When a squirrel in my chimney woke me up way too early, I knew I wouldn't be able to get back to sleep.
It was springtime in Minnesota, 2011. I was about a week from leaving for Vermont's Long Trail, and I had no intention of doing much until then. I was very put-out about being awake so early. Unable to snooze, I grabbed my laptop and starting bumming around the internet, looking for the next adventure.
I don't know how I ended up on the AmeriCorps website, but I remember typing in "trail" just to see what would come up. Three jobs came up on my screen. One was so exciting that I don't remember it, one was with the Tahoe Rim Trail, and one was the Great Eastern Trail.
I had never heard of the Great Eastern Trail, so I Googled the name. I was surprised that I had never heard of it: after hiking the Appalachian Trail and falling in love with the east, I thought I would have run across any long-distance hiking trails in the area. I immediately hoped that this was going to be my next adventure.
Happily, I moved to West Virginia that November and began the seemingly impossible task of creating the Great Eastern Trail link between the Pine Mountain Trail and the Appalachian Trail. Living and working in West Virginia has been incredibly challenging and rewarding. I have met so many wonderful people and seen so much beauty. I've also had my heart broken by the roadblocks for this trail - roadblocks that don't need to exist, but sadly do. The WV portion of trail has a long, long way to go before becoming reality, but I hope it's in slightly better condition after working for a year on it.
Oddly, it didn't occur to me to try to thruhike the trail. It was not on my radar. Oh, it was a "someday" dream, but I envisioned it being something I'd tackle in ten or fifteen years.
Last July I thought about what I would do after my year in West Virginia, and I realized how much I wanted to hike the Appalachian Trail again. I had such an amazing time on the AT that doing it again sounded like a dream come true. The only problem was my schedule -- I would have to start in January. As I researched the weather situation in the Smokies that time of year, my enthusiasm waned. And then it struck me -- the Great Eastern Trail begins farther south, keeps a lower elevation, and has been my project for the last year. Everything aligned, and I feel incredibly lucky to have this chance.
I wonder if this would have happened if it hadn't been for that squirrel.