A One-Way Ticket on an East-Bound Train

When I was a teenager, I wrote my bucket list.  Since then, many items have been crossed off as I’ve accomplished them, and I’ve added others as I’ve learned more about what I would like to learn, do, and see in my lifetime.  One of my favorite things to do is to string together the crossing-off of several items, so, when I had the opportunity to begin hiking the Appalachian Trail (a bucket list item) by riding a train (another bucket list item), I excitedly bought my one-way ticket east.

At Red River Gorge on a Pre-AT Hike

At Red River Gorge on a Pre-AT Hike

Soon after I learned about thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail, I began researching and planning for a hike of my own.  Initially, I’d intended to set off solo, but the thought of doing so scared me.  When talking with my college friends in the wee hours of the morning one night, I mentioned my hiking aspirations, and a friend jumped at the opportunity to join me.  One thing led to another, and a few months later we started walking from Harpers Ferry, WV, the traditional halfway point of the trail, to Maine’s Mount Katahdin, the trail’s northern terminus.

Getting to the trail was an adventure in and of itself.

Because we had a narrow window of time between my last day of college and the day my friend needed to be back for his RA duties, we determined that we should depart for the trail as soon as possible.  As a result, on May 24, 2011, I took the last final of my undergraduate career (in Field Botany), packed out my dorm with my family, stopped by the gear store for some last-minute additions to my already-bulging backpack, finished preparations for the summer’s adventure, celebrated my 22nd birthday at midnight, and caught the 3:00am train to Washington, DC.

I’m a morning person, but 3:00am wasn’t exactly my preferred time of departure; that was simply the time the only train eastbound from Kentucky to DC passed by.  The drive from my family’s hobby farm to the train station was roughly an hour.  And, I use the phrase “train station” loosely.  At that time, anyway, the Maysville, Kentucky, Amtrak station was an eerie, run-down building, with doors that wouldn’t close and lights that wouldn’t light.  The lights that did work cast a yellow-green glow over everything and, on top of the late-night hour and lack of sleep, made the start to the trip feel rather ominous.

Just as we were beginning to wonder whether we were actually in the right place, the train pulled up.  Without having our tickets checked, we were ushered aboard.  I hugged my mother and sister goodbye and waved to them as we rushed out of sight.

My friend, sleeping in Union Station

My friend, sleeping in Union Station

The rushing soon stopped, as can only be expected from quality American public transportation.  We ended up getting to DC several hours after the last west-bound commuter rail had left the station, and the next train heading to Harpers Ferry wasn’t due to depart until the following afternoon.  And, thus, a barely 22-year-old girl and her 18-year-old friend, neither of whom had traveled far from rural Kentucky since they’d stopped holding their parents’ hands, spent the night in Union Station.

I kept the first watch that night, and we switched roles every couple hours, allowing each other to get some shut-eye.  I remember almost nothing from the following day, save the ride in the commuter rail, during which another passenger instructed me at to how I could use my trekking poles for self-defense in the woods.

At some point en route, I learned that my mother had reserved a hotel room for us in Harpers Ferry, and I remember falling sound asleep soon after touching the mattress.  It’s amazing to think back on that night knowing what would await me beginning the very next day and realizing how little I knew what to expect and how much I would change.

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