Last Thursday, September 7th, I summited Mt. Katahdin in Baxter State Park and completed my northbound Appalachian Trail thru hike. The 2189 mile trail took me through Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine. The hike took me exactly 24 weeks, about 5.5 calendar months. This averages roughly 91 miles per week and 13 miles per day (including zero days, wherein zero miles were hiked). I imagine that my average daily mileage not factoring in zeros and neros would be in the upper teens. The cumulative elevation change of the AT is equal to 8 roundtrip climbs of Mt. Everest. I carried my full pack every day and hiked every mile. I cut not a single corner.
I climbed hundreds of mountains, hitched dozens of rides (everything from riding in a truck bed through the Smoky Mountains, to a Korean couple roadtripping across America with their mother who has Alzheimer’s, to a semi truck ride with an ’85 thru hiker), encountered 7 bears and 1 moose and screamed when I saw a 5 foot black rat snake, outran a thunderstorm on a fully exposed bald in pounding hail, wore through 4 pairs of shoes (finished on my 5th), lost 30 pounds despite consuming upwards of 5000 calories a day, swam in mountain streams, spent nearly a month completely alone save for occasional lunch company, spoke with more veterans than I’ve previously had the privilege, forged several (hopefully) lifelong friendships, journaled through 7 notepads, flung my wedding ring off a cliff, and ate Snickers and Skittles every goddamn day. I crashed to the ground after rolling ankles, chafed my toes to blood, cracked elbows and shins on countless rocks, developed an outrageously itchy rash that spread across much of my right side (resulting in my one Urgent Care visit), drained blisters buried under calluses, bruised the majority of my left palm, strained my Achilles tendon, faceplanted in pits of mud, hiked through bouts of insomnia, and played host to countless bugs.
I invited myself to a table of Iraq war vets at a biker bar in middle of nowhere West Virginia and chainsmoked over conversation about life’s unpredictability and the unexpected skills you pick up along the way.
I accomplished every single goal I set for myself and experienced so much more than I knew to hope for. I had the adventure of my life.
I watched a season of growth pass before my eyes. The brown vistas and bare tree limbs of Georgia soon gave way to the first blossoms of spring life, unfolding into a vibrant palette of summertime greens, bursting into the reds and yellows of New England fall. Watching nature takes its course ingrained in me an essential truth: some things need to die for new life to begin. Fallen trees become home to countless new sprouts of flora and decomposing leaves form the fertile forest floor.
Such was the case with my marriage. That toxic relationship needed to end so that my life could bloom in full. It’s hard to believe that at this time last year I was struggling to get out of bed. I knew intellectually that the pain caused by my ex-husband’s infidelities and lies would eventually pass, but that provided no comfort in the moment. I had never been so unmoored, felt so lost. I was treated as though I was worthless, and somewhere along the way, I started to believe it. The AT came into my life exactly when I needed it. In many ways, it saved me, or at least provided the perfect conduit for me to save myself. The preparation gave me a sense of direction that fueled and focused my internal spark. The execution forced me to draw from wells of physical strength and mental fortitude that I didn’t know I possessed.
After months of reflection in the (occasionally harsh) embrace of nature, I now paradoxically see the divorce as both the worst and best thing that ever happened to me. It knocked the wind out of me, sure, but it also incubated a primal drive to take a big risk and bet on myself; to take back control of my life. Everything happens for a reason, and all that.
As my body slowly recovers from months of unrelenting exertion, my brain continues to digest the mammoth scope of what I’ve accomplished. On its face, I feel an overwhelming sense of pride. Pride in what I was able to do, pride in my choice to believe in myself when I was in such a dark place. This is still the tip of the iceberg. I feel whole in a way this is strikingly new. I am incredibly activated to tackle the next phase of my career as a writer and actor. I have a refreshingly clear sense of the relationships, social and romantic, that I want in my life.
My thru hike is complete, but I will still be updating the blog! Next up: an entry about my final hike up Katahdin. I’m excited to continue sharing my thoughts as they develop and fill you in on the direction my momentum carries me next. In the past week alone, I completed a thorough edit of a play I’ve been writing for years that has been hovering around completion. I’m extremely happy with the piece and plan to start submitting it to theatres soon. I’m about to begin researching triathlon training regimens and I have mentally committed to running my first marathon in 2018.
Major thanks to everyone who has reached out with messages of support, and to you, Reader, for following me on this insane undertaking. I hope that my experience has sprinkled some of the Appalachian Trail’s very real magic into your life.
If you are ever considering tackling the AT yourself, be it a section hike or the whole package, feel free to reach out with questions! Especially if you’re getting hung up on reasons why you shouldn’t commit or fearing that the learning curve will be too steep. I had never backpacked for more than 2 consecutive days when I started and I hiked alongside people in their 60’s and 70’s. Adventure doesn’t have to be something that only exists for other people.