Loss, Grief, and the Healing Power of the AT

A Post a Long Time Coming

This isn’t a typical update.  I’ve waited a long time to write this post because I wanted to be sure.  A few days ago I passed the 1,500-mile mark and captured my reaction on video.  The difference between how I felt at 1,500 miles vs. 1,000 miles was striking.  Healing took place over those miles.   These changes took time and were subtle, but upon reflection, undeniable. At 1,000 miles I could barely control the emotion; here is my 1,500-mile reaction.

One Hike, Two Destinations

I’ve written before that while my feet are taking me to Katahdin, my other destination is peace and acceptance.  Obviously, “peace and acceptance” isn’t defined geographically; not even Guthook will tell you when you’re there. But like Katahdin, I’m closer every day.  I feel better and happier about life, both present and future.  This doesn’t mean I’m “cured” or “over it.” It doesn’t work that way.  The best way I can describe it is that I feel more and more like just another hiker on the Appalachian Trail.  Even better, feeling normal feels more and more normal.

It’s OK to Want to be Happy

A few weeks ago in Pennsylvania I walked through  a beautiful field bursting with wildflowers.  There were many types and colors but the daisies were prominent and, as I’ll explain, calling out to me.

Brenda loved daisies.  Her favorite color was yellow; we had daisy artwork, a cat named Daisy, and fresh-cut daisies often decorated out countertops.

Memories  flooded my mind and I felt her presence.  I committed a minor Leave No Trace infraction and picked one and placed it on my pack strap.  For the next few hours with that daisy in my field of view, I honestly felt like I was walking hand in hand with Brenda.  It wasn’t a supernatural experience, just a really intense, peaceful feeling, very calming.  These were warm and happy thoughts.  The message I heard over and over was, “It’s OK, I want you to be happy.”

Life After the Trail

I needed to hear and believe that happiness bit because lately I’ve been thinking a lot about life after the trail.  Despite all the unknowns I’m excited for whatever it brings.  Additionally, I’d like to share that life with someone, a new development, more evidence of healing. Not that anything is imminent; I’m almost entirely surrounded by middle-aged white guys and twentysomethings out here.  It’s just a idea that seemed unthinkable a few months ago.

Trail Update

Again, this post isn’t a traditional “trail journal” update. Instead it’s a follow up to my post on walking with grief.  I owe that “hiking” update in another post because a lot of amazing things have happened over a lot of miles. Here’s  a summary.

I’m currently at a good friend’s home in Massachusetts.  I got off the trail in Dalton, MA, mile 1,569.8 on day 110.  Since resuming the hike in Pennsylvania I’ve hiked 350 miles, mostly solo, with an 18.5 miles per day average on hiking days.  In the process I completed Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, and Connecticut.  When not hiking I’ve had amazing visits with two cousins and two old friends and their families.  Highlights were three nights in NYC, two days at West Point, attending a Peter Frampton and Steve Miller Band outdoor concert, and a trip to Boston to celebrate the 4th of July.  Tomorrow, July 5, I’ll get back on the trail and complete Massachusetts in the next day or two.  Then it’s the final three New England states, starting with Vermont.  It’s going to be grand!

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Comments 6

  • Jackson Shockley : Jul 5th

    Pete..I am a 58 year old military brat. I am considering my turn on the AT trail. My father was a fighter pilot and test pilot.He passed away in December. I lost my mother last June. Your story resonates with me. I to look forward My experiences on the AT. God speed, wheels up!

  • Ethesis (Stephen M) : Jul 5th

    I’ve been through some losses as well. Glad you are finding some healing. Had not thought of that as something that might come from a through hike, but appreciate the hope you offer.

  • Albert Cabrera : Jul 5th

    Pete, i am touched by your story. I have been section hiking the A.T. with my dog for about 2 years now. We go out in 50 mile increments. We jave done Pa, Nj, NY, Ct and now im working on Vt and Ma.The trail has the power to heal. I feel born again every time we are out. The people i meet on the trails are good people. My escape from NYC is the A.T. Nature heels man. Peace and love to you. Natural and Quattro loco


    Hello Pete. My family lived in Duluth in the past. E have movies of my brother and sister walking down the driveway with only their hats visable above the snow. :). I’m glad you are doing this journey. There is something special about the trail…a unique community. I’m currently a section hiker. I hope to through hike when I retire in 6 years. But I will be 66 years old. I am concerned about getting up to 18 mile days, but I’m going to do my best. This hike is spiritual, mentally and physically challenging, and an accomplishment! Enjoy the moment. That is what is truly important in life. Good luck on your future endeavors.

    • Karen Harden : Jul 6th

      Hi Easy Pete. I met you as you briefly walked by when I was resting on trail side and you shared your journey a bit with me when you noticed the dragonfly tatoo on my foot. I have since had to get off trail for a bit to heal a leg/nerve issue however will be back on next week. Your sharing stayed with me and made me reflect so much more on the blessings and present moments. Thank you and have that grand hike!

  • Josh Johnson : Jul 9th

    Nice! That’s awesome man!


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