AT Sobo Part 22 – A side trip to the Himalayas, healing and back to the AT!
Foot up, frozen peas sitting atop; I was bored, restless and worried. Resting at home was hard as I’m not the type to sit down, and any enforced period of being still reminds me of all those years that I was so unwell. Suffice to say that those two weeks recuperating at my beloved parent’s house in Mabe were full of tears and some angst. I couldn’t walk, so I was worried I was losing my fitness and I also had no idea how long it would take for the darn thing to heal! I counted the days to my flight to India so that I could ensure I was ready. 20 days and counting.
I occupied myself with gorging on Instagram and Facebook posts about the trail from my friends that I was missing as well as strangers who were treading paths I been on, or ones I yearned to. Patience, this was teaching me patience. Eventually it paid off in the form of my pain reducing over the weeks (although I wasn’t, and still am not, totally healed). Before I knew it I was staring at two packs on the living room floor and a hectic schedule that involved flying far away to one side of the world, then diving back to the UK to catapult far in the other direction a mere thirty six hours later and get straight back to hiking. I knew it would be tough, but I also knew I could do it. The Coppafeel Trek to India and the Himalayas was incredible. I had been asked to take part to help support the teams with their hiking and to keep morale up. These were women who had all been affected by breast cancer and had raised huge amounts of money between them (450K!) in the lead up to the adventure, but many had never hiked before, and especially not at elevation.
They were SUCH an inspiring group of humans that I spent most of the time with my jaw open listening to tales of courage, overcoming adversity and resilience, whilst also trying not to pee my pants at how funny they all were. This special charity was started by the indomitable and wonderful Kris Hallenga who lives in Newquay. It’s a national charity with international reach, and has done so much to help raise awareness about early detection and diagnosis of breast cancer, especially in the younger demographic. We were all so proud to be representing such a great cause and it was the perfect way for me to pay forward some of my learning and hiking experiences.
After five days heavy hiking in the Himalayas and testing out my foot I was on a 24 hour coach, plane and train journey back to my sisters house in Bath. A few hours to gather her and my nieces in to my arms and I was off, slinging my trail pack onto my shoulders and heading straight back home to the AT. It was a long reverse journey through New York, Washington and Virginia to exactly where I jumped off, but I was remembered and welcomed there. I immediately met a new squad at the Angel’s Rest Hostel, but they were zeroing the next day and I couldn’t afford to zero with my strict schedule. I set off alone the next morning, hoping they would catch me. Immediately I was hit with brutally cold weather and the sharp icy air caught my your throat as I walked. Time to layer up hard!
Over the next couple of weeks I re-joined with the trail family I had met, had a hunter cook me bear meat, stayed in a frigid stone hut at high elevation where many things froze in my food bag and passed the 3/4 trail sign which I’d seen so many friends pass before me online. I was back in the swing! One night we stayed at a shelter next to a National Park Visitor Centre, aiming for it precisely because it had water from an outside spigot. We got there late and tired to discover the water had been turned off at the mains to prevent pipes freezing! We spent a torturous night trying to not think about how thirsty we were and regretting our salty snacks in the afternoon. Lessons being learned all the time!
It snowed for real overnight and we battled through the next day in deeply minus temps, eventually bailing for safety at a road and hitching in a blizzard until someone took us into a tiny, deserted post-industrial place that I could barely call a town. We wanted to head to Roan mountain to see the feral ponies the next day but no one would take us because of the dangerous temperatures and weather at the summit, so we had to take an enforced zero – the worst of the entire AT! Firstly we were stuck in a deserted portacabin which was kindly provided by the local church for hikers or bikers, and then next in a bizarre B&B based in a barely converted medical centre, with beds shoved in the examining rooms next to the sinks. It was run by a very strange couple who made us feel incredibly uneasy and worried, but we thankfully survived the night.
We (gratefully) hiked out to the Roan Highlands the next day and my word, they were one of the most beautiful parts of the trail since Maine and New Hampshire. Wide open vistas that seemed to wash your face in beauty as you scanned the horizon from left to right. The feral ponies have lived up there for decades. They get checked once a year by a vet and are then just left free to roam, getting petted by hikers and trying to eat your pack and poles if you get too close. Cuties! After this brief interlude of clear skies and relative warmth the weather changed again. Biting cold, deeper snow and sleepless nights as my whole body juddered in my sleeping bag and I was continuously exhausted. I wore all my clothes, and even stuck hand warmer packs down my top and in my socks, but until I was to later notice that my bag was only rated to -2 degrees and not the -10 I thought it was, I wouldn’t figure out why I was so cold through these -6 degree nights…