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Well, as many of you may have guessed by now, [my hiking group] the A Team is in great company.
When we started this grand hiking adventure we read that only a slim 20 – 25 percent or so of those folks who actually start an Appalachian Trail thru-hike will finish. Conversely, 75 – 80 percent of hikers will not complete it for one reason or another.
We are now in that crowded group of brave souls who try – but haven’t attained.
The A Team is a family who, as President Roosevelt belted out in a speech entitled Citizenship In a Republic, “strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again…”
The following excerpt, from his speech delivered in 1910, never ceases to bring me to tears and challenge me to do the hard things in life. I share it with you because it inspires me. I hope it will do the same for you.

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; because there is not effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly. So that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”

It’s true. We didn’t complete our thru hike.

But we each truly did experience “the great enthusiasm” and “the great devotion” that comes with “daring greatly”!

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Why has it taken me a month to update my Trail Journal and let you know that we we off the trail?
Procrastination.
I could tell you that I was trying to put my experiences into perspective, and that is true. But ultimately, while this blog is public, my hike was a private, very personal experience, and I just wasn’t ready to let the world know that I was at home yet.
However, the encouragement I have received from readers while attempting this unlikely feat deserves both a conclusion and a word of appreciation.

So here are some of the concluding facts from the trail:
The A Team hiked 500 miles, ending in the Grayson Highlands. (We left after seeing the ponies – a true high point of our hike!)
We are all fine. No one got hurt – not even a blister to speak of.
We didn’t leave on a whim or on a terrible day. As a family, we mulled it over privately for about a week. We knew we didn’t want to make a swift decision which would be regretted later. If we were going to leave, it would be after thoughtful consideration and time. It was concluded that Samson was ready to return home and start college in the Fall instead of waiting until the Spring of 2013. ( What parent can say “no” to that?)
We left on Sunday, May 13th, Mother’s Day. (Here’s a quote from Samson. (“Happy Mother’s Day, Mom! Guess what? You don’t have to carry a 35lb pack any more! How’s that for a Mother’s Day gift?” – Gotta love that kid!)
It was a unanimous decision to end our hike.
We didn’t have any major equipment failures – with the exception of some tent poles that were repaired without much trouble.
We experienced every kind of weather known to man!
My favorite shelter – Overmountain Shelter, without a doubt!
Least favorite shelter – Thomas Knob Shelter.
Wildlife seen & heard – deer, turkey, chipmunks, rats, snakes, squirrels, fish, song birds, mice, coyotes, frogs & toads, butterflies, gnats, & other insects, salamanders, grouse, & bats among others. (no bears, though.)

While I wish I could share all that the trail meant to me, and all my daily experiences along the way, there isn’t time enough. I did keep a daily journal of pen and paper. Maybe I will go back and type those entries into this Trail Journal to give readers a view inside the daily life of a(n attempted) thru hiker. But maybe not. I am unsure.
What I am sure of is that we met so many interesting, unforgettable people! We met people who have changed our lives. We hiked with people who walked “life-paths” which were very different from ours and some that mated perfectly with our stride. We met some strange ones, brave ones, foolish ones, funny ones, and annoying ones. We slept with people who snored, giggled, talked and had midnight trips to the privy. We shared the warmth of fires with folks from around the world and just down the street. We were challenged by some people’s extraordinary generosity and other’s self-centeredness – vowing to emulate the former and never become like the latter.

A couple more quick conclusions:
I am thankful for the opportunity to hike a glorious, historic path through the wilderness.
I am so appreciative of you who cheer on those of us currently in “the arena”.
I am thankful to family and friends who took up the slack for us and helped out while we were wandering in the woods.
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Before I began this hike I wondered if the trail would change me.
It has.
How has it changed me? Well, that is hard. Even if I was as skilled an orator as Roosevelt, I am not sure I could find the words. I rather think it will be revealed as I continue to walk the rest of this life-trail knowing, while I didn’t complete an AT thru-hike – I did hike 500 miles and that my place “shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”

Finally, if you are thinking about doing a thru-hike, jump in the arena with both feet! You’ll be in great company whether you finish or not! Be prepared for your face to get marred with dust, sweat and blood, but you will not regret it. Dare Greatly!
Much Love to all of you!
Valerie

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The thru-hike may have come to an early end for Valerie Stanley and the A-Team, but you can still read about their exciting on-trail adventures right here.

The cover photo for this article was provided by www.etravelmaine.com.

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