Days 4 through 7; Slow and Steady

Day 4- 7.29 miles, 981’ elevation gain; Woody Gap to Slaughter Creek Campsite

Oof, rough night at Woody Gap. Between the cars chugging up the hill all night, the dude who rolled in loudly complaining at his dog for causing him a fall resulting in a hold up until he heals, and the slamming of car doors at 0330 to catch the sunrise on Preachers Rock, it was by far my worst night’s sleep yet. Yup, I’m complaining and it’s not doing me any service. Either way, I couldn’t hit the trail fast enough. I didn’t even make breakfast before leaving camp. I filtered some water and we boogied our way north crossing into the Blood Mountain Wilderness.

Sage standing in front of the Blood Mountain Wilderness signEntering Blood Mountain Wilderness

The trail brought us up to Preacher’s Rock and then almost to the summit of Big Cedar Mountain, a 3,694′ peak before summiting Granny Top Mountain at 3,323’. One of the locals from down in the valley was sharing his wealth of knowledge of everything we were able to see. He explained we could see about 75 miles away, but I forget at what. Being 2024 and the AT I had timed being on the summit for a telehealth call, I politely explained I needed to take a phone call and excused myself from the conversation to not disturb them and get privacy. What a time to be alive.

River on the AT Loving Life.

As a transmasculine individual on HRT, one of my biggest fears was the inability to administer my hormones on trail. If you too are like me and have a desire to backpack, I’m here to confirm it’s just like at home. I make my own soap sheets and bring extra alcohol pads to keep it all clean. Sure, carrying the extra weight sucks, but like many transgender people in this world, we wouldn’t be here in the flesh without it. To make my soap sheets I take UNSCENTED castile soap (and only unscented castile soap) and paint it on parchment paper. It then goes in the dehydrator at a low setting until it dries. Soap sheets, for literal pennies. I also love clean hands, a clean beard and clean and dry feet, it’s the little things that make it easier out here.

After my phone call I still felt like lounging around, so River and I hopped about a half mile down a blue blazed trail where we set up camp at an established site along Slaughter Creek. It was warm enough to be out in my t-shirt, sedentary for the first time. I soaked up the sun and pondered life while River napped in the tent for the afternoon. We only saw two people walk by the entire time we were down there.

Day 5- 7.83 miles, 1816’ elevation gain; Slaughter Creek Campsite to Baggs Creek Gap

It poured last night, along with thunder and lightning. Every time the sky lit up, I’d wait for the crash of the thunder. Counting in seconds for its miles away. I never counted under 30 and knew I was safe. I’d roll over and fall back asleep to the sound of the rain and Slaughter Creek off in the distance. I hung out in my bag as long as I could before packing up my wet tent. The mountains were calling and so wasn’t my resupply.

Neels Gap, where 25% of thru-hikers call it quits. It still doesn’t quite feel real, but we’re doing it, slow and steady! When I walked into Neels Gap I was carrying two hot cocoa packets, two snacks, and another day and a half of food for River. Not too bad for our first food carry. I paid my 20$ holding fee (ouch!), got my two boxes and repackaged it all on the picnic table. This resupply made it feel a little more real.

Climbing out of Neels Gap was no joke, a short 400’ climb up the 3804’ Levelland Mountain with a full six-day resupply made me rethink my life’s choices for a hot second. Nonetheless we put one foot in front of the other. It turned out to be a gorgeous day once the clouds broke and the wind tapered off.

Day 6- 10.2 miles, 2293’ elevation gain; Baggs Creek Gap to Horsetrough Mountain

Sunset along the Appalachian TrailSunset along the AT.

Today ended up being emotionally rough, but hey the trail provides, they say. I’m trying to work through some trauma, content warning, paternal loss, skip to the next day.

I’ve found myself in a small bubble of some serious Dad Energy. As we, apologies for forgetting his trail name but Titanium’s hiking pal, made our way down into Tesnatee Gap we were graced with our first round of trail magic of the day. Trail magic is when someone provides hikers with anything, be it food and beverage, words of encouragement, trash collection, etc.

The people providing the trail magic were a father and son pair who had stacked a cooler full of ice-cold soda and a bag to collect our trash for us. While drinking my blue raspberry lemonade it was brought up to the son that by the time he’s 14 he’s going to know it all and Dad will know nothing, at 21 he’s going to be asking for all of Dad’s money and at 27 going to be asking for all of Dad’s stuff.

A letter from father to child.I love you. I miss you.

Can confirm the first two to be true, sadly when I was 27 my Dad had been gone for six years. The evening my Dad passed away, I had asked to borrow $20 to go to a job interview. He gave me all the money in his wallet. I never got the chance to pay him back.

So yeah, it could have been any other thru-hiker that found themselves there at that very moment in time. But it just so happened to be me, it’s synchronicity. I turned away with my ice-cold soda and wiped the tears from my eyes. I finished it fast, as I needed to leave that energy behind. Only to hike into Hogpen Gap to more trail magic.

Working through my loss, I got some Caribbean Black Bean soup and sat down by myself. The compassion, generosity, and outpouring of love was a lot to take in. I’m still trying to make sense of my experience and am having a hard time putting it to words.

Sage and River eating soup during a rest stop. food provided by trail angelsSo Delicious, thank you!

A few of the folks living down in Hiawassee were the gracious souls who provided the trail magic. It was nice to meet some new faces, including a year-old puppy, and get my belly filled with some true southern comfort food. One of the guys has been doing it since 2014, an entire decade! I stuffed my pockets with no bake cookies and these wonderful homemade rice crispy type things at their request, signed in their logbook, and timed my exit so I would no longer be leapfrogging the Dad Energy. I gave some hugs, grabbed my pack, thanked them and said ‘I gotta start heading home.’

The trail angels who provided the trail magic lined up for a photo.Trail Angels.

It felt good to go to sleep with more than a belly full. Food always tastes better when you don’t cook it or it’s free. The ultimate plate of food is both.

Day 7- 7.24 miles, 1274’ gain Horsetrough Mountain to Rocky Mountain

Last night was cold, the kind of cold that settles in around your bones and doesn’t dissipate until about 4 to 5 miles in the next day. I slept like absolute crap, constantly worried that River has worked his way out of his sleeping bag and just thinking about life. I stayed in my sleeping bag until the sun was well up and I was able to feel its warmth.

It’s been a week, and I still don’t have a trail name. Which is to be considered normal when hiking alone. There are still plenty of us without one. Although, I may just call us Slow and Steady. I’ve been leapfrogging my fair share of people; however, we can’t match their pace and I planned six-day food carries rather than the typical four. They’ll get ahead by a day and a half or so, and then I’ll get ahead while they stop in town. We’ll leapfrog for a couple days until they start to pull away. There’re also many thru-hikers that walk on past, never to be seen again.

…and we’re still headed home.
River just loving life.River on a leash walking along the ATRiver and Sage stopped in the sun after two days of rain.

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Comments 14

  • Melissa : Mar 7th

    Thank you so much for sharing your journey with us. Your posts are wonderful and so genuine, not to mention the added bonus of your adorable hiking partner! I also live in Maine and find the idea of such a long walk home fascinating. Wishing you the best luck (but you got this so don’t need it) and look forward to seeing what’s next!

    • Slow & Steady : Apr 15th

      Thank you! I was just thinking today how dreadful a SOBO would be for me walking away from home. Maine is where my heart is.

  • DEB : Mar 7th

    Looking forward to following your journey home. Especially excited due to your hiking partner. I have been thinking about making a plan for a long stroll which would include my own fur baby. Wishing you great days ahead. Be well, stay safe. Can’t wait for your next post!

    • Slow & Steady : Apr 15th

      If I can offer any advice it would be to do it. We are their everything and just being with you distraction free would make each if their days that much better.

  • Shocktop : Mar 8th

    Sage, the Dad energy resonated with me. Before every section or even day hike, when I told my parents the mileage, Dad would say ‘ That’s too much.’ We lost him in 2020, but I imagine him saying it still. Sometimes when it’s sucking, I say, ‘ You are right, Dad!’
    Thank you for your posts. Happy Trails to you and River!

  • Victory Gallop : Mar 8th

    Good luck to you. The soap sheets is a neat concept. But I would hardly call dry feet one of “the little things.” I think it is one of the most important things in terms of preventing the blisters that could slow or end your hike.

    On my hike, I had two pairs of polypropylene sock liners and a pair of hiking socks. I started every day in one of the pairs of liner socks + the hiking socks. Then I ate lunch every day barefoot. That allowed my feet to dry. After lunch, I would put on the other, dry, pair of liner socks and thread the pair I had been wearing through a loop of my pack (as long as it wasn’t raining). Dry feet make all the difference.

    Victory Gallop

  • Melinda Bovardi : Mar 8th

    Sage, I enjoy reading your posts as I am also originally from Maine and The Great North Woods! I currently live in Massachusetts and am living vicariously through you. Thank you for your posts and if you need anything once you wander this far north don’t hesitate to hit me up.

    • Slow & Steady : Apr 15th

      Oh wow, way up in the sticks! LOL. Maine definitely has my heart, couldn’t picture myself anywhere else.

  • Erin : Mar 10th

    I love reading your posts Sage. That makes two of us, really feeling the Dad energy this week. Definitely shed some tears myself. We’re not alone <3 Safe travels and I can’t wait to see ya soon! Love ya!

    • Slow & Steady : Apr 15th

      Love ya Erin!

  • Murray Ziegenfuss : Mar 10th

    I’m loving your photos — especially your face & the authenticity you radiate! Slow & steady will get you to Maine. Well done!

    • Slow & Steady : Apr 15th

      Thank you so much. Selfie game pretty strong when hiking solo. 🙂

  • Gwinn : Mar 25th

    I definitely get the Dad energy thing as I’ve lost both parents as well as a child. Odd how it sneaks up on you at times. My family is from Greenville, I’m glad I found your blog and will be following along.

    • Slow & Steady : Apr 15th

      It literally changes lives in an instant. I’m sorry for your loses, it never gets easier. <3


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