AT 2017: Epilogue

Such a long long time to be gone and a short time to be there

Hardly a day went by during my thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail when the Grateful Dead’s song “Box of Rain” wasn’t playing in my head.

I don’t mean to say I listened to the music everyday as it played from my phone. No, it was a soundtrack playing in my head, whether I consciously heard it or not.

The song sometimes played in the background while I was thinking about something else. When those thoughts paused for a moment, I’d discover the music was playing as a second track alongside my thoughts.

Look out of any window
Any morning, any evening, any day
Maybe the sun is shining
Birds are winging, no rain is falling from a heavy sky
What do you want me to do
To do for you to see you through?
For this is all a dream we dreamed one afternoon long ago

Kim and I dreamed of this hike one afternoon while standing in the Appalachian Trail Conservancy’s office in Harpers Ferry. We just thought, wouldn’t that be something cool to do some day?

She knew this would be my dream. It wasn't something she wanted to do. In that moment, though, she committed to making it happen for me.

I think she knew better than I did how much this hike would mean to me.

Walk out of any doorway
Feel your way like the day before
Maybe you'll find direction
Around some corner where it's been waiting to meet you
What do you want me to do
To watch for you while you're sleeping?
Then please don't be surprised when you find me dreaming too

The more we thought about it, the more we realized a thru-hike was possible. We just needed to find the time when it could happen, when it was best for both of us.

That time didn't come until nearly 15 year later. We had other dreams to work on. We wanted to make sure both of our sons were on their own and had successfully started their careers. We wanted to make improvements to our home. And we wanted to wind down our own careers in a financially secure way.

In all of that, we never lost sight of the dream of a thru-hike. Before long, the dream became real.

Look into any eyes
You find by you; you can see clear to another day
Maybe been seen before
Through other eyes on other days while going home
What do you want me to do
To do for you to see you through?
It's all a dream we dreamed one afternoon long ago

I always knew I had support from Kim, our sons, other family members, and many friends. As I began my hike, however I began to realize that encouragement was coming from many more people, most of whom were complete strangers.

I met trail volunteers who had put countless hours into making the trail safer and more enjoyable. They were putting in this time because of their love of the trail, but they were also doing this so that I could be successful.

Then I came upon people who weren’t directly involved in the trail, but still wanted to do what they could so that I would reach my goal. For some, this was a simple gesture, like handing me a snack bar or cold drink. For others, there was even greater generosity, serving me meals or letting me stay in their home.

Even other hikers, who had their own goal of hiking the entire trail, found ways to encourage me and make sure I was able to achieve my goal.

For some, this simple, shared interest formed the basis of lifelong friendships.

Walk into splintered sunlight
Inch your way through dead dreams to another land
Maybe you're tired and broken
Your tongue is twisted with words half spoken and thoughts unclear
What do you want me to do
To do for you, to see you through?
A box of rain will ease the pain and love will see you through

When I started my hike, I had no idea how difficult it would be. The videos I watched on YouTube never showed when rain fell day after day. They made no mention of places on the trail where you couldn’t tell where your next footstep should go, only that somehow you needed to scale up the side of a rock face or down a precipitous ledge.

Bloggers I followed rarely mentioned how utterly tiring it is to hike all day long. They didn’t explain that somehow I would recover enough strength overnight to do the whole thing over again the next day.

Sometimes that recovery wasn’t enough. Sometimes a Snickers bar couldn’t give enough of an energy boost.

These were times when I purposefully thought about “Box of Rain." I wanted it to play in my head. These were times when the trail was especially difficult or I was feeling worn down and I needed motivation.

Just a box of rain, wind and water
Believe it if you need it, if you don't just pass it on
Sun and shower, wind and rain
In and out the window like a moth before a flame

This hike began as a dream Kim and I shared. Now that the hike is over, it remains like a dream. It's now a collection of memories.

I know that as I grow older my memories will fade. I just hope that the last of my memories are the ones of when our dream became real.

And it's just a box of rain, I don't know who put it there
Believe it if you need it or leave it if you dare
And it's just a box of rain, or a ribbon for your hair
Such a long, long time to be gone and a short time to be there

From “Box of Rain” by Robert Hunter and Phil Lesh (Grateful Dead)


"Nothing to tell now. Let the words be yours, I'm done with mine."ref.