Last night when I got to the Green Wall shelter, a guy named Eddy and another named Batman were camped out with a dog in a tent in the shelter. Like most, AT through hikers, they didn't bother to hang their bear bags. By this point on the trail, they've seen an average of 11 to 15 bears, most of which were in the Shenandoah's and New Jersey. Here in Vermont, for some reason, 90% of them just didn't care about the black bears and would sleep with their food bags in the shelter rather than properly hang them like every posted sign says to do. But in all fairness to these two, they had a point when it came to bears being easily scared by dogs. They offered for me to leave my bear bag with them so I wouldn't have to tie mine up. I accepted the offer uncomfortably and out of sheer exhaustion. I set up my tent a good distance away. If a bear came around, I wouldn't have to worry about it coming for me.
I still woke up at 5:20am even though I hadn't fallen asleep until nearly 11pm. I had stayed up writing and texting Len now that I finally had service. I also downloaded the GutHooks app that every person on the trail uses. Many of the AT hikers only use the app and no maps since you can use it in airplane mode. It has all the maps as well as lists store and services nearby, how many miles to the next shelter and water source, ect. I would no longer have to try to do math every day to figure out how far I needed to go before I got to places on the map.
My body felt like it weighed a thousand pounds. I didn't want to get up. I wanted to spend the day sleeping and not move ever again. In a lot of ways, I felt like my journey was complete. I had come out here to overcome fears, restore my faith in humanity and reconnect with God. I debated if I should just go home, but I still had another week time wise to go and something told me I still had a few more adventures/lessons to experience. Reluctantly I got up and packed up. I couldn't take a zero-day here since the water source was dried up. I was going to have to push myself the 5 miles up and over Bear Mountain to get to the next shelter.
About a half mile from the Green Wall shelter, I came to the cascades. A large beautiful waterfall followed by several other small falls replenished me and cooled me off. Being there made me feel grateful I had kept going. It was now Thursday, Day 7, and since Monday I had been trying to take a zero-day but something just kept coming up. But every time something came up, it pushed me forward and I got to see another beautiful place. And so I was grateful for the many not so subtle shoves.
Getting back on the trail and heading north along the river, the trail seemed to suddenly stop. That's when I noticed the AT hiker in the middle of the river sitting on a rock and eating a granola bar. The was a trail beside him. I waved and said hello as I passed by and tried to cross the river without slipping in front of him. I was successful, surprisingly, and as I began to walk I noticed my ankle was hurting. Each step the pain felt a little more intense and I wasn't exactly sure why. I knew I slipped on a rock last night but I didn't think much of it. So I sat down on a boulder to take a look. It was starting to swell up.
Just then the AT hiker I saw sitting on the river was about to pass by me. He stopped and gave me a strange look. I half smiled at him feeling a little embarrassed and knowing that he likely saw me sitting at the waterfall just a few feet beforehand and now here I was sitting again. I must have looked like such a loser. He asked, "do you mind if I give you a little advice?"
"No. Not at all," I replied. He took a step closer and said, "are you sure? I don't want to offend you." Now I understood the expression on his face. He was going to have a lot to say. I just hoped it would come out nicely. "No. I'm as green as they come and I've only been out here for 7 days. I could use all the advice you willing to give." I admitted.
"Well, first off, water weighs a ton." He said walking up to me and looking at my pack. From the outside I had my 2 L. hydration bladder hanging and my 1 and a half L. bottle filled. "I know." I agreed, "but that eight-mile stretch between Bromley in Peru really gave me an anxiety attack and I don't want to feel that again."
He nodded understanding. "All right, but this bag! It could really use some rearranging. Your weight is not evenly distributed and your water is hanging off the back and sliding all over the place." He started to reach for my pack and stopped himself and then asked if I mind. I said not at all and he asked if we could just take everything off and out so we can go through it. I could feel my cheeks starting to get pink with embarrassment but I nodded, grateful for the help. The only thing I had done right was put my sleeping bag at the bottom of the bag and all my rain gear in my outside pocket for quick and easy access. Other than that, we did a total rearrangement.
He taught me that I want my lightest items on the top and bottom and my heavy stuff in the middle of my back. He separated my tent poles from the tent itself and placed the poles beside my sleeping bag, standing up along the back left corner. Inside my pack was a clip with a looped strap I hadn't noticed before. That's apparently used to hang my hydration bladder from. Then he placed my tent on top of my sleeping bag along with my food bag, then my extra clothes and oven went on top. He also had me pull out the lunch and snacks I planned to eat that day and placed them in my outside pocket so when I wanted to eat I wouldn't have to go digging through my bag to get them.
Once everything was back in my bag he had me try it on. I was so astounded by the difference it made, I hugged him without much notice. He laughed and said, "well hold on. We're not quite done yet. We still need to fix these straps."
He pulled and yanked in every direction while making what I'd come to realize was his disapproval/disappointed face. "No. This isn't right." He said as he worked. "The shoulder straps and hip straps are supposed to be weighing on you evenly. You're not supposed to be caring all this weight on just your hips. It should be distributed between the both of them." He stepped back and shook his head while staring down at my pack like it was a misbehaved child. "Do you mind just taking it off again?" He asked looking as if he wanted to give up.
"No," I said quickly undoing myself and slipping the pack back to the ground. He gave the bag hell. It looked like he was having a strange wrestling match with it as he turned it back and forth and looked between the frame and the bag itself. "I can't believe this bag doesn't adjust any further!" He complained in frustration. "This bag doesn't fit you! Where did you get it!?" He demanded finally looking back at me. I was happy to be back in the conversation.
"REI," I said quickly. "Good. Whoever sized you was a moron. Your an extra small not a small. Tell them and they'll ship one out right away to your next pick up spot." I nodded, not wanting to admit I was too afraid to go into town. I'd just deal with it for the one more week and exchange it for the right size when I got home.
"Alright, one more time." He said lifting it up so I could put the pack back on. He tugged some more and did the best he could to get it as even as possible. I thanked him for his time and shook his hand. "Alright, good luck." He said and started to walk away. I stopped him and asked his name. It was "Just Tim" as he didn't care for the whole idea of a trail name. He asked mine and I said, "Faith because I'm out here to try to restore my faith in humanity." That made him smile. He nodded his head. I'd like to think it was because he was acknowledging the spirit that initially called him to stop and help me.
As the day carried on, my phone went in and out of service. I passed the older couple I meant the day before on the lake and crossed another road. As I started the gentle switchback climb up Bear Mountain my ankle was beginning to really hurt. At the "Vista" I dropped my pack, took off my shoes and socks and reexamined my ankle. It was not happy with me for continuing to hike on it, but I tried not to think about it too much as I was tired and likely feeling like it was worse than it actually was.
After lunch, I started to take it slower. I only had a few miles to go and I figured if I didn't over push myself I'd be fine. But I began to realize how not fine I was. With each step, my ankle sent me a shock of pain, begging me to stop. I leaned against a tree and saw that I had service. I sent Len a message letting him know that I was in pain and may not be able to make the second week out here. Fortunately, he was able to text me back and gave me the exact words of encouragement I needed to hear. And of course, he told me he loved me. He also told me that I didn't need to make the decision right at that moment. But after some rest, I could reevaluate and let him know. I thought that was a good plan. So I continued on towards the Minerva Hinchey shelter.
The Guthooks app said I'd likely not have cell phone service when I got there. And as I walked, I began feeling like I was going to either cry or scream out in pain. I ground my teeth and made fists with my hands. I kept telling myself I was almost there. But the closer I got and the more pain I felt, the more I began to panic. If I wanted to go home, I wouldn't be able to call for help and I would have to do another climb before I reached a road. Just as I was ready to give up and call it quits, I no longer had cell service. Eventually, a SOBO (southbound) AT hiker came by and asked me if I was okay. I wanted to say, "yeah I'm fine," but instead I just began to cry.
And of course, the guy came completely undone by seeing this, flung off his pack and came right over to me. I ended up giving him Len's info so he could give him a call when he had service and tell him that I needed to be picked up. After the hiker left. I had a good cry. I felt utterly defeated, exhausted and humiliated. I knew I got everything I wanted out of this trip but I had also planned to be out her two weeks, not one! And I didn't want this to be the way my story ended.
I wasn't sure if it was my pride that was keeping me but at that moment I regretted not listening to my body and taking a break when I should have back at Little Rock Pond. And now here I was in the middle of the forest injured with the closets road miles away. I could hear the words of judgment in my head telling me, "I knew she wouldn't last two weeks." It made me angry and that's when I stopped crying. I pushed forward determined to make it to the shelter. And as soon as I got service, I reached out to Len and my friend Kaile who had been following by trail in case Len could not get to me and she was planning to resupply me on Saturday, two days away. Talking to her helped me feel stronger and I decided I wasn't quite ready to give up just yet.
As a trauma survivor I have learned to move forward in my life and heal from my past by exploring many passions such as spirituality, art, travel & herbalism. I hope my blog can help inspire healing in others and let them know they are not alone on their journey.