Today marks the 5th anniversary of my completion an Appalachian Trail (AT) thruhike. Thruhikers call this day our “trailversary”. The date, 9/23, holds special meaning for me, thus the name of this blog – Coaching Recovery 923. What follows is an excerpt from my nearly finished book #continue describing the finish.
The next day dawned to weather perfection. Cloudless sky, cool temps. Just Doug was frozen. He only had a thin foam pad and the tent floor between him and the cold ground. On the drive to Katahdin Stream Campground, we navigated a dirt road to Baxter State Park when we came upon a moose. Sandy came to a sudden stop.
“Wow! That thing is huge!” Sandy exclaimed.
“That’s a baby!” Four thruhikers chimed in together. It was a young one, but still huge. In our excitement, no one thought to take a picture.
Other thruhikers milled about the base and registered at the ranger station for the final hike. Honey Britches was there with her brother who would make the climb with her. I sat down on a bench and re-tied my Merrell’s. They were worn out but they conformed to my foot perfectly and artistically.
“This is your last run shoes; you’ve been very good to me.” It wasn’t lost on me that I was now speaking to my shoes. I kissed Sandy, hugged her a little longer than normal and set off down the trail, white blazes beckoning.
“See you soon, honey!”
Without turning back, I raised one trekking pole. The climb up started simply enough. I anticipated the steep. And this steep was spectacular. The going got really rough. Rock scrambling became the norm, hands and feet up the mountains’ spine. I had not read or heard anything about how difficult this climb was. I had the lead and as I climbed, I had that nagging thought that I had to come back down the same way. But I enjoyed it; a fitting finale to a fantastic adventure, the most challenging climb of the entire AT. The higher I climbed, the more impressive the view; Katahdin truly a stand-alone mountain. In some sections, re-bar served as the only option up. That definitely got my attention. One slip here so close to the finish would be catastrophic. I worked what was left of my butt off to finish the precipitous ascent. I could see nothing but blue sky up above. An ancient looking dude appeared above me. He had to be 80 years old.
“Is that the top?” I pointed a few yards up.
He laughed. “No, you’re just about to reach the Tablelands, you have another 1.5 miles.”
He laughed again. “Enjoy your hike.” He went on by. Seeing the old guy encouraged me.
“If he can make it up and back down, I can too.”
Once again, I noted I talked to no one in particular. I went up a few more yards and I saw my final destination off in the distance. I waited for Dr. Pickles, Mockingbird and Just Doug.
I took my time over the last mile and a half to take in the view. I paused to take many pictures. The cloudless sky, the brilliant sunshine presented an incredible day to summit. I drew closer. I heard people celebrate. I saw the infamous Katahdin sign. As I climbed the last few yards, I choked up.
“I’m here. I made it.” I whispered.
I sat down and watched Dr. Pickles and Mockingbird come up. They smiled. They cheered. They celebrated. A few minutes later Just Doug touched the sign. Profoundly quiet, he slipped away and sat down on a rock a few yards away. A private, proud man, his shoulders heaved a few times. The trail affects everyone deeply, even someone as tough as Doug.
Others took pictures at the sign. We waited our turn. Kind Honey Britches took pictures of the four of us. Then we all posed one by one. As I stood on the sign with eyes and hands pointed up to the heavens, I was strangely numb. Maybe I just had too many emotions for me to process. Fatigued from the climb, I had some concern about making it back down in one piece. But mostly I stood in awe that God carried me to the finish.
“Did I really do this? Is it really over?”
I sat down near the summit. I posted my summit pic on Instagram with the following caption.
It is finished.
I’m pretty tired; think I’ll go home now.
All glory to God.
Recovery makes all things possible.
I put the phone down. I savored the view. I sat with my thoughts. The phone vibrated. Tough Love commented instantaneously.
“DAD YOU DID IT, I’M SO PROUD, ALL GLORY TO GOD”
My daughter shared her heart from Virginia. Her loving post made me leak again. I wiped away tears while I looked out on the most spectacular view on the entire Appalachian Trail. Time slipped away, I realized it was about 1:00 pm. I had 5 miles back down. If the descent went slowly then we (or I) might need 5 hours, and by then it would be getting dark. I didn’t want to do that.
Down I started; Just Doug ahead of me. I got behind a young couple and the woman moved slowly. That suited me. I picked my way down. Dr. Pickles and Mockingbird spent much longer on the summit but caught me quickly. I told them about my anxiety about getting down, would they stay with me? They did.
Although difficult and taxing, the descent proved not as bad as I had made it out to be. As the trail started to be less severe, a river of relief flowed through me. When I reached the base camp walking behind a dancing, marching Dr. Pickles, I saw Sandy, Just Doug, the Boudreaus, a huge sign congratulating us and about a dozen other people who all started clapping and cheering. I reached out for Sandy, arms open wide, collapsed in her arms and the sobs came.
I made it home.
In 2015, I finished a thruhike of the entire Appalachian Trail, a trek of 2,189.2 miles. It took 189 days and 6 pairs of boots. During that sacred time, my purpose in life became more precisely defined. I am, simply, to coach recovery. Recovery saved me from an early demise and brought purpose to my tattered life. I have learned that I’m a coach to my very core. I am blessed to put the two together. I started work at the Connecticut Community for Addiction Recovery (CCAR) in January 1999. I became the Executive Director of this recovery community organization in 2004. I have trained the CCAR Recovery Coach Academy© dozens of times and have a hand in modifying, improving and adapting various recovery coach curricula. I’m old enough now to start considering my legacy. This is one way for me to share lessons learned in my recovery, in my role as Executive Director and a trainer. When I engage with others, I present the same messages repeatedly. It’s time to write them down.Phil “Right Click” Valentine
Recovery established 12.28.87