Maija DiSalvo

I have so much to share because the trail taught me so many lessons and yet I’ve struggled to find a way to really express how I feel about all of it. Perhaps I just needed some time to step back and disconnect enough to see the trail from my new perspective. The trail did give me that. It offered me a chance to reevaluate my life and the way I’ve lived my 27 years and also empowered me to use what I learned out there to live my remaining years better. I read through my list of reasons I started hiking and I can also say that I achieved everything I set out to do, besides the obvious of course, of completing the thru hike.

I learned countless lessons about what it means when the forest is your bathroom, bedroom, kitchen, road and background; how it feels when your home and everything you need to survive is on your back; how you are forever and always at the whim and mercy of mother nature as you’re but a mere speck crossing over her lands; the appreciation for the little things and the amazing people who offer a helping hand expecting nothing in return; and the enormous dependency of my canines on me for all of their needs, and me on them for their incredibly devoted companionship. I also slowly transformed myself from a confused, hesitant, overworked, but decent human being to a confident, passionate, thriving individual who has forever gained the ability to follow her heart and live her life fully and completely. For that alone, I am eternally grateful

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During our road trip out west, after only a week off of the trail, I jotted down some of my thoughts:

I’m sitting in the passenger seat of a sprinter van that is now my home, while a man I love incredibly much sits beside me and both dogs lie comfortably behind us. I think by now the dogs have accepted that their lives are in a constant state of change, they never know where we’ll be from one day to the next, or what ridiculousness they’ll be along for. I think it makes them better dogs, just like the same makes us better people.

After a few days of driving, a solid day of dealing with vehicle troubles, 6 states, countless bouts of laughter, ridiculous road trip games, several brewery stops, gorgeous sunsets and the sharing of our hopes and dreams for what comes next, I find myself feeling such an array of emotions. The most intense emotion I feel is the love I have for Dan and the confidence and comfort I feel in choosing to make this trip with him, both in the literal sense of trucking ourselves across the country, and also in taking this leap of faith in him and our relationship.

Along with these driving forces comes the reality of what it means to walk away from what you know. I think the goodbyes to friends and family in the Midwest, though not easy, hurt a little less with the knowledge that I had already said goodbye in a bigger way two months previous when I headed to Springer. The goodbye that hurt the most this time was saying goodbye to the trail. It was a goodbye to perhaps one of the most enriching, empowering, liberating, strengthening and significant experiences of my life. It’s a hard thing to put into words, hard to really explain the way that something so basic can change you from the inside out.  

In our lives we are given endless possibilities and countless opportunities to change the course of our lives. Sometimes we feel happy and content with the way our lives are flowing and change feels forced and unwelcome; sometimes we choose to make a change and it allows us to feel more in control of what happens next. Ultimately I believe that we will forever be living in a constant state of change. We can neither let life happen all on it’s own, nor can we control every outcome. Hiking the Appalachian Trail for two months engrained both of those ideas even more permanently. Out there I needed to have a plan and always be prepared, but much of what I was preparing for was the unexpected. An interesting and perplexing thought but one that makes so much sense to me in every aspect of my life, especially now. All the preparation leading up to this hike, and within two weeks I had sent home pounds of weight and changed my mindset entirely. I adapted to the unknown environment I had thrown myself into, and amazingly, I began to thrive there. The unknown didn’t bring fear anymore, instead I saw it as an opportunity to learn and grow, to become a more knowledgeable backpacker, and hell if it didn’t leave me with some great stories along the way.

I slowly hiked myself into stronger form both physically and mentally, my confidence in myself and faith in others grew exponentially, my lungs grew accustomed to breathing clean fresh air, and my heart and soul felt alive. In fact I felt entirely alive and at peace with myself and the world. The Appalachian Trail gave me more in two months than I’d found searching elsewhere for all of my years previous.