Friday, May 13, 2011

The Most Beautiful and Most Miserable Day So Far

This post will start in earnest shortly, but I want to write about something else briefly. You may have noticed the widget on the right side of this blog linking to our IndieGoGo campaign. One of the ways we wanted people to be able to share this journey was, of course, through our blog; however, we also wanted people to have the chance to experience it more fully. So, we created a campaign on IndieGoGo to allow people to really commit to this experience.

For a donation Grace and I are sending our supporters a variety of mementos from this trip: postcards, quilted coasters, framed pictures, and more depending on the donation level. We've been able to defray some of the costs of the trip in this way, but far more importantly we've been able to give our supporters a piece of the trail that they wouldn't have otherwise gotten just from reading the blog. We have just a few days left in our campaign, so consider becoming a larger part of our journey. Follow the link below and choose a donation level; we want you to be able to experience this trip as fully as possible.

Now on to the real post.

As of today I've walked 35 days without interruption. There have been days where I took neros (near zeros) of a couple miles, but there has not been a single day in the past 35 that I haven't been walking. To tell the truth, as much as I'm enjoying it, I'm truly exhausted. I started feeling the exhaustion pretty intensely the last few days. To be fair, the last few days have been very tiring. They've been long days of 14-16 miles, with a lot of steep ascents and descents, in hot and humid conditions. But I can't help feeling that as much of my feeling of being wiped put is just that I've been hiking so many days without rest. Grace and I are leaving the trail for a few days starting on Monday for her mom's wedding in Virginia. I'm really looking forward to the rest and hope it rejuvenates me.

Speaking of challenging days, in a single day I saw easily the most beautiful country that I've hiked through so far, and also had the most miserable day on the trail yet. All made possible by the Smoky Mountains.

On May 3rd, I rolled out of the shelter late, around 10:00 am (I'm not good at mornings). I made the 4.5 miles to Newfound Gap in decent time, took pictures of the NC-TN border and the sub-2000-miles-left sign with Avalanche, Smoke Bath, and Jackrabbit (some cool hikers from Wisconsin that we get along really well with), and knocked out the last 3 miles to the next shelter.

I had decided that I was going to put in 15 miles that day, and since it was only 2:00 by the time I finished lunch I continued on. The next few miles were stunningly beautiful. I walked through tall pine trees and stared out over the nearby mountains, rugged and steep, the mist rolling over them and pouring into the valleys below. It reminded me a bit of the mountains near Halidzor, this village in Armenia where my friend Sean lived.

Then the rain started.

For the next 4 miles or so I was utterly and completely  miserable; I felt more defeated than at any time on the trail so far. One of the things I hate most in the world is hiking in the rain; even with rain gear on I was wet, outside from the exposed parts and inside from the sweat. I just felt depressed and despondent for several hours; the only thing that kept me going was repeating the words "just keep walking--just keep walking--just keep walking" ala Dory from Finding Nemo. It was the only thing that stopped me from thinking about how shitty I felt. Then I got to the trail leading to the shelter...another 0.4 miles away. That was the longest 2/5 of a mile I've ever walked in my life.

Thankfully, these days are fairly rare. Even though I'm exhausted, most days are at least beautiful and full of incredible views; I'm normally incredibly content to just be in the wilderness. In fact, the day after that miserable day was another stunningly beautiful hike. It got so cold that night that the rain turned into freezing rain; when I got up to the ridge north of me all the trees were bathed in white ice crystals from the mist flowing over the mountains in the cold. The beauty of the contrasting greens, blues, and whites was almost indescribable; I just hope the pictures I took do it some justice.

We're at a little over 300 miles as of today. I'm looking forward to a rest in a few days, and then rejuvenation for the next ~1800.