Feeling Bad for Turtles

A few weeks ago, I put one foot in front of the other and began the approach trail to the top of Springer Mountain.

If I never see another blue blaze in my LIFE it will be too soon.

In the weeks before our adventure, the weather forecast predicted “sunny and 75” for Blue Ridge. A few days before we left, the temperatures had dropped into the 40’s in town and below freezing in the mountains. Great. Can’t wait. Radical, bro.

We started The Big Day on time. Everything was packed and ready to go. Except for our guidebook – which was somehow lost – which was very uncool beans. My parents’ cats made a game of batting it across the hardwood floors and underneath their couch, apparently.


I reclaimed my trail-bible from Satan’s furry committee and we headed out. My parents live in Atlanta and were kind enough to drop us off – my dad was one-part willing to help me out and two-parts willing to use the drive to convince us to take his .45.

The 600 steps to the top of Amicalola Falls were shitty and beautiful. All the 45-minute-StairMaster-sessions in the world could not have prepared my legs for those steps. My quads and lungs were on fire, but I was happy as a clam, because we were finally doing it. We were on the trail.


This was only the beginning.

For some reason, an 8-mile approach trail seemed like the right thing to do. Or something. I felt obligated to hike the approach, because that’s what we were supposed to do.

Hindsight: I could have lived without hiking it. The stairs to the top of the falls are worth the view but thaaaaat’s about it. For me. Personally. In my personal experience. 

By the time we got to the first shelter, we were exhausted. I threw my pack down and made my proclamation of being “friggin’ done” for the day. Another hiker snorted a little – thoroughly unimpressed seeing as it was “only 1 o’clock”. Fuck her.

Don’t ever let anyone make you feel bad for being tired. Take a nap. Sleep for 24 hours if you want to. You probably just hiked 8 miles with 30 pounds on your back. Or maybe you haven’t done shit today and want to continue not doing shit today. Who knows? You’re a champ. Champs take naps.

On the subject of sleep, we hadn’t slept much the night before, because we were so excited. And by ‘we hadn’t slept much’, I mean we hadn’t slept. We stayed up all night asking “are you awake?” and “what are you thinking about?”. We eventually threw in the towel on sleeping at all. Smart.

We set up camp at 2:30 and slept until 11:30 the next day.

Yeah, you heard me. We stayed in our tent for 21 hours. We slept for 14 of them.

After the adrenaline from simply being subsided, stopping to pee or eat or breathe became a somewhat of a huge chore. Stopping meant getting cold – like, really cold. The thing about hiking with a 24-pound pack in 18-degree weather is that it feels more like 70 until ya stop.

By then, you’ve been sweating.

So you’re wet and

OH – it’s 18 degrees.

My feet never hurt, but my hips started to bruise from carrying my home on my back. I thought about how utterly ridiculous it must feel to be a turtle. If turtles had hipbones, I’ll bet they’d be bruised.

The entire Southeast was hit with a bitch of a snowstorm. Unbeknownst to us because we A) didn’t have any service to check the weather and B) were sleeping when it happened.


When we woke, our gear (and our water) was completely frozen. I ended up getting severely dehydrated. I peed once a day – if I had to go at all. I simply couldn’t drink enough water.

Long story short – we ended up leaving the trail. The weather was brutal and we really just didn’t have the money to hole up in hotels until it cleared up again.

Pick your jaws up off the floor – we’re going back. We’re section hiking, which was not my preferred method of execution, but sometimes you gotta roll with the punches. Even if those punches really hurt.

Currently, I’m writing from the desk in my new apartment in Fort Collins, Colorado. We (somehow) moved in last Wednesday and both found jobs within the week. We don’t know how it happened either.

Am I upset? Absolutely. It sucks. I mean it really sucks. I planned for years. Literally. Years. 

Seeing everyone on the trail via Instagram gets me a little down, but only for a little bit. I love seeing other Trek comrades racking up miles – Bethany Varner, you are absolutely killin’ it – I can’t wait for each and every one of you to finish.



Horsetooth Reservoir, 5 whole minutes from my apartment.

I didn’t thru-hike the Appalachian Trail. Shit happens. Failing at one thing does not parallel failing at all things. I’m recently engaged. I live in COLORADO. I have a badass apartment with a 24-hour dog washing station and spectacular view of the Rockies. I live where people vacation. I love this place.

I’m going to keep writing. About what? I’m not sure – opinions about things, adventures in Colorado, how to make a bangin’ PB&J,

or perhaps how to keep your calm when the one goal you’ve been working toward forever becomes suddenly out of reach.

I appreciate everyone who helped us get as far as we did. Thank you for your kind words, encouragement, and positivity through and through. And know that this is not the end.


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Comments 15

  • daddy juice : Apr 5th

    Don’t beat yourself up too much – 30% of nobos drop out at neels gap.

    • Chelsea Bates : Apr 6th

      Ah, yes, how satisfying it is to be among the 30%

  • Drew Richardson : Apr 5th

    So much this. Thank you for writing this, because it’s exactly what I went through as well. I started NOBO on 3/21 from the approach, rode out a ridiculous storm (complete with tornado) that first night, and then found out over the course of the next few days that I wasn’t really enjoying myself. I got picked up at Woody Gap and came back home.

    It’s been a little rough coming back to society so quickly but, like you, I’m looking forward to doing fun sections (Roan, Grayson, Presidentials, etc) and am keeping busy planning non-trail adventures.

    Glad to see I’m not alone in thinking this way. Keep on keepin’ on!

    • Chelsea Bates : Apr 6th

      3/21 was our original start date! How appropriate you left due to weather as well. I’ve been exploring the west and she hasn’t disappointed yet.

  • Chuck Smith : Apr 5th

    Like they say, Hike your Own Hike. Those sitting at home on a chair have no idea, the position I am in. I start May 29, am crazy excited, looking forward to the adventure.


    • Chelsea Bates : Apr 6th

      Good luck to you, good sir!

  • letshike2 : Apr 5th

    Well…you’re succeeding at being a gypsy! Sounds awesome!

    • Chelsea Bates : Apr 6th

      Ah, thank you. This made me feel much better. I struggled to see the brighter side of the situation, but Colorado is beautiful. I’m lucky to be here.

  • Steve : Apr 5th

    Better to try and not completely succeed, then to have not tried at all.

  • Firehound : Apr 5th

    Kudos, You were smart enough to realize your health was at risk, Section Hiking isn’t so bad. It’s not the finish, but the journey that means so much, Good luck and keep hiking.

  • Judi : Apr 6th

    I read all of this and think of my own planning . It must have been disappointing to leave the trail but you really are still on it in spirit. I suspect you are with good company.

  • beeveedee : Apr 6th

    Don’t beat yourself up too much. It’s been a heck of a year weather-wise. Here in Atlanta it’s hardly been winter at all, but I’ve been amazed at the snow that just keeps coming this year in the mountains of GA and NC, yet again tonight. I can’t help but wonder how many wishful thru hikers have postponed their start dates due to the weather this year!

  • Ferret8720 : Apr 8th

    1. You should have been prepared for below-freezing temps. This is a serious safety issue when you are in any wilderness area, less so on the AT (not exactly wilderness) than in CO but still a major concern that wasn’t properly addressed.
    2. Snowstorms happen. Your main recourse for snow is to hunker down in your tent or shelter for a day or so. If you had proper clothing and gaiters, it wouldn’t be at all uncomfortable to hike a few miles. Weather reports are accurate enough for a week or so to get a general idea of temps and weather patterns. If there was snow in the forecast, this should have been on your mind your whole hike.
    3. Your pack doesn’t sound like it was properly fitted/adjusted and it doesn’t sound like you did a gear shakedown.
    4. Your fitness level might have been better.

    HYOH but you could have avoided most discomfort with more experience and a pack weighing less than 30 lbs. http://www.lighterpack.com is your best resource for this.

    • Chelsea Bates : Apr 9th

      1. I understand the want (need) to post your suggestions/how I could have been more prepared/opinions about my experience.

      2.Yes, I absolutely could have been more prepared. You are never prepared enough for this trip.

      3. I understand weather patterns, and, to be perfectly honest, I didn’t give a shit that it would pass. I wanted to leave, so I did.

      4. You sound like an expert on asserting your accusations on people you have gathered little to no information about.

      • Ferret8720 : Apr 9th

        No, I have several hundred nights living outside and backpacking and your page seems overly negative about things you could have and should have prepared for. There’s no reason to make backpacking sound like a difficult, stressful hobby.


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