Yesterday was an unplanned nero (near-zero miles hiking day). I will need to pick up the pace and hike farther today if I want to catch up to Stick. If you’re wondering why Stick didn’t wait for me, the answer is simple. In fact, there are two simple answers. For one, Stick and I are hiking together because we have a good relationship, but we aren’t tied permanently together. We hike together because we have compatible hiking speeds and habits, but we also have our own goals for finishing. The second reason Stick didn’t wait for me yesterday was more practical. His daughter is planning to join him on the trail for a few days, so he needs to make sure he reaches their planned meeting spot at the right time.
If I were able to pick a time and place to get sick while on the trail, this would be it. No one wants to get sick, of course, but when I did, I was fortunate to be in a town and with some good friends. Good friends with a car. Thanks to the hotel’s WiFi, I was able to research enough to know I should get checked out for Lyme disease. I didn’t have all of the symptoms and I never saw a rash, but a rash isn’t always present with the disease. Nausea isn’t a common symptom, either, but it can be associated with some tick-borne illnesses.
Several days ago, I received a message from some longtime friends, John and Sherri. They said they were planning a trip east from their home in Indiana and hoped to meet up with me on the trail. Since then we’ve been trying to work out a plan. That hasn’t been easy because it’s hard to calculate more than a couple days ahead where I will be at a given time. Eventually, we were able to settle on meeting at a road crossing near Great Barrington. Now, because I made an early stop yesterday, I needed to set a good pace to arrive there on time.
When my left knee started hurting in the first few days of my hike, it was understandable for that to happen. I had trained before I started the hike, but it was impossible to duplicate the amount of hiking I was doing every day. When it started hurting again yesterday, I was more concerned. The pain was sudden and intense. Surprisingly, though, when I awoke this morning my knee was pain free. I don’t know what caused the pain yesterday, but whatever it was apparently went away.
Walking every day creates a rhythm. Wake up. Pack. Walk. Stop. Set up camp. Sleep. Repeat. A thru-hike can be boiled down to day after day of sameness. This includes eating a lot of the same meals and feeling a lot of the same pains.
Sometimes I think I’m moving well along the trail. It seems I’m keeping pace with hikers much younger than me. Then there are times when I feel I'm barely keeping pace, and I might not finish before it starts to snow in Maine. Whether or not I'm walking fast enough, younger hikers are walking much faster than me. Because of that, they have more time to take zero days, take longer rest stops, and be more leisurely in their hike. I don’t have the luxury to walk at a leisurely pace. I must keep moving, or I won't beat the inevitable snowfall. That’s what I keep telling myself, anyway.
Today’s weather was the kind you’d wish for every day. With a bluebird sky and an ideal temperature in the mid 70s, it was a perfect day for walking. A light breeze added to make the day thoroughly enjoyable. Only one thing could make a day like this better for a hiker, and that was trail magic. We got that too.
Before I fell asleep last night and as soon as I woke up this morning, I thought about my response to Stick yesterday. I shouldn’t have let it bug me when he told me how much sooner than me he had arrived in camp. I usually try to stay on an even keel. I know I should not have snapped at him, so why did I? The more I thought about this, I realized the trail was in part to blame.
Day 109, Shenandoah Campsite to Telephone Pioneers Shelter
Don't confront me with my failures, I had not forgotten them
Shenandoah Campsite was a quirky, almost creepy place. I didn’t get a good look at it last night because I arrived there just after dark. Seeing it now in the morning light, I was glad I didn’t spend much time here. The land was grassy and flat, so it was good for pitching a tent, but it was next to a boarded up, old house. The house appeared to be an old hunting lodge, not a residence. The building was so cruddy I didn’t bother taking a photo of it.
Day 108, Graymoor Spiritual Center to Shenandoah Campsite
You know the one thing we need is a left-hand monkey wrench
Everything was wet with dew when I awoke this morning. That’s the negative side of sleeping in a open field. As I began packing I realized I needed to make another attempt to repair my pack. But how? I didn’t have any tools or supplies worthy of the job. Then I remembered there were a few beer bottle caps left over from last night’s hiker gathering.
Day 107, Near West Mountain Shelter to Graymoor Spiritual Center
All my rowdy friends are coming over tonight
The Appalachian Trail is often described as a social trail. Hikers form friendships quickly and easily. And no wonder. There are many hikers on the trail, most hiking in the same direction, and frequently congregating at shelters, hostels and trail magic stops. I’ve been fortunate to make many friends on this hike. They share some special qualities that I appreciate. Like me, they enjoy and appreciate the outdoors. They are willing to subject their bodies and mental stamina to hardships. Together, we are pursuing the same goal: walking the entire length of the Appalachian Trail. I frequently marvel at the way I can go several days without seeing a friend, then suddenly see that hiker at some unexpected spot on the trail. Our friendship is instantly renewed when we see each other again.
A long distance hike has a regular routine. Wake up. Hike. Go to sleep. Yet in this sameness there always seems to be at least one little surprise during the day. These moments help to make each day a little different. Today had a few of those small surprises. It also had a big surprise, which should not have been a surprise at all.
It’s easy to tell yourself, “Things will be better when…” or “If only this happens, all will be good.” We know that life isn’t perfect, but we keep hoping that things will fall into place to make it so. Thinking this way is more than just optimism. It requires us to ignore or gloss over known trouble looming in the future.
Day 104, Vernon to Campsite at Mile 1369.1
Sometimes the songs that we hear are just songs of our own
As I described Melissa’s trail magic generosity yesterday, I tried to express how special it was. I have not had an experience like that before, and it was a little difficult for me to know how to accept it. I’ve heard of this sort of thing happening to others, where a stranger offers a clean bed, a hot meal and a chance to clean up and relax without expecting anything in return, but I didn’t anticipate it would happen to me. Why should it happen to me, I’ve wondered? I don’t need help. Besides. all I'm doing is walking. True, I’m walking a long distance, which is sometimes difficult, but it’s just walking. And I'm doing this by choice.
Day 103, Unionville to New Jersey Route 94
And sometimes we visit your country and live in your home
Trail magic is usually just a simple gesture of kindness to help a hiker. It might be an unexpected granola bar handed to you by a passing day hiker, or a nice spread of food and a place to sit, relax and laugh. The farther I’ve walked, the more I’ve come to realize these are more than just small acts of generosity. The people who offer trail magic truly want you to be successful. They hope their simple gesture will lift your spirits and make your hike a bit more enjoyable.