On November 17,2014 Lauren and I summited Springer Mountain in freezing temperatures and completed our through hike. Right now I’m currently cuddled up in bed and enjoying the great indoors. The past few weeks have been an absolute whirl wind of events! Looking back on it now, it seems like a hazy dream played on fast forward.
As my time on the Appalachian Trail dwindled every day became more real. More appreciated. I really soaked in the full experience. When I look back at the rush of events some specific moments seem to be seared into my memory. Here are some journal entries from some of the more memorable days on the trail:
October 26, 2014: Each breathe grounds me. The meditative crunch of the leaves beneath my feet center me. Trees whisper in the breeze. Blissful patterns of light dance on mother earth. I gaze upon the crimson and golden tree tops. The colors bend and blend in rolling waves. The mountains instill in me a sense of humbleness. I feel reborn in the moment. I look up at the crystal clear blue sky. The vast expanse engulfs me. Suddenly, I feel limitless. This freedom is intoxicating…
November 3 2014: The black mystery of the night slowly gives way to the first morning rays. Shades of melon and grapefruit flood the sky. A swirling sea of clouds wrap around the mountain tops. The natural beauty and fresh mountain air purify me. A sense of gratitude wells up from the core of my being. What a joy it is to be alive! Caught in between night and day. When the moon and sun stare at each other, time stands still.
These were some of the better moments on the Appalachian Trail. However, when we were in Erwin, Tennessee there was a snow storm which made the hiking hard. There was up to a foot of snow on the ground, depending on the elevation.
November 6, 2014: Today was the first day walking in the snow. It was fun at first. Down right magical. The snow white crystal covered branches. The soft blanket of snow covering the earth. I felt like it was a whole new experience hiking the trail! Then the magical moments wore off and gave way to frustration. We were going about a mile an hour. Maybe less. My feet slowly started to freeze. Only a thin layer of plastic bag protected them. As soon as I got to the shelter I lit the camp stove and tried to warm my feet. I tried rubbing them. My friend even sat on them! They would not get warm. The temperature of my feet only raised enough to appease my fear of frost bite. I crawled in my sleeping bag. I cried quietly. Despair set in. I was so unbearably cold and anxious. We only managed to make it 6 miles that day. Could I finish in these types of conditions? 500 miles suddenly seemed like eternity…
The morning did not bring much promise. Everything was frozen. Including all my clothes that had gotten slightly damp. Particularly my shoes. I set aside my pride and stuck my feet in full blown garbage bags and duct taped them to my body. I was determined to keep the snow out. My shoes took about a half an hour to put on due to their frozen state. Thankfully, the temperatures rose. The snow melted within the week and only left occasional snowdrifts on the ground. My attitude about the AT had largely changed. I felt now as if it was a race to the end. A race to beat winter, which was setting in early this year and being in the high elevation of the mountains certainly did not help.
We packed enough food for the last 110 miles to the peak of Springer Mountain. We were determined to finish it up. However, our luck changed again and the temps plummeted. We experienced some of our coldest days on the trail as the temperatures dipped down into the teens and single digits at night. We had been hit by an arctic blast. There was a permanent chill that entered my body. I felt as if I was in an icy trap. There was no escape from the cold.
The only thing that really kept me going was the friendships that I made on the trail. Relationships out here have been a whole new experience. Spend a few weeks with someone in the woods and it will feel like you have known them for years. The bond you experience with someone when you are trying to survive out in the woods together is pretty strong. Also, everyone on the AT IS very non judgmental. I feel like there is a certain freedom that comes with that. The AT community has been by far my biggest source of support here on the trail. I couldn’t have done it without you guys!!!
That being said, I am extremely grateful to be home and surrounded by family and friends. Getting home right before Thanksgiving could not have been better timing. I have never been so thankful in my entire life. I feel like I finally understand the real meaning of Thanksgiving this year. The joy of sleeping in a bed. Waking up in the warmth. Running water. REAL food. Changing my clothes. Showering. Just being able to RELAX…ohh and so much more. It was bittersweet to end my adventure, but I know that this is not the end of my adventures. It’s ONLY the beginning ;)! Look out world!