These past two weeks have been filled with my highest highs and most recently my lowest lows. I’ve gone from one of the most perfect days of my life summiting “the greatest mountain” to crying in the middle of a McDonald’s in Hampton, Tennessee. It’s crazy how within a matter of days I went from feeling literally on top of the world to feeling completely alone.
At the time of my last post, The Law, Yaeger, Wildcat, and I had just spent a relaxing couple of days on the lake and were about to head into the 100 Mile Wilderness. That was an adventure. The first fifty miles were extremely tough. This was disappointing, because we had been hearing for a while about how easy the “wilderness” was. After recently hiking the Whites and southern Maine I was physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted, and so ready for a break. In the past few weeks leading up to this I had had several anxiety attacks and countless injuries from falling on rocks upwards of five times a day. Also, one of my trekking poles had just broken after I fell in a stream, so that just added to the difficulty. While I’m normally one of the fastest in our little hiking group, I was suddenly far behind everyone else. I guess I relied on my trekking poles more than I realized, because it felt like I was having to get my “trail legs” all over again. I was expending way more energy than normal and getting ravishingly hungrier with every step. I noticed that I was eating more snacks than I probably should’ve, but due to the hunger I couldn’t stop myself. Suddenly it became very apparent that I needed to seriously space out my food or I would be in big trouble. As I stated in the last post, there are no towns or places to get resupply in the Wilderness unless you had arranged it ahead of time and paid some big bucks. We decided to forego that option because we’re badasses (but in hindsight maybe it would’ve been a good idea). Luckily, the last fifty miles really were as easy as everyone said, which helped me to ignore the hunger pains a bit.
We met some awesome people that week, like TAR Man (Total Ankle Replacement) who regularly runs ultra marathons and Iron Mans and had been leaving the trail every couple weeks to simultaneously run his farm in Maine. Oh, and he’s 61 years young. We also met an interesting section hiker who recently got back from living in the Alaskan bush unsupported with his daughter for a month and a half. People are cool. To top it all off, I saw a moose. They’re cool too. The four of us spent a lot of time together that week and I’d say were pretty successful in just enjoying every moment we had together. While I regretfully don’t feel like I ever completely opened up to them, I know that I could trust those guys with anything. Each night was spent hanging around the campfire and each morning Law would wake up a few minutes earlier than everyone else, so we could wake up to a campfire. This is off topic and I wasn’t going to admit this, but a few weeks ago Law taught me how to build a fire. I figured it would be really embarrassing if I walked the entire AT and was still insufficient at this basic survival skill.
Anyway, back to the Wilderness. By our fifth and last day in hundred miles my hunger had gotten so bad that I started getting splitting headaches and suddenly felt extremely woozy. The boys were significantly ahead of me at this point and I knew I was not doing well. I had tried not to complain up to this point, because it was my own fault for not planning my food well enough and there was nothing the guys could do anyway because they needed their food just as much as I did. I sat down on the nearest log and ate my last snack, a large snickers. After a few minutes it kicked in and got me over the mountain and to the shelter. When I told the guys what had happened they quickly began offering me their food. I am so thankful for trail people.
The next morning Yaeger’s mom met us at the end of the Wilderness and fed us a huge breakfast and sent us on our way with sandwiches for lunch. This would be our last day of hiking before Katahdin. With only about 14 miles to do that day, we took our time and stopped for breaks at waterfalls and sat by gorgeous views for lunch. It was picturesque. Maine is the most beautiful state I’ve been to. It’s really bothering me that I just ended that sentence with a preposition…gosh, I get distracted easily. Anywayyy, that night we built a huge fire and huddled together for warmth.
In the morning we built another big fire with the remaining firewood, packed our stuff, and were off. We started up the mountain a little after 6:30AM and already had to wait in a line to start. Katahdin is a busy place! We’d agreed to all hike together that day, which proved to be more challenging than expected due to excitement and adrenaline. However, every couple miles we would all meet up and start off together again. We passed dozens of people on the way up and before we knew it we were only about a mile from the summit. We reconvened one last time, then made the final push up. I tried my hardest to pace myself, but I was hungry for the summit. When we were only a few hundred yards away we watched as our friend Regular Goat (the guy who saved Chance and Lost Boy’s packs in Pennsylvania) ran up to the sign and became the first person of the day to reach the top. No more than a couple minutes later, Law and I simultaneously reached the sign and became hikers #2 and #3 to get to that glorious summit. Shortly afterward, Wildcat and Yaeger made it to the top as well. It may have only been for about ten minutes, but for that ten minutes the five of us had that summit all to ourselves. I teared up a bit, then quickly held it back so the boys wouldn’t see me crying. I went up to the summit sign to take my obligatory summit picture and when I stood up and looked out I felt invincible. I looked out at the mountains around me and the earth below me and suddenly felt like I had become exactly the person I had always wanted to become. A few weeks ago a fellow thru hiker named Gray Goat told me that when he looked at me he saw three things and they were: confidence, competence, and commitment. While they were very kind words I admit I almost immediately dismissed it as nothing more than nonsense and fickle words, but in that moment, standing on that summit sign, I believed it to be the truth. Up to this point in the hike I would repeat to myself daily the words of Cheryl Strayed, “I decided I was safe. I was strong. I was brave. Nothing could vanquish me.” While I still love that quote, I think that maybe now I have a new mantra.
On the way down we realized how difficult and dangerous that mountain really is. The majority of the mountain was more akin to rock climbing than hiking. While I was slightly terrified of falling to a gruesome death with every step, I still had a blast. That will forever be one of the best days of my life.
It was hard saying goodbye to the guys the next morning, but I have a feeling I’ll see them again soon. While waiting to board the plane in Bangor, Maine I was catching up on some reading from Fahrenheit 451. I came upon an excerpt that reminded me of the friendships I’ve made on the trail. It said, “We cannot tell the precise moment when friendship is formed. As in filling a vessel drop by drop, there is at last a drop that makes it run over; so in a series of kindnesses there is at last one which makes the heart run over”. I love this trail and I love the people on it. I’m thankful for every single person I’ve met and every experience I’ve had. As the plane lifted off, I looked out the window at the beautiful scenery and the grandiose mountains I had just conquered and thought, “I’m pretty sure this is as good as it gets”.
I landed in Richmond, Virginia a few hours later and was greeted at the airport by my sister’s best friend from college, Andrea. Andrea lived with our family for a summer and even flew out to visit me at college a couple years ago. She and I are very close. We spent a couple days relaxing, bonding over Crazy, Stupid, Love, and exploring the city. I’m so glad I had that time to spend with her.
Tuesday morning she dropped me off in Pearisburg and sent me on my way. You might be saying, “why would she drop you off in Pearisburg? You started the trail in Damascus”. Well, friends, remember in a post long ago when I confessed to yellow blazing twenty miles from Pearisburg to The Captain’s party? I went back and did it. For those of you who don’t know all of the trail lingo, yellow blazing is when you skip a section of the trail, usually by car. AKA…cheating. I am happy to say that I am no longer a dirty yellow blazer and when I finally reach Springer Mountain, Georgia I can say without hesitation that I am a true thru hiker.
The next day I had a (expensive) shuttle give me a ride from Pearisburg to Damascus to officially start my southbound section. I picked up a few groceries, got a southbound guidebook at the outfitters, had a nice last meal, then set off. Though I had suspected this for quite a while, I soon discovered that southbounding is a lonely activity. In the last week I’ve had in the woods I’ve seen more bears than people, with the head count being three bears and two people. I am seriously too extroverted for this. To add to the mix, it has been pouring rain nonstop since I arrived in the south. I have yet to see the sun. Thanks a lot hurricane season. Each day had me missing my NoBo trail family more and more. Suddenly breaks were no longer fun. Nor was the trail, for that matter. My days went like this: wake up, walk, take snack break on a log, walk, eat lunch by myself, walk, walk, eat dinner by myself, go to bed, repeat. I thought that some solitude would be good for me, but so far it sucks. I want my friends back. And the sun. That would be nice too.
Yesterday I arrived in Hampton and was at an all time low. After ordering at McDonald’s I sat down (by myself) and realized that I had cell reception for the first time all week. I immediately texted my NoBo boys and told them how much I miss them. As soon as they started responding with words of encouragement I completely broke down. And I mean ugly, snotty sobbing…in the middle of the McDonald’s. Not my best moment. After wiping my tears away and eating my feelings I met the town cop who agreed to give me a ride to the hostel. I thought this was a great option until he started telling me about the murders on the AT and my likely probability of being raped and murdered. This was the longest hitch of my life. In his words, “if they’re gunna rape ya, they’ll probably murder ya too to keep from getting caught”. This went on for the twenty minute ride up the mountain to the hostel. Thanks for the support, dude.
I spent one more lonely night at the hostel only to wake up to another day of pouring rain. Normally this would bum me out, but not today. My mom gets here today and nothing can make me sad. I was planning on doing an easy eight miles, then meeting her at the bottom of the mountain, but I don’t feel like it, so I’m not going to hike at all. Instead I’ll sit in this cozy game room at the hostel and watch Wanderlust. I deserve it.
Also, I did make one friend. I may have scared him off a little bit with my desperate attempt at communication, but it’s a start. I’ll take it. I’ll let you know how that goes.
Here’s to a sunny week with my favorite mom.