I’ve stopped, in the middle of the trail, and am bursting into tears. I’m not ready for it to be over… I don’t think that I will ever be ready for it to be over. I’m just 25 miles from the end. I’ll be at the border within days, but my legs have turned into lead weights. Each step is a struggle. I don’t want to hike. The scenery is absolutely stunning, the trail is amazingly beautiful, and there is no where that I’d rather be… I just want to stay here in these mountains, savoring every sunrise, every sunset, every songbird, every tree, and every blade of grass, forever.
This isn’t how I felt at the end of the AT, but I was in a very different place then… Both emotionally and physically. The AT had been a dream, but it was also more of a struggle, more of a required transition period… This has been more of a vacation, a brutal vacation at times, but a vacation none the less. Unsurprisingly, I don’t want my vacation to be over… Especially since I’ll be stepping off of the trail and into an uncertain future.
I sit down in the dry grass beside the trail and try to collect my thoughts… On the trail I live in the now… I am supremely present, and I can give my full attention to the butterfly that lands beside me, to the bird calling from a nearby tree, to the subtle variations in how the light filters through the trees as the day progresses from dawn to dusk… I get to experience the joy of living in the moment and I love it… Both the past and the future are worlds away and feel almost irrelevant… I am here. I am exactly where I want to be. I am exactly where I need to be. Though life on the trail is fraught with hardships, the challenges tend to be very tangible and immediate. Where am I going to sleep? How am I going to stay warm? Where am I going to get water? How much food do I need? Why am I so hungry? Where am I going to get more food? When can I get more food? Can I have more food now? Is it going to rain? What kind of bird is that? Where am I going? Is there food there? (Yeah, I may be more than a little hungry.)
As I approach the end of the trail, the past and the future encroach upon my now and the questions are getting more complicated… What am I going to do when I get off of the trail? Where am I going to go? How am I going to reconnect to all the people and places that I care about? What do I need to do to find a job? These questions feel big and complicated and don’t have easy answers… The future is coming for me! I am both excited and terrified at the thought.
The trail has been all consuming, it has been my everything for months (though it feels like an eternity), and I’m grieving for it… It has shaped me in ways that I didn’t know were possible, it has forged me into the person I am now… I have fallen in love with it, but in two short days it will no longer be my now, it will be my past… Another swell of tears burbles up to the surface as I think that thought… The PCT is going to be in my past… I’m going to have to leave it… I take a deep breath and I give myself permission to cry, to grieve, to worry… I also give myself permission to eat a snack… I’m hungry. Oh so hungry.
With that thought, I remember that there are lots of amazing things that will come with civilization and the end of the trail too, like food! As I eat my protein bar, I daydream about filet mignon, milkshakes, fish and chips, root beer floats, soft beds with pillows, warm showers, and the friends and family I’ve been away from for so long… There are definitely a lot of positives that will come with the end of the trail.
As the last of my tears begin to dry, I resolve to enjoy the remaining time I have on the trail… and to stay here, in the now, as much as possible, for as long as possible. There’s a mountain with incredible views about a mile away from the trail, that’s where I’ll head for tonight… another sunset, another sunrise, another day on the PCT!
I get two more nights on the trail… Two more nights of vacation… Two more days to luxuriate in the now! The trail still stretches out in front of me, and I look forward to the adventures that await me!