Nina Baxley: AT Thru-Hiker

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Nina on Standing Indian Mountain, NC
Nina on Standing Indian Mountain, NC

I'm back at one of my old hangouts, one of my many "writing places" around town. I haven't come here much since I left grad school back in 1996; the LSU campus area, once very much home to me, is a bit out of the way now. I live across the river, and I work across town, near Essen Lane. So much of my life during the week is spent in that busy part of town, with its corporate offices, medical facilities, restaurants, and—of course—heavy traffic.

But on Saturdays, if I'm not in the woods of north Louisiana or Mississippi, I like to come back to Highland Coffees. I love the calming blue-green walls, the mishmash of students and professors, the classical music, and, of course, the coffee!

I used to grade freshman comp papers here, back when hiking the Appalachian Trail was a dream I'd neatly tucked away years before. I didn't think much about hiking back then; I really hadn't hiked since my undergrad days at Mary Baldwin. I mostly came here to write and watch. I wrote everything from freshman comp lesson plans to 20-page term papers, from long letters to friends to the beginnings and outlines for dozens of short stories and novels that never got written. I'd watch people and write about them—their appearance, their movements, their manner of talking with their friends. I watched, and I wrote all the time.

Once again, I'm sitting at Highland Coffees, my feet propped on a chair, my pen scribbling into a notebook. An old and familiar way of being. And I'm still watching people, as if this world is a great big movie screen. The AT changed me in some big ways, but there are some things about me that will never change. And I feel more like myself than ever before, now that I've finished the trail. Also, as on the AT, I have the feeling that I'm exactly where I need to be in life—for now, at least.

In the last month, I've missed the trail and I haven't missed it. I've missed the thru-hiking lifestyle, but I haven't missed the cold weather! Those last few weeks on the AT were brutal, and I was glad to get home, where I could stay inside, basking in the central heating, and enjoying the running water. Another southbounder commented to me that he was glad the weather was so bad at the end; because of it, we could leave the trail without feeling like we'd left anything behind. That's sort of true. I wasn't sad to leave when it was finally time to leave. I just wanted to get warm!

Published: 30 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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