It’s funny how you get accustomed to things out here. In the past two weeks I’ve slept in shelters a handful of times, but being in a tent feels a little more homey. I’ve become used to not having a nice bathroom to do my business in, waking up with the birds, and dealing with condensation in my tent on the rainy days. Junk food has quickly become a large part of my regular diet, but I’m starting to come up with new ways to reintroduce fresh fruits and vegetables (oh how I miss them). The funny thing is… I don’t miss what I used to call home.
I write to you from our second state, North Carolina, and what a welcoming that was (the Appalachian rollercoaster). I feel my self getting stronger and my attitude becoming much more positive. I’ve finally learned some patience with both my body (miles takes time) and others as well. However, I still need to work on my bear bag hanging skills, according to the knot on my head.
Two Sundays ago was the hardest day (and worst) I’ve experienced so far. About 2 miles into my 4.5 mile hike to Plumorchard Shelter my stomach started feeling sour. I sat down a few times and my pack continued to get heavier and heavier. The heat made the feeling extremely overwhelming and eventually I realized what was happening – food poisoning. I was stopping every 10-20 minutes to vomit and continued to sling my pack on my back and move several more feet each time.
About .6 mi from the shelter I threw my pack down, stuck my head in between my knees, and had a mental breakdown. It’s a helpless feeling when you’re that sick 40+ miles from the next town. Fortunately, my mom (also a nurse) was by my side the whole time. She offered to hike the remaining .6 to the shelter and return to get my pack and I. I sat on a large log for about 15 minutes trying to calm myself down and eventually talked myself into getting back up. My knees felt weak and my body felt hot, but I whipped my pack back onto my shoulders and hustled down the hill to get to the shelter as quick as possible.
When I arrived at the shelter I had a greeting party. Everyone was offering some form of help, which made me feel at ease. My mom had secured two spots on the top floor of the three-tiered structure where I climbed into my sleeping bag and dozed off for the next four hours. The remaining of the night consisted of more vomiting, napping, and chatting with the group of hikers I’d previously met at a hostel. It took a few days to finally get over being sick. My stomach didn’t like much of anything that I ate, but after a zero (i.e. taking a day off the trail) at the shelter I was ready to get back on the trail.
Experiencing that kind of hell on the trail made me appreciate everything and everyone even more. Every hiker that crossed my path was willing to help. The group we were with the first night even named our floor of the shelter “the Hospital” . They tossed fresh water, Pepto, and food my way without a worry. My mom made my breakfasts, lunches, and dinners.
I’m lucky to be surrounded by people who are caring and share the same ambitions as me. I’ve met people from all over the world, from Australia to Denmark, Texas to Wyoming, and Luxembourg to New Zealand. A majority of us are out here for the same reason – to unwind and experience the world from a challenging but raw perspective. I continue to learn more about myself and others every day. I’ve mentioned before that I feel like I belong here and that becomes more apparent each day.
We are still taking it relatively slow, with the distance that is. This past week we managed to walk our first 11 mile day (we felt it the next day). Between new Merrell boots for myself and a fresh Gregory pack for my mom, we are feeling pretty good about increasing our mileage and making it to the Smokies. Every day has its own challenges, whether your feet or knees are aching, your pack won’t stop squeaking, or you just don’t feel like walking. The next day will probably hold a different challenge, but you find ways to overcome them.
Even though we’ve completed roughly 6% of the trail, moral is high. As mentioned, some days are much harder than others but it’s the rewards of each day that keep you going. I’ve started writing down my favorite part of each day in my trail guide for encouragement and to remind myself of the little things that move me forward. It also makes my days better when I get to chat with family and receive pictures of my furry one back home.
Here’s to the trail and its rewarding atmosphere. I hope all that are reading this will go out and do something you enjoy this week 🙂