Intersecting Ghosts on I-81
My windshield wipers struggle to find their cadence, squealing over the too dry windscreen, otherwise, pausing too long to cloud my vision with droplets and highway grit. Phantoms of yesteryear haunt the ridgeline to my east, the purple mountains distorted with heavy caps of raincloud and tendrils of playful fog. The last time I was down this way, I was on foot, and all the place names were novel, recently gleaned from the pages of my guidebook. The promise of Katahdin was still months away, and all my thoughts lay north. Now, as I work my way towards Arizona, to, hopefully, hike the <800 miles of the AZT, all my thoughts run into the dry earth ahead of me. This conflict of nostalgia and future anxiety is difficult to resolve in my head.
A few hours ago, I left the farewell embrace of my mother’s arms in NJ to once again fling myself into the, well-planned-for, unknown. As I leave the familiar stomping grounds of my hometown, I can feel my gut giving me one last reminder that my future is unknown, and that I am the only one that can write my story. All the reasons for setting out to AZ swirl around in a mix of anticipation and anxiety. The weight of the future presses my foot to the gas pedal, and I leave any thought of the past to settle with the detritus and litter of suburban side-streets.
Hiking the AT was the greatest achievement of my life, and still may be. I think about it every day, and it has been over 5 years since I threw my hands into the rare air on Baxter peak, simultaneously celebrating and mourning the end to my journey. Every time I’ve got on trail, really any trail, since, I can feel a humming thread of memory connecting back to the “me” of 2017. All the emotions, hopes, and dreams of that younger version are still there, the memory pregnant with possibility. It’s hard to let go of the past, especially when the past was so good. I desperately hope that the dragon I’ve been chasing these last few years truly lies in the deserts of the west.
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