Read the latest trail update from AT hiker Joe “Psych” O’Donnell:
I am writing this email from Waynesboro, VA, mile 861.7 on the AT, where I am staying at a nice little hostel a former AT thru-hiker created attached to his home.
I’ve already done a load of laundry, enjoyed a nice hot shower (my first in 6 days), and eaten a full sub and bagel with cream cheese complemented by a strawberry/mango smoothie. This morning I hiked a fast 5 miles in the pouring rain to the gap where I was picked up by the hostel owner, and these treats (things I used to take for granted in non-AT life) were just what I needed to lift my spirits.
The theme of this past week has been rain. And just when you think it can’t rain any more or any harder, the Appalachian Trail surprises you with just that. I was foolish enough to go night hiking (ie hiking with your headlamp in the pitch dark of night) uphill not once but twice–the first time on Sunday, the second time on Monday–and was caught in torrential downpours and thunder storms BOTH nights. I quote from my journal entry I wrote late Sunday night: “That’s the last time I’ll night hike for a while, or at least on hilly terrain.”
Well, Monday night rolled around, it was about 8:15pm, and the elevation profile in the guidebook for the 2.8 miles ahead didn’t seem *that* hilly. About 20 minutes into the climb, the rain started. 10 minutes after that it picked up. Soon it was raining so hard I could barely see well enough to find the trail in front of me or see the white blazes (the symbol of the AT) on the trees. At this point a few different scenarios were running through my head: I may get struck by lightning, I may get hypothermia, I may get lost and not be able to find my way back, my headlamp may break and I will be stranded in the dark. Feeling pretty powerless over the situation, I began reciting various prayers and poems I have memorized over the years: the Lord’s prayer, the Serenity prayer, the St. Michael prayer, Invictus by William Henley, Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening by Robert Frost, and My Creed of the Outdoors by Randolph Carl Stroll. This simple act of turning my thoughts from fear to spiritual and inspiring words worked to calm me down in the precarious situation I found myself in. I plodded forward through deepening puddles, one foot in front of the other, until, relieved, I came to a sign post. “Yes! I made it to the shelter!” I thought to myself. I rubbed the fog from my glasses only to see: “<– Harper’s Creek Shelter: .8” And so I trudged for another .8 miles, and chose to laugh rather than cry at the situation. I arrived at the shelter to see it full of soundly sleeping hikers, and, once again, laughed while pitching my tent in the unrelenting rain. From my journal entry that night (in caps handwriting): “NO MORE NIGHT HIKING ALONE AND IN QUESTIONABLE WEATHER!!!”
These are some of the challenging and deeply rewarding experiences I’m having out here. I’m beginning to appreciate the common Appalachian Trail saying, “No pain, no rain, no Maine.” I joke around that I’m doing a good job of soaking in this entire experience. :-p
If you know of any good prayers or poems you think could provide me some comfort or encouragement on the trail, please reply to this email with those suggestions. I also appreciate YOUR words of encouragement, as many of you have been kindly sending my way. I doubt I would have made it this far without your support!
Lastly, an update on my fundraising for Hike for Mental Health: We’ve currently raised over $7,100 toward the new $4/mi goal of $8,756, which is amazing! Thank you so much to all those who have donated and written kind words! If you haven’t had the chance to contribute yet, please consider leaving a donation of any amount and a message I can return to on the trail for a morale boost.
Onward and upward (and downward and sideward),
A few pictures to share:
Joe “Psych” O’Donnell
Thru-Hiking, Fundraising, and Advocating for Mental Health
“It is not the mountain we conquer but ourselves.” -Sir Edmund Hillary