My Long-Term Relationship with the Appalachian Trail
When I say I lucked out, I mean I really lucked out.
As you probably know, the Appalachian Trail travels about 2,200 miles from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine. I spent the whole night before I was to ascend Katahdin giggling with three bearded men named Five, Fire Starter, and Scribbles. There was so much genuine happiness keeping us awake that we didn’t go to bed until at least 11 p.m. (which was two hours well past what they call “hiker midnight”). When I finally convinced myself to go to sleep, I drifted off completely content with my life to this point.
I woke up bright-eyed and bushy-tailed at 5 a.m. to the birds chirping and Scribbles coming out of his hammock. We made eye contact, and he said with the most genuine smile, “Happy Katahdin Day!” It immediately brought a smile to my face, and I affirmed, “Yes! Happy Katahdin Day!”
I don’t think I’ve ever experienced a day like this. I woke up feeling a mélange of accomplishment, excitement, honesty, and transparency. It was this light feeling in my chest that seemed to lift me up out of my sleeping bag and propel me into my day and toward my big goals.
I couldn’t wait for the guys to finish their breakfast. I started hiking alone at 6:30 a.m. Well…not so much hiking as scrambling. I couldn’t help myself. I felt unstoppable. Katahdin is a beast of a mountain, and I felt like an animal throwing my body full force at everything in my path. I passed a couple of day hikers on my way up the mountain and stopped to talk to them briefly (with probably a little too much enthusiasm).I just couldn’t help myself, because that’s who I am: an over-excitable bubbly person—especially when on the Trail.
The last mile to the summit exemplifies surreal. I was alone in the Tablelands (a plateau right before the final summit of Baxter Peak), completely immersed in the clouds. I was on cloud nine, and nothing could change that—even the lack of visibility. Then, like magic, as soon as I started the final ascent, the clouds began to disperse and I saw it.
Okay, so I’ve seen the Katahdin sign a million times before in photographs, but for the first time ever my eyes beheld a tiny wooden structure in the distance that represented the end of this journey. I stopped abruptly as I stood before the sign. Three trail friends (Caboose, Obsolete and Myster Lynard) were already at the top sitting next to the massive rock cairn. They didn’t see me, and for a rare moment I remained silent.
I was speechless.
All the feelings were caught in my chest and throat, and I couldn’t make sense of any of them. I reached out tentatively to touch the weathered sign. And just like that, all my emotions were released.
This emotional catharsis was represented by my tears, snot, laughter, and all around awe. I screamed to my friends with a high-pitched cracked voice, “OH MY GOD!” They looked up, cheered, and then came up to celebrate our accomplishments.
In life, these types of moments are exhilarating, yet fleeting.
I lucked out.
Eventually I left Baxter Peak, made my way across Knife’s Edge, and down the Helon Taylor Trail with my new and true friends. We found our families, got into our cars and drove our separate ways from Baxter State Park and the lives we had grown accustomed to for the past five months.
As soon as I got back to Asheville, North Carolina, I didn’t want to waste any energy. If the Trail taught me anything, it was how much you could accomplish in one day.
The Trail also taught me that that every relationship in life ought to be reciprocated. Anything that is too one-sided can’t last. This goes for relationships with nature as well. If we’re all just using the Trail to benefit our personal goals, how can you have a sustainable relationship? Healthy relationships take constant and continuous effort from both sides.
That’s why I say I’ve lucked out—I have continued my healthy, longterm relationship with the Appalachian Trail.
The Trail, the experiences I’ve earned, or lessons I’ve learned, are living within me every single day. I got back from my thru-hike and started volunteering with the ATC almost immediately. I was able to assist with building a curriculum to help potential long-distance hikers on the A.T. I am a part of the process of protecting this sacred space that just gave me a life-changing experience.
Shortly after, the opportunity to apply for full-time work with the ATC presented itself through a newly created position. I knew I wanted this job. I’ve never revised my resume so many times trying to ensure that my passion for the Appalachian Trail came across clear. I even went as far to do a mock interview with some friends. I live and breathe the A.T. This job would allow me the chance to transform my “obsession” into a productive form of stewardship for my beloved Trail.
I knew I was fortunate to be hired as a full-time employee with the ATC. It’s truly the opportunity of a lifetime. I am able to do my part by ensuring the protection of the Trail through stewardship and education. With the help of my phenomenal co-workers, we’ve created “How Will You Hike the A.T.?” workshops. These are dedicated to promoting alternative forms of long-distance hiking on the Trail, while embracing the personal responsibility needed to protect this natural resource.
I’m delivering the first of these workshops, not to tell people how to hike the Appalachian Trail, or to follow my advice to the T. Rather, I’m delivering these workshops to help potential long-distance hikers achieve the best relationship with the A.T. Hiking the A.T. is extremely challenging , but the rewards of embracing and protecting it will change a person forever.
Everyone deserves to experience the reaffirmation of humanity and goodwill that can be found on the Trail. I honestly believe the Trail brings out the truest versions of ourselves (the good, bad, ugly, goofy, and, of course, the smelly), and the ability to be comfortable with whatever we discover.
The Trail tends to be the source of all the gifts, so why don’t we start to give back? Why not learn how to walk with it, rather than on it? Learn to embrace it, rather than degrade it. Restore it, rather than leave it.
Come out to learn, or spread the word to those who may be interested. Classes last from 1.5 to 4 hours.The courses will cover all aspects of planning a long-distance hike on the A.T., from essential gear, what to expect from the Trail, and what the Trail expects of you. Participants will come away with their own personal approach to hiking the Trail, along with knowledge and some preparation for the journey ahead.
Chloë aka Vulture
How Will You Hike the A.T. Workshops:
Tues. 1/26: Diamond Brand Outfitters (South Asheville, NC) 6-8p.m. (free)
Mon. 2/1: REI* Charlotte, NC 6:30-8:30 p.m. (free)
Sat. 2/6: REI* Atlanta, GA 1-5 p.m. ($30 REI members/$50 non-REI members)
Sun. 2/7: Black Dome Mountain Sports (Asheville, NC) 4-7 p.m. (free)
*REI asks that you please pre-register online
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