Monday, January 10, 2011

Chattanooga, Tennessee

So my hike is over. We drove back to Chattanooga in the freezing rain last night, out of the wilderness of backwoods Alabama, and made it here just in time for seven inches of snow. It was planned, actually--I pushed the miles the last three days so we could make it out in time for this last front. Shadow is confused and at loose ends. Even though he's a snow dog from Maine, snow in this context is confusing, as is the sudden conflation of people and the lack of backpacks.

They say one of the biggest challenges of hiking with dogs is their adjustment after the hike is finished. He keeps whining and staring out the window in bewilderment and needs a lot of affection. They say many dogs, especially after a longer hike, become depressed. The famous seeing-eye dog, Orient, who accompanied Bill Irwin, the first blind man to hike the Appalachian Trail, became so depressed that he never recovered. He was older anyway, but he passed on soon after completing the trail, going to that great trail in the sky.

No more so than I. Not that I'm going to the great trail in the sky anytime soon, but the adjustment post-hike is just as difficult for humans as for dogs. Today was a snow day in Chattanooga, everything closed, and I used it mainly to cook and eat, favorite post-hike activities. Shadow even has a huge store of Christmas and New Year's bones in the freezer that he can gnaw on, after his meager trail rations.

Hiking changes people and dogs alike, and the recovery process is difficult. I could just step full-force back into my life here, and it's a little overwhelming. I've made some decisions, though, about goals and priorities. Mainly, I've confirmed what I already knew--I want my next major project to be land. That's my main goal for the next however many months, until I find my next anchoring point. I want a homestead of my own.

I love Donne's poem "A Valediction Forbidding Mourning," where he compares his wife to the rooted part of the compass, and himself to the other moving leg, and though he circles and moves away, he always comes back. They always meet back in the center. I need a home that can function that way, the rooted anchor that I always return to. I'm not ready to stop adventuring, and I may never be, but having something that ties me to the ground will give me the stability I need for the next stage in my life.

I'll be posting entries from the last two weeks of my hike over the next few days, and I'll try to get photographs up as soon as possible. Looking forward to rejoining civilization, at least for a little while, and hearing from and seeing all of you. Happy New Year, everyone.

8 comments:

wfrenn said...

Happy New Year, Melissa.

The Cap'n

A LIttle Birdy said...

Happy new Year to you too! I am enjoying reading about your latest adventure. ---A Little Birdy

Melissa said...

Thanks so much to both of you! I'm happy to be back in touch with people, but also a little lonely for the trail...

Gregory said...

It was nice to meet you folks here in the backwoods of Alabama. I'm glad you made it out before our exceptional winter storm. The ground on campus is still covered in white, as I look outside my office window. We've not had anything quite like it since I started working here in 1995.

Melissa said...

It was great to meet you, too--our single solo backpacker! Chattanooga is also covered in white. Our worst storm since 1993. I'm glad we made it out of the woods in time.

Red Sonia said...

Don't laugh, but I check each day to see what is coming next. I guess I am having a hard time now that your trip is over and I can't read on about it all. Any news on land! Hope all is well! Will call you soon. Oh, and I can't believe you saw an armadillo. They are so amazing!
SK

Melissa said...

I'm glad someone is! Seriously, your comments mean a lot. It's tough for me to continue to work on the posts that I wrote in such a different frame of mind on the trail. As much as anyone, I love instant gratification.

wfrenn said...

You have gone silent again. . . .

We are sailing to Spanish Wells, Eleuthera chain, June 20, in Dancing Star, my Ericson 34T, a three day sail. I need a crew member. Want to come? Details if you are interested.

The Capt'n