Finding My Rhythm, Aligning with the Rhythms of Nature
Rain and grey dominated the drive from NY to GA. Moments of blue and light peeked through, then rain again.
During my shift at the wheel I fine tuned the windshield wipers, looked for the sweet spot on the intermittent setting with no dry scrapes or droplet clouded vision. It required frequent adjusting as we chased the line of storms and they chased us.
We arrived at Amicalola Falls to clearing skies and warming temperatures.
I chose to include the Approach Trail in my hike. My section hiker friends Janet and Brian joined me.
Our hiking friend Peter who thru hiked in 2018 as lightisgreen shuttled packs in the car and met us at the official Springer start.
It was a welcome gift not to have my full pack for the stairs and the Falls.
We hiked, had the packs shuttled, and camped near the car for several days. I had read advisements not to camp near parking lots but felt safe with my friends there. We had no issues.
My friends’ departure loomed. I focused on being grateful for an easeful weather transition into my hike.
The earth was damp from the previous days rain, the earthy scent magnified. Spring wildflowers and ferns were beginning to unfurl along the trail. We carefully stepped over an abundance of snails, earthworms, and beetles as they performed their earth work across the trail. I was newly mesmerized by familiar millipedes with long rows of orangey yellow legs the colors of earth excavation equipment.
It surprised me how good my body felt as we settled into our hiking routine. None of my usual cranky areas bothered me. I talked to my body and hyped up the trip. “Left knee, let’s make it to Maine, this is going to be so great. Let’s stay strong so we can stay on the trail.”
The hiking part was not an issue. The rhythm of these hills felt familiar from biking and hiking near here as a child and young adult.
I felt the cooler and warmer sides of the hills as we traversed. I remembered that wind often calms at dawn, but not always. Gear gets wet, then dries quickly.
The first several days when I entered a privy my whole being said, “No.” Then one morning as I neared a shelter with privy close to the trail my body said, “Yes.” Breakthrough day.
One concern before starting was my energy level. I have Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and other associated autoimmune deficits. I sometimes experience crushing fatigue. I have tumors in my plantar fascia and finger joints. I have to be careful about what I eat but also what I can eat isn’t consistent. What I hoped would happen seemed to be happening. I was feeling better and better with increasing energy.
My biggest concern was how to make the transition to being without my friends. How to find a camping spot on my own and figure out where to resupply. We had the car stocked with extra food and the potential for a ride into town at a moment’s notice. We had been timing motel and hostel stays with the weather.
My concern rose and reached a crescendo as we hit mile 30 and Neel Gap, Mountain Crossings outfitters.
My clothes felt good, my trail runners felt good. No chafing or blisters. My tent, sleeping quilt, and pad were working out well. Because we had the car I was able to gradually add weight to my pack, slowly build up to full pack weight.
Although I’d tried on a multitude of packs and watched countless videos, my pack did not feel right. I was reluctant to ask for help. Mountain Crossings as a standard offers a pack shakedown where they go through everything in your pack and advise you what to keep and leave behind. I sat off to the side and watched one of the experts go through another hiker’s pack, load up a shoebox with items to send home, then take the shoebox to mail home.
I looked at the tree out front of Mountain Crossings with shoes tossed over the limbs. Some hikers get 30 miles in and decide the hike is not for them, toss their shoes over the limbs to mark the end of their journey.
I’d started to have inner conversations with myself about whether to continue the journey. The prospect of finding food and shelter on my own felt too overwhelming. I started to justify going back with my friends and doing a section near PA, NJ, NY, CT where I had more friends to rescue me. I’d heard many stories about hardships in The Smokies. My friends were coming back to do The Smokies in the summer. Maybe I would come back with them.
My mind was on a wild ride with itself.
“You can do this! You’ve done this,” an inner voice encouraged.
“Get to safety! Protect yourself,” another thick thread of justification, an old thread, in my Mother’s voice.
I tracked the percentages of staying and going home. I was at about 5% staying. I would have a moment of pure confidence which was then washed away by a sea of doubts.
My friends were so encouraging. I didn’t have my full pack but they marched me back in to Mountain Crossings show my pack to the experts. Bill was very kind. Despite following a video demonstration, I was still not optimally adjusting my straps. After a few releases, pulls, and refinements my pack felt a little better.
My friends and I ended the day at Neel Gap and stayed the evening at a motel to avoid some rain overnight.
My inner dialogue continued. I kept mentioning to my friends that I might want to come home with them. They were lovingly dismissive.
We practiced saying the name of the town all the way back to the motel.
“Donalega,no! Dahlonega. Harmonica Dahlonega!” I don’t know why we thought harmonica was a helpful reminder, but it was.
I had a day left to decide.
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