Oats on the Appalachian High Route: Day 5
From ages 11-12, I slept in the tree house my Dad build for me and my brother in the side yard of our childhood home. I piled on blankets or threw them aside when temperatures threatened my good time, and eventually even hung a hammock inside to snuggle into. I woke up from a rock-hard sleep reminiscent of those curious nights.
I allowed myself to sleep in more than any other day of the trip and found myself on trail right after sunrise. Today was a special day, so I had a particular spring in my step: my Gram and Mom were to meet me at Pisgah Inn for ice cream around noon, and I had 7 miles to beat them there or I was sure they’d call a search party.
A few joggers and I exchanged pleasantries on my way to Pisgah Mountain, and I tried to quietly sneak behind a small private wedding at an overlook just as the bride was reading her vows, but the *clink clank* of my pot and stove were likely audible to the teary-eyes audience.
When I made it to Pisgah Inn, I immediately felt self-conscious. My hair was wrapped up, I was filthy, I could feel a scab and pimple formed on the front of my nose and cheek, and the guests roaming the grounds didn’t need to be subjected to me (still wearing clothes half-soaked from yesterday’s storm) while muching on their expensive lunch. And then, it occurred to me that I had the look of someone I would’ve wanted to chat with when I was a 7 year old bouncing off the walls while nursing an ice cream. And I had hiked over 80 miles in 5 days, and that was an accomplishment. And my Dad had texted me the night before just to tell me how proud of me he is. I stood a little taller as I approached the overlook.
Eventually my Mom and Gram showed up with my carefully pre-packed resupply and smiles from ear to ear. “I really loved that one of you under the bridge. It just looked like you were looking up at Heaven or Katie and she was smiling down on you.” I felt the familiar pang of pain in my chest whenever my Aunt Kate is mentioned, the woman whose name I bear, but it was a sweet sadness.
As my Mom and I stood in line at the small cafe, she leaned in to the cashier. “Excuse me, do you have any way to dry my daughter’s shoes? She’s hiking a long way and they’ve been wet since yesterday.” I hadn’t yet explained that everything being wet and never drying was an inevitability of life on trail. “Well, I could put them in the big oven but the last time I did that I got in trouble,” the cashier joked. I smiled and ushered my Mom away, ice cream slowly beginning to soften in our hands. A turkey sandwich, a moon pie, two peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and a prebiotic soda later it was time for me to be on my way.
As I continued through the familiar smells of decomposition, moisture, and humus, I thought back to my Gram’s mention of Aunt Kate. After she took her own life just over a year ago, I hiked the Lone Star Hiking Trail to find some kind of closure – and well, I didn’t. The flatness mirrored my stiff emotions and guarded heart, and I trudged through without much intentionality or reflection. I’m realizing the ache will never truly go away, that I’ll always miss her, and so will my Mom and Gram. But talking about her during happy times, thinking of things she’d enjoy or would make her smile – that’s helping. And that’s enough for me.
Though my campsite that night was by all accounts gorgeous, flat, and close to water, it was also mosquito hell. I donned my Patagonia base layers, rain jacket, compression socks, and head net before being forced inside by the incessant insects.
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