Day 3 of My Camino de Appalachia

“Lo hace camino andar.” ┬áThe way is made by walking.

“Solvitur Ambulando.” It is solved by walking.

These are just two of the many phrases, mantras, and prayers that came across my lips hundreds, if not thousands of times during this 12-day section hike.

After 4 years of section hiking the AT, I finally made it to the 600-mile mark. (I’m laying on the ground beside this stone-fashioned landmark…smiling…with only a few drops of water left in that water bottle!)

 

Day 3 proved to be my first real battle with water-lessness. I left Jenkins Shelter and had some “cruise-y” hiking until after my lunch stop at the Brushy Mountain Deli (which was closed). But there was a nice canopy nearby to enjoy my lunch under and a brief phone call with Deb.

But there was no more water for the next 10-12 miles of hiking. At the 18-mile mark for the day, I was hoping to hit a water source near the Helvey Mill shelter but it was dry.

I scouted out the creek bed a little further down but all I got was a painful sting from a hornet as I scrambled under rhododendrons looking for any wet spots in the creek.

Rubbing the painful welt on my shoulder blade, I continued down the trail to the Jenny Knob shelter where I finally found this small pool of water collecting in the stream bed after about 23 miles of hiking for the day.

There was actually a deer slurping out of this little oasis when I first arrived which brought Psalm 42:1 to mind…but thankfully she didn’t put up a fight and I was able to “camel up” over the course of the next hour. I had to submerge a small ziplock bag into this pool and then transfer the water to my “dirty” water bladder until I had 2 liters…and then filter that into my “clean” bottles. These are the experiences that make you appreciate clean water on-demand when returning home!

Expressing the relief and gratitude one feels after being thirsty for hours and then finally quenching that thirst is difficult. Perhaps you get a glimpse of that feeling from this last photo of the day.

So what was solved by walking on Day 3? How was my “way” made by walking? What do those phrases mean and how does that translate into off-trail living?

All I really know is that backpacking continues to teach me how to be present…to live in the moment. And to be grateful for simple pleasures

and provisions. When you spend several days just getting from point A to point B, life becomes much more simple than what most of us experience off trail. Being concerned mainly with water, food, and shelter reduces the mental complexities and provides an oasis of sustainability.

There are many days off trail that do NOT feel sustainable…that make me concerned about the pace of life and the impact of stress, fear, and anxiety on my relationships. But spending an extended period of time in the woods immersed in solitude, prayer, and walking reminds me that life is lived one step at a time, one breath at time, one day at a time.

I can do nothing about what happened yesterday. All I can do with the future is trust. Which leaves the present moment to be savored and enjoyed. This WAY is made by walking.

Day 2 of My Camino de Appalachia 2023

Maybe I should take a moment and explain my use of the phrase “Camino de Appalachia?”

The Camino de Santiago is a famous 500-mile pilgrimage across Spain to a cathedral which is said to hold relics from the apostle James.

The word “camino” in Spanish can be translated way, road, path, trail, etc. So “camino de Appalachia” might literally mean the Trail of Appalachia. But in my usage, I mean to imply the idea of pilgrimage and not just the literal path. For me, time on the trail has the simultaneous intention of integrating the physical act of hiking with a spiritual and prayerful journey towards deeper intimacy and connection with God.

Of course, the Appalachian Trail is simply a long hiking trail and not necessarily a destination for religious pilgrims, but I have found that many AT hikers do have para-physical motivations for spending time on this less ancient footpath.

Now, what I have found is that many of my days on trail begin in a very thoughtful, contemplative and prayerful manner but end with a focus on the physical challenge. So I love to enjoy solitude during the first few hours of each day’s hike until usually the lunch stop. At that point, I start longing for some good company and conversation to distract my mind from what can become a grueling effort to achieve my mileage goal. My 2nd day was one of those days that seemed a bit more difficult physically. My first good distraction that day was bumping into Tom at the Chestnut Knob Shelter (third photo) which is at an elevation of about 4400 feet and overlooks a valley called Burke’s Garden. Tom was an old codger of a hiker with some fun stories and a deep desire to tune into college football. He had an mp3 player with a radio tuner and was trying desperately to get the Tennessee (Go Vols!) game to tune in since he was from the Nashville area.

After having lunch and drying out a bit at Chestnut Knob, I hiked another 9 miles or so through a completely “dry” area (no water sources). Thankfully, I stumbled across a water cache that day where some trail angel had left a few dozen gallons jugs of water for hikers. If there’s a section of trail that is especially difficult for sourcing fresh water, occasionally, some magnanimous soul (often a former thru hiker) will stash a bunch of water like this near a road crossing. (fourth photo)

And just before dark, I made it to the Jenkins Shelter where I bumped into a fun couple from Greenville, SC who shared some great stories and general trail banter that got my mind off of the pain in my knees and feet! Before I knew it, we had been chatting for about an hour and I still needed to cook some dinner and put up a tent. ha! Floppy and Flower Power (second photo) were a real treat to hangout with at camp that evening.

Day two culminated in about 17 miles of hiking from the Lick Creek campsite to Jenkins Shelter which was near a creek that still had a bit of water flowing through. yay!

Day 1 of My Camino de Appalachia 2023

The Way Is Made By Walking…

That’s the title of a book by Arthur Paul Boers that I’ve been reading alongside of my Appalachian Trail pilgrimage this year. The book is about his experience on the Camino de Santiago, a 500-mile pilgrimage across northern Spain. As he tells particular stories about that journey he also weaves in christian lessons on spirituality that I found meaningful and analogous to my own pilgrimage discoveries.

On Sept 1, 2023 I packed all I would need to live in the woods for two weeks and started hiking on the AT right where I left off last year. Mile 545.6 near Atkins, VA.

About 5 minutes into the hike, I felt as though something was missing. My arms were swinging back and forth and it felt strange that I didn’t know what to do with my hands. That’s when it dawned on me that I left my trekking poles leaning against the gas station where I was just dropped off by a shuttle driver.

Thankfully, that was the only time I left my trekking poles behind during this entire trip, which is an improvement over previous years and trips.

Less than two hours into the hike I noticed the 1/4 marker meaning I had finally hike the first 25% of the AT from Georgia to Maine. By about noon my clothes were already drenched with sweat, so at a road crossing, I stopped to eat some lunch and spread out my shirt, socks, etc to dry out a bit. My goal for the first day was to hike about 16.5 miles to the Knot Maul shelter but when I got there, I realized the spring (water source) was dry and I was completely out of water for the day. So I hike a couple more miles to a stream crossing and setup campus at the Lick Creek campsite.

This first day of hiking and the scarcity of water should was setting the stage for one of my biggest hardships and lessons on this year’s hike: hydration.

Thankfully, at the previous shelter, I encountered a couple of day hikers who were about to head back to their vehicle, so they shared an extra water bottle with me. In fact, there was still a bit of ice in it which was a nice bit of “trail magic” early on in the hike.

Trail magic refers to any generosity than one can benefit from while hiking a trail. Often, it comes in the form of snacks and cold beverages left in a cooler near a parking area…or perhaps even someone parked at a road crossing inviting hikers to take a break and enjoy any kind of food or drink.

So on Day 1, some trail magic and then finding a creek to camp near at the 18.5 mile mark brought much-needed relief after the first full day of hiking. A pilgrimage like this is a great place to learn the significance of small acts of kindness and provision. And this is something I want to incorporate into my daily off-trail life. What small acts of kindness can we engage people with that might help lighten their load or encourage them in the midst of their difficult journey?