Digging In; Physically and Mentally

I gave up on sleeping in my tent after the third trip to the bathroom in 30 minutes.

After an eventful double zero, I found myself back in the eastern Tennessee wilderness. I was sad to go. My second zero-day began with uncontrollable bowel movements and ended with a rafting trip down the Ocoee. Somewhere in the middle, I’d gotten to know the raft guides that had invited me to tag along with them. Even in that limited capacity, I felt the tug of wanting to belong. It is really unfortunate how many cool places and communities are out there. I know it’s selfish of me, but I want to be a part of them all. Sadly, I still had miles to hike, and a community of my own waiting for me back home.

Crossing the Hiwassee River

Much to my surprise, I felt comfortable in the woods, more so than I had in the past six days. Must be something about whitewater that puts my mind back at ease. I wasn’t constantly worrying about snakes or bears or mountain lions. I wasn’t concerned about being alone. I finally felt adjusted and borderline confident.

Riverside campsite boasting some early morning fog and two diving geese

The next section of the trail would bring me to Fontana for resupply. I planned to cover the 100-mile distance in 5 days. You might think that’s a lot of miles to cover in that short a time, and you’d be right. The first four days would be upwards of 20 miles. I can be a bit of a masochist, but I wasn’t just doing this for fun. Now that I’m warmed up to thru-hiking again, it was time to test my rebuilt hip. How much stress could it really take? Where is the new limit to my endurance? It performed flawlessly. My body was apparently rebuilt for thru-hiking because the days went by without any issues. I was also privileged to have better views and some excellent campsites over the next hundred miles.

Camping with a view!

Being adjusted to the hike helped me do more than assess my physical limits. My brain was finally ready to dig into why I had come out here in the first place. This past winter had been hard. I worked nonstop, I was on the receiving end of a more-than-normal amount of verbal abuse, people around me died with greater frequency, and my extended family started to unravel. At a certain point, my brain put up a wall and said “I’m done for a while, come back and check in on me in a few months.” I was horribly disconnected from myself. I couldn’t process how overworked and sad I was because I couldn’t handle those emotions. I had essentially turned those feelings off, and now that I was away from it all I could allow myself to feel them again. I spent days just feeling the sadness I was supposed to feel months ago. When the emotions had run their course, I talked myself through what I could do to feel ok again.

One of the few days spent in the ping pong ball.
Living it up!

I hiked into Tapoco Lodge ready for luxury after four hard days of hiking, and that’s exactly what I got. A room there is not cheap, but it’s worth it. My room was huge and clean and rustic. The shower was hot and the bed was comfy. I suppose that’s all you really need, but the soft orange glow of the lights against the wood-paneled walls and the soft jazz music playing when I arrived gave it enough class that I felt out of place. I took care of my beaten body and looked forward to my short hike to Fontana the next day.

Historic Tapoco Lodge

The Fontana Hilton is unique in that it is shared by both the AT and the BMT, so you can imagine my excitement as I hiked to it. I didn’t even remember the terrain I hiked over, I was too stoked about the destination. I get to hang out with thru-hikers again! Fontana was also my next planned zero and the start of my third and final segment of the trail: the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Stay tuned for the third and final installment of my Benton MacKaye trail adventure!