I’m sitting in the public library of Hot Springs, NC, writing this blog entry and contemplating the magnitude of what we all just did. Not because it was a feat of athletic ability, or extreme endurance, or any such example of human exceptionalism. No, rather it was, as it always is, a magnum of human blessings, a bouquet of love and kindness, and a vision of God’s beautiful creation that never fails to stir my heart to tears of gratitude.
It would be impossible to encompass the entire experience in this blog post, and so I won’t try. Rather, I’d like to describe the crew, the trek, and why it was so special. Our crew this year consisted of 16 people, most related by blood, all related in spirit. We had the six Sweeneys (minus our eldest who is currently in Haiti on internship), three Boyds (our patron member, Walker, at 88 years of age, and his two sons, Tim and Austin), father and daughter Katkoskis, three young friends of the families, and Terri, our live-in librarian.
Our trek this year ran from Clingman’s Dome, the highest point on the AT and our terminus of last year, to Hot Springs, NC, an AT community nestled at the northeast end of the Great Smoky Mountains. Along the way, we had good weather and bad, and a run-in with the National Park Rangers, which I’ll describe in a separate post.
Trail magic was in abundance this year. I found great blessings in watching the Boyd brothers shepherd their father over 61 miles of sometimes treacherous trail, minister to him when he stumbled, and recount memories of their protean steps over this same ground 46 years ago, almost to the day. My heart ached as my MC, turning eight years old on the trail this year, broke out in a refrain of Dona Nobis Pachem as we maneuvered precariously over a knife-edge ridge with stunning views of smokey peaks after a day of heavy fog which shrouded God’s mystery. I was even thankful when a bear decided to walk under my hammock (and not eat me) at two in the morning, though he did manage to take my shirt for a short stroll.