166 miles in;
Daily is between 10-15 Still doing really well. My knee and Hare’s hip seem to be doing better, but there are still various bouts of pain in my shins, my knees, and my ankles. Like clockwork, by mile 10 of each day, our feet start getting really sore and yelling at us to sit down. I’ve started imagining these migrating, isolated pains as being caused by a nasty little gnome. When my knees hurt, he’s sitting under my kneecap, turning a wrench. When my shins hurt, he’s poking them with a nail. And at mile 10 each day, he starts bashing the soles of our feet with a mallet.
My imagination is out of control. Actually, the best miles are the ones where I’m daydreaming or cooking up weird thoughts. Random buried memories have started surfacing after I’ve been staring at the wet leaves, fog, and trees all day. Little things, like the image of my friend’s hand cranking the volume in her rattling high-school station wagon as we belt along to a Springsteen song. The elementary school bully throwing jelly in my hair when I wouldn’t give him my Honey Bun at lunch. The smell of my grandmother’s apartment. Being unplugged has opened rusty parts of my brain and I love it. I even remember all the words to the Llama Song (remember that? If not, please YouTube it.) Hare hikes even faster to get away from me when I inadvertently start singing “here’s a llama, there’s a llama, and another little llama” out loud.I’ve also started referring to my essential gear by name. Alastair and Bertrand are my hiking poles, which are indispensable given my wobbly knees and awkward stride. Biscuit put it perfectly when he said: Without hiking poles, he’d “be missing a minimum of two front teeth.” My headlamp is Raymond, my Kindle is Henry, and the tent is Lawrence.
Lawrence is actually giving us trouble, and I’m desperate for ideas or a solution anyone may have. Lawrence is pretty small (NEMO Obi 2) and by that I mean it physically fits two full-sized humans, but without an inch of extra space. When we pack and get dressed in the morning, we have to do it one at a time, while the other person lies there like a mummy. There’s just no room. This is especially bad when it rains, because without fail all four bottom panels get wet over night, and the tent is too small to stop from being smushed against the sides, which means my down bag gets wet, which means I am not a happy camper. Hare has a “dri-down” bag, which is good at repelling water… But mine is not. I need to protect my bag or figure out a way to keep the tent dry. Help. I feel like we should get a bigger tent but ughhhhh.
We also don’t usually stay in shelters. They only seem appealing if it’s dumping rain, and then they’re usually full and we wind up in our wet tent anyways. From Springer to the Smokies, we stayed in two shelters, both during downpours. One shelter was ok minus the drunk weekend hikers. The other one was crammed full and included a guy who apparently got up in the middle of the night and stood by our feet watching everyone sleep. Yikes.
So other than the tent, I think our gear is fine, but Hare has snuck away at both outfitters we’ve gone into and replaced our simple-but-wobbly stove with some overly complicated MSR contraption that I refuse to use, his bulky sleeping pad with a NeoAir (I’ve ordered a NeoAir with my REI dividend and it’s being shipped to Hot Springs!), and he bought a few dry sacks for our food bags. He also bought a 90-LITER PACK COVER in hopes it would actually work to keep his pack dry. Everyone knows pack covers are useless, they’re just there to make us think “oh well, I tried.” The dry sacks for food are great though– No one likes soggy tortillas.
Our bodies ached a good amount leaving Hiawassee a few weeks ago, but by the time we left the NOC last week (?) we both felt really good. I think we’re getting stronger. Still doing between 10-15 miles per day, which has kept us around the same cool group of people for the past two weeks. The weather is… not great. It was really sunny for a few days before the NOC, but that’s been about the only sun we’ve seen so far :-(.
The NOC didn’t have hotel rooms but they rented us a bunk room. Four girl-scout-camp plastic mattresses which we smushed together on the floor and tried to sleep on top of our sleeping bags. Ever tried to put two people on a spread-out mummy bag? It’s like trying to sleep in an icecream cone.
We had a package from my family waiting for us at the outfitter, which included a wonderful birthday present of tuna packets, pasta sides, peanut butter, granola bars, and Gu treats. All of the fun stuff goes into the snack bag, which we’ve dubbed the Happy Bag of Surprises, everything else is lunch and dinner food. The Happy Bag of Surprises is a great morale booster. Reach in, and you might get pop tarts, a Honey Bun, a granola bar, or a Snickers! Who knows! It’s a surprise! My fam also included birthday cards with amazing notes of encouragement. Send your thru-hiker a card! It’s the best.
I spent my birthday (27… Which Hare loves to gloat about, as he is but a wee lad of 22) doing an 8-mile day into Fontana Village. Splurged and stayed in a WONDERFUL room at the Fontana Inn, and it was great to dry our stuff out. It had rained ceaselessly the day before, and it was my lowest day on the trail yet. We had four days of rain when we first crossed into NC, but somehow this freezing, wet, miserable 12 miles had me more soaked and cold than the other four days combined. I had at least five cases of the Weeping Wheezies, another term I’ve invented. It’s when I reach the potent combination of cold/tired/in pain/wet/sick of the ascent or descent/incorrectly thinking I’m almost at XXX destination, and I become so frustrated I want to cry. The problem with me wanting to cry while physically exerting myself is that I have asthma, so I’m probably already sucking wind. When I start breathing harder in preparation of crying, I hyperventilate and it turns into a sad combination of wheezing and hiccuping with a few self-pitying tears. I’m fine within ten seconds; I make no apologies.
Approximately 75% of the time, the trail is not glamorous or dignified– keep that mind if you’ve read Wild and think “Wow that looks charming.” It’s wet, rarely flat, and we smell unspeakably offensive. BUT! This trip is wonderful; it always gets better and during those crappo days/hours, you just have to think: Sigh. It’ll make a good story.”
On another note, some people have asked what I’m doing about my hair. Unless it’s cold and rainy, (in which I cease to function outside of robotically moving forward on the trail), I’ve been trying to comb my snarly locks every other night, (I have half of a wide-tooth comb) and I’ve been washing my hair every week or so in town, with whatever bottles of soap or shampoo the motel has. I mostly leave it braided or under a hat, and it seems to be working fine.
At 200 miles in, the hiking feels easier; my quads and glutes are finally contributing to the effort instead of leaving everything to my burning calves. Thanks, muscles! Hare and I get along great, mostly thanks to him being unerringly good natured and competent. He takes care of the logistics in towns while I gaze at the racks of food in the stores. He practically skips to the laundrymat with our foul clothing, and dutifully scrubs our cookset in the motel sink. Our casual ease with one another may explain why an alarming number of people ask if we’re brother and sister. Gross, guys.
Whew that was long. Congrats to anyone who actually read the whole thing. You get a gold star. Tortoise and Hare out.
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