It has been almost three weeks now since we finished the trail and in some ways it is all starting to feel like a dream. Brew and I returned home this past Sunday, and he started back to work today. Our house is the same, our friends are the same – if not more wonderful, and our little niece has a few more tricks, but she is still just as adorable and beautiful as when we left in June. If it were not for the peeling callous on my big toe, the tenderness in the bottom of my feet, and the blinding light-headedness that come when I stand up, I would rarely be reminded of our record attempt this summer. And I think that’s a good thing.

If I expected the trail this summer to fill a void, then I would be highly disappointed. The truth is, as wonderful as the trail is, it cannot complete you. However, it can change you. And that is why we go, each summer, and most free days and weekends during the year. The trail has helped me to become more self-confident, patient, and accepting. This summer, the trail taught me to live in the moment, appreciate the small things, and never lose sight of hope.

Most people look at our 2011 journey as an athletic feat; however, I consider it to be a love story. I love the trail, and far more than that I love my husband. Beyond romance, I believe true love is best demonstrated through endurance and perseverance. That is what got me through the bad weather, intense pain, and many hardships this summer – a devotion to the trail and a complete trust and shared intimacy with my husband.

Contrary to some reports, I have yet to receive any financial endorsements, book deals, or lump sums since the trail, but that is not to say that I haven’t been rewarded. My post-trail trophies are the e-mails and letters I received from strangers saying that our journey has encouraged them to get outside, enjoy nature, and discover their own path. My increase in wealth can be measured in memories and self-growth. And my most cherished prize is the look that I share with my husband that says, “We did it. Despite the people who told us we couldn’t and against all odds, we believed in one another and we accomplished something amazing.” That look, in itself, is invaluable; and it is something that no one will ever be able to take away from us.

Looking ahead, I can’t wait until my body feels rested enough to return to the trail. I doubt that, for us, there will ever be a hike that compares to the intensity of this summer. Yet, I know that there will be lots of day hiking, trail runs, and long-distance backpacking trips in our future. I look forward to seeing other people go after our record on the Appalachian Trail, partly because I want them to know how much it hurts, and I also look forward to seeing the limits of human potential stretched even farther.

I believe that record holders never stand-alone, they simply crawl on the shoulders of the people that went before them. I could have never hiked the trail in 46 days if it hadn’t been for the example and inspiration of Andrew Thompson. His 47-day hike is phenomenal, and I would love it if he wanted to go after the record again - after all, his initials are A.T.

Regardless of who goes after the record in the future, I am sure he or she will do it differently because of our example this summer. I doubt that record setter will spend every night at the roadside, perhaps he or she won’t run, and that person will most certainly want to duplicate the support of the “pit crew.” I would love it if another woman wanted to go after the record. However, honestly, the attempt this summer was never about beating the boys. It was about doing my best - and I believed that my best was good enough for the overall record. In fact, I could have never been successful this summer without the help of the men in my life. (Thanks guys.)

Benton MacKaye, the founder of the Appalachian Trail, believed that the purpose of long-distance trails is, “To walk. To see. To see what you see.” I feel the same way. But personally, that expression has evolved in its meaning. At first it was about seeing nature, then it was about seeing nature and my true self. The words now also inspire me to see and seek out my full potential and the full potential of the trail.

I believe that people will not protect the trail, unless they can see what is in front of them. And to truly see the trail involves more than just hiking. You have to be able to experience the trail, on your own terms, and in your own language. I am so thankful that the trail is there for everyone at every stage of life. It can be experienced slow or fast, in short day-hikes or long sections. As members of the trail community, it is our responsibility to overlook preferences of speed, distance, and gear. And, instead, work together to promote and protect the trail and recognize our common bond, which includes a love of nature and the belief that something powerful and positive comes from physically moving through the wilderness.

Rest assured, the next person to set the overall record on the Appalachian Trail will most certainly have pure motives and a strong love of nature. The task is too difficult otherwise.