Independence (May 23)

On this morning, I stop by a creek to take a look at “The Captain’s”.  He lives in a small house on the other side of the creek, and allows hikers to tent in his yard for free.  The zipline adds to the fun.  Hikers can use a zipline to cross the creek from the trail side to his yard.  A sign “Zipline Operating Instructions” instructs hikers to “hang pack on carabiner, sit down like a swing in the park, pull bottom rope toward you, enjoy”.  I’m really impressed and wish I could try it out for myself.  Unfortunately The Captain’s is not open yet open for the season and the zipline seat is secured on the other side of the creek.  I continue hiking after imagining how fun this might be.

The day is cloudy and rainy, but it is a light rain that helps keep things cool.  I put in several hours of hiking before reaching a shelter where I take a break.   After snacking and chatting with the hikers there,  I decide to keep hiking.  I still feel pretty good and don’t like to stop hiking before 4 or 5 pm.  I’m also trying to catch up with some friends I met at trail days.

Unfortunately the rain picks up and soon I hike through a heavy downpour.  Even worse, I climb up a steep mountain that never seems to end.  It is one of those climbs that presents several false summits with even more uphill just around the bends.  I am trudging through the muddy water, dragging my hiking sticks behind me when another thru hiker passes me.  He agrees it is a miserable climb.  I keep climbing, wishing I would’ve just quit early and stayed at the last shelter.

I am hopping down a set of rocks one minute and falling to the ground the next.  The weight of my pack pulls me down as my feet slip out from under me.  My hand catches on a rock somehow, and all I can think is that it hurts.  I just sit there on the ground for a couple minutes, half grateful just to be sitting in spite of the circumstances.  When I start to assess everything I find I can move my hand and everything without any trouble.  I guess it was a scare more than anything.  I sit a while longer in the rain and the mud, no longer concerned about staying dry.  I just feel grateful that I haven’t hurt anything- it would be a long way to the next town!  It is times like these that really make you stop and appreciate.

After that I slow down and start looking for a place to make camp.  I’m pretty much done for the day.  The choices aren’t great and it’s still raining, but finally I just pick a flat spot by the trail to set up my tent.  Now is not the time to be picky.  I set up the tent as fast as I can and throw my stuff inside.  I sort out dry and wet stuff and use extra socks to try to dry the inside of the tent.  Everything is a little damp but I’m able to get warm in my sleeping bag.

Sometimes I just have to stop and marvel at the fact that I can keep myself alive out here.  Obviously I cannot control nature, but I can try to hike and camp smart.  No one is going to set my tent up for me in the rain or tell me to drink more.  That’s all up to me these days, and there’s a feeling of strength and independence that comes from it.  Especially in adverse conditions.  I think most thru hikers feel the same way- that through an adventure like this ultimately you learn to trust yourself.

The next morning I sleep in because I can still hear rain.  It’s hard to find enough motivation to get started, because once again, no one is around to tell me I better get it in gear.  Finally I decide to face the music.  I put on all my wet clothes and wet hiking shoes again.  It doesn’t feel good at first, but once I get started I warm up within ten minutes.  I feel proud that I made it out of my tent today, and that I knew I’d warm up with time.

I decide not to worry so much about hiking extra miles and do things to make the day enjoyable.  It’s a balance out here.  Hiking is tough, and I like the challenge and working hard at it, but I also love my breaks.  So that’s what I’m learning out here these days.

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