It’s tough to reason with yourself the desire to hike a dirt path from Georgia to Maine. First off, who in their right mind would want to walk that far? Two thousand and two hundred miles is quite the distance to comprehend, and is exceptionally intimidating as you sit behind a computer screen and research this undertaking that has tickled your fancy. The statistics alone are demoralizing, somewhere between 10 and 20% of the hikers who begin the trek will actually finish it, leaving you to question your merits of becoming a successful thru-hiker. It was almost a year before I flew to Atlanta to begin my hike that the idea of attempting it popped into my head. I was busy and successful with work where I felt challenged frequently, but had a weird feeling of no recent personal achievements outside of my professional world. I viewed myself as last having achieved a great goal when I cycled across America in 2007 with my dad, an event that took place over half a decade prior. I began traipsing around A.T. specific websites like WhiteBlaze.net and several other dedicated hiking pages, researching gear and reading into people’s adventures on the trail. My dad and I attended a one-hour seminar at a local REI (adventure/sporting outfitter) on the “Basics of Backpacking” and I came home with pages of notes detailing backpacks, stoves, sleeping pads, trowels, and everything in between that would be needed for a simple weekend in the woods. I wasn’t clueless, having been a Boy Scout for many years and already owning a sleeping bag and backpack, the latter of which was a child’s size and made me feel like I was wearing a straightjacket. A few hundred dollars later at the same store and I was outfitted with a fair amount of high quality gear, I had officially made the first step towards a ‘hike’. It’s funny how this small action made me actually believe my own intentions to attempt this walk of epic proportions. I made sure to tell very few people about my plan, the thought being that if I changed my mind nobody would really know I ever was planning to hike in the first place. As the months passed by, preparations and purchases were a focus of my personal life, and I was equally as excited as I was unbelievably nervous about the undertaking I’d chosen for myself. I’m a rather stubborn and hardheaded individual, and in moments of self-doubt with my ability to finish the trail, my mother so eloquently stated that she had no qualms about me finishing “shy of severe physical disability or death.” I took her words to heart, knowing they were on point. It wasn’t until one month before my scheduled start date at the southern terminus of the trail, Georgia’s Springer Mountain on 04/04/14, that I announced to the world via social media my intentions to thru-hike the Trail. Support was overwhelming and poured in from multiple mediums: Facebook, Instagram, GarageJournal, JeepForum, AudiForums, North Shore Jeeps, Twitter, plain old e-mail, and countless other 21st century communication platforms and communities reached out to offer encouragement and assistance with anything I needed on the trail. Little did I know that this amazing outpouring of interest from people around the country (and later world) would be a driving force in my hike later down the road.
In order to warrant the ability to take 5 months off to hike the trail I packed as much work into the first three months of the year as possible. I was zipping around the country like a chicken with my head cut off, oftentimes being home in Boston for less than 24 hours a week before turning around and flying out again. My brief time home would be spent opening delivered boxes from online gear retailers, testing new equipment, and double checking both my sanity and lists of necessary items to approach my hike completely prepared. When the 2nd of April rolled around my dad and I headed to Boston’s Logan Airport to depart for Atlanta. I had gotten him a plane ticket to come along as a Christmas present, wanting his presence as I began the hike. The plan this early in the game was that he would later join me for the famous and intimidating “100 Mile Wilderness” in Maine, assuming I made it that far. Flying down and wrapping up last minute necessary tasks that could only be done in a major metropolitan area we then left Atlanta and ventured an hour north to Amicalola State Park where the trail truly begins. Signing in at the visitor’s center as the 920th hiker attempting a northbound thru in 2014, my dad and I then hiked the “STRENUOUS” 700+ stairs up Amicalola Falls to a gorgeous vista of the north Georgia mountain ranges. A quick night in a hotel and a failed attempt to pack a light and small backpack – there simply was far more stuff than I had planned on carrying with me – we ventured into the drizzly and foggy morning to drive to the parking lot a mile from the peak of Springer Mountain. In this moment on a grossly overcast morning in April I was faced with the reality that a year of planning was about to become an actuality. There was no turning back (though truthfully I did have a return plane ticket home to Boston just in case) and I’d soon be left with just the gear on my back and the dedication in my heart to attempt to complete this journey. I vividly remember departing from my dad for the last time, the unnerving fear of knowing that the outcome of this mammoth undertaking rested solely on my own shoulders. I was scared shitless as I walked into the woods of Georgia, pudgy around the neck, naïve to the challenges ahead, and loving every second of it.
You and I both know that I’ve completed the trail. To say “against all odds” would be insulting myself, as I truly had complete faith in my abilities to put my nose to the grindstone and hike it through if all else failed. I can truthfully go so far as to say that even if I found myself despising every step of the trail, there’s a pretty high likelihood I’d have simply kept hiking just to finish. This brings into play the most on-point statement anyone ever made to me while on the trail. Credit goes to Ian Stutz, or Pneumo as you knew him, an incredibly in-tune guy of 21 years old who undoubtedly played a massive role in the outcome of my hike. We were hiking through the woods, likely somewhere in Virginia, when he randomly asked me if I knew why I was hiking the Appalachian Trail. To be honest, my own answer was nowhere near as accurate as his answer for why I was. What Pneumo said was that “[I wasn’t] hiking the Appalachian Trail to actually hike the Appalachian Trail, [I was] hiking it to have hiked it.” Now this may seem strange to you to read, but he truly hit the nail on the head. I wasn’t out on the trail to change my view of the world, I wasn’t on the trail to discover myself (or re-discover myself, as some are), nor to solve the global hunger crisis or re-acquaint myself with nature. As a goal-oriented individual I was quite simply hiking so that in the future, upon completion, I would be able to say that I have thru-hiked the entire Appalachian Trail. Despite the nonchalance in which he brought up this conversation and explained to me his views of why I was hiking, his invaluable insight was a huge breakthrough for me personally. I think that my unorthodox reason for hiking was an unbelievably large benefit in the end. So many people decide to hike the trail in order to rediscover ‘who they truly are’ or try and solve some unrest they have with themselves or the world. I was able to watch many of these people struggle throughout the trail, as they were unable to go about figuring these self-imposed problems out. Not being out here searching for a catalyst for change in my life, I simply relaxed and took things as they came while others were faced with too much self-imposed pressure to find themselves or rediscover the world. If you're constantly looking to find that kind of outcome you miss out on what's around. Coming in only with the desire to finish, everything else was a bonus to me. My lack of expectations with the trail or who I might become while hiking left me in a wonderful place where every outcome was far superior to what I had anticipated. In this regard, and despite how miserable and lonely it might sound, I think I ended up ahead by solely hiking to have hiked. I’ll never be able to thank Pneumo enough for bringing this to my attention and phrasing it so simply and eloquently… it truly allowed me to define my intentions in a way that were easily translatable and 100% accurate.
If it were to be concisely written in chapters, my hike would be comprised of four sections. Three individually themed sections, and a fourth that against all odds closely mimicked another. I believe I’m lucky that I had this kind of variety in my hike instead of spending the entire time hiking in one style. My eyes were opened to the different possibilities the trail could provide me with, and I gained an unbelievable amount of insight into who I am and what I’m capable of. First and foremost, I owe an immense amount of gratitude to Kevin “Crusoe” Mathers. Having met him quite literally at the beginning of my hike (atop Springer Mountain, A.T. Mile 0), we would end up spending the first 20 days and 277 miles hiking together. What was so important about this was that it was the “freshman year” of hiking, in the end comprising just under 1/5th of my entire hike. We were absolute newbies, discovering ourselves every day just as much as we were discovering the trail. In a time where people so quickly form cliques it was a great gift to have a guy my age who I could easily converse with all day every day. As we ventured into new camps every night meeting dozens of eager hikers all having started at Springer, it was phenomenal to have Crusoe there with me like a wingman at a bar on a Friday night. By mile 100 we had developed what would be my first “trail family”, an endearing term used to describe a group of close hikers that travel together for a while. Crusoe, Keegan, Papa Doc, and Wild Turkey were the first group I was truly involved with, hiking just shy of 100 miles together before time and prior arrangements with family and real-world obligations split us up as Crusoe and I hiked on again as a duo. Our friendship is one that I hope will last for a while, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the updates we have exchanged in the time since I last saw him. As of now I believe he’s somewhere in southern New England and has been hiking with a girl he met quite a while ago. In our occasional conversations he’ll always mention how much he’s enjoying the trail, and I’m unbelievably glad to hear it. It’s amazing to realize how we started together and went in truly opposite directions with our hikes – an opportunity that the trail will abundantly provide for hikers strong enough to “hike on” from situations that are potentially more comfortable when the time is right or the urge strikes them. Had Crusoe never had a bruised ankle that needed another day of rest in Hot Springs, NC, there’s no saying how different my hike could have been. Leaving him there and hiking on was the first bold move I made during my hike and though I hesitated to do so, the decision ultimately instilled in myself my ability to hike independently. I’d spend a while after hiking with another small group, sticking together until Damascus, VA when I truly turned a new page in my hike after what was, and still is, quite the long day by hiking 35 miles into town in just 11 hours. The realization that I was capable of hiking such a distance was a defining moment in my thru-hike, and one that I would quite literally come to appreciate for the 83 remaining days I spent on the trail.
The second chapter would simply be titled “Endurance”. Leaving Damascus, the figurative ¼ way point in the trail, before sunrise and utterly alone, I decided that from that point on I’d only be hiking 20+ mile days. Knowing I was capable of the mileage gave me this insane sense of capability, and the urge to push my body to its physical limits of mileage. For the next 5 weeks I would hike at a ferocious rate of 25-35 miles a day, meeting new people and departing with the knowledge that I would never again cross paths with them. It was during this time that I crossed paths with Ian and Dwayne, trail names Pneumo and Jellybean, who helped with my redefining the second phase of my Appalachian Trail experience. Both hikers were interested in completing the trail in a short period of time and were subsequently hiking equally large days. By joining forces we were able to motivate each other and make the loneliness of fast hiking a little more tolerable. It was during this time that I faced the first real judgment I’d come across on the trail. When meeting new people it’s common to exchange start dates, the ultimate way to level the playing field of hikers. When I’d inform hikers well into Virginia that I started in April (most all at that point had begun nearly a month before me) I was quickly given cold statements about being one of “those” hikers who didn’t appreciate the trail. Not one to let people’s comments get on my nerves, this actually frustrated me to no end. I’d politely inform them that I enjoyed every day of my hike and would write a 1,500 – 2,000 word blog every day depicting my trip… quite obviously it wasn’t possible to write that much unless I was actually learning from and experiencing the trail. Regardless, my time in the mid-Atlantic region included my ultra-marathon 62-mile hike from Virginia through West Virginia, Maryland, and 17 miles of Pennsylvania in just 20.5 hours. Had you broached the subject of hiking that kind of distance in less than a day with me when I began in Georgia, I’d have told you that you were batshit crazy. With 1,019 miles under my belt, more than half of which were days of over 25 miles, I felt that I could challenge myself and walk away from the hike with an unbelievable sense of accomplishment whether or not I managed to finish. Pneumo’s support during this was invaluable, as he truly encouraged me to go out and hike it while he attempted the same hike alongside me. There was a true sense of camaraderie when at 6:00 AM on the marathon day he told me to hike on and that he would catch me when he could. Breaking free of hiking as a duo I was able to push on at a steady speed of over 3 miles an hour that I couldn’t have done had we been hiking together. This temporary “hike on” allowed me to complete my goal with 3.5 hours left before reaching a full 24 hours of hiking. While finishing the Trail is an amazing accomplishment, I will forever have the knowledge that I was able to hike this absurd distance in under a day, and to me it will always be the pinnacle of my thru. My distance timing across this region allowed me to far exceed my expectations for the timing of my hike and put me over a month ahead of schedule, a detail that would later allow me the freedom to decide if I wanted a completely different experience when the opportunity presented itself.
Chapter Three: Friends. Having taken a spontaneous second day off to visit my family in Rhode Island for my grandparent’s 60th anniversary, I ended up being separated from Pneumo and Jellybean by a whopping 65 miles. Despite their encouragement to “hike a few 40s” and catch up, I simply had no interest in doing so. The prospect of hiking alone again wasn’t exactly thrilling, but after a long 40-mile day I began to believe that there was a different plan for me. At 8:00 AM on the 16th of June I found myself in front of an unbelievably (in comparison to the usual 1 or 2 hikers per shelter) large group of a dozen thru-hikers at the RPH shelter in southern New York. From this moment on, my journey would change. It was at this point that Dorothy, Rocket Girl, Deep Blue, Legs, Santa, and Finn came into my life. After a few days of a completely relaxed and fun hiking atmosphere, something I was in no way used to, I began an immense deliberation with myself over whether or not my best course of action would be to continue hiking on or to remain with the group and let my trip forever be changed. It took a few phone calls to three trusted advisors before I was convinced that it wasn’t a horrible idea to let my trip be changed a bit. Having put in the time and serious mileage up until that point, I had plenty of hiking time saved up in my A.T. cookie jar, which I would ultimately burn through by remaining with this group. Over the next 700 miles I would find myself in situations I’d only dreamed about earlier in my trek… paddling around in a full canoe around a vast lake in the mountains of Vermont, an afternoon spent swimming in a kind stranger’s pool in Connecticut, an 8 mile day simply because we didn’t feel like hiking any further. More important than these individual moments were my daily experiences as a whole. I cannot honestly tell you the last time I remember smiling so frequently, laughing aloud so much, or truly just enjoying company of the people I was with. There was a sense of family that far exceeded the one I knew while with Keegan, Papa Doc, and the crew. While each was important in its own sense, this one will be the one that impacted me in a way it would be difficult to describe. In the end the decision to remain with this group of amazing people would hands-down be the best choice I made between Springer and Katahdin.
As you may have guessed, the Maine Marathon would comprise chapter four: three hundred miles of grueling trail in 11 days. If only I could go back and inform the eager SOBO hiker who told me “You can’t hike Maine in two weeks. I’ve done Maine. You can’t hike it that fast.” that I was in fact able to do it, and faster than I anticipated… What was almost as challenging as the terrain was the fact that I went from having an amazing group of friends that I had hiked hundreds of miles together with, to hiking along with Santa, to entering the most desolate section of the trail utterly alone. The Hundred Mile Wilderness wasn’t an area I had ever imagined hiking by myself, nor was an area I’d ever wish anyone get through alone. There was most certainly more than one occasion on which I wondered what would happen if I collapsed or found myself injured atop a mountain with nobody else nearby. If you’ve ever seen “Into The Wild” you might remember the photo of famed teenage adventurer Christopher McCandless – trail name: Alexander Supertramp – a few days before he died, sitting in front of an old Anchorage, Alaska transit bus. It wouldn’t be a lie for me to tell you that I snapped a photo or two of myself in the Wilderness while smiling, just so in case something irreversible happened there would be a photo of me enjoying myself towards the end of my hike. If you’d offered me a million dollars I never would have guessed that the last 130 miles would be comprised the same way my mid-Atlantic section of the hike was, alone and pushing major mileage. The difference was comprised in the fact that I was absolutely miserable for the majority of it, hiking solely to end my trip. I don’t think I ever went into detail as to why I was hiking so quickly in this last section of the trail. My reasoning was two-fold; in early June I started looking at finish dates of the trail as Pneumo and I were hiking long distances and aiming to be done in under “x” number of days. I decided at that point that I wanted to complete the trail in under 110 days, a goal that was completely reasonable, leaving me with having to hike only 17 miles a day for the rest of my trip to achieve it. As I relayed this information to my parents, my ride home from the trail, they informed me that they wouldn’t be able to come to Baxter State Park on the day I was aiming for (July 20th) as they would be out of town on cycling trip. Going back and forth over their availability, I decided that I’d settle for a 114 day hike, not as fast as I’d hoped for, but still respectably quick in the grand scheme of thru-hikes. As I met up with the Friends group in New York and decided to stay with them, all of my planning for mileage went to shit. My long days became shorter and more exciting, but my minimum mileage to finish on time increased by the day. Wanting as much time with the ever-evolving group as possible, I lingered as long as I could. When I left Gorham, NH, the last town before crossing into Maine, I had to hike 21 miles a day to finish on time. With the rain and torturous terrain that the first few days of Maine offered, my minimum required distance went up to 25.5 miles per day. It was at this point that I announced my departure from the group, and Santa had his internal debate about coming along. Although we didn’t hike together, he still had to hike the same mileage I did in order to finish with me after we got separated. His arrival at that cabin in Baxter Park the night before Katahdin will forever be one of the more relieving moments of my entire trip. I was elated that he made it in time so that we could summit together. The majority of my hike through Maine after departing from the group was miserable, but the required mileage was my trade off for wanting an extended period of time with the large group I was hiking with as I began Maine. Despite sounding like the entire state was horrible, there were in fact a handful of moments where I found myself lost in the serenity that Maine offered, though most of my time was viewed as work, hiking towards the goal of the trail being over. Chapter Four was an ironic twist I never saw coming, but one that I suppose fit well with the rest of my hike. In those days I came to appreciate more than ever the relationship I had with the people I hiked so many miles with, to miss the adventurous group I was a part of, and to realize that I had been exposed to a type of hike that had changed me as a whole. Left alone, separated from the half-dozen people I’d come to call my family, I was simply there with a dirt path through a wilderness, constantly wondering how soon it would all be over. Thirty-mile days for days on end became a task, 3 miles an hour an obligation, and hiking well into the night a habit. I can’t honestly say I enjoyed it, but the prospect of finishing in a rather impressive amount of time (the entire Wilderness in 3 days) would be enough of an accomplishment to keep me motivated and hiking forwards over whatever terrain Maine put between me and Katahdin.
The trail and I had quite the relationship. I call it a love affair because it truly ranged from being madly in love to hating each other, and every stage of emotion in between. I can vividly remember the first moment the “love affair” concept came into my mind, climbing out of Standing Bear Hostel just north of Great Smoky Mountains National Park somewhere on the North Carolina/Tennessee state border. After a relaxing afternoon of cheeseburgers and soda with Crusoe at the hostel we continued with the 6 miles of hiking left, beginning with a steep climb up to the summit of Snowbird Peak. Between the soda and food in my stomach, the looming heat, and the 2,000-foot elevation gain, I felt as if I were dying while attempting to climb. A hiker’s relationship with the trail is truly an amazing phenomenon. In the beginning the trail can do no wrong - everything is a first, a new adventure, a first rainstorm, and an opportunity to be foolish while enjoying your freedom in the woods. As the weeks go on the honeymoon phase ends, and while the hiking is enjoyable the routine of waking up and sleeping in shelters becomes almost like work. That day climbing out of Standing Bear was the first time I despised the existence of the trail, breaking that first barrier to realize it wasn’t all going to be fun was a huge step for me. Imagine me, if you will, a tired hiker with a full backpack standing on an 18” wide dirt path that happens to stretch nearly 2,200 miles from end to end, screaming and swearing at the inanimate Trail for its cruel punishments and general habit of being agonizing at the most frustrating of times. I’m not embarrassed to admit that this happened countless times throughout my journey, each time just as annoying and animated as the last. Despite the moments of hatred, the sometimes-present feeling of already being beaten down to the ground and having the trail keep on wailing on you, there are in fact moments of great triumph where there’s nothing in the world that could be better than your time on the A.T.. In the very beginning, this would be the Georgia/North Carolina state border. Some 78 miles into the trail, reaching that point was the most incredible feeling I could ever have imagined. I had hiked 78 miles (the longest backpacking trip of my life to date) and had completed the first of the fourteen states that the Appalachian Trail is comprised of. There was a feeling of invincibility, having at that point already avoided becoming a statistic- 25% of thru-hike attempts will end by the NC border- but I would be hiking on. In the beginning, each 100-mile line was cause for celebration. Arrangements of sticks or rocks would mark the spot on the trail where these points existed, and you’d dance and cheer with whatever group you happened to be with, elated by the fact that you were 1/21nd of the way closer to Katahdin. Eventually, somewhere around Harper’s Ferry and the 1,000-mile mark, this excitement faded. I’m not saying it wasn’t a good feeling to cross those lines, but the true joy remained only in crossing state borders and slowly creeping up into the last few state lines remaining. The second half of the trail was both much alike and incredibly different from the first half. The terrain was exciting, the views worthy of climbs, and the knowledge that you had merely 1,000 miles left until Katahdin was every bit of motivation anyone needed to keep hiking. The camaraderie of the group made every day more exciting, and the trail was certainly more of the adventure that many expect it to be. It was only towards the end of my hike that I became more frequently frustrated with the trail. As I would tell many southbound hikers who looked discouraged and frankly fed-up with their hike, Maine was arguably the only state of the fourteen total that was emotionally abusive. Sure, New Hampshire physically abused you unlike any other state, but the scenic vistas from atop the mile-high summits through the White Mountains made every drop of sweat, every misplaced step and fall worthwhile. The moments on the summits of those mountains made every mile of trail I’d trekked worthwhile. By the time I was 1,900 miles into the Appalachian Trail my patience basically dwindled almost to the point of being non-existent. I was pushed to where I audibly noted my understanding for why people hike all the way to Maine and quit the trail. The combination of roots, rocks, moss, boulder fields, and rain made for the most tricky of terrain in all of the trail, obnoxious and constantly challenging your physical limitations as you trip and fall over the most protruding pieces, exhausted beyond comprehension after long days of staring at the ground in front of you. Maine presented no opportunity to enjoy the scenery around you while hiking – you instead had the options of stopping completely in order to observe your surroundings, or simply to stare endlessly at the ground 5 feet in front of you making sure to note any naturally placed threats to your safety, and hike on. Rocks, roots, and bridges over bogs became the immortal enemy. It may be questioned whether or not my desire for long mileage days was a large part of my frustration, but I’d really say that it wasn’t. My reasoning behind this argument is that I cannot begin to fathom having taken any longer than I did to complete Maine, or the trail in general. While I may have consciously chosen to subject myself to more of Maine’s misery than most hikers on any given day, that choice allowed me to complete the state faster and be out of it’s horrid grasp a week ahead of most. I was thrilled at the prospect of summiting Katahdin, and to have the trail be over. The morning waking up with Santa in the cabin at Kidney Pond, I had no interest in hiking any further, causing us to only jokingly converse about wishing the trail ended at the base of the mountain instead of the top. While it may sound like I ended the trail in a miserable state of mind, sickened with a water-borne illness that quite literally was kicking the shit out of me, that is in no way the truth. The experience as a whole needed this emotional gunfight with a state, if for no other reason than to prove just once in the duration of the hike that the trail knew how to fight back. In an almost bi-polar sort of way, I rationalized with myself that Maine was fighting me just to let me know that I couldn’t complete the trail without any real emotional turmoil. Sure, I can hike as far as I want in a day, as far as I want for days on end, being challenged every once in a while by a week of incessant rain or a horrid day of climbing, but in the end the trail knew how to make me miserable and make me work for the summit of its final peak. After all, what adventure and subsequent achievement in life is simply handed to you? My memories of the trail will forever be positive ones, despite the 11 days of hell I was presented with as I pushed across “Vacationland” (the Maine license plate slogan, for those that don’t know). I can’t even sit here and write about it, transcribing the misery I put myself through, without a smile on my face, knowing that in the end I completed my goal of thru-hiking despite the challenges I was made to face.
This blog post, some 6,000+ words, has been written while driving across the country, cruising along in the passenger seat of a Kia sedan at 80 miles an hour, and I can’t help but laugh. Who ever would have guessed that four people who didn’t know each other even two months ago would find themselves trekking across the country to spend more time together and deliver Rocket Girl home to the Bay Area of California. I sit here writing, thinking back and trying to put to words my thoughts on my hike. I’ve come to the realization that it’s both quite simple and exceptionally challenging to reflect on my hike as a whole. My perspective has changed now that I’m dressed in cotton and khakis, a new Red Sox hat adorning my head, and a fresh pair of socks on my feet. I can now stay dry and indoors during rainstorms, warm without layering when I’m cold, and unbelievably comfortable on the mattress and comforters of a big bed. I’m not quite ready to say I miss the trail just yet. There are moments where I find myself wishing I had a predetermined schedule of things to do on any given day, where I realize the fact that my job was to walk, where simplicity was so easily achievable. I truly believe that is what I’ll miss the most about the Appalachian Trail. I’ll miss the serenity of moments overlooking endless skies, where your eye simply stops seeing the horizon and the sky takes over. The feeling of invincibility looking back on the mountains you've already conquered. The power of knowing you walked here; that you arrived in Atlanta, Georgia with a completely unreasonable goal of hiking to Maine. Yet there we were, here we are, atop a mountain looking out at undeveloped wilderness, perfectly green and forests uninhabited. I remember as a little kid looking at mountains on road trips to visit family, thinking about the freedom and adventure they'd bring. Santa and I spent a lot of time talking about this, how far your mind could wander staring out the window of a car looking at vast acreage of wooded land around you, wondering what it would be like to venture into them and simply see where they took you. I spent three and a half months literally getting to live that feeling, the wanderlust sensation of trekking free. On one hand looking back at thousands of miles of trail behind me, rocks and roots, road gaps and the incessant climbs back out of them, river fordings, trails crowded with tourists in National Park lands, weeks of incessant precipitation, leaky shelters, rodent infestation, snakes, bears, moose, wild hogs, every other creature that made it’s way across my bow, Ramen noodles, Pop-Tarts, overused privies, trees that fall attempting to take your life, and every bit of trail that makes the challenge challenging. The other hand holding the memories of summits that made me feel invincible, the freeing feeling of hitchhiking in the back of a pick-up truck through tiny towns I’d otherwise never visit, the lessons learned from friends and strangers alike, and the humbling knowledge that we can truly achieve whatever it is we put our minds and hearts into… Remembering things like that was what made me feel whole on the trail, negating the feeling of wanting to be done (even for brief moments in Maine). The frustration and daily grind of the A.T., making parts of hiking feel like work, all goes away in these moments on otherwise inaccessible mountains and their summits that you had to work to stand on. The serenity of birds chirping and luscious green trees surrounding you, blue skies endlessly stretched out above you, the peace brought on by the combination of these things, incessantly creating moments you never want to end.
All in all, the Appalachian Trail was a lesson in perseverance, friendship, self-challenge, and the attainability of freedom when we so choose to embrace it. I was able to complete the 2,185.3 miles well over a month faster than I’d planned, all the while learning a whole new aspect of how capable I am with whatever I set my mind to. While much alike cycling after my cross country ride, I’m not sure how quickly I’ll be heading out to hike the PCT or CDT (Pacific Crest Trail & Continental Divide Trail) I know that I’ll forever have fond memories even with the most simple day hikes of my time in the Appalachian Mountains. I realize I ramble like nobody else on earth, but here we are a billion blogged words later and I’ll bluntly end it. The take home lesson from all of this is to live while you can. I urge you to seek out whatever adventures you dream of; life is simply too short to spend all your time wishing you were doing something else.
Onwards & upwards; with an infinite world left to discover.
Ryan “Texaco” McKee
P.S. I'm attaching photos from my dSLR, none of which have never been posted before. Over the next few weeks I'll be uploading all my photos to this site, along with stats on finances and mileage. Until then, enjoy these. It's quite humbling to scroll through the photos I took and watch the transformation over my hike. Thank you all for being a part of this amazing adventure.