We did it! – Eastern Continental Trail

“This is the last morning for a long time we sit curbside outside a gas station predawn drinking coffee and thinking of it as a luxury, Spice.”

Big breaths.

We each had avoided mentioning the “lasts” up until this point. With just five and change miles to go, in the quiet peacefulness of early morning before the bustle of the day, we let our guards down. It was okay to start feeling the end. I’m sure one or both of us l knew we would make it before this moment, but if thru-hiking offers anything, its an abundance of humility. And honestly, we had some curveballs at the end of this one and had to get creative on how to wind up in this final week together. But surely, with the whole day ahead of us, and just a few miles left, we can start to dip into the emotions of having done the thing. Maybe nostalgia of the “lasts” are a way of our bodies protecting themselves from the blunt shock of touching the terminus.

Sceenshots from friends reminding me how far I’ve come are my love-language.

I sip hot coffee and French braid my hair outside the gas station while Owen makes use of the amenities, but quickly take it out as it feels too restrictive for today. Wild, messy hair, that feels better. Owen has his wizardly beard, I have my feral hair. The final sugary sip, some goodbye pats on our beloved concrete perch, and we head off for the final causeway that will land us on Key West. We don’t talk much, relishing in the first quiet trail miles for a hundred or so miles as we have been walking roaring and growling Highway 1 to the finish. Turns out Conchs sleeps in later than the locals further north, and I love them dearly for that. Finally, we can think. About everything, or nothing, but at least the option is there. A fellow dark morning walker is heading our way, and then they are gone. Another walker a few minutes later, then gone in an instant. What the…? I hear grumbling to the right of the bike path and see people deep in the mangroves. Homeless camps. We slept in an abandoned homeless camp last night, a few cardboard beds, umbrellas and cans. I wonder why this is a better more inhabited spot. Maybe less fire ants? We slept in nearly the same place but we are so different, Owen and I having actively chosen to sleep in the ditches of the highway, when we have a perfectly comfortable rolling home not too far away. I’m confident we would relate at least in the pleasure of a deep pocket of shade down here in sweltering southern Florida. The joy of shade must bring all Floridians together under this hot hot sun. We curve west, following what feels identical to Cuba’s malecón. An open horizon, a rarity down here aside from the causeways, and I breathe in the expansiveness. A taste of the West, a taste of home. The water ripples, more like a lake than the sea, soft in its pace and coloring. A single Pelican bobs.

Meditation ripples.

By 7:20am, with the sun barely rising behind us, and a pace that doesn’t call for sweat at all, my hair is plastered to my neck and I can’t keep it down any longer. Maybe wild hair is just for wilderness termini. Florida, I won’t forget your heat. As our dark malecón begins to lighten and fill with joggers, a young man approaches us. Jacob, from Tennessee, a hopeful Appalachian Trail ‘24 thru hiker. Bright eyed and fresh, not even tired one little bit I think. He saw us walking down Highway 1 a few days back and was excited to serendipitously find us this morning. We chat trail for a bit, about his eagerness to begin, his new homeownership being both a celebration and a possible threat to his hike, and a celebration about our hike. He ended the conversation quickly, politely not wanting to hold us back from the terminus. A talk with someone who gets it, who gets trail life.. I could have talked all morning to prolong the last little bit of time down here. Wish Man plays quietly while we slowly navigate through construction barriers, bikers, and even more joggers.

Hey Wish Man tell me whats your wish,

Close your eyes all we’ve got it this,

Angels speak of a thing called bliss,

Close your eyes all we’ve got got is this

You were a weird ending to a weird journey, Hwy 1.

A right turn at the pier, salutations from some Minnesotans vanlifers, then just one final turn, South onto South St, fitting. No more maps, no more phone, we just walk until we find the buoy now. Past surprisingly humble old homes, a momma chicken and her tiny chicks, past a new to us pine tree, familiar palms, and the well researched Seashell Motel. I chuckle at a sign that reads, “The Southernmost Southernmost House USA” Oh, humans. Suddenly in town town there is much to see, so much to take in. Sticky skin and crowing roosters. How can Key West feel more like Cuba than Key Largo? Similar distances apart, yet there is nothing, physical at least, connecting Cuba and Key West, aside from the sea.

Tango joined us for the finish! More on the Tango Trolly later.

There it is. Our terminus. Our ending point. We spot it in between tie-dyed town walkers. I smile at Owen, knowing the slow pace from being stuck behind them is killing him. He is being pulled in, whereas I would camp here for another night if I could. I’m loving this glacier speed.

I know as much as I can know about this big ol’ colorful concrete buoy that serves as our terminus. It’s 6 years older than me, 39, has proven to be incredibly strong withstanding several hurricanes, sits a 1.3 mile walk north of the actual southernmost point, and is oriented directly North. We lightheartedly joke last night while I do my research that we should go touch the actual southernmost point after this one, but leave the decision to today. I feel comforted in knowing so much about the final few steps today. There is this odd thing about our minds that we noticed along this trail. Our maps tell us when a convenience store is coming up, to the tenth of a mile, and our brains will fill in the details we don’t know. “I know it in my bones, it is going to be up on the left, facing West.” “No no it’s totally going to be on the right facing South, Spice.” Turns out, it’s on our right but facing West. Whoaaaaaa didn’t see that one coming. Such an unnerving feeling, when reality doesn’t match what we decided was true in our minds. Like waking up in your tent in the night, unable to remember where you’re camped or what direction you’re facing. Just for a second, sometimes two. So odd. I didn’t want to feel this way reaching the end today, so I opened Google maps in our tent last night and flipped through review photos and studied the light to understand exactly what we would find this morning. I don’t know how I’ll feel, but at least I will not have that disorienting feeling of my mind deciding to fill in the cracks of knowledge with nonsense. I am reminded of my mother, when in early grade-school days she would take me to campus a day before the new school year and walk my class routes with me, including my locker strategy if two classes were across campus. A lesson in grounding that comes in handy decades later. I know as much as I can know about this moment, so the unnerving surprises will be minimal.

There it is, not even through a screen this time, even brighter in person. Seminole peoples’ colors, the color of the four sacred directions. Red, white, black, yellow. Beautiful and bold, impossible to touch the top of for even the tallest of us. A humungous terminus for a humungous walk. Shrinking us humans scattered about in its presence. “You can be proud, but be humble too,” it seems to say. Today’s humility presents in weak legs. At first I feel shaky like maybe I’ve had too much coffee. No, I purposefully shared a coffee with Owen today to avoid coffee anxiety body. No, this is terminus nerves. My body feels like it has just blasted down a quad heavy speedy descent. Gumby legs. Cool. We did the thing! I did the thing! You did the thing, body! We freakin made it. As present as my legs feel, my head and heart are staying a safe distance away from all of this. “Wait, you walked here from Canada? Like, on foot?” I dose out more grace for myself as I ride the line between reality and disassociation each time a stranger is rendered speechless by our long walk. They’re right, it is far. It’s okay that you can’t fully feel it 100% of the time, body. I can plan all I want, but in the end, I’m going to feel exactly the dose I’m ready to feel.

Can we remember this? We can sure try.

We wait in line, meet a warm smiling solo traveler named Anne who happily agrees to take our photos, and wade through the blurry awkwardness of a very public ending to such a personal journey. After we take some rushed photos, I sit. I watch everyone else take their photos with the buoy and realized it would be easy to judge their photos with the buoy as less valuable than ours as they likely didn’t walk here from as far as we did. But forget that nonsense, I quickly soften into my connection to these strangers as they embrace for their own photos. We all made it. Here, to this sunny joyful sliver of this earth, all one pandemic, and many mystery journeys stronger. Each with our own invisible termini. Who knows the depth of suffering and challenge each of these folks has endured the past few years to arrive at this point. I’m so happy for us all.

Owen’s face says it all.

Finally, a few rides of the buoy line round and round like kids on a rollercoaster, it is time to go. My stomach is rumbling fiercely for food, thank you body for reminding me I have to move on. A block away, we can’t seem to sever our connection, and Owen pulls us back for one final touch. I’m glad I’m not the only one not fully feeling things. We pull away again, this time feeling ready to leave. With our backs to the trail and heading away, out of the view of the bustle of people, I turn and bear hug Owen. “We did it” I whisper to him with tears welling in my eyes. “We really did it.”

The Ect was… jeeze, how does one finish that sentence? It’s too big. We each painted a trail of footprints from where the land runs out in Canada to where the land runs out down here in Florida, and discovered a lot in the process. This trail, these thousands of miles were an experiment of sorts for me. Can I do challenging things while working with my body? Can I walk quietly enough to reopen the lines of communication between my head and body when I’ve ignored it for so long? Can I practice speaking kindly to myself consistently along this walk? Can I completely change the rhythm of my efforts, my ebbs and flows to match what I need, not what I think I should be capable of? And maybe can I even come out stronger than I realize I am approaching things this way? Will my voice come back with this rekindled relationship? I had so much I wanted to explore out here this year, the wild, scary, and completely unknown Eastern landscapes and people, as well as the wild, scary, unknown of living in real community with myself. I am so grateful for the chance to explore it all. What a wild ride you have been, Ect. My heart is beyond grateful. Thank you for dreaming the trail up, Niblewill Nomad. Thank you for making it seem possible, Jupiter. Thank you for the love and support, friends and family. Thank you to the greatest trail and life partner I could ever ask for, for always pushing me to do the whole enchilada. Thank you for not being eaten by an alligator, Tango! Thank you, strong body, for being patient with me while I caught on to how amazing you are. We did it!

4842 miles.
281 days.
So much love.

More soon, I hope.


Ps. We didn’t feel the need to go touch the actual southernmost point. Our journey was complete. We found some glittery cake instead.


4 responses to “We did it! – Eastern Continental Trail”

  1. Thank you for this post. I cried. The end.


  2. Congrats on the GREAT hike. The writing was superb. Thank you I will buy the book. I am so glad you guys had so much fun on this adventure and were able to disseminate it to us. Thanks again.



  3. Magnifique ♥️


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