We started this blog when we thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail in 2012. Since then, we have completed our hike, gotten married, and started a new adventure traveling South America. Follow our journey here!
Sorry to leave you hanging, readers. By now you've probably assumed that we have either finished the trail or fallen to our doom off the side of a mountain. Don't worry, the former is the correct assumption. On Tuesday, September 18, 2012 at around 11:45 AM, we reached out and touched the sign we've been dreaming about ever since we left Springer Mountain, GA on April 3rd. On a windy, foggy day that will most likely go down in history as the most exciting Tuesday of my life, we stood atop Mount Katahdin with 2,184 miles of invaluable experiences, life lessons, and friendships behind us. I now type this post from an air-conditioned apartment in Chicago. I'm wearing a clean(ish) pair of jeans, have a neatly trimmed beard of socially acceptable length, and have showered every day for the past week. It's good to be back.
The last few days of the trail served as a very fitting end to our epic journey. The trail ends with a stretch of terrain known as the 100 mile wilderness - so named for the lack of any easy road access to civilization for approximately 100 miles. It's reputation for being isolated and remote tends to overshadow the fact that it may also be the most beautiful 100 miles of the entire trail. This combined with the perfect week of weather and the fact that all of our hard work put us in a position to finally ease up our pace made for a wonderful end to our journey. We were able to enjoy sunrises and sunsets in some of the most serene settings that nature has to offer, lose track of time gazing into waterfalls during our lunch breaks, and swim in pristine lakes so remote that I didn't have to think twice about anybody witnessing how embarrassingly long it took me to completely submerge myself into the ice cold water.
The 100 mile wildeness reminded us of all of the things we'll miss about the trail - the sound of a cascading stream easing you to sleep, snack breaks with views of endless mountains, and the all encompasing beauty of nature. Of course, as you may have guessed from prior blog posts, there are plenty of things that we won't miss about the trail - relentless bugs, seemingly endless hours of hiking, the list goes on. It seems that most thru-hikers tend to have these sort of mixed emotions regarding the completion of the trail. There is a mingling of elation and relief that you have finally achieved your goal, nostalgia for all of the unique and wonderful experiences that can only be had on the trail, and a hint of regret rooted in the notion that maybe you didn't take enough time or create enough mental space to enjoy the trail as much as you could have. This leads me to my inevitable philosophical pondering of the last 5 and a half months. It's gonna get kind of deep in the next few paragraphs, so please save all eye-rolling and gagging until the end of the post.
The most important lesson I learned on the trail can best be illustrated by our experience in the first few days of the 100 mile wilderness. For someone who has already spent the last 5 months living in the woods, a long stretch of trail without any access to civilization is only daunting for one reason - the lack of food. We carefully prepared for this by ordering backpacker meals and Cliff bars online weeks in advance. But as usual, we underestimated our hunger. We immediately found ourselves having to ration food and go to bed hungry just so we'd have enough food to get through the rest of the wilderness. I'm not going to lie, the fear of being hungry for a week weighed on my mind quite a bit. However, while doing our planning we seemed to overlook a wonderful oasis in the middle of the wilderness called White House Landing - a little lodge/grill that picks you up by boat and takes you to their property where they sell hot meals and assorted trail food. This little spot pretty much saved the day by allowing us the opportunity to restock our food supply and inhale a 16 ounce burger while sharing a few laughs with some other hungry hikers. On top of that, the only time it rained the entire week was while we were inside White House Landing chowing down on our burgers. We could not have asked for a better resolution to the food situation.
For me, this needless worrying only to have things turn out just fine in the end was a common refrain throughout the hike. The last thing that my roommate and good friend Matt said to me before Kelly and I began this adventure was, "Remember...the journey is the reward." When I reflect on this little nugget of wisdom, I find that it is perhaps the best advice anybody can give. It is not the final destination or some imagined moment in the future that is the path to joy, relief, and fulfillment. It is the journey. Specifically, it is the step of the journey that you are taking at this exact moment that provides the path to all that is truly good. There is no moment more critical to your joy and well-being then right now. In fact, if you really think about, right now is all you really have. The past no longer exists, and the future is not guaranteed. Yet we all have a tendency to think way too much about the past and future with undue nostalgia, regret, fear, or hope.
Right now you're probably thinking, "Jeez, I just wanted to know whether or not they ever saw a moose and now this guy is getting all spacey on me." I apologize, and for the record we never did see that stupid moose. But I feel the need to share what for me was the most important lesson of the trip. It is a lesson that I will constantly be re-teaching myself for the rest of my life. Time spent thinking about whether or not we would run out of food, whether we would make it to camp before dark, whether we would actually make it to Katahdin...it was all wasted time. It was time in which I ignored how beautiful the foliage was, how refreshing the cool breeze felt, and how great it was to spend so much time with Kelly free from all of our real world responsibilities.
So from now on, anytime that I find myself ignoring the present moment in favor of some imagined future or idealized past, I will remind myself to focus on the now. That's where I will find everything I'll ever need. And when you think about it, focusing on the current step ain't bad advice for a guy who still struggles not to trip over the guylines. Hopefully, if I can keep focusing on the current step of my journey, I'll trip a bit less with every new adventure.
PS - Just because we finished the trail does not mean the blog fun has to end. We still have more to share regarding the final days of the trip, reflections on our experience, and commentary on transitioning back into the real world. So stay tuned.
PSS/Anecdote worth mentioning that didn't fit into my ultra-serious narrative above - Five and a half months ago at the top of Springer Mountain, GA we met another hiker named Andrew who was also beginning a thru-hike. We exchanged pleasantries and took him up on his offer to take our photo in front of the Springer Mountain sign. We saw him on and off for the next couple of days, and then he blew by us never to be seen again (or so we thought). More than 5 months later in a hostel in Monson, ME, the last town before the 100 miles wilderness, we walked in the door to see a familiar face in a bright yellow shirt that stuck out like a sore thumb on the trail back in Georgia. It was none other than Andrew, now going by the trail name Dayglo due to the aforementioned shirt. We were lucky enough to be on pace with Dayglo for the next 100 miles, and sure enough when we got to the top of Katahdin there he was waiting to take the photo you see on this blog post. The same guy that took our first trail photo in Georgia, took our last photo in Maine 2,184 miles later. What are the odds?