Embrace the Rain? Embrace the Suck? Nah, Take a Zero.
“Perseverance is the hard work you do after you get tired of doing the hard work you already did.” – Newt Gingrich (yup, I’m quoting Newt Gingrich)
I don’t really know much about the people who read our blog. I have heard from some of you. Some are following because you dream of hiking the trail. Some are our age and admire Ray’s determination and, perhaps, envy this opportunity. Others appreciate the viewpoint from the partner at home. I suspect that most read this and other AT blogs to hear about the exciting, fun stories from the trail. Well, this isn’t going to be one of those entries because shit just got real.
How’s your week going?
When we last wrote, I was about to drop Ray off at the trailhead in Bland, Va. That was over one week ago. Since that time, OneFoot has been dry for, oh, about one hour total. Someone pissed off the weather gods and it rained (and rained, and rained) for days. Throughout these days, OneFoot kept up the miles. The hiker smell was replaced by the stench of mold. Grrrrr…. sexy. Nothing was drying out in that weather.
OneFoot’s two feet? He needs new feet!
In the past seven days, OneFoot reports that he had (maybe) half of one enjoyable day in total. The rain, the wet ground, and trouble with footwear have led to some real painful issues with his feet. Blisters have appeared after having virtually no trouble for the first 650 miles. Wet feet in snug shoes means swelling and painful toes and soles. He limped into Four Pines Hostel feeling like he had been walking on glass. OK, judgers, go ahead and judge. We know there were a lot of mistakes made along this stretch of the AT but lessons have been learned. After a few hours at Four Pines, things improved both physically and mentally. Fellow hikers at the hostel set him up with a cooler full of ice and Epsom salts to soak those aching feet. The resupply I sent finally arrived, though later than expected. Caring for his feet along with vodka nips and homemade chocolate chip cookies I sent seemed to work wonders.
Oops, I did it again.
We said we wouldn’t do it again but we did. We set a date to meet in Harpers Ferry, the halfway point of the AT. We decided on Father’s Day weekend for this rendezvous. Our children and Ray’s mom will join me as we celebrate this milestone. It seemed a quite reasonable timeline with no added pressure on Ray. Easy for me to say, right? There is a fine line between needing to plan for transportation and accommodations and respecting the freedom from schedules that we had hoped for when OneFoot set out on this trek. Here he was, again, feeling the pressure of having to be at a certain spot on a certain day. None of us – not me, nor my kids, nor my mother-in-law – care if he makes to Harpers Ferry by June 16. We’ll drive anywhere to see him. But the date has been set and it’s in his mind now. Please mark my words here. I will not plan another rendezvous that dictates his time or mileage.
Advice from those who have walked the walk.
During OneFoot’s zero day he reached out to friends who are familiar with this journey. Sam I Am, though never having experienced a similar foot pain situation, was reassuring and again urged OneFoot to take it slow. M80, Trooper, and their dog, Willow, collectively known at Team Fortis, are triple crowners so they know a thing or two about backpacking in all climates and with assorted injuries. M80 reminded OneFoot that he and Trooper took 43 zero days on their AT adventure. Forty-three! That gave OneFoot perspective and a newfound resolve to go with the flow, take it slow, and enjoy some downtime when he feels like it. From his journal: “It’s so funny. Everyone here took a bunch of days off for the rain so they are ready to get back on trail. My dumb ass hiked through it all.” As I write this, he is hiking his way toward an outfitter in Daleville, Va., where he hopes to get some professional advice on footwear. It’s not uncommon for a long-distance backpacker to experience an increase in shoe size, sometimes even several sizes. We both suspect that his shoes, in combination with the constant wet conditions, have contributed to these painful miles.
So you want to hike the Appalachian Trail?
Oh sure, I’ll admit that I had pre-hike visions of OneFoot skipping up the perfectly level trail with sunshine overhead for a good part of this 2,200-mile journey. Though we knew injuries would come into play over the course of this trek, you really don’t know until you do know. Shin splints, painful and swollen feet, and blisters aren’t conditions that can be ignored. We are dealing with them as best we can. Many, including myself, have said, “You’re living your dream, OneFoot!” True. However, there is the reality of trail life that comes with living this particular dream. Perhaps this is where the myth of the Virginia Blues comes from. He has 700 miles down but 1,500 to go and the recent miles haven’t been easy. That thought can be a bit overwhelming. Don’t get us wrong. He is exactly where he wants to be and not once has his heart thought of leaving of the trail. Thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail is a combination of good days, bad days and lessons learned. When those three things go unbalanced for an extended period of time, life out there can seem anything but dreamy.
How can I fix this?
That’s my first thought whenever I hear from OneFoot that things aren’t going as planned. That statement, in itself, is kinda funny – “going as planned.” That speaks volumes about my personality. My name is Cheryl and I am a fixer. OneFoot’s tough day on the trail equals my tough day at home. We talked about this during his recent zero day. He says it’s bothersome to him that he uses me as his sounding board and that he doesn’t mean to be down. Here’s the reality. I wouldn’t have it any other way. We’re partners on the trail and off. The truth of trail life is that not every day is going to be a top ten day. There will be bad days, and just as it is as home, we need to share those times. I’m learning, albeit slowly, that I can listen, reassure, and support without having to fix things. Turns out the trail itself has far more power over this experience than I do. Who knew?
People actually hike the AT more than once?
Yes, they do. I’m increasingly becoming convinced that they do this because it takes all 2.200 miles the first time just to learn what the heck you’re doing.
“With the new day comes new strength and new thoughts” – Eleanor Roosevelt
Here’s to new days, new strength, and new thoughts. And sunshine, lots of sunshine.
Until the next white blaze,
OneFoot and Should be Good
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Should Be Good,
It is my belief that there needs to be more posts like this one from the community at large. Everyone has their own thresholds for “Embrace the Rain? Embrace the Suck? Nah, Take a Zero.” Thus far my personal history with backpacking is more in line with yours. I’ve done plenty of 3 day and the occasional 4 day trips. I would like to do a thru-hike for many of the same reasons OneFoot is (dissatisfying career). I’ve been “armchair” planning for YEARS, starting seriously a couple of years ago. Like OneFoot I have equipment that I’ve been refining for years as well. But before I commit to a thru-hike, I want to do a week long hike in the suckiest of weather. 104° in the sun, sideways rain, snow, etc. all in the same week if I had my way, At the end of a full week of that, if the romance of the trail is still calling, I just might be able to complete a thru-hike.
A coworker recently expressed interest in doing a thru-hike someday oneday. That was enough to get me back on the bandwagon of reading blogs here (I’ve been lurking since at least 2015). I told him this past week was the “perfect” time for hiking. The week (in Maryland) started out cold, rained for 8 days straight, then went hot and humid. A stomach bug with no privies around, soggy T.P. in hand, and nothing dry left to wear would be a plus. Kinda regret, for your sake, saying that now. Hopefully it’s just the feet and they are on the mend. But to the point of my comment, please do a blog of the roughest of times, what you tried to do about it (what worked/didn’t work). Yes, bears and thru-hikers both $hit in the woods only the bear doesn’t have to worry about trying to keep the T.P. dry. How is that done? How do you cook if between shelters in the rain? Can feet be waterproofed using grocery bags? Etc. A practical how-to on the dark side of hiking.