Friday, December 17, 2010

Forest Service Road 205A to Taliaferro Creek

"Come here," I tell Shadow. He comes.

8.4 miles

Today I woke to rain drumming on the fabric of my tarp. The last sound any hiker wants to hear. And I needed to pee. So I lay still in my cozy bag for as long as I had strength, and then made a mad dash for the far side of an oak. It turns out it wasn't rain after all, but just leftover water being blown from the branches of trees. It wasn't as bad as I thought.

So I hiked anyway, even though one of the cardinal rules of hiking is: Hike in the rain, but never start hiking in the rain. And I was so glad I did. The morning was clammy and cold, but by afternoon, coming down a ridge into fifty-degree weather, the sun started filtering through the trees and the whole world turned gold. Maybe it's because I'm reading Annie Dillard, but I keep finding beauty in unexpected places. Today I was shocked at the forest floor of yellow and orange oak leaves. I looked up and the branches were bare, but below my feet were all the colors of the fall forest.

Being warm doesn't hurt, either. Despite the looming beauty every day, I keep asking myself why I am doing this journey. Why does anyone adventure at all? This morning in my sleeping bag, I remembered Ernest Shackleton and all of those other Antarctic explorers. What drove them into that misery and suffering? At least when I get out of my bag in the morning, I'm not afraid I'm going to die. But he got out of his tent every day, even knowing that he was more likely to die walking than die in his shelter. But if he didn't keep walking, he'd die too.

Many of those adventurers ate their dogs. They actually killed them, and ate them. In their defense, it was only after many of their men had died, but still. I look at Shadow, and I think--he's my colleague, my companion on this adventure. How could anyone do that, ever? But they did, and it was their choice to put themselves into that horrific scenario.

For what? For glory? On an endless quest to find themselves? That's what this trip feels like to me, sometimes. At least the Appalachian Trail has a bit of mystique, some fame that hangs about it. The Pinhoti Trail and its turkey tracks had never been heard of by anyone. Despite the fact that my hike may be the FIRST-EVER southbound winter thru-hike of the trail, I will gain no recognition for it. All of my motivation has to come solely from inside myself.

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