This is trail family. A bond that no one can ever take away from us. One that will be there for the rest of our lives.

I’ve had a few members of my trail family visit me in Nashville recently. It felt like Christmas had already come and gone with the pure excitement of seeing my hiking partners again. I miss the trail every day. But there’s nothing like the reunion of a thru-hiker. We just have this special bond. We have stories and beef on each other that no one else knows. We know each other’s personalities almost better than we know our own. We finish each other’s sentences. Laugh hysterically at stories of “remember that one time…” and tear up when we have to say goodbye again.

Maybe this is the “post trail depression” everyone was talking about. Maybe it is real. Or maybe it’s just this tight bond we share that makes us ecstatic to see each other again. We all miss the trail … some of us more than others… but the minute we know we are about to see our “tramily” members… we can’t control ourselves. It’s the best feeling in the world. And it happened often even on the trail. You would sometimes go days without seeing a friend…not always knowing where they were or how they were doing. Then all of a sudden, they walk into a campsite or a town and you’re immediately elated, run to tackle them with a hug, and go into a Tasmanian-devil-ish-tornado of a reunion. Normal bystanders may think we’re insane, but we know what we have.

We all shared similar feelings about post-trail life. Chatting with each other about the pain we experienced in the weeks following our summit, and the pure joy of laying on a couch for a week and not doing anything. The different perspective we all seem to have on life now and the new dreams we want to chase. The memories we share will never fade.

We reminisced over the reactions people made when we shared our recent accomplishment with friends, family, and even strangers. To us it never felt like such a huge thing. We knew it was, but it never felt that way while on trail. We were just caught up in the experience. Looking back, we know we’re a part of an elite class of people who hiked over 2,000 miles, but to us, we just walked.

My brother said it well: “you’re going to be processing this for years. You may not ever fully understand what just happened, but it will be with you forever.” I’m beginning to embrace this.

Us thru-hikers are a rare breed. We can talk about our experience for days with other people, but it’s just not the same. They just can’t relate like your hiking partners can. They get excited for you and your stories, but when you put a handful of thru-hikers together, sharing the experience they had on trail, you immediately enter a different time zone.

We spent an extensive amount of time in the woods together. We know each other in our best and worst selves. We call each other out on stuff and formulate our next genius ideas of how we can stay young forever…travel the world, hike, and experience other ridiculous adventures together. We share our dreams with each other. Knowing that we feel the same way about the adventure of life.

These boys are my brothers. My confidants. My protectors. And my pals. I long for the day my kids can go hang with “Uncle Smalls or Uncle Huggy” and hear stories from when their mom hiked the Appalachian Trail. I trust and love these boys with my whole heart. It’s hard to explain the bond we share.

As we enter this new year, full of resolutions, goals and expectations, I have to reflect on this past year.

My year:

-I took a leave of absence from a new & promising job

-packed up my first house in Nashville

-moved my stuff into a storage unit & moved in with my friends for a couple months

-left all my friends, family, and worries behind to start one of the best adventures of my life by thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail

-turned 30 on the trail

-met lifelong friends

-summited mountains, forded rivers, hiked with the stars, woke up to mountain sunrises, and ate ridiculous amounts of food

-met my boyfriend

-traveled to Germany

-gained a totally new perspective on life

-moved in with one of my best friends from college

As I look back on the adventures that molded my 2017, I could not be happier, healthier, or more proud.

This has proven to be one of the best years of my life. I feel the best I’ve ever felt and I’m finally at a point, crossing into a new year, where I have bigger, better, and more practical goals for myself. I’m ready for this life and to conquer more. I like to think of 2017 as my “jumpstart” year. The year that made me my best. The year that kicked me around, punched me in the stomach, and pushed me back out onto the streets a stronger person. The year that gave me the confidence to do more, be more, and live more. The year that allowed me to grow, realize the more important things in life, and rid myself of the junk that so often clogs our minds. This is the year that set me free.

As we cross off another year on our lists, let’s embrace the new. Let’s reflect on our past, but charge forward into this fresh start. We deserve it.

We have a lot to be thankful for.

Thank you all for being a part of my year!

Here’s to 2018!