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John Cave Osborne is a writer whose work has appeared on such sites as Babble, TLC, YahooShine, and the Huffington Post. He was also referenced by Jezebel one time, but he’s pretty sure they were making fun of him. While he’s name dropping, it’s only fair to point out that Ashton Kutcher tweeted one of John’s YouTube videos, but it may have only been because Ashton felt sorry for him. After all, John went from carefree bachelor to father of four in just 13 months thanks to marrying a single mom, then quickly conceived triplets. Since then, he and his wife have added one more to the mix, a little boy they named Grand Finale. They all live chaotically in Knoxville, TN with Briggs the dog.

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The Question I Answered in 62 Miles

By John Cave Osborne |

I’d been thinking about it the entire hike. My son’s question, that is. Daddy, why do you walk up and down the mountains? There it was, day four, and I still didn’t know the answer.

It was around mile 15 when I started to get a bit loopy. Fatigue’ll do that to you. I stared at the leaves that covered trail and wondered which would be carried away by the tips of my trekking poles and which would be left behind.

Just two miles to go and we’d finally be caught up from the slow start that wasn’t our fault. The first day was a cold, drizzly one, the rain turning to sleet by bedtime. Eight o’clock. Backpacker’s midnight.

Ten hours later, we woke to a blustery morning in the mid 20s, the ground covered with a thin layer of snow. As we climbed, so too did the layer, up to four inches by the time we crested Albert Mountain. The fire tower loomed high above us, but climbing its metal staircase would have been fruitless. For the view that day was the same no matter where you stood. Even if it was inside a ping pong ball.

The next morning greeted us with the same blanket of snow and cold temperatures, but also with the promise of blue skies — the first ones we’d seen all trip. Early that day, northbound hikers informed us that it had never snowed in Georgia. The ground was as dry as a bone. Which meant we were no longer beholden to the shelters, but instead could pitch our tent anywhere our legs managed to take us. And our legs would take us 17 miles.

Sleep in my Big Agnes two-man came easily that night, and like most mornings on the Trail, I woke up sore. Especially my left ankle. But I wasn’t worried. It was the type of soreness that would walk itself out.

I was wrong. We’d not even gone a single mile when I dug through my pack in search of advil and my ankle brace. I bring that brace each trip. But this was the first time I’d ever needed it. Without it, I never would have made it.

But suddenly I was on the verge of doing just that. Making it. Only two more miles before we’d cap off back-to-back 17-mile days. Only two more miles til we’d erase the slow start and be back on schedule.

I don’t really like to listen to music when I’m on the Trail, but I still bring my iPod anyway. Because whenever I’m so worn down that I can barely take another step, the Trail becomes my life. And I don’t know about yours, but my life has a soundtrack. And whenever I feel like I can’t go on is exactly when I need to listen to it.

Because you can always go on. Even if it’s just to hear the next song.

The Killers.

Elvis Costello.

The Avett Brothers.

Jimi.

The music put me in a trance which furthered my newfound leaf obsession. They were pretty, I decided. But sad, too. Maybe because they’d fallen. And were defenseless from being snatched up by my poles. Would the ones that were left behind mourn the loss of the ones that were taken?

I never aimed for any particular leaf, but instead let my natural gait decide the fate of the Trail’s coverings. If I had wanted to take any particular one, however, I could have easily made it happen. It was my choice, really.

Me. A leaf God.

It reminded me of the time in second grade when James and I took all the ants we could find and put them inside a toy rocket that we launched 100 feet into the air. Most of the ants died when the rocket crashed into the mulch with a thud and I wondered if the other ants were devastated, and if so, if there were ant TV stations that were broadcasting the news of the senseless and tragic debacle.

James never knew, but I cried later that day at home. I’d killed all those ants. Who the hell was I to do that?

Huh, David Bowie, I thought. Didn’t remember putting him on the playlist. Yet, still, he’s definitely part of my life’s soundtrack. I used to hate him when I was younger. While the world listened to Let’s Dance, I was into Ratt and Motley Crue. My older sister Holliday loved David Bowie, though. And in those days, I loved to torment Holliday. So I told her once how much I thought he sucked.

“He’s got more talent in his little finger than the members of Ratt and Motely Crue combined,” she said.

Holliday died last October. She was 49. And this leaf cried for the one that was picked up and taken away. Despite the fact that it wasn’t a surprise. I saw her in September for what I knew would be the last time ever. I told her I loved her, but I never said goodbye.

Why didn’t I?

No sooner had the question crossed my mind when David Bowie gave me his take:

There’s no sign of life.
It’s just the power to charm.
I’m lying in the rain.
And I never wave bye-bye.
But I try.
I try.

I can’t remember the last time I sobbed like that. I stopped and wrapped my left arm around the trunk of a sympathetic pine to steady myself as the tears rained upon the leaves that were suddenly safe. At least for a little while.

Last October, I thought. That’s the last time I cried like this.

We hiked the full 17 miles that day and made quick work of the remaining six the next morning, getting out of the woods by 11. The final tally was 62 miles in 95 hours. I’d overcome the weather and a bum ankle and met our aggressive goal.

But I hadn’t figured out the answer to Jack’s question.

Why do I walk up and down those mountains?

The first thing I did when I got into my car was to flip down the visor and look in the mirror. The face that looked back was one I’d not seen in four days. I love that feeling. Don’t you? When you see yourself for the first time in a really long time? It’s like remembering who you are.

And suddenly, I’d stumbled upon the answer to Jack’s question.

I wondered if he’d get it.

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About John Cave Osborne

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John Cave Osborne

John Cave Osborne is a writer whose work has appeared on such sites as Babble, TLC, YahooShine, and the Huffington Post. John went from carefree bachelor to father of four in just 13 months after marrying a single mom, then quickly conceived triplets. Since then, they have added one more to the mix, a little boy they named Grand Finale. Read bio and latest posts → Read John's latest posts →

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15 thoughts on “The Question I Answered in 62 Miles

  1. Kristin says:

    Great post. Love the AT and this brought back lots of old memories. My time on the AT was all in New England in the early 1990s…seems like a previous lifetime now! Looks like you had an amazing trip.

    1. @Kristin: seems like we have some things in common. it’s cool you’ve got some AT experience.
      @KAG: xoxo
      @Annette: that video is an absolute gift. thank you so much for leaving the link. i strongly encourage anyone to click on it.
      @Dabbie: it’s always so great to hear from you! thanks for your kind words: re my sister. and C did great while i was gone. we had someone lined up, so she was without the kids from Fri to Sun.
      @Joan: agreed. it’s always about the journey.
      @Sara: i agree. the why is up to the hiker to discover. though i would maintain that it (usually) has to do with finding yourself. or at least understanding yourself better.
      @Sally Judd: such a nice comment. thank you for leaving it. hope all y’all are doing well.
      @Julia Robers: but crying’s good, isn’t it?
      @BeccaV: making the time is hard, but if you can somehow do it and get out there for two or three days, you’ll never regret it.
      @Carla: what you wrote gave me chills. so beautiful, just like many of your words that i read. thanks for the comment. i totally agree with every word of it.

  2. Katie Allison Granju says:

    Simply. Amazing.

  3. Annette says:

    John,

    Please watch this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gXDMoiEkyuQ. I lost my sister two years ago, and had a meltdown this week when I saw this video. It is one of those things that, when you watch it, you know how much SHE would have loved it and that just puts you back at square one in terms of grief. Temporarily. And then you have to get on with what is here . . . and now. So I get it. Love, love, love your posts.

    Annette

  4. Debbie says:

    What a great post, tears reading about your sister. How did Caroline make it with out you?

  5. Joan (SurprisedMom) says:

    It is all about the journey, isn’t it?

  6. Sara says:

    I did 6 weeks in the AT after college. The “why” really is something thy can’t be put into words. He’ll just have to wait til he’s old enough to walk up and down the mountains with you to find his own why.

  7. Sally Judd (Blake Smith's Mom) says:

    Absolutely beautiful John. Brought me to tears. All the best to you and your crew!

  8. Julia Roberts says:

    Now I’m crying, too. THANKS A LOT.

  9. BeccaV says:

    I’ve always wanted to hike the AT and now that we live close I need to make time!
    Thanks for the excellent post.

  10. Carla Smith says:

    This is the part I love most: ” The face that looked back was one I’d not seen since Wednesday. I love that feeling. Don’t you? When you see yourself for the first time in a really long time? It’s like remembering who you are.” Not only that but the beauty of the human face stuns when you haven’t seen it in a while. And your own, even more so. And as we age our life is etched on our faces, eyes say what words can’t, and the sheer miracle of genetics having getting it so right yet again staggers me. There is more beauty to behold than a life will ever bear and too often it is not till we are close to death that we really see this heaven on earth. That’s the meditative/zen of hiking and at times it is more than a heart can hold.

  11. Miss A says:

    You made me cry when I read that you cried.
    Amazing post!

  12. [...] number two: I’m a big backpacker. That’s another topic I’ve written about multiple times on Babble and my blog. And with Dr. Suess’ The Lorax just days away from hitting the big screen, [...]

  13. [...] see, I’m section hiking the Appalachian Trail with a close friend of mine, which means that every year we take at least one extended backpacking [...]

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