Thank You, Appalachian Trail

Katahdin Was Never The End


I finished my hike backtracking from Katahdin after concerns over my many injuries began to fuel doubts I’d finish before the park closed. The day I summited, the 28th of September, I braved over 50 mile-per-hour winds and near freezing wind chill. My fingers were bleeding from the cold and gripping sharp rocks. I was slammed countless times onto the rock walls. It was perfect.

There was a cloud pushing across the tabletop of the summit, but I did end up seeing the spectacular and sprawling wilderness below. I also had thhe rare encounter of Atlas, a Florida hiker and someone who helped prepare me for the AT so many months ago. what were the odds that I’d ever see her again much less climbing the summit?

I figured if I was going to summit, I’d want it to be a miserable experience to reflect the overall tone of my personal hike. I hurt. I had just over 150 miles to go. I’d push hard to finish. I would flip again into Rangeley and just do sections until I was done.


Still Hurting But Here

The next week and a half was bleak and I just didn’t enjoy the wilderness. I was reflecting a lot on the journey and how far I’d come, but my injuries tore me apart. I cried at night. My mind started drifting back to the stresses of the impending transition back.

I didn’t want to feel. I was numb to the aches, the pains and the thoughts of what came next when I returned to the “real world”.

I had been on this incredible journey and felt that I was supposed to miraculously be healed of my battle scars and anxiety. I still couldn’t see myself healed of the afflictions I picked up while serving in the military. It didn’t work how I thought and intended this trip to go. I was supposed to finish and be this happy hiker, injury-free and clear-minded. I wasn’t, and I started to understand that this trip wasn’t going to ever make me “normal” again.

It was grueling and emotionally hard. I had walked off the war. I didn’t want to be finishing because I wasn’t fixed. I dreaded returning to the regimen of pills and psychology appointments. What was the point?


Why Did I Choose to Finish?


It happened. I walked into my last town and last mile. It wasn’t Katahdin but I was finished, finally! What did I feel? There was a trauma to it all being over. Regardless, I had accomplished something so unfathomable. I might never be the happy boy who enlisted some thirteen years ago, but I could still do amazing things. Every day of life is a testament to that. I’d tried my hardest and persisted through long, hard days and time alone. I’d met amazing people and saw incredible things. I’d crawled to Katahdin and felt a welling of pride and relief with every step to my finish line. I’d made so many friends who knew my demons and still persisted to be a part of my life.

I’d seen the Whites, the Smokies, the Shenandoah. I’d spent months sleeping under canopy and eating food for days on end out of a crumpled ziploc bag. I prevailed. Against all odds, it was finished.

I’d been homeless with a richer home than most. I had a job of hiking miles from which I received no monetary pay, but many hours of satisfaction. I was recently divorced, but found a loving family in so many of the hikers and community. I was newly-recognized as disabled, but I didnt let it stop me.

I valued my time on the trail and I didn’t answer the questions I had intended to conquer. I’ll keep searching and remembering how amazing of an experience this has been. Where will this next adventure take me? Only time will tell!

Thank you everyone who read my blog and hope to see you on the trails.

Jeremy Gottschalk

“The Barefoot Hiker”

Appalachian Trail

April 1 – October 11


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Comments 2

  • David Odell : Oct 25th

    Congratulations on finishing your AT hike. Quite an accomplishment. Enjoyed your blog. David Odell AT71 PCT72 CDT77

  • WalktheHike : Oct 25th

    I’m just discovering your blog and very much enjoyed your post.

    Congratulations on your hike! It’s astounding to hike Georgia to Maine.

    I pray healing comes sooner rather than later. Continue with your ‘next right choice’. Wholeness develops over time and can be revealed when we least expect it.


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