Stories of Insanity and Over-whelming Peace
There is a brief period of day, very early in the morning, but most certainly not every morning…… I’ve woken in my tent naturally as the world intended, I’m as refreshed as you can be on trail from a good nights sleep and I have food in my belly to get me going.
I pack up my kit and my backpack is back where it belongs, its arms snug on my shoulders and its belt hugging my hips. This is the only point all day that it feels good to have its weight on top of me. For that brief moment you feel complete again as a hiker.
I head out of camp, it’s a crisp, beautiful, sun-kissed morning and at this moment I am the only hiker on trail. The sun has just revealed herself from the grips of the horizon and her warming rays are glinting through the trees. I stare out through the branches to silhouettes of mountain ranges, shimmering lakes and the morning mist sitting in little pockets of the valley.
I haven’t a worry in the world for this is pure.
This is life as we have forgotten.
This is over-whelming peace for my soul.
I feel a shiver run through my body and in an instant the universe has humbled me. Between the chirps of the morning birdsong and the odd rustle or twig snapping in the woods, it is absolutely silent. A type of silence that is booming. The shiver, is not actually a shiver it’s a tremble. Similar to chills when you hear of something horrifying. But in fact the opposite as you are in a complete state of calm. I find it strange and difficult to put into words because it was such a rare event. But at these moments I felt like the trail was talking to me or perhaps something bigger was trying to reach me. At this moment something was just letting me know, this is exactly where you should be at this moment in time.
Something I learnt very quickly on trail though, is that a moment like this must be earned. You can’t just waltz into the woods and gain complete peace and calm immediately. And whenever you were on a high you could be certain that the trail had something truly gruelling for you just around the corner, just to bring you back down to a more animalistic level.
Just one of these levelling moments was towards the end of Pennsylvania. Having completed half of the trail and not even suffering from the Virginia blues I knew at some point the trail would try to beat me down some other way. The days were really heating up at this point, by midday we were getting consistent 100 degree temperatures for at least a couple of hours, and this was definitely starting to take its toll on my body. You became constantly thirsty, unbearably sweaty, the type of sweaty where it feels like someone has a hose of warm water held above you. With this heat came a shit load more bugs.
To add to these already nasty hiking conditions, it would usually shower or rain at some point in the day which would increase humidity and the level of bugs in the air. Now I’m not funny about bugs or anything, but mosquito’s I just can not abide. You can put up with the odd few buzzing around but I’m not discussing the odd few here. At this point you were dealing with swarms around your entire body. Constantly swatting and waving your arms around and every now and then you’d slap a big bastard and the blood in it would explode all over you adding to the disgust of these truly horrible creatures.
During this period on trail which for me lasted around two weeks maybe a little more heading into New Jersey, there wasn’t a let up the entire day. You were more exhausted from the heat and sweating and waving your arms about, so you wanted to break more, but the moment you slowed or stopped you were an even easier target for the mozzies. You never really felt like eating at this point either because you felt so crap and the heat just spoils your appetite. This all culminated in me feeling quite possibly my worst, the entire trail. That is before even taking the rocks of Pennsylvania into consideration.
I remember one day, finally getting to the spot we had decided to camp for the night and it turned out to be surrounded by swamp. In other words, mosquito heaven. I’d been bitten to shit all day, there wasn’t a clear patch on my skin anywhere. I resembled a child with chicken pox. I was utterly fatigued, a broken man. The whole of my body buzzing with the itch of all my bites. I just wanted to eat food and go to bed. So I head down to the poor excuse for a water source, a warm but just about moving trickle of swampy water and start filling up my bottles. I’ve swarms of mosquito’s buzzing around me a few landing and biting the hand and arm I’m using to fill my bottles as it’s the only part of me I’m keeping still. The rest of me is shimmying and jerking around trying to ward off the monsters. I glance over a shoulder and to my horror my entire back is covered in mosquito’s biting me through my t-shirt.
Remember that shudder I was talking about earlier when you hear of something horrifying, I just got that shudder recalling that moment. Well at that point I lost my shit, threw my bottle somewhere and was jumping and swatting and slapping and freaking out all around that swamp. I will just add here that this wasn’t in a humorous fashion although thinking back on the vision of me doing this I’m sure it could be construed as humorous, but at this moment I was completely loosing my shit, I was absolutely furious at these disgusting hideously beastly creatures. I referred to them as the spawn of Satan himself, among a few other choice words while freaking out. I was trembling with anger by the time I’d finished jumping around, probably had a few tears in my eyes as well just out of sheer exhaustion at the whole situation. But there was nothing to do but carry on.
So I got my crap, murky funny tasting water, whilst getting bit some more, got back to my tent getting bit even more, made my dinner whilst getting bit again and again and again, ate my dinner whilst getting bit more and more and more, then finally collapsed into my tent, asleep whilst they bit me through the night as I didn’t have the energy to swat them in my tent. All to get up in the morning and do it all over again.
I still find it extremely hard thinking about my thruhike.
There were times of not understanding how your body was still moving you were that broken. I truly hated it and myself at times for ever getting myself into the situation. All be it a brief hatred as there were always good times to follow. You got a much bigger high from the simplest of events and felt much more deeply about certain things with a lot more emotion than you ever would back in civilization.
It was a huge spaghetti mess of locations, emotions, sheer determination and ever-changing horizons and to this day that’s exactly how it remains in my mind, impossible to un-tangle.
All I can say is I was alive……