As I walked 6.6 miles yesterday afternoon, on a relatively flat path, and without a pack, I thought about where I was four years ago on this day. On the evening of May 3, 2013, I took up residency for two days in the Big Walker motel near the town of Bland, Virginia. It met all the requirements for comfort, at least from a hiker’s perspective. After back-to-back 23.0 and 21.7 mile days with a full pack, any room with a bed would have sufficed. A few other would-be thru-hikers were there as well. One, a German, sadly admitted that it looked like his adventure was over. When he limped away, barely able to put pressure on his left knee, it was obvious why.
Looking back on my journey from Springer Mountain in north Georgia to the summit of Mount Katahdin in Maine, I continue to be reminded of just how fortunate I was to elude serious injury during the duration of my walk. After experiencing some groin discomfort on a run two days ago, I’m also reminded just how quickly a setback can occur. In the spring of 2013 I was a soon-to-be sixty-two year old. Now at almost sixty-six, I constantly monitor my movement, not expecting anything to happen, but always cognizant that something could.
Before embarking on the Appalachian Trail thru-hike attempt, I had made sure that I got myself in the best shape that I possibly could. I ran four or five days a week and hiked at least three. On most of the hikes I carried more weight than I expected to tote on the A.T. I ate like a hiker while preparing as well. Knowing that I would most certainly lose weight over the five-plus months I would be on the trail, I tried to consume more calories and even gain weight before my departure. Fortunately, I never experienced any kind of injury during my training days.
Still, when looking back, I’m somewhat in awe of what I accomplished on May 2 and 3, four years ago. When I hit the trail near Atkins, VA that first morning, my goal was to reach Chestnut Knob shelter, 23.0 miles away. The previous evening I had purchased a bag of Arby’s roast beef sandwiches in Marion, VA, and I made sure I had re-supplied my jelly beans for a quick pick-me-up, should I need it. Ever since that eventful day in the Smokies when two young folks, and fellow Georgians, had offered a handful of the sugary candies, I had not traveled without them. Nutritious they weren’t; a source of instant energy they were, at least for a little while. And I would need the energy often throughout the day.
As I say in my second book, The Don’s Brother Method, if I were going to hike this section again, I would break it into three days rather than two. But that is hindsight. When I reached Chestnut Knob shelter I was exhausted. I remember feeling sincerely thankful that one bunk remained open in the totally enclosed stone building. It was cold, but it was dry. I also remember feeling a little uncomfortable, and maybe even slightly embarrassed, when I broke out my roast beef. Had it not been almost dark and cold and windy, I may have taken my meal outside. But since all but one of my fellow shelter-mates were section-hikers, I figured I’d probably never see them again after that evening. As I recall, most were already in their sleeping bags when I began to spread barbecue sauce on my sandwiches.
Even with my fast-food evening meal, the next day would be a challenge. When I arrived at the highway near Bland on May 3, I was about as depleted as at any time in my life. I felt even worse than I had after finishing marathons. I had walked 21.7 miles with little food. But I made it. Now, I’m still recalling how grateful I was when Bubba, a shuttle driver I had phoned, arrived to drive me into Bland. Every day on my hike was memorable for a variety of reasons. This one was because of a bear-sighting and a riggety truck that transported a weary hiker to a room.
It’s been raining here since before daylight. I’m itching to get out for a run and test this groin issue. It feels good now, so I’m thinking an easy effort awaits. I’ve done the 6.6 miles each of the past three days with a run, a walk, or some sort of run/walk combination. I suppose I should wait for the harder rain to pass. Regardless of the weather, I’ll be out running and/or walking sometime today. There were days on the Appalachian Trail when I walked over 20 miles in the rain. Surely I can withstand an hour of the same today.