What I Know
It’s been a while.
I didn’t fall off the edge of the earth or escape to Canada. I didn’t turn around and start hiking south or hop a plane to the Pacific Crest Trail. No, I’m home and I’ve been writing. I just haven’t been ready to share…until now.
I stood on Mt. Katahdin’s summit on August 19th, a perfect summer day framed by an electric blue sky and warm breeze. As I climbed onto the iconic wooden sign that marks the northern end of the trail, I was overwhelmed with raw emotion: extreme happiness, profound gratitude, and sadness. The tears came with abandon, the product of simultaneous joy and sorrow. “This,” I thought in that moment, “is what it feels like to truly be alive.”
As was expected, life has changed over the past few months. I sleep in a bed most nights and drink water from the tap without treating it. My knees don’t hurt anymore, and my toes are less tingly now (though some numbness continues to linger). When it’s time to go to work, I hop in my car and make the 30 mile commute in less than an hour. I can’t help but think about the fact that it would take me at least a day to travel those miles by foot. In fact, I think about the trail in reference to everything that I do now. It’s always with me, running through my mind, enveloping my heart, and filling my soul. Kind of like a friend I didn’t know I was missing.
Things will never be the same. I will never be the same. I didn’t think I went to the trail to change, but maybe I did. Maybe I was ready to better myself. Ready to grow. Timing is a tricky thing, as is patience. I can now confidently say that this journey came to me at exactly the right time.
Once you’ve traveled to the top of the proverbial mountain, the world below is seen with different eyes. You descend with a clear lens, and suddenly you’re able to pick up the hundreds of shades of blue that paint a summer sky. You’re able to peer into the souls of others and realize that their hearts are full of love and simple goodness. You’re able to look yourself in the eye and see a person who, despite struggle and difficulty, took hold of her dream and brought it to life. There is good in this world and unbridled strength in each of us, and I found it on the Appalachian Trail.
I miss my life on the trail. I would be lying if I said this transition has been easy. No, it’s been really, really hard. But, so was hiking from Georgia to Maine. I did that, so I know I can get through this. Instead of simply checking a thru-hike off the list or classifying it as a “once in a lifetime experience”, I’m striving to find concrete ways to incorporate it into my daily life. Each day on the trail served as a lesson in living and in becoming the person I want to be. I’m confident that it will take my entire life to fully process this experience, but what a beautiful journey that will be. It seems that the literal journey, the hike, was just the beginning.
This is a slow process, the figuring-it-all-out. Three months removed, here’s what I know:
Let go of Ego.
Admittedly, it took me a couple of months to realize that the number of miles I hiked each day didn’t define me. The speed at which I covered those miles didn’t make me a better person. What really matters is how we make people feel. I want to be defined by my interactions with others. Maya Angelou said “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” I’ve learned that my personal athletic achievements pale in comparison to the achievement of making someone feel good. On the trail, that was as simple as a smile or a brief conversation with a stranger. Every interaction counts.
Allow yourself to be vulnerable.
I learned that I don’t have to be strong all the time. It’s okay to cry and to be frustrated. I can be sad sometimes. Being on the trail gave me the space and time to work through things that I didn’t even realize were still hanging in the dark corners of my subconscious. It gave me the opportunity to find comfort in vulnerability and in open, honest conversations with others and with myself. It reminded me that rejection is painful, but regret is worse.
Don’t postpone joy.
Perhaps the most profound thing I learned is also the simplest. Tomorrow is too late; now is the time to seek joy. It’s there, and I felt it in ways that I still can’t quite articulate. “Content” will never be enough for me; I refuse to settle for anything less than “ECSTATIC”. Life is amazing, and I’m ready to celebrate it. Even when it’s hard.
At the root of it all is gratitude. For the people I met, for the mountains, for the rain, for the kindness of strangers, for the conversations, for the sunny days, for the Pop-tarts, for the rocks and roots that royally kicked my ass, for the ponds, for the Whippoorwills and the Loons, for the trail, for the journey, and for this life…I give thanks.
Until next time, peace be the journey.
This website contains affiliate links, which means The Trek may receive a percentage of any product or service you purchase using the links in the articles or advertisements. The buyer pays the same price as they would otherwise, and your purchase helps to support The Trek's ongoing goal to serve you quality backpacking advice and information. Thanks for your support!
To learn more, please visit the About This Site page.