52 miles in… Still. – Kinnelon, NJ

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Life is unpredictable, and that’s ok.

For example, I didn’t expect to wake up one day with my body covered entirely in an itchy rash! In my last post, I mentioned a day where I decided to keep hiking and keep hiking and ended up going 16 miles. Well, along that day’s journey, there was a 3 or 4 mile section of fairly flat terrain that went along the bank of the Housatonic River, a huge, long river that flows south through Connecticut and Massachusetts. As the sun started to set and dusk began, we had been hiking along this section for close to an hour. The path was flat soil, surrounded by bright green, thick underbrush. I guess the river made this section really habitable to smaller plants. Anyway, after we had been hiking under these conditions for quite some time, I took a closer look at the underbrush and realized it was pretty much entirely poison ivy! I turned to Thomas and said, mostly joking and not really concerned, “There’s no way we’re going to make it out of here without getting poison ivy.”

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Thomas and I, blissfully unaware of the poison ivy lurking beneath our skin.

Unfortunately, I was right.

Over the course of the next couple days, poison ivy cropped up literally from head to toe, all over my body. Between my fingers and toes, on my face, arms, legs, stomach and back. After making a quick google search, I realized that the fact that it was on my face meant I needed to see a doctor.

Salisbury, Connecticut is a strange place. It’s a tiny town, I can walk from one side of main street to the other in less than 10 minutes. It’s also a really surreal juxtaposition of different lifestyles. On one side of the town is a access point from the Appalachian Trail, and on the other side is Hotchkiss School, a boarding school that costs over 50,000 dollars a year with a huge golf course and a separate building for agricultural studies. While staying in town I saw a $3.5 million dollar car. It’s about 50% wildly wealthy families and 50% flat-broke, stinky hikers.

Salisbury had 4 options in terms of medical care. Salisbury Primary Care, Noble Horizons Health Care Facility, Sharon Hospital, and a house call doctor. Salisbury Primary Care was closed until Monday, so Thomas and I walked about a mile to Noble Horizons, which looked like a good option on google. Unfortunately, when we got there we realized it was in a retirement facility. Slightly desperate, we went in anyway but were told we couldn’t be helped. I wanted to avoid going to the hospital as much as possible, because of how expensive it can get, so after a lot of deliberation between waiting for the Primary Care to open and calling the house call doctor, I finally gave Dr. Ochram a ring. When we talked over the phone, he sounded like he had just woken from a nap. I told him what was wrong and we made an appointment for 2:30 that day. He said he would bring the medicine I needed along with him.

By this point, Thomas had left to go back home, so I was alone. I called up Maria McCabe, an 88 year old Italian woman whose name is in AWOL’s Appalachian Trail Guide as a hiker-friendly home. For $35, she will let you stay with her. I called the number next to her name in the book and she said she had room for me to stay with her that night.

When I showed up at her house around noon, I was a mess. I had just been turned away by the nursing home, and then Thomas had left for Atlanta, I was itchy, lonely, and a little scared. I walked up and she was reclining on her porch, queen of her household.

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Maria, telling me about her life.

She saw that I was distraught, and concerned, asked if I had been attacked or if I was hurt. I told her my situation and she let me leave my pack on her porch while I went into town to figure out what to do. I walked down the main street, embarrassed by the tears I couldn’t stop, and to the bakery, where Thomas and I earlier that morning had encountered another thruhiker, “Highlife”, a 43 year old photographer from Boston. He was still sitting there when I arrived and, seeing that I was upset, offered me a *sealed* cupcake that the baker had just given him. We sat and talked for an hour or so, and I finally stopped crying. We went our separate ways and I made my way to the grocery store to get cash to pay Maria, and to the library so I could do some research.

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Highlife took this photo of me while we were sitting outside the bakery, my hair conveniently hiding the poison ivy. More of his photos can be found at https://craigwilliamjohnston.com/

Maria called me around 3 to warn me that she would tolerate no nonsense, under the false impression that I was getting into trouble around town. When I returned soon after, she apologized for not trusting me, telling me about a bad experience she had had last year with a couple hikers returning to her home late and intoxicated. She’s been opening her home to hikers for over 20 years, but since then she has a list of rules posted in all the rooms in her home detailing what would not be allowed from her visitors. I told her about my decision to see the doctor that makes house calls and asked if it was alright for him to see me at her house. She said that was fine and joked that maybe he could take a look at her, too. She then told me that I didn’t have to worry about paying her, and that I could stay as long as I needed to. Angels exist.

The next day, she waited with me for the doctor to arrive. The appointment was for 2:30, so I was annoyed when he showed up at 3:20. In about his 60s, his labored breath and straggled appearance explained why he had plans to retire soon. He suggested we do the appointment at the picnic table in Maria’s backyard, so we sat out there and I showed him the poison ivy. He gave me medicine, and then I showed him a how along my shorts waistband the rash was the worst. Apparently, even though I did have bad poison ivy, along with that I also had a fungal infection from my clothes being against my skin constantly and sweating etc. He prescribed me a couple more medications, told me I reminded him of his daughters, and gave me a $25 pity discount.

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My socks hanging on Maria’s clothesline after I did my laundry in her shower with special poison ivy soap. All she asked in return for me staying with her was for assistance with her household chores.

I decided to allow my body to heal without irritating it further, so rather than take advantage of Maria more, I called up my lovely aunt, who lives in Kinnelon, NJ, and asked if I could stay with her and her family for a few days while I healed. She made me feel incredibly welcome, telling me I could stay as long as I needed. The next morning Maria drove me to Wassaic train station.

I took the train from Wassaic to Grand Central Station, walked from Grand Central to Port Authority, got a slice of New York pizza, and took the bus from New York City to a mall about 20 minutes from my aunt’s house. I’ll be staying here for a couple days, until my body starts to heal itself, then it’ll be back to the trail.

This post is my longest yet, and I dedicate it to all the angels in my life,  my aunt Ingrid for leaving me little treasures to find in the room she made for me, my uncle and cousins for letting me stay with them and making me feel so welcome, my cousin Chris for buying me a haircut, the doctor for giving me a discount and taking the time to make sure I received proper care, the hikers who helped cheer me up, Thomas for all the companionship and help, and especially Maria, for taking in a strange, sick girl and treating her like family. Thank you.

– Shiver

52 miles in – Salisbury, CT

It’s only been a day since my last post.

Since I’ve been out here, which admittedly has not a long time, I’ve seen 4 people call it. 3 of them had been hiking for over a month, one of them started in Georgia 3 months ago. For all of them, the combination of every little discomfort and pain and exhaustion added up to make getting to the end not worthwhile anymore.

I had a rough day yesterday. I went to a café in the morning for breakfast and there were about 10 other thruhikers there. Even though I had already met and talked to all of them at that point, I didn’t fit in. On the AT, people will form a ‘trail family’ (or tramily, if you’re one of the cool kids), which is just a group of hikers who like each other. They hike together, plan to meet up every night, and keep tabs on each other. I met a tramily two days ago, and they were all lovely people. An older couple, Engine and Caboose, were especially nice, and taught me how to replace the tips on my trekking poles once they wear down. They were all eating at the café when I arrived, along with a couple other groups. Individually they were all so friendly, but I was the only one there without a family. It’s completely unrealistic to find a group this soon, since I don’t have my trail legs yet and can’t keep up with anybody, but that doesn’t mean I wish it could be.

When I started hiking, I almost immediately started going up what would turn out to be over a mile of non-stop steep incline. My feet hurt. My legs were sore. I started feeling a depression that I couldn’t shake. Thomas and I stopped in the middle and sat there for about half an hour and he could tell I was struggling.

So far, I’ve been holding myself to a relatively high standard of maintaining a positive attitude. If I trip, at least I’m tripping forward. The burn and exhaustion of going up a mountain is just what it feels like to get stronger. If my feet hurt, at least my back doesn’t hurt. If my back hurts, at least my legs don’t. I’ve been verbalizing this mentality to Thomas, and I think saying it aloud is the most helpful part. Yesterday, however, I just couldn’t bring myself to do it.

Eventually, we got up, even though I wasn’t feeling much better. We started walking and the miles started to melt away. We met two sisters and both of them were very nice, and after we talked to them, I felt a little peppier in my step. I had decided it would be a short day already, so it wasn’t too physically grueling. I started rambling to Thomas, and I think I talked for about 2 hours straight, and by the end we were in town and I felt better.

I met a nice woman in town who gave me some advice. You don’t have to be a hero if you don’t like it. I’m not going to quit, but I still thought it was a good overall thought.

Last night before I went to bed, I was reading the news and saw that another black life had been lost to the incompetence and corruption of the justice system. I cried hard. I’m going to try to find a way to keep fighting and supporting the people of color in my life from out here, because I have a responsibility, and this isn’t one I can just walk away from.

I know this hasn’t been a very uplifting post, I’m not feeling very uplifted at the moment, but I think that’s ok.

– Shiver

46 miles in – Falls Village, CT

IMG_20170619_114044I’ve been blowing snot rockets for 4 days now. Thank God they’re getting fewer and father between. In a perfect world I would not have started the trail still recovering from a cold, but the world is in no way perfect. I hiked my highest mileage day yet yesterday, 16 miles. More than twice my original goal amount! I was planning on staying at a shelter 8 miles back, but I got there at lunch time, and decided to push on. My hiking partner Thomas is much faster than me so I told him he could go ahead and meet me at the next campsite, but he got confused and pitched his tent there. The mosquitoes were swarming so I set my tent up as well, in hopes of being able to eat dinner without simultaneously getting eaten myself. After we had settled in for the night, I still felt restless, so I convinced him we could go 6 more miles to town. We repacked all our gear and set out again for the third time that day. By the end my feet were killing me and I wished he had convinced me otherwise! One of the hardest things about being out here is meeting all these amazing people. They’re all so much faster than me, and I know I’m not fast enough to keep up with them or hike with them. I’m so slow compared to the rest of the people out here, I’m going about half as fast. Thomas goes home tomorrow, and after that I’ll be alone. Part of me is terrified, but for the most part, I can’t wait to truly start my journey.

The Night Before – 0 miles in

Saying Goodbye

I’m not sure how she’s going to survive without me

Well, after a year of preparation, I’ve arrived. It’s the night before I set out for the trail and it still doesn’t feel real. I said goodbye to my mom and sister this morning and my dad and I drove up from Chapel Hill to New Jersey. I’m spending the night at my grandparent’s house before driving tomorrow morning to Pawling, New York, where I’ll be starting my hike.

Some logistical information to satiate those burning questions you might have:

  • I’ll be doing a flip flop hike, which means I’ll be starting in NY, walking to Maine, driving back to NY, and walking to Georgia.
  • Yes, I’m going alone, although my lovely friend Thomas will be joining me for the first week, and I’m most definitely going to meet people out there.
  • I’m estimating to be done in about 5 months, but really, who knows?
  • I have spent a lot of time educating myself on how to protect myself from bears.

This blog will be my window to the world. I’ll be updating all y’all on my journey whenever I can. When I don’t have access to a computer or WiFi, I’ll be writing in my journal so I can remember everything. Also on this site, I’ll be periodically posting informational articles. I have started a gear list, and I’ll also be writing about why I decided to do a flip flop hike, sleeping in a tent vs in a hammock, and other decisions I made I hope some of you out there will find interesting.

Until next time, here are some songs.