Trail Anniversary

I wasn't planning to write anything about starting the trail, one year ago today. But then I picked up these photos from the pharmacy this afternoon, put them in the frame and couldn't help myself.

The photos, all framed and everything, were begging to be shared on the one year anniversary of our Appalachian Trail thru-hike start date.

I bought the dollar store frame months ago. In fact, seeing the five-in-a-row design is what gave me the idea to print these photos.

These photos were taken close to Bear Mountain State Park in New York State. They do not commemorate the start of our hike, rather they capture how we looked a little more than halfway into our journey.

By this point we were the real deal and these photos show that. They capture poor Padawan's bug bites, but her big grin all the same.

They tell the story of dirty legs (and my hairy legs); Toesalad's bewilderment at having taken us on this grand adventure in the first place and Otter's unbridled enthusiasm for the whole thing.

They portray (isn't that what a portrait does?) my indomitable, come-hell-or-high-water-I'm-finishing-this-thing spirit; and of course this photo shares Tenacious Bling's, well, her bling.

We arrived at Bear Mountain State Park on Saturday, July 26; day 118 of our adventure. The state park, which boasts a zoo (the Appalachian Trail goes right through the zoo, white blazes and all) was filled with weekend picnickers. And right at the bottom of the long descent down Bear Mountain itself was Stan Goldblatt, a professional photographer working on a project - taking photos of thru-hikers on their way through Fort Montgomery, NY.

"Are you the Von Trapps?", he asked.

He'd been hoping to meet and photograph us and he made us an offer we couldn't refuse. For a bowl of homemade chili, rice, and cold drinks he'd drive us to his nearby studio located in his home, take our photos, record a bit of our story, then drive us back to the trail.

All we had to do was get into car (without enough seat belts for all of us) with a complete stranger, and trust him to do as he promised.

Which of course he did. We'd heard about Stan from friends ahead of us on the trail.

"If a strange guy meets you at Bear Mountain State Park and offers you a ride to his home to take your photo - it's all good. He's legit."

Trail family takes care of their own.

And that's how it was that we got our trail portraits taken by a professional photographer.

We weren't dressed fancy. We weren't dressed "for a photo shoot". We were wearing what we always wore, the same clothes, day-in, day-out. We hadn't showered or put on deodorant. Poor guy, taking all those smelly hikers in his car. (No wonder he kept the windows rolled down the whole time.)

I remember exactly where I was one year ago tonight. In our red Hilleberg tent, sleeping with the girls, at Hawk Mountain Shelter, approx. 8 miles into our 2,180 mile hike.

So full of hope and expectation for what was to come, feet already tired.

AT Journal Day 1 3/31/14

Summited Springer Mountain with Powell Family. Left Big Stamp Gap at 2pm. Arrived at shelter 6:30. Brienne and Laurent sore. Celine no complaints. Clear day, no rain. Beautiful trail along creek. Shelter campground full of people, 30? No time to chat or really chill, busy figuring out camp routines. I felt good going to bed. Feet tired. It was a very good first day, all things considered.

I remember so many details about that first day. Most of the trail is like this for me. With the help of my photos and journal entries I can recall our days in amazing detail.

In the last month, as we've noticed an increase in trail buzz online (people are starting thru-hikes this time of year and there's a lot of internet chatter about trail stuff) we have spent more time as a family remembering our hike, sharing our stories with friends but also amongst ourselves.

We don't hide things under the rug in our family and so my trail struggles have been part of the conversation since the very beginning. But recently, there has been a marked increase in laughter as we share our memories.

Some of us, Damien, would go back tomorrow. Others, Brienne, may never hike a long-distance trail again. It's still too early to tell for any of us but our sights are westward for the future.

None of us can imagine hiking the Appalachian Trail again without the friendships we made in 2014. Without the people who made the trail what it was.

Part of us wants to go back and do it better. Basically, I'd like to thru-hike without an emotional breakdown and with more time. Damien would like to enjoy trail life without the heavy responsibilities he bore as team leader.

But when we recall the places we experienced and the friends we made, we realize that none of that would have been the same if our hike hadn't been exactly as it was. I had no idea how precious all of that would be to me one day, how precious it would be to me on this day.

And that's just how it goes.

I'm happy to be sleeping in my bed tonight. But I'd be lying if I said the trail hasn't tugged on my heart today.

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  • Sarah Koch

    Sarah Koch on April 1, 2015, 4:48 a.m.

    Love your sharing of your personal story and your family story every time--sometimes I relate to it, sometimes it sprouts a hundred questions because your lives are so different from mine, sometimes I just listen and hold the words... I've discovered how hard it is for me to share myself with words and am ever-more impressed with your ability to do so.

    I'm going to Montreal this Friday (I'm going to school only 3 hours away) and had friends who skiied in the Chic Chocs last week so I've been thinking of you all. Someday, when you're all settled in Montreal, I'd love to take some of you out for a coffee or tea if you're all interested... it may be a while away but I'd love to give something back (and of course meet you in-person!) for what has now been years of inspiration. Best to you in the adventures ahead (and congratulations to Céline for making her goal a reality!--I just thought of this but if she ever wants to come down and sit in on a Japanese class at my school, I'd be happy to host her... or to perhaps connect her to some people she could practice speaking with over skype... I have a friend who I work with at the box office who is majoring in Japanese and going to Japan for the year next year!) 






  • Tina A

    Tina A on April 1, 2015, 2:36 p.m.

    I love this post for so many reasons.  The photos of you and your family are adorable and priceless.  It must be amazing to look back over the past year at everything you have endured and accomplished and see how much you and your family have grown from your experiences.  


  • Misti

    Misti on April 1, 2015, 3:32 p.m.

    Yes, hiking the trail again without the same would be different. Who I was five years ago versus now...completely different. It would be a different hike. If I ever did it again I'd like to do it southbound but then again, maybe I'd like to start and go north but take my time and stop a lot more. So many options---so little time...and too many other trails to explore, too. 

    Happy Trail Anniversary! My 5 year one was a few weeks ago and I am still stunned it has been five years. 


  • Amelia

    Amelia on April 2, 2015, 10:24 p.m.

    I thoroughly enjoyed following along on your adventure via your videos. Congrats again Tougases! All the best on all of your future adventures! Amelia


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