I want to share a story I heard several times when I was a child. Mind you that I’ve never been good at remembering song lyrics, movie quotes, jokes, and – yes – stories, so I’ll do my best not to butcher it. No promises.
A man goes to his rabbi and says, “Rabbi, my wife, seven children and I live in a one room house, and everyone is always on top of one another. It’s so loud that I can’t get any peace. Please tell me what to do, wise rabbi.” After a moment of contemplation, his rabbi responds, “Go home and take your chickens and bring them into the house,” which the man hesitantly does.
After some time, the man returns to his rabbi and says, “Rabbi, I’m not really sure how that was supposed to solve my problem. It’s still very crowded with my seven children and wife, and it’s even worse because the chickens constantly peck at our feet.” And the rabbi responds, “In that case, I think you should go home and bring your goats into the house.”
Scratching his head, the man brings the goats into the house.
Once again, after some time, the man returns to his rabbi and complains, “Rabbi, this is absurd. My children are still loud, the chickens are pecking at our feet, the goats are eating our clothes, and my wife is viciously unhappy at the situation. What am I to do now?” And the rabbi responds, “Bring your cow into the house.”
The man returns several days later and says, “Rabbi, I’m at my wits’ end. The chickens are pecking, the goats are eating us out of house and home, and my seven children, wife and I can barely move for the space the cow is taking in our small house.” This time the rabbi responds, “Take the chickens, goats, and cow, and bring them back outside.”
Having done as he was told, the man returns to his rabbi some time later and exclaims, “It is so wonderful at home now. The chickens don’t peck, the goats don’t destroy our clothes, the cow doesn’t take up space. My children are happy. My wife is happy. We finally have peace in the house.”
I think that parable pretty much describes how the last several weeks have gone for me.
First, my right foot began to ache. No big deal. I can deal with aches and pains. Then the heat crept up on me. OK, I may not like it, but I can do heat. Then the humidity reared its ugly head. Alright, now things are starting to get real. Jor, just put your head down and muscle through.
But then the mosquitoes attacked with a vengeance. That’s when I completely lost it. Hiking was miserable, and I couldn’t get any sleep at night. I would be laying in my hot, sticky tent with my arms and legs splayed so that no skin was touching, and it was all I could do to not scratch my mosquito-bitten skin raw. My proverbial house was full.
I last wrote a couple weeks ago when Lentil and I were about to get back on trail after a week, and I want to tell you that everything went splendidly from the moment we stepped foot back on the trail. However, that’s not the case. My foot still hurt. It was still hot. We were still in New York. It was still hot. (Did I already say that? I already said that. It warrants repeating.)
But a few extremely noteworthy improvements accompanied our return to the trail.
1. The humidity had decreased during our absence. I was so excited to note a forecast of only 50% humidity in the 90+ degree weather. And, for the record, this is the first time in my entire life that I’ve even looked at the forecast for humidity. Never realized it was so important. Yes, I was still sweating through my shirt and wringing it out several times a day, but at least I was no longer drenched head to toe like I’d jumped into a pool.
2. the mosquitoes abated some. Yes, I was still covering myself in deet, but – unlike the week before – it was actually working.
3. We discovered libraries. How did it take us over four months to discover libraries? Libraries, with their glorious free A/C. Libraries, with their free magazines and internet and comfy couches. In the span of three days, we visited as many libraries in towns along the trail trying to beat the midday heat: first in Falls Village, then in Salisbury, and finally in Great Barrington.
And in the meantime, we were slowly chugging along.
And on July 17, Lentil and I hit what I would consider one of my most significant milestones to date. We had hiked to the top of a sizable rocky hill and were treated to both a beautiful view with the moon as a backdrop and a sturdy breeze (don’t underestimate the value of a breeze!). We had just crossed from Connecticut into Massachusetts (another state down!), but that’s not the milestone I’m talking about.
Instead, Lentil and I high fived over having finally hit the 1,500 mile mark. I looked in my journal and found that every other 100 mile mark took us +/- a week to hike, whereas this latest one took us 2.5 weeks. Obviously that included a break in Brooklyn and another in Syracuse, but considering how mentally (and physically) exhausting the stretch was, reaching it definitely warranted a celebration.
It still took a few days for my spirits to improve after that. Spending an afternoon swimming in Upper Goose Pond helped. And I got a new pair of boots, which lessened some foot pain. And of course seeing a 10 day forecast with highs in the 70s and lows in the 50s didn’t hurt either.
Oh, another thing that’s helped that I forgot to mention. Our time off the trail brought us into a new bubble of people, some of whom we haven’t seen in months (like Handstand), who bring news of others with whom we’ve lost touch, and other new faces, who bring fresh energy to our trek. And all of these hikers share commiserating stories of whoa over the challenges that the AT has wrought (Lyme disease, the heat, mosquitoes, injuries, etc.), which really makes me feel like I’m part of a community (of crazy people who would endure these conditions, mind you, but a community nonetheless).
Truth be told, I managed to strain my left ankle (think swollen like a goose egg), and I still haven’t caught up on sleep from the recent nights’ heat and humidity. But life on the trail is definitely looking up as I head onto Mount Greylock today (get it? Looking up…Mount Greylock. OK, not my best one ever).
I’m feeling positive and taking one day at a time. And despite my best efforts, the miles to Katahdin are beginning to dwindle, and soon enough, I’ll be looking back wondering how my time on the trail passed so quickly.