I Want to Be Tough as Nails
Max Patch is supposedly one hell of a view.
For us, it was just hell.
The morning was misty but not rainy. Lucas and I took our tent down in a matter of minutes, ate breakfast, and set out for the day completely oblivious to what would unfold. A few minutes into our hike, the mist turned into a chilly drizzle. 30 minutes later, it was full-on pouring, and I drenched straight through my rain jacket. My teeth chattered like crazy. My hands, although gloved, felt as if they had rubber bands wrapped around their fingertips. A few days back, an employee at Outdoor 76 had advised me to try and keep my hands from freezing with two pairs of gloves and hand warmers; he said it looked/sounded like I had the beginning stages of frostbite. Well, I lost complete feeling in my hands an hour into hiking.
The wind picked up to who knows how fast (Lucas swears it was 50 mph). At that point, we had decided to walk until the next shelter—Roaring Fork Shelter—8.2 miles from our starting point. Rain hit us in the face every time we climbed uphill, so I walked with my left eye closed and my head tilted away. The ground was so muddy we slipped every few steps, sometimes falling to our bums. I kept telling myself that this too shall pass (as cheesy as that sounds). There was nowhere safe for us in the storm, besides the shelter. Though my body was in pain, there was no other option–we had to continue moving forward.
…And forward led us to Max Patch, a 4,629-foot bald mountain. We climbed the peak for what seems like forever. The rain that had chilled us turned into hail. The strong winds flung ice pellets into the left sides of our faces–it felt like needles. At one point, I was blinded from ice flying into both my eyes. I screamed. Lucas yelled like a maniac. He said things like, “Woohoo, one day this will be a great story!” and “ARGH! BLARGHAGGH!” I had to walk with very purposeful and slow steps. The few times I tried to run, I was practically blown off the mountain. Again, I had to tell myself that as long as I kept going, my current pain would pass. It’s a spooky feeling realizing that you can’t escape your current moment.
It started to snow during our descent, so my hat, pack, and jacket caught hitchhiking snowflakes. And my shoes felt like cinder blocks from their additional water weight. After four-ish hours of lugging each foot forward, we made it to the shelter. I immediately changed into my dry clothes and crawled into my sleeping bag. It took me a long time to stop shivering, and for my hands to feel “warm” again. I started to read the book I had picked up at Standing Bear Farm—The Outsiders—even though it’s a kids’ book. I soon realized that because it’s a kids’ book, it’s not that entertaining, but oh well. There was a phrase repeated throughout that caught my attention: “the guys are tough as nails, and look it.”
That’s one of the reasons why I’m thru-hiking the AT: to be tough as nails (and look it). I want the confidence to approach challenges with an I-got-this attitude, not play the victim role or run away and say “Well, this just isn’t for me.” The Trail is teaching me that you can’t just sit if you want to make it to Katahdin, and that it’s crucial to actively participate in the moment. There’s really only two things you can do in your day: stay in place or move on to your next camp spot. It’s a simple concept but I hope that it becomes the backbone to my actions.
Anyway, to continue the story, although we got into camp around noon, we barely left our sleeping bags for the rest of the day. It dropped down into the twenties—our water bottles froze even though we kept them in our sleeping bags. I wore every single dry piece of clothing I owned, yet I was still cold. That night was the coldest night I have ever experienced. The shelter fit eight people comfortably but we crammed in eleven total. Oh, and it snowed through the walls due to the cracks between the logs. It was quite the experience. We woke up to about two inches of snow on the ground, and boy was Lucas excited. He was the first to get up and collect everyone’s bear bags, aka antsy to get hiking.
That next day was beautiful, definitely the cream-cheese icing on a crummy cake. I loved watching everything melt as the day grew warmer, especially in contrast to the green leaves peeking through. It’s odd how it works, but a string of crappy on the Trail is usually followed by complete bliss, from something as simple as the sunshine!
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