Trials, Tribulations, and Snowstorms

This week wound up being a lot tougher than last week. It started with me getting five or six big blisters on my feet, which haven’t quite gone away yet. As soon as I got back on the trail after Hiawassee my left knee also started to hurt pretty bad, which is definitely a basic injury from overuse but still slowed me down. Luckily I’ve since been able to get a brace for it, which has helped a lot. We also had a massive storm roll through last Sunday that I wound up hiking in that left me pretty soaked, although I was lucky enough to get to a shelter to dry off afterwards. Most of the time it’s more comfortable to sleep in a tent, but the shelters are a godsend in the rain. We had another big rainstorm on Friday followed by some intense cold, but I actually took a zero day and stayed at a shelter to stay dry and help my body heal. Of course, the day after that we got hit with a mid-April snow and cold snap, which I hiked through.

The snowy trail on Saturday

Although this week has had some pretty big downs, there have been plenty of ups as well. The trail remains beautiful as ever, and I officially crossed mile 100 (which was really mile 108 for me since I added 8 miles with the approach trail). I got to meet some great new people, and I ran into some people I had met before and thought I would never see again. That led to some days and evenings filled with joy and great conversations, as well as one excellent campfire. During this week I also crossed from Georgia into North Carolina and I officially crossed the 100 mile mark. And, of course, I wake up every morning grateful to be breathing fresh mountain air and grateful not to be going to work. I also got my trail name this week, which is Buffy. Trail names are sort-of a weird tradition of new names that hikers either choose or are given and by on the trail. Mine was given to me because of a tattoo I have on my right calf of a wooden stake from the show Buffy The Vampire Slayer.

There are a few different ways that I’ve been dealing with my drawbacks this week. The most important one has been using the skill of acceptance, which I learned from dialectical behavioral therapy a year or two ago. I had entered therapy because I was going through a rough patch and it was free, and it taught me a lot. The idea behind dialectical behavioral therapy is giving you the tools and skills you need to lead a full life and cope with everything, as opposed to cognitive behavioral therapy which is primarily talking through issues. The idea behind the acceptance skill is that in order to deal with anything that’s going on, you first have to fully accept that it’s happening. That doesn’t mean that you have to agree with it or think it’s right, just that you fully acknowledge the reality of it and don’t try to deny it. At that point you can then figure out the most effective way to respond to it. Acceptance has been most useful to me in dealing with weather-related issues like being soaked or freezing because it keeps me from just stewing in my feelings about being uncomfortable. I simply accept that it’s going to be wet or cold and that it will pretty much suck for a little bit, then I plan whatever I can do to make it suck less. One of my friends on the trail calls this “embracing the suck”, but I usually don’t want to go so far as to embrace it – I just accept it.

I’ve also been trying really hard to practice gratitude, which has been a lot easier out here than in everyday life. It seems like no matter how bad things are there’s always something that could be a little worse, which turns into something to be grateful for. With limited shelter and access to food you also really start to appreciate smaller things like having warm feet or finding an extra candy bar at the bottom of your bag. Appreciating these things doesn’t make the bad stuff go away, but it does make it feel more bearable.

It’s really struck me this week how much control the weather has over your life out here. Most of the time, especially if you live in a city or town, the weather isn’t more than a minor inconvenience. Maybe it’s a little harder to drive or you have to use an umbrella, at worst maybe you have to stay inside all day. Occasionally there are much larger weather events like hurricanes that can be incredibly destructive, but they’re somewhat rare. Out here the weather changes how you do anything on a daily basis, and can be life or death if you don’t handle it correctly. Although it causes a lot more inconvenience, I actually kind-of like it that way. It’s a good reminder of how powerful the earth actually is and how naked and powerless we are when we leave our normal environments. It also adds a layer of danger and exhilaration to things, like the day I spent hiking 18 miles through the snow to stay warm knowing I was facing a 30 degree night afterwards. It’s not always pleasant, but there’s an element to it that makes you feel alive.

A heavy storm through the window of a shelter.

One thing I’ve really been enjoying is how useful some of the knowledge that I accrued growing up in the mountains is. I’ve been able to reassure a lot of people about how black bears are mostly harmless and afraid of people just so long as you don’t do anything stupid as well as let people know how to identify copperheads and rattlers and around when we should expect to see them. I’ve also had to tell a few people that it does indeed get cold in the mountains at night in the spring and that they shouldn’t send their warm clothes home yet. I was proved right with a few 30 degree nights. Although I’ve still yet to meet anyone else who took Hunter’s Ed in 7th grade PE like I did, the lessons I learned there make me feel a lot more confident on the trail. In addition to gun safety and how to dress an animal, they also taught us a lot about wilderness survival and some wilderness first aid.

I did tell a few people that I’m trans for the first time this week, which went about as I expected. One of them was a fellow queer who also identifies somewhere in that area, and I was glad that we got to share that with each other. It felt really affirming to have that moment with someone like me. The other two people acknowledged it and confirmed that I use they/them/theirs pronouns, but continued misgendering me and it hasn’t come up again. It would probably help if I correct people more aggressively when I get it wrong, but I’ve always had a really hard time doing that for myself, although I’ll always do it for others, because it feels abrasive and you never know how someone will react to being corrected.

While this week wasn’t ideal in a lot of ways, especially when it came to the weather, plenty of good things came out of it. In a few days I’ll be headed into the Smokies, which will be beautiful but a little chilly due to their elevation. Here are some of my favorite pictures from this week:

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