Saturday, January 08, 2011

Sherman Cliffs to Rebecca Mountain

Shadow, at my sleeping bag's foot, in the morning

18.5 miles

Wondering if tonight may be my last night in the woods, I’m sitting in front of the dying embers of a smoky fire. Partly because of Shadow’s food situation (he’s still on strict rations), we’ve been pushing our mileage, which means I’ve done in three days what would have taken us four in December. So we’re ahead of schedule, and the hunters tell us there are eight inches of snow forecast for tomorrow. A good reason to push for the deuce, the big 20-mile day tomorrow.

It still makes me sad, thinking that this campfire may be the last. I don’t know if I’ve done an adequate job of capturing the beauty of this trail, how it’s been a small but lovely part of the American landscape, wilderness but not rugged, with creeks wandering through, low wetlands or ridges with pastureland falling away on either side. We walked a ridge all day today, with a brisk north wind heralding bad weather and keeping my fleece on. But it was a lovely last day of hiking—kicking through leaves, poking at head-sized chunks of snow-white quartz, looking for caves in the boulders that jut out of the tops of mountains.

I love that the Pinhoti Trail is the tip of such a long chain of ancient, ancient mountains. Here, at the end of the chain, you can feel their weight settling into the ground. Just the angle of the rock tells its age—horizontal lines of marbled quartz, now nearly vertical, sunk by the ages. I love that at this point we have now truly finished the Appalachian Mountains, that after these miles they dwindle down into nothing in the swamps and flatland of the Florida panhandle. It makes the Appalachian Trail feel truly complete.

It does not, however, in any way sate my desire for a hiker’s life. I keep thinking of other trails that hover on the horizon—the 1000-mile Florida Trail, the 300-mile Benton MacKaye Trail, the 900-mile Bibbulman Track in Australia, the American Discovery Trail, the continent’s longest trail, that stretches from coast to coast, more than 5000 miles. No matter how much pain I feel, how much my shoulders tingle, I want more. I don’t want it to be over.

I want to have adventures and write about them. I want to do that forever.

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