Day 22: Accepting mistakes and chicken dinners
May 4th: Cosby Knob Shelter to Standing Bear Farm
On the last day in the Smokies, we wake up early at Cosby Knob shelter because we are mostly out of food. We need to get to Standing Bear Farm by lunchtime or else go hungry. It's day 6 since Fontana Dam and our last resupply and showers. Our packs --so heavy coming up from the dam-- are alarmingly light.
I'm proud of myself for packing up quickly and making it out of camp early, in the first group to leave. It's me, Root Ninja, Cyborg, and Etienne. It's 6:45am. I have a nagging feeling of forgetting something, but I ignore it. Stop being a crazy person, I think, knowing my compulsions to double-check things can verge on clinically diagnosable. But at the sign just under a mile into the day, I give in and open my pack. For once, I have forgotten something: my glasses case, with two pairs of contacts stored inside. Possibly someone will notice and carry them up the trail to me, but the contacts are too important to risk. So, I go back, passing every person who got ready to leave just a little slower and a little smarter than I did. Each time, they see me hiking south and ask what happened. Each time I explain it, I feel more and more foolish.
I'm angry at myself for the mistake, and I storm back up the mountain in a darker mood than I've experienced on the whole trail so far. I find the case sitting where I left it while packing up. Only a couple hikers linger at the shelter out of nearly twenty that spent the night. So much for getting out of camp early. I turn around and cover the same mile for a third time. Stupid, stupid, stupid.
It occurs to me, as I continue through the morning, that the way I am inwardly abusing myself for this mistake is not how I would treat one of my students who did something equally dumb. I would enforce consequences -- a zero for the forgotten assignment, probably, and the student would need to work hard to bring the average back up again-- but then I would encourage that student to learn from those consequences and move on. I would not think any worse of him or her, not forever attach that student's value to having made a flaky error. In this situation, my consequences were a couple extra miles, and I walked them. Now, I think, I need to let it go.
I'm still simmering as I finish retracing my steps and continue down the trail, but then I find a beautiful overlook, and I climb on top of a boulder. Looking out at the mountains expanding in three directions, I eat my last Poptarts and decide to enjoy the rest of my day.
And I do. It's grueling, but I finish nearly 12 miles of hiking around noon, and I find my friends at Standing Bear Farm. Standing Bear feels like a part of the thru-hiker universe. Usually when we step back into "normal" society for resupply, I feel out of place, removed. But Standing Bear is a part of the trail. I eat, soak my feet in a creek, and relax all afternoon with the people I've gotten to know in the Smokies, where hikers are forced to congregate in specific areas and thus we've coalesced into a ragtag sort of family. That night, a former thru-hiker who lives in his R.V. makes us a beautiful chicken dinner with salad on the side and beer chilled in the creek and ice cream sandwiches for dessert. Cyborg, Lane, Jane, Spillson, Etienne, and I sit in a circle in the dirt and eat one of the best meals on the trail so far, given to us by a stranger.
The AT is an alternate universe, and I like it here.