Wednesday, May 31st, 2017 Day 17. It's the last day of May, and now, the last full day of our trip. I am happy and sad about that. I will explain: Today was beautiful, warm, and sunny. I have waited so long for a day like this! We got up early and hiked by ourselves, and I kept feeling like I was last and everyone else was faster and better. By lunchtime I was feeling so bad, I wanted to talk about it with everyone. I am such an outsider with the three of them since the boys arrived. Now I’m sorry I spoke up because Brent suggested that we could all be done tomorrow. Everyone eventually agreed to this plan, probably as a result of my other little breakdown yesterday. Now I'm sad and it is anti-climactic because we are deciding to cut the trip short and go—by shuttle-- to Duluth for a few days. Was I wrong to voice my opinion, God? Help me to fully reconcile everything.
Sunshine and Self-LoathingWe awoke to sunshine today and hiked alone until lunchtime. While I tried desperately to keep up, I kept rehashing how incredibly inept I was. It was super hard for me to have the rest of my crew hiking fast and furiously, leaving me in the
The truth of the matter wasn’t that I didn’t fit in with the rest of them (although that’s how it felt); it was that my goals still differed from theirs. I just wanted to hike and enjoy the sunshine and smell the air and revel in the blue sky. Making up mileage was so unimportant to me. I kept telling myself that things would have been much better if the guys hadn’t joined us because then I would still have a buddy--Tess--who would have lots of grace with me. I took it so personally. I do things like that.
But it wasn’t personal at all. Brent, Cole and Tess were joyful in their fast hiking. Covering lots of miles with lots of energy made them happy. They had no ill will, as I had imagined. I, and my rogue emotions, was actually the one at fault. If I had just accepted that my style was different, but okay, I would have enjoyed my trip--and especially this day--so much more. And I wouldn’t have worried so incessantly about “fitting in.” However, because I was enveloped in my pitiful self-loathing, when we stopped for lunch I was in tears. (I had been so stoic for the entire trip…until the guys arrived. When they showed up, I became a crybaby. Go figure.) Brent, trying to fix the problem and extinguish my fits of temperament, suggested we wrap up our trip early, call a shuttle for the next day, and spend the rest of our allotted time happily visiting Duluth. At his suggestion, I felt simultaneously remorseful and relieved; I could actually be done with this incredibly exhausting challenge! But, at the same time, finishing the trip tomorrow would also mean the end of a unique bonding time with Tess doing something we would probably--hopefully--never do again. We decided to think on it as we hiked that afternoon.
|Brent and fast team member, Tess, escaping my lunchtime tears by locating a beautiful waterfall.|
When we found our campsite later that day, we set up our tents as fast as possible because the mosquitoes had awakened from a long winter’s nap. The sun was marvelous, but it brought forth these miniature ravenous beasts that, because of our hypothermia, we had forgotten existed. We tried to wash up in the river, thinking it was probably our putridness drawing them in, but the water only attracted them to us. We dunked quickly and ran back to our tents to escape their torment.
Since we needed to discuss the uncertain future of our hike, we all piled into the girls’ tent to have a serious talk. “Piling in” is literal here; keep in mind that our tent is very small--with barely enough room for Tess and I and our dog--and now we had invited two huge men into it for a conference. It was nearly impossible to fit, and we had to sit at odd angles to make it work, but at this point, with the murderous mosquitoes buzzing at our zipped screens and sounding like millions of tiny grenades aiming upon our roof, we were willing to try. As we munched on our pre-meal licorice, we analyzed the achievability of our original goal. We had nearly 40 miles remaining and only two days left before Tess had to return to Iowa City to start preparing for her new job. Trying to hike 20 miles for the next two days seemed insurmountable to me, and we conversed about letting Cole and Tess go it alone while Brent and I hailed a cab to Duluth. We finally vetoed this plan—at least the parental cab part—and wanted to stay all together. Not being able to reconcile the details with the remaining time we had, we all voted that tomorrow would be our final day. Realizing that the die had been cast (and I was the one who had thrown it), I started to cry (yet again) and to apologize for my all my weaknesses (I have a very guilty concience). Tess, normally stoic herself, also shed tears knowing that this goal—to thru hike the entire SHT--would remain unfulfilled, at least for now. The guys seemed mostly unfazed by our final declaration because they were newbies to the game; sore, tired, and, now, bug bitten. But, for me, and for Tess, I think, our decision to “quit” felt a bit like a failure. We had planned a trip, pursued a goal, and now were giving it up. If I had not been present on that day, I think the others would have chosen to push through--doing back-breaking mileage for the remainder of the hike--to finish the course. I was unable to do this.
Suppertime arrived and we attempted to make a fire to fend of the mosquitoes, but all we could make is smoke which made us smell like a campfire. The bugs seemed unaffected by our efforts and our new scent. So, we quickly cooked our food and then hopped in our tents to eat and finally sleep. It was an unromantic finale to our unromantic journey.
|I may look happy here but I am actually delirious because of the mosquitoes. Cole choose to wear a full headscarf to stave off the tiny demons.|
The End is Near
The next morning, Tess and I tried to be cheerful even though we were both feeling down. We packed up our tent for the very last time, and we gathered our still-wet laundry from the trees. We put our very familiar packs on our backs and tied our ever-muddy shoes. We trekked to the river to wash oatmeal out of our permanently dirty dishes, and watched for the last time as Jet smelled each and every tiny pine tree on the well worn trail. It was all bittersweet.
And then we were off, hiking together as if all was well and we were tackling another day on the SHT. But, we weren’t facing another day of hiking; we were simply finding our way to the nearest trailhead where we would call a shuttle (Harriet didn’t come this far down) and ask for a lift into Duluth. It only took us a couple of creek crossings and two hours to find our pick-up spot, where we sat waiting for transport. Lost in my thoughts, I sat in the shrubbery feeling sad about the whole thing. Tess also sat sullenly looking at a rock she had found. Cole wandered around swatting mosquitoes and trying to eat as many of his remaining snacks as possible, and Brent walked in the middle of the dusty road attempting to find adequate internet so he could check his email. Soon, an older gentleman arrived in a white minivan and unceremoniously told us to load up our stuff. We did this and then hopped in the vehicle for an hour long ride into the city.
Our trip was done.
Our adventure completed.
|Waiting in the shrubbery on our last hiking day. Contrary to popular belief, Tess is NOT wearing Minnie Mouse ears here. It is an optical illusion.|
As we checked into a hotel in Duluth, took hot showers, and ate outside in the sun at a cute Mexican cantina, I started to come to terms with it all; we had probably done the right thing. We ended our journey while we were still healthy, happy, and only partially devoured by biting insects. And sleeping in a bed sounded pretty fantastic. However, I was still haunted that my lack of "grit” had ruined our trip. But my sweet family put me at ease; the day after our arrival in Duluth, while Cole and I went to soak in the hot tub, Brent and Tess went out to explore. They returned from their excursion with a Minnesota T-shirt for me and a garage sale stuffed animal for Jet. Jet felt very loved by their thoughtfulness, and I, by their patience and grace. They stuck with me because they love me. That was the true story.
The Very Long Walk in May had come to an end on June 1 and we left for home on the 2nd, a day before our 28th wedding anniversary. What a learning experience the very long walk had been, but what a true gift it was to be done!*
|Brent found a friendly moose in Duluth. Jet is less than impressed.|
|Cole posing as our bodyguard while exploring a lighthouse on Lake Superior. |
*This is NOT the end of my story. There is still one more chapter to write. I thought it only appropriate that this little book have 13 chapters. Keep watch and be comforted that I mostly stopped crying and finally figured out what the angst was all about. Stay tuned for the final chapter: Lessons Learned on A Very Long Walk in May…coming soon!