One month solo on the Appalachian Trail
An old-fashioned yellowed dial-up phone sits on the wooden bunk room desk. Taped nearby, a slightly wrinkled piece of paper reads 'Wifi limited to 6-8am.' I set my alarm to 5:00am, hoping to squeeze in some journaling before breakfast. By 7:00am, the smell of bacon wafts into the room from the kitchen.
Marcia looks up from her computer in the corner as I wander into the dining room. "She's alive!," she exclaims.
Oma glances over, a spatula in one hand and an egg in the other. "Is your roomie up yet?"
"Not yet!" I'm eyeing the glass of granola chia yogurt on the table.
"We have a tradition of saying something we're grateful for before breakfast, instead of saying grace," she tells me as she serves up a platter with two eggs, three bacon strips, a bagel, and cream cheese.
Friends; family; the chance to experience the trail; the ability to live life to the fullest, I think.
Dysfengshuinal enters, wearing mismatched hiker clothes in three shades of red, as I clean my plate. She continues recalling years of section hiking on the Pacific Crest Trail: "Every trip is different. Some years are pretty. Well, it's always pretty, but some years, everything is in bloom..."
"How did you decide to open the hostel?"
"How did you decide to hike the trail?" Oma asks me.
"For me, the trail is a chance to challenge myself, to grow a lot in a short amount of time, and learn what I'm capable of doing...I hope it'll prepare me for the challenges I'll face throughout life."
Oma casts me a sidelong glance. "I don't know. You're putting a lot of stock into this trip," she says, with the air of someone who has witnessed hundreds of thru-hikers come and go.
"Oh, all sorts of people come through here: people from all around the world, of all ages, ethnicities, backgrounds, sizes and shapes. Some are really excited to be out, and some are completely broken down by the time they get here. They say the first third is physical, the second third is emotional, and the third is both emotional and physical."
I weigh Oma's words as I hike out from the trailhead, reflecting on both my hopes and doubts about the trail. Will I find what I seek? The trees still stand mostly barren. At midday, a scout troupe passes by, chatting excitedly. I pull out a foil packet of tuna with a handful of crackers, and settle down atop a log.
This trip is a start, I think. It's the start of a lifelong process of change: a journey towards conquering myself, day by day. That journey doesn't stop when the trip ends.
Finishing my lunch, I stuff the empty foil packet into my trash bag, shoulder my pack, and head up Cole Mountain. A few groups of hikers dot the summit.
A dayhiker rises from the midst of a picnic spread. "Can I offer you a couple apples?"
I smile. "I'm always up for fresh fruit! Thank you!"
A few hours later, I sit alone at Brown Mountain Creek Shelter, happily peeling an apple with my pocket knife as I flip through the shelter logbook. Woody wrote an entry earlier: 'Dropped by for water'. I'm less than a day behind him.
I refill my water at the stream nearby and admire the buds on the surrounding trees. Another hour passes. Then, a familiar face shows up: Phlatlander!
"Do you want an apple?" I hold out my second one.
That night, another hiker shows up as we cook dinner: noodles for me, left-over-dried-vegetable soup for Phlatlander. I sleep looking forward to more signs of spring.
"You're supposed to have it all figured out, have a major and everything, at 18. What do you know at 18?"