Pilgrim’s wife, Catherine, mentioned last night that it might be a good idea to write an epilogue to my short hike … sort of a “lessons learned.” My initial thought was that I really didn’t learn anything, other than the feeling of disappointment of not finishing what I started (actually barely even started) and the feeling of letting Pilgrim down.
After some additional thought, I think maybe there were some lessons, or maybe just reinforcement of things I already knew. In no particular order:
- The beauty of the Appalachians in particular, and nature in general. Even this time of the year when the mountains are pretty barren, being able to see for miles and miles the blue tinted beauty of the mountains was outstanding. Even though I didn’t make it to the Smokies, I understand how the Smokey Mountains get their name. The fog and clouds hanging halfway up the slopes, from a vantage point above, makes it appear that smoke is hanging over the tops of the trees. In the short period of time on the trail, we seemed to come across amazing waterfalls every few miles. To know that these spots are seen by such a small minority of people make them even more special. Of all the things I saw, the most amazing had to be the number and the brightness of the stars at night. Living on a farm in Nebraska one would think that we’ve had a pretty unfiltered view of the night sky. However, looking up at the night sky from the mountain top, under a moonless night, the intensity of the stars seemed unreal!
- The Appalachian Trail itself is harsher than I expected. Often times we were climbing snow and ice covered rocks with a very steep drop-off to one side. Even with hiking poles as extra security, it really did feel like Someone was looking after our safety! To reach Maine, a person needs to take approximately 6 million of these types of steps. When you figure that around 500 people make this trek each year from end to end, it seems like some sort of divine guidance is happening. Both Pilgrim and I have fallen already on the trail, and both of us managed to find a fairly soft place to land. (I did tell my wife, Pilgrim didn’t!)
- The people we met along the trail were SO nice. Maybe it’s being out in nature without the pressures of “everyday life”, but everyone seemed to have kind words and smiles on their faces. Even when the weather was the worst, Pilgrim and I could hear some of the younger hikers singing in the shelters.
- Pilgrim and I had a pretty good discussion centering around how hard life must have been for our ancestors. Pilgrim mentioned he had read a book about George Washington and the hardships the troops endured during revolutionary war time. No matter how bad the weather seemed a couple of the nights, I could not imagine what it would have been like without a tent, “zero degree sleeping bag”, goose down gloves, jet boil stoves, rain skirts … errr “man kilts”, etc. We owe a ton of gratitude for the folks that went before us to create what we now have.
- How good it is to travel a path with another person. Whether it is to help set up a tent, share beef jerky, navigate, etc. it seems to make things easier and more enjoyable when sharing the experience. I hope that Pilgrim can find others to share the trail with. There seems to be a bunch of people out already, and there were some that seemed to be traveling at our pace, so I think that will happen.
- The brutal force of mother nature. The night spent on Blood Mountain in a tent that weighs less than 3 pounds with rain/sleet/snow and a continuous 50+ mph wind was frightening at times. And I’m sure being outside in a tornado or lost in a blizzard would be much, much worse. Most of us live in a very protected environment. Again, how did our ancestors survive?
- How important family and friends are in one’s life. I owe much gratitude to Lee’s family (my cousin!) for picking me up off the trail, sharing their home, and hauling me to the airport for my trip home.
- How a person can miss loved ones in such a short period of time.
- Artificial knees are awesome and allowed me to attempt this kind of stunt. When seeing puffiness around one of the knees after a tough downhill walk I can’t take them for granted.
- For my “Special Beacon Hills Friends” (you know who you are) … the “under” wins. Pay up!!Happy Trails from Off The Trail,
Psalm 66:4 “All the earth will worship you and will sing to you; they will sing to your name.”