It’s the last day of May. I came home on the 29th around midnight. I’d been on the AT for 37 days and I’d finally had a meltdown.
37 Day Summary:
I’d done well with what I packed and what I thought I would and wouldn’t need. I brought some stuff that I sent home before I even started – and then needed to have mailed back to me. I brought some stuff that I thought I wouldn’t really need/want – and subsequently also sent home.
I spent the first two weeks with bleeding, weeping toes/feet from the skin having blistered and rubbed raw. Other thru-hikers thought I was done, finished but I persevered and hiked 12-16 mile days with those throbbing feet until I finally got a pair of boots. I thought, “this is the beginning of a new kind of hike”.
I had a good week or two after that but then the monotony set in and the questions: why am I doing this? who really cares but me and do I really care?
I was so lonely hiking alone for hours of the day. All I could think about was my family back home. At the end of the day I was relieved to reach camp/shelter and find my ‘tribe’ (or some of them – the trail dictates when and where you arrive, not you) – we talked about what we saw, who we talked to and what we discovered, what we liked or disliked about that day.
The running ‘joke’ about the trail was the constant damp or rain: 32 of the 37 days I was on the trail is either rained or rained intermittently. We had two above-average hot days and two partly sunny days that were perfect for hiking. Otherwise, we were constantly wet from both sweat and rain. And, it was cold. You reach camp, try to dry off and get your one pair of dry clothes on, hunker down in your bag. In the morning you get your wet clothes and boots and put them back on..pack up and head out for another day.
My feet were my first problem then it was my legs/knees. They constantly ached with stabbing pains. My toes and the balls of my feet were numb constantly. My nights were sleep deprived due to either the cold & wet but mostly due to my painful leg cramps.
Many of my tribe were due to get off the trail (planned, arranged or not) and spend some zero time with their family. It was the 37th day and I was spent, cooked, done. My legs ached, I was tired and inconsolable. I just wanted to go home. I just wanted my family.
NY, rain and departure:
I can tell you that many days had their ‘trail magic’ and had their highlights. I thoroughly enjoyed all that I met on the trail. The days that were hardest and I thought, ‘there’s no way trail magic is going to fix this’, I was wrong.
Three of us had humped our asses over NY ascents, rock climbing, descents, bogs, etc. for 11 (eleven) hours to reach a shower we were informed was available. By 5:30 we were met with disappointment and we were told we had to back track to a shelter for thru-hikers (where we knew there was a rogue bear that was not afraid of people entering the campsite and stealing not only food bags but back packs) – we refused.
I met a man at the fountain who was exercising his dog. We talked. I eventually asked if he had a truck to which he replied “no, why?”. I said it wasn’t far but I wanted a lift back to the trail. I returned to the public bathroom to finish my ‘bird-bath’ (washing from the sink) and when I came back out my tribe called me to the picnic table. The man had returned with his car and offered to take us to his home for the night. (Heavy rain was in the forecast for the next 24 + hours). We accepted. We went to his home, showered, did our laundry and slept in beds. The next morning he’d gone out to buy breakfast food and made us a meal better than any restaurant (he’s a chef). We drank coffee and packed and made it back to the trail by mid-morning.
There was something profoundly emotional about the whole scene. I just wanted to stay warm in a comfortable home and drink tea. I wanted rest. What I realized I wanted was my family, my home. Comfort. I cried for the next three miles to the next shelter where various members of the hiking community were huddled down under a dank roof from the rain and cold. We all talked about how miserable it’s been. Two members knew they were getting off in a few days and were motivated to move on the the destination. Someone else said, “I’ve thought all morning off getting off. I’ve done over 300 miles of the AT and that’s more than anyone I know has done”. I blubbered that I just wanted to go home. I made up my mind. The next road or opportunity I was off.
Up the AT 2.5 miles was a throughway with a visitors center 0.5 miles from where we would be crossing. I would hike to the center and just ‘punt’ from there as to how I’d get home.
Through a taxi (called by the woman at the center) to a town where I could get on Amtrak and then get to Boston for Concord Trailways (bus) home – I arrived about 11:30 pm. It was a long ride but I was so satisfied that I’d made the decision to get home.
Expectations vs. Reality:
It’s been two days. I keep thinking about the trail, about my tribe. They’re scattered now. I think I will get back to the point where I departed but I am not feeling really sure about that. I am not disappointed in myself. I feel like I’m in limbo…not sure what I will do, not sure about what I want.
I hoped for magic. I hoped for some answers. I hope for a change in my life.
I got all three but not in the way I had expected. The reality is that you make changes in your life, try something new and then learn something new. My life is full with my family. They are the most important thing to me – more important than a dream. I can have both and maybe I still will. It’s a wide open future and I can do what I want but I’m glad I took a break from the trail, from the unrealistic push to keep going when my body and mind were telling me to stop.
If I get back on, I’ll need to make some more adjustments to make my life on the AT a little more tolerable. That’s a decision to be made another day. Right now I’m going to spend some time with my kids and grandson. We are going to have a hot meal and socialize, catch-up. That will carry me forward.
Addendum: June 1st. I found out today that my daughter is pregnant with my second grandchild – perhaps getting off the trail was ‘destiny’ or Trail Magic at it’s best!