Morning arrived and sleep was better but still not the greatest. However, it still beats sleeping on the ground. Again, I was up early and ready for the day. My feet were feeling great. My back wasn’t hurting. My body was beginning to condition itself after four days of walking. I couldn’t believe how what started off each morning in so much pain has now started to feel just fine. It didn’t hurt taking a “Vitamin I” (Ibuprofen) at night as I laid down. Today would be a familiar day until a certain point where the trail drops off a forest road. This part I hadn’t hiked before so I was looking forward to seeing new parts of the trail I had yet to see. Breakfast was fast, pop-tarts, Clif Bars and beef jerky with more water. Water, water, water, water, water, water. We tried to neutralize the boredom of water with Kool-Aid or lemonade but it only worked slightly. I had asked Carrie (my wife) that when she meets me on Saturday, all I wanted was a large Mt. Dew and Fudge Round. Oh to taste something besides water. I could taste the Mt. Dew I was so close. My mouth was eagerly awaiting the illustrious do of the Dew. I had never wanted one so much. The Dr. Pepper on Wednesday was ok but nothing beats the taste of the Dew after 60 miles. The hike today called for about nine miles. This means we should have reached Night Rider Shelter with plenty of day light left. However what I was not expecting was what felt like a long hike. The nine miles seemed to have been longer than we had expected. At least it felt much longer. Some of the views were familiar from my hike in January when we came out to find the Sugar Jack shelter since they missed it the first time through. Thankfully, the trail was not as muddy as the last time. I had felt a lot of pain the last time I hiked it due to straining too hard walking through the mud. The creeks were not near as high as last time as well so they were easily traversable. Lunch came around and we stopped at Isaac Grey cemetery to rest and eat a bite. Not sure if the intention when they laid out the trail was the cemeteries to double as rest areas but every time I’ve hiked the N/S trail, it tends to be where we regroup. Like I mentioned earlier, there are plenty of cemeteries throughout LBL. Some are large, some are small, some only have one plot, and some have PVC pipe for crosses. It’s interesting how many and how scattered they are. Most are accessible and still kept up and used. Lunch for me was almost a whole tube of Pringles and some water and a nap. Once we were back on the trail we finally passed the familiar part and began making our way through some of the bays and inlets that the trail parallels. It was nice to be able to look at the lake as we hiked. Another few hours of listening to podcasts to pass the time away. It seems when hiking all you do is walk and think or pray. Walk, think, pray. Walk, think, pray. Walk, think, pray. Walk, think, pray. Walk, think, pray. Walk, think, pray. Walk, think, pray. Urinate! Walk, think, pray. Walk, think, pray. Walk, think, pray. Walk, think, pray. Walk, think, pray. In 1921 Benton MacKaye proposed building a system of trails along the ridges of the Appalachian Mountains. His idea eventually became what is today’s Appalachian Trail. When he conceived of that system of trails, there were to be feeder trails that would bring hikers from across the region into the main trail system. When asked the purpose of such a long distant trail he was noted as saying, “To walk. To see. To see what you see.”
Some have found this statement confusing. What exactly did he mean by saying to see and to see what you see? I gather he meant that at times we are just looking to be looking. When you are on the trail, you can’t help but to watch the trees pass by or look down to watch you feet tread over the path making sure with each step nothing fouls up your walk so that you don’t face-plant with thirty extra pounds on your back forcing your face a little harder in the ground. You can’t help but to see things as you walk by but that really doesn’t mean you’re paying attention. It just means that you saw the object, whatever that may be, as you passed by it. The other part of his statement, as I gather it, is to be intentional in what you’re looking at. There really is so much to see and Benton knew that. You can see things then you can intentionally look at things. When you’re walking through the woods, especially on a long distance hike, it’s too easy not to pay attention and just walk by things. Then there are things that grasp your sight and demand you attention. For me, it was Kentucky Lake. The grandness of such a body of water found landlocked by trees and sloping terrain. The vastness of the sky as it reaches out to meet the horizon of the water. The birds who flock to the water for nourishment. It grabs you and although it may seem a time limit is set for you to make due before you run out of sunlight, in some instances, you just want to see what there is to see and not just give it a look. “To walk. To see. To see what you see.”
Makes sense to me and when you’re out there walking for hours on end you have that choice. You can look and pay absolutely no attention or you can be intentional. Sometimes, I admit, I was looking. Not to be looking at but looking for. Looking for my destination. Looking for my next meal. Looking for a breather. Looking for an opportunity to get off my feet. I was looking for the next removal of my attention and the implementation of rest. Other times, I was very intentional. These are the times that impress me, grabs me and won’t let me stay the same person that started hiking a few days earlier. The pines, swaying and ruffling as if they were discussing the moments of their day. The scenes of tranquility when you see the bushes forming a tunnel and the well-worn path making its way through as if nature herself was calling you through her Narnia style corridor. Those instances where the cardinals and sparrows flutter past only to land mere feet away from you as they search and gather food. The squirrels would jiggle their tails as they scampered around tree trunks, though the leaves and around old fence posts that told of their own time spent stretching barbed wire from pasture to pasture. An occasional white tail could be seen frolicking through the trees as they search for a safer distance away from the foreign hikers that seem to be intruding on their territory. “To walk. To See. To see what you see.” There’s plenty of walking and plenty of seeing. We came to the green sign informing us that we had arrived where the spur trail leads to the last shelter for our trip, Night Rider shelter. I was familiar with this shelter because the year previous, my wife and I visited this shelter on an overnight hike that turned out to be a very wet trip. It practically rained the whole time with the exception of supper time that gave us time to build a fire and warm up and a break the next morning allowing us to walk three miles dry before the bottom dropped out of the sky. Those green signs almost always bring a welcome attitude unless it’s to inform us that we are in fact only half way to our destination which does have the tendency to do that. Or it may provide some other pertinent information needed like a spur trail to water or a local attraction. This time, it was informing us that we had in fact arrived at the spur trail to Night Rider shelter. Another half mile and we would be home for the night. As soon as we arrived at the shelter, I set up my hammock right beside the shelter on two small trees, filtered some water and rested for the moment. Hammocks are so nice to relax in after a long day of walking. Much better than the hard ground even if you do have an air pad to get you off the ground. We decided not to build a fire. Again, fires are nice but finding enough firewood is work. We rested for a while before pulling out the stoves to make supper. I had saved my Mt. House dinners for Friday night and Saturday mornings. This night would call for Lasagna, Pringles and Twix bars for dessert. Another couple of hours of talking and waiting for bed time. It seems that the days always consisted of waking up, eating, walking, eating, walking, eating, talk a little to season the hours and waiting for bed time only to sleep, wake up and do it all over again. As I sat there talking with Mark and Dalton, I realized that in less than 24 hours, I would be seeing my family. The thought of them sustained me through the week, kept me moving forward, and brought a smile to my face when it seemed that the pain of walking was taking all of my energy. The mere thought of seeing my son light up when he sees me and the pride my wife would have watching me accomplish such a task removed every pain and fear I had while on the trail. In less than 24 hours, I would accomplish a dream I’ve had and celebrate with those who are closest to me. Plus I would top it off with a double Baconator at Wendy’s. I laid in the hammock staring into the darkness. It was a full moon so I was able to see a considerable amount and listen as the coyotes playing in the distance and the hoot owls conversing in all directions. Tears began to fill my eyes. Tears of joy knowing that I would soon be with my wife and son, tears that I am experiencing at that moment all that nature could provide, tears that the trail had changed me yet it was almost over. I was ready though. To an extent, I had had enough. More than anything, I was overjoyed to finishing such an accomplishment; hiking 60 miles and through hiking the North/South Trail at Land Between the Lakes.