AT Sobo Part 5 – Alice Leaves, and I Find a New Crew.
Alice had gone; returned home to Cornwall. She had left early that morning with a sad smile and a wave from the back of the car as it pulled out of Shaw’s Hiker Hostel in Maine. I felt a rush of homesickness for Falmouth, for my family and friends.
Alice had been so incredible to be with out here; inspiringly strong and brave, leaving her two children far away for the first time ever to support me, and being a force for calm, logic and patience in the wilderness when things got tough. But now the cord was cut and I was alone on the AT, miles from home on a different continent. Well, kind of alone. A group we’d made friends with in the 100 mile were still here – packing up their gear and looking like hiking-out soon was on their minds.
They had joked the night before that they were going to do a 26 mile day and wanted me to go with them. I was terrified that if I went then I’d look a fool, as I wasn’t quite ready yet to increase my mileage that much. I’d done some 15’s and 18’s… but not more! I had also just hiked 11 days with no break. This crew had gotten into Shaw’s the day before me so they had had a full Zero the day before; I had only had a Nero. A Zero is a day of no hiking at all, and a Nero is when you do a few miles but have a large chunk of the day off; the whole afternoon and evening for example.
Hmm what to do? Well, you might realise by now that I wasn’t going to turn a challenge down, and more meaningfully I also hadn’t spent time camping totally alone yet. So, when Hambone called me from the lawn where people were stowing gear I went right over to him, Avery and his girlfriend Morgan, and the small group happily gathered me up into their ranks for the day ahead. (Just a little admission as a side note; I was supposed to have had at least one night camping by myself at home in Cornwall before I left. I didn’t. I chickened out and got too scared! I guess that this might come back and bite me on the butt at some point when it happens on trail, but I figure I’ll deal with it fine when it occurs. Famous. Last. Words.) The group offered me a shakedown because they were all looking at my pack with… umm, disbelief.
It’s so heavy and I definitely carry too much extraneous stuff. A shakedown is when someone experienced looks at ALL the things you’re carrying and helps you thin it out, aka tries to separate me from my second battery pack and my kindle. Ha! I’d already given my GoPro to Alice to take home, but I knew soon I’d have to strip out some other things. At this point however, I was just keen to get moving because the longer the morning went on, the later I’d be hiking, and I’m always at my best and strongest in the morning. In one panicked moment I actually went into the little food store and bought a tub of Nutella, ran out with it, went to put it in my pack. I was definitely still affected by the remoteness of the wilderness, and worried that I wasn’t being responsible going forward in terms of resupplying myself.
When you’re in a group you generally want to stay with them even if you all split up and hike alone in the day. If you run out of food then you need to hitch from a (rare) road crossing to a local town to get more, and the group moves on inexorably without you. Anyway, Morgan clocked my extra food dash and said, quite reasonably; “Do you like Nutella?” I was like “Err not especially, but what if I run out of food?!! I saw someone else had packed one!” They all looked kindly, but with big eyes, at my overstuffed food bag and then back to me. So I tossed the Nutella in the hiker box (stuff hikers don’t want or need that other hikers can take) next to the hostel and we all jumped into the shuttle to the trail head. I’d just have to survive on my 14 snickers, 10 ramen and 12 packets of oatmeal. (I joke: it was more than this…)
We stormed into a 19 mile day; the terrain was lovely, the weather was great and I bopped along feeling good. No physical pain had yet taken me down but I was always nervous; waiting for it to kick in. I am not sure how I had gotten this far relatively pain free. So I relaxed and enjoyed myself on this new leg of the trip. We camped by lakes, watched Bald Eagles soar, listened to Loons calling each other across the water and forded rivers; wobbling across precarious double ropes (one for feet and one for hands) with our packs hung up and pushed gingerly in front. I was happy to be fitting in so well with this new group, especially with Hambone, but knew that this was the lull before the storm of the brutal mountains in Southern Maine.