Below the summit of a sacred mountain sits a small base camp where thousands of hikers have laid their bodies, minds and souls down for a final nights rest along the Appalachian trail. It was here that I awoke, so anxious yet, so calm. Gentle snores and wind rustled leaves were the soundtrack to my camp breakdown. While friends slept on, I quietly slipped away, alone, into the welcoming darkness of 4:am. This is where I belonged. This is what I had envisioned. For over three months. This was my moment. My time to reflect as I climbed the trails last 5 miles to its final summit. Not a soul would I pass on the way up. Alone, I would see the skies starry canvas become splashed with the gentle colors of dawn. Undistracted, as I held on so tightly, I would feel the chilly, silky touch of night cooled boulders against my skin. Secluded, I would slow my pace to allow for deep breaths of forest air as it merged with the subtle warmth of a rising sun. And cloistered, I would arrive to stand atop the “greatest mountain”, Katahdin, as named by the 11,000 year native people of Maine, the Penobscot. I quickly understood why this mountain, in all its sacredness, asks us to celebrate our endeavor quietly and respectfully. A top another mountain in awe, reveling and wondering how the hell I got here!
As countless thoughts, memories and experiences rolled into one giant ball of excitement I was immediately overwhelmed with emotion. Even as I stood solo, I felt that everything…every moment, every person…all along the 2,189.5 footpath and beyond, was there, right then, with me. I was so beautifully overwhelmed. Then,one by one, came my cohort. While they had their own personal moments of reflection with Katahdin, I quietly held an internal dance party for each of them. We all gave each other the space and time we needed; then we joined together to celebrate…Togheter in reflection, I realized that community, in its many forms, was the greatest part of the journey. On this path we are so privileged to be amidst a continually changing community of unique individuals. Friend and stranger alike…Two legged…And four legged…In Rain…And in shine…We find a community of support, kindness and love…That stretches far beyond the trail itself. I can see it on the horizon and it is from here that I send out my deepest thanks…How fortunate I am to have had these experiences…How fortunate I am to have you…Thank you all for everything! Thank you for knowing me and letting me know you! Thank you for not just your tolerance but your acceptance of what we do as thru-hikers. Thank you for all of the stories you have shared, every word of encouragement, every word of wisdom and every last word of advice! Thank you you for showing me the east and for helping me truly SEE this country, one community and one smile at a time. Thank you for giving me culture; for differences and commonalities alike. Thank you for every big hug, every puppy dog, every high five, every car ride, every tour, every trail days, every meal, every snack, every glass of ice water, every shower, every load of laundry, every dry shelter, every beer, every soda, every phone call, every message, every bit of love and every bit of magic! Thank you!