“If you can’t do great things, do small things in a great way.” – Napoleon Hill
Happy Thanksgiving readers! The approaching end of the year always makes me look over my “Uber List,” which is essentially the combination of a bucket list for the year with a smidge of resolution. One of my goals was to read 30 books in 2022. I have fully completed 10, so I am attempting to speed read the 3 I’m about halfway through, then listen to another one during my commute. For the first few weeks of November, I listened to Becoming Odyssa by Jennifer Pharr Davis. She has not only thru-hiked many trails, but she set the speed record for the Appalachian Trail in 2011. For me, this book made me feel bleaker about my goals than inspiring. As John-Paul Sartre once said, “hell is other people.” Listening to her talk about thru-hiking and at times talk down about weekenders, it made me think “well what is the point of this anyway?” I cannot thru-hike at this stage of my life. I’m not setting any world records. All I can do is focus on my short-term goals and dream of long-term goals, like finish the AT and then thru-hike the PCT or CDT. Another end of the year goal was to make it to 300 miles, which Ken and I did last weekend. The weather was cold, the daylight is limited, so we decided to complete 22 miles in one day just two weeks after completing 24 in a day and vowing to never do so again. We got up to PA Friday night and spent the night in a hotel. After getting coffee we again used Mike to shuttle us from Sherwood Drive up to Peters Mountain Road. In our 22 miles, the total ascent was 3,698.2 feet and descent of 2,809.4 with the total grade of 294.6 ft/mi. Along the way I saw a dead black snake, touched a hay barrel for the first time in my life, and spent some time allowing myself to get angry with other people to add some fuel to my tank to keep going.
“Try not to become a person of success, but rather try to become a person of value.” -Albert Einstein
The small towns along the Appalachian Trail in Pennsylvania have been quaint, a little run down in places but full of wonderful people. Mike is a patient, kind shuttle driver who told us all about his old house which used to be a bed and breakfast as we snaked along the Susquehanna River on our way up to the drop off site. He’s very likely a few years younger than my parents, but reminds me of both of them. He has a hippie spirit like my mom, tells interesting stories steeped in details like my dad. And best of all, he lets me gulp down my hot coffee in the back seat on our way to the trail. We got to the parking lot on Peters Mountain Road around 7:45 am and began the day high on the ridge. Dressed in warm layers with a very light pack loaded with only food for the day, water, hand warmers and an extra jacket, we set off across a bridge and into the woods. A light snow dusted the leaves, bushes and fallen trees along the sides of the trail. I felt good that morning. I had enjoyed a nice week prior to getting out onto the trail. I knew this would be the last AT hike of 2022, so I set the intention on enjoying it as much as I could because it will be a few months before I get back out there. Our first four miles were along the ridge going southbound. We had great views on both sides of the ridge, including the Susquehanna River and Duncannon running alongside it. The descent down to the river was slick and steep. It was almost 1,00 feet down along a narrow path covered with leaves. I could have sworn I was going to slip and go straight over to the left where the slope was steep down to the bottom. We made it all the way to the bottom before Ken slipped, but his landing was soft in a pile of leaves and no one went rolling down the side of a mountain.
At the bottom of the mountain, we crossed over railroad tracks, then over the Susquehanna River on a pedestrian walk adjacent to a highway. It was very cold on the bridge, the wind whipping cool air off the river and into our faces. We crossed over the Juniata River on a small bridge and as we made our way into Duncannon, I saw a dead black snake laying on the side of an overpass. I remembered asking the universe for a sign a few years ago, specifically that I would know that it was the right thing to do to leave my ex-husband if I saw a snake. It was also a cold fall day and only a few hours after asking for a sign, I came across a black snake in my driveway. Anytime I see a snake since then, I take notice. The trail goes through about 3 miles of road walking in Duncannon, PA. The town had banners lining the street of veterans, celebrating their hometown heroes for Veterans Day. The houses we passed varied greatly. Some looked abandoned, others had a lot of trash and old furniture out on the front porches, while others were freshly painted and covered in Halloween decorations. The town felt empty. We walked past a mailwoman, a father and son blowing leaves and maybe two other people. Despite some run down dwellings, the town has its value. Duncannon not only celebrated its veterans, we also passed a church for hikers, Hiker Laundry, and a free pantry for hikers constructed by a girl scout. I didn’t mind walking in town. I had chosen to try hiking in Brooks running shoes this time, instead of boots, and my feet felt light on the sidewalk.
Leaving Duncannon, I called my dad quickly to say hi since he had been on my mind, and we had our first (and only) big climb of the day. It was an elevation gain of 785 feet but it felt like more since there were no switch backs. A lot of stairs help hikers gain elevation, followed by stretches of slightly uphill trail, until we got to one switch back and then a bunch of stairs up to a lookout point. At the top we caught our breath, snapped a picture, and then it was back to hiking. Although we were not completely racing a clock, we had 22 miles to cover in one day. At this point I took the lead and decided that as long as it was flat, I was going to walk as fast as I possibly could. Did I mention the hotel we were staying at that night has a hot tub? Thinking about a warm dinner and a soak in a hot tub made me pick up the pace. The only tricky thing about the next three miles was that the trail is covered in rocks. In my journal I wrote, “Lots of rocks. Three miles of rocks. And this isn’t even the rocky part of PA!?!”
“What seems to us as bitter trials are often blessings in disguise.” -Oscar Wilde
The rocky trail was nothing. The next descent was the most challenging. Leaves, loose rocks under leaves, steep decline all slowed down my hot-tub-loving pace. It felt a lot like skiing. The small muscles and tendons around my ankles and knees fired up as I inched my way down in a crouch, hoping not to fall. I was worried that running shoes would not have the same grip as my hiking boots, but the Brooks tread was good, and I avoided falling several times. The sun was beginning to set as we approached the end of the hike. Since our conversation had lulled, I pulled ahead a bit and allowed myself to get angry, knowing that it would be brief, to fire myself up. When I first came up with the idea to hike the Appalachian Trail in 2019, I hadn’t heard of Cheryl Strayed and immediately watched Wild with Reese Witherspoon. I kind of look like her. I can still write about my post-divorce Appalachian Trail Hikes right? Well there’s also the other, more famous Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love and queen of the post-divorce-journey-to-find-yourself-lit. I thought about this, about not being a thru-hiker and other silly things that make me question myself. I got angry about not being the best, fastest, hardest, first, most original and marched on in a huff.
Eventually I realized my blood sugar was low, slowed down, explained to Ken that I was not angry with him – somehow he didn’t take much notice of me stomping in silence for miles- and resolved that none of that matters one iota. I am doing this for me. Well, I started this journey/project for me but really now it’s for us. Combining a love of backpacking with the desire to write makes me happy and maybe inspires some people who also don’t have the time or means to be the best, fastest, hardest, first or most original. The last 2 miles we hiked in the dark along the Cumberland Valley and talked about Thanksgiving, moving in together and how we were proud of accomplishing our goal.
A few days after we returned from the trip, I was running when I saw another dead snake. There are many different possible interpretations of the spiritual significance. We hiked 22 miles to finish off 2022 so I thought I’d also search up the 22 angel number and found this: “The balance and duality that angel number 22 holds within symbolizes our feminine and masculine energies and how these powerful vibrations have an important part to play in the realization of our soul’s true purpose on this earth. Receiving this number as your angel’s message is a sign that you are on the right path and that you should continue doing what your soul and spirit feel called to do,” source. Then the dead snake symbolism that best matches that is about change. “It can be a sign that your rebirth is coming. This means changes will be happening for you soon. You have the power to manifest those changes into things you want. If you have been on the fence about things, take the leap of faith that the snake is prompting you to do,” source.
“Motivation is an internal process. Whether we define it as a drive or a need, motivation is a condition inside us that desires a change, either in the self or the environment.” – Positive Psychology
I hope you are on your paths, readers and that as you reflect on 2022 you get the sense that you were on the right path. I will continue on my path of covering the Appalachian Trail one section at a time, but more importantly I will continue to grow by quieting the parts of me filled with self-doubt and apprehension.