The sting of leaving the trail is as real today as it was six months ago. We were standing at a crossroad in Lyme, New Hampshire. We had tried to find our groove again after leaping ahead to Vermont, to no avail. The trail was so different. The white hash marks continued to lead the way, but the earth was soggy from the recent melting of snow. The weather violent. It seemed as though winter was refusing to let summer have its way. The untrodden trail was slick. The forest was coming to life. With ravenous hunger, the black flies were feeding. We were their food source.
Just the night before, we had made dinner at the bend in the river. It was peaceful. Beautiful. Surreal. Deep inside, I knew that this might be the last night on the trail. I drank deeply of the beauty. We made ourselves a little fire in the lush open field. The kids laughed full heartedly as the wrestled around in their tents. Taylor and Kole serenaded us with the guitar, ukulele, and their voices. I wanted to push the pause button. I wanted to stay right there.
How could so much change in only a few short hours? How had the trail, which we had fallen in love with, become such a trial? Spirits had fallen. Batons of joy and sadness were being passed from person to person. When one was up, another was down. The stride had been broken beyond repair. We returned home after waiting a few hours for Ryan’s parents to come pick us up in Lyme, NH.
I cried the whole way home. I cried hot tears, the kind that chap your cheeks. I had pinned so much on the end of the journey. I couldn’t help but look back at the day that we had arrived at Amicalola Falls. Our family huddled up, like a team readying themselves for a championship game. We huddled in close. Ryan pronounced the beginning of our journey. We had made it. We had arrived at our destination. The beginning of the trail was a mere few hundred feet away, the end 2,189 miles north. The spark in everyones eyes was bright. On this fateful day, that spark was gone. What had changed? Even more daunting, what was next?
We arrived at our little house late in the evening. Everyone dropped their smelly packs, showered, and fell fast to sleep. In the morning, we woke to the poignant reality that the journey had ended. We tried, each in our own ways, to process this fact. We even tried to plan a return to the trail, but we were continuously unable to fit all of the pieces back together.
Our time on the trail was not in vain though. We learned so much about ourselves. We gained invaluable insight into the hearts of each of our children. We may not have finished the Appalachian Trail, but we left with the tools that we need to effect change in the trajectory of our lives moving forward. After weeks of contemplation, we decided to sell our house and everything we owned, in order to move into our little camper, and begin a new journey. With far more questions than answers, we set off into our future.
I wish that I could tell you that it is ALL wonderful and amazing, but it’s not. I try to remind myself to stay positive, to find the good in each day, and to embrace this day knowing that I am not guaranteed tomorrow, but ignoring the difficult realities that exist in the beauty of the now is unhealthy and dishonest. The honest truth is that deep below the surface I long to be back in my home, surrounded by the familiar. The uncertainty of where we are headed is scary. I miss the simplicity of the trail! Follow the white hash marks and you will never be lost. Keep heading north and you will eventually reach your destination. I want something tangible to lean into and onto… but the compass of our lives spins, the wind blows, and plans change.
Facebook reminds me everyday of a life I thought would be mine forever. I smile at the thought of the memories, I rejoice in the friendships made and kept through the distance, but I find myself a bit bitter. “If Ryan had never had to go to war…” And there I stop myself. That is NOT a trail I need to devote time to. It is a slippery slope, with no end. I do, however, allow myself to say those words. I give myself the space to acknowledge the moment our family was changed; the time when hopes and dreams were replaced with words like duty and sacrifice. Acknowledging that we are changed, has opened the door for us to begin to dream again. We are restless, wandering vagabonds. Cue the music to a 90’s Michael W. Smith song… we are ‘looking for a reason, roaming through the night to find our place in this world…’
Since leaving New Hampshire three months ago, we have visited New York City, Washington DC, some dear friends in Virginia, and Disney World. Though we thought we would be living in our camper, we have been staying in a condo that is close to my dad. We visited my hometown of Palm Beach Gardens, reconnected with old friends, made new ones, and spent some amazing time at the beach. We have all experienced so many good moments; making memories that will last a life time. We are so thankful! But there is real life stuff that causes angst. Finding the balance between preparing our two oldest sons to launch off into college, discerning the needs of all of our kiddos, and trying to figure out what it is that we (Ryan and I) are meant to do, while fumbling through ups and downs of PTS, is a bit challenging.
Thank you so much for following our journey. We are headed west in a few short days, out into more of those green (or white) lumpy places we love so much. We have thoroughly enjoyed being near family, but we are excited about the adventure the next couple of months will bring. We plan to do a whole bunch of soul searching while we are out there.
NOTE: In order to share our story, we have to share with authenticity. How can we know true joy, if we don’t experience the sting of sorrow? (words from Riley, our youngest son). I love this insight. It perfectly captures my heart. I know that there are people in our world struggling with dark realities, darker than my mind could ever imagine. I would never want the struggles that we experience to ever be placed on a scale with theirs. However, I also don’t want to paint a picture that would give indication that we have somehow arrived and have it all together. We don’t. You don’t. None of us do. We all struggle. We all have ups and downs!!! Our family has been forever changed by war. Though my children and I have never experienced the war first hand, we have forever been changed by it. Striving to find healing in the aftermath was our reason for heading out onto the trail; it remains our purpose in all we do today.