For twenty years, I dreamed of doing an AT thru hike. Northstar dreams of other things. Don’t get me wrong – Northstar loves a good road trip, has done a half-dozen 100- to 600-mile hikes in Europe, and spent plenty of time in tents over our 40+ years together. But her dreams are reserved for less tortuous things, like staring into our granddaughter’s eyes and making her laugh.
I did what I could to make our AT trek her thing, or at least ours. But at its core, a thru hike was her gift to me. An impossibly huge gift.
How Huge is Huge?
How huge? Think of it like this:
Imagine a time when your significant other asked you to do something for them. Let’s say it was something you didn’t mind doing but wasn’t your favorite thing in the world. Maybe doing it would be a little inconvenient for you, but not too much. You’d still do it, right? Of course, you would. What’s a little inconvenience compared to the dreams of the person you love most in the world?
Now imagine that they asked you to do that thing every day, all day, for six months, and that doing it would take you away from everyone you knew and prevent you from doing most of the things you liked doing.
Most of us would flat out refuse. Others might say no reluctantly, try to compromise, or figure out some kind of payback. Not Northstar. She said, “Of course!”
Not Too Huge For Northstar
And then she did it. Not just without complaints, but joyfully and with purpose. It’s almost incomprehensible.
Above and Beyond
Especially in light of what she endured.
When we arrived at Amicolola State Park in Georgia, Northstar was still recovering from Shingles, which made even things like sitting in the driver’s seat very painful. Her Shingles pain had subsided by the time we made to Virginia, but it never fully disappeared. In Virginia she caught norovirus, probably from a hiker she rescued, and she also battled the ticks Gus brought home daily.
In Maryland, one of those ticks finally got her, giving her the telltale bullseye rash, which required two weeks of antibiotics, with all the worries of yet another chronic illness and the side effects of modern antibiotics.
Besides the ticks, the rest of the insect world never gave her a break. Mosquitos, gnats, chiggers, flies, spiders, and bees ignored me and sought her out, painting her lovely skin with innumerable rashes, welts, and scars.
But Wait, There’s More
While shuttling me on the labyrinth of Appalachian back roads, she got lost, stuck, broke down, locked out, detoured, and dead ended. Driving a 20-foot long, 9-foot-high, 7-foot-wide van down hundreds of miles of poorly marked, narrow, muddy, pot-holed forest roads is not for the faint of heart. Especially when Google Maps gives out or sends you to a horse trail instead of road and you have to find way to turn around on a muddy one-lane road bordered by swamps or low-hanging trees.
Because she spent most days in the woods out of cell coverage, she got lonely. Some passing hikers were friendly to her. A few were awesome. Most were indifferent, as hikers tend to be towards any non-hikers who aren’t giving them food or rides. A few, which is a few too many, were heart-breakingly rude. Shame on them.
Most nights, after she’d picked me up, I was exhausted, leaving me little bandwidth for anything but eating, blogging, and sleeping. So, she’d cook dinner (I’d do dishes), listen to my videos while I distilled my notes into a blog, and then help me write and edit the blog. And then I’d be up early and out the door long before her normal business hours. Then she’d get up and figure out what she needed to do to find me at the end of the day.
A Day in the Life of Northstar
A few readers have asked what she did all day while I hiked. Mostly, she faithfully did the work to pull off my dream – shuttling, finding campsites, resupply shopping, van maintenance, managing the home front, cooking dinner, and a fair bit of waiting for me at trailheads when I was late. And on rainy days, and from Pennsylvania to Massachusetts, she entertained the ever-energetic Gus after he was banished from hiking in tick country.
Whenever she found cell coverage, she connected with her friends back home. Having adult children doesn’t mean you stop being Mom, so she spent a lot of time listening to our kids on the phone and making faces at our granddaughter on FaceTime. She also mentors some young women at church, which means regular, intentional contact with them. And when time allowed, she explored, read, and wrote (if you like creative non-fiction devotionals check out her blog “Grace Calls Me” www.tumblr.com/grace/gracesentme). She’s the really talented writer in the family.
But mostly, she kept me going. Northstar’s default advice to me over the 42 years we’ve known each other has been to slow down, take a break, stop, and rest. For this adventure, I told her I needed her shift from her default.
So she did. Whenever I hit a low point, she’d remind me of how far I’d come and tell me she knew I’d finish on Katahdin. Sometimes, she’d hint that I’d sorely regret it later if I quit. A few times, she flat out told me I could not quit that day. But she did convince me to ask Alaska for a reprieve so we could slow down a little – solid advice which probably saved my hike.
Last night, as we were talking and reminiscing about the trip, Northstar thanked me for never getting mad at her for wrecking the van. How could I? She did this huge thing for me. Her gift was so much bigger than a few dents the insurance will (eventually, though not hurriedly) take care of.
Thank you so much, Northstar. I would never have climbed Katahdin without you. Even if, by some miracle, I had made it to the end on my own, it would not have meant as much.
I love you. You are truly my Northstar.