The first time I ever stepped foot onto the Appalachian Trail was in 2014. A friend and I decided spontaneously that we were going to hike at least some small part of it. Within about 3 days we met, decided where we were going, borrowed some gear from our youth pastor, and were driving 10 hours to the eastern seaboard from northern Indiana.
We headed to a 30ish mile stretch just south of Harpers Ferry, MD. For first timers it was tumultuous. We didn’t know it, but the trail just ahead of us was nicknamed The Roller Coaster, a 15 mile stretch of constant ups and downs, hundreds of feet of incline and decline.
We stayed in a shanty the first night, only a mile from our car – we didn’t want to stress ourselves out. The next day we embarked on The Roller Coaster, the most extraneous walk I had ever been through up to that point. It was a day long adventure of water breaks, chafing, and questioning how much longer. We finished and stayed at a hostel atop the mountainous Coaster. We met this lovely woman – a professor from some University in Ohio, she never told us her name, but she took us in for the evening buying us ice cream, giving us advice, and just getting to know us.
The next day we embarked with only a few miles left before we would arrive in Harpers Ferry. Along the way a young Lithuanian man runs up to us exclaiming how happy he was to have found us! He had heard about us through some other hikers we had previously passed, wanting to talk to us to hear about our experience and get to know us – never got his name either.
We finished in beautiful Harpers Ferry getting the experience of a lifetime, I was hooked. It was arduous, tiring, and painful, but it was the unique reward of success that I had never felt. I made a vow that this experience would not be my last time on the Appalachian Trail.