One foot in front of the other
We now return to the dirty difficult hike, where wet-wipes and gum are worth more than gold friends.
I give you day 3 of the AT.
This was noted in my trail journal as the most difficult day by far.
I dragged from ridge to ridge in unusually high heat and little wind to cool us off and bring that encouragement to press on.
We came to the infamous "never-ending hill" that we had been told of. It looked deceptively easy but crept up and up and up to a tree-line off in the distance.
My husband told me how he struggled in this area, out in the full-sun and I did as well.
It must be noted here that by this time we were swallowing gulps and gulps of gathered water, treated with those dreaded iodine pills and then those to neutralize the iodine taste.
I am happy to report that the water was great! Kind of anticlimactic I know, but that really was it. It was water with a hint of chlorine and not a hint of brown. All of my worries about drinking hot brown nastiness dissipated with the dissolving pills!
I WILL say that when you are THAT hot and THAT thirsty, you don't care what you are drinking.
Once again reminding me that all of my worry was in vain.
Does that mean that I was part Bear Grylls? The world may never know.
When we crested that never-ending torture I had already told myself that I was not going to be able to finish this day's miles.
A wave of utter defeat came over me.
I sat on a crude wooded step barely in the shade of a tree wondering how I could put one toe in front of another.
The gang had been watching my slow ascent and had a good long rest so now they were ready to go on while I was still desperately out of breath.
This day is a blur of sweat and tears and just ugly hard steps and mental struggles.
My trail partner was struggling and had to stay back with a guide for a bit and get some electrolytes and I felt terrible leaving her behind.
Miles later we came to a road we had to cross to pick the trail up again. My buddy caught up with the group for which I was grateful and seemed to be feeling a whole lot better.
We sensed that something was up with the guides talking and trying to figure something out.
One of our fellas actually caught a ride with some folks and went into town. I joked as he left that we all wanted pepperoni, but truthfully none of us could've eaten a thing we were so exhausted.
Speaking of eating.....
You pack what you think you will want to eat on a long trail to keep your carbs and sugars up for energy and then you get so hot and bothered you have to force yourself to put something in your mouth.
My dried fruit stuck to my nuts and melded with some jerky and chocolate covered blueberries to make one unappealing conglomeration baked to perfection in my pack's side pocket.
Yes it still grosses me out to think of it.
I would just grab and pop it in my mouth and swallow whatever I could to keep going.
This would be a good spot to throw out there for your imaginations just what scorching heat and smashed space does to things like foil packs of tuna and salmon.
Sprinkle some chipotle seasoning in the mix and you wonder what on earth you were thinking in Walmart when you imagined yourself sitting on a rock eating it.
Spicy anything is never a good idea for a hot hike where water is limited folks.
there WERE two consolations in the snacking department.
Gum and fruit snacks.
I now know that if ever I am sent to a deserted island I will indeed snag as much gum and fruit snacks as I possibly can.
These two things were refreshing and kept a steady stream of sugar to my brain to connect the impulses to my legs and arms and keep them functioning.
While heading uphill once again we were stopped by my guide's husband. This sweet fella brought us ice cold Gatorades from his jaunt into town!
AND a pint of vanilla ice cream.
One of the guides packed it away in her pack so as to try to keep it frozen til we reached camp that night.
I wouldn't have traded that beautiful blue drink for a million dollars at that very moment.
It was such kindness to us that I had a hard time truly wrapping my mind around it. I thought of it the whole rest of the day and what that meant to me personally.
We stopped for lunch and I basically fought heaving sobs through the whole break. My mind was to the breaking point and I felt that the Lord was so very far from helping me. I had to force myself to eat even a bite of something to have the energy to keep on.
THIS was the exact moment I wanted to quit with every ounce of my being.
A sweet fellow hiker in our group gave our daily devotional and I was so grateful to just hear God's words even if I had a difficult time soaking them in.
She mentioned the courage and strength of Esther and it brought me great comfort. She was in her place for such a time and I was in mine for whatever God had for me.
And if eating wasn't messy enough for you, let us tackle that all important subject of the digestive process, shall we?
Because I have already grossed you out with imaginations of me swallowing bites of spicy tuna in a hot foil packet.
Before the hike we were encouraged to bring a good stash of biodegradable toilet tissue.
If you use two or three-ply at home, imagine this as some sort of hygienic spider's web for your hiking pleasure.
Just when you thought you were ready to use it, it was already returning to the air and soil in your hand.
Especially for someone like me whose bowels decide to relax and chill out whenever I think of something scary, like shopping at Walmart.
It's not an irritable bowel.
It's more like an INTIMIDATED bowel.
You with me friends?
Every scary hill, every thought of dying from a heart attack mid-ascent left me grabbing for the scant roll.
We were also encouraged to bring wet-wipes of some sort to help us feel even a bit refreshed at the end of the day and clean up and these were my BFFS.
These of course, were NOT biodegradable, which meant that compared to the toilet tissue, you felt that you could make a tent out of them for durability, but that meant that they needed to be burned in your campfire each night.
So if you (AHEM) choose to use them for your "Walmart" moments you had to put them in a ziplock baggie and carry them in the heat with you to burn in your camp that night.
Nothing says "I'm such a wonderful camping partner" to the others like you showing up with your nightly zip lock bag offering while everyone is relaxing around the cozy fire.
There were so many other hard things than just moving up a hill folks. This trip is not for the faint of heart. Or bowel.
Yes, I realize that many of you will look at me differently from now on. If I have convinced even one lady to bring wet wipes into the woods I feel I have done my "duty."
No pun intended, but that's just too great not to acknowledge.
We kept on until we got close to an actual three-sided shelter for hikers that we were told of. No tents, but an actual floor to put our sleeping bags and pads on. It sounded wonderful and lavish.
It was right around the end of the second and into the third day that I made a wonderful discovery.
I was ah-mazing at the downhill.
I wasn't just amazing.
I was FIRST downhill.
I was so close to the lead guide's heels that twice she told me she thought I would fall right on her.
Call it "falling forward" if you will, but that's no matter to me because I was GOOD at it!
I stunk uphill, but I soared on the descent!
I could talk, I could laugh, I could BREATHE.
I was made for the descent.
It amazed me and everyone and I might have casually mentioned that if they ever had a "downhill" hike, I volunteered to be a guide for it!
So this cat and mouse game of falling behind and coming in first eventually made me laugh.
I WAS good at something.
My joy of this discovery didn't last too long as we approached the anticipated shelter site and realized that there was no water there.
THAT'S a big deal.
It was discouraging to know we weren't done for the day and pressed on to the next shelter quite a distance up ahead.
Still hot and discouraged when coming up to the second site we found that hikers got there before us and took the whole shelter which is divided in two for several to share. They acted with no regard to folks like us and it was a real slight to us all.
By this time, almost seven miles in for the day, I had sunk to the back so far that I could hardly see the girls ahead.
No downhill in sight for me to make up some time and speed.
And to encourage me a bit.
Word was that the fellas found us a site to camp and that the gals were already there getting things set up.
The husband of our head guide (the illustrious Gatorade and ice cream benefactor) walked all the way back to where I was lagging behind and offered to carry my pack for me to the campsite.
You better believe that I wouldn't allow him to do so in a million hikes.
I wasn't hurt, I was just worn through. My sweat was also as much a part of the pack as it was part of me and that was enough for me to carry on my own.
Stubborn, absolutely so, but I needed to do this for myself.
So he walked beside me.
I remember wanting to cry for his kindness but didn't even have the strength for tears.
I made sure to tell him that I wasn't giving up. I was slow, and I was as hot and bothered as they come, but I WAS making it to the campsite with my own two swollen feet.
He began to tell me something that has stuck with me.
"God is going to use this time for you. You may not know for weeks or even months how the Lord is going to use this in your life, but He will use it and teach you so much."
I couldn't squeak out that He already had been.
I DID reach the camp site and turned down even a sip of the now quickly melting ice cream, but thoroughly enjoyed watching my fellow hikers grab spoonfuls of it and laugh.
They rallied around me to remind me that I was making it day by day and my third lesson came to me:
When all you can do is work to breathe you don't worry about anything else.
You don't care how far up ahead others are.
You don't even care how terrible you look.
You only know that you must keep going.
"My flesh and my heart faileth: but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever." Psalm 73:26
You must set one swollen foot down and pick the other swollen one up again.
And again and again and again and again.
I learned that you CAN push yourself past what your mind says is "suicide" to your body.
You CAN keep going.
"Wait on the LORD: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the LORD." Psalm 27:14
It may not be deep and formidable for you, but it was and still is for me.
This was the hardest DAY of the hardest HIKE of my life and I COULD JUST KEEP GOING.
"When I said, My foot slippeth; thy mercy, O Lord, held me up.
In the multitude of my thoughts within me thy comforts delight my soul." Psalm 94:17-18
You would have never believed it to see how broken down I was that night stumbling into camp and letting my 25 pound pack literally fall off of me, but I had never done more to boost my confidence in my life.
Months of the Lord leading me through this and that, and then Vesuvius gave me a start, but this third day on the trail was my confidence booster shot to only increase what the Lord was already doing in my life.
We sat around the campfire all worn around the edges and mentally low that evening. It had been a day to stretch us each in one way or the other. We had no idea that we were in for quite a shock that night before we headed to bed.
One more day to come.