My First Lesson from the Appalachian Trail: This is Not a Race
They say that the trail teaches you what you need to know. My lesson to learn right now is to slow my roll. This challenge is not a race. In the three days that I’ve been on the trail in Georgia, I am constantly experiencing a very different trail. Mother Nature is the one determining the pace.
On Day 1, from the first rocky climb to the summit of Springer Mountain, Greg and I realized pretty quickly that we were not in Texas anymore. The terrain was a bit tougher than we expected, but we tried to keep a consistent trek. Surrounded by amazing scenery, we both admit that we were more concerned about the mile markers, and when we would “finish” for the day. Dining on dehydrated chicken and mashed potatoes (at the time a gourmet meal), we both agreed that it would not be wise for me to keep this strategy up for the next 5-6 months. The finish line is too far away.
After a tearful goodbye hug and kiss with Greg, I set out for Day 2. Wrestling with my backpack during my first significant climb of the day, I passed a beautiful silver-haired woman named Birdie.
“I hiked this trail 20 years ago,” she told me. “Second-day pack soreness is always the worst,” she said, confirming what my shoulders were already telling me.
The terrain is hard enough, but climbing a mountain with a 28lb backpack is no joke, and I admit that I was having a bit of a pity party. A few miles later, turning a corner, I saw a girl peeing behind a tree.
“Hey! I’ll wait here,” I yelled up to her.
“Cool, but it won’t be the first time someone’s seen my butt.” I’ll call her Trooper, to protect the innocent.
Trooper and I walked together a bit, and I learned that she was section-hiking with a group of women—all cancer survivors. Trooper had been diagnosed with Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis at the young age of 13 and found out she had cancer at age 20. Today, almost 20 years later, she walks in the woods for fitness, and to find peace. Even on her hardest days, she feels grateful to be able to walk outside, as doctors once told her she would be wheelchair-bound for the rest of her life. My backpack was still heavy, but it was no longer a burden to me.
That evening, about eight of us camped at Jarrard Gap, resting up for the climb to Blood Mountain. I met some really good people and got both helpful information, and a few tent stakes–the ONLY thing I left back at home. Sticks and rocks weren’t going to cut it as a makeshift substitute on this windy evening.
Today the rain came early and did not let up until evening. I’m sure the view from Blood Mountain was gorgeous, but all any of us could see was a hazy fog as the rain blew sideways, stinging our faces. The steep, rocky descent from the mountain turned into a waterfall.
By the time we reached Neils Gap, we were all drenched. What a gift it was to get a warm shower there, and to spend a few hours eating, talking, and smelling of fresh shampoo before heading back out into the monsoon. My afternoon was spent either going upstream (up a mountain), downstream (down a mountain) or in a stream (on the flats).
“Hey!” A skinny dude moving rather quickly called behind me. “Didn’t want to scare you, but I’m going to pass. I just love this rain! I’m trying to get as much in while it’s not hot!”.
He was right. It wasn’t as hot as it was yesterday, and I was indeed happy about that. It’s not about the miles. It’s not a race.
Coming up on a parking lot, a few hikers were waiting for a shuttle into town. Cold and wet … I decided to join them. A meal with actual vegetables and dry clothes was too tempting. Tomorrow a few others and I will leave at 7 a.m. to get back on the trail where we left off. I have a mileage goal for tomorrow, but we’ll see how it goes. Each day brings new surprises and experiences to enjoy. I’m here to let go of the miles per hour and to take it one minute at a time.
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