Being Where I Am – Wherever That May Be
“How will you go about finding that thing the nature of which is unknown to you?”
Asheville was so excellent. Being in Chili Dog’s (Paul’s) house was more relaxing than I expected it to be. There’s something so calming about being in a home environment (complete with pets) that is so much more restful than a loud, vaguely dirty hostel. We ate our way around town and even though we all professed to wanting vegetables, we ate nothing of the sort. Chili Dog even cooked two fantastic meals for us, which was a treat, as he is a trained chef. I left Asheville on Monday feeling like I wish I could have stayed longer and seen more. And I was anxious about what the next three days of hiking to Hot Springs would bring for my foot. I’ve always loved leaving a place with the desire to return and experience more, and I’d get to come back to Asheville sooner than I’d like.
I’ve never spent time in the mountains of North Carolina and Tennessee and every day I have been more and more amazed at their beauty. I’m so happy we are hiking here before the trees leaf out, because the views are endless and amazing. On Tuesday, we walked across Max Patch on a clear and relatively warm day. It took my breath away. Chili, Sherlock, and I stopped and found a place that was sheltered from the wind to sit and eat lunch. I could have stayed all day, and as I watched other hikers breeze past us like this was just another boring section of the trail, I started thinking about my hike.
What about my experience on the AT is important to me? Is it merely getting to where I’m going (Katahdin, hopefully) or is it about being where I am while I’m there? At lunch that day I reaffirmed a decision I had made when I was thinking of the reasons I wanted to hike and the things I hoped to get out of the journey – it’s about being where I am. I’ll get to Maine. All I have to do is put one foot in front of the other. Spending an hour or a day on Max Patch or any other place I feel compelled to experience isn’t going to stop that. I thought about this a lot that day, that night, the next day, and I’m still thinking about it now as I’m heading home to Oklahoma.
No Magic Cure
My foot didn’t magically start feeling better. Honestly, I didn’t expect it to, but I promised myself that I would at least walk to Hot Springs to see if there was any improvement. On the first day, it was pretty good. I woke up with some pain on the second day. We hiked a longer day that day and my whole body was feeling great, except for my foot. So I decided to be responsible about it and started putting a plan in motion to get from Hot Springs to Tulsa, where I could see a podiatrist (who just happens to be my best friend’s sister). I’m going to get an exam, take the time to strengthen and heal the problem, meet up with the guys wherever they are and finish the hike to Maine with them. I’ll come back and do the section I skipped after that or some other time.
It took awhile for me to get to a place of acceptance. I started feeling the pain on our first day in the Smokies, so that’s nine days and over 100 miles of walking/resting/icing/rehabbing/hoping. I went through all of the feelings – from sitting in a puddle in the middle of the trail during a rainstorm crying my eyes out, to being excited about all the things I could do if I just completely quit the trail entirely, and everything in between. I kept circling back to being where I am and being true to myself. Basically, HYOH (hike your own hike – remember that?). I met a guy in Franklin who had an Achilles tendon the size of a golf ball. He was “just resting it” until it got better. He’s probably been haunting my dreams and is most likely the reason I wake up every hour after 1 a.m. in my tent, and I’ve just been willfully forgetting that detail. But I certainly don’t want things to get to that point, because I’d like to be able to walk when I finish this journey.
From Plan To Reality
I was surprised that I found it so hard to tell the guys I’m hiking with. We are slowly forming a little family, and it hurt to think about leaving them. I was ashamed to admit this weakness and disappointed in myself that despite taking so much care to travel light, slow, and short at the beginning, this was still happening. But they were supportive and understanding, and we spent the next day eating and drinking in Hot Springs as if nothing had changed. I said goodbye to them in the afternoon and shed a few tears as I watched them walk away, because it was suddenly real.
The next day, a musician friend of mine from New York City who was visiting family in Asheville picked me up and drove me to my hotel (thanks, Ann). I walked to the mall and bought some non-hiker clothes, ate all of the kale at a Whole Foods salad bar, and got my face shaved. It’s only been just over three weeks, but all of this feels weird. Living in the woods, a part of you is always wanting hot food, running water, and flushing toilets. But tooling around Asheville, all I wanted was my wet tent, my trowel, and a pasta side that desperately needs salt.
Finding a New Purpose
I’ve been feeling a lack of purpose these last few days. If I’m not walking and I’m not working, then what am I doing? A friend told me that my purpose now is to heal so that I can get back to walking. So that’s what I’m doing. I’ll get to spend time with my family. It looks like I’ll get to do some fun stuff while I’m off trail, and I’m going to keep trying to Be there (capital “B”) like I have been when I’ve been in the woods. I’m optimistic but not naive, so I’m hoping it will only be a few weeks. But we’ll see.
I just finished reading a book called “A Field Guide To Getting Lost,” by Rebecca Solnit, that another Trek blogger, Amanda Johnson, turned me onto. This resonated with me today:
“Maybe if I really paid attention to my life I’d notice that I don’t know what’s going to happen this afternoon and I can’t be fully confident that I’m competent to deal with it. . . . It’s okay to realize that life has a mysterious quality to it, it has an element of uncertainty, it’s okay to realize that we do need help, that calling out for help is a very generous act because it allows others to help us and it allows us to be helped. Sometimes we’re calling out for help. Sometimes we’re offering help, and then this hostile world becomes a very different place.”
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