20 Years in the Dirt
20 years ago I took my first steps on the Appalachian Trail (AT) towards Mt. Katahdin. A lot has changed since that first thru-hike. Before the AT my longest overnight was two nights. Over the past 20 years I have covered thousands of miles using just my legs. Sometimes I hiked and other times I cycled (bikepacking).
To celebrate my 20 year anniversary of thru-hiking the AT, myself and one of my fellow finishers, Jeff, climbed Mt. Katahdin again. The plan was to hike it on the exact same day, but Mother Nature had other plans and served up some wet weather, so we hiked it one day early. Neither of us had been back to the mountain since our summit day, which made it all the more special.
Unfortunately, the third member of our finishing group had passed away from his fight with cancer, less than a year earlier. We carried a copy of our summit photo from 20 years ago with us, so Carrington would be there. Summiting Katahdin again was both surreal and emotional. It was so wonderful to see other hikers finishing their through hike, but even more special to be back on top myself.
Just days after hiking the mountain I had the opportunity to do a fly by of the mountain in a float plane. My father chartered a float plane to pick us up at the fishing camp we’ve been going to for over 20 years. I had never been in a float plane before so the experience was very cool. Even though the clouds were low, we still got to see the summit and other eager hikers reaching the top. The flight was relatively short but the experience was unforgettable. I felt truly lucky to be able to both hike and do a fly by of the mountain in the same week.
Two weeks after my float plane ride, I took my first steps onto the Colorado Trail and started my sixth through hike, and eleventh long distance adventure. Ironically, on my first day I ran into a young lady who commented on my tiny pack, saying she needed a pack like mine. What was so ironic about this, was she using the exact backpack I used when I hiked the AT 20 years prior!
That whole interaction got me thinking about how much I had accomplished and changed over my 20 years in the dirt. The gear and how much I bring with me has been reduced to a bare minimum. I’m more efficient with everything from planning and executing my adventures, to even my daily tasks during them. As my pack weight has come down and I’ve become more efficient, my adventures have gotten longer and at times more intense.
One thing that hasn’t changed during all this is my desire to see and explore new places. It’s what drives me to see what’s around the next corner and the one after that and so on. Bikepacking has made this process even easier, even if bikepacking itself is personally hard for me than hiking.
Seeing new places and having new and unique experiences is what fuels me. It’s where my desire to explore starts. You never know what is around the next corner. It could just be more endless trees or grass, or it could be a mammoth grizzly or the most amazing waterfall. Luckily for me and you, there’s endless possibilities for exploring. So what are you waiting for, get out there!