The Beauty of My Exit

I Knew I was Leaving

One last shameless writing piece.  I will tell you not how my story begins but how it ended.  I had known I was getting off the trail for the last two days.  This would be my last night.  Tomorrow we would hike in to Harper’s Ferry and that would be it.  I would re-enter the world of cars, kitchens, denim, and couches.  Maybe the smell of my sweat wasn’t so bad after all.  And these hills weren’t really as hard as the ones last week, right?  Maybe they were, kind of–nice, rather.  Yes, I must be leaving the trail.

My husband was abnormally slow the day of my last night out.  We had planned to go to another shelter but because of an early lunch and running out of water, he was getting even slower fast.  We came to a sign that said Blackburn Trail Center .27 to our right.  I walked towards the trail and saw it was all down a steep embankment with no buildings in sight.

“If I go down that, I’m not coming back up it today,” my husband said.

What’s Down that Hill?

We hadn’t heard anything about this place and you never know what you’re going to get when you go to a place you know nothing about.  Continuing down this embankment requires surrender to whatever some other human’s management style is.  This could range from bed bugs, to mice, to ants, to smells of human waste, to rot, to noise, to cold, and to ugliness.  These are the things that fill your minds when facing the unknown.  We began to descend.

The steep switchbacks finally opened to this vista-type plateau on the side of the mountain, with a sprawling green lawn lined with white irises in bloom.  A few buildings adorned the area with the main building begin a grand old log cabin with a fully screened-in wrap around porch.  Hopeful, we enter the screen door.  Writing on a white board greets us, “Hi my name is Cheryl.  I went to town to pick up supplies in town.  Left you lemonade with ice in the cooler.  Feel free to sleep on porch tonight.”

We sighed.  With the place to ourselves, we sat on cushioned recliner chairs side by side overlooking the city that lay far below drinking our fill of ice cold lemonade.  We found two mattresses on the porch, put our packs on them and cooked our dinners as other thru and section hikers filed in.

This was Magic

Upon Cheryl’s return Joel offered his services to help unload which were warmly received.  Cheryl had a few things up her sleeve, one of which was a gift of amazing hospitality.  Within minutes a few of us were helping Cheryl cook this full blown spaghetti dinner, courtesy of the PATC with bread, salad, and sodas, to be eaten by the light of oil lamps underneath the stars.  “Do you want coffee?” Cheryl asked not knowing she was offering a Puerto Rican their native drink.  “I can make it,” Joel offered gladly.  Our night was spent hearing old stories from the AT thanks for Cheryl and hearing other stories in their moment of creation, told by the good company of hikers seated around us.  My husband’s abnormally slow hike had led us right here.

This was my banquet.  This was my celebration.  This was my goodbye.  I could tell you of the other good things we could have never planned.  I could tell you of a free car ride four hours north to see my husband’s boyhood home before I flew back to Minnesota.  I could tell you of the person who offered to pay for the rest of my thru-hike if it was truly my desire to stay.  I could tell you of the way my student loans were paid off because I had wanted to finish that before I was done with my hike.  But I won’t.  I will leave you with my heart full of gratitude and satisfaction.

Beyond the White Blazes

If you are interested in continuing with Matador and I’s story beyond the trail, reading old tales or checking out my artwork, feel free to visit our website  And if you wish to read about our love story, you can buy it on Amazon here.  Thank you to all those who have created and maintained the Appalachian Trail before us.  You’ve not only made the trail, you’ve helped make so many memories, including mine.

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