Five Days Gone
I’m sitting at a desk in the Hostel of Neel Gap, at the end of another long day of hiking along The Appalachian Trail. It’s a cozy and crowded little cabin, filled with bunk beds, a shower, a washing machine and dryer, board games, and even a TV with a plethora of VHS options to choose from. These are luxuries you don’t take for granted after struggling to fall asleep at night in your tent. It’s day five, and I’m still coming to terms with leaving everything I love at home to be out here, backpacking through the wilderness.
The hiking is tough. I’m carrying a 55 pound pack, and I cherish every moment I get to take it off to fill up on water or food. For reference, the average pack is about 30 to 35 pounds, and I even met a guy who is carrying a 19 pound pack. How the hell is mine so heavy? I thought upon weighing it for the first time. I’m carrying some accessories, like a tablet for blogging and some stimulating reading material, but many other items feel essential; food, clothes, a med kit, toothbrush. I’m considering doing a “shakedown” here at Neel gap, where the employees at the resupply shop next door will search every corner of my pack for items I could do without.
I procured the trail name “Romeo” given to me by my hiking partner Rich, who goes by “Muffin Man” along the trail. He found it fitting for me, noticing how much time I spend trying to contact my girlfriend from the mountains, an effort that is usually taken in vain due to the spotty reception T Mobile provides. I can’t help but hopelessly miss her, constantly wondering how she’s doing and how well she’ll get along without me for the next 6 months. With every mountain top view I witness in solace, I wish she were here to experience it with me. And when I’m tossing and turning in my sleeping bag at night, I think of how much nicer I’d feel cuddled up next to her in a comfy bed with pillows and stuffed animals.
Even though hiking from mountain top to mountain top with a 55 pound pack is laboriously difficult, especially with one blister for every toe and heel I call mine, it doesn’t compare to the restless nights in my tent. I find myself shivering as I hear gusts of wind blowing against me. I’m constantly changing positions in feeble attempts to get comfortable, missing her arms around me as I cling to my sleeping bag for warmth. I go through several cycles of nightmares, waking up at least several times a night, sometimes even to the sound of my own farts. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. In retrospect, I’m laughing.
The mornings are difficult as well, knowing they’re marked with a list of chores like taking apart my tent and packing up everything I unpacked the night before. It wouldn’t be as bad if it wasn’t so damn cold. Experiencing the elements are a part of living out here, and Mother Nature doesn’t care if your teeth are chattering when you wake up.
I had many romantic notions about walking the trail, like waking up to watch the sun rise and getting lost in a spiritually fulfilling landscape view. But many of those romantic notions started disappearing once I found myself digging a dirt hole just to take a shit in it. Though my back hurts and my feet are ripe with blisters, but I will press on. No matter what physical or mental turmoil this cold wilderness throws my way, I will conquer it and continue walking north. This long and arduous journey has just begun.
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