Those of you reading regularly know that I've had a few struggles on this trip. I've questioned my ability to do this and needed a whole lot of encouragement from Pete to keep going. It feels good, for once, to be writing a blog about the other end of the situation.
After our eight day stay in Franklin, Pete and I trudged back up the mountain to pick up where we had to get off. I hate getting off the mountain for weather, because it usually means backtracking, road walking, and logging a lot of non-AT miles onto our feet. The days we spend hiking that include no white blazes (the marks that designate AT trail) are really frustrating for me.
So, when we arrived back at the Standing Indian Shelter for the second time, I expected to simply set up camp, eat a quick dinner as usual, and rack out for the night. Upon arriving, though, we found that we weren't alone in the shelter (this is unusual for us, winter hiking). Walking up to the three sided log building, we were met by the faces of two rather dejected looking men. They'd just started a fire and plopped down in front of it with very little enthusiasm or energy.
The story that we got from these guys was that they were up for an annual guys only week long hiking trip, but hadn't expected their first day to include breaking trail in over a foot of snow. They'd spent a zero day in the shelter and were planning on leaving to go home the next day.
Over the course of the night, we four sat around the fire, sharing stories, songs, food and beverage, and, luckily, the power that a campfire seems to posses worked its magic. As the night grew darker the guys cheered up and began to laugh and tell stories about other trips they'd taken. The crackle and pop of wet logs accented the lighter mood and served as a symbol for our ability to brave the cold of winter hiking. If they can make a fire from frozen logs, I told them, what's a little snow while they walk.
I shared my story. I shared the humiliation of breaking down in tears three days in and calling a shuttle to take me off the mountain and into town so I could go home. We all shared stories of sore, wet feet and cold nights and waking up to frost around the mouth of your sleeping bag.
Slowly, the guys began to realize that there's always a bad day in most hikes and that the fun of making miles and sitting around a fire and waking up to the most beautiful sunrise you've ever seen make it worth the snow and cold and soreness.
The next morning as we all packed up and prepared to part ways, they thanked me for being their personal cheerleader and credited me for keeping them on the trail. I was just glad to pay forward the gift that someone else gave to me.