AT Update: One month on trail!

Day 27 + 28: I’m gonna combine two days into one here, first because it was a nearo and a zero, so they’re similar, and second because i forgot to journal on day 27, so it’s just easier.

We woke up this morning (day 27) with a string hankering for some hot eggs and potatoes. Lucky us, we only had 3 miles to hike before we could get there! We started out, and boy oh boy was Lindsey on a tear. I don’t think she’s ever hiked this fast, but I guess friending for eggs will do that to you. We got into town, and pretty immediately ran into Will and Bibo, who we decided to get breakfast with. While we were waiting, Lindsey and I scrambled to get a place to stay for the night. We ended up landing at a bunk room in the hostel Will was staying at. We were hoping to splurge a little and get 2 private rooms, but nothing worked out so we just went for some bunks.

First of all this breakfast SLAPPED. I had a breakfast burrito with hash browns, and I swear I almost cried over this thing. I was very happy, and we all inhaled breakfast in about 10 seconds. Bibo also decided to book us a spot at the famous hot springs in Hot Springs (who would’ve guessed), so we went to deposit our packs at the hostel before that. The hostel is super nice, and pretty quiet, so that’s nice. We headed over to the hot springs, and met up with Molly and Ziggy who were also hopping in on this with us. We got an hour in there by ourselves, it was super relaxing and my legs felt great. After a quick resupply in town it was back to the hostel to relax.

It started to pour about 30 seconds after we got back to the hostel, so VERY glad we got out of that in time. The rest of the day was spent just doing laundry, hanging out, and helping Will keep track of his stuff. We settled in for a relatively early night.

This morning we decided to make a return to the diner for their famous cinnamon rolls. We were a little delayed because Will lost his wallet (it was in his bag), but that was fine because Bibo and Molly thought we said 9 instead of 8:30 so they were even more delayed. We got our cinnamon rolls though, and they were in fact delicious. I made a bit of a mistake by ordering a breakfast skillet, which is a) really big, and b) you had to pay double for if you didn’t finish apparently? I couldn’t tell if they were joking when they said that, and It felt like a really dumb question to ask, so I just stuffed my face and got through the whole thing. Our waitress kept coming over and saying things like “oh you haven’t eaten very much!” and “you sure you don’t want to just share it?” which was funny but quite unhelpful while I was mid skillet.

After breakfast, Will and Bibo set out to do 10 or so more miles, and Lindsey and I wandered downtown a bit before heading back to the hostel. When we got back we discovered that pretty much our whole gang had arrived, Rusty, the Doctors, the Sirs, basically everyone we had met on trail (except Dave :(). So it was a really nice afternoon catching up with them and just relaxing. We’re back out tomorrow, tbd how many miles were gonna do, but should be fun!

Hostel stays are a nice breath of fresh air during the trip, but they can be dangerous. People call them the “vortex” because you get sucked in to the luxury and don’t want to leave. I definitely understand that feeling, but I’m also excited to get back on the road. What’s harder for me is getting a chance to really catch up with people while I’m here. Every time I get to a hostel and I get to see what’s going on in peoples lives, I get a little sad that I can’t be there to share in those experiences, and to celebrate with and for them. But Ive also gotten tons of super encouraging messages from so many people, which is really really helpful in balancing that out. So yeah, thank you all for that. It makes it a lot easier to keep going even when it gets hard. But yeah, back into the woods tomorrow, and spring is really springing now, so it should be really pretty. I’m excited to get back out there.

Day 29:

Back onto the trail we go today. There wasn’t really a rush go get out, so we ate breakfast around 9, and headed out some time around 9:30. The first chunk of the trail just followed the rod through the middle of town, so we basically just redid what we’d been doing for the past 2 days. It was a very pretty day, sunny and mid 70s, pretty much the best hiking weather you can ask for. After we turned off the road, we followed a really pretty river walk for a while. The river was overflowing from the recent rain, and was rushing by. We started our climb out of the valley at around 10, which would be the hardest part of our day.

The river on our climb out

Again, this was one of our most beautiful days for hiking. We had a view of the whole town behind us while we were climbing, and the sun shining down the valley made everything feel a little bit surreal. Shortly after we summited the mountain we reached our second road following for the day, much shorter this time, but it still felt kinda funny. A little bit like walking back home in New Jersey, along roads passing through fields. It was really nice. We eventually made it up to an old fire tower, which used to be along the trail, which is a little off of it at this point, but gave a really cool 360 view of the area. The fire towers here really continue to amaze.

The view from the top of the fire tower

After our lunch break (shortly before the fire tower), we had all but finished all of our climbing for the day. We passed a shelter, but decided to keep pushing on. We have packages to pick up at a hostel tomorrow, and wanted to get as close as possible. So we went another 4 or so miles, to a road crossing. Fortunately, there’s a well established camp site here! Unfortunately, there’s no water! So we’re rationing a little bit tonight, but considering it’s only 1.5 miles to the hostel, we should be ok.

I think today was the first day that I straight up felt unhappy on trail. Which was concerning, because by all accounts, it was a perfect day. Beautiful weather, easy(ish) hiking, beautiful views, and still I was no happy. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t ALL day. I actually felt pretty good in the morning, but towards the end of the day I started to feel really discontent. Annoyed? Upset? I’m not really sure to be honest. And that really concerned me for a few reasons. First of all, if I can’t figure out what the feeling is, or why, then I don’t know how to deal with it. Second, this is the feeling that everyone has thus far said means it may be time to get off trail.

Now, I’m not ready to go to that yet. I tried to think of the alternatives, and none of the ones I pictured made me any happier. So I’m just gonna chalk this up to a poor mental health day and hope it gets better tomorrow. I was recently reminded that I’m not required to be happy all the time, even if it sometimes feels like a necessity. So i’m trying to keep that in mind. I also got a reminder from a family member recently that “if it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you”. So maybe this is my challenge to overcome out here. We’ll see. Also, that was kinda terrifying to write, and I imagine it’ll be even scarier to post. But I said at the beginning of this that I was gonna be as honest as possible here. So honest I will be.

Quote of the day: “I want you to feel guilty when I die of dehydration”

Day 30:

We were woken up to the lovely sounds of traffic driving by our camp site this morning. Did I mention we camped by the side of the road? Well we did, and that meant commuters. It wasn’t so bad though, we were close to getting up anyways. We hit the road around 8, with only about a mile and a half to our hostel, and our next food pick up.

The way to the hostel was entirely uphill. Wonderful way to start the morning. But it went by surprisingly quickly, and we were greeted by some trail magic at the rod where we needed to turn off at anyway. They had coffee (which Lindsey was very happy about), and chocolate milk (which I was very happy about). So we stopped, had a little food and drink, and then turned off the path to go to the hostel and pick up our food. The neighborhood we walked through was barely a neighborhood, it was a super country little area with houses either clumped right next to each other or spread about 0.5 miles apart. Eventually, we arrived at the hostel.

Now this place looked like no one had lived there for a solid 2 months. But there was a sign on the door that said “hiker packages on the back porch”. So around back we went. Lindsey’s package was sitting pretty right on the table. But mine? Nowhere to be found. Well isn’t that a treat. We went and rang the doorbell, knocked, and waited a while. But no one was home, and no one showed up, so eventually we just had to move on. I later found out that even though the package was originally supposed to be delivered saturday, it didn’t actually get there until monday. So, we were too early. But it’s ok, I have enough food to make it to Erwin (barely).

Our next 5 or so miles were straight up hill. At around 11:30, we reached the first shelter of the day, where we were greeted with an absolutely amazing surprise. Adam and Evie were there waiting for us! So apparently, they took a couple weeks off because Evie sprained her knee, but it’s doing better now and they’re back in trail! They’re taking it easy, only doing a few miles a day, so I’m not sure when we’ll see them again, although Im sure we will. Still, it was really nice to know that they’re all good, and that they had managed to get back on to trail. It was a little early for lunch, so we decided to press on to a fire tower that supposedly had some nice views. We would eat there.

Oooooooor so we thought. Turns out the fire tower was blocked off by police tape. I suggested trespassing, but there were people in trucks there so we’d probably get caught. We went back down to the bottom, a little disappointed, naturally. But we are lunch and kept moving. It was still another 7 miles to the next shelter, and boy oh boy was it scenic. At one point there was a split in the trail marked “ridge walk” and “bad weather trail”. So, you can guess which one we took. The ridge line was absolutely gorgeous. We had a view away both north and south (where we came from, and where we’re going. It was another beautiful day, so the view was super clear. We walked that ridge for a good mile and a half, taking in the whole thing. Right after we came down, we hit 300 miles! The miles are kinda melting away now, which is crazy, but yeah, big milestone.

Mile 300!

The next shelter was a decision point for us. We knew between Hot Springs and Erwin we would need to turn in at least one 20 mile day, especially with my food situation. But which day that was was up to us. We decided to make it today. So, we loaded up on water, and kept on pushing to the next shelter. We had only one thing standing in our way: Big Butt. That was the literally name of the mountain we had to go up and over. And it was indeed quite big. At the top there was a gravestone, which we’ve seen a surprising amount of, for a guy who through hiked in 1968. I think it’s pretty funny that he had the whole trail to choose from and chose to get buried on Big Butt. But(t) anyways, we carried on for about another 7 miles, arriving to our last shelter for the day as the sun was setting. To me, perfect timing. Prooooobably not to Lindsey, but our next 3 days are way shorter, so hopefully that makes up for it.

I felt much better today. Definitely anxious about a few things, mostly missing my food box and grad school stuff (which I could only catch snippets of with the little service we had), but definitely feeling a lot better than yesterday. I’m still interested as to what was actually going on, but for now I guess I just gotta chalk it up to a bad mental health day and move on. And like I said yesterday (and very much appreciate being reminded of the day before), I’m allowed to not be happy all the time. I tried to hold that with me a lot today. And it seemed to work! I’m definitely tired from the 20 miles, but overall feeling pretty good. Here’s to another good day tomorrow.

Quote of the day: “Bonk as in B-O-N-K?”

Day 31:

So today we decided to try something different. Lindsey usually wakes up a little earlier than me, which had led to her having to wait around camp a little bit in the mornings while I get myself going. But today we decided to try setting a point that’s the furthest point we will go in a day, and she leaves whenever and I leave whenever and we meet there. I don’t think we’re gonna do it all the time, but it makes sense, especially since I tend to hike a little faster, and so we thought I’d catch up anyways. So, I left probably 45 minutes behind her this morning, at around 8:15.

Today was tough, physically. About 97% of our day was spent going uphill. But before we hit that, we had a nice long 3 miles flat section. And I cruised through that thing in like 45 minutes. Which was lovely, but really gave me a false sense of hope. Because for the next 3 hours, I was climbing. And climbing. And climbing. And losing the trail (only once). And climbing. But this was a different type of climbing than what we had done in the Smokies. That was aggressive, short bursts of steep ups. This was just looooooong. Aggressive for sure, at points, but it was more of an endurance exercise. At the very least, there was a pretty cascading stream that kept me company most of the way up.

The top of the waterfall I kept crossing

I was sweating buckets by the time I got to the top, around 12:30. I met Lindsey, who had just finished lunch as I walked up. She took off, and I sat down to eat. The shelter I was sitting near was undergoing construction of some sort, and there were guys there with chainsaws, so not exactly a peaceful lunch. Also a little lighter than I would’ve liked, as my food supply is still a little limited. But anyways, I chomped through it and then set back on my way.

Now you’re probably thinking, if you just spent the whole morning climbing, surely the afternoon would be downhill, right? And right you are! Fooooor about the first hour, then it was straight back to climbing. At least there was trail magic before the second climb, so I got all fueled up to go. By the time I reached the top, my legs were ready to give up. Which is new, cause honestly they’ve felt pretty good so far. But from the top of that climb it was only another 2 miles to camp, so nothing too bad. We got in early, Linsey around 2:45 and me around 3, so plenty of time to just hang out.

I was really really tired today, physically anyways. I’m not sure why. Less food and/or water than I should be having both come to mind. The water I’ve been trying to force feed myself throughout the day, so hopefully that gets better. The food, bit of a tricky spot. I may have to pester Lindsey for some snacks tomorrow so supplement what I’ve got, but I don’t want to take too much from her, I feel bad. Mentally, another pretty good day. I enjoyed hiking alone more than I thought I would. I wouldn’t want to do it ALL THE TIME, but it was definitely nice in its own way.

More and more I’m gaining confidence that 2 days ago was just an unusually bad day. And i’m sure more of those will come, but I’m glad it’s in the rear view for now. Tomorrow is one month on trail! Which is exciting, and crazy, and terrifying, and all those things at once. Somehow it feels both insanely long and insanely short. But that’s about what I expected to be honest.

Quote of the day: “If I had to poop this would be a 5 star spot”

Day 32:

One month in trail today! We had another split start in the morning, this time Lindsey got hit about an hour ahead of me. I was lazy at breakfast. The early morning consisted of, you guessed it, lots of climbing! All the way up to Big Bald, which was in fact big and bald. And windy, I thought I was gonna get knocked over standing up there. But it was a really nice view, so I stood there as long as I could stand the wind to try and take it in.

View from the top of Big Bald

Around 10 I climbed down off of Big Bald, and made it to Big Bald shelter. After a quick privy stop (3.5 star privy, it didn’t have a door but was nice otherwise), I headed off to start my climb of Little Bald. Little Bald was fortunately a lot faster, but unfortunately was not actually bald! Imagine my disappointment when I found out. Little Bald was also where I realized that the carabiner with my camp shoes on them was no longer attached to my backpack! That was unfortunate. But in terms of things to lose, not the worst. And anyways, the trail has a funny way of working things out, so I just pressed on ahead. After about 50 more feet I realized I had left my walking sticks, so i went back. That would’ve been a lot worse.

There was a road gap I wanted to get to for lunch, but by 11:30 I was so hungry that I just had to sit and eat where I was. And another nutritious meal it was (peanut butter tortillas and white cheddar cheezits)! Don’t worry, the true food atrocities come later. But the good news is while I was filling water, someone came up and asked me if I had dropped a pair of Tevas a ways back! Like I said, the trail figures it out. So, no harm no foul, and I have my camp shoes back.

The rest of the day was entirely uneventful. Apart from a dreadfully difficult climb right at the end, which is quite rude, it was all flat and downhill. It was grey and mid 60s out, so great day for hiking, but I’m quickly running out of audiobooks, so if anyone has any ideas I am all ears. I made it to camp around 3:30, like 10 minutes after Lindsey got there. From there it was the standard sit around and hang out until dinner.

Dinner is where the meals became dire. Here’s what I had in stock; 4 packs of oatmeal, a little peanut butter, 2 tortillas, 1 breakfast essentials chocolate drink mix, and 5 oreos. Oh, and 2 electrolyte tablets, So what did I make? Oatmeal with breakfast essentials and oreos crumbled into it. It felt way more like a dessert than dinner, but it did the job. Probably the most heinous thing I’ve eaten so far. The 2 tortillas and rest of the pb is breakfast tomorrow, so literally just enough to get me into Erwin! Great planning from me.

I felt pretty good today. Hiking by myself is definitely a different experience, but I wouldn’t say it’s a bad one. There are sometimes where I wish I had someone to talk to. Sometimes I trip and fall and am glad no one saw it! So, swings and roundabout. But yeah, lots of high quality thinking time, most of which is spent with low quality thoughts. Today I thought a lot about 1 months, which somehow feels like forever and also no time at all. Thinking of what we have left to do sometimes feels impossible, sometimes feels like nothing. It all comes and goes. I guess that’s the way of things.

Quote of the day: “I’m gonna put the dehydrated potatoes up my ass. They’ll rehydrate up there.”

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