I had gone through my 7th night without sleep. The air outside my quilt was cold somewhere close to freezing. I knew the sun was coming but it had not risen yet giving the environment a muted blue tint. The birds had not woken up yet and I had not sleep yet. I hoped at the NOC I could find sleep.
My body ached like growing pains. My sight only registered life in still images as if I was constantly blinking. My mind made sights and sounds in my peripherals that weren’t scary but annoying. I felt I couldn’t hear ever syllable in conversations, and I only responded with frustration. This is the best I can describe how I felt since day 4. All these symptoms starting in a low degree but now were sever, yet I was wide awake and had energy to hike.
Geronimo woke as I was slipping into my hiking clothes.
“You’re getting an early start.” He said.
“There’s no point in staying laid down when I can’t sleep, and it’s too cold to stay still.” I said shivering.
“Guess I’ll see you at the NOC.”
I pushed hard and let my body warm up with my heart rate. I had not eaten breakfast and only planed on stopping to make it once I saw good high sun.
Less than an hour in on the day I reached a side trail to Rocky Bald and my Awol said views. I was in the golden hour of the morning, and knew I would regret not seeing the sunrise like me and my friend Taylor would have when we would camp on Wesser Bald. So I took the tenth mile extra and wasn’t disappointed. (The picture I have posted is not what I first saw.) The view mesmerized me and I stood staring in it. Then without dropping my pack I collapsed down to sit to enjoy.
Misty clouds were swirling in gold light. There whiteness was not diluted by this light but stood out more pure. Only the mountains and their foliage was cast gold. The clouds were moving out of the valleys by the wind almost as if they were being rushed down a path like livestock by a herdsman.
Time past, how much I don’t know, more than 10 minutes but less than an hour. Then Geronimo showed up.
“You missed it.” I said.
“Doesn’t look like it.” He replied and dropped his pack to sit.
He pulled out his phone to snap a pic, and this brought the idea to me. (Hence the picture you see.)
We ate breakfast and then made short work to Wesser Bald. Along the way we passed through Tellico Gap, a starting point for the 2 times me and my friends visited this area. In the Gap there was a Styrofoam cooler. With enthusiasm I walked to it hoping to find a soda or Gatorade in it. There was only trash. But Geronimo and I took the opportunity to unload our trash in it, so the trail angle who left it could take it away.
Leaving Tellico Gap I could picture Taylors FJ cruiser parked. This felt cereal, and some of the feelings I tried to summon up the day before were present.
The trail up to Wesser Bald felt long on my previous hikes up, but that day it was easy and took at most twenty minutes. At the top on the observation tower Geronimo and I ate breakfast. The sun was high and the winds were still. The temperature had warmed up to a comforting level, and I felt that I could lay out on the tower and sleep.
“The next 6 miles are a bitch Joe. Be careful with you knee I blew out my knee on my last thru-hike here.” Geronimo warned.
“We’ll see how this goes; I don’t think I’m operating on a full brain.” I said while taking Aleve.
“Have you really not slept at all since starting?”
“I think I got a nap in at Standing Indian.”
“Don’t know, I’ve had these insomnia spell ever since my junior year in high school. My senior year right at the end I didn’t sleep for 2 weeks.”
“What’s that like?”
“Unsurety. You just feel unsure about everything.”
“Do you feel that way now?”
“No I’m very sure just hurting and a little slow.”
We started the 6 mile descent. The first mile brought us past Wesser Bald Shelter, the only place to get water before the NOC. I needed to resupply but didn’t I knew I could get a Coke at the NOC and I didn’t want to waste any more time getting there.
I didn’t dread the next part of the descent, which was the kicker, I looked forward to it. And it would become one of the best times hiking I had on the trail. There was rock scrambles but not too jagged to slow you down. I felt as If I flowed down them despite my knee pain, which felt like my tibia and fibula were driving my knee cap out of my skin. Having the sound track of James Cameron’s Avatar playing in my mind helped with this; the musical piece where the characters are climbing the floating mountains. I would download this later and it always helped my pace when played. (Except for my last two days.)
Geronimo and I Joked back and forth with each other much like me and my old track and field friends would do as we ran the mile or two mile races. It lightened the load of a sucky situation and made it fun. Before Noon Geronimo and I were standing by the NOC’s welcome sign drinking sodas and eating chips.
“That’s how you do a Nearo.” Geronimo said and we high-fived our accomplishment.