At the Aquone Hostel. Maggie cooks dinner for about nine bucks and breakfast for about four. She’s a magnificent cook. Seriously. Last night we had pork chops, cabbage, mashed potatoes, and an English custard and cake (which my mom used to make once in a while, her people being English). Breakfast was giant waffles, strawberries, cantaloupe, bananas. Even if I weren’t hiking, I’d have been in heaven. Tonight is meatloaf.
I asked Steve (Wiggy, 2010) for advice. He had a lot of it, all of it excellent! I can’t really summarize it into a line or two, so I’ll try to paraphrase what I remember. Wiggy says:
It’s all mental. All of it. General knee pain, physical discomfort… when those drive people off the trail (short of an actual injury), it’s mental.
Surround yourself with positive people. If someone is continuously negative, get away from that person; they’ll drag your mind to the negative, and you might lose the mental game.
As soon as you can, stop being boxed in by the shelters and the trail guide. By a thousand miles, you’ll be a professional: You’ll drink when you find water, you’ll camp when you’re tired, and you won’t be afraid anymore that if you miss a meal you’ll die. You’ll be out of camp qiickly, and you’ll just walk.
Stay happy. Listen to music, drink your hot chocolate… whatever you need to do. Enjoy.
If you want to see animals, get on the trail by 6 AM. If you wait until 10, you’ll only see hikers. The animals are long gone into the woods.
The mountains have been there for a billion years. You, walking through, are a blink. You’ll never, ever change the mountain—so find a way to enjoy it no matter the conditions. If it’s uphill, find a way to make it fun. Downhill? Find a way to make it fun. Snow, sleet, rain, cold? Make it fun
Wiggy is wise. 🙂
I think it’s fairly obvious that I’ve had a rough start. There are things I didn’t anticipate that have completely blindsided me. The cold, sure. The altitude. The fact that my short stride makes me one of the slowest hikers out here, when at home I’m fast.
But the worst is that this is so lonely! I somehow expected that I’d hook up with people right away. And I did—but they’re long gone. The people here at Aquilone are couples. And their chatter is all about hikers I’ve never met. The solitude is relentless; everybody passes me, and the next batch of people are their own bubble, one that I haven’t been part of.
But I get it now. That may simply be the nature of my hike: to walk it in quiet solitude. I think I’ve been fighting the mountain. The lighter pack will help. I’m sending 3 or 4 pounds home from the NOC tomorrow (and I’ve sent so much stuff home already that it’s hard to believe I could reduce by that much). When spring comes, warm green weather… that will help, too. I’m not a winter person!
The rest of this week will be cold with snow showers and rain. Nights in the 20s until Thursday, then up into the Smokies. I have a feeling that spring will come in the Smokies.
Oh, and I had an epiphany about this tent issue, which has now driven me into town twice. The tent is three parts: footprint, fly, tent. Sometimes the tent is relatively dry. After a rain, the fly is always soaked. But in my haste to pack up, I’ve been jamming all three pieces into the outside pouch of the pack. Result? By the end of the day, the fly has saturated all the other pieces and the. backpack as well. That sets me up for one of those horrible nights.
I’m going to try this: I’ll pack the three pieces into ziplocks—not to keep them dry, but to keep thhem separated from one another and from the pack. If the sun comes out for a half hour, I’ll dry the tent, then the footprint. Then the saturated fly won’t keep soaking the rest.
Adapt, adapt, adapt.
I feel great. I think I’ll start my hike over tomorrow. The trail will show me how. 🙂
Edited to add: Two new hikers arrived this afternoon: PopPop and Blackhawk Bob, who started the day after I did. PopPop hiked the trail in 2001. He said, randomly during the course of a conversation, ‘It’s hard to make friends this early. People are still dropping out and finding their pace. But later in the hike, the friends you’ll meet… we’re still having reunions.’
So there it is. Every question brings an answer out here.
Wiggy and Maggie: