I have faced several setbacks on my Appalachian Trail adventure. Nevertheless I haven’t been deterred in the least bit. In fact amazing things have taken place in my life despite the disappointments. My eyes and mind have remained on why I started in the first place. All my goals are still in front of me and this journey keeps moving forward no matter where I find myself. Its brought me new and supportive people to my life. Also, as you will find out later a new way to look at the world and my place within it. I probably will divide this into several posts to keep them shorter but also to allow for some heartfelt explanations of what I’m experiencing.
But first I needed to get back on the Trail. I had made two failed attempts back in September. The first attempt I just backed out because water was so scarce. Maybe I could of found it but I wasn’t comfortable with the situation and called it off. I went with my instincts which I have learned is usually my best move. Two weeks later I tried again. Water availability still proved elusive and I ended up pretty dehydrated. Enough that I recognized some critical signs and decided to cut short my plans. Then a friend and hiker who I met on my first day on the Trail back in April sent me a picture of himself summiting Katahdyn. He was returning to Damascus Virginia and would need to walk 470 miles to Springer Georgia to complete his 2200 mile adventure. We planned to meet in Erwin Tennessee at Uncle Johnny’s Hostel. I wasn’t sure how far I would go but I hoped to at least get to Hot Springs North Carolina. I could use a bit of confidence and hoped meeting up with No Collar would be the cure.
You might say things didn’t get off to a good start. A few weeks earlier I had partially torn my right bicep tendon moving furniture. I was told it was a minor tear but would take six weeks to know if it would heal on it’s own. It was feeling pretty good on the morning my sister was going to drop me off in Erwin. Thanks to her for taking the time and doing the driving! Did I say my arm was feeling pretty good that morning. I guess a little too good. When I went to transfer my 34 pound pack into her trunk, I inadvertently used my right arm and immediately heard and felt a big pop. It hurt bad but I could tell from experience it wasn’t completely torn. I was still going! I popped some Vitamin I and off we went albeit with one arm. Once at the hostel No Collar helped me with my pack after seeing me struggle. I explained the situation and he suggested we spend the night and see what things were like in the morning. Rain was forecast all night and into the morning so we made a plan to eat a late breakfast in town and start hiking around 1 o’clock. I had 24 hours to heal. Had a great time catching up with No Collar and met several other hikers heading south as well. 3 women, Caboose, Mojo, and Mercury and 3 men besides No Collar, Every View, Gears, and Theory. Each had a great story and I would meet them several times during the next week. Once again the Trail was responsible for providing friendships that far exceeded our limited time together. I met numerous others in passing, some going South, others North but all stopped and we exchanged information about the trail ahead, words of kindness, encouragement, and well being. What a supportive community!
I went to sleep that night and prayed my arm would
improve beyond just hanging at my side. Miracles happen! In the morning, it wasn’t completely healed but I could function and without pain. Maybe some soreness andit didn’t really bother me the rest of the trip.
The rain continued through the morning. Finally it slowed to a trickle and two hikers made a decision to leave. I listened to No Collar and Mojo who were watching on radar. They said another 30 minutes and the front would be past. They were correct as in a few minutes the bottom fell out one more time. Mercury said something I will remember from now on. When thru hikers first start their attitude is full speed ahead. When weather is a factor, “we just learned to “embrace the suck. Now 1800 miles later it’s, how can we avoid it”. It makes sense if you delay hiking a few hours and can avoid getting your only hiking clothes wet. Why not. In this case it proved to be a wise decision. Cold would be on the menu for the morrow.
But first I had a hill to climb. Because of the late start I decided to set my sights on Spivey Gap, 11 miles away. It was an immediate climb once I entered the woods. My pack was 34 pounds and I hadn’t hiked with it on my back for 4 months. My legs felt it first. No Collar let me lead but within a half mile I told him to go on. 1800 miles had turned him into a machine. Now all alone I settled into making this hike my own. It felt good to be back! Though the rain had stopped the sun would shine only briefly today. There were several views looking down on Erwin.
I was surprised how quickly I climbed up and away from the little town. I’ll admit my legs were not in the best of shape but I pushed on, resting when I needed which was too often. No Business Knob Shelter was 6 miles ahead and where I planned to eat lunch. About a half mile from the shelter I was hit by a severe cramp in my right leg. So severe I dropped to the ground. I sat in the middle of the trail both legs straight out. flexing and massaging until the pain subsided. I got up and limped toward the shelter. There was a group of three hikers heading north who had the same idea as myself. A little break get water and a snack. Lunch wasn’t happening because it was almost 4 o’clock and the sun was getting lower. I took a longer break because of my cramps, ate some trail mix and chugged a half liter of water. We talked some while I fixed another issue with my pack’s shoulder strap. I had another climb ahead so I went for water just in case I didn’t make it to Spivey Gap. Plan B was an old dirt road just before the top of a 100 foot climb 5 miles ahead. The water source was a spring just off the trail not far from the shelter. I had trouble finding it and burned precious minutes filling up. Now it was 4:30. The trail started a slow climb at first and about 15 minutes of hiking at a pretty fast pace both my legs cramped up. This had never before happened in all my years of hiking. There I was sitting on the trail again, alone, darkness setting in. I could limp back to the shelter or pray. I couldn’t stay there that was for sure. I prayed, got up and started walking slowly. I felt the fast pace was part of the problem. The climb got steeper and I became more determined. The cramps never returned. Once at the top I felt what I didn’t on the way up. The wind was howling and the temperature dropped significantly. Darkness was now approaching but I felt going downhill I could make better time. Thankful I had made the climb without anymore issues, I decided to rest a minute before flying down the hill. Taking my pack off I ate an energy bar, washing it down with cold spring water. The cold wind was moving the clouds from the sky. Noticing I was shivering I put on my warm hoodie and watched the last of the sunlight. I mostly ran down the hill for about a mile. Slowing down toward the bottom because I couldn’t see the trail. Once I even had to stop because I crossed a creek and couldn’t find it. I heard cars and knew I was close. Crossing Hwy 19 west I reentered the woods and saw No Collar off to my right. He greeted me and I him while pitching my tent. No Collar went to bed. I was too tired to cook so I ate a sandwich, some trail mix, peanut butter and a protein drink, in the dark with my headlamp on. Once in my sleeping bag I felt so warm and secure. It had been a little struggle but I made it and I was happy! The wind was loud among the branches and more than a few fell to the ground but I felt safe and protected. I was where I was suppose to be. On a cold, cold morning the journey would continue….