You all know the rest of the story. In 114 days, 109 of which were hiking, I averaged 20.04 miles per day and made it to Maine’s glorious Katahdin in a time I will forever be proud of. I made countless friends, many of whom networking and the Internet have put me back in contact with, and have memories that will last me until my own memory fades. You’ll be interested to know that almost every hiker who I spent any amount of time with finished the trail. Crusoe, JPEG, Soleil, Hustle & Flow (camped with on night 3), Whitey, Cheesepuff, VooDoo, Pneumo, Jellybean, and of course the entire gang that shaped the last chapter of my hike. Not surprisingly, everyone seems to feel the same way, missing the Trail and simultaneously trying to plan their next adventure. As the A.T. Class of 2015 is underway hiking, some 14’ers are starting their final preparations for the 2,600+-mile Pacific Crest Trail or Continental Divide Trail. Though I don’t know if I’m ready for another few months in the mountains, I look back at the A.T. and constantly think about what adventure might be next. Santa and I have discussed a 660 mile thru-hike of the Haute Route Pyrenees (HRP), starting at sea level on the Atlantic side of France and hiking over ice capped mountains and farmer’s fields through to sea level at the Mediterranean side of Spain. It makes total sense for his schedule, a last real summer before his doctorate program spits him out into the workforce by this time next year. For me, I’m torn. A five week hike sounds amazing, the terrain sounds amazing and challenging, and more time with one of my best friends sounds amazing too. At the same time I’m faced with a handful of personal questions… am I ready to miss another summer? Do I want to be out of the country, away from home? I’ve already flown 35,000 miles with work in 2015. I’ve been home for less than 2 weeks in total. Do I want to take my only time off and be gone again? And though it sounds silly to most, do I really want to miss another opportunity to see Zac Brown Band fill Fenway Park with my favorite songs live? Life is short. I absolutely get that and you of all people know that I try my best not to let it slip by without challenging myself and putting myself out there to experience things that most people won’t get a chance to. A 600 mile hike through southern France and northern Spain fits perfectly in that realm of adventures. I’ve yet to decide what I really want to do, but I do promise that if I end up hiking with him, be it for the whole trail or just a segment, I’ll write about it and post it on the web.
The biggest question people who learned of my trip have asked me since summiting Katahdin is how the trail “changed me”, a topic which seemed to draw a lot of debate over the course of the holidays with family and friends. I don’t think the trail changed me much at all. You may debate this, you may have been one of those regular readers who I’ve never met who saw a difference in my writing or outlook, you may be a family member who’s known me my entire life and spoken with me afterwards to notice a difference… you’re all entitled to your own outlooks. I can tell you this though, I personally think the trail was simply an epic adventure that I needed to remind myself of my ability to face an immeasurably large task and see it through by putting my heart and soul into every move I made. It certainly has made me more aware of the petty bullshit in the world and people’s sometimes self-destructive tendencies to make mountains out of molehills. To help ballast the crazy world out there, I remain in regular contact with Santa, Pneumo, and Rocket Girl, and have spoken to many other ‘14ers who I met along the way. Statistics have been published, and all in all a reported 2,500 people began a NOBO attempt at Springer Mountain in 2014. Of those, Maine’s Baxter State Park reported that 644 hikers completed their journeys at Katahdin. Combined with statistics from SOBO and Flip-Flop hikers, an impressive 26% of attempts were successful thru-hikes.
Tallying up the numbers, I wrote just over 153,000 words about my hike… to put that in relatable numbers, a Word document of my blog printed in a size 10 Times New Roman font would take up 180 pages of paper. In the last year since I initially published 2180miles.com and set it out on its own adventure into the Internet, it has been browsed by 140,000 individual readers, and visited over 205,000 times. Many of you wrote in via e-mail or the comments section, followed me on Instagram, and consistently encouraged my trip. To this day it brings a smile to my face to think of the support you gave me. A few of you commented that you felt you knew me better than people you’ve known your entire lives. I wish I could reciprocate the feeling, but please do know that even knowing there was enthusiasm and devoted readership (or photo viewership… I admit, I frequently rambled) was more than I ever could have asked for.
I’ve hiked since finishing at Katahdin last July. My Dad and I revisited Moosilauke in New Hampshire’s White Mountains, hiking up the weekend after Thanksgiving with a family friend in a few feet of snow with deep drifts on the summit. I miss the woods, the freedom, the down to earth people, closeness of friends I’d otherwise never have met, and the solidarity that it provided. I miss trail names; despite much effort, nobody at work wants to call me Texaco. Alas I’m back fully in the real world, with a bit more weight around my waist, and my daily walking/running averaging around 5 miles.
In my spare time (mostly while on an airplane, as I currently am while writing this) I’ve begun transcribing the blog into a book. It’s both incredibly challenging and yet fun, pushing me to put more detail into some scenes while skipping over the repetitive nature of others. It’s incredible to me how sharp my recollection of the hike is, and how vividly I can picture exact moments on the Trail. Whether or not anything ever comes of this writing I can’t yet say, but I figured it might make some of you happy to know that I’ve got 30,000 words scribbled about the first 800 miles, most certainly written in a more eloquent manner than the blog.
I’ve got an idea in my head for what the next grand adventure will be, though I doubt it will happen before 2018; it won’t be hiking and it won’t be cycling. Ideally this blog will still be bouncing around on the web, and I’ll be able to get in touch with some of you about it. I hope you’re all doing well. Thanks again for joining me on this once-in-a-lifetime adventure.
Onwards & upwards,
Ryan “Texaco” McKee