At 11:30am on Wednesday, August 19th I reached the summit of Mt. Katahdin, Maine’s tallest mountain and the northern terminus of the 2,189 mile Appalachian Trail. As I stood atop what the Penobscot Indians called “The Greatest Mountain” I experienced a wide range of emotions: euphoric bliss, gratitude, pride, and sadness. At that moment the journey of 147 days, of community and friendship, and of self-discovery came to an end. After snapping hundreds of pictures and sharing teary hugs with fellow thru-hikers, it was time to turn around and walk down the mountain.
Tomorrow marks one month since that magnificent day. I’ve spent the past 31 days exploring coastal Maine, laughing and celebrating with family and friends, and adjusting to post-trail life. I am engaged in things that I love, but the trail is constantly on my mind. In typical outdoor educator fashion, I’ve spent a lot of time attempting to debrief my experience, and, much to my dismay, I’ve found it difficult to adequately address the “What? So what? Now what?” of the journey. I know that I learned more than I ever have in a 4.5 month period. I know that I grew and changed. I know that I came to know myself in ways that I never dreamed possible. I also know that the trail with be with me for the rest of my life and that I don’t need to rush the debriefing process. It’ll all come out when it’s time.
There is something, though, that I thought about every single day as I hiked: the importance of having a big dream. As I took my first steps north from Springer Mountain in March, I could hear my 12 year-old self cheering me on. “Way to go, Liz. You’re actually doing it!” This dream of mine, a thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail, has been on my mind and in my heart since my first backpacking trip as a kid at summer camp. When I look back through my journal from the Outward Bound course I participated in when I was 17, the first thing on my list of long-term goals reads “hike the AT”. Throughout college and beyond, I read book after book about the trail and stared at maps for hours. I daydreamed about what life would be like out there and thought about how great it would be to eat candy bars every day. I can confidently say that I’ve thought about the Appalachian Trail almost every day for the past 19 years.
Some may say that thinking about something that often is obsessive, but I disagree. That’s what dreams are all about. They’re little places in our minds where we can escape everyday life for a minute or two. They offer inspiration and excitement for the future and give us something we can work really, REALLY hard for. Dreams open doors to realities we didn’t realize existed and simultaneously keep us grounded as we work toward making them come true. Dreams are born from passion and purpose; they encourage us to leave a positive mark on the world.
My dream didn’t come true a month ago when I touched the sign on the summit of Mt. Katahdin. No, it was realized the 146 days leading up to that moment. Every step, every raindrop, every packet of Ramen noodles I ate, and every interaction I had on the trail was a part of my dream coming true. Every piece of ground I slept on, every mountain I climbed, and every mosquito I swatted away…they were each a part of it, too.
Thanks to the Appalachian Trail, I am forever changed. I know that I can accomplish big things and that I can make my wildest dreams come true. And I know that I’m no different from you, or your children, or your neighbor down the street. We were given the ability to dream because we are capable of making those ideas become realities. They’re ours for the making and ours for the taking. So, what are you waiting for?
Liz Snyder, Assistant Camp Director