Every day I find myself thinking about our time on the AT, slowly realizing that you don’t have to do a thru-hike to have the trail change you.
With only a quarter of it behind us, I feel different. Simple things are appreciated, like turning on the faucet for water. Being inside on stormy days. And eating meals that don’t require being cooked in one pot.
The five hundred miles of hiking were the most demanding physical thing that I’d ever done. Sure, in my thirties I ran 5 and 10Ks. I rode my bike thousands of miles, and even ran a bunch of triathalons. But with all of these activities, they were “part time”. After the run, bike or swim, I returned to my everyday life. Our hike was everyday life! Even on those nights in town in a motel or hostel, you were still on the hike. There was laundry to do and groceries to buy.
Even these simple tasks are so different when you’re on the AT. It was rare that there wasn’t a line to use the one washer. And it was an opportunity to see the world in a unusual way. At many of the hotels I shared the laundry room with people on the road chasing jobs, moving from place to place. Most of them were away from home, missing their loved ones. Or sometimes those loved ones would be right there, full family in tow. Several times outside the laundry room door I’d see trikes, children’s toys and a charcoal grill.
Knowing how lucky we were to be able to step away from what others would call a normal life, and spend our time hiking in such beauty, made us more appreciative and more aware of the world around us.
Grocery shopping while thru-hiking is another new and different experience. There’s no need for using a cart. If what you have is too heavy to carry through the store, then you don’t want it in your backpack! There’s no need to try buying what’s on sale! Those “buy one get one free” specials are rarely items that you’d want to be carrying. As you exit the store, you don’t just walk out to the parking lot and hop in the comfortable car. You just start walking. If you’re lucky enough to be going back to a motel room, you unpackage almost everything you bought and spread it out on the bed. After each of our grocery trips, we filled several of the little motel trashcans with boxes and unneeded wrapping. We placed each day’s meals in small piles, and made another pile just for snacks. Seeing all this food spread out in front of you, you start thinking how is all that going to fit inside the packs!
It’s a known fact in the hiker community that the longer you stay in town, the heavier your pack becomes. Even with all the miles behind us, that pack seemed heavier every time we left a motel.
I find myself thinking about what I learned while hiking, or about how I’ll do things differently next time.
I now know that I can live out of a backpack. That all I truly need can be carried with me. I know what it feels like to look back over my shoulder, at the mountains that I just walked over. To see the tiny little dot in the distance, that I know is a fire tower, that I walked by earlier in the day.
I now know that I could walk almost anywhere. It may not be quick, but given enough time, I’ll get there!
Recently a hiking friend asked me what my favorite part of the hike was. I thought of all the beautiful places I had been, and seen. The feelings of being surrounded by nature. And about how good it felt, just knowing that I had done it. But what came to mind was the fact that I wasn’t alone. When I came to a breathtaking waterfall or mountain view, Sandy was there beside me. In our five hundred miles, there was never more than ten or fifteen feet between us. We would often walk in silence (yes, I can do that!).
When we started this hike, my biggest fear was that it might mess up a wonderful new relationship. But instead it made it stronger! Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, is a lot of time to spend alone on the trail. But if you’re with the right person, it is truly a blessing!