Changed by the Trail as the End Draws Near
It’s been a long time since my last post — over 1,300 miles to be exact. I’m not really good at writing out here. First, it was, “I’ll write something when I get to Virginia,” then “out of Virginia,” then “when I get to my computer in Jersey,” then, well you get the idea.
I was always adamant that this hike was about my mental health. In that regard I’m better then I’ve felt in years. The mountains have a way of breaking you down before building you back up. It seems to me that’s what I needed. Break what’s left and build something new. To say the same person is finishing up this hike that started would be a lie. I am not that man anymore. Whether these changes are for the best, time will tell.
It’s hard to describe the feeling of being out here to someone who has never experienced a long-distance hike. The freedom that comes with half a year hiking through the mountains. The feel of the ground under your feet, or the wind on your face. Experiencing the type of rain that makes you quote Forrest Gump a lot — and I mean a lot. I’ll try my best to detail what I’ve learned about the trail and myself over the past few hundred miles or so.
Virginia is not flat. The same way the last five miles are never all downhill or flat. Nearly 500 miles in trudging through what one could only call slop of a trail I thought to myself, “I thought this was supposed to be getting easier.”
When your body isn’t struggling with the trail your brain is. Anyone who says they never thought “what the hell am I doing here” is a liar. But for every reason my brain has come up with to go home I’ve managed to come up with a reason to not give up. I’ve seen people fall to both mental and physical fatigue. Moments like this make it worth it.
I can smell worse than I ever thought was humanly possible. When you get about three dry days in a three-week span, you accrue a funk that kills plant life as you pass. Flowers wilt. Birds fall from the sky. Paint melts.
Sink laundry is better than nothing. Same goes for public restroom sink showers.
When a wild pony steps out of the long grass in the dark and starts licking me, I will scream like a little girl and start running. Fact, it happened. The big, tough rugby player almost crapped his pants cause a pony licked him in the dark. I may have been a little drunk after trail magic and night hiking to make it to the shelter, but that’s neither here nor there.
This place is mesmerizing. I can yo-yo this trail ten times and each go ’round would be a completely different experience. The people you meet out here can really change your perspective on things. Some people you’ll spend hundreds of miles with, others a few dozen. I’ve met some incredible people with incredible stories from all over the world.
The trail provides. It’s the biggest cliche ever, but it’s true. I don’t get it but everything just has a weird way of falling into place out here. I can’t explain it.
Everyone says the Whites are beautiful. Understatement of the century. These pictures don’t do it justice. But damn do these miles come slow.
I’m 1,856 miles into this hike. I spent my afternoon staring up at Mount Washington 1.5 miles away almost disappointed. We posted up at Lakes of the Clouds Hut to dry out after hiking all morning in the rain. The ascent from the last road crossing to this point has been crazy, but the last 1.5 miles looks so unintimidating for a mountain that I’ve spent the last week seeing in the distance, awed. (I’ve summited since starting this, so picture included.)
There is nothing as comforting as seeing a face you haven’t seen in months on a bad day. Seriously, it’s amazing. For someone who spent so long avoiding people, I find that amusing.
Coming to an End
My journey is quickly coming to an end and I find myself so humbled by these mountains. I’m in Maine — and I’m almost scared to go home, scared that I might forget to experience life when I get there. If there is one thing I’ve learned, it’s to appreciate the now and live in the moment.
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