Monday, February 24, 2014
The Worst Day
Day 5: Slaughter Creek to Tesnatee Gap
Our fifth day on the trail started beautifully. We woke up around 4am, looked at each other, and said "Let's do this!" We were packed and on the trail up to Blood Mountain by 730am. There was a heavy fog that enveloped everything, making the trail seem more magical and mystical than normal. Chase got a great shot of me walking up to the old Blood Mountain shelter. The fog makes it extra eerie and awesome. No views for us that day, but I wasn't concerned about that. FOOD. Hot, delicious food was waiting for us at Neels Gap. The wind was ripping across Blood, dragging the clouds behind, but I wasn't interested in sight seeing. The rocks were slick with the dampness that comes from touching the clouds, but I paid it no mind. I trugged on with a singular goal; reach Neels Gap or die trying. I even ignored the burning pain in my leg that was becoming worse by the second.
Reaching Neels Gap was a great feeling. The climb down Blood seemed to last an enternity, but we were there right on schedule. Chase went in and ordered a pizza and started a tab. Starting a tab at an outfitter is really amazing, and I'm very glad that Mountain Crossings offers such a service. We ate one Red Baron pizza, 3 bags of chips, a turkey sandwhich, some beef jerky, and I had an apple juice while Chase chugged a Coke. We stocked up on Ramen, peanut butter, trailbars, and Snickers to get us through the next three days before we would head into Hiawassee.
We left Mountain Crossings with full bellies and a head full of worries about the impending severe thunderstorm that was forecast to hit the trail that night. We decided that we needed to stay in a shelter to stay safe from what promised to be torrential rain and lots of lightning. With all of the down and weakend trees in the area from last week's ice storm, we were worried about being crushed while we slept. We decided to push our longest day yet, and try to reach Whitley Gap Shelter.
I was okay with this plan. We had to push hard and fast, but I thought I was capable of it. We stopped to get water and I set off like a bat out of hell to make up the time lost. My leg was burning, but I wouldn't accept defeat. We zoomed past many a pretty site and I lost interest in my surroundings. Finally, on the way down into Tesnatee Gap from Cowrock Mountain, I lost it.
I stopped for a break and was getting up as Chase was hiking up behind me. He is normally much faster than I am, to give you an idea about how fast I was moving. My leg was in burning pain and Chase was commenting that it was only 0.7mi from the Gap to the entrance of the shelter, and then another 1.2mi to the shelter. I spit at him, "This must be just SO EASY for you!" And I trugged off without another word. I made it to the bottom of the gap, berating myself for lashing out at him, but also feeling sorry for myself because I was weak. I thought about all of the people I was proving right by not being able to cut it, by not being able to handle another step on the AT. I broke down crying on the way up out of Tesnatee, which is a very steep climb. My leg was screaming at me, I was feeling soft and weak and foolish, and I couldn't go on. Chase, being who he is, just hugged me and took my pack off. We sat on the trail, and I cried a bit more, and we decided to go into town. I needed to rest, to recoup, and get my head together.
Thankfully, there was service on the road, and we were able to call a shuttle. While we waited, we cooked up a pot of Ramen and ate. A wonderful woman named Sally picked us up and drove us down to Hiawassee, a good 30 miles from Tesnatee. She was a fisherwoman from the Tampa area, so we all bonded over the ocean, and that miraculous feeling you get when you wade into calm waters at sunrise. Remembering that feeling made me a bit homesick, but it also brought me back to a centered place in my head and my heart. I remembered why I was hiking in the first place.
Sally drove us to the ATM, pointed out the all-you-can-eat (AYCE) buffet in town, and dropped us at the Hiawassee Budget Inn. We checked in and threw all of our gear in the room, made sure Sheila was settled, and headed up to the Dairy Queen for a burger and a sundae. After eating, I opened up to Chase a bit about why I was feeling so down and why I felt like I needed to press harder. I wanted to keep up with the few people we had met and I wanted to meet more hikers. I wanted to belong to the trail. I wanted my hiking legs now. We made a pact to communicate more and to take it easy when we got back on the trail. We also decided to take a full zero in Hiawassee the next day to help the strain in my leg get better.
Back at the motel, we met some other thru-hikers as we sat on the porch drinking a Fat Tire, two guys named Asshole and Blackbeard. Both had hitched in from Dick's Creek Gap and were a little crazy. Asshole had some great stories from the trail and some good advice. It was nice to talk to them about their experiences. Talking with them made me feel like an actual member of the Appalachian Trail community.
We feel asleep happier and more experienced than the day before. It's true what they say; a hot shower, a hot meal, and a warm bed can heal all wounds from the trail.
I'm writing this post on our ninth day on the trail, and I can say that day 5 was the worst day so far. I've learned a lot from it though, and I wouldn't trade the experience for the world. You learn so much about yourself on your lowest days. I'm not hiking to prove that I can to anyone and I don't owe an explanation to anyone. I'm doing this for me and to get in touch with myself. I looked at my Appalachian Trials lists that night, and I'm sure it won't be the last time.