A Truly Blessed Day

I woke up many times throughout the night,  my IT band had been cramping on and off making it nearly impossible to get comfortable. Kevin and I both had reasons to go into town,  yet he didn’t fully realize his needs yet. I wondered how could I get him to understand that he would not make it a few days let alone a week without smoking.  I am fairly certain no one has ever quit smoking on the trail and he was out.   Even from other people we had heard the same thing, no one quits on the trail.   We cooked our oatmeal and ate our pop tarts getting ready for the day.

As with everyday that we argue at the end we start off the same.  Kevin had tried to experiment with his water filter in the field, putting his filter in line 9n the bladder.  Definitely not my thing, I generally don’t mess with something that works if I don’t have the tools to repair it otherwise if it doesnt.  But headstrong that Kevin was he asked me how to get his valve off and his filter on.  I showed him how to heat up the end with hot water to make the rubber loose and he replaced the two pieces.  Under normal circumstances this would have worked but he hadn’t back washed his at all the first week.  His flow rate was not where it would have been which made it extremely hard to suck through.

It only took him about ten seconds to realize he had dropped the ball on this and wanted to switch it back, the problem was we were already on the trail and he’d have to heat it up again or risk pulling out the microbial lining.  Headstrong again he wanted it done now and I explained we didn’t have the tools for it unless he wants to heat it up and work off the filter. Getting more frustrated Kevin hiked off on his own for the morning. You know this was probably the second time since we’ve been out here that I have been left alone.

I began to realize that the only reason I haven’t been doing a ton of thinking is because we are always together.  He is within three feet at all times, it’s really invasive when there are hundreds of miles wilderness and I can’t even pull up my pants without having to tell him to back up.  The space away was a blessing.  I thought of home as I hiked up to Clingman’s Dome, the long uphill climb to the highest point on the AT, over 6500 feet.  Thoughts of Roland fluttered in to me after a while, the hike, our training, I missed him.  He was such a great dog, never complained, was always happy and excited to hike.  Having him with me on this journey was comforting and kept me on pace for laying him to rest at the top of Mount Katadhin.
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I thought of many other things before as I rubber banded with the family of five.  Danny boy made me smile as he hiked excitedly and wondrously. It wasn’t long before I caught Pebbles and Bam-Bam.  Just before I ran into everyone kevin and I passed through a small section of spruces grabbing a scenic photograph before parting ways. Kevin had figured out how to fix his problem and was going to wait at the top for me to catch up to him, giving us space from each other for the day.  Today was her last day on the trail for a while and Bam-Bam had to return to work in Florida. The two of them were always giggling and smiling, bringing a sense of joy and lightness to any situation on the trail.
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The three of us hiked up the mountain, well I wouldn’t say hiked, we flew up the side of the mountain, taking pictures of the beautiful Smokey Mountains along the way. We met Kevin at the top and found he had only been there for a few minutes, at his pace he should have been there for longer. The four of us followed our trail to the dome and were surprised to find it paved and hundreds of visitors walking to the top.   Not wonder the smokeys were popular, we climbed the remaining ramp to the top and could see for miles.  I took a full panoramic shot of the area, I could see Standing Indian Mountain from where we stood.  It was hard to fathom that just a week ago I was there, miles upon miles away, almost just out of sight.  We had done 200 miles already and we celebrated as a group.  We had a much deeper appreciation for climbing to the top than most people.  We had climbed 200 miles of terrain to get here and our accomplishment resonated deeply with us in our own way.
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Hiking down to the parking lot I met a couple, Ben and Bridget, that were on vacation and wondered what we were doing.  I told them about the trail and how we had walked 200 miles to get here and we were going another 2000 to Maine.  They were very interested and I gave them my blog info as I headed to the and parking lot.  Finding that I was the last one to make it down was no surprise I often get to talking with people around me and get side tracked.  We got together the five of us Nails, Pebbles, Bam-Bam, Kevin and I did a photo finish for season one.  We didn’t want to say goodbye to our friend and we decided she would return in a later season to make it easier.  The girls had gotten a ride into town from a nice local man, which left Kevin and I to find a ride.
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Walking though the parking lot I heard a familiar voice yell to me.  “Hey Steve, do you need a ride into town?”  I did and I was blown way by who it was.  The nice couple from Wisconsin had offered to run us into town on thier way back.  Truly a blessing for us, we hurried up and ran to the truck thanking them for thier kindness and generosity.  Over the 20 minute drive to Gatlinburg we get to know each other, sharing our history and the trail with them, learning about Wisconsin, their family, and hometown.  It never ceases to amaze me what you can learn from other people.  These two wonderful people were out on vacation and had taken us in for about bit.  I couldn’t express how grateful we were to them.
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Ben and Bridget dropped us off at Five Guys in town and surprised us again.  They had offered to run us back out when we were done in town. Two truly wonderful people.  If it wasn’t for the kindness of strangers, I wondered how different our journey would be.  Kevin and I have been truly blessed by the grace and generosity we have recieved from people along the way.  If only the expierences we had on the trail happened on a larger scope, what would the rest of the world be like, Baltimore weighed on my mind as I found out from Ben and Bridget about the current situation.

Walking to Five Guys we saw our friends and feasted on burgers and fries.  Filling our bellies, we laughed and told stories of our trail journey.  We clung to every moment before having to say goodbye.  We all felt out of place and stressed in the huge town, thousands of people on the street.  Just an hour ago we were just 10 to 12 per square mile and now we were the same per square yard, it was overwhelming. The bonds we have formed over the past few weeks were evident in that we trusted each and everyone with our livelihood and our gear.  We had all come this far together and did with each other and the wonderful trail angels help.
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Before saying goodbye we went to old smokeys and had our taste at their moonshine.  13 different kinds of shine and each more flavorful and different then the last.  We took shots and said our goodbyes, making plans to see each other when they return to the trail.  Kevin and I headed out to the store and refilled our supplies.  We were in a hurry to return to the woods, the busyness of the city was draining to us.  We hurried about and called Ben and Bridget, who unexpectedly, were right down the street.  They were and will continue to be such a blessing to us.  Riding back with them we soaked up as much time with them as we could before heading back to the trail.  We snapped a quick photo together and said our goodbyes. I was sad to see them go, but we had there info and it wouldn’t be long before I could email them our progress.
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Kevin and  I had four miles to hike to the shelter and made quick time of it.  We hurried to rush out the burger and fries we were carrying for a fellow hiker.  We wanted to pass forward the kindness that Ben and Bridget had given to us.  We knew a fresh Five Guys burger and fries would be worth it weight in gold to a weary hiker.  Just as we made it to camp we were surprised to see Hero and Space Cadet.  Hero needed a burger, if anyone did, his friend had hiked on without him and he was desperately trying to catch back up.  The look on his face when Kevin gave him the burger was priceless, joy, happieness, elation all flowed on his face.  He shared it with everyone as he always has, what his is everyones.

Settling down we met a Ridge Runner named Andrew who was out here checking on the shelters. His wealth of knowledge and info for the trail and parks was enormous. We asked him questions and listened to his stories throughout the night.  He worked for the ATC and was happy to interface with us. We had been blessed in so many ways on this day and there was no better way to finish it. It was truly a great day on the trail for us.
d 4 miles to shelter talking and carrying in five guys for a fellow hiker
Met ridge runner Andrew who had a wealth of info and pride of r the area
Food for hero

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