Thruhiker: Day 5

March 24 (7:05 – 15:15)
Riverside Park – Dawson County Line (18 mi)
Total C2C miles: 81.5
Weather: Cold, cloudy, drizzly

I wake to a rave of birdsong in the gray dawn: mockingbirds, finches, sparrows, and wrens. I close my eyes tighter and nestle deeper into my quilt, trying to squeeze out the spreading light to let the sun pour down a touch of warmth before I leave my tent.

When I finally scramble out of the tent and pack my things, a little blue sky dares to peek through the clouds. Maybe it will warm, I think, and prove the forecasts wrong!

I pass quite a few people as the trail wends through the town, some out for a brisk stroll, some on their way to their offices, some heading out to breakfast. Those are the ones I follow into a bustling café that serves apple fritters with bananas, tofu scrambles, cornbread, steaming coffee, and even pie. I want everything.

I eat until I’m full, buy a sandwich and piece of pie for lunch, and then, I follow the trail out of town.

I see everything as if for the last time, for who knows? It may be. Knowing the way that path leads to path, I may never find myself back here again. Once I reach the end of the trail, over a thousand miles further on, I don’t know where I’ll settle, or what I’ll do. But I don’t have plans to return.

And even if I do come back, years hence or a lifetime from now, it won’t be the same landscape I see. For how will this earth change thirty, forty years from now?

The seas will rise, rivers will flood, and this estuary may cover the dock that holds the summerhouse. That lighthouse on the distant cove may be partly under water. The park bench will have long floated off.

I walk knowing I don’t have the luxury of returning.

I walk with the luxury of departing, and so, everything looks new.

My grandfather, in his last days, had the wonder of a child. Once he held a rock before my eyes.

“Do you see the sparkle?” he asked.

I knew it was quartz. “Yes,” I replied. “It’s granite.”

“It’s magic,” he said, and he looked as if seeing that sparkle for the last time.

This is the land where I grew up. It’s where I roamed with my father and his father. It’s where I ran when I needed to get away, to get out.

I always thought of it as my land.

People still live here who will wake up tomorrow, and the next day, and take the same jog down the same path, but I am not one of those people anymore.

My path, each step, each mile, takes me away, carried with the knowledge I may not return.

Those who stay will see the changes come slowly–or fast. One year, the river’s path will be higher along the shore. One spring, the floods will carve away that bluff, carrying the horse chestnut downstream with it.

But the changes will happen without my witness. It is like this today, this last day that I see this sparkling landscape of home.

I stop early again, around 3:15 in the afternoon. I have hours still of daylight, and I feel strong enough to walk more. But fifty feet more, and I will have crossed the county line, and I want to spend one last night in the county of my home.

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Thruhiker: Day 2

March 21 (7:10 – 9:15 / 12:30 – 16:50)
County Parkside – Cripple Creek / Cripple Creek to Dawson County Park (18 mi)
Total C2C miles: 20.5
Weather: Frost in morning, warming during day, sunny, cold at night – no wind

I wake early and pack my tent. I just want to hit the trail. Surprisingly, I’m not sore. I’m not tired.

I slept so well last night–not a single worry, just a straight-through sleep. And, maybe it’s the bright morning sun, but I’m not worried when I pack camp, either.

I’m not sore. I can’t believe it. I hiked over 12 miles yesterday, and I’m not sore. I thought for sure I’d need to take it easy today, make it to Cripple Creek to buy the supplies it looks like I’ll need, since I’m too early in the season to count on the trail-angel barbecues, and then maybe not make it much farther.

But the way I feel, I’m thinking I can make a good day.

My plan is to get to Cripple Creek for breakfast, stock up, and be back on the trail by noon. I think I can put in a full afternoon.

It’s so beautiful.

It frosted last night, and the branches of the willows have been dipped in white. They’re lace.

I was so snug in my tent, I didn’t even notice.

But during the morning, it’s still cold. I can see my breath. The tip of my nose hurts, and the trail crunches under my feet.

But before I even put the first mile behind me, I’m warm inside. The contrast between the coldness in the tip of my nose and my earlobes and the warmth inside, in my lungs and the space around my heart, is delicious.

I feel like I could walk like this forever. Even my pack feels a bit less awkward, like I’m getting used to the length of stride I need to take with it, like I know how much to pitch my body forward to carry it.

I think how funny it is that when we experience something pleasant how we want it to last forever. Like I really want this morning, this trail, to last forever.

But no sooner do I think that, than I start thinking about breakfast, like, where will I have it? What will I order?

I want coffee. I want pancakes. Or maybe waffles.

And I start to feel in a hurry to get to Cripple Creek.

The trail sort of disappears, and all I’m thinking about is destination. Destination, and a pot of coffee. And syrup, to pour on the waffles.

Then I notice that all the time I’ve been thinking this, the landscape has changed. The trail must have gained elevation, for I’ve left the willows behind, and now I’m entering into pine meadows, dotted with maples.

I can’t figure out why the maples have autumn colored- leaves. Then I realize it’s new growth and catkins. I hope the frost didn’t snip the buds.

The trail continues along the river until it veers northwest along a tributary, Cripple Creek, and soon, I’m in the town named after the creek.

I feel almost shocked to see people. I hear them before I see them, and I realize that, even though it’s been only a day since I’ve spoken to anyone, I’ve sort of forgotten how to process spoken language. The voices sound like water, like wind, like birdsong, and it takes a shift in perspective for me to realize that they are speaking words that carry meaning, and that I might be expected to reply.

They seem excited to see me–the first thruhiker of the season! I guess it’s a big deal down here that the trail runs through the town. Everyone who hikes the trail brings in revenue, so hikers are welcome. And thruhikers are celebrities.

They want to take selfies with me–the first hiker of the season.

I meet a young scout. He asks me my trailname.

“I don’t have one yet,” I tell him. You can’t give yourself a trailname. It has to be given to you by other hikers, and I haven’t hiked enough to have earned one.

“Can I give you one?” he asks me.

I guess it’s OK. I mean, this kid isn’t another thruhiker, but he’s a scout. He tells me his scout project this year is hiking all of the trail that goes through Cripple Creek. It’s about five miles–but for a little kid, that’s a lot.

“Sure,” I tell him. “Give me my trailname.”

“Firsty,” he says, “since you’re the first.”

In town, I stop by Whole Foods. I get breakfast at the breakfast bar: tofu scramble, steel-cut oats with honey, berries, and walnuts, seven-grain toast, and coffee with refills. I eat while my phone recharges. Then I wander through the store, picking up things, and putting them back on the shelf. I can’t decide what to buy.

At last I settle on dry mixes of hummus, bean dip, falafel. Wraps. Nori packs. And I can’t resist strawberries. Everything is light and will fit in my pack. I also buy a lunch for the trail, with enough for supper: dolmas, couscous salad, more falafels.

As I’m checking out, I get this sudden inspiration to pick up a deck of cards and a pocket-size sketch pad, so I’ll have something to do at camp before bed. I love solitaire, and I get this pleasant vision of me sitting on my sleeping bag, with a spread of cards before me. Shuffle, shuffle, flip. But they don’t have any at the store, so I walk through town to find a place that might have these. Finally, I see a toy store, and they have tiny decks of cards, with pictures of mice on the back. The face cards are little mice, too. They’re adorable, especially the Jack of Clubs, my favorite card. They have a tiny sketchpad and this really cool black pen and a 3B pencil.

I feel pretty happy as I head back to the trail.

I’m still full from my huge breakfast, so I hike for a few hours before I stop for lunch. The trail follows the river west, and I get the feeling of how everything flows to the sea, though it will be a good week of walking before I finally get there.

It’s so peaceful, and I’m glad that I’m Firsty the first, for there’s no one else on the trail, and I hear the water and the birds. I track the shifts in light, and that’s how I measure my day.

I get in the zone and forget to take pictures. I just walk. The trail feels good, my legs feel good, I’m even starting to feel comfortable with my pack.

As I reach Dawson County Park, where I’ve planned to camp tonight, I smell something amazing. Pretzels, coffee, and vanilla cupcakes!

There’s a vendor booth set up there, and Eric, this nice guy who gives hiker-discounts, is working it.

I have leftovers for supper, so I think about skipping buying anything. But at last, I settle for a cupcake, for desert.

I ask him if he’ll be there in the morning, and he will. So I have breakfast covered for tomorrow. Cushy trail life! What’s even better is that there’s a restroom–with actual plumbing, hot water, and a shower.

After I finish my cupcake, I head to a quiet section of the park. Sunset pours this lavender color over the sky, and I feel blessed. I am free. Everywhere I turn, I am cared for. I thought life on the trail would be hardship, and I’m sure I will have plenty of tough times, but for right now, I am walking down Easy Street, and loving it.

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Thruhiker: Day 1

March 20 (10:15 –16:05)
Magnolia Park – County Parkside (12.5 mi)
Total C2C miles: 12.5
Weather: Cool, cold, and sunny

First day on the trail!

As I write the date at the top of this post, I also realize it’s the first day of spring. Unplanned, but auspicious nonetheless, to begin my trek–and, really, the trail to my new life–on the first of spring.

My selfie shows how I think I feel: excited, eager, energetic, bursting with life and enthusiasm at the prospect of everything new.

But the pic below, snapped by this guy who got off the bus at the park when I did, shows how I really feel: kinda scared, a little hesitant, a lot nervous.

I didn’t sleep well last night. I kept going over my supply list. I kept thinking about the weight of my pack, wondering what I could leave out, then I kept reviewing the supply list again, wondering what I had forgotten and what else I could bring along. Could I sneak in my bunny slippers? My pillow?

I left them behind, stuck at the top of the dumpster behind my apartment. I miss them now that I’m writing this.

I really shouldn’t worry–I see that now that I’m on the trail–and I wish I’d realized last night, tossing and turning for the last night in my bed, with my pillow, that the first few hundred miles of the trail are a cake-walk. Literally. I could get cake every day, if I wanted.

The first part of the trail goes through the suburban, urban, and rural Southeast. I won’t be getting to actual wilderness for several weeks.

This section of the trail is well-groomed and runs along roads and through towns and cities. If I want to, and I might, I can stop in Starbucks every day, to recharge my phone and caffeinate myself.

I knew this when I was planning my supplies. I haven’t packed much food–just snacks, really–because I know that I can stop off at towns along the way to pick up meals.

I’m glad I’m getting off to an easy start. Some thruhikers like to go the opposite way, starting in the northwest and ending up down here, so that by the time they’re trail-weary and hiker-starved, they find themselves on Easy Street, with sandwich shops, trail angels barbecuing feasts at every picnic ground, and Whole Foods Markets just a skip off the trail.

But I’m happy to be going the direction I’m going.

For one thing, I like an easy start. This will let me get used to my pack, to build up to doing 20 miles a day, and to not freak out too much about whether I have all I need. This is the safe start.

Plus, I’ve got to go this way. I’m walking away from my old life, towards my new one. And that only heads in this direction.

The trail is so beautiful, and though it’s cool in the sun and cold in the shade, everything sparkles with spring light.

I love the way the dirt trails feel beneath my shoes–cushy and springy. My legs feel really good.

The only thing that’s awkward is my pack. I can’t get my balance right. Maybe I should’ve bought a smaller one. I seem to pitch forward, and when I try jumping from rock to rock across the stream, I just about fall sideways.

Nothing hurts, really. It just feels really awkward, like, unbalanced.

Comments on Guthook rave about the barbecues trail angels put on at the grill sites all along this part of the trail, so I’m looking forward to a big veggie burger for supper.

But when I get to the place where I planned to camp for the night, it’s empty.

I’m the only one.

I check the app again. (That’s another good thing–I’ll have great reception all along this first segment of the trail.) It seems I’m early by a few weeks.

The official C2C season, even down here, doesn’t start until the end of March. And even then, the heaviest time is at the end of summer, when the Southeast-bounders come.

It looks like I have the picnic and tent site to myself.

I wasn’t planning on this, and I didn’t bring food for an actual supper.

I make the best of it with a Cliff bar, some raisins, dates, and almonds, and an apple. It’s a little sweet and I feel a little shaky, but it’s OK. It’s a lot of calories, which I need, since I walked for hours.

I set up the tent and check my GPS. Tomorrow, I’ll tuck into Cripple Creek for breakfast, Starbucks, and to pick up some actual food for times when it’s not convenient–or possible–to stop by town.

My mind feels like it’s still worrying–like it’s reviewing detail after detail. Did I even notice the trail today? I flip through the pictures I took on my phone. I really need to learn how to use this phone as a camera. The light looks weird in all of them.

But then I notice that, even with the weird light, all the pics are beautiful. They’re glowing. They’re like all lit up.

When I close my eyes at last, snug inside my tent, the trail flashes by, scene after scene of light on the water, through the branches, over the rocks.

This was a good first day.

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