THE END

I’ve been putting off writing this post for as long as possible. I think I had somehow convinced myself that if I don’t write the blog, then it’s not really over. That I’m still on the trail. That I’ve just taken 17 zero days in a row. I wish that were the truth. It used to feel like being on the trail was this long dream that I was going to wake up from. Now I just keep hoping that soon I’ll wake up from “real life” and be back in the woods. I had been told from my first week on the trail that readjusting to life without it is much harder than adjusting to life on it, but it’s hard to understand that until you’re going through it. Even in my last week before Springer I was sad that it was all coming to an end, but didn’t think I’d be one to have “post-trail depression”.

Readjusting is weird. The other day Allison and I were in the car and I was shivering from the cold. Suddenly I remembered that if you’re cold in real life, you can change the weather with a turn of a dial. How cool is that! I rediscovered that I can control the temperature.

There are many other perks like that that I’ve rediscovered, like light bulbs and purses, but most of the readjustment hasn’t been in concrete things. I was honestly shocked at how easily I slipped right back into my daily routine of checking my phone, having the ability to drive, and having a daily schedule. I think that may have been the scariest part. I’ve worked so hard for the last five months to make changes within myself and within a matter of days I’ve already seen some of those things slipping. It’s so easy to distract myself in the “real world” with technology that many of my old habits are already coming back. Don’t get me wrong, it has been amazing to reconnect with old friends and have immediate access to the news, but it does come with a cost.

I, along with the rest of the world, was shocked and devastated to hear about the attacks in Paris, as well as in Beirut and across Israel. It makes me want to run back to the woods where I can so easily be blissfully ignorant. Life is simple out there. You worry about basic necessities, like food and water. Beyond that, your mind is open to focus on personal growth, connecting with others, connecting with nature, and spreading love. On the trail I was used to smiling at and talking to every person I pass. I miss that. It’s amazing what a little smile and “hello” can do. Not that it will do anything to change the atrocities that have already happened, but I challenge you to spread a little kindness this week by making a conscious effort to genuinely connect with those around you, even if just in passing. I think a lot of people need it right now.

It has also been a particularly tough week at Project Canaan, the home base of Heart For Africa. They caught a serial rapist, lost the life of one of the children’s caretakers in an auto-related accident, had a fire deliberately started by locals on their property, had two babies rushed to the hospital, and two babies in surgery. With so much sadness going on in the world it’s hard to see the light, but I truly believe it’s there. It’s only through love that we can rise from such devastation.

This past week I had a meeting with Beth Blaisdell, Executive Director and Head of Fundraising at Heart For Africa. We talked for a while, discussed our options, and eventually decided where to focus the money we’ve raised over the last six months. Because of the donations you’ve all so generously given, we are going to be able to fully furnish the entire first grade classroom. I could not be more thrilled! Together we have been able to raise nearly $3,800. It’s this kind of love that gives me hope. Your generosity will directly contribute to the education of children for years to come. In addition to all of the furnishings, they will put up a commemorative plaque recognizing this journey and your dedication to these beautiful children. I want to say thank you from the bottom of my heart. I cannot thank you enough.

I will keep the Go Fund Me up for one more week. Any more donations we’re able to raise will go to furnishing the first grade teacher’s office. We are only a few hundred dollars from making that happen. It’s this kind of love that gives me hope for the future. It’s amazing to know that, at least in this classroom, built through love, that these kids will be filled with love and hope. This is the future.

On October 29, 2015, I finished my journey on the Appalachian Trail. I walked 2,189.2 miles, crossed through fourteen states, saw thirteen bears, one moose, one rattlesnake, countless other wildlife, took two trips to New York City, a trip to Washington D.C., a trip to Portland, Maine, a trip to urgent care, saw seven plays, was given nearly $400 by complete strangers, had five complete breakdowns, made friends with some of the most selfless people I’ve ever met, and learned more about myself than I could’ve ever imagined. I learned that I am smart, strong, and brave, and that there are no limits to what I’m able to achieve.

It’s funny how the most common question you get asked on the trail is also the most difficult to answer—What made you want to do this? What could possibly make someone want to do this? It’s crazy. It really is. I am reminded this anytime I look at a map of the trail. I walked a stupid amount. Before I started the trail I really had no idea why I wanted to do it. Yes, it sounded interesting and like something I’d enjoy, but why? Despite not knowing, I felt with certainty that this was something I needed to do and, for some reason, listened to that voice. I think that maybe, just maybe, I’ve figured it out. Through my trip I’ve proven to myself time and time again that I am limitless. There are no bounds if you don’t impose them on yourself. I was told nearly everyday on my trip that I should be scared, that it would be safer just to go home. I was constantly told that I was asking for trouble by embarking on this journey. I had a choice to either listen to this fear or to make the decision not to be scared. I chose the later. After all, there’s no point in giving in to fear. I realized that if I was as scared as everyone told me I should be, then I never would have taken the first step out my front door. Every single day I chose strength, and in doing that have gained an unprecedented amount of confidence.

After summiting Springer, the boys and I took our pictures and headed down the mountain to meet our families. The sun had just popped its head through the clouds and the birds were singing a song of celebration. I stopped for a minute to take one last picture and realized that I was the only person there. I stood on the summit and took in the world around me. I accomplished this because I decided I could. I did not do it alone. I had my family supporting me, my friends cheering me on, other hikers looking out, and God lifting me up. I am so thankful for all of these people in my life. It was your support that helped me get here. It was also on that summit that I realized why I did this. And when I realized that I’ve actually always known. I decided that I am boundless. I realized that I can do anything. Can you?

Love,
Kimber

I encourage anyone to also check out Janine Maxwell’s books, “It’s Not Okay With Me” and “Is It Okay With You?”. They’re both phenomenal!
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WEEKS 21, 22, 23: THE FINAL CHAPTER

Sorry this one took so long to get posted. We’ve been having technical difficulties.

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I have two days of hiking left. Yeah, two. I just sat here for five minutes and stared at that last sentence. I don’t want it to be over. I really thought I was ready for the end and ready to join the “real” world, but I don’t know if I am. Life is great out here. Yes, another hurricane came through and it has been raining nonstop for the past few days again, but I’m still happier than I think I’ve ever been. How do you slow time down?

It’s really weird going through a last week on the trail twice. It’s the happiest, most exciting week, while also having that thought of knowing it’s almost over. It’s sad. I feel like I’m going through a breakup with the trail. Think John Mayer’s “Slow Dancing In a Burning Room”.

So much has happened since my last post…over three weeks ago. Oops (I’m really sorry, guys!). I was quite the Sad Sally and maybe just a tiny bit mopey. I wish I could say that total solidarity didn’t bother me, but one of the biggest realizations I’ve had on the trail is the innate need for human connection. I think my last post may have freaked my family out a bit, because suddenly they were all asking off work to come hike with me. Nothing says family bonding like a cop telling your daughter she’s going to be murdered.

My mom came out for a week and she slack packed me a couple days, we took a couple days off, we hiked a couple days (okay, maybe just one day for eight miles), and did a lot of glamping. I was either at a hotel or hostel every night that week. Not complaining.

Then after my mom left, my sister, Allison, and Beaux, her sweet dog, came out for a couple days. The first day was great. We hiked up one of the most beautiful sections of the trail and found our way to the shelter with plenty of daylight left. Allison refused to sleep in the shelter after I mentioned that the shelter mice sometimes crawl on the hikers while they’re sleeping, so we set up my tent. It was a bit of a squeeze to fit two fully grown adults and a dog into my one person tent, but we made it work. That is, until it started to downpour in the middle of the night. I woke up soaking wet. In the morning we packed up and went on our way. As the day went on the rain just continued to intensify. We made it to a shelter for lunch, but when we tried to leave, Beaux decided he didn’t want to hike anymore. He was just standing there refusing to move. Beaux is a little dog, so Allison and I switched off carrying him for a couple miles. When we got too tired to hold him we tried waving beef jerky in front of him to get him to move. This worked for a while. Allison would hold his leash while I stood about fifteen feet in front of him with the jerky. Then we ran out of beef jerky. We felt bad because we thought that maybe he was cold and sick from the rain, but after a bit we realized that he literally just didn’t feel like walking anymore, so Allison just carried him again for the last mile or so. Now that I’m looking back on the situation, it really was pretty funny. However, I don’t think Allison will come backpacking again anytime soon. Glamping is more her style too.

A couple days after that my dad came to pick me up for a doctor’s appointment. It was for my new endocrinologist (thyroid cancer doctor) in Atlanta. I know I’ve never addressed this in the blog, but my cancer still is there. It’s very small and not a huge concern to the doctor, but I am so freaking tired of it. I just want it to go away. I think three years is enough. I know that most people with cancer have it a ton worse than me and I probably sound really whiney again, but can it please just go away? I try to pretend like it’s not there, but that’s hard to do when I have to take medicine daily and go to doctor’s appointments. I made a decision to not let it stop me from doing anything, but sometimes I do need to realize that I’m not in amazing health and while the other guys might be able to do 25 miles days every day for a week, my body just can’t handle that. Okay, rant over. Anyway, after the appointment my dad dropped me back off at the trail right at the start of the Smokies. I had hoped that after being on the trail for five months it might be easier for him to drop his little girl off in the woods by herself, but it wasn’t. He had a really tough time letting me go. It breaks my heart that it’s so hard for him, but I know that I just can’t let it stop me. I thought about it all through the Smokies. On my last night there I got to a shelter full of section hikers and had a great time talking to them and telling them about the trail. There was a group of five dads there who go for a backpacking trip every year. They all have daughters around my age. I ended up talking to one of the guys for about an hour and told him about how hard it is to see my dad this terrified about my trip. I told him about how my dad is the greatest guy in the world and how he would and has done anything for me. The guy listened and really helped me to settle my mind about the situation. It’s crazy that I told all this deep, personal stuff to someone I just met, but sometimes that’s how it goes on the trail. I went to bed and felt a lot better. When I woke up I got ready and found a bill in my shoe. (I wonder who it could’ve been from.) it was still dark so I couldn’t see how much it was for, so I finished packing up and went on my way before everyone else woke up. When I looked at it in the daylight I saw that it was a one hundred dollar bill. I was stunned. It will go directly to my Heart For Africa fundraising. Thank you, kind stranger.

After leaving the Smokies something great happened. I finally made friends!! Who hoo!! I can’t properly explain how excited I was, so I’ll do my best with this: zusnalrivkexpeks!!! We all sheltered at Fontana Dam and I excitedly planned the whole rest of the trip for us. I did this partly so we had an idea of timing, but mostly so they had to stay with me. I guess it worked, because we’ve all been hiking together for over a week now. There are five of us in the group: Swift, Dr. Busch, Mass, Couscous, and me. I’m the president of the group (self named). We’ve had a lot of fun together. I still love and miss my NoBo group, but it is good to be back with a team.

Last week we arrived in Franklin and the Ingwersen family hooked us up with a great night away from the trail. Lindsey (one of my neighbors and best friends from back home) picked us up from the trail and brought us back to their cabin where we showered, washed our clothes, stayed up telling stories around the bonfire, and ate like kings (and queens). The Ingwersen family had so much fun with us smelly hikers that they’re thinking about turning their cabin into a hiker hostel/B&B. How cool is that!

We hiked a few more days, then got to Helen, Georgia just in time for the end of Oktoberfest. It’s crazy how that worked out (actually it’s not at all. Making it to Oktoberfest was my only time goal for all of my southbound section). While at dinner a section hiker saw us with our packs and wanted to talk to us about the trail, which we were happy to do. This guy has hiked a lot around the area. As we were paying our bill the guy came back over and asked if all five of us were thru hikers. When we said yes he slapped a one hundred dollar bill on the table and told us to enjoy. We did. This was the second one hundred dollar bill I had gotten in a week. Later that night Lindsey met up with us and we all hung out and danced the night away. After that we went back to a cabin that a northbounder I met a couple months back owned. He wasn’t going to be there, but he let us stay at his awesome cabin for free. The hiker community is so cool.

And here I am. Today we hiked to Neels Gap and have just over thirty miles to Springer. I will be done on the twenty ninth. Like I said, it might be raining for the rest of the trip and yeah, it’s very cold, but I’m surrounded by great people doing the thing that makes me the happiest. I might not be able to slow down time, but I can try to live completely in the present for the next 36 hours or so. Life is good.

Also, today Swift and I were crossing a road at a gap and a car pulled up beside us. They asked why we would be hiking on such a dreary day and when we explained what we’ve been doing for the past five months the old man put a bill in Swift’s hand and said he wanted to buy us dinner. He said that we reminded him of he and his wife when they used to do things like this in their younger days. It was another one hundred dollar bill. In the past two weeks I have been given three one hundred dollar bills. What?! When we got to the hostel we paid for everyone’s stay and bought some sodas and candy to go around. I know I say this a lot, but people are too cool.

That’s all for now. My next post will be the last one. I don’t know if I’m ready for that, but I’ll be fine. It’ll be emotional and that’s exactly how it should be. The next time you hear from me I’ll be a thru hiker.

Love,
Hollywood