The Great 8: Days 13 – 18

Day 13 – 13.4 miles

I slept so good on that flat dry hotel mattress, but I woke up feeling hung over. Very weird because I did not drink. I’m guessing it was all the pizza and Coke I consumed the night before?

I got to the trail and realized I was also feeling a sort of civilization hang over too. My nervous system has been a wreck for years now, always on constant alert, usually for things I can’t control or even name. When hypervigilance and high anxiety becomes your norm, understandably it is incredibly hard to relax. Impossible really. Physically, you literally can’t slow down and all the bumper sticker philosophy just relax and let go! won’t fix that.

Walking the trail for the past weeks has forced my body to recalibrate. Instead of worrying about the general insanity of the world, my immediate and very real concerns are simple. Are you hungry? Ok eat. Are you thirsty? Yes, drink some water. Is that a bear? No it is just a very loud squirrel. I am appropriately on alert for things that directly affect my immediate situation. I can meet my own needs in a concrete and tangible way. And oh, how relieving is that? My nervous system can take a break, chill out. I drank that water, ate that food, found that campsite, and made those miles. Good job hormones! You did it Epinephrine! Now go get metabolized and let me sleep.

After all this woodsy quietude and lack of consistent access to social media, it is bit discomfiting to go back to it all. Everything is so loud and in a way that is very jarring. I mean, I already knew this. I guess its finally seeing the juxtaposition of a quiet brain vs our loud society. Does this even make any sense?

The rest of the day didn’t shape up any better. The trail continued its neverending quest to somehow go up even when going down. The spiders OWN this part of the trail. Every five feet its another web to the face so that I had silk dangling from my hat. I am one with the spiders. In fact, I am a spider now and spiders are great!*

The weeds were overgrown and I had to climb over or around lots of blow downs (big dead trees in the way). My feet hurt. It may sound like I’m complaining but I’m just reporting the news. This trail is hard work.

And it was all very frustrating. But that’s okay. I let it out. Who was going to care that I cried? Or that I screamed curse words at spiders? Or that when I tripped for the third time I just lay in the pine needles and had a hissy fit? Certainly not the squirrels or those damn spiders. Real emotions let out in real time and truly being in the moment. Thats why I chose this hard work right?

Also I made 100 miles today on the BMT, which makes it about 133 total. It doesn’t feel like that many and it doesn’t feel like I’ve been on the trail almost two weeks. I guess it is hard to see progress when you are in the middle of it.

Today I am grateful for pit toilets.

*Paid for by the Spiders are Awesome Committee.

Day 14 – 14.5 miles

It seemed like there were some long term residents at Lost Creek Campground. They apparently leave a dog in the tent unattended. They also wake up at 0530 in the morning to have loud arguments and then drive their loud vehicle up the mountain.

Since I was up, I had a nice breakfast drink by the creek. After a lovely pit toilet stop I made my way up the gravel road back to the trail, which immediately goes back down to Lost Creek.

The next 3 miles are the best I have seen on the trail so far. A beautiful dramatic creek walk looking at all the ways in which water carved its way through the mountains. The water was crystal clear and blue tinted in some places, like glacier water. The sun made its way into the valley and glittered off the busy water. The trail itself was relatively mild and best of all no spiderwebs! I floated beside this creek in awe and joy and didn’t even feel my sore feet. It was peaceful and I soaked it up.

But eventually good things must come to end and the creek walk did. I was dumped out into some mountain roads and shuffled my way into Reliance. The Hiawassee river flows through it and there was even a thoughtful pedestrian lane on the bridge to cross the river.

I made my way to Reliance Fly and Tackle where I heard there was a good burger to be had. It was like something out of a Hee Haw sketch. As I walk up to a stereotypical backwoods looking gas station there are four good ole boys sitting out front drinking. One even had the Boomhauer accent. Maybe it was more like King of the Hill. As I was obtaining my burger the owner and de facto leader shot at the stop sign with a shotgun. Everyone hooted and hollered and then had to each individually go inspect the sign. Many observations were made and the bullet in question was approved, I guess?

I mentioned that I had to walk back the way I came to get back on the trail (as this stop was a little off trail). It prompted a discussion of how I should get back, in terms of local mountain instructions. Boomhauer said something about a powerhouse and a “swanging bridge”. The others were talking about going up and down the hillside based on water levels of the river. Finally one fella broke it down and said go up that road (pointing to the road in front of the store) and it will meet the trail. Okay?

Sure enough the road went up and then down and the BMT met up with it by the river. And the trail promptly went into the overgrown bush. I stayed on the road.

There came a point when the trail turned away and up from the road so I had to return. The trail snaked its way up to a ridgeline only to immediately sink back to the river. But this wasn’t the fun wide open river. No it was a claustrophobic buggy nightmare. The skeeters were out in full force and hangry. I got my revenge though because I think I ate about 20 of them just breathing.

In order to move 10 feet forward you had to go up 200 feet in elevation and come back down. Its why I hate walking next to water. The geography of water side walking isn’t always a straight line, like a nice sandy beach. Sometimes the only way forward is up the rocky mountain and then down the rocky mountain.

The mosquitos chased me up the river to my campsite. So now I have dozens of bites on top the scratches on my arms and legs. I quickly and poorly set up my tent and threw everything in. Only two of the little bastards managed to make it in and were quickly dispatched. I am now sitting in my tent hoping that as the evening cools they’ll go to sleep and I can fix my tent.

Today I am grateful for the walk along Lost Creek.

Day 15 – 16.6 miles

I think I twinged something in my derby knee running away from the mosquitos. It is a chronic issue, something I’ve learned to baby. I woke to swarm of more mosquitos around my tent and tried to run away from them but my knee wasn’t having it.

I crossed the creek and trudged up through the maples and sassafras to higher elevation. I traded mosquitos for spiderwebs. As I was coming around a bend I scared a turkey who in equal measure scared me. It gobbled off into the brush leaving me to my thoughts.

The past week or so, the trail has really gotten to me. I itch all over, my feet hurt, and the trail itself has been the opposite of rejuvenating. As I thought I about it, I realize its my own fault. I’ve been ascribing to some arbitrary thru hiking “rules” that cause me to harshly judge myself in which I have to do high mileage days. And for what point? There is no trophy at the end of this.

On the other hand I do have a schedule to keep. The backcountry permit for the Smokies is set for specific days. And I have to get there. Maybe I should have given myself more time?

I reviewed the reasons I started this whole thing in the first place and no where does it say “to complete every step of the BMT”. One of the reasons was too push myself, and I have (I haven’t exercised in forever remember?), but not to the point of more burnout. There is also that whole getting my mind right thing.

The trail joined a motorcycle track that was pretty much five or so miles of cruising along a ridgeline. It allowed me my self absorbed ruminations. After Unicoi Gap though, the forever climb and the heat got me super critical of myself. Why can’t I just do this? Why is it always so hard? Why didn’t I go to the beach?

I stood huffing and puffing on that steep incline and realized the only way I was going to get through this was to stop wishing for the situation to be anything other than it was. A thought popped up hard things can be hard and you can still do them. If I could just accept what was in front of me, then I wouldn’t waste energy on thinking how it could be easier.

I also thought what would I say to one of my friends in this very situation? I wouldn’t berate or bully them, but tell them to take it easy and make sure to have some fun. I certainly wouldn’t talk to them the way I talk to myself. Why is it so much harder to be nice to yourself?

So I took a deep breath and a deeper swig of water, then accepted the fact that I would be continually climbing to camp and that I’d get there after sunset. There was nothing else to be done about it, except to do it.

A calm settled over me and I kept moving along. Up ahead I heard some rustling and saw a dark shadow. Thinking it another turkey, I crunched forward. Nope, it was a bear. A juvenile by the looks of it. As soon as it caught sight of me it sprinted off trail and rocketed down the mountain. I looked down and saw a perfect feather (turkey I’m guessing) and laughed at how the universe decides play.

And guess what, I did do it. I got up the forever mountain, I walked through the dark, and I made it to camp. I did the hard thing. I didn’t have to berate myself in the first place.

I decided to reschedule one of my planned stops in Tellico Plains a day early. So I’ll be getting off trail for a couple of days. I know how hard I’ve worked and how far I’ve pushed myself, but I also know I need rest. Especially this knee. It might sound whiney or even naive, but when you haven’t made time for yourself to rest in so long, you kind of forget how. Even your vacations turn into work. I guess that is one positive point to this whole sweaty ordeal.

Today I am grateful for Welsch’s Fruit Snacks.

Day 16 – 2.2 miles

I got to see the sunrise through the trees and I didn’t have to get up early to start walking. I slept in and enjoyed my morning drink. I only had 2.2 miles to go to Sandy Gap where my shuttle would pick me up to go to Tellico Plains.

It was a pretty ridgeline walk with an acutal view! The breeze was light and cool. The ascents and descents were manageable. Of course that was only for 2.2 miles. I’m sure right after the gap it got real again.

I got to the gap, surprisingly, a little early. So I sat and listened to a podcast that dealt with personal and societal pressures. The idea of performing your hardest and when to let go. It was an unplanned recap of my own thinking for the past two days.

So now I sit in A/C once again, full of food, and freshly showered. I’m going to rest my knee and wallow in all the comforts. I’ll reevaluate my planning and then most likely let the mountains take me where they will.

Days 17 & 18 – 0 miles

Zzzzzzzzzzz…..

My knee is feeling better. I’ve ate my weight in sandwiches. I’ve taken many showers. I feel ready to tackle the last part of the BMT.

3 thoughts on “The Great 8: Days 13 – 18

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