05 October 2005

Finishing Up at Fontana Dam

Sleeping along the AT is a funny thing, especially in October. Even after a grueling day of hiking, my body really doesn't need or want much more than eight hours of sleep. Yet because the sunlight sort of dictates when I get into bed and when I get out, I end up horizontal for 11 or 12 hours straight anyway, lying there in my sleeping bag. Since I can't physically sleep all that time, I end up sleeping a few hours, lying awake a few hours, sleeping a few hours more, lying awake for a while again... and repeating that pattern till it's light enough outside to get up and move around without worrying about bats and wild boars and bears and the like. All those waking-but-still-lying-down hours afford an awful lot of time to think. And the thinking I did throughout last night made me wake this morning with such a mixed swirl of emotions that my stomach was turning backflips by breakfast time. I couldn't eat.

I was still getting my brain around the fact that I was actually leaving the trail. Going home early. Not finishing what I had planned. Not reaching the goal I'd set for myself when I had begun planning this trip months ago. It was such a sinking sensation that I stifled tears all morning.

Yet I was also really concerned for Monika, who I believe probably felt worse about all of this than I did. She was embarrassed, sad, disappointed in herself, concerned about the disappointment that would meet her when she got home to her family and friends. And she was still in a good deal of physical pain from her knee problem. I wish I had words to comfort her and let her know that it would be okay, that there were worse things than bowing out.

And then there was Cindy. Here the poor girl hadn't been backpacking in two years, and she had been wildly excited about sharing the AT with me. Yet she was the (wise) one yesterday who suggested that we should really all stick together; if one leaves, we all leave. I knew this was difficult for her. Difficult for all of us.

We did a pretty good job keeping our chins up and encouraging one another as we hiked to Fontana Dam and arranged for our shuttle.

When we got to the parking lot at Clingman's Dome, we made the best of it by hiking the half-mile walkway together up to the top of the observation tower. As you can see by the picture here, the view was sweet. But I couldn't quit thinking about how much sweeter it would be next time, when I reach it on foot, with poles in hand and a backpack on my back.

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