Briana DeSanctis is an avid outdoorswoman, writer and public speaker from Farmington, ME. She is currently in the ballpark of 5,000 miles into a 6,800-mile hike across the USA on the American Discovery Trail to be the first recorded woman to thru-hike this entire trail solo. DeSanctis began her trek on January first, 2022 from the Atlantic shores of Cape Henlopen, Delaware.
I’ve got to keep reminding myself that it’s spring and not summer. The temperatures have already been in the 80s. I’ve switched full-time to shorts for hiking. I picked up my summer quilt and sent the winter sleeping bag back to the mountains. Another notable mention is I believe I’m wearing my 14th pair of shoes.
More hours of daylight made my hike through Nebraska a fairly quick one; even I was surprised at my swift progress. I was also surprised at the abundance of lakes, rivers and the canal system- and Nebraska isn’t totally flat, either.
The Nebraskans I had the pleasure of meeting- though quite a bit more inquisitive and forward than Iowans- showed me kindness, nonetheless. My dear friends Ross and Sam from “Expira,” Iowa, drove out and spent the evening with me in Omaha. I can’t tell you how great it feels to see people twice. They even gave me the nickname “Rachel” for no reason other than Sam forgot my name. That’s friendship, right there.
Kyle Halsey let me borrow a tarp in Stromsburg and gave me some good tornado education. He came to my campsite and we spent the evening chatting it up while I built a small fire. Collecting friends makes me feel local. Another advantage into having the locals on your side is, well, they’ll vouch for you to all their friends.
I met Evan in Kearney where the mail held me up for a whole week. We went for a short hike, played pool, grabbed dinner and had some really good inspiring talks about life. I dubbed him my “best friend in Kearney” and will never forget that good energy he emits.
Tom Dangerfield took me fishing on the canal and I subsequently was invited to stay at his daughter’s house with the most majestic view of the Jeffrey Reservior. His granddaughter MacKenzie cooked us a spaghetti dinner for which I was very thankful. Again, I felt like part of the family and was a little teary-eyed to part with them.
Debbie Foust drove me all over the place, showing me her locale and inviting me to stay in her vacant home that is being prepared for resale. I felt like we had been friends for a long time.
The good camping started after I got out of Lincoln. There are many state campgrounds with facilities which are reasonably priced or by-donation. I cooked over many small campfires. I bought a stainless steel cup for coffee and for cooking. My musical cravings have been met by acquiring my ukelele, which I named Clarence Carter.
While in Aurora, I stopped at a local Mexican restaurant. It was raining and I was camped in town for the evening. Claudia was my server. I spoke to her in Spanish. She was curious as to how I knew Spanish and we began really talking. I’m not fluent, but I wish I was because I would have liked to say so many things to her and share more stories, in my own words.
This encounter was quite thought provoking. If we all took the time to learn another language to respect others around us, the world would be filled with less confusion and less hate. I taught myself Spanish years ago when I moved to Colorado so I could understand and gain respect from my co-workers. They’re like brothers to me now, and the reason why I picked up the Mexican flag bandana.
I was somewhere, walking the grid, when I ran out of water on a particularly hot day. The farms were few and far between and natural water sources nonexistent. I knew that my only bet would be to find a house with a water hydrant. Within a few miles, I saw a single-family home. There was a water hydrant in the middle of their front lawn, but no cars or people in the driveway. I decided it didn’t feel too intrusive to walk over and get some water. What could go wrong?
It looked as though they had been digging in the front yard a bit with some small machinery and I walked around the hole, giving a wide berth to the surrounding sandy soil. All of a sudden I felt the earth give way underneath my feet and in a split second I was up to my knees in a sink hole! Other than feeling quite stupid, I climbed out relatively unscathed, quickly refilled my water and left, brushing the sand off my legs and wondering if the residents would notice another large hole in their front lawn. There’s something that feels so wrong about pilfering water, and I like it. I can spot a hydrant from a quarter mile away and will stop at nothing to obtain water, even if I have to knock on a door and talk to people.
As I neared the Colorado border, the weather became intense. Thunder and lightning became a nightly occurrence with sometimes high winds. The winds in Nebraska were brutal enough, but when paired with a storm system and some electrical energy, you’ve got a long night ahead of you.
My sunglasses must have blown off the picnic table at Lake McConaughy. I can’t hike without sunglasses. In Ogallala I purchased another pair with full coverage, and I’m so glad I did. As I walked down the road one day a truck advanced toward me. The woman in the driver’s seat smiled and waved, but as I waved back I was hit with a feeling of dread. Something bad was about to happen. I barely had completed the thought when a marble-sized rock flew from the truck and smacked me hard, right in the full coverage. Never was I more thankful to be wearing sunglasses.
With both of my eyeballs still intact, I crossed the border into Colorado. It really began to sink in. I have less than 2,000 miles to walk before reaching the Western terminus and Pacific Ocean. My mind is disquieted.
This adventure, to me, was never about the completion (although there was never a doubt in my mind that I’d finish); the journey itself is the adventure. While I’m walking I feel very full… but the end will be empty. It’s overwhelming to think that this rapidly approaching last day will inevitably come. So many people seem to be so excited for the finish, yet I’m not. I don’t just go back to a home and a job, because I have neither. My consolation is to move forward and trust the process.
A very heartfelt phone call with my friend Trout (who joined me for a few days last spring in West Virginia) helped to ease my mind a little. Being out here as a lone hiker with no other people around you who “get it” makes the conversations with those who do, invaluable. While I’ve said a million times that this has not been my favorite trail, a long-distance hike anywhere can take me to the optimal version of myself.
Almost everyone asks me what is the scariest thing I’ve had to deal with. I write this while sitting in a cozy motel with tornadoes touching down less than a few miles away. What is the scariest thing out here? To me, it’s stepping into the Pacific Ocean.
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