It's official. As of August 17th, I have hiked all 2,175 miles of the Appalachian Trail.
I've been working on becoming a 2000-miler for the last 6 years. Here's how that endeavor has played out:
2001: This is the year in which I hiked the majority of the trail -- about 1,700 miles. I began March 17th and hiked to Damascus, Virginia. It was during the last few days of that section that I injured the muscle in my rear which forced me to come off the trail for a month and a half. I got back on in Waynesboro, Virginia and hiked to South Egremont, Connecticut, then skipped up to Hanover, New Hampshire and hiked to Gorham, New Hampshire. Then I skipped up to Monson, Maine and hiked the 100-mile wilderness and summitted Katahdin. Good chunks of trail that I completed, but still missing a few bits here and there.
2003: Footslogger's thru-hike. I hiked with him most of the section in Virginia (between Damascus and Waynesboro.
2004: I hiked the 20 miles into Damascus, from the road where I stood, crippled, and got a ride from a kind friend into town in 2001.
2005: I finished up the Virginia section and hiked from South Egremont, Connecticut to Hanover, New Hampshire with my friend, colleague, and hiking buddy, Red.
2006: Gorham, New Hampshire to Rangeley, Maine (by far, the hardest 100 miles I have ever hiked).
2007: Rangeley, Maine to Monson, Maine. This is the bit I just finished, having returned home last night after a 20-hour travel day! After we finished this 105-mile section, we took a day off (much deserved, by the way) and then got ourselves to Mt. Katahdin for a final summit. As usual, the beauty and grandeur of that mountain completely amaze me.
As I am now a 2000-miler, I've been giving some thoughts to lessons that I've learned from the trail over the last 6 years. Here are a few ideas, for starters:
1. No matter whether I hike 10 miles or 25 miles on any particular day, I always end the day exhausted. I believe it's because I don't take enough breaks. Or maybe that I know I should be exhausted, so I make myself that way?
2. The only certain diet plan I've ever been successful with is a thru-hike. In 2001, I lost 40 pounds in 6 months; unfortunately, I wasn't able to keep off that weight.
3. There comes with a thru-hike a sense of confidence. If I can hike this amazingly difficult trail, I can do just about anything. That has helped with lots of other things that don't necessarily come easily in life.
4. Anywhere is in walking distance, if you have the time.
5. Long-distance hikers are both amazingly wonderful and wonderfully annoying. There are characters; there are thieves; there are gearheads; but mostly there's this wonderful community of people who are all aiming for the same thing, and looking out for each other along the way.
6. I should buy stock in the company that makes Snickers bars.
7. The human body is an amazing machine. Just two days ago I was sitting at the base of Mt. Katahdin, looking at the top, and thinking, "I got my body all the way up there and back again. How did I do that?" My body is strong and capable. That's a good thing.
8. Singing helps me hike when I'm exhausted and my feet are feeling battered and bruised. It's probably a good idea for me to sing more.
9. Uphill is much better than downhill. Or even flat, if you can believe it. I like the feeling of getting my breathing in a rhythm, pushing myself up a hill, and making it to the top. Going downhill punishes my knees; hiking on flat hurts my feet.
10. Whining about pain, exhaustion, dehydration, hunger, etc., only makes whatever I'm suffering from feel worse. A metaphor for life, I think.