About the Author, Soulmom: “I’m a mom, a grandma, and a retired elementary teacher from Iowa.”
My name is SoulMom. I was given my name by a kind young man, named Woodstock, at Devils Kitchen tent site, about mile 14. He said he had been watching me and he was impressed with my kind soul. I feel a connection to Woodstock for his naming me. I’m also grateful that he had a kind soul, himself. Woodstock did not finish his trek last year, and he is out on the trail again this year. I only saw him that one day, and yet his life enriched mine.
I began my hike last year on the approach trail at Amicalola Falls. I flew to Atlanta with my 25 year old daughter, who wanted to be certain I got off to a good start. We bonded, cried, prayed, and grew immensely in our 10 days together. When she left, I was scared to be on my own.
I discovered once I was on my own that I was never lonely. I might have been alone, but I was not lonely. I was thankful for that discovery. There was so much to see and explore and think about, that loneliness for me never existed. I found that people were friendly and helpful and I was seldom without companionship. At shelters I could walk up to anyone and they would just start talking. Or in town or at hostels, people would ask me to join them going out to eat, or simply sitting around talking. I enjoyed being a part of a trail family.
I walked from Springer to Damascus, Virginia, 470 miles. When I started my hike, my husband had just died from alcoholism. As I walked, I would cry for about an hour at the start of each day. It made for slow hiking, as crying made it hard to breathe. The crying was healing. The crying became less and less over the weeks. When I got to Uncle Johnny’s hostel, which had good WiFi, I learned that my mother-in-law had died from heart failure. Once again the crying began. Hiking proved to be healing, prayerful, philosophical, and meditative. But when I reached Damascus, another good spot for communicating with family, I found out my sister-in-law, who had been in my life since I was 15 and was my psychiatrist, was failing quickly from cancer. I didn’t want the trail to be remembered only as a place of loss. I also knew that I needed my family and they needed me. And so I left the trail.
I chose Damascus because I knew I could easily return to it this year. I have missed the trail. I dream about it and I can vividly remember almost the entire trail and the way the sunlight fell on the trees. I become very animated when I talk about the trail. The odd thing is many people don’t have any interest in the AT. I wonder if they’ve ever done anything that they were passionate about.
I will soon be returning to the trail. I’m packing and examining my gear. I tried on my shirt and found it to be scratchy. I hadn’t noticed that on the trail. I think I’ll buy a new one and let it slowly become scratchy, too. My trekking poles are bent and won’t close so I can’t put them in my airline baggage, so that seems to be another purchase I’ll be making. I’m excited to be going back to the trail. I’ve done a lot of grief work with a counselor so I’m excited to see the trail in a new perspective. I hope to see you on the trail and give you a fist bump or hug.