One month solo on the Appalachian Trail
After a week of rising before dawn and sleeping at sunset - 'hiker's midnight' - my body wakes by 5:00 am. Mark, another hiker, remains asleep in the bed next to mine; he drove in past 9:00 pm the previous night.
Immediately, I slip from the bed and head for the shower. I won't have the chance to shower for another 5 days, I think. When I step out, the smell of eggs and toast wafts up from the kitchen downstairs. Mark's bed lies empty. Hurriedly, I head down the steps to find Mark sitting at the table and Lisa frying eggs over a small, portable stove.
"Morning," I say, taking a seat.
As Lisa serves up eggs, toast, fruit, and juice, Mark begins to flip through photos on his phone. "I'm from Pennsylvania," he says. "I spent years working, getting fat and happy. Now, I'm hiking my happy little heart out."
"This is from the fall." He shows me a photo of a river meandering between multihued hillsides.
"Wow," I say.
"You show these pictures to people," he continues, "and they say things like, 'nice trees,' or 'nice view.' But to you, they're much more than that. They're all the struggles and experiences you went through to get the pictures."
"There's a certain satisfaction I get from working for the views," I reply. "It's different from driving up to the summit of a mountain and taking pictures."
After cleaning my plate, I pack my bags and hike out. My feet enjoy the roomy toe-boxes in my new boots.
That afternoon, I enter Shenandoah National Park. Though I plan to stay at Gravel Springs shelter to shield myself from forecasted 50 mph winds and single digit temperatures, I end up 3 miles short after my late morning start.
The wind begins to pick up even as I pitch my tent. All night, I listen to the wind roaring from the foot of the mountain and crashing through the trees like a tidal wave; even my earplugs fail to block out the sound. Cold air seeps up between the seams of my sleeping pad. I lay awake all night, shivering, curled up in a ball at the bottom of my sleeping bag.
I promise myself to take an easy day the next morning.