No Zeros Until Maine? Seriously?
No beds or zeros till Maine.
This idea popped into my head the month before I stepped onto the trail at Amicalola Falls back in Georgia. I had about four weeks to go and I was thinking it would be awesome to save money and take a really natural approach to my journey north. That idea lasted about ten days before I realized it wasn’t going to happen. I readjusted to my original plan of zeroing every ten to 12 days. I had the budget made, the plans written, and my gusto ready.
I quickly realized on trail that when opportunities present themselves, you take them. I took my first zero day seven days into my trip when trail friends opened their home. I then pushed forward and took a nero (near zero) day in Franklin, N.C., where I stayed in a motel and fell in love with a local brewery. When I finally stopped belching at about 3 p.m. the next day and could walk a straight line again, I got on trail for just six miles with advice from a trail angel to just take it easy. I listened. Because I listened, I met my early tramily on trail and someone who I will likely consider a friend for life, a hiker named RipIt. I neroed again when we got to Fontana Dam and I waited for my dog to get picked up to be kenneled as we went through the Smokies. My early tramily and I enjoyed a small gas station/pub mix; a place that screamed small town, southern USA. We had an amazing day staying at the famous Fontana Hilton, an awesome trail shelter with flush toilets and free hot showers. Walking through the Smokies started with gorgeous weather that soon turned wild. We were walking through knee-deep snow with single-digit temps and colder wind chills. We walked into camp each night frozen and very, very wet. We started our mornings with rock-solid shoes that had frozen overnight. We had whiteout conditions for every major view point in Great Smoky Mountain National Park. I’ve decided I’ll have to return during a more mild season to see the views of what I walked through.
As soon as we got out of the Smokies, we stayed overnight with a trail angel at a river underpass stealth site and gorged on free food and shine. It was a legendary night with stories that have already preceded me up the trail and a distinct send-off to RipIt, who had to get off trail for a month but will likely be back on to finish up the hike. The next day we continued on for a wild 1.2 miles to get to Standing Bear Hostel, where I got my pup back and we stayed overnight because they had frozen pizza, beer, and good company. How can you say no to that! I pushed out hard the next day and was now hiking solo because my remaining trail partner had a flare-up with his Achilles. I scurried to catch the bubble in front of me and made it to Hot Springs pretty quick as the snow started pounding down again. I rolled in from 16 miles out by 2 p.m. and left late the next morning to push out 16 miles only to end up back in another hostel because the forecast called for below 0 temps and four to six more inches of snow. I thought this was March!
I pushed out and got a few really nice days under my belt. We rolled into Erwin, Tenn., for a planned resupply but with some major foot/shoe/ankle issues we ended up staying for two nights, meaning another zero day under our belt. I essentially lost my insoles and was attempting to hike in my trail runners sans insoles. Shitty move, Kathleen. My feet were so swollen that you couldn’t see if I had an arch or not and one of my ankles was swollen to the point I could barely slip it into my Solomon trail runner. Eek! The body needed a break. I enjoyed my stay at Uncle Johnnys and rested my aching body, even though it meant letting the bubble push forward without me. It’s insane how hard it is to watch everyone leave town while you just sit there. Your mind screams, “Go! Follow them, stay with the group.” I resisted the urge through the help of my parents and the hostel owner and did what would keep me on trail for the long haul. It’s really easy, and seems like common sense to tell others to listen to your body and rest when you need it, but immensely difficult to do it when you’re the one who has to stop and just sit somewhere in a new, small town by yourself.
Hunter and I left Damascus with the plan that we wouldn’t stop anywhere unless it was an hour-long resupply until we got to Damascus. “Oh yeah?” asked Mother Nature. “I guess not.” I came over Roan Mountain, our final 6,000-foot peak until we reach the Whites. We were offered a slack pack and time to beat over Roan. The gap-to-gap section going over the 6,200-foot peak was 6.4 miles and he had a hiker do it in 2:24 earlier in the day. I knew I had to beat it, so I hustled over in 1:59 and wandered into the parking lot on the other side to a grilled cheese awaiting my arrival. It felt great! The next day, I would find the forecast to call for eight more inches over 48 hours. Here I sit in my seventh (!!!!) home/hostel/motel since I hit the trail 33 days ago. I had budgeted that I would be staying in a town 12 times for my journey out here, 15 max if we ran into problems on trail. I am half way through my projected budget with 82 percent of the journey left to go. Hot damn!
The trail has its way of putting me where I need to be, when I need to be there. From receiving Salomon inserts from someone who didn’t need theirs, receiving work for stay to have time to heal, getting a free beer that happened to be bought by the guy I hiked my first two days with, meeting a new friend who would help me get through the most painful day on trail yet, walking into hikers getting off trail early asking to donate snacks, finding friends to share rooms when the weather turns ugly, to meeting a new and amazing lifelong friend. The trail knows what is best. Just listen. I am finally listening. When opportunities present themselves, they are there for a reason. They are lessons to teach us about ourselves, lessons to protect us on the trail, and lessons to show us the way. At the end of the day, the goal isn’t just Katahdin, it’s healing, growing and evolving. The goal isn’t the 21 miles today; it’s so much bigger than that. I’d rather attain the former than allow the latter to take me off this journey completely.
No Worries is born.
I received my name because I was always worried about my plan, and whether I was sticking to it. I was constantly anxious and rigid. I was given the name “worry” as a temporary placeholder in an attempt to push me to get a trail name. Night one of meeting two awesome trail friends, we deemed that my goal should be to become worry free on trail, and after I responded with “no worries” to one of them, a trail name was born. I’m trying my hardest to live up to the name and just go with the flow. It’s so much easier when I just walk and follow the path of the trail. It’s a journey to be enjoyed. I’m not out here to push and push and push. I’m out here to experience. Experience the trail, the people, the towns, and the change within. If shit doesn’t go as planned, no worries. I will continue to push myself through fun challenges and see how strong my body and mind are, but I will continue to say screw it, and take a zero when I want one. I’ll go out into town and buy a few too many beers and talk a local’s ear off. I’ll break all the rules and give people chances to become amazing friends, and most of all, I’ll allow the trail to change me and let go of the desire for control. This journey is what we make of it. You can plan all you want, but I promise that the trail is going to take those plans and tell you to shove them somewhere the sun don’t shine, because out in the Appalachians, you’re never more than a few hours out from the rain and snow. Enjoy the ride, my friends, I know I am! Tomorrow I’m setting out with a father-son section hiking duo to slack pack the 33-mile section from Roan Mountain, Tenn., to Boots Off Hostel just past Hampton, Tenn., in one shot, through the six to eight inches of snow we just accumulated. Is it doable? We don’t know because they haven’t had someone complete it yet, without the snow. Will it be interesting? Hell yes. Will I leave the experience after what we’re estimating to be 11 to 15 hours of hard hiking straight through with a really cool story and some new friends from Arkansas? Definitely. We shall see, and if it doesn’t work out and we have to bail at mile 26? No Worries! I’d rather take the challenge then look back wondering what if. At least I’ll know that there is hostel number eight waiting on us for a long, hot shower and a memory foam mattress.
Until next time, happy trails and thanks for making this journey with us,
No Worries and Hunter
3/23/18 UPDATE: We made it! Took just around 11.5 hours with photo, snack and water breaks! The only fatality of the day is that I cracked my sawyer in half. Luckily The Arkansas father-son duo I did it with had a filter and graciously gifted it to me since they are finished with their week out here! Thanks Kyle and William!!! Feels great but we are going back to low 20s for a while in terms of mileage. Whoooo!
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