Hiking in the Air – A Love Story
My decision to hike the Appalachian Trail was to do something truly epic after retiring from military service. I didn’t know about long-distance hiking until the year before and even then, I never backpacked in the traditional sense that I do now. Being in “the field” (aka military exercise) was pretty much my backpacking experience. But to be on my own carrying everything I need to survive for months at a time was very new to me. Who knew that I would also meet such an amazing person that would turn out to be the love of my life.
I hiked with a group of hikers that I met after the 100-Mile Wilderness. During one resupply stop, we secured a ride to a hostel in Rangeley, Maine. Our group was big enough that it took two trips, and I was in the second group. As I threw my pack down from the back of the truck, I heard someone ask who was from South Dakota. That seemed strange to me because very seldom do I meet anyone who mentions my state.
But sure enough, a fellow South Dakotan is also at this hostel. Not only from South Dakota but also from the same general area that I am from. Since she was currently hiking alone, no one had a problem with her joining the group. This new hiker is named: Birdy. She started NOBO back in the Spring, jumped up to Katahdin from Daleville, VA. and I ran into her in Rangeley, Maine. This would be the start of an awesome friendship for the next 1200 miles.
Long-distance hiking is tough. There are a number of things that have to come together to be able to walk hours a day, for months at a time, to get from one terminus to another. Weather, wildlife, accidents, health, to name just a few can be a challenge. To be able to manage a trip while overcoming all these obstacles is hard enough. You can probably throw in a bit of luck on top of that as well.
Being on trail, it was very easy to make friends with other hikers, out in the elements, experiencing the amazing experiences and same hardships. When home in the day-to-day grind, it seems everyone puts up a lot of layers as a guard against strangers. It is not entirely like that on trail for me. There is almost a sense of purity when meeting people, exchanging names, and finding out what is ahead and behind. There is a camaraderie in the air as if we are friends already, because we are hikers.
Birdy and I did not always hike together, but we did camp in the same spot most of the time. This built a relationship that would only grow stronger as we bounded down trail. We would have our challenges, but it was always great to have someone supporting you along the way. We did that for each other as we made our way to completing the AT. This bond slowly changed from strangers to girlfriend over the next four months.
It has been eight years now since we met on the AT, and I am still deeply in love with this woman. We have traveled and backpacked all over the US as well as Scotland, Spain, and India. During my thru-hikes, Birdy has been my trail angel. Shuttling me to and from trailheads. Showing up along trails for a hitch into trail towns for resupply. In between my thru-hikes, we also spend a lot of time day hiking in the Black Hills as well as short weekend backpacking trips.
Who knows what would have happened after the AT, but meeting Birdy has really enhanced my life after retiring from the military. I am so excited I was able to meet someone who shares my love for backpacking and supports me on my solo long-distance trips while living happily ever after.
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