The Trail Continues to Provide

On Saturday, May 17, 2014, I hitched thirty minutes out of town during Trail Days and was unexpectedly enjoying breakfast in a perfect stranger’s house when I received a phone call.  My storage unit in Vermont had been broken into and robbed.

The stark contrast of these simultaneous events seemed to magnify their polarity.  In Damascus, I’d put my life in the hands of strangers and they’d gone out of their way to treat me with the utmost care and kindness.  900 miles away, a very different stranger had chosen to act with deceit and malice.  

I could react in one of two ways: with the mentality of pre-hike Kate or post-hike First Gear.

I had learned many lessons during my thru-hike in 2013, but one of the greatest was learning to assume the best in others.  I had no idea how many preconceived notions and misgivings I had about strangers until I realized what a bundle of nerves I was when attempting my first hitch or how wary I initially felt when hanging my pack in a crowded shelter.  Where had I learned to be so suspicious?

Wherever my uncertainty originated, it receded as kind gestures piled up on the trail.  Kindness took the form of fellow hikers offering duct tape for blisters, sharing treated water, and always making space in the shelter for one more.  Trail magic provided by locals ranged from essentials (WATER!) to luxuries (A BED!) and everything in between.

Since encounters on the trail, and certainly in towns, were sometimes as brief as a single exchange, assuming the best in others was often not based upon developing a relationship in order to establish confidence.  Instead, I learned to put trust ahead of doubt.   

This subtle adjustment was utterly freeing, creating a space for me to initiate and engage in conversations with absolute strangers and say yes to new experiences without my typical reservations.  As with everything on the trail, this pushed the very boundaries of my comfort zone and always paid in dividends.

See: accepting an impromptu invitation to a music festival on a local farm, learning from a Mainer how to turn roadkill into a meal, getting a bar tab paid simply by sharing stories, and making kale chips in a stranger’s house.

Now, a year after my thru-hike, in May 2014, I was visiting Trail Days to reunite with hiking friends and the trail community.  To my delight, conversations had picked up just where they’d left off, my thumb could still pick up a hitch, and trail magic was alive and well.  

The sucker punch of the police report goaded me instantly toward fear and mistrust.  The robbery felt unsettling and deeply personal, although the rational side of my brain knew it wasn’t.

As the initial wave of shock passed over me, I sought to shift my frame of mind, leaning into the trail and First Gear.  Falling asleep that night, with the scent of campfire lingering in my hair and the echoes of a drum circle resonating from deep in the woods, I reminded myself that what had been taken were just things.  There were many more valuable items no person could steal, including my family and friends, my health, and the roof over my head.

In that moment, I chose to remember what the trail had taught me over and over: most people mean well.  Besides, if it couldn’t fit into my backpack, I didn’t really need those things after all.

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Comments 1

  • Danny : Jan 25th

    Being that drug use is such a problem in my home state of West Virginia I can’t help but worry about someone breaking into my house while I am away. But, I am not going to stay home all my life to try to prevent it from happening. You are right! My belongings are just stuff. As I have gotten older I have come to realize the lack of importance of most stuff. Life is meant to be lived but not in worry. I am looking forward to a thruhike for me this year. The clock is ticking. I don’t know if I’m ready but I’m doing what I can. April first, Springer Mountain, here I come!


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