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First Steps on the American Discovery Trail

Wendy wetting her boots in the waters of the Atlantic Ocean. (Photo by Marie Bellantoni.)

My journey along the American Discovery Trail is underway! On the afternoon of Sunday March 10, “trail angel” Marie Bellantoni — a dear friend and former college roommate — drove me to Cape Henlopen State Park in Delaware. The eastern terminus of the American Discovery Trail is on the park’s Atlantic shore; from there it extends to Point Reyes National Seashore in California. From now through early May, I’m planning to walk 317 miles of the ADT. I’ll pass through Delaware, Maryland and Washington, D.C., ending my hike at the Maryland / West Virginia border.

Atlantic shore
Marie joined me for my first few steps on the ADT.
Atlantic shore sand dune
As the trail heads westward from the shore, it winds over a sand dune.
American Discovery Trail
The easternmost marker for the American Discovery Trail. I will be using my new smartphone (I’ve never had one before) to access navigational information. This high-tech approach is a first for me; I generally rely on paper maps and a compass. (Photo by Marie Bellantoni.)

When I left Maine on March 6, it was buried under snow, with more winter storms likely to come. Here in Delaware, there are clear signs of spring. As I hiked on March 10, I heard the trills of red-winged blackbirds and the songs of robins, as well as the calls of spring peepers (small tree frogs). It will be some time before my friends in Maine hear those sounds.

After leaving Cape Henlopen State Park, the ADT passes through the town of Lewes, Delaware, which traces its origins to a Dutch colonial settlement established in 1631. For my first night on the trail, I booked a room in the Driftwood Motel; there are no camping areas in town. The ADT is very different from the wild trails I’ve hiked in the Maine Woods. In Maine, “stealth camping” — setting up a tent in a non-designated site — is allowed in most areas, and suitable spots with good natural water sources are generally easy to find. On this hike, I will camp when I can, but I’ll also stay in a few motels, and I’m more than willing to accept invitations from people willing to open their homes to me.

Mental preparation for a long-distance hike is just as important as physical fitness and appropriate gear. When I undertake a long trek, I try not to worry excessively over details of what might go wrong. I decide in advance that I will accept all the experiences of the trail — whether they are joyful and beautiful, or challenging and uncomfortable — as opportunities to learn and grow. I try to view each person I meet along the trail as a teacher, who might impart some knowledge or wisdom that I need to hear.

Poet Maya Angelou said, “You only are free when you realize you belong no place — you belong every place.” For the duration of this journey, wherever I am at any given moment will be my home, the place where I belong.

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