Today I went to visit Lenny who’s been gone for almost a year. To be more precise, I walked the Appalachian Trail to the spot where I had spread his ashes. I couldn’t see asking anyone else to come along so I went on my own.
Lenny and I maintained a 4.9-mile section of the A.T. from Devils Fork Gap to Rice Gap on the North Carolina/Tennessee border. It’s not a particularly memorable piece but that’s the section that was available when we arrived in North Carolina.
We had been A.T. section maintainers in the New Jersey-New York area for years and were ready to continue this volunteer work. For maintenance, 4.9 miles is considered a long section and we still had to wait a year to get it.
Trail maintaining was his passion. I was the helper who went out with him four times a year. He weedwhacked, cut branches, and decided when to bring in the Carolina Mountain Club reinforcements, i.e. the people with the chain saws. I clipped, picked up garbage, and held the branches he was sawing down.
Most roads that cross the A.T. are in remote areas. To save a half-mile each way, I started at Rector Laurel Rd., a small road with more dogs than houses. When I jumped out of my car, loose dogs greeted me with angry barks but didn’t follow me on the trail.
Lenny had decided that his ashes should be spread on a high spot in this A.T. section. He checked with the US Forest Service and the Appalachian Trail Conservancy that it was OK. We never discussed whether I would visit him once he was gone. It seemed obvious to me that I would.
I walked about a mile and a half when I met three backpackers from Georgia who were out for a few days.
“And where are you going?” they asked.
“You really want to know?” and I told them why I was on the trail.
The older guy in the middle, a 2000-miler, said that he wanted his ashes spread on the A.T. as well. He took a picture of me so he could show his wife that I was visiting my husband’s ashes.
Hmm, I thought, I hope she’s a hiker too.
Unlike people who ask “if I’m all right”, Lenny always assumed that I’d be able to hike and be active. He would never say “while you’re able”. Of course, I’d walk this trail forever or at least until my ashes were spread somewhere as well.
I walked another mile and a half to Frozen Knob and down to a big rock face. This was the spot.
Once I got there, I wasn’t sure what to do, so I sat for a while and ate a granola bar. I liked to remember Lenny as active and full of life.
The backpackers passed through and we waved to each other.
I started back down the trail. When I got within a half-mile of the trailhead, the dogs started barking again. I made a bee line for the car and made my getaway.
All memorial rituals are for the living, the survivors. I’m sure I’ll walk the same trail next year.