“You should do the Midstate Trail,” my brother suggested. I’d been stewing about where to take my week-long backpacking vacation with my freshly (hopefully) healed sprained ankle. As a thru-hiker, I’ve been interested in backpacking the long-distance trails in my home state of Massachusetts, and I figured that a week would be just about the right amount of time for me to hike the 95-mile Midstate Trail.
“Boo-ooo-ooo-oom!” The first rocket launched, the sound so intense that I didn’t just hear it as it bounced off of the river and hit me, I felt it! “Hoo-ah!” I exclaimed as my startle reflex took over: my stomach tightened, my eyes widened, my heart slowed (bradycardia), and my body flooded with adrenaline and endorphins… Time stood still as my attention was pulled fully into the here and now… all thoughts, emotions, and expectations emptied from my mind to make room for my heightened senses…
When a fellow 2013 thru-hiker was hospitalized with severe Lyme meningitis (inflammation of the membranes surrounding the brain) earlier this month, I decided to do some research and try to help raise awareness about Lyme.
People are always asking me when I decided that I wanted to do a thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail. Until recently I’ve said that I grew up hiking and backpacking and have always wanted to hike the AT. As I approached the final section of the AT in Massachusetts and the start of the AT in Vermont I realized that that wasn’t exactly true… There definitely was a start, a beginning, a place, and a time when the dream of hiking the entire AT was born.
It was right there… The trail I was walking on was the trail that gave birth to that dream. It was the first backpacking trip that I went on with my family when I was 11 years old. We hiked from Massachusetts all the way into Vermont and it was awesome.
One of my strongest memories was of sitting around the campfire and sharing a meal and stories with a couple of thru-hikers. I was entranced by their stories and in awe of the fact that these people had walked all the way from Georgia to sit at a campfire in Vermont with me. It was unimaginably cool that you could spend that much time in the woods and survive!
Walking along the trail in southern Vermont felt like walking through a land of memories. Not only was my first backpacking trip in Vermont, but my first long distance trek was also in Vermont. In 1998 I hiked the long trail from end-to-end with my brothers.
Having my brother and his wife meet me and hike across the Vermont border meant that by the time I finished hiking through Massachusetts I’d gotten the chance to hike with all of my immediate family. It was a great way to go through my home state.
My brother’s feet weren’t quite as used to hiking 20+ mile days, but after a little doctoring he wasn’t any worse for the wear.
I have a little fm radio that I sometimes listen to while I’m hiking. One of the nice things about the radio is that I get some updates about the news and weather, though I’m usually paying more attention to the woods and the trail than the background noise from the radio. Today, however, the news got my full attention, “A trip along the Appalachian Trail turned tragic on Wednesday when a Delaware man hiking with his brother died after plunging 35 feet.”
I stopped in my tracks. I’d hiked through that section of the trail (race brook falls) on Tuesday, less than 24 hours before the tragedy. I was overwhelmed with thoughts and emotions.
I know a couple of sets of brothers hiking the AT that are about a day behind me. I tried to remember if any of them were from Delaware… I wasn’t sure. I’ve heard rumor that the brothers were on a backpacking trip, but weren’t thru-hikers. Regardless, chances are pretty good that I met/saw them on Tuesday since I hiked 20 miles that day, pretty much centered around Race Brook Falls. I may have even met them while I was hiking with my brother.
Day hikers, section hikers, and other thru-hikers all have at least one thing in common: a love of the trail and of the woods. This binds us all together and makes us like a family, whether we just share a smile, a conversation, a meal, a view, or a day in one of the shelters watching the rain. The day hikers and section hikers fade into and out of my days, often anonymously, but their words and smiles stay with me and help me through the hardest miles.
I may never know if I met and talked to the brothers from Delaware, but tonight I mourn the loss of a fellow hiker.