Tales From The Trail: Nostalgia
In March 2013, I decided to hike the Appalachian Trail alone. I hiked North-Bound. My hike started on Springer Mountain, Georgia, and ended on Mount Katahdin, Maine. I began on March 26th and ended on September 30th. There are many stories from my 6–month long trip. This is about after my trip was over.
Ever since I finished the Appalachian Trail, March has been hard for me. March is when I started my hike and is a popular starting month for many hikers. I think about the people that are getting ready for their hike, the hikers that have already started, and I reflect on my own journey.
Even though I haven’t been on a major backpacking trip since 2013, I still consider myself a hiker. Last year I went out with my father for a two-day trip, but it wasn’t until recently that I went on my first solo hike. There was no backpack, but it was outdoors, so it was good enough. I picked a secluded trail with a loop so I wouldn’t get lost. And the moment I went back into the woods, I went back in time. While it wasn’t exactly the AT, my mind felt at home.
Here are things that only walking outside can do for me:
I Forgot About My Normal Life
The best part about the Appalachian Trail is that time doesn’t matter. My job was to walk. I found myself slipping back into that mindset. As someone with anxiety, it is extremely difficult to shut my brain off. How could I have forgotten that walking outside helps? For the first time in a while, I let the real world go. I took in the sunshine, focused on my steps, and danced to the music. I didn’t hike with music on the AT, but since it wasn’t an all-day affair, I brought some. I’m glad that I did because the music was another distraction and an added layer of fun.
I picked a secluded trail in the middle of the day for a reason. To be alone. Most of my time on the Appalachian Trail, I spent hiking alone. Because my Trail friends were faster, I got to walk at my pace. I learned to love walking by myself. There was no pressure to keep up with anyone, I could talk to myself, and I never worried about having to walk too far to pee. Being alone that day felt as empowering as it did in the past. Being by myself at home is one thing, but being out in the woods is primal and makes me feel confident. However, I did not pee in the public park.
Dirt And Mud
My walk was only 5 miles, but I still managed to get dirty. Towards the end of my first loop, I fell. I cut my hand, and I bruised my lower thigh. I laughed out loud. I fell every day on the Appalachian Trail, so falling again meant that I hadn’t lost who I was. It would have been more of a surprise if I didn’t fall. And, because I was alone, nobody saw it happen. My second loop around, I stepped right in the mud. There was a tiny stream that I had to cross, with muddy piles on both sides. Squish! My foot went right in. I am thankful that I never fell into the stream. But there is always next time. While it wasn’t as dirty as a week without a shower, it felt nice to get gritty.
By the end of the second loop, I was ready to stop. Because I knew the landmarks that signified the end, I kept an eye out for them. It reminded me of when I traveled with a Trail Guide that told me when there was a water source or a shelter. I memorized the landmarks each day and planned my breaks around them. Here I was again, searching for this sign, or that bend in the trail so that I knew I was almost done. I imagined going home and getting my well-deserved shower and snack. I loved feeling dirty and tired again, but I hated that I didn’t have anyone to celebrate with. This was the only sad part for me. If I were still on the trail, I wouldn’t get the shower, but I would be rewarded with seeing my other Trail friends. We would talk about the hard parts of the trail, joke around, make camp, and share a meal together. While it was nice to shower right away, I still missed the camaraderie of the AT.
Even if my experience was bitter-sweet, it proved that I could still make hiking a part of my life. I don’t plan on re-hiking the Appalachian Trail. But it’s good to know that my mind will never get rid of the lessons I learned when I was on it.