The Hills are Alive with the Sounds of Norovirus
I hope you’ve got a bottle of tums sitting next to you, this update contains all kinds of graphic information about vomit.
Day 22: Newfound Gap to Tri Corner Knob Shelter, 15.1 miles
We were slow to get out of town today. I had washed my laundry in the shower and most of it was still wet, so I hung it on the outside of my pack to dry. With a Dunkin Donuts breakfast, we meandered down the already busy streets to the NOC. They had a shuttle leaving at 11 and a mob of hikers waiting for it. Clearly, we’d have to get back to the Gap by other means. We broke into our groups again and stuck out our thumbs.
15 minutes go by and no one stops to pick us up. Dejectedly we start walking up the road, when from behind me I hear a shrill whistle. Elmer Fudd had managed to snag a ride! As I approached the car I thought to myself it looked awfully familiar… turns out, it was the two girls who had picked us up yesterday! They were getting a late start on their hike and had seen a group hitching in front of us. Deciding that one hiker ride was good enough, they drove by. A few minutes later when they saw us they said “WE HAVE TO TURN AROUND!” We even hiked with them for a good portion of the hike today. Dominique and Eva, you guys are the best!!
Trail magic at the Gap was the cherry on top for this morning. I was so excited about it that I was literally running circles. Later, my trail family told me the women doing the trail magic thought I was on drugs.
Getting started at noon today meant we had to move fast to make the miles we wanted. We made great time and got to camp before sunset. The people in the shelter joked about renaming me “bear bait” because I had to pitch my tent under the bear cables. It was the only spot left!
Day 23: Tri Corner Knob to Standing Bear Hostel, 18.4 miles
My tent is feeling more and more like home. I’m incredibly comfortable sleeping in it, like how one would be comfortable sleeping in a bed. Before I left I went to wake up River. From inside her tent I heard a low moan, followed by “guys….I’m sick.” Subconsciously I stepped back from her tent. She had been throwing up all night and had gotten hardly any sleep. Because of this, she decided to stay behind for the day and catch us in Hot Springs.
Norovirus is no joke. I had heard of a bubble of hikers getting sick at Neels Gap, but I managed to avoid it. Thinking I was in the clear was my first mistake. River getting sick was a wake up call that it could happen anywhere, anytime. After she had assured me I didn’t need to stay with her, I booked it out of camp.
Today was our first good weather day in the Smokies. It’s a shame it would also be our last day in the Smokies. Oh well, what can you do. The views were stunning. At one point you could look back and see the ridge we had walked over the day before. Today I took it slow, enjoying the sunshine and the views. I definitely enjoy hiking alone as opposed to with a with a group.
I had planned to go on to Standing Bear Hostel tonight. When I met my group at the last shelter in the Smokies, they decided to join me. Rumors of people vomiting in this shelter last night were deterring hikers from staying there. As I got out to the place where the trail meets the road, there was a small box on the side of the trail. In it were cold waters and cokes! I very rarely drink caffeine, but that Coca Cola was calling my name and man it was good!
As I passed under the I-40 a trucker honked at me as if to say “good luck!” They must see hikers all the time driving that road so often. I waved back in acknowledgement.
Just before you get to Standing Bear there is a creek with tent sites. I decided to camp here with LD and Carolina Red. White Walker and Fudd had stopped before the underpass. We resupplied at Standing Bear, and fell asleep to the sounds of the river.
A Testament to Tape
One of our trail family members, Tape, told us today that he would not be continuing his hike. He planned to stay at Standing Bear that night and then go out into the world to do his thing.
Sometimes the trail isn’t for everyone. Sometimes you don’t come out here to hike, you come to figure out what you should be doing instead. When someone chooses to leave, it’s not a sad day. Yes, we will miss Tape, but no, we weren’t going to try to convince him to stay.
HYOH should extend past the trail and be LYOL (live your own life). Tape came out here because he wanted to be out here, and when he didn’t want to be out here anymore he left. He moved on to do something that he wanted to do. This is the way life goes. You don’t like your job? Get a new one. Don’t like where you live? Move. So many people don’t understand that they are the only one that has the power to change their world. Either make the effort to get out of your situation, or change the way you think about it. Don’t be the person that hates their life and all they can do about it is complain.
Tape, I hope you are where you want to be buddy. Rock on.
Day 24: Standing Bear Hostel to Max Patch, 13.3 miles
Today was a hard day. Not because of the miles or the climb, but because my head was not in it. I did not want to be hiking. I was tired and I wanted to just stop. Up until today I have been very goal oriented. Get to the next shelter and you can eat, get to the top and you can rest.
Nope. Not anymore.
I was hungry and tired and miserable and I had no idea how much further the shelter was. In the middle of nowhere, I threw my pack to the ground, tore it open, and ate the first thing I got my hands on. I don’t even remember what it was. I just sat right on the ground. No big tree, no good sitting rock, just dirt.
I didn’t start to feel better until after I had rested and ate even more at the shelter. It was there I also met a group called the Dirty 30. They were quite entertaining, and I think there are more of them scattered all over the trail.
I ended my hike today at the top of Max Patch. Camping up here has been on my AT bucket list for ages, and finally being there was awesome. The weather early on was questionable, but it cleared up as the sun was setting, promising a beautiful night sky. I pitched my tent facing east for the sunrise.
Late that night, after I had finished writing in my journal and reading, I went outside to look at the stars. Everyone else had gone to sleep. I stood there staring for a good ten minutes. Without consciously making the decision, I went back to my tent and dragged my sleeping bag and pad out on to the grassy bald. The light wind gently dancing over my exposed face, the stars winking down at me, I cowboy camped for the first time ever. A shooting star blazed its way across the night sky, and I didn’t think of anything to wish for. I had everything I wanted. I fell asleep with a smile on my face.
Day 25: Max Patch to Deer Park Mtn. Shelter, 16.6 miles
I woke up around 6 o’clock, rolled over in my sleeping bag, and watched as the sun drenched the morning sky with orange. I can’t put what I saw into words, but thankfully I’ve got pictures.
The rest of the day went on as normal. I flew over the first few miles of the day, and stopped as soon as I got hungry. Which was almost all the time. White Walker wasn’t feeling well today, and the last time I saw him was at the shelter we had lunch at. He didn’t make it to the shelter we stayed at. I’m hoping he doesn’t have the same thing as River.
The heat today eventually got the better of me, and after about 3 the miles dragged on. I finally got to the shelter after drinking all of my water. Dehydrated, sore, and tired, I set up my tent and made dinner. Conversation that night was the usual witty banter. However, when I turned in around 8, I felt anything but normal. There was something wrong. Perhaps some sleep would help.
Day 26: Deer Park Mtn. Shelter to Hot Springs, 3.2 miles
Sleep did not help nor did it happen.
As if on cue, right around 11:30 everything in my digestive system decided it needed to be out. I tried to make it to the privy for the uhhh… butt exodus. I did not make it to the privy and that’s all I have to say about it. Not even an hour later, I struggled to get out of my tent again. I unzipped the bottom and could not get the zipper to go up for the rest of the flap. After yanking on it a couple times to no avail I just dove right out of the bottom of the flap. As soon as my hands found dirt it seemed, I was hurling my dinner on to the ground.
Out of the tent to my immediate left I heard Fudd “Spitfire are you alright?” Weak, shaking, and breathing heavy, I responded that I was ok, and returned to my tent. Shortly after I heard sounds of more vomiting. “You alright?” I called. LDs voice returned “oh yeah, taking it like a champ.”
I tossed and turned the rest of the night, unable to get comfortable. My back was beyond sore, it was in spasm. In the morning, Fudd offered to make me tea. I wasn’t sure if it would sit, but I took it anyways. I sipped on it as I packed my things in a feeble attempt to rehydrate myself. the boys waited for me as I slowly packed my things. Had they not, I might still be there.
As I staggered up the trail, my group was soon out of sight. I carried my tea in one hand and used the other to brace myself against trees every 20 ft or so. Ultimately, my nausea got the best of me and my body revolted against the tea. I dropped my pack and let it roll wherever it wanted as I fell to my knees and emptied the contents of my stomach on the side of the trail.
Weak, shaking, and completely alone, I cried for the first time on the trip. I missed my family and friends. Everything hurt, and I couldn’t even eat. I wanted out.
Then, somewhere in the darkest corner of my mind, a voice said “you’re not allowed to quit on a bad day.”
I screamed at it. I ranted and raged and hollered and protested for all I was worth. Still it persisted.
“You’re not allowed to quit on a bad day.”
The emotional part of me wanted to curl up in a ball and lie there crying indefinitely. The rational part of me knew better. “No ones coming to save you,” my conscious said. “Save yourself.” There was only one choice. I gave one last pathetic sniffle, wiped away my tears, and picked my bad self up out of the dirt.
Somehow, I made it to Hot Springs. I got a private room at the Laughing Heart Hostel, showered, and promptly passed out. The rest of the day was a blur of napping, drinking water, and walking around town. The boys and I went swimming in a river downtown, and I started to feel somewhat better. I was able to eat a piece of bread, some French fries, and half a burger. A far cry from my appetite in Franklin, but better than nothing. Eventually, River and White Walker caught up with us. I felt bad that they were sick and we left them behind, but at least I wasn’t the only one who was ill. Misery loves company. Of our group, the only one of us that didn’t throw up on the way to Hot Springs was Elmer Fudd.
One liner of the day: “I didn’t think it was possible, but you look whiter than normal.” -LD
Day 27: Zero Day in Hot Springs, 0 miles
I woke up hungry today, which I took to be a good sign. We went to a little diner to eat breakfast. The food was good, but they didn’t have chocolate chips. What kind of a diner doesn’t have chocolate chips for their pancakes? Anyways, I didn’t eat it all, my hiker appetite has not yet returned.
My watch got water in it yesterday from swimming, so now I’m just wearing it to avoid getting sunburned on my wrist.
River and I walked around town for ages looking for the “crazy one memorial.” For those you of back home, there’s a scavenger hunt in my guide book and the Crazy One is part of it. We did not find it. We even asked a couple locals, and all we got were weird looks. Dear Mr. Awol, I have a bone to pick with you.
Technically, today wasn’t a zero day. Not really. Because we walked 0.2 miles down the trail to the tavern we would be staying in for the night. Which just so happened to be the nicest place we have stayed in thus far, and also the cheapest. Three beds for the six of us, with the fluffiest pillows and temperpedic mattresses. It had air conditioning, a beautiful bathroom, free coffee, and was very clean. Split six ways, it was $16/person.
I went to bed tonight without dinner and while it was still light out. I was so wiped out. It seemed that I would go for a five minute walk and need an hour long nap. Noro really takes it out of you.
Day 28: Hot Springs to Rich Mtn. Lookout Tower, 8.3 miles
Finally, at long last, the post office opened. Note to self: don’t zero on a Sunday. Thank you to my aunt Martha, Deb Dunlop, Debbie, and Bruce for sending me stuff! You guys are all amazing, and I do really appreciate your support.
After I organized everything, resupplied, and lounged around for a bit longer I got back on the trail. The climb today wasn’t hard, it was just crazy humid. Sweat beaded on my forehead and stayed there, or dropped down my nose and fell to the ground. My recently washed clothes were dirty within minutes.
I took it slow today, stopped for water often, and took pictures whenever I wanted. I’m trying to be less stubborn about stopping, I feel like I’ll enjoy it more that way. It was a short day, which was nice because we were just getting out of town. My knee isn’t bothering me at all, despite the fact that my food itself weighed a solid 15 pounds.
Quick conversation of the day:
Elmer Fudd won’t tell us when his birthday is because he is turning 30.
EF: “I want to be Peter Pan!”
Inasias: “I think it’s a little too late for that.”
EF: “FUCK THE SYSTEM!”
Pro Tip of the Week: don’t get norovirus.
As always you can follow me on instagram at erica.runs or shoot me any email at [email protected].
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