I’m Done Pretending

After leaving Above the Clouds Hostel on March 25th, I had to hike with a full pack like everyone else. I was glad to have slackpacked 52 miles but was dreading the new weight.

While many view slackpacking (carrying a day pack and having the rest of your gear dropped off, or going back to a hostel at day’s end) as cheating, I found hiking with a full pack wasn’t as tough as I thought it would be.

I was able to make some big miles without much difficulty. It has me very confused. I wasn’t supposed to be able to pull 16- and 18-mile days so easily at the start.

I figured my year of hard training must have prepared me better than I had hoped it would and I’d soon be doing 20 miles a day.  This was a mistake.

Full pack and a nice view.

One day, after two consecutive long days, I was feeling a slight twinge in my calf and had intended to do fewer miles, but with the first ten miles done by noon, and rain coming that night, I pushed out another ten.

That was the beginning of muscle and tendon pain that would test my will and slow me significantly as I entered the Nantahala Outdoor Center and pushed on through the Great Smoky Mountains.

For those unfamiliar, the first few days of the Smokies feature long monotonous climbs. This puts a lot of strain on the calves and the Achilles tendons.

I developed a mild case of tendonitis and decided after the Smokies I needed a little rest. As I write this I am staying with some 2021 thru-hikers just outside of Ashville NC.

Despite the mistakes I made and their consequences, the first two weeks of true hiking have been amazing. Compared to last year, my level of pain was significantly more bearable, and I have enjoyed hiking significantly more.

On several occasions, I have walked out onto a ridge, in the sunshine, and been brought to tears by the beauty of the landscape. I feel deep gratitude to spend time in this stunning landscape.

My fellow hikers are almost as amazing. I’ve met so many kind and interesting people from many walks of life.

When it comes to trail families (tramilies) I prefer to be a kind of step-child. I love to pop in and hike or hang out with these tight-knit groups. What keeps me separated is my refusal to let any group significantly alter my plans. As such, I’ve gotten a nice sampling of various group dynamics and personalities.

Compared to last year’s attempt, I seem to be having a better time socially. I don’t think this has anything to do with the difference in hikers, but more to do with myself.

2021 and 2022 pancake breakfast at the First Baptist Church in Franklin NC.

A year of thinking about and longing for the trail and reflecting on the experience humbled me and made me appreciate the opportunity to hike that much more.

I prefer to spare everyone the blow-by-blow of every day, my mileage, the campsite, and who I met. In brief summary: I crossed my first state border into North Carolina, went down the Jump Off into the Nantahala Outdoor Center, struggled with the Jump Up and Jacobs ladder, caught the sunset at Clingman’s Dome (where my hike ended last year) and finished the Smokies.

NC/GA Border
Sunrise at Clingman’s Dome

Suffice it to say that it’s all been amazing. Time is flying by. I’m anxious to get back out there, hopefully healed.


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