Packed up, bellies full, we headed out, down the road back to the trail. Just Jeremy and I had a long day ahead of us, 42 miles to be exact. The two of us weren’t eager to do this, yet we made a commitment to each other, that neither one of us wanted to break. This long momentous challenge we had set to achieve wished on us. The terrain wasn’t going to be smooth, we knew there would be rocks and most of it would be done at night. I hate night hiking more than anything else. It’s not the dark that gets me, it’s the ever changing shadows that my headlamp creates, distorting the terrain. Fortunately for me that was many hours away.
We talked to pass the time, that is one thing Jeremy is good at, provoking thought and inner dialogue. Who am I? An adventurer, long distance hiker, story teller, lost sole, each subject we visited in each other. This journey is defining me and changing who I am. The person I was when it left is no longer who I am and the person I will be when I finish will be different too. I worry that the achievements and life expierences I go through might alienate me from everyone else. I am finding it harder to relate to people about certain things. This trip alone has been done by just over 15000 people and that is in total, the number who have hiked it one shot is much less.
The expierences I have had are hard to quantify to people who haven’t been there. I find myself falling back into the military mind of if you weren’t there you won’t understand. Is this the right way of thinking? Can you truly understand the significance of the trail tragic? The hot, humid day, miles upon miles in the heat. The sun baking you, sweat pouring out of your body all day. Having to wring out your shirt to remove the water weight. Coming down into a road crossing and seeing that beautiful sight. That lone cooler sitting there, an offering of ice cold sodas or water. That kind trail magic that someone thought of you and the terrain. Knowing how hard it was for you today and left you a little magic for your trip. Running to the cooler, forgetting the terrain, rushing to get that sweet liquid treasure. Opening the cooler to find only trash, empty cans, or nothing. That feeling of excitement quickly fading to despair. The hope of some small victory being taken away in an instant. The fact that a cold soda could be so important to you, that could keep you going strong, ends up being a moment of emptiness, much like the cooler.
These expierences growing in number over the length of the journey define me, change me. Could I relate this to you when it’s all over? We differed in our answers to that question. His best point was not relating the act but the loss, the feeling of just missing the mark, that I could relate. We have all had that moment though, not in the same context. We talked for what it seemed like hours about the philosophy of such things. Each of us was changing out here, in the wilderness, learning about ourselves, growing, becoming better versions of who we were. How had I changed? I found myself letting go of control more. No longer needing to plan out the day, going with the flow. More fluid and more forgiving to situations and events. Nothing about this venture has gone according to plan and that was just fine. This journey is truly the best part.
We talked about our finish and how we would react. The miles passing by more of a blur than anything else. Each of us had a different vision for the summit of Katadhin, me I thought of the somber solemn moment. My thoughts circling around back to how to relate this event to everyone back home. I hoped this would not cause more distance emotionally for me. My thoughts drifting to my friends back home. I missed them dearly and I couldn’t wait to see them. The miles upon miles of Maryland disappeared under our feet as the light waned.
To keep our focus I played music from my phone, the problem was I had only 40 or so songs. By the middle of the night we knew all the words to each of the songs. This would prove to be our biggest asset in keeping a decent pace for the night. The still quiet nature of the darkness is void of sounds and the rhythm of the day. The music and it’s beat would propel us over the boulder fields keeping our feet moving while we longed for sleep. The thought of seeing my good find Lauren also pushed me. Zen had told me she was back on the trail with her father and they were just ahead of us. Just a few more miles to go to see her and her dad. I hadn’t seen her since trail days and I knew she was getting off the trail.
Sneaking into the shelter she whispered if it was me and ran over excited. We hugged and I told her it was and I couldn’t stay long, we still had about ten miles to go to get to PA. She wished us well and off I went, our moment fleeting but reassuring. I knew I would see her the next day, I wasn’t sure how but I knew it would happen. Hiking back to Jeremy we continued on during the grueling night for the last quarter. We no longer talked or listened to music. Our only focus was on the Main Dixon line, finishing that long night.
All that stood between us and the finish was climbing down the last mountain in Maryland. As luck would have it, we reached the rocky descent just as the sun came up. Lighting our way down s the rain started, it had held off all night till the bitter end. I hadn’t filled up water Ina while and my dehydration had set in hard without me noticing. By the time I reached the bottom I walked like zombie, arms slumped to my side as my feet moved without thought. I was just following the white blazes, leading me to what I hoped would be sleep. Having a clear thought I asked Just Jeremy if he aw the blazes too. In truth I wasn’t sure if I was hallucinating or not and wanted to make sure they were really there. Getting his conformation we pushed on past the PARK nd down the last bit of trail.
Reaching the sign post for the line, neither of us were excited. We only thought of one thing in the early morning hours, sleep. Each of us walked over the line and then set up our tents for the nap that would have to suffice. Both of us were heading out in the morning or afternoon, this would be our last few hours together. It seemed that the hiker wold only have a partner for a few days before being on his own again. Each of us coming together for just s short time where our pace and destinations lined up sith someone else. These few days together is how the trail was meant to be, an ever changing eye opening expierence. I knew I would meet many knew people and leave them as I hiked. Yet I also knew one day we would all come back together too. Sleep came quickly key as the rain ell on my tent.