Thursday, November 10, 2016

Stick Season

What a week! The terrain since entering Tennessee and North Carolina (the trail crosses the border 40-something times) has been lovely! Most of the trail has been gradual, switchbacks when climbing or descending, and full of pretty balds and vistas. The balds have really accentuated this portion of the hike. Essentially, they are fields on top of mountains with 360 degree views. It is such a nice change of pace from the "green tunnel" to have views and a drastic change of scenery. Aside from the trail being lovely, the weather has been amazing as well! It is definitely getting colder, but it has been sunny most days, hasn't rained, and my gear is keeping me warm. A huge thanks to Joanna for hooking me up with so much awesome Mammut gear! We came to one bald just this week with an enchanting vista and decided to spend the afternoon, watch the sunset, and cowboy camp under the stars. Cowboy camping is just laying your sleeping bag out in the open, without a tent or shelter. It was my first time doing this and was so wonderful. Although, since we were in the open, the wind did make it a bit chilly. I got an early start that next morning, mostly to warm up and also because I was headed for town that day.

Over the last week I've stayed at two hostels, both very popular on the trail. I did two nights at each hostel which allowed me to slackpack 25 miles out of each. Of the two, I feel so incredibly lucky to stay at Kincora hostel run by Bob Peoples. Bob is a trail legend who purposely bought the land he now owns to create a hostel for AT hikers. Aside from that, he is in charge of maintaining hundreds of miles of trail. His expertise on the AT is unmatched, and his enthusiasm for the trail is second to none. Above all of this, he used to live two towns over from where I grew up. His positivity, humbleness, and love for the trail are so overwhelming that you can't help but smile while talking to him. He has hiked so many trails around the world and has inspired me to do the same. It was a pleasure to spend two days in his company - the trail is lucky to have him as an ambassador.

Fall has come and gone here on the trail and almost all of the leaves have fallen. The colors were spectacular when I first got back on trail, but at this point most of the leaves are on the ground. This is providing an extra level of difficulty, as the leaves are hiding all of the rocks, roots, and slippery acorns we've more affectionately renamed "trail marbles." Luckily, after 2,000+ miles, my feet are pretty well adapted to feeling for trouble underneath them. I'm still able to do big miles, feel little pain, and continue on with my trek. As I've mentioned many times, it has been incredibly dry this summer. This has been a blessing in terms of not hiking in the rain, but hard when it comes to finding water to drink. With that, comes the risk of forest fires. With as dry as its been, a few fires have cropped up around the trail. Most are down near Georgia in a section I've already hiked. Unfortunately, there are a few fires that are burning around TN/NC and are causing smoke to fill the air. It was a surreal feeling in town yesterday walking through the haze and smelling the smoke. I could even smell strong smoke while climbing some of the mountains during my slackpack yesterday. Luckily, it rained last night, the fires are under control, and aren't endangering the trail.

Okay, I've brought you up to speed on the trail, but must address what's been overrunning my thoughts for the last twenty-four hours. I have been listening to so many news and political podcasts all summer, and have felt incredibly involved with the process. Having been a YUGE Bernie supporter, I was disheartened when he was robbed of a nomination that he deserved. I decided to fall in line and support our nominee. I wasn't thrilled by her, but I was going to vote for Hillary - anyone but Trump. The rhetoric he propagated during the campaign was so unacceptable and totally horrifying. His hate towards Latinos, Muslims, African Americans, Women, and the LGTB community was astounding. I couldn't, and still can't, believe that he won not only the GOP nomination, but also the presidency, with such behavior. When I woke up yesterday morning to the results that he won, I was so disappointed and depressed. The weather outside, cold and dreary, was a fitting match to my emotions. All morning long I kept reminding myself that this was in fact not a nightmare, but real life. I am well aware that, as a white male, I carry a certain level of privilege in this world. At the same time, as a gay male, I have experienced a decent level of discrimination. I don't trust Trump to protect my LGBT rights, or those of the trans community. I especially feel for the young kids in our community who are struggling to find their way, acceptance, and the security in laws that protect them. A year ago I would have said things were moving in the right direction for our community, now with our new president's hate speech, I fear for those coming up behind me. I can't imagine being a young, scared youth listening to our President and Vice President saying that conversion therapy is appropriate. This horrifies me. On an equally awful note, how can the man who represents us to the rest of the world talk about banning Muslims and building a wall to keep out Latinos?! This isn't the country I want to live in. I'm so saddened and scared that he was elected - not by a majority, mind you. I am terrified that he will select at least one (maybe more) Supreme Court justices who will overturn Roe V Wade, gay marriage, and so many other classic cases that effect so many of us.

My fear is that we will never pull together as a country. My hope is that, while I don't agree with him on most things, Trump will bring our country together. This is the only solution. We need to come together as a country to do what's best for everyone. I'm scared, however, that with all the hate and ignorance, that this may not happen under this presidency. I am definitely not happy with the result, and in fact I'm borderline depressed... But we must continue to be the best versions of ourselves, and set an example that his behavior is not congruent with our beliefs.

Early this morning with the wind blowing and temps in the low 40s, I was walking along the trail in a dense fog. I rounded a corner and came across a small doe standing in the trail about ten feet from me. We both stared at one another for ten to fifteen seconds. I said out loud "tell me this will all be okay" and she blinked at me. I'm hoping this is a symbol of our nation making it through this horror. It was a quiet and simple moment, but we both seemed to be on the same plane.

I am stunned the Trump has won, and I won't get over this easily. I am so sad that some of my friends and family would support a ticket focused on so much hate. This morning I thought of all of my friends who are teachers, looking in their students' faces trying to be civil and explain how a hate monger could prevail. All I could think today was I was glad I don't yet have children, because I don't know how I would explain to them why such a hateful and decisive person became our president. Eventually we all need to be Americans. We need to be nice to one another, help one another, denounce hate, and protect the civil liberties of those we love. I will continue to volunteer in my community. I will continue to take care of others - both at work and outside of work. I will continue to be the best person I can be, in order to make this country the best it can be. He may not be the president I wanted, but he'll be our president come January. For better or worse. So buckle up, America... Could be a bumpy four years.

"Never stop believing that fighting for what's right is worth it." - Hillary Clinton

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