This is where the magic happens, not at the end, not at the beginning. The in-between is where growth occurs, where adventure happens, where life is lived. We have begun and ended many times, in many places, in many ways in the last few months. We started the Florida Trail, we finished the Florida Trail. We started the Potomac Heritage Trail, we finished the Potomac Heritage Trail. We started the New England Trail, we finished the New England Trail. It only takes a few sentences to boil down the struggles, the happiness, the pain, the laughs, to boil down every moment of these nearly 2,000 miles, these past 3 months. If you only ever perceived the beginning and the completion, there wouldn’t be all that much to say, but the in-between is the essence - where it really becomes a story. That is where we find ourselves now, today, this instant. Come into this place with us and explore the in-between.
The shoes are off the feet, the pack is off the back and the trekking poles are out of the hands for a brief moment, yet we are still moving.
It has been a while since our last blog post hasn't it? Have you been following us on Instagram @ElevenSkys? If so, you have been experiencing the journey with us. If not make sure to go ahead and follow us over there to see our daily journey, or over on our 2021 Hiking Season page, where you will find all our media and links conveniently located in one place. You can also go over to our Interview Page, where we have bi-weekly check-ins this year along the trails, that give you real time, and real feelings behind each hike. If you haven't watched and listened to our ongoing series with Tell Your Trail make sure to go over there and check it out, there are some fun stories that only the trail can provide!
You will find no "summit" or "terminus" photos in this post. No Florida Trail finish-line, no Potomac Heritage Trail Speed Record crashing through the dark on a 48 mile day to finish, no New England Trail finish where there was flexing of the muscles that were now like iron. There is no place for those types of photos in this post. Those are the surface level "beginnings" and "ends". Not the moments that make a hike, not the moments that make a life, not the moments that bring the purest joy. Only in the in-between is this found, and we hope to give you a glimpse into the past and future that can only be found here. There have been more than a few adventures to say the least, so let’s get into it. We have a lot to unpack.
So, the beginning of hiking season 2021. When we left off, we were on our way to Florida, mind and body buzzing with energy as we looked down the the barrel of 2021. Looking down in anticipation of all the miles ahead, of all the calorie deficient days, of all the pains that would ingrain themselves deep inside of our bodies every day. We were a little overwhelmed as we set foot upon the Florida Trail, seeing this endless journey stretch out before us in the swamps. Then past the swamps, then past the road walks of Florida, past the heat and the sweat, past the brush and the rain, past the alligators and the snakes, past the swamps...again and again and again, past the sandy beaches that were a lifetime away at the very end of the Florida Trail, all the way past the entirety of the Florida Trail and the endless miles afterwards. Yet, we had to harness our mind and reign it in. Thinking that way would only lead to every step being weighted with a heaviness we did not have the luxury of carrying. So, we focused on the already physically weighted step in the mud and water of the swamps of Florida and began our first thru-hike of the season. We began our in-between on the Florida Trail.
We shared this in-between with an amazing hiker by the name of "Hardy". Seriously, man thanks for all the memories and laughs, it would not have been the same without you.
How do we describe our experience on this trail? Looking back from the comfort of our double-sleeping mat we are currently sharing with our partner. We want to say it was all sunshine and butterflies, but that’s not exactly true. It had this element, but that is not what a thru-hike is, it is far from all sunshine and rainbows. On the very first day we had wet sucking mud and swamps for the entirety of the day. That would not end once we stepped out 100 miles, 200 miles, 500 miles, it would not end until the very end of the Florida Trail itself. We began this trail in one of the wettest years on record in Florida and would be reminded of this every single day. For close to half of every day, our feet were completely covered in water and the steps were more swum then hiked. It was absolutely beautiful. Again, we do not know how much of this opinion is coming from being warm and dry right now, but honestly we laughed and joked through each day on the Florida Trail and it was a happiness that only a trail can provide. An innocence of testing the mind and body through each moment and each day and finding joy within the struggle. The in-between tested us every day, and we truly lived in it, we were able to harness this mind set and cruised on towards the end. In a blink it was done, in a blink the start and the end is all anyone would see. Yet, we would have the in-between for the rest of our lives, and we smiled knowing it was a new part to our story. It is a story our feet even remember even now as we type this , our toes getting a little soggy and wet either from the memory of moisture, or from getting sweaty again, While that sounds quite nasty and in reality it is, it makes us smile quite fondly.
More times than not it was more than just the feet being soaked, but we found joy and laughter as our bodies always hovered in the in-between of soaking wet and just well...somewhat wet.
Now our feet begin the frigid journey up north. The moisture is now condensing and crystalizing into icicles on our previously hot and swampy feet as we begin our path onto the Potomac Heritage Trail. With only 2 days of travel, our body and mind were again itching for miles. Except this time, we would not be wading through swamps but instead wading through 6 lanes of traffic on our way to Washington D.C. The trail began in its own uniquely special way as any trail does, this time with cold, rain, frigid limbs, and adrenaline warming us as semi trucks blew by at 70-80 mph. We did not know it at the time but our body and mind were like a clenched fist of stress waiting for the sweet relief of a single track trail. Once we finally arrived onto the C & O canal it was as if our entire body released and let out a breath and sigh we did not know we were holding. Yet, there was no time to completely catch our breath, because we were going for a speed record. Our legs were yelling at us to let them out of the cage of mediocrity and into the realm of expertise, and we obliged, letting them guide the way. Holding consistent 35+ mile days we danced along in happiness, not only because of the joy inside of us, but also due to the necessity of keeping warm in the Northeast, which was still frozen over with winter cold. As we neared the end of the trail we got caught in a brutal cold front that froze our hands, our feet, our thoughts, our muscles, but never our will. We were going to power through no matter what. The sweet siren call of hypothermia paradoxically warmed our body as we hovered slightly above its full embrace, and we knew it was time to pick up the pace. There was another winter storm coming in that would catch us if we prolonged an extra day, and that meant it was time to find a new endurance threshold. A threshold of ~48 miles in less than 15 hours upon a rollercoaster of rocks and roots and heavy terrain. The mind would bend along here but certainly not break. We had to find our reason for the in-between and we would find it as our feet broke upon the rock. It was one of passion, it was a life of love, it was a happiness in the pain unlike any we had known. We were tired, drained, beaten, frozen, but purely and unequivocally joyful. The in-between of this journey would build not only upon our immediate future but our long-term future, it was a clarifying moment of “this is where we are meant to be”, testing our mind, testing our body, feeling pain, feeling love, feeling joy inside and outside of it all.
Look past the trail, look past the fake plastic burger (we know hard to do...) and instead take a look in-between this moment.
This moment where the hiker behind the camera was malnourished, deficient in calories and water, and had not taken a break in days of 38-44 mile days, and understand the in-between, the craving, the temptation, the frustration of the burger being fake.
These are the moments that define a hike.
Thaw and repeat. The feet again began to melt as we traveled to the beginning of the New England Trail. As we reminisce, there is a mild tingling in our feet as they emerge from their block of ice. Now their movement and their blood is flowing, is tingling, is itching - always itching - for the next step. We obliged as we began this quick ~200 mile long trail. However, we underestimated the previous miles catching up to us as they did. Catching up to us physically, but more so mentally. Our body was forged and re-forged in iron through the swamps and then through the ice of the previous trails, it could handle cliffs and cut rock. Yet, our mind - our mind is where the in-between was catching up to us. We still found joy and happiness as our body brought us across the mountains, but an emptiness had been growing. Growing on trail, growing in each step, growing as we continued on. We love testing ourselves against consistent hard mile days, but our true love and our true passion is sharing these experiences with others, whether that is variations of trail family, hiking partners, locals, and of course our lovely life partner. We were tired, yes, our body was physically tired too but that tiredness was negligible, we mostly were tired of not being with other hikers. That is our true happiness. So, as we found ourselves in the last few days of the New England Trail, our feet continued to bring us quickly forward but our mind just as quickly would bring us backwards. Bring us into sadness, bring us into longing, bring us into remembrance. We say it again, there is a joy and happiness in pushing singularly, you against the mountains, and there is a beauty there. We had embraced this beauty and loved it for what it was, but our true heart and our true passion had been becoming louder and louder until it no longer could be ignored. Exhausted, we finished the New England Trail, ready to begin our journey into the next in-between, the in-between where our heart always lives.
Look into the in-between.
The deficiency as nutrients continued to be sucked from the body and the energy from the mind.
The salt stains being a physical manifestation of the Jackson Pollock that was this hiker's mind, of thought, of joy, but also of remembrance.
Remembrance of the true passion of hiking; community.
Now the feet begin to spark and swirl and bristle with uncontainable energy, as they bring us forward again, forward to our current in-between. There was an energy again rippling through our body as we arrived at the airport, an energy that felt as if the entire world was rippling and shifting through around us. Our hiking partner and more importantly our beautiful life partner was arriving to join us on the biggest hike of the year, the North Country Trail. First we would have to quarantine for two weeks due to her travelling from Canada and international regulations, but that was the furthest thing from our mind. Honestly, we do not know if we could harness a single thought inside of the swirl of thousands of emotions running through our mind. Each thought that swirled at a million miles per hour was so vivid, so deep, and so tangible, but there were just too many to distinguish from. We were beautifully overwhelmed. We were beautifully beyond ready, we were simply and indescribably done with all the beauty of our previous in-between time and were ready for the beauty of the in-between time upon us. It is the biggest, fullest, most fulfilling journey we have ever embarked on, the journey of life together and of sharing joy, love and happiness everyday. This is where the in-between becomes the place that we truly live.
Our feet now continue, having been sweaty and wet in Florida, to being icicles on the Potomac Heritage Trail, to defrosting on the New England Trail, to having energy bounce and crackle through every toe as our partner arrived. There is no cold inside this house, there is no sweltering heat, there is no ice, there are no swamps, there are no blisters, there are no toenails being ripped off and blood dripping from callused wounds, they are simply quite comfortable. They are the feeling of being in your home and resting. They are the feeling of a beautiful “ordinary” which is actually every moment extraordinary. This post began as an update post, to let you know of our plans for the North Country Trail and the prep that we are doing for our biggest hike ever, a trail 4600 miles long, but honestly our feet don’t feel like walking that way right now. Instead they are resting, they are content with being still. There will always be the “itch” there to keep stepping and keep going but for now that itch is in the background. Instead they just feel, well ordinarily and wonderfully “in-between.”
When you love the ordinary, every day is filled with beauty.
P:S: Look forward to our next post where we will walk you through all the upcoming plans for the North Country Trail, ElevenSkys Product Updates, Speed Record Updates, and much more, but for now let us let the feet rest.
A little teaser into a behind-the-scenes video series as we prep for the North Country Trail: