Writing Love Letters on the AT
Shortly after Xtra-Tuff and I started hiking solo in the afternoons, I started writing love letters.
At first they were fairly simple out loud, stream of consciousness, not super eloquent, types of things.
I miss you. When I get back I want to go fancy clothes shopping with you. I’ve decided I want to wear more dresses.
I hope by now you found a new job and quit your old one. You deserve all the happiness.
It was kind of like praying and it was kind of like having an imaginary friend. The “letters” and the loved ones attached to them kept me company. Gradually, they began to serve as intentional moments of catharsis though.
I know you probably wouldn’t love the fact that I’m out here right now, but I also don’t think you would have ever said that to me. I appreciate that. You always just kinda accepted what I did. I guess you trusted me. Like the first time I cut my hair really short before college, you just told me I looked like Audrey Hepburn. No questions. No judgement. No fuss. You were never one for fussing. I still miss you so much and I know you wouldn’t like how much of a fuss I make over you. How I spent a whole afternoon just asking Grandma questions about the both of you. I am still trying to get to know you, Grandpa. It’s my way of being able to still feel close to you. I like being able to understand myself a little bit better too. It amazes me how alike we are, how I did not realize the depth of that likeness when you were alive. It goes past the milk chocolate and caramel colored eyes. When Grandma told me how you always made friends with the bus drivers and tour guides on your trips around the country, it reminded me of myself. We don’t dominate parties or anything but we get the right people together and have a lot of fun. I like that a lot about us.
And then, one day I realized it was May. Which I know sounds funny, but living in the woods, you become totally unattached to dates and calendars. Regardless, I remembered something that I wouldn’t have marked on a calendar anyway. May, I think is the month my ex boyfriend got married last year.
It was summer in Alaska.
I was on the phone with one of my best friends after work. She let me know. I screamed on a park bench. Screamed is really no exaggeration. I cried, I cursed. Senior citizens and families passed me by, politely ignoring my breakdown. I had been replaced in a very permanent way and barely a year had passed.
I went camping with Xtra-Tuff. The trip was planned coincidentally. The earth was going to have to help me take this. I stomped my feet into the trail. I talked fast. I cried. I looked down on the town I hoped would be my safe haven and glowered. I alternated between three main thoughts as memories competed for my consciousness and rage attempted to escape through my physical exertion.
“I hadn’t been able to get far enough away.”
“I thought I had more time before I had to deal with shit like this.”
“You’re fine. You. Are. Fine. You have been fine, you will be fine.”
We set up camp. We ate. I didn’t sleep. I wondered how he could get married and adopt a kid when I could barely bring myself to even talk to a guy. All the questions and fears I had throughout the year resurfaced with baseball bats and brass knuckles, ready to beat my self worth, courage and happiness to a pulp.
On the trail, that day felt so far away. There were so many miles between the Me of Then and the Me of Now. This May, I was continuing to live my dreams. This May, I was free, I was alone, I was happy. So I started “writing”…
Dear Ex Boyfriend,
It’s kind of funny talking like this isn’t it? Because we’re not really talking, I mean we haven’t talked in like two years and I’m just talking out loud to myself right now… Somewhere in Virginia. And I don’t know if I believe in psychic connections or anything so I don’t really think you’ll “feel” me talking to you or something. Anyway. I have a few things to say. So here goes…
I thought about you a lot as I prepped for this thing. Oh, this thing being, I’m hiking the AT. That’s right, I’m a woman of my word! I’m really doing it… There were just a lot of questions I had that I wished I could have asked you, there were a lot of things I got excited for that I wished I could have shared with you. What I mean is that it is a little weird not doing this with you. And at first, every time I met a couple out here, I thought of you. I don’t anymore but-
None of that was what I really wanted to say. Sticking my tongue out and sighing, I’d start again.
Dear Ex Boyfriend,
On my way into Tennessee, I hiked over these beautiful balds first thing in the morning. The sun was in it’s perfect early morning glow and the wind was so crisp and refreshing. I got to see the town as I hiked into it and the beautiful blue mountains. It was an incredible 360 view. It was just the perfect weather, the perfect moment.
I’m writing to you because I thought of you and I guess, I feel like I have some things I want to tell you. Like, I’m over you. Really and truly. I think the winds that day blew a lot of residual feelings out of me. Oh yeah, they call me Breeze out here, but that’s a different story… You finally feel more like a memory and a chapter than a current event. What everyone told me would happen, finally has.
And then I cried a little because I was happy and because I was sad.
I have been so happy and so loved. I’ve met the best people and seen the most beautiful things. I’m becoming who I want to be which has something to do with your presence as well as your absence. I think I can finally look back on our time together with a fair gaze- I can see the good we brought to each other’s lives and the challenges. I can appreciate the complexity of two people with less judgement and more acceptance. Which leads me to want to wish you the same sense of peace I’ve worked so hard for. Happiness feels so fleeting and dependent on so many uncontrollable things. Peace, I feel like, once achieved is a stable state, at least internally. And I think the process of getting to it is so valuable. So here I am, wishing you peace. I know you’ll be a great husband and father to your family…
I imaged the towheaded kids I wouldn’t have. Who wouldn’t spit out the Pythagorean Theorem (he was a Math guy) with their mushy peas at lunchtime. The big, old house at the end of a twisty road that I wasn’t going to live in. The Subaru we wouldn’t pile into for camping trips in the Adirondacks. His great grandmother’s diamond ring that I wasn’t going to wear.
And you know what? It was really, really, ok.
It was a sad kind of a relief at how true that statement was. I was freeing myself.
I feel like you’re one to take care of others before yourself, I think it’s difficult for you to understand your own needs or feel comfortable seeking self care. I hope you’ve been able to make progress on these fronts, I hope these have been routes to your inner peace. I know they have been for me. As much as I wish this for you, I also never want to hear from you again. There’s no room for you in my life and I know the same is true about me for you.
Be well. Be brave. Be at peace.
I’m sorry I took Microsoft Word off your computer after we broke up. It was petty and- wait. No. I’m not sorry. If I was really sorry I would put it back on.
Wishing you peace is probably enough right?
I laughed and cried on my way to the Trimpi Shelter that day. I made progress with my grief and my past in a big way. I was making progress on one of my “AT Goals”. But then I realized there was one more letter to write…
Dear Hiker Guy,
I have a crush on you. Hike faster so I can see you again.
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Taylor, I watch you grow to be a beautiful person, and young women, I can only say follow what’s in your heart. Always try your best at everything. We all Love you. Be safe at all times