One month solo on the Appalachian Trail
6:30 am. I see a beam of light bobbing along across the stream as I sit up in my sleeping bag: Little Mack packing up his tent. As quietly as possible, I crawl from my bag, turn on my headlamp, and head out with toothbrush in hand. Though I carefully train my light on my side of the shelter as I return, Mosey wakes when I climb in.
"I thought that was the sun." He points to my headlamp.
I laugh. "The sun's about to come up."
He stretches lazily, still bundled in his covers, and yawns. "I was having a dream -- I don't remember most of it, but I remember realizing something: things are meant to be given, received, used, and broken. That includes the self...
"Given...received...used...and broken," he repeats quietly, making no motion to get up.
"Remember what I said about trail names," he reminds me as I finish packing.
Today, I plan to hike 15 miles to my first town stop in Front Royal. After a few hours, though, I must face the fact that my feet are not yet ready for the miles; I decide to take an extra day, ration out my food, and hike in tomorrow.
I reach Manassas Gap Shelter by lunch, and begin to lay out my mess kit in preparation for mealtime. As I do, an elderly Korean couple wander towards the shelter. They converse with me in broken English.
I ask, "why did you come to America?"
The man turns to his wife for a translation, then turns back to me. "American Dream."
That afternoon, my phone has a signal for the first time since I started hiking. When I call my dad, he says, "I'm proud of you. If I had a chance to go on the trail when I was your age, I would've gone, too."
That night, I stay at the Jim and Molly Denton shelter, experience a solar shower for the first time, and think about my family's history. My grandparents and parents survived both war and famine. Their generation came to America dreaming of a better future. My generation has the chance to build a better future. What kind of future will I help build?
"Think about the beginning of your journey, and where you are now. Now is the most powerful time."