I have always wanted to hike the Appalachian Trail, to walk its windy paths, to see what’s around the corner, to put one foot in front of the other and see where I end up. I can tell you the exact moment I became obsessed with it. I can recall with perfect clarity when it first called my name. I can tell you to the minute when the longing started. And by the way, the longing never stops, it never goes away, the trial just calls your name.
To get to the stone skipping spot, I had to run across this bridge for pedestrians going from the NOC store to the river rafting rentals. I probably ran that bridge a thousand times without realizing the significance of what it was. In fact, I wouldn’t put two and two together until almost 20 years later in the fall of 2015.I was about 8 or 9, so this was in the early ’90s. (Truth be told, I could be way off. I am terrible with dates). My mother had gotten a summer job at the Nantahala Outdoor Center, or NOC in Bryson City, North Carolina. It was known for its river rafting and kayaking. It was also a well-known resting and refueling place for the Appalachian trail through-hikers, or great base camp for day-hikers.
I was obsessed with the river that ran through the NOC. Every day I working on my stone skipping game. I think I got up to ten skips. I had this spot picked out on the river bank where I knew the smoothest stones were. It was just below the landing where the river rafters pulled their boats ashore after conquering the mighty Nantahala River. My mom was part of the NOC team that would gather equipment and put the boats away. It was perfect because she could keep an eye on me while I became the world’s best stone skipper.
It was the Appalachian trail. The trail came out of the mountains, crossed the river on that bridge, and disappeared back into the mountains. I never knew that it was already a part of my life. I didn’t realize that I had already begun to walk its path every day that summer.I remember seeing these guys with huge packs on their backs and sticks in their hands.
I remember seeing these guys with huge packs on their backs and sticks in their hands. They looked homeless to me and they smelled. I asked my mom who they were. She said “hikers”. I asked what “hikers” were. he explained that these guys had been on a trail in the woods for a long time, for days or weeks, maybe even months. I remember my heart skipping a beat. I realizing that I had been holding my breath. I had to see this trail!
I spent the next few days crafting the best hiking stick. I had to prepare.
Every day I begged my mom to take me on this trail. I wanted, no needed to walk it. I just had too. The trail was calling to me. I remember asking a thousand questions about it. How long was it? How high did it go? Can we hike it? Can we? Can we?
Finally, mom took me. I don’t remember if we went for 20 mins or an hour or even a few hours. Time seemed to stop with every footstep on the trail. The smell of the earth, the sounds of my shoes pounding the path, the yearning to go further and
further down the trail, it all happened almost slow motion like. I remember all the details so vividly. Then we had to stop and go back. It was only a short hike. I recall, as we hiked back down, looking over my shoulder peering, looking down the path, wondering what was our there. I felt my heart apologizing to the trail for not going on, for not continuing down the path.
The trail had me and it would never let me go. It would always call to me and I promised I would go back.
Eventually, I forgot about the trail. I could no longer hear its voice call my name. Over time, I forgot about my promise. Life moved on. I went to school, fell in love and had kids. My life felt complete and busy and full. I was happy, very happy.
But the trail didn’t forget about me.