I should have known better. It was foolish of me to ask Kim to never let me do another long-distance hike.
My feelings at the time were no different than many people who have reached the end of a long trip. Perhaps you've felt this way. You can't wait to get home and don't want to think about doing something like that again.
I have gone through that enough times to know the feeling doesn't last long. When I finished the Appalachian Trail, I said I was "one and done." Two months later, I was planning to thru-hike the Pacific Crest Trail.
My emotions were a little different after finishing the PCT. It only took me two weeks before I began thinking about another long hike.
Still, I didn't expect that trail would be the Continental Divide Trail. It was the only trail of the Triple Crown I didn't have feelings for. In fact, I resisted any thoughts of hiking it.
Long-distance hikers often refer to the Triple Crown by saying, "You can hike one or three, but you can't hike just two." Maybe this means the hiking community expects you to do all three if you've already completed two. It may also mean that once you're bitten by the thru-hiking bug, you can't stop at just two.
When that expression was said to me, I usually replied, "The CDT doesn't call me," which was true. I didn't feel compelled to hike it.
I should have known then I wouldn't give up hiking long trails, but this was before I had a more profound understanding of what hiking meant to me. Looking back, I think my thoughts began to form in the middle of my PCT hike.
I realized I was doing something special that few people have the privilege of doing. I had the strength and stamina to go places that are difficult to reach yet offer great rewards. I was accomplishing something out of the ordinary. And in doing so, I was making many lifelong friends.
This realization was heightened as I considered the statistics for the number of people who have completed all three trails. The organization that keeps records of such things, American Long Distance Hiking Association-West, says fewer than 500 people have hiked the Triple Crown. That's fewer than the number of people who have orbited the earth.
No verifiable information on the ages of these people is available. It's reasonable to surmise from various hiker surveys, however, that fewer than ten percent of that number completed the Triple Crown while over age 60.
Perhaps I was trying to inflate my ego when I realized I might be able to complete the Triple Crown, though that doesn't fully explain it. When I completed the AT and the PCT, I felt like I had accomplished something noteworthy. Now I discovered they were just part of a longer and more fulfilling journey. I needed to hike the CDT.
When I asked Kim to never let me do something like the PCT again, I think she knew I didn't mean it. She must have known.
Later, when I suggested I might consider another hike, she didn't seem at all surprised. Far from it, she encouraged me to do it.
She has always been my trail angel, long before I began hiking. She knows me better than I know myself. That's how she was able to convince me to complete every mile of the AT when I thought I might skip 21.2 miles. She knew I would eventually regret that decision. Thankfully, I listened to her and finished those miles.
Now I'm preparing to complete something I had no idea I was starting when set out to hike the AT. It won't be easy and I might fail. That's okay. My feelings of self-worth aren't dependent on this journey. I'm doing it now while I can because I know that my ability to do it won't last forever.
What's important is I now understand why I'm following this course. And in doing so, I feel secure knowing Kim and all the other trail angels who've helped me along the way will continue to support me on that path.