Wednesday, March 25, 2015

2. The Last Day

You wake up before the sunrise. You hadn't intended to do so, but your eyes gently open just as the sun starts to nudge the horizon. The light slips quietly between the trees, these trees you've grown to know so well. This forest has become as second nature to you as the walls of your childhood bedroom. With every mile you hiked, every state line you crossed, the forest changed and became something new. The seasons passed, the foliage changed, the animals emerged from hibernation and filled the world with sound. And yet your feet remained on the trail, on the common thread that connected all things. The trail has become a new childhood room, a new place where you grew up. It is a room where you will keep your heart.

You roll over and shake awake your hiking partners. There is a tense, delicious excitement in the air as everyone rubs sleep from their eyes while talking just a little louder and just a little faster than usual. You pack your sleeping bag away and disassemble your tent, not for the last time, but for the last time in this particular chapter of your life. Here you are, doing this mundane thing you've done now hundreds of times, but you become keenly aware that this time it's different. You are packing away your home. You're moving away. You get to spend one last glorious day here in this place that you've grown to love, and then you have to leave it all behind.

Because that's the hardest part: you can never go back. Yes, you know you can hike other trails. You know that you could even re-hike this trail one day, and perhaps the scenery will be just about the same as it was the first time. But the people won't be the same. The world around you won't be the same. You won't be the same. The awareness of this loss is playing quietly in the back of your mind like a bittersweet song.

This song is one that brings you incredible joy and deep, unbound sorrow. It is Both/And. It is both beautiful and heartbreaking. Sometimes it is so very hard to hold these two feelings simultaneously in your heart, while giving equal weight and credence to both. But it is what you have to do, because you have no choice. You are here at the end of your journey, and all aspects of yourself are honest, real and raw. You cannot shut out either part of you, because without the sadness you would not have the wonder.

Everyone around you slides their arms into their packs for the last time. You clip your hip belt around you, your backpack hugging your frame like the old friend that it is. Everyone sets off down the trail without much ceremony, talking and laughing like it's just another day out here. You find yourself suddenly so much more fascinated with every white blaze, wondering silently how many more you have left before you get to the end. Is it fifteen more? Ten?


The closer you get to the top, the quieter everyone becomes. The energy funnels inward, and each person becomes aware that they have to take these last few steps alone. Your hiking party will separate just a little bit, or maybe a lot, as people pace themselves out to take exactly the time they need to be able to get to the end in the way they need. You will catch yourself in a moment of silence. Excitement will start to well up inside you, a rising tide that touches your toes, pulls back, then washes over your feet. With each successive wave, more of you is consumed into the surf. But you're not totally immersed yet. You have just a little more to go.

You become fascinated with the shape of every rock and every leaf. You feel the breath of the wind on every follicle of hair on your skin. You stare in wonder as the fog rolls in over the high mountain peak, and you feel that you become a giant as the trees shrink down smaller and smaller until they are gone and you are walking across a rocky desert in the sky.

Looking up, you realize there are shapes not so far away. Shadows forming into solids out of the mist. One of these shapes is a sign, the marker for the end, the final white blaze. The last wave of excitement hits you like a wall, the jubilation exploding inside of you. It takes every ounce of will power not to run. Unconsciously you count your steps backward from ten.

And then, just like that, you're there.

The ocean catches in your throat, the laughter and the tears coming out in a small sob. Then you are cheering, whooping, screaming into the abyss of the valley below and all around you. You are being wrapped into hugs, feeling so many arms around you. Everyone's voices meld into one, and you bury your face in the shoulder of someone who has loved you since the first moment of the trail, or has grown to love through your journey together. You breathe in everyone's buzzing, exuberant energy, and resist breathing out for fear that you will never again be able to hold that much love in your lungs at one time.

You exhale and gently push everyone away as you step to the sign. You are alone for a moment. Everything fades away, and the song in your mind swells to a powerful, instrumental chorus of strings and keys, the music of your experiences carrying you through the air. You are flying away, your body lifting off the ground, and you have to grab a hold of the sign to bring you back down to earth. Your fingers curl around the old, weathered wood, and you close your eyes, feeling the full presence of your body in this space.

"Thank you," you whisper.

And somewhere, through the wind and the fog, through the months of pain and perfection, through every single moment where you learned something new about yourself, through all of this, you hear,

"You made it."

And then,

"Be at peace."

And you are.

Clever Girl


  1. Everyone one of the last ten stories of these have made us tear up. Powerful stories which captures the spirit of the trail and the hikers. The writing absolutely soars and carries us with it. Someone once told me that words aren't meaning; they're merely the containers of meaning. The words can never fully capture what it in the heart; unspoken and unwritten. But the most articulate amongst us can craft containers of such beauty that others can get a glimpse beyond the words into the pool of meaning the containers hold. Thank you for making the unseen parts of the trail visible to those of us who can only visit from afar. We are better people for being carried on your journey. Love, Mom and Dad

  2. :) :,) :0 What your dad, the Captain, said. Bravo!