…Supporters, that is. It’s likely that this hike may never have happened, had it not been for the support and encouragement of so many people, from my nearest and dearest friends and family to total strangers. The title of the post was inspired by one of my parents’ neighbors, who came over to our yard on Superbowl Sunday while my Dad and I set up my tent. He asked what we were up to and when I told him that I was hiking the Appalachian Trail, he said, “You’ve got big ones to do that. Bigger ones than I’ve got.” It took me a second to figure out what he was talking about. But I know he was offering a compliment, and I appreciated it, although the mental images in my mind took a while to shake off.
Taking this trip wasn’t about having “big ones” — but I quickly discovered that there are amazing people in the world and of my acquaintance who support and encourage me every step of the way. My bosses and co-workers at Pomegranate Books and Huntington Learning Center were so enthusiastic and kind. It wasn’t until my final week that I realized — This is my final week at work; I have to leave these people. I was so accustomed to having these folks with me every day, through every step of planning and preparation, that I’d forgotten that to go, I had to leave, to say good-bye. And it was difficult and sad. There were tears and hugs and cards and well-wishes and tokens of good luck. On the morning of my last day teaching and tutoring, one of my students ran up to me as I walked into the school building and said, “Miss Visha, I’m really going to miss you!” I nearly burst into tears. Some of the students I worked with have autism spectrum disorder, and their understanding of my leaving was different than the other kids. Together, we counted down the time I expected to be gone — months, then weeks, then days. The middle school-age girls were mostly concerned with how I would keep clean; they were appalled at the idea that I wouldn’t have access to make-up and a blow-dryer, much less daily showers. And going to the bathroom outdoors? “Yeeech.”
Customers at Pomegranate, an independent bookstore in Wilmington, wrote me encouraging notes, gave me hugs, several brought cards and some made donations, which was unexpected and truly humbling. On my last night at the shop, my boss Kathleen and co-workers threw me a surprise party. I didn’t expect to see so many people show up: longtime customers and fairly new customers, lawyers and writers and hikers and mechanics and others — a motley assortment of folks, all who wanted to say goodbye. One of our customers heard about the trip only that morning, and returned in the evening bearing an extra space blanket and a book on mountaineering first aid. She tearfully hugged me three times and later her husband showed up to quiz me on my preparedness. Before he left, he gave me their email address and cell phone number in case I got into trouble. It was my first time meeting that customer’s husband, and I was both amused and touched at his concern. The magnificent Samantha Smith of the downtown Wilmington bakery, Sugar on Front Street (http://sugaronfrontst.wordpress.com/), made a delicious cake for Finn and me (Finn abstained from cake because he was watching his calories pre-hike, but he did share with everyone at the party. Good dog!). And even since I left, Katie and the ladies of Pomegranate Books have kept everyone informed about the trip and the blog (http://www.pombooks.net/).
The night before I left for Virginia, I sat on my bed, surrounded by all of the notes, cards, and tokens given to me, and I sobbed. I bawled. I allowed myself to completely wear out with the missing of all of these people who are an important part of my life. I read and reread all of the well-wishes and words of encouragement. Then, I gathered the notes and cards, put them in a box, and carried them with me to Virginia, where I read them one last time before starting the Trail, and gave the box to the Dude to take home, where I will read them again when I’ve finished the journey.