BLACKROCK HUT, Shenandoah National Park, Appalachian Trail
It has been one year since I set out on my grand Appalachian Adventure. It’s hardly believable that so much time has passed, and also how (in what ways) the time has passed.
I am honoring that time by being on the Appalachian Trail. I’m in Shenandoah National Park, at Blockrock Shelter. I hiked about 9 miles today and will do 7.5-8 tomorrow before returning to syphilization. No lie can I tell – every moment serious consideration is given to the prospect of putting in two weeks and starting a hike south to Springer Mountain, Georgia. But there are some things I want to see through, some money to save, feelings to express, and so on, before I set out again.
I forgot just how tough the first day of a backpacking trip can be. My hips are bruised and sore from the waist belt, as are my collar bones and lower back from the pack. I’m so tired that I’ve been lounging in my tent for a few hours already, and the sun has only just set. But it feels DAMN GOOD. Except for the very loud talking chatting in the shelter…
I met lots of happy people on the trail today, and had some unique run-ins. I haven’t had the same anxieties I started with last year, and it’s all been rigorous, heart thumping, breath catching, bliss.
A black snake crossed my path and immediately I started thinking on bears, and grew excited about having an encounter. Minutes later I saw a big guy coming around a bend. I hopped around a bit so my bell would jingle, and he kept walking toward me – then up a hill. Small sigh of relief at not having to apply my understanding of going head to head with a big black bear. His coat was shiny black, like onyx, and gorgeous. I say he because he’s the biggest bear I’ve seen on the trail, so I assume it was a male.
Stinging Nettles were on my mind today too, and I recalled my lack of skill in identifying, or misidentifying it rather, several years ago. As these thoughts hiked through my mind, I considered that the Wild Hydrangea looked similar, and that Wood Nettle probably grows in these parts, but had no confidence in picking it out.
When I stopped for lunch, my pack rested on a rock and I heeded some intuitive notion to not crush the hydrangea plant growing near the rock. The flower structure was so different though, that I was puzzled. The tiny hairs along the stem also were unfamiliar to my knowledge of Hydrangea, but I chalked all of this up to my needing to review the photos I took of Appalachian plants at the conference back in May.
After I ate, I went to put my arm through the pack and somehow the plant had gotten all tangled up in the straps (Oh Babygirl, pay attention! it was saying), and then around my arm. Holy cow I had the most bizarre and incredible stinging sensation I’ve ever felt! It was nothing like the sting I experienced from European stinging nettle. It was like a hundred mini-bees stinging me from my shoulder to my fingers. It was itchy as all get out and immediately welts formed that were itchy and hot. No bite marks from spiders, no ticks attached, no evidence of anything trying to eat me, and I still wasn’t sure what had happened; the event was so shocking.
It had to have been Wood Nettle, and NOT Wild Hydrangea. A huge stupidly DUH dumb moment for me. But the plant was trying to tell me something all day…Maybe just hello, maybe to be alert…I’m not sure yet. Even though I can’t say the feeling of a hundred stings is the most comfortable thing I’ve ever felt, but it was kinda awesome. Perhaps only a botanophile can relate…
As I approached Jone’s Run Falls, I heard the unmistakable sound of a tree soon to fall. I could tell it wasn’t close enough to put me in danger, so I glanced around to try and see it happen. I found it just in time. Across the ravine a tree of around 50 feet tall decided it was tired of hanging on, gave up the last of its strength, and crashed down to the Earth.
[I’m hearing the whippoorwill for the first time. It’s lovely but eerie, only because I know some cultures believe the whippoorwill comes around to indicate someone will be passing into the next dimension.]
The time is now for me to choose a topic and write on it. I gotta get my writing ideas organized and once written, choose a title. I think living authentically is a good first book topic. Happiness, self acceptance, liberation. What will the goal be? I suppose to teach people that if they live in such a way then they will finally be free. A guidebook of sorts.
I really didn’t feel like logging my adventures right now, because I’ve been so tired, but as people are so noisy at camp it felt like a gentle nudge to get it out and done. I’m going to eat pizza tomorrow. It’s been almost 6 months. Now I wish all my fellow hikers would shut up so I can get an early start!