As of 12:45pm yesterday, July 14th, we completed our adventure on the Appalachian Trail. It took 104 days total, 96 of which were spent hiking and 8 of them were days off in Myrtle Beach, SC. As of 12:45pm today, I’m currently riding in a rental car, on my way to Washington, DC for the evening and then on to Findlay, Ohio tomorrow. In a matter of 24 hours, I have changed roles, clothing and general outlook on different aspects of life.
Optimist and I reached the top of Mt. Katahdin yesterday, accompanied by Rumblestrip, a fellow thru-hiker that we’ve been hiking with since the end of New Hampshire. Upon reaching the top, we found that we were not alone, as there were at least 30 other people who had day-hiked to the top from one of several campgrounds in the area. It was a dramatic finish in the sense that we arrived at the top of a mountain with sunny skies, panoramic views and a sign announcing our arrival to the finish line that I’ve mentally pictured for the last few months. We lifted our arms in exultation, received the praise of the surrounding hikers, and took several finish photos. Rumblestrip simply couldn’t stop looking at the sign, for fear it just might disappear and the finish wouldn’t yet be real. We also had a celebratory Little Debbie Nutty Bar while Rumblestrip had a Snickers bar.
On the other hand, the feeling of finishing such a long journey was much more subtle, quiet and as simple as saying, “That’s it. We’re done.” And just like that, we were finished and starting on the downhill, figuring how to get to a town. We were no longer thru-hikers at that point. It was the end of the trail life and the beginning of what’s next as soon as we reached the end. I imagine the feeling of being finished will come with time, when I’ve spent strings of days in a row of waking up in a bed, showering regularly and lacking daily miles to cover.
As for flipping the switch, we now travel once again by car, we have turned in our hiking clothes for cleaner “civilian” clothes, and I now count calories to be sure I’m not consuming too many. The hiker hunger hasn’t left yet, but since I won’t be covering over 20 miles a day anymore, I have no need for 5000 calories a day. We drove to a Target this morning on our drive to DC and I picked up clean clothes, flip flops, a razor and deodorant. I even asked the checkout guy at Target if I could put the clothes on in the bathroom after purchasing them, and his reaction definitely let me know I was no longer on the trail. I went into explaining that I’d just lived outside for over 3 months and didn’t have any clean clothes until I went home to Ohio, so he was a bit more understanding, but probably thought I was crazy nonetheless. To explain this feeling of finishing a trail and leaving the towns lining the trail, I think of the Wizard of Oz in saying, “We’re not in Kansas anymore.” My stench is no longer forgivable, trail magic doesn’t go far beyond the trail, and it’s time to re-enter society and all the habits that come with it.
I have so much more to say about the trail experience as a whole, but at least wanted to write down these initial thoughts about finishing and entering the real world once again. I’ll be putting up lots of new photos and videos in the next few days. Thank you to everyone who has joined us on this journey, whether through reading these stories, sending us care packages, giving us trail magic and everything in between. And don’t worry, with a mind like Optimist’s, when he’s had over 3 months to conjure up new adventures, we’re not ever really finished…