I would like to thank all of you who have been following me on the trail. Your comments mean a lot and encourage me to go on, in my darker days. I would like to respond to you but internet access is limited on the trail
Monday March 11 - Zero (No Miles) at Budget Inn in Franklin. Shared a room with Rick and had some good chats. Hope to see him on the trail again
Tuesday March 12 - This morning (1 a.m.) got a call from Sharon about some tragic news, about our nephew. Decided to stay another day in Franklin, so I could be near the phone for Sharon. Waffle and Hawkeye went back on the trail. A very sad and blue day.
Wed March 13 - Took the shuttle to the trail head at Rock Gap and started walking at noon. Walked 10.5 miles on a beautiful sunny day.
Thursday March 14 - Good day walking about 10 miles. Caught up with Waffle and Hawkeye and we enjoyed some awesome trail magic from the Crawford Family. This family of 8 hiked the entire trail last year. Incredible accomplishment considering the youngest was 2 years old. Check them out on their YouTube channel named Fightfortogether.
Friday March 15 - I had a bad sleep last night as my mat deflated every hour, I guess it sprung a leak. Thundered and poured rain last night, but by 10:00 a.m. it stopped. Just in time for us late morning people to miss it all. Beautiful walk down to Nantahala Outdoor Center where we were picked up by Waffle's wife, Beth, and we all spent 2 nights in a cabin, rented by them. Thank you so much Waffle and Beth.
Saturday March 16 - Slept great last night on a real bed. Went into Bryson City NC for resupply. Feeling extremely tired and my mind is slow. Not sure if I would still be on the trail without my friends. They came just at the right time as I was starting to slip into a darker state of mind.
Sunday March 17 - Got a late start around 1:30 p.m. Tough day hiking 7 miles all but the last being uphill. It started as a warm sunny day but got colder as we climbed. Went down to about -4c for night.
Monday March 18 - Clear sunny cold day and we hiked 9 miles. I felt exhausted from my first step to my last. It was the depression type of exhaustion, that I have experienced so much in the past years. The day included Jacob's Ladder, which is simply a trail straight up
without switchbacks for 500 foot elevation gain. There were a bunch of young people at the Shelter laughing and talking and it made me long for the days when I was so carefree. Sometimes it's easier hiking alone as it seems less lonely.
Tuesday March 19 - Cold night around -10c made for a bad sleep as my feet felt like ice blocks. Short easy 7 mile hike on a sunny cool day. Felt a little lost today, wondering what I'm doing here. Been struggling the last few days emotionally, just feeling sad and not seeing much point to anything.
Wednesday March 20 - Easy hike in to Fontana Dam NC. Beautiful Sunny day. We checked into the Fontana Village Inn. Tomorrow we resupply and head for the Smokies.
They say on average only 20% of thru hikers make it all the way from Springer to Maine about 2200 miles. In fact around 20% drop out in the first 35 miles. This year, I was told by my shuttle driver, the attrition rate is high as a result of all the bad weather. The romantic ideal of walking down the trail on a sunny day in a grand adventure, somehow loses it’s appeal when you are cold and wet, your tent blows down in the wind and you have to wring water out of your sleeping bag and the next day you do it all over again.
During my years of dealing with depression, I have had to make the choice to stay on the trail over and over again. I know my wife used to fear when she took the kids to church, that when she came back I would be gone. I can honestly say I have never seriously contemplated suicide but I have felt like giving up and have cried out to God to take me home, on many occasions. I related to John Mellencamp’s song where the lyrics go like this;
“Hey Jesus can you give me a ride back home. I’ve been out here in this world too long on my own. I won't bother you no more. If you can just get me in the door. Hey Jesus can you give me a ride back home. Hey Jesus this world is too troublesome for me. I try to fight off all these devil’s but I’m just too weak. When I’m out here walking alone. I feel like taking my life but I won’t. Too big a coward, can you give me a ride back home.
One thing about depression is
that it robs you of your sense of meaning. In the dark times, life seems pointless and without purpose. I was dreamer with big plans. I had so many things that I enjoyed doing and things I wanted to try some day. But depression robbed me of those passions and left me with little motivation for anything. There simply seems no point to life. There is no talking yourself out of it, it simply is. The one thing that continued to hold meaning was my family.
On Monday night I got the call from my wife that our Nephew had taken his own life. Another young man who found life so painful, that death was preferable to living. I found it breathtakingly heartbreaking that a young man has so little hope, that life has become so unbearable, it is the only option he feels he has left. Believe me I get it.
As I said earlier I have made the choice to stay on the trail. As hard as it has been I have always had an undercurrent of hope that God still has a plan for my life. I also have found meaning that gives me glimpses of worth and value ,in serving my wife and family, as much as I can with the energy that I still have.
Viktor Frankl’s book,Searching for Meaning, is written from the background, of his suffering, in Nazi concentration camps. He says, it
was those who could keep their hope, for a future beyond the camps, as well as find meaning, in their current circumstance, no matter how degraded and stripped of humanity they had become that survived. Viktor found his meaning in doing small deeds, to alleviate the suffering of his fellow inmates. Those that lost this hope, gave into the diseases and suffering and died, others flung their bodies against the electrical wire, as they felt there was no longer any point in prolonging the inevitable.
The following is a quote from RW Longs book, Push the Rock. Long was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. It turned his life upside down.
“The man I used to be— confident to the point of arrogance,
emotionally tough, and physically and mentally strong— had faded into a memory, worn down by mental fatigue and the overwhelming physical, emotional, and spiritual pain. The beaten down man I had become was preparing the white flag of surrender. I had reached a point in life where I was so tired of the suffering and so drained of hope, and had accepted that a fast-approaching death was imminent, and to be honest, welcomed at times.”
But his story does not end there. His son came home from Afghanistan struggling with PTSD. He knew his son needed him, so he set his heart to battling his illness, so he could be there for him. Together they climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro. He writes later in his story,
“I have always been willing to die for my wife and children, and I believe most people feel the same way about their families. But was I willing to live for them? Was I willing to not just survive, but fight to live, even if it meant more suffering than I had already endured?”
As I have been walking the trail, what keeps me going is my love for my wife, my family and their love for me. I realize that they need me even if I’m not the man that I was. My daughter wrote “Dad, I don’t need you to do anything, just be there, even if it’s just sitting in your chair listening to Bob Dylan.” I’m walking the trail in battle against mental Illness. I’m walking in hope that my condition will improve somewhat as a result. I’m walking in hope and faith that God still has a plan and purpose for my life. And even if I return home and not much has changed, I choose to live for my family and God even if it means continued suffering.
Canadian professor Jordan Peterson says that searching for happiness is pointless. Life is a tragic affair. What we need is to search for meaning, in the midst of the tragedy of life. He suggests finding that meaning, by using the abilities we have, to make the world a better place. Meaning in life keeps us going and makes life worth while, even in the midst of great sorrow and difficulty.
I choose to stay on the trail. I have been wet, cold, hot, hungry, dirty, tired and smelly. But every now and then, as I struggle along in exhaustion, I have a moment when my eyes clear and I see the beauty of the creation surrounding me and my heart leaps, with joy in recognition of the hand of the creator and his love for me. Paul wrote that we are God's masterpiece saved to do the good works that God prepared for us. That remains true today, as much as it did before my illness. My heart goes out to those families, who have a loved one, who quit the trail because they were overcome by the tragedy of life. May you find God's peace and His hand of healing in your life.
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