Alright, I suppose none of the work occurred on Labor Day, but Boyfriend Josh and I spent the weekend hiking over 20 miles on the Appalachian Trail, which was the most work I’ve ever done near a holiday. Although I think I slept more our first night back home than the previous two on the trail combined, there’s no other way I would have preferred to spend the weekend.
The hike was exhausting and exhilerating, strenuous and satisfying. I can’t tell you how many times I thought, “uphill? AGAIN?” But for every moment spent trudging uphill, gasping for air, clinging to trees for support, there was at least one with a shared laugh, a gentle breeze rustling the leaves, a woodland critter passing by.
We hiked a few miles Friday afternoon after Josh finished work, catching the view below at an overlook along the way.
We set up camp near the Morgan Stewart Memorial Shelter and shared a picnic table with two solo thru-hikers (people hiking the entire 2,190 mile trail). Both women seemed content with silence, especially the one who had been on the trail for five months already and was beginning to plan her return home. We chatted about whether nearby shelters had water and which freeze-dried meals were the tastiest, and I shared my homemade peanut butter cookies. I never thought anyone would be so excited about gluten-free, yeast-free, dairy-free baked goods (one more month, elimination diet!), but I underestimated the effect months of freeze-dried food can have on a person.
We all settled in for the night before the last remnants of daylight disappeared. Hours later I was on the verge of falling asleep when a voice pierced our tent: “Is the shelter nearby?” After a beat Josh and I both answered, “Yes, you’re here.” She said, “Thank you. Is there water?” “Yes, down the path to the right. You’ll need to filter it though.”
Hiking in the dark isn’t recommended, but sometimes you have no choice. This woman clealry needed water and needed to make it to the next source before stopping, even if it meant setting up camp in the middle of the night and rousing me from almost-sleep. Though to be honest, it could have been only 9pm and felt like the middle of the night to me. Anyway, I don’t think I slept after that, but Josh said he heard me snoring at some point, so maybe I got a few minutes in before morning.
On Saturday we set out for Nuclear Lake, so called because of the research lab that operated there until a couple of accidents put it out of business in the 1970s. An explosion in 1972 spewed plutonium powder all over the area, but the government insists it’s all completely safe now. We toyed with the idea of swimming, but it just wasn’t hot enough out to make that safely radioactive water enticing…
Of course I couldn’t resist making a mutant gummy worm joke before we loaded our packs up and hopped back on the trail.
After lunch we set out to reach the next shelter, which would have put us at eight miles for the day, but it was still early and we pushed on. Our goal was to reach the New York/Connecticut border by Sunday afternoon, and I liked the idea of shortening the distance for the next day.
When we couldn’t bear to walk through another field, no matter how picturesque, we had hiked over 11 miles.
Some people manage to hike 20 miles a day, but I am not one of those hikers- yet. The pain set in by about mile six on Saturday, and over-the-counter pain relievers only helped so much. By the time we were ready to set up camp, each step was more unpleasant than the last. Kicking off my boots and watching the sun’s slow descent through our tent door, though – that felt divine.
We made it the seven miles or so to Connecticut by early Sunday afternoon, completing our 21-mile sojourn.
It’s Tuesday now, and my feet still hurt. Peeing without being besieged by mosquitoes is a treat, but so was the fresh forest air, tinged with fall. I will enjoy my indoor creature comforts, my soft bed, my microwave, my TV shows. And I will also plan my next trip away from all of them, where comfort comes from the web of life around us, the people we meet along the way, and those by our side.