My mom’s uncle Roger was waiting for me at the summit of Springer Mountain.
He knew I would start that day, but I didn’t know he’d planned to meet me. He had hiked the trail southbound almost twenty years earlier as Many Sleeps, and served as a caretaker on Springer for years.
Many thru-hikers saw his long white beard and skinny frame at the start of their journeys, and remembered him long after they finished.
I was lucky. I didn’t just get to see him at the start of my hike; he’s the reason I was there at all. Roger got Mom into backpacking. Mom got me into it. They were both with me for my first taste of the Appalachian Trail, when I was eleven years old.
They were both with me when I started my own thru-hike in 2014. Roger was leaning against a tree. Mom was in my pack. Cancer killed her before she got to hike the whole trail, so I carried her ashes with me. A posthumous thru-hiker.
Both were with me at the end of the trail, too. My hike had become a major family event.
During the trek north, I saw all three of Mom’s sisters, my brother, Dad, two cousins, and even members of my girlfriend’s family (we got married the year after I finished).
The day I reached Baxter State Park with three friends I’d met along the way, we were picked up by Dad and my girlfriend and taken back to a pair of rental cabins. Roger was there with two of his sisters. My brother had brought his wife and young son. One of Mom’s sisters was there, too. Roger, my aunt, my brother, and my girlfriend all hiked Katahdin with us the next day. They were there when I crossed the finish line. Mom was with me for all of it...
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