For the past few weeks, as the starting date gets increasingly closer, I have been stocking up on fear. Fear of dehydration. Fear of snakes. Fear of not being in good enough shape. Fear of a packing too heavy. Fear of falling behind. Fear of not finishing. Fears that have been made exponentially worse by going onto online forums to PCT planning.
So a couple weekends ago, I did what always seems to work when I go into freak out mode: I went outside and went for a hike.
Two years ago, near Franklin, NC, we ended up skipping an 11 mile section of trail after a zero day in town. (The dirt road to the trail had washed out in a rainstorm.) I vowed to return one day and hike that missed section. Now, needing a good training hike under my belt, I decided to return to Franklin and reclaim those lost miles.
My original plan had been to go with a full pack, hike in 11 miles and camp, then hike out the following day. The weather had other plans for me. A cold front moved in on Friday and the low temps for Sat night were projected to be in the single digits to lower teens. I've camped in cold weather before and been fine. But not alone. And though I KNEW that I would not be alone on the trail, that other hikers would be around, I was a little leery about camping that night. (As I said, I was in freak out mode) I decided that I would instead stay in town on Sat night in a hotel and get up early to knock out the whole 22 miles without a pack on Sunday.
Franklin was hopping on Saturday. Cold hikers everywhere: hitching rides, eating giant plates of food, bemoaning achy feet, going to be at 9pm (hiker midnight). I gave a few rides, dispensed some advice, and possibly convinced one guy in his own freak out mode to rethink his decision to quit. Then I went to bed early myself, for a long Sunday.
I got up early and got to the trail head just before sunrise. The early morning temps were hanging around 15 degrees. I put on my cold weather gear, strapped on my daypack, and hit the trail. It was just what I needed.
I caught the sunrise from atop a ridge.
Even more than the physical activity, the mountain air, the breathtaking views I gained the confidence I needed for my upcoming hike. Because I once again experience the wonderful hiking community of both hikers and trail angels.
As cold as Saturday night was, I now know that I would have been fine. There were lots of hikers out, looking out for one another. And at the campgrounds and road crossings along the trail, there were RVs parked with signs in the windows "Cold hikers welcome inside." In the early morning as I walked along, I passed people who had tables set up with hot coffee, tea, hot chocolate and donuts for hikers. "Come get something to warm you up," they said as I approached.
When I got back to the parking lot at the trail head, I encountered a family who had set up tables, a tent, and a full grill. They were giving out hot dogs, drinks, and snacks to hikers. "Oh, no," I said. "I'm just out for the day. Save it for the thru-hikers."
"Don't be silly!" they said in return. "There's plenty for everyone. Sit down and eat."
So a spent a while with Crazy Tree and his family, exchanging hiking stories and bonding.
There's another, much more important saying on the trail: The trail provides. Good advice. Easy to follow