This shit sucks.
Oh, I’m sorry, is that not what you were expecting? Let me rephrase.
This shit really, really sucks.
Let’s cut through the romanticism of thru hiking, rull quick:
Every day we get up and eat breakfast. We pack up and I put 30-40 pounds on my back – dependent almost entirely on how long it’s been since we left town – and Dylan, “Tramp,” 40-50 pounds. Then we walk, for literal miles. Several hours later we stop walking, set up, eat, bear bag, and go to sleep. Then, get this, we do it again. And again. And again. Every day we do this. Unless the weather is too shitty. Then we sit, miserably, and wait for it to pass, sometimes losing a whole day.
It rains, often, and the temperature plummets when it does. There are ridiculously steep climbs and, more treacherously, steep descents. There are “stairs” built into the slopes, which always manage to fuck your knee because they’re weird and irregular sizes. There are “PUDs, ” which stands for “pointless ups and downs.” There are endless switchbacks, taking you back and forth the same ten feet at different heights, making a relatively short hill take twelve years to complete. We pop ibuprofen, “Vitamin I,” like it’s fucking candy because, between my shoulders and Tramp’s knee, we hardly even make a fully functional human.
Ooh. Then there are the trail markings. “The trail is super well marked,” they said. “The blazes are sooooo easy to follow,” they said. Ummmm……disagree. Okay, yes, they are actually. But at least three or four times a day I’m convinced that we’re lost. I start going over every run off and side trail we’ve passed, trying to figure out if I miscalculated mileage or misread the guide or something that might have led us astray. It’s usually about the time I’m starting to become genuinely concerned and considering turning around that I see the next blaze.
But, all of that being said. It’s also phenomenal. I see new flora, constantly. Flowers, trees, vines, and other foliage. Many I’ve never seen before, and several that look familiar but whose names are just beyond reach. We see chipmunks and squirrels, butterflies and millipedes, strange insects and various birds. There’s a small, all too brave gray one that is just adorable, but whom no one is familiar with; as well as cardinals and robins and more species of finch than we know what to do with. We’ve heard coyotes several nights, their calls to each other interrupted only by Bandit’s deep bark rolling through the hills to warn them against coming too close. And every water crossing harbors salamanders of blue black and vibrant orange, poor things the subject of Tramp’s childlike wonder and fascination.
And then there are the people. We have met so many; due in large part to how slow we are, as it means we rarely hike with the same people longer than a couple days. Buckmaster and Prince Charming, our first couple days. Garret Fox, Greg, and Kyle and his puppy, Spanky, when we hopped off trail, the first time, during the Soggy Tent Saga. Joel and his gorgeous mutt, Sadie. Tony “Parkour,” Chris from Orlando, Billy, and Pace Car who were with us at Gooch Gap and our first visit to Neels. Davis, the ridge runner, who taught us to PCT bear bag and gave me a ride to and from Suches. Lenny, “Ambassador,” and “Slow and Steady,” who were endlessly kind to us. Caroline and John, who provided us with the greatest trail magic we’ve yet encountered. Phil and Chris, who hiked Blood Mountain with us because they wanted to slow their pace. Amanda, Byron “Bourne,” Lindon, “Toothbrush,” “Tinglewhere,” and Jeremy who we hung out with on top of Blood and on our second stop at Neels. Robert, Ben and his dogs Bruno and Oska, and the Talahassee Brothers who spent a rainy day sitting in the stone breezeway. Will, George, and Jason, the employees of Mountain Crossings who were so helpful and kind to us; and, of course, Will’s dog Rush, the biggest German Shepard I’ve ever seen in my life. Pringles and Poptart, a father and his 9 year old son, who were doing a section to learn science, because home schooling.
That’s literally just the people who made an impact in our first 30-odd miles. The sheer number of people we’ve met, and the, at least, 20 more who have made an impression in the 80-some since then is just incredible. We have met, I’m sure, well over a hundred people so far. All of them so nice, friendly, helpful, and welcoming. No matter our backgrounds or beliefs, we have this crazy endeavor that instantly breaks the ice and, more often than not, bonds us.
So, yes, in large part this whole thing sucks ass. But in the best possible way. Even the pain isn’t all bad, because we are constantly becoming stronger; pace increasing, amount of time between necessary breaks lengthening. I wouldn’t change anything about what we are doing. Even the hardships we endured at the start have helped shaped the flow of our hike.
We’re just shy of four weeks in at the writing of this post. In theory, we have at least 28 more weeks until we finish this ridiculous thing we decided to do.
Stay tuned, kids. It’s gonna be a wild ride.