. But that next morning, as I watched the sun’s early rays highlight the buildings until they glowed so brightly I had to finally turn away, I realized the root of the feeling came from a sense of isolation. In tackling the Appalachian Trail, I’ve come face-to-face with myself. Sometimes it’s hard to always like what I see, and that’s where it gets tough: there is nothing left to distract me from, well, me.
I’ve now been on the Appalachian Trail for six weeks. My dad and I have covered a little more than 500 miles over that timeframe. Some days it is hard to keep going; sometimes I feel I am not cut out to be a thru-hiker. I wonder if I am tough enough. And then, I think of the City skyline. I remember: I am here to face myself.
And that is something that keeps me walking.
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