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Laurel Highlands:The Last 35

It was already mid September and I was anxious to finish the trail before winter set in. So I packed up all my gear and and waited impatiently till the weekend. Then last minute, I hit a speed bump. The last segment of the trail was an hour and a half from the house and Jeremy didn’t have the time to pick me up. I was crushed. and (stupidly) determined. I had begun this journey because I felt like I had paused my passions when they were inconvenient and I needed this. I needed to know that I could do this. So I started to drive.

On the road I called up the two shuttle services in park. Full. Then I called a number for a kayak shop that someone had written on reddit did pick ups. No answer. So I drove on, knowing that likely I would have to turn around.

When I arrived at the park, the lot was empty. No hope for hitchhikers. Anyways who was I kidding? I had two large dogs with me,a backpack and was trying to arrive at a location forty minutes down the road. My chances of catching a ride, even from the kindest of strangers, seemed low. I looked at my phone and my signal bounced. As a last ditch effort I opened Uber. No signal, then “no rides in your area”. I reloaded and then reloaded again. Suddenly miracle of miracles I was connected to a nearby driver!!

I had sent Lester a message that I was traveling with two dogs, but the look of surprise on his face when he pulled up showed me that he hadn’t received it. Nonetheless he was a good sport and said that as long as they didn’t pee in his car they could join us on the ride. Over the next hour we spoke about my finishing the hike and his experiences mountain biking portions of the trail. He was concerned for me as a girl hiking solo and we spoke about what it means to follow your own path. He still waited for a while after we reached our destination to make sure I got on the trail safely.

And Kimbo, Sadie and I were off! Travel had taken a while and I knew I had only a two and a half days to complete 35 miles. It was going to be a sprint to the finish line.

One of the things I loved most about the trail was how empty it was. During my entire hike of the Laurel Highlands I passed by a grand total of eight hiking groups. I loved being truly on my own. The trail was mine and It was extraordinary to me that somewhere so close could be so far.

Reaching the Highway overpass was a huge highlight for me. I had passed underneath this bridge with the big lettering “Laurel Highlands” on the twenty-two, dozens if not hundreds of times. I would always look up and wonder what it would be like to be looking down from the trail. I crossed the bridge just as the sun was beginning to set and briefly felt on top of the world, before hurrying to make camp for the night.

After my first night in the shelter I had learnt that I needed a tent. The dogs were calmer and we all slept. At first light the dogs and I made a quick breakfast of oatmeal and coffee and continued our hike. By now we had a reached a rhythm. I would stop every few miles to break and give them water. They in turn would pause whenever I stopped and wait till I was ready to move on. We were a team and it felt good.

The second and final night on the trail I convinced Jeremy to join me to sleep. He had to be at work the next day and couldn’t join me for the hike, but brought beers and proved himself a master fire builder. We drank and laughed well into the night. He didn’t much appreciate my culinary skills and balked at the idea of eating macaroni and cheese with no milk or butter, Claiming that while I might be roughing it, he was heading back to civilization the next day and had had pizza for dinner. I laughed and happily ate the whole thing myself. Any hot food is delicious when you’ve walked fifteen miles.

Most of the last day was easy. and though my shoulders ached I enjoyed the diversity around me. We would walk from moss covered rocks, to the top of sand covered dunes and then pass through large boulders which towered above us. The dogs discovered they had an affinity for chipmunks, and when the chipmunks squeaked they would respond by whining and pulling at the end of their leashes. The last five miles were harder than I expected but worth it for the view!

heading down the hill we reached mile seventy, and with a sense of elation and victory we trudged the last few feet to the car and began the long ride home. Done.

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