Healing In Nature


After a while of walking the road, I heard a woman calling out to me, walking down her driveway. She asked if I was hungry and offered to come inside her house. Although a little weary of strangers, I was reminded of all the friendly people I had met while hiking the trail; strangers who were good people. I agreed and started walking with her up her driveway to her house. Although pretty on the outside, the inside of her house was unfurnished, and chemicals lay all over the floors. I continued to follow her. She offered me granola bars, as much as I would take, and water bottles. Although I knew the extra plastic would weigh my pack, I graciously accepted all she wanted to give me. We then went upstairs, where she offered me half her tuna fish sandwich and some potato chips. We ate together. The more I listened to her talk about her life, the more apparent her pure heart became. I reflected on how society has formulated stereotypes of people based on outward perspectives and how I, too, had fallen into this trap. Her husband had recently died, and most of her children had left the house. She told me how I was the first AT hiker she helped but how she always wanted to. "They are always in a hurry to get somewhere," she said of the hikers she saw passing through. I felt humbled in her presence and thankful I was brave enough to accept her invitation into her home. Her youngest son, who still lived there, came home, and she introduced us. She then asked me if I needed to go into town anymore or if I could use a lift to the trailhead. I paused for a minute and told her I had recently stopped smoking nicotine when I got on the AT and wanted to stay off, but I honestly wanted a beer. When I realized I had gotten turned around on the trail and was hiking the same land twice, I felt that familiar yearning to use substances to ease my frustrations. She said she understood and would offer me some alcohol, but there was none in the house, as she had stopped drinking after her husband died. We talked about the relief I felt away from substance use in the protection of the woods and how hiking and long-distance walking have helped me heal my addictive tendency to use drugs and alcohol to cope with trauma or stressors. The woman told me how she hoped her son would stop using nicotine one day. The boy told me he wanted to hike the AT or at least a section of it, and I encouraged him to get the gear and do so. I told him being away from society has helped me, and how hiking has become a healthy distraction when I get the urge to abuse substances. The woman then drove me to a gas station down the road, where I picked up some food for later and a beer. She took me back to the trailhead, but unsure of where it was, we parked in a pull-off beside the road. I said thank you, and she insisted that she walk with me to ensure I got there safely. We walked together. After we exchanged contact information and goodbyes, I continued on my way. She touched my life, and I knew she felt the same about our interaction. That night I stopped at Manassas Gap Shelter. I set up camp at the first one I saw; it had a nice fire ring and rocks for sitting on. Although I never made a fire while on the AT, being around the atmosphere brought me back to my childhood and sitting around a fire with family and friends. The smoke dents the air, and the aroma fixates on our clothes for days to come. A father, daughter, and dog set up camp beside me. To my surprise, Joey arrived shortly after and set up Memories in Connection

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