It’s bittersweet and sad, the hike toward autumn. Yet, it’s part of the journey. Necessary. Painful.
My hike toward autumn was more challenging by my choice to “flip-flop.” Those backpackers who “flip-flop” the Appalachian Trail have run out of time. Dallying and delaying in the southern Appalachians results in their realizing that reaching Katahdin before snowfall is unlikely. They travel to Maine, the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail, and hike south from Katahdin. The “flip-flopper” has leapfrogged hikers going north, and is now backpacking toward Springer Mountain in Georgia. It’s a lonely choice, as he passes those he once walked with who are nearing Maine. A “flip-flopper” is also lagging well behind those who set out for Georgia in June.
After I “flip-flopped,” and was passing through the 100-mile wilderness in Maine in late August, the air was already chilled with the foretaste of wintry days to come, and the leaves were turning in many places. While it was glorious to see early color, I wished things would have remained green. The autumn palette only foretold of a dying summer, only spoke of endings, and my journey winding down.
Weeks later, standing at Pinkham Notch Camp waiting for a ride to Boston and then a plane home, I weighed my pack. 46 pounds — the lightest it had been all season. I kicked up gravel, paced, and re-read pages in my tattered journal. I wanted to go — I didn’t want to go. I was relieved to finally rest from the wear and tear of trail life — I dreaded having to readjust to the day-to-day pace of urban living.
Still, autumn was coming and with it inclement weather. Having no wish to continue under the capricious, near-winter conditions the White Mountains could deliver, I made for home. At the time it felt like my heart was being left behind. So much accomplished! So many things I had done and risked that I’d never done before. I enjoyed a new charge in my confidence, self-esteem, and bolstered adventurous spirit! Would that now be lost? Would moving back to “the real world” drain away the person I had become during those months from April to mid-September?
Happy to say that wasn’t the case. I did return to complete the Appalachian Trail section in the Whites, and walk many more miles. But leaving the footpath in autumn, where I had spent the better part of six-plus months of my life, was one of the loneliest choices of all.