Sometimes I Fly Like an Eagle Sometimes I’m Deep in Despair: Hot Springs to Mile 407.6
We spent two blissful zero days in Hot Springs enjoying the local food and the company of trail family. When we walked out of town the next morning I felt completely refreshed and ready to tackle whatever the trail threw at us.
The onslaught started right away. The trail north of town had been closed due to a recent fire and had just reopened that morning. After walking for weeks in lush green forest, walking through charred landscape was demoralizing. Not only that, but the still smoldering ground was giving off heat and fumes, making our faces hot and our throats sore. When we finally made it to camp that night I was glad to have the burned section behind me, and grateful to get our tent set up in time to narrowly miss a thunderstorm.
Now so far on the trail we had barely hiked two miles in the rain. We always seemed to miss it for one reason or another. We even joked about the slogan, “No Rain, No Maine” thinking we might get away with it considering we had made it through April without hiking in the rain at all. Well, I think the trail decided to teach us a lesson because it precipitated on us every day that week. The only thing worse than walking in the rain all day everyday is someone telling you it’s going to snow the next day.
Sure enough we woke up the next morning with ice pellets falling from the sky. Normally I would have wussed out and hitched to town but we were still 27 miles from Erwin, TN so there was no choice but to move forward. By the time we reached Big Bald wet snow was permeating our waterproof clothes and the wind was threatening to blow us over. I tried to appreciate the ethereal beauty of the exposed ridgeline in the storm and the ice formations on the trees, but every time I looked up my eyes stung with the bitter cold. So, I pulled my hood low over my face, fixed my eyes on my feet, and hoped we would be at the shelter soon.
We were the first ones to settle into Big Bald Shelter that afternoon, and even though it was only 2 o’clock and we had only hiked 10 miles, I couldn’t walk any further. I ate as much of the contents of my food bag as I could stomach knowing I would need the calories to stay warm, then crawled into my sleeping bag.
This was one of my lowest moments so far on the trail. Even though logically I was in dry clothes and a 15 degree sleeping bag, I remember thinking that i would never feel warm again (upon recanting this story to my friend Ben back home, he likened this feeling to a dementor attack from Harry Potter, and I think that is about right). I didn’t want to quit the trail, but I didn’t want to be there right then either.
The next day we hiked 17 laughably beautiful miles to Erwin. I had expected another damp miserable day, but the sun was shining and the prospect of pizza at the end of the day made the miles easy and I danced lightly down the trail.
In Erwin, we laughed with trail friends and indulged in the pleasures of Mexican food and ice cream. We returned to the trail again in high spirits (also owing to a good weather forecast for the next few days).
Over the next couple of days the trail turned from rich evergreen forests into rolling highland balds with endless views. Thru-hiking was beautiful again and I felt on top of the world. The only problem was a new tingling sensation developing in my left foot and ankle.
The trail had been unusually rocky that day and by the evening my foot was hurt and exhausted. We took a break at Stan Murray shelter intending to hike 2 more miles to Overmountain shelter where all of our friends were (and supposedly this totally awesome shelter converted from a Barn!). I stood up from my break and couldn’t put any weight on my foot! I collapsed in frustration at my own weakness.
Luckily my level headed husband encouraged me to take ibuprofen and elevate my foot for the night and we would re-evaluate in the morning.
The next morning we woke to massive thunderstorms, but hey, my foot didn’t hurt! We tried to wait out the storms but they seemed fairly settled in and didn’t look too interested in leaving so we put on our rain gear and headed out. Despite the weather, the Roan Highlands have been my favorite part of the trail so far with an ethereal beauty in the misty fog and rain.
We hiked out to the road where we came across some trail magic and a guy offering to drive us to town then to his hostel for the night. We hadn’t intended to stay in town, but with my increasing foot pain and a day of hiking in the rain we thought we should take it easy. If you go to Roan, TN, eat at Bob’s Dairyland and thank me later (Spoiler: we ate there three times).
We planned 15-17 miles for the next day (hello! Have you read any of my blog posts?! Have I ever followed the statement “we planned to” with what we said we were going to do? Well then friends, it should come as no surprise that 15 miles did not happen). The day started out perfectly. Sunshine, meadows, streams, waterfalls, rambling rivers, wildlife. In short, everything you spend dreary couped up days in the office dreaming about thru hiking. Folks this day was an emotional 10. Nothing could go wrong. I was in love, and the object of my school girl crush was this little dirt path I adoringly followed.
Then the storm came.
Oh you know I love my metaphors. But seriously. It was a doozy. Lighting out of nowhere in my perfect sunshine sky, and suddenly I was stuck in a familiarly damp situation trying to outrun a thunderstorm for the next 7 miles.
As we approached a forest road well before our intended stopping point for the day, I was praying for some form of reprieve. Jordan reached the road first and I heard him talking to our friends Snail and Sandals. (I had been hoping to catch up to them, thinking they might have a plan of escape). I heard Sandals tell Jordan that they were miserable and I shouted from the woods, “We’re miserable too!” We all stood there in the middle of this dirt road contemplating what to do (six of us in total including our friends Darkness and Sunflower). We were all done walking in this storm. I was down to a one emotionally. I was limping again, wet, exhausted, and scared of the storm.
I thought to myself, what we need is a truck to drive by. There was very little hope of that. Sunflower, Sandals, and Snail had been there 45 min already with no luck. I quietly prayed while everyone else talked about our options. Not three minutes passed when a pick up truck came by and offered to drive us to town. He dropped us off at Bob’s Dairyland and we were revived with french fries and milkshakes. The magic continued when friends of Snail and Sandals: Mary and Steve, agreed to welcome six stinky, bedraggled hikers into their warm and loving home for the night: a 10.
While I was at Trail days the next evening, I had the privilege of hearing Warren Doyle speak. I whispered to my friend Trish (who had driven down to Damascus to visit us for the weekend) as the presentation started, that I needed a little inspiration. The constant ups and downs (and I don’t mean the terrain) of the previous couple of weeks had left me emotionally drained.
Warren seemed to be speaking directly to me that night. It was appropriate that this lecture took place in a church, because there I sat in the back row pew like a sinner on Sunday with Warren Doyle speaking conviction to my heart. He talked about how there is joy in the start, fear in the journey, and joy in the coming home. Those that can’t overcome their fears go home.
He played a John Denver song that I’ve probably heard a thousand times and never saw the meaning…
It’s a sweet, sweet dream, sometimes I’m almost there.
Sometimes I fly like an eagle and sometimes I’m deep in despair.
-“Looking for Space” John Denver
That’s thru hiking.
Sometimes I can feel myself getting closer to Maine. Most of the time it’s overwhelmingly far away.
Sometimes I’m a 10.
Sometimes I’m a 1.
The dream is still sweet.
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