I woke, I laughed, I grinned until it hurt…today was the day I would complete the Appalachian Trail.
It was surreal.
I set off for the mountain, full pack on my back.
The climb was steep and challenging. At one point I had to remove my pack and lob it ahead. There was rebar and scrambling and amazing views.
The weather was spectacular.
After clambering up to a false summit, the trail turned mellow. It was a gradual smooth ascent. The northern terminus was just over a mile away.
I reached the top and began to approach it very nonchalantly. But as I waited for the day hikers to finish posing for their pictures with the sign, the terminus, it all just hit me…and I started to cry. The weight of the distance travelled over the last 5 months and 10 days, the land I gazed and slept and trudged and frolicked through, that picked me up and taught me things; the changing seasons and the changing self… it all, it all just washed over me.
“I’m sorry.” I said to no one in particular. “I did not think I would get so emotional.”
“Where did you start your hike?” A lady asked.
“You hiked the whole thing!?”
“Yes.” I smiled.
After I climbed down from the sign, two men came up and asked to shake my hand. Katahdin may as well have been the top of the world.
Though it looked quite, uh, harrowing in its beauty, I was up for the challenge. Though many thru-hikers turn around and head back the way they came, back tracking is not my style. I would take Knife Edge to Pamola Peak and descend via the Helen Taylor trail. This would bring me to the Roaring Brook Campground, where I planned to hitch in to town.
Knife Edge was certainly a challenge. I could not decide whether to laugh from the thrill or cry from fear. In the end I both laughed and cursed in bewilderment and strange admiration.
I made it over the edge and down the connecting trail to the Roaring Brook campground. It was too late for a hitch. It was dark. I hobbled in to the ranger station and asked for a campsite. He asked if I had a tent. I told him that I was carrying my full pack. He looked at me like I was crazy and told me that there was one site available that I could have.
Two men from Montreal had overheard my conversation and invited me to join them for Spanish wine. I smiled and left to find my site.
I could not find the site in the darkness. I liked the idea of company. I found the men and asked them if the offer still stood. We all sat around their fire and sipped wine and they made me dinner and we had lovely conversation. They asked what was next. I told them that I planned to hitch-hike across the country. They offered me a ride to Montreal if I was still there on Sunday.
I was so happy.
When it was time to retire, one of them helped me locate my tentsite.
“Thank you! Good night!” I said.
I set up my tent, crawled inside, and fell asleep…dreaming of my next adventure.