And the Honeymoon Ends: Temporary Separation After Just 5 Weeks
Dear Darling AT,
I knew the starry-eyed honeymoon phase couldn’t last forever. But it still hurts so much to have to face the cruel realities of this roller coaster life with you, so early in our relationship.
When I last shared the updates of our then four weeklong romance, I was still doing the Julie Andrews “The Hills Are Alive With the Sound of Music” thing, twirling through wildflowers in sunny meadows. And hiking with a nearly pain-free body. However, show me any of your past or present lovers, AT, and I’ll show you someone who hurts somewhere. You demand a lot, A LOT, of your faithful followers.
But, before I delve into the present lows in our relationship, allow me to nostalgically recall our most recent high moments together.
During the past week, I have…
1. Soaked in the best panoramic views I’ve had so far.
Tinker Cliffs are known for sweeping views of a lush green valley and a parallel mountain range. It’s considered one of the your best highlights in this region, dear trail.
Many locals have brief dalliances with you, relaxing in hammocks a few hours and watching the birds soar beneath them.
2. Enjoyed time with a lively group of southbound FlipFloppers.
We shared lots of good belly laughs during our one night at a shelter together. And my resolve to eliminate some bad words from my vocabulary totally crumbled after witnessing how creative one can be with certain expletives.
Particularly when referring to the (expletive) (expletive) of a mouse that chewed a six inch hole in a sweater overnight.
However, I’m sure the mouse’s home is an aqua showplace in his rodent community.
3. Posed for the classic photos at the iconic MacAffee Knob.
My dear AT, this is your quintessential portrait, worthy of a pinup shot both on garage walls and in the finest of homes.
Okay, so I was a bit timid of the drop off at first….
And I enjoyed sharing the photo session with the above group of hikers.
Unfortunately, they hike like the wind, and I, like a breeze, so I was soon walking in their dust. Hike Your Own Hike is the rule of the trail.
4. Slept with chickens.
Well, not exactly, but they did wander about the interior of the unique Four Pines Hostel.
Years ago, the owner of a home on some beautiful country acreage near the AT turned his 3 car garage into a hodgepodge hostel for weary hikers, cyclists, anyone.
His chickens find the inside of the garage as interesting and welcoming as do the hikers.
5. Climbed up boulders and rock faces to reach Dragon’s Tooth. Alone.
The challenges of doing this early in the morning as part of a 17 mile day (long for me), made the achievement all the sweeter. And I was surprised to find the climbing fun.
Up I go. Hiking poles tucked away, not needed for going up rock.
The following photo is looking practically straight up. Hurray for rebar ladder rungs!
At last, I reached the Dragon Tooth! Believe me when I say I felt no compulsion to climb to the top of the tooth, as some do.
Many parts of this climb reminded me of interludes with a former lover, Europe’s GR5 trail. Come to think of it, I also had some heartaches during that relationship. I should have seen it coming.
6. Visited a touching mountaintop memorial.
Audie Murphy, the most decorated American soldier of WWII, died in a plane crash not terribly far from Dragons Tooth.
It was moving to see so many objects folks had left in his honor.
It also was poignant thinking of the service given by both my father and father-in-law in the same war.
7. Passed by multiple stone cairns.
Along one long ridge top, dear AT, you still retain many old piles of stones. Who put them there? Why?
The best guess is former farmers, trying to clear land for farming along your forbidding rocky route. Many have simultaneously adored and detested you through the years, Perilous Pathway.
8. Taken photographic evidence of my official status as a tree hugger.
Not far from a sunny meadow (cue: music) grows the Keffer Oak, the largest oak tree you have in the south, dear AT.
It’s more than 18′ around and over 300 years old. It’s a grand old dame. Sometimes during this trek, I feel I can relate to that description, except for the “grand” part.
9. Passed over the Eastern Continental Divide.
A certain man I’ve known very well for 46 years would have suggested I spit or pour some water on the ground to see if it would spread in two different directions. However, I had neither spit nor water to spare by that point.
10. Had a close encounter with a rattlesnake.
You sure surprised me with this one, AT. One afternoon was kind of dragging along and I needing perking up. Coming around a bend in the trail, I found a magnificent 4 foot rattler completely blocking my path (even though I really hate snakes, he was amazing).
He wasn’t concerned and showed no interest in getting off the trail. After I tossed some sticks near him, he casually moved to an adjacent boulder and did his rattling routine.
I decided to take a detour around that part of the trail, after checking that his Missus and the kids weren’t on the other side of the trail.
11. Walked by the New River.
In the late 1700’s, pioneer Mary Ingalls was kidnapped by native Americans from her settlement right in this area near the New River. She taken to the area where Cincinnati would eventually be located. Her harrowing experience as she followed the Ohio and New River to return home is described vividly in one of my favorite books, “Follow the River.” I’m now reading the book for the third time. When times on the trail are trying, I think of the amazing fortitude of Mary Ingalls and know that I have it so very easy.
And now for the lows in this crazy ride called an Appalachian Affair.
1. Lack of water.
Good news: I’ve only had to walk in the rain on two days. Bad news: this lack of rain means many springs and creeks are completely dry.
No one wants to dip their drinking water out of mud puddles such as this.
And occasionally there ARE streams available, but they are very near those sunny meadows that have very obvious evidence that cows also enjoy the water. Best to pass on those.
It’s hard to be sure if when and where you’ll be able to replenish your supply. Thus, hikers carry about double their usual amount and hope for the best.
Water weighs 2.2 pounds per liter. Earlier in the trip, I was usually carrying about 1.5 liters. I now usually carry 3.5 to 4 liters. This sudden added weight increase of around 5 pounds has been very problematic.
2. Painful feet.
It had to happen eventually. There had been little tweaks off and on during the earlier weeks, but occasional use of KT athletic tape supported irritated tendons and quickly got things back to normal.
However, the feet have really felt the results of having to repeatedly haul an extra 5+ pounds of water up steep mountainsides. I’ve heard this from other hikers, as well.
I suddenly found myself in a swift downward spiral. How could I continue to hike with such uncertain water sources for 2 more months and on painful feet?
Therapy to the Rescue!
Every relationship can use a little help sometimes. Ours came in the form of Angel’s Rest Hiker Haven in Pearisburg, VA. I realized I couldn’t handle this sudden physical and emotional nosedive alone. It happened that I was near this hostel when I hit my lowest moment on the trail.
Most happily, I had cell service up on the ridge and was able to call and arrange for their shuttle driver to pick me up at an intersection of the trail and a dirt road.
Thus began my slow return to having positive feelings about you, AT.
I have now spent 5 nights at Angel’s Rest, in a comfortable private bedroom in a trailer on the property. On my first two days here, their driver dropped me off at two different points on the trail and later picked me up about 15 miles further along and brought me back to the hostel. Thus, I could continue my hike but was assured of more water at the end of the day.
I was “slackpacking,” carrying only the bare minimum in my pack. No camping gear, only water, snacks, raingear. This gave my feet much needed relief.
The owner of this hostel is a very caring, skilled chiropractor and acupuncturist. My two sessions with her have brought me relief. It has been a wonderful period of R & R here. I hadn’t realized how much I needed it.
Below are the doctor, the artist who had just finished painting the mural of the wings, and a volunteer hiker speaking at this dedication of the beautiful artwork on one side of the registration building.
Dear AT, I must admit to you that the past three days have been a separation from you of my own choosing. No time with you. Just rest, elevation and icing of the feet, mild anti-inflammatories, yoga and binge watching of Netflix’s “Orange is the New Black.” There has also been plenty of companionship here, although we both jostled for the sofa.
It was only today, when walking to Food Lion for some fresh produce, that I began to miss walking, and more specifically, you, AT.
My dear, I will return in a few days. I am waiting for new shoes to arrive in the mail and for a hiking buddy I met in April to catch up with me. Together I’m sure we can figure how to live with your harsh demands. After all, my friend has already subjected herself to you for over 4 months. Perhaps she has insights on how to live with your tough love.
The question is: do you want me back? I miss you now. I realize now how many more highs we have had together than lows.
All I ask is a way to work around this lack of water issue. Is that too much to ask? I’m sure we can make our relationship work out again.
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