The Minerva Hinchey shelter on Bear Mountain was not exactly the most desirable place to take my zero-day with all the mosquitoes and mice hopping in and out of the stone walls all around. I would have much preferred to take my zero-day by a lake or river, but this was what I got for not honoring my body sooner. I should have listened to my body when it first told me I needed a break, but I kept pushing and thus here I was injured in the middle of the thick forest.
At 8 a.m. I was starting to feel like bear bait laying there unable to walk around without limping. If a bear came, there would be absolutely nothing I could do about it. I wouldn't be able to fight back and I sure as hell wouldn't be able to run. I decided I'd make a small fire and I try to keep it going all day to keep them away. Bears hate fire and the smell of the smoke would keep them from wandering around the area. The smoke would also help with the problem of the mosquitoes.
I collected dry leaves and pine needles along with some small sticks as kindling and made a little teepee in the fire pit in front of my tent. I tried to light the leaves on fire to get it started but they quickly went out and burnt to embers. I kept trying and got absolutely nowhere. Eventually, when an AT hiker came through to refill his water, I walked up to him for help. I was more than embarrassed to ask, but I didn't want to spend the day feeling nervous so I sucked up my pride and headed over.
I had to say excuse me more than once to get his attention. I wasn't sure if he was hard of hearing or if he was just trying to ignore me. I stood there in my pink pajamas and said I had an embarrassing question to ask. When he didn't respond, I continued by asking if he knew how to make a fire. He asked, "Why? Do you just want one or do you actually need one?"
His voice was short and snobby and caught me off-guard completely. His eyes looked me up and down in complete judgment and it made me want to spit on him. Every one of my defenses went up instantly. I could feel myself rebuilding my wall of protection and telling myself, people are a*******. My mouth hung open and before I could even respond he continued, "because I don't want to waste my time if you just want one. I have a very big day ahead of me. And I'm trying to get a lot of miles in." He didn't even make eye contact when he talked. He just kept looking over his gear as he sat there on the edge of the shelter.
My eyebrows shot up. Was this guy for real!? "Nevermind. I'm just hurt and afraid of bears and didn't want to be stuck out here all day as bear bait so I figured I'd start a fire to keep them away. But obviously you're too busy and I wouldn't want to waste your time!" I turned angerly and began to limp away.
"Wait. Your hurt?" He asked dumbfounded. "Yeah, but don't worry about it. You have things to do." I said as I continued to walk away. "No. I'll be over there in a minute." He argued. At this point, I really did not want his help. I waved and said, "That's okay. I'm all set!"
I went back to the fire pit and angerly removed my pile of kindling and tried to start again. He walked over then with an exaggerated sigh as if he were some child being forced to do something by his mother. I wanted to tell him to f*** off. But I held my tongue and clenched my jaw to keep from saying anything. He informed me that the size of the kindling I had was too large to begin with. So he removed it all and built another kindling teepee using smaller twigs and leaves. The pompous jerk got it going within minutes. Once there was a steady flame, I reluctantly thanked him. He nodded, waved and walked away.
I limped around the small area and collected many large branches to try to keep the fire going. Luckily I found plenty of dry wood, but small dry wood burns fast. I couldn't go more than a few moments without having to add more to it. My desperation had me even collecting small dead trees. Because I didn't have an ax or anything big enough to break them, I stuck them in between two trees that were next to one another and pressing against my core, I'd walk in the opposite direction to snap them. That seemed to do the trick for a little while, but after 2 hours of nonstop feeding fire, my ankle was not happy and I needed to eat as well as use the bathroom.
After cooking on the open fire, which I later came to regret because I burnt my pot, I decided to let the fire go out. I couldn't even take a couple of bites without having to put more wood on and there was no way I'd be able to use the bathroom without it going out.
Using nature's bathroom took a little getting used to, but it was way better than attempting to use the disgusting, smelly, and dark privies. At least outside I could squat down and not be afraid of something biting my butt. The dark hole in the privies scared me so much that I couldn't even relax if I wanted to. I kept imagining a snake, spider, or mouse coming up the hole while I was in there. Outside there was space and plenty of light to see what we were around. Plus there were plenty of natural holes in dead trees that I could toss my waste into using a hobble leaf. It took me almost 4 days to finally go out there. I had freaked out because no one tells you that your body is under such stress and using everything it has that you can't go at first. I was so concerned, I wondered if I needed to get off the trail and go use a laxative. But me being me, I talked to a few people about it and everyone said it was completely normal.
In the afternoon I lied down and took a 2-hour nap. I didn't get up until 3pm when I was hungry again. By then, I was sick of being in my tent. I decided to wander over to the shelter to use the picnic table to write and cook some Raman. About an hour later, a woman named Dirt Devil and her boyfriend Oats came by. She got her name because she's always cleaning up the trash from the trail and he got his name because he loves to eat oatmeal. They met the first week they started hiking the AT and quickly fell in love. They'd been out there together a little over 3 months. I thought that was a pretty romantic way to start a relationship and a great test for it. Couples that hike the AT together either grow stronger or break up. It can be a tough thing to spend every single moment of every single day and night with the same person and sometimes not anyone else for months on end.
Not too long later, Iron Man and Sprinkles showed up. Iron Man was hiking the AT and Sprinkles had set out to solo hike the Long Trail but met Iron Man on one of her first days out and was able to keep up with him doing an average of 17 miles per day. We got to chatting and I found out Sprinkles lived not too far from me. The towns we grew up in were even close to one another. She told me she got her trail name because she loves sprinkled donuts and told me I needed to go to Providence Donuts when I got back. She also admitted she wasn't quite ready to be alone on the trail. She was happy to have teamed up with Iron Man, but the split of the AT and Long Trail was coming up and she was very nervous about it. The Long Trail and AT overlap for the first hundred and five miles, but after that, they go in different directions because the land that was originally given for the trails was only grandfathered for 300 years and the AT did not want to take the risk of the land not always being available. I shared some of my story with Sprinkles and told her that if I could do a solo hike, then she could do it too. We exchange numbers in hopes to possibly hike sometime in the future together.
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.