The A.T. journey has been complete for a week now and I think I’m ready for a reflection. Since finishing, I’ve been sitting in chairs, sleeping in beds, and eating in restaurants – all novelties for me at the moment. Reading everyone’s blog and facebook comments has been really enjoyable and I want to thank everyone who followed along and offered their words of encouragement. I’ve spoken to some of you on the phone and a general theme of conversation has been “ok, so you walked 2000 miles and lived (mostly) outdoors; what did you learn?”
The first thing I learned is that the A.T. is the most ineffecient and ridiculous way to travel from Georgia to Maine. Seriously – I google mapped driving directions between Amicalola State Park, Georgia and Baxter State Park, Maine and driving distance is only 1000 miles, less than half the distance of the A.T. Not to mention all the ascents and descents on the trail! But of course no one undertakes this journey to simply get from point A to point B.
I learned that I will never ever tire of Snickers bars. I tried many energy bars but ultimately Snickers won out. Best boost of energy. Most calories/per weight. Tastiest. I think I was up to one or two king-size bars a day by the end of the trip.
Kidding aside, what I really learned is how lucky we are that the Appalachian Trail exists. It’s pretty amazing that in the span of the last century the Appalachian range has transformed from a polluted, over-logged, and economically depressed area into a beautifully protected and managed forest. It’s a ‘green tunnel’ through the heavily developed eastern U.S. Many people criticize the National Forest and Park Service, but ultimately I was walking through older and healthier forests in 2009 than the politicians and volunteers who came together to create the trail over 70 years ago. We are a lucky nation – and I’m a lucky generation – to be able to take advantage of the conservation and park movement of not just the Appalachian Trail – but of all our national and state parks.
I don’t think I learned anything new about myself. I didn’t have any kind of philisophical breakthrough, nor was I expecting to. I enjoyed my time living in the woods and out of a pack, but I’m also pretty excited to move back into a walkable, exciting city. The A.T. was something I thought I would enjoy and now I’ve checked it off the ‘bucket list.’
I learned that it was physically hard, but mentally harder than I ever expected. And I thought I was prepared mentally. When considering whether they will make it all the way to Maine, many thru-hikers have the saying “I’ll hike until I’m not having fun anymore.” Well I’m here to say if you actually abide by this philosophy, you’re never going to make it to Maine! Don’t get me wrong, I had a blast on the A.T., but just like normal life there were days that just plain sucked. It may have rained like hell all day, I might have have tripped on every rock and root one day, or maybe I woke up and just didn’t want to hike. But I simply had to because if I took a day off I would run out of food before I made it to the next town. I also missed people who I didn’t have the option to see and sometimes didn’t have the option to call when there wasn’t cell coverage. But ultimately, the fun days far outweighed the bad ones and I would do it all again. The beautiful vistas, the sense of setting and reaching small goals everyday, and the incredible people who I shared joy and hardship with along the way made it all worthwhile. Pacific Crest Trail 2015 anyone?
Throughout the trip, day hikers and people in trail towns would see my beard, tattered hiking clothes, and perhaps my general lack of shower stench, and ask me “are you a thru-hiker?” Concerned with jinxing my trip, instead of saying “yes” I always returned the question with “I’m trying to be.” I even said this when people were giving me premature congratulations on the last 50 miles of the trail.
For most thru-hikers, the defining ‘end moment’ is when they finally see the Katahdin summit, take the last steps of the trail, and snap celebratory photos at the terminus sign. The defining end moment for me was after the celebratory activities. I was climbing down the mountain when I passed a day hiker who predictably asked “are you a thru-hiker?”
I responded “Yes. I am.”