Anger. Sadness. Joy. Amazement. What a week!
This last seven days presented a whirlwind of situations and a consequent rollercoaster of emotions that gave me a clear understanding of how everything work along this trail.
Feelings change abruptly and it takes very little to transform a miserable day into a special one.
Monday we left the Nantahala Outdoor Center well rested and joyful after a sunny weekend filled with beer and free tacos.
It didn’t take much hiking to understand how brutal the trail can be.
A thunderstorm and snowstorm hit us for the next two days, like a friendly reminder of the miserable life we agreed to put up with after deciding to hike 2200 miles in the wild.
Waking up in a cold fog and wearing frozen shoes and clothes is definitely not fun and never it will be.
But, the miles in the snow quickly became a blurred memory after reaching a town, eating a juicy burger, and enjoying the warmth of freshly cleaned clothes.
It takes even less to turn a agonizing 24-mile day into a smile when, after reaching the shelter, you’re welcomed by a fire, a random guy playing a banjo and a 500-calorie, king-size chocolate bar that you packed exactly for that occasion.
But the highlight of the week came as unexpected as all the best moments in life happen.
Thursday evening, after the joy of passing the 200-mile mark and the amazement of tasting the sweet views of Clingmans Dome and Charlie’s Bunion, we were brought back to earth by a sad reality.
Five in the afternoon, sun slowly fading behind the mountains, shelter full.
“What do we do?” I ask Cruise Control, my travel companion for the past weeks.
“There’s a shelter seven miles ahead. Or a hostel at 10 miles,” he replied.
“Let’s try to get to the hostel, I guess.”
In a crazy attempt to reach the hostel before sunset, I fall, hit my head on the ground and with a bloody face I keep running.
I’m mad, I’m hurt, but most importantly I’m extremely hungry.
To add to the brutality of the moment, I start hiking in the wrong direction, which cause me to arrive at the hostel way past sunset, with a 32-mile day on my legs and a homicidal mindset.
“You didn’t wait for me! I got lost!” I bark at Cruise Control.
“I’m sorry man, I wanted to get here as quickly as possible,” he responds nonchalantly.
I furiously walk away to pitch my tent. Once finished, I sit at a table waiting for my meal to be ready.
Cruise Control hands me a beer, smiling. “That’s on me.”
Then he hands me two more. “On me bro.”
I smile, take a sip and look at the people gathering around a fire.
Standing Bear is not really a hostel, but something more close to a farm, where everyone help to keep the business running.
Here some hikers stop for days, even weeks, working for their staying. There’s no social status, race or religion that matters there, just like the trail.
There’s only a common goal and many different ways to reach it. We know things can get hard out here, but we’re all well aware of the fact that it takes so little to be happy.
Cruise Control and I join the circle around the fire. Someone is playing a guitar, some talk about their lives pre-hike.
I tilt my head up and looking at the sky I start to wonder.
“How beautiful is to look at the stars at night on the trail, because when the wind shakes the trees it seems like fireflies fill the air.”