If you recall, the night before, I was in some serious misery. I was in pain, dehydrated, nausea, headache, weak, lack of hunger, and emotionally beaten up. I was beginning to feel the weight of missing my family since having no connection to them because of no cell signal and the ridiculous decision to go a different route without my friends based on bad decisions. I wanted to finish but I didn’t want to finish. I wanted to achieve hiking the N/S Trail but I wanted to quit because of my health and mind. If I could have called in the chopper, I most definitely would have.
I woke up on day three Wednesday morning rejuvenated. I couldn’t believe the energy I had. I woke about 6:00 and decided to go ahead and get up and start packing. The others stayed in the shelters along the trail but as already mentioned, I was staying in a hammock so I had the hammock, a hammock tarp, sleeping bag and other random things to pack up. I was still amazed at the energy I woke up with. The headache was gone and I felt ready to take on the day. No way was I quitting now. God had answered my prayer. I wanted to finish this hike, to feel accomplished and to push myself further than I ever had before. I couldn’t give up on myself or those who I was walking and praying for. When I realized that I was going to be able to go on, I knew that I would finish this hike. I knew Wednesday morning that I would be seeing the North Welcome Center on Saturday afternoon. I would see my wife and son at the North Welcome Center, not the Golden Pond Center.
After packing, we sat around the fire a moment eating breakfast. It was another day of hard-boiled eggs and Clif bars and a Twix or two and water. As soon as we finished, we faced an uphill climb right away. This day also brought more horse trails with rutted and muddy conditions. Thankfully, a lot of it is downhill going north. We left Laura Furnace shelter at 9:00 and arrived at Golden Pond by 12:00. The day was turning cold and by mid afternoon the wind was so strong and cold that it was plain annoying. Near the Golden Pond, the trail crosses the trace for a mile or so then crosses back over at Golden Pond. We skipped this portion of the trail that meanders through the woods.It’s rather useless when you can walk the road and be there much quicker. With the weather as cold and windy, extra steps is extra work especially when you know you can cut off a little for a quicker shot of comfort. This is what some call yellow blazing because of the yellow stripes on the road. We were excited to be reaching Golden Pond for many reasons.
- It marks the half way point
- Toilets and sinks
- Warm visitor center
- Change of clothes
- Lunch from McDonald’s (I had two double cheeseburgers and a bottle of Dr. Pepper)
Mark had his parents met us at the visitor’s center to bring us our resupply boxes that we had prepared before our trip so we didn’t have to carry a whole week’s worth of food. The visitor’s center was nice and warm so bathroom time was a little longer than normal. Taking a poop in 26 degree weather leaning against a fallen tree fork is one thing but sitting on a toilet in a warm 75 degree bathroom is heaven. I also changed my clothes. I know that sounds gross but when you hike, you only carry the necessities and one change of clothes is really all you need for a week. Take some baby wipes and clean yourself while you’re out on the trail and you’ll be fine.
Also, mentally, the halfway point is encouraging. It means you made thirty miles. You only have thirty more to go. This is huge when you feel mentally crushed. The wind, cold and rain have beaten you down. Some nights or mornings, you’re so tired you don’t even want to build a fire not that building a fire takes work (it can) but gathering wood does. You’re eating gorp and Clif Bars and dehydrated foods and a simple burger from McDonald’s does wonders. You feel dirty. Your hair is a mess and sweaty. Everything just feels icky. You feet are screaming and if you’re lucky, no blisters but if your unlucky, they just add to the pain and misery. So reaching the midpoint can have its way with you. It encourages you. It strengthens you. It throws a pep rally in your gut. You’re half way. That’s a big frickin deal!
After returning from the bathroom and having everything packed up ready for the hike to the next shelter, I noticed Josh getting in the car and saying good-bye. I asked his dad, Mark, what was up and he said that Josh had hurt his ankle on the hike earlier and it was causing him enough pain not to continue. The option was too easy for him; pain plus grandparents meant a ride home free from any more damage to his ankle. Fair enough. Plus, again, he had nothing to prove. He hiked this whole trail the year previous.
We said good-by and that left me, Mark and Dalton. We grabbed our packs and under the supposition that we had about 1-2 miles left, we took off towards Brush Arbor Shelter. From Golden Pond, the terrain was the easiest we had experienced. It was flat and followed a nice creek for the next three miles. Yes, it was three miles to the spur trail that led to Brush Arbor shelter.
Immediately crossing the creek and a very nicely built bridge, the spur trail cuts to the left and the N/S trail keeps right. Just as soon as we took the spur trail it began to go straight up the hillside. Straight… up! No switchbacks. The sign said it was half mile to the shelter. We walked up the hill, Mark taking a huge lead. I fell back because hills literally take it out of me. Dalton hung back with me. We talked about how ridiculous the trail was going to such extremes. I asked him if the shelter was at the top. He said nope. After we reached the pinnacle, the trail drops straight off the hillside. You literally had to walk on the side of your feet to keep from sliding down the trail. Crazy! I don’t know whose bright idea it was to take the trail straight up the side of a hill and back down but they need to rethink that one. Mark said it’s possible they were avoiding flooding on the trail from the creek if it got too much rain. I can see that. Don’t like it but I see it.
We finally got to the bottom of the hill and by that time I was exhausted again. We could see the shelter and when we reached it, I collapsed inside. This night, I would be sleeping in the shelter because there were no good trees to hang the hammock from, the wind was blowing and with temperatures dropping and no under quilt for the hammock, sleeping on the ground seemed a better decision.
It was about 2:00 and Mark and Dalton began getting wood for the fire. I rested for a moment before helping. We needed a lot of wood today because it was cold and we wanted a fire soon. That meant burning wood from about 3:00 till 9:00. The temperature was cold so the fire was worth the work. By night fall, we were all in our sleeping bags, chatting and preparing for sleep. I got to thinking about what all I went through the night before and thanking God I was still on the trail. I was so ready to give up. I didn’t want to go anymore. I wanted so bad to call it quits. The more I thought about how I felt, the more I was happy that I woke up feeling great. I get to finish a dream I had; through hike the North/South Trail atLand Between the Lakes.
Carrie and I pray for one another. It’s one of the things that has strengthened our marriage. Before the hike, she gave me three small pieces of paper delineating what day they should be read on. This also made it hard not being able to connect with m family because here I had a piece of home with me yetI couldn’t verify it’s existence except with memories. I couldn’t hear her voice. I could see his smile. I actually ended up pulling up pictures on my phone just so that I could see them. Little did she know that the next day would be our most mileage and the night before, she had written a prayer for endurance. But I don’t think I needed endurance just for the trail. I needed endurance because I missed them so much.
I had only been able to text a couple of times and the one phone call that got dropped the day before. I was beginning to feel the pressure of missing my family. This was the longest I had been away from them without contact. This would become one of the biggest hurdles I would jump while I was on the trail. The last thing I heard my son say as I was driving away was him telling me he wanted to go hiking with me. He doesn’t know what that means. Really what he was saying is he wanted to be with me doing whatever it was that I was doing because to be doing what daddy was doing meant everything to him. He feels like a big boy when he does daddy things.
I laid there thinking about them, thinking about how it would feel the minute I walk out of the woods on Saturday and my eyes would catch theirs. Would they hike down the trail a half mile or so to meet me, to surprise me on the trail. Would they wait back at the North Welcome center to see me? How my heart was racing to know that my wife and son would be there to see me achieve something that I have dreamt about for over five years, finishing such an achievement.
To some, 60 miles may seem like not so much but what I achieved was more than walking 60 miles in the woods. What I faced was more than mere back or foot pain. I removed myself from all life comforts. I removed myself from those who love me more than life. I took on the wilderness, the elements, starvation, dehydration, sickness, blisters, body aches and pain, lack of sleep. I faced my own giving up. I put myself to an endurance test and gave myself the right to push the “get out” button if I want to. I faced such trials that made me rethink hiking as a hobby because it wasn’t fun walking in pain, living with regret, abandoning loved ones and spending hours upon hours walking.
I didn’t let Mark or Dalton see me. But I cried myself to sleep. More joy tears that sorrow tears but I can’t deny it was a mixture. My tears were mostly those of seeing my wife and son experience my accomplishment together. For me, I battled the opportunity to quit so that I could battle the pain of moving forward knowing of the prize that awaited me at the end. I wasn’t going to receive an award or trophy. The Leaf Chronicle wasn’t going to be there when I emerged from the woods stinking as a mountain man to interview me for the front page. I simply accomplished a dream. I finished a long trail. I would fall asleep excited yet teary eyed. The next day would be a long one!