“Trail Gimp, just set up your tent and stay safe. You’ll get to the hut and dry out tomorrow.”
“Don’t even attempt to climb Kinsman in the rain. Stay put. Safe is better than dead.”
Setting up a tent in the rain is less appealing than the hut six miles up the trail. It’s 4:00 p.m., and I should be able to hike the distance before it becomes completely dark.
But it’s raining, which will slow my progress a bit.
But I just ate and refueled my body.
But I don’t want to slip on the wet rocks and get hurt.
Well, I’ve been limping for three months already, so it’s not a big deal.
But it’s getting colder, and I don’t want to risk hypothermia.
But I don’t want to set up my tent in the rain. And the hut will be warm and dry, and there will be hot food waiting for me.
The last argument is enough for me. I hoist my pack, bid farewell to the other hikers, and walk away from the shelter, their pleas for my sanity growing faint with every step.
Within minutes, I realize they might be right, but the lure of the hut won’t allow me to turn back. The guidebook prepared me for Eliza Brook, a gently rolling stream, perhaps a few inches deep. I’m unprepared for the torrent of water reaching my knees, nearly toppling me over. My hiking poles help me balance, and I concentrate on moving one foot at a time, planting each boot squarely and evenly on a slippery and uneven bed of rocks, stone, and moss under a foot of rushing water before moving the next foot. Crossing a stream that should have taken ten seconds takes five minutes. I ignore this warning and continue to climb Kinsman Mountain.
The rocks are slick, the path steep, and I move slowly, stoically, each foot secure before moving the next, as if guided by an unseen force. I can’t see the summit or the grandiose view. I see a few feet of rain and my breath as I climb up the narrow, precipitous trail.
I hear voices. Some hikers appear through the mist, descending, propelled by gravity. I move a few inches to let them pass, and they tell me I still have quite a way to reach the summit. How long have I been climbing? Fifteen minutes? An hour? Time is standing still. The other hikers complain of weary legs, aching knees, and heavy packs. For some reason, I notice nothing. My feet are warm, my legs solid, my lungs strong, my pack light. I climb, hand over hand, stepping slowly but surely. I hear my grandmother’s voice. “You have this, April. You’ll be fine.” The hiking becomes easier, the slope less steep.
I’m suddenly at the South Peak, though it’s gotten darker, and it’s still raining. Another ascent, and I’m at the top of the North Peak. I hear my cousin’s voice. “Keep going, April. You’ll be fine.”
Thirty minutes later, I arrive at a campsite. Common sense tells me to stay here and set up my tent. The hut is still two miles down the mountain. I consider the benefits and perils of staying or moving forward. It’s barely above freezing. The sun has set. But if I wanted to stay in my wet tent, I would have stayed at the last shelter. I’ve come too far to give up now.
What time is it?
I make a deal with myself – if it’s later than 7:15 pm, I need to stay and set up my tent. My watch reads 7:13 pm. Stay or go? It’s taken three hours to hike four miles. I have two miles left.
Should I stay or go? Stay or go?
I hear the word “GO” and run down the trail. I slow when I reach the rocks. Oh, this is dangerous. Oh shoot – this is steep, really, really steep. Be careful. Oh God, please don’t fall. Please be careful.
I descend slowly, holding onto every wet, slippery rock. My hip flexor is still not fully healed, and my leg begins to shake from the exertion. I shake with every step. Yet, somehow, I don’t feel it. No pain. I’m wet but warm. My knees should ache, but they don’t. I find strength I didn’t know I had.