Mooch, The Camp Diva & Two Dogs on the AT
My first trail update is coming at you from the lovely Franklin, NC. I’m just about two weeks into my Appalachian Trail adventure and I am loving it. Though there are certainly the moments I find myself cursing while I’m caught in a torrential downpour, crawling up unforgiving mountains, or falling into the mud tangled in one of the dog’s leashes, I spend most of my days with a huge smile on my face and an excitement in my soul that I struggle to even describe. Though I’ve always been someone to follow my heart and dreams, I have to admit that this is the biggest step I’ve taken to actually do so. Following through on such a plan takes a courage that I haven’t been able to muster until this 27th year of my life. What an amazing, liberating, and absolutely perfect feeling.
My lovely friend, Rachel (later trail named Tripsy for her countless stumbles on the trail and at shelters), was gracious enough to take a road trip to drive me and my four legged hiking partners down to Georgia and to start the hike with us. We left Wisconsin in an ice storm and it made the departure that much easier. Driving through rain and storms we made our way to Chattanooga, where friends of Rachel’s family put us up for the night in their beautiful hilltop home overlooking the city lights. After a long day of driving a cozy bed felt amazing. We woke up to wet grass, turkeys wandering the yard, and with an ever-growing anticipation for what was to come.
The Day Before
This morning we had the privilege of starting the day with a tour of the Smartwool mill in Chattanooga, seeing firsthand how the awesome socks I’ll be using on the trail are created. Awesome is the best word I can use to describe the experience, and a word I’ll continue to use over and over as I describe each day on the trail.
From there, we had a beautiful drive on winding roads until we left Rachel’s car at Unicoi Gap and we shuttled to our hotel in Dahlonega. There, the dogs excitedly romped around the room as we packed our bags and triple checked our supplies to start our hike the next day. I had a hard time turning out the lights and going to sleep, running over lists in my mind, trying to make sure I’d tied up loose ends. At some point, however, you accept the fact that what’s done is done and it will all be ok. I finally fell asleep and dreamt of what was to come…
The Day Of
Flash forward to the next morning, shuttle is at the hotel, we’re scrambling to get ourselves and the dogs and our (far too heavy) packs out of the hotel room and into the vehicle. OMG. It’s time. All the days, weeks, months of preparation and it is actually here. I can’t even describe the feeling of driving up to the start, just a flood of emotions, adrenaline coursing through every inch of me, and a healthy fear of the unknown. We flew up to the top of Springer, snapped a few photos, and began the journey of a lifetime.
This day I felt like my body ran on a high. I can’t say it was all smooth sailing as there was a lot to figure out. For instance, how to get Griffin to walk across narrow bridges instead of dragging me through all of the creek crossings and soaking my feet over and over. (When I figure this out I will be sure to let you know). Walking into camp the first night I feared a trail name as I heard shouts of, “Hey it’s the girl with the dogs!” and “How’d the rest of those creek crossings go?” followed by some lighthearted laughter. As it happens a trail name didn’t come so soon, though I would quickly become known as “Two Dogs,” the girl taking two dogs to Maine. Seems that’s not something people normally attempt. I’ve never for a second regretted having the beasts with me, but I have no problem admitting that it makes the hike infinitely more challenging.
The First Week
The first week went by in a blur. Having Rachel along was such a wonderful way to get acclimated to trail life. She was the comfort of home, a partner to suffer to the top of summits with, someone to fumble through the camp basics with, and a friend to laugh out loud with at our misfortunes, tumbles, and other ridiculous antics. In this week together we made it to the top of 16ish summits, spotted a rattlesnake, hung many bear bags, filtered gallons of water, shared countless meals, got lost, laughed, cried, and mistook Griffin’s snoring for a bear only once.
From these adventures of the first week, these are the most important lessons I learned:
- White Blazes. Follow them. Pay attention to them. If you don’t see them for awhile, you may need to turn around and backtrack. I never could have imagined what a huge relief it would be to see one of these white paint stripes.
- Downhills hurt. A lot. The majority of the time I would choose a climb over a downhill. Climbing a mountain burns, but coming down the other side rocks every joint in my body.
- Wet, dirty & stinky are the perfect adjectives to describe my new existence.
The Second Week
After saying goodbye to Rachel, I was really hiking the Appalachian Trail solo with my two dogs. Though I missed her immensely (and still do) there was also this new, invigorating feeling of being completely in control of my life. I could suddenly do exactly what I wanted, when I wanted, how I wanted. I was officially hiking my own hike, within reason of course of my dog’s abilities. Hence, I was hiking my (dogs’) own hike, to which I wrote a short blog entry for Ruffwear right before I left. I knew that this would be the case, but on those 80 degree days keeping two large, furry dogs cool, watered, and happy proved to be a challenge. Spending a couple of days taking continuous breaks with them and filtering an ungodly amount of water, I found myself feeling discouraged at our pace, wondering how we will handle summer days that reach far higher temperatures. I then remembered why I was out in this amazing wilderness, one of the most important reasons being to ENJOY it. I want to enjoy every minute of it, for however long it lasts, to be present in every amazing moment I have. So, I stopped worrying about how far we weren’t getting and started enjoying the opportunity I have to live in the woods with my dogs, to go to sleep and wake up with the sun, to breathe fresh air every day, to meet some of the most interesting people I’ve ever known, to be active, to be in nature, and to feel alive. The next day we packed up as it began raining buckets, I laughed as the dogs blinked away rain drops, pathetically waiting for me to give them the word to start hiking with our soaking wet packs. We put in a few fast miles in the driving rain, getting punched by some serious wind gusts, kept on moving into the early afternoon, finally feeling good, all of us at the same time. The next day was the same, cooler temps, abundant water sources, and truly my favorite day on the trail thus far. I couldn’t stop telling myself over and over how damn lucky I am. I’m hiking the Appalachian Trail with my dogs! It just doesn’t get much better.
So, after my second week, these are the most important things I’ve learned:
- Hiking with dogs is a lot of work. I love them unconditionally and don’t regret having them here for a second, but the hike does revolve around them most days. If you’re planning to bring a dog along for an adventure like this, be prepared to adapt your expectations.
- Be present and sometimes be sure to stop and truly enjoy the moment. The day before I got off the trail I tripped over a log while trying to get the dogs moving along with me. I softly landed on my pack and the dogs quickly lay down next to me. My frustration quickly shifted to a bubble of laughter and then my focus shifted to what was around me. I was in the middle of a huge, beautiful valley, completely encompassed by Mother Nature, not a soul in sight. We took an impromptu break, soaking in the scents and sounds around us, and appreciating the gift of the moment. So thank you to the dogs for forcing me to sit, to stop looking ahead to the next destination, and to appreciate that perfect moment.
- People are awesome. I mean this in every way I possibly could. From the intrigue of all of the unique souls hiking the trail, to those offering trail magic, to the support I have from home. You all are constantly amazing me. My faith in people and in humanity is being restored every day.
I know this trail update doesn’t touch on the details of each grueling climb on the trail, each rainstorm, each gorgeous overlook, or the names of all the faces that have become familiar to me, but in such a short time the trail has become so much larger than all of those pieces. As I look through my list of reasons I’m hiking the AT, I find that in some ways the trail is encompassing all of them already. The trail itself is a constant through all of the weather, after all of the footsteps that fall on it each day, no matter where we place a tent or hang our hammocks. I like to think that perhaps this experience can help me to be stronger in such a way. To embrace all that happens in my life each and every day, and to remain strong and solid through it all. It makes me think of something my Dad has always said, “The highs should never be too high and the lows never too low.” Maybe by embracing the highs and the lows throughout each day as an inevitable part of our lives, we are less likely to let them affect who we are and how we interpret the world. If I spent every day out here letting my mood be altered by the rain, the sun, the clouds, the rocks and roots, the burning in my legs or the ache in my knees, I wouldn’t get very far and I wouldn’t be able to truly enjoy the experience as a whole. If I can embrace the storms, I find such reward in the sunshine that follows. I appreciate the beauty at the top of a summit because I worked my ass off to get there.
Mooch, The Camp Diva & Two Dogs
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