Every year when I was in college I made sure to put away a little money so I could buy myself something nice that I wanted. Usually it was something I was going to get myself anyway, or something that would have been too complicated to ask for. My first real suit was a gift to myself at Christmas. (Seriously guys, do yourself a favor and go get a good suit, shirt and shoes to match.)
This year I didn’t do anything for myself. Chalk it up to the plan that fell apart, the failed relationship that blew up in my face, post-trail depression. Lack of money is a big part of it. Whatever the reasons, I didn’t do something that had become a tradition for myself.
I got this in the mail yesterday.
It’s just a piece of paper – but it carries so much meaning to me, and anyone else who has hiked the AT. You are official and in the books as being a thru-hiker.
There is always a lot of discussion among people, especially those who are getting ready to hike and those who have been done for a long time, about what exactly “thru-hiker” means. What the definition is. The generally accepted one is all 2185.7 miles (this number changes every year) of the Appalachian Trail within 365 days.
For me this was reached on June 3rd, when I reached the point where I had gotten off the previous year in November. I had completed all the miles within 365 days – my hike would have been counted as a flip-flop.
I kept hiking north. I went back to Katahdin.
It was one of the best decisions I have ever made.
I’ve had a lot of ups and down this past year. I look back to where I was a year ago and remember how I felt. It’s a lot of the same feelings – longing for the trail, despair at being in my parent’s basement again, feelings of depression. But there is something bigger there this year – something important beyond my broken heart for a girl and lovesick soul for the people on the trail.
The realization of accomplishment of something so profound that it has changed my life in so many innumerable ways already.
My hike wasn’t defined by my pursuit of this piece of paper. It was defined by the people I met and the miles I walked. But along with everyone else who finished this year, I am now officially recognized as having done this.
It feels good to have that.
So merry Christmas everyone. I ended up with a gift for myself this year that I couldn’t be happier with. It didn’t cost me much – just 2185.7 miles and 6 months of my life.
And I wouldn’t trade it for anything.