Saturday, July 8, 2017


     Today is July 8th, and I've been home from my Appalachian Trail section hike for a month but still haven't really been able to put the experience into words.  Like one young lady I met along the way put it, I didn't really go out on the A.T. to discover the meaning of life or anything....but I did learn a few things about myself. 
     I can't really put my finger on why I felt different going into this hike.  For two years, we'd been talking about heading into the Smoky Mountains...

 ...but as we sat in our room at the Hike Inn, Fontana Village on the night on 6/2/17

 I found that my stomach was tied in knots and my mind was filled with doubts:  What would it be like to sleep in the shelters with 9 other hikers?  Would we encounter any black bears along the way?  What would that first climb out of the Fontana Dam area be like?  The night passed quickly, and before long we found ourselves loading up our gear into the back of our shuttle driver's SUV.  As we traveled the short distance to the trail-head, she gave us the customary "critter talk."  That mile across the dam itself only served to add to those butterflies in my stomach. 

And suddenly, we were there:

Renee waited patiently as we situated our packs and said our farewells.  There was nothing left to do but put one foot in front of the other and begin our 40-mile trek that would take us from Fontana Dam to Newfound Gap, NC.  Day 1 loomed largely ahead of us, packing in almost 14 miles to the Russel Field Shelter.  Within the first 5 minutes, I was huffing and puffing as we began our ascent to the Shuckstack Fire Tower.  It didn't take me long to figure out that I the Smoky Mountains are no joke and that I was extremely ill-prepared physically for what lie ahead of me.  Still, I did my best to keep a good attitude despite the way my body kept reminding me that I was a little bit short of being crazy to think I was ready to take on this hike. 

Stopped for a break!

Because the mountain wasted no time with kicking my butt, I didn't get very many pictures on the first day of our hike, but the woods did open up a couple of times to provide us with some amazing views:

Still managing to smile!
 I did take the side trail to the Shuckstack Fire Tower, but chickened out once I got up to it!  There was only one side-rail and I just couldn't make myself do it!  I did, however, take a few shots of the beautiful flowers along the way!

Taking time to enjoy the little things!

The trail went on.  The trail went up.  The trail was relentless, kicking butt and taking no prisoners!  Thinking back on it now, I don't think I've ever felt the multitude of physical, mental, and emotional feelings that I experienced on that first day.  I'm not sure what came over me, but I found myself suddenly unable to eat the Big Sur bars we'd planned for our lunch.  The snacks (meant for quick energy) also made me gag after a bite or so.  So, I pretty much was unable to eat anything other than breakfast and dinner each day.  Exhausted from the lack of calories, I didn't think it could get much worse...but I was wrong.  I'm not sure how far away from the Russel Field Shelter we were, but I had to stop suddenly because I felt like I was going to throw up (although I'm not sure what would have come up as my stomach was empty).  This continued on for the rest of the hike actually...

Before we started the day, we were certain that we would be the last hikers to arrive at the shelter.  Turns out, however, that we were the first! 

Russel Field Shelter
We claimed our spots, and I had to sit down.  Typically, I volunteer to go get the water for the night, but this time, I simply couldn't.  I had nothing left in me.  My brother and sister graciously offered to go fill everything up, and while they were gone, I had to visit the "toilet area" (there was no privy), where I finally did throw up the contents of my empty stomach.  By the time they returned, I felt a little better.  We did our best to relax and enjoy a cup of instant coffee before making dinner.  The ever-famous "hiker midnight" came around 7:30, as well all (and I do mean all 12 of us) slowly began to climb into our sleeping bags.  We drifted in and out of sleep, making sure to get up to pee one last time before darkness finally set in.  I have to say that everything I've ever read about the snoring in the shelters is absolutely true, but I didn't mind.  The noise brought some much-needed comfort from the thought of hearing the black bears raiding our camp.  As I lay there in the dark, those voices in my head were saying, "Great job today, Domingo!  You made it through Day 1!"  I drifted off to a restless sleep, wondering what Day 2 would hold....

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