Today is our 25th day on the trail. Other than the first 2 days when we were like rabbits caught in the headlights (“what are we doing here!”) we really had only good days. Not that they were easy, every day (other than the two 0 days) was tough (some days were easier than you expected and other days were harder than you expected but none were easy).
So after all these good days we were probably due a bad day. Arrive 29 April. To start off with I had a bad night. My mom isn’t great at the moment, so I was worrying about her and not sleeping well. Then Trevor woke up with an unquenchable thirst, a thick head, slight nausea and a general feeling of not being well.
Walking was not easy. We stopped every 2km (sometimes every 1km) for him to have a rest, at times he even fell asleep for a few seconds. For the first time in 25 days I thought this is craziness, why are we doing this! But then I realised that nobody said this will be a walk in the park, that you can’t get despondent on your first “bad” day.
So km by km we crawled forward. Trevor refused to eat – even though I said he can take ANYTHING from the pantry. He just didn’t feel like anything.
Then at around 10km, which took us hours to do as we stopped so often; a hand-made sign “Mom&Pop store 100yards”. Trevor’s eyes lit up – “A coolie!”. I thought he was going to be so disappointed if it was somebody selling old protein bars from a car’s boot. Ye of little faith….what we got was a kind of magic. A real little shop in a building, with a fridge and ice cold cooldrinks, a selection of sweets and chips and apparently some sarmies (which we didn’t investigate).
The shopkeeper had such a strong Southern accent that it was hard figuring out what he said, but when he said “you must be close to your one-month anniversary on the trail: congratulations ” my chest grew back to 36.
We had cooldrinks and chips and Trevor was starting to look a bit less like death warmed up. He said he was up for another Coke, so I went back into the shop to buy one. While I was in the shop the shopkeeper’s mate walked out. Trevor asked him his standard question: “are we in North Carolina or Tennesee?” The man said that they were in North Carolina but his car (parked 30m away) was in Tennesee.
He explained how the Appalachian Trail was created by stitching existing (some very old) nature trails and functional paths together. These paths existed long before state borders existed, so for this section of the trail we are snaking in and out of NC and Tennesee. He also explained how later on all states wanted their own National Park, so that they could get funding and draw tourists to the area. He was clearly very knowledgeable.
The more he talked the more questions Trevor had. Now and again he called the shopkeeper out to help with answers (the shopkeeper must be 70 and has lived here all his life, so he knows when the road was tarred, when the town’s border changed, and a few other things about life in this parts).
He also taught us the correct pronunciation of “Appalachian” – it is (sorry I don’t remember phonetics) Apple – lat (as in cat) –ch (as in choke) – ian. He says this is how the locals pronounce it and the locals’ pronunciation trumps other versions.
We must have spent 45 mins there. Ria would have tried to get going, but Jozi understood that finding the store and chatting to the two old men was very much a kind of magic. And what Trevor needed today was a bit of magic.
I was thinking how unfortunate it is that we are less likely to notice the little special things in life when things are going well with us. How we almost need a real bad day (whatever our version of a real bad day is) to remind us how to find joy in some of the little things in life. Like an ice cold Coke when you are man down, and a little bit of interaction with 2 old men who really have so much to tell.