When we left our home in March, there was an excitement that could just not be contained. We couldn’t wait to experience all that the trail would offer. When we arrived at Amicalola Falls on March 12th, tears welled in our eyes. We had made it to the beginning of the journey. We were hopeful, but unsure as to wether we would actually ever take our first steps on the trail. When the weather turned dangerous at the top of Springer Mountain and we did not know if we were going to be able to find a reasonable ride down the mountain, we could not have imagined that we would find ourselves at Miss Jane’s home in Blairsville. We were able to sleep in warm beds, take hot showers, buy new gloves to keep our hands warm, and more importantly we got our first taste of the new friendships that this experience would bring us.
Our first day on the trail, we were completely proud of the fact that we had simply made it to the trail! We were as proud of our first 4.4 miles, as we have been over any 15+ mile day. We set up our tents for the first time, and slid into our new sleeping bags. We gathered sticks to make a fire and we sat around it with a couple of teachers. I watched pridefully as Taylor discussed American and British literature with the two of them. There could be no better reward to the end of a cold, hard days climb, than to enjoy the simplicity of a fire with all seven of us enjoying each others company.
When we returned to the trail at the end of the cold snap, we were so excited to make it to Hawk Mountain. It is there that we met Antenna, ThunderBuns, and Papa G. We would experience more memories with each of them. Again, it was not the miles, but the memories that we were chasing.
It took us several days to hike the first 34 miles to Neel’s Gap. We met the Warrior Expedition hikers there, and had a good laugh over the crazy of having seven boxes delivered to us there. We met the Graham’s in town at the pizza parlor, and hiked out of Neel’s Gap with them the next day. We all survived our first hail storm there, and we lived to laugh about it.
One memory after another, conversation after conversation… our first month on the trail was filled with trials, but more the mystery and misery mixed to make a whole heap of memories that propelled us forward each and every step of the way. Of course the newness was bound to wear off. There has to be a reason so many leave the trail. If it were all good, all the time, this journey would really have no purpose except to provide a temporary escape from the inevitable reality that we will one day live again. We trusted that the difficulties of the trail would provide opportunity to grow, to talk about the struggles that we have faced, and to be open about the hurts that we have experienced, to seek forgiveness from each other, and to find peace with each other and with God.
Somewhere, somehow, at sometime, things changed. Not all things, but some things. Even now, I struggle to articulate the changes, but over the past couple of days family conversations have confirmed that things had indeed changed, and moreover that there is so much more work to be done; not to go back to the place we were at the beginning of this journey, but to really come together as a family, and to let go of the anger that exists inside each of us. The heat of the past week has revealed immense amounts of anger that dwells in the depths of each of our souls; a brokenness of spirit that has created chasms in our core.
We were told at the very beginning of our time in service that we need to just pull up our boot straps and keep marching on. There is a sacrifice required from those who choose to serve… we had chosen to serve, therefore we would have to become intimately acquainted with the sacrifice. Our children would have to know this sacrifice as well. However, we cannot blame everything on this sacrifice; we have to own our contribution to the chaos.
As we sort through the heap of emotions, we are only now beginning to see the magnitude of the task. Before now, everything has been somewhat stored in compartments created by expectation. As parents, we have told our kids how to store and deal with their emotions. Regardless of the pain brought on by deployments, we have tucked emotions away in order to survive. “There is nothing that our emotions will change.” But after living through the consequences of thinking this way, nearly losing everything, we refuse to let our kids walk into adulthood without allowing them space to unpack all of that junk, and learn again how to let go of the negative and identify the positive. It isn’t as simple as just throwing it all aside and moving on.
Lately, we have been to see the lack of milage as failure, rather than a part of this journey. My ankle injury, as disappointing as it was, provided Ryan some time to be alone with the kids. New York, a great interruption to the flow of this journey, was necessary. Though I won’t go into all of the details, things are being made right, and the time Ryan spent there was a huge contribution to that. The disruption turned up the heat, now real work can begin. Only if we slow down!
There is simply not enough time to hike 18 miles, relax and enjoy the little creek we pass by, and sit around and just let the conversations take place for a long as they need. With this in mind, we have decided that we are going to slow down, but we are going to keep going. We have decided that we will stay out here as long as it takes. There are many unknowns, and there will be many more obstacles to overcome, but we have gotten back to the heart of the journey. We all are climbing into bed tonight with an immense amount of excitement; similar to the first day we began our journey on this trail.