The Magical, Transformative, Brutal, Holy, TRAIL (which I really really miss)
It is as though I have created a hunger within myself that I cannot satisfy. There is something within me that has grown, or I have been born anew, or something inside of me died. The part of me that can be content.
Something inside of me is broken now, where I do not feel as though a weekend in the mountains will heal me. Perhaps a lifetime in the mountains.
I long for the trail. Not the Appalachian Trail in particular, but you know, the trail, that which a thru-hiker seeks. The life, the love, the opening of yourself to something pure and simply and utterly holy.
I twist and turn in my seat. In my cubicle, in my car, on my couch. I have a good life, a happy life. But I have seen the light and I have walked the trail, and I will never be the same again.
And it hits you at the strangest times. Gathering up my laptop and computer at the end of a Friday, to bring home work for the weekend, and I’m left breathless, thinking of a life I’ve lived in the trees. Driving past a McDonalds and my heart suddenly breaks to think of the laughter shared while eating a truly disgusting number of cheeseburgers. Waking up, in a warm and comfortable bed, next to the one you love, and tears come to my eyes because I have no where to walk today.
It doesn’t seem quite fair, to get these post-trail blues, without having even finished the trail. I didn’t get to stand on the mountain top and look south at all that I had conquered. I hobbled to Penn-Mar Park and sat sobbing on the side of a road for over an hour while other hikers passed me by, and gave me hugs, and sympathy, and words of encouragement. But I didn’t feel victorious.
And now I have this too. Another weight to bear.
Don’t misunderstand. My attempt at a thru-hike was the best thing I have ever done in my life, perhaps the best thing I will ever do. But this missing, this emptiness that comes after is hard to bear. Something inside of me has changed.
Perhaps it’s the camaraderie I miss the most. The instant high of walking to a shelter and seeing that your friends are already there. The laughter and tears. The mountains of food and the rivers of beer. The hugs, and the stench, and of course, the ice cream.
Perhaps its the solitude I miss the most. I spent nearly every day walking alone. Eric and I hiked at difference paces. I would mosey along and feel like a maniac with a grin from ear to ear from the beauty of it all. The songs of the song birds, the light of the evening sun, the thrashing of the trees in the wind, the dancing sunlight over new wildflowers that no picture could ever capture to my satisfaction.
Perhaps it’s the lifestyle that I miss the most. The waking up with the dawn, the walking, the eating, the stopping, the eating, the sleeping. The once a week showers, the dreaming of town food, the feeling of hefting your backpack on because it’s time to get moving again. It is a simple pleasure that is hard to understand. But everything flows so gracefully. There are no harsh transitions on the trail, except the weather.
Perhaps it is the weather I miss the most. The internal romanticisation of how awful it actually was. The California Girl missing the torrential downpours and thunderstorms, which honestly, always delighted me like a child. The cold sleet and wind of the Smokies. The hazy heat of the Shenendoahs and everything in between. And then I find an ache within myself I did not know I had for the weather I missed. Autumn in the north east. I miss that too.
Perhaps it is the food I miss the most. Eating candy like it was going out of style. Mac and Cheese with pepperoni, cream cheese with salami. So many tortillas that if you stacked them on top of each other they would reach the moon… or something. The gummy energy chews, the chocolate, the tuna, the pasta sides, all of it. For the record, I don’t miss Cliff Bars.
But I think most of all I miss the trail. The magical, life altering, enigma that is the trail. The life, the love, the emotion, it all walks with you along a narrow strip of dirt, or mud, or rocks until it beats everything out of you that doesn’t move you forward. It stands on your chest as you climb a hill and rides on your back on your way back down. This little trail which means so little to most people in the world, and yet to me, and to you, it means everything. And perhaps the next time I meet the trail will not be in Appalachia. I’ve got my eye on the PCT, it’s in my backyard and there’s a whole big mountain chain that is screaming my name. But I’ll give it a few years. Until then, I will let the ache flow like the tides and know in my heart, that there is a 1.5 foot wide strip of earth that is more valuable than anything I know.
So Future Hikers beware. The trail will wreck you. And it’s all good. The best. The most beautiful suffering.
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