Hot Springs to Atkins to ….Greensboro!?
Nope, this cake isn’t done yet! I twisted my ankle in the Smokies, and I decided, in the worst way, that I could walk it off. I “walked it off” for over 340 miles before deciding that maybe my softball-sized ankle needed some medical attention.
So, on to the recap (and pictures, which is what you’re all here for, right?).
Day 31: It was a gorgeous day! It started out a bit chilly, but warmed up by late morning. I met Outlaw and Beast at Little Laurel Shelter and hiked with them, Shao, Twist, and the rest to Jerry’s Cabin Shelter. I got to scale Big Firescald Knob, which was super fun and challenging, but hard on my ankle.
Day 32: It was another beautiful day. The hike started easily, and the views were amazing. Outlaw, Beast and I were going to do 21 miles to a campsite, but we were wiped after hiking up a tall, vertical mountain that seemed to never end. We decided to call it quits at 15 miles, and slept at Hogback Ridge Shelter. There were a lot of hikers tonight!
Day 33: It was a very ambivalent morning – I had a really hard time deciding if it was going to rain or not, and the sky seemed unable to decide either. It was very dark and gray. Occasionally, the skies would open up for a smattering of seconds, and then stop again – including while I was cooking breakfast. It seemed like it was serious rain, so, since I was in my down jacket, I grabbed my Jetboil and bolted for the shelter. And then as soon as I got the flame going on my stove again, it stopped raining. Go figure. The first ten miles went by quickly! It was cloudy and windy, but I felt great. I stopped at Bald Mountain Shelter for a quick lunch and then pushed on for another ten miles to No Business Shelter, making it my first 20 miler! Tomorrow is a seven miler into Erwin for AYCE pizza and a shower. Can’t wait!
Day 34: Today, on my very short 6.5 mile hike from No Business Knob Shelter into Erwin, TN, I was hot, sweaty, and thirsty. I came across a sign that indicated that trail magic was just up ahead, and that there would be soda. I sped up, running down the trail at some points. After about a mile I pulled out my phone to see how far I was from town, and then I noticed the date. April first. There was no soda. Someone had just played a very cruel April Fool’s joke on me.
I lay down on the trail and cried.
Hiker hunger (and thirst) is very real.
When I got to Erwin, I checked into Uncle Johnny’s Hostel, took a refreshing shower, and then caught a shuttle into town for AYCE pizza (which was glorious). When I came back, we all had beer and relaxed until the shuttle for dinner (Mexican – this girl had a pretty amazing margarita).
Day 35: A hilly and brisk 17.5 mile hike from Erwin to Cherry Gap Shelter. It was absolutely beautiful all day, but it started getting colder and the wind started picking up. The majority of us (except for one fellow) decided to sleep in our tents tonight, and people said that it could get down to 16* tonight. The Bandit look is in vogue.
Day 36: Today was my longest day yet. I slept badly last night because of the ridiculous wind. I woke up several times to the tent bending in on itself due to the wind. It was FREEZING too!
I got up early and took down my tent. The poor thing deserved a medal for actually staying standing overnight. I had breakfast, standing shivering next to a small campfire that Ono had built, and hit the trail. It was initially very cold and I was dressed warmly, but as the day went on I started to shed layers. It was very windy, but beautiful. The defining event was summiting Roan Mountain which can be summed up in two words: beautifully brutal. I bypassed the shelter at the top of the mountain – the highest shelter on the trail, because it was supposed to be nine degrees that night! Instead, I ended up at the Stan Murray shelter to make a total of 22.8 miles today. The legs are feeling it!
Day 37: It was a bit chilly overnight, but not too bad. I woke up in the morning and cozed in my sleeping bag for a bit too long before getting up. It was obvious it was going to be a gorgeous day. Sure enough, I was in my tank top and shorts in no time.
I visited Overmountain Shelter to check out the views (and use the privy – how this is practically the only privy in Tennessee is still baffling), and then hiked on. It was exceedingly gorgeous and I kept stopping to admire the views.
I had trail magic at the 19W crossing. This gentleman called Robert had brought us soda and Little Debbie snacks. I wasted far too much time shooting the breeze with him and had to hustle the last eight miles to Mountaineer Shelter. I caught Shao, though, and we agreed to try and hike together for a little bit to see how our mileages worked for us.
Day 38: I slept badly last night. In shelters you have to share space with others and put up with others’ sleeping habits. Last night when I steamrolled into the shelter, I set up my sleep kit next to someone who was already asleep. During the night, he would constantly roll over and spoon me. In the middle of spooning (during which I was wide awake and trying to figure out what to do with my mysterious big spoon), he would seem to wake up, realize what he was doing, shove me away, and roll back over. I don’t think I got even four hours of sleep. In the morning, he had the gall to offer me a cigarette. I politely declined and hustled out.
Today was a short hike into Hampton, TN – only sixteen miles! En route, I stopped to nap in a field because I was so tired, but I was still tired at the end of the day so clearly the nap didn’t help. Bob Peoples has great timing – he pulled up with Shao, Clean Skittle, Dutch, and A.K. in his car just as I was walking along the side of the road to his hostel. He took us to a grocery store for a small resupply, and then to McDonalds so we could get dinner to go.
This is when I realized that my hiker hunger had finally arrived on the scene. I ordered twenty chicken nuggets and a medium fries and chowed it all, leaving the other guys to stare at me like I had two heads.
Day 39: After a chilly night at the hostel, I shared a big breakfast with the guys and set off. I had a 20 miler planned to Vandeventer Shelter. The morning was brisk and my pace matched. Pond Flats was slightly difficult since I was running out of steam and it was starting to warm up. Nevertheless, I pushed on through the Watagua Lake region. I checked out the Watagua Lake Shelter and steamrolled the final seven miles to the shelter. It’s bound to be a cold night. The shelter faces the lake and the wind was blowing directly inside.
Day 40: Today dawned dark, wet, and foggy. I turned to Shao, who was sleeping next to me, and asked him if he wanted to do my miles for me today. He laughed at me. I guess that means no?
The hike itself was easy – some PUDs and some views. I was able to break it up in segments by visiting shelters and resting for a few minutes at each. It was a total of 22.8 miles today.
The difficult part, of course, was the weather. It was damp and foggy this morning. When I was crossing half a mile’s worth of pastures, there was a sudden hailstorm and strong winds which shredded my rain gear into ribbons. After that, the sun came out and my final few miles were done relatively easy.
The highlight, of course, was meeting the Hiking Viking just moments before I reached the shelter!
Day 41: I woke up to an absolutely beautiful sunrise. It was enough to put a smile on my face, and more than enough to put the miles under my feet. After a quick breakfast, I was off. I had only a ten mile trek to the friendliest town on the trail, and I made it in under four hours. The sun was out and the breeze was nice – nothing like the savage rain gear-shredding wind of the day before.
When I got to town, I headed straight to Mt. Rogers Outfitters and picked up a new stuff sack to replace my torn food bag, and a new rain jacket from Marmot. Afterwards, I met up with Shao and Hornet for lunch at Hey Joe’s (they have the best nachos) before relaxing at the hostel. We whiled away the day hanging out with other hikers, drinking beer, and sneaking pulls of wine out of our cooking stoves (or maybe that was just me).
Day 42: Today was a zero. I swung by the outfitter’s again where they were gracious and wonderful enough to replace my hip belt on my pack for free. I lost so much weight on the trail that my hip belt was no longer fitting properly, and I was starting to feel the weight on my lower back and shoulders.
Afterwards, I was picked up by a Trail Angel so I could spend the night at his place on his super comfy couch without having to pay for a hostel. We watched Inglourious Basterds, The Hateful Eight, and Concussion. We chowed down on an XL pizza – that is, I ate 3/4 of the pizza and left him a couple of slices because I thought it was polite to share.
Day 43: Back at it! I got a massive cinnamon roll the size of my face from this super cute little hiker-friendly cafe in Damascus and then headed out. My ankle was having a hard time dealing with the hills, so even though it was only a 15.5 mile hike, it took me all day. Shao packed out beer from Damascus, which I found impressive because he tackled the hills without them exploding in his pack!
Day 44: Today dawned beautifully. I was up at 6:15, just watching the sun break over the mountains from my sleeping bag. I knew it would be a good day, and it was.
The hike started with a big ascent, but it wasn’t strenuous. There were lots of wide open balds and great views. The greatest part was getting to see the wild ponies at Grayson Highlands!!!! None of them came up, so I left them be (although Dutch had a plan to feed them “special carrots” in order to communicate with them so that he could take over the Highlands and eventually the world…. needless to say, it didn’t work). The two miles down from Thomas Knob Shelter and entering the Highlands were rough on my ankle, though. It was a good 17.5 miler, though, and I’m feeling strong.
Day 45: Today started very wet. It was raining pretty hard when I woke up (at 5:45… thanks to some especially rude people who had no consideration for the fact that everyone else was still asleep #kvetch) but I had a 20 miler planned so I didn’t dally. I was grateful that I had dropped money on my new jacket because the only adjusting I had to do was with the wrist straps. No more fighting with a stupid poncho! (Seriously, don’t get on the poncho train)
I stopped at the shelter six miles ahead of Wise Shelter for a quick snack and kept going. Shortly before Hurricane Mountain Shelter, there was trail magic! A man was handing out McDonald’s hamburgers, candy, and soda. Outlaw and I stopped to chat with him for a bit before I decided to move on. The magic was more than enough to keep me going for the majority of the remaining twelve miles. Once I started to tire, I snacked on Clif Bars and Sour Patch Kids and kept going. My ibuprofen wore off about 1.75 miles before the shelter, so the last bit was painful for my ankle.
Day 46: Today dawned beautifully. I got woken up early because Scout was breaking camp, so I got to see the sunrise. It was still a bit chilly, so I stayed in my sleeping bag for a bit longer than I should have.
My ankle was giving me issues from the get go, so I was relieved to have a short day. Even so, though, I didn’t get to Chatfield Shelter until about 6:30. My ankle was angry and throbbing, and I actually had a blister developing on my other ankle. No fun. After Partnership Shelter, I gave myself many breaks, especially going uphill, because that seemed to aggravate my blister more than going downhill.
When I got to Chatfield, Bowler and his wife Pinky Toe gave me a cream to try on my sprain, and were very attentive. They’re from Switzerland and super nice! I’m very grateful to have met so many wonderful people on the trail.
Day 47: I had eighteen to twenty miles planned for today. Instead, I wound up only doing about four and a half miles. I realized if I was in so much pain going downhill and walking on flat ground, that I should probably have my ankle checked out. I had my dad pick me up from Atkins, and he brought me to Greensboro.
The next day, my mom drove me to Urgent Care, where a doctor determined that I had a moderate to severe sprain, and a possible fractured ankle. He put me in a very serious-looking boot and prescribed me Naproxen to help reduce inflammation. He also prescribed a solid two weeks’ rest, and I’ve been champing at the bit to get back out. Disregarding the doctor’s orders (sorry, Dr), I switched to a brace yesterday and have been walking around a little bit to see how my ankle feels – and it’s been perfect!
For the majority of my time home, I’ve been playing with my (six year old) puppy, painting shutters, visiting friends, and reading. Yesterday, I went to an elementary school to talk to my friend’s fourth- and fifth-grade classes about the Appalachian Trail. The kids were HILARIOUS and they now want to take a field trip to visit me on the trail.
Two full days at home before I’m back in Virginia and churning out miles again!
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