One month solo on the Appalachian Trail
Over the past few days, I grow increasingly aware of my swollen feet, flattened like pancakes from carrying the weight of my pack. Just stuffing my feet into my boots causes discomfort that becomes all-out pain as the day wears on. My toes feel crushed, as though someone hammered them into place, and jolts of pain punctuate my every step. At the end of each day, my mind becomes locked in a fierce, silent battle between staying positive and complaining about my feet:
'ARGHH -- My toes!'
'Just one more step now. Almost there.'
'You'll feel better in the morning. You can do this. Just keep going.'
'BUT MY TOES!!'
... and so on and so forth until I stop to set up camp. The ridiculousness of this mental chatter amuses after every night, at least until the pain starts up again.
Just one more day and you'll be in town, I remind myself. Just one more day before you can find yourself a pair of new boots.
I recall a line from a thru-hiker's memoir: Never quit on a bad day. To this, I add the mantra, 'Never quit at the end of the day:' Toe pain clearly impairs my reasoning.
At sunset on my fourth day, I limp into camp, swinging my hiking poles like crutches. After pushing for my first thirteen mile day, I breathe a sigh of relief when I see Dick's Dome shelter perched on the edge of a stream ahead. Though a number of shelters lie along the Appalachian Trail, tonight will be the first night I spend in a shelter instead of my tent.
"90% of people get off the trail because of themselves. They can't deal with no comforts. Their pack is too heavy; the trail is too hard. The trail is 90% mental and 10% pain."
A campfire rages in front of the shelter. Two men loom ahead, silhouetted against its glow. As I pick my way across the stream bed, both men look up.
"Hey, I'm Little Mack," the one closest to me says. "That's Mosey. You might want to be careful of him. He lives on the trail."
"You live on the trail?" I repeat incredulously, turning to the second man.
"I've been doing this since 2005: biking, kayaking, hiking. Once, I paddled from Washington to Alaska. Didn't even need a passport. I started at Springer on January 18. I've got no family except my mom - my grandmother's dead. These are my grandmother's sheets." Mosey points to his grey headband and scarf.
"I don't filter water," he continues, holding up his water bottle. "I don't get sick. If I do, I don't think about it. Sometimes, though, if there's stuff in it, I'll use this." He sweeps his scarf over the bottle mouth and takes a long swig.
The three of us continue to chat over dinner. I nearly fall over backwards when I clamber into the shelter with my pack strapped on.
"So, no trail name yet." Little Mack turns to me.
"None yet." Those on the trail for a long time often acquire a 'trail name:' by convention, the primary form of address on the trail.
"Do you have a real name?" Mosey breaks in.
"Lilian," I say. "How did you get your trail names?"
"Well, there are two ways you can get a trail name," Mosey replies. "Someone can give one to you, or you can give one to yourself. The problem is, you may not like the name someone gives to you. I gave myself the name Mosey because I mosey along. I'm in no rush - I'll stop if I see a butterfly or flower.
"My mom named me Jarod. People keep wanting to say Jared - they ask me, 'Can I call you Jared?' - and I say, 'No, it's JAY-rod.'"
I stir my noodles over the flame as Mosey continues.
"My mom was a drug addict. I grew up in the projects. So many times when I was a baby, I could've died. I didn't talk to her for the longest time."
"How did you forgive her?" I ask tentatively.
Mosey meets my eye. "I lost my baby." He pauses. "I called my mom right then that day."
Another pause. "Her name was Lucy Star."
"People with two parents take it for granted. They complain about their parents when they don't know how lucky they are to have two to complain about."