3/7

Trey Mountain Shelter is a cold place to stay down to 30ish with cold, wet clouds gusting from the North by the shelter face. It’s hard to keep warm with freezing winds under the floorboards. My pad was just barely ok, but Eric got pretty cold. I’d look over and he’s mummified in his bag with barely a nose tip sticking out and doing something like sit-ups to get warmth. His down bag is still damp from two nights ago. With some tinkering, wrapping Eric’s one-man tent shell with a mylar safety blanket, we managed him a thermal groundcloth. Still, plenty of solid sleep. Guess that comes from just being physically tired. This morning everything was frosted over looking like a winter wonderland in areas. Water bottles were half frozen and yesterday’s wet socks frozen stiff.

To our surprise, the clouds lifted and we woke to amazing views of the mountains (panorama pic). We got off to an early start and my right knee was really hurting behind the kneecap. In guessing Patellar tendinitis. I’ve starting drinking a ton of water, popped 600mg Ibuprofren, and tied a twisted bandana below the knee. With heavy use of the trekking poles my knee has started to feel better throughout the day. A zero or maybe “near-o” mile day tomorrow will help. We hit Dick’s Creek (11 miles from Trey Mtn) around 2pm and with no cell service to call the shuttle, hitched a ride to Hiawassee. The guy had a red pick up truck with a bed “fence” made large quartered branches and said “give ya a lift for $10?”. We shook our heads and explained a shuttle will be along to get us. “$5?”. We replied, “Nah, thanks though.”. “How bout a joint? I’d take that.”. “Nope”. He pulls ahead ten feet and stops. “Get in, your killing my conscience.”. We piled in the truck bed next to a huge, friendly Chow dog and gave the man $3 after we got there. As we left he said,”don’t tell the authorities, but I know where it’s at if you need some.”. Not exactly a pillar of society, but I was grateful for the ride. The Hiawassee Inn is pretty much a rat hole, and by the sounds from next door I’m stripping off the sheets and sleeping with my sleeping bag over me. It has hot water, laundry and quick access to Ingles and Ace Hardware. Good enough. Tonights supper: Pint of Blue Bell Cookies and Cream, Deli cheese pasta casserole, huge cup of fried okra, two yogurts, pint of chocolate milk, and an crisp, healthy Fuji Apple. Perfect. I was hoping to update the blog tonight with pics from my phone, but AT&T has no service here. Oh, I forgot to mention after deep conversations on the trail a couple days ago, the miles seemed to just go by in a trance. Thus I’m now “Trance” on the trail.

Gear of the day: leki trekking poles. Absolutely needed on downhills. Everyone is dealing with knee problems!

3/8

Headed out of Hiawassee by shuttle and headed to Plum Orchard Gap Shelter. Eric stayed behind in town to get his bivy sack by mail. Walking alone today, I really started to connect with everything around me. I’m sitting on the edge of a hillside level with all the tree tops swaying in unison with the wind. Sounds like ocean waves all around me. Mesmerizing. I stopped every 15 minutes to stretch the knees and relax and “listen” to my body. I think connecting the body and nature is inescapable on the trail. 2pm I reached the shelter where two others were. Both said their knees hurt before I mentioned mine. The shelter is the best I’ve seen. Triple decks to sleep in so I immediately picked the top for the warmth tonight. Other hiker’s trickled in and it was great to see Eric (La-La) came too. Now it’s 6:30 and about 16 people are here. Everyone is saying rain, a tornado watch, and maybe even snow tomorrow! I’ll probably take a zero day and watch the weather from the sweet spot I’ve claimed here. Oh in case I forgot to mention it, Jake if you’re reading the blog, your old trekking poles were paid forward to Firewalker. He loves them and before we parted ways, said he could not have done Blood Mountain trail without them. Thanks! And to La-La who shared the top level with three others, appreciate the broccoli/garlic farts man.

3/9

What a day. Most hiking parties split based on judgement of whether hiking in the rain is worth it. Although I think “possible tornadic” wind is overkill, it is definitely cold and very wet. Hikes in the 4000-5000 ft range make hypothermia a real battle. Not a problem hiking, but when stopped… I made a late decision to hike for Muscrat or Standing Indian Shelter today based on food. I need to get to the Nantahala Outdoors Center sooner than later. Hiking alone entering about 3800-4000 ft range, I got a sudden massive facial spasm on my right side including the the neck and all the face. I thought I was cold and starting laughing at how it must look. I got the picture of the scene in Dumb & Dumber when the cop reacted to “Sipping on some of Grandpa’s cough-medicine”. I laughed until 5 minutes later it happened again without warning and was violent enough to twist my head to the side. The shock of it scared me and I immediately thought hypothermia. I noticed a tingling feeling in my head and my balance was slight askew, but not so much to hinder quickening the pace. As I hurried, breathing harder, I noticed I was having trouble taking in breathes. The muscles used in breathing from the nose to the larynx were having spasms closer to the windpipe. I started realizing I might be in a REAL situation, alone and far from civilization. Thoughts of important people in life and the impact suffocation definitely came sharply into focus. I slowed down and the breathing was easier. I passed “Indy” on the trail and when I tried to explain the situation, I was almost continually having muscle spasms and couldn’t form words at all. I realized at that moment it’s either severe hypothermia and/or possibly even Bell Palsy or Stroke. I shot passed toward the next shelter, adrenaline pumping, trekking poles kicking up mud. My mind kept repeating, “This is real” over and over without mental control, like I was hearing it rather than saying it…it was almost disorienting. By the time I made to the shelter I was warm, but my face was still twitching, speech impossible. La-La and the others were huddled together in the back of the shelter out of the rain and said “Trance!” in surprise to meet me. I could not answer and there was that moment of award silence. I found a paper and pencil and wrote down “I’ve had a stroke, I need to get to a hospital.”. Everyone snapped to a serious, shocked mode and figured to call Forest Service and get me down. La-La took over almost exactly as a big brother would taking leading the situation. Impressive. I chose to hike with my pack down the trail using my trekking poles. I was lead by a fast hiker hurrying up to meet Rangers at trail-head and followed by “La-La” and another person who had a phone and was in contact with the Rangers. At trailhead I met my transport to the main road. Everything from Fire & Rescue to half the local forest service was waiting. Since I couldn’t talk, I was texting in my iPhone Notes app furiously trying to communicate with them. All thumbs. My previous knowledge through ICU Nursing held some clout and they more asked what I want to do than told me. That was really nice. The local hospital ran CT scans with contrast and found a “grey non-growing mass 4.5cm on the left side” and said they’re immediately shipping me to Asheville Mission Hospital for the best neurologists. After an MRI with contrast and X-ray, the prognosis is a “low grade glioma or astrocytoma tumor in the area of my brain where the sensory-motor strip is (allows the right side of my body to move). It’s hard to distinguish normal from tumor so they will do an awake surgery to have me talk while tinkering around in my brain (which is actually pretty cool).

So, hopefully there’s not too much, or “Profound” sensory-motor loss after the surgery and I’m in good spirits. It’s an obstacle and will be eternally optimistic by choice. No reason to see otherwise. These bodies are “rentals” after all is said and done and everyone knows you can’t expect too much from a rental.:) I hope to someday complete the Appalachian Trail and will cheer my new found “trail family” on!! Thanks Renee, Firewalker, Grace, and La-La!!

–Trance

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