In my quest to hike again solo during the Labor Day weekend (2015), I read countless of books prior to my hike such as Wild by Cheryl Strayed (saw the movie first), Guide to the Appalachia Trail by Jim Chase; Exploring the Appalachian Trail by Glenn Scherer and Don Hopey, The A.T. Guide 2015 North Bound by David “Awol” Miller and followed several websites/blogs on hiking the AT.
I felt pretty comfortable with the knowledge gained. So, I set out to section hike from Bake Oven Knob to Lehigh Gap (9.5 miles); Lehigh Gap to Smith Gap Rd. (12.6 miles); Smith Gap Rd. to Wind Gap (8.0 miles). All in-all the goal for the weekend was to complete 30 miles on my own.
This hike was going to be different. I was familiar with the terrain (check), my backpack was about 25 pounds (check), stayed at the Jim Thorpe hotel the night before for an early rise the next morning (check). But during the night my CamelBak water reservoir bag ruptured, and as a result I had to buy several bottles of water to carry inside my backpack (which made it heavy).
I was at the Oven Knob Rd. trail head at 8am and started my hike and was doing well, but the backpack started to feel heavy and heavier as I approached Bake Oven Knob and started to hike uphill where the rocks seemed to go on FOREVER. I wanted to take a picture of this magnificent site, so I pulled my small and cheap and battery operated Vivitar camera. Took several pictures only to realize that I had forgotten to insert the SD memory card (duh!), so I had to pull out my phone which wasn’t an easy task to take the picture.
Midway through the hike, I decided to drink the majority of the water to lessen the weight on my pack (good idea right?); well it was until I had to stop every 30 minutes to pee. Sounds like an easy task, but when you have to get your pack off and then put it back on every 30 minutes it becomes quite an ordeal (but I did achieve losing some weight). The other problem I encountered were my highly priced high top boots; expensive and yet my feet hurt like hell, you see every time I started to descend on the trail my toes were pressed against the front of my boots, so I felt like my toes were going to explode.
At this point, I started to think about where I was, the reason I was there (to stop thinking about the pain in my feet and the weight I was carrying on my back) when all of a sudden I felt a rush of fear when I realized that I was the only one on the trail and after a couple of minutes I pulled myself together and started enjoying the quietness of the woods, enjoying nature at its best with the beauty of trees, the leaves, the flowers, and the birds singing around me.
I made it to the George W. Outerbridge Shelter around 4pm not bad. It was daylight and the shelter was empty. I set out to stay there that evening, so I did not have to pitch my tent. After a couple of minutes, a young man named Nathan, a thru-hiker from Minnesota, arrived at the shelter. Nathan saw my heavy bag and offered to make it lighter, but I declined (I didn’t feel like emptying the bag and putting everything back again), but again this is how the AT community looks out for one another. We both resupplied our water and started cooking our dinners in silence and then literally went to bed. When I woke up around 7pm, there were other thru-hikers at the shelter and by midnight two Australian girls arrived as well (they were hiking through the night)—Yikes! and one of them slept outside the shelter under the stars (I want to this someday).
This was my first experience staying in a shelter and sleeping with people that I had never met and despite the bugs, spiders, and mice I felt so at peace, but I was tired and decided to call my husband to come and get me the next day because I was not going to continue with the hike and complete my goal of 30 miles that weekend.
I did not see this as a failure, but an opportunity to regroup, address my backpack weight issue and perhaps get some new boots. As Robin Williams said “It’s not about the goal, it’s about becoming the type of person that can accomplish the goal.” In my case to someday hike another section or perhaps the entire AT without stopping.