It’s 0400 (4:00am), Key West, Florida, 12-01-2021.
Placing my fingers against the cold hardened surface of that all-too-recognizable black-and-red striped buoy, my mind was racing with much anticipation. The words SOUTHERNMOST POINT had been stenciled prominently on the front of the concrete buoy in large capital letters, signifying the point furthest south in the continental United States.
This was the start of a most remarkable nine-and-a-half month thru-hike of the Eastern Continental Trail (ECT), spanning approximately 5,700 miles from Key West, Fla. to the northern tip of Newfoundland in Canada. The sudden rush of excitement, expected for a journey such as the one I was about to embark, was tamed by the realization of a simple but penetrating fact. This was not actually the beginning; although this is the symbolic commencement, the beginning really took place months previously when the mental preoccupation of hiking the ECT turned into practical preparation. Arriving here at the starting point (southern terminus) is as important a milestone as any—a feat in itself—and should be thought of as such. Touching the buoy, although anchored in a warm tropical climate, sent chills to my core, signaling the start of something great.
The doors of opportunity did not always swing wide open for me but they were unlocked! As one might imagine, a hiker can have a heckuva time coming up with the resources to support such an extensive journey; however, determination and hard work can lead to enormous possibilities. Thru-hiking does not adhere to the general format, for it bends the rules and violates the predictable life. In a long-distance walking context, one would do well to advocate the abolition of the term “crazy.” Indeed, an activity of this sort is quite rational and purposeful—albeit an amalgam of pleasure and pain. Craziness (i.e., mental derangement) is when one puts their God-directed passions and talents on a shelf only to collect dust.
Somehow, I found a means to get here to this point and, with personal sacrifice, the unfluctuating support of those around me, and assistance from above, there is now a huge expanse of the earth in front of me to see and experience in the coming months. Although I am the instrument, this hike belongs to everyone who helped me get here. You are present in spirit and I think about you often. It would be a rotten shame for me not to be able to share this experience with others who wish to be a part of the enterprise.
Lastly, but in no way less important, I would like to dedicate this hike to the president of my workplace who was in recent days diagnosed with a form of cancer in his body. This is a tough enemy but one that can be conquered. My prayers are with you on the path ahead.
Well, if you haven’t heard, I’ve got miles to knock out. The starting pistol has been sounded. Time to get movin’. Canada is calling!
—Outback, December 1, 2021