One month solo on the Appalachian Trail
Phlatlander leaves the shelter early in the morning, aiming for an 18 mile hike into Bird's Nest Hut. I follow shortly afterwards. Within a couple minutes, Turtle Catcher surpasses me as I stop to adjust my gloves.
"Guess you've caught your first turtle," I joke.
Though I am not yet ready to hike 18 miles, I feel a slight improvement in my hiking. My feet still ache, but less than before.
Towards midday, I begin hiking down a hill towards Elkwallow Gap. Suddenly, I hear the leaves rustle to my left. I turn towards the sound, expecting to see squirrels or birds.
I freeze. Two bears: a momma bear and its cub. They look smaller than I expect. After a second, the cub begins playfully scurrying around its mother.
The momma bear stands rigid, staring steadily at me.
Ok. Avoid eye contact. I tell myself. I'll just go about my business and they'll go about theirs. I doubt they want a confrontation any more than I do.
As I edge around the bears, eyes averted, I manage to snap a picture on my iPhone.
After walking another few hundred feet, I glance back. No bears. Good.
Exhaustion begins to set in around mid afternoon. By now, I know I can handle it. As I take a break and consider finding a spot to tent, I check for a signal on my phone.
A text message arrives from Lisa: a forecast for snow and freezing temperatures.
Refusing to spend another sleepless night shivering in my sleeping bag, I choose to push on.
That night, I head to Pass Mountain shelter. Two section hikers and three thru hikers who started the trail in the Shenandoahs share the shelter with me; Woody walks in just before hiker's midnight.
"So what do you think of the trail so far?" Adam, one of the section hikers, asks. Both of us stand at the bear box, brushing our teeth.
"It's one of the most challenging things I've ever done. Sometimes, it's not fun. But it's worth it."
Reflecting back on the day, I feel that hiking through the mountains is an analogy for life: from youth, every lesson learned, every challenge conquered, is a mountain climbed. To get to where I want to go, I must choose to keep going, to keep pushing past exhaustion and frustration. There is no other choice, just as I had little choice but to push for the shelter today. Time never stops.
"This is what we like to call 'type 2 fun.' It's not fun when you're doing it, but it is when you look back."