I’ve had people ask me what was the best experience I’m taking away from my thru-hike. After thinking about this question over the course of my journey, I believe it’s the many smiles this adventure has given me.
Hiking hours on end, usually tired, thirsty and hungry when out of the blue and many times in the middle of nowhere, you come upon a cooler full of cold sodas or Trail angels cooking up some burgers while relaxing in a chair they provided and then eating this wonderful, hot delicious food and chugging down an ice cold soda or brew, puts a huge smile on your face every time.
Sitting on top of a mountain above the tree line and clouds, watching a bald eagle soaring below me; a bear napping in the woods; a moose peaking around a tree at you, all these special encounters with amazing wildlife who coexists with us in this amazing country of ours, gives me a smile, a sense of wonderment and deep sense of appreciation.
By a lake, or the top of a mountain, witnessing the moment when daylight shifts to evening and the sky takes on a warm, soft glow while colors of reds, golds and yellows paints the world to the horizon, is my favorite moment of the day and always puts a smile on my face.
People you meet on the trail brought many a smile – the AT is filled with people from all backgrounds, ages and temperaments each with their own goals and reasons for hiking. I was very fortunate to meet and hike with people who not only genuinely enjoyed their hike but generously shared their enjoyment and their true spirit for the hike. Their kindness, laughter and words of encouragement truly lifted my spirits to continue on many a time and for many a mile.
Many of the hostels I stayed in throughout the journey were excellent but I have to say Maria McCabe in Salisbury, CT is my number one. Maria is 80+ years young and is truly a friend to every hiker who rests there. Hearing Maria’s stories and appreciating her kindness definitely puts a smile on my face.
A lot of a hiker’s focus is on hiking to our next food source at trail towns located on or near the trail. Some of the small villages rely on hiker traffic to help sustain the local economy and we equally rely on their resources to fill our bellies and resupply our packs. Partaking in the local establishment’s food and brews, tends to put a big smile on your face and much needed calories in your belly.
Upper Goose Mountain Pond Shelter in the mountains of New Hampshire, is located next to a beautiful mountain lake and if you arrive there in a true hiker condition such as I did – hot, sweaty and dirty, a dip in the water was a gift not to be declined. As I was enjoying the cool, crystal clear water, looking down I saw several blue gill swimming close to my legs and taking little nibbles. It put a smile on my face and kind of tickled.
Sometimes the day gets long, your legs are weary and the whole thing starts to seem impossible when suddenly one of your favorite tunes starts playing in your ear buds. Before you know it, the miles melted away, the spring returns to your feet, a smile hits your face and your confidence returns – you got this.
The first part of the trail is all about the physical challenge but as the miles pass, you start to get your trail legs making the physical component easier – but, and this is a big but, the mental aspect of the hike kicks in and you start wishing you were home more than anything but then, just when you need it the most, a hiker box from home is waiting for you at your next hostel, filled with baked goods and notes from home – talk about a smile.
Slack-packing, does it get any better than this? Your honey or sometimes a hired hand, drives you to the trailhead in the morning, you have nothing in your backpack other than water and food for the day, and you hike to your predetermined pick up point where your chariot awaits you to whisk you to a hot shower, warm food and a soft bed. Smile heaven.
Hitting milestones – when you first start out, those milestones seem pretty small – 100 miles – you only have 2,090 to go! But those milestones add up and when you reach halfway point you really are feeling like you’ve accomplished something and your smile, well just like your miles, it’s gotten bigger too.
The saying goes, no pain, no rain, no Maine – it’s so true. The thunderclouds are gathering, the wind is starting to whip and you can just smell the rain getting closer. From your Gut Hooks app, you know the next shelter is close but as you race to it, your thoughts also begin to race – will it be full or will I need to put up my tent in the downpour and get soaked to the bone so I have to wear wet clothes all day tomorrow? No, wait! There’s one bunk open, the hiker Gods have smiled and so do I.
Bugs spray, sweat and just plain dirt are a daily ritual but getting to step into a hot shower every 3 – 4 days at your next hostel for resupply and freshly laundered clothes would defiantly have me smiling, and sometimes singing.
Getting to a trail head and needing to get into town that’s seven miles down the road, and hitching a ride in five minutes flat after putting out my thumb will put on a smile.
Hiking in the wilderness for several days and reaching the summit of a mountain to discover you have cell service so you can call home will make you smile and do a little dance.
In so many ways, hiking the Appalachian Trail is like a job – a very demanding job – from the planning stage to implementation, the constant logistics, persevering thru snow, sleet, rain, floods and fire, the physical demands and the mental endurance it requires, this job is unrelenting 24 hours a day / 7 days a week for 5 – 6 months of your life. In spite of this I learned to embrace the inconveniences and would not change one moment of this experience, because you see, it is the greatest adventure of my life.
Setting a goal that will require you to dedicate over five months of your life to hike over 2000 miles is a daunting challenge. And that’s what I wanted in this adventure. To push myself passed what I may have considered was my limits. They say only 25% of the thru-hikers will make it all the way. I wanted to be one of the 25%. And when you are touching the iconic Mt Katahdin sign signaling the end of your journey and this tremendous adventure, this brings the biggest smile of them all.