This Zen of hiking is a welcome counterpoint to my “normal” life, where I’m juggling hundreds of ideas and things to do all at once, and must constantly sort through a million micro-decisions to stay on task. At times I experience the same sort of “flow” that I have when writing is effortless, hours slipping by without notice.
Today, however, my Zen mind shuts down.
It started out as a beautiful morning, sunlit and cool, the trail scrambling over hoppable boulders on the ridgetop of Peters Mountain. Our plan was to get to Rausch Gap, 18 miles away, since the intermediate shelter had been torn down. Yellow Springs, an old mining town, could be a place to stop short if we needed it, but it had no spring nearby and we were in an area where mine drainage spoiled water sources. A southbounder told us the trail wasn’t bad, and in fact followed an old stagecoach road for some distance.
We’ve experienced the Pennsylvania rocks. Yet today they felt more insidious underfoot, especially in the old stagecoach road, which was studded with rocks just small enough you couldn’t step from one to the next. We had to step on them. We stopped frequently for water, both fearful of dehydrating in the rising heat and in not finding uncontaminated sources. Ironically, it’s rained so much these past two weeks that water is gushing down sections of the trail.
Afternoon showers come, and with them, the threat of thunderstorms. We quicken our pace. I’m hurting. My left foot feels as bad as when I fractured it a couple of years ago. Popping four Vitamin I at a time, I can’t shake the pain. My legs ache. All I can do is try not to fall as I turn my ankles several times on the rough terrain. I feel like a walking zombie.
It’s spitting rain as we enter Rausch Gap and see the encampment of our sheltermates from the night before. We decide to go to the shelter, 0.3 mile off the trail, for good water. It’s a blessing it’s even standing, as a sign warns that the shelter will be shut down for repair of the roof, which leaks as we’re sleeping. A crowd is on hand, but there’s room.
The pains in my foot and legs keep me awake again, making for a long night. No matter how much ibruprofen I take, these bone-deep aches won’t subside.