Simply Grateful: Franklin to Gatlinburg
That’s how long I stood in the shower until the warm water thawed my shivering body and frozen fingers. I can remember only one other time in my life when I felt so grateful to be in a shower. They say the trail will provide, and it just so happened that on a blustery Saturday in the Smokies, my husband was scheduled to pick me up so we could spend the weekend together in Gatlinburg.
Before I started this Appalachian Trail hike, one of my biggest fears was the unexpected. Could I figure out the logistics, or handle situations as they transpire? For me so far—as the hiker community likes to say—the trail has provided. Whether it be directions, food, or even the clothing off of a sweet woman’s back, I have had everything I need at just the right time.
A lot has happened this week!
Saying goodbye to my brother Matthew in Franklin last Sunday was bittersweet, but my belly was full and allowing my pace to be slow, I was rewarded with an amazing view of Wayah Bald at the end of the day. Monday was my favorite day yet! Full of energy, I did not mind the climb up to Rocky Bald … although I admit I was a bit terrified of the ridge, and nervously took a quick picture before heading back down to the Rufus Morgan Shelter, where many of us sat around a grand campfire.
Tuesday was tough. After a quick stop at the Nantahala Outdoor Center convenience store, the climbing began again. I have come to learn that there will either be an up or a down, with some sort of short “gap” between each mountain. That’s just the way it is. It warmed up quickly, and I quickly shed down to my short sleeve shirt and shorts. Climbing almost 5,000 feet again that day, I was pretty beat and grateful to stay at the Appalachian Inn where I could shower and sleep in a bed that evening. Elizabeth, the B&B owner, made me pancakes for breakfast the next morning and I stashed my leftovers in a baggie to take with me for lunch.
I’ve had a few WTF moments on this trip …
Wednesday definitely brought one of those moments when it started to snow. My friend Stride and I were killing it on pace that day however, and happily soared into the Marina at Fontana Dam to find they had frozen tamales that you could heat in their microwave. EVERYTHING tastes good on the trail, and hot food is a blessing. The shelter at Fontana Dam lived up to its name as the “Fontana Hilton.” Beautiful views of the lake, SHOWERS, trash bins to get rid of your junk AND a place to charge your phone?!? Everything a hiker could ask for. The view of the dam as I hiked out at sunrise was picture perfect, and I set out to enter Great Smoky Mountain National Park.
That day, with my blisters now turned callus and my trail legs underneath me, I had an epiphany. My life had become simple. All I had to do was walk. Sometimes I walk slowly and sometimes I walk quickly. In all kinds of weather, I walk. I don’t have to worry about projects or assignments, schedules or deadlines. I no longer worry whether someone likes my work or what I should make for dinner. I just walk.
Hiking the trail is not complex. It’s not EASY by any means, but it does change your perspective on basic human needs. I walk. I think. I discover. A song that I used to sing in Sunday school as a child came to me:
“All things bright and beautiful
All creatures great and small.
All things wise and wonderful
The Lord God made them all.”
I quit trying to figure out the logistics of all of it and started ENJOYING the beauty around me. I think we should all work to create more simple moments in our lives. I know I will do so in the future.
Storms Roll In
On Friday I hiked 17 miles. First, because hiking keeps you warm, and it was snowing again that day; but more so because everyone was predicting the storm that was to come on Saturday morning, promising wind gusts of up to 25 miles per hour and driving rain. I knew Greg was going to pick me up on Saturday, and if I only had 10 miles to hike … that meant 5 hours in the rain. I woke up at 6 a.m. and was out of camp by 7 a.m. As predicted the driving, cold rain started around 8 a.m.
Out of all of my days so far, I have not been this miserable or hiked this fast. I can’t even describe the lush green forest because it is a blur to me. All I knew is that when I got to the parking lot where Greg was to meet me at the North Carolina-Tennessee state line, there was a bathroom where I could get warm.
I must have looked pretty pitiful shivering in the bathroom like a wet dog because three women approached me.
“Honey, are you OK? Do you need help with anything?”
One thing that I have learned on the trail is that the answer to “do you need anything” is always yes.
“Yes.” I replied. “My fingers are so cold I cannot open my backpack to get to my dry clothes. Could you open it for me?”
“Why of course!” They all said with their sweet southern drawls.
“Here. Take my sweatshirt,” one of them offered as she literally took off her sweatshirt and put it on me.
“I’ve got a towel in the car, “ another offered.
“That would be AMAZING,” I told her, and she ran back out to her car in the storm to retrieve it for me.
They even offered to help me take off my socks, but I drew the line there.
“You have done so much, and I am so grateful,” I told them.
“Are you sure you’re OK, honey?”
“Yes. I will change into my warm clothes, and my husband will be here soon.”
Within 30 minutes, my husband swooped in like Prince Charming, blasting the heat in the rental car until we got to our cabin. I immediately jumped in the shower.
20 minutes of warm water to wash off the dirt and grime of the week. 20 minutes to think about my trip so far, and how everything has worked out for me. 20 minutes to be simply grateful for this experience.
Tomorrow I will head back out into the woods, ready to continue my journey.
I’ll simply keep walking, trusting the trail to provide.
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