I met Regina Reiter at the Trail Dames Summit two years ago, impressed that she was my age and working seasonally as a Ridgerunner for the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, looking after hikers and the health of the Trail. She spends much of her time encouraging women to get outdoors. She shares her story, entitled “Journey to My Heart,” here.
“There has to be some way out of this besides dying!” I lamented. I was miserable in my life. I was just willing myself to get up every morning to put together a day of tasks from my endless list of “things to do” in my passionless life. I could find the beauty in each task and work with gratitude that I had an easy life. I was a master at “making the best of the life I had chosen.”
One day, a quiet voice inside said, “The Appalachian Trail is near here. Go check it out.” I discovered that the nearest trailhead was Woody Gap, about 90 miles away. We drove there and headed north on the AT. It was a simple path. “So this is the iconic AT that thousands have walked, I whispered. At that moment, I felt a rush of energy of hikers whose feet had passed that spot. Such an insignificant trail, yet so alluring! So mythical! “If I just keep walking, I’ll get to Maine!”
For the next three years, we came back two or three times a year, hiking consecutive sections for increasing lengths of time – a day, an overnight, four days, a week, then 100 miles in ten days.
I wouldn’t have to die! I could hike the AT and my husband would do it with me!
Three years later, his enthusiasm for hiking the Appalachian Trail climaxed with walking for a full month on the Trail. We had reached Catawba, Virginia, 693 miles from the southern terminus. My call to finish the AT came by surprise in a job interview! Claire Hayes, director of the Dunwoody Nature Center, was finishing up her questions. “Anything else we should know?” Out of my mouth tumbled the words, “One of my life dreams is to hike the Appalachian Trail.” Her response, “Well, we wouldn’t want to stand in the way of a life dream.”
At that moment, I knew I had blown the interview and yet that was ok, for I had declared my dream and Claire had helped me clear my path to pursue it!
In late June, 2007, I stood on Mt. Katahdin, Maine at the northernmost point of the Appalachian Trail. I was cold and hungry, and a little worried that I might be in danger of hypothermia. That first climb had been unexpectedly strenuous. Yet, I still celebrated the beginning of this journey. I had finally cleared a path in my life to walk the whole trail, even though I had to do it without my husband.
The daily rhythm of the sun, walking in the mountains from sunrise to sunset, breathing fresh air and feeling the wind, dodging thunderstorms and walking through gentle rain set an inspiring stage for connecting with the constant and wondrous creativity of God, encouraging me to entertain a new perspective on all the physical and emotional challenges of being human. This vibrant life refreshed my spirit and revived my enthusiasm for living. This sensory banquet was enhanced with the sensual delights of a budding partnership with a fellow southbounder who shared a common upbringing as a middle child in a large family.
I loved being in the company of someone who said “thank you for walking with me today” or “I enjoy being with you.” I loved myself being a hiker, getting to be outside walking all day long and camping out at night, day after day. I felt good in my own body and I felt good in my life on the AT that really seemed like a whole separate world from my life at home.
During the seven months of my walk, my husband rarely had the time or inclination to chat with me so I nestled into the titillating company of my new hiking partner and let the two worlds coexist. I reveled in the idea that the Universe had worked out my fulfillment by allowing these two worlds to satisfy my wholeness with two partners – one for my sensuous self immersed in Nature, and one for my pragmatic self settling for a commonly accepted idea of urban married life. I leaned in to the cosmic humor that had given both men the same name.
That was seven years ago! I’m still hiking. I had walked that Appalachian Trail to get hiking out of my system and return home to settle into a “real job” and stay married. Instead, I discovered that walking in Nature, transforming myself, letting my heart sing, and guiding other courageous people who want to walk a similar path IS my system.
I walked several other long-distance trails, including the Pacific Crest Trail, the Superior Hiking Trail, the Foothills Trail, and did four traverses of the 288-mile Benton MacKaye Trail in each of the four seasons. As I completed the Pacific Crest trail nine months after the AT, I made a second life-changing declaration. “I will earn my living hiking. I will hike in service to others.”
Fulfilling that dream has launched me into another metamorphosis from shy, independent homebody to creative, generous, and visible entrepreneur. I earn some of my living talking with hikers on the Appalachian Trail as a seasonal Ridgerunner for the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. I divorced my husband and sold the house, choosing to use the investment for supporting my nomadic lifestyle rather than limiting me to the same place. I created Forgiveness Walks to blend the two worlds of the trail and the city, enticing courageous heartsingers to heed their own heart’s call, clear their path, and step into their dream with vibrant energy, fulfilling relationships, and freedom from their path. And I walk!