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Monday, February 26, 2007

Not Catching Up

I don't post here when I have a lot of change going on cause I don't know how to talk about it yet. Then, as time goes by more change happens and I wonder how I can possibly catch this journal up, or even remember everything noteworthy that has happened. That is where I am now. Lots of change personally via new experiences, but I am not sure how to look back and process it.

Weekend before this past one I went to a computer con in Atlanta. I shared a room with others, which stretched my comfort zone. It turned out well, and I was around people more, which was what I was unhappy about at the last con, the lack of interaction. I had fun at the con and learned a lot. This time I went to the talks. I understood what they talked about. I learned. It felt good. I met new folks that I enjoy, and that are doing neat things.

I came home and had a week to get ready for my hiking trip. I spent 4 days just recovering from the con, the lack of sleep and generally not being on top of things here at home. Thursday night I threw together things for my pack, a suitcase with clothes to wear after I got off the trail, and put everything in the truck. Luckily with the truck I don't have to be efficient in my packing. After work I headed out to north GA.

I had not met the guy I was meeting to go hiking with, I had only read his hiking journals and emailed him back and forth for several weeks. As the sun was setting while I was driving I faced a couple of facts. First I was so hungry I was uncomfortable, and I knew I needed to have good food so that I could hike the next day. Second, the increasing darkness brought me to the reality that I was heading out to the middle of no-where to meet a guy I had never met before. So, I pulled off at the next exit that had a Cracker Barrel restaurant, parked and pulled out the email where he had sent me his cell phone number. I put it in my cell phone, and as I walked up to the restaurant I called him. It is always strange to suddenly have a real voice that is unfamiliar and try to talk with the familiarity that the email connection has fostered. But, this stranger is on the other end of the phone saying that yes, he is this person. I got past that, and made a connection with this stranger that I felt like I knew. I was glad that I had called because the unknown now at least had a more familiar voice. And, he seemed friendly. After a good dinner, I headed back out and the rest of the trip went fairly well. Oh, if you use Google Maps, verify the directions with a real printed map. As with MapQuest, there are some oddities. I almost got off on the wrong road twice, but felt a need to verify where I was going with my TN state road map. One time, a road was listed on the road signs with 2 numbers, the main one on the sign was not the one Google listed. The other time, it said to turn when I should go straight. I turned where there was a road that seemed to be in the right place and immediately stopped and asked directions at a gas station. Nothing like being in a small GA town in the late evening and having them say 'oh, you are way off'. I did finally make it where I needed to be.

Stumpknocker and I ended up staying up well after midnight talking. As a result, we didn't get going to the trail until a lot later than I had thought we would the next morning. After stopping to eat and to get the supplies I hadn't gotten beforehand, it was after 1pm when we got to the visitor's center at Amicalola Falls State Park. We ran into a friend of Stumpknocker's named Old Man as we were weighing my pack before starting out. Old Man looked at Stumpknocker, grinned and said 'Again?', thinking he was starting yet another through hike. After clarifying that we were just doing an overnight to break me in on the trail, I was introduced just like I was a real hiker. It felt strange to be here among the folks I've been reading about and being accepted so readily. In fact, when Stumpknocker told Old Man that I was planning to hike the trail in '09, Old Man said I should look up his wife, Navigator, because she wants to hike the trail and wants a partner to hike with. I was honored to be so accepted as a serious hiker, but then again I was with Stumpknocker who has done the trail 5 times. I was looking for the (I hoped) easy start to the trail up to Springer, which was our stated goal for the day. I was directed straight up some log steps immediately in front of me. I sighed. The ladies in the visitor center had told me, while smiling, that the trail to Springer was so tough that if I could do it I could make it to Maine. They meant to be reassuring...

As I hiked I was stopping a lot to just need to breathe. My pack only weighed 23 pounds, which amazed me considering how bulky my old pack looks even before it is loaded. As I hiked up the trail I started remembering some things I had forgotten. I had no flashlight, and we had pretty much decided that we would be hiking after dark since we started so late. I realized my coffee mug was still in Stumpknocker's truck console from my morning cup of coffee. He assured me we could share his mug. On and on as we climbed, as I was having trouble breathing with the pack on, much less walking, I was feeling like I was such a newbie, forgetting basic things and feeling awkward, beating myself up constantly in my head. Stumpknocker was supportive, and he was in his element. He loves the woods, and loves the trail. He would stop for a few minutes and talk to anyone on the trail who would talk back to him. It was interesting to watch him interact with folks. His excitement in just being out there that day was obvious.

At one point we met 3 folks, and one of the ladies looked at him and said 'are you Stumpknocker?' It turned out she had met him last year on one of his first hikes after breaking his arm. She was excited, and talked about reading his journals. He seemed a bit confused at her excitement in meeting him. I was smiling because she was just like me. At one point she looked at me expectantly and asked who I was, waiting to pin me to some person she had read about in his journal. He introduced me, and I kinda put my hands up as if to say 'I'm nobody'. I was on her side of the fence in reality. She asked him some of the questions I had wondered about, things that showed she knew him well from his writings, while he still seemed confused but amused by the attention. The she looked at me pointedly and said 'and how did you get to know him?' I knew what she meant. How did I go from just reading his journals like she was to actually out hiking with this person. I shrugged and said 'I signed his guestbook?' They wandered on past us and I told Stumpknocker 'you are a legend out here'. He shrugged it off and said 'I just like to hike'.

There was rain forecast for the evening. As we got to the part of the trail that wasn't so steep the wind picked up and felt damp so we put on rain gear. Even though the temperature seemed to drop as the wind and clouds picked up I was doing a lot better with the hiking, meaning I could actually walk more that a minute or two without stopping. The trail went through an area that was kind of open and less steep (it is a mountain, nothing is level). Stumpknocker suggested we camp here, stopping while it was light and before the rain. I just couldn't let myself stop yet. I mean, we had only gone maybe 4 miles of the 8.5 miles to the Springer Shelter on top. To stop after such a short distance, no matter how painfull the miles had been for me, was to admit defeat, that I was such a newbie and that I couldn't keep up. He didn't push the issue, and we hiked on. Almost immediately after that the trail started up steeply, and my legs just wouldn't do it. It hurt to move them, every muscle in them. I was totally done in. I turned around and told him that I guess he was right, and the only reason I wanted to push on against logic was my pride. He immediately started back and found a spot out of the wind to set up camp. All I could do was lean on my hiking poles and watch I was so out of it. He is used to hiking alone, so he had his routine in setting up his tent and didn't expect help, but I still felt totally useless. I mean, I'm an independent woman, and to just admit that I could not go further, and to not even help set up camp was difficult for me.

After getting into the tent and eating some of the gorp I had brought, I felt a bit better. The wind was really howling, and Stumpknocker kept saying that he was really glad we stopped down where it was calmer. He really liked the site, and the view out of the tent was nice, down a nice ravine. All I could think was that I hadn't made it to Springer. I had failed. I have a 'no whine' policy, though, so I tried not to say much about that. At some point after dark the rain started. Being in a tent in the rain is one of the reasons to be out on the trail. It is really neat, out in the woods away from everything listening to the rain hit the tent. I still wasn't sleeping well, though. In the morning after the rain quit it was foggy for awhile, and the woods looked really awesome in the fog. Slowly I was letting Stumpknocker's enthusiasm get to me. It was all good to him, being out in the woods, the rain, the views out the tent with the fog, he was happy just being there. He didn't care at all that we hadn't made some predetermined goal.

The sun came out as we broke camp. When I put on my pack to head out I was really happy I didn't have any further than I did to make it back to the truck. My legs were slowly giving out. I measured my energy and went slow. Going down is easier than going up, but it hurts my legs just as much, just different muscles. I went slow, all the while Stumpknocker is going on about what a beautiful day it is and how great it is to be out there. Finally we get to the visitor's center. He high-5's me and said 'You did it!'. I am still not sure I did 'it', but I do know that I need to learn his ability to enjoy what is and stop beating myself up because I don't meet some pre-determined goal. I went to the approach trail to the Appalachian Trail, learned what I needed to learn, met some cool people, learned some about what equipment an experienced AT hiker carries, and probably most important of all I saw the joy and love of the trail that Stumpknocker writes about in his journal in real life.

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