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We hit the last stretch, and I nearly ran. A few hundred yards away I could see lots of people milling around near a dark object. The sign! The object which we as thru-hikers strive to touch and feel with our bare hands! If you looked up other’s pictures of the sign, you’d see weather conditions that are varying in intensity. You could have some with extreme rain, fog, wind, etc. Or you could find some like mine: perfect.
Me with a victory cigar.
My summit pose.
Atlas with the only piece of equipment he cares about.
Group picture with two of my best friends.
Sums it all up perfectly.
We spent about an hour up there taking pictures, telling stories, telling day hikers about what we’d just accomplished, thinking about what we’d gone through, and listening to Atlas play guitar. It was really a perfect and surreal moment.
Cheeks climbing back down.
I’d walked nearly 2,200 miles, and you don’t walk that far without becoming calloused both physically and… I don’ know the word I’m searching for. I’m not calloused emotionally or socially, in fact I’ve become what I feel to be lifelong friends with some of these people. I guess I’m impervious to pain? But that’s not right either, I can definitely feel the pain. My achy bones, my sore muscles, my shredded feet and bug-bitten skin… I definitely feel pain. I suppose the best way to describe it, and I’ve thought about it almost the entire length of the trail, is that it’s similar to what I imagine war is like. Maybe that’s why I met so many ex-military hikers? This may be a lame metaphor to some because we’re not being shot at and such, but it’s got a very similar feel. All of the friends that I’ve made have become my comrades because we’re all fighting the same war. Some of the good friends I made I will never see again. And perhaps the most important part of this analogy is that once we all come home… it feels impossible to describe our experience to someone who wasn’t there.
I’m writing this post two months after having actually summited Katahdin, and still to this day I’m having trouble describing the trail. I’m constantly getting the question, “how was it?” How was it? How am I supposed to answer that? The best way I can answer that is by describing everything about it.
The Appalachian Trail is pain.
It’s the bruises, the bumps, the bug bites and the the blisters.
It’s the rain, the cold, the heat and dehydration.
It’s the mosquitoes, the ticks, the flies and the gnats.
It’s the shin splints, the trench foot, the chafing and the stress fractures.
It’s the sweating, the freezing, the snowing and the droughts.
It’s shaky legs, sore muscles, headaches and being out of breath.
It’s walking through rivers and puddles,
It’s walking across blistering exposed rocks and scorching Pennsylvania corn fields
It’s walking up mountains, then getting to the top and realizing you’re not actually quite there yet.
It’s hungry bears, blood-thirsty insects, slippery rocks and sleeping on roots.
It’s shelter mice, sleeping next to snorers, hanging your food and then sleeping with your food
It’s walking through hail, walking through tornado watches, walking on sharp rocks, and walking through streams.
It’s constantly being famished, constantly being rained on, constantly being thirsty, and constantly being tired.
The Appalachian Trail is wonderful.
It’s meeting people who will become your lifelong friends.
It’s getting to know yourself, how strong you are, how persistent you are, and how courageous you can be.
It’s climbing mountains, climbing boulders, fording rivers, and overcoming challenges.
It’s learning to hitchike, learning to get clean water, learning to set up a campsite, and learning to cook.
It’s taking one day at a time, taking free food from strangers, taking advice from other hikers, and taking pictures.
It’s seeing wild animals, seeing for a hundred miles, seeing things you’ve never seen before, and seeing things no one else has ever seen.
It’s smelling the pine forest, smelling your own stench, smelling food as if for the first time, and smelling the decaying forest.
It’s feeling happy with yourself, feeling the warmth of the sun, feeling the coolness of the wind, and feeling crisp water on a hot day.
It’s hearing birds, hearing bugs, hearing the wind in the trees and hearing the coyotes cry at the moon.
It’s waking up at sunrise, going to sleep at sundown, being with new friends and being completely alone.
It’s walking through 14 states, hiking 2,200 miles, burning 6,000 calories per day, and being the 1 in 4 who actually complete the trail.
It’s relying on your faith, relying on your friends, relying on learned tricks, and relying on your self.
I guess that’s the best way to describe my experience. Painful and wonderful.
Now that I’m off the trail though, and have been for more than two months, I’m really able to look back at what I did. It’s been very nostalgic and bittersweet writing about my experiences and I hope you’ve enjoyed them every bit as much as I have. For those of you that have provided me with the support and prayers along my journey, there is not enough I can say to thank you. You may not know, but every single thing you did for me helped me along my way.
To my parents, I love you. To my friends, thank you. To my sponsors, I appreciate your support. To future hikers… enjoy it.
Signed the roof tile at the AT Cafe in Millinocket after summiting.
-Walk and Eat
“But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.” 1 Corinthians 15:10
This is the final half of a ripping good post by thru-hiker Jimmie Jackson. Check out much more of his adventure right here.
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