Perseverance, Community Overcome Trail Adversity
Hot Springs, N.C., to Damascus Va.
April 8 to 19, days 26 to 37
Somehow it’s already day 37 of this journey and 12 days have passed since I’ve posted. The long interval is mostly due to a combination of adverse weather, long days, and limited cellular reception. Given the number of days instead of a daily account of our hike I’ll offer this summary:
–Hiked 195.4 miles for a total of 469.9.
–Averaged 16.3 miles per day this segment.
–Passed the 300- and 400-mile marks.
–Marked the passage of one month.
–Completed North Carolina.
Trail Observations and Thoughts
Transformation in Progress
While my typical daily activities may not have changed much since Springer I’ve noted a very real transformation in my thoughts and mind-set. Some changes are distinct and others more subtle or insidious. I’ll do my best to explain.
The Honeymoon Is Over but the Marriage Is Solid
If the honeymoon is over it’s been replaced by a deeper sense of respect and dedication to the trail and completing the hike. The proof is literally in the answer to the inevitable question, “Are you going all the way to Maine?” Last month the answer might have been “I’m trying to” or “That’s the plan if everything goes right.” Now it’s just a simple “Yes.”
This decisive answer is due to increased confidence and comfort. We have a lot of miles to hike but we’ve passed all the tests so far. We’ve survived multiple days of rain and snow, consecutive 20-miles days, setting up or packing up in the dark or rain, 20-degree nights. Every test “normalizes” this unusual life and builds perseverance, a key ingredient to transforming into thru-hiker.
The Tramily Grows
You may have noticed above that I referred to “our” hike instead of “my” hike. I previously wrote about quick-forming friendships. I’ll now add that these friendships can also be durable.
I’ve been walking with Irish Paul since the Smokies. It’s a pleasure to be in his company and we seem to be quite compatible in our hiking pace and interests. Other hikers have become friends in our bubble. For example, there is Mozzi, an Australian full of spontaneous fun and amazing energy. Stonehenge, from New Hampshire, with infectious enthusiasm. I’ve rejoined Sassafras, a fellow Trek blogger from Maine, whom I first met at Springer and didn’t think I’d see again after taking Dixie home. G-Bolt, a retired teacher from Ohio and fellow “old white guy with a beard.” Finally, I can’t forget Soy Sauce and Rocket, a couple we’ve come to know and like, noted for their elaborate trail meals. I could go on and on and don’t mean to leave anyone out.
The tramily dynamic grows a shared sense of purpose and community. This community spirit propels us forward though adversity. Nothing is that difficult when faced together and addressed with good humor and spirit.
The Tramily Gets Smaller (Sadly)
Unfortunately, sometimes we lose a member. I originally met Paul when he was walking with Crunch Time. We formed a great trio but Crunch Time had the fastest pace so he always went ahead. Just prior to Erwin, Tenn., when Paul and I arrived at the night’s designated shelter, Crunch Time wasn’t there. We assumed he went the extra miles into town. The next day we found out he actually suffered an injury and called for a shuttle. He sought medical attention and it was clear he couldn’t safely continue. We met up in town for a final meal and goodbye. He was sad but philosophical. Leaving due to injury isn’t quitting. We will miss his good nature and humor.
Quitting Isn’t an Option
Geoff had to leave for his safety. Many hikers have chosen to leave the trail. I’m not about to judge them. Some simply found what they were looking for, others just didn’t find trail life to be what they expected. I can confidently say I won’t leave by choice. There are reasons I might not complete this hike; a significant injury, illness, or family crisis. I don’t consider leaving the trail for these reasons quitting.
Real Life Is Hard, The Trail Is Easy
My final thoughts might be controversial. I’ve read many accounts of experienced hikers stating how difficult the conditions are and how hard trail life is. I don’t question their experience or feelings; they are valid and sincere. Personally, though, while sometimes physically a challenge, I haven’t found the trail to be mentally difficult. I haven’t had a single thought of leaving the trail.
One major reason is I’m having too much fun to worry about difficulties. Every day brings a new experience and the sense of community builds.
Life is simple here. There is a rhythm in the routine of meals, walking, talking, and making camp. External pressures are at a minimum.
Ultimately, though, I believe my recent past has given me a perspective on life that helps me out here. I’ve watched the real struggles of someone battling for their life with every bit of strength they have. My wife twice suffered tumor-induced strokes that rendered her paralyzed. Through grit and determination she relearned to walk and function both times. She endured years of physical and mental pain and never complained or gave up. That’s hard. Keeping a family together throughout that experience is hard. Caregiving 24/7 and working and paying medical bills is hard. Losing the love of your life in the prime of life is hard. The trail is easy. At worst I’ve been uncomfortable. Putting on wet, cold clothes isn’t fun but it’s not so bad either. Sure I’d love to have every day be sunny and nice but that’s not realistic. I’ll keep trying to enjoy every moment good or bad. To reword an old saying, “When the AT gives you snow, make a snowman.”
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