Sitting here revisiting my trail notes two months after finishing my A.T. thru-hike, I stumbled across a 2-page journal entry describing all my “oopses” as a brand new hiker written after the first three days of my hike. Somehow, even with the humorously clumsy beginning, I learned how to survive in the woods on my own, laugh at and believe in myself, exercise mind over matter and go with the flow. These lessons morphed into an unforgettable, epic experience and I backpacked the distance of Maine to Georgia. The moral of the story? Laugh at your mistakes. Expect to make them. Lots of them. They are all part of the journey. 🙂
Take a step back in time with me.
June 8, 2015
Day 1 – Three days ago on June 5, my hopeful flip-flop thru-hike started a mile south of Harpers Ferry, WV off highway 340 at an Appalachian Trail parking area. Thinking I was actually in Harpers Ferry and starting in the “right” place, I had to laugh after a mile into my hike I came into the town where I had planned to begin. Leave it to me to start lost…a mile from the place I intended to begin. Oops. Five minutes into my hike, in awkwardly attempting to place my full Gatorade bottle into the side pocket on my Deuter pack, it dropped to the ground below, rolled away faster than I could chase it with an unfamiliar weight on my back, and rolled at warp speed partway down a mountain. Frustrated with my oops, I had to climb down the ravine to collect my drink all the while wondering what the heck I had just gotten myself into.
Around lunchtime, quite unexpectedly, I met up with some hiker friends I had camped out with at Crazy Larry’s hostel a few weeks prior to starting my hike when I had driven up to party at the annual “Trail Days” festival in Damascus. After a lunch of laughter and a comforting reunion, my decision was made to walk farther than my first day, conservative plan of an 8-mile day to try and keep up with my newly found friends. I continued on to Rocky Run shelter for a 16 mile first day, and disappointingly, my pals were nowhere in sight. I was in a pretty silent, solitary mood upon arriving, but the other four hikers at the shelter were NOT. All four women were WAY too chatty for my current mood, and though I may have come across as a bit antisocial, I strongly felt inclined to NOT fake a mood for anyone out on the A.T. It was one of those blissful freedoms of living out in the woods solo. I was finally safe to be in whatever mood I found myself. Awkward with inexperience, I fiddled with my camp stove and started cooking while one of the chatty women distractedly jabbered words at me. In my distracted state, I added way too much water to my first Mountain House meal, but that was only after turning on my Jet Boil stove with no water in the pot. (More to come on that oops next paragraph. 😉 ) I finally explained that I wasn’t feeling like chatting right then and there, drank my lasagna, and headed to my tent to journal in blissful silence. It was a pretty sleepless first night for me, so I hit the ground hiking early Saturday morning, trying to out hike the annoying women.
Day two started as another beautiful day lost in the woods. I thought I was seven miles from Dahlgren Campground but stumbled upon it after only two. Duh! Had I stuck to plan the day before and stayed at Crampton shelter 8 miles into my trek instead of following my friends an extra 8 miles farther, I would have been where I thought I was, but my achy dumbass walked sixteen miles on day 1 (not recommended). The day progressed and I was enjoying my sunny walk when coming off the footbridge that crosses over I-70, I took my first wrong turn and ended up off trail. Luckily I figured it out within a quarter mile and a kind man redirected me back onto the trail. By now, I’m hot, ill, and really ready to find Pine Knob shelter to rest a while, eat lunch, and take off my darn shoes. I drag in half an hour later and feel immediately better upon seeing my gang of familiar friends chilling there. Kicking it with them an hour picked me right up. After a relaxing lunch break, my hike continued and I took a blue blaze trail to visit Anapolis Rocks for the view. I spontaneously decided to park it there for the night. I set up my tent in campsite #2 and ambled out to fix dinner on the rock with a beautiful view of the world below. I was excited about my mac n cheese with sundried tomatoes! Remember the night before when I accidentally turned on the quick-to-heat stove without water in the pot? It’s time to pay for that oops. As I prepared my stove with people all around (including an ATC ridgerunner), I turn it on and it catches fire…like actual flames! Discreetly I am able to put the fire out. With the help of a kind man who saw the incident, I tried again because dammit, I wanted my mac and cheese. This time, the stove made it long enough to boil my noodles (YES!) before I saw metal pieces falling off the bottom and smelled burning plastic. Oh goodness, the base of the stove was melting before my eyes! My fancy Jetboil stove was ruined. Soooo, lesson learned. Be careful with camp stoves.
Day 3 – By 8am, I am walking in the woods again. My walks are solo at this point because all the other thru-hikers who started in GA and had their trail legs were much faster than I was. My plan was to refill water bottles at Pogo Campsite, which somehow, I walked right past. Oops. There was no water for another five rocky miles, so I miserably suffered in thirst to conserve what little water I had. Finally, for the first time all day, two hikers came up behind me. Squirrel and Spock were trying to set a record for the fastest mother-daughter thru-hike. Since they were slackpacking and getting deliveries along the way, they had extra water and kindly offered it to me. What a relief! There is so much generosity on the trail! As the trail opened to a lush green field, I soaked in some sunshine and fixed lunch. While eating, I encountered another female named Dannie. This was her first day out, testing the waters as a solo hiker. She started asking me questions and I humbly laughed and admitted that this was only my third day ever being out on trail and she stunned me by replying, “You still have more experience than I do!” It was the first time I tasted the sweet taste of experience. She was right! I really am a thru-hiker!
Day 3 ended at Nostalgic Inn B&B in Cascade, MD where I suffered my worst injury. On a zero mile day. In a Lazy Boy recliner. Sigh. Leave it to me.
February 1, 2016 – Back to the present
How laughably rewarding to uncover this treasure, my first real journal entry. Many of these moments had been forgotten in the 6 months, 2 days and 2,100+ miles of my thru-hike. It’s good for the soul to remember where you began and reflect on who you are at the end. Thank you for sharing my journey with me. Clarity, joy, and peace are out here.