6:00 my eyes opened.
I couldn’t go back to sleep. And why would I want to? Six more miles and I would be finished. It was the day I had waited on for a long time. It as a tad bit on the chilly side so I sat staring at the shelter listening to see if the others were stirring. I finally decided to get out of my hammock and get moving. The excitement of seeing my family and feeling accomplished was brutal. I couldn’t lay there any longer.I practically had everything packed up with the exception of my food before everyone else had gotten up.
Finally the others began to rise and it wasn’t long before we had our breakfast together. We all had some form of Mt. House breakfast. I had the skillet with some tortillas. Besides the bacon and pancakes I had on Thursday morning, this was the best breakfast I had all week. I’m not sure I will do the hard-boiled eggs again. They weigh a lot plus I like my food hot on a chilly morning. They were nourishing but far from “hitting the spot.” Again, we didn’t bother with a fire. It would be warming up quick and it was already starting the making of a beautiful sunny day.
We put our packs on, took a picture and began our last few miles of the hike. The first few miles were nothing to talk about. I put some music on and began walking very quickly. This was a familiar part of the trail for me since my wife and I had hiked this portion the year previous. I got out front of the other two but occasionally looked back to make sure we were all still together. Eventually we came to a road crossing that led down to a camping area with boat ramps. We stopped for a break; water, snacks and removal of outer layers. It was heating up quickly.
I had realized that we had been walking so fast, we had already hiked three miles in an hour. I stated to the guys that I would be slowing it down a little. I didn’t realize in my excitement to finish that we were making really great time. We could easily do three miles in two more hours leaving us at North Welcome Center waiting for everyone to get there to pick us up. I really wanted to take my time so that my wife and son would see me coming off the trail. I had no intention to make to the NWC without them being there.
Not much further up the trail, we came to the lakeshore where there was a stationary outhouse. We stopped for another break and to kill some time. I shot some video and Mark made a few phone calls. We realized that the green sign just a mile or so back told us we were three miles from the North Welcome. The mileage didn’t seem to pan out for us so Mark decided to check the mileage with an app on his phone on the way back to the North Welcome Center.
Steadily, we hiked on. Before too long, we were nearing the end. Because of the excitement of finishing, I didn’t take that many pictures through the day so I ended up missing some good photo ops. I knew that we were getting close and my steps quickened even more. Because Mark had been in touch with the wives he knew that they weren’t as close to the NWC as we were so Mark commented to me that our rides were not there but I was ready to be there. I gave up on the idea of them meeting me there or seeing them just down the trail. I was ready to be done. I’m sure I angered Mark but I kicked it into high gear and found myself moving very quickly to get done.
We began to see cars on the Trace through the trees, through an opening in the woods we saw the North Welcome and we saw a family beginning a day hike. As they passed, I remarked at how good they smelled. I haven’t smelled such goodness in a week and my nose was definitely on high alert smelling the perfume and cologne that we had just passed.
We finally made the end of the trail, the North Welcome just yards ahead of us yet the family had not gotten there yet. They were still a few miles off. We walked up to a shady grassy area just to the side of the parking lot and shed our packs and rested. Mark and I went into the North Welcome Center to use the restroom and possibly stink the place up with our body odor. Mark checked his mileage and said that we had gone about three miles from the picnic area which was still a mile from the sign that said we had three miles to go. I believe the signs are off on their miles. I’m not for certain how many miles we actually covered but LBL states it’s about 58. Count in the extra miles to the shelters and we easily hiked 65+.
We waited about fifteen minutes and Mark’s wife, Dalton’s girlfriend and my wife and son all pulled in. I was overjoyed. I was so excited to see them. I gave my wife a huge hug and a kiss and was very thankful she wasn’t put off by my odor. I walked to the backseat door and took my son out of the car seat. He was kicking and screaming to get out and hugged me real hard.
My hike on the North/South Trail at Land Between the Lakes was such an amazing experience. I laughed. I cried. I exhausted myself. I worked hard. I played. I gave the trail a piece of me. I also took from it. Mostly memories. There’s a saying in the hiking world; “Leave nothing but footprints, take nothing but memories.” Dr. Venkman once said, “We came. We saw. We kicked its…” Well, if you’re a fan of Ghostbusters, you know what he said.
The trail is an interesting place. The trail will demand everything but will give you more than you bargained for. It’s not a place that sells you a bill of goods. It’s a give and take. You give a piece of yourself and in the end, you take more than you offered. It’s interesting every time I step foot on the trail. The dirt feels the same but the experience provides something different each time. The trail meanders but the memories stick with you.
The trail takes something from you but the experience loves giving back to you.
The trail is more about the smiles than the miles and in the end when you reach the point the trail says I’m done, it’s only the beginning for you because where the trail can’t continue, life uses those experiences and makes you more than you were when you started. The trail takes you on a journey. How you experience that journey is different from how others do but each person who takes that journey can understand the depths of such an experience. In the end, when you step off the trail, something has been taken from you yet in return something more has been given. It’s the nature of the journey.
We left footprints. We took only memories.