I woke up this morning stiff and sore. Zeroes finally made sense to me. There was no way I could have hiked into the smokies to look for my glasses.
I had a text from Julia, one of my very good friends from school, that she was at Fontana lodge, so dr love and I packed up (easy to do when you haven’t used your sleeping bag) and went down to the lobby to meet her.
It was so good to see Julia again. I hated to put her out as our shuttle back to newfound gap, but I loved having the time to catch up with her and chat about school and professors and friends. Julia has gotten me through a lot of hard times and good times, and I’ve missed her since she graduated.
We stopped at McDonalds in Cherokee. The cashier kept trying to ask me “for here or to go” and I kept trying to order more food.
I ate all of it. That biscuit? That was Dr Loves and I didn’t eat the bottom because it had syrup on it.
We got to Newfound Gap and Dr Love and I said goodbye to Julia. I will have to see her again soon. (Soon!!)
The drive up to hot springs was beautiful and quick. My car had again been invaded by mice, but this time I had tried to protect anything important, and I had succeeded. I just used some packing tape to clean the poop up out of the driver’s seat and said goodbye to Dr Love.
I stopped at Laughing Heart Hostel to get the scoop on a bunk for the night, then headed in to town for the more indulgent side of my spring break.
Hot Springs has to have hot springs, right? And if you know me, you know I love a good spa. So I went in search of the famous hot springs to see if I could get a massage and a soak. And boy did I.
History nerds: this place started in 1778.
Here’s my view from my private tub.
The tub attendant fetched me some water, so I got to hydrate my poor sunburnt face while I soaked and stared at the river and took in the smell of woods and leaves and wind and mineral water. I wrote some, and then I sat back and thought about why this trip seemed so unfulfilling. I’d set a new record for miles (22.9). I’d done the smokies in 4 days- that’s 76.9 miles (without counting the blue blazes). But I just didn’t feel good about this one.
I feel strong. I feel capable. And I feel like I can do a whole lot more. And you know what? When I’m out there, with all of those NOBOs starting out? I feel like none of it matters. I’m “just a section hiker.” I’ve hiked everything they have, at this point. But it doesn’t really count, I guess.
I think I’ll be avoiding the trail for a few months. After I find my glasses, I mean. I don’t know. Maybe it was hiking with Dr Love; maybe it was the Smokies. Maybe it’s just where my head is now.
I know that I’m capable of doing things that are difficult. I may not always make the smartest choice at the end of the day (snickers and bed instead of cooking dinner) but I survive it all. And I may be just a section hiker, but I think I’m a pretty tough section hiker. But as soon as some thru-hiker says “oh section hiking! Now that’s the way to do it!” I just want to punch them in the face. It’s my only option! I’d be thru-hiking in 3 months if I had a choice! Don’t give me that crap.
Yesterday, hiking down to Fontana, dr love and I stopped for lunch in the sun. I unrolled my sleeping pad and laid out (for additional sun burning) and ate. And despite the fact that I couldn’t bend my right leg and had shooting pains in my left, and the back of my left heel was bruised, and I was basically out of food and just had a granola bar (which I split with Dr Love) and water and whatever Dr Love gave me (he was generous with food and, luckily, I don’t eat much), everything was perfect. I loved my stench. I loved the sun burning my face. I loved the pain I felt because I knew it meant I’d been hiking hard. I loved the miles I had left because I knew that meant it wasn’t over. We started walking again and it hurt, and I was slow to warm up my muscles, but what a feeling it was.
Sitting in the hostel now (when I am writing this; it will be posted later), I wish I were hiking again. I know it will hurt tomorrow, to go up to wherever I left those stupid glasses and especially to come back down, but it will hurt even more to get in my car and leave.
I don’t know when my next section will be. I have to go straight from school to work. I’d like to do something fun for my 30th birthday in May but I haven’t decided where and I don’t know…well, I just don’t know. It’s something I’m going to have to sort out my feelings on. And maybe give control of my bank account to someone in case I just pack up and start hiking and don’t come back until I get to Maine, just to prove that I can do it right now.
Do I look refreshed?
Those were my hot tub thoughts, I guess. After the spa, I went to the outfitter to poke around (nada) and then had lunch. I wanted a bacon cheeseburger. I ordered it.
It took me 6 minutes to eat that entire burger. I ate all the fries, too. I wasn’t even particularly hungry, I just figured I’d eat.
So after my soak and massage and burger and mill about town, I came back to the hostel. I had a bit of a cry in bed, frustrated about the fact that …well, just frustrated. I got up and went to join the other hikers in the next room, introducing myself as “just a section hiker.”
Well, turns out they were all section hikers. No clue where the NOBOs are but they aren’t here. We watched a movie and ate some frankenstew they’d heard about from a hiker further up the trail (yes I ate more) but eventually I came back into the other bunk room and chatted with I Am.
I Am thru-hiked back in 99, I think, and he’s out sectioning now. (And during that thru hike he stopped for a soak in the hot tub, so we bonded over our appreciation for mineral water soaks!) We talked about what he’s out looking for, and why I’m so frustrated with this section, and lots of other things. It was exactly what I needed. And what he needed.
So I feel better. I Am helped me plan a few more sections (Harper’s ferry south for Christmas break) and was just the kind of connection I needed to make when I needed to make it. Not the food kind of trail magic you always hear about, but the people kind, I guess.
I am a tough girl. And I am determined and focused. And each time I go out for a section, I become more focused and determined and comfortable with who I am. And I am not a totem or accessory, but my own person with my own hike.
That’s for me to remember when I go back to reread this.
“And I don’t know if it’s the chili or your smile but something is warming my heart!”
One more day of hiking (big critter never found my glasses). But maybe I Am will find my glasses in the woods and it will be his birthday present, to do a kindness for someone else. Or maybe I will find them, and I will be self-sufficient but grateful for the love and support offered to me.
Or maybe some bear is wearing them, happy his astigmatism has been corrected.
My heart is filling up again, at the laughing heart hostel.