Back and Better Than Before
It’s been almost a week that I’ve been back on the trail. Life is golden, wondrous, and so aromatic underneath the tall pines of Pine Grove Furnace State Park. This park sits next to the halfway mark of the Appalachian Trail. Who knows how long ago, some bozo thought it would be fun to instate a Half Gallon Challenge, where weary hikers attempt to consume a half gallon of ice cream to celebrate their mileage. Of course I had to participate. The first quart and a half was pleasant… But the final push was nauseatingly miserable. I had to walk laps in order to get the final pint down.
After the monstrous half gallon challenge yesterday, the best option was to forget about hiking and lay out in the sun all day today. So I’m kicking my feet up at the lake, sprawled out on a hammock tarp, and using my sleeping bag liner as a towel. Excuse me while I itch a bug bite on my leg.
My knee is holding up pretty well since being back on the trail. I felt pretty anxious with having to use it so delicately during the first few days. I’ve been taking things slow, listening to my body, and stretching. The top of my knee aches during the beginning of the day and especially during steep descents, but I break when I need to.
Maryland only runs about 40 miles of the Appalachian Trail. A lot of the trail is so well maintained that it’s wide enough to hike right next to someone, although the natural inclination to put yourself in a line eventually wins. The trail feels soft and springy with pine needles underneath you. For the most part, it’s relatively flat. It’s also so “well maintained” that there are literally no spots for stealth camping. You have to go back to planning your days by shelters or designated campsites.
But then, out of nowhere, you get your first taste of rocks. It technically is not too bad, but by this time you’ve been cruising at speeds and graces that would make Bruce Lee proud. I think it’s the change of pace that make hikers so impatient around this area, not the rocks.
So far, the worst are the small rocks that defiantly stick out from the trail. They are small, but there are so many of them that you are forced to walk on top of the rocks and their pointy edges, instead of having the room to walk around them. My feet have already swelled significantly, but thankfully no blisters.
I’ve been in Pennsylvania for only a few days. So far it’s boasted smooth and sweet sections of the trail, and there’s finally stealth camping again, but it’s also the first time I ever lost the trail. There was a rock scramble where instead of stepping over or on top of the rocks, you had to climb over them. It was probably ten minutes of climbing before I saw another white blaze. I hear these are good practice runs, and the real rock scrambles start tomorrow and last forever, all the way to Katahdin.
All the way to New Jersey.
It feels so good to be out here again. I have a fresh pair of eyes to appreciate the things that become the norm on the trail. I know that I’ll finish, so I don’t feel rushed for time. I still like setting goals and pushing myself for big miles, but it’s different. I’m enjoying everything, and soaking it up with a joyful urgency. I like the feeling pushing my body as fast as a constant breath (okay, panting) will permit. I like focusing on my steps and being in a constant flow. I like having all the time I need to think about things, and if I’ve thought and thought and the idea comes to a standstill, I can easily put it on hold until the next time I’m panting up a mountain. I like breathing in fresh oxygen at all times, to fill my days with gorgeous views and simple living. To work my body hard all day, so that by every night I can fall asleep within minutes on the floor. It’s a beautifully honest good life, and I have the greatest gift… to live it.
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