House Warming – Springer to Standing Bear

“Happiness is meeting an old friend after a long time and feeling nothing has changed” – Cris Darr.

In the weeks and days leading up to my AT endeavor, I spent a long time wondering how it would actually be once I was finally back out there on the trail. After completing the PCT in 2018, I had a 4-year hiatus, back to working a “normal job” and leading a “normal life”, experiencing the pandemic along with the rest of the world, all the time with the call to get back out there quietly in the back of my mind. So, when I finally gave in, made up my mind to plan an AT adventure, in the business and excitement of putting together my gear, making flight arrangements, and saying goodbye to my family and loved ones, there was this little nagging feeling I almost didn’t even want to acknowledge… What if it just isn’t the same? What if what I remember just doesn’t translate to now? Would my body hold up? I hadn’t exactly trained the way I had planned too beforehand. It’s one thing to read about the miles and cumulative elevation of this hike, a whole other thing to do them. So many doubts, such a long plane ride to Georgia. But there was no turning back and so, much like I started the PCT, I set out on the Appalachian Trail with a vague plan, my pack, and hopes for an adventure.

The first few days started out slowly, but the freedom of the trail and the rejuvenation of the outdoors welcomed me back wholeheartedly. Just like an old friend you haven’t seen in years and wondered if you would have anything left in common, then discovering it was like I never really left off in the first place. The first couple of weeks I found myself with more and energy every day. It felt so good to be back out there and doing this kind of thing again. I didn’t want to stop at all and to just keep hiking. My little brother, Max, is hiking with me and my buddy from the PCT, Anvil, so we basically started with the beginnings of a trail family, one of the things I loved best on my last trip. The friends you share a bond with that no one else understands really. The personalities you would literally never meet anywhere else. Although there are so many more hikers this time compared to before, it didn’t take long to meet an eclectic group that can apparently put up with each other… for the most part.

In spite of my worries about acclimating to the physicality of this thru-hike, I surprised even myself. Started out gently with 8, 12, and then 17-mile days, but it didn’t take long to find myself doing 20, 22… 27 without much problem. The momentum just seemed to build on itself. I’m not going to say there was no ibuprofen involved, but it makes me relish the zero days that much more. And the trail magic along the way… Nothing against Mom’s cooking but there are few things more welcome than a stranger’s kindness and a beer when you least expect it. And Southern hospitality is really a thing. Walking around a corner on a freezing Georgia morning in the middle of nowhere and being greeting with kindness, food, and a splash of Everclear… what more could you ask for?

The days are not all picture perfect by any means. There were some things about the trail I had apparently forgotten. Glazed over by rose colored glasses of my previous hike. There are lots of days where you’ve been rained on all day then go to bed wet and waking up and it’s still raining. The trail diet is worse than I remember. Ramen and Idahoan mashed potatoes can only be prepared so many ways. But the worst part of it all is that it will inevitably end I and I will have to say goodbye to my friends, the trail, and the lifestyle.

But gone are my worries about stamina and logistics and gone are the concerns of what’s left behind. But mostly, and most importantly, gone are the worries that come along with everyday life in general. The trail welcomed me back “like an old friend after a long time” and nothing, really, has changed. All in all, I know my body will inevitably object to the rigors of the day, the miles will slowly grind you down mentally, and I’ll never be able to satiate my hiker hunger but I am still smiling. My trail family is here and my “family” family waits for me at home. And more adventure awaits…

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