He was my high school boyfriend. I hadn’t seen him in decades (I won’t say how many), but we reconnected on Facebook because I had jumped on social media to peddle my book (“The Best of the Nest” — get your copy now!), and he contacted me last September when he and his wife happened to be in town.

Robin Conte
Robin Conte lives with her husband in an empty nest in Dunwoody. To contact her or to buy her new column collection, “The Best of the Nest,” see robinconte.com.

We had a double date for lunch, each of us with our spouses, and we talked to each other of our lives, our kids, and our plans for the future.

As we chatted over our Thai food, I congratulated my teenaged self for dating such a nice guy. And I recalled that somehow back then I knew that, great as he was, he wasn’t quite right for me. Of course, I wasn’t right for him, either, a point which became even more glaringly clear as our conversation progressed and they discussed their plans to through-hike the Appalachian Trail together.

Wow. Talk about a goal!

I mean, I like to walk, but there are limits.

I did my bit on the AT when I was young, when my shoulders were sturdy and my back was strong and I didn’t even know that knees could “go bad.” I did it at a time when, if I knelt down to get something off the floor, I didn’t groan when I got back up.

But they were determined. They had done their research, making plans and preparations for more than a year, all of which heightened their enthusiasm to undertake this ambitious trek.

They embarked in late February, documenting their journey with photos and mile markers.

I followed them from the comfort of my laptop as they hiked in the rain and the snow, water dripping from their rain gear and smiles beaming through spattered camera lenses.

And I gawked in amazement at her.

There she was, filtering creek water and pitching tents!

She was eating her own dehydrated spaghetti!

She was balancing her way across rivulets on fallen logs  while carrying a 30-pound pack on her back!

She was sleeping in shelters infested with mice!


I’m all for nature, but I don’t want it nibbling on my feet while I’m trying to sleep.

I viewed their posts, and two thoughts took hold in my mind and stayed there for a while: 1. Whew! Dodged that bullet! and 2. She’s a boss.

I also considered, as I followed their adventures on Facebook while watching the world shutter in peel-off fashion, that they picked a good time to stay away from civilization, to hike up and down mountains in relative isolation and enjoy expansive views of the ranges of our East Coast. I was happy for them, and I imagined that they must feel grateful to be enjoying the world in separation from the havoc caused by a sinister virus.

Then I heard that the AT was closed. And my heart broke a bit for them, as it breaks every day for the small business owners who watch their life savings being swallowed up by the lockdowns and the employees who sink into the quicksand along with them and the doctors and nurses and all in their field who brave each day to meet our medical needs.

The couple had made it into Tennessee, had traveled for 37 days and hiked almost 400 miles. They had persevered as long as they were able, even as their fellow hikers left the trail and the hiker towns became more deserted. They hiked until ultimately, at the beginning of April, it became illegal to continue, and, understanding the safety measures being put in place, they had to abandon their trip.

They were proud of what they had accomplished, as well they should be, and they are hopeful that one day they can return to pick up where they left off and ultimately fulfill their dream.

I wish that for them, and I wish that for all of us.

Robin Conte lives with her husband in an empty nest in Dunwoody. To contact her or to buy her new column collection, “The Best of the Nest,” see robinconte.com.