Sea Monster already wrote an entry on Springer Mountain, so there's no real reason that I should as well, except that I feel like expounding a little bit on what the trail has meant to me. So this isn't a Springer entry, its just a trail entry generally.
Over the course of these last 165 days, the trail has had a lot of different effects on me. There was the initial, total elation: the inability not to smile when looking around, knowing I was on a cool adventure and further knowing that there was literally nowhere I'd rather be. I would burst into spontaneous singing, I'd run sections of the trail just because it seemed like it would be fun. But predictably, my passionate flame for such an outdoorsy lifestyle eventually cooled to a more temperate enjoyment. I'd still have moments where I was overcome by a view, or the fresh smells, or whatever... but I also got used to the reality that I was walking for 8 or 10 hours a day, and got really good at zoning out and daydreaming through the boring parts. The trail and I had our fights: there were certainly days where I felt like leaving altogether, days where the intensely close companionship with Sea Monster or the multiple days in a row of wetness or simply missing the companionship of my friends made me miserable. I specifically remember a period of about 3 days in northern New Hampshire where I was really considering quitting halfway, at Katahdin.
But fortunately I treated it as what it was - a spat, not a complete falling out. Maine was, in my opinion, the most beautiful and rewarding part of the trail. It was remote, and beautiful, and contemplative. The stars were unbelievable, the lakes were crystal clear (if somewhat leech infested, haha). And I fell in love again, and it was (if you'll excuse the cheesiness) a much deeper, less emotional, but more serious sort of love. We soon were hiking through super-long (and sometimes monotonous) Virginia. Here too, there were times that I was sure that as the summit date grew nearer I'd be nothing but thrilled to get home to material comforts and the people I love. But as it did get nearer, my emotional responses were not nearly so clear. When the end was still a full month away, I already found myself growing nostalgic. By the end, while I was (of course) very happy to come home, I also really missed the trail that I hadn't even left yet!
My favorite thing about the trail as a whole was the people: the hikers we met, and the trail angels from whom we always benefited so much. I've been so impressed, so often, at how kind some of these people are. Further, something about the trail seems to bring out the best in people. Maybe it's that people are naturally more contemplative in nature, or that they're more honest with the people they meet on the trail about themselves (after all, it's hard to feel judged by someone named Bacon). But it's hard to come off the trail without a general conviction that people are generally very good, and kind, and helpful once you get them to take an interest in something other than themselves. Maybe the folks on the trail have already taken that step, and that's why I feel like they're almost always so cool.
The trail was also really good for me in a whole bunch of ways. It's impossible not to think about more or less everything while you're hiking, and you can only think about movies and computers for so long. I really think its very healthy to spend some serious time thinking about the "important stuff," which is something that is easy to avoid in real life. I also am now totally convinced that most people, myself included pre-trail, spend WAY too little time outside. Screw skin cancer, there's something obviously very healthy about getting sun. That's my official pre-medical opinion, and I'm sticking to it. It's probably something very scientific, like the Vitamin D and a well-documented psychological effect, but I like it and am sure that everyone else would too if they spent more time outside. Though I am definitely getting skin cancer some day.
The other huge lesson we both learned was that we're living life NOW and if you want to do something, you should just make it happen. The trail wasn't even very physically challenging. I mean, we burned a lot of calories, but I'm convinced that almost anyone could do it. The training is the first few weeks of taking it slow and easy, and then you realize that hiking is secretly just walking in disguise. And almost all of us are pretty good at walking! But that's a digression from the point, which is that we all find ourselves in a situation in which there's a "path" that everyone seems to follow, but that there isn't any terribly pressing reason that we all do so. I mean, we all go straight from high school to college to post-college/jobs to retirement. And there isn't anything wrong with that at all, of course, if its what you want to do. But we met some people (for example) that were taking a year between HS and college. Generally, they were discouraged from straying from the path, but I'm convinced that they'll know much more about themselves and what they want to do when they do enter the university. Again, not that taking a year off is better than going straight to school, but just that it's not necessarily better to go straight to college if, for example, you don't know what you want to go for yet. Take a little time, figure it out. We met plenty of middle-aged people who didn't seem to have a whole lot of cash, but lived the way they wanted to. A great example was a northbound friend of ours that lived in a van, but loved it: he got to drive around the world (he's from Holland, actually) and rock-climb all the time, finding odd jobs here and there to support the cheap but fun lifestyle that he loved. And for a final time, I'm not saying that this is better than the american dream... just that it's a valid alternative for a happy life, and if you want to live that way, more power to you. And generally, if you want to do something, whether its mainstream or not, you should
I was never good at ending papers or essays or anything, but I guess that in conclusion, the trail was awesome. I'm glad I did it. The end.