It’s amazing how quickly things can change in the hiking world. In the blink of an eye one can traverse a substantial amount of miles, gain profound amounts of insight and knowledge, and experience an endless supply of memories to reflect back upon. But isn’t that also the essence of a well lived and trodden life? With the proper attitude and outlook, by keeping one foot in front of the other and allowing ourselves to remain teachable and coachable we oftentimes find ourselves looking back completely amazed at how far we’ve come.
I still remember the first time that my dog Winnie and I trekked into the woods together, solo, hand in paw, bound and determined to make something out of a 3 day weekend. I had found myself at a crossroads watching a chapter of my life slowly close without my permission and my other ways of coping with the changes were no longer working. Little did I know that fateful weekend would be the beginning of a beautiful journey of self-discovery, perseverance and healing.
By that October we began section hiking the Appalachian Trail and our weekend adventures began to take on a sense of direction and meaning; goals were set and battles were won and we began to feel a sense of accomplishment swelling. Mentally, spiritually and physically things were changing and my bond with Winnie, nature, and my fellow man began growing deeper with each outing.
As that October began coming to a close we were taking in breathtaking views with changing leaves, experiencing longer nights and warmer fires and simultaneously finding ourselves covering more miles with each hike. Along our journey I had established a goal to hike to Harper’s Ferry, WV. We ended October and ushered in November by hiking from Paris, Virginia to the famed river town steeped in history. The deciduous trees were at peak color, the evenings and nights were feeling brisk, and my pack was loaded to the brim. Descending into the historic town was an emotional and profoundly personal experience for me and for the first time since I found myself at my crossroads earlier in the summer I finally found a sense of peace, a sense of alrightness with the world and I knew in my heart that everything was as it should be.
Winnie and I have hiked over 600 miles together. Close to 400 miles of the Appalachian Trail, 50 miles of Skyline Drive, 45 miles of the Tuscarora Trail, 75 miles of side trails in Shenandoah National Park, 30 plus miles on the Massanutten Trail and numerous more miles in the George Washington National Forest. We’ve survived rain, sleet and snow, humid conditions and sub-freezing temperatures. We’ve hiked in the dark through moonlit nights, touched the tops of countless peaks and seen things and worlds together that words and pictures would never do any justice. Along the way we've learned to depend on each other, celebrate together and rejoice with one another. Throughout this ongoing journey I've learned that I am responsible for writing the future chapters of my life, and with some much needed and hard gained retrospect I've begun to gain the clarity and hindsight that this is a story of healing and freedom, of self discovery and perseverance, and of companionship and love.
Ultimately our story has been one of rescue, though it's debatable who rescued whom. But here's the best part: It's only just begun.