The First Two Weeks…plus a few days
Before I get in to the first two weeks, I would just like to state that these have been the most humbling weeks of my life. Prior to embarking out on to the trail, I considered myself to be fairly fit, but Appalachian mountains have a way of making one take a step back.
In the last few weeks I’ve learned the following more than anything else:
- Self-motivation is key
- It’s totally okay to cry
- I’m much, much tougher than I originally thought I was
- My boyfriend is a wonderful support system
- Bald mountains make me cry instantly
Also, I want to take this moment to thank the AMAZING people I’ve met along the way:
- Fellow Appalachian Trials writer, Carlie Gentry AKA Rainbow Braid… you rule. I’m so happy I met you
- All the lovely kickass workers at Mountain Crossings, you guys brightened my day a TON, even if I didn’t have much to shake out of my pack
- Freshgroundz, those 5 hot dogs I inhaled were delicious. You truly are an angel.
- Hermies, Apple, random trail angels that fed me and gave me sodas, I could hug you all
- Pretzel, from Mountain Crossings, you had me laughing for a long time, thank you for the awesome directions. Pants are for sissies!
So the first two weeks consisted of a series of unfortunate events. Day 2 I had a case of either gastritis or food poisoning. Either way, it took me damn near an entire day to hike 4 miles. After arriving in Cooper Gap, I briefly thought to myself “am I able to do this? Am I tough enough?” The answer is yes, yes I am. So I sucked it up. I hiked through cold rain, slept in puddles, pressed on through food poisoning. I thought I was through the worst of it.
Then I realized my knee was killing me. I ignored it, assuming that it was partially due to sliding around in ice, slush, and mud, not to mention my wonderful lack of coordination.
The pain didn’t subside though. Five miles out from Hiawassee, Dave (my stunner of a boyfriend and best hiking partner ever) suggested I take my boots off and hike barefoot. I have very tough feet, so I thought over it, and hiked that last 3 miles without shoes. I got a pair of boots to hold me over the next day though, and spent the night icing my grapefruit sized knee. A wonderful lady at the Buckhead House helped me out. She is the sweetest.
They didn’t fit either though. I decided I didn’t have much of a choice but to push on to Franklin, where I could go to Outdoor 76 and get the right footwear. Uphills became crippling, and downhills weren’t any easier. The swelling in my knee never subsided until I reached Franklin.
But throughout all of this, I never once thought about quitting. Yes, I questioned my toughness for a moment, but I never considered going home. I came out here for a reason, and during my decent in to Hiawassee I thought long and hard about where I came from and what led me to the Appalachian Trail.
Yes it has been hard, but dammit it is so rewarding.
Hiking up in to North Carolina, I felt like my knee was going to shatter in to a million pieces. When I saw the sign, I couldn’t help but cry a bit. What a milestone! I had planned my hike through Georgia prior to embarking on to the trail, and quickly realized that plan was out the window. It took me longer than planned to hike through Georgia, but I learned so much in that time, and that is what is important.
After getting the awesome foot knowledge treatment from the kickass gents at Outdoor 76, I felt like I could conquer the world. We spent 2 days in Asheville, and had a BLAST. I love that town.
Then came time for me to hike solo. This is where I’ve learned a lot about myself. The first day I missed my campsite, and hiked 7 miles further than planned, but I needed to hike out some emotions. The following day I hiked up Max Patch. Now for those of you reading this that don’t know me that well, I am and have been obsessed with Max Patch for a good while. I got a bit of trail magic about 3 miles from the summit, which helped my energy level (which has been a bit low recently). The weather was perfect, and exactly what I hoped it’d be for the day I summit Max Patch. 75 degrees and sunny. I started my climb up and after getting to the top, I completely broke down in tears.
Then it finally hit me. I was doing this. I was, and am, hiking 2200. I spend days hiking where I don’t see other people. I’m experiencing this raw, breath taking beauty all on my own. Dammit it is overwhelming.
It’s a feeling I’m still adjusting to, and it’s hard, but I firmly believe that I can do this. I refer back to why I chose to hike this trail. I find myself thinking back to moments from years ago where life was really, really hard, and I didn’t think I could make it through, but I did.
I’ve been on the trail for 18 days now, and I’ve learned so much about myself it’s unreal. I’ve seen spectacularly beautiful views and I’ve met such beautiful people who would give the shirt off their back for me or any other hiker. I’ve had to hug family “goodbye” for awhile, and explain to my adorable sister that I WILL be home. I’ve had perhaps the saddest goodbye to the man I love (even though we’re totally going to see each other in VA) after spending 2 life changing weeks with him in the woods. I’ve hiked through terrible cold, rain, no shoes, big shoes, then the perfect shoes and beautiful weather.
I love this. I love that this experience is hard. I’ve never just been solo before. I’ve always had someone, whether it be family, friends, or what have you, by my side. It can really be a beautiful thing to just be in the woods alone. I’ve thought about so much, and with the wind being the only noise, it’s easy to hear one’s self think.
I find myself so deeply connected to nature. Watching Winter blossom in to Spring is a beautiful phenomenon that I feel so blessed to see up close and personal. To see precious lichen glow on the bark of trees, and grass turn from brown to green is such a blessing. Then I saw a single, little butterfly.
As an aspiring Ecologist, and person who is so spiritually connected to nature, seeing that single butterfly was such a precious moment for me.
To all my fellow hikers, I want to hug you all and tell you how badass I think you all are. I understand just how hard this hike truly is. To get up every morning and put on that heavy backpack and hike miles upon miles, with your goal 2200 miles away, is such a feat. You all are incredible people.
Also, I want to thank everyone, whether back home or wherever you may be, for supporting me. It helps me more than you can imagine.
And for those of you who doubted that I could do this hike on my own, thank you. I love proving you wrong.
Happy Trails everyone.
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