up Springer Mountain, GA (the start of their journey)
Sign at the top of Mount Katahdin, ME (the end of their journey)
Here are a few reflections from our intrepid Hansel:
Georgia to Maine! Springer Mountain to Mount Katahdin! 2181 miles! 14 states! Right now though all I can really think about is my two sore feet and how happy I am to be home. It is hard to write my thoughts on the conclusion of such a huge event in my life but I will do my best. The first thing that I want to do before I say any more is to thank some people who desperately need to be thanked. First I want to thank Rebecca. Without her by my side for almost the entire hike I know that I would not have been able to do this. If nothing else I would have been forced off by starvation. The times that were the most difficult for me were the times when I was on my own. The only part of the trip in which I doubted my ability to complete the whole trail was when I didn’t have her with me pushing me on. Her strength and power of will amazed me and motivated me from start to finish and I cannot express how indebted I am to her for my success. A lot of people have asked and wondered if we fought a lot throughout the hike and I can honestly and proudly say that not once did we have a serious argument. As far as siblings go we were unusually close when we started this thing and we are even closer now that we have completed it.
Next I have to thank my Mom and Dad for getting me through it all. I am not a bit embarrassed to admit that there were some tear filled conversations with them at some particularly difficult moments on the trip. I will never forget crying on the phone with my mom as I walked through New York and having her reassure me that “Sometimes it’s hard. I know. But you can do this!” Or sitting outside Madison Hut in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, tears of exhaustion and frustration running down my face, listening to my dad tell me that “It is hard to be a leader. This is the challenge, but I know you can do it. You are strong enough to see this through. You’re almost there!” I also have to thank the two of them for introducing us to the Appalachian Trail in the first place. There are a million other things that I have to thank them for as well but I could fill a book with that so I think I will move on to the next person I need to thank…
Amanda, the last of the fab five that is our family. The amount of time and effort that she put into this blog and our fundraiser is unbelievable. There were times that we would call her in the evening and she would excitedly answer the phone and say “Wait like two seconds I’m driving on the highway and I have to pull over so I can take notes! Hold on…oh where is that pen…oh, ok got it. Ok go!” She made sure that she had every detail of all of our crazy stories so that she could share the whole experience with all of you! She added her creativity and humor to our endeavors and made even the most mundane activities entertaining. She also helped us coordinate everything from mail drops to family pickups and conveyed messages from all of our followers to us as we made our way up the coast. All the behind the scenes work that she did really helped keep us motivated and for all of that she definitely deserves a huge shout out.
Finally I want to thank everyone who has contributed to our success in anyway. Whether you were one of the many trail angels who provided us with support when we least expected it, you contributed to our MSAA fundraiser, or you sent us messages of encouragement along the way I want to thank you and let you know that all of your help was a key component in our ability to make it the whole way.
So now what do I say about the whole thing? To be perfectly honest most of the trip is a big blur at this point. There are some specifics that I can very vividly recall, like watching a fellow thru-hiker named Breeze jump 5 feet in the air and scream like a girl when a 4 foot rattlesnake decided to make its presence known to us as we walked past; however, most of it has blended together in my mind. That probably is a result of the mind-numbing, monotony of the day to day activity. With that said I do remember the feelings that I had throughout the trip: the sense of accomplishment when I made it up Albert Mountain in NC and could look back at where I had come from for the first time, the rush of excitement (tempered by a bit of discomfort) when I woke up in the Smokey Mountains to 3 inches of snow, the nostalgic feeling of homesickness that brought tears to my eyes when I heard “Looking for Space” by John Denver, the fear and awe that surged through me as I weathered a thunderstorm on the top of Arden Mountain in New York, and the exhausted sense of shear amazement and disbelief as I stood on the top of Mount Katahdin in front of that not so arbitrary sign. I experienced some of the strongest emotions of my whole life on this trail and though the keenness of those sensations has already begun to dull, I know I will never be able to completely forget what it was like. I suppose when people are in as extreme a situation as we were in extreme emotion is a natural result.
The other thing that stands out for me when I think about the trail is the people. There were so many wonderful, interesting, and loving people that we meet along the way that I am inclined to say that my favorite part of the whole thing was just that: the people. Along the way some of our fellow hikers have talked about how the kindness they were shone restored their faith in humanity. Well, for me, my faith didn’t need restoring, but with that said my experiences on the trail certainly strengthened the faith that was already there. When a complete stranger offers drive you to their house so they can offer you a shower, do your disgusting laundry, feed you dinner and then take you grocery shopping you can do nothing but be completely amazed (and of course thank them profusely). As unbelievable as such an occurrence may seem it actually happened a few times to me on the trial! What is more, a lot of the people who helped me actually thanked me for allowing them too! To be honest the more I think about it while I write the harder it is for me to believe a lot of the generosity and kindness I was shown. I don’t even have a word powerful enough to express it.
It isn’t just the “trail angles” who I will not be able to forget, it is also the other hikers who we encountered along the way. Though their contributions were of a different sort, my fellow hikers helped me through this whole thing in ways that no one else could. Each person I meet along the way contributed in some way to my experience and without every one of them it would not have been what it was. I will be telling stories about the wonderful characters I meet for the rest of my life, and though the trail friendships I made may not last, the memories that I created with those friends will never leave me.
I am sure that I will have many more thoughts and reflections as the whole experience continues to sink in, but for now I will leave you all with that. Thank you all so much for following along and I hope you all will check back again in September to see the bonus stories that Amanda will be posting!