On the last day of the year that I successfully completed a thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail, I went for a hike. On a gray, rather cold morning, my old buddy Alton joined me on an 8.2 mile jaunt along a portion of the Pine Mountain Trail in west central Georgia. Returning to the place where I had walked many a mile in preparation for the AT hike seemed an appropriate way to close out 2013. After all, hiking occupied much of my year. From practice hikes in January and February to the thru-hike from mid-March to early September, I spent much of this past year in the woods. Even though today’s was my first hike since summiting Katahdin, 2013 has been the year of the hike.
So after a hearty breakfast at the Callaway Gardens Country Store, Alton and I walked up the highway to the western terminus of the Pine Mountain Trail. Over the course of the next four hours my good friend and I shared stories of family, friends, and the Appalachian Trail. It was all good. The overcast sky in no way detracted from the camaraderie. We had the trail to ourselves, seeing only a few others on the somewhat bleak day. This wasn’t the AT, but it was a trail, complete with crumpling leaves, roots and an occasional stream to rock-hop across. Once again I felt in my element, even if only for a brief time.
I walked today using only one trekking pole. Alton carried a hiking stick. I wore a small daypack with Gatorade and water inside. Even though I had hiked in shorts almost exclusively on the AT, I wore long hiking pants today. Despite the cold, the day was comfortable. The blazes were mainly blue or red, the climbs were minimal, but it was still a trail through the woods. These were the woods where my brother Don had also walked in what now seems like another lifetime. Don may be gone, but the woods are still here.
As I spoke of the thru-hike with Alton I found myself missing my trail friends. I’ve kept in touch with some; others are merely memories. I don’t even know the “street names,” as Susquehanna Slim calls them, of many. At one point I failed to see a root and fell. I don’t guess a day of hiking would have been complete without a fall. A couple of minutes later I grazed an overhanging limb with my head. Smiling, I thought about the day in Pennsylvania when an unseen, protruding limb had almost knocked me out. Today’s trail was not the AT. Nevertheless, it had its obstacles.
At the end of the hike, after saying so long to Alton, I drove home. There were no trail towns along the way. I thought about the nearly four months that have passed since that last day in Maine. I thought about the book project that is almost complete. I remembered days when I had to watch every step for fear of falling. I planned future hikes, not certain when they will occur. But mostly I just appreciated the year that is coming to a close later today. I reminded myself just how fortunate I was this year. I walked 2185.9 miles, all northward, on the Appalachian Trail. I was never sick, I sustained no significant injuries, and I met so many wonderful people along the way. For those who followed the journey as well as those who hiked along with me, from Don’s Brother, I would like to wish all of you many days filled with wonderment as this year concludes and another arrives. Happy New Year, my friends!