Am I Doing This Right?
This is my first post from a computer since I hit the trail! A real luxury after 2 months with only a mobile phone.
It’s Been A While
Sorry about that. The last month on the trail has been full of ups and downs and I haven’t known what to write. Over the last 10 days, the trail and my mind have both evened out a bit, giving me a chance to reflect and look forward.
Walking in cold rain sucks
It is the stuff that makes you want to quit. It makes the ground soft and muddy. It makes the rocks and the logs slippery. Your hands are cold. Your poncho keeps bunching up in a wet mess around your legs. You can’t push too hard or you start to sweat under your rain gear, which is worse than being a little cold and wet on the outside and below your knees. Climbing is treacherous, so is descending. Either way, you’re walking through a stream of water since the trail is often the path of least resistance for water to get downhill.
You can’t really use your phone beyond playing an audio book, podcast, or music playlist. Hit play, pop that thing in a Ziplock bag, stick it in your wet or damp pocket, and go. Checking Guthook for progress or taking out your phone for any reason is often an act of futility; good luck with the fingerprint sensor (which does work through the bag, as does touch screen) to work with pruney fingers. Same goes for entering a password or touching anywhere on the screen with drops of water slithering across the plastic along with your wet fingers.
So you march. You beat feet. You drag your ass up and down the hills as fast as you can without sweating, while trying to think about anything other than the things your could be doing instead of walking on this cold, wet trail.
Lone wolf style
It hasn’t been intentional. I’ve linked up with several interesting people over the last 2 months on the Appalachian Trail. We will walk together, deliberately or whimsically for a few days or a couple weeks until our paths diverge; an interesting dichotomy if you consider it, since we are all walking along the same line. But we are all different and on our own journey, so for one reason or another, ways are parted.
Being 39 years old out here puts me in an interesting niche. By my observation, most people are in their 20’s, 60’s or early 30’s. You have the folks who haven’t figured out what to do with their lives yet or aren’t ready too. And then you have the folks who have lived somewhat full life and are doing their thru hike as part of their retirement. The people in their early 30’s are typically between gigs and are stealing a bit of time for themselves before returning to their careers. I can relate to all 3 groups but am a part of none.
And as much as I enjoy people, I enjoy time alone. I often seek out the solitude of a campsite on a ridge line where no one else is staying for the night. Just me, and whatever animals call that patch of mountain “home”. I don’t mind a bit of company as long as I can’t hear their sleeping pad crinkle. And when people are around me in the morning I get self-conscious about the noise I am making. I sometimes wake very early and decide it is a good time to take inventory or start packing up my gear for an early start. Sometimes I just make a lot of noise (relative to the silence of the night) tossing and turning.
So for the most part, I am alone out here. I am friendly with everyone and genuinely enjoy most of the folks who I come across. I like talking to people and learning their stories. But so far, I haven’t found my pack. And as the people thin the further we go up the trail, it seems the ones who are alone are accepting of the fate, or intentionally seek their solo path, me being in the former category.
Lots and lots of zero days.
“I am 16 going on 17..” I am currently singing this to myself to the tune of a Sound of Music song as I count today and tomorrow’s zero day tally. Until yesterday, I thought I might be the zero day champ out here. I learned from one guy who has 3 full weeks of zeros that there is another guy out here, aptly named Stays Put, with over a month of zero days wracked up so far. I’ll admit, was a bit relieved when I heard this. I thought I was the champ, and wasn’t wearing that badge with pride.
Some zeros have been to rest my body and muscles. Those were mostly in the beginning. The weather has played a role as well, obviously. I got sick and had to stay in Erwin, TN longer than anyone should ever stay in Erwin, TN. Then I started thinking about quitting when I got past Atkins, VA and a nasty storm rolled in for what seemed like an eternity.
So I texted my amazing friend Jason in Blacksburg, VA and pleaded with him to come save me from the rain in Bland, VA. Homeboy came and picked me up that evening as I huddled in the warmth of MacGyver, Trinity, Burning Man, and Ally’s motel room at the Big Walker Inn. I didn’t share my thoughts of quitting at the time, but I was pretty sure it was written all over my face. Thanks for the hospitality awesome peeps!
Jason picked me up and within 15 minutes had me back in the right frame of mind and ready to get back on the trail. After the rain subsided in a few days, of course. So I spent Monday thru Friday here last week. I mowed the lawn. A big lawn. I power washed a barn. I played Zelda and Mario Kart on the Nintendo Switch. I hung out with Jason, his wife Emily, and their amazing children for 5 solid days. It was just what I needed.
A break in the weather
On Saturday I picked back up where I started in Bland. It was a slow, painful day. My body had tightened up over the course of the week and parts of it were screaming at me. My lower back went into minute-long spasms as it realized it was going to be carrying my pack up hills again. My right achilles tendon just said “NO!”. I had to walk with my right foot on my tip toes for the first 5 miles when climbing to bare that pain. It all worked itself out though, and I found a ridge to sleep on for the night, alone.
The next 4 days were easier. I even got in a 21.5 mile day to the Captain’s from Pearisburg when it hasn’t been my intention to walk 20 mile days for awhile now; I had/have backed off to a more conservative 15-18 mile expectation, for morale purposes. The trail has been kinder in Virginia. I understand why people say it is easier. It is generally well maintained and smooth, in places where you aren’t climbing over rocky outcroppings or formations. It is how I remember it from childhood and early adulthood. My head is in the right place.
So it is without regret, for a change, that I am taking a couple more days off, now that I have walked north enough to actually be in Jason’s neck of the woods. I needed a resupply anyways. And the rain is coming in a couple hours and setting in for a few days, along with some cold, windy weather. It feels right. Like a part of my journey.
I’ve given up on any deadline to finish. I can’t let that pressure get to me out here. I miss the shit out of my dog and my cat. My cat can’t read so fuck it, mostly my dog. I can’t think about that guy too much or I start wanting to go home. I’ve learned that, and many other interesting things about myself in the last 2 months I’ve been out here.
But those things I have learned will have to be the subject of another post. I have to go mow Jason’s lawn again before it rains.
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