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  • Writer's pictureBriana DeSanctis

America on Two Feet: The end is near

My last miles of Nevada were celebrated in Virginia City with new friends, Nicole and Junior. They graciously let me sleep in the spare room of their RV. I was accompanied by bunkmate Winston, their extremely well-behaved dog who is allowed to sit on a barstool at the saloon. Patrons can buy him a “shot” which consists of milk, whipped cream and crushed dog biscuit. He’s a very patient customer and seldom gets out of hand! We all had a fabulous dinner and breakfast the next morning in the RV before we moseyed down to the Silver Dollar Saloon where I found a ride back to the Reno area.

Paul, Wenda and me after a rainy hike

Paul and Wenda live near Folsom, California now, but when my little brother was in elementary school they lived in Farmington, Maine and he was friends with their son. They had caught wind of my hike and reached out to me. I ended up spending 3 days with them, including one quite soggy one. They took me out to dinner and drinks. Wenda and the dog hiked with me one day while Paul parked the car further down and went for a run, meeting us along the way. We had good talks and played Yahtzee. Before I left them I packed 3 resupply boxes of food to be sent ahead. The last food. I’ve paid for this food time and time again with the expenses of sending it ahead in the mail. There isn’t always a practical way to hike this trail but I’d rather have extra food than no food at all.

Nicole, Junior, Winston (bottom), myself and friends at the Silver Dollar Saloon

Nicole had a friend who lived right on the trail past Sacramento and contacted her while I was with them in Virginia City. Saralyn wasn’t going to be home but welcomed me to stay at her house, shower, do laundry; anything I needed. This was a first for me- someone who wouldn’t be meeting me, didn’t know me at all, letting me into their house for the night. I can’t express enough that this is top tier trail magic. The kindness of others has been completely overwhelming and America has shown me love again and again from the east coast to the west coast and everywhere in between.

I do not expect to see any more snow and I’m totally fine with that. There is lush vegetation everywhere. I have been picking citrus fruits and admiring the tall palm trees. It’s quite a landscape change from the last two states I traversed; the browns and oranges of Utah and Nevada are a stark contrast to the vibrantly colored flora in Central Valley.

It’s 2024 and I’m nearly finished a 2-year long hike. There aren’t many more steps to walk. My days of hiking the American Discovery Trail are nearly over. I recently had a lucid dream about someone very close to me, and in my dream they were in the first stages of the end of their life. I remember in this dream that I was mindful of them being afraid to pass, making sure they felt safe, confident and loved while their inevitable fate encroached. At first I thought this dream stemmed from last year at this time while I was taking care of my Appalachian ‘Trail dad’ during his final living moments. However, that just didn’t feel accurate. Then it hit me: I was actually dreaming about myself. In this vision I was both the dying loved one and the doting caretaker. This life, the one I’ve been living for two years, this life of freedom in the midst of struggle, is almost finished. This life of mine is coming to an end. I feel like a part of me is dying. I’m simultaneously the guardian of my being; my welfare, happiness and stability.

Forgive me for possibly sounding dramatic to you, but the reintegration into society is not an easy one. Not a lot of people understand first-hand what I’ve been through. I thought it was rough after the Appalachian Trail, but this trail is a completely different beast. Even fewer people can share these experiences. There are times I look back and think, what have I done? This has been made apparent to me for some time now, but as the end nears, I feel pulled increasingly further from society and more withdrawn and protective over myself and my last remaining bit of freedom as I know it.

Hiking along the American River toward Folsom

As I write this column, I have not set an end date. I don’t know what will happen in the last 200 miles or when I’ll be close to finishing. This seems to be the burning question and I’m weary of people asking. Social media has been taking its toll on me mentally. It seems as though many are wanting to “watch [me] walk into the water.” I find this to be quite silly, and this is a perfect example of how alternatively I see things. How could I measure one step differently from well over 15,547,520 others? There were so many milestones I achieved during my hike, many of which were anticipated by elevation, difficulty and weather. The climb to Argentine Pass from Georgetown, CO, was a huge feat in itself; the steep, rocky terrain and high elevations proving to push me nearly to my limit. Then Lake Ann Pass, where I had to traverse a dangerous cornice; the only time I’ve been actually scared on this trail. I have endured temperatures well below zero, heat above 100 degrees, winds over 50 mph, snow, sleet, hail, flooding, drought, lightning, tornado warnings, and every once in a while, a bluebird day. There have been so many goals I’ve accomplished. So many happy tears of fulfillment along the way, feats I consider to be exponentially more defining and powerful than walking into the Pacific Ocean. I will post an end date to my social media pages, the links of which you can find at the bottom of this article. If you don’t use social media and want to know when I plan to be finished, I suggest you find someone who does.

This is also a great time to reach out if you’d like to book me to speak in your community, as I am actively pursuing work immediately following the completion of this hike. As always, I am thankful for each of these opportunities to inspire and empower others. Everyone should find their passion and never be afraid to take that first step.

It’s a treat to see so much greenery in January

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