For over a year I have carried pieces of the Appalachian Trail in my heart and my mind. When I was on the trail for six weeks last fall, the WordPress app stopped functioning, so my good intentions of keeping this website updated fizzled with every passing day. I journaled in my tent or in shelters every night, desperately attempting to capture each day in handfuls of words that could never accurately portray the emotions or experiences I was having. These paltry attempts are now the skeleton of a story I will try to recreate over the coming months.
Not a day goes by without me thinking back to the trail in New England. To say it was the happiest time of my life would be an understatement. Every day since I came back last October, I have attempted to squeeze myself back into a life that often feels confining and unfamiliar. In the mornings before work, when I halfheartedly wake up and force myself to drive 10 minutes to a local trail, I find the woman I became last year for just a bit. My husband patiently deals with my morose days, the times I talk about aching to be outdoors, my disappointment with corporate life, feeling like I’m not contributing anything worthwhile to the world. Even though he doesn’t understand it, he encourages me to hike and go on trips, telling me to “find my happy” knowing how vital these times are to my existence.
This past year, I was lucky enough to set my feet on the AT again in Shenandoah National Park, and also from Hot Springs, NC to Damascus, VA. Neither of these sections were easy for me. Shenandoah took place in July, where bugs destroyed every inch of exposed skin on my body, the summer heat was so intense during the day that we woke up at 4 am to get going, and my trail legs seemed to have disappeared altogether. But new friendships were made, old friendships were rekindled, and another 100 miles passed beneath my feet. Hot Springs to Damascus also presented some challenges with a tropical storm, days of rain, and a chest cold that took weeks to go away. But once again, there were friends along the way, foggy days gave way to sunshine with many beautiful moments, and another 200 miles was finished.
No one could have anticipated what this past year would bring, the devastation, loss, confinement, grief, and fear. In the midst of those very real things I somehow managed to find more joy and adventure than I would have thought possible given the climate. Living within driving distance of Great Smoky Mountains National Park translates to weekends that hold endless possibilities. While the term “social distancing” became part of everyday vernacular, I found adequate space in campgrounds and backcountry sites, breathing fresh air that stirred through the leaves as I slept. With over 900 miles of trails, the park offers solitude even on the busiest weekends. There were countless miles enjoyed alone beyond sight of another soul to stir the necessity for precaution. The outdoors providing a safe, welcoming space is not a new concept in my life, but my need for wild places was driven home with every quarantine guideline released by local governments. Once again, I retreated to the mountains and they filled every need.