The Last Bounce Box: An AT Saga

Love It When A Plan Comes Together

In late October of last year I sat down with all 14 NatGeo maps of the AT and route planned this adventure (see previous post). I identified which hostels I would stay at, when I would arrive at them, and addresses for sending bounce boxes. Today is a special day for several reasons. The first reason is I picked up my last bounce box from Station 19E. I told myself I would use bounce boxes for the beginning all the way to Damascus, VA to get my trail legs and comfortability with thru hiking.

I also made hostel reservations all the way to Damascus prior to setting one foot on this trail. I can hear the shaking of heads from thru hiker alumni. Rookie mistake right?

The other reason this day is special is because when I originally called Station 19E in early February to reserve a spot on 30 March, they had the same response.

When I called, the owner asked “How do you know you’re going to be here on 30 March?”

Me: “Based on my route planning that’s when I’ll arrive.”

Owner-chuckles: “Oh yea. You’re going on the board. Every year we place bets on when certain thru hikers think they’ll get here. We’ll put your name up there.”

Me: “Ok, so what happens if I arrive on that date?”

Owner: “You’ll get free beer.”

Early Arrival

Today is special because I arrived two days earlier than planned (This did not ruin the deal as I called to ensure prior to arriving early; didn’t give a date of arrival as not to mess up the money line either).

I made each reservation exactly on time. I booked prior to setting foot on trail despite ridiculous cold inclement weather in the Smokies, severely rolling my ankle in week one, having to switch multiple footwear options to find the one that suits me, and hunkering in a shelter during a tornado warning outside Franklin, NC.

I’m not the fastest on trail nor cranking out marathon mileage everyday. I’ve seen the ones running with their head down. If that’s you, hike your hike. I stop and savor views, take pics and videos. I kept my mileage low in the beginning to let my body adjust. I never self evaluated my hike/pace against others and stayed in a positive mental headspace. Now I’m cranking out 18-20mi days with ease. All part of the plan and  remembering the last thru hiker to Katahdin still wins the race.

Another part of the plan is the experience of this journey. Just like many other veterans of the post 9/11 years, I’ve left pieces of myself (emotionally/mentally) in countries I was deployed. I’ll never get those pieces back. WWII, Korea, and even Vietnam veterans could go back and visit Normandy, Bastogne, Seoul, Saigon. I’m never going to visit Baghdad, Iraq; Gardez, Afghanistan; or Kobani, Syria. I’m making peace with and saying goodbye to those pieces on this journey. I’m carrying my very first set of dog tags I’ve had on every one of my seven deployments. I will be leaving those on this trail at some point (not in a way that violates Leave No Trace policy of course). That’s me philosophically saying goodbye and transitioning from Soldier to civilian.

The Endgame

I made a list of some additional goals within this larger goal I want to accomplish along the way as well:

  1. Grayson Highlands, Mcafee Knob, Trail Days
  2. Visit DC and Arlington
  3. Hike with Ben and Scott
  4. Visit Gettysburg
  5. Get off trail and go into NYC for a couple days
  6. See a baseball game at Fenway Park
  7. Hike the Whites with Dave and Leila
  8. Warwick drive in movie theater (NJ)
  9. Bell View creamery
  10. And of course, summit Katahdin before 15 October

Cutting The Cord

So the umbilical cord is cut. No more bounce boxes or reservations. It’s time to go rogue. I’m nearly to Damascus, VA and cautiously optimistic that if I can replicate this first 1/5 another 4x times, I will stand on Katahdin. For tonight, I’m going to enjoy this free beer and reflect on my experience thus far. Which was all part of the plan.

Beer at Station 19E

This post is not to brag; it’s about a mental victory. On a 2200 mi journey, mental victories go a long way. Wishing all the hikers out there great views, great climbs, and great times.

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Comments 6

  • Joseph Burell : Mar 29th

    This is awesome man, keep up the fight!

    • Stephen : Mar 29th

      Thanks man!! Hope all is well in the FAO world

  • Brian Crabtree : Mar 29th

    I am grateful for the service and sacrifice you gave, I look forward to your posts, and I wish you well with whatever the trail provides and whatever comes after.

  • Tom : Mar 29th

    You’re well on your way to Katahdin !! You sound upbeat, positive and seem to have a great plan. You can’t lose.

  • Adam S. : Apr 4th

    Keep cruisin’ my man!!!!

  • Lesley Hill : Apr 6th

    Stephen—I am friends with Drew and Whitney Thomas, so I was informed of your journey via them. I’ve enjoyed following along from the beginning, but this latest post was my favorite—I appreciated your willingness to share about the grief of leaving necessary pieces behind, while at the same time celebrating the joy of earning a well deserved free beer. Life is about the ups and the downs and learning to dance (or hike) through them both—so good on you for taking this journey and for allowing us to have a glimpse of it along the way. Wishing you well on the upcoming “rogue” portion of your trek—take care, Stephen!


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