I woke up in Luray feeling refreshed and ready to hit the trail. I walkedout of my room and there was Raiden walking out of a room adjacent to mine. He proclaimed “holy shit its the law!” Then the rest of my crew filed out of the room in slow procession. Sheila ran over to me, dancing around and whining; followed by Bernard, Papa Oats and Bilbo. Our hiking crew being back together was a sigh of great relief for me, as I was coming off of the most depressing stretch I’d had on trail.
That day had much talk of the poor weather, not so fond memories of the Shenandoah’s and plans of making Harpers Ferry by July 1st. It’s tough to say why exactly it was this crew that I had stuck with the longest; but we all just clicked for some reason. Pushing each other forward like a team training for a big game. This camaraderie was something I’d been missing since my some 12 years of playing competitive sports.
As I mentioned, the week before we all found each other again was the worst for me mentally. With every step I questioned my motivations for finishing the trail. With every panting breath I questioned my purpose in life. It wasn’t until Bernard and I hit the trail again that day that I realized why I had been so down on myself. I had lost my sense of purpose in life.
From age 6 to 18, I’d been an above average athlete. Baseball. Tennis. Football. Basketball. I was generally the most skilled player on any given field or court. Until I hit high school, at which point I still garnered high respect from each competitor, teammate and coach. It sounds conceited to say now, but it is the way of competitive sport. Believe you’re the best to become the best.
Well, I wasn’t the best, or the biggest, or the strongest. Other than in my own high school bubble, I went completely unnoticed. There were no recruiters (other than some small D-3 inquiries) and there were no fans. Just me. Time for college as just one thing, a student. This wasn’t an issue, as I had always found academia to be fairly unchallenging. So, now without sport, there was nothing else to challenge me. No teammates, no competition. Just me.
It feels silly to say that I’ve been grasping on to this notion of being an athlete for this long. I don’t think I even consciously tried to, or understood that was happening; at least not until this past week. I’d worked so hard at my passion for sport that I’d pushed everything else out. There was no room for any other passion or discipline to flourish.
The past 1024 miles have opened my eyes to this fact. I never let go of the idea of being an athlete. I never reinvented myself. Now, that notion is gone, and I am striving to find and master the things that I love most deeply. The things that will ultimately define me as a man in my life’s work. It is frighteningly exciting.
There’s no telling what I will conclude while walking the rest of the some 1126 miles of this trail. I am sure that, now that I’ve deciphered the reason for spinning my wheels for nearly a decade, I can plant my tires on solid ground and drive forward into my future; uninhibited by my past and open to the road that lies ahead. Sometimes the hardest part isn’t letting go but rather, learning to start over.
With all of that introspection out of the way, I can tell you what’s been happening on the trail…outside of my head. The last 120 miles have flown by. We arise early, and finish early. 25 miles is now an easily attainable task before sunset. We all hike at different paces, except for Barnard, Sheila and I. When coming across new people on the trail, we are the passers, not the passees. Generally averaging around three miles per hour.
Last week we encountered a Blue Maccaw named McLeod. He and his owners love to day hike, and are also planning a thru-hike one day…so long as they can find a way to keep McLeod warm at night. Maccaw Jackets…new business idea. Brilliant.
We were also fed a free meal from the Stonybrook Farm at the Blackburn AT Center. The group that runs the farm is a cult-like “religious” group of which the name escapes me. They were all very generous and accommodating, just gave me the willies. That night Bernard, Sheila and I hiked out of the Balckburn center at 830pm. We hiked 12.5 miles through the darkness to arrive in Harpers Ferry at 2am on July 2nd. This was my first real night hike. The Cool weather, bright full moon and overly fragrant flora made for a beautiful hike.
Although the hike was grand, arriving in town at 2am proved to be a poor choice. Harpers Ferry is a historic site and camping on historic sites is prohibited. So, of course, we cowboy camped on the porch of a civil war era Confectionary. We picked this site because it was flat, dry, and there were American flag banners hanging on the railings. Thus giving us a little bit of cover from Rangers/Cops should they be in the area. We arose with the sun, having had the worst three hours of sleep either of us will probably ever have. There was one plus though, no tickets or handcuffs.
That morning we reunited with the gang and rounded up to go into DC for the Fourth of July. Bilbo is from Arlington and graciously offered to let all five of us dirty hickers stay with him and his family for the weekend. Mattox family, if you’re reading this, thank you again for your generosity. I felt at home and had an amazing, relaxing weekend.
Now, after a few too many drinks, and a USWNT World Cup Victory last night…I sit on porcelain throne, awaiting our ride back to the trail. Three days off has been rejuvenating, but I’ve become restless thinking of what left the trail has to offer. If you’re looking for pictures, I’ve posted a good bit of them on my Facebook page, find them there. For now, I leave you with this quote.
“In every walk with nature, one receives far more than he seeks”
– John Muir
May the forest be with you.