The climb South bound out of Harper’s Ferry, WV on the Appalachian Trail is the real deal. Once you cross the bridge over the beautiful Potomac River, full of rafting boat tours and weekend river tubers, it’s a relentless 1,000ft. ascent in less than 1 mile of sheer rocks & roots. Switchbacks?, Nope, it’s a heart pounding, breath stealing straight up climb, which I quickly learned is typical for the AT. The AT likes to remind hikers that at every gap, you’ve signed up for more than just a walk in the park. So tighten those boot straps up, we are going to be doing this all day long.
Yeah, I had big dreams to thru-hike the AT, I was looking for an adventure away from the “comfort” of city life, something more that day hiking in local state parks could no longer fulfill. I wanted to challenge myself again, as it’s been awhile. I wanted to challenge myself in more ways than I could have imagined. Could I live with everything that I needed to survive, strapped to my back, with no real plan other than to walk enough miles to where I could shelter for the night? Strategy was simple, keep hiking until I need to resupply with essentials like food and water. Yes, I’ve backpacked before but this was so different. This was way more serious because I had no choice but to make progress forward, as there simply is no car to circle back to.
In the end, I made it 15 days and 161 miles before I decided to leave the trail. Failure? Hell NO, failure means that you don’t even try, don’t even take that first step, and try is just what I did. I gave it my best before leaving the trail, and I even hiked further than the moment the thoughts of leaving the trail surfaced in my head. Leaving at my first thought was too easy, so I set a personal goal to hike through what other SoBo hikers have been looking forward to since Harpers Ferry, and that was Shenandoah National Park. With this promise made to myself, I still had to remind myself of it daily in order to keep putting one foot in front of the other as SNP by all means not an easy section.
On the last day, it was 14.4 miles before I would exit Shenandoah National Park at Rockfish gap. As I finally emerged from the woods that afternoon, I stood there for a moment with an overwhelming sense of self pride and it had me grinning from ear to ear, with teary eyes, I had done it. No, I didn’t make it all the way to Springer Mountain, GA. But that didn’t matter to me anymore. I finished a more manageable but challenging section hike for me, just as I promised myself days ago, and I walked on top of mountains to do so. This adventure will be an experience that I will never ever forget, ever! The good days where great and the bad days taught me a lot about myself. In 15 days I grew as a person in so many ways it can only be described as magical and moving.
The trail is amazing in so many ways and it wasn’t always about the sights, it was also about the personal journey and of the people on and off trail that you meet along the way. I got to see some small towns I’ve never seen before, where the AT and hikers are part of the town’s culture. I got to meet some amazing hostel owners who open their homes and hearts for a very small fee to shelter and provide comfort for dirty, and I mean dirty (how did I get so filthy?), tired hikers. I saw the beauty in charming and historic towns like Harper’s Ferry, Front Royal, Luray, and Waynesboro, where the way of life is simple, genuine, and in some cases are struggling to keep the American dream alive.
On the trail, I met some of the most amazing people of all ages, from the fresh smell of day hikers who were always curious about your adventure, and the section hikers with stories of making miles and their hopes to someday complete the trails entire 2,192 miles, even hard core thru-hikers sharing their determination and focus on their mission and one goal of completing the trail within that season. However, all of these hikers, of all generations and types had one amazing thing in common, a pure love for nature and the outdoors. And what I learned from them, is that the longer you’re on trail, the more you will find out about yourself.
Life was way simpler on the trail. It comes with the unbelievable feeling of freedom that will touch your heart & soul like you’ve never felt before. I touched the clouds, I touched rainbows, I drank from streams and springs, I climbed mountains, walked in valleys and mountain top meadows, I hiked in a thunderstorm, I slept in the woods, and I carried on my back only the essentials needed for life. While I didn’t make it all the way, it doesn’t matter to me anymore, hike your own hike. I am super proud to say that I made 161.1 consecutive miles on the Appalachian Trail, and that will forever be a part of me. I am so grateful to Be_again.