WEEKS 21, 22, 23: THE FINAL CHAPTER

Sorry this one took so long to get posted. We’ve been having technical difficulties.

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I have two days of hiking left. Yeah, two. I just sat here for five minutes and stared at that last sentence. I don’t want it to be over. I really thought I was ready for the end and ready to join the “real” world, but I don’t know if I am. Life is great out here. Yes, another hurricane came through and it has been raining nonstop for the past few days again, but I’m still happier than I think I’ve ever been. How do you slow time down?

It’s really weird going through a last week on the trail twice. It’s the happiest, most exciting week, while also having that thought of knowing it’s almost over. It’s sad. I feel like I’m going through a breakup with the trail. Think John Mayer’s “Slow Dancing In a Burning Room”.

So much has happened since my last post…over three weeks ago. Oops (I’m really sorry, guys!). I was quite the Sad Sally and maybe just a tiny bit mopey. I wish I could say that total solidarity didn’t bother me, but one of the biggest realizations I’ve had on the trail is the innate need for human connection. I think my last post may have freaked my family out a bit, because suddenly they were all asking off work to come hike with me. Nothing says family bonding like a cop telling your daughter she’s going to be murdered.

My mom came out for a week and she slack packed me a couple days, we took a couple days off, we hiked a couple days (okay, maybe just one day for eight miles), and did a lot of glamping. I was either at a hotel or hostel every night that week. Not complaining.

Then after my mom left, my sister, Allison, and Beaux, her sweet dog, came out for a couple days. The first day was great. We hiked up one of the most beautiful sections of the trail and found our way to the shelter with plenty of daylight left. Allison refused to sleep in the shelter after I mentioned that the shelter mice sometimes crawl on the hikers while they’re sleeping, so we set up my tent. It was a bit of a squeeze to fit two fully grown adults and a dog into my one person tent, but we made it work. That is, until it started to downpour in the middle of the night. I woke up soaking wet. In the morning we packed up and went on our way. As the day went on the rain just continued to intensify. We made it to a shelter for lunch, but when we tried to leave, Beaux decided he didn’t want to hike anymore. He was just standing there refusing to move. Beaux is a little dog, so Allison and I switched off carrying him for a couple miles. When we got too tired to hold him we tried waving beef jerky in front of him to get him to move. This worked for a while. Allison would hold his leash while I stood about fifteen feet in front of him with the jerky. Then we ran out of beef jerky. We felt bad because we thought that maybe he was cold and sick from the rain, but after a bit we realized that he literally just didn’t feel like walking anymore, so Allison just carried him again for the last mile or so. Now that I’m looking back on the situation, it really was pretty funny. However, I don’t think Allison will come backpacking again anytime soon. Glamping is more her style too.

A couple days after that my dad came to pick me up for a doctor’s appointment. It was for my new endocrinologist (thyroid cancer doctor) in Atlanta. I know I’ve never addressed this in the blog, but my cancer still is there. It’s very small and not a huge concern to the doctor, but I am so freaking tired of it. I just want it to go away. I think three years is enough. I know that most people with cancer have it a ton worse than me and I probably sound really whiney again, but can it please just go away? I try to pretend like it’s not there, but that’s hard to do when I have to take medicine daily and go to doctor’s appointments. I made a decision to not let it stop me from doing anything, but sometimes I do need to realize that I’m not in amazing health and while the other guys might be able to do 25 miles days every day for a week, my body just can’t handle that. Okay, rant over. Anyway, after the appointment my dad dropped me back off at the trail right at the start of the Smokies. I had hoped that after being on the trail for five months it might be easier for him to drop his little girl off in the woods by herself, but it wasn’t. He had a really tough time letting me go. It breaks my heart that it’s so hard for him, but I know that I just can’t let it stop me. I thought about it all through the Smokies. On my last night there I got to a shelter full of section hikers and had a great time talking to them and telling them about the trail. There was a group of five dads there who go for a backpacking trip every year. They all have daughters around my age. I ended up talking to one of the guys for about an hour and told him about how hard it is to see my dad this terrified about my trip. I told him about how my dad is the greatest guy in the world and how he would and has done anything for me. The guy listened and really helped me to settle my mind about the situation. It’s crazy that I told all this deep, personal stuff to someone I just met, but sometimes that’s how it goes on the trail. I went to bed and felt a lot better. When I woke up I got ready and found a bill in my shoe. (I wonder who it could’ve been from.) it was still dark so I couldn’t see how much it was for, so I finished packing up and went on my way before everyone else woke up. When I looked at it in the daylight I saw that it was a one hundred dollar bill. I was stunned. It will go directly to my Heart For Africa fundraising. Thank you, kind stranger.

After leaving the Smokies something great happened. I finally made friends!! Who hoo!! I can’t properly explain how excited I was, so I’ll do my best with this: zusnalrivkexpeks!!! We all sheltered at Fontana Dam and I excitedly planned the whole rest of the trip for us. I did this partly so we had an idea of timing, but mostly so they had to stay with me. I guess it worked, because we’ve all been hiking together for over a week now. There are five of us in the group: Swift, Dr. Busch, Mass, Couscous, and me. I’m the president of the group (self named). We’ve had a lot of fun together. I still love and miss my NoBo group, but it is good to be back with a team.

Last week we arrived in Franklin and the Ingwersen family hooked us up with a great night away from the trail. Lindsey (one of my neighbors and best friends from back home) picked us up from the trail and brought us back to their cabin where we showered, washed our clothes, stayed up telling stories around the bonfire, and ate like kings (and queens). The Ingwersen family had so much fun with us smelly hikers that they’re thinking about turning their cabin into a hiker hostel/B&B. How cool is that!

We hiked a few more days, then got to Helen, Georgia just in time for the end of Oktoberfest. It’s crazy how that worked out (actually it’s not at all. Making it to Oktoberfest was my only time goal for all of my southbound section). While at dinner a section hiker saw us with our packs and wanted to talk to us about the trail, which we were happy to do. This guy has hiked a lot around the area. As we were paying our bill the guy came back over and asked if all five of us were thru hikers. When we said yes he slapped a one hundred dollar bill on the table and told us to enjoy. We did. This was the second one hundred dollar bill I had gotten in a week. Later that night Lindsey met up with us and we all hung out and danced the night away. After that we went back to a cabin that a northbounder I met a couple months back owned. He wasn’t going to be there, but he let us stay at his awesome cabin for free. The hiker community is so cool.

And here I am. Today we hiked to Neels Gap and have just over thirty miles to Springer. I will be done on the twenty ninth. Like I said, it might be raining for the rest of the trip and yeah, it’s very cold, but I’m surrounded by great people doing the thing that makes me the happiest. I might not be able to slow down time, but I can try to live completely in the present for the next 36 hours or so. Life is good.

Also, today Swift and I were crossing a road at a gap and a car pulled up beside us. They asked why we would be hiking on such a dreary day and when we explained what we’ve been doing for the past five months the old man put a bill in Swift’s hand and said he wanted to buy us dinner. He said that we reminded him of he and his wife when they used to do things like this in their younger days. It was another one hundred dollar bill. In the past two weeks I have been given three one hundred dollar bills. What?! When we got to the hostel we paid for everyone’s stay and bought some sodas and candy to go around. I know I say this a lot, but people are too cool.

That’s all for now. My next post will be the last one. I don’t know if I’m ready for that, but I’ll be fine. It’ll be emotional and that’s exactly how it should be. The next time you hear from me I’ll be a thru hiker.

Love,
Hollywood

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