Little Rock Pond Shelter: Day 17, 34.0 miles

I got a great night’s sleep and slept in a bit to enjoy the continental breakfast. I had psyched myself up in the night and this morning was getting excited to get back out there and log some miles. I ate pounds of fresh fruit for breakfast, avoiding the heavier stuff because I was still full of pastries, chips, and ice cream from last night. I checked out and began working my way back to the trail.

Soon I was climbing my first ascent of the day and recognized a spot where I took my first ‘zero in the woods’ 6 years ago. I had set up my tent and stayed in it for the night, the following day, and another night, only rising to find water and relieve myself. It was a glorious mindless, relaxing day and by the time the next morning rolled around I was reinvigorated to continue hiking. But I didn’t have the option to do that on this trip, my recovery periods were little over the 8 hours I had to sleep each night, and sometimes less than that. The only way I can think of attempting the Appalachian Trail unsupported record is like racing a marathon, getting super excited to have finished, and then a couple hours later having to do it all over again. And again. And again. And when it rains, when the winds are unrelenting, when the cold pierces your clothing, and when you don’t get a wink of sleep, again.

I was struggling with cold legs and a loaded pack but with Hans Zimmer in my headphones, I was steadily gaining momentum. I was going to stop early deliberately today in attempt to ease back into this and demonstrate my patience.

I ended up overestimating the amount of time I had and arrived at Little Rock Pond Shelter just after dark. I rolled in with my headlamp dimmed to a full shelter but there was ample room on the floor. I set up camp and did a few stretches before laying down. I felt that I hadn’t been doing a good job of getting calories in and recovering after these long days so tonight I deliberately ate three bars in hopes of building up my glycogen stores and providing my body with the protein to rebuild.

The night was warm and rain began to fall in the early morning. The mist rained in on me but felt cool and comfortable. But at some point in the night I woke up sweating heavily with severe abdominal cramps. I laid in the fetal position, gently moaning, doing everything I could to suppress my cries to not wake up the other people in the shelter. My biggest fear when I left for this trip was GI sickness. I had two bouts of food poisoning in the months leading up to the trip and during those miserable nights and the fatigue that followed the next day fully appreciated how destructive it could be.

I knew what needed to happen but I didn’t want to lose the calories. I couldn’t think of any reason why it was happening though. I had been ridiculously careful with selecting my water sources and had treated every last stream and creek for the past week. I hadn’t eaten anything abnormal nor had I put my body through too much stress the past couple days.

Sweat beading on my forehead, I rolled around for another half hour before deciding it was worth it to get up to vomit and hopefully not lose any more sleep. I crawled on all fours to the edge of the shelter, desperately trying to keep my abdomen unflexed to limit the pain. I leaned my head out into the cool rain and stabilizing myself by grabbing the railing, watched all the calories I so desperately needed purged onto the rocks below. It wasn’t over though as my body continued to gag the last of it and dry heave until I was so exhausted I could no longer hold myself up. The rain on the tin roof had muted the retching and everyone else slept soundly through the episodes.

I gained enough motivation to slip back under my quilt, halfway on my sleeping pad, gargled some water with a bit of toothpaste, and completely wiped out from the ordeal, was back asleep within minutes, sprawled across the shelter floor.

I had no idea how this would affect my hike. I just hoped it wasn’t norovirus which would put me out of commission for nearly 24 hours and possibly result in a desperate hitch-hike to the hospital. For now there was only one thing I could do, get some sleep and seriously hope I wasn’t sick with something so crippling as norovirus.

Continue reading: Day 18

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