We've come to the end of the trail, you and I. It's been more than 11 years since I laced them up and asked you to come with me on a hike.
I can tell you now, but you probably guessed it: I didn't know where I was going. Not a clue.
Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New Hampshire or Maryland, where I arrived almost 24 years ago, a brand new wife.
It's funny that I landed here. Opal and Ernest Starner, a steelworker at Sparrows Point, raised two girls, Nancy and Betty, in row houses on Conkling Street, then Hudson Street, then a house "in the county" on Fait Avenue, No. 7302. Nancy graduated from Kenwood High, went to work as a secretary at the Esso refinery and met Al. They fell in love over duckpin bowling and dinners at Bud Paulino's, got married and had two daughters of their own. I'm the older one.
I learned to dip crabs and shuck oysters at an early age. There's a picture of me eating crabs at No. 7302, a copy of the Evening Sun spread on the table beneath the pile. I learned to fish for bass on the Susquehanna River and for flounder on New Jersey's Long Beach Island.
I grew up, moved away, then further away, then further away before coming back.
My family was thrilled in 1988, when I got a job at the Sunpapers — the Starners took both Morning and Evening. I was thrilled when one job led to another and to another and then to the one I really wanted: outdoors writer, and by my count, 602 columns without missing a single week.
It's not Ripken-esque, but what is?
What a run, with dumb luck riding shotgun and the kindness of strangers in the back, whispering directions. Sun editors granted me license to roam, creating a lifetime of highlights:
• A scientist urging me to stick my head in a bucket of killer bees while working on a story about pain ("Don't exhale," he cautioned, "carbon dioxide makes them crazy.") I did stick my head in and I didn't exhale.
• Being allowed to spend a weekend with brave women fighting cancer that ravaged their bodies, but not their spirits, and witnessing the wondrous healing quality of fly-fishing at a Casting for Recovery event.
• Overnight camping in the I-95 median in Howard County to see what wildlife survived in there.
• Writing Maryland's first snakehead story in 2002. And then writing a bunch more after the media world discovered a scummy pond in Crofton filled with the voracious aliens from Asia.
• Finding the state's farthest geographic reaches — north, south, east, west, high and low — in a week-long driving and GPS adventure.
• Fishing across Maryland in 24 hours — west to east, sunup to sunup — to prove the rich diversity of opportunities.
• Being at the 2004 black bear hunt, the state's first in more than a half century.
• Discovering that a Maryland Park Service ranger was the inspiration for a Mark Trail character.
• Being one of the first mates at the Donna Judge Kids Derby and watching youngsters with cancer or those who lost a parent or sibling to the disease light up when their lines went tight and their reels buzzed with a fish on.
• Watching crazy, middle-aged men in minus-10 degrees waddle around in wooden snowshoes and shoot muzzleloaders at targets at Vermont's Primitive Biathlon.