I’ll begin by venturing into the past. It’s May 11th, 2014 in Emory, VA. My restless leg typewriters back and forth as the anticipation of graduating from college overwhelms my senses. My name is called; I walk to the stage, grab my diploma, and return to my seat. Just like that four years of schooling is over and the rest of my life stands before me. I can still remember the overwhelming feeling of excitement.
To be honest though, as excited, as I was to graduate, my mind remained fixed on one thing. For months before I spent countless nights awake, tossing and turning, thinking of what lied ahead for me. I had been planning a thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail and was counting down the days, the seconds even, until it was my time to set foot on the footpath that would carry me to Maine. My pack had already been loaded for about two months, the shoes I was going to be hiking in were already on my feet.
On May 12th, 2014, one day after graduation, I took my first step north. I was so eager I basically skipped the first five miles. Overrun with the weight of what I was doing and what had just happened a day before, I found peace with every step. I completed the AT on August 26th, 2014, 106 days later. Just as quickly as I began, it was over.
Now it’s April 2016, two years after my thru hike of the AT. Every time I see a white blaze or step foot on the trail, memories barrage me, feelings from a monumental time in my life bring me back.
As Jess and I walk the one-mile section of the AT towards Blackrock Summit, I notice the concrete trail signs pointing out which way is north on the AT. Naturally my body wants to go north. But we head south instead from the Blackrock Summit trailhead at mile 84.4 in the South District of Skyline Drive in the Shenandoah National Park, and soon, we arrive at the impressive vistas. A densely wooded trail leads you to a gigantic scree and talus field. A cold, strong wind blows from the east as we skip from to rock to rock reaching the summit as the sun begins to fall.
Both Jess and I mosey in our own directions. I tuck myself into a split in the rock. The wind howls, but I am warm. The sun highlights the clouds. I can almost see myself two years ago walking through this very place. A familiar feeling comes over me as I look to the valley below. I think of the lessons I learned about myself and the time spent in the woods. I can feel the temperature change as the sun falls out of sight.
Everyday I remember the distances I would walk and the motivation that each step required both mentally and physically from me. These detours that Jess and I frequently take are a constant reminder of the growth that I have done as a person.
Though I’m physically present, my mind re-walks the steps I took. I will forever be grateful for the wild places, places of incomparable magnitude that take me back to a time when life came a step at a time.