The Trail Breakdown

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

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