The Trail Always Provides: Tough Lessons via Tramily Drama
Day 27: Standing Bear Farm to Roaring Fork Shelter
After another zero in Gatlinburg with Mike, I got dropped off at the trail around 8:30 a.m. This time I cried as I said goodbye. What contrast to when we parted ways at Amicalola. While still excited to continue my hiking adventure, I was sad that I would not see him again for another two months when we hike southbound together in July. As I walked up the trail, Mike shouted up at me, “Remember, you’re always on the best mile.”
It wasn’t long before I got back into my hiking groove. I’m not even a month in, but I already feel at home in the woods. I was once again a day behind my hiking friends and had some catching up to do. I had planned to hike to Roaring Fork Shelter but I learned that everyone I was previously hiking with was going to Walnut Shelter, which is only five miles ahead of my intended destination for the night. I thought I might push it the extra five miles to make my first 20-mile day. That was my plan, at least until about 3 p.m., just before Max Patch.
The last thing I remember before I woke face down in the mud was filtering water. I don’t know how long I was on the ground but I came to by way of torrential rain, my face throbbing. It appears I may have tripped shortly after collecting water and face planted. Startled and confused, I choked back tears as I quickly tried to get my phone in a plastic baggie and threw on my rain jacket. Already soaked, I realized rain pants were futile. I went to the creek to rinse my face, only to discover my head was bleeding, I guess I hit the ground pretty hard. I decided in the storm there was no more time to waste as I still had eight miles to hike before I would reach Walnut Shelter. I missed the beauty of Max Patch, hiking it in the thunderstorm.
As I carried on, I ended up slipping in the mud, falling to the ground several more times. I was soaked through and completely covered in mud. With each fall, I struggled to choke back tears. In an effort to self-sooth, I spoke out loud to myself. I told myself encouraging things like “you’re OK,” “you can do it,” and Mike’s line, “best mile.”
Growing cold and still discouraged from my numerous falls, I decided to stop at Roaring Fork Shelter for the night. Tomorrow I will have to hike 18 miles to get into Hot Springs, where I will be reunited with my friends.
Day 28: Roaring Fork Shelter to Hot Springs
I woke at 5 a.m., still raining from the night before. Though I didn’t sleep well, I had no choice but to get moving. I managed to get to Walnut Shelter before Fossey and Zia had even departed, and it was good to see them again. I made incredible time hiking, rounding ten miles by 11:30 a.m. I was so pleased with the time I was making that I decided to hike through lunch and I got to town at 2:30 p.m. That’s right, I hiked 18 miles in seven hours! I think my trail legs have arrived!
I beat Fossey and Zia to town so I met Gas for lunch at the Iron Horse. Hot Springs is a neat little town that the AT passes directly through. Later, I had dinner with the whole gang at the local diner. We all had a good time. Poor Fossey, though; she lost her wallet and passport. All things considered, she had a really good attitude about it. True to what is said, “the trail always provides,” one of the other hikers bought her dinner. After dinner, I went to the hot springs, which are really just overpriced hot tubs. It was still really nice to soak my body in some hot water.
Day 29: Zero in Hot Springs
I have a couple of extra zeros collected compared to my hiking companions, but I want to continue to hike with them so I’m taking another zero to continue on with my friends as they don’t plan to hike out until tomorrow. The day was filled with laundry, resupply shopping, town food, and soaking in the hot springs.
Day 30: Hot Springs to Spring Mountain Shelter
Leaving town, the trail parallells the French Broad River. I really enjoyed being near the water for a while. I don’t know if the terrain is getting easier or if my legs have adjusted for the trail, but the miles seem to come easier for me now.
I took the side trail to the Rich Mountain tower, where I was rewarded with stunning 360 degree views of the mountains. It took my breath away!
Today marks a whole month of being on the Appalachian Trail. I’m pleased to say that I am just as in love with the trail, if not more in love, as when I started. This is the life I always dreamed of living. I’m living the dream!
Day 31: Spring Mountain Shelter to Jerry Cabin Shelter
I left camp early today and I flew through the first four miles. Then I encountered an incline that seemed innocuous in the AWOL guide until I started to climb it. Boy, that was tough! I stopped for lunch at the Little Laurel Shelter and then climbed some more. The steep inclines were worth it, though, as I got to walk along an exposed ridgeline. I cried at the beauty of the mountains and the sudden realization that I get to climb mountains daily. I am so fortunate to be here.
The climb down from the ridge, however, was a bit sketchy. It was very rocky and at times I questioned my safety. More training for the infamous Whites? At the bottom, my day took a drastic turn. Just before the 300-mile marker, I ran into Cori hiking up to me. I knew this day was coming, I just didn’t know how it would unfold.
Months ago, planning for my Appalachian Trail thru-hike, I had agreed Cori could join me for a stretch or two. The plan for this visit was for us to meet at the Jerry Cabin Shelter and then we would hike back to his car in the morning and go to Trail Days together. The conversation in the course of our shared hike reaffirmed why I am out here on the AT.
The evening was intense as my past life collided with the vision of my new. Ultimately, we concluded that it was best if Cori went to Trail Days without me and then he would return back to Florida. I would remain in the woods, where I belong.
Day 32: Jerry Cabin Shelter to a stealth campsite near Laurel Rector Road
I hiked with Cori, headed to Devils Fork Gap where he had parked his car. He would be taking Fossey and Zia to Trail Days and I would take my time getting to Erwin so they could catch up.
As we hiked, I heard a clap of thunder and could hear the rain quickly coming over the mountains. I dropped my bag and grabbed my rain jacket and covered my pack just in time for hail to begin pelting us. My first hail. I opened my arms to the sky and shouted, “This is the AT!”
We got to the car around 11 a.m. and I said my goodbyes. I probably won’t see Cori again until October, when I finish my hike.
I lay by the road soaking in the sun for a couple of hours, decompressing from my short visit. There was a lot I had to process. Cori coming out to see me had been tough for both of us as we each had an expectation of what this visit would mean. Ultimately, our encounter solidified why I am here and why I must continue on this journey.
Gas joined me at Devils Fork Gap and kept me company. He and Whip would also take their time getting to Erwin while we waited for our friends to return from Trail Days.
Day 33: Stealth campsite near Rector Laurel Road to Whistling Gap
Today was the worst! But it’s not the miles that have got me down, it’s tramily drama.
The day started like any other. Since the plan is to take it slow so that those at Trail Days can easily catch up, I took my time getting ready for the day’s hike. I felt peaceful, though the prior day’s events still weighed heavy on my mind. I was quiet and not much for conversation at lunch. Gas kept asking me if I was OK. I had little to say.
As we were packing it up we saw Grandma and Al, who informed us that Whip was planning to make a push into Erwin today. Gas’ demeanor immediately changed and it was obvious he would follow Whip into town, abandoning the original plan to wait for everyone to catch up. I felt slighted, and without a word, I quickly gathered my things and began to hike ahead. I was upset that our plans would so quickly change and I felt torn by the idea of tagging along with Gas and Whip or waiting up for Fossey and Zia.
I dropped into Sam’s Gap and was greeted with trail magic, courtesy of BJ, who was feeding the hungry hikers with Bojangles. It was the yummiest fried chicken and a much-needed treat on a mentally tough day.
I waited for Gas at the gap, but when he arrived, he seemed to ignore me. Was it because I stormed off? Was I just imagining the cold shoulder? I decided I’d hike on and we’d catch up later.
Gas did catch up to me but when he did I was not prepared for what he would say. He acknowledged my internal conflicts involving my personal life and he said he felt he was better suited to hike on his own. It stung and just like that, we parted ways.
I had counted on my extended tramily’s company into Erwin but after Gas’ frank conversation with me, I realized that wasn’t possible. This forced me to come to terms with being alone in the woods. Honestly, I didn’t take it well. Because I had this expectation that I would have company through this section into Erwin, when I found myself without, I broke down.
I guess there’s no better solution for emotional turmoil compounded with the feeling of abandonment than a long walk in the woods, so I kept hiking. I got to the Bald Mountain Shelter about 7 p.m., but I didn’t know any of the hikers there. I felt uncomfortable sitting with all of my emotions and I still had a lot of energy. While at the shelter, I met a hiker named Klaus who invited me to hike with him to a nearby campsite. Though I didn’t know him, I followed. While hiking, we got to know each other better and I learned we had a program of recovery in common.
I’m only 13 miles from Erwin but Fossy and Zia won’t be there for a few more days. Should I pay to stay in town for three days or hike on without them? I feel torn between the tramily and the hike.
Maybe this is what I need, a lesson in learning to be alone, to accept the uncomfortable. As they say, “the trail always provides.”
Day 34: Whistling Gap to Erwin
I didn’t fall asleep last night until after midnight and woke up promptly at 5 a.m. It’s hard to sleep when my personal life and trail life seem up in arms. I felt good as I hiked, however. Though I still didn’t know what I was going to do, walking in the woods, I felt secure.
As I neared town, I got a text from Fossey that she and Zia were at Uncle Johnny’s hostel. I hurried to them and told them how I got rejected. They offered to skip the miles and stay with me if needed. I know I wouldn’t want to skip miles so I wouldn’t let them do that. We agreed I’d wait in Erwin for them while they hiked the section I just finished. I’m lucky to have such a supportive tramily. If they could be so loyal as to consider skipping for me, then I can be loyal and wait for them.
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