It was the best of times, it was the worst of times
I was on the trail for over 2 months, hiked 586 miles on the AT and many more going in and out of towns, walking to shelters/camps, water sources. I had finally gotten my trail legs and was able to climb the mountains without stopping to rest, although still huffing and puffing going uphill. I walked through snow, slush, mud and rain. I slipped and fell too many times to count, not seriously injuring myself (until that last spot).
Here are some random facts, thoughts and things I remember from my hike. Sorry for the long post but it will be my last one for now and wanted to show pictures.
When I first contemplated doing this, I imagined myself walking 3 to 3.5 miles an hour. I thought that would be very doable since I did several half marathons walking at that pace. Yes, I realized that the weight of my pack would slow me down a bit as well as the up hills.
Well that pace sure goes down the toilet once you start. It does not account for the rocks, the roots, the downed trees, the very steep up and down hills. You also have take breaks to rest and eat. I found out I averaged 1.7 to 2 miles per hour, much less than I originally thought.
Some of the down hills
Root, roots and more roots
Uphill climb and of course Yankee
waiting for me again!
Mmm, how am I going to get around this? Wait, how am I going to get Yankee over this?!
Too bad I am not as short as Yankee. He just crawled underneath that. My butt was too big to do that!
Mmm, Yankee is on his own!
Preparing for this hike, I read a lot of articles, books and saw a lot of pictures. I could not wait to surround myself with all this beauty.
Turns out that when you hike the AT, you only see the path and your feet. If you look around while you walk, you might end up walking into a tree (did that), turn your ankle on rocks (did that), trip over roots (also did that). So the best way to hike is to slow down, stop to take in the view and maybe do walk 1.7 miles an hour. That way, you do not miss the views, sounds of the birds and other critters around you.
Is that the trail or is that a stream? Yup that’s the trail!
Beginning of another beautiful day!
That water looks so nice and cool, I wonder how I can get to it (Yankee’s thoughts on this day)
Finally, the first rhododendrons are blooming
Walking through a pine forest. Nice and cool and the smell was incredible.
On a clear day, you can see forever!
On a cloudy day, you can’t see shit!
Follow the yellow brick road, I mean the white blazes
A lot of people have asked me if I worried about getting lost.
The Appalachian trail is marked by rectangle white blazes going North and South bound. In some areas you will see them every 100 yards or so and other places you don’t see them for a long time. You can have them on trees, rocks, posts, sidewalks and even at the base of a canoe. It is not easy getting lost if you pay attention to the white blazes. The white blazes even tell you when there is going to be a change in direction.
This means the trail goes left
Glad that rock is there to show me the way!
I only wandered off the trail twice. The first time was on day 1 when I followed Yankee and he took a side trail to a shelter. The last time was coming out of Hot Springs when I was not feeling well. I ended up going past the where the trail turned uphill. I only went about another 200 yards before realizing my mistake. I did learn to not follow Yankee because he took every little path off the trail to explore. Whenever I was not sure if I was on the trail since I had not seen a blaze in a while, I simply would turn my head to look back until I saw one going south bound and I knew I was ok.
Hiking with a dog
There is a lot online regarding whether hiking with a dog is a good idea or not. Most of the recommendations are negative. Thru hiking with a dog is definitely more challenging but doable. You simply have to come to terms that you will not be hiking your own hike but your dog’s. You may have to carry extra water when there are no streams for a long time. You may have to stop and rest when your dog has had enough. You definitely have to be more vigilant to make certain your dog does not scare or bother other hikers. You most likely will not be able to sleep in a shelter unless your dog is very small and does not take any extra room when the shelters are full which can mean a muddy dog in your tent.
Yankee with muddy paws, sleeping on my mat and quilt. He did have his own but often preferred mine
I think he is going to sleep outside tonight!
Most of the dogs I met on the trail did fine and were well behaved. There was a puppy on it that was only 5 months old when he started which is way too young and the owner actually lost the dog a couple of times. Another dog bit hikers twice which to me is unacceptable.
Yankee was much loved on the trail. People would pet him in camp and hostels. He loved it since he is a pet whore. People most often recognized me at first due to Yankee. They would call out Yankee! when they would see him and forget my name!
Yankee finding a place to cool down.
Yankee learning how to walk over bridges and not up and down banks.
Yankee on the Virginia Creeper Trail
I made a mental list of the wildlife I wanted to see and not see before starting.
Bear: only saw 1, well the back of one as Yankee chased it away.
Snake: Big black one in the Smokies and another one sunning itself on the road, must have been about 4 feet long. Did not want to see any copperheads or rattlesnakes and I did not.
Birds: So many different birds. Wished I could identify them. I especially loved listening to them in the morning when I started off. You could also tell when bad weather was coming since the birds stopped singing. When they started up again, you knew you could take your rain gear off.
Mice: Did not see any, my gear was not gnawed on by them. They hate dogs so was glad to have avoided them.
Cows, ponies and long horns: Saw lots of those. When Yankee met his first cows, there was a fence between him and them. He was very brave, barking and carrying on. Well he changed his tune when we got into the pasture and there was no longer a fence keeping him safe. He quickly hid behind me and stayed away from them. Ponies were in Greyson Highlands. They are wild, brought in years ago and abandoned there. Every year they are rounded up, examined, treated if they need to and then culled to reduce their numbers. The “left overs” are sold.
Face to face with cows. Had to watch where we stepped! At least Yankee does not eat cow poop, just human poop
This pony was in love with Yankee, he kept following him around. Yankee would have none of it
Mamma and her baby!
Squirrels and chipmunks: Saw too many to count. Yankee got so used to them, he never chased after them.
Raccoon: Did not see any.
Porcupine: Did not want to see, did not see any (they like to lick and gnaw the salt on the wood in shelters) and am glad Yankee did not come nose to quill with any.
Skunk: Definitely did not want to see or smell them. Yankee would have been banned from my tent for a while if he had been sprayed.
Reptiles: There were a lot of salamanders during the rain (they would hide when it was sunny) and I did see one turtle which was far from any water source.
Wonder where he came from.
Moose: Wanted to see one but was not north enough. Maybe next year.
Quirky things on the trail
Thru hiking can get very boring. Hikers find a variety of ways to keep things interesting, whether daring each other to do things, writing silly things in the shelter journals or on white boards found in the shelters (stops people from defacing the shelter walls), coming up with trail names. The funniest trail name I thought was Dog Treat. That hiker was given that name after a dog came into a shelter and started licking his leg. There was also U-Turn because somebody in a truck u-turned to pick her up when she was hitchhiking. Several people wanted to rename me Doodle since I was hiking with Yankee!
There were also funny things at shelters. You could order pizza from some of them. Some had solar showers or chargers. Some even had electric plugs and water spigots in the middle of nowhere (they actually were just props but a few hikers tried to use them).
You came a long way! Rest in peace.
The leaf fairy came again. Leaf makes it much easier to collect water. I did not realized at first that people actually made it happen. I still believe in the leaf fairy!
This was my life for 70 days. The best of times was when I climbed a mountain, cursing and wondering if I would ever get to the top then turned around and saw the view.
The best of times was when I met so many great fellow hikers and the camaraderie between us.
The best of times was when I was able to shower away 7 days of mud, sweat and dirt.
The best of times was all the support from people back home. The weekly Friday text, the care packages, the random emails and texts from friends. The person who sent me my resupply boxes, drove me to and back from the trail, the one who took care of my house and went through my mail. The person who took care of Yankee for 10 days, drove 5 hours there and back twice to bring him back to the trail. That is just to name a few.
The worst of times was when I was carried off the AT with an ankle fracture.
The worst of times do not seem bad right now. There were never worse enough to make me want to quit, although I did want to fleetingly a few times but never for long. There were definitely more best times than worse times.
A lot of people have told me how amazing it was to have covered over 25% of the trail. At first I did not think so since I still had 75% left to do and I felt like a failure. Now with some time, I have come to realize that what I did was pretty incredible. I walked over 400 miles with a sprained ankle which bothered me at least once a day. Most days were hiked in some type of other pain, the feet from blisters or frozen shoes, the shoulders from carrying 7 days of food, the wrists from using poles to keep from falling.
If I return to the trail, I don’t think I would change much. Over the miles, I was able to pare down what I carried which was great. I would likely take more time to enjoy the views and companionship.
Thank you to everybody who has encouraged and supported me. I could not have done this without you.
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