June 9th, 2011 — The Appalachian Trail:
The terrain was really easy, but I just wasn’t feeling it. Early on in the day I ran across a woman and her dog. The lady asked me if I was just out hiking for the weekend. I quickly corrected her, explaining that I was a through-hiker, someone who hikes the 2,181-mile Appalachian Trail in one shot. She looked taken aback and said I seemed too clean, fresh and young to be a through-hiker. I silently fumed, thinking, “I might be ripe, but I most certainly am not fresh.” I realize I am young, but that shouldn’t define me. I had walked all the way to Massachusetts. By myself. I want people to give me credit for that. I don’t like being mistaken for someone who has no experience and is just out on the trail for a weekend. I had been walking for 4 months. I knew what I was doing. I may have been, and still am, young, but I knew way more about living the trail lifestyle than that judgmental lady did. Her only saving grace was the precious pooch she had with her.
After another few hours, I arrived at the last shelter before Great Barrington, Massachusetts. Glancing at my watch I saw it was nearing 3 o’clock. This meant I had only 8 miles left in my 30-mile day. I took a short break, as that’s all the bugs would allow. I grabbed a snack and some water from the creek, but I was still feeling completely drained. I tried all my usual tricks: I began listening to my iPod. Nothing. Added flavor to my water. Nothing. Let myself eat a Snickers Bar. Still nothing. The 8 miles I had left might as well have been 1,000.
When I finally convinced myself to begin, I was determined to stay positive. Less than 1/2 a mile later this resolve was gone. It was replaced with the determination to not stop, no matter what. After 4 miles, I was crying my way down the trail. The bugs were out with a vengeance. I literally ran down the trail, killing 5 to 7 mosquitoes each time I slapped. It was miserable. I was miserable. To top off the mosquito madness, all the rain earlier in the week had led to excessively damp socks, which in turn led to the worst blisters I have ever had. I wanted to quit. My feet were in so much pain. Thirty miles is hard on the feet. Adding blisters to the equation, it was more than I could handle.
The worst part of it all was I knew I would be heading home soon. I was not even sure what going home would be like. After all my time away, would my friends still like me? Would I be able to relate to the trivial worries of my peers at my college orientation? Would MY bed, the one I haven’t slept in in months, be so comfortable I would never want to leave?
I sat on the side of the road, bawling. This road crossing should have been an exciting one. It meant I only had 2 miles left and it was also the location of the Shays’ Rebellion Monument, but all I could do was cry. I took only one photo of the monument and I can’t say how it came out, my eyes were so full of tears that all I could do was point-shoot and hope for the best. I can only imagine what the people driving down the road next to me were thinking. There I was, this smelly, dirty, young female with an over-sized pack just sitting by the road, tears running down my face.
I eventually pulled myself together enough to continue, but silent tears still streamed down my cheeks. By the time I reached the road that would take me into the town of Great Barrington, I was hobbling along as a result of my blisters. My usual 3-mile-an-hour pace was long gone. When I saw Buddha, a fellow through-hiker, sitting on the other side of the road waiting for me, I was so comforted. He had gone 7 miles farther than I had the night before, so he had been waiting for me to reach the road for at least an hour. I slowly made my way across the street toward him and sat down next to him against a tree, tears still trickling down my cheeks.
We hitched a ride into town and split a hotel room and pizza, not that I was able eat much. I don’t wish what I was feeling upon anyone. I was too sore, too tired and too mentally drained to do anything but curl up in bed and go to sleep.
Man, I really miss the trail.
© Katherine Vaux 12 December 2012