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Appalachian Trail Dispatch: Monuments

Editor’s Note: Blue Ridge Outdoors contributor Chris Gallaway is currently thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail. He will be periodically checking in with BRO and sharing the story of his hike. This is his fourth dispatch from the A.T. Read his other dispatches from the trail: A Cold Start, Trail Magic, and Difficult Winter.

Many people come to the Appalachian Trail looking to leave a mark. They distinguish themselves by hiking faster or longer than others, by carrying the least amount of weight or the most, or more commonly by scrawling their name and message on the shelter walls (we Purist hikers frown at this!). As most people find, the Trail ends up leaving more of a mark on us, revealing our character and personality in new ways and impacting our life and outlook. The impact the Trail has is evident in the number of people who place burial markers along the way. Between Watauga Lake and Damascus, Virginia the ridgeline is peppered with small cemeteries and markers. Some are old family plots; some commemorate hikers who loved the AT. The most memorable marker for old hermit Uncle Nick Grindstaff reads simply: “Born Dec. 26, 1851 – Died July 22, 1923 – Lived alone, suffered alone, died alone.”

We’ve been hiking a long time now. Two months of life on the Trail has already shaped me in ways that I expected and ways I didn’t. I am most comfortable moving at a walking pace now–highways and traffic unsettle me. I’m a few pounds lighter, and my white chicken legs are strapped with more sinew and muscle than ever. I’d like to say that I’m a more patient, grounded person, but I’ll leave that for other people to comment on. It’s hard to believe that I’ve only made a quarter of the journey. There is so much time left and Trail to discover, and I feel the excitement of that thought flutter in my gut like happy butterflies.

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