The Last Adventure

Life can be filled with adventure. Or it may be spent quietly at home, in a gilded cage of routines and responsibilities. We get to choose how we live. Eventually, however, we run out of choices. We face the last adventure: Death.

The mighty tree has fallen…new life begins…

I haven’t written any blog posts in the past six months. It felt like I had little to share. I wasn’t pursuing epic adventures nor was I making much art. I was staying involved with my folks as my Dad’s time here on earth was coming to an end. His heart beat its last rhythm on April 28, 2017

It felt like this was a time of small deeds, of simple words, of loneliness and isolation. Looking back, however, I realize these same things are elements of what makes an adventure “epic.” It is in overcoming obstacles large and small that humans are stretched beyond daily routines. According to the American Heritage New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, an epic adventure is “any task of great magnitude.” Looked at through that lens, these past six months have indeed been a big epic! What can be greater than helping a loved one move on to the next world even while helping oneself and others grieve that loss here on earth?

My dad lived a life filled with adventure. He traveled many places around the world, both for pleasure and to help others. He adventured on the water and on long road-trips across the United States. He finally fulfilled his dream of taking epic motorcycle trips—to all four corners of the USA and even in the back country of The Gambia, West Africa!

In the past year, Dad gradually lost mobility. Other health issues limited the time he could sit in a plane or in a car. His last trip was to visit family in Montana (my son and his brother) and in Idaho (his nephew). He treasured the memories of that adventure, even in his last few weeks.

Although his health was declining rapidly, Dad enjoyed a family gathering at the end of the year. He was “tickled pink” to welcome a new grandson-in-law to the family and meet the fiancé of another grandson. A few weeks after the party, Dad realized his prayers had been answered: he had the opportunity to see his family members all together one last time.

During the winter, Dad’s world continued to shrink. He could no longer go to the airport to say hello or goodbye to traveling family members. With the cold weather and his limited mobility, Dad enjoyed the few days that were sunny enough to sit outside. Eventually, even getting to church became too much for him.

I sat with Dad weekly through the winter and early spring. Talk meandered here and there: sometimes reminiscing, sometimes talking about practicalities of medical issues, sometimes just sitting together in silence. I treasured those times…and so often I cried myself to sleep on those nights. How can you bear seeing your dad struggle more and more with life? How do you say goodbye to your dad?

In the last ten days of his life, Dad’s world closed in around him, even though he was still at home. He was confined to bed. He needed help to eat or drink. He couldn’t even move without assistance. My siblings stayed at the house twenty-four hours a day, helping Mom to care for Dad. I came in each day, to give the caregivers a break. During this time, my sister and I spent hours playing his favorite hymns. He took comfort in the music just as he found moments of calm in prayer.

And there was waiting, lots of waiting. Dad dozing and crying and begging for the waiting to be over. His family staring out the window, taking walks, seeking the comfort to be found in nature. All of us asking God for hope and comfort and a peaceful passage for him into the next world.

At one point, near the end, Dad asked “When will this trip be over?” Finally, he took his last breath, and started his new journey. We are still grieving his loss…but this photo summarizes the last adventure quite well:

The mighty tree has fallen…new life begins…

When I Grow Old

When I grow old…I wanna be like my mama. She turned 79 years old yesterday, and she is still adventuring. She is, obviously, slowing down. But she won’t let that stop her from still living fully, stretching herself occasionally to the limits of her physical abilities, whatever those may be at a given time.

For many years, my mom has looked for an epic adventure to celebrate another year of living. For her 70th birthday, she and I went downhill skiing in Portillo, Chile. Another year, my middle sister took Mom for a hot air balloon ride. Two years ago, Mom learned how to use the old wind-surf board as a stand-up-paddle board. (Don’t ask how many times I fell in the river trying that, okay?!) paddleboard grannyMany years, Mom celebrated her birthday by taking a long canoe ride on the river she lives beside—sometimes solo, sometimes with a friend. She spent a few hours to paddle upriver to a park, had a snack, then paddled home, approximately 14 miles round trip.

Years ago, Mom enjoyed backpacking trips on the Appalachian Trail. Our first time hiking together, we were joined by her sister-in-law and a friend. Later, she took a number of trips to introduce grandkids to backpacking. mom and I, first AT tripAs her strength has declined, Mom has been able to carry less and less gear. For the past few years, my youngest sister and Mom have day-hiked together, meeting at Shenandoah National Park. By staying in a lodge or at a campground and driving to different sections of the park, they have gradually completed most of the 104 miles of the Appalachian Trail located in the park. One more trip should finish their self-imposed challenge.

(photo taken by Joanna Fischer)

(photo taken by Joanna Fischer)

This year, Mom and my middle daughter met my youngest daughter and I near the end of our 5 week section-hike on the Appalachian Trail. Mom joined us for the steep climb beside Crabtree Falls in Virginia. At the top of the falls, she walked back down by herself as daughters and I headed back to the AT for another 5 days of backpacking. crabtree falls VA, hiking grannyThe story of Mom’s continued adventures was told around campfires and passed on from hiker to hiker along the Trail. Everyone applauded her spunk. One southern backpacker said, “I wanna be like Granny when I grow up!” So do I, so do I…

The Pursuit of Happiness

“Happiness is the settling of the soul into its most appropriate spot.” – Aristotle

According to the founding documents of the United States, along with Life and Liberty, the “Pursuit of Happiness” is an inalienable right. Common wisdom says each of us needs to find our happy place: the place where we feel at peace, where we relax and let the worries of the day slip out of our mind. For some this renewal is found at the beach, for others it is felt in the mountains or the woods or the barn. Sometimes we need to retreat to our happy place alone. But other times, we want to share that joy with our loved ones. But what happens when my favorite pursuits are “meh” to my partner…and vice-versa?

By now you know that I love to be in the woods. I am invigorated by a day hike. I find peace by backpacking for weeks at a time. I am fortunate that my youngest daughter finds restoration in nature. (I’ve blogged about that HERE and HERE.) We are a good hiking team together. happiness_hiking partners_zaleski state forest

For me, there is something hopeful about seeing a path leading to unknown destinations, heading further and further into the woods and mountains. I enjoy the anticipation of what lovely things I will see around the next corner or over the next hill. I love to feel the ground under my feet and see the details of trees and rocks as I slowly hike on by. happiness_hiking trail_zaleski state forest

For my husband, walking in the woods is a means to an end, a way to get to the destination. His mind tends to focus on the goal. Even though it brings him no great pleasure, he occasionally joins me on a day hike, knowing this is my happy place. He supports me in my pursuit of happiness defined by weeks in the woods, driving daughter and I to our starting point, taking care of things while we are gone, and picking us up when we are ready to return home. happiness_hiking together_my passion

On the other hand, my hubby loves to explore the world by flying his small plane. Many times he takes to the air for only an hour or two. Occasionally he takes an epic adventure, flying across the country to see new places from above. happiness_flying_cessna 172

When hubby is flying, he finds freedom in knowing that he is not accessible. When the night is clear, he loves the feeling of flying among the stars and watching the lights twinkling across the horizon. When the winds are calm, he finds peace as farmland or mountains or canyons slowly unroll under his wings. happiness_flying_farmland

Unlike some wives, who are afraid of going up with their pilot husbands, I don’t mind climbing in the cockpit with my husband. I know this is his happy place and he wants to share his joy with me. From the air, I notice the signs of humans, a very different feeling than being comforted and awed by nature itself. I don’t often choose to fly with him, but I support his pursuit of happiness defined by flying above the world. It may not be an inexpensive hobby, but it is worth the cost for him to find peace and happiness in a stressful, busy life. (And I love that our youngest daughter is discovering the joy of flying with him. She is gaining the best of both of our worlds!) happiness_flying together_his passion

It seems to me that this mutual respect is part of the inalienable rights described in the Declaration of Independence. I can’t define his happiness and he doesn’t define mine. We each have the individual right to our own pursuit of happiness. And we gain joy as we support and encourage each other along the way.

Wandering Women

I am a wanderer—sometimes physically, sometimes in imagination. Somedays I wonder where this nomadic, gypsy gene came from. And then I realize my mom has always enjoyed travel—with her family, with her husband, or alone. I guess it is no surprise that the wandering hasn’t stopped with me. My daughters have been well trained and continue the tradition: exploring the world near and far, physically and in imagination.

My oldest daughter recently sent me this poem. It describes our family well…

Among Women By Marie Ponsot

What women wander? Not many. All. A few. Most would, now & then, & no wonder. Some, and I’m one, Wander sitting still.

My small grandmother Bought from every peddler Less for the ribbons and lace Than for their scent Of sleep where you will, Walk out when you want, choose Your bread and your company.

She warned me, “Have nothing to lose.”

She looked fragile but had High blood, runner’s ankles, Could endure, endure. She loved her rooted garden, her Grand children, her once Wild once young man. Women wander…As best they can.

(source: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/poem/245898)

Here are some photos of the wandering women in my family:

My mom backpacking with her grandson, Summer 2000

My mom backpacking with her grandson, Summer 2000

My mom backpacking with me, a decade ago

My mom backpacking with me, a decade ago

My mom continues to dayhike on the Appalachian Trail with my sister (photo by Jo Fischer)

My mom (in her 70s now) continues to dayhike on the Appalachian Trail with my sister (photo by Jo Fischer)

I've been in Europe with each of my daughters.

I’ve been in Europe with each of my daughters.

My oldest daughter has lived and worked in Central Asia and has wandered in Europe.

My oldest daughter has lived and worked in Central Asia and has wandered in Europe.

My middle daughter has wandered Europe and parts of Asia.

My middle daughter has wandered Europe and parts of Asia.

And as you know, my youngest daughter and I have been adventuring on the Appalachian Trail!

And as you know, my youngest daughter and I have been adventuring on the Appalachian Trail!

Walking the Trail…of Grief?

I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order. ~John Burroughs

I expected physical challenges when my daughter and I set out on our Big Epic to hike the Appalachian Trail for 6 weeks. I understood we would, at times, be stretched to our limits, and that this would require mental stamina to overcome physical obstacles. I knew there were things I was hoping to sort out for daily life back home: how my primary role might change, how to best help daughter overcome disabilities, where to focus my time and attention, and more. It seemed to me that this “discovery process” was the healing and order I was going to find while my body was busy with hiking and my mind was free to wander. A rough hiking trailOh, I knew there were many who headed to the trail to find deep healing from trauma or overwhelming grief. That is a common reason to leave civilization behind, at least for a while. I even met some of those folks: a fellow who left everything behind when his mom died, a pair of older women reeling from difficult divorces, a young man who was basically homeless. But, obviously, this was not MY reason for going to the trail. Me? I was seeking adventure!

And then…I found myself sobbing when I saw a walking bridge over I-70 in Maryland. So many times, I had driven under this bridge, wishing that I could be hiking the AT, not really believing it would ever happen. Now we walked across this bridge. As drivers below honked and waved, I smiled through the tears, happy that “my turn” had finally come. It freaked my daughter out to see me cry, but it was easy to write it off as a funny sort of joy. AT Bridge over I-70The more tired I became physically, the more often I found myself with tears running down my cheeks while I hiked. I cried after chatting with a red-headed thru-hiker…who could have been my red-headed son who died almost eight years ago and who never had the chance for this sort of adventure. I cried when my hips ached…because that son could never have managed the stresses of backpacking after injuring his hips with competitive figure-skating. I cried to see how stable my daughter was while in the woods, unlike the debilitating anxiety she faces in town. After all, how can she live forever as an elf in the woods?

What was WRONG with me? I was a hot-mess, riding a roller-coaster of unexpected emotions. Typical of my usual way to attack life, I hesitantly started talking to other hikers we met along the way. (Okay, so the hesitation wasn’t usual for me!!) I asked why they were on the trail. As mentioned above, a few were running away from trauma or seeking healing from grief. Most were simply taking a break, were fulfilling a dream, or were looking for the “what’s next” in life. On the surface, THEY didn’t seem to be dealing with a wild ride of emotions… AT roller coasterBut as I confessed my struggle with unexpected emotions, these hikers slowly shared a similar story. Almost every person I talked with had been surprised by tears. This strong man sobbed at the beginning of his thru-hike because his mother was no longer alive to follow his adventures. That young man had cried in his tent on many lonely nights, after the break-up of a long-term relationship. There was a woman who was sad at the distance between herself and her grown children; another one with tears over dreams she had put aside to raise her family.

Since returning from the trail, I’ve searched other blogs. I’ve read more trail journals and autobiographies. I don’t see this effect of the trail mentioned anywhere. I’ve tried to stuff it down, burying these memories under all memories of celebration and achievement. After all, we had an Epic Adventure! But…this story keeps coming back, over and over. Apparently, it needs to be told. Sometimes, when we go to nature for other reasons, we discover grief we weren’t looking for. I’ve spent months processing on this…and I realize this isn’t a “beast” to be feared. It isn’t an indication of something “wrong” with me that must be fixed.  With a change of perspective, these wild emotions morph into something positive. Although it certainly doesn’t feel soothing in the moments that tears run down my face…this experience is gradually bringing more order to my emotional world.

Beauty? Beast?

Beauty? Beast?

I’m finally ready to share this story…and, as I start to plan our return to the Appalachian Trail in the late spring, I recognize I will most likely find more tears along the way. And…that’s okay.

The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

Just like the main character in Judith Viorst’s classic children’s book, we had a day where everything was frustrating and we just wanted to quit. On this particular day, we were attempting a longer than usual distance for us which made it even more challenging to continue putting one foot in front of the other. In talking with other hikers, these are common feelings during the first few weeks of a long distance hike until one’s mind and body both strengthen…

I went to sleep in the Ed Garvey Shelter but the owls were so noisy I didn’t sleep all night. When I got out of my sleeping bag this morning it was really cold and by mistake I slipped on the fancy stairs and hurt my broken toe and I could tell it was going to be a Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. steep steps

At breakfast my daughter had her favorite breakfast drink and another hiker fixed an omelet rehydrated meal that smelled yummy but my breakfast bars had been crushed to crumbs so small they couldn’t hold the peanut butter. I think I’m gonna quit hiking and go on vacation in Tahiti.

When it was time to leave, one hiker was already packed up and saying good byes and my daughter was still slowly sipping her hot chocolate. I said, “I could use some help.” I said, “this stuff won’t possibly all fit back in my pack.” I said, “we are always the last to leave.” No one even answered. I could tell it was going to be a Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.

When we finally got on the trail, my daughter hurried ahead and took the lead. When I wanted a break, she said I walked too slow. When I looked at the map, she said I was ignoring the side trail to an interesting overlook. Who needs overlooks? I could tell it was going to be a Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. trail

I could tell because when we finally took a break and got our snacks out of our packs, I dropped my bag and the M&Ms fell on the ground and my daughter said I was obviously not a long-distance hiker because I didn’t choose to eat dirt-covered M&Ms. I said, “I hope the next time you open your pack your Snickers bar falls out and lands on the beach in Tahiti.”

She still had dried mandarins in her fruit mix and pop tarts in her snack bag and a day hiker gave her a bottle of flavored water. I had only peanuts and crumbly granola bars left for snacks and plain spring water that wasn’t even cold anymore. It was a Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. break

That’s what it was because I was already exhausted and we weren’t even halfway through the downhill climb. My daughter was still full of energy and we met a trail-maintainer going the other way who climbed up the rocks like a mountain goat. “The ‘Roller-Coaster’ is a few days from here and it’s even harder than this,” he said. “Next week,” I said, “I’m going to Tahiti.”

On the way down the steep mountainside, I was afraid I was going to slide off the edge of the trail and there were so many rocks that even the tree roots had to wrap around them and the path kept going down and down forever. My knees started aching and my broken toe hurt so bad even ibuprofen didn’t help. I started crying and then that squirrel up in the tree laughed at me so hard he dropped the nut he was carrying and it almost hit me on the head. rocks

I am having a Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day I announced. No one even answered.

When we finally got to where the Appalachian Trail follows the flat C&O Canal towpath, it was boring. The trees all looked the same and my pack was so heavy I couldn’t skip and I was tired of walking. My daughter thought the turtles sunning themselves on logs were cute but all I noticed was how disgusting the scummy water smelled. turtle She said the whitewater rapids of the Potomac River were beautiful but the glinting sun hurt my eyes. Potomac River I tried calling my husband when we took a break but the reception was bad. I think I called Tahiti by mistake. When I finally got through, it was so static-y that my husband suggested I try again later when there was better coverage in town.

When we finally got to Harper’s Ferry, the outfitter didn’t have the small fuel canister I wanted and the meal my daughter ordered at the café tasted better than mine. I thought I knew the way to the hostel but we missed the trail and had to turn around. (Who puts the white blazes used to mark the way on lampposts and walls?!) I was so tired I thought I was dead. But someone said I couldn’t be dead because I was still walking. food

It was a Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.

Nobody told me the hiker hostel was a zillion miles up the hill from the historic town. When we got there I was excited that there was frozen food available to purchase for supper (no further walking needed). But there were no pepperoni pizzas left and I hate plain cheese pizza. There was a choice between vanilla or cookies-n-cream ice cream and I hate both of them. The shower at the hostel was too hot, I got soap in my eyes, I slipped on the wet bathroom floor and all the other hikers had used the thick towels. I hate thin, scritchy towels.

When I went to bed, the mattress was too soft for me to get comfortable and my headlamp batteries had run down so I couldn’t read and somebody was already snoring so loud I couldn’t get to sleep. It has been a Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. My daughter says some days are like that. Even in Tahiti. soft bed

If you want to read the original book by Judith Viorst, you can find it at your local library or you can buy it HERE. Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst

(Note: We finished this year’s epic hike–filled with good days and a few terrible ones–on October 21. We will continue to post photos and stories for a few more weeks.)

“Oh, the People You Meet…” — Helper Version

Many folks assume that spending weeks backpacking the Appalachian Trail will be a solitary experience. That might be true on the Pacific Crest Trail or the Continental Divide Trail. However, during our six weeks on the AT, we were passed by multiple hikers every day. In addition, the only way to experience a solitary night is to camp away from shelters. There was only one night that daughter and I had a shelter completely to ourselves.

As extroverts, we delighted in this level of social interaction. Time alone while hiking balanced nicely with social time. I introduced you to some of our favorite hikers HERE. In today’s post, I want to introduce you to some of the non-hikers we met along the way.

Some folks who help hikers have been thru-hikers themselves. After completing his epic hike (along with his college age son) a few years ago, Scott began searching for a property that he and his wife could turn into a hostel for hikers. They bought a historic home with outbuildings near Front Royal, Virginia. The property had been abandoned for more than a decade. Many would have ignored it as a ruin. Scott and his wife saw the possibilities and are pouring energy and money into restoring the home to its former glory. The hostel is already up and running—a cozy brick cottage which sleeps up to 8 hikers. The big house will eventually hold living quarters for Scott and his wife plus 3 fancy bed & breakfast rooms. Scott is passionate about history and has uncovered many fascinating stories about the lives of those who lived here over the years. (If you are a hiker, definitely stay at the hostel. If you are looking for a B&B, keep an eye for when those rooms open sometime next year! Facebook link HERE ) Mountain Home "Cabbin"

Mountain Home B&B

Storyteller Scott

Some folks have little or no hiking experience but enjoy meeting and helping AT hikers. In two different towns, we paid for someone to shuttle us to another part of the trail. (Phone numbers for these folks are found in trail guides or on lists at visitor centers in towns along the trail.) Debbie saved our trip by letting me avoid a very steep 6 miles of hiking with a broken toe. Sharon drove us to a Walmart on the far side of town to resupply fuel and buy some warm gloves. On a gray rainy day, Shellie took us to a parking area that was a hop, skip, and jump away from a shelter for the night. This also meant we could carry a fellow hiker’s gear so she could “slackpack” a long day of hiking. And then Shellie rescued us the next day and came back to evacuate us to town to more easily meet my sister for a few days off trail during bad storms. (See post HERE)

Other folks are “Trail Angels.” (I explained about “Trail Magic” HERE) In the Shenandoah National Park, we discovered that the campground where we were hoping to spend a zero day was full for the second night. We decided to try to catch a ride and get there a day earlier. Lori talked with us at a picnic area and agreed to give us a lift to the campgrounds. She is from Victoria Island, British Columbia and is traveling with her little trailer for 4 months of exploring the US. She asked a zillion questions which we happily answered. She took our photo to add to her memories of interesting people she meets along the way. We took her photo to remember some of the Trail Angels who helped our trip be easier. helper Lori

Many folks are easily forgotten—the ones who move to the other side of the street when we are walking in town, the ones who ignore us in park campgrounds, the ones who are unfriendly or unhelpful. The folks who are Hiker Helpers will be remembered for a very long time!

(Note: We finished our hiking for this year on Oct. 21. We continue to share photos and posts from our adventure for the next few weeks.)

The Red Carpet Treatment

Only VIPs get to walk the red carpet…

While hiking the Appalachian Trail in Shenandoah National Park, we spent days shuffling our way through a thick carpet of leaves covering the trail—shhish, shoosh, crinkle, crackle. It was not a quiet hike! Most of the blanket was made up of brown oak leaves or a variety of golden leaves. We joked about someday being important enough to walk a red carpet… a carpet of leaves

And then we found a section of trail surrounded by maple trees. Woohoo! Does walking this red carpet prove that we are VIPs? the red carpet

We are certainly Very Important People to our friends and family. And it could be argued that we are Very Interesting (back)Packers. Just for curiosity I did an internet search for alternate meanings of VIP. Some of these definitions also apply to us:

  • Value in Partnership – we are in agreement that it was much better to hike with two of us rather than alone.
  • Ventures in Peace – we both found a new level of peace and contentment while spending our days and nights outside in nature.
  • Versatile Individual Program – this is the only way to succeed at a long-distance backpacking trip. A common saying along the AT is “Hike your own hike!”
  • Very Into Pizza – true confession time: after days of trail food, hikers crave a big hot pizza loaded with meat and dripping cheese. A burger and fries runs a close second.
  • Very Important Princess – haha! We joke that I’m the Queen and daughter is the Princess.

Under any of these definitions, we certainly deserved to walk the red carpet. And yes, we did feel extra special while doing so! walking the red carpet

(Note: we finished this year’s hiking adventure on Oct 21. We continue to have posts and photos to share with you for a few more weeks.)

Music Therapy

Home-grown music is a significant part of our hiking adventure. Here’s a taste of what we can be heard singing as we walk along…

On misty, foggy mornings, daughter often starts with this song from Lord of the Rings: Edge of Night Misty trees

We sing this song back and forth when we are having fun and hiking with lots of energy: Hallelu, Hallelu Happy hikers

We sing this one when we are intimidated–facing shifting rocks and clambering over boulders on a trail that is not clearly marked: Psalms 56:3-4, When I Am Afraid Rock jumble

Sometimes I am just DONE and it feels like I can’t possibly take another step. This is when I ask daughter to sing for me. Somehow this song keeps me going: Overcomer It's a long trail

When the footing is hard or we are getting tired, daughter likes to sing this song, and sometimes she changes the lyrics to fit our adventure: Brother Stream crossing

One hostel we stayed in had a piano available for hikers to play. Daughter played a few songs she knows. Then I sat down and played through a book of folk songs. Ahhhh, a wonderful way to relax after a long day of hiking! Playing piano

In addition to making our own music, there have been a few times that our spirits have been lightened by music by others. One morning I was having a “gray day”–feeling like I was in a fog, with no energy to hike, but having to keep putting one foot in front of the other. We got to the shelter early and found “Hillbilly” settled in for the night. He hesitantly asked if it was okay to play guitar for awhile. He had written wonderful folk songs about growing up in Appalachia. As he sang, I got teary…and eventually the gray lifted and all was right with the world again. Thanks for the music therapy, Hillbilly! Hillbilly

What is your favorite music to get you through tough times or to give you energy?  We would love suggestions in the comments for us to check out!

(Note: we finished our adventure on Oct 21, but still have plenty of photos and blog posts to share with you about our epic adventure!)

“Oh the People You Meet…” — Hiker version

Both daughter and I are strong extroverts. We enjoy meeting new people and gain energy from talking with others. Let me introduce you to some of the delightful, quirky folks we have met in our first month of hiking the Appalachian Trail.

“By the time [thru-hikers] have been on the trail a month or two…they’ve had their faith in the essential goodness of mankind restored. They’ve learned that every time they see a new hiker coming down the trail, it’s a new friend. They’ve learned that the barriers of age, occupation, and geography mean nothing here.” –Warren Doyle(who has completed the AT 16 times!

Each hiker we meet has a story. When passing another person on the trail it is common to stop long enough to exchange basic info: length of time on trail, goal (thru-hiker or section hiker), and “trail name.” (This is the nickname one is known by while hiking and which one uses when signing the logbook at each shelter. Our names are Story Seeker and Andowen.) When ending the day at the same shelter or campsite, more stories are exchanged…from life stories to hiking info to anecdotes of life on the trail. The “hiker grapevine” is alive and well!

Our first night on the trail we camped beside a couple who had walked in for the night. She is a professional chef, taking a break between positions, wanting to get back to the joy of cooking for others rather than overseeing an entire kitchen. He is a mineral hunter, traveling the world to search for gems and ore to sell to collectors. Fascinating!

Like many long distance hikers, Aaron is in transition in life. He is putting life back together by spending time in nature, playing music, and exchanging stories with others. His metaphorical goal? “finding David’s secret chord that pleased the Lord.”Aaron and guitar

Magoo retired last year. He and his wife planned to thru-hike, but after just a few days she headed back home, realizing this wasn’t her idea of fun. Magoo switched to doing long distance section hikes to complete the trail over the next few years. We were both amused to find out we are not just from the same city in Ohio, but that he lives only a few blocks from where I grew up!

TomTom is another retired fellow, this time from northern Ohio. He was on the trail for a week to figure out what he needs before attempting a thru-hike next year. Biggest lesson he learned was lighter gear is mandatory! (Note: this is not a typical shelter but is one of the fanciest on the trail! )TomTom

Most of the hikers we meet in this area and at this time of year are southbound thru-hikers: couples and individuals who, by now, are a bit weary of the journey. They have their routines down to a science and are usually covering long miles every day.

We have also met a number of section hikers, spending a week or so away from work to complete another piece of the Appalachian Trail. We shared stories, encouraged each other, and giggled late into the night with K&K, two lacrosse-moms on their first backpacking adventure. We only spent one night together at a shelter since we were heading different directions…but we were thrilled to hear from them a week later to learn they successfully met their goal.

Daughter and I have been pleased to keep running into Blaze on our trip. He hikes longer days so each time we say goodbye we expect we will never see him again. But he has taken more zero days than us so we keep catching him. The first time we met, he patiently taught daughter how to make a good campfire (which he does morning and evening for cooking. ) He talks Lord of the Rings and fantasy with daughter and life challenges with me. He is a Brooklynite who is hiking south to Georgia from NYC, then plans to turn around and hike the entire trail back to Maine, then walk back south to home in Brooklyn.  (He estimates this will take a year or so. ) Like many hikers, this is a transition time to figure out the “what’s-next” of life for him. Blaze

Finally, I want to introduce you to Beetle. We spent a zero-day together at a hiker hostel on a rainy day…followed by evacuating off the trail together due to severe weather. She and I have enjoyed learning the similarities in our life stories. She and daughter take delight in teasing each other…and trying to stump each other with riddles. She started as a “flip-flop” thru-hiker (start in middle headed north to Maine, return to middle and complete hike south to Georgia). Unfortunately she ended up off-trail because of an injury. She won’t complete the thru-hike, but is back on the trail,  hiking to complete another long section before winter. Hopefully, we will keep in contact back in real-life! Beetle