Mile Unknown


It’s been six months since Katahdin. Misfit has dawned her hat a few times since her descent from Katahdin. During that time, her Christmas toes regained their feeling; the thousand-mile stare faded, and the world that initially seemed to move at a breakneck speed became manageable once again. What few seem to realize, and many choose to overlook, is that the AT doesn’t end at Katahdin. The peak marks the trail’s end, but the journey continues beyond that last day in the woods. The AT changes you.

Attempting such a significant departure from everyday life necessitates giving up a part of yourself that longs for the comforts of a house and on-demand resources, two-day shipping, and social media. You become primal. Focused on a singular goal. As a hiker, one sees tangible progress every day they live out in the forest. A hiker must count their meals and find a balance between their ability and their load. Both physically and mentally. If you don’t submit to the journey, then you are doomed to fail. Hiking the AT requires faith. Faith in yourself. Faith in others. The AT breaks people down to their most basic elements, immediately separating needs from wants. But, it does not relent and always provides.

Misfit sits at her computer. She tries to find the words to describe how she feels and fails to unearth the magical combination. To the outside world, she appears normal enough. However, she feels broken. Like a puzzle missing a piece. She longs to be plugged back into her world. Her home. She is chained to her responsibilities. Her thoughts often wander to the parable of “The Cave.” A story where all we see are shadows of the real world. One of the cave dwellers escapes the cave to see firsthand what the world is and, upon returning, tries to share this knowledge with her people. They don’t understand. They don’t know color or dimension. They don’t have words for dirt and sky. So they stay in their cave, while the one who escaped remains caught between worlds. Between understandings. Misfit feels like she is the one who escaped. She is homesick for the AT. So, she sits and waits for the words to share what she feels and experiences so that she might impart a modicum of understanding to the cave dwellers around her. Yet those words never come.

It is March. It is twelve months to the day from when Misfit paused her career, picked up a pack, and headed to Georgia. She longs to be that person again. To chase adventure. To dive into the unknown. To be scared, uncomfortable, excited, and all the other things she felt in those weeks leading up to April 5th, when she left the real world behind.

“The real world.”

Misfit doesn’t feel real here. She feels like a ghost — an echo. The real world is hyper-color and noisy. It’s sponsored content. It’s a commercial for everything you don’t have that makes life better, bigger, and more fulfilling. It’s a hollow promise. So, she makes plans to return to the trail. Fits and spurts when and where she can spare a week, a day, or even an hour. She leans on her fellow hikers like a support group trying to make sense of her experiences. They, too, are having rough transitions back to society. So many of them, forever changed, drifting through the world slightly out of time with the rest of the population. They are addicts. They are addicted to the endorphin rush of a beautiful view. They crave the inhuman distance of a wooded path in front of them like a red carpet. They long for the challenge of rugged terrain and heed the call of the mountains. It’s hard, if not impossible, to find that in “the real world.”

She closes the text editor and pulls up a new window. The address bar hints at her motives. “Discover The Pacific Crest Trail” in bold type across the top. She stares at the page momentarily, a smile growing as the thought creeps in, “Maybe.”

<< Summit Day

Table of Contents