Day mileage: 0
AT total mileage: 1,368
The Appalachian Trail is about adventure, self discovery, and pushing yourself to achieve great personal goals. Such things, despite what many may think, are not attainable alone. They require a support system built on family, friends, and sometimes even complete strangers in order to keep moral up and motivation strong. In the 70 days I've spent on the trail, my family is what I've missed most. More than driving, more than work, more than sleeping in, more than hot showers, and more than food that doesn't required adding boiling water.
On Wednesday afternoon at 1630hrs as I crossed over New York 17A, my amazing cousin Callie picked me up in her Subaru and drove me back to her house in Poughkeepsie, NY. For a month we had been planning this, a gigantic secret where she would retrieve me from the trail and we would drive to the rental house my grandparents and close family were staying at for the week in Rhode Island. As you may remember, a 60th wedding anniversary was coming up, so Callie and I decided that June 12th, the day of their anniversary, was the day to arrive. They would know she was coming, but nobody - not even my parents - would know I would be there as well. Callie took me to buy some clothes on Wednesday night (driving the hour home with the windows down, as I smelled quite bad apparently) and after I took a long shower, we headed out to get dinner and see a movie. How strange it felt to wear cotton, drink cold beer, and go to the movie theater... Arriving back at her house I inflated my air mattress and pulled out my sleeping bag on the living room floor despite the offer for a bed. At 0800 Thursday morning we planned to depart for Rhode Island.
Waking up early, I took another shower and watched some TV before having some cereal and packing my gear up. Despite my wanting to 'save' my first time driving for behind the wheel of my Audi, Callie asked me to drive her car to RI so she could sleep more. Luckily it wasn't a total bust, as the Subaru is a 5 speed. Off we went with a 2 hour drive ahead of us, grey clouds in the sky, and occasional rain falling. My driving was a bit more cautious than normal, as I'm used to a much slower pace of life in the woods. I consistently left a fair amount of space between myself and the car in front of me, and throughout the drive would apply cruise control so I could bend my knees up and stretch my legs. They're not used to being stationary for so long. We arrived at the beach house around 10:45 and debated how to 'surprise' people with my being there. In the end we decided to just walk in, and actually had the fun of surprising three separate rounds of people as some were out shopping when we arrived.
Round 1: My dad, and two of my aunts. All greeted Callie who came up the stairs first, then looked at me and glanced away before their eyes darted back in disbelief and some choice words were said. Tears were present all the way around.
To surprise the next group, I decided I'd wait in the bathroom then come out nonchalantly once they were settled. The next people to come back to the house were my aunt and my mom.
Round 2: Waiting in the bathroom for a minute or two, I walked out to my mom who was standing with her back to me. Approaching from behind I put my hands on her shoulders, and when she said 'hi' (expecting it to be my dad) I said hi back, at which point she tensed up and quietly said 'no....' Turning around with already bloodshot eyes and tears pouring out. This was the reaction I was most excited about.
With my grandparents approaching the house after going for a walk around the beachfront neighborhood together, I retook my hiding place in the bathroom and waited for them to come up. After greeting Callie and carrying on normal conversation, I approached them. They were thrilled, and there is of course a video that does much better justice to the scene than my writing, which I can't seem to post. There's a photo that might do a decent job.
We took a family photo on the beach, and spent the windy and overcast afternoon in the house talking over lunch. Some worked on a puzzle (a staple in our family vacations) while others read or played on iDevices from across Apple's product line. There was a moment while getting lunch ready that the influence of the Trail really hit me. Through no fault of their own, as I was choosing what to eat, many people were speaking towards me at the same time. Combined with being in a house I'm unfamiliar with and trying to get my bearings, I became exceptionally overwhelmed quite quickly. The commotion really got to me in a way I wouldn't have expected. Everything settled down, but it was still eye opening for me to see a first hand effect of being on the trail for all this time in quieter more isolated living situations. Though many don't see how there would be a 'readjustment' period after completing an Appalachian Trail thru-hike, this was my first realization that I may really need some time to adjust afterwords.
I took a long nap, exhausted after walking 800 miles in 30 days to meet Callie in order to be here for the day, and awoke to a quiet house with everyone doing their own thing. We had dinner reservations to celebrate my grandparents anniversary, and I dressed in my new khaki shorts and blue t-shirt that our quick stop at the Poughkeepsie Target store had provided me with. Seriously, don't take wearing cotton for granted. After two months of nothing but polyester, it's practically like wearing kashmir (Seinfeld reference anyone?). Dinner was wonderfully entertaining as we heard stories about my grandparent's early stages of their dating years. We took a family photograph before heading back to the rental house for ice cream and cake.
I spent the night in my sleeping bag, on a bed, with a window open and the sound of the waves crashing up on the shore. Rain is forecasted for the next day, and per the weather maps, the area of the Trail I was in are forecasted for flood-rains. Despite losing another day on the trail, I'll be spending the day in Rhode Island on Friday as well. I think I've hiked enough to earn another day off, out of the rain, and with a family I love. The Trail will still be there Saturday when I return, and the weather is calling for sunny skies and warm temperatures. I think that will be a much better situation to begin hiking again in.
Onward and upward, but not for another day.