::: Beardo’s Thoughts:::
Already a month back..
Five-ish months of walking around in the woods was a good thing. This isn’t a surprise as it is what we like to do anyways. Experiencing every nice day of a summer and fall, catching every blue sky/sunny day, and star/moon lit night was excellent and one of the wonderful things of being on the trail. I think the experience of being outside all day, day after day and night after night increases ones range of comfort-ability – and I mean that with regards to temperature, dirt, smelly-ness, and aches….and maybe even rain (though that may be me romanticizing rain). I recently read a quote that gets at my feelings on this; “Somewhere along the line, we seemed to have confused comfort with happiness” – Dean Karnazes
I enjoyed the experience of doing this as a married couple. We met lots of folks that were out solo and had a spouse or serious partner at home. The few days that I had that experience were difficult. Sweet Pea and I are rarely at odds with each other generally and have worked together for several years now, spending each day on the trail together was never a challenge.
Walking every day for this period was something that I really dug. It came fairly easy and natural to walk this amount and not feel burnt-out on walking. My creative thinking seems at its peak while exercising at a moderate level, such as involved in hiking, so I felt inspired most days. I liked the length of a thru-hike of this magnitude as the goal is far enough away that it is pretty arbitrary until you are almost at the end. It was pretty easy to enjoy the journey on a day by day basis, and not need to be focused on the accomplishment of the whole trail as a motivator. I’ll do another big trail again hopefully.
Favorite sections of the trail – Maine’s lakes are great. I didn’t expect them to be so many, and there were opportunities to camp by them..really beautiful. Vermont’s pastoral spots were really neat to walk through after the more mountainous hiking of Maine and New Hampshire. Shenandoah Nat’l Park was far more pretty than I remember when we lived nearby 10+ years ago. Great trails, several vistas each day along with waysides to grab some restaurant food made the SNP pretty fun as a thruhiker. Virginia on the whole was a pleasant surprise.
Many of the places were not as difficult as others had mentioned they would be. Pennsylvania’s rocks weren’t that terrible, the White Mtns in NH are more beautiful than they are difficult, Mahoosic Notch is more fun/challenging than it is a struggle.
A surprise to me was the amount that I enjoyed the social aspect of the trail. We aimed to stay near shelters much of the trail, even though we didn’t sleep in a shelter until the last 400 miles. I believe I would enjoy hiking the AT again for this reason..new people most days, and several great folks that we enjoyed traveling with for extended periods. This would also be a reason that I would consider hiking the trail northbound.
::: Sweet Pea’s Thoughts :::
So, we finished the trail just over a month ago even though it feels a lot longer than that. Funny how an experience can feel so far away as soon as it ends. I wouldn’t say it ended abruptly, as I had been counting down the days and miles for a few weeks, but it is still strange when we got to the end and there was no more of the trail left.
Thru-hiking the AT will probably stick with me as a major experience in our lives. We hadn’t gone backpacking for more than two consecutive nights before starting the AT, so just being on the trail for five months is a big confidence booster that I am capable of a lot. I believe that major life experiences often teach that lesson “that we can do anything”….being a Peace Corps volunteer, being a foreign exchange student…these experiences always showed me that I can do whatever I put my mind to.
I know I wasn’t the strongest or fastest hiker on the trail, but I learned my strengths and weaknesses and used those to get me down the trail…I’m an early riser, I hike at a steady pace…I turn into a grump if I am still hiking at 5:30pm, I am super slow on steep downhills. I tried to take all of my “hiking quirks” as not bad/good, but just the way things are and kept putting one foot in front of the other.
Hiking the trail as a married couple was a great experience. We spend a lot of time together in normal life, so spending all of our time together on the trail was not new for us. It was great to be able to have this shared experience, as well as the shared interest in hiking.
There where many highlights on the trail…spending so many beautiful days outside, meeting so many great people (fellow hikers, trail angels, hostel owners), amazing sunsets and sunrises, fall foliage through the Shenandoah NP and Blue Ridge Parkway, the simplification of life on the trail, getting to eat whatever we wanted and not having to worry about gaining weight, getting into really good physical shape…I’m sure there are more that are just not coming to mind now.
As for the lowlights…hiking in the rain, putting on soaking wet clothes and shoes in the morning and heading out into the rain, hiking in pain (blisters at the beginning of the trail and hip pain in the middle and at the end of the trail), being cold, feeling rushed each day to make miles…as with the highlights, I’m sure there are more lowlights than I am coming up with now.
But do the highlights outweigh the lowlights? Absolutely. I feel really blessed that we had the opportunity to hike the trail and even more so that we were able to finish the trail together.
:::: At some point, we hope to do some gear videos that go through our gear again, what changed and just some thoughts on the what we used.