The Final Stretch
I was in Stratton, Maine, when I got the call that Tom was safely back on American soil. We decided Tom would travel from New York to Maine and meet me 133 miles down the trail in a section of the trail called 100-Mile Wilderness in 10 days’ time. We would then finish the last 55 miles of the hike together. Now I had to get to our meeting point. With a heavy heart, I parted ways with my hiking buddies, and I set out alone. Getting to Tom became my sole focus.
The upcoming section of trail was far more difficult and rugged than I had imagined, and I struggled to make the necessary mileage. The weather turned cold and icy, and I badly twisted my right ankle. I grew increasingly disgruntled with the trail for standing between me and my “carrots.” What had started as a beautiful distraction was now a formidable obstacle keeping me from what I wanted the most — Tom.
On Oct. 1st, I was racing through the woods of Maine. The trail had relented, and I started to feel confident I might actually get to our meeting point by late evening. I came around a corner of trees, and I saw three hikers sitting about 10 yards off the trail huddled around a camp-stove cooking up lunch. I recognized two of the group as thru-hikers, but the third hiker had his back to me, and I didn’t recognize his clothes — after 2,000 miles you generally know who is wearing what.
I assumed the third hiker was a section hiker and didn’t pay him much mind. One of the thru-hikers shouted out that I should really come have a look at the view of Katahdin from the lake’s edge. I wasn’t the least bit interested and was about to decline when something about the third hiker caught my eye, something about the way he squatted.
It took my brain a fraction of a second to process what I was seeing. Before he could stand up and turn around, I knew who it was. I threw my hiking poles down, and I tore at the straps on my pack struggling to free myself of it. Sobs poured out of my throat and tears streamed down my face. I ran to him and wrapped my arms around him. He held me tightly as I cried — tears of joy, tears of relief. Tom was safe, and he had come to find me in the 100-mile Wilderness of Maine.
The Appalachian Trail bestowed countless gifts upon me in the almost seven months I was on the trail, but the one I’ll treasure the most was the next five days we spent together in the solitude of the woods getting reacquainted. Deployments are tough on a relationship, and any military spouse will attest that reunions, though initially joyful, soon become awkward and difficult. Yet, without the distractions of the outside world, we were able to talk and share and open up in ways I’m not sure that we would have otherwise. Our universes converged seamlessly. For that, I will be eternally grateful.
On Oct. 6, on a beautiful blue-bird day we summited Mt. Katahdin together. I cried, and Tom beamed. What a glorious day it was!
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