The Long Trail: The End is Only the Beginning

It was just shy of eight a.m. as we crossed Route 2 outside of Waterbury, and I was surprised by the swell of emotion in my chest. We were on trail for six full days, averaging 19 miles per day. We’d planned to finish the night before but an 18-mile day over Camel’s Hump had pushed my body to its limit, and those last 2.9 miles were out of the question. Instead, we stealth camped in a parking lot, finished the last of our snacks (we were out of hot meals), were scared half to death by lightning bugs (a hilarious story for another time), and tossed and turned through a sleepless night.

But when we packed up the next morning, we were grateful for the way our plans worked out. Isn’t it funny how that happens on trail? Sure, we missed out on the warm bed and hot meal that we had booked for the night but in the end, everything worked out exactly the way it was supposed to. And waking up to my final morning on trail after a beast of a day on Camel’s Hump allowed me to finish my Long Trail thru-hike with the reverence it deserved.

I hiked the LT as a flip-flop, south-bounding almost half, north-bounding a fifth, and finishing off the middle northbound again. The last three miles of my hike were flat road and farm miles. It was nice to take our time on that final stretch, stopping to (try to) pet chickens, moo at cows, and see if the barking dogs were actually friendly (I really like animals). As we approached Route 2, I caught a glimpse of the historical Long Trail sign that marked the end of my journey and my breath caught.

What a journey, indeed!

Wow. It was over. I really did it! We did it. My mom was with me when I started my journey and since we had cell reception, we shared our Strava beacon so she could be with us when we finished. There were tears and hugs and laughs. There were slugs (so many slugs), hiker-trash gear fixes (cutting up your own shoes, anyone?), and trail angels (I had my first hitchhike and it included a puppy). And most special of all, there was the magic of time on trail. I don’t know exactly what happens in the mountains surrounded by trees, but it’s a reset button that needs to be pushed every so often. And it truly is a push.

All in all, my Long Trail end-to-end was 16 days over three trips covering 273 miles. I started the journey lost and weak, I continued the journey hopeful and renewed, and I finished it strong and fulfilled and with my person. He was really with me the entire way, at first helping me with gear and supporting me from home, then getting me off of Mt. Mansfield when I was in over my head, and then helping me plan my completion. But finishing my end-to-end with him by my side was the most beautiful part of my journey. Because really, what is life without the people you love most?

And now what?

Vermont will always hold a special place in my heart, and it will always be “our state.” The close of my Long Trail Journey is really just the beginning of another. I found myself over those 273 miles. I figured out who I was, what I wanted, and saw what was most important in my life. Three months after my finish and my life already looks drastically different than it did when we were standing on Route 2. I found the courage to face the challenges in my life head-on, to say the things that are in my heart, and to have faith.

At first, I questioned whether I could call myself a thru-hiker since my hike wasn’t a true-thru, and then I realized ain’t nobody got time for that. No one can take those miles away from me and everyone’s journey is different. Hike-your-own-hike after all, am I right? My hike was incomparably more impactful for me physically, emotionally, and spiritually over the course of a year than it would have been all at once over a couple of weeks. It allowed me time to grow into the space I created on each trip.

The trail lives on.

The trail lives on in my thoughts and actions every single day. Now I commit to my goals and plans, but I’m flexible in how I reach them. I have faith, even when I don’t know exactly how something will play out. What’s that saying… It all works out in the end, and if it hasn’t worked out, it’s not the end? That. And most importantly, I have immense gratitude for my loved ones. And I know the trail is always there when I need that inevitable refresher on what matters most. So, thank you, Long Trail for the lessons; and happy trails to you, my friend.

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