In the winter of 2014, little did I know that when I encountered a beautiful young woman with a laugh that echoed for miles through the woods, that in 2015 I would find myself immersed in her wedding day. I soaked up every emotion and detail possible on a crisp fall day in Texas. I had so many emotions and while flying home from Texas, I began what would become this post.
As we flew I stared out at the clouds and went back to the day I met Haley and her fiance’ Julian. Her smile is a beacon of sunshine, hence her trail name Sunshine and Julian is her soul mate, that I am sure of. Our first days on the trail getting to know each other were fun and exhausting, but not without tears, more curse words than I’ve said in my entire life, but they were mostly filled with laughter and gut wrenching-pee your pants laughter.
Let’s go back to February 2014, where Fred and I along with several others embarked on a journey to hike the Appalachian Trail, one step, one mile and one day at a time. Our common goal to hike 2,185.3 miles was the foundation on which we built a solid and unbreakable bond that would lead to this very special weekend. Eight of us were reunited to share in the wedding of our friends Haley and Julian. The laughter was contagious, the stories never stopped and the special love that is shared among us is something I don’t think any of us will ever replicate or take for granted. On a cold, snowy day in February, we started out as strangers and ended up a family, a trail family.
Our days together over the days, weeks and months saw us at our very best and our worst. There were days when despair was knocking on the door and the hands, shoulders, and ears of our trail family kept the despair from entering and taking hold. We share the range of emotions that only someone sharing in your journey can truly understand and appreciate. And although I had to end my journey early, my days on the trail with my trail family are some of my most treasured memories and a time in my life that I will never forget. So when people think the only objective to hiking the Appalachian Trail or any other long distance hike is truly for the solitude, or the desire to conquer the trail, they are sadly mistaken. The trail will always be there and yes, these things are part of the hike and come naturally, but it’s the people you meet that make the experience, whether the experience be good or bad, it’s the people who have the same interest as you, that can make your journey amazing or miserable. The hikers who chose to walk the footpath at the time you do are there for their own personal reasons and I believe God puts people in our lives with a reason and a purpose. I may never know why God put our “trail family” together and that’s okay, I will not question, but instead I will relish in the fact that I have people I love and that love me. People who have witnessed my tears, my fears, temper tantrums, feelings of hopelessness and celebrated all my accomplishments.
This weekend was no different and for a few days, the rest of the world didn’t exist as we celebrated Haley and Julian with tears, laughter and lots and lots of hugs.
As I said my goodbye to Haley, the tears flowed and while we both know we will see each other again soon, it was the same feeling you get anytime you have to leave a loved one, a little bit of your heart is left behind until the next time you meet again.