I have really good connection right now. I want to write an update, but I’m so tired so I’m watching clips of Stephen Colbert and Seth Meyers on my phone instead. Even in the woods I can procrastinate.
“What happened to your eye?”I turned and looked her square in her 6 year old face and said, “I got stabbed in the face.”
If they are bold enough to ask, I’m not going to lie to a child. Quite honestly they handle the truth about what happened to me better than most adults.
She wasn’t phased she now had 1,068 follow up questions about what happened.
I answered every question.
“Hurt a lot.”
“I wasn’t doing anything just walking up the stairs to my apartment.”
“A good doctor sewed my eye back together.”
Her mother and grandfather just sat there eavesdropping on our conversation.
The mother finally had a question, “where did it happen?”
The mother and grandfather looked at each other, rolled their eyes, and then responded, “not surprised you were stabbed in the low country. We have kin who live in the low country and people are crazy down there.”
“I think low country folks say that about hill folk.”
“Yes. But darling where were you stabbed? Was it hill folk or low country folk?”
The next afternooni was sitting on the sidewalk going through my large resupply package my Uncle Stan had sent me, the grandfather walked by. We were exchanging pleasantries when he abruptly stopped and said, “I’m really proud of you. I’ve experienced a lot of violence myself and I couldn’t do what you are doing or have your attitude. I’m too fucked up now.”
Squinting in the sun I looked up and smiled at him, “we’re all fucked up. We just gotta do our best to get through this with a sense of humor, little grace, and find a way to throw in an adventure or two.”
“Yeah. Well I want to say thank you for not letting this stop you. Some of us can never come back from the violence. We just stay fucked up. I’m just really proud of you.”
I stood up and we had a long hug. His buddy drove up and he got his pick-up.
He rolled down the window.
We half waved.
For those who don’t know how to come back from the violence, I’ll keep hiking for y’all. Survivors still have big stories ahead of us. The violence wasn’t our final chapter.
The Smokies were an absolute slog. It rained for most of my 4 days booking it across the peaks.
Morale for the most part in Smokies were low. Many people got off in Gatlinburg and did not get back on.
It was difficult to focus on much other than the sorrowful weather and all these spectacular views that had been built up to us and we were completely missing. For the most part Visibility while I was in the Smokies ranged from 5ft-100ft. I was hammering out miles in the Smokies and almost created a zen like hike for myself. I was alone, it was cold and rainy, and there were no majestic views.
So, I focused on the deep earthy smell the rain brings out. The combination of dirt and evergreens that is so special and unique to a wet forest. I delighted the greens of he moss popping out of the grey of the fog. My heart filled everytime I came around a corner to see a mountain side covered in tiny flowers. I felt relief when I saw a rainbow. And would take a beat every so often to smell the blossoms.
The Smokies were brutal, but they were also beautiful. Sometimes, we can have a grand idea of how things are going to go. We feel we deserve a reward for the hard work we are doing. Yet it does not come and if we don’t pause and take in what we do have we will miss the beauty around us.
The ups were getting to me. The elevation was getting to me. The dreary rain bursts were getting to me. A rare opening along The Appalachian Trail appeared. I could see mountains for ages. I decided to take a seat in the middle of this Rocky Top field and enjoy the view before trucking on.
As I was sitting there Larry with his thick Ozark Drawl rolled up and exclaimed, “THAT’S THE SPOT!”
He looked around, taking in the scenery. Looked back at me and pointed to where I was sitting, “yep right there. I’m ready. This is damn near perfect isn’t it?”
I agreed. This was one of those spots that you need occasionally to take in how far you have come.
“Yep. I need to bury something and right there is the spot.”
He asked if I had a metal trowl, but I alas only had a cheap plastic one like him. He started digging next to me in the rocky soil. His plastic trowl scrapping the rocks as he made as shallow grave. I wanted to help in someway so I stood up and started collecting loose rocks to cover the shallow grave he was digging.
“What are you going to bury?”
“My hat. I said I’d bury it when the time was right and it’s right right now. ”
I looked at his Vietnam Veteran hat, “oh, so you are burying it for a friend or something?”
I kept building my Loose rock pile.
“This is the spot, eh?” Not sure how much he wanted to talk about why he was burying his hat.
“I’m letting all of this go. I’m 70 years old and this pain has stayed with me for 50 years and I’m not going to the grave with it. Carol, what I saw. What I did. This pin has consumed me. I’m done carrying it around anymore. It’s time to let it go.”
I knew Larry needed some space. He needed to grieve. I strapped on my pack and grabbed my poles.
“There should be enough rocks to help bury it. Piles right here,” I pointed to the pile next to him that he hadn’t noticed.
“That’ll be just fine darlin'”
“I hope you feel lighter.”
I wandered off.
Larry had a good cry.
A short way down the trail he caught back up to me (it’s not hard) and he decided we were gonna walk the rest of the way together. I told him he was going to have to have his biggest day yet. And he let me know that he was getting off the trail the next day after he made it to Clingmans Dome (the highest point on the Appalachian Trail). He didn’t need to be out here anymore. He had come out here to let go of the pain he had been carrying around with him since the Vietnam War. Now it was time to go home and help his wife fulfill her dreams she had sacrificed for him to be out here, but this wasn’t where he was needed now.
We talked about our pain. How it can be hard to let go. How it can be difficult to trust. To love. To feel safe.
After we talked about all of our pain we were letting go of we talked about how Tom Hanks is the Himmy Stewart of this generation. We talked about how he used to date Stella Parton (Dolly’s sister) before she was a lesbian and how his buddies always like to pick on him for it. And we quoted our favorite Red Skelton bits to each other to keep us moving up the mountains.
The Smoky Mountains require that thru hikers stay in the shelters unless it is over flowing. I was hoping it would be overflowing so I could camp out in my tent but I am being forced outside my comfort zone into sleeping in a shelter.
I’ve heard all the shelters have nice problems…. im prepared to be in full freak out mode.
Other than that hiking through the Smokies haze been pretty chill. I’m having a little trouble with the altitude but I was still able to trek on for 11 miles.
Rock and Roll.
At a certain point when do we say good-bye to comfort zones? For most of us out here the trail is a new way of life. It’s different than the day to day we have been accustomed to. Pro-tip is to ease into it. Don’t shock the system but gradually adjust to this new way of being.
It’s been interesting watching some people completely ignore this advice, push exceedingly hard, and are already out with injuries or bored and leaving for music festivals all summer. Others ignored it, are rocking so hard, and are so far ahead that it seems unlikely that I’ll ever see them again (except through Instagram posts).
Then there are those of us easing into it. Taking our time. Feeling out the groups of people. Which group won’t drive me crazy at camp at night? Feeling out the terrain. When can I look up and take in the views and when do I need to focus on the inch in front of my foot? Feeling out being disconnected and connected at the same time. Should I meet up with friends and try to keep to their “real world” schedules or let the trail take me where I need to go when I’m ready?
I hiked 52 miles in 3 days. That was well outside my comfort zone and caused some aches and pains, but no injuries. I’m glad I did it, but I know I don’t have to maintain that kind of pace. I’m not a mileage queen nor striving to be one. I have other internal goals I’m working on while pushing myself physically. I know magic happens when my comfort zone is left behind. When I can embrace something that is beyond me. That’s where change happens, that’s where growth happens, that’s where pride in self happens.
There aren’t a lot of bigger women out here but there are quite a few large men. I think because of my size they assume I’m out here with the goal to lose a bunch of weight, the way they are. I went on a weight loss journey before and prior to the trail it was the most difficult thing I have ever done. Losing over 100lbs takes work. In the misery of last year I packed some lbs back on. I’ve embraced my worth is not based on my weight. I am turning that misery weight into strength, other than that I’m not concerned. That’s not why I’m out here, that’s not this journey for me.
I sympathsize with the dudes I meet who are out here trying to lose a 100lbs. I think this is way harder than eating clean and riding a bike. This is deeper and bigger than weight loss. A lot of the dudes I met who are out here with that goal also seem scared to push outside their comfort zones. They do minimal mileage, eat garabage (we all do out here) and take about as many zeros and as they do days on the trail. They have big goals and expect their goals to just find them on the trail instead of pushing for them.
I hope they catch up to me I hope they suddenly do start doing those 25 mile days they envision for themselves. Until then I’m going to hike my own hike, keep enjoying the views, the challenge, and say good-bye to comfort zones.
This morning I was discussing with other hikers about whether we need to make our blogs “click bate” since we live in a scrolling society nowadays and the only things people will actually stop and take time to read are clickbates.
Did it work? I can work on more clickbate-y titles.
About every 8 miles or so there is a three walled shelter for hikers. Typically at these shelters there is a Privy (outhouse) for the hikers. If you know a privy is coming tan not uncommon to hold on to your business till you can get to a privy. However, if you hammer 2 miles up a mountain knowing there is a privy up there and right as you unclick all the buckles to your pack and are strolling down to the privy and right at that moment a middle aged guy cuts you off.
Just go did a hole.
Cuz a middle aged dude in a privy will not be rushed.
And you will wait.
Grab the trowel and get the job done.