The rain wakes me up. I’m already nervous for the day that’s about to start and the weather doesn’t help lowering my stress levels.
I sit quietly in the corner of the shelter, it’s still dark all around me and the only noise comes from the boiling water on the stove. I’m not thinking about much, only one thing at the moment.
“Dubs is not here.”
The doubt of him climbing Katahdin the day before was already circling in my mind. I mean, it was a beautiful day, sunny and warm, nothing like the shitty weather I was in.
“Would have you waited for him?” my dad asks.
“Probably yes,” I respond. But that’s how I am, and inside me I understand why he would’ve decided to end his journey yesterday.
Hike your own hike, right?
So, I wasn’t really upset. A bit disappointed, maybe, but the day was too important to ruin it with negative feelings.
While we get ready to start our last hike, I spot a ranger that confirms me what I already knew.
“Yea, I saw Dubs yesterday. He submitted Katahdin along with his sister and father,” he tells me.
“I figured,” I say.
Dubs was past my thoughts already, since there was something more important to think about.
My dad and I pose next to the sign reading that there are “only” six and a half miles to the top. Six and a half miles to the greatest accomplishment of my life.
A crowd of happy families, old folks and occasional hikers fills the parking lot at the base of the mountain. They all look fresh and clean, clothes ironed and impeccable hair. I haven’t showered in a week, my clothes are all ripped and we definitely don’t want to talk about my hair situation. Even my dad is starting to look more like a homeless.
“They can’t even imagine,” I think while smiling at them.
The first couple of miles go past quickly. I’ve been through a lot worse in the last months. Remember the rocks in Pennsylvania? Or the nearly impossible climbs of New Hampshire. I even hiked 52 miles straight in a day!
I see kids jumping on rocks with their proud fathers behind them. Their children are loving some time in the wilderness, rather than burying their heads on some videogame, which gives me joy considering that often younger generations are criticized for not appreciating nature.
Maybe my record won’t last long then. After all, I’m 27 and I truly hope that some younger Italian will attempt to break the routine and live this memorable experience. It’s not about records, it has never been that way, but more trying to inspire people to reach beyond their limits and experience real freedom.
But I’m not done myself yet, still got some miles ahead of me.
We get above the treeline and we’re quickly engulfed by a thick layer of clouds. We can barely see in front of ourselves and gusts of wind keep pushing us sideways, making it almost impossible to keep going.
Not the best weather to climbs mountain.
We start climbing a wall of rocks of which I can’t see the end. I reach the top of it and I start thinking that the end might be near. But the wind blows, uncovering another peak, even taller than the previous one. Then we notice a mark on a rock.
“2 miles,” it reads.
“2 miles!” I yell. “That’s not possible! We’ve been hiking for ages.”
2 miles?!” My dad repeats shocked.
With a little discomfort we climb that peak as well and finally the terrain start getting flatter. We’re almost at the top which means we’re done with our hands. Now it’s all about walking to the sign that I’ve been dreaming about for the past 135 days.
It’s foggy around me and I can’t see anything, it’s cold and all I’m wearing it’s shorts and my loved Hawaiian shirt. It got to be an epic ending for an epic journey. The sun would’ve made it too easy, too bland.
After some time I also notice that I’m walking by myself. My dad sits behind, almost feeling like he doesn’t want to intrude my space.
“Dad come on, we’re almost there.”
He doesn’t respond to me and I understand immediately.
It’s MY moment.
Feeling all the pain of more than four months of hiking, I keep putting a foot in front of the other while all the emotions start catching up to me. I start recalling all the best moments spent on the trail, the faces, the views. The sudden realization that all of that was about to be over made my heart flunk. It suddenly became hard to handle an immense feeling of happiness and fulfillment with the sadness of realizing that everything was soon to become just a memory.
I can’t figure how close or far I am to that final sign, but I sense that there isn’t much left. Then, like all best fairytales, magic happens. A soft wind moves the clouds and it appears in front of me.
Just like I’ve seen it in thousand of pictures, that rectangular piece of wood nailed to four legs stands in front of me.
I can’t move. I shed a tear, then I start sobbing. I haven’t cried that much in years, but there I am, tearing up like a baby that had just broke his favorite toy.
My dad joins me and put his arms around my head. I keep crying on his shoulder without being able to say a word and he doesn’t say anything either. What’s to say anyway?
After a couple of minutes I regain my composure and slowly I find my way towards the sign. In the meantime, I realize I lost both my contact lenses. I can’t see anything but I’m totally capable of reading the white phrase painted on the wood, which I memorized a long time ago.
NORTHERN TERMINUS OF THE APPALACHIAN TRAIL
I made it. I’m the youngest Italian in history to hike the entire length of the Appalachian Trail. One hundred and thirty six days, two thousand one hundred and ninety miles later I reached the goal of a lifetime.
Was it hard? Yes.
Was it painful? No doubt.
Was it dangerous? Absolutely.
Was it worth it? If you followed this journey from the beginning, I’m sure you already know the answer. If not, imagine your dreams, hopes, demons and fears all in one place. Imagine having to put body, mind and soul together to defeat those demons and fears.
It starts with your body, your muscles, your joints. Then it fucks with your mind. At last though, it touches your soul. The sudden realization of reaching your dreams is almost too much to handle. Mind and body come together and time stops. It’s inner peace, calm ecstasy.
Calling it a journey it’s reductive, thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail is a revelation.