Tuesday, June 8, 1999

Last night as I neared mile 11 I rolled my ankle pretty badly, so I hobbled into the shelter, quickly taking off my boot and rubbing the pain out. 

Nobody else was there other than Hooter, a small man named after a hat he wears with the name stitched onto it. He was almost asleep when I pulled in and not much for conversation. So I quickly did my rhythm and then headed to bed.  The two of us hunkered down for a quiet night. Then about midnight we were awakened by the rustling of plastic and paper under the floor boards. Chewing.  Gnawing.  Ripping. Then the noises started to get louder. I wasn’t stopping even when I would bang on the floorboards of the shelter. They had work to do and they weren’t stopping for me.  I couldn’t handle it, I was getting angry. I was about to leave, move to a clearing nearby and set up my tarp, but I knew I could not leave Hooter (who sleeps through anything because of his very poor hearing) alone with the “master miece.”  Then more noises started to come up through the floorboards, strange noises, noises that seemed to get closer and louder.  I don’t move. There is a yell and a shout next to me just about making me pee myself I was so startled. Hooter had woken up and was screaming at the floor while jumping up and down in a frenzied fit. I though I was angry but he was going berserk rage. I slid back against the wall deeper into the shadows and just watched to see who would be the victor.  My hopes rested on Hooter but he is not looking well. He ran outside of the shelter and was trying to get under the building, throwing, shouting, flailing.  It was an impressive tantrum.  He finally stopped, it was quiet.  I heard no movement, I heard no critters, I didn’t even hear Hooter. He just stood still outside waiting and watching.  I have no idea how long he stayed out there, I just knew I couldn’t stay awake any longer. I was overtaken with a wave of exhaustion as sleep pushed me down into a dreamless and sound asleep. 

I never woke again until the sun started to filter through the trees into the shelter.  We made it.  We were safe. Hooter said he never slept the rest of the night, waiting and listening.  I’m thankful for him and a bit scared at the same time. We checked our belongings to see if there was anything missing and only Hooter’s toilet paper had been pilfered. They play dirty. My advice to any who come to this shelter, bring your helmets, B. B. guns, flashlights, and mousetraps to this shelter. 

The heat of the day began in the morning, humidity rising fast. “What do I feel like doing today?  I think I’ll go for a walk before it gets hot out.”

Wednesday, June 9, 1999

Yesterday when I was packing up, Hooter hadn’t moved much. I thought it was because he hadn’t gotten much sleep and wanted to crash a little bit, but he said he was starting to feel sick.  That’s not good.  “Do you need anything? Water?”  He replied,“No, I have plenty from the Catawba pump. I’ll be fine within a few hours, nothing to worry about him.”  I wished him well and then headed out into the heat of the morning.  It was going to be a hot day.  

Within a mile I passed James and Good Air tenting by a creek. I could hear him vomiting as I walked by.  That’s not good. I climbed up a mountain and found Buzzard and T-Bone camped out on a cliff, both sick.  T-Bone was lying on the open rocks asleep while Buzzard talked to me from inside the tent refusing to move or to spread her sickness.  She said she had been lucky to make it a few feet out of the tent before her stomach had erupt.  I am worried about them because they only had a quart of water each and would not accept any water from me.  There is no good water source nearby and the heat was up to 80 degrees by 9 a.m.  Another two miles after that I caught up to K.C. and Amazon.  They were hiking very slowly, Amazon was feeling nauseated and struggle to hike.    

I was feeling so proud of myself, people dropping like flies all around me and I was untouched.  I was feeling great until about 9:30 a.m.  At first I just thought it was the heat because the heat always wrecks my body.  But then the diarrhea started up.  My body started to feel sore and a growing exhaustion slowed my steps to a labored crawl within a few miles. I came up over a ridge and saw a valley leading to another monstrous mountain that I thought I would have to climb. I immediately lost it emotionally.  I started to curse out loud and let out the longest stream of colorful metaphors in anger and depression.  I knew I didn’t have the energy to make it over another mountain.  My strength was quickly departing my body, what energy I did have was being reassigned to fight off whatever was afflicting me.  I began questioning God, my strength, and my ability to make my toilet paper last four more miles.   Then the trail turned left away from the dark evil mountain and I came across a hiker who told me I was almost to a major road that would take me to a town where I had mail and a food drop waiting and a hotel to be my hospital. Joy overwhelmed me and I wanted to cry and shout out my thanks to God.  I started to notice that I was losing serious control of my emotions. About a mile from the road, I was thinking I was going to make it out, then my body exploded. I started to vomit, over and over and over. And then it was both ends of my body purging itself at the same time. I had taken my shorts off to prevent any contamination and I just laid on the grass naked and crying with exhaustion.  I didn’t care if anyone saw me.  

I dragged myself off the mountain with sunken eyes and a growing fever.  I stumbled over to the Economy Lodge just off the trail where I was able to get a room. After a few hours of sleep and vomiting I decided to head towards the post office to get my mail. It turns out the temperature was breaking records in this concrete caked world. I was sweating from the heat and the fever as soon as I left the hotel. I walked over to a gas station to get directions and ended up getting a ride from a nice older couple who could not figure out why I would hike. I was wondering the same thing. I got my mail and immediately started a four-mile walk back to the motel. I tried to get a hitch a ride but nobody liked the look of me I guess. Then I started to throw up again on the sidewalk. Over and over. I just sat on the sidewalk with my mail and my box. Then a wonderful woman pulled over and asked if I needed a ride.  “Nobody should be out walking on a day as this,” she said four times.  I was so overwhelmed with gratitude and emotion that I started to cry again, my chin quivered and my shoulders shaking. I couldn’t stop thanking her as she drove me back to my hotel.  

I heard that all three hotels in town are filled to capacity with sick hikers.  I don’t know a hiker anymore who has dodged the bug. 

I spent the night on my hotel bathroom floor. Every muscle ached. I laid there staring at the base of the toilet feeling like I was going to die.  I just kept saying over and over, “The maids didn’t clean the toilet before I rented the room.  I’m going to die in a bathroom that nobody cleaned.”  I felt so sad.

Today I just sat in my room sleeping and watching tv. 

Thursday, June 10, 1999

The commonality of our sickness is the water spigot behind the Catawba general store. No one filtered or purified from it because it was straight from a well.  So I called the Health Department’s Environmental Department and told them the problem, by the afternoon they were out there testing the water, but I have not yet heard of any results. They said they would call me when they had answers.  

Saturday, June 12, 1999

V.P. has left the trail.  He decided he was done once he got sick.  I have heard of three others who have gone home not planning on returning.  After four days of sickness much of my desire for hiking has also left me. I’m just worn out in many ways.  I am sitting now in Llama’s hotel room waiting for the noonday heat to recede and most importantly I need motivation to increase.  I am packed and broke so I have to leave.  

Dawn Treader and Shiver left this morning after the Catawba sickness took them out.  

Sidewinder and Sam-I-Am left yesterday to continue hiking. Sidewinder left the hotel bent over in exhaustion, still a little pale in the face. They spent an additional night from what they planned only because I gave up my bed to them.  Otherwise they would have pressed on without rest from their sickness.  He really hates this trip and believes it is going to kill him. He grows to hate every step and every mountain. His wife does not want to quit and sees no reason to, she absolutely loves the adventure.  If he were to quit and go home without her she would take it personally as a form of rejection. She does not separate his desire to leave between the trail and herself. Because he loves her so much he labors on, daily taking on more suffering and confiding of his pain and struggle with me. He takes off his pack at night but the burden of the trip still pushes him down. I wonder if he has the stamina to forge the entire trail. 

Llama has been so kind and helpful to me over the last few days.  She got the sickness but it didn’t seem as bad as most so she was up and moving around getting Gatorade for me and other hikers.  She would check in on me to make sure I was surviving and if I needed anything. Sometimes she would just sit and talk with me.  On Thursday night when I was feeling a little better (before my relapse), I went to dinner with her and her friend Hobbit and had a great time talking about God and what things are of true value in life. I really don’t lead conversations to God, others keep bringing it up with me. Honest. And as these conversations continue to come up I’m finding that I’m growing in courage and confidence to share what I think to be true, and also the compassion and maturity to shut up and listen to others who are often times just as convinced with differing beliefs. I’m growing more confident and secure in my life’s direction and proud of the things I’ve done, where I’ve been and what I’ve learned. And my wounds are sacred. I wish I had made better choices many times throughout my life, but the wounds I received and even those I inflicted are part of my growth process and are points of growth. I wouldn’t trade them in.  They are what has shaped me and what has broken me. And I hope I make less mistakes as I get older. My decisions have been based on what I think others want.  I desire the approval of others to the extent that I have created masks and even walls to keep people out and to show them what I think they want to see.  I don’t believe people will like me for me. I don’t think others enjoy me. They like me but I don’t understand why I’m so lonely all the time. Why do I not have close friends?  What needs to change?

 “A solitude is the audience chamber of God.” Walter London  

There are a lot of people on the trail and I do get a lot of solitude. I began this trip with the expectation of more solitude than I’m getting and I’m also glad I’m not alone more. I became homeless by choice to try and know God more.  I believe that God wanted me to go on this trip and I don’t know how to describe how I believe that except it was just a drive in my gut and a persistent whispering. The idea of a long hike is so far from my normal thoughts of what I believed I would enjoy, I figure it had to be God asking me to follow Him to the woods. I cannot escape the time alone and the lessons that flow out of that, nor can I hide from others or my desire for community.  I accept all that is laid before me and I embrace the mystery of tomorrow.

 “Solitude gives birth to the original in us, to beauty unfamiliar and perilous – to poetry.  But also, it gives birth to the opposite: to the perverse, the illicit, the absurd.” Thomas Mann

I have never felt more like a sloth than yesterday (Friday).  I woke up early, feeling sick again, ending my plan to hike out.  Instead I laid in bed until 8 p.m. when I went out to find food. Cats sleep about 18 hours a day in warm sunny places.  Three-toed Sloth sleep about 19 hours a day while hanging upside down on branches.  They can only move six feet a minute so sometimes they have been known to stay in the same tree for years.  They move faster than I ever did yesterday.  While living in a canopy of trees they eat buds, leaves and twigs, good roughage.  That was my diet yesterday (salad), the only thing that would stay down. The sloth, one of my favorite animals, is not related to monkeys like one would assume, but to anteaters and armadillos because they have no teeth. They are hard to find because of the green algae on its fur that camouflages them among the tree leaves. By the end of the day I blended into the bed.  A sloth is born while its mother is upside down and will live in the rainforest, mostly the amazon.  The bone structure of a sloth cannot support its weight so it cannot walk on land though they do make great swimmers.  Where we differ is that they have slow digestive systems.  They will crawl down from their trees once a week to defecate and urinate, which takes them about 30 minutes, for me, well…its been about every 30 minutes and only takes a few seconds. Too much?  

In 1810 men were digging in the mountains of the southern Appalachia looking for nitrate to use for gunpowder when they came upon a huge claw inside a cave. The claw still had skin tissue on it, it was the foot of a giant ground sloth.  This animal stood over 7 feet high as massive as a large bear.  In the Cincinnati Museum of Science they have a replica, it was enormous and very frightening. In the same cave a saber-toothed tiger was also found with 8-inch canine teeth and also a mastodon the size of an elephant. The giant ground sloth is thought to have once been the most common mammal in Eastern North America.  There is proof found that the sloth roamed when the Native Americans were here.

The species of the giant ground sloth has been believed to be extinct for 8,500 years. But Laurie Tribune has written an article about biologists on the trail of one they believe to be living in the Amazon jungle.  It has the body of a bear with a monkey’s face, dark red fur and in its wake is a cloud of flying beetles.  No scientist has ever seen it but they hear that its stench can disable a person. Its bulk is human like and that its roar is that of an endless thunderclap.  This creature is as legendary a figure to South America as the Bigfoot is to ours (even though a guy has recently come forward proving he faked it).

The giant Sloth has backward turned clawed feet, skin so thick and tough it can withstand shotgun blasts, and a smell of horrible nightmares that is emitted from a “second mouth” in the stomach area. Scientists have taken molds made of round footprints with backward facing claws, hair has been collected and for my favorite: 22 pounds of feces has been collected, all being analyzed. It is believed that the second mouth near the navel is a reddish scent gland that emits a chemical defense that affects the human nervous system.  Many people have claimed to have seen it and also report having fainted right after. That is exactly happened to locals when I come off the trail.

Llama and I talked by the pool for a few hours getting to know each other more.  I’m calm when I’m around her, I like that.  I don’t feel pressure to impress or hide or put masks on.  She’s easy to be around and I think she’s very cute.  I spent the night on the floor of Hobbit and Llama’s room. Hobbit went to sleep while Llama and I talked into the night. She told me that their friendship has been strained. He doesn’t really seem to enjoy her but a while back they decided to share some equipment to help each of them lighten their loads.  She decided that she needs to let him go and she is going on without him before they hate each other. I had been wondering if there was more than just friendship, nope. So there’s a chance for me? I would love to get to know her better. 

Sunday, June 13, 1999

I had to force myself to leave the comfort of the hotel, to leave the oy of air-conditioning and continue what I ultimately want to do, hike north.  My body and mind resisted the wearing of the boots and backpack, but once I got into the mountains the rhythm returned and I felt so much better.  With every step I felt more calm and a growing energy inside me. The 11 miles I thought might kill me was not as hard as I thought it would be. I was very glad to be moving again.

I made my own trail magic when I spotted a cherry tree near the trail, weeds and brush growing thick around it. It looked like a forgotten lost tree and I was just the guy to show it some love and gratitude. I scrambled up into its branches filling up a bag with the ripest, juiciest cherries, eating two for every one I put in the bag.  After that excitement the only other joy I took was in giving them out to other hikers who missed the tree. 

The shelter was full of other hikers who were just recovered from the same sickness. Everyone was smiling and excited.  There was a lot of laughter around the shelter as people felt free from the sickness and were loving doing again what it is they love to do.  

Llama and Hobbit were at the shelter and Llama told me she’s going to continue her hike away from Hobbit.  She’s tired of a friendship that has little kindness to it.  They have shared a stove, pots, and water purifier to cut down on their weight so she will outfit herself with the necessary tools.

Monday, June 14, 1999

I am feeling better and stronger today, I hiked 16 miles in five hours.  I got to the shelter I was after but the heat has dried up the water supply, so I pushed on to hike until I could find water.  I made it to a campground that was closed but had fresh water so I used my incredible powers of a thru hiker and did stealth camping by myself.  

I sat at a picnic table watching the trail I had just come up.  I was wanting to see Llama.  I wanted to talk more with her, I get a smile on my face when I think about her.