Claustrophobia: Making Sense of Trail Loss

Within the past 30 days, two members of the Appalachian Trail family passed away. Kokopelli, who was thru-hiking the trail again, I met him in 2012 when I was thru-hiking and we shared a great many memories together – the one I remember the most was when he lost his dog DD, and I found her. The genuine thanks that just gushed out of his being the moment he saw me with her made the world right again. I had had a rough week on the trail – my short-lived trail relationship had ended and I was coming to terms with some inner demons that were hankering to get out. He told me that DD was doing what God had intended, finding me to make my day better. That was just the kind of guy Kokopelli was.

When I learned of his passing I scrummed through old footage and hard drives and cut this video together to honor him:

This morning I learned that a legend on the trail, Baltimore Jack passed away. He was in Franklin – doing what he does best – continuing to help hikers and hostels during the busy thru-hiking season. I met him in 2012 at Mountain Crossings, where we talked about Boston (our mutual home) and life. I saw him again off and on many times throughout my thru-hike. The last time on my thru-hike I ran into him was at another hostel stay in New Hampshire, right before the Whites. For the life of me, I can’t remember details of our conversations and I am sure I recorded some of them while making my documentary. But for some reason I don’t have the spiritual energy to find that right now. Probably because, well I don’t remember exact phrases from our talks – I remember this feeling, and I want to hold on to it. I feel/felt claustrophobic and restless. Baltimore Jack was always imparting wisdom, but more than anything his energy was contagious. On the outside, he was very “Boston” in the way that he could be considered aloof, loud, opinionated. Those are all compliments. Underneath that, was this energy. He felt love for the trail, and all those that sought it out. You could feel that talking with him. That emotion, that feeling – was claustrophobic in the way that it made the hostel walls feel small. It made you feel like you should get back into those woods as soon as possible, that you can’t contain that love for the trail – you had to express it by being in the woods, on it. Living it, breathing it and constantly wandering along it.

So, as I sit here, near the city of Boston. I feel claustrophobic. My heart aches for Kokopelli and Baltimore Jack, it feels tight. Constrained. My breath feels shallow and I have this urge to get moving, far away from buildings, construction, traffic and societal constraints. The claustrophobia and aching heart go beyond the loss of a family member and a trial legend. It reminds me that the trail is a part of me. In this moment as I mourn two good humans – I realize that the trail is my home, it has a hold over me that nothing else will ever be able to touch. And if I don’t give in to it every once awhile, and walk along it’s corridor – then I am truly not living my life honestly and with attention to my spiritual health. These two men did that. They lived the trail. So I am making plans. Nothing in the vein of a thru-hike, but it has been too long since I saw a white blaze. The mountains are calling – and I must go.

May the white blazes show you the way Baltimore Jack and Kokopelli. Your A.T. family misses you.

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