A Tale of Two Smokies: Franklin, NC to Hot Springs, NC.

“Glad you’re not dead yet.” – Colin Heneghan

Comforting words from one of my best friends and former roommate Colin. He means well. Things are actually going fantastic – I have quite a bit to write about since the last time I checked in (way back in Franklin, 170 miles ago). In order for these posts to cover a lot of ground, I’m going to stick to getting them out in town, with a format of: Introduction, Day Summaries, and Other thoughts at the end. If there’s other things you guys would like to read about, please let me know! In the mean time I try to get pictures on on my Instagram (@dontdoitkid) a little more often when I’m between Nero’s/Zero’s, so be sure to check out there as I’ll have lots of good pictures.

Videos!

I also have finally figured out, kind of, how to get all of the videos I’ve been shooting up. Watch them if you want but I’ll warn you that I feel very skittish in front of a camera so my tone and voice is more darting and jumpy than it is in person… which is already a lot. I’ve done four so far, but uploading them has been difficult so I’ll try to add more in as I get closer and closer. I’ve also been trying to upload them in either 720p or 1080p but things keep getting messed up for one reason or another, so I’ll edit these the next time I have a longer break in town. Could be a while but, you know, I do have a hike to get going on.

Adapting to Trail Life

Already I am noticing significant changes that I’ve been undergoing, mentally and physically.  A few days ago at the Standing Bear Farm Hostel I weighed myself and was shocked to see that it read 164 – I was a whopping 186 pounds when I left (I know that’s a lot, but hey I was eating a lot of Pizza at my job and it was pretty damn good). 22 pounds in a little over three weeks?? Do I have a tapeworm or something? The truth is that while this is a little more than usual, it’s not entirely unexpected. Weight loss stems from two competing factors – upper body muscle loss, and fat loss as the body uses its own fuel stores in order to power through some of the longer days. I expect to certainly see more of a weight loss while I’m out here, but the fact that I’ve already lost that much is both exciting and a little crazy. Then again, maybe its to be expected when you hike 15-20 miles, day after day after day.

The body has a way of toughening up to the trail – it hardens and grows stronger as it copes with the physical demands that the trail exerts. Calluses have begun to overtake the array of blisters that once covered my feet. The sides of my feet and heels have also begun to feel “leathery” due to the gradual toughening of the skin in those areas as well. This is something I’m thankful for – foot pain is one thing, but blisters just suck. Now I only have to wake up with aching feet and muscles! A small but significant improvement.

The perspective of each day’s mileage is also changing as I get further north (let’s ignore the fact that I still have a little under 2000 miles remaining… haha). I remember my first 15 mile day, when I booked it over Blood Mountain to get to Neel Gap before the wind and ice storm arrived. I made it, but I was aching, exhausted, mentally drained, and in overall pretty rough shape. Things have changed quite a bit since then. I’m finding that I’m able to do 12 miles before lunch time, and that 16-18 miles a day is becoming a pretty average goal. This is a good thing, since it’s no fun sitting around comparing your daily mileage to others and feeling bad about it. Yesterday I did 18.5 to get into Hot Springs, and I was still able to get there by 3:30 and get half my chores done. There’s a lot more transformation to go, but I’m definitely feeling better than ever.

Mental strength ties in to this as well. Waking up feeling positive every morning is a difficult endeavor. Most mornings it is easy, but there are some cold and rainy mornings where the inside of a sleeping bag seems infinitely more appealing than a days hike to the next campsite or shelter. This is the great challenge of a long distance hike. Physically adversity comes and goes in waves, but the mental trials really are the greater beast to overcome. On to the day summaries.

Day 10: March 12th
Rock Gap to Franklin Budget Inn: 106 Miles
Miles Hiked: 3.5

Bare with me as I continue to mess around with the formatting for this daily entries – we’ll get it eventually! This is a second part to my Nero in Franklin, since I finished my last post when I had just initially arrived into Franklin. After signing in, Banana Boat, Houdini and I moved our stuff into our room and essentially turned it into a mini outfitter. All of our gear was spread out everywhere to dry, as we had quite a bit of rain in the days leading up to Franklin. We finally got to do some laundry, which was a great opportunity for me to rock the laundry suit:

Laundry Suit in Franklin

I know, I know – I should be wearing this all the time. While the laundry was going the three of us walked around Franklin, checking out the the Outdoor 76′ outfitter and the Motor City Diner. This diner was fantastic – it had a 50’s theme, complete with jukeboxes and reflected silver coating the walls everywhere. Aside from Daniel’s in Hiawassee, this was my first restaurant experience off the trail, and man it was good. Nothing like a cheeseburger covered in buffalo sauce to revitalized the soul and ever so lightly coat the arteries. After eating I headed off with Ron Haven and his Budget Inn shuttle to check out the other outfitter in town – Three Eagle Outfitters. I picked up a new silicone mug, some post cards, and a smaller container of Dr. Brieners all purpose biodegradable soap (this stuff is a lifeline out here in the eternal struggle against the conniving Norovirus. Once I got back from the outfitter I met Banana Boat and Houdini at the grocery store, bought way too much food, and got back to the motel where I attempted to cram all of the food into my food bag. When we finally finished that, the three of us met Werewolf, Plissken, Tribute, Sparkle and Rocky at Mulligans for beers, more food, and college basketball. Too bad there was no UConn on.

Rocky, Banana Boat, Plissken, Sparkle, Tribute,Werewolf, Houdini and I at Mulligans in Franklin.

Day 11: March 13th
Rock Gap to Siler Bald Shelter: 114 Miles
Miles Hiked: 8

Houdini, Banana Boat and I on out way out of Rock Gap back from Franklin

It would be just my luck that the day I decided to Nero also ended up being one of the nicest days of the hike so far. Sometimes you just have to work with what you got. When we woke up and left the Budget Inn the next day clouds were already beginning to form, an ominous haze of rainfall approaching in the distance. Ron Haven drove us back to the Rock Gap trailhead, giving his famed speech thanking all of us for patronizing him and the establishments in town (in the thickest Southeastern accent I’ve ever heard). We had heard rumors of trail magic awaiting back at Rock Gap, but upon arriving my expectations were completely exceeded.

Amazing Trail magic from these students of Ohio Wesleyan University. Pizza, chicken, donuts, coffee… amazing.

These students from Ohio Wesleyan University made the trip all the way out to North Carolina in order to do a couple days of backpacking and set up this incredible trail magic setup for all of us. They had everything: Pizza, fried chicken, coffee, donuts, hummus, chips, hot chocolate with whipped cream and chocolate sauce. There’s no butting around it – this was an entire buffet, and it was free! The rest of the day was much colder. I arrived at the shelter in pouring rain, and set up my tent as quick as possible since the shelter was very full. Rocky and Sparkle were there, as well as Smasher (who will be pursuing a doctorate degree at BU in the fall, where I’ll be attending Law School!) and a few other new faces. After a sad and ineffective attempt to dry out some clothes over a small fire I ended up going to bed pretty early, but at least I was able to remain dry!

Day 12: March 14th
Siler Bald Shelter to Cold Spring Shelter: 125.6 Miles
Miles Hiked: 11.6

I awoke pretty early, a little after 7, and forced myself to pack up my tent and gear in the cold rain in order to get moving. My initial and perhaps overly ambitious target of the day was the shelter after Cold Spring shelter, but as the day unfolded I discovered that it would be very difficult to reach this with the trail conditions as they were. Unexpected deviations often result in positive experiences though, and this night was sheer proof of that. I nabbed the last spot in the shelter with Ewok, Kareoke, Sparkle, and a couple other hikers whose names I have forgotten.

A cold and rainy evening in Cold Spring Shelter. Those packs and clothes would spook me as I woke up in the middle of the night.

 

Once I was able to get dry and out of the rain things really turned around, and we had a great night hanging out and eating a second, third, and fourth dinner. I wish there was more to write about with the actual hike during the day itself, but it was one of those “keep your head down and keep moving” type of days. The night itself made up for it though – with one exception. When I woke up in the middle of the night to answer the call of nature, I looked out to see what appeared to be hanging carcasses draping the front of the shelter, as if in a butcher’s window. After a few befuddled moments I realized that it was our own packs that we had hung there, but it took me a minute. The brain can be a bit slow sometimes when sleep is needed.

Day 13: March 15th
Cold Spring Shelter to Sassafras Gap Shelter: 144 Miles
Miles Hiked: 18.4

My mileage might be a little off on this entry as I was guestimating it when I initially wrote this. Today was the first day that I have been able to look back at myself and say, definitively: “I will make it to the summit of Mt. Katahdin.” My initial goal of the morning to make the steep descent (2500 feet if I remember correctly) into the NOC and then ascend all the way back up on the other side to reach Sassafras Gap Shelter. My backup plan at the time would be get a room at the NOC bunkhouse, but ideally that would be avoided since I was trying to save my money for further Nero’s and Zero’s. The top of Wesser Bald had an incredible panoramic view, which completely lifted the spirits after a couple of days of rain and muddled vistas on the way out of Franklin. I met Houdini and a few others at the top there, who insisted that I climb the tower to see everything. The view was amazing – you can see it in the picture immediately below.

The view atop Wesser Bald

After the top of the bald I had a long, 7 mile descent into the NOC, which is a recreational outdoor center that has camping, white water rafting, white water kayaking, zip-lining, and a collection of other types of activities. For a Thru-Hiker, there was only one thing on my mind: Food. I met Clockwise and Shadowfax for the first time, who were taking a zero and hanging out by the river. Clockwise watched my phone as it charged while I did some shopping for food and bought him a beer to pack out in exchange for watching my stuff. I ran into Werewolf and Houdini as well, who were both hanging out outside of the restaurant on the river, drying clothes and enjoying some of the restaurant food nearby. Werewolf was taking a zero and Houdini was continuing on to the same goal as I – Sassafras Gap Shelter. After finishing my shopping I sat by the river and found the rare and coveted cellular service – a mysterious and rare resource that I have not seen much of since I started this hike. Amanda and I talked for a while, though not nearly long enough, and around 3:30 I began the ascent back up out of the NOC.

Great trail magic provided in the form of Orange Juice and Donuts on the way down to the NOC. Let me know if you see this – I forgot your trail name, sorry!!

Railroad on the way out of the NOC

Seen on the ascent up out of the NOC.

 

This is where things got tough.hat I had before me was about 7 more miles of pretty much straight uphill, steeper in fact than the ascent into to Great Smokey Mountain National Park (which I will be referring to from now on as GSMNP). Luckily I had many good Podcasts lined up which kept me going. I’m a big fan of many of the NPR and How Stuff Works Programs, including: RadioLab, Stuff You Should Know, Stuff You Missed In History Class, Freakanomics, This American Life, The History of World War II, Invisibilia, and many other shows. I’ll get a full list of them in here at some point. These were very helpful, as this was my first “race against the sunset” moment. Not that you can’t hike at night. It’s not like The Mummy Returns, where Brendan Fraiser had to get his sun into the Pyramid before the sunset (or maybe sunrise) hit, or else his son would turn into dust or Imhotep or who knows what (that movie was all over the place anyway). Ideally, though, hiking during the light is better. It’s safer, it’s more calming, and warmer. Every time I reached a high point I thought “this is it!” only to realize that I had many more hills to climb. At one point I actually dropped my pack and ate 2/3 of a block of cheese to fuel myself (big mistake… as I would later find out). After I finished eating I ran into Not Yet, who estimated that the shelter was no more than 10 minutes away. Sure enough, we turned the corner and there it was.

By the time we walked in to camp it was close to 7:30, and although most people were awake many of them had already finished eating. I had eaten so much cheddar cheese that I had a massive stomach ache – I was a little worried it was Norovirus (it wasn’t) – so I barely ate any dinner and passed out pretty much immediately. It wasn’t pretty, but I had done it. I had made the descent into and ascent out of the NOC, covered 18.5 miles, and lived to tell the tale. I was going to make it to Katahdin.

Day 14: May 16th
Sassafras Gap Shelter to Cable Gap Shelter: 159.2 Miles
Miles Hiked: 15.2

Morning was a real struggle, as the aftermath of the previous day’s climb set in. With a long day ahead, I popped a couple of vitamin I’s and started moving, pausing every minute or so to stretch my legs and aching feet. Thankfully, there was a plus side to having hiked all the way up a mountain the night before:

Sunset at Sassafras Gap Shelter

This sunrise… or maybe it was the sunset… greeted me in the morning/previous evening as I got into bed/woke up. As you can see the days tend to blend together a little bit, even with all of the notes and journal writing that I do, so I’m honestly not sure whether this was night or morning. Regardless, it was a beautiful sight, and it really helped turn my mood around. The rest of the day would be incredible, despite the physical challenges that resulted from the long day that I had hiked previously. After a little over two miles I finally made it to the top of Cheoah Bald, which was the final peak in series of ascents that followed my passing through the NOC. The climb was worth it.

Finally reaching the first bald afrfter the NOC.

Shameless self portrait on the top of Cheoah bald. It’s not much of a beard, but it’s a start!

The rest of the day escapes me – remember that I’m writing this with notes from a week after – but I remember hiking right behind Paradox for the last mile, chasing his constant whistling as I moved towards the finish line. I met a trio of hikers at the shelter once I finally got set up – Frodo, Chef, and “Hat” although I don’t think he likes that name very much. We spent a little time hanging around the fire with all of that group, Tree Ninja, Smasher and his father Papa Smash, and a few others. Sleep came relatively quickly, but was interrupted by what seemed like the ending of the world. Apparently there was some sort of military fly over practice around 11:30 that night, and the sonic boom burst right over our campsite. Again – the immediate awakening from sleep beckons disorientation, and it freaked the heck out of everybody. Sleep came eventually, but certainly not as easily as before.

Day 15: March 17th
Cable Gap Shelter to The Fontana Hilton: 166.3 Miles
Miles Hiked: 6.7

A word to the wise – Nero days are not as relaxing as they seem. The idea, theoretically, is that you get up early, get all of your chores done once you finish your hike, and hang out and relax for the rest of the day. In application, this usually ends up as a mad frenzy of chores and business to accomplish. The hike into Fontana was nice and easy. Blue skies with sporadic drifting clouds helped the morning warm quickly, and before I knew it I was had made it down into the Fontana AT Crossing, where a phone awaited my call for a shuttle into the Fontana Village. I also met Four and Five (they are the 4th and 5th of their name, respectively, though they aren’t related) who I would hike with through most of the GSMNP… but more on that later. After checking out a Marina with several boats (Dr. Steve Brule: For Your Broats!) I called the Fontana Village phoneline and caught a 3 dollar shuttle into town, where they dropped me off at a gas station called The Pit Stop. This place was certainly… interesting. Their wares consisted of expensive but low nutrition hiker foods, microwavable food, and 6 beers that they had on draft. I grabbed a beer and a hot dog (it was St. Patrick’s day after all) and restocked on good amount of food, as I my mail drop would not get to the Fontana Village front desk in time for me to pick it up. Sadly this resulted in the purchasing of lots of tortillas, ramen, and peanut butter.

After leaving The Pit Stop I walked up a long driveway to the top of the resort, where I found Roadside, Banana Boat, Clockwise and Shadowfax hanging around. I charged my phone in an outlet, washed my cook pot in the bathroom and even managed to Yogi (Yogi: Where a Thru-Hiker receives a free good through a means other than directly asking) some toilet paper. I also had lunch with Smasher and Papa Smash at the resort restaurant, which had an amazing lunch special of BBQ Pulled Pork, Potato Salad and Slaw for 7 dollars. Not too bad at all.

After catching a ride back down to where I left the trail, I hiked the remaining mile to The Fontana Hilton, which is one of the nicest shelters on the trail. Just check out the view that it overlooked:

Camping area at The Fontana Hilton shelter.

This 20 person shelter had showers and a bathroom with running water just up the hill, and there was a surprise appearance by the one and only Fresh Grounds! We had hot dogs and home made french fries with him, and after we helped him clean up his gear he came down to the campsite and joined us for a fire. There was a good crowd there – Fresh Grounds, Brightside, Houdini, Banana Boat, Shadowfax, Clockwise, Cricket, Roadside, Chef, Not Yet and many others that I can’t quite remember. Members of the crowd slowly drifted off as the sun dipped behind the mountains, and by time hiker midnight hit (also known as (9:00pm) everyone went off to bed.

Day 16: March 18th
The Fontana Hilton to Mollies Ridge Shelter: 177 Miles
Miles Hiked: 11.1

There was no huge incentive to get up early, as Fresh Grounds was making Banana, Apple and Walnut pancakes for everybody. Four cups of coffee and a couple of pancakes will do a body good before a big hike, and that extra boost definitely helped propel me up the ascent into the GSMNP. Of course, the first two hours were unnecessarily stressful – I walked all the way over the dam and into the park, not sure if I had missed the spot to drop off the first half of my permit or not. If I had, I would need to walk alllll the way back to the Fontana Dam visitor center. Thankfully I saw the deposit box right next to the welcome sign into the park.

Fontana Dam at last!

After climbing up for a couple of hours I found an old, incredibly sketchy lookout tower that I climbed to catch a descent view. You can see it below – to the right of the lake is the dam that I had walked over earlier.

Up in a tower overlooking the Fontana Dam where i hiked up from.

Not long after pressing on from the tower I found Mollies Ridge Shelter, where I settled in around 2:30pm. It was only Roadside and I for a while – Houdini, Werewolf and Plissken all rolled through but decided to keep going to get some more miles in. Unfortunately the other 20+ people had same plan, and they ended up getting stuck at a very crowded campsite that night. Our shelter was great though – it ended up being myself, newcomer Romeo (who is cranking away at his blog right next to me in the library in Hot Springs as I write this), Four, Five and Cricket. Four and Five loved to make fires, so we were lucky enough to have a few good ones in the fireplaces inside of the shelters.

Inside of Mollies Ridge Shelter. Those “indoor” fireplaces were a lifesaver.

All of the GSMNP campsites have bear cables, and all hikers are required to stay at campsites and in the shelter unless the shelters are full. There are lots of hungry bears roaming the park, and as outdoor enthusiasts we need to collectively keep the food from them so they don’t get used to running off of people food. I’m pretty sure tuna packets and ramen aren’t good for bears anyway…

Day 17: March 19th
Mollies Ridge Shelter to Derrick Knob Shelter: 189 Miles
Miles Hiked: 12

Most of these posts over the next couple of days are going to be pretty short, because my experience with the first half of the GSMNP was rain, misery, and cold. Pretty much everything looked like this:

So. Much. Rain.

It’s not like it was absolutely terrible – I was certainly happy to be outside and on this grand adventure, but a couple days of cold and rain will really get to you. Thankfully I ran into Five and him and I hiked together for a decent chunk of the day. We stopped briefly one shelter close of our goal, but if you stopped moving for more than a minute or two you would start to shiver and feel the beginning effects of hypothermia. Soaked clothes+wind+rain+45 degrees = not a very good time at all. Luckily there was a good crew waiting for us at the shelter. I found Plissken, Werewolf and Houdini all in their sleeping bags, awake but barely moving as it was so cold and wet outside. Before long the rest of our crew from the previous night rolled in, and despite the terrible weather we were able to get a fire going and have a decent evening. It couldn’t rain forever, right?

Day 18: March 20th
Derrick Knob Shelter to Mt. Collins Shelter: 202.8 miles
Miles Hiked: 13.8

Another shorter day thanks to rain, wind and cold. Many of the hikers I was with would be heading into to Gatlinburg to resupply, but having been there once before I was trying to avoid it at all costs. However, this meant that I was really going to need to stretch my food stores in order to make it alright.

High Point of the Appalachian Trail, Clingman’s Dome. Check out the view…?

Clingman’s Dome again.

The day was an all day slog – I went up to the top of Clingman’s Dome to say that I had made it, but really there wasn’t much that I could see. Wind was blowing in every direction, and the trail was very waterlogged from three days of rain. Plissken, Romeo and I hiked the last four miles together to the Mt. Colins shelter, which as half a mile down the trail but not a bad place to stay. I’m pretty sure that a bear found its way into our camp at night too – I heard some sort of noises outside of something large moving around, but sometimes you’re just too tired to really let it bother you.

Day 19: March 21st
Mt. Colins Shelter to Peck’s Corner Shelter: 217.7 Miles
Miles Hiked: 14.9

Just as the rain and cold and dampen a mood like nothing else, sun and warmth can equally revitalize and inspire. Despite being low on food, I pressed forward to Newfound Gap, where two years ago I stood with 15 of my college friends before a great day hike in the park. This time around it was just me here, but I definitely felt a little nostalgic and a tinge of sadness as I walked through there. That last semester was an incredible time – as any of them could attest – and I thought about it a lot as I walked up to the gap. Entering the gap after being pretty much isolated for a couple of experience was surreal – it was like I stepped into a bee hive. From what I could see there were at least a hundred people – cars driving in both directions, a full parking lot, and luckily – Trail Magic!

The start of a great trail magic day, thanks!!

Fantastic TrailMagic from Mountain Momma and Goodspeed, both on the left.

You can tell in my face that I was very, very happy to be fed and to see people. There was so much trail magic to be had – I got enough food for a two day resupply, which erased my dilemma of having to stretch out my food rations. Spirits were rising quickly, and the second half of the GSMNP was turning out to be much better than the first. One guy and his family even came up and gave me 20 dollars, which was a huge shock. The kindness of strangers is not a concept I’m entirely attuned to, so it was nice to see a different side for once.

I returned to Newfound Gap, where two years ago i came with 15 college friends to spend an amazing Spring Break hiking around the Smokies. Miss you all.

After returning to the same spot where our spring break gang took the group photo two years ago (above), I pressed on to Charlie’s Bunion, taking a brief lunch break at Icewater Springer shelter, which I really wish I had been able to stay at. Roadside stayed there after his resupply trip into Gatlinburg and he said it was incredible.

Icewater Spring Shelter

A mile after the shelter I reached Charlie’s Bunion, the first truly phenomenal view that I was able to experience in the GSMNP. I mean you could really see everything from here – so far that on the horizon you could barely discern where the blue mountains ended and the sky began. I know that’s a bit of a trope, but I don’t know how else to say it. It was one of those incredible moments that reminds you about why you’re out here on the trail.

Charlie’s Bunion in GSMMP

The rest of the day’s hike after the Bunion was pretty easy, and I got there shortly after Romeo around 3:00pm. We decided to hang out and relax with chip, Mango, Twinkle Toes, Dopey, and Beaker, eating food and talking as the rest of the hikers came in. Sometimes its better to sit and rest than it is to keep hiking, even if you feel up to it. It’s just one of those times where you have to trust yourself and repeat: The miles will come. The miles will come. The miles will come.

Day 20: March 22nd
Peck’s Corner Shelter to Cosby Knob Shelter: 230.6 Miles
Miles Hiked: 12.9

Another relaxed day under beautiful skies to close out the end of the park. Not much to write about today – with the exception of a small climb at the beginning, this was mostly part one of the two day descent out of the smokies. Thankful to be out of the rain for more than a day at a time.

Day 21: March 23rd
Cosby Knob Shelter to Standing Bear Hostel: 241.3 Miles
Miles Hiked: 10

I awoke early todaytoday, as did Romeo, Beaker, Clockwise, Shadowfax, Hawk Eye and Happy Marine, and all of us hiked quickly out of the GSMNP and a few miles down trail to the famous Standing Bear Farm, which had bunkhouses, treehouses, a trampoline, and a great inexpensive resupply. I picked up my package there and was able to eat real well – although instead of eating trail food I kept getting inexpensive microwavable cheeseburgers to eat. I’m not sure why but that’s the one food I’ve been craving more than anything (and I’m going to go get one once I finish this blog that I’ve been doing for four hours now!!). Beaker hung out with us for a little before pressing on, and we all did laundry (by hand), read, showered, and greeted fellow hikers like Rambling Man, Ozzy, and Cricket as they came in. We all grabbed a couple of beers and enjoyed a nice break, but the crowd (myself included) was still asleep by 10:00pm. That’s the way of the land out here.

Day 22nd: March 24th
Standing Bear Hostel to Roaring Fork Shelter: 256.4
15.1 Miles

Seeker reaches the top of Max Patch

What a day to be alive and out here! The first of two great consecutive hiking days started with a steep climb up Snowbird Mountain, leading to an incredible grassy bald at the summit. A bald is just what it sounds like – a large field, but at the very top of the mountain. The second big climb of the day went over the famous Max Patch, which I crossed over with Ozzy and Rambling Man. Rambling Man said that the first time he hiked it in 05′, the snow was so thick that you couldn’t see more than a couple inches ahead of yourself. Sure am glad that we didn’t have that difficulty this time around. Camp was relatively sparse – just Ozzy, Rambling Man and I until Brightside and Rolling Thunder came through later. For once, I slept all through the night though, as dreams of cheeseburgers, sugarplumbs, and college basketball danced through my head.

Day 23: March 25th
Roaring Forks Shelter to Hot Springs, NC: 274.4 Miles
Miles Hiked: 18.5

This brings us full circle, as I’m sitting in the Hot Springs library writing about all that has gone on over the last week and a half or so. We ran into Fresh Grounds again that morning – he gave me about five cups of coffee (all at once – pouring it into a large cup and handing it to me… he must be getting to know me by now), three pancakes, and some skillet mix before we took off running. The first climb was up Walnut Mountain, which was much easier thanks to the new Hiking Pole techniques that Rambling Man taught me (more on that below). I got to the last shelter around 2:30, and ran into Roadside as I was pumping water, and him and I both booked it the last 3.5 miles in just under an hour to get into town. We, along with Romeo, Happy Marine, Chip, Dopey, Hawk Eye, Chicago, Greywolf, and others all stayed at the laughing heart hostel, where I stayed tonight.

Rambling Man and I on top of Walnut Mountain

Fresh Grounds!!!!!!

You’ll have to wait until next time to hear about my zero in Hot Springs (most of which I spent writing this, but that’s ok – it’s fun) when I get another blog out. Having town Nero’s/Zero’s on each bookend of a journal entry is a nice way for me to keep track of everything, so I’ll probably keep doing it the same way. Next time you’ll hear from me I’ll be in Erwin, TN, in about five days or if all goes well. So I leave you all for now, with a picture of Roadside watching Cliff eating a 2000+ calorie Cheeseburger. He ordered Nachos after, too.

Cliff begins his dismemberment of the Appalachian Trail Burger Special. He finished it all… and then got Nachos.

Odds and Ends

This was definitely my longest entry by far, and while I hope to get them out more often (for my sake as well as yours), a lot of it is up to when I have access to computers and can get in to towns. The next one should certainly be a little more manageable to say the least. Tonight pretty much every Thru-Hiker in the area is descening on the River Mill Pub (I think that’s the name?) for great food and great beer, as there are a bunch of great March Madness match ups tonight. My bracket is doing absolutely horrible, by the way.

The Rambling Man Trekking Pole Technique

A couple of you guys were asking on my Instagram about what I did to change my Trekking Pole technique that made everything so much easier. I was hiking with Rambling man on the way up Max Patch, and he had me watch him a couple times to see a better way to do things. Essentially, when I was going up hill before I was reaching each pole way way out in front me, like a dual pronged ice ax into a sheet of… well, ice. From there I was keeping the poles in place as I used my legs only to push myself up. Likewise, on the down hill I was letting the poles drag by my feet instead of using them for anything productive. What the new technique boils down to is as follow:

For uphill, the pole opposite the foot hitting the ground should it the ground at the same time. However, instead of being way out in front of you, it should be at your foot right when it hits the ground, and you should push off of that pole with your arms using as much force as you can. This relieves some of the burden off of the legs and places it on the arms and shoulders, which are closer to the heart and can get fresh oxygenated blood pumped back into it quicker. When you take the next step, do the same with the opposite foot and pole. This should be done with smaller steps than what you usually do, so that the heel and toes of the boot hit the ground at the same time. This relieves pressure off of the calf and the achilles tendon. Essentially, the idea is to distribute both the work required and energy expended around the body, instead of putting it all the legs. Your arms will grow tired at first, but over time it will lead to more efficient, and even climbs. It’s better to go a tiny bit slower but consistently than it is to have bursts of speed and bouts of paused exhaustion.

For downhill, the poles should be utilized as a breaking force, so that you can keep a constant speed without having to start and stop frequently which puts a lot of stress on the knees. each poll should be angled inwards in front of you, and as you life the pole up you should roll your hand over the top of the poll and extend it way out so that it can break early and gradually as you move down hill. Again, there are variants of it, but it’s a much more effective way to use the poles to your advantage.

That’s all I’ve got for now – I’m sure I was going to write some mumbo jumbo about the amazing hiker community and all the great friends I’m meeting, but I’m going to go off and eat three dinners instead. There will be plenty of times for that in the future. This Thru-Hiking experience has been nothing short of phenomenal thus far, and I hope you’ve enjoyed following me along up to this point. Thanks for all the well wishes, and I’ll talk to you all in Erwin. All the best,

Seeker.

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Comments 2

  • Avatar
    Weston : Mar 27th

    Great read! Thanks for posting

    Reply
  • Avatar
    Jenny taylor : Mar 28th

    So glad to hear that things are going well! Looking forward to more posts!

    Reply

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