Revising The Plan
I realized after the zero day at Neel Gap that my expectations required recalibration. This is a difficult thing to do since our minds are prone to sticking to ideas we hold dear. My dear idea that I would hike fifteen miles a day from the start was difficult to let go, even with the reality of snow, ice, and limited daylight hours in which to hike. Change of plans.
Yeah, That Pesky Reality…
My plan was too ambitious for the conditions. I wanted to go too far, too fast, with a middle-aged body that had just received a significant physical jolt with the miles put on so far.
Hiking is a lot like blacksmithing. Let me explain. When working with red-hot iron the solution to most problems is a bigger hammer. A blacksmith once told me that and it stuck. Apparently, the same thinking applies to hiking. Splitter, who worked at the Neel Gap bunkhouse, gave me some terrific advice. “Hiking is one of those activities where the solution to almost any problem is more hiking. Need to be somewhere? Hike. Need food? Hike to where there is food. Don’t like where you are? Hike away. Bored? Go hike.”
The Struggle Is Real
Got it. With all that, getting a fix on the practical limitations is important. How do I get a grip on my daily mileage? When do I start setting down gear I don’t need? How do I convince the overachiever in my subconscious that this is okay?
It all boils down to reconciling what I want with what actually happens. The trick is keeping my wants flexible enough so that what happens doesn’t become a big disappointment.
No Reason This Can’t Be Fun
By the way, Pokémon Go exists on the trail. The game kills my phone battery, so I only play on zero days when I’m near a power outlet to recharge. Neel Gap is where I started to set things down, such as my plastic compass/thermometer on a snap link. I also left a Snorlax at the Pokémon gym at Neel Gap. It looked big and heavy, so…
I wore the Yaktrax all day since snow and ice remained prominent on the trail. There was also a fair amount of black bear sign near Hogpen Gap. Arriving at Low Gap shelter mid-afternoon, I picked up trash, cooked dinner, and hung my food. The temperature plummeted once the sun went down. The sound of helicopters echoed in the night as the Army ranger school conducted another air assault a few miles to the south.
I continued to Unicoi Gap the next day wearing the Yaktrax most of the time. I passed three SOBOs near a rhododendron forest with much fresh bear sign. Stopping at Blue Mountain shelter for lunch, I contemplated my knees. They hurt.
Fast-Forward To The Acceptance Stage Of Grief
Let’s face it. My pack was too heavy and the trail conditions too poor for the the distances I was attempting to cover.
I’ve said it before, I’m not out here to be miserable. So why do I feel like I’m about to be miserable?
The choice was clear. Either continue to live in denial that I am carrying an unreasonable load with an inflexible plan or start setting things down and spend the necessary time to take better care of my body.
What I Learned
Yaktrax remain the best $20 I ever spent, and I need to shed more weight than just a plastic thermometer and an invisible Snorlax.
My sense of humor also requires modulation. My apologies to the offended, no harm intended.
The Trail Angel ride from Unicoi Gap into Helen was right on time. I turned on my phone only to have it buzz incessantly with accumulated message traffic from the previous two days. Long story short, I learned that I needed a notary to witness a document to resolve a personal matter that carried the potential to derail my hiking plans. I had to wait another day to find a notary Monday morning before getting back on the trail.
See you on the high ground.
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