And Then, Terror
“I think I have to come home with you back to NY. I don’t think I can do this alone.”
My section hiker friends, Janet, Brian, and Peter, were going to be heading back to NY in a day.
Janet (aka @chica631) and I sat across from each other on our double beds at the motel, hiking gear strewn over beds, the floor, and all available surfaces.
The rain was lessening, the day clearing. We had stayed in a motel to avoid an overnight rainstorm. We were supposed to be ready to meet up with Brian and Peter in 10 minutes.
“I’m going to need more than 10 minutes,” I texted Brian and Peter.
I had gotten into a rhythm: shuttling with the car, camping near the car, and having easy access to food and supplies in the car and in towns. I couldn’t fathom how I was going to make the transition to fending for myself.
Janet talked me down, mostly by listening.
We got our gear together and got back on the trail. I was able to wrap up my meltdown and not be too too late. Maybe an extra 20 minutes.
I kept on with the vacillating. I would listen to my inner voice shouting through the din, “You can do this!” Then some minor setback would occur and my confidence would shatter. One setback that seemed insurmountable in the moment: I was in charge of looking for a motel, but there were no rooms or all the prices had tripled because it was the weekend of a concert and sporting event. Brian found us a wonderful hostel, Hostel Around the Bend in Hiawassee, GA. Lisa and Gordon are impeccable hosts.
Because I had failed at my task of finding shelter for us I questioned my ability to succeed. Shelter. Food. The very basics.
After much prompting, I had a full pack shakedown at Mountain Crossing outfitters at Neel Gap. With my pack feeling better, I felt a little better. I got some sage advice from Bill at Mountain Crossings. “Remember, you are just going for a walk.” I’ve called up that advice regularly to make a bite-size morsel when the whole feels too big.
My friends, I surmise, lovingly conferred behind my back and came up with a plan. Janet endearingly referred to me as Padawan and said I was ready for full Jedi status. I protested that I was not ready. I put forth that I could do sections closer to home around PA/NJ/NY/CT and come back with my friends who were planning to do sections in the Smokies and the White Mountains over the summer.
Janet and Brian had to return to work and could not alter their schedules. Peter, who thru-hiked in 2018, had some flexibility in his schedule and offered to stay with me an extra week to help me ease into the routine of finding places to camp near shelters and stealth spots. An over-the-top generous offer. I gladly accepted.
Janet, Brian, and I said bittersweet farewells at Hostel Around The Bend.
Peter stayed on with me until Franklin.
After Peter left, I stayed in motels and hostels, shuttled, and slack-packed for seven days until I reached Fontana Dam. I promised myself to take the leap and start camping again once I reached the Smokies.
And I did.
As I hiked and camped in the Smokies, I turned my attention toward and followed the threads and patterns of my fears.
One evening camping at Icewater Spring Shelter, I plugged my phone into my charging bank. Dead. It wasn’t really an issue. My phone was at 50% and in airplane mode. I turned my phone off and looked at my paper AT guide.
I noticed conflicting reports on the nearby spring and how well it was flowing. I only had about 1/4 liter of water. I overheard people in other tents and the shelter talking about the scarcity of water sources ahead.
I stared at my tent ceiling and perseverated about not having phone access or enough water. I thought about critical mistakes people make under pressure that lead to poor outcomes.
I talked myself down by separating out the “add-ons” that I first learned about from meditation teacher Sharon Salzburg. “Add-ons” are in part assumptions, fears, and biases that we bring to any moment, in addition to what is actually happening in any moment.
There was no real danger in me not having my phone for a day or two. I was at a shelter and on trail with multiple people. I had some water. I was not alone in the wilderness.
I was relieved the next morning when I found the spring near the shelter running strong.
I filled my water bottles, kept my phone in airplane mode, and went on my way.
“Just get to the end of the Smokies!”
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