About a month ago, my friend Chris sent me a birthday card in the shape of a pickle, which – just for the record – is one of the best shapes for a birthday card since one can use it as a prop. For a good week, I was responding to a variety of people’s comments with, “Well, that seems like a big pickle,” aptly shaped card in hand. If you happen to be one of those people I used this gag on, stop rolling your eyes. It was funny; I’m sure of it. Anyway, in there Chris wrote that the honeymoon must be over by now, and I must be down to the hard work of hiking the Appalachian Trail.
At the time, I thought that Chris couldn’t be more wrong. I was only a handful of days into my hike and was still having a blast meeting new people and navigating new challenges. Then – not that I’m prone to over-thinking or anything – I mulled over the sentiment for a while and wondered when it would become true.
In the meantime, my friends and I pushed through some, um, messy weather in the Smokies and came out on the other end with sloshy gear and stories worth sharing.
And, even after a long day of hiking, I always found myself in a warm place with a fire or, at the very least, a dry tent or shelter. What more could a hiker ask for?
Oh, I know. How about a much-coveted clear view at Max Patch? Not two hours before I arrived, the grassy bald was fogged over and frosted in an icy coating. My friend Lentil arrived before me and can attest to it.
Within a couple of days of enjoying the sunset at Max Patch, Zen and I strolled into Hot Springs, NC. The trail literally runs through this one-horse town. There are no traffic lights, but there is a laundromat, Dollar General, place to stay (we opted for Elmer’s Sunnybank Inn), and a diner. We joined Lentil and Techie, who’d arrived the night before.
Hanging out on one of the Sunnybank’s many porches, I got my first indication that the honeymoon might be coming to an end. I was planning on taking a Zero in town, as were Lentil and Zen, but Techie was antsy to get moving the following day. And I thought to myself, “I’d love to stick together, but I really want to relax in town.” And both Lentil and Zen had been talking about picking up mileage, which I thought might be beyond my capacity. I was first hit with a pang of sadness at the potential fissuring of our group, but then I realized that it might be time. We’d all provided support in the first miles and through the Smokies. And it’s not like we wouldn’t see each other again.
Once I arrived in Hot Springs, I met up with Peanut, who is still hiking the trail but pacing with a different group. Our chat about her experiences once she’d slowed down allowed me to accept that which might come.
Of course that was before the fire.
A couple of days later, Lentil and I headed out of Hot Springs to hike north. Techie’d left the afternoon before, and Zen lagged behind to tend to gear issues. That day we hiked 14.5 miles and were tracking to exceed that the following day. Seven miles in, I was excited that the day’s uphill was just about behind us. The rest of the day promised to be easy rolling downhills – fast miles.
Suddenly, Lentil – who usually paces faster than me, especially uphill – came hiking downhill in my direction. He said the US Forest Service was doing a control burn up ahead, and we couldn’t hike on. Our options were to hike back a mile to the nearest water source and camp or to be shuttled to an old fire road on the other side of the mountain. For hikers, who bring only enough food to hike from Point A to Point B, one thought immediately came to mind: Once again, something that could have been brought to my attention yesterday! (Adam Sandler reference, I’m pretty sure. Anyone?)
We ended up waiting about two hours for a shuttle to arrive, and then 45 minutes thereafter we were dumped in a parking lot and told to follow the old fire road.
After traversing several deep river crossings and getting lost among a network of old road-trails, I couldn’t help but think that nobody from the Forest Service had actually hiked this route before EVER. Thanks, guys.
And yet, and yet, (barring the moment of panic at being lost) I’ve still had a smile on my face for the better part of a month+. It’s all part of the adventure, right?
Oh, I almost forgot to mention, then I got the plague – the AT plague, that is. No big deal. I promise.
The day after the fiasco with the control burn, Lentil and I hiked 18 miles to Bald Mountain Shelter. We’d heard of several shelters in about a 25 mile stretch contaminated with the norovirus (think cruise ships), so we’d hoped to avoid those spots. However, a bad thunderstorm was blowing in, so we had to find cover.
When we rolled up to the shelter at 6pm, someone was inside his sleeping bag shivering with nausea and discomfort. Apparently, this guy had arrived and began feeling sick within five minutes. Ooook, let’s not hang out in the shelter. Instead, we each set up our tents, ate dinner, and hunkered down.
At 9:30, I was listening to music and journaling when I stopped being able to process thought, turned off the phone, and promptly passed out. I spent the rest of the night waking up, vomiting, and shivering myself back to sleep. By 9am, it had passed.
And, well, what was there to do but hike on? Lentil and I packed up camp and hiked over 16 miles to get to Erwin, TN. I can’t say it was the best day of hiking. In fact, I’ll be honest and admit that, for the first time in over a month, I arrived at my destination without a smile on my face So, maybe the honeymoon is over.
Hm, but then again, what’s a honeymoon without a little stomach bug?