AT Update: Day 5-9

Note: For some reason I’m struggling to put in pictures, but in the interest of getting this out before I disappear again I’m gonna post it without. Gonna try and come back to add pictures later.

Day 5:

Who in their right mind wakes up at 4:30 to hike 2.6 miles and climb 1000 vertical feet? No one, that’s who! But I’m certainly not in my right mind, so here we are. In the dark. Headlamps on. Nutrient bars in hand. Away we go.

Honestly, I’m really glad we did this in the dark. Blood Mountain is the highest point on the trail through Georgia, so it’s normally a mentally and physically draining day. But honestly, when you can’t see how much you have left to climb, it makes it a lot easier. And we CRANKED up that thing. We summited in like an hour, and got there just in time for one of the most stunning sunrises I’ve ever seen. The type of sunrise that makes you feel incomprehensibly small, in the best possible way. We sat there, ate breakfast, and hung out for probably around 2 hours. Then we started our down climb.

The way down was a looooooot easier than up. Shocking, I know. We ran into a ton of people in the way down, most of whom looked at us like we were crazy (they’re probably right). At the bottom, we hit our first big milestone of the trip. Neels Gap, home of Mountain Crossing Outfitter. This is where 25% of people drop off the trail. So yeah, big that we were there and still planning on going forward. Also big because we picked up our first resupply boxes. Food, treats, a surprise detachable sweatshirt hoodie (i’ve been really missing my hoodies and my parents decided to help out), and a much needed letter from a friend. This was a really nice

place to hang out, call family, do a wordle, charge our electronics, and just relax. And boy did we. For a couple hours. But eventually, it was time to go.

We hiked another 4 miles to our next campsite for the day. And guess what? No bear box! And that means another food bag hang! We know how well those go (this is my worst nightmare). Now to be honest, I don’t really know how to explain what these look like, or the process of doing it (not that it’s hard I’m just stupid; look up a PCT hang if you really want specifics). After the events of last night, surely nothing can go super wrong right? WRONG! Things went AWFUL. I ended up pulling the rope too far and basically got my rope and carabiner stuck in a tree. Cue the madness. I was NOT gonna lose this today. No chance. So, I did the logical thing. I tied sticks together and tried to grab the carabiner. But sticks are heavy, so i dropped them, and they broke. Fuck. What now? Well, what’s a lighter version of a stick, and regularly available around a campsite? Hiking poles! I taped 4 of them together, and ended up snagging the carabiner just enough to pull it down. Victory at last. There’s a video, and if I can find it and put it in here I will, but tbd on that. Anyway, managed to figure the rest out after that. But moral of the story? PCT hangs are the WORST.

Mentally today was a little bit challenging. At the beginning of the trail, everyone tells you to take it slow, listen to your body, not stack up too many miles. But this has resulted in a lot of us getting to camp at around 2pm, after only like 8 miles (although we did 10 yesterday). Now this is what most people do, but everyone says “listen to your body” and my body has thus far felt like it could keep going. But the fact that I’m also sticking with Lindsey means that sometimes we stop even when I feel like I could keep going. Add to that a little bit of pressure from the time crunch of likely going to grad school in September (which I know is really far to think, but that’s just how my brain works), and I was getting a little frustrated about it. And when you’re walking out in the woods, there’s absolutely nothing to do but stew about it. So I was feeling a little annoyed this afternoon. But the good part of walking in the woods? Eventually you’ll find a beautiful view that makes it really hard to be annoyed and frustrated. So yeah, it came and it went through most of the day. And I ended up talking with some people at camp about it, and they were a) very affirming that it is in fact something worth being stressed about, and b) very confident I would be done in time. So that was really really nice. I do really feel like I’m finding a community out here, which is really nice.

Quote of the day: “The good news is I can’t see the mountain anymore! Whats the bad news? That means we’re on the mountain.

How many owls would you have to see before you got suspicious?: “One Snowy Owl (Snowy Specifically)”

Day 6:

What do you do the day after you wake up super early? Wake up early again of course! Not as insanely early, but we were up with the sun (6:30ish), to hit the road by 7:30. About half of our group had talked about sleeping in that morning, but it’s hard to not want to get up and go when you hear others picking up camp. It becomes almost like a hive mind type thing. Lindsey, Emma and I headed out first, but Betsy caught up to us before long, she’s an insanely fast hiker. We stayed relatively together for the first 2 miles or so, but Emma needed a bit of a longer rest than the rest of us wanted at that point, so the rest of us went ahead. The three of us were together for about another hour and a half, until I think Betsy got bored of us talking about our school friends so she got well ahead of me and Lindsey.

I don’t know what we ate for breakfast this morning, but we were COOKING today. We had planned to hike about 7 miles to a shelter called Low Gap shelter, but we got there in about 3 hours, barely in time for lunch. We met Betsy there, along with our old friend Will, who had gone a little bit ahead of us last night, and ended up pushing all the way to Low Gap for tonight. Because of our speed, The Three of us decided to continue about another mile and a half up the trail to another camp site. We had originally planned to stay at the shelter, cause it’s raining tonight, but the shelter was crowded and we have to test our rain gear some time, right? Emma decided to stay at the shelter regardless, but we’re all meeting at the same spot tomorrow, so we’ll see her soon.

We were actually moving so fast that we accidentally walked right by the camp site the first time. It was only about half a mile later that we realized, turned around, and headed back to set up. We were in a tiny bit of a rush at this point, because it was currently about 1:30 and the rain was coming in at around 3. But we got stuff set up quickly. Betsy had been a little behind us, but she caught up and got set before the rain came in. Cynthia and Adam, both of whom had been hiking behind us most of the day, also caught up, so we’re all spending the night here together!

The rain did start at around 3, so we all hunkered down for the evening, and have just been hanging out in our tents since. A little bit boring, but we have enough service for me to check in with some people, including hoping on a family zoom for a little while, which was lovely. Overall, not a bad day. And because we shortened our day tomorrow, we can sleep in! And (fingers crossed) ride out the rain.

It was a pretty mundane day all in all. Me and Lindsey got in a bit of an argument this morning, which was bound to happen eventually in 5 months, but we talked it out and are all good now. Glad to know we’re gonna be able to do that. I’m sure stuff like that’s gonna happen, I just hope that we can talk it out as easily every time. I feel a little guilty how much I’m on my phone at camp. But today especially, I literally cannot do anything else without getting soaked, which id rather not do. But I’m pretty dry so far. Getting a bit of condensation in my tent, but that’s pretty normal, so hopefully it doesn’t get too bad by the morning. We shall see. Here’s to sleeping in, and hopefully staying dry!

Quote of the day: “At my funeral, I want everyone to tell their most embarrassing story about me”

I didn’t get to ask anyone the owl question today 😔. Not all that many new faces today, fingers crossed for more luck tomorrow.

Day 7:

Yeah, it was wet last night. Thankfully I stayed mostly dry, with only a little condensation getting in to my tent. It was beautiful when we finally got up. Our plan worked to perfection, and we got a chill morning of waiting out the rain, cooking breakfast, and packing without much rush. Me and Lindsey set off around like 10 I think? Unfortunately the morning was not without misfortune, as Evie (Adam’s dog) appeared to hurt her leg using the bathroom this morning. She was putting zero weight on it, and at the time i’m writing this (7:11 pm), they still haven’t gotten to this camp site. They may have stayed somewhere earlier, but I just hope they’re ok.

The actual hike was pretty light. There was a loooooong, steady, not so steep uphill for pretty much the entire thing. And only about 6 miles today, which was the plan shortening our hike yesterday. It was a very pretty hike, through rhododendron tunnels and over lots of moss covered rocks. Lindsey stopped at pretty much every other rock to touch the moss. I think we’re starting to lose our minds a little, as we just started quoting asdfmovie to each other. Maybe we need to go meet real people again lmao. We got to camp at like 2:30, and kinda just hung around most of the afternoon. All of our usual suspects showed up; Betsy, Emma, Cynthia, Carmen, and Will are all with us. Molly, who zero’d in town yesterday, met up with us again. She’s INSANELY fast. But yeah, now we’re all settling in for the night. It’s gonna be another COLD one tonight, there’s a nalgene full of boiling water by my feet, and I probably have enough layers to ride it out. At least, I hope I do.

Today was probably the most “normal” feeling day I’ve had on the trail. Everything felt very routine, and things are starting to become habit. All good things. But I am definitely missing people, so hopefully I can chat with some folks when we get into town on Monday. But again, we will see.

Quote of the day: “I used to work at a video game cafe” “what’s that?” “it’s like a cafe….. with video games”

I slacked on the owl question again. No excuse, this one’s on me. I’ll try and get two answers in tomorrow

Day 8:

Early signs of life in camp today. By “early”, I mean 4AM, and by “signs of life” someone snoring like a chainsaw. So yeah, not the BEST night of sleep, but nothing awful. It was kinda cold but with a nalgene full of boiling water i was more than comfortable. We needed up getting up at around 7, and hit the road by 8. We haven’t done hot breakfast in a sec, and I don’t think we will tomorrow either, but it’s honestly fine. I really like getting moving early, and cooking breakfast isn’t super conducive to that. But anyway, we had to get out early, it was gonna be a challenging day.

Only 7 miles, so not very far, but up and over two different mountains, this particular climb (out of unicoi gap to tray gap) is known to be the toughest part of the AT in Georgia. But on the bright side, we started our morning with some nice steady downhill! So good way to start the day! Other bright side, we got trail magic for breakfast! Some folks set up eggs and bacon and coffee and such things for us in Unicoi gap, fueling us for the uphill. And boy oh boy did we fuel up. I stayed a little longer than I probably should have, but the food was just too good, the fire too warm. Lindsey got off a little before me, trusting that I would probably catch her on the uphill. I stayed for an extra 20 or so minutes, but when Ms. Janet pulled into the parking lot, I knew I had to leave then, or I was NOT gonna get out. And so, after a quick hello to Ms. Janet, I started to climb.

The first mountain to climb is 1300 feet up in a little under a mile. So yeah, aggressively up. And this is where I figured out a big time trick. I put on an audiobook! Now I normally don’t love to listen to things while I hike, but I needed a distraction for this climb, so I put on Lord of the Rings (Fellowship), and got to work. And this was probably the most perfect book to have too. I absolutely cruised the uphill, finishing in maybe like 40 minutes? It was great. The better part? I had an 800 foot downhill to cruise on! It was here that I caught up with Will and Betsy, and we had a nice chat about the types of lives we want to live, and how funny it is that it seems like everyone who has somewhere permanent to stay wants to move, and everyone who is always on the move wants to stay. It was a really lovely chat. In the next gap was where we caught up to Lindsey. And here was where we got to our next mountain. 1200 feet, in a tiny bit over a mile. Will and Betsy plowed on, but Lindsey and I slowed down a little bit and took it easy. It was still only 11, so we had a ton of time to get there. And we had a very chill climb. We ran into Bugs Bunny (that’s someone’s trail name we didn’t see a cartoon rabbit), who talked with us for a while about invasive insect and forests. That’s Lindsey’s expertise, so I was a little zoned out in the back, but it was nice to listen to. Eventually Bugs took a break, and carried on up to the summit.

The shelter has a really really pretty overlook of the low area next to the mountains. You can see what feels like forever away. It was another moment where I felt really really small. But it was a nice spot to eat lunch, and then hang out most of the rest of the day. People rolled into camp until pretty late, basically until the sun set, and most of our regular crew got here. Adam and Evie are still somewhere behind us. I hope Evie’s paw is better, and they didn’t have to get off trail. But other than that, the crews all here, at least for the next few days.

One week on the trail feels really REALLY weird. Somehow it feels both really long and really short. But my guess is that’s how it’s gonna be for a lot of this. The days feel long, but the weeks feel short. My biggest mental challenge right now is to simply pass the time in the afternoons. We keep getting into camp at like 1-2ish, and it leaves a long time with not a lot to do. I think I need to adjust to simply existing, and not needed to “do” anything. I’m really excited for that to hopefully come along, but for now it’s been a little tough. Tomorrow we’re staying in a hostel, so we’ll be sleeping indoors for the first time in a while. And get to shower and do laundry. The lap of luxury! But it’ll be a pretty nice break. I’m pretty excited to sleep without having to be super layered up, or boiling a nalgene.

Quote of the day: “Oh, are we having a spitting party?”

How many owls would you have to see before you got suspicious?: “If I saw one owl eating a lollipop, I’d be suspicious that someone had fed me mushrooms”

Day 9:

It was so insanely windy last night. Like, “I’m in my tent and Im still worried it’s gonna get blown away” windy. And COLD oh my god am I ready to be warm. But cold and windy means an early rise, so we were up and out by 7:30. Today was our longest day so far, a planned 11 miles. But at the end of the tunnel was a warm bed, laundry, and a shower! So that was the motivation for the morning while I was trying to get my fingers to function again. We also saw a super pretty sunrise, but I forgot to take a picture because i was so focused on getting packed and moving. We also had to say a very sad goodbye to Cynthia, who despite our protests would not quit her job and finish a thru hike with us. But she promised to come back when school lets out. She better.

We went really fast today. Like, unhealthily fast. I think we were all so cold that we just needed to keep moving to try and be warm. Also, the wind did NOT go away, which certainly didn’t help things. By around 9:30 we had crossed the Swag of the Blueridge. “Now Eitan” I hear you ask, “What’s a swag?” I have absolutely no clue. But it was a thing, and we crossed it! Swaggy indeed. It was around 10 when we realized we had already gone 6 miles. Lindsey and I had gotten out before everyone else, but somehow Betsy still caught us at the 6ish mile mark. She could’ve gone right past us if she wanted to, but she slowed down and stuck with us for the last big uphill of the day, and as we started our long way down to the road.

The way down was gorgeous. As pretty as the vistas were on top the ridge line we had been following for the past 4 days, the plant life up there was pretty dead, with it being so early in the season. But as we walked down we began to see live pines, rhododendron tunnels, and lush stream banks. It was probably the prettiest plant life we’ve walked through so far. I also had Lord of the Rings on at this point, so it very much felt like I was walking through middle earth. Truly a wonderful feeling. About 3/4 of a mile from the end, we ran into a tiny bench next to a stream, which of course we took turns sitting on. It was kind of a weird feeling to be glad to hear a road, but it meant the end of our long day, and all the luxuries of the hostel. We finished around 12:15, meaning we had just cranked out 11 miles in about 5 hours. THIS IS NOT HEALTHY, I DO NOT RECOMMEND IT. It will also hurt if you try it. I was so hungry by the end that I ate a whole packet of instant mashed potatoes (shoutout Cynthia). Ms. Janet drive by to give us a little more trail magic, and then we caught the shuttle over to the hostel.

The hostel is really nice. It feels a bit like a rustic caving in the middle of the woods, probably cause that’s pretty much exactly what it is. But boy oh boy does it feel good to have a nice shower. Lindsey, Emma, Betsy and I are all splitting a room tonight, which is pretty fun. We had a bunch of really nice chats about how we were feeling, our fears about the trail, all sorts of heart to heart stuff. It was great. I also got a chance to check in with friends for the first time in a while, which was lovely. I even got to get on with my book club for a little while! It was lovely to see everyone. I’m glad for the break to be honest. A week can feel like a long time, but i’m sure I’ll get used to it.

I am absolutely exhausted after today. I did not have enough food OR water for what we did today, and I am absolutely feeling that. But mentally doing pretty well. I think the enormity of this whole thing is still weighing on me a little bit, but one step at a time. We’ll get there eventually. I’m really

glad for the people I’ve found out here. I think we’re all too stubborn to back out of this thing. And we’re doing our best to push each other in the hard moments. It’s a good balance. The fact that we’re almost out of Georgia is crazy. 1 state down, only 13 left to go!

Quote of the day: “I will pee in your vestibule”

How many owls would you have to see before you got suspicious?: “Who’s asking” (I think he was an owl. Suspicious)

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