Three Forks to Springer Mountain: Contemplations on the Appalachian Trail

Along the AT

Along the AT

All of a sudden it was our last weekend in the US. 13 weeks down, only one to go until we head back to Ireland.  It’s been a great summer, 10 cities, 13,000 miles flown, family, new friends, old friends, and incredible adventures. So, naturally it flew by. A recap deserves its own post, so for now: our last weekend we spent camping along the AT. 

Georgia surprised us. We’ve loved our time in Atlanta, and it’s an easy winner of the three cities we’ve lived in this summer (Seattle and San Francisco of course hold a forever place). The city, which has relatively low cost of living is large enough that the weekends feel vibrantly alive, especially since we’re pretty central to all the action. But it’s not so large that it’s overwhelming or chaotic. There are excellent food options. It doesn’t typically snow. And the outdoors? A few hours drive and we were in the Appalachians, along one of the most gorgeous trails I’ve hiked.

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Campsites along Three Forks are all first come first serve, but they are primitive (no facilities) so they do weed out a fair number of campers, no large RV campers with unruly kids to be found! Plus the sites are spread out enough that you don’t see other campsites anyway. They vary in size, ours was a two-tent site with a fire pit along the creek. I’d venture to say it’s the best campsite I’ve ever had. After claiming our site we set out to hike the beginning of the AT to the southern terminus at Springer Mountain.

Southern Terminus

Southern Terminus

It was an easy 8.6 mile out and back. When we reached Springer Mountain a father was taking a picture of his son who had just thru-hiked northbound. He hadn’t gotten a picture at the beginning five months prior so he returned just for that. I can’t describe the envy I felt in that moment. When we were hiking in Olympic we talked about many things, and we spent a good amount of time analyzing why we feel more impressed by say a PCT thru-hiker than a CEO of a company. I’ve long stopped subscribing to the American definition of success and am generally far more impressed by people who do things that seem extraordinarily outside the norm of most people’s tolerance and drive. Which usually means physical things, though not always. I’m impressed by thru-hikers and ultra runners, because those are endeavors I both want and am deeply afraid of pursuing. The singular pursuit of such lofty goals despite pain and difficulty amazes me. Of course, plenty of people achieve great things in many spectrums of life, in their businesses, in their families, in overcoming. But I can tangibly relate my own ability and grit to those who engage in the same interests. So when I meet thru-hikers I’m a bit awe-struck. It’s not as if I don’t think I could do it, I know I can. I know what it means to hike 25 miles in a day, with a pack, and know if I had the time and motivation, I could do that everyday for several months. It would be the hardest, but also probably one of (if not the) most defining acts of my life.

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But, life of course. It’s not that I want to hike the AT necessarily or the PCT. But a several month thru-hike is high on my life to-do list. Te Araroa dominates the top of that list currently. Contemplating that desire was what occupied much of my headspace as I walked those first miles, feeling this incredible pull for a monumental, extraordinary adventure. I imagine approaching thirty has something to do with this. When I was 23, I had years ahead before I had to negotiate my life desires: grand adventures and a non-stationary life with having a family and a bit more consistency. I recognize these pursuits are not mutually exclusive, they just require compromise, and family introduces new adventures that were previously impossible. And yet, I think I might be slightly mourning a time in my life when packing up and leaving was super easy. I keep finding my mind drifting back to my 5-months in Asia, solo and paired. It was the best trip of my life. And while I know there are so many adventures ahead of me/us, I still have the looming fear of being stationary. I don’t even like committing to plants. I refuse to buy or rent a house because the last thing I want to do is care for (or pay for someone to care for) a lawn, amongst other reasons, but that seems to be my sticking point. Why spend money on landscape when we could fly to Mongolia? I don’t want to spend enough time at home to care about my lawn.

Our Kind of Home

Our Kind of Home

Being out in nature lately has set off these rolling thoughts that permeate every step. I love it out there, I love needing so little. That adventure overrules comfort and ease at every turn. How much less I desire. I love pushing myself. I love that every moment out in the world feels so significant. Or that spending four hours building and tending a fire is the single pursuit of the evening. Where together Alex and I can share beers and sandwiches and just be with one another without technological distractions. I feel infected by the desire to move, I still don’t know if that will ever leave, but I’m clinging to it. Sometimes I think it would be nice to settle-down for a bit, to have a community, a sense of place. And I do want those things. But, also, I don’t. So, I hope our future kids feel the same way. I anticipate instead of nesting and painting a nursery I’ll be planning next adventure (big or small) and purchasing one of those awesome Osprey Pocos. And maybe it’s going to be a bit harder in the future to go thru-hike a trail or backpack around Asia, but I’m not going to stop spending my evenings researching topics like “best hiking in Albania.”

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The Trail: My Happy Place

So this weekend, out in the wilderness I allowed myself to think, and perhaps reminisce a fair bit.  But it would be unwise to live in that space. I’m no longer 23, and for the most part, that’s a very good thing (though, I’d take my past ability to handle jet lag like it was no big thing). It was a great way to finish our time in the states, with an adventure, and a bit of contemplation. As we end our summer, and head back towards our final months in Dublin I’m looking forward to the adventures not yet had, to the trails unhiked. To start, I signed up for my first race, a half-marathon at the end of November, almost exactly 6 months from when I started running. I’m really excited to tackle training for the next 9 weeks, and hit my first double digit run this week. I only wish I’d found running earlier, it’s been such a welcome joy in my life lately and I’m so excited to see what my body (and mind) is capable of on the track.

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