Thru-Hikers to Trail Angels: Doing it Differently
I won’t hike the entire AT. This realization came on many days ago as I reached Cowart Gap. Well, it really hit me as I climbed out of Cowart Gap toward Buzzard Knob. I just knew. The thought was surprising because it happened so early in our journey. Maybe it was a blessing. Maybe not.
The idea sunk in as quickly and soundly as have other large realizations in my life: That I was going to marry Adam, that I was going to quit my job to hike, etc. I mulled it over for a few miles. I waited for it to go away, but I knew I couldn’t fight it. How was I going to tell Adam? And what happens next? Do I become a section hiker? Do I support Adam through to Maine? I waited until the next day to say anything. Adam’s response was positive. Not positive in that he had the same thought but in that he was glad I’d said something.
Fast forward a week or so and we got off of the trail for a few days of rest. We also needed to watch the March Madness games. We got back on trail and spent the night at the Wayah Bald Shelter. We had a discussion in the tent before we went to sleep. We were both hurting (but few hikers on the trail aren’t) and we decided that in the morning we would hike south and back to Franklin, NC. We got a shuttle at Wayah Gap and spent the night at the Sapphire Inn. From there we rented a car and drove back to Kentucky to retrieve our vehicle.
We are no longer thru hikers, officially. It has been wonderful. It has been grueling. We knew it would be hard physically, but where we are right now, our right knees just won’t let us do it. (After a week off I was still experiencing shooting pain at the top of my right knee cap and dull pain at the bottom of the same knee.) And, I don’t think we were fully prepared for how this quest can wear on you in other ways. It is tough to know that you completed 12 or 13 miles (or more) at the end of the day and you have to do it again the next day, and the next and the next.
We will keep hiking, but will use our car to do sections of the trail. There are places we want to see: Max Patch, the Grayson Highlands ponies, a hut in the Whites, Baxter State Park, etc. The plan now is to get to these places, camp in between hikes and to someday soon eat lobster rolls in Maine. We just aren’t going to get there step after step, mile after mile, day after day.
Our first trip back to the AT was a short hike out of Newfound Gap. On the way back to the parking lot we saw Todd and Laura, a couple we’d hiked with for a couple of days. They are getting stronger and covering more miles each day. We will be cheering them on. We also gave Kyle a hitch from Gatlinburg to Newfound Gap. We’d hiked with him out of Winding Stair and talked college basketball the whole time. One day we gave Griz all of the food in our packs when he told us he was starting the trail and had no food with him. (He was planning to trade moonshine and cigarettes for food.) We will continue to help hikers in these ways when we can.
We hiked a bit more where the trail leaves the Smokies. We’ll do some trail magic here today. We’d like to see Max Patch this weekend. And so on. We aren’t ready to give up on the AT. It sure hasn’t given up on us. We’re just going to have to go about our journey a bit differently. Hike on.
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