The roller-coaster of emotions one experiences on such a long, arduous journey metaphorically mirrors the roller-coaster of mountains one must physically endure to see it through to the end. One moment the sun is shining, the temperature is balmy, and the promise of a beautiful day seems guaranteed. Ten minutes later, one may find herself in a frigid downpour ensconced by fog and blown around by wind gusts of up to 40mph, feeling gloomy despair. On several occasions recently has this sudden disappointment brought me to a low point, and less than 300 miles from the finish, two days from Hot Springs, NC, I wrestled with strong thoughts of capitulating to the elements and ending my hike prematurely. Thanks to friends and a dose of tough love, I am still walking home. Southbound has definitely tried me and pushed me to raise the ceiling of self-discovery and learn new limits. There have been more days of rain than sun, more times of fog than views, more chill bumps than sweat. In this hundred miles specifically, there have been no more than two sunny days in a row. Just as shoes begin to feel dry, the sky opens up again and laughs so hard at its cruel joke that it cries, leaving the tricky trail slippery and muddy for days.
My birthday was celebrated with a 100% chance of rain and resulting zero day at Greasy Creek Hostel surrounded by friends, dogs (including a 3 month old black lab puppy), and a chocolate chip cookie cake. Mexican food was my choice for lunch. The recipe for a perfect birthday…puppies and margaritas! A few days later, more cold monsoons forced another unplanned zero day at Uncle Johnny’s hostel in Erwin, TN. A cozy, lazy day of back to back movies was just what we weary hikers needed after walking for hours in the pouring rain.
On the other hand, amidst the rain and gloom, the trail has provided a few pleasant memories experienced with Guardian, who has joined me for the duration of my hike. Unaka Mountain, a dense spruce forest, made for an incredibly comfortable walk on pine needle carpet along its summit. The 360 degree views from Big Stamp and Big Bald on the top of Bald Mountain were stunningly picturesque one crisp, cold morning. The clear sky above was the bluest blue, yet a pure white blanket of clouds covered the lakes and valleys below while sunlight lit the mountains and trail we had just traversed. Picture perfect day! Fall hiking changes the sounds of music in the woods as well. Often the overpowering din of leaves crunching underfoot is a melodic rhythm which passes the miles peacefully as one gets lost in thought. The sound of the wind whipping through the creaking, bending trees accompanies the bass of shoes thumping the ground. Top it with a hilarious hiking partner who has a gift of bringing laughter and cheer to the miles, and the sights and sounds, though gray and drab of winter, are made more pleasurable than ever!
To sum it up, the roller-coaster is teaching me much everyday, every step. As epic of a journey as this is, I am ready to resume normalcy for a while…to hug my dogs and see their joy at a simple daily walk, to converse fireside with my favorite mentors and friends (and stuff some mean jalapeño peppers;), and hug my amazingly supportive family members for longer than ever before! Two hundred, seventy four miles of mountains stand in the way. Fortunately, I have learned that although I can’t move mountains, I sure as hell can move myself across them! I’ve got this.
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