And We’re Off!
Let’s just talk about that first day…
On the morning Barkley and I left for the trail (Friday the 20th), I woke up in Bowling Green, KY in my aunt Michelle’s house at 3:30 in the morning. We were still about 5 hours away from Springer Mountain and had to deal with a time change on the way. So Josh and I quickly got up and headed out. I’m not a cry-baby but the upcoming changes and leaving the guy I am rather smitten with, I don’t know, it made me a little weepy (stop judging).
I know some people think it’s sacrilegious to skip the approach trail at Amicalola Falls, but we didn’t do it. My own personal opinion: if it’s not part of my 2189.2 miles, I’m not doing it. Sorry folks, just gonna be real with you. We also have a friend of Barkley’s that we are meeting up with along the trail, so that puts us on a tight schedule. So our first day involved .9 miles of backtracking up Sprjnger Mountain after we were dropped off. I didn’t even look back as Josh drove off because there was no time for weepy tears. We needed to start. And we were already late and the weather wasn’t ideal. It was foggy and had just rained the night before making literally every sound a great big SQUELCH.
As we headed out on our first day (which was around 9 miles) we began to hone a system that is pretty good and has worked for us since. Barkley is slower on uphills than I am, so she takes the lead as we go up. This is good for me because I am somewhat of a pusher (no, not a drug pusher for you mean girls out there), and having her pace me keeps me from exhausting myself. I’m slower on the downhills because I have bum ankles and I’m about as coordinated as a baby giraffe on skates, so I usually take the lead going downhill. This system has been working pretty good for us, so far.
Because of our rather late start in the day, Barkley and I arrived at the Hawk Mountain shelter around 5:00. By that point it was foggy and gross and we were just so done with life. Several other hikers were already there, but there was still room for us. I’m not kidding, we just sat down for about an hour and just sat. Didn’t move, get water, touch our packs, or anything. Finally we returned to life and got with the program. We set up our mats, sleeping bags, got some water, made ourselves dinner, etc. The whole time I fumbled around awkwardly. I’ve not used a lot of this stuff more than a test trial, so I was a total newbie. I felt so out of my element, it was unreal. Barkley helped with a lot but I was just a mess. I felt like the idiot outcast. Luckily nobody said anything (at least, that I know of).
We went to bed pretty early that night and I was hoping that I would fall right asleep because I was sore and tired and pretty sure a toenail was on its way off.
Well I didn’t.
No, I tossed and turned and had a mind full of restless thoughts. So for hours, I lay with the following thoughts rolling in my mind:
I’m not proud of this, but I promised to be real with you all…
Luckily they all responded and encouraged me. I will forever be grateful. And as pitiful as I may sound, I am a little proud because I don’t feel as if I really considered giving up. I say this because before I left, Josh gave me a small envelope and told me to never open it unless I was prepared to quit (he’s seriously the best), and it still remains unopened. So finally, after fits of tossing and turning, I fell asleep.
Things got better…
From the moment I woke up on that second day, things have been better. I’ve been blessed in so many ways. First and foremost would be concerning my health: I’ve had minimal injuries. A few small blisters on my heels that aren’t bad at all, two pesky toenails that should probably fall off any day now, and what I believe are corns are forming on the outside of my big toe. Unfortunately Barkley cannot say the same. Her feet have been plagued with terrible blisters. She’s been an amazing trooper through it all and hasn’t complained nearly as much as I would have. We have also been blessed with decent weather. Most of our days have been a comfortable temperature and little or no rain. When it does rain, it seems to happen during the night and we never have any rain while we are putting up a tent in the mornings. I know this won’t last, but I appreciate it while I have it.
For my friends who don’t know, trail magic is basically acts of kindness bestowed upon hikers. You can find it anywhere from behind a tree, in a shelter, or at a road crossing. Once again, we have been blessed. So far we have encountered four different trail magic blessings. They have been from church groups and Boy Scouts and have provided us with meals, snacks, coffee, water, medical supplies, and even a chance to clip my toenails (odd as it sounds, I greatly appreciated that). Trail magic is so interesting because it is something that most of the hikers would never take in their normal lives. The majority of the hikers I have seen are strong people. They aren’t the people that would normally be taking charitable acts. But that’s what’s so special about the trail. It breaks everybody down, even the most strong, and it makes everybody see that they need some help at some point. And those who help are so selfless and wonderful. I can’t believe I’ve already seen such wonderful things in so few days. Who knows what else will come up?
My Trail Name
My facebook friends should know by now that my trail name is Queen Bee. It happened on our fourth day when we approached and conquered Blood Mountain. As we sat at the top, enjoyed the view and ate our lunch, about 5-6 bumblebees flew all around me. I’m not a jumper and squealer when it comes to bees, but I certainly don’t like them all up in my business. I tried to figure out why they were so attracted to me, or what I was doing, but nothing made sense. They didn’t seem to be bothering anyone else either. Then it was mentioned that I was possibly their queen, the term Queen Bee came about and stuck. What’s so funny about this name is that it is literally the opposite of how I feel about myself right now on the trail. You think of someone named Queen Bee and you think of someone sassy, in control, and aware of what is going on. Yeah, I’m plenty sassy alright, but I am totally clueless and in control of very little. Hopefully I’ll be able to fit into the title as the days go on. Barkley has gotten her trail name as well. Most of the time a trail name comes from a certain quality about you, something you do, or even a funny story. For example, I met an awesome girl named Cookie because as they climbed a difficult portion of the trail she kept telling them all she would give them a cookie if they finished. Well for Barkley, her most stand-out characteristic has been her poor feet. I think most people can sympathize with not wanting to be called something like “Blister,” or “Tumor Toe” or any other name that could remind you of that painful and unfortunate experience. But today, another thru-hiker named Hazmat called her BB, short for Blister Babe. I suppose that if you have to be called something about a blister, that’s pretty much the best way to go about it. She may have mega blisters, but don’t forget she’s a babe too.
The Amazing People
As you would have imagined, I have met a lot of new people. Just like in normal life, some people you meet are strange, pretentious, or maybe even a little irritating.
However, also like in normal life, those people fade away once you meet incredible souls who are the coolest! I have met some truly unique individuals and have learned so much. Starting from the very first hiker we met on the trail, a 50-some year old man who calls himself Enigma, to Cookie and Wookie, the unlikely duo who had BB and I in stitches last night. I could list names (Shelby, Hazmat, Matt, Kasey…) but in no way could my words communicate some of the seriously cool people I have met. The best part is that we have only met 7 days worth of people. What will happen in the next 6 months?
So What Have We Learned?
So far I’ve figured out a lot of different things about myself. The first and biggest slap of reality that I discovered is that cleanliness is a big deal to me. I’m not necessarily a girly-girl germaphobe, but I do NOT like to be dirty. My morale boosters will be showers for sure.
I’ve reaffirmed that my amazing and beautiful boots are my best friend. They are big and clunky, but no matter how many thru hikers past or present question me, I’ll always defend their awesomeness. If I were a Greaser, I’d describe them to you as “tuff.” I feel as if I could do anything in those boots. They have saved me several times from breaking an ankle and for that, I’ll always love them.
I’ve relearned the very obvious truth that God’s creation is BEAUTIFUL. I can’t tell you enough how many lovely sights I am seeing all the time. Each day I am reminded that this world is so much more than me. I’m so blessed to be able to explore it.
I’ve seen the most beautiful giving from strangers. I have mentioned trail magic, but I have failed to accurately describe just how beautiful their service is. BB’s horrid feet? Remember those? I have watched 3 total strangers, one being a trail angel and two being fellow thru hikers wash and tend to her poor feet, demonstrating such a Christ-like attitude that one simply doesn’t see every day. Human kindness is demonstrated everyday because in the trail, we all suffer, rejoice, and interact as a family. You soon learn to become pretty selfless out here on the trail because that is the norm.
Last, but not least, I’ve also learned that I’m pretty tough. I was embarrassingly close to throwing in the towel the first night. From that moment on, each day has been a building block. I grow from my mistakes both in my steps and my silly gear choices (how was I supposed to know I had the heaviest rope in the world?). Now, as each day goes and I get stronger, I feel closer to believing that I can reach Mt. Katahdin and love every mile. Can’t wait to get there.
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Looking forward to following your journey! Much props to you! And yes, God’s creation is awesome!!
I enjoyed reading your blog entry, but I am immediately struck with the irony that you are an English teacher who hates grammar “know-it-alls”. Aren’t you dedicated to producing a new generation of grammar “know-it-alls”?