AT Mile 395: Suffering Is Inevitable
This week I’ve been listening to a book called The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson, and it’s appropriate hiking literature. Manson’s theory is that pain and suffering are part of being human, but the best pain is the kind that you choose for yourself. Choosing to hike 2,192 miles is choosing to endure a special kind of pain and suffering for roughly six months.
That said, it’s been a hard couple of weeks. I feel like we’re at the end of the last painful bit of getting used to life out here, and it’s been quite the adjustment. Leaving all your comforts behind to spend your life outside is glamorous and fun at first, but after about 300 miles it hit really hit me. This is insane. That’s why most people have no interest in thru-hiking. It’s hard, and sometimes it sucks. At the end of the day, though, there’s *usually* no place I’d rather be.
In Sickness and In Health
In Hot Springs, NC, I got sick with the dreaded norovirus—the plague of thru-hikers. I was miserably ill for 24 hours. Recovering from that sucked all the energy out of me, and though Isaac didn’t get sick he definitely had side effects and fatigue from fighting the virus off. So after leaving Hot Springs, we hiked eight miles one day and then less than five the next. We were so exhausted that after five miles we pitched our tent in a beautiful valley and slept for the rest of the day. Sometimes you just need to listen to your body.
Unfortunately, those slow days meant we were off schedule, and we hadn’t packed extra food. Nearly running out of food is stressful, friends. It’s certainly not something I’ve ever experienced in my privileged life back home.
The Trail Provides
Nature’s Inn Hostel in Unicoi County picked us up at Sams Gap, where the trail passes under I-26 in Tennessee, and they couldn’t have been nicer. They allowed us to resupply and brought us back to the trail for no fee. I was impressed by their willingness to help hikers with no hesitation.
After getting food for two more nights to get us to Erwin, we hiked seven more miles up to Big Bald in North Carolina. There we found two young families having a picnic and taking photos, and sat and talked with them for a few minutes. Before we knew it they were preparing to leave and offered all of their picnic food to us. We had a feast of yummy cheese, fruit, crackers, and salami. It was an excellent way to raise morale after a pretty rough week.
The rest of the week was better, and by Friday we were almost to Erwin. After doing the 12 miles we had planned planned for the day, we decided to push six more into Erwin. We arrived at Uncle Johnny’s Hostel and Outfitters around 8:30 that night.
I think it’s safe for me to say that Erwin has been my favorite trail town thus far. It was such a nice surprise. Saturday morning we went downtown for a little festival. It seems we have been perfectly on time for all of the little hiker festivals in trail towns! A group was making blueberry pancakes and they were fabulous. I had a “beer-mosa” for the first time, which is basically a mimosa with beer instead of champagne. Surprisingly delicious.
We went on to have a blast exploring the little shops downtown. Erwin has a strange relationship with stray cats, and a majority of the businesses we entered had a few cats inside. There’s nothing like cuddling a fuzzy orange cat named Oscar inside a local flower shop to make your day.
Still, the day got better. We had Pal’s for lunch—a special Tennessee delicacy that I was super excited for. When we got back to the hostel it was pouring, and the area around our tent was flooded. Our friend Seven offered to let us stay with him in the cabin that night to dry out, which was amazing. We cooked a stir-fry and had a blast.
In the morning we were greeted by a lunch held by many of the local churches. They get together and have a huge potluck every year, and it was the most magnificent trail magic I’ve ever seen.
The Roan Highlands
The scenery around Erwin has been magical. We’ve been in the Roan Highlands all week, and it features many beautiful balds and stunning valleys.
The Highlands also feature Overmountain Shelter, commonly referred to as just The Barn. Staying in the barn was essentially a big slumber party with 30 of our closest friends.
Yesterday we hiked down into Roan Mountain, TN, to resupply. We were very lucky to have a friend from college who has lived there all his life, so we stayed with him and his wife. There is truly nothing like staying in a warm, cozy home.
Today we are leaving Roan with the hopes of hiking straight into Damascus, VA, for Trail Days next weekend. We have heavy packs as we packed food for seven days, but it’s all good. It’s great training for the 100-Mile Wilderness, which is only a few short weeks away as we plan to head to Katahdin and hike southbound as soon as it opens.
I feel that this post is full of the most lovely bits of the past weeks, but that’s not the full picture. There have been moments when I have questioned why I decided to do this to myself. There have been moments when I’ve thought about being in Europe spending the money I saved for this, instead of climbing the sixth mountain of the day. But doing hard things is important. I’ll look back on this as one of the most wonderful accomplishments of my life. This is suffering I’ve chosen. I am right where I’m supposed to be.
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