In 2012 my boyfriend Chris invited me on a two week backpacking trip. I had never been camping and I didn’t know the first thing about it. I loved hiking. Nature is my happy place. I decided to go.
The plan was to hike southbound on the Appalachian Trail beginning in Delaware Water Gap. We would see how far we could get, then we’d turn around after 7 days and head back the way we came.
Our plans changed about three days in. There was simply no turning back.
We were sitting at the One Ten Tavern in Palmerton with our friend Matthew, waiting out a rain storm and drinking a beer. The forecast was calling for heavy rain and thunderstorms but we were unswayed. We would be heading back to the trail soon, even in the midst of the storm. We wanted to keep hiking. Matthew told us to go for it. He encouraged us to see how far we could go and told us he would pick us up wherever we made it to on day fourteen.
That decision was life-changing.
For two weeks we battled storms, mosquitoes, and busted boots. We climbed over Knife’s Edge in the dark, got turned around at the rock pile near the Pinnacle and couldn’t find the trail, and ran out of water in the hot, exposed Superfund site over Lehigh Gap. We made a lot of mistakes.
But I don’t regret a single moment.
The rewards of hiking far outweigh any unfavorable elements. The two weeks I spent hiking over the unforgiving rocks of Pennsylvania were some of the greatest days of my life. I felt strong, and beautiful, and at one with the universe.
The unadulterated time I got to spend with Chris was something that I’m sure few couples get to experience in the early stages of a relationship. We were together 24/7 for two whole weeks. It was an incredible look into who we were as individuals and as one unit. I discovered our strengths. We could be a solid team. And our weaknesses. We both are grumpy when we are tired and hungry. The trail has a way of exposing our true nature. We are still together six years later. I believe, in part, because of our time on the trail.
When day fourteen came, we had reached Swatara Gap. We wanted to stay in the woods. It was very hard to go back home to our “normal” lives. Chris and I had talked about making a thru-hike a reality. Now that we had found immense joy and satisfaction in two weeks, we knew it would be something we were definitely going to pursue.
I remember returning home and taking a walk on the levee that dams the Broadhead Creek. It was a warm August evening and the sun was casting an orange glow on everything in my path. I looked to the blue ridge mountains and felt a painful yet beautiful feeling. I had just been in the mountains. I had just realized a dream. I had just conquered fears. I didn’t want the feeling to go away. I stood there to take it all in.
Being home no longer felt quite like home. The mountains were my home. The forest my “living room.” I felt like I was bursting out of my seams. I quite literally had a dream that my work uniform no longer fit. I was growing, changing. My life would never be the same again. There was no turning back.
In 2014 Chris and I hiked the entire Appalachian Trail. We took our time. Seven months. It was an incredible time in my life. The two week trip, undoubtedly prepared me to make the long journey. In the next few weeks I will post more about that.