When I first started my thru-hike of the Florida Trail this past January, I had the idea that I was a pilgrim on a journey to reconnect to myself. Every morning I would arise from my tent to greet the dawn in quiet meditation. I prepared my breakfast with intention and ate it in gratitude. I tried so hard to focus only on each step I took, to contemplate the beauty around me. But even amidst all of the ritual and natural surroundings, I was still fighting a battle within, a battle between my life before the trail and my life on the trail.
I started falling into a pit of depression and there was no one around me to talk to about it. Alone, I turned to my journal to reflect on my innermost thoughts. When that method wasn’t enough, I would call friends and family. But it was difficult to express what I was experiencing to them. It wasn’t their fault, but it only made it worse. I needed someone who was going through the same transformation I was going through, though I didn’t know it at the time.
On April 4th, I finally began my thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail. The trail official starts on Springer Mountain in Georgia. In order to get to the summit, tradition has us start at Amicalola Falls State Park. We take an 8.5 mile approach trail, which includes 604 stairs adjacent to the beautiful Amicalola Falls, purported to be the tallest waterfall east of the Mississippi River.
Multiple landings allow one to catch their breath and to take in the magnificence of the rushing water of the falls. It was on the first landing that I met JT, who would later earn the trail name Feel Good. Feel Good initiated the conversation, asking me if I was there to begin a thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail. I responded affirmatively. I didn’t know it at the time, but I had just met the person who would become one of my closest friends on the trail.
We hiked together for about 300 miles before our respective speeds led to our parting ways for a bit. But in was in those first formative miles of the trail that I learned what I was missing on the Florida Trail – the companionship of a fellow pilgrim.
Since then, I have met hundreds (over a thousand?) people, all seeking some small bit of fellowship in the wilderness. We each hike our own hike, but we all shared in the same struggles. We all had painful days, rainy days, sad days. But we also shared in the joy of a meal, took in the beauty of a view together, and were glad when we accomplished feats we weren’t even aware we were capable of achieving. These are the people I wish I had to fellowship with on the Florida Trail.
My journey is not yet over. I still have 600 miles until I finish my hike. My best guess is mid-November. I’m looking forward to finishing. And I am fortunate to have a small cadre of folks who are still hiking south toward Harpers Ferry, WV. But now I know that even if I have many days of hiking on my own, there are now folks I can call to share my struggles and joys with, people who have also been there and done that. Whether we realize it or not, we need one another.
They say that life after the trail can be hard to readjust to, especially when the trail makes things so much simpler. I don’t want to readjust. I came out to hike in order to readjust from the person I was before to a more whole person. And that is now my struggle for the next few hundred miles – to wrestle with how to make sure I can take what I’ve learned out of the wilderness and into everyday life. Wish me well. I’ll let you know what I find.