The weekend in New Orleans was littered with brightly colored beverages, intensely good food, and just enough debauchery. We ate fish face, lounged on our balcony, and enjoyed a short time on vacation unexposed to reality.
Waking up on trail the morning after New Orleans was not easy. I didn’t bank sleep during five zeroes, I went in debt. This with the realization that my friends were far away and that it would take days, maybe weeks to catch them. This task never felt so daunting as when paired with no energy and sinking morale.
I started this trail alone but I didn’t ever intend on doing it all solo. I’d always tell friends back at home that starting alone and hiking alone were very different. Despite the fact I worked as a solo backcountry ranger, despite feeling confident and rarely fearful in the woods, I hate backpacking alone. I grew up sleeping outside with friends and falling in love sharing that experience in the woods.
But I didn’t expect to get to Maine hiking in a group 100 percent of the time and I told myself I was looking forward to these solo days to test myself. Well today testing started.
After an hour or two I dropped my pack to figure a way to mitigate my current crisis and hopefully my attitude with it.
My folks brought me my second pair of shoes, Brooks Renegades. I got them for free and wore them around Durham to see if they had potential. What at home seemed great showed weakness 10 minutes into my day. The shoes themselves were fantastic but they were way too big. Such a simple size difference piled on the weight of catching my friends. How can I win a foot race in clown shoes? After an hour or two I dropped my pack to figure a way to mitigate my current crisis and hopefully my attitude with it.
Of all gear failures bad shoes were some of the worst. I could turn around, go back to town, buy more shoes, and put myself further behind the pack. Not an option.
Sitting on your ass in the woods can halt some panic. I acknowledged each of my issues and tried to think of useful solutions. I pushed a Snickers into my face and had a few glugs of sugary beverage. I decided only the gravest gear situations require evacuation and this just needed brainstorming.
I decided only the gravest gear situations require evacuation and this just needed brainstorming.
Maybe I could cut insoles out of my Z-Lite or make spacers or maybe even just adjust the laces to lock in my heel and stop my foot from sliding as much. Whichever way, taking a moment to think let me put my worries behind me. My shoes would take some patience and frequent attention but I’d make it work. I planned to chase and hike alone because I knew I could. After properly adjusting my attitude and shoes I got back northbound.
After properly adjusting my attitude and shoes I got back northbound.
A few hours later I ran into Ninja Turtle, Peg Leg, and Aqua, friends of mine since Georgia. It was such a relief to see familiar faces. They slowed down a bit to recover from Trail Days. I camped with them that night near a stream with two other hikers. The groups on the trail had spaced out a bit putting us at the back of our bubble.
I woke up late the next morning and got started last. It was no secret my ass was dragging. When I finally caught up to Peg Leg and Turtle they pried to see if I was alright. They could see I was a lost puppy without a pack. They’re good friends but once we hit Virginia our families were solidified. Thru Tang-ing was my way of hiking and my distance from them put it a little on hold. I stayed Turtle and Peg another day and then pushed ahead.
I camped solo on a mountain that night and enjoyed the dull mooing from the cows in the valley below. Later I got a message from Caboose with encouraging news. They were stopping at Dismal Falls and taking a zero. If I could do 42 miles in two days I’d certainly catch them.
If I could do 42 miles in two days I’d certainly catch them.
The next day I rose with the sun and got an uncharacteristic early start. I felt a massive motivation shift once I realized my people were within reach. About 22 miles into my day I stopped at a shelter to check the log book. Every shelter has a notebook for hikers to sign in and leave messages. I’d been checking every shelter religiously since Thru Tang was leaving me messages of “encouragement” which sometimes questioned my sexual orientation or size of my masculinity, but always with love.
When I got to this shelter four older section hikers exploded all of their possessions and treasures over every inch on the shelter. I asked them if they’d seen the notebook but they said there wasn’t one, a first at an AT shelter for me. They handed me a copy of the bible and told me this is all I needed which didn’t make me smile. I asked them if this is all I needed, then why each of them had enough things for a family yet apparently nothing to keep themselves dry. I was pretty thirsty and tired and these gentlemen were hogging all of the community’s resources. I asked them to make space for more hikers and promptly left. I was pissed and preferred isolation to selfish zealots. A few more stubborn miles later I stopped to check for water sources when I realized the worst. I hiked into a ten mile desert. It was around 8 and I had 2.5 hours of hiking until a stream and about a liter of water. I made camp on a ridge and decided to ration the best I could.
Every hiker hopes that lessons of scarcity carry on to responsible resource consumption in life after the AT.
The next morning I woke up thirsty and in early stages of dehydration. I got packed up and cruised at 7 am. Breaking the cobwebs from the night before, I raced to water. After just an hour on trail I discovered an angel had stashed an oasis at the road. Jugs of delicious, potable, fluorinated city water for the taking. I’ve never appreciated water in town like those random jugs in the woods. I laughed, even danced a little from a resource that couldn’t seem more abundant in the front country. Every hiker hopes that lessons of scarcity carry on to responsible resource consumption in life after the AT.
I pushed quickly to the road before dismal falls where I planned on stopping at a deli to grub up. I caught a ride a half mile to Trent’s Grocery and a sandwich of sorts. The second I stepped out I heard banging on the glass from inside but I couldn’t see through. I didn’t need to see through — I knew it was my clan. I walked in with the warmest of receptions from Patch, Jack, Tesla, Caboose, Snugs, Rambo, and Sambo.
I did 19 by 1 pm that day and found motivation I didn’t think I had. Thru Tang was worth the isolation and dehydration.
They had camp set up at the falls so after the meal I hiked 2 miles more while they took a side road. The second I arrived at dismal my big days were over. I started down the side trail to what turned into a day camp for the group. Nothing could have prepared me for the next two days.