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Broken Silence

13 Sep

My heart still beats.  My lungs still inflate.  I am alive.  [Though down a toe:]

Leaving the Trail was much more painful than this.

Leaving the Trail was much more painful than this.

I haven’t posted… in a while… because I have been living in a swirl of head-spinning change, which has made me want to crawl into a hole rather than broadcast my abstruse emotions over the blogosphere.

The short and skinny of it is that I left the Trail because I got my dream job.

Leaving the Trail was devastating.

It all happened very abruptly, and that day was one of the hardest of my life.  No joke.

We sat on a rock in New York, and he promised me he’d finish.

“But I never would have made it here without you.”

I would have called him a liar, but I already knew this.  He would have hiked home to Pennsylvania and never left.

“Use the hand sanitizer,” I said.

This was a joke.  I had done everything but eat the stuff and had still been the Trail’s harbinger of sickness.

I attempted to dam the stream of tears flooding my face, I hugged Bojangles, and I watched him clamor over the rocks away from me.  He turned around and waved and then disappeared into the woods.

Five minutes later, I got a text.  He’d been stung by a bee.  I bawled.

It was so hard.  Hiking the Trail with Bo was my whole life.  Every second of every minute of every hour of every day.  It took 5 hours on a highway to get me back to the real world, but more than a month to get me where I can type this.

I may fill in the details later, but in the interest of continuity, here’s where we’re at:

Since I recovered from the tonsillectomy, Bojangles and I finished up the very tail end of Virginia, went through West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and into New York.  I left Bojangles where the AT crosses West Mombasha Road at mile 1374.7.

Since then, his pace has considerably slowed, undoubtedly due to lack of the great slave driver Oxy.  BUT, like a champ, he’s hiked all the way through Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, and New Hampshire.  He’s now at mile 1887.6, and we shall follow him as he goes the last 300 miles!

The weekend before last, I visited him in the White Mountain National Forest of New Hampshire.  Being there, amidst Bojangles and other scruffy hikers — a bizarre clan of which I was no longer a part — was emotional.  Nostalgia, failure, guilt, regret swirled ribbons around my head.

Bo didn’t understand.  “The AT gave you your dream job,” he said.  “It hasn’t given me shit.”

Here's Bo a few days ago on the top of Mt. Washington in the Whites of New Hampshire.

Bo a few days ago on the top of Mt. Washington in the Whites of New Hampshire.  Obviously, the AT did give him something:  a homeless person’s beard.

Rocksylvania

18 Jul

7/17 – 21.9 miles
7/18 – 18.0 miles
AT Mile Marker – 1,235.6 miles

Hope everyone is surviving the heat wave. I’m on my 10th liter of water of the day. I don’t even remember what air conditioning feels like. Probably a bit chilly for my taste.

Also making things difficult for me are… the boulder fields. AT hikers know Pennsylvania as “Rocksylvania” because God unloaded a dump truck of ’em overhead this state.

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We shared the shelter last night with two old women – one perhaps well into her 70s and the other similarly situated in her 60s. The four of us were so hot and knackered that we barely spoke a word to one another.

This morning, the old women woke up at 5:30. Though they seemed to work diligently, it took them a while to break camp. “Why are old people so slow?”, Bojangles asked me later.

They left before us, but we soon caught up to the women… in… a boulder field. We zoomed (relatively) past them, but I spent the next hour thinking about them. “How in the hell are they doing this?” “Why?” “It’s going to take them all day to get 10 miles.” I wish I would have gotten their stories. And a picture. But I barely said a word to them.

The bugs are terrible. My body is riddled with mosquito bites. 100% DEET insect repellent is doing nothing but giving me DEET poisoning. As for the gnats… they swarm around me as if I’m a steaming pile of cow dung. For sport, I killed 33 of them on my chest in the last half hour of hiking yesterday. Their blood and guts streaked my shirt.

And yet, yesterday at 6 PM, I was listening to Green Day and tripping over rocks and almost busting my head open when I realized I’m having the time of my life.

Yesterday, I accepted the job I will start in September — when this wild year comes to an end. And yesterday one of my dear friends from law school, who is my age, had lung surgery to remove cancer. And my Dad was bummed because his puppy Velcro had a bad night at obedience class. I told my future employer yes, I told my friend good luck, and I told my Dad to go back and try again.

I’m on this damn hike because I read a book about a woman my age who, fifteen years ago — with heroin tracks in her ankles — set out to hike the Pacific Crest Trail. She wrote, “The best thing you can do with your life is to tackle the motherfucking shit out of it.”

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Update

15 Jul

“I have sometimes been wildly, despairingly, acutely miserable, but through it all I still know quite certainly that just to be alive is a grand thing.”
– Agatha Christie

7/13 – 17.4 miles
7/14 – 11.3 miles
7/15 – 24.4 miles
AT Mile Marker – 1,213.7

Let me recap the major points of the past few days, with no attempt at organization. And with a lot of whining.

On Saturday the 13th, Bojangles got attacked by a swarm of bees while taking a #2. I was drinking some water on the Trail when he ran out of the woods with no pants on, screaming like a banshee and grabbing his butt. I gave him one of those insect bite relief sticks, but apparently I did not display nearly enough sympathy because for the rest of the afternoon, I had to field questions like this: “Do you have any idea what it’s like to get attacked by bees?” “Can you imagine what that must feel like?”

On Sunday the 14th, we only covered 11 miles because we had difficulty launching from Bojangles’ parents’ house. They slackpacked us for 80 miles over 5 days. Thank you, Mr. and Mrs. Bojangles!

The sweltering heat is uncomfortable, but what is really driving me bonkers is the bugs. In particular, the other day, after inhaling up my nostril the 11th gnat of the day, I erupted in a tirade (mostly directed at the Appalachian gnat population, though I do faintly remember kicking a tree stump and barking at Bojangles). The next day I was (very happily) outfitted in this:

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Bojangles makes fewer and fewer jokes about my new headgear as time goes on and our gnat following grows. I said nothing (but snapped a photo) when I saw him today with sassafras leaves affixed to his forehead (he says they are natural insect repellents):

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We cruised into the shelter last night at about 9 PM. It turned out to be one of the worst nights on the Trail. Worse than the freezing cold March nights in Georgia. Almost as bad as the searing throat pain nights in Virginia. It was hot as Hellman’s. I laid on top of my sleeping bag, which slowly soaked with sweat. Meanwhile, the mosquitos (and who knows what other creepy crawlers) had a field day chomping down on my exposed skin. Let’s just say I was ready to get up when 5:30 AM came.

What else has happened. Oh yes, only perhaps the single grossest moment of my life. I’ll spare you, but let’s just say I’m experiencing some serious gastrointestinal issues. That royally suck when you are in the woods. Moving on…

Let me tell you everything I’ve learned about hitchhiking: wave an American flag. Seriously, the flag has earned its keep.

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Here are some red mushrooms growing on a tree:

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Other pictures of late…

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Also, underarm chafing (it is worse in other areas I will leave out):

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Heebie Jeebies!

12 Jul

7/12 – 18.6 miles
AT Mile Marker – 1,160.5 miles

In my post yesterday, I promised to attempt to capture, in a photograph, the next rattlesnake I came across.
Promise delivered, folks, here ya go!

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It is a black phase timber rattlesnake.

After this sighting, I made Bojangles go first. And BOOM, not ten feet away, a copperhead slithered out from underneath a rock just inches away from his foot. He emitted a string of curse words and leaped a great leap. We later learned that timber rattlers and copperheads are known to den together.

Talk about a case of the heebie jeebies for the next mile afterwards.

Return to Appalachia

10 Jul

5/31-7/1 – 32 zero days (tonsils-be-gone)
7/2 – 10.5 miles
7/3 – 15.6 miles (passed through West Virginia and into Maryland)
7/4 – 13.1 miles
7/5 – 22.4 miles (crossed the Mason-Dixon Line into Pennsylvania)
7/6 – 17.7 miles
7/7 – 19.1 miles (passed the AT halfway point)
7/8 – 11.8 miles
7/9 – 16.8 miles
7/10 – zero day at Bojangles’ house
7/11 – 18.6 miles
AT Mile Marker – 1143.5 miles

I’m back on the Trail! It’s a different can of worms this go around. MUGGY and BUGGY come to mind.

There have been a lot of milestones in the last 10 days of hiking, to include the 1,000 mile marker, new states (WV, MD, PA), and the midpoint of the AT.

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It says 1000, I swear:

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Our favorite state so far is West Virginia. This is because the Trail in West Virginia is 4 miles long.

At the Appalachian Trail Conservancy in Harpers Ferry, WV, we got our pictures taken and were officially branded 2013 thru-hikers 886 and 887.

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Other news, other news…

At Pine Grove Furnace State Park, Bojangles undertook the famed “Half Gallon Challenge,” in which AT thru-hikers attempt to eat a half gallon of ice cream as fast as possible. The record is 8 minutes. Bojangles put down his 2,480 calories in a respectable 15 minutes, 40 seconds. He would *not* recommend mint chocolate chip.
Here’s him at at the start:

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And while underway:

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And afterwards:

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Also offered was the “Gallon Challenge,” in which hikers attempt to eat a gallon of butter as fast as possible. The record is 43 minutes. In a moment of remarkable prudence, we did not partake.

We have seen a lot of snakes on the Trail, to include rattlesnakes, black rat snakes, and an unidentifiable gray snake with creepy eyes. The rattlesnakes have blown me away. They are massive, and their rattle is so loud. I’ll try to spend less time freaking out and get a picture of the next one. No such problem with this rat snake:

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We are liking Pennsylvania — primarily because we are currently stationed at the Harrisburg home of Bojangles’ parents, who are kindly “slackpacking” us. Slackpacking is when others help you with modern inventions like vehicles so that you can hike with only a daypack and sleep in a bed. We never want to leave, which is problematic.

Pennsylvania so far is best described as “rocky, with a side of cornfield.”

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!Holey Fricking Tonsil!

31 May
Bo Lucie Velcro

Taken yesterday, when my Dad (and Velcro) kidnapped us from the Trail.

Day 65 (5/25) – 5.9 miles

Day 66 (5/26) – urgent care for throat infection (yeah, again, wtf)

Day 67 (5/27) – 19.8 miles

Day 68 (5/28) – reunion with Bojangles and zero day in Dalesville, VA

Day 69 (5/29) – 11.2 miles

Day 70 (5/30) – 8.1 miles and got kidnapped by Dad

Day 71 (5/31) – lovely visit with Dr. ENT in the Washington, DC metro area

AT Mileage to Date – 742.8 miles

The last week has been… eventful.  I’ll work on filling you in on the details, but let’s just start with the biggest news, shall we?

I’M FREAKING HAVING SURGERY ON WEDNESDAY.

Yeah, so I’ve been battling this throat infection for 5 weeks.  I’ve — painfully — swallowed 4 courses of antibiotics, 1 steroid, and 6 bottles of ibuprofen.  And yet, my tonsils remain red, swollen, full of holes, and coated with white crud.  I went to an urgent care place in Roanoke last Sunday, where the nurse practitioner lady (1) called my throat “nasty,” (2) threw up her hands, and (3) then gave me antibiotic #5 (a 10-day course of Bactrim).

And then I got back on the Trail.  But ya know what, days passed and my throat still freaking hurt, and I felt run-down and generally like crap (5 antibiotics in a month will probably do that to ya).  9 miles into Wednesday, I sat on a log and called my Dad.  “My throat still hurts, and I feel like crap, Dad.”

At which point he freaked out.  Yesterday, he drove to the Trail and kidnapped Bojangles and me.  [Oh yeah, did I mention that Bojangles and I met up in Daleville two days ago?]

And this morning at 9:45 a.m., my butt landed in a cream-colored Washington-DC-metro-area ENT’s chair.  As it turns out, Dr. ENT was – of all things – a freaking hiker.  He’s hiked portions of the AT and dreams of thru-hiking it when he retired.  We talked hiking and gear.  It was cool.

He then told me that my throat looks horrible – the worst he’s seen in 8 months of looking at them every day, all day.  And that I have chronic tonsillitis and that I need to get them removed.  Like right now.

At which point I told him I would just “tough it out.”  But then he laid in with the fear mongering… about how I was a tonsillar abscess waiting to happen, which is a medical emergency and could kill me in the woods (apparently that’s how George Washington went).  And then he started in on the negative effects of having a long-term active infection in your body and living on antibiotics.

Sooooooooooo… I’m getting a tonsillectomy on Wednesday.  Dr. ENT was fully booked but is coming in early to cut ’em out.  (Bless his heart!)

I know – I was stunned, too.  I walked out into the waiting room and sat down in the chair beside Bojangles.  My eyes were wide as saucers.  Words were not forthcoming.  I put my hand over my face and grumbled.  Holey fricking tonsil.

While I’ve yet to figure it all out exactly, I will be back on the Trail soon.  In 3 weeks or so, and I’ll – finally – be feeling good.  And I’ll be a few grams lighter.

Life is good.  Even if it gets sore sometimes.

After hearing the tonsillectomy news, Bo and I had margaritas with lunch with Dad. After not drinking for a

After hearing the tonsillectomy news, Bo and I had frozen margaritas for lunch. My Dad had the fajitas (some people have to work).  After not drinking for over a month, one ‘rita left me stumbling into the pre-operative blood work appointment.

Life in the Army

25 May

On Wednesday morning, I was hiking along blaring a Grateful Dead song (“drivin’ that train, high on cocaine…”) when I thought Bigfoot was baring down on me.

It was actually another hiker – an over-fit and over-caffeinated one. He was moving at an incredible pace, displacing foliage, twigs, and rocks as he went. I had met him in passing the day before and knew him to be 24 years old and fresh out of 5 1/2 years in the Army Rangers. He’d lost some of his sight in his right eye after having been shot in Afghanistan and so had recently gotten out of the military, dissatisfied with “pushing papers” after years of “kicking down doors.”

We exchanged pleasantries (about a lost watch and a dead snake, both on the Trail that morning) as I let him pass.

But then I decided I would try to keep up with him. I doubled-timed and then triple-timed my pace. I dug my trekking poles in harder to propel myself forward. I deftly, if perhaps recklessly, hopped from rock to rock. Slowly but surely, he began going faster and faster. My life became a blur. It was like I was in a video game, figuring out each move nanosecond by nanosecond. We’re talking full afterburners here. I began pouring sweat, soaking myself. A steep hill came. I charged ahead, throat burning and gasping for breath.

“Woman,” he finally said after we crested the hill, “what is your name?”
“Oxy.”
“No, what is your real name?”
I furiously brushed sweat off my face and tried to sound strong (and not hopelessly out of breath) when I said “Lucie Van Damme.”
“Well damn Lucie,” he said, “You are the toughest woman I’ve met. How the hell are you keeping up with me right now?”
I drew in a deep breath in attempt to calm my spasming diaphragm and said, “Well you are the slowest Ranger I’ve met. How is the Army picking ’em these days?”

At this, it was all over. He flung around and saw me in all my glory: chest heaving, face red as a maraschino cherry, massive beads of sweat ski jumping off my nose and cheeks and chin. We broke down laughing.

We hiked together for the rest of the day, literally mowing over other hikers. He told me about his charmed childhood spent playing in the woods. He joked about winning the gene pool with his dark-haired, green-eyed Scottish good looks, with a just a tinge of American Indian thrown in there to tan his skin and chisel his cheekbones.

We took a water break at every 15-minute interval. I felt like I was in the Army.

I asked him why he had a bunch of bananas strapped to his pack. He told me how he’d hiked 27 miles the week before and started peeing blood. Apparently the ER doctor said his kidneys were shutting down and suggested potassium-rich bananas.

I decided against joining the Army.

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