I remember lying in bed before I began my thru-hike adventure of the Appalachian Trail trying to image the journey and what I would see, the experiences that I might encounter, the people that I would meet, and the animals that would cross my path. I remember my mind going to the topic of sleep as I felt so comfortable in my own bed. Would I be able to get to sleep, would I get enough sound sleep to feel rested in the morning, would I find good spots for my tent or would I be sleeping on rocks and roots that would prohibit a peaceful slumber in the woods? I tried to think of climbing Mount Katahdin (a mountain that I had never seen before) and arriving at the famous brown sign that graces the northern terminus of the AT. My mind’s eye could never focus in on that picture – I just could not see myself on the summit.
When I arrived at the Tableland, the gateway to the summit, with a distance of just 1.6 miles to the iconic sign, the reality began to set in that I was going to make it. With one mile to go I walked past Thoreau Spring (just a trickle on September 24, 2014) and began the final climb to the summit. Then I saw the sign in the distance and realized that many hikers were at the top celebrating their victory and the climax of months of hiking.
During this last mile of the hike, a principle that I had incorporated in my life during my doctoral studies came crashing into my mind. Katahdin was not the reward. The fantastic sign at the summit filled with celebration, high-fives, hugs, and voices of congratulations was not the reward. The journey was the reward. The sign marked the end of the journal, the last page of the recorded adventure, the final entry documenting the walk of 2,186 miles. It was the period after the title, Thru-hiker. It was a crowning experience to stand atop the sign and shout a victory cry of joy.
But the real reward was the journey. The 5 million steps counted one at a time. The sunny days and the rain storms, the sweltering hot July days in Pennsylvania and the cold nights in September in the wilderness of Maine provided the weather that defined the journey. The special friends and bonds of brotherhood that were crafted along the path formed the relationships of the reward. Each campsite, shelter, hostel, and hotel brings a memory of the reward of the hobo lifestyle and independent uniqueness of the thru-hike. No two thru-hikes are the same and part of the reward is working through the personal struggles, victories, joys, and tears that make up the walk.
On the last day of the hike, the brown sign was a great reward. But reflecting back on the journey and this life-changing experience, the sign plays a pretty small part. Mount Katahdin was amazing, but so was Blood Mountain in Georgia, Mount Albert in North Carolina, Thunderhead Mountain in Tennessee, McAfee Knob in Virginia, Mount Lafayette in New Hampshire, and about twenty other absolutely incredible vistas experienced along the trail.
The reward is reading my journal and reflecting on the faithfulness of God – everyday, in every state, every night, and in every need – always protecting, always guiding, always providing. The journey was the reward.
Photo – Dream of Katahdin – https://www.tripadvisor.ie/LocationPhotoDirectLink-g40744-d145958-i122917743-Mount_Katahdin-Millinocket_Maine.html
All Other Photos from my Thru-hike 2014