The day of reckoning

I woke up in my chill little tent for the last time, on a rainy Friday morning. Rainy, of course—because the trail doesn’t want you to end easy. Every day out there is hard. This one was hard and special, though. Special. I was up and out in no time at all, despite the rain. The last time.

The last time to fight with the zippers. The last time to check the water bottles for ice. The last time for everything. For everything. The enormity of it kept washing over me. Indescribable.

At least it was warm—warm enough, anyway, that I didn’t need gloves. I could have shoved my wet tent into my pack, but it seemed… disrespectful, after all that time. Poor Big Agnes. She went to the wall. I packed her up as though I’d need her again that night.

The sun was peeking over the distant mountain, just a horizontal slit of crimson under the gray clouds. It was gone quickly enough, leaving just the gray, and that was perfect, was perfect, because the day felt solemn. Seven miles to the finish line. I couldn’t even listen to music. I just wanted to be—to listen, to smell, to feel, to be present and alive for those seven miles. I felt like I was squeezing the whole hike into those three or so hours.

First the woods: the typical brown on brown, but the rain brought out that odd ammonia smell again. There were birds, more birds than lately. A bluejay clung to a tree and peeked around it at me. There were bugs. It warmed up as the trail descended, and eventually I had to take off the rain gear. It wasn’t actively raining anymore; just threatening.

Before I knew it I was out of the hills and down in the flats. A three-mile walk between the river and the canal, that green-slimed mudway that must have been hell, mosquito-wise, in the summer. I found a little green marble in the dirt, like a bird’s egg made of emerald.

Hot and cold. Hot and cold. I kept taking clothes off and putting them on. Seven miles. Three miles.

One mile.

The canal ended at a staircase that went up to a footbridge, and don’t you know, it was one of those metal staircases that you can see through—just like the firetowers that I don’t climb because they tweak my fear of heights. I had to practice Lamaze and denial to get up there, but I did. I did. And I crossed the river and into West Virginia, and boom! Harpers Ferry, familiar Harpers Ferry, exactly at the edge of it I’d touched in July, and I knew I was almost done.

I still stopped at a trash can to throw things out. A hiker can’t pass up a trash can, even for something momentous. In this case, I dumped my water bottles, my toothbrush, my lunch, everything that was disposable and not nailed down, and also my actual trash.

I followed the white blazes to the street and spotted my friend coming toward me, and that was fantastic. We chatted and caught up a little, but I’ve gotta tell you, at that point I was reluctant to finish. The thought was actually a little nauseating. You can only delay so long, though. And we walked.

That last little part was high on a cliff over the river. Rocks, and river, and gray skies, and psychedelically painted crack houses and weird sculptures and a dayhiker and the sound of the train and traffic across the river and and and and and. Telescoping reality. Telescoping surreality.

And then we were there. We were there and I took the last step, and my feet crossed the place they’d been before, and the world stopped. It was done. It was done, and I was done, I was done the WHOLE FREAKING TRAIL. I didn’t know whether to smile or cry or throw up or some odd combination. I felt so much that I felt nothing specific, just a general chaos of thought and emotion. And a vast desire to get to the ATC headquarters and do some fist bumping.

On the way through Harpers Ferry, we ran into Broken Candle again. He dropped twelve pounds of pack weight and looked great. Good luck, Broken Candle! The trail never stops. The circus just keeps moving. People finish, people start. Everything overlaps in this odd eternal, wacky present.

At the ATC, the volunteers have a little celebration with people who finish there. We drank grape juice and toasted and took pictures and laughed, and that’s when it really started to hit me, I think. This thing, 40 years in the making and two years in the planning, and forever in the execution.

But there it was: 2185.9 miles. All of it. Springer, Katahdin, all the points in between. Six pairs of shoes. Winter to winter. Two time changes. Three porcupines, one rattlesnake, and a kitten. And you.












Categories: Appalachian Trail | Tags: | 55 Comments

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55 thoughts on “The day of reckoning

  1. Beth

    Epic indeed. You are forever a part of my story, Thank you Karma, Thank you so much. Beth,

  2. Beth

    Now THAT would be epic!

  3. Ginny Henninger

    You look great!! What a wonderful adventure. Thank you for sharing. Will miss looking for your posts every couple of days. Now enjoy the holidays and get back to your other life.

  4. Dale

    Enjoy your Holidays and all your hard work. I enjoyed your postings.

  5. Karma, congratulations. It will take a little time to readjust to the real world, and then for at least a few years you might think of the Trail at least once a day. And then for years and years you will occasionally remember your long trek. I’m happy you persevered. Part of your life, now.

  6. milkman

    Thank you Karma. Loved every minute. Keep us updated on the book.

  7. Just fantastic! So happy for you. I have enjoyed every step with you (at least the ones you wrote about). Onward!

  8. Jill

    OMG, tears well-up in my eyes! Luv Luv Luv the pics of you at the end! Did you lose much weight? You look fabulous! Thanks again for taking the time to let us follow along. Kokopelli

    • I lost 45 pounds, which is NOT typical for women, as I inderstand it. I’ve got size 6 pants that need a belt or they fall down! Which… OK, I’m kind of OK with. LOL.

  9. Red

    Congratulations! Thank you for taking us along on this amazing adventure. You did all the hard work and wrote so eloquently for all of us.

  10. Jayne Smith

    #Claps hands and wipes away a tear# – way to go Karma. x

  11. Kathy Hart

    You go girl! Can’t wait to see you!

  12. EarthTone

    Your finish proves beyond a doubt, that it doesn’t matter where you end your journey. It will always be just as intense and magickal no matter where your last step is placed.

  13. Again, CONGRATULATIONS!!!!! “The Journey is the destination”.

  14. Ah!!!!!! Yay!!! Beautifully written 🙂

  15. What a beautiful post! So proud of you!

  16. Judy

    Big sigh! What a tremendous blessing to have followed you on this journey. It has been a delight in getting to know you…to chuckle at the adventures …and shake my head when you pushed through the obstacles. You did it! You. Did. It. So thankful that Billy and Not Yet led us to you. Take us along on your next adventure, Linda. And may God continue to keep you in the palms of his hands.

    • Oh, I miss Billy and Not Yet! Best of luck to all of you, and have a great holiday! And wonderful things in 2014. Thank you, Judy!

  17. Slo & Because

    CONGATULATIONS!!!!!!!!!!!!! Oh my, we are just so proud of you (for you). Loved you EXIT journal… Cannot thank you enough for every word you shared. Be well Karma. Slo

    Hey Karma congratulations (from Because). Well done. Deb and I are going back next spring as section hikers again. Take care & enjoy your home again.

  18. Slo & Because

    PS…Wow! You look great.

  19. Marge Figun

    Wow! Loved this post almost as much as anyone you posted on the trail. I knew you had a talent for words, but I am just blown away by your writing ability, my friend. One of your “many, many” God given gifts. Thank you again for sharing some of them with all of us. I believe this particular AT Trail completion is far from over. Can’t wait to see where this takes you next. Blessed to know you.

  20. Is it hard to believe it’s over? Congrats and thank you again!

  21. Karma,
    I’ve been following your blog since before you set out on the AT. I have three folders for the trail journal links that I read, one for those who are on trail, one for those who quit, and the last one is reserved for those who make it. The emotions that you expressed in this blog have been raw and unfiltered, and it has been a pleasure to follow your journey. You are one of the most resilient people I have ever met, even if only virtually, and I now move your link from ‘on trail’ to ‘made it’ with a smile on my face. Thank you for sharing your journey with a guy who can’t just quit his job and leave his family for a thru-hike, but enjoys section hiking when he can, and living vicariously through the adventures of others. Congratulations on your accomplishment — it was truly epic!
    — No Poles

  22. Kelsie

    You did it! So happy for you.

  23. Mike Brown

    I wish I were a witty writer. I will have to simply say thank you for taking the time to share, keep batteries charged, and leave cold fingers out of gloves night after night while you moved us with your thoughts and memories. You made many, many “invisible” friends.

  24. You won’t be ready anyway! But it’ll still be EPIC! =D

  25. Lemon

    Wonderful Karma. Thank you for sharing. You are so powerfully humble. (((((LINDA)))))

  26. Donna

    The “END” pictures are great. You look wonderful and happy & your sisters are glad you are back.

  27. Scott

    I found your journal pretty late in the season, but I am glad I did. Congratulations, I enjoyed your writing and photos. Thank you for sharing. My best top you.

  28. Karma – incredible journey! Sitting here with tears of happiness in my eyes for your successful thru-hike on the AT and a few tears of remorse because my journey ended too soon. I can see your joy in the final pictures. Happy Trails … for the future.

  29. nate

    Sure enjoyed your journey! I found your journal last spring and have followed you ever since! Way to push through no matter what trail or others threw at you. Way to go! Cross that one off your bucket list ..

  30. jim beauchamp

    The year has given you a new feather for your Santa hat. Merry Christmas!

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