|Thru-hikers with empty pile of 72 beers, and smartphone, 2015|
|I passed this lake today and remembered this moment in 2004--wanted to get another shot here but a girl and her dog had the boulder occupied.|
It’s weird doing five-mile days and crossing paths with these fast-moving front-of-the-pack four-monther Nobos, for whom 26 miles a day is normal and eighteen is slow. I was never one of them, not even in 2004. I was an eight-monther, and twenty miles a day was always brutal. Still, even though I cam out intending to do slow, single-digit days, it still feels weird coming in first to the shelter with only five miles under my belt.
I remember the pressure, all of a sudden: miles, miles, miles. Feed the mile monster! The relentlessness of the trail, how it requires not just a single twenty-mile day, but many, many of them. It’s the trail’s beauty, its austerity, its terror—and as happy as I am to be away from any kind of hiking deadline, I’m also confused by it. It seems to be just as much of a rat race for many people, and that’s a sad thing.
But why is it so hard to convince myself to let go and relax? I passed a beautiful sunlit rock, on a beaver pond, and I had to actively convince myself to sit down and bask. I’m here to recuperate from a gruesome winter, to find myself again, and still I struggle just to let go, relax into the slow-mile days. But the hiking itself is lovely, and less painful today than yesterday.
Tonight the shelter is crowded with weekenders—three couples plus a friend, three Nobos (including Hermit), keeping to themselves and going to bed early, three flip-floppers plus a guest out for a week (Naptime, Smoke Signal, and Still Thinking), and two ex-thru-hikers, like me, but from ’07. (The ex-thru-hikers, M&M and Poots, also met on the trail!) [Flip-flopping is hiking the northern half of the trail, from Harpers Ferry to Katahdin, first, and then “flipping” back to Harpers Ferry to complete the rest of the trail southbound.] Seventeen people at one shelter is crowded. But it’s also great, and it feels like a family reunion—we may not know each other, but we know the trail, our common mother. And all of us, the weekending couple that hiked .9 from the road in jeans and the from-Georgia thru-hiker that did a twenty today, all of us are here, the important thing.
[Hiking the same section in 2004.]