Days 21-25: If I’m Still Thinking About You After 2200 Miles, I Will Simply Keep Walking

The climb back out of the NOC was rough, as anyone can tell you. That one’s definitely going on the arm. The next few days were incredible. Achilles and I did Jacob’s Ladder with Moss jetting ahead with fire in his toes. The next day, Moss left in the morning before we did to secure a spot at a hotel in Fontana. I’d had a gnarly rheumatoid arthritis flare-up the night before (which seems to always happen when rain is on the forecast for the next day), so we took the 8 hours in the rain super easy.
Moss’s text to us that morning in the rain
We spent a night in Fontana Village before spending two nights and a zero at the Fontana Hilton. I don’t know how else to describe it than an amazing day off where we partied with other thru hikers and got to know our new friends a little bit better. Shoutout to Stache, who’s an awesome guy that I feel super lucky to have deep and intellectually fulfilling conversations with — didn’t expect that and I’m very grateful for it.

But none of that is what I came to write about today.

I had tried writing an update the night before we left the shelter. Everything felt fake, forced, like the updates I was trying to be different from. After a while I stopped and decided that if I waited it would come to me, that the right article would feel natural and flow like blood. And then I had my first Hard Day.
I didn’t even know how bad it was about to get

It started with being vulnerable on main.

I wrote and shared two poems I wrote on my personal instagram — something I don’t normally do, but we’re here to outgrow anxieties and overcome fears, so screw it. Then came the rest. My bag was still wet. My power brick would not charge no matter what cord I tried or outlet I tried. I felt slow and sore and unsure if I could start off with a 12 mile day after a double zero. On top of it all, I felt like I had opened the floodgates on what I initially most wanted to process while out here. But I had friends, and friends worry and care in a way I didn’t expect to be balancing with my feelings. I immediately knew I was cranky and warned everyone. I wasn’t hungry enough for my autism to let me eat. I was sore. I had already given up on myself a bit. But off we went to the Smokies anyways.

It was the first day I cried since I got to Springer.

I cried breaking down camp. I cried at my little makeshift lunch at the entrance to the Smokies. I cried the whole way up to the shelter. Canary and Stillwater ran into us at the entrance where I cried thru lunch. They sat with me as I explained why: the turmoil that was my past year. How I deserved better treatment from the person who put me here. How abandoned I’d felt by my friends after a very serious and traumatic experience, especially for not being fun enough to be around. They held me and gave me love. There really is nothing as special as the family we’re building out here. We started up the mountain, Achilles in front and then Canary, Stillwater, Moss, and me as the caboose.

After a while, I took the opportunity to shoot ahead where it came.

I didn’t want to be a nightmare in front of my friends. I couldn’t stop crying. I was listening to a playlist I made after getting dumped that I had used at work on slow days to keep me bouncy behind the bar. I didn’t realize how deeply connected it was to the breakup until I heard it on the trail. I had decided before to stop at an earlier campsite with Canary and Stillwater to be safe with my body, but by the time I shout ahead I decided to punish myself for having feelings by powering through to where Achilles and Moss wanted to stay. By that point I was short tempered, angry, and depressed enough to refuse to properly care for myself. I was quiet and dissociative when Moss or Achilles would wait for or catch up with me — which I realize now was their way of showing up for me so that I wouldn’t have to be alone since I was such a mess.

Eventually, I held back just long enough to lose them both.

I hated myself. I was too slow in the morning, in too much pain, too weak to keep up with my friends. I was stupid for trying to hurt myself with miles. I was an idiot for being so sad over how I’d been treated. I’m not in enough pain to make my brain shut up, I thought to myself, I have to go harder. I stared off every ridge to see if it was steep enough to take me if I wanted it to. I kept my hood down in the hail and rain. I fantasized about about getting to camp, taking my knife, going to the highest point I could, looking off of it and reminding myself that I want to live even with all the means to do otherwise (a truly crazy practice that genuinely helps me reset at times).

Then I lost the blazes.

It felt like at least a mile where there wasn’t a blaze in sight. I have never been so scared as noticing this and then hearing thunder off in the distance. How far ahead did I let moss get? How far behind had I gotten? Idiot. Fool. You wanted to punish yourself, here you go. Stupid. I should have stopped at the campsite with the girls. I should have told my friends it was too much for me. You’re just always a burden. Hurting yourself to keep up. They’re gonna notice the same thing your friends back home did last year: You’re useless when you’re not fun. You’re worthless. You can’t do anything without being taken care of. Your ex-husband was right to mock your choice to come out here with a disability. He was right about everything. Your ex-boyfriend was right to leave you — he saw no more he could take from your happiness just like your friends did after he ruined your life so much that your light went out. Stupid pixie bitch.

I stepped wrong on everything.

I was sobbing loudly and sobbing hard. I was saying “Stop” out loud to get the spiral to end. 3.2 miles from the shelter was where I let Moss get ahead. As the rain came, I yelled his name in the hopes that I hadn’t done too well of a job isolating myself. No response came. I’m going to die in a thunderstorm above the tree line on a mountain. My phone was dead. My vape was dead. My wax pen was frozen. Every summit felt false as I kept waiting for the mountaintop that held my home for the night. The thoughts of self hatred became too overwhelming, and I forced myself to take a minute. I hadn’t hydrated for hours, and I refused to do so. I was determined to punish myself for my stupidity. But I did try and charge my phone with whatever was left on my bank to find out how far I was from camp. It was cold, and no matter how long I waited my phone wouldn’t power on, so I powered through. I stepped wrong on my ankle a few times — a normal occurrence for me in daily life but a terror out here. Everything felt inflamed. My hip bone was hurting so bad that I tightened my pack straps and put most of the weight on my shoulders. For what must have been at least a mile, the only thing that kept me going was saying, out loud, “It has to be soon,” over and over. A mantra to manifest the campsite. I was sure I would be grumpy, angry, a nuisance to my friends. I was thinking about how I was a one-man wolf pack and that I came out here to teach myself how better to cope with how none of the people in my life care for me the way I care for others — a thing I see as fair because no one is required to take care of me and I should be able to care for myself. A thing that hurts, always. It has to be soon. It has to be soon. It has to be soon. It has to be…

And then I saw him in the distance.

His taupe-ish rain jacket with the blue sweater. The yellow trekking poles. Achilles came back for me. After a day of not making eye contact, of shutting myself off to care from my friends, of being cold and distant and dissociative, I smiled for the first time since the morning. I have never been so happy to see a person in my life. He told me all our friends were asking about me and waiting for me, that I was a strong little warrior. When he got to me I just fell into him for a moment. Then he took my bag, and we made it to camp where he set up my tent as I took a minute and hit his vape. Moss came and hugged me tight and told me how strong I am, that I’m a badass. My friends were happy to see me. And I, to my surprise, was ecstatic to see them. I requested a hug from Stache immediately. I thought I’d be dead to the world upon entry to camp, but as soon as I saw Achilles, that all melted away. I accepted the joy instead of holding on to the pain. I made it! My friends care about me! Achilles came back to lend some extra support. Because I am worth it, because my friends support me the way I support them. I’m not a burden. I am loved. I felt like the opposite of Eurydice, but the song that comes to mind for this one: I’m coming, wait for me I hear the walls repeating The falling of our feet and it sounds like drumming And we are not alone I hear the rocks and stones Echo in our bones, I’m coming!

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Comments 4

  • Nature Boy : Apr 13th

    The REAL world, with you now immersed in it, THAT will heal you, with patience and a bit of fortitude. You and your new friends can keep the Spark going…
    See if your tramily might take a nero on-trail, to explore a bit more of the world around the trail, perhaps meet some of those who pass their entire lives out there (the flora and fauna – seek out the uilos and the elanor!) And fare northward to the Mountains of the Lune!

  • Bluewhale : Apr 14th

    You ARE a badass! We all need to get by with a little help from our friends. Thanks for the insights of one on the spectrum tackling the trail.

  • KatWoman : Apr 15th

    Bravo!!! Well done!!! I’m so proud of you!

  • Wiggily : Apr 15th

    Thank you so much for sharing. When I step into the trail, I hope I’m either as feeling as you in the post, or I’m Achilles coming back for someone who is. I thought about your post all day found my way to the song Comes.and Goes by Greg Laswell. It has both feeling in one song for me. Maybe you keep walking even if you aren’t thinking of them after 2200.


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