March 29 2015, 53 miles from Springer
The next morning I learned a valuable lesson. We woke to the rising sun blasting against a brown tarp. Lightning Bug was sitting on the table watching the sunrise and her shadow was cast against the tarp like a screen. The image is burned into my mind.
Eventually we all reluctantly left out of our semi-warm cocoons and tried to make breakfast. We hadn’t slept with our water bottles and they had frozen solid overnight. I had to break the bad news to my mom that there would be no breakfast and no hot coffee. Our boots had frozen solid and we had to sit on them to make them pliable enough to get on our feet.
We started quickly with a nice downhill to greet our morning. Along the way we met a section hiker and his son. We must have looked hungry because he gave us a snickers bar. We opened it and tried to eat it with our frozen fingers and realized that the candy was also frozen solid. We gnawed at the frozen caramel and chocolate unthinkingly. The man watched us attempt to consume the food as rapidly as possible with a sort of horror. We spent five minutes half listening to his stories, distracted by the task of consuming the solid candy by quickly nibbling at it like paranoid squirrels.
As we wandered onward we sucked at the icy water in our bottles. We were both on the brink of going to town when we got to Unicoi Gap. The aroma of sizzling burgers floated up into the forest to greet us. We floated down to the road like characters in a cartoon that were lifted by a smell and carried along.
Trail magic couldn’t have come at a better time. A buffet of snacks was laid out for the hikers.A lady handed me a water bottle, which to my amazement felt warm in my swollen, frozen hands. I remember exclaiming “It’s warm!” and watching her face contort as if I were complaining. And I explained to her that my water was frozen and how thankful I was for warm water, turning her frown into laughter. I told the grill master that I didn’t eat meat with a sort of dismay and asked if I could just have a bun without a patty and he unexpectedly whipped out veggie burgers.
I removed my gloves to eat the burger, but my hands were so cold that they formed a sort of loose clamp around the burger as I crammed it towards my face. I felt so sloppy.
Captain Planet, Ropeburn’s parents, Ropeburn, Moonbow, Lightning Bug
At Unicoi Gap Ropeburn’s parents gave us some snacks and the Choir boys found us freezing out there as they came back from town. They felt badly that we suffered the cold and fed us fruit. Moonbow and Lightning Bug invited us to go to town, but to my surprise mom stubbornly wanted to push on. We took a short day and climbed halfway up Tray Mountain to an old Cheese factory campsite. A rhododendron forest invited us to stay with lovely little campsites and a beautiful clear water source emerging from old stone ruins. I knew it was going to rain because we were hiking with T-storm (she got her name on the PCT due to her ability to bring forth thunderstorms). We decided a thunderstorm on Tray Mountain sounded too exciting so we made camp and took a nice rest accompanied by warm sunlit yoga on the dry leaves. A few section hikers joined us that night, and I built my first raging campfire. The first campfire was like tossing my bear bag: I was intimidated by the thought of failing to make a fire, but tried and found that it was an art that could be easily mastered with practice.
That night the storm rolled in and thunder crashed off in the distance. The storm hit Tray Mountain peak dead on and we were about a mile from the intensity of lightning. My mom and I were squabbling about something perhaps inspired by the energy of the storm. She stopped and she said to me defensively “Well, I am your mother.” And I couldn’t help but laugh. I looked at her and said, “well then you are Mother Earth.” We both laughed a little too hard, the kind of loud passionate laughing that comes from having intense emotions. There we were in the pouring rain, tent lighting up every few seconds and thunder crashing, laughing until we cried. From that day on her name was Mother Earth.
This is the day the trail broke us in and we became long-distance hikers. The laughter and passion I experienced on trail has ingrained itself in my personality. I yearn for it off trail, as if a part of me is missing. Although this sort of happiness is born in moments, it never fades from my memory. I know that it can only exist in certain conditions, within a specific lifestyle (that probably involves a lot of discomfort). A trail lesson for me is to live a lifestyle that allows me be the person I love to be. When I move around I am not running from anything; I’m not searching for myself. I know who I am. I am trying to find a place in which my lifestyle is not demonized by a consumer culture based on instant gratification or distractions. Throughout the first half of trail I usually yelled when I summited a mountain. I wasn’t yelling about climbing the mountain; I was trying to speak, outside of the realm of language, to the distance and say that there is a world out here that changes the conditions of human existence.
If I can’t find a sustainable place to take a stand, then I will make one.