After The Storms The Sun Must Come Out-And So Do Snakes!
After a day of hiking in the rain, today was a fresh, new day. After the storm, the sun must come out – and it did! We awoke to a beautiful day. The shelter was pretty full again and some of the guys made breakfast. At this point I was still lacking in any appetite though they cooked up the biggest pancakes I have ever seen, grits, jam and peanut butter wraps, and even French pressed coffee. Clearly no lack of appetite for them! I did manage to stuff down my throat half of a jam and peanut butter wrap that morning. I then looked for my new buddy, Monte. He had been feeling really under the weather and I gave him some vitamin C and wanted to make sure he was ok. Monte is another one of the many people who inspire me out here. He’s in his 60s and has traveled a lot. At 60, age is just a number to him. He does Crossfit at home regularly and is full of more life then some people my age (30).
We headed out and towards the goal of hitting Lance Creek Camp. We decided to go the nine miles and stop here to avoid the bear canister section of the trail. Otherwise, we would need to do close to 15 miles that day to get to Neels Gap due to not having a bear canister. I did not want to push the miles while my body was still getting adjusted, especially given my bad knees. This turned out to be a great decision for many reasons.
We ended up hiking most of the day with Andrew, “the newlyweds”, Alaina, and brothers Kevin & Steve. This just happened by accident as we are all similar in pace. Over the past few days we had all been leap frogging each other up and down the trail. Again, I know a lot of people prefer to hike alone but I welcome the company. It makes the day so much more fun. We laughed and got to know one another better. “The newlyweds” are such great people. As you might have guessed, they are newly married and hiking the A.T. as their honeymoon. How awesome, right?! It makes me want a redo on my honeymoon. I must admit it made me miss my husband and daughter that day.
Andrew is a very soft spoken, gentle spirited person. He’s the kind of guy that just goes with the flow and is very laid back and is so easy to get along with. The two brothers are like thunder and lighting and oh-so-different from each other. Steve is super enthusiastic with a huge heart. His brother Kevin is more laid back and mellow. Alaina was section hiking and would get picked up at the end of each day by the hiker hostel. She’s a really cool chick and it was a pleasure getting to hike with her for a few days although I think we were all a little envious of her light day pack and ability to shower at the end of the day. Ha ha!
We finally had some of the beautiful views we had all been longing for. Most of the day was spent hiking on this beautiful ridge line. Steve insisted we stop and take in the views and I was really happy he did. The previous days I was so focused on the miles and not the journey and I don’t want that to happen consistently. Yes, the miles are important but I don’t want worrying about time lines and milage to make me lose sight of what is right in front of me. After some goofing around and photos, we kept moving. Then a little surprise…
As we continued on this ridge we did not notice the 5 ft. rat snake sunning himself. Steve was in front of me and by the time we spotted this guy he was already lunging towards me as we must have startled the poor guy. I jumped and swatted and he went right through my legs and down. I was startled as I’m sure the poor snake was. We all stopped and admired the snake as he slithered down the mountain and continued on.
As we pressed on towards Woody Gap, we were all saying how a cold soda would be an awesome boost. As crazy as it sounds, I swear it was like the trail was rewarding us. As we walked out into the Woody Gap parking lot, along came Josh. “Hey! Are you guys thru-hikers?” We replied, “Yup.” He advised us to sit at the picnic table and said he had drinks and food and wanted to provide some “trail magic” for everyone. Sunshine and trail magic – perfection! I did not think this day could get any better. I was a little taken back when he asked if he could take his picture with us. Josh, if you even read this you have no idea how much we appreciated your kindness. You are truly amazing and people like you help restore my faith in humanity.
We all rolled into Lance Creek feeling pretty awesome. We met up with Kevin and a few others who arrived earlier and started to set up camp. This was when “cave man” looked at me and said, “someone got some sun today!” I was so busy enjoying the day that I forgot to put sunscreen on my very pale skin. I was so sunburnt and did not even care. I really loved Lance Creek. It was a gorgeous camp spot with mountain views and running steams to help ease you to sleep. It was definitely my favorite camp site so far.
“Cave man” started a fire and we spent the rest of the evening enjoying the absolutely beautiful weather and clear sky full of stars. I wish I had my camera with me that night so I could have taken a long exposure photo. The sky gave us quiet the show. To close out this fantastic day I smothered myself in coconut oil to ease my sunburn and joked about how I was seasoning myself for the bears tonight.
Then the next morning arrived and more dreary weather. It was cloudy and sounding like thunder was off in the distance. We all had discussed the night before that we were about seven miles from Neels Gap and that a bunch of us would split two cabins at Blood Mountain Cabins. For just $60 bucks a night, they throw in laundry service, too, so we were all sold. There was one catch: they do not take reservations for thru-hikers so it was first come, first served. We knew a lot of people planned on taking a “nero” day here so it was decided that Kevin and Andrew would hike out early as they have a fast pace and could roll into town early to reserve the cabins.
Long story short, there were a lot of miscommunications and a frustrating morning followed. My partner’s feet were torn up from blisters and we ended up hiking a mile and a half taking a side trail and having an extremely amazing older gentlemen offer to drive us to Neels Gap. Then Steve and I went on to backtrack and summit Blood Mountain that same day. On our way out to backtrack, we were stoked to meet back up with “Dutchie” and hear he would be staying with us in the cabins. Dutchie has already completed a successful thru-hike of the A.T. and is back to complete it for a second time this year. He is so inspiring to me and seems to be an incredible guy.
On another positive note, my stomach started to get on board today. I was actually hungry for something other than GoMacro Bars and dried bananas. The even more exciting part is we would be in town and able to chow down. I was really thankful that by the time we summited Blood Mountain, we had at least some decent views as the storms moved off. After hanging out and signing the log book in the Blood Mountain shelter, we headed back down towards Neels Gap and to finally relax.
The Blood Mountain Cabins were fantastic. I will definitely be back here with my husband and daughter in the future (although the stuffed beaver in the living room was a tad creepy). But for $60 a night, split four ways, plus they did our laundry, it was a total score. The only bummer is that they are first come, first serve for thru-hikers so keep that in mind if you plan to take a “nero” or “zero” day here.
I was really missing my husband and daughter as we rolled into the cabins and, as I walked into the bathroom, BOOM! All the soap and shampoos were “JADE.” My daughter’s name! It immediately made me smile and think of them.
Excuse my gross feet in this picture but I was scrubbing them in an attempt to remove the caked-on mud and dirt. The rest of the night we spent joking around, eating pizza, and enjoying each other’s company. Everyone turned in pretty early as we were all exhausted and excited to get a good night’s sleep in a real bed.
With each passing day, and new set of challenges, I am slowly starting to fall more in love with this journey. I have no doubt I will be dropping f bombs about more trials to come (like when in the days to follow I lost my partner). But if this were easy everyone would do it. The trials are what make for an interesting story. The trials are what really start making it an “adventure,” right?!
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