Our last days on trail were absolutely miserable, to say the least. We were caught in the worst heat wave to hit the trail in recent history. 98 degrees, with humidity and blazing sun, the rocks of Pennsylvania and the mosquitos had just hatched... plus, if you remember, I, Socks, had blisters which turned my already tender feet, literally into hamburger. Almost losing my little toe to some rotten infection, we reluctantly left the trail at Duncannon, PA. We'd packed the packs to return to the trail that day, hoping that the weather would break and cooler temperatures set in. We sat at the UPS office ready to ship our 'bump box' to the next destination and Dreamer said, "There isn't anything in me that wants to go back out there again." He was done. He likened to Forrest Gump running and running and running. Then one day, out of the blue, he said he was done running. Dreamer was the same. He'd hiked almost 1200 miles, most of it alone without the rest of Team TNT, endured horrible weather and terrain and was just DONE. He was really having trouble watching me struggle physically, limping with each step due to the blisters. We together decided to turn our car towards Michigan and head home. The decision made; we excitedly talked about home and all the things we'd missed for so many months, our life back here in Michigan and all the things we wanted to do.
In what seemed like endless hours hiking, spending time inside your own head, we both had 'spiritual' experiences so to speak... meeting our God and hearing His voice. We are some of those crazy, whacko Christians and spend much of our afternoons listening to spiritual music on our iPods, feeling the presence of God, and listening for what He was trying to teach us each day. Each and every day we hiked we prayed and asked for safety and that God would show Himself to us in the beauty and people around us. Should you chose to hike this, or any long-distance trail, you WILL meet your maker. I don't care what religion your profess or none at all. There is no way you will spend that much time along with your own thoughts and see what's around you and NOT come to believe in some 'higher' power. Unless you're mentally incapable of hearing that 'still, small' voice in your head, you will meet God. You will call out to 'someone' for physical strength when the terrain gets tough, your feet hurt and you think you can't take one more step. You will seek our 'someone' when you are so lonesome you think your heart will break. You will call out to 'someone' when you find yourself scared and alone in a dark, wet shelter in the middle of the night. You will be changed spiritually.
I couldn't be more proud of Dreamer and all he accomplished. Almost 1200 grueling miles, enduring most of it alone, spending endless hours hiking forward, waiting for the day when I could return and join him. He persevered through loneliness, horrible weather, boring hiking food, extreme weight loss, and most times, no phone signal.... with our communication being very limited, sometimes going for days without speaking to each other. For any of those who know us or have followed this journey, we've been married for 33 years and haven't spent much time apart. We're hopelessly in love with each other and being separated was the absolute worst part of this entire journey. Should you decide to hike: YOU WILL BE LONELY. Even if you're hiking with a group of people who become your friends, you will miss home and family and sometimes it will be very painful and will cause you to think about leaving the trail. Make sure your relationships are solid at home before you leave on a journey like this and make time to stay in contact with those you love. Your journey will be much more pleasant.
I found both extremes of my physical limits on the trail... I was amazed at what I was able to do physically... at 58 and not in terrific shape to start with, I could hike. Not as fast as the young people, but we could do some respectable mileage and stay on schedule.... UNTIL the injury. In one instant, in one day, my hike went from a 'thru-hike' to surgery. Although I fought hard and tried to deny there was a problem, I had to make my way back to Michigan for surgery on my left knee to repair two torn meniscus. I'd managed to tear both the medial and lateral meniscus, injuring one so badly, they removed much of it. I highly recommend that you take care physically and when you encounter an injury, deal with it. I pushed myself to hike another 60 miles on a debilitated knee, ruining it forever. I will ultimately be looking at a second knee replacement sometime in the future. But all this to say, the trail will test your body. It will batter your feet, it will hurt your legs, back and shoulders. You will be brought to your knees physically, especially those folks who are older and not in such great shape. You will have to plan ahead, pace yourself and care for your body. Treat it right, and it will carry you far.
So, where is Team TNT now? What is life like for us? What has changed?
We are still "LIVIN' THE DREAM". We came home profoundly different people and a renewed couple. As I stated in the Warning Label, you will be changed. Our priorities in life changed dramatically and we are working together to achieve these new goals for the final third of our lives. Tom celebrated his 60th birthday on September 14th, the day we'd anticipated and planned to summit Mt. Kahtadin... He didn't say anything, but I'm sure, certainly a day of reflection.
We surmised all of our goals to:
1. SIMPLIFY (and all that entails)
2. Spend time with those we love and care about
3. Make the most of the time we have left.
#1- Learning on the hike, just how little we actually needed to survive, we came home to SIMPLIFY our lives, both in terms of physical 'things' and commitments. We've been selling 'things', cleaning our clutter, both in our home and lives. eBay has become my new best friend, as we get rid of the things that just weigh us down. Much like we spent hours getting our pack weight down to a minimum, with the least amount of things, we're doing the same in our lives and our home. We have accumulated so much STUFF in our 33 years and it's become 'weighty'.... takes up space and doesn't give us joy. So, it's the Salvation Army, eBay and Craig's List for many things. We've gone through and cleaned out the house, the barn and garage. There is such freedom in having less things. It's less to take care of, less to manage and less to worry about.
We've also pared down our commitments to our family and our God. Tom decided to retire upon coming home. It's something he did once over 10 years ago, but then started another company and became busier than he ever was before. NOW is the time to truly retire and say goodbye to 'work'. Once before we were forced to cut our income in half and we survived, we'll do it again and we'll be fine. We certainly won't live the lifestyle we have in the past, but our priorities have changed and those things aren't important anymore. We can live a simple life, doing the things we enjoy, with the people we love....and that's LIVIN' the DREAM for us.
I came home and planted a late garden. I wasn't planning on having one this year, as we were hiking...and it would have been the first time in 35 years that I hadn't had a vegetable garden. But, my beets, green beans, kale, collards and tomatoes are thriving in the cooler Michigan temps! I love my garden. (I've always said, when I die, cremate me and till me into my garden.)
#2- We've been available to spend time with our kids, our new granddaughter and friends who are very special to us. That's important to us. Invest time in those we love most. All the rest is just busyness. We've had Lydia for an overnight visit and although exhausted, we LOVED every minute of it. She is the light of our lives and we are thrilled that we've had the opportunity to have a grandchild. Grandchildren will change you too. Watching your children be parents will rock your world....and make you see your mortality a little bit closer. We want to watch our children grow as adults and guide them through life as we are able.... spending time with our kids is the most important time we'll ever make.
We have a lot of friends, but a handful of very dear friends, who we've spent years with, lived through tragedy with and love with all our hearts. They are important to us and we want to continue to invest time in them and their families. This is a goal we will actively pursue and have already spent some wonderful times making memories with some of them.
#3- This is where it gets personal.... we're both about 60. IF, we're lucky, we're in the final third of our lives. God willing and continued good health, we might see 80? We both have faced our mortality and are both thankful to be here now. We are both profoundly aware of time and the fragility of life....Tom with prostate cancer and me with Lupus, we've been thanking God for each day for a long time. But, we as a couple, want to spend our remaining time, whatever that is, being together, enjoying doing the things we love and continuing to build our relationship. We have lived a life LARGER than most will ever know, doing things and traveling places that most will never see. We ARE blessed beyond measure.
We do plan to hike again next summer and are planning our return to the Appalachian Trail, hopefully in May 2014. We so enjoyed doing trail magic this year and want to coordinate our trip east with some trail magic and visiting special places to us, like Wood's Hole Hostel.
We are profoundly grateful to all of you who have come alongside us, cheered us on, send notes of encouragement and watched our videos' so faithfully. NO, we didn't finish the trail, NO we didn't touch the sign.... but we didn't need to. We'd accomplished all we'd set out to do, personally, physically and as a couple. This was our journey, our story and we hope that it has in some way provoked you to think about challenging yourself in a similar way... maybe not with a physical hike, but challenged you personally to examine your life and your priorities, your dreams and aspirations and your belief in a God who can do all things.
Please keep watching for continued updates on next year's leg of the Appalachian Trail adventure. We'll go into this one a little more educated, mentally stronger and knowing what the trail will hold!
As our 'theme song' says... we are living like there's no tomorrow and loving like we're on borrowed time. We are all on borrowed time! Make the most of yours!
Hang on for a wild ride next time!