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  • Writer's pictureBriana DeSanctis

America on Two Feet: Reflection

On the 10th of February, 2024, I completed a very long trail; a trail on which I spent over 2 years continuously hiking. There has been much hesitation to write, as I have not had one single second to reflect on my experience. Throughout my entire journey I have made great efforts to keep this column written in a timely fashion while also maintaining my hiking Facebook page and my Instagram account. Would I have done it a different way? I certainly could have. Sometimes I think I should have, but when I get emails thanking me for being an inspiration and for sharing my story, it makes me realize that I may have helped a few people along the way.

The ocean got closer every day; a bittersweet view.

Looking back on the beginning stages of embarking to hike the American Discovery Trail I was contemplating just hiking the southern route. Then I was informed that if I continuously hiked the entire trail, I would be the first solo female to complete it. Why not try for that, eh? To be completely honest, there was nothing- NOTHING, that interested me about walking through the Midwest on EITHER route. I just thought it would be awesome to walk from one ocean to the other. As things have it, you must go through the Midwest to get there… and with my ambitious idea taking me though the Midwest twice I sometimes wondered if I’d completely lost my marbles.

We should absolutely keep in mind that life is full of surprises, and while some of my toughest mental struggles happened in those landlocked, flat states, the people I met were so kind and generous- and hard working.

The scenery may not always be jaw dropping, but I try to find the beauty in everything and everyone. The green cornfields that went on for a hundred miles against the bright blue sky were precious in their own right. Even seeing that damned silo for 5 days straight before I finally walked past it held meaning of determination and perseverance. The life balance always reciprocates. When there was a bleakness, there was vibrance in something else.

My biggest headache came from all of the cautionary folk of social media. I don’t know most of these people although a lot of them are very predictable. It was always the same type of warning. I tired of this immediately, but it never ceased. Most of the time I knew deep down that people were coming from a good place, but other people, I wanted to hike directly to their house and shake the sense into them. I was told not to walk through certain areas because they were dangerous. I was told I needed to carry a gun, to which I would reply, “If I had a gun with me I’d have been locked up a long time ago.” Interpret as you wish. I listened to no one other than my own heart. The amount of fear people harbor is absolutely jarring to me.

One of the final nights on the American Discovery Trail.

The kindness of others and mutual trust was an interesting concept. I was invited to sleep in the houses of strangers quite often, but sometimes they were wary of this traveling hiker. “Just don’t steal anything.” This always made me laugh. I’d be a thousand times more likely to try leaving something behind than take anything. When you’re calculating ounces of pack weight there is little room for anything else, and zero interest. On the other hand, I found myself having to refuse a lot of gifts. The heavy army blanket, the zillion little weapons I never would have used, tons of heavier versions of things I already had in my pack. We can be creatures of excess.

I saw a lot of America. I met thousands of people who call these towns, cities, deserts and forests home. You may not realize how much time you have to think while you walk. That’s what my days were about: thinking and walking. When the hiking got technical and when the weather was unfavorable, I kept hiking. Gasping for breath at 13,000 feet I kept hiking. Fighting through thorns, falling into streams, balancing across logs, slipping in the mud. I just kept going. While it is easy to give up, the fortitude of persevering is a huge reward. At the end of the day, I never regretted pushing on for a few more miles.

My last day of hiking began before daylight. There were a lot of trees down due to a recent hurricane and in the dark I fell while trying to negotiate my way through the dense branches. The trail winds through a small primitive campground before taking a left onto the beach for the last 2 miles. I could see a large, white banner far off in the distance with a group of people nearby. I knew that this was an American Discovery Trail banner, and these people were waiting for me. I decided I’d take this last moment to myself to walk into the water. I cried a little bit, but nothing seemed real. After a little while I continued up the beach to take my final steps to the western terminus of the trail.

I’m still in San Francisco. Although I’ve gotten plenty of offers to stay with family or friends I made on the trail, I’m enjoying the climate here and being in a city is an easy place to travel to and from. It’s expensive here, but I’ve been staying in hostels for the time being. I went thrift store shopping and bought a pair of jeans. It took me a few days to get used to wearing jeans for the first time in over 2 years.

Golden Gate Bridge

I find myself becoming increasingly ‘homesick’ for the trail. While the bustle of the media has kept me busy, it does not compare to being outdoors hiking all day. I even miss the worst days. When the trail ends it is easy to feel lost. I worked toward my goal for over 2 years, and to complete this dream was more heartbreak than personal fulfillment.

I am sitting at my laptop answering the same questions every day and still not making any cash. I’ll probably end up selling my truck so I can continue to survive out here. It is frustrating. My resume has been revamped and sent out to many businesses around the Bay Area. I just need some work! It’s stressful. It’s overwhelming. For some reason I thought it would be much easier to book a speaking tour, but things are moving a lot more slowly than what I am comfortable with. At least I have all my camping gear.

I forget to take my own advice sometimes. Trust the process. Be patient. Don’t let the post-trail demons come for you. I just walked 6800 miles across the country. I can do this, but I won’t be truly happy until I my feet return to the trails.

The 27th pair of shoes.

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