One Month Solo on the Appalachian Trail
6:00 am. The sky slowly brightens. Laying in my sleeping bag on the second level of the shelter, I hear no one stirring below. I raise myself up and peer down. Six men lie cocooned in their sleeping bags, squeezed together across the bottom floor. How am I supposed to climb down without stepping on someone?
I start packing. As I finish, a couple men rouse themselves. Very carefully, I hoist myself down, placing each foot between sleeping bags.
The northbound hikers begin planning how far to hike over breakfast. 25 miles. 15. One heads out. "See you later, Razzle," he says, waving.
Razzle looks up. "I'm never gonna see you again in my life," he calls jokingly between bites.
We all hike independently, seeking our own goals, sometimes congregating together, other times going our separate ways. Who knows if I will ever see those I met on the trail again? Leave it to fate!, I think, strapping on my pack.
Woody passes me early in the day. "I'm not going to spend an hour and a half eating lunch today," he says. He continues speaking and walking, gesturing vaguely towards the trail ahead. I don't quite catch his words, but gather that he may try to hike into Waynesboro, 20 miles away.
Perhaps because I've pushed for several 13 mile days in a row, or perhaps because I don't know whether I will ever catch up to Woody and Phlatlander again, each mile seems to take much more effort than usual. Loneliness and discouragement plague me. Compared to the first week, the lessons I'm learning on the trail seem fewer and farther between. Yet, what choice do I have but to go on?
Toward the end of the day, I crest a hill to find a wiry young man, curly auburn hair tied back, staring up the mountainside.
"Are you thru-hiking?" I ask.
"I'm not, but my mom is." He scans the mountain again. "She's somewhere back there."
Farther up the trail, I meet two women tottering down the trail, their hands tightly gripping their walking sticks, their jackets clipped onto their packs.
"Is one of you thru-hiking?"
"I'm not. She is." The woman on my left gestures to the woman on my right.
We chat for a few minutes, exchanging news and information. From them, I learn that Phlatlander stayed at the shelter ahead the previous night, and planned to take a zero day in Waynesboro. I also learn that the shelter lies about 2 miles away.
"Ok, I can do that," I say, ignoring my aching feet.
I continue on, passing under crackling power lines, until I reach a battered sign marking the road to the shelter, located 0.3 miles off trail. After what seems like several miles, I finally catch sign of the shelter, camouflaged in the trees.
As I approach, I notice a black backpack sticking out of the shelter's entrance.That doesn't look like Woody's backpack, I think to myself.
A couple steps later, a fierce barking assails me. I cast a sidelong glance at the shelter. A woman sits there, a green earpiece in one ear, one arm wrapped around a small German shepherd. "Shh," she urges, whipping her head towards her dog. "Don't do that."
Turning towards me, she asks, "Are there any tent sites around here?"
"Um, yeah." One tent site lies directly in front of the shelter.
"How far? 20 yards? 30 yards? I'm blind," she explains.
And so, I meet Lynn and her guide dog, Ronda, from New York City.
"I don't want to just be known as the blind woman."
I reach for the shelter's logbook and offer it to her.
"I don't know what to write," she says.
"That's ok. Some people just sign their names, or draw something."
Around dinnertime, another hiker strides down to the shelter. He sports a brown beard, sunglasses, and a multicolored bandana. I assume he's northbound.
"Maybe I will sleep in the shelter tonight," Lynn is saying. "There's just two of us, after all."
"There's a guy walking down now ...and now he's sitting at the table."
He looks around. "Hi!" Later, he introduces himself as Shweasle.
Lynn and I talk into the night; I ask her permission to take her photo. I can't help but feel inspired by her determination as she explains how she decided to hike the trail, and how her phone app tells her how far she is from the trail at any given time.
The trail has a way of teaching me lessons when I least expect them. What started as a trying day turned into a good day. I have so much more to learn, I think.
"They say that the trail changes people," I reflect aloud.
"I hope it changes me," she replies.