Milwaukee native Lauren Groh is in the process of through-hiking the Appalachian Trail. In this essay, she explains what prompted her to attempt the journey:
We woke before dawn, rolled up our sleeping bags, took down our tent, and packed up our rental car. It was the last day of our big California trip, so we were dragging our feet over every, last minute of freedom! Our campsite was at one entrance, but we took the long way out of the park, so we could pass through all the beauty one more time. As the sun was coming up, we stopped to take a few final photos of Yosemite Valley – our friends Half Dome and El Capitan tattooed in our minds.
The sun rose with us as we headed South to the airport in Fresno. We stopped at a fast food joint for brunch, then at a gas station to clean and vacuum our rental car, then again in a strip mall parking lot to reorganize our packs for the flight home. With the privileges of the last few days behind us, responsibilities before us, and home-life reality ahead of us, we realized that our adventure was over.
We dropped off the rental car and trudged into the airport, deprived of sleep and sad to be heading home. As we stood in line, waiting to check our bags, the events of the last few days played over and over in my mind.
To think, just yesterday we had hiked the eight miles of switchbacks from the Valley floor to Glacier Point, where we were pummeled by one of the most spectacular views in the world; possibly the same view that inspired John Muir to dedicate his life to protecting the land in Yosemite National Park. And only two days ago, we were driving along highway one, the Big Sur coastline bringing to our minds those who had cherished it enough to write poems, books, and music about it – people like Jack Kerouac and Alanis Morissette. Four days ago, we were humbled by the Sequoia Giants, constructing a makeshift rain awning over a picnic table, and shooing bears out of our campsite.
In a response to a loud conversation nearby, my mind zoomed back to the present. The check-in line was long, and we were at a stand-still. Eventually the woman behind us asked if we were on a backpacking trip. We told her we were camping and hiking in Sequoia and Yosemite National Parks.
“Have you ever thought about hiking the Appalachian Trail?” she asked. “My son did it a few years ago. Then he went out West and hiked the Pacific Crest Trail, but he said the Appalachian Trail was a great beginner trail. Anyone can do it!”
If ever there was a perfect time to bring up the topic of a new adventure, it was at the end of an old one. And that’s how the idea of hiking the Appalachian Trail was born.
My wife and I met that woman a year and a half ago, and six months later we made the decision to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail. In a few weeks, we will be following in the footsteps of her son, likely tripping over some of the same jagged tree roots in our journey from Georgia to Maine.
It’s funny how a one-minute conversation with a stranger can change the direction of your life, if you let it. Me? I’m headed North!
Lauren Groh is a Milwaukee native and Lake Effect contributor. We will be bringing you a series of essays and interviews from Lauren as she through-hikes the Appalachian Trail from April to September of this year.