The next 700 miles are going to be totally different from the 1400 miles behind us.
This manifests in a few ways. For one thing, we’ll be starting anew physically. In the three and a half weeks we’ve been off the trail, our bodies have softened–just in time to hit some of the more challenging New England terrain (I’m looking at you, New Hampshire and Maine). We’ll have to build our trail muscles again. Add to that an ankle that’s still healing (mine) and a persistent knee injury (Spider’s)–there’s a recipe for slow-going. For another thing, all the hikers we’ve met are ahead. All of our friends are hundreds of miles north of us and there is small chance we’ll hike with them again.
It’s like we’re starting the A.T. all over again.
The long break has affected Spider and I differently. I feel utterly determined to finish the trail, and to do so as soon as possible—this is just bulldog stubbornness. Spider has been reluctant to continue our hike while I’m still limping (a reasonable position), and trips to the beach have piqued his interest in other adventures. Neither of us is enthused by the swampy, mosquito-infested trail in New York.
Still—we’re going back to the trail tomorrow because we’re in the middle of our big hike. We’ve got miles ahead of us. We have nothing else lined up.
We want to finish, to stand atop Katahdin—we do it for the glory, for the accomplishment, for the bragging rights. We do it for a sense of completion. This is the test, the mental and physical hurdle, that we have to overcome to succeed. We can do it.
For me, personally, finishing my thru-hike is important. I am uninterested in an exit strategy, in bowing out in favor of listless days with electricity and showers and refrigerators. I want to go back to the woods, to sense my surroundings step by step by mile and through days and weeks and months. If it takes a while, so be it. Barring further injury, I intent to make my way to Maine, to retrace my steps these last 700 miles but with this powerful distinction—this time, I will finish; this time, I will go all the way.
This hike, somehow, has become less of a walk in the woods and more of a test of mettle, of hardiness and perseverance, a signifier of power and possibility. This hike certainly reflects the challenges we’ve faced (snow, cold, rain, heat, humidity, bugs, injury, burnout), but it will be ultimately defined by our strength rather than our obstacles. Yes, I can hike; yes, we can go all the way to Maine. We’ll tackle whatever is thrown our way.