I am very excited to introduce today's guest author, Paul V. Stutzman. Paul is an amazing person who, after his wife's death, hiked through the whole Appalachian Trail in nearly 5 months. Thank you, Paul, for taking the time to share this with us.
Trudging Toward Katahdin
Even the very day I began, I wasn't sure it was possible. I was on Springer Mountain, Georgia, walking through a forest in the rain, with adrenalin surging through me at the same time tears of loneliness wet my face. I was beginning a walk that would end at the top of Mt. Katahdin in Maine, 2,174 miles away.
It was in the spring of 2008. I'd left a good job and the security of a predictable life to chase a dream. I also hoped to find some way to put my life back together. My wife had died of breast cancer, and all the plans we'd made for our life together were now useless. My wife Mary was gone, and somehow I had to find a way to live again.
So on that day in 2008, I carried a backpack and headed up the wilderness path of the Appalachian Trail. I'd dreamed about hiking the AT for a long time; now that I was actually on the trail, I wondered if I'd really be able to walk over 2,000 miles through fourteen states. From all my reading, I knew well what my goal looked like—just a small sign at the top of Mt. Katahdin. What I didn't know was everything I'd have to walk through to finally get there.
That hike took four and a half months. It was the hardest thing I've ever done. On that spring day when I stood at the first white trail blaze on Springer Mountain, if I'd have known everything that lay ahead of me on the Trail, I probably would have hitched a ride back home, hung up my backpack, and begged to have my job back.
There were the physical hardships of the trail—snow and ice, steep climbs, long days, restless nights, storms, injuries, exhaustion. My natural stubbornness got me through those obstacles. What almost defeated my dream was loneliness; I missed my family and friends, was absent at the birth of a grandson, and felt that I'd abandoned my children who were also grieving the loss of their mother.
Yet I got up every morning and started walking. Just one step after another. Yes, the hardships of the Trail sometimes made me think I was a fool to be trudging along that path. But just as the hardships were more than I had imagined, so were the gifts of the Trail—kindness, companionship, beauty, and renewal. I thought about Katahdin every day, but every day of the journey there was life to be lived that day.
And on the morning I stood at the base of that last mountain in Maine and realized I had really done it—I had actually walked the entire length of the Appalachian Trail—then I knew dreams really can come true. Get up every morning, live the joys and hardships of each day, and just keep walking toward Katahdin.
BIO: Paul V. Stutzman left a restaurant management career to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail in 2008, after losing his wife to breast cancer. He tells the story of chasing his dream from Georgia to Maine in his new book, Hiking Through: Finding Peace and Freedom on the Appalachian Trail. See photos from his hike on his website, www.hikingthrough.com.
Look for my review of Hiking Through tomorrow - Day 2 of Paul's Virtual Book Tour!