Back on October 14th, 2016

I was  thirsty. A new kind of thirsty. Thirsty without easy access to a drink. I had made the new hiker mistake. I trusted the App. The App has little droplets marking the places along the AT where the water is located, sometimes. 

It seems, the most reliable water sources are in the gaps. When I hike downhill there is often water. Not this day. 

I went down. I went up. I went down again and still no water. Maryland was in a drought following a long dry summer, and it was not what I planned for. I was on my first overnight solo hike on the Appalachian Trail. I trusted the App. It’s great for distance. Great for terrain. I didn’t know the water guidance was so iffy. 

I kept going. Turning around was not an option, nor was leaving the trail. No crossroads for 6 more miles. Even then it would be hitchhike or walk another 4. 

I knew that tomorrow I would be at the confluence of the Potomac and the Shenandoah Rivers. Water to swim in there for sure. 

I love backpacking. With everything I need on my back, I like myself more. I don’t NEED anything. I really really like that feeling. Home on your back. I still like it when I’m this thirsty,  but not as much. 

Section Hiking the AT is hard. You do get to go home for a shower, but you never really get “hiker legs.” The climbs are always brutal. You never really develop the mental toughness of a Thru Hiker. You always have, tucked away in the back of your mind, the option to quit. You quit each time you finish a Section. Quitting is not really quitting. THAT is why it’s easier. 

Still no water to cook dinner tonight. No water for my monster thirst. I wasn’t going to die or anything but then the thought came to me. 

I take a bunch of medication for a bunch of conditions. How would excessive dehydration change my body chemistry? 

I had Thyroid Cancer. My thyroid is gone. My medication is not quite balanced yet. Should I have come out here? Now I’m a little scared. 

.5 miles to a shelter. There is a Spring there. Water maybe. I pass a group of day hikers. Ask them if the Spring is running at the Shelter ahead. They don’t know. Of course I don’t ask them if they have any extra water. Too proud still. I’m over that now. I was a new hiker then. I had no hiker chops. I couldn’t admit my failing. Idiot. 

I get to the Shelter. I follow the trail to the Spring. 

Water. Running slowly but running. 

8 drops from Part A and 8 drops from Part B. Wait 5 minutes for activation. It’s turning yellow. It it supposed too? Never used the Aqua Whatever  stuff before. I fill my 1 liter Nalgene bottle, pour in the yellow stuff.  30 minutes later, I drink the entire bottle! 35 minutes later, I drink another half. 

I pour what’s left into another bottle and clean up another liter. 

I suppose this was good for me. I learned what really thirsty is, for me. What it feels like. Really thirsty, with no Wawa down the road. I should have asked for help. I know better. The day hikers would have probably loved helping. I would have. 

I was prepared. Started with more than 3 liters. Carrying more water than that on the AT is probably overkill. 6 pounds of water over 12 miles gets heavy. Gets heavy? It’s heavy right away! 

I guess I learned how thirsty I can get and not pass out or get stupid. Getting stupid would be the real problem. Like when you’re too cold. Stupid is really dangerous. I get stupid and maybe I fall. Falling could ruin my plans. Could ruin everything. Hiking is everything at the moment. I know. Not everything. Almost everything though. I’m an everything or nothing person. 

I have gone down a few times. Once my knee went down hard into soft soil between two rocks. Lucky. I fell a bunch in the snow. That doesn’t count. It’s mostly fun. 

I set up my tent. 20 or so Boy Scouts showed up. Made me feel safer. It stormed that night. Lightning on top of the mountain above Harper’s Ferry. No rain was forecasted. Ha. It’s the AT. Ironic, huh? Rain. 

That morning I discovered this:

I love that. 

I learned a shitload of stuff in those 4 days on the Trail. 

I became a part of the AT community. My life was changed. Honestly. Changed. An old dog can learn new tricks. I’m going to enjoy this journey.  I AM enjoying this journey. I’ve met some really wonderful people. I’m interested in their lives. They lift my spirit. I didn’t even know my spirit needed lifting. 

Karma. John P. Rhonda. Sleeping Beauty. Birthday Girl. Sherpa. George. Struggler. Junker. Paul With The Bunions. Paul. Smoker. Neatherlander. Ginger Tiger. Tripod. Many more I can’t remember right now. 

I am “BOOM!”. All caps with an exclamation point. A Section Hiker on the Appalachian Trail. Not a teacher any more. Not a coach. Not a theatre director. Not a pitcher or a quarterback or a setter. I have my next identity and life purpose. I never thought I would find purpose again.  I knew I needed something. I couldn’t find it. I was just a retired ex-teacher/coach. I was floundering. 

Now I Section Hike the AT. 

After my next hike, I will be just shy of 300 miles. About one seventh of the Trail. 

I will get thirsty again. So what. 

P.S.  I lost another mentor yesterday. 🙁  My college football coach, Wayne Hardin. 

I was the quarterback for his first three years at Temple University. We spent hours together game planning. I called all the plays on the field. Made all the decisions. No one does that anymore. I was his extension out there. He taught me everything about defensive football. A quarterback must know defense better than offense. He taught me how to out think an opponent. How to win when you weren’t expected to win. 

Wayne Hardin coached two Heisman Trophy winners at Navy. Roger Staubach and Joe Belino. He was the winningest coach in Temple University history. He is in the NCAA College Football Hall of Fame. 

In 1971 my passing completion percentage was 62.8. The best in America. No one had a percentage like that back then. Wayne Harden was responsible for that. I am in the Temple Football Hall of Fame. All these accolades are because I was coached by Wayne Harden. 

He came to my games when I became a High School Football Coach. He mentored me there as well to a Suburban One Championship. He was my friend. He was my coach. He was a golf partner. I will miss him. Thank you “Coach.” Rest In Peace. You earned it. 

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