It’s All Progress. Yeah, That’s the Spirit
I have now walked 109.5 miles of the Appalachian Trail. Today marks 14 days since I’ve begun this wonderful adventure and I already feel like I have experienced so much! Time is a strange thing on the trail; marked by miles, resupply stops, and mountain summits. I have hiked 20-plus mountains since beginning my journey just two weeks ago. I am currently taking my second zero day to escape the weather and rest my achy feet.
This last week brought with it a few milestones; some great, some not-so-great. I’ve officially completed the Georgia section of the AT and am now in North Carolina. This was an exciting accomplishment, but it was also rather anticlimactic to actually cross the state line.
As my dad said, “primitive.”
The day I crossed into North Carolina also happened to be the first day I saw snow on the trail, which provided for the coldest and most difficult night so far. Opening up my tent on my last morning in Georgia, a puffy little pile of snow fell into my boot, and it was pretty much downhill from there (not the good kind of downhill).
I spent that morning walking through flurries trying to be as optimistic as possible.
“At least it’s not raining.”
“I’m from Minnesota. It could be colder.”
But by the time I made it to the campsite I had chosen for the evening, I couldn’t feel my face, hands, or feet, and despite the snow being dry, my clothes were soaked through with sweat.
There was enough snow on the ground that I decided not to pitch my tent (for the first time, I might add) and I got a spot in the shelter instead. For those who don’t know, shelters don’t actually do much sheltering. Three walls and a roof on a drafty wooden floor do little to protect you from the elements, but I was happy at the time to not have to fumble with tent poles. There were four other hikers in the shelter with me and they were pretty cool. It was comforting to be able to laugh with other people experiencing a similar discomfort. Another hiker recorded that it had gotten down to eight degrees that night. Needless to say, I didn’t sleep much.
The next morning, I got up to find ice crystals had formed on the end of my sleeping bag. Both of my water bottles, and filter, were frozen solid (incredibly poor planning on my part). I ended up carrying around two blocks of ice most of the day until they thawed enough to dump. I don’t ordinarily carry around two full water bottles, so this added some weight to my pack.
Eventually, the sun came out and the snow melted away. My feet thawed and I was able to dry out. I camped early that night to be sure to rehydrate, refuel, and get plenty of sleep.
After enjoying one of my favorite hot meals of stuffing and mashed potatoes, I had a wonderful night and slept incredibly warm. I was actually down for so long that my campground neighbors became concerned that they hadn’t heard from me in a while, so they came over to “knock” and do a wellness check. The AT hiker community that I’ve joined never ceases to amaze me. It seems that everyone out here has each other’s back, and that’s pretty cool. I’ve met some amazing people and it’s always fascinating to hear where everyone comes from and what has brought them to the trail.
The Trail Provides
This is a mantra I’ve heard many times about the AT. I always thought it sounded rather cliché. And how egocentric, huh? The trail does not owe you anything. It is not forgiving or apologetic. The trail does not care who you are or what you’re looking for; but now I’ve come understand. The trail really does provide. It is not about what you think you need. It’s not really about “you” at all. It’s the serenity of nature. It’s the view from the summit. It’s overcoming. Achieving. Surviving.
Yesterday, the trail provided for me. As I scaled the first hand-and-foot climb up Albert Mountain with 30 pounds strapped to my back, I couldn’t help but notice the pleasant weather; cool and still with intermittent sunshine. Nature was calm and quiet. I was sweaty and exhausted when I reached the top, but the little bit of breath I had left was taken away by the view. For the first time, I had a 360-degree view of my surroundings; what I had gone through and what I would be embarking on shortly. Past, present, and future all in one stunning landscape.
While the ups and downs of this adventure are rather steep (pun very much intended), I am excited to see what I will be faced with next.
109.5 miles and one state down; 2,080.5 miles and 13 states to go.
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