The grand adventure is over. Dick is home now, resting those tired feet. His pack is in the garage, airing out. He'd like to share a few words with you.
I want to thank Mike Southern and Zita for all the work they did while I was on my six-month, 2,160-mile journey into the real world.
When I left for Georgia in April I had no idea that a website was going to be created, much less that it would generate interest from around the world. Before leaving Connecticut, I emphatically told Zita that I wasn't going to keep a journal as I had done on previous trips. The work of recording day-by-day activities for six months would be tedious and would distract me from my main concern of successfully completing the trek.
When I called Zita the first time from Georgia she told me that Mike had agreed to set up the site. I had no objections to that and felt that Zita could do a much better job of reporting my activities than I could. However, she could not report on anything unless I gave her the information. Because I didn't write anything down before calling her, I sometimes forgot to mention some small incidents.
One thing I remember is the night I pitched my tent right next to a shelter. The shelter was full. Didn't matter. I preferred to stay in my tent anyway, unless it was raining. I felt it was more private.
Although I knew better, this particular night I stored my food bag in the tent instead of hanging it from a tree. That was the first and last time I ever made that mistake. About 3 a.m. I felt a mouse run over my face and through my hair. I woke up. Startled, I turned on my flashlight and saw a hole where the mouse had chewed through the top of the tent to gain entry. Once inside, it was unable to climb up the slippery nylon baseboard to escape. I flashed the light on the mouse. How was I going to remove the pest without harming it? After all, I was the one who tempted it and I wasn't going to kill it because of my stupidity.
I unzipped the entrance to my tent and waited. In a few minutes, the mouse climbed on top of my pillow. I grabbed the pillow and tossed it and the mouse out of the tent. End of my mouse problem.
Later that morning, I patched the hole with duct tape. Every time I pitch my tent and see that patch I think of that night.
Another thing I did not tell Zita was about all the times I fell or slipped on wet rocks or roots. I didn't want her to worry. There were many times when I'd fall, lie still, hold my breath, and ask myself, "You okay, Dick?" When I could say "yes," I'd release my breath, get up, and continue on. I remember reading that a hiker takes about 5 and a half million steps on the way from Georgia to Maine. It only stands to reason that some of those steps are going to be unlucky.
Thank you for sending all those encouraging messages. Zita mailed your post cards and emails to me in the food drops. RickRock and I would sit down after dinner and read them. It was gratifying to hear that so many people were inspired by our efforts. Those posts provided fuel to help keep us going.
Did hiking the trail change my life in any way? For one thing, my experiences with all those Trail Angels makes me want to be more generous. All they ever asked in return was a "thanks" and a smile.
The experience taught me that if you really want to do something as strenuous as hiking the AT, you need more than just a burning desire. You have to have a little luck. Illness or injury forced many hikers off the trail. They didn't leave because they wanted to; they had to. Some did leave because they wanted to. Mothball had been on the trail only a few weeks when he got the long-awaited phone call that he had been accepted into the Air Force OCS. Another hiker left the trail with only 80 miles to go. He said he had hiked all he wanted to and didn't need to finish the trail to know in his heart that he had accomplished his goal.
Six months is a long time to be away from home. Being gone that long strengthened my respect and love for Zita. She had to handle everything while I was away. She never complained, not once. Without her full support, I couldn't, and wouldn't, have done this.
The trail gave me a new friend, RickRock, from whom I learned so much. He is competent, considerate, and a real gentleman. I feel fortunate to have met him and hope our friendship continues.
Knowing what I know now, would I still have hiked the AT? You bet! But I wouldn't hike it a second time. There are too many other places to see.
What am I going to do now? Well, I'll take some time to rest and put all my photos, receipts, and thoughts in order. I'll look for a job too. I still have a lot to offer the world.
When Spring comes, I know I'll be thinking about the AT and wondering how many people will head for Springer Mountain to do every hiker's dream.