With my buddy Molar Man now a day up the trail and Linda en route to the Harrisburg Airport, I must admit a tad of despondency has crept into my psyche. Looking for a panacea, I decided to take Father’s Day off and treat myself to the final round of the US Open. Remembering the special times when I enjoyed the tournament with my dad, and later with my son, has brought me comfort on an overcast afternoon. Despite being alone in a Pine Grove, PA motel, the memories are comforting even if they bring with them a little melancholia. There will hopefully be other Father’s Days in future years when, in the company of Sam and Rachel, I will nostalgically remember this day. That’s what the AT and life are all about….. a compilation of memories.
Earlier today Linda and I shared a leisurely breakfast and then a time of relaxation near the pool. When I sighed that I still had 996 miles to walk, my lovely wife replied, “That’s soooo much better than 1000.” She qualified her response with, “That’s why the price tag says $3.99 instead of $4.00. It’s all psychological.” Perhaps she has a point. By this time next week I should be in another state and have fewer than 900 miles remaining. A positive attitude continues to be paramount to success. I never entered a road race without thinking I would finish. So I’ve tried to maintain the same mindset as I hike. The summit of a mountain in Maine marks the finish line.
I also thought about my nephew Brent throughout the day. This is his first Father’s Day without his dad. They shared so much. From fishing and hunting to little league to trips to watch the Braves, they were an inseparable father and son. Don was proud of the man Brent has become. Above all, he felt blessed that his son was and is a man of faith, just like his dad. As our mom grieved the loss of a son, Brent’s wife Lori tried to comfort her with, “Brent is just like his dad and we still have him.” Those of us who have lost our dads cling to those special times of the past. Times of childhood when Dad could make everything OK. Good times they were indeed.
So many have been supportive of my hike. From family to friends, to former students I taught and athletes I coached, to people I have never met, yet who have taken the time to send a guest book entry or write an email, I have truly been blessed every day of my walk. So many people have touched my life over my 62 years. One, Bobby Gardner, who ran cross-country and track on my teams for four years and later excelled in college and the US Army, sent a Happy Father’s Day text this morning. He never misses contacting me on this special day. It’s rewarding to know how one’s life may impact another’s.
Those same kind of special relationships are formed on the AT. Each day that I hike I meet someone new. Often we just say hello and move on. Occasionally, however, a bonding relationship develops that may have long lasting significance. On the trail as well as in life, we never initially know how we may affect another just as we don’t know how another may affect us. We merely accept and appreciate the opportunity to have our lives interwoven with another earthly creature who just happens to be sharing a moment in time with us. I exist for the moment to walk a trail, a trail that leads to a destination that fulfills a goal. And as I walk I become. I become a man of determination and resiliency, a man with a passion for overcoming and defeating. The trail is not necessarily the enemy. Still, it presents all hikers with confrontation and the need to persevere.
So as I sit and dwell on the past and anticipate the future, I am oblivious to the present. It is a Sunday, Father’s Day. My mind journeys to a special day when I became a dad. Then it moves to another special day when Don became a dad. Finally, it travels to another special day when I became a dad to a daughter. Each day is forever transfixed within the memory. I can replay every wonderful moment of each of those memorable days of my life. They provide comfort at a solitary time. They give me strength to confront a new day with its potential tribulations.
Tomorrow I will continue the hike. I will attempt to meet the challenges as I enjoy the beauty of my surroundings. I will focus on each step in the present, realizing that without notice, peril may await. I am grateful for this opportunity to hike. I hope to make the most of what tomorrow has to offer as I continue the northward journey on the unbelievably beautiful Appalachian Trail.