I gritted my teeth and winced with every step. The wincing gave way to swearing. The swearing gave way to moaning. I shambled down the mountain just making these horrible sounds, lightheaded from the pain and the labored breathing it brought on. One of my curled toes had started clicking with every fifth step or so, and the bruises on my heels were like tiny hammers. I cried. I had actual tears coming out of my eyes with every step, and yet I took more. I had to. Stopping on the side of the mountain does me no good. If there's to be any relief it's up ahead and it's not coming to you. So go.
I finally reached Thornton Gap, where I would make the transition from downhill back to uphill for another hour or so, had I been so foolish as to continue walking. On my way down, I had talked myself into making that day a "Near-o" or "near zero" - a day with very few miles, usually a resupply day. I knew that the only thing I could do would be to sit for a while. Maybe I could get to Luray today, back on the trail tomorrow, everything should be fine, right?
I stuck out my thumb and after fifteen minutes was picked up by a guy named Chuck who was taking his granddaughters to "grampy camp." He introduced me to the little girls and said, "We're going to help him find a place to get some food and get himself cleaned up," with just enough pity in his voice to make me temporarily forget that we'd already talked about the hiking part, and that he assumed I was a homeless person. Well, I kinda am.
Chuck dropped me off at the Budget Inn in lovely Luray, VA where I did all the things he had predicted, and slept. Hard. I napped from 4:00-7:00 and then slept again from 9:00-7:00. When I awoke on Wednesday I took too many minutes to hobble to the bathroom, holding every piece of furniture along the way for support. My feet were huge and I could not get my shoes back on. They were slightly better than the previous day, but certainly not ready for another thousand miles or so.
Okay, sure we know the human body is capable of some amazing things. Some mother in Wyoming lifted a car off of a baby, that sort of thing. Yes, I could dig deep and suck it up and so on. If a Nazi had a rifle to my back or if I were in a Stephen King novel, sure, I could keep going. But I'm a smart guy who wants to keep walking after this hike, so I decided to sit for however long I needed to. However, I'm also a smart guy who realizes that Maine doesn't get any closer while I'm sitting. I had (and have) absolutely no problem with getting those lost miles back via the passenger seat of a car. Harper's Ferry was only 80 miles north, there are plenty of shuttles available, and I was in the process of working out the details when Katie called.
Katie spent the first part of this week in Ohio visiting her parents and taking possession of the black Corvette that's been in her dad's garage for the last 13 years. She was planning to spend that day driving from Ohio to our home in North Carolina. "I'm going to be a few hours away from you today. Let me be your shuttle!" How could I possibly say no?