This Open Road

A season walking southbound on the Appalachian Trail

“I See the Look in Your Eyes…”

More from Wood’s Hole

The day after Sly Jangles and I made our way to Wood’s Hole, we slackpacked* 10 miles from the hostel into Pearisburg with some other hikers. There we indulged in some greasy junk food at the Dairy Queen and bought groceries for the next several days on the trail. Neville met us in Pearisburg later in the afternoon with our packs and drove us back to the trail so we could resume our hike to the next shelter.

During our short time at the hostel, I’d asked Neville about her life there. She’d grown up helping her Grandma Tillie serve breakfast to the hikers and listening to their stories. She met her husband there too, when he came through as a hiker several years ago. Now together they ran the hostel and had made several improvements to the hostel. It was clear that both Neville and Michael had a deep regard for the property and the community of hikers to which it catered.

On our drive back to the trail I asked Neville if she’d ever thru-hiked the AT. With a wistful look she said, “No, and I need to and I want to. I see the look in your eyes (of the hikers) and it’s something I know I need to experience.”

At first I thought, What look? The look of exhaustion? The look of “why did I think this was a good idea?” But then I knew what she meant. I’d recently caught a glimpse of that look in my own eyes. I was tired, sore and covered in sweat and grime and desperate for a shower. But the look I saw was one of happiness and anticipation. I was living my dream. I was with new friends that shared this dream. I was more than willing to give up comfort and convenience for this experience. As difficult as this journey was, it was fulfilling a need that kept surfacing. The need to push myself physically, mentally, spiritually. The need for movement, growth and all the other more subtle, unconscious reasons that I could never clarify.

I understood the look that Neville was talking about. I saw it myself and in the eyes of those with whom I hiked. And it’s a look that is, of course, not reserved just for those who walk the trail. But one that is reflected in the eyes of anyone who takes steps in the direction of their dreams.

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*Slackpacking refers to hiking without a full pack, usually carrying just a small daypack (or not even that) with enough water and snacks for the time spent hiking. This requires help from someone who can babysit the backpack and meet the hiker at a predetermined point farther down the trail. Slackpacking is a great way to get the miles in and get a break from carrying a fully loaded pack. I “slacked” about 100 miles over the course of my 1375-mile AT trek.

One response to ““I See the Look in Your Eyes…”

  1. Susan July 19, 2010 at 7:51 am

    A lovely, inspirational post for all of us!

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