woman from Pittsburgh shares lessons from Appalachian trial | State News

Sarah Robison spent months daydreaming about her last night on the Appalachian Trail.

She imagined herself lying alone in her tent, reflecting on what she had seen and pondered as she traveled the 2,190 kilometers of it. But when she arrived at the Baxter State Park campground in Maine – the home of Mount Katahdin and the north end of the trail – those plans were in jeopardy as she only had a handful of Swedish fish candy to feed her. .

But when she ran into a group of former hikers who came to the site for a barbecue, she remembered the hiker mantra: “The trail provides. “

They invited Robison, 40, and five others who were planning to climb Mount Katahdin the next day to join them for all the turkey burgers and fresh vegetables they could eat, plus more to take away. for the next day.

After dinner, they sandwiched themselves in a wooden shelter to warm up. It was not in his reverie, but it was “perfect”.

Robison’s journey to and through the trail was paved with serendipity found at times like this, so his trail name, “Serendipity” or “Dips” for short, fits the bill. On October 11, she found herself in the rarefied air at the top of Mount Katahdin: among those who start the trek, only 1.6% of them do it in a “purist” way, from start to finish. ‘other, not even missing a foot from the track.

She writes about the trip on her website, AndThenIWalked.com. But with the Maine dirt still wet on her boots, she shared some of the trail’s most impactful lessons with the Post-Gazette over the phone as she “lived” the next chapter of her life.

(More) SerendipityRobison packed his first backpack in September 2019. The Trip with Friends came after a sequence of events that in retrospect seem preordained.

She broke her foot while training for a marathon. She bought a bike to keep fit and cycle from her Bloomfield home to her job as a nurse anesthetist at UPMC Presbyterian Hospital in Oakland. She has also done recreational bike tours, including a disastrous hike on the Great Allegheny Passage and C&O Canal trails.

A friend suggested they avenge this ill-fated trip by hiking the AT portion of Maryland, with its beginner’s terrain and relatively modest 40-mile distance. “I’m going to despise this, but I’ve never backpacked before and I’m going to add it to my resume,” Robison thought.

After only 100 meters of hiking, she has changed forever. She saw a sign that said “Appalachian Trail: Pedestrian only”.

She didn’t know where it started or ended, but it made people want to live differently. “I just became fascinated by the idea that one would put one’s life on hold, live the outdoors, simplify itself, and walk over 2,100 miles.”

IntuitionShe packed two more backpacks over the next two years, but the trips have not satisfied the inner voice that has been gnawing at her since seeing the AT sign in Maryland.

“This intuition is our internal alarm system,” she said over the phone from Bangor, Maine. “Getting out of an unhealthy relationship, going for a hike, taking shelter because you smell bad weather, is always the right answer.

At the end of 2020, she put all of her things in storage, moved out of her Bloomfield rental, and lived in a Point Breeze Airbnb while she hunted at home.

But the “chirped” voice did not cease. She was “petrified” to quit her 15-year job and travel 14 states alone. But paradoxically, while trying to “take root”, without a lease and its stored goods, it was also perfectly set up to leave everything behind.

In January 2021, she formally decides to follow her intuition.

Hikers sometimes spend years getting ready, studying the perfect bags, mattresses, and lanterns to balance weight, cost, and durability. But Robison had only two months for those decisions, along with other final boxes to check such as doctor’s appointments, a haircut, and getting health insurance.

It taught him that beginning was a definition of success.

“Starting this means you went through whatever you were afraid of to make the changes in your life to make it happen,” she said. “It’s getting to the start line but also being honest with yourself and not caring what other people think. I didn’t finish it for anyone, and I didn’t finish it for anyone.

Find your “tram”

Robison’s aunt and uncle drove her to Springer Mountain, Georgia, and on March 18, she took her first steps on the TA. A friend hiked with her the first three days. She was quite ready to hike the rest on her own, but, about halfway through Georgia, she met her “tramily” – a family of backpackers.

The Eight started and ended their days together, although they naturally split up during the hiking hours. Every four or five days they would go off the trail together to a hostel or small town to restock and maybe spend the night in a real bed.

Although Robison tends to live by this creed anyway, the tramily hammered home a lesson: “The trail knows no age, socioeconomic status, sex, color, nothing because you are with a group of people who all have the same goal. “

For various reasons, the group amicably split up at Shenandoah National Park in Virginia after 800 miles together, but “Dips” stuck with “Wallflower,” a 20 year old guy from Florida who quickly became his best. friend.

Although they stayed close to each other, there were many days apart, which led to what she calls the “most vulnerable” post on her website. “I’ve always needed people,” she says. “I used them to keep me from feeling alone. That’s why I chose to do the Shenandoahs alone. I had never done 100 miles on my own, but it was time to go. It has served me extremely well.

RipplesFriends and family couldn’t help but spread Robison’s story against societal norms, and his website did the same, which created a spillover effect of courage.

At each hostel along the trail, she read a few dozen emails from friends and people she had never met who were inspired by her trek. “I started a weight loss program,” said one of them. “I took my paint by number out of the basement,” read another.

Kelly Minney, a longtime Robison’s acquaintance with Oakdale, was one of them. “When she started, I wanted to make better, healthy choices for myself,” she said. “If she has to walk 20 or 30 miles a day, my God, there’s no reason I can’t get on the treadmill and walk at least 2 miles!”

“I decided to make my trip public, not as a self-fulfilling prophecy, not to attract attention, not to stare at myself,” Robison said. “Really, if I can do it, anyone can do it.”

But it was certainly not easy. She spent time alone on foggy nights, looking for her safe next stop in pitch darkness. She wrote that she was preparing to squat when her knees felt like they were containing shards of glass. But because of emails and packages sent by strangers, kindergarten acquaintances, and friends of friends – some of whom bought AT cards and moved pins as she progressed – she doesn’t. did not allow herself to stop.

“Despite being off the grid and completely far away with no comforts of home, I am closer to everyone at home because of it,” she said. “I have never felt loved more.”

Reach the top

Although Robison considers starting her “first success”, the summit of Mount Katahdin is certainly her second, but it was nothing like what she had imagined.

During her 207 days on the track, she took 29 days off. While many hikers played cards and relaxed, she crept into corners of small towns and wrote about her experience for followers of her blog to read. But in the last seven states of the trail, she’s only taken three days off, which “created a very stressful ending.”

Logistics and survival pushed his race to the finish line. Access to Mount Katahdin closes in mid-October due to snowfall. Frigid nighttime temperatures were the other push, as nights of around 30 degrees were already common in early October.

To finish on time, she walked from 4:30 am to 8 pm for the last states. She was physically and emotionally exhausted. She imagined arriving at the Mount Katahdin sign in Maine and assumed she would feel accomplished but not very emotional.

She was incredibly wrong.

The day she and “Wallflower” reached the summit, they saw the sign about 200 yards away. A lump formed in her throat until she could barely catch her breath.

Traditionally, hikers stand behind the sign with their arms raised in victory and pose for a photo. She finally did. But first, in a tidal wave of unhindered emotion, she knelt down on her bag and stretched her body against the panel, moaning.

“In this I have seen my evolution of myself over the past 10 years,” she said. “It was proof that I had faced fears and that I was pushed myself and that I was the person I didn’t think possible.

“I actually don’t like to hike. It was not the activity. It was the willingness to write our own story with fear and courage and not subscribe to that manual that people read which says that at 40 you cannot quit your job.

The next chapter of his life is intentionally blank because “Serendipity” knows his track will deliver.

“I’m going to live with the ambiguity that I’ve lived with on the track,” she said. “I’ll do the next right thing.”

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