Trail Update #1: Let’s Talk Tramily.
Well, I’ve been on the trail for a week now, and there are many, many things that I could talk about here, but there is one big thing that I want to focus on: my trail family. Going into this, I knew only what I had been told about meeting people on the trail: that you would meet people immediately, form quick friendships due to the adversity that you are all facing together, and most likely come and go from groups as the weeks went on. While I can’t speak to what will happen down the road with these guys, I CAN say that the friendships I formed from the get-go have been amazing and perfect and I don’t know if I would want to go on without them. Let me explain.
I met my first trail friend before even getting on the trail. As I’m sure you all know, getting to the parking lot at Springer was quite the trek–the road turns into a Forest Service road at some point and gets muddy and rocky very quickly. My Subaru was handling it pretty well, but my mom and I rounded a corner and saw a small BMW pulled off to the side. “Man, they must be having a tough time,” I remarked. Not 5 seconds later, the people in the BMW started waving us down. I pulled off to the side and said hello to the pair, one male, one female, both in their mid-20s. They asked if we were headed to Springer, because the girl was beginning her thru-hike that day and he was supposed to be taking her there, but his car couldn’t make it any further on that rough road. So, in got Kylie, and our trail alliance was instantly formed. Two 20-something solo female thru-hikers who just happened to stumble across each other? It seemed quite fortuitous, especially since my original start date was going to be the 16th, but I was so eager to get started that I pushed it up a day. We keep saying that it was meant to be, and it truly feels that way! Kylie and I have stuck together every step of the way so far, and we are definitely not planning on separating anytime soon. We have about the same mileage goals for each day, we walk at about the same pace, and we have very (sometimes eerily) similar personalities, so things are just working out beyond perfectly. I don’t know how I ever thought I could do this trip solo–having someone with me at all times has made me realize that I am not a fan of being alone!
During day 2, Kylie and I stopped at a shelter for lunch. There were two brothers eating next to us that we struck up a conversation with, and while they hike at a much faster pace than us, we’ve worked it out to where we can always end up meeting at the same place for lunch, water resupply, and camp at night. So add James (Uphill) and Tom (RIP) to the group. Side note: we decided to call Tom RIP because he was actually only hiking for this first week–he has a job to get back to in New York, sadly, so his trail time is dying soon. Also on day 2, we met an Army vet named Wookie (see his current hair situation and the trail name makes sense). The 5 of us haven’t separated since, and this has been more important to me than I ever could have imagined.
We hit our first really cold and wet day on day 5. We have not yet quite mastered the art of embracing the suck, so this was a really tough day for us. I shake like a chihuahua and get cranky like a toddler when I get too cold, so the entire day was a struggle for me. Wookie was able to get in touch with one of his buddies outside of Hiawassee who ended up coming to get us from Unicoi Gap and putting us up for the night. I know I’ll have to get better at dealing with the wet and cold before long, because I won’t have a hot shower to run to every time this happens, but it was the greatest comfort in the world to have that at the end of my first really trying day, and that wouldn’t have happened without Wookie including us in his plans. The generosity of Wookie’s friend was also incredible. He drove us to several places in town where we needed to pick up supplies, let us use his washer and dryer, let us spread our wet and smelly gear all over his living room, and he cooked us an amazing meal with venison that he hunted himself. It truly could not have been a better setup.
And finally, I have had knee issues for about the past decade, and I had the feeling that they would flare up at some point on the trail. It just so happens that this flare-up has happened much sooner than expected. On day 6, I began to experience the worst knee pain of my life. I honestly have never experienced pain like this, and it was impossible to escape from it. Every step was agony. I slowed down to the pace of a turtle and was still wincing with every step. It would have been so easy for everyone to jet off at their own pace and let me figure things out on my own–I mean, we’ve only known each other for a few days, why should they change their plans because this girl has shitty knees? But nobody even considered doing this. Wookie was slack packing that day, and he forced me to switch packs with him so there would be less pressure on my knees. And he definitely had to coerce me into it. I am a stubborn person, and the last thing I want to do is make others carry the weight–literally–for me. But I believe the words out of his mouth were “I am not going to take no for an answer.” I mean, this was his day to slack pack and get big miles, and here he is refusing to let me carry my pack any further. Kylie also slowed her pace way down to match mine and to keep my spirits high, which was a huge help because this whole knee thing has been so discouraging to me. I always figured that if there was going to be any reason that I had to leave the trail, it would be my physical condition. To think that this might be happening so soon was beyond disheartening, so having these friends by my side during the hike to help me along was just the best encouragement possible.
As I mentioned earlier, Tom and James are very speedy hikers, so they had gotten pretty far ahead on this day. But, I rounded a corner at one point and Tom was waiting around in a clearing to make sure that I was doing okay and to see if there was anything that he could do. Selfless behavior AGAIN. We ended up making it to a shelter that we were considering staying at or around, and the group let me make the decision as to whether we would go further that day or not. Nobody tried to talk me into anything one way or another; they all convinced me that anything would work for them. When I decided that we should go a couple of more miles, Tom and James took some weight from my pack to help lighten the load. They hiked at their usual pace until they found a good place for a campsite, and then James dropped his pack and came back about a mile to where Kylie and I were still chugging along to take my pack from me and carry it the rest of the way to the campsite. I am still having a hard time wrapping my head around the amount of generosity these friends have shown to me already.
Today, day 7, was another rough one on my knees. Nothing I was doing was making them feel any better, and we had a lot of downhills today, which always makes them hurt worse. Again, Kylie stayed with me the entire way and didn’t even come close to guilting me about it once. Tom and James kept slowing down/stopping to make sure that I was doing ok. There was one point where the downhills got super steep and I was in so much pain, and Kylie made me stop and give her my pack. It took a lot of persuasion, but damn, these people refuse to take no for an answer. Seriously, THE GIRL WAS DOUBLE PACKING. WHO DOES THAT?! The most amazing, selfless people in the world, that’s who. And once again, James made it down to the gap where we were getting a ride into town and bounded back up the mile that Kylie and I had left to carry my pack down.
So as you can see, I have plenty of reasons to feel like the luckiest hiker in the world. I cannot believe that everyone cares so genuinely about my well-being already. It is truly the most amazing feeling ever and I cannot express my gratitude to them enough. They are all incredible people and even in such a short time, I cannot imagine my thru-hike without them. I have now obtained brand new, super supportive braces for both of my knees, so hopefully the upcoming days will be easier for me and I won’t have to rely on my friends to help carry the weight. But knowing that if something else were to go wrong mentally or phyisically that I would have this support system ready and waiting will really help get me through the upcoming days. Leaving my friends at home behind to begin was always the hardest element of this trip for me, so it feels wonderful to have obtained a fantastic support system out here so quickly. It truly is the people that make the hike, and I wouldn’t trade these people for the world!
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What a sweet crew! I’m glad you got new braces — take it easy and get better soon!
I can’t remember if you are using hiking poles but the downhills are much easier with them. Backfire
Can’t wait to get out there and meet some of those great people. I head out in a week.
I echo Bryan’s sentiment. I can’t wait to get started and meet some of these great people.