Sharon and my not broken heart.

Day 4 on the Appalachian Trail was a long day

All of the early ones were. I was incredibly sore from my pack weight. I had already mailed 8 pounds of gear home from Abol Bridge and given away about 4 days of food. I was carrying too much, but as it was still early, my body could handle it. But still what I was carrying was ridiculous, and that made movement slow.  Gnome Sherpa (how we met is a funny story) and I got to the shelter and a few others started to roll in too. A campfire was built and then Epiphany and Sharon showed up a little later. At some point in the evening, I realized Seamster wasn’t there anymore.

“he snores really bad… and he knows it.” I was told, so he was sleeping some distance away from the shelter.

I had announced that I was heading to White House Landing. It was in my guidebook and we had all heard that it was an expensive stop if you were going there.

“I heard they offer you a $5 can of soda on the boat ride over.”

Boat ride? Yes apparently to get to this fishing camp you have to get to a dock, sound a fog horn, and they come over in a boat to get you.

Despite the fear-mongering that we had heard, I had no choice. My pack was grossly overweight, and I had developed bleeding on my shoulders. The chafe was all I could deal with and the gear I realized I didn’t need was getting mailed home. It was too expensive to just throw away. I knew maybe I might need it later and I could pick it up when I passed through my neck of the woods in N.H.

“I have to go anyway, and if anyone wants to join me in the morning, I’m leaving pretty early.”

I said that knowing I would be up early not by choice. It was because I had all the wrong gear for this adventure. My Sleeping bag was a 50-degree bag, and I was freezing at night. I wore all my clothes at night to try to stay warm, but the fact was I got up early to build a campfire and try to warm up. I was too cold to sleep.

“I’ll go with you,” said Sharon. She had not said hardly anything that whole evening. She was shy and quiet. I wasn’t expecting her to join.

The next morning I was up before everyone, and built a small fire and ate some oatmeal and had some tea. She was up just after I was and was ready to go, and after leaving the fire to the others waking up, we headed off to White House Landing.

Finding out a little about her on the way to the dock, it was unclear why she was headed with me, except that this was a little spontaneous side adventure. Reaching the boat dock, we discovered the fog horn and decided who should press the button. We signaled the fog horn tied up to the dock and sat for a bit waiting. Across the lake, we could see White House Landing. I had already prepared myself to decline the $5 soda I had heard about. I had not had any soda in a year or so.

Just as the boat was arriving Seamster showed up on the dock.

He had heard us blow the horn and was hoping to make it before the boat arrived. I ended up mailing 35 pounds of stuff home from White House Landing. It was reasonable, and so was the food. There was no $5 soda on the boat ride and these folks were really cool. Seamster offered to buy us lunch, and for the first time in over a year I indulged in pizza and pepperoni and soda and wow-oh-wow the calories tasted delicious. It was the start of the hunger that does not go away. After the package was all set, and we were full of pizza, we took the boat back across the lake and continued on our way south.

We hiked the whole day together and it was just the beginning.

 

Sharon and I hiked for two and a half months together joined at the hip. The only time we were apart was when we used the bathroom. The connection was great. The friendship that formed was simple. We started carrying even less gear. I carried the stove. She carried the water filter. Sharing meals and bulk purchases in town stops was saving lots of money. We had each others backs in a way that I had never experienced. And we were both going through it together. The experiences. The jokes. We were also both in other relationships, and the conversations about understanding love, expectations, and commitment were unfiltered. There was no intimacy. Only a deep friendship. The misadventures that ensued were epic.

The time this guy had a piss bottle in the lean-to and Sharon didn’t know what it was.

“its so he doesn’t have to get up to piss. He can do it right from his sleeping bag”

She promptly moved her sleeping bag to the other side of mine so she wasn’t next to him.

The days of mud in Vermont. We were trying everything to avoid getting muddy. Eventually, I heard her slip off a rock…. Splash…. then a pause. I did not turn around. I already knew she was frustrated. Next thing you know I hear her stomping through the mud. We never laughed so hard as she stomped past me, a complete mud monster.

A flat stretch through the forest being a little ahead. I heard a crash and turned around to see Sharon standing still, a giant tree branch had fallen feet behind her. We sat and snacked on berries and trail mix for a while until she stopped shaking.

 

We stopped at a peach farm and enjoyed a pint of Ben and Jerry’s and some amazing peaches. She passed out on the bench and I just let her sleep. She was exhausted that day.

The second best day on the trail was a swim in a river and we climbed a tree and had lunch in it. Field walks and fireflies that night.

Pancakes at upper goose pond. It was torrential rain as we got invited in. Two bunks were left and we had picked a bunch of blueberries the day before. Perfect for the pancakes in the morning. The caretaker showed us how to rub each other’s arch in the foot, which felt incredible and made an amazing difference. We incorporated hand sanitizer into this nightly ritual to make our feet clean.  It felt like mint to the feet.  Refreshing. (plus it cleans your feet before climbing into your sleeping bag!)

 

 

Until one day I saw it.

We were at a work for stay doing some organic farming. Another woman had passed us and was leaving entries in the trail registers. Sharon was excited and wanted to meet another girl on the trail. There were so few. We tried for about a week to catch her, but alas, she was incredibly fast and despite our best efforts, it didn’t happen. Slowly Sharon realized this adventure she was on was suppose to be a solo one. One of her own, and originally I was not part of that. A few other conversations later, I realized something, and completely missed something else.

Sharon wanted to start hiking alone. And if that’s what she wanted, then I wanted it too. Hike your own hike. Right? I understood that she wanted to experience her own adventures. Test herself and see what she does on her own. Feel the freedom of hiking alone. What I missed about all of this was something very different.

I had acquired the things I needed to hike solo,

and the next day we started hiking separately. Although odd and different, I managed fine. I bumped into her again at lunch. And then at the secret shelter that night. There was a terrific rainstorm, and everytime the donkeys in the field would randomly go off in the night… “HEEHAWW-HEEEHAAWWW” we would burst out in laughter.

The next day was the last time I would ever see her again.

In the morning I was off. My sister and her husband and my parents were going to meet me.

I had four days to blaze through the green tunnel in the time everyone else nearby was taking five.

Arriving in town alone, my parents, sister, and her husband was there to pick me up. Immediately we hit burgers and unlimited french fries at Red Robin. A thru-hikers dream.  Food.

We dropped a pair of extra shoes off at a hostel for a friend. And I said goodbye after a day and I hopped back on the trail. Sharon, however, didn’t.

A few days later I ran into another hiker and he told me Sharon had decided to get off the trail.

She decided to stop hiking. A few things she mentioned about student loans, missing home, hiking solo. I had missed all of it. But maybe I was supposed to. Maybe she didn’t want me to know. I’m sure I would have tried to convince her to keep going. At least, I think I would have?

I had her email and a phone number, so I tried an email to get in touch with her after a while. I got no response. I waited a while before I tried a second time and the response I received left me spinning. Sharon had been killed in a car accident. I had no details. I had no idea what to think. I had a phone number and I dialed it in private. I didn’t want anyone to listen in.

The phone rang once before her sister answered the phone.

“Hi, this is Bobby… Sweetfish.. I hiked with Sharon on the Appalachian Trail.”

I could hear a few words on the other end start, quickly broken by light sobs.

She couldn’t talk.

I just needed to call to see what happened? What is happening?

“I can call back later. I’m so sorry. When you can talk. Or you can email me” I told her.

We hung up. I was confused and sad for her family. I’ll just wait to hear from them.

I felt horrible for her family. I can’t think what they were going through. Without much I could do but wait for a callback or email, I started listening to what I was feeling.

After the trail.the people around me seemed to think I would have taken this harder. I searched my soul on long walks with my mom trying to come to a reason.

As best I could describe this, was that there was nothing we didn’t talk about.

There was not one conversation that we didn’t have. When we said goodbye and parted ways, there was nothing more we could have said. On good terms and with all sincerity, we truly said goodbye. There was nothing I could tell her that was not already said, a luxury that not everyone gets when things like this happen. I found myself at peace with that.

A winter hike sometime later, into Zealand Hut, a few of us gathered to spread her ashes. Later on the next spring, I did a solo hike to a very special spot where I left some of her ashes. A place where I have left others ashes as well. I visit there often and remember more about the meaning of why we are here, what to do with the time you have, and the people and memories that make this journey all worth it.

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