It started simply. My friend Crystal asked if I wanted to go backpacking with her in the Smokies to Icewater Springs Shelter on the Appalachian Trail (AT). She has been working on section hiking the AT for years and it only took that one relatively short overnighter for me to catch the fever. There is something so fascinating and almost magical about the AT. In our day and age of high speed connectivity, jets that can transport us to the other side of the planet in hours, access to trains and automobiles to get us from point A to B with very little effort; the AT stirs something primal in me. There is a unique feeling knowing that you are on a footpath that goes for 2,190 miles. You can literally walk one foot in front of the other from Georgia to Maine if you put in the effort and time. It is far from an easy walk in the park but the hard work and reward are all part of the appeal.
And the beauty - the trees, the birds, the sunrises, the sunsets, the mountain streams, the salamanders, the bears, the rocky outcroppings, and the vistas that remind you how small we are and how vast our gorgeous earth is. All of this coupled with the physical effort of hiking up and down mountains puts my body and mind into a peaceful state that I just can't achieve in my everyday life. Or maybe it is the fact while hiking I am not being pulled in a million directions, answering to the never ending "Mom! Mom! Mom!" I don't feel the weight of the dishes, the piled up laundry, the spelling words that need to be practiced, the work data that needs to be entered, the presentation that I have coming up that I haven't looked at yet, and the constant juggle of therapy and medical bills and the aging cars. While hiking up mountains carrying everything I need to live on my back I feel lighter and FREE. I smile a lot. I listen to the birds singing and feel the cool mountain breezes on my sweaty arms. I feel blood pumping through my body and I reminded of how damn good it is to be alive and be LIVING.
Since I caught that fever back in August 2015 I have tried to "sneak" in as many hikes on the AT as possible. It is very difficult to add anything to the already bursting at the seams life of parenting two young kids and working a full time crazy, traveling job. But if I have learned anything the last few years as a working parent it is "WE CAN DO HARD THINGS." I typically get my fix with a hike and I feel content and happy for a bit. But then the fever starts building and I find myself dreaming of being back on the trail. I start thinking through scenarios of where and when I can get my next fix. I start asking my friends when they might be free for a hike. I start getting my AT guidebook out at night and looking at potential sections I could hike in a day, two days, three weeks, three months. And then when the stars align and I get something scheduled the excitement really builds. I then start planning the shuttle, the mileage I hope to get each day, the landmarks along the way, the elevation gains and losses.
Crystal and I are heading out in a few days for our next section. We are going to climb the two highest peaks in Virginia, Whitetop Mountain (5080 ft) and Mt. Rogers (5,729 ft). We have our shuttle scheduled and I have been calculating the mileage and eying the elevation gain with nervous anticipation. I am working on prehydrating my body and eating good healthy proteins so I feel as good as possible. When you are miles from the nearest road or even cell phone signal you want to be in the best physical condition you can be! I can't wait to be out there even though I know I will have moments of "why the hell did I think this was a good idea?" But I also know that the moments of freedom, peace, solitude, beauty, and accomplishment will outweigh the frustration. The mountains are calling and I cant' wait to go!