Climbing Katahdin was surreal. We woke up at 2AM and hit the Trail shortly after. There were huge thunderstorms the night before but everything had cleared out by the time we started hiking. The sky was clear and a huge moon hung low in the sky. The climb itself was a blast. It is a challenging series of boulder climbs and rock scrambles leading you up to a flat area that looks like the moon before getting to the summit. Once we got above tree line, the views were stunning and we were hiking under crystal clear skies above the clouds. We timed it perfectly to watch the moon set and the sun rise. We each wanted to hike alone to be with our thoughts so we gave each other space to try to process the last four months and to think about what all this really meant. When I finally saw the famous Katahdin summit sign, it was pure joy. We were the only four people on top of the mountain and we cried, laughed, screamed and stood around saying “Wow.” We ceremonially ate our last tuna packets.
The descent off the mountain was as fun as going up and Bryan showed up shortly after I got back down to the campground. He had an incredible gift for me. He printed each of my blog entries and photographs and had them neatly organized in binders. I’m so excited to go through these when I get home. It will be a great chance to see the hike again with some perspective.
We all came on this journey for some pretty intense reasons and this was our chance to let it all sink in and set in place. For me, I came out here to work on some things in my life that I was stuck on. I wanted to understand why my father took his own life and to see if I could get my brother back in my life. These were tasks on my checklist. Things to be fixed. Surely, this Trail and these four months would sort these out for me.
I worked hard on these things. I journaled, read, talked with my therapist, listened to music and podcasts and made notes along the way. I got really angry that I wasn’t finding the solutions. I felt like I was wasting this opportunity. I was in the middle of Pennsylvania when something very different started to come together for me. I started to hear the same lesson from each of these teachers. Pema Chödrön sums it up perfectly for me. Pema is an American Buddhist monk that wrote When Thjngs Fall Apart. In her chapter on how to find healing, she wrote these amazing words.
“[T]he truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart again. It’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there
be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.” I heard this for the first time listening to On Being and it literally stopped me in my tracks. I took my pack off, sat down and just felt so relieved. It sounded like such a radical idea to me. I’m a fixer. I mark things off checklists.
Maybe I can’t fix this stuff. Maybe it’s time to surrender this fight and let this journey itself be part of the healing. I downloaded her book that evening and read these lessons over and over. I started messing around with this new way of thinking. I can let life be messy and sad at times – I just need to give myself the time, space and room to let it happen. This was a big moment for me and I feel like I have a cool new toy to play with. The ultimate ultralight piece of gear for life.
This was also my lesson with the Trail itself. I tried over and over to beat it. I set time goals, new personal distance records, attacked climbs and chased the hours. But my happiest times on the Trail were when I surrendered to her. She was way bigger than me and when I finally realized that each day I felt at peace. I slowed down and looked for frogs or smelled the woods. For me, the lesson of this adventure wasn’t about conquering or fixing anything but learning to slow down and be present. That is what I want to take with me as I take this short break from long distance hiking.
I can’t thank each of you enough for all the kind words and support you have poured over me. You literally kept me going at times. I really struggled with whether I should continue during the pandemic but it turned out to be the right decision for me in the end. You all supported me in that and I am so grateful. I am also so grateful for the care packages and trail magic that you provided along the way. It was so special to stumble out of the woods and receive such kindness.
Bryan and I are going to enjoy a relaxing day in Portland and then I am going to visit some friends in Maine before heading back to the Trail to do some trail magic on my way home. I’m anxious to return that sweet kindness. I’ll be blogging that for sure. I’ll leave you for now with a video I made of our summit day.