Change of Scenery
Nothing Gold Can Stay
Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.
Robert Frost, 1874 – 1963
There are so many cliches about Spring, and they are all clamoring on my lips. We have been walking through winter woods since we began hiking the trail but this week Spring has begun. It has dramatically changed our hike and I would like to share with you how.
Spring is a special time of year; it always brings thoughts of renewal to mind. Probably from the many myths that have risen over the eons in our society, from Persephone returning from the Underworld, to the Resurrection, to Spring cleaning. There are tons of stories that associate the Spring with fresh starts and new beginnings, and for very obvious reasons. It’s not exactly a novel idea to associate Spring with these themes. I read once that this topic that has been so overdone that there is no way someone could add anything novel to the notion of spring awakening. Walking through the beginning of Spring though, with the leaf buds just appearing on the trees and the forest floor breaking into bloom, I can’t help but add my two cents about how this Spring is evoking ideas of renewal and of being refreshed.
We began hiking during the winter, amidst bare trees and without any green other than an occasional conifer. We actually really loved starting at the time we did. Hiking in winter has been amazing for many reasons; the bare trees offered a phenomenal view every day, the chill allowed for great hiking without profuse sweating, and we enjoyed some absolutely beautiful snowy days. However that is changing and I have to say I am excited for it. Some of the ways the seasonal changes have affected our hike is through our perception of the woods, the heat, and our equipment.
It began with a smell and a feeling. Before any physical signs of Spring could be seen a warmer breeze began to glide up the mountain that held a tantalizing breath of new life. Earthy and pungent, there isn’t anything else like it when you have been walking through an odorless forest for weeks. I’ve always loved the smell of Spring and have never found the right words to describe it. It must come with a sun that offers more warmth than the winter is normally wont to hold. There is no thaw that happens this far south but you can tell that things in the earth are beginning to move. Roots twitch and things begin to wake up. The smell of Spring always puts a smile on my face with the anticipation of longer days and the new growth that will come.
Hopefully not all growth is external, what I see in nature. Spring is also a time of reflection and action for me. I generally feel pretty lazy in the winter. The cold makes me want to curl up with a book or Netflix and do very little else. Once the smell starts wafting in the air though, I start thinking about projects I want to work on and how I want to better myself. On this hike, that feeling is still there. In truth, it’s pretty amplified. While I would love to say I am fully present to the wonders of nature around me all day long, that would be a lie. There are long stretches of the day where my eyes are rooted on the path ahead of me and my mind is somewhere in La La Land. I have lots of time to think while walking.
This hike feels like a whole new beginning now that the season is changing. When we started, the woods were bare. The woodland floor was a carpet of fallen leaves and there were only tree trunks to obscure the view. It was a really wonderful way to begin because it allowed us to see out from the trail and gain a certain perspective. You always knew you were walking on mountain tops. Also, starting with barrenness has made the transition all the more dramatic. The first hints of spring began on the forest floor with little violets and daffodils offering splashes of color to the browns and grays. Even with this hint of Spring, it seemed like nothing could completely cover the debris of the last autumn.
However, in just the few days that I have been writing this blog entry, we have entered a different forest than the one we started in. There is a sea of ferns and flowers carpeting the woods and the trees have a flush of new leaves on them. Still a golden green, fresh and new. It puts a whole new light on the hike really. Makes everything seem exciting and novel. We have now reached 800 miles, officially hiking further than we ever have before. We are beyond the honeymoon phase (maybe, but still in love with this whole adventure) with the trail. However we both feel we have reached a stage where the routine of getting up and hiking is part of the natural rhythm of a good day. The Spring makes it all the more interesting with sights, smells and critters.
Yet with the warmer weather there are also some things that make hiking more difficult. The heat, for one, has been something we have had to adjust to. Hiking in 40 and 50 degrees you can hike comfortably all day and break a light sweat on an up-hill climb. Very comfortable. Lately with the temperatures rising into the 70s and higher I am sweating from the moment I put on my backpack. I generally am a sweater so it’s probably not surprising that I am drowning but Sean has also had to adjust to it.
The main issue with this is not the mildly uncomfortable experience of sweating profusely, but dehydration. We have to make sure we are getting more water than we are used to. We usually each carry about a liter and a half but with the heat we have filled up a platypus (which gives us up to 3 extra liters) for stretches when there is no water. So far we have been pretty good. We ran out of water once on a ridge line and the last hour up there felt very dry. However, that was probably more mental than anything else. The moment you are out of water is when you become the thirstiest.
Another issue is hot feet! We have been in thick wool socks since the beginning and in our leather hiking boots, our feet were dying. Both Sean and I prefer hiking boots, rather than the alternative of trail runners, for the support and sturdiness they offer. Every time a butterfly or anything that catches my eye comes across the trail I am watching it rather than my feet and then trip over rocks, roots and my own feet. If I wasn’t in boots I think I would be broken by now. We haven’t had any bad blisters or sore feet since the beginning but all of a sudden our feet have felt raw and abused. They were getting wet in our socks and rubbing raw in our boots because of sweat and swelling. Also, boots and trail runners are only built to last around 600 miles. So, as we are over that, our boots need some attention.
Luckily this is easily solved. Sock liners and summer socks have helped immensely. The sock liners keep our feet dryer and the lighter socks keep them from overheating. Both Sean and I purchased new insoles and Sean has new boots coming in to Waynesboro. Sean is better at letting his feet air out at lunch which also helps a bunch. The new additions have made a world of difference and our feet are feeling great once again.
This last week has been an exciting one with Spring coming out. Walking through this seasonal transition has been one of the most amazing parts of the hike. It really encourages your mind as well as your body to adjust to this new vibrant world that we are a part of. There are some new trials but nothing we can’t manage and it is so worth it seeing everything turn green. The mass that has grown so quickly from bare trees and the ground is awe inspiring. It has dramatically altered the hike and I imagine it is just going to get better as the hike continues. So we shall hike on into warmer days for summer feels right around the corner.
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