Maine, It’s not just vacation-land, it’s an acid trip. That’s the caption I wanted to write on Taylor’s Facebook page when she posted this crazy photo. Around the time she snapped this picture (using her iPhone 6, not the high-end digital SLR camera she always seems to have strapped around her neck), I experienced similar views in Blacksburg, Virginia. And why wouldn’t I? It’s the same mountain range, the Appalachians.
Taylor is my brother’s daughter, my oldest niece. She’s somewhere in her low thirties, You’d think I would be more specific about her age, but I can’t. She’s taking this summer off work to hike the Appalachian Trail, a wooded swath following a really long mountain ridge in the eastern United States. It’s an undertaking, a commitment, an achievement. She started in Georgia in March, and here she is six-months later, still hiking, Maine, vacation-land, God’s light. When I was in my low thirties, Taylor just in grade school, I took the summer off work to bike across the United States. I like to think I made an impression on her. Maybe one of my kids will follow her example in fifteen years or so.
For me, her hike has been a good experience. My entire family is following her on social media. My kids on Instagram, they comment to me when Taylor hits a new state. It’s something external from our household for us to share. The old folk, we follow on Facebook. Since she started hiking, I regularly see my brothers, my father, and Taylor’s mom—long divorced from my brother—online. I’m not in touch with this crowd enough.
In July, Taylor stopped by my house. The AT goes right past Gettysburg, maybe ten miles from our driveway. But that’s not where we met her. Eli and I drove up to Pine Grove Furnace State Park, a good forty minutes away to fetch her. Pine Grove is the halfway point on the trail. A good time for a few days off. A few days of pampering, eating other food than trail food, drinking beer that’s been cooled in a fridge rather than a stream.
A hiker tradition is to eat a half gallon of ice cream from the Pine Grove camp store. Eli and I waited patiently as Taylor slogged her way through. A fun fact I didn’t know: Those classic, tub-shaped cardboard half-gallon ice cream containers no longer contain a half-gallon of ice cream. They only have three pints now. Taylor needed to buy an extra pint of ice cream to meet the challenge.
She and her trail-hiking partner, an enormous man named Buffet (yes, Buffet, something about liking to eat) stayed with us for a couple of days. Buffet is literally twice as big as Taylor. He’s 6’ 6” and deep in the two-hundreds. I have a great picture of the two of them sitting at a picnic table chowing their ice cream, Taylor looks like Harry next to Hagrid, Thumblelina next to whomever Thumbelina sat next to.
Every few years, Eli will forge an instant bond with an adult. In the past, it’s been something of a crush. He’ll become immediately enamored, and follow said adult to the gates of hell if necessary. This happened with Buffet. But in the case, it was more adult, reciprocal. For two days, the two of them talked nonstop about YouTubers, Reddit threads, memes and Vines. Sophie was away for the week, and we worried about Eli being bored. Unnecessary, he had a better time with Buffet than he would have had at Disney.
We were in Blacksburg last weekend to look at a university. Sophie, a senior, is winding down her college search, and Virginia Tech has risen to the top of her list. When we pulled into Blacksburg on Sunday night, we were treated to an amazing Appalachian sunset materializing over the mountains. A palette, swirled with burnt oranges and grays, back lit, smeared across the sky. More God’s light. This miracle set the tone for the next day. Virginia Tech was perfect in every way. The campus, the people, the program. They even have a Chick-fil-A on campus. It checked ALL the boxes. The AT passes close by Tech as well. It’s rural like Gettysburg, but urban like any other massive university with 37,000 students.
This post was indulgent; thank you for reading it. These are the thoughts that surfaced when Taylor posted her picture. I wanted to share it with you because it might be the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.
Photo Credit: Taylor Cann