A CHANGE OF HEART

Ellwood Pass, Colorado, about 3,000 miles later.

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The last day.

The decision as to whether to pursue the Calendar Triple Crown came to me on an afternoon when rain and sleet pinged against the forest service road leading down from Ellwood Pass. It reminded me of how I felt in Maine, first struck with emotion, and then total relief. Euphoric, even.

This had been a dream of mine, to hike three long-distance trails, but I can look back on journals and photos and see that it was more than I could handle, and that I was looking for an escape. In fact, that is what thru-hiking has been for me all these years.

Ten years ago, it was a romanticized fantasy; an escape. And still, almost ten years later, it’s filled that void to whatever void I was looking to fill; an escape from the everyday life, but also the everyday life rooted to nobody but myself. Selfish reasons for so long, I’ve now shed those reasons, and I can see that life, my life, is far more enjoyable in the company of others. From my best girlfriends on the west coast to this new man in my life, I’ve been craving their companionship. I can see that the people in my life who mean dearest to me, are the people I don’t want to be without.

I’m not a superwoman. I know some of you thought I was, and maybe, ten years ago, I would’ve made it to the southern terminus of the third long-distance trail. Maybe I’d persevere through the challenges despite having been fearful of heights, or fearful of lightning and thunder terrorizing the skies above. I’m first to admit that yes, there was a time that I could push on. There was a time I’d defy the limits… But that is no longer.

Walking down from Ellwood Pass I realized that No, I did not want to continue any further. And although there is no one reason that I decided not to continue, the best aspect of not continuing is that I stand by my decision. I’ve recognized that I have given it my all in order to have hiked the Appalachian Trail in winter—in winter!—and then to top it off with 700 more miles along the Continental Divide. I’ve tried to adapt to the challenges of a thru-hike, and I’ve tried to give my body the therapy and nutrition it needed to persevere. But alas, my body is worn out, and my mind weary, and I am wise enough to know that I have a long life ahead and it’s not worth putting my body in pain any further. Just in the days following my decision, I’d brace myself through pain, my back a series of knots, very fortunate to have my new beau, Rookie, massage them away.

Which yes, one of the reasons I choose to end my hike was that I have fallen in love. Our story is too wonderful, and too special, to continue the hike by my solo, little self any further. We believe that the trail provides, and that there is a magic that happens on a long-distance adventure. And similar to the hours leading up to Mount Katahdin and the boundary of Baxter State Park, I turned to the passion and confidence of my writing. What story did I want to write? And as it turns out, I’d rather write a love story. So please stay tuned, as I’m thrilled to sit down in front of my computer, and not this damn phone that makes me feel like a technologically-incapable dinosaur, and write what will be one of the most original stories ever.

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Can you blame me?

And so now what? Now I will head to Wyoming with Rookie to enjoy exploring one of my favorite states, and to backpack a route through the Wind River Range that I’d been looking forward to hiking until my body grew tired and sore from 30-mile days. We can backpack at a much more relaxed pace, under beautiful, blue-bird days, and overall, relax.

And then, we’ll head to Oregon. Although Rookie has never set foot in the state I’ve come to love over the last nine years, he’s sure excited. But I know it’s not Oregon that he’s most looking forward to, but instead seeing the state with me in the picture. And that is plenty enough reason to leave the miles of the Calendar Triple Crown behind.

I think back to the last week of hiking on the CDT. I ran into several of the hikers that I’d run into prior to Cumbres Pass, and prior to spending time with Rookie in Pagosa Springs. They were shocked that I wasn’t further ahead, and like them, had delighted in the luxury of a few days off. I suggested that I might get off trail. That I’d fallen in love.

And although some would encourage me to keep going, that they were excited to see a woman pull this off, a few helped me embrace that sometimes our priorities change, while others posed the question to both me and their questioning selves: Isn’t the purpose of a long-distance adventure to discover what you want in life, and perhaps, can’t it allow spontaneity and trail magic to suggest taking an unexpected change in direction? I think it does. I know it does. And I’m following my heart on this one.

15 thoughts on “A CHANGE OF HEART

  1. Motivation is at the root of it all, and you are motivated to explore this next phase with Rookie! I’m so stoked for you and can’t wait to meet him and hear all about your trip when you are back in Bend. I miss you! Have a blast in the Winds!!!!!!

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  2. I sort of guessed this direction back in Maine. The hints were there. Since becoming deeply involved with the AT, I’ve discovered so many who are escaping everyday life. Some never screw up the courage to return. The lucky ones do. I’m looking forward to that love story. May it never end!

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  3. Mary, it has been wonderful to follow your adventure, and even more wonderful to see how you follow your heart. It was clearly your heart that led you to attempt this amazing feat, and now it is your heart that leads you into another great adventure, in some ways more difficult than the Calendar Triple Crown – forming a deep lasting bond with another human being. I wish you the very best in *all* your adventures, and applaud your courage, vision and heartfelt honesty. Onward – into the fog!!

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  4. I have enjoyed your adventure as well, but we all need to be selfish because, Rookie aside, no one else is going to care about you more than you. I hope your new adventure is more wonderful that those of your past.

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  5. Well, good for you! You are following your heart and that is clearly not just a momentary whimsical thing to do. It is part of your unfolding journey in life.

    How amazing it is to arrive at that point in life which I call, “Feeling finally found.” Perhaps other times in your life you have heard so many of the right words from others and you’ve appreciated and still appreciate so many people for who they are, what they’ve said and how they’ve loved you, even as something was still missing.

    But now, with Rookie, there is so much more. Another way to say it might be, “How wondrous in life when found to be true, that you find the right words and a melody too.” I can already envision a new book title, “Harmony in the heart.” Sorry… now I’m getting a little silly.

    Thanks for sharing your fabulous journey over these last months, and I look forward to seeing another book on your evolving love story weaved into your life’s trail adventures.

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  6. All trails lead to unexpected adventures. That’s why we take them. You have now found a wonderful new adventure to take with Rookie and that is so exciting! I, too, can’t wait to read your next writings and wish all the best for you and Rookie! Have fun wherever your trail leads you. Very happy for you!

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  7. So sad, so glad. I am so happy you have found someone to share the next chapter in your life. You will have many new and different adventures ahead of you. Please continue to write as you have a wonderful way of drawing in your readers. My very best to you.

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  8. As a follow-up here, will you be sharing more of your hiking adventures? Just because you may have left the CDT, I think we’d all be interested in reading of your adventures on any other trails you may be exploring. Say Hi to Rookie for us!

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