I had the pleasure of meeting Luke "Gribley" Costlow after his 2012 thru-hike. He is an excellent hiker, writer and the significant other of BRHC's wonderful guide Macon York. Here is a beautifully written reflection of his experience on the trail. Enjoy!


Sometimes I forget that the Appalachian Trail exists outside the summer of my thru-hike.  I passed each blaze with purpose that summer on the way to Katahdin.  I passed each blaze only once and I forget that the single moment I experienced each memory is not the whole story of any single place.  Each blaze, each rock, every single tree exists independently whether a hiker is there to see it or not.  That trail that spans unbroken along the entire Appalachian range is there right now -- the same, yet entirely different -- as it is stored in my memory.

Heat and lushness characterized my thru-hike.  High temperatures and the color green were two constants in the ever-changing life of walking long distances.  It is hard for me to imagine the Trail as anything but vibrant, lush, and hot.  I returned to the Trail for a short December hike and I saw it in an entirely new light.  As I climbed from the Sugar Run valley to the top of a Virginia ridge, the familiar trail beneath my feet was so different from when last I walked it.  The jumble of rocks that are the walking surface were still there; each individual rock sat wedged in the same awkward angle that it has for a million years.  But the experience of walking on them was completely new.


The leaves that I only remember green and attached to the trees were fallen.  The limbs were bare and encased in ice.  So were the brown leaves that littered the cobbles and crunched under my feet with every step.  The air was so cold -- colder by far than any day of my thru-hike -- and for the first time on the Appalachian Trail the heat generated by my walking body did not cause my old hiking shirt to saturate with sweat.  The rhododendrons and mountain laurel were still green, but their leaves drooped from the cold and from the weight of the ice that covered each leaf.  A tunnel of rhododendron in the glory of full spring blossom is amazing.  I now know that the contrast of their deep and vibrant green against silver-brown tree trunks and the whites and grays of the December snow and sky is equally enchanting.  Snow fell and froze to my beard.  Even the familiar texture of my beard felt foreign through the ice and gloves.



There is a connection between the hiker and his trail that is beyond the mere physical contact of feet to earth.  Like the Trail, I am changed and formed by conditions and seasons and by those who I encounter, although my essence remains the same.  Whether I hike long distances or simply for an afternoon, I am touched and moved by Trail.  When I exit the woods, I am invariably formed into something more than I was before I entered.  I believe that I am always and continually made better through each experience of the woods.  It is simple, really, and that simplicity is what draws me to hiking. I walk through forests, I see, observe, and am a part of what is around me, and I let that experience make me more my truest self.  That's a pretty powerful effect for an unassuming strip of earth and rocks, and I take comfort in the knowing that a trail is always just a short drive away.  There are thousands and thousands of miles of trail winding through forests and around and over mountains and each one has limitless lessons to teach.  There is no better hobby, no better way of life, than walking in the woods and it is such a great equalizer.  The forest cares nothing about our background, abilities, inadequacies, experience, age, gender, goals, or worries.  It simply exists and I believe invites each of us to experience it ourselves in whatever capacity we can and choose.  We just gotta put on our boots and go see it.

-Luke "Gribley" Costlow, A.T 2012