Day Six: 51 Miles Down

Day Six: 51 Miles Down
March 29, 2018 Heather Starbuck

Day six

It’s been a few since I checked back in with everyone in the real world. Ray and I just wrapped up our sixth day of hiking along the Appalachian Trail and have now officially completed 51 miles. There’s definitely been some steep ups and downs… still trying to figure out this whole trekking pole business and she I have the occasional mishap but we are starting to get more in the flow of things.

Our first night out, there was a booming thunderstorm, with bursts of lightening that lit up our faces in the tent. Rachel, being the more astute outdoorsman, was a little on edge but in line with my current kamikaze state of mind, the whole hour long crackling show from the heavens was just spectacular to take in.

I haven’t felt such a powerful storm since Matt’s celebration of life in Colorado where all his friends toasted him with their favorite Matt microbrew, pouring it out on the ground. As that happened an electric storm rolled in from all directions painting the sky around us in orange and red flashes while the wind gust through the lawn.

Six months ago I believed that storm to be Matt’s recognition (with the help of the man upstairs of course) and I had the same serendipitous feeling during this first storm as well. And although we woke up damp and cold, I take it as God’s welcome to the AT, and Matt’s approval of my next effort to honor him, his life and the love we shared.

Day two introduced us to the eery misty magic the GA woods offer in the mornings. The trail is calm, quiet and, with only five foot visibility, very easy to lose time in. At one point, I exclaimed to Rachel ‘Look how beauitful this is, wow…” then bam face planted right in the dirt with my 35 pound pack pinning me down. Rachel had to roll me over like a turtle to help me escape my predicament. I suppose that is a great metaphor for this whole grief thing. One minute you’re able to pick yourself up, try to see the bigger picture, how they aren’t gone, they’re with you and we are all part of this bigger whole – you know what I’m talking about – then BAM somehow you wind up on your face again and some poor friend has to roll you back over and get you up. It’s a weird cycle, but I try to laugh through it because I tell ya, laughing is so much better than crying.

I’ve been able to talk to two girls about my age about Matt now. One just lost her friend to suicide. He was also an opioid addict and struggled with addiction and depression for years before ending his life. The other has a brother battling a brain tumor right now. Both believe that the Appalachian Trail will find us some healing from this grief. It’s just a constant reminder how connected we are and how pain and grief is such a universal human condition. I’m sure I’ll hear more and more stories like this, and I hope that we all are right in our belief that nature can heal our broken hearts. In the meantime, grief, opioid awareness, honoring Matt – the reasons for me to do this continue to power me through.

Through the next five days, Ray and I, self named Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum, have found ourselves lost (twice) on the most well marked trail in America, failing to throw a bear bag 10 feet in the air and singing praises about our bangers and mash (instant potatoes and summer sausage) for days on end. I can’t really describe how lucky I am to have a sister like this. One so empathetic she not only comforts me during my grief but she feels it. A sister who flies across the country to bumble around in the woods with limited supplies and planning, and one who is there for me no matter what. I’m going to be so sad when she leaves but am excited to hear about all her adventures in New Zealand this year. I love you so much Rachel.

And with that, I end Episode 2 of the adventures of the kamikaze widow and Theodore the Explorer in the wilderness 🙂 Thank you for tuning in!

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