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Week 14: July 2 – July 8
Maryland was very pleasant and the south was hands down wonderful but I was so excited to cross the Mason Dixon Line. My hiking partner from New York and I from New Jersey ran across that line laughing and grinning from ear to ear. “We’re in the north! We’re in the north!”
My boyfriend and I decided that the last weekend of June was the perfect weekend for me to visit him though I would be well into Pennsylvania. So crossing into the north also meant that I would be leaving my tramily. It was the weirdest feeling walking away from them. I met Pusher on Springer Mountain and I had been walking with Puma for over a month. Your tramily is your family. I originally came out to hike the Appalachian Trail but I stumbled into something even greater with their company. We kept together during the day playing games like Jeopardy. We took turns trying to make Puma laugh, we debated politics with Data, danced with Diggs, and busted Pusher’s guts…I hadn’t hiked alone since day 1. My tramily took a nearo and zero into Waynesboro and I hiked on to get a day ahead so when I took the weekend off, I wouldn’t be too behind. I couldn’t wait to see my boyfriend but I was sad knowing that I would miss seeing them attempt the Pine Grove half gallon ice cream challenge. And in all reality, I wondered if I ever would see them again.
As I hiked north I tried to get back into my own stride. For about 20 minutes I was convinced that I was alone, merely alone…until I stopped for water and about six hikers who I shared shelters with the last week passed me by. It was a beautiful trail…hiking north through Pen Mar. I luckily then ran into trail magic! The gentleman handing out the hot dogs was a fellow Jersey-ite who now lives in Pennsylvania. The next shelter out was the most beautiful shelter I have ever seen. It was a double shelter with a clothes line, covered picnic table WITH A SILK ROSE, and a very welcoming privy with toilet paper, hand sanitizer and plenty of humor (light switch for solar or lunar).
I enjoyed a side trail to Chimney Rocks and felt a sense of calm wash over me. I was back in Pennsylvania. My family’s ancestral stomping grounds, where I spent all my holidays with my cousins, where I went to college and met my boyfriend. The mountains aren’t 5,000 feet high but the land is so beautiful. I grew up on these trails, I love rock hopping. Ironically I thought ALL hiking trails were rock covered until I grew up and started exploring other places and found that hiking trails can indeed be FLAT…HA!
I enjoyed my day until the night. I got to my intended destination impressed with myself for having hiked 20 miles by myself but the positive feelings soon turned. My chosen shelter for the night, Rocky Mountain Shelter was 0.3 off trail down a steep slope. When I arrived I was the only person there. The water was then 0.5 down the continued slope to the road. I was immediately struck with fear. I was by MYSELF for the first time EVER. I had promised my dad that I would never stay at a shelter by myself this close to a road and here I was. I was 4 miles from route 30 but only 0.5 from some unknown road I did not know was there.
I decided that I would feel more secure in my tent and I set about with the nightly chores playing a podcast loudly to make me feel less alone. After all the chores were done, I just sank into my phone. All my senses were heightened – was the forest always so loud? There were more squirrels around this shelter than I had seen for the last three months and they were throwing acorns and dropping branches. I saw and heard two tree branches fall to the ground and make a loud thump. This rarely happens. I scrolled through Facebook for a million times and ironically came across not just one but THREE articles of missing hikers from various parts of the world…all female. Ugh I got off of Facebook. I then realized that the only reason why I was afraid was because I was a woman. I have 26 years of being told that I was not safe alone in the woods and everyone’s words were subconsciously affecting me. If a random man walked up to this shelter and found that I was a solo hiker – he probably would be like great! A shelter all to myself! Society tells me that he would see an opportunity to take advantage of me. I did not fear tree limbs falling on my tent, bad weather, bears, getting lost…none of that. I only feared people who did not mean well walking up the 0.5 trail from the road to the shelter.
I didn’t want to camp this close to the road but there was literally no other choice. How horrible is that? That the only reason why I was afraid was because I was a woman. I have met so many men out here and I have to say that just because a person has a ‘Y’ chromosome does not make them an automatic creep. The only creeps I met were in town. All of my male hiking partners, all of them are really great people. But here I was afraid to be a woman out in the woods in case a creep would lurk in the darkness as if they had superhuman powers of sensing my aloneness and having night vision to find me. I decided to stop thinking about myself as a woman and just consider myself a person, a hiker – a thru-hiker – and my fear subsided and I started to laugh at the chipmunks scurrying around outside my tent.
I went to sleep fine but woke up with a terrible stomach ache at 3 am. “I guess this will be a sleepless night after all …” I thought to myself. No matter how I tossed and turned I couldn’t get comfortable. There I was, alone at a shelter, I only had one liter of water left, my baby wipes were running low and my anti-diarrhea pills were tucked away in my food bag that was safely stored in the bear box. Hmm did I panic? Nope. I had everything I needed and I knew that no matter what befell me that I could walk the 4 miles to route 30 the next day where my boyfriend was planning to pick me up. I would survive this and in the end it all would be okay. And guess what? It was.
The next day I sauntered down to route 30 and Caledonia State Park to meet Bae. As I approached the road I heard the onslaught of cars and began to worry how I would cross the road. Route 30 crosses near my college town and where that is located…the highway cannot be crossed. With a lick and a prayer I got across route 30 and continued the 0.5 or so to Caledonia. It was unnerving watching the cars speeding by, did I really go that fast in my Muggle life (life before trail)? A couple times I thought the cars were going to hit me as they changed lanes. I wondered what they thought of the woman walking down the side of the highway with a huge pack. Caledonia State Park was a lovely place to sit and rest before Bae showed up. He called and told me that he was 2 miles away and would be there in less than 10 minutes. HA! 2 miles takes me about an hour or so. He was smart and brought a towel for me to sit on, his first words to me after three months of distance, “hey…wow you really do smell.” The car ride was 2 hours…the longest car ride in three months. I constantly felt like we were going to crash. I promptly feel asleep rocked by the car ride.
My time at home in my apartment was both lovely and disappointing. I couldn’t help but look around and say to myself, “I want more than this. I want more in life than this.” Everything is so loud, I miss the trees. People move so quickly. My hiker hobble is evident. I barely made it onto the metro train to head downtown to the NOMA REI (NOMA is a neighborhood in DC). My boyfriend kept asking me, “I thought you could hike fast but you are walking so slow now?” It is true, strap on a 35lb pack and Altras and I’m good to go, switch to flip flops and I’m snail pace. I needed a couple items from REI and to make a return. I got multiple high fives from employees when I told them I was hiking the AT…I loved it. It was an interesting experience finding shoes to fit me. As soon as I got home I showered and threw a dress on, ahhhh pretty loose dress. I then reached for a pair of boat shoes and bam! They did not for me! “Huh”, I thought to myself, my feet really did grow! My thighs and calves are also a LOT thicker. Luckily summer clothes and flip flops allow for some growth. I’ve been thinking that my feet were just swollen but in reality I think the muscles between my toes are just more muscular.
All in all, my visit back to DC was a good weekend. My boyfriend took me to the beach and we searched for sharks teeth, I bought lactose free ice cream and had my fill, and swapped out my winter clothes for summer clothes.
When my boyfriend dropped me back off at Caledonia State Park I immediately came across a rerouted AT, luckily there were section hikers around and together we figured out the detour. My Tramily purposely changed their hiking plans just so I wouldn’t end up too far behind and I cannot express how touching that is. On my first day back on the trail I hiked 10 miles to the next shelter and there two of my tramily members were waiting. The next three days was very eventful. That night a past hiker named “Slideshow” and his dog “What” packed in trail magic (we then saw him two more times the following days). My tick count went up to five as I pulled off a nymph tick that already started to suck my blood (ewwww).
Pusher, Data, and I passed the official halfway point together and staggered into Pine Grove Furnace together. The day was hot and I was developing a headache. There we met up with our two other tramily members. Though many of us took time off trail it all worked out! Pusher completed the half gallon ice cream challenge in 30 minutes (he bravely chose moose tracks and banana pudding flavors), and then preceded to do 25 push ups. We decided to spend the heat of the day not hiking so we checked out the AT Museum in the park (you all should do so) and Odie was our tour guide! Before hiking on we also swam in the very cold lake there and showered. An interesting thing happened to us though. We kept our bags near the bathroom and someone stole Puma’s crocs! Was our gear taken? No. What our values like money and phones taken? No. The only thing taken was her crocs. Weird.
You cannot camp legally in the state park unless at a registered camp site so we continued to the next shelter. I decided to camp next to the river and I soaked my feet in the river for 20 minutes. I love water, it is just so beautiful. When I live full time in my 14th floor apartment after this hike, I am really going to miss drinking water straight from the source. I’m going to miss soaking my aching feet in the current and taking mid day baths to cool down. But I don’t have to worry about that now because I’m still out here. Fortunately I still have three months of this wonderful life. I’ll leave the fears and worries for after trail…after trail. Be safe!