Appalachian Trail – October 14, 2013
I was up early the next morning, and wandered in the direction I thought there would be a motel office and continental breakfast. Coming around the corner, I ran into the owner carrying a large basket with fresh breads, fruit, cereal, juice and milk. He immediately handed me the basket and announced breakfast was served. I looked a little confused, and he followed up with an explanation. They delivered breakfast to the rooms in the mornings. My response was totally unrelated. “When will you be able to shuttle me back to the trail?” Over the weeks, I had become fairly single minded – hike. He responded that it would probably not be until around 10AM since he had to finish his deliveries.
I took breakfast back to my room, ate quickly, and then grabbed my pack to go sit outside and watch the motel owner deliver breakfast. It was a little more work to deliver, but smart. He controlled how much we ate and when. In hindsight, I’m sure I seemed a little obnoxious sitting out there watching him, but I could feel the underlying anxiety to hike building slightly. Winter was coming, and I could sense it in the chill of the air every morning as it got colder and more frosty every day.
The owner was finally finished by about 8:45AM, and walked over to tell me he could offer me a good deal to slack pack and stay another night, keeping my pack in my room while I day hiked, and picking me up at the end of the day. I told him no thank you, but being southern and gracious, and not wanting to hurt his feelings, I immediately felt the need to explain my response. It was probably not necessary, but part of my genetic code.
I had made the decision to backpack the Appalachian Trail, and for me that meant carrying my pack and backpacking the distance. I also enjoyed the flexibility of always having what I needed on my back. I could stop and start when I wanted, camp where I wanted, and never worry about having exactly what I needed. I liked being nomadic and always moving forward with my home. There was nothing wrong with slack packing, or not carrying a full pack. It was just not my cup of tea on this hike.
I finished explaining, and he shrugged, and said “Let’s get going then.” I was back at the trail head by 9:11AM, and hiking by 9:15AM. It was a cool, grey morning, and I could feel winter urging me south. I moved through the dead, brown leaves at a steady clip, my mind calculating the time until my next stop, what I would eat at my next break, how much water I was carrying, and if I would come to a stream in time to dump my yucky sink water, and get some fresh stream water.
Long distance hiking was not complex for me, and I found that relaxing and letting my mind wander naturally, often resulted in few complex thoughts (no comments from the peanut gallery). I was shedding myself of pounds and stress, the further south I moved. People always commented on the time I would have to think and “process,” but I found that I actually thought less, and just became more connected with my surroundings. I did less thinking and more “sensing.”
The day was all about rocks and poison ivy. I did a lot of hand over hand climbing and lowering, focusing hard to avoid the poison ivy found along the trail and among the rocks and crevasses that I hauled myself up and over. It was a giant rock gym with natural obstacles thrown in to work out those smaller stabilizer muscles. There were even a few ladders to thrown in for a little variety. I had small flashes of southern Maine and New Hampshire as I made my way through the gauntlet.
Although far more dramatic and interesting to lament the “dangerous rocks,” and “exhausting climbing,” it really was not too bed. Many of the tough sections were broken up by long flat sections of tread, that were a joy to walk. I just had to drag my feet a little to make sure I did not come down on an ankle twisting “pebble” under the deep, dry, leafy blanket.
There were some great views of Greenwood Lake, as I traversed granite ridges, and one slab of granite had a large American flag painted on it. I see a lot more patriotic symbols in rural locations than I do near the cities. In NH, I had been deep in the back country when I came across a large plywood sign with “Live Free or Die” painted across it. Patriotism and freedom – I saw both represented a lot in my travels.
My target for the day was Wawayanda shelter. I would sign the log and tent nearby. I was not far from the shelter when I saw two other hikers hobbling toward me. Both looked to be tired and sore, and ready for their day to be over. They asked me if I had passed the shelter turnoff. I gave them a friendly smile, and told them I thought they may have actually passed it. It was supposed to be about a quarter mile behind them. They looked a little bewildered, but turned and followed me at a slow pace, as I headed for the turnoff.
I reached the turnoff and passed the shelter, headed for tent sites I knew were probably about a hundred yards down from the shelter. Once I reached the very nice tenting spots, I paused and glanced back to see the other two hikers heading for the shelter. Even from where I was standing I could see their big grins and slightly faster pace.
I set up my tarp, and settled in as darkness began to descend. In the distance I could hear whistling and laughter as the guys at the shelter also settled in for the evening. Sometimes the best part of hiking was the end of the day – the camaraderie of other hikers, or in my case the peacefulness of quiet, and often spectacular views, and always the meal I had been anticipating all day. Food – the more my weight dropped, the more my thoughts became even more consumed by food than they already were.