The rain didn’t relent through the entire night. It seeped in through the side and heavy drops splashed on me from the sides of the tarp. By midnight I was soaked but the Downtek coated down in my Enlightened Equipment quilt kept the down dry and lofted, keeping me warm and asleep.
But in early morning I woke up and felt something on my face. My Neoair Xlite sleeping pad is made of nylon and the slick plastic feel contrasted with what now felt like a film of gooey boogers. I reached my hand up and the goo was all over my face and sleeping pad. I switched my headlamp on to see one slug escaping down the side of the pad, and his brother smeared to a small circle of slime.
Now normally I think something like this would have sent me into a fit of disgust and horror, running for the nearest creek to wash my face off. I had bits of slug all over my cheek and running to the corner of my mouth. I guess he had crawled up on the pad in the night and I simply rolled over onto him with enough force to smush him. But I was so damn tired I didn’t have the energy to be grossed out. I consciously knew it was disgusting but that was the extent of my emotional response. I pulled my Buff off my neck and wiped my pad and my face, then slipped my slug covered Buff back over my head. No shame.
Back in 2009 on my thru-hike attempt, in the middle of one of the worst winters in Virginia’s history, sunrise meant survival to me. When I caught the first glimpses of light in the morning I was elated. The temperatures would only rise for the rest of the day from the sub-zero cold it reached each night. I had survived the night and knew I would live another day. But on this hike my impression of sunrise was the polar opposite. I dreaded when the light crept through the trees. Each night I rolled into camp elated and proud; I had completed another ultra-marathon mileage for some absurd days in a row. I knew the morning would come too soon. And I knew I would have to do it all over again. This morning was no different, especially with the disappointment last night. Each morning I would lay under my tarp for a few minutes after I woke up, entertaining the possibility of staying for the day. But within five minutes I rallied myself to get up and start hiking.
This morning a couple hikers came up from town in the driving rain. I looked at them and they asked me “Has Scott Jurek passed by?”
Now I have nothing against Scott Jurek. In fact, I think he’s an amazing person and an incredible athlete. Despite the horrendous conditions that beat us both up each day, he persevered even when I faltered. Super badass. On the other hand, I had an irrational disgust for his groupies. Seriously, I’m quite ashamed of my disgust for those people but I won’t lie and pretend I was some jolly good old friend while out there. Mostly I was super happy to see people and I think I was always friendly. But sometimes, on the inside, I was grumpier than a 90 year old grandfather when being sent to a nursing home.
So when they asked me that simple question I turned into a giant diva. I told them I didn’t know. But what I really wanted to do was scream and shout and lay on the ground, spitting and kicking and screaming and yelling to the whole world in anger and frustration. i needed help. I sincerely needed encouraging words, not to think about some other dude’s trip. When Scott Jurek came running down the mountain I was evidently not mature enough to even share the words of encouragement I so desperately craved. Instead, to be honest, I was relieved at how rough he looked. I wasn’t a wimp-this trail had beat us both up.
But I’m not proud of my silence as he slid by in the thick grimy Massachusetts mud. He is an inspiration, more because I saw he was mortal and suffering, than anything else. The AT is hard, really hard, and I knew I wasn’t alone.
He had come down Mt. Greylock, the highest mountain in Massachusetts. I had no idea what the conditions would be like on the summit but by the way they were down here I imagined they were horrendous. The wind whipped at the trees, tearing branches off flying by me as I hiked. It lifted the rain and threw it at me, and the cold pierced through every garment I wore. Eventually towards the top in desperation I had to don my down jacket, knowing it would be soaked but at least it would keep me from going too hypothermic in the chill of the early morning. Once up on the summit I raced over the lodge, struggling to stay upright on my tired legs in the 60+ mph gusts.
Inside I plugged my phone in and ordered a veggie burger and ate some ice cream cones. For the first time on the trip I had the opportunity to run a calorie surplus and was taking full advantage of every chance to eat. Once warmed back up I left the Lodge and headed back out into the horrendous weather.
The rain subsided to a mist and eventually let up. Massachusetts is a relatively easy state for the Appalachian Trail but the slick persistent mud made the hiking tough. One of the things that makes Mass easy is the miles of road walking. Unfortunately, while hiking through the town of Cheshire the tendinitis that had plagued me for the last 100 miles began acting up. A lump had formed from the swelling in my shin and my leg was totally locked out. My limp was pronounced and I doubt anyone who saw me predicted I was capable of hiking like that all the way to Georgia. But I knew it would heal, whether through anti-inflammatories or a change in terrain, it couldn’t last the whole trip. I worried about compensating injuries for my altered stride but the tendinitis itself was simply a nuisance at this point.
Coming into Dalton late in the day the rain started up again on the several miles of road walking into town. Having gotten a late start and struggled to make progress up on Mt. Greylock I was running seriously late for where I needed to be. To catch back up I attempted running some stretches but the pain was unbearable so I settled for walking. In Dalton I stopped at an ice cream shop and ordered a double scoop and a milkshake before getting back out hiking. Ice cream was the easiest and most delicious way I had found to replenish lost calories and I craved it constantly.
On the way out of Dalton the trail climbed a shallow grade. It would have been insignificant had it not been for the high clay content in the mud which made the hiking extremely frustrating. With each step I would slide back a ways. But fortunately the climbs never lasted long and were never steep.
I ended up setting up camp just before dark in a nicer spot than last night. I expected rain so I pitched it taut and low to keep as dry as possible. Everything I owned was wet, but at least the temps were warm at low elevations and the wind was calm so I had little concern for hypothermia. I camped 1.2 miles south of Kay Wood Shelter having hiked a lame 27 miles for the day.