Miles hiked: at least 8
What we saw: deer, something exciting that I can’t remember because my brain is putty and I’m worn…just worn.
What I learned: I can’t read maps either. I have no sense of direction and no real sense of topography. I thought we had two major inclines yesterday. Nope. The third was butt-kicking crazy at what felt practically vertical. At one point, I stopped to catch my breath and nearly fell over backwards. I am not exaggerating.
What I really learned….patience. Trial and error. The fact that no matter how much I think I’m ready to try a new challenge, a newer challenge will present itself and I must adapt to whatever obstacle has presented itself.
I lost weight, bought new gear, bought new boots, worked out, walked miles upon miles to prepare for this journey. I wasn’t ready to fall and sprain my ankles.
I picked myself up. After a string of profanities that I will not repeat here. After sprawling on the ground and trying to detach myself from my pack that I have nicknamed “The Tick.” I picked myself up and limped for the day and then took massive amounts of ibuprofen and started walking again.
I wish I could have retained my speed.
I wish I could have been more consistent with my speed.
But I realized that even seasoned hikers will experience fatigue and will need to take a moment to re-energize and my self loathing at what I thought was my weakness and inability was nothing more than my body being my body and having natural physiological responses to my activity.
I have spent a lot of time being angry with myself over stupid things. And I am tired of those moments. When I walked through the woods and was by myself, my thoughts ran the gamut of my history and I found myself still flushing with shame over silliness.
Decades old silliness that no longer impacts my life except that I still want to feel embarrassed over something silly. Like a celebrity crush when I was eighteen (and I mean I fell hard for this celebrity).
That was nearly thirty years ago, Graceless…let it go.
Yesterday, my last day on the trail, I strolled through meadows that once more brought on waves of homesickness for Germany. I strolled through forests that created new memories that will become the legacy for my life.
Hiking 100 miles in ten days has been the most difficult thing I have ever done. And yet, now that I am sitting on my couch and thinking about the Trail, I dream about returning to those long stretches of a quiet, green world where my voice was the only sound other than the birds, the wind whispering through the branches, or the padding of my hiking boots on the ground.
I sang to myself. I prayed. I said nothing and lived in a deep silence.
I wept with joy.
I emerged from the forest at Rockfish Gap and stood by the side of the road and felt…exhaustion, completion, loss.
I wanted to go back to the woods. I wanted to go home and hold my children, take a long shower, and sleep without worrying about bears investigating my tent.
I wanted to hold my husband as close as possible and just siphon my memories into him so that someday we can do something like this together.
The journey home was…well…unique. Which should not be surprising given it’s me.
The car my husband was driving broke down in a rest area. My nephew (thank God) was able to pick us up and drive us to a Chipotle where Owl Singer’s husband picked us up to take us home.
The ride home was hard. Returning to a more civilized world in which the first news I heard was murder in the city, North Korea testing another missile that can strike the mid-west, and overhaul in the White House made me question the concept of civilized society.
I was at peace in my quiet world. But I can not stay hidden within my sanctuary. I can not seclude myself from my children, my husband, my responsibilities.
When I return to school, I will be putting up a map of Shenandoah National Park that has tags on it to show how much of the AT I have hiked there. I will remove the four tags that currently adorn it. Put up two new ones. One at the top. One at the bottom.
I have a blank backcountry registration pass that will go up next to the map. I have accomplished my goal. I hiked my hundred miles. I have stood on the top of every mountain in Shenandoah that is part of the Appalachian Trail.
At this point, I have hiked 5% of the Appalachian Trail. In terms of reality and through-hikers, this is nothing.
I don’t care. I hiked a hundred miles. I hiked the fifty I did last year and the other fifty I missed last year because of a lack of confidence.
I am ready to take on the world now. I just might limp a little while I try to get ready to do that. And I’m slow. Very slow. But I will show up, with my trekking poles (that I technically have broken). Watch out. I’m deadly with those things.