This week, I attempted to thru-hike the 96-mile long Lone Star Hiking Trail in eight nights. I set out to test all my gear, to decide what I wanted to bring on the Appalachian Trail and, more importantly, what I wanted to leave behind. I set out thinking that if I could just do this one thing, successfully hike the LSHT, then I could no doubt do the A.T.
Well, I didn’t finish but I did make all my final decisions on gear … and have a new found respect for section hikers. :)
By the second night, I thought, “What am I doing here? I took a year off of work so I could spend time with my family and then I’m gone for nine days? This doesn’t make sense!” I called my husband and he reassured me everyone was fine without me. A weight was lifted and I continued to hike. I got shit on by birds, cut my leg, cut my hand, had wet socks for four of my six days, fell backwards off a log, got two blisters, fell forwards off a log, accidentally burned a sock in a campfire, saw two giant dead pines fall in front of me, flicked two ticks off my pants, and saw two hunters on the trail with guns.
I couldn’t have been happier. I was hiking.
I met Young Son, a hiker who’s done part of the A.T. with his dad. We only talked briefly but he gave me much needed forward momentum in the beginning. I met an awesome park host at Stubblefield Campground who gave me a lift on his golf cart to the self pay station. My awesome in-laws brought me my resupply at Huntsville State Park, along with helping me break the speed eating record for foot-long subs. I met a couple of LSHT Club members on the trail who were superbly kind. They offered me an energy bar, encouragement, and a phone number in case I couldn’t pass the east fork of the San Jacinto River.
The San Jacinto River was the only part of my trip I was concerned about. Due to recent rains it was already flooded but slowly going down. Unfortunately, it was cold and rain was predicted for Friday. I decided to change my plans. I was going to go for a 17-mile day in the morning. This meant I could cross the San Jacinto after it had time to go down but BEFORE it rained and went back up. I’d been doing 13-mile days with no problem so far. I made it through a night in the mid 20’s and got up early to get a head start. I reached a fork on a road walk and I wasn’t sure which way to go. I didn’t see a trail marker and it wasn’t clear from the guide I was using. I turned on my phone to check the Maprika app (amazing by the way!) and that’s when I knew I couldn’t keep going.
There was a text and voicemail from my husband that my cat, Mal-Mal, had passed away in the middle of the night. I told myself I would call my husband and make a final decision when I stopped crying. When that didn’t happen, I called him anyway, and asked him to come get me. I knew it was too late. I knew going home wouldn’t help. I knew I couldn’t change, or fix, or DO anything. I, also, knew I had to go home. I’d had contact with very few people on this hike and I knew there wasn’t likely to be more in the future. The thought of grieving alone for my best friend was too much. I was fully prepared to face 17 miles of being cold, and tired, and chased by dogs on road walks, and worrying about the weather and whether or not I could cross the freezing and flooded San Jacinto River. I was not prepared to do all that while I was crying. I decided to pocket my 54 miles hiked with grace and humility, and call it a day. I walked myself out on a forest service road to get picked up. I cried for miles. I cried in the car. I cried in the shower. I cried on my pizza. I made inappropriately timed death jokes. I sobbed uncontrollably to sleep.
I was his favorite person in the universe and I wasn’t there.
I regret very few things in my life but this is one. I regret not being there. Not only was I not there when my cat died but I wasn’t there his entire last five days. I wasn’t there for him. I wasn’t there for my husband and I wasn’t there for my son. My husband is quite possibly the nicest person I’ve ever met. He is good in a way that’s different from anyone I’ve known. He isn’t good because he thinks he’s supposed to be or because people expect him to be or because he wants anything in return. He is good because he IS. I can’t help but hate myself for putting this good person, who doesn’t deserve bad things to happen, in a position where he had to deal with this impossible situation completely on his own. He didn’t wake up in the morning to find that he’d passed peacefully in the night. He was woken up in the middle of the night to bloody vomiting. He was forced to face the decisions of a drive to the emergency vet, yelling at a cop that pulled him over (luckily resulting in an escort instead of a ticket), and performing mouth-to-mouth. Alone. Because I wasn’t there. I spent over a year at home so that I wouldn’t miss anything, so that I could be there for the people that needed me, and the ONE time I was needed I wasn’t there. My husband says there’s no way I could’ve known and that I shouldn’t be sorry. Mal-Mal lived six months more than they thought he would when he was diagnosed and I am grateful beyond belief for that but I disagree with my husband. I know he’s ultimately right but that doesn’t curb this feeling of self-loathing for being greedy enough to ask for nine more days. Just nine more fucking days. I was even going to be done a day early, if I could cross that stupid river! It never occurred to me that he wouldn’t be there when I came home. I didn’t even bother to take note of the last time I saw him because I knew I’d see him again.
I thought I had more time. More time to complete the LSHT. More time with my Mal-Mal. I thought this would make me even more hesitant to do the A.T. If I missed such a monumental event (we really love cats) in my family’s life in less than a week, what would I risk missing in six months on the A.T.? This morning, I’m feeling that’s not the case. I haven’t learned my lesson. Maybe I’m selfish but the only thing I’ve learned is that hiking the A.T. now is even more essential. It’s now or never because there is never enough time. Not for trails. Not for cats. Not for living. And, dammit, I need to feel alive.