#104 Thomas Knob Shelter to Old Orchard Shelter - Day 43: ATMM 499.0 – ATMM 510.9
I walk alone across the open bald, feeling myself connecting with the trail. The carefree feeling of freedom begins to penetrate my troubled mind.
Shortly after leaving Thomas Knob Shelter Princess and I pass some fist sized stones on the ground arranged in the shape of a “500”, representing the five-hundred-mile mark of the Appalachian Trail (AT) from south to north. This is a big milestone for us. We’ve come a long way, only seventeen hundred more mountainous miles over the next few years to go before we reach the northern end of the A.T. That sounds like a long way. It is a long way.
We walk out onto open bald which are riddled with rock outcroppings. The miniature ponies of Grayson Highlands State Park greet us. Medicine Man is sitting on a large rock with a small herd of ponies surrounding him. One is close enough to be petted.
Mountain peaks jut up on the horizon in every direction. A cold wind blows hard across the large bald below the grey sky.
I walk alone across the open bald, feeling myself reconnecting with the trail. The carefree feeling of freedom begins to penetrate my troubled mind. It usually takes a few days before the mind and body can get in tune with crossing mountains, with the change in diet, and with the sleeping situations. For me, it’s usually the third day when I dial in for the long excursion. Today is the third day. We are about thirty miles into a two hundred thirty-mile hike.
Each long distant hiker approaches the hike your own hike concept differently. Everyone has their own reasons for coming out here and they’re own method of tackling the trail.
Some hikers like to measure every aspect of their trek by monitoring miles per hour, calories burned, elevation gain, average heart rate; always aware of the time, and at what time they’ll get to this point or that point; constantly monitoring the weather; they invite technology to guide their hike.
Some are more interested in wildlife, plant life, structures, points of interest, historical landmarks.
Some are simply happy to be on the trail, happy they made it through another day in one piece. Happy to find people they connect with. Happy to be off work. Happy to just be.
There are a million other variations in the concept of hike your own hike.
I like to approach each day with a vague plan, just hiking and trusting the trail. Since our little hiking band formed a few years ago I now stop each night wherever the group decides to stop. But when I’ve hiked my own hike in the past, I let the trail decide.
While hiking, I have a general understanding where water is. Thanks to my paper maps, an occasional sign, and the sound of running water. I rarely run dry. I read the sky and the wind to let me know what the weather wants to do. I don’t ask what it wants to do tomorrow.
Throughout the course of an average day, I’ll pass two or three shelters and countless camp sites. Everything I need is on my back; food, shelter, water, water filter, hygiene items, emergency items, warm clothing, rain gear, all strategically placed for best weight distribution into my backpack.
I prefer trusting the trail to guide me day after day. I thrive from losing myself in the unknowns and hardships of trail life. In the real world we live in much softer lives, we are ruled by technology and schedules. Out here I want to be lost. Yes, I’ll check in periodically with family and friends on an electronic device when I’m high on a mountain top. Yes, I’ll take photos with an electronic device throughout the day. But that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about connecting with the freedom of timelessness found in the wilderness. It’s day or it’s night. Nothing more. Rise and sleep with the sun. Move, explore, eat, and rest as the moment requires. Break free from restraints that bridle our lives. Long periods of time on a trail releases us from our daily cares and teaches us to care only for this moment, to live each moment unbridled.