Flowers, Fabulous Flats and Friends
When I took on the AT challenge, I was focused on the hard parts. I worried about tough climbs, bad weather, sore feet, and being alone. The reality of the AT is beautiful spring flowers. Walking through brown woods on a rocky trail edged by Thymeleaf bluets. Encountering Bleeding Hearts growing in profusion next to an especially challenging steep. Finding a group of yellow Trillium after only seeing purple for the first 20 miles. Noticing a small cluster of Bloodroot next to a rock. And then there is that perfect white flower that grows alone that you don’t know the name of…yet.
The trail winds through tunnels of Rhododendron which tower far above the ones that grow in suburban backyards. It makes you feel Lilliputian. A carpet of Mayapple extends through the forest bringing green to the early spring landscape. Every so often you emerge onto a rocky outcropping and are forced to confront the enormity of the job ahead. Mountain folds into mountain, separated by the shadow of the gaps and connected by the trail and the scant line of hikers tenaciously making their way north.
The folks who designed the trail must have a wicked sense of humor. They take the trail from mountain top to mountain top, so that most of your time is spent going either up or down. I have learned to prize the rarity and the gentleness of the fabulous flats. One very steep climb was canted at an angle that caused my hiking poles to touch the ground about chest level. After hauling myself over rocks and scrambling in a straight line towards the summit, the trail stopped about 20 feet shy of the top and skirted around for once, denying the high ground and making me feel cheated.
The beauty of the woods is second only to the beauty of the people who populate the campsites, shelters, and trail towns. They say the trail provides; but it is the people who provide. Need an extra hiking pole basket, someone has an extra. Accidentally froze your Sawyer water filter before you got here and did not know it was no longer functioning, someone (Anthony aka Jukebox) has you (me) covered. Left your medicine behind in Hiawassee? JD, the shuttle driver, will take you there and back – a round trip of 80 miles – with no advance notice.
My faith in human kindness has been restored in ten days’ time. I started writing the names of my ever-expanding tramily (trail family) into the Notes on my phone, but the list got so long and I needed to add names every day. Now I am just relying on my good memory for faces and admitting to my poor memory for names. The names are changing anyway as trail monikers are being bestowed. I am now Shermit, short for Social Hermit. Hermit first because I like my alone time on the trail, Social added after Anthony noticed I talked a blue streak with the shelter crowd. This experience has been so positive that I am hardly noticing the difficulty. I am having a wonderful time.
See you in the woods!
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