As I hiked to the Woods Hole Hostel, rain pouring on me from what it seemed every direction, my wet clothing clinging to my frame, my feet slosh in my wet boots as I walk through a river which this section of trail has become. One word comes to mind. ADVERSITY. This word seems to play a theme for the last week of hiking. This trail is very difficult. Even when it's easy, it is difficult, it seems. There are a lot of conditions that make each days hike more or less difficult. We deal with weather, steep climbs and descents, slippery, wet terrain, sharp rocks, unsteady rocks, ankle rolling, knee jarring rocks, biting flies, mosquitoes, ticks, poisonous plants, curious animals, and so on. Someone (actually a lot of people) told me, "as soon as you get out of Georgia, the trail gets so much easier. It really didn't. It had some different elements, some easier, some more difficult. I also heard the same thing about Virginia. I am going to tell you now, the trail never gets easy. We have walked through several fields and pastures since we got to Virginia. Yes, these hill aren't as steep, but guess what? It still offers up some other aspects. Poison ivy and oak are everywhere! In the woods, the trail is a little better defined, in a field, the grass is longer, and so is the poison living in it. I am very cautious with where I step, but still have managed to get itchy poison spots on my foot, hand, leg, and get this...rear end! It's not much different than dealing with the dozens of itchy bug bites I have though.
The rainy, gloomy weather seems to get me down while hiking. Though staying on the trail is still a huge physical battle, it seems to be turning into quite the mental battle too. Some days, I think to myself, "gosh, this is really miserable. Do I really want to continue?", and then I think of the places I haven't seen yet that are in close reach. Then I think, "okay, that's my next goal, then I will reassess how I feel" seems there is always something else within reach... I better keep hiking.
Last week, I had one day in particular that really made me question staying on the trail. It was a nice morning, and we started hiking around 7:30. The guide book made it look like a pretty easy day with the exception of one really long climb. The climb was within the first 9 miles, so we decided we could handle a 19 mile day. The climb went by fairly quickly, and we had a nice lunch break atop Chestnut Knob. The remainder of the day appeared easy, when looking at the guidebook. It was not. A series of short, steep up/downs full of rocks we had to scramble over for 10 miles. It was after 6 o'clock when we arrived at Jenkins shelter, our destination. I was exhausted! My knees and ankles were hurting from pivoting and balancing over rocks for 5 hours. I had good company at camp. Chronic, Juggler, and I tented, and Subway, Scooter, and Aimster were in hammocks. Voltron kept going because he needed to get to town early the next day. We had dinner, and enjoyed some roasted marshmallows before bed. I was awoken just before midnight. My tent was collapsed on top of me, I was startled, and confused. Did a branch just fall on me? It took me a moment to come to consciousness and start to move. I fumbled to unzip myself from my mummy bag so I could move my arms. Then suddenly, my tent pops back up, and there is no longer any weight on top of me. Still confused at what had just happened, I hear something walking by my tent. I had a hard time finding my head lamp as it had been nocked out of the pocket I keep it in, on the side of my tent. I finally find it, unzip my tent, and lean out for a look. It is so dark outside. I can't see anything, but hear steps still behind my tent, where my light does not reach. I zip my tent up again and wonder what to do. Soon, I hear a loud thud and a holler from where Subway is. "are you okay?", I say. No answer. By now, I see that everyone else is flashing around their lights too. Juggler is nearest to me, and he has a tarp tent that he can see under. I ask him if he saw an animal, but he didn't. He heard something walking for quite some time though. Finally, Chronic pipes up and said, "it was a bear! He slashed right through my tent!" (I'm leaving out a few explicits here. Let's just say he wanted the bear to come back so he could teach it a lesson). Okay, so here is where my panic sets in. I just had a bear on top of me! Why would it do that? I still don't know why. He slashed Chronic's tent first, and Chronic thinks when he yelled at it, he sent it running my way. Then, it headed to Subways hammock, where it swiped at his backpack which was hanging on the end. Turns out he didn't answer me when I asked if he was okay, because the bear was standing right next to him. Once we all were awake and talking, the bear went away. Luckily it never came back. Chronic, Juggles, and I all got out of our tents and huddled close together in the shelter for what would be a sleepless night for me.
In the morning, I examined Chronic's tent and cringed at the three slash marks. It wasn't a small paw that made those marks. Then I went to my tent. I realized then that my tent was slashed as well. My rain fly is ruined, but my tent body, and more importantly, my physical body is unharmed. All of us are unharmed.
We still don't understand exactly why the bear did what he did. By all records and studies, black bears stay away from people. We didn't have food in our tents. Our food bags were hung in trees, and the bear made no attempt at them.
I keep telling myself that if the bear intended on hurting me, I would be hurt. However, it did hurt my spirit. I can't say that I have felt much comfort at night in the woods since then. I contemplated leaving the trail, but was given some good advise to "get back on the horse", so that a fear would not fester in my mind. The news of the event spread quickly, and the other hikers have been very supportive and caring. Needless to say, it was too dark, and I am still yet to SEE a bear. However, my desire to see one has quickly dwindled.
Tonight, I am spending my second night at Woods Hole hostel. It has been the perfect place for me to be right now. Today, I enjoyed a wonderful massage after breakfast (which I helped prepare the night before. I now know how to make creme brûlée French toast), yoga in the afternoon, and meditation after dinner (which I also helped prepare). Tomorrow I will head back on the trail. I have some anxiety about it, but I'm going to give it a shot. After two days hiking, I am getting off the trail with a bunch of fellow hikers for a couple days. I am joining a group who has rented a car and a house in Damascus for the trail days celebration. This is convenient, because a rep from Big Agnes (my tent manufacturer) will be there with a new rain fly for me. They will also be able to repair my tent poles that got slightly bent. it's a good time for me to take a break from the trail and get my head back into a good place.
By the time I post this, I will already be on trail. I don't have service at the hostel, so it will have to wait until I can phone my parents for a little per warning.
Sorry for the unpleasant post, I know it will worry some people I love. To make up for it, here is a photo of the massage/meditation room in the hostel