Getting into town last night was an experience. I exited the woods on a busy road with lots of cars passing by and thought it would be a cinch to get a ride. The people in the passing cars, however, looked at me like I was from outer space.
Near trail towns, the locals normally stop for hikers walking on the road toward town to ask if they would like a ride. This was not the case. Just when I decided I would call a cab, a young black man that had passed by with a car full of passengers earlier, passed by again. He slowed the car and asked me if I was OK. I admit I must have looked pretty bad—the day had been hot, muddy and difficult. I told him I was trying to get into town and was going to call a cab. He told me he would be glad to take me.
This young man, with his beat up car that rattled as it moved, was the only person who stopped for an obviously forlorn and exhausted female hiker. I thanked him and accepted his ride. His door would not open from the outside; he had to lean across the front seat to open it from the inside. He was dressed in shorts and soccer socks and the slip-on sports sandals that the athletes put on when not in cleats.
J.J. was an incredibly delightful young man. Having just graduated from college, he was now a recruiter at Berkshire Academy, a private boarding prep school that he had attended. He was coaching this summer at a private sports camp near where I had come off the trail. He told me that as he had driven by me earlier, one of the passengers in his car had asked him if I was a gypsy.
I had to smile. Six months ago, I would probably have hesitated before getting in his car. Appearances and stereotypes are so deceiving. I never thought I would be mistaken for a gypsy and how many people would look at this remarkable young man and see someone other than who he is? Please, oh, please, let me never forget this lesson.
I started out in March afraid and anxious. It took me months and months to overcome these emotions. Each day was an internal battle. A fight to be stronger than I believed I could be and to find the courage to keep going. I wrote on one of my first blogs that I had a list of personal reasons why I was going on this journey. I read them now and realize that I have learned so much.
Number eight on my list was that I needed to show myself that I was “OK alone. That I did not need anyone else.” That may sound like a very strange reason, but I guess it was one of my insecurities and something I needed to prove to myself. Well, I did prove something to myself, but it is not what I thought.
We ALL need help! We all need each other! We are meant to give help AND accept help. I would not have made it a day without those around me. Help from others on the trail, support from family and friends back home, encouragement from the comments on my blog and the kindness of strangers of all ages, ethnicities and backgrounds. I have been humbled over and over again. So number eight on my list, well, another lesson I will not forget.
The Appalachian Trail is many things, but it is NOT about the destination. It is about the journey. I say this because I now realize that this journey is over for me.
I acknowledged the fact today that my body is not able to keep walking. I feel great when I start each morning but tire much to quickly and am struggling.
It’s funny that it took me months to reach the point of no fear and anxiety, to truly embrace each step. I had so many things happen that could have sent me home, but I knew I could not stop because, secretly, I wanted to be safe at home, so I would not let myself. Now, I love each day that I walk and see incredible beauty in the smallest of details. But now, my body is so tired, not bouncing back, and I am afraid only that I may be doing lasting damage.
I am saddened to think that I will not stand on Katahdin but remind myself that this is about the journey. The journey has been incredible, and I have made the decision to leave the trail and will allow myself no regrets. I have much more to say and will continue to blog as I tell you my stories and what I have learned. I hope that everyone that has been supporting me in this journey will understand this decision. I would never had made it to mile 1524 without all of you.
I did not reach my ultimate goal for Cerebral Palsy of Northwest Florida financially, but to date, we have raised almost $50,000 dollars. I still believe we will raise more, and if you would like to contribute, I know in my heart that every penny will make a difference. You can contribute by following the link.
One more comment for today’s blog. That icy day that my cousin Jeff had to leave me at Neal’s Gap—just before I stepped out on my own full of fear—I met three young men: Adam, Justin and Zach. It was they that changed my name to Mountain Mama. We met Big Gulp and Pretty Bird days later and together we all ventured out to conquer or be conquered on those first bitter cold and snowy days.
Last night, Adam texted me that they were in Great Barrington taking a zero. Amazingly, that is where I was also. This morning before I left the trail for good, the taxi driver drove me to their hotel to say goodbye. I gave the gang my food bag and received a bear hug from each one of them. My heart was breaking; it was full circle. Adam texted me the most wonderful message:
“Mountain Mama, You need to go home and chalk this up as a win. You have done an amazing job on this trail, and I consider myself a better person for having met you.”
But I know, I am the one that was blessed by them. These young men and women, with dreadlocks, gauges in their ears, and huge hearts have made me a better person. My life will never be the same!