From the moment I decided to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail, my mother has provided unwavering support. She listened to my plans, encouraged me, and promised to send mail drop boxes all along the way. Then, the night before I flew to Georgia she finally said,
“So, what will you actually be doing all day? You just…hike?”
Ha! Truth comes out.
“Yes, Mom, I’ll hike. And eat. And camp. And take in the natural beauty around me. And think.”
We had a good laugh over our different views on having fun, but it made me realize that many of you might appreciate insight into the mind of a hiker (or at least this hiker) because, let’s face it, there’s a lot of time for thinking.
The other morning my friends and I left Franklin, NC after taking a Zero. Ron Haven, a great friend of the trail, dropped us off at Winding Stair Gap, and we picked up where we left off.
After a few minutes of climbing with our freshly loaded packs, I thought, “I think my heart is going to explode. I have to stop eating so many York Peppermint Patties and PB M&Ms in town. Maybe if I just vomit, I’ll feel better. No, wait it out. Wait it out, Jor. Let your body catch up. Or maybe vomit. No.”
Sure enough, within a mile, I felt better and began hitting my groove. I leap frogged back and forth with the same half dozen people for a while before deciding to take a break to create distance. Then, over the course of the next 15 miles, I hiked mostly alone, more caused by inconvenient spacing than by intent.
At one point, I came across a fellow hiker who unabashedly asked if Peanut were behind me. Keeping in mind that our little hiking clan has met this young buck (puppy dog?) before, I decided to be evasive in my response and to wait around unsuccessfully for Peanut for a half hour to head him off at the chase. Hey, we ladies have to stick together, especially when unwanted attention from puppy dogs is involved.
Luckily, I’d intersected said puppy dog at an old stone fire tower, which lent itself to a good resting point. I took the opportunity to stretch, drink some water, and take in the view.
Foul weather was in the forecast, but we managed to get out in front of the storm and enjoy a calm day of hiking…and sight seeing, I suppose.
When Peanut didn’t catch up, I continued on. Here’s where the fun really begins. I spent the next 7 miles in the following conversation with myself. Hold onto your seats, folks, because this isn’t pretty.
I wonder if it’s going to start snowing tonight. The forecast said it might. So, if it snows, I hope it doesn’t melt then refreeze. That would be so treacherous, like the time I tried to hike on ice a few months ago in DC. Hm, I wonder what everyone at home is doing right now. Wait, what’s today’s date? What day of the week is it? Am I missing someone’s birthday? Oh shoot, I forgot to call Grandma and Grandpa before I left town. Heave, this hill is exhausting. I have to pee. Ugh, I don’t want to stop. There’s no place to hide around here. Have I eaten anything today? I should eat. I don’t want to eat. Maybe I’m thirsty. What am I doing here? I must be crazy. Oh, wow, that moss is awesome. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen it before. Hm, what color is it? Dang, I’m so bad with colors. It’s probably because of my rods and cones. I always mix up blues and purples. Wait, this moss is greenish. I’m making excuses. I wonder where everybody is. They probably don’t want to hike with me. Ugh, I can be so annoying. I should tone it down. Less jibber jabbering and giggling. I can do stoic. I should aim for stoic. And I would walk 500 miles. And I would walk 500 more…da da da… Holy cow, this last mile is a bear. Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming…
For the record, today’s internal conversation – during which I was hiking uphill for 6.5 miles – involved a lot of cursing and defeatism. “What if I just stop right here on the trail and sit down? Will someone come find me, or will I die of hypothermia? I could probably find a cave nearby to stay warm. Or maybe I should put all my clothes on and build a fire. Oh what the f&$@. F&$@ you, mountain. I’m going to beat the crap out of you, you piece of crap. You’re mine. Oh, thank goodness, I made it to the top.”
Yeah, sometimes it’s an uphill battle in one’s head. (For the record, stairs are my least favorite trail feature, so let’s say an ‘upstair battle.’). But most of the time it’s just a mess in there. I’m sure there’s a mathematical equation to explain the thoughts in a hiker’s head over time, but for now I only have anecdotal evidence.
When I finally made it the 15 miles to Cold Springs shelter after the last stretch of snow lined trail, I found Lentil with his sleeping bag set up and five others I’d never met, filling the shelter to capacity. The following conversation – which was completely pleasant in tone – ensued.
“So when did you get here that you got a spot?” (Read: why didn’t you save me a spot?)
“About an hour ago. I was the first person here. I felt really good today on the downhills.”
“Oh wow, you booked it today. That’s great.” (Read: why didn’t you save me a spot?) “What are my other options?”
“There are campsites on the hill about 100 feet up the trail.”
“So, where? Up on the hill?” (Read: Whimper, don’t make me go up there.)
“Yeah, nobody’s up there yet. You’ll have your pick.”
“So, nobody’s up there yet?” (Read: Pout, seriously, up that steep hill? I just hiked 15 miles.)
“Yeah, actually I was thinking maybe I should just suck it up and grab a campsite. I’ll have to see if my (newly sealed) rain fly works eventually.”
“Oh, yeah?” (Read: Jor, you have pride. Don’t stoop just because it’s lonely on the hill. Tell him to stay in the shelter.) “Alright, I’ll go check out the sites.”
When I finally returned to grab my pack and to get fresh water:
“OK, I’m going to go up to the campsites. I’m not coming back down. I’ll see you in the AM.” (Read: I’ve accepted that I can’t stay in the shelter, but I’m still grumpy and don’t want to hang out because I’m not one of the cool shelter kids.)
Within an hour, Zen joined me up the hill, and Peanut made it as we were finishing up dinner, a light beady snow clinging to our hair and clothes. We all settled in for the night. Lentil joined us for a few minutes before making his way back to the shelter.
Then, Peanut and I huddled in my tent talking and eating York Peppermint Patties until past 11. Yes, I know I’d sworn them off earlier in the day, but – after a 15 mile hike full of ups and downs, both literal and figurative, jibber jabbing and peppermint patties make everything all better.