Finding Friends, Finding Freedom.

The AT can be as social or as independent as the hiker wants it to be. Crowds can form and to an extent everyone has to come in contact with a certain number of people. But like it is often said on the trail, you can hike your own hike. You can camp alone every night, stay out of town as much as possible, you can make one friend, you can make hundreds of friends.

The AT provided the freest environment I have ever experienced.

I met a lot of very great hikers during my summer, I feel fortunate to have spent time with some amazing people, and I made friends that I hope to keep for many years. A few of my friends and I stayed together from around the 500 mile mark until our final day on Katahdin. There were 5 of us together on our final day who had spent miles and miles in each other’s company. Again, I feel very fortunate for that. Many people left the trail for their own reasons and our group was lucky in largely staying together. In some ways the group of friends I was with helped me be stronger and tougher than I could have been on my own. When a massive “I’m halfway done, and I need to do that all over again” feeling hit us around West Virginia, we turned to each other’s humor and company and found new things to look forward to, when we had a mountain in front of us and we were tired of walking uphill we told stories to pass the time, when it got down to a daytime high of 35 degrees (before the wind and rain with one night hitting 20 degrees) we encouraged each other, built fires, and as always when things got hard we put our heads down and kept walking.

I was told very early on in my hike by a former thru hiker that this would be potentially the freest time I would ever have. He told me to take advantage of that, I could hike slow, hike fast, if I didn’t like who I was around: refer to options 1 and 2. I could sleep in shelters, sleep in my tent, sleep in a hammock, or cowboy camp in the open. I could eat what I wanted because I was burning so many calories that my body would just take it in (A half-gallon of ice cream and a cheeseburger for example).  There were many hard things about being on the trail, but it was a fair price to pay for the opportunities it provided.

My final night on the trail was spent in the best way I could have chosen. My friends and I cowboy camped on the rocky edge of a river, with waterfalls and slides to play in, a campfire to share stories around, and a view of Katahdin complete with stars, a sunset, and a sunrise. It was beautiful. I will take what I learned on the trail and make my life as free and as well lived as I am able. I refuse to live a life in which I do not find peace and freedom. I may not always be able to be as free as I was last summer, but if I miss it (more than I already do) the AT and many other trails are always around for me and anyone else who desires. And that is a beautiful, beautiful thing.

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Our final camp and view of Katahdin.

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The friends I finished with. From left to right: Sunshine, Turtle The Brave, The Fat Kids (Check out their blog too at: http://bootstobirks.com/ ), and Fern Gully.

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We had to have some fun now and again! When our friend sunshine walked off to use the privy we gave his pack a new owner and hid it up the trail.

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Our group at it’s largest. We adopted the name “The Golden Girls” (that’s a story for another time).

The two in there you don’t know are Chubby Bunny and Bullfrog two other great friends I made in the woods.

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