Connecticut (Brassie Brook Shelter to Housatonic River Road): Days 176-180

Connecticut (Brassie Brook Shelter to Housatonic River Road): Days 176-180

I return to the trail two days later, after the storm ravages western Connecticut. Blowdowns litter the paths, and large puddles still pay tribute to the past two days’ rain. As I hike up Mount Everett toward the Massachusetts-Connecticut border and Bear Mountain, I run into Shaker, a section hiker.

“I dove into music - really put my all into it...Ten years down the road, I realize that I can’t retire on it, or support a family. But those ten years were some of the best in my life.” - Shaker, 2000-miler (section hiked the whole trail)

Every so often, he pauses for a smoke before continuing on. We reach the border at the same time. Shaker lights a couple incense cones, rolls a cigarette, and recites a poem by Oriah Mountain Dreamer:

“It doesn’t interest me what you do for a living. I want to know what you ache for and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart’s longing.

“It doesn’t interest me what you do for a living. I want to know what you ache for and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart’s longing.

It doesn’t interest me how old you are. I want to know if you will risk looking like a fool for love, for your dream, for the adventure of being alive.

It doesn’t interest me what planets are squaring your moon. I want to know if you have touched the centre of your own sorrow, if you have been opened by life’s betrayals or have become shrivelled and closed from fear of further pain.

I want to know if you can sit with pain, mine or your own, without moving to hide it, or fade it, or fix it.

I want to know if you can be with joy, mine or your own; if you can dance with wildness and let the ecstasy fill you to the tips of your fingers and toes without cautioning us to be careful, be realistic, remember the limitations of being human.

It doesn’t interest me if the story you are telling me is true. I want to know if you can disappoint another to be true to yourself. If you can bear the accusation of betrayal and not betray your own soul. If you can be faithless and therefore trustworthy.

I want to know if you can see Beauty even when it is not pretty every day. And if you can source your own life from its presence.

I want to know if you can live with failure, yours and mine, and still stand at the edge of the lake and shout to the silver of the full moon, ‘Yes.’

It doesn’t interest me to know where you live or how much money you have. I want to know if you can get up after the night of grief and despair, weary and bruised to the bone and do what needs to be done to feed the children.

It doesn’t interest me who you know or how you came to be here. I want to know if you will stand in the centre of the fire with me and not shrink back.

It doesn’t interest me where or what or with whom you have studied. I want to know what sustains you from the inside when all else falls away.

I want to know if you can be alone with yourself and if you truly like the company you keep in the empty moments.” - Oriah Mountain Dreamer, recited by Shaker

We summit Bear Mountain in the dark, clambering over boulders almost reminiscent of Maine. The full moon lights our way. It’s freezing outside.

After weighing the risks and benefits of continuing, I decide to end my hike for the year. I came to the trail to test my mental and physical limits, and I have found them. I have pushed myself farther than I thought I could go, confronted my limits time and again, and found friends who became family.

A jumble of memories echoes through my mind.

“If you want to walk fast, walk alone. If you want to walk far, walk together,” Tom had said, many months ago. “Man is the sum of his adventures.” Silas.

The mountain ranges of Maine and New Hampshire, each seared into my mind. Difficult, yet breathtakingly beautiful.

My trail families. The fun times down south. The hard times up north. Facing my fears alongside Nighthawk and Tenacious.

Adventure has challenged me. Adventure has changed me. If nothing else, it brought me face to face with people from all walks of life and forced me to work through situations that took me to the brink of my capabilities. Nowhere have I felt more acutely aware of human striving than on the Appalachian Trail.

I completed 1,861.6 miles of the Appalachian Trail. If I decide to section hike the rest of it over future years, I will have 328.2 miles left.

For now, this adventure has come to an end. It is time to start the next chapter of my life: time to start a career.

I couldn’t be more ready for it.

“Adventure is a path. Real adventure – self-determined, self-motivated, often risky – forces you to have firsthand encounters with the world. The world the way it is, not the way you imagine it. Your body will collide with the earth and you will bear witness. In this way you will be compelled to grapple with the limitless kindness and bottomless cruelty of humankind – and perhaps realize that you yourself are capable of both. This will change you. Nothing will ever again be black-and-white.”

  • Mark Jenkins, writer and climber