I have dreamed of hiking the Appalachian trail (a 2000+ mile hiking trail that goes from Georgia to Maine) since I was probably 15... back then I spent my free time researching how I could do really cool and amazing things, like thru-hiking the AT or swimming across the English Channel (I admit that one is a dream I will likely not achieve.) At any rate, I have held my hiking dream lightly, as I got married out of high school and my free time to go off on a hiking jaunt diminished significantly with each beloved baby and new life adventure I started.
Four kids and 18 years later (and aided by a very supportive husband!) I decided to kick it into gear and chose a nearby 22 mile loop trail near where we live on which to try out my motley assortment of hiking gear. When one of my good friends expressed interest in hiking with me, I immediately capitalized on that and enlisted her as a coconspirator in my grand adventure. However, as we monitored the weather in the weeks leading up to the big hike, a late spring snowstorm (dropping 6" the day before we hiked) and freezing temps forced me to look elsewhere than my own snowy backyard for a navigable trail... and I found what looked to be our best option: a section of the AT in southern PA, 2.5 hours south of us which had little to no snow on the ground and less-cold temps (the low was only 18 degrees- score!)
A couple days before we left I realized... this is it! I'm actually gonna be hiking the legendary Appalachian Trail. This is amazing.
My friend and I both tend to "wing it" a lot in life, which makes us fun people... but not necessarily good planners. In the parking lot as we got ready to hit the trail, a fellow hiker asked, "you guys heading north or south?" "We have no idea!" was our cheery reply. (In retrospect, how ridiculous we must have looked and sounded. Really... who does this.) We decided that since we didn't have a map (another great "wing it" move) that we would follow our orange-packed hiker friend to the trailhead going south and head that way.
After about 4 hours of hiking and a small detour (in which we had a great snack break but realized we were significantly off-trail) we set up camp for the night. We laughed and ate and enjoyed our campfire of sticks and slept like champs. It was pretty chilly the next morning so we stayed in our bags as long as possible, enjoying the time OFF so, so much. Our return hike was uneventful and we made it home, a little stiff but really no worse for the wear.
Tonight as I was driving home from the kids' karate and the orange sun was setting over the leafless tree-covered mountains in front of me, I couldn't help but wish I was back in the hills... out in the brisk mountain air, with no cares in the world, snapping sticks to burn and laughing with the freedom of the beauty of the great outdoors and this amazing life. I felt my slightly bruised collar bone and smiled as it is evidence that I actually WAS out there, miles from anywhere, with nothing but the starry night sky overhead and miles of wilderness around me. I can't wait to go out again; it was really as fantastic as my 15-year-old self could have imagined.