MagazineAugust 2008Is it really over?

Is it really over?

This past Saturday afternoon, surrounded by friends and family, I reached the long awaited summit atop Springer Mountain and concluded my Appalachian Trail odyssey. I wish that I could coherently express or verbalize the feelings brought forth by the end of the journey, but quite honestly I can’t quite comprehend the breadth of my emotions.
The final week on the trail was an epic adventure in itself. I was without my hike-partner and husband Brew and instead joined by an A-list of trail enthusiasts and friends. With the knowledge of Warren Doyle, the energy of David Horton, and the enthusiasm of my father, we all four worked together as a team and completed a 300 mile week. Everyday seemed to mark a milestone. With Horton’s help I was able to put in a 48-mile day through the Smokies with limited resupply. Warren made it possible for me to comfortably hike at night by trusting in his impeccable knowledge of the trail and also allowed for maximum car access due to his familiarity with AT backroads. Together they encouraged me and guided me through a 64.8-mile trek on my second to last day of the trail. It was amazing to see how well we all worked together and how much fun we had while completing such a difficult task.
On my final morning, it was business as usual. I was joined by Brew – who returned to the trail Friday night, Warren, and Horton and together at 5:15 AM we began to night hike under a full moon up to the top of Blood Mountain, GA. Blood Mountain was a long-awaited moment for me. It was the same place, where 7 months prior, Meredith Emerson was abducted and then later killed by Gary Michael Hilton. I wanted so much to honor, remember, and celebrate Meredith through my hike and climbing up to the final mountain peak that she beheld I hoped very sincerely that she would be proud and thankful for what Brew and I had accomplished this summer. On top of the mountain, our team of four sat on a rock to watch the sun rise before us, the moon set behind us and share together in a time of silence, remembrance, and hope. For me it was the most touching and powerful experience of the entire trail.
When the light had finally fully overcome the darkness, I left Blood Mountain and continued on down the trail. I only had 30 miles to hike my final day, but the 64.8 miles the previous day left me feeling drained. I felt a strange emotional juxtaposition as I made forward progress that morning. Part of me was happy to drag my feet and prolong the miles as there was certainly a sense that I did not entirely want this hike, this adventure, to come to an end. However, I also was mentally fighting hard to suppress my exhaustion and finish my trek strong so that I could put an end to the journey and return home.
Not knowing how to feel it was nice to have my husband join me for the last section and together we didn’t really think or reflect we just sang. We spent about four miles singing aloud some of our favorite songs together. At times it was serious, at times it was silly, but it was an enjoyable and memorable way to conclude our summer of team-work and communication.
When we reached the Springer parking lot we were met by my Dad, Horton, Warren, our friend Big Mo, and Momma and Daddy D (Brew’s parents). Together we all hiked the final one mile to the top of the mountain together. Now, Springer mountain is not nearly as technically challenging or as visually spectacular as it’s Northern Counterpart Katahdin, but its reward is held in a mild terrain that allows friends and family members to join you on your final ascent. It meant so much to me to have so many people who I loved and held in admiration join me at the finish.
When I finally touched the plaque on top of the mountain, the clock officially stopped at 57 days, 8 hours, and 38 mins. Yet, instead of being hit by a wave of emotion I was instead overcome with a tsunami of exhaustion. It was as if all the pent up sleep deprivation and overexertion was suddenly released when I touched that sign. After a few commemorative pictures, Brew and I just laid down together on the warm rock and rested. It felt so good to be still.
Now that I am back at home, I am still tired and thankful to have time to rest and reflect. I know that the full impact of my hike will not be realized for several months, or perhaps longer. All I know is that this summer was very hard, but very good: I accomplished my dream, I fell more deeply in love with my husband, and I enjoyed the freedom and beauty of testing my physical limits within the wilderness. In the end, I don’t know how to explain what I feel, but I can say that it feels right, it just feels right.

Places to Go, Things to See: