Forced off the Trail, but the Sun Still Shines, and Mountains Stand Tall
Day Six, March 18
Today was a roller-coaster of highs and lows. Mentally it was all good; I’m loving it out here, walking through the mountains and woods. But, physically my knee is screwed up. I was warned to take it easy by some of the guides off the trail, so yesterday I only hiked 6.6 miles. I then decided to go into town and get a room. My knee was hurting, so I followed all the proper treatments to alleviate the pain — ice bath, ice, elevate, and ibuprofen. It felt a little better afterward and I did a little stretching, then I rested for the night. This morning I got around, and had some minor pain, but nothing too serious. I left my hotel, and stood out on the sidewalk for close to an hour, trying to hitch a ride back into town. I’ve hitched a ride before, but all I did was walk up and ask someone for a ride. This was a little different; for the first couple of cars it felt awkward to stand there, but after five minutes of trying, it became more of a game. I stood at different angles so people could see my pack and trekking poles (better odds of getting picked up), and also tried to make eye contact and smile. I was surprised to find so many people waving back at me, but not stopping — it was a little frustrating. After an hour of working at this I finally had a man stop and pick me up. It turns out he was a former thru-hiker and his trail name is Spotted Trout — I was very appreciative of his help. We had about an eight-mile drive in the mountains, so we had some good conversations about life, hiking, and his upcoming trip to hike the PCT. Thinking back to the whole experience, it amazes me how we can be around people in school, or work, and be such strangers, but in other instances, jumping in a total stranger’s car, you can open up and have great conversations. I think the trail has a lot to do with this, with the addition of trust. After I got to the trail at Dicks Creek Gap I began hiking. The weather was beautiful — sunny, clear skies, and warm. My biggest highlight was walking through a large area of pine trees. The sun was shining down, and the heat gave off a pine scent. Birds were chirping, a few wildflowers had sprouted against a fallen tree, and I was in solitude. Once I noticed what was around me I stopped, and took it all in. These are the moments that make the AT what it is — they’re life-changing. In other words, it really makes me appreciate all the small things surrounding me, and all the layers added up to create such a warming and unique place. But just like anything in life, I had to keep moving. Very shortly after continuing hiking my knee started to hurt; unfortunately, more than it did the previous day. Into my hike I came to a dirt road (possibly a trail forest road). I was tempted to hike down the road and see if I could hitch a ride into a town to get a room, because that was the last road for more than 30 miles. I couldn’t do it though; I was so close to the North Carolina-Georgia border, so I pushed on. It was an indescribable feeling, walking from the start of the trail to another state; although the border is invisible, you could still feel it — another highlight of the day. Shortly thereafter, I came across a nice stream, filtered some water, and took it easy. Another thru-hiker showed up who I met a couple days ago. His trail name is Spartan, and he’s from Barcelona. Being a sociology major I really enjoy having conversations with all different types of thru- hikers and understanding why they’re out on the trail, and how they view nature. Before I left the stream Spartan gave me his cell number and we may split a room in the upcoming town. From this point in the day to now (9 p.m.), it’s not so pretty. I hiked 2.8 miles and it took me a little over two hours. My left knee is bummed, and I had to use my trekking poles as crutches to make it to the campsite. This didn’t stop me from taking a short blue blaze to enjoy a lookout over the mountains, but I am a little nervous. I’ve got almost 30 miles to go before the next road. I can definitely push through the pain, but fingers crossed that nothing snaps or tears. I’m trying to get it out of my head, and enjoy the moment. Once I got to camp I set up shelter, cooked food, and had some laughs with other thru-hikers in the shelter. I’m wobbling around, but I’ll get to where I need to go. I’ve got two days of food on me, so my plan is to make it to the road leading to Franklin, N.C., in two days. Tomorrow I’ll hike around 14 miles and set up camp; the next day I’ll do another 14 or so, and make it to the road to hitch into town. I then plan on taking two to three days off from the trail, and fingers crossed, my knee will be good as new. Who knows, maybe tomorrow morning I’ll wake up and it will be ready to hit those 20-mile days. Anyway, today was fantastic, from the hospitality of hitchhiking, to the beauty of the forest and mountains. All I can say is, life is good.
Day Seven, March 19, 8:34 a.m.
It’s raining this morning, but the smell of the fresh, rainy air makes it all enjoyable. I woke up a little over an hour ago and I am trying to figure out what to do. The pain in my knee has gotten worse. I can’t bend the knee much at all — all the pain is coming from the side and back. To be honest, this is a huge disappointment. It’s been such an amazing time time out here and I’ve been looking forward to this opportunity for a long time, but I’m trying to keep my thoughts held high. Eighty percent of this is all mental. I figure I’ve got to keep moving until I reach a place where I can care for my knee and see if it makes a turn for the better. Like I said yesterday, I’ve got about 30 miles in front of me, but I have 13 miles behind me to get to town. To move backward is not anything I want to think about, but I need to care for this problem. I figure that are three positives to this plan: 1.) I keep on moving; 2.) I get to town faster to heal up; 3.) I get to cross two state borders in two days (even though it’s the same border, it’s always good to makes jokes during the sucky moments). I read a quote the other day, and wrote it in my journal. It’s weird because at this moment the quote seems to come to life: “You can’t control everything. Somethings you just need to relax and have faith that things work out. Let go and let life happen.” I agree — but a little effort is needed when life’s swinging you around. Well, here’s to another fantastic day on the trail, even if I have to move backward — I’m still in the mountains and I’m still in nature. Life is good.
I followed the plan I set out for this morning, and hiked back 13-odd miles. It was a rainy day, which gave an entirely new presence to the landscape and features — it was as if I was experiencing it all for the first time. The hike was enjoyable, even though I was moving at about 1.5 mph I can’t describe how great it feels to know that each thru-hiker has the other’s back. While I was wobbling back to the road, I encountered many people who I had already met on the trail, and they asked me if they could help in any way. Some offered to take weight from my pack, and Wheat (a thru-hiker I camped with one night) offered to help me back. As generous as their offers were, I trekked on by myself to think about this journey. When I finally reached the road crossing I found a ride into town, and got a room. My plan was to wait it out for three days to see what happens, but I thought it would probably be smarter to go to an urgent care center and get it looked at. Unfortunately, the doctor informed me that the best-case scenario is a lateral knee strain (I’m currently on crutches and have a brace), and I have to be off of it for two to three weeks. If there is still pain in two to three weeks I’ll need an MRI — I was a little stunned by this, as the dreams of summiting Katahdin this summer before school starts slowly faded my mind. The clouds had rolled in, but the dream is still there, and the sun will still be shinning. As disappointing as it is to leave the trail I know it will still be back here — there should be no rush in a journey like this. In the little amount of time I had to hike along the AT, I was able to cover 100 miles, meet so many interesting and kind people, and experience a different way of life. I now know that the mountains hold the power of wisdom that one can only experience in person — they speak something different to each of us. As I head back home for my knee to heal, a piece of me will be left on the AT, and a piece of the AT will be in me. I will surely be back. Even though the possibility of a thru-hike has diminished for this year, my plans are to heal, and hike sections of the trail throughout the summer until school starts — I plan on blogging about these hikes as well. I want to thank everyone that has followed along with their support. The journey always continues on, if your mind allows it. Life is good.
P.S. The man in the picture below, my pharmacist, is Jerry “Tarheel” Parker. He is a former thru-hiker who wrote one of the first guides to the AT, and he is also in the Appalachian Trail Museum — I had to ask for a picture.
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