Days 26-32: The Water Flows Through The Woods Like Fingers Slipping Between Each Other

The Smokies didn’t get any easier until after Clingman’s.

The day before mile 200, we stopped short because my ankle was hurting. Achilles carried me a quarter mile uphill after my other friends split the load of my pack weight for a handful of miles.

I’ve spent most of my life feeling like a burden for needing help. The Smokies beat that out of me. My friends are my family out here, and learning to rely on them where I can has been a hard but beautiful lesson that I’ve needed to learn for a long time.

It took me until the three mile approach to Clingman’s Dome to learn how to pep talk myself. I’ve always been great at giving my friends pep talks, but I’m so in my own head. I hear everyone who’s doubted me louder than my own thoughts.

So instead I used my voice.

I started talking to myself. The thoughts were getting bad. I couldn’t stop the self-hate. But anyone can tell you that I can bulldoze through a conversation if need be, and that’s exactly what I did with myself.

You’re a badass. You decided to change your life by living in the woods. You’re walking twenty-two hundred miles and you love it. You’re strong enough to keep going. You’re just feeling the soreness from your body catching up — everyone else is having the same aches and pains, this is Not a sign that you’re weak. It’s a sign that you’re getting stronger.

I thought of my friends telling me that I’m not a burden, of them letting me know they feel the same often. I trusted the love and the help I was given. And it was worth it.

200 miles

I skipped the seven miles between Clingman and Newfound. I met up with Stache and we hitched our way into Gatlinburg — a town I was gonna skip for the most part and am so glad I didn’t.

Stache and I on the Skylift
The Skybridge!

Stache and I bonded hard that day. And then we met back up with the tram fam and celebrated making it 200 miles on trail! We did some karaoke and hung out at the brewery. Then we headed back on trail the next afternoon.

At Newfound gap, I got some extra special Trail Magic.

I met a woman I’ve been dying to meet on trail: She-Ra.

Me and She-Ra

As a nonbinary person from NYC, coming to the south as a trans person was very scary. But people almost immediately told me about She-Ra — a badass, loud-mouthed trans woman conquering the trail one step at a time. My kinda lady. Meeting her felt like meeting a celebrity. She’s so funny, and sweet, and honest, and authentic. I felt less alone knowing she was out here, and I feel at home becoming friends with her and hanging out with her now that we’ve met.

The fear of transphobia has been proven to be unnecessary. Almost everyone uses my pronouns (they/them) and respects me and who I am. We’re all being our authentic selves out here, and that gets a lot of respect in a way I never thought would happen.

The next few days in the Smokies were incredible.

I was rejuvenated. I felt revived. I knew how to get through the darkness on my own, and I loved solo hiking through the day.

First day back, we met Napoleon. I refer to him as the perfect Cleric. This man talks about god and religion in a special way — one I rarely get to see. He just truly appreciates everything around him and leads with love. I could listen to him speak all day (and I did), and I’m not even religious. He dropped quite a lot of wisdom nuggets, my favorite of which was to “find someone who loves your stink more than your smell good.” What a legend.

But the Smokies weren’t done with their lessons.

Our last day in the park, I spent 8 miles processing a hard choice. One I didn’t want to make, that I’d much rather coast on and ignore until it needed to be addressed.

I know that I want to keep hiking for as long as my legs will let me — far beyond the AT. The plan is PCT next year and El Camino the year after. The plan is to work in parks in the meantime. The plan is not to move back home, to NYC.

But that plan means having to make hard choices about my partner back home.

After 6 hours, I’d made the choice to message her. To at least talk and try to figure something out. I don’t know if we’ll be able to. And the scariest part isn’t losing her, because I don’t think I will. The scariest part is accepting what I want and need and what that means for my future. What I’ll lose when I decide I want something different. It’s not something I can plan for, and that’s scary.

My friends were there for me, again.

Once I knew what I had to do, I let the tram fam know. We’d be staying at Standing Bear that night and I wanted to give them the heads up that I had to do a hard thing and needed a little extra kindness.

The drive to Standing Bear

And boy was it kind. We gathered around a campfire (one that PrΩ didn’t have to build himself). I appreciated the goats and chickens and cats and dogs they have here. I ate some incredible food.


The next morning, there was thunder in the forecast.

It was supposed to go all day. With no reply from my girlfriend, I was stressed. I knew I didn’t want to hike through lightning, and would stay, but my friends were all going to leave.

I started to panic about relapsing while processing alone. I didn’t want to tell my friends and hold them back because I’m a stupid addict who can’t take care of themselves. So I told my best friend, Careline, and she gave me words so kind I had to take a moment inside to cry tears of appreciation. I’m so grateful for how well loved I am, truly.

Incidentally, half the crew decided to stay. Achilles calls it “our Two Towers era” – which I love! And then, I told everyone what I was worried about. And, again, they had my back. And, again, I am so grateful and lucky.

Then I saw that I’m one of the 22 bloggers to follow this year on the AT. And then the sun came out. And I’m writing this from the field, laying in the sun, appreciating all that is good in this world and my life, as a gorgeous woman (She-Ra) tells me how beautiful I am.

Today, there is no immediate song that comes to mind.

Just the song of love that radiates from my heart throughout the rest of my being.

Joy. Joy. Joy.

Affiliate Disclosure

This website contains affiliate links, which means The Trek may receive a percentage of any product or service you purchase using the links in the articles or advertisements. The buyer pays the same price as they would otherwise, and your purchase helps to support The Trek's ongoing goal to serve you quality backpacking advice and information. Thanks for your support!

To learn more, please visit the About This Site page.

Comments 1

  • Patricia : Apr 20th

    Hi Spark! You are awesome! I love reading your blog posts. I lived in NYC for years and then in Tennessee… The trail beckons me. Someday. I’m also in recovery, and I work as a Addiction counselor in Buffalo! I’m here cheering you on!


What Do You Think?