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Coming Soon to a Forest Floor Near You

By the end of April, I’ll have hiked the first 300 miles of the Appalachian Trail. It has been a delight to watch spring begin to unfold on the landscape. Hiking up and down and up again, I’ve had the chance to see all shades of the season, from leafy green valleys to still-wintry 6,000 ft. summits.

If you live farther north or at higher elevation, here’s a preview of some of the beautiful spring ephemerals – those all-too-fleeting wildflowers that bloom before the trees leaf out – I’ve been seeing over the past few weeks.

One of the very first flowers to appear is bloodroot: 20140428-213713.jpg

Bluets are another very early bloomer. I was seeing these tiny little flowers even in very early April in the Georgia mountains:
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There are several different species of violets in shades of yellow and purple:

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But it is spring beauty, this lovely little white flower (often with pink rays on the petals), that really signals to me that spring has come:
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Not long after the spring beauty, and often intermingled with it, the cheery yellow blooms of trout lily will begin to appear:
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Subtly tucked in amongst the showy flowers are the more discreet green blossoms of jack-in-the-pulpit:

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Several species of trillium, like the toadshade featured at top or the painted trillium here, also make an appearance:
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So if you’ve been hankering for spring, never fear, the ephemerals are here!

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At Last! A Trail Name!

The past few days have brought some significant milestones in these early days of my AT thruhike. I’ve crossed my first state line; taken in expansive views from high points like Blood Mountain, Standing Indian Mountain, and Mt. Albert; and passed the 100 mile point from the trail terminus at Springer Mountain. I’ve hiked on beautiful spring days and hunkered down in a trailside shelter to avoid a major rainstorm.

Now that we’ve been on the trail for over a week, my fellow thruhikers are starting to feel comfortable introducing themselves by their trail names in place of their real-world monikers. I’ve chatted in recent days with Zen, Down Dog, Mama Bear, Cornflake, Osprey, Yellow Beard, and Viva. Read more

3 a.m. Thoughts on a Hike Transformed

Sitting on an Amtrak train in Charlotte, NC, in the middle of the night, I find myself awash with unexpected feelings that I find hard to articulate.

I got a beautiful note the other day from an old friend. She has been reading my blog and wanted to express her support for my AT thru-hike, even though she’s not in a position to contribute money.

I replied, of course, that her thoughts mean far more than a donation would, and I meant it. There are parallels between her situation and mine that bring tears to my eyes. She is going through some terrible times right now and it seems she is drawing some comfort from my writings.

I can’t begin to describe how odd this feels to me. A motivator in trying to be open about my struggles with depression is certainly the hope that my story can help others. Still, somehow it feels very strange to know how strongly my words are resonating with people, and how much hope they seem already to be bringing to their lives. How much hope I seem to be bringing to these people who are themselves so wonderful, so caring.

I find it a little uncomfortable to see this evidence that I actually do have an impact on others’ lives, far beyond a level of which I feel worthy. It sits strangely to know I am, in many ways, already accomplishing exactly what I set out to do, but on some level never really believed was possible.

I’m not talking about the physical journey of the hike so much as the emotional one.

I hadn’t realized, when I posted a few links to a fundraising page, that doing so would completely transform the nature of my hike. The generous response from friends, acquaintances, and people I have never even met has taken what is, at its core, a fundamentally very selfish thing and morphed it into something imbued with all these levels of meaning beyond just my own happiness.

I now feel a tremendous obligation to the many kind people who have shown support that I make it all the way to Katahdin, whereas before
–just a week ago!–this trip was just something I was doing for me, with no consequences beyond personal satisfaction.

Over the next six months, I will be hiking the 2,185-mile length of the Appalachian Trail. I am dedicating my journey to HIKE for Mental Health, an organization that directs donor contributions to mental health research and the preservation of wilderness trails. At the time of this posting, I am 89% of the way to my dollar-a-mile fundraising goal. Learn more and help me get there.

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