About the Author: Leilah Grace is a hiker and adventurer. She’s at home in the mountains or the river or the beach. You never know where she is going to turn up. She lives just outside of Philadelphia with her 4 kids and 2 kitties. You can follow her @Leilah.Grace.Adventures on Instagram.

Every hike, every trek, is a chance for a new beginning. Each time I set foot on the trail it is a reset from the stress and chaos of my daily life. No more am I surrounded by the multitude of tasks that a single working mom manages; it’s just my pack, the trail, and me. I am soothed by the sound of silence. Silence on the trail is one of peace, not the deafening silence of being alone in a crowd. It is with this mindset I set out New Years Eve 2019, refusing to stay home and be taunted by the joyful memories of New Years Eve 2018. The trail beckoned, calling me to start the New Year, the new decade, with a new adventure.

Off I set out, traveling 2 hours from my home to a location on the Appalachian Trail that promised an amazing sunrise. The climb to my camping space was a 2-mile ascent in the pitch black, lit with my headlamp. It was my first foray into night hiking, and the first time I truly experienced nerves and fear on the trail. I could hear the water rushing to my left, but it was not visible, leaving me fearful of a misstep. I wondered what else was sharing the forest and mountain with me. There had been a solitary car at the trailhead, and when I passed their campfire at the shelter I had a twinge of doubt, debating my abilities to climb this mountain in the ever-growing darkness and beginnings of snow flurries. On I climbed instead, drawing on the courage and faith that I would complete my ascent safely.

The sign for the side trail appeared suddenly, and I was relieved to have reached the peak in the increasing winds. I struggled to determine where I should erect my tent, afraid of putting it in the middle of the trail. As the wind blew and the temperature continued to drop I found what appeared to be a safe place to camp for the night at the base of the rocks I would ascend at first light. Now all I had to do was assemble my new tent in the dark and wind. My trekking poles blew over repeatedly until I found rocks to brace them while I completed staking out the tent and tightening the lines. When I finally crawled into my tent I was cold and tired, too much so to cook the dinner I had packed. After a protein bar, writing in my journal, and setting a few alarms I settled in for the night. The wind gusted and I realized I should have erected my tent walls to block the wind; instead it blew across me, chilling the top of my sleeping bag.

At the break before midnight and the birth of the New Year my alarm went off, stirring me from sleep. I awoke to hail in the new era, sending a few texts and listening to the gunshots and fireworks in the towns below me. I snuggled back down deep into my bag, craving warmth and sleep, and the peace the trail provides. It wasn’t long before my next alarm went off and I found myself peeking out of my tent to an incredible view of first light shining around the rocks. Loading myself in layers I climbed out of my cozy tent and scrambled up the remaining rocks to capture the glorious colors of the first sunrise. Twenty minutes I stood on those rocks, awash in the beauty, peace and glory of the sunrise on that cold, crisp New Year’s Day. As I photographed the changing colors I marveled at how every few minutes the scene changed and shifted. The trail was healing me and resetting me for a year of new adventures in that sunrise. 

Breaking camp and hiking down the trail that morning I watched the sun climb higher and shine through the stark, barren trees contrasting against the darkness of the trees and brilliance of the blue sky. It was on that descent that I found my word of intention for 2020: adventure. As I travel through 2020 I will carry the magic of this trek with me while I seek new adventures.