Weeks 6 and 7: I Walk the (State) Line
When we last checked in, I had just completed the Smokies, and dealing with some emotional roller coaster days that envied the pointless ups and downs of the Trail itself. I had ended my Smokies journey with a stay at Standing Bear Hostel before getting back on the road.
I’ve started to notice a new struggle with my mental state while hiking in the last few weeks. I’ve felt more and more how I’ve been numb to the breathtaking views and stunning moments that I was so enamored with only a few weeks ago. It’s strange to say, but the “newness factor” of my hike has been fading. It’s inevitable, I guess, that after two months on the Trail that some things will no longer seem as unique and special for me.
This has then aggravated the ongoing feeling of loneliness and general homesickness I’ve felt, since it’s no longer consistently counterbalanced by the feelings of “I’m hiking the AT!” This then is when the advice of the Appalachian Trials book is so helpful. (seriously, if you haven’t already done so, get your copy today) I focus on my “why’s” and remember all the people back home who I’ve told what I’m doing.
I have to admit, I have been incredibly fortunate to have so much support from family and friends. I’ve talked to so many hikers who have parents or friends that fought against them going on this journey. I haven’t had that experience. In fact, not a single person I told about my plans expressed any doubt of my ability to do it, and offered nothing but excitement or support. For this, I am more thankful than I could say.
Physically though, I have been very happy to notice that I’m finding the Trail to be less of a struggle than before. Note, this is not me saying that it’s easy or even easier, just not the full time self abusive feeling that Georgia and southern North Carolina were. I still struggle with climbing mountains, and I have to stop to catch my breath, but I only hate myself and think about quitting about two or three times an hour, rather than every five minutes like I did before.
Also physically speaking, I’ve had an exciting bit of news. At this point, I’ve lost 55 pounds since I started my hike! At Hot Springs I had to change out the pants I’ve been wearing because they keep falling down.
This has definitely not been due to diet because I’ve been eating with all of the most horrible habits possible when in town, and my Trail food hasn’t been exactly healthy eating either. I will need to work on my diet when I go home or else I’ll regain all the weight in a matter of weeks.
While the newness factor has been lessened, I do still find some of the places we’ve passed through to be incredibly beautiful. Max Patch was a sight that many had told be about ahead of time, and I think because of that it didn’t stun me in quite the same way. (It didn’t help that the climb up Max Patch was a viciously steep one that had me cursing my legs, my pack, and existence itself for most of the way, so I was a little surly when I finally arrived)
I think my favorite post Smokies view moment was Howard’s Rock which is close to the 300 mile mark. The AT Guide will tell you that there’s a bypass trail so you can avoid the very rocky portion. I will tell you that unless you’re facing truly inclement weather, do NOT take this bypass. While it is a very rough portion of trail, it is absolutely WORTH it!
I did have one other moment that I feel like I need to share. When I got to Erwin, I absolutely had to go to the KFC for their all you can eat buffet. Unfortunately, the lunch shuttle from Uncle Johnny’s only went to a pizza place, so I walked the several miles across town. So of course, you have to wonder why I was so fixated on fried chicken? Well, when I was six years old, I was diagnosed with Hodgkins Disease, a type of cancer. While getting radiation therapy, I was having difficulty with gaining weight at the rate doctors were hoping for. I didn’t eat the hospital food and my parents had to push and plead to get me to eat. (This period may play a part in why I see food as a comfort object) I distinctly remember then, the moment when my dad brought Kentucky Fried Chicken to my hospital room for me to eat.
So when I was sitting there enjoying the southern fast food of the KFC, I was forced to remember that even though the Trail may no longer seem new to me, and even if I’m feeling stronger than before, I absolutely must remember how much of a lucky guy I am to be out here. Not just because I made the switch from a morbidly obese tech support worker to simply an overweight hiker, but through the whole scope of my life through so many twists and turns to get here. The Trail has called me, and even after I leave these White Blazes behind, I’ll still be huffing and puffing my way up the mountains of life.
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