The beginning of my journey took place mostly on public lands and trails. As I headed south along the Appalachian Trail, I encountered hundreds of thru hikers with their hearts and feet facing north towards the goal of summiting Katadin beyond the majestic 100-mile wilderness of Maine. The end of their journey would have a steep climb, a mountain with a summit clearly marked by a sign and a rich legacy of foot traffic.
As I passed these fellow hikers, trail miles soon turned to river and roads miles, and it occurred me that the route I was taking was being walked for the first and likely only time.
I traveled over many mountains during the 500 miles, though it wasn’t until those final days and miles that I recognized the significant lack of a summit I would soon be facing at the terminus of my own journey. I felt the mark of miles on my body as we headed into this final stretch, still managing an injury, and unsure if the end was actually within my physical reach.
On the final day we traveled in the first lightning storm of the 500-mile walk. I made my way with Sarah and Matt through a thick tree cover to a thin divide where green and grey met. A flat land stood before us, one that couldn’t absorb the days rain or the shock of what had taken place there. It was an empty space, one that I’m not sure you could really even still call land. Stripped not only of its mountains, this was a place being stripped of the very life and culture that grows out such mountains.
There we stood in the presence of a kind of ghostly summit, one that could be imagined but not seen or made. In this moment, the walk was ending, yet as we faced such physical destruction, I was left with a feeling far from completion. The work of covering miles on foot was, of course, complete, but a much greater distance stood before me.
In the direction of what comes next and the work ahead of us, I’d like to purpose an alternative summit, one that will take the effort and determination of many. There are many already leading our way to this summit, great heroes I met along the way like Larry Gibson (above), Lorelei Scarbro, and many others whose voices are giving rise to a movement of repair, as they work to restore the health of their communities and the very ground they stand on. I propose that the summit needing to be made is one that can only be made by recognizing that this ground is the very ground we all stand on. The loss of the mountain is our loss. Our life and health depends on its protection and repair. This will require us to take responsibility, to stop taking more than we give back, and to value the beauty and function of nature beyond mere convenience or habit.
By Cassie Meador, Takoma Park