The trail has been an alternate reality for me. The other day I realized that it was May already and that back home, friends were getting ready to graduate. The long, lazy days of summer that last year I spent at the pool or lake or floating down the Broad River are coming up fast. It has been a year since I graduated. Where has the time gone? The last year has been a whirlwind of preparation and stress. And then I took my first step on the trail, through the archway at Amicalola Falls and time seems to have frozen. Sure I feel like I have been out here for a long time, but my life back home has most definitely frozen in time. I think of it still being March 19th.
But life still has happened back home. And although hiking the Appalachian Trail has become my reality for the moment, I still have a life back home, too. I have a family who goes to work and school, a dog who still sleeps and poos and wags her tail ferociously, and a girlfriend who's living all of the stresses of everyday life without me present to ease any of them. My family came up to Virgina to see me for a few days, as I wrote in my last post, and instead of seeing me off yesterday morning at the VA606 crossing, I rode back with them to Atlanta. I'm taking the next week and a half to two weeks off of the trail. Don't worry though - I'll be back (in my Arnold voice).
It happened quickly after over a year of a little worry in the back of our heads. Pauline, not to be too specific, got some pretty frightening news about her health on Tuesday. She called me as my mom and I were out for a short 9.5-mile day hike and quickly told me the overview of the results she received and that she was going to have to have an operation on May 31st, and that she couldn't talk because she was at work and had to go into a meeting. It was a lot of emotion all at once, to hear her so frightened and be so far away, on the side of a mountain with barely a bar of service. I didn't have service the rest of the day and I didn't know what I was supposed to think or do in the situation. I just needed to talk to her. It was tough to remain patient for the next 4 hours and I tried my hardest to just enjoy my hike with my mom - but I really couldn't. All of my thoughts were with Pauline.
I talked to her when we got done and she got off work and I told her that I was going to be there for her operation. She immediately told me I didn't need to do that, and I insisted. We talked some more later that night about everything and I could hear how frightened she was now. I feel like in a relationship there is a lot of responsibility and I knew that now was one of those times that she really needed me. I knew I was going to come home for the operation, but I felt like I presently needed to be there for her. I know that with this, there is the idea of the operation that is scary - she will have to be anesthetized, there is the actual news that is scary, and there is a whole lot of time in between now and then to worry about it all.
I felt like it was as important for me to be here for her now as it will be to be here for her during her operation. But it was probably going to be four weeks off the trail. I had planned to finish before my birthday, Sept 28th. Pauline had a cruise planned for the two of us and four weeks off would make it difficult to finish by then. Plus, I worried I'd get chubby and out of shape and even scared I wouldn't want to come back. I had this all-or-nothing attitude - if I come back tomorrow with them I was going to be done with my journey. Pauline talked sense into me, which she does so well, and made me realize I didn't need to scrap the trip just because I'd be taking this hiatus. I came back with them the next morning, ready to spend the month with Pauline, okay with the possibility of not finishing the trail this year and feeling like it was the right decision. I was able to talk to her before we left Wednesday morning and the relief I could here in her voice completely validated the decision I had made. She was never going to be the one to tell me to come home, she didn't want that responsibility, but I knew I needed to be here for her now. My sister woke up to me still in the house (mom was going to drop me off on the trail a couple hours earlier) and she told me, with a big smile, she was proud of the decision I was making. I got back to Atlanta, feeling like a ghost, and feeling strange to be back home so much sooner than I anticipated, but feeling really proud of the decision I had made, too.
I got to see my dog! and she's doing so great.. and I was able to flop her ears and tackle her to the ground, and cuddle with her head on my chest, like I've been longing to do since I left. And Pauline and I had a great night together, going out to eat at her new favorite restaurant in Decatur and cuddling with her head on my chest, too. And her operation was even moved up two full weeks to the 16th, so she's feeling less bad about me having to take time off and I think it's good because she doesn't have to think about it and worry for such a long time - we can get it done and over with. So I'm actually home, in Atlanta, for a little while. The operation is Monday, but I'm on no timetable to rush back to the trail. I plan to stay at least for the remainder of next week.
I'm going to take the time to do a lot of writing about my trip so far. I've been writing almost every day, but so many times I'm tired or it gets dark and I don't feel like writing as much as I could. And I'm going to upload all my videos to YouTube, too, so maybe I'll share some video posts with yall. My journey is far from complete, just on hold right now as I take a step out of the alternate reality and back into real life for a bit.