Kait and I really don’t know what we are doing out here. We thought we were well-prepared. Even other thru-hikers told us we had done a great job of researching and planning. I think they might have been taking us for a ride.
I had this romantic notion of how our first moments on the beach would be: With our toes in the Atlantic, we would stand and take a moment to contemplate the path we had taken to get there, and the enormity of what lay ahead of us. Perhaps I would say a little prayer, or write something in the sand as a gift to the ocean. But standing there, my feet getting soaked with salty spray, all I could think of was how heavy my pack was and how much pain I was already in – and I hadn’t even taken a step.
Because of budgetary limitations and a basic lack of experiential knowledge of what to pack when crossing a continent by foot, Kait and I began our walk carrying packs that were dangerously heavy. It was so bad that we opted to leave the laptop and my backpacker’s guitar behind before we even got the packs on our backs. I had a chuckle back when Tyler told me about his 90 lb. starting pack weight, but I really didn’t do any better. Poor Kait was even worse off, but we simply had to start walking. Her parents, who had driven us to the coast, wished us well and tearfully left us to deal with our new lifestyle.
About three miles into our walk, we stopped to eat lunch in a park in Lewes, Delaware. All I could think about was the weight of my pack. How could it be so heavy? What had I done wrong? While I pondered, curious strangers wandered up to our silly-looking group to ask what we were doing. Apparently, we didn’t look dirty enough to be homeless. A woman named Amy came over and asked a lot of questions about the dogs, and eventually offered to give us a ride or a place to stay if we needed it. We declined the offer, but gave her our card with website and contact info.
As I was eating my leftover bagel, my phone rang. Nate Damm, who walked the American Discovery Trail last year and had offered us useful planning advice, was calling to see if we had hit the trail on schedule. He had been kind enough to call ahead to a family in Milton who had hosted him early in his walk. He gave me a name and a phone number and told me that they were expecting us. I called Serenda, and she extended the offer personally.
We kept walking.
Within the first 10 miles of our walk we were offered rides, places to stay, and donations by at least half a dozen kind people. We had heard about generosity on the trail, but this seemed too good to be true. All the while, our backs were screaming and nothing felt right. We all but collapsed around mile 8, wondering if we should give up there and make camp for the night. Then, the trail magic started. Amy pulled up – she had been looking for us – and offered another ride. We hatched a plan and I went with Amy to drop our backpacks off at Serenda’s house. I scouted out the route ahead, and by the time Amy dropped me back off at Kait we were ready to push hard to finish the day. We were already worn down from carrying too much weight, but the excitement of our freedom and the draw of a bed and a fireplace helped motivate us.
We chose to deviate from the ADT and take a direct route to Serenda’s house. Our detour took us past an airfield, where lo and behold a silver UFO was parked. Overtaken by my curiosity, I walked up the little ramp and knocked.
With curiosity quenched, we trudged the last few miles to Serenda’s house. Her husband, Reese, and three charming children were wonderful hosts. Hot fire, pizza dinner, and the promise of a place to stay for day 2 – we were treated like family. After recovering that first night, we pushed another 10 miles the next day and Serenda came to pick us up at nightfall. We went out for dinner and drinks, and spoke of many things. It’s a shame I didn’t get any pictures of our gracious trail ambassadors, but I was too overwhelmed by the experience to think about it. I don’t know how we will ever be able to repay the Conner family for helping us start our journey with love and positivity.
On day 3 Serenda drove us to the post office to mail some unnecessary pounds home before dropping us back off on the trail. She made a point to tell us that all of the hikers she had hosted successfully made it to the other coast. We stopped by the grocery store, and bought her lunch to thank her for her kindness. I started to tell her that we could never repay her kindness, but she held up a hand to stop me. With tears in her eyes, she told us that because of her own health conditions, she would never be able to do what we were doing. Hiking and being outside is what she lives for, and helping us was the closest she would ever get to living her dream. I think that was the moment that Kait and I knew we were on the right path.