Gatorade Ramen and the Meat Sweats

As I sit here in front of an actual computer for the first time in over a week, I am overwhelmed with everything I have to write about. So much has happened! It’s an incredible feat to wrap my head around everything I’ve done and seen. I’d be lost without a journal. As with any good story, the author starts at the beginning, so here goes nothing…

Traveling: From NH to GA

On April 1st I left New Hampshire for the last time. I drove my little Subaru down to my aunt’s house in Massachusetts, where she had put together a small going away party for me. It would not be a proper going away from New England without a foot of new snow, but my family still came out. My mom, brothers, Grammy, papa, and friends Sean and Shawn were all there. Shout out to you guys for being awesome. My aunt broke out the sewing kit so I could put a couple of patches on my pack. Not gonna lie, I’ve never sewn before, but I think I did a great job.

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My sewing job on my pack

The next morning, Ron (my aunt’s boyfriend) and I left for his parents house in Pennsylvania. The trip was pretty uneventful, except for the fact that I already smell awful. Ron’s parents were super sweet, and they made us a beautiful steak dinner. I was so tired that I passed out around 8, even though all I did was sit in a car.

The next leg of the trip was down to Ron’s house in Kentucky. 8+ hours in a shiny metal coffin made this the worst drive of the trip. I will NEED to stretch my legs for 2,000+ miles after this. Oh wait…

The final day of travel brought me into Amicalola Falls State Park. Words cannot express my excitement, so I will leave you all with this super attractive picture:

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The excitement cannot be contained!

My pack weighed in at 40 lbs, and I weighed in at 128 lbs. I’m looking forward to seeing how that changes over the next 6 months! I officially started my thru hike at approximately 9:00 AM on April 4th.

Day 1: Approach Trail to Stover Creek, 11.6 miles

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Ground zero

Leading up to the start of my hike, I read an absurd amount of material about how difficult the approach trail is. Honestly, I found that the stairs were the hardest part. Compared to that, the rest of the way to Springer was kid stuff. If you can get up the stairs, you should have no problem with the rest of the Approach. The views of the falls on the way up are totally worth the pain of 400+ stairs.

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Amicalola Falls

Today I met Mike, who was practically being dragged up the trail by his dog Ghost. I haven’t seen them since, but man they were FLYING. I stopped for lunch at Black Gap Shelter where I met Henry, Brandon, and another gentleman who’s name escapes me. They were cool to talk to, and very accepting. After lunch I ran into a girl named Rachel. We hiked at pretty much the same pace, so we hiked together for the rest of the day. We reached the top of Springer at about 3:00 and finally started the actual AT.

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The first white blaze on the AT! It’s really happening!

About a mile downhill after the summit there’s a parking lot where people can start if they don’t want to do the Approach Trail. I stopped to take a short break and started talking to a guy who is also from New Hampshire. Turns out he’s from the same town I went to college in, and his family owns the ski area I work at. Small world! He is on vacation and plans to go along the AT providing trail magic along the way. He hiked 900 miles of the AT last year and was known as Plunge Pool.

Two more short miles and Rachel and I arrived at our home for the night, Stover Creek Shelter. We set up our tents, ate, and enjoyed s’mores provided by a man out on an overnight trip with his kids. My excitement was palpable. I bounced around camp until the sun went down.

For the first time in a long time I feel as if I am exactly where I need to be, and it feels amazing.

Day 2: Stover Creek to Gooch Gap Shelter, 13 miles

I woke up early today, anticipating bad weather, and managed to put my tent away before the rain started. Rachel and I hiked together up until Hawk Mountain Shelter, where we stopped for lunch. At this point, it was raining off and on and thundering as well. After lunch I pushed onward, still smiling like an idiot.

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“There’s no such thing as bad weather, just soft people”

I was excited to see Plunge Pool’s car and a group of hikers gathered around for coffee and cheese sandwiches at Cooper Gap. I devoured a sandwich and met a hiker named Fistbump. They call him that because he gives an excessive amount of fist bumps. I hiked with him the rest of the way to Gooch Gap Shelter, and great conversation made the rest of the hike go by quick.

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I pitched my tent in between bouts of rain on a not-so-flat piece of dirt. I’m not sure that you could call what I did that night “sleeping,” rather, it was more like short periods of time where I was somewhat unconscious. I realized at one point that there was rain coming into my tent, and had to take some emergency waterproofing precautions that involved my sleeping pad being sacrificed to keep my sleeping bag dry.

This night sucked, but not once did I think about quitting. There are going to be bad days, and it’s all in how you perceive it. I didn’t get sunburned today, so that’s a positive!

Day 3: Gooch Gap to Lance Creek, 8.4 miles

I have had a sore throat since day 1, but last night it turned into a full bore cold. All I’ll say is that there was an embarrassing amount of snot. However, I was not fazed but the sniffles, and out again I went into the cold and the rain. I caught up to Fistbump and hiked with him again for a while.

At Woody Gap I caught up with a pair of brothers from Wisconsin who stayed in the shelter last night. I wanted to call them the Weasley Twins because they’re both red heads. This bounced back on me, and now they refer to me as Ginny (not my trail name). I hiked alone to Lance Creek for the most part, and because of my cold decided to camp there. The other option was pushing on over Blood Mountain in a storm. Ain’t nobody got time for that.

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Lance Creek tentsites

I’ve developed a blister on each pinky toe where my 4th toe rubs against it. I tried to doctor them as best as I could tonight, but short of popping them and letting them air out there wasn’t much I could do.

Day 4: Lance Creek to Neel’s Gap, 7.4 miles

Fistbump and I got what my aunt would call an “alpine start” today, leaving camp in the dark at 5:00 am. Anyone that knows me would be shocked to know that I led this hike. I felt really comfortable, despite my fear of being in the woods at night. The rain had stopped, so the challenge today was the wind. The plan today was to get to Whitley Shelter before the crowds, and get a shelter spot so we could hang our tents out to dry.

About two hours into the hike it became pretty clear that something was wrong. Fistbump was stopping to shed layers, and complaining about sweating. I on the other hand, was putting more clothing on. I could not get warm, no matter how hard I hiked, and regardless of wearing every article of clothing I had with me. Every muscle in my body ached, and the blisters on my feet were not helping. I definitely had a fever.

New plan: get to Neel’s Gap and the hostel.

The next four miles were brutal. Blood Mountain was beautiful, and I certainly did not expect to see snow in Georgia. However I probably would have enjoyed it more if I were healthy. I had to sing “We Will Rock You” and “Eye of the Tiger” to keep myself motivated to keep going. I could have cried when I finally saw the road.

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Snow on Blood Mountain

Arriving at 11 am, I was the first person to snag a bunk. The first thing I did was shower, and oh man it was glorious. The steam cleared my sinuses enough so that I could breathe through my nose again. I then rolled out my sleeping bag on my bunk and passed out. Around 2:30, Rachel showed up. My fever must have broken because I could get out of my sleeping bag without turning to ice. I felt a million times better. I managed to get up, do my chores, and meet all the random strangers that showed up while I slept.

It will take me a couple of days to feel 100% better, but I know it will only improve from here. Temporary situations don’t define my experience. Day by day, I’ll get closer to that light at the end of the tunnel, and I’ll be healthy again soon.

Day 5: Neel’s Gap to Low Gap, 11.5 miles

I left the hostel early today, around 7. Fistbump stayed behind to get a new filter, and I didn’t see him for the rest of the day. As temps climbed into the 60’s, I was excited to start seeing some better weather. Staying motivated in the rain isn’t easy, but I just keep reminding myself that weather is temporary, eventually the clouds will part and the sun will shine through.

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Cold morning start out of Neels Gap turned into a beautiful day

My feet killed today. If it weren’t for my blisters I probably could have made it another 4ish miles to the next shelter, but I stopped early at Low Gap to take care of my feet. Tonight was the first night I got to sleep in a shelter. Parker, who we have dubbed “Tape,” The Weasley Twins (Carolina Red and LD), Young, Lost and Found, and River all joined me at the shelter.

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Low Gap shelter crew (Carolina Red, Long Dong, Young Sweats, Tape).

As we all sat around the picnic table cooking dinner, Tape decided he was too lazy to walk 30 feet to the river to get water. The end result was beef ramen cooked in blue Gatorade. Needless to say, it didn’t end up coming out very good, but it was entertaining to watch. Somehow, Young brought up meat sweats, and no one had ever heard of that before. So he spent the rest of the night trying to convince us that they exist. We now call him Young Sweats.

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Ramen cooked in blue Gatorade? Whatever floats your boat Tape

A hiker from Germany showed up with his friend, and he was hilarious. He couldn’t pronounce his “r’s” and whenever he said something with an “r” in it, it sounded like a “w.” I named him Elmer Fudd for this reason. His friend’s name was Chris.

The group tonight has been the funniest I have come across so far. I laughed so much that night, my abs hurt.

Day 6: Low Gap to Cheese Factory Site, 13.4 miles

My feet felt amazing this morning. I even caught up to Carolina Red and LD at one point. The weather was beautiful today and the miles up to Blue Mountain Shelter were easy. I saw tons of familiar faces including Kerry, Mountain Goat, OP, Elmer Fudd, Chris, and Tape.

I stopped at Blue Mountain Shelter for lunch and met some more cool people, including Ellis and Molotov. Ellis basically lives on the road. He only works enough to save for his next big trip. Molotov got his name because he almost burned down a shelter with his stove.

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Blue Mountain shelter (Chris, Elmer Fudd, Molotov)

When I got to Unicoi Gap there was trail magic! Tons of hikers were hanging out in the parking lot and three trail angels (Plunge Pool, Google, and Tip Toes) were giving out free food, beer, and soda. I love these guys. It’s amazing to me that they are just giving out of the goodness of their hearts. I hope that when I finish the trail I can be as selfless as them and inspire people around me to do the same. If more people could do that, the world would be a much better place.

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Trail Magic at Unicoi Gap!

I continued on to the old cheese factory site. In reality, its not anything special, just a large flat spot perfect for camping. There was a large group of people that I knew camped out there already, and a bunch of section hikers too. I set up my tent and did all my camp chores. Around dinner, Molotov, Elmer Fudd, and Ellis all pulled out harmonicas and just started jamming out. I have come to the conclusion that I need a harmonica. It was really cool to listen to this group of guys that have never met before come together over music like that.

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Molotov, Elmer Fudd, and Ellis

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Tape, Carolina Red, LD, a random section hiker, Elmer Fudd, Molotov, and Ellis around a fire at the cheese factory site.

Day 7: Cheese Factory Site to Deep Gap, 9.4 miles

I am in desperate need of a solution for my headlamp. Last night was the second night so far that it has died because it turned itself on in my pack. So glad I brought a backup light.

Today was a fairly challenging day. I finished the climb up Tray Mountain and also tackled Kelly Knob. I stopped for lunch in Sassafras Gap and met Torch and Medicine Man. Due to his multiple surgeries, Medicine Man carries an enormous bag of medication with him. The last surgery he had was a heart surgery in February. Good on him for being out here, I hope he makes it.

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View from Tray Mountain

The shelter at Deep Gap is incredibly nice. It has two little lofts, one on each side, in addition to the floor level. I took over one of the lofts and had it to myself for the night. A few familiar faces showed up in camp tonight (Elmer Fudd, Chris, Carolina Red, LD, and Tape) and I’m starting to see my trail family form. We all day dream about going  into town tomorrow and all of the food we’re going to eat.

I’m in bed before anyone else tonight.  I do like to silently reflect on my day alone sometimes. Groups are awesome, but sometimes it’s still nice to be alone. The beauty of hiking solo is that I have that choice.

I have never felt more at home than I do in the middle of the woods with a bunch of strangers. Seriously. I’m so content to be out here, it doesn’t matter to me whether I do 15 miles a day or 5.

That’s all for now, please feel free to follow along on my instagram @Erica.runs or shoot me an email at [email protected]

2124.1 miles to go!

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