Every Kind of Cold
It’s hard to remember what I considered ‘cold’ before starting this hike.
I remember regular cryotherapy sessions, cold plunges, and the occasional cold front that warranted checking porch steps for ice, and turning on the seat warmers on my way to work. Aside from that, Texas has kept us pretty toasty over the years.
The Appalachian Trail has redefined ‘cold’ for me.
There’s the kind of cold when days of persisting rain soaks your gear down to the skin and has you waking up each morning to put on clothes that are just as wet and twice as cold as the day before. There’s the kind of cold when your hands are too numb, waterlogged, and colorless to use your trekking poles or fasten your pack. There’s the kind of cold you feel in your feet when hiking through miles of trail that have turned into ankle deep streams and swamps. There’s the kind of cold while hiking through snowdrifts past your knees in shorts and trail runners. There’s a kind of cold from climbing over some of the highest balds that Virginia has to offer while completely exposed to winds that took our feet out from under us and skimmed our skin with razor-blade rain. There’s the kind of cold when snow starts to drift into the shelter while everyone sleeps, slowly wetting out your down quilt. There’s the kind of cold when you realize that your sleeping pad has a slow leak on a subfreezing night. There’s the kind of cold that a blizzard brings throughout a 3,000-foot descent over steep, ice-covered roots and rocks. There’s the kind of cold when hiking in a hailstorm over the Smokies’ highest ridges with seven miles to the next shelter. There’s the kind of cold you feel in your soul when dropping your last peanut-butter-dipped Snickers bar into a pile of dirt and leaves. Then there’s the coughing and fever-filled chest cold that you get from toggling between all the previously listed kinds of cold for weeks on end.
Learning to live with all of these different kinds of cold has also taught us a great deal about warmth. A majority of which comes from the people who are enduring all of the same colds.
There’s the kind of warmth when seeing the sun and blue skies for the first time in days and laying yourself and your gear out to dry. There’s the kind of warmth when everyone is still wrapped in their sleeping bags, sipping coffee from camp cups, and watching snow fall from within a shelter. There’s the kind of warmth when all are standing around a campfire each night, ultimately laughing at all of the obstacles we went through that day. There’s the kind of warmth when your family back home sends you an emergency pair of shoes after days of walking around with your big toe popping out of the side of your trail runners, or a month’s worth of your favorite protein and mushroom supplements. There’s the kind of warmth when you cross paths with trail angels like Quiet Paul or Brother Tom, who give you a homemade breakfast and a cup of noninstant coffee. There’s the kind of warmth when connecting with the locals in town who offer you rides, meals, and even hugs (despite how bad you smell). There’s the kind of warmth when, after four straight days of rain, you’re all hiding in the shelter, making hot chocolate, burning incense, singing and dancing to CCR, and looking out into the sheets of rain saying to each other, “It’s cool. It’s going to be a good day.” There’s the kind of warmth when you remember that you can wipe the dirty peanut butter off your Snickers and put on a new, even bigger coat of peanut butter before eating it. There’s the kind of warmth you feel when, after getting sick, every other hiker offers you the medicines, teas, and cough drops that helped them when they caught a cold.
But now it’s early May, we’ve made it to southern Virginia, and spring is starting to take its hold on the mountain range. Slowly but surely, the shivers are being replaced by sweat, our warmer layers are being shed to receive the first sunburns of the season, and campfires are being made to keep the bugs at bay, rather than to regain the feeling of our hands and feet. Recently, each day has brought a new type of flower to smell, a new birdsong to hear, and a new bug to be bitten by. Soon, we’ll be winding our way through the newly grown green tunnels we’ve all been dreaming about for the past two months, with the weight of our winter gear off our backs, and the excitement of seeing the trail in this new light.
Until next time,
Beamer and Nugget
This website contains affiliate links, which means The Trek may receive a percentage of any product or service you purchase using the links in the articles or advertisements. The buyer pays the same price as they would otherwise, and your purchase helps to support The Trek's ongoing goal to serve you quality backpacking advice and information. Thanks for your support!
To learn more, please visit the About This Site page.