by Scott Kimball
A humbleness to truly understand every step of a mile. A pride that fuels every stride over perilous rocks or through mind numbing cold rain. Over some of the oldest mountains in the world. Where life is wild. The rich air carries a hint of years past, the distant past, to a time that nature, Gods way, was unimpeded. I began walking in mid spring and I would bear the intense heat of summer before watching fall takeover the woods. I became part of the Appalachian trail for five months, and the trail would become part of me forever.
With every bite of my pancakes I became more nauseous. “What have I got myself into?” I thought as we watched the weather on the T.V. hanging in the corner. We were at a diner in Millinocket, ME. The closest town to the beginning or end of the Appalachian Trail.
“Happy Fathers Day” I said as I handed my father a card while swinging around on the chair.
After the only unfinished meal of my hike we got in the car and drove away. “Do I have everything?” I repeated to myself. The list of the items in my pack went through my mind again and again. I know I forgot the one thing I’m going to need. Oh well, its too late now, its time to walk. Its 10 am as we enter Baxter State Park and I’m nervous to get started. The guide book suggested an early start, should I wait till tomorrow. It’s only 5 miles up and an easy 5 down right?
The mountain loomed over the trees, surprised by the flatness of the top I searched for a peak. As we drove closer to the campground the mountain background disappeared into thick trees thriving in spring. The goodbye with my parents was rushed, the first mountain was going to be climbed, I was burning sunlight.
The first mile paralleled Katahdin stream in dense forest before rising steeply along side the falls. The powerful thunder of the falls could be heard well after leaving the area, and grew quieter as I climbed. Eventually the trees began to get shorter and the rocks much larger. After scaling several large boulders I stopped to catch my breath, turning around I gasped at the amazing view. A long stretch of flat swamp, with large ponds and lakes scattered throughout. Basically a giant mosquito farm, which created the most annoying insect that would be very bothersome for the weeks to come.
Now above tree line the path ahead seemed to keep getting higher and higher. Some of the rocks had metal handles which helped but still, the climbing was rough and I was very glad to not have a pack on. Ascending to the area known as the table lands, because it’s a large stretch of much flatter trail, I watched my footing over the thousands of rocks no larger than a few feet. Then at last I saw the top, the wind battered sign marking the end or beginning of thousands of hardened hikers’ journey. I stopped to snack and enjoy the view. I had no idea what I had gotten myself into but knew I was in love with it.
Exactly five months later I found myself in Georgia. Walking the last miles of the trail. It was a surreal feeling, for awhile I felt as though I may never stop walking, never stop aching and hurting, never stop adapting to uncivilized nature. My body had become a hiking machine and I felt as though I could conquer anything. It was amazing. I have many stories and scars but also a swagger. A certain feeling of immense accomplishment, more so then any other thing I had ever done. I had enrolled at The Appalachian University, traveled with fall down the East Coast, and by graduating became part of a community that only several thousand are a part of.
The most profound lesson of the trail was the beauty of nature. The rocks and dirt that made mountains, the plants that colored them and the wildlife that shared it all with me. I saw moose, black bears, porcupines, beavers, hundreds of different snakes, birds and other reptiles, and the bothersome insects that managed to infiltrate my space no matter what. I met thousands of people from all over the world. The large majority of which were so kind I was bewildered with their generosity. I was able to help rescue a man suffering from a heart attack in New Hampshire, an experience that gave me the courage to continue even when I was extremely battered and ready to quit. I reflected on my life, my friends, my family, and how much they all meant to me. It was hard at times, and easy at others, but I attacked it all with the same attitude, be positive. The main thing I learned was that no matter what happens, if you maintain a positive outlook on life, only good will come of it.
About the Author
Scott is an avid hiker, snowboarder and mountain biker looking to start freelance writing.