My adventure on Thursday in the wind got to me more than I had realized. For all my talk of feeling good pushing onto the next shelter, a big part of me was looking forward to being in a hostel for Friday night. Friday's hike shouldn't have been difficult--it was easy terrain and much shorter than I had been going on average. Yet, I found myself struggling on hills that I'd normally barely notice and arrived at the hostel pretty worn.
What got me through the hike was knowing that soon I'd have a bed, a hot shower, a few beers, and words of support from family and friends. Kincora Hostel outside Hampton, TN was recommended by my uncle, but was not what I had expected. There were more than 10 cats roaming outside (I am not a cat person), the bunk room didn't have lights and smelled of mildew, I had no service and there was no wifi, and there was no alcohol permitted. Honestly, I considered a way to politely try to leave, but figured in the end it was a step up from a shelter in what could have been a stormy night.
I didn't get what I wanted at Kincora, but I got what I didn't know I needed: communion. When I first saw a therapist, I spent months dealing with the idea of loss; after traumatic experiences, it's common to feel a vague sense of loss. Together, my therapist and I began naming some of those losses: my confidence in my strength, my sense of invulnerability and playfulness, my willingness to take risks, and we worked to find ways to either regain what felt lost or accept that it was okay to lose. That wind storm left me physically fine but emotionally rattled--I had lost my sense of wonder in the journey. I hiked from mile marker to mile marker, focused on quickening my pace to beat the rain and constantly looking ahead to see if the shelter was near. It was exhausting.
Hearing Bob tell stories of the countless hikers that have passed through helped me place my own struggle within the context of the trail community. I am one of thousands who has toiled along this path and is seeking to learn something deeper from it. Instead if swaddling me with the niceties of modern comforts, he helped remind me that there's a lot to take from the hard times--it's not only about loss. Spending an evening with him and other hikers was more important than having wifi.
Bob doesn't just run a hostel, he also is a major driving force behind trail maintenance. His stories about the work that goes into planning, creating, maintaining, and improving the trail so that others like me can enjoy it were inspiring. Less than a mile from his hostel is a gorgeous bridge that was built without the use of power tools so as to not disturb the animals. Near that is an impressive set of stone stairs built entirely by a female volunteer crew. There is more than natural beauty along the Appalachian Trail, there's real craftsmanship that often goes unnoticed.
I left on Saturday morning with a completely different outlook than I had on Friday night. I felt rejuvenated and ready to tackle what looked to be a day of difficult hiking. Instead of getting worn out, though, I found myself paying attention to the trail itself and saying thanks to the countless volunteers who helped create it. I took side trails for better views of the morning light and stopped to wonder at the privilege of experiencing this beauty. I found the joy of the journey again and gained a deeper sense of gratitude, and I owe it all to Bob.