Monday, April 22, 2024
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Life After Trail Legs – The Trek

by Staff

20/20 reporting in from the Appalachian Plateau. Finished the Smokies this morning, about three weeks into the trail and life before already feels like a distant memory. It’s an adventure that keeps changing as the days bloom on.

Stats

Album choices: Nashville Skyline (Bob Dylan), Don’t Mess With Jim (Jim Croce), Ten (Pearl Jam), There Goes The Neighborhood (Joe Walsh).

Knee pain: 5.6/10

 

Experiencing Life Through A Fire Hose

It’s impossible to really describe what it’s been like since my last post. Every day has a way of surprising you. New people, places, rules, and old friendly faces. The concept of ‘a day’ does not apply out here. Yes there are the certainties: I’m going to drink instant coffee, eat six to eight bars, I’m going to walk, and I’m going to find a spot to sleep. But even those things have the potential to become wildly different than what you planned. My favorite part of life on the trail is still the hiking, but a close second has become the conversations you have while hiking. Maybe I’m the annoying one that everyone wants to shut up while they focus on climbing the hill, but it seems like conversations while hiking become much more genuine. There’s no room for the artificial while you’re doing these ascents. Conversations range from the mental health crisis, the nature of a soul, the American education system, readjusting to pretrail life, how AI works, etc etc. The trail puts you around folks that challenge what you think you know, and in situations that challenge what you think you can handle.

 

A Smokey Mountain Odyssey

The Smokies were a hell of a rollercoaster. Emotionally, spiritually, physically, and not even close to what I was expecting in any way. The day before we all had a great lunch at Fontana with Fresh Ground, got our own beds in our own private rooms (hell yeah), and feasted like royalty at the Fontana Restaurant. Anywhere there were hikers there was an air of suspense, excitement, and anxiety about the upcoming gauntlet. Finally, I had made it to the Smokies.

The climb out of Fontana felt great, it was a bright blue day, and it felt like my gas tank was full the whole way through to Russell Field shelter. It was an exciting night at the shelter. Many friends I had made over the previous 180 miles were there that night. Everyone was in high spirits, and even when a large group of section hikers came and took over the shelter we welcomed them and all told jokes and stories around the built-in fireplace of the shelter. I even figured out just how essential it is to sleep with ear plugs in that night. It was a 10/10 day.

The next day was a 180 degree shift. It was just another 16 miles, I’d done that several times before then, so of course it would be a walk in the park. After about mile 8, I had gone through all my snack bars for the day and had to break into the next day’s food. Not good. For some reason this day kicked my ass. The trail was rough, the climbs didn’t seem to end, and that nice sun went from a friend to an oppressive inferno beating down from on high. By the time I made it to Double Springs I was completely drained, it was like getting a left spike to the head. Just completely unexpected.

Luckily the next morning made up for it. A friend woke up early with me to night hike (as I am known to do) at 5:30 or so that we could catch the sunrise from Clingmans Dome, the highest point on the AT. When we were just right there, we took a wrong turn and went about a half mile downhill, running, thinking we were making great time to clingmans. This accidental turn cost us more than just time. It was an ice river, but not enough to warrant putting on our spikes, so while we were dashing down this path, my friend lost her footing on a set of those lovely huge AT stairs that were unknowingly covered in a thin layer of ice, caught herself with her left hand, and broke her pinky. She is an absolute trooper though, and kept going like it was nothing. We eventually realized our mistake and went back uphill, running to clingmans to catch that sunrise. It was a beautiful, unbelievably gorgeous sunrise over the ridgelines of the Smokies, but it was not worth my friend breaking her finger. Be careful when hiking on ice, and be sure you’re on the right trail especially when night hiking.

I also got a much needed resupply from an old family friend at Newfound Gap this day. Mumbles, you’re a hero. You don’t know how good those cokes, pringles, and snickers tasted after that bitch of a day before. And speaking of Newfound Gap, when I hiked up that slope into it, I was not expecting to see what I did. In my mind I was going to come into a quiet forest road with a couple cars from day and section hikers, when I got up there I thought I ended up in Disney world there were so many people. Every parking spot was taken and I had to squeeze by people on the sidewalk. I got lots of suspicious, fascinated, and confused looks from the tourists too, like I was an orangutan in a zoo or something. It was cool! But I didn’t catch the look on their faces as I walked by and they caught the smell, I don’t think I’d want to see that look. The leftover honeybuns, coke, and pringles were much appreciated when the other folks got to camp that night.

The next day was good. Thought I was going to do a 12, but ended up doing my first 20 . I felt fine at the end of the day, and even the next day. Hiking with other people really makes the mental challenges of going further much easier to handle. The final day of the Smokies was something else. I’ll just insert a note I made during the hike: “Mile 237.1: I started hiking in a thunderstorm, lightning flashing all around me, illuminating the forest orange, red, and pink, thunder booming in my ears. The incessant strobing and immediate crashes of thunder made it clear this was an intense storm,  I started walking next to the trees and bushes on the uphill side of the trail in an attempt to blend in with the cover of the underbrush. I kept on climbing, and the trail just kept going up and the lightning got worse and the rain fell harder. It didn’t help that every tree seemed like it was 50 feet apart from the others. I was not sheltered. I put on some music hoping I could tune out the maelstrom, it didn’t help. I looked up at the peak in front of me as it was being bombarded by multiple arcs of lightning at once like it was one of those plasma balls you had as a kid. It illuminated the peaks silhouette against the briefly pink and ink black sky like a temple. That’s the one I was hiking towards, Mt. Cammerer. I looked side to side, and realized the hills went down on both sides of me. Thats when I started to pray”. I made it up and over fine, and while it was terrifying, the spectacle was unlike anything I’d ever seen (and also pretty dangerous, don’t do what I did).

With the first great challenge out of the way, Im ready to move on to the last section of North Carolina and prepare for Virginia.

Until next time ~ 20/20

 

 

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