It had been bothering me for about three years. I just couldn’t shake the niggling feeling that was always on the back burner no matter what I was doing. Spring became an emotional time, when everyone else was happy and looking forward to the warmer weather, more sunshine, being outside, I was looking backward and becoming depressed. I knew I couldn’t return to the AT and attempt to hike it again; I’d finally gotten a job I didn’t hate and I wanted to remain there until retirement, which was no longer as far off as it used to be, and being older and definitely OUT OF SHAPE there was just no way. I didn’t even fantasize about doing sections of it – I thought about it occasionally but I knew I’d never do it, there was too much to do to plan for retiring: paying off debt, fixing the property, getting loose strings all tied up. I just put my head down and got to living the life I had and left that miserable little feeling to die a lonely death.
It was early May when my friend and I were making a trip to her aunt’s house in New York. Joan had said where we were going but since I wasn’t familiar with the area and I had a lot to do before we were to leave I didn’t do my usual Google map and find out exactly where we’d be and I wasn’t driving. I couldn’t believe it when we passed the little visitor’s center that sat between both opposite running highways. “OMG!”, I shouted repeatedly. Joan was frantically looking around, her head swiveling back and forth trying to see what I saw and asking, “What?! What?!” I told her that the place we just passed was my ‘end point’ when I did the Appalachian Trail. The feeling that washed over me was surreal; all those memories of getting off and back on and then off the trail again, hitching rides, the train trip home and then back out and then home again. I was almost hyperventilating with the emotional response of being back there. Joan asked about it but I just couldn’t talk, almost started crying right then but bit my lip and remained silent. Later we agreed that if we had time we’d stop at the little center while we were in NY, we weren’t going to be far from it anyway.
Because during our stay Joan and her aunt had an entire day that they would be running what I considered mundane errands that would just give me a headache, I begged off and had made tentative plans to get a ride to ‘end trail’ destination and just poke around a bit. I was wondering if the trail ledger was still there with my trail name in it. I knew I’d probably meet many north bound hikers and I wasn’t particularly interested in any long conversations but it would be fun to just ‘see’, to just wonder the trail a little bit. I din’t have poles or my hiking boots or any other ‘necessary equipment’ and I couldn’t really remember the local terrain but I knew I’d be able to walk along without a problem for a little while.
I wasn’t surprised to find a different, newer ledger in the ‘trail box’ when I got there and I had a vague memory of climbing some built in steps made from railroad ties but I also remembered the ‘swampy’ trail at the time because the spring that I hiked was the coldest, wettest spring in recent history – misery. I took in nose-full deep breaths as I walked along, the aroma of the woods especially in spring can’t be beat. My head swam with the most weird feeling that, at first, I attributed to the exercise that I wasn’t accustomed to anymore and all the deep breathing (not just the deliberate breaths either but the deep, hard working breaths that came with climbing up little elevations) so I paused and let my body relax a little before I continued on.
The walking/hiking became a little easier and the day was beautiful; partly sunny (I always prefer partly sunny vs. partly cloudy) and a wonderfully comfortable temperature of about 60 degrees with an occasional light breeze. I had remembered to bring a bottle of water which wasn’t as easy to tote along as a Camelbak would have been but I was glad I had it. I was a little surprised I hadn’t seen any hikers either. That created a small bit of discomfort but when I was on the trail there’d be hours where I didn’t see another human so I just ambled along and tried to harvest all the possible memories that I could from my own adventure.
The bird-songs became loud, almost thunderously so and I remembered noting that from before – how the absence of ‘civilization’ noise made the noise of nature so overwhelming at times; it made my imagination think of being an explorer in a jungle. The foliage was becoming thicker in places and the trail sometimes dwindled to a narrow path with barely a couple of yards visibility. I didn’t really remember this being the case before, not on this section of the trail. I remembered more wide paths through the state forest in many places paved because it was a tourist attraction and a well used picnic and tenting site. I was starting to hear the sounds of running water and my mouth watered a little. I though I’d better stop and refill my bottle because, despite it being spring time, sometimes it was too far between water sources for my comfort; I like having plenty of water – nothing worse than being hot and sweaty and dehydrated.
The brook was full and running wildly and I stretched my legs to move from one rock to another to get across, managing to keep my boots dry. On the far side where the water was running fastest, I squatted and submerged my filter end into the deepest section and pumped my bottle full. Taking a moment to sit on a rock, I dangled my legs and ate a couple of Snickers snacks and just soaked in the freedom of being on this legendary trail. I just never tired of taking in, being conscious of the opportunity to be here. I drank water until I was full and then filtered more refilling the Camelbak. Rising to a standing position, I leaned backward to flex my back, rolled and stretched my shoulders, then hoisted my pack back on, grabbed my sticks and continued. I couldn’t stop smiling; this is a dream come true.