Day 9: Zero Day

I was sad to see Geronimo go. We spent the early morning trying bounce half his resupply from the NOC to Hot Springs NC. I followed him while eating junk food for breakfast, a Honey Bun and chocolate muffin. Once he shipped his package from the NOC’s office it was back to the trail, and 27 miles to Fontana Dam the gateway into the Smokey’s.

I said my good bye believing I would catch up to him when he would zero at Hot Springs. He said his farewell to me, “so long Joedirt.” And I would not see him again; the closes I would come to catching him is a day’s separation at Davenport Gap. Geronimo would finish the trail, not a yoyo of the trail, and not as quick as he anticipated, but I believe the trail changed for him and he was satisfied at the top of Katahdin. It was an over cast day and I watched him wide up the switch backs out of the NOC.

I headed for the Outfitter after this; it was relatively empty except for a father and daughter who I meet at Top of Georgia. I greeted them but they didn’t recognize me. I printed my park pass then shopped for the supply’s I needed.

I bought another tube of electrolytes, this time Camelbak branded. I bought a Mountain Hardware fleece, and reflective emergency bivy, as well as a heavier rope and carabiner for a bear hang system.

This new rope and carabiner was not bought because I felt normal Para cord could not hold my food bag, but only to make throwing the system over a limb easier. I would spend the remainder of my hike adjusting rope weight and carabiner sizes to prefect this system.(Since I would lose rope and carabiners too often.) There is a lot more to a bear hang than you would think; trees provide plenty of variables to make it a frustrating experience.

Once these were purchased I checked out the hiker box for free food. This is an important strategy that I wished I took advantage of more. Many hostels and some other business along the trail keep hiker boxes, were hikers can unload leftover food or gear that they don’t want to carry. Instead of it going into the trash, and wasted, it can be pasted on and appreciated by another.

The hiker box is the best place to buy your cliff bars!

In the NOC’s hiker box I found some generic granola bars and a few cliffs. There was also an emergency blanket, and I kicked myself for not looking earlier. I also pulled out a trucker cap that would define me throughout my time on the trail. It was orange with a gray front that had a black silhouette of an eagle in flight. It read “fly” in the eagle. Hikers came to know me by this hat, it would mark my spot in shelters, and hikers would call me from behind at a distance because they would recognize me for this hat.

It was now time to check into my room. I got to check in at 10 because it was not occupied the night before.

First thing I did in my room was take a bath. Then I took a dive onto the king size bed and buried my head into the pillows. I felt comfort instantly and the force that had been keeping me wake for the past week melted and I found restful sleep. I know I slept because I dreamed.

I dreamed a reoccurring dream; a dream that has been a part of my life since my early teenage years. Its theme is always the same, but the location changes and my reaction changes.

It is always about some evil; whether the man calls it a killer a beast, or spirit. This time it was a beast. The man this time looked like an old track coach I once had, and the location looked like the campus at Top of Georgia with some elements of the NOC.

The man said, “There’s a beast out there.” In an easy voice.

Drums start in an erratic beat sometimes fast sometimes slow. (There are always drums in the dream.)

“You better be ready” the man says.

At this point I always had two responses, I either armed myself and stood my ground in brave fear, or I would frantically hide and feel intense fear till I woke as the evil approached. But this time I asked the man.

“Where is it?”

“Just over the hill.” He said.

I then jumped into a pool that had made its self-available and came out covered in mud.

“I want to see it.” I said to the man and felt excited.

“Go right ahead.” He replied with a shrug.

I climbed the hill like I was stalking deer through the gullies back in MS. I could hear the beast cracking limbs, and grunting, sometimes sounding like a boar other times sounding like a weightlifter forcing up their bench max. I never saw the beast. I never do, but this was the only time I ever went looking for it, not to kill it, but just to view it out of curiosity. This also was the last time I had this dream. So far in my life that is.

I awoke feeling anxious. After the daze of sleep eased away I checked the time; it was almost 4. I left my room wanting to enjoy the Nantahala River with some of the snacks I bought earlier. As I walked to the river bank I tried to figure out what I was so anxious about. I had gotten sleep and felt I could still sleep.

There was no pleasant sun to make me feel at ease on the river’s banks. I still sat at its bank in a comfortable lawn chair listening to the flow speak its chatter as the water rushed around the bend between its obstacles.

In the time I spent out there I watched hikers gather above me by the outfitter drinking cans of beer and laughing. I stayed down by the riverside alone, and decided to text a few friends and see how the end of semester played out. They were all confused, they knew I was hiking but didn’t know why. I had dropped out of school suddenly and left without telling many. At the end of conversations I was given warnings about bears and told to be careful.

I left the river side still uneasy and bought 2 beers before the shop closed along with hot dogs and buns. At my room I called my parents and grandmother. At the end of each conversation both said.

“I’m afraid if I were you I would get to such a pretty place where there is good food and a comfortable bed and not leave.”

I then realized this is what I was anxious about, not leaving the NOC. That my knee would stay swelled tomorrow and I would tell myself let’s stay one more day. You need more sleep. Some more good food will do you good. The Predators play in the Stanley Cup play offs tomorrow you wouldn’t want to miss that. I was worried all of this would keep me there and I would abandon the trail for comfort.

So I wanted to start the trail at the moment while there was still a little light left. Hike may be 5 miles or to the top of Swim Bald and cowboy it besides the trail. Then I would have most of the climbing out of the way for tomorrows. (Except for Jacob’s Ladder.)

But I didn’t leave I stayed not wanting to waste the room my parents gifted me to get rest for my knee. I prayed for my knee, and for my own resolve to get up and go in the morning.

Then the thought accord to me that it was good that I was worrying and recognized may own weakness and want for comfort. It meant I could fight it; it wouldn’t sneak up on me in the morning and hold me at this place for an easy transaction of money for another night’s stay.

I drank my two tall boys ate my hot dogs, and watched some NHL. I fell asleep with the TV still playing, and woke around 2 to turn it off. Tomorrow I would leave rested and healed.

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