AT Thru Hike: Week 1 – Undeniably Irresistible plans

Undeniably Irresistible Plans

Part 1

I’ve been on trail for four days and I’ve already consumed four piping hot pizzas, four slices of delectable cheesecake and have had four hot showers with four awesome people!

Here’s how this awesome foursome has culminated over the past 30 miles…

The Decision

Walking into the shelter sopping wet, I have to make a decision. Do I walk 8 more miles to the next shelter or set up camp here at Hawk Mountain shelter? It’s been raining cats and dogs for the past couple of days and the weather reports that it’s not letting up any time soon. I overhear a fellow thru hiker utter the words “High Tower Gap”, “shuttle” and “hostel”. Yes, yes and yes! Whatever plan she’s cooking up, I want in!

The Plan

The prospect of a warm bed, hot meal and dry clothes is undeniably irresistible. Igor overhears these same juicy words and is also down to escape this northeastern rain forest. We share our plans with several other thru hikers waiting out the rain in the shelter and get a nay from all but Brett, who votes an enthusiastic yay to our quorum. And so, Liz, Brett, Igor and I begin an electronic quest to find more permanent refuge from the rain.

The Let Down

We’re unsuccessful in finding an available local hostel as it seems many other hikers have the same undeniably irresistible plans. Recognizing that we may be stuck in the shelter, our initial excitement wanes.

Out of the corner of my eye, I see Brett confidently typing on his phone when he announces he has a shuttle coming to meet us in an hour to take us to the Best Western in Blairsville, GA. Our foursome quickly packs up our stuff to walk .3 miles down the trail to meet the shuttle.

The Come Up

As we stand at High Tower Gap, the weather begins to break and we start to see brighter skies. Our shuttle driver, Tom, is on his way and although the rain has subsided, we’re still convinced that we made the best choice. I stand with these three strangers I’ve met only hours ago, feeling connected through our shared experience on trail. When the white passenger van pulls up, I’m excited to begin our adventure together in town.

Walking toward the van, I see a long and thin little brown nose poking out the window. I approach the van and see that this nose belongs to Peppy, a small short haired pup with cateracts in both eyes. Peppy’s name is fitting as he’s excited to greet his latest crew of passengers. He says hello to each of us and then begins to search loyally for his owner. Tom helps load our gear, we all get back in the car and strap in. Peppy is happy his owner has returned to the van and curls up on his lap. The engine turns over and we take off.

The Journey

We begin our descent down the narrow, bumpy forest road toward town. The rain has knocked down tree branches across the path and muddy pot holes are plentiful. Admittedly, even with Tom’s careful driving, I start to get a little car sick from the winding roads.

The conversation is easy and we talk about everything from the trail to the flaws in the American diet to Tom’s fiancé in Honduras. Although I’m enjoying our conversation, I’m fighting queasiness. We’re detoured by a fallen tree across the road and must find an alternate route. The queasy feeling is progressively getting worse so finally, I ask Tom to stop at a bathroom. At that moment, the long 60 minute drive is over and we reach our destination. The van comes to a stop and I open the door bounding toward the nearest bathroom.

Hiker Trash

I pop into the stall and throw my Salomon Sense Ride’s onto the floor. Dirt and mud spill off of them as they land. This triggers an acknowledgment that I am no longer a civilized human. I am beginning my metamorphosis into a creature of the forest.

I take time to collect myself in the bathroom and after only a few short moments, I feel better now that I’m on steady ground.

When we get to the room, we start pulling apart our bags to hang and dry our things. With four of us in one room, the room has now been transformed into hiker base camp. Wet socks on the heater, tents hanging from the shower rod, hair dryers aimed at boots. We soak our socks in the sink and hang our quilts on abandoned hooks on the wall. Taking turns in the shower, it felt good to rinse off the mud and grime from the trail and head into town.

The Foursome Begins

We walk a few minutes and our group finds a brewery. The others excitedly order flights and pints as I sip on an ice cold bottle of water. Once the beverages are done, we satisfy our bellies with food from Pizza Belly. As we enjoy warm, cheesy pizza pies, we watch the rain return and pound the pavement with ardent fervor. We pat ourselves on the back for deciding to stay warm and dry. We made a brilliant decision to leave the trail for the night.

I’m excited to see an ice cream shop across from the pizzeria. We end our eating fest with small cups of Hershey’s ice cream. I choose Brookie Dough because it reminds me of home.

We stroll back over to the hotel fat and happy.  We lie in bed watching The Devil Wears Prada  giggling about 90’s rom com satire. Anne Hathaway does a flirty twirl around the light pole and her lips land perfectly on her lovers for an unplanned kiss. We laugh and imagine that if one of us were to try this, we would surely hit the pavement first. We drift off to sleep.

Back on Trail

The next day, we have an early shuttle to High Tower Gap to re-start our hike. We bid ado to Tom and Peppy and hike to Gooch Gap, which is a comfortable, brief walk. We encounter about 15 other hikers at the shelter. It’s exciting to see new faces and learn the stories behind what brings them to the trail. Some are out here for the challenge, others are beating boredom and many are looking for answers to life’s tough questions.

Igor and Jay start a big bonfire and we gather around it with pots of noodles and dehydrated dinners in hand. Ketchup plays banjo and Turn Two tells trail stories. Turn Two has section hiked many parts of the AT and came out to the shelter for the night. The weather is calm, the mood is chill and all is right in the world.

A Freezing Night

As darkness looms, I decide to head to the tent to bed down. I know it’s going to take some time to prepare for sleep. I blow up the air mattress and pillow, cram my puffy into the stuff sack for an extra pillow, change into fleece jammies and find the right position for the quilt straps. I put my power bank and filter into a sock. I keep the sock and my phone in the quilt with me to keep the filter from freezing and the electronics from losing battery. My headlamp, camp flip flops and pee rag are within reach. Prepping for bed on the trail is even more work intensive than van life! Check out my van life bedtime routine here:

I try to find slumber but I’m freezing. It’s 45 degrees and windy. I have a well planned sleep system – Enlightened Equipment 10 degree quilt, Sea to Summit Reactor fleece liner, Nemo Tensor air mattress, 3/4 length closed cell foam pad, fleece pajamas, a fleece hoodie and a buff for a hat. Going into the hike, I was afraid I’d be cold at night because I tend to run cold. My worst fear is coming true! I’m missing my heated blanket from the van. I hear an animal make three loud hoots. Or is it a “hoo”. I question whether this was a hoot, a “hoo” or a billow.

I toss and turn and decide I need a distraction because I can’t sleep. I grab my phone and ear buds. I put only one bud into my ear so I can hear if the hooting, hoo’ing, billowing mammal returns.  I open the only downloaded Audible on my phone, “Never Finished” by David Goggins, and press play. Who would have thought being cursed at and told you’re soft if you quit could lull you to sleep? I begin trying to convince myself that being cold is temporary and tomorrow will be sunny and warm. I surrender to the cold and eventually, I fall asleep for a few hours.

Big News

I wake ready to get up and start moving so I can get warm. I didn’t sleep well but I can’t let that dictate my day. I have a hike to hike. I’ve been intentionally easing myself into building miles. I started with 3, 5 and then 7 miles. I am choosing to do a big 15 mile day today with the intention of staying at a hostel tonight and taking a zero tomorrow. I’m not sure I will be  successful with my plan since I will be ascending the infamous, Blood Mountain.

I’m about 3 miles into the hike and heading into Woody Gap when I see Ketchup and LM (previously known as Igor) huddled together talking to Turn Two by his truck. I continue onward toward the group. They are all staring at me with posture indicating they have some news to share. I approach the group and they share the news. I could hardly believe what they told me! Stay tuned for part II to find out what they said….

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Comments 2

  • Tom Grant : Apr 15th

    Hike your own hike. Love to hear all the stories from hikers. I’m 70 and have bad back and knees. Keep on trucking.

  • Steve : Apr 17th

    Love a cliffhanger!!!!


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