Near Saddlehill Key – March 6, 2013
Nine years ago today, spring hadn’t reached North Georgia and the trees looked dead with winter. The air felt cold, crisp and cold, and I wore a black fleece hat that I’d stolen from my dad. The ranger station has a hook outside to weigh your pack. Mine weighed 45 pounds. I put it up and took it down in a moment, shy, quiet, not wanting anyone else to see. I felt intimidated and small and wanted to be invisible. I thought everyone stared at me, deciding if I would make it.
I told myself I didn’t care if I made it, that I would go as far as I could, that I would just walk, but I knew I was lying. I did care, I wanted to finish it. I wanted to believe in myself even if I didn’t.
Seven miles later, I saw the first white blaze of the Appalachian Trail, a rectangle of white paint on a rock, and froze. I stared at it for a long time. I camped by it. I woke up and stared at it again. I wondered how many others had stared at that same strip of paint hoping it would lead them to Maine.
And it did.
One blaze after another, one mile after another, one state after another, until I stood on a dock and jumped into a lake in mid-July.
It felt like summer. The kind of summer you see in glossy Madison Avenue ads, except it wasn’t on a billboard hung in the sky or folded in a magazine. It was real, the baking sun, blue water, friends laughing, our skin glistening in the light, a beautiful moment in the shadow of Katahdin.
A shadow I saw just a few hours before for the first time, a shadow heralding the northern end of the Appalachian Trail.
That white blaze had kept its promise.
I didn’t know what to think when I saw the end. Was I expecting neon lights blazing the answers to all life’s questions? Katahdin is just a mountain, simple and still, coated in so many hopes and dreams. I stared at it, waiting for an answer that never came, then I smiled and returned to the beautiful summer day, to my friends splashing in the lake, to the moment.
Maybe the neon lights are only visible from the top. Maybe swimming in a lake with your friends and laughing until it hurts, is more important than neon lights anyway. Maybe I was frightened.
If you knew where the end of the world was, would you walk to it? Would you leap off?
That is what seeing Katahdin felt like. It felt like the end of the world and my one goal in life was to reach it and jump. From the moment I saw the mountain, I knew every step ended what I loved, every step felt like happiness soaked in pain, the bitter bringing out the sweet. After months of struggling to get there, after rain-soaked days and blistered feet, after blizzards and blood, I didn’t want to finish.
Key West is glowing on the horizon and it feels like the world that started nine years ago is about to end.