My Pillow Caught on Fire

I wrote out an update as I left Gatlinburg last week, but totally forgot to actually post it when I had service, so this post is going to start with that one, and then switch to a more recent update that I wrote today!

Written on April 22nd:

Alright, time for an update:

I’m officially on my own for the time being, and have been since the NOC. I miss my group, but I’m a few days ahead of them at this point. I did just take 2 off days with my visiting mother in Gatlingburg, which gave them some time to catch up and I was able to say hi to them as I left and they arrived, but they will be zeroing for at least a day and are still doing smaller mileage than me, so I’m not sure when I’ll see them again. I will be coming off the trail for a few days when my boyfriend visits in May, and again a few weeks after that when I have Taylor Swift tickets, so it’s possible I could be hiking with them again in the future, but for now I like my new pace and have no interest in going back down.

What else has happened since I last updated? I met an family who is thru-hiking with a 6.5 year old and a 13 month old, which is pretty awesome (but definitely not for me, I can barely take care of myself out here). I had a really rough time with food and lack of appetite, to the point where I was getting sick trying to eat, BUT I was able to eat a lot of food this weekend in Gatlinburg, so I’m hoping that was hiker hunger knocking at the door (or bursting through a wall like the kool-aid man, I’d be okay with that as well, I just need to get more calories in my body). My mom brought me some roasted vegetables and homemade beef jerky, so I’m a happy girl at the moment. I also went to texas roadhouse, where they were legally required to give me a catering tray full of rolls and cinnamon butter.

I also a trip to REI to change up my clothing situation. I’d been hiking in thermal leggings because it was cold early on, but now i’m getting a heat rash in my legs because it’s so cold, so I went ahead and got some spandex leggings to wear instead, so we’ll see how those works out.

I went 11 days between zeros in Franklin and zeros in Gatlinburg, and my ankles were very upset with me because of that.

We had one night on trail where coyotes, aka Song Dogs kept me up for a few hours being very vocal. It was so neat I couldn’t be too upset about it.



Written on April 27th

Prior to this week, I was really looking forward to entering Great Smoky Mountains National Park, seeing as I’ve been here many times and hiked the area, including a small section of the AT from Clingman’s Dome to newfound gap. If you’ve never been to Clingman’s Dome, it’s worth the detour to go up to the top of the tower. The view is magnificent, and it’s the highest point on the AT and in the state of tennessee at 6,643 feet tall. I went with some trail friends and watched their packs while they went up top to see the view. Sitting at the bottom as a smelly, dirty, sweaty person carrying a huge pack with a pool noddle strapped the top seemed to make people ask question, because soon I was being practically interviewed by tourists about how the trail is going and where I’m going. One lady even saw my Ohio State headband and slipped me a twenty just for being from Ohio! She may have also thought I was homeless. Oh well. Trail Angels were all around at Newfound Gap. I was given free wings from buffalo wild wings, and wasn’t expecting to be able to eat them because of how nauseous I had been but it went surprisingly well!

This was tale of two halves. The first 42 miles of GSMNP went as well as it could’ve. I set bigger miles and did 3 consecutive 12-13 mile days with 3500-4500 feet of elevation gain each day which I was pretty happy with. The second half was issues after issue. I’m actually sitting in a hotel room with my mom right now, because I needed to get off the trail to get some new gear, rest my ankles, and mentally reset. She is by far one of my biggest supporters and while I would’ve been fine (a little miserable, but otherwise okay) if she hadn’t been able to come at the spur of the moment, I think in the long run, being able to avoid having my first trail breakdown, avoid some of this storm, resting what is likely an overuse injury, and get a new water filter rather than drink untreated water and risk illness was the best for the longevity and quality of my hike. Oh yeah, did I forget to mention? My water filter froze on my first night back on the trail after Gatlinburg. I’d been in the habit of sleeping with it in my pocket to avoid that, but I didn’t have it out all day and totally forgot. Luckily I had enough backup water treatment tablets for a few days, but I definitely prefer filtering, mostly so there isn’t little sticks and dead leaves in my water. Honestly the water from springs and streams in GSMNP is probably pretty clean, but it’s not something I want to risk. I’d be so frustrated if I contracted any kind of illness that took me off trail for weeks. So, at this point, I’m thinking my plan should be to hike as quickly to Hot Springs as I can so I can get a new filter, but as soon as I start hiking I start having this awful pain in my ankles, like I was being stabbed with each step. So in the next few days I made it between 7-9 miles most days, with one 14 mile day in the middle. I had been doing 10-13 miles per day a week earlier with no issues, so I was a little frustrated to being moving slower again, and the pain didn’t make the 7-9 miles very fun either. Also, did I mention it was raining? and we were higher up in elevation so cold and windy and just overall not a very good time. It’s been raining a lot the past few days. We try to get a fire started inside the shelter and it’s been successful every night so far. We may have actually collected every single stick within a 50 yard radius at Davenport Gap Shelter. And by “we”, I mean some of the other people who were staying in the shelter, because I was in my sleeping bag trying to get warm at 5pm and didn’t leave it until the next morning, and my ankles were figuratively broken. This is the point that I called my mom and asked if she could come get me off trail for a day or so, and was to meet her Standing Bear Farms the next day. They did feel a little bit better in the morning, but my gait and pace were still being affected by the pain so I still decided to come off to get some ice on them and soak in a hot bath. Also to get a new water filter and pillow. Yeah, my pillow caught on fire. I’m never sleeping on the top part of the shelter again.  I dropped my Jetboil, my phone, someone else’s phone, and my pillow, and my pillow just happened to land right on someone’s cook stove that was lit. So, yeah, that doesn’t work now. The pillow, not the cookstove. To my knowledge the cookstove was unharmed in the event. But yeah, lame sauce because now I need to get a new pillow too. I was hoping to not be replacing gear this early, and i’ve already spent over $300 on it. I saved up a decent chunk for this but I don’t love replacing things because of stupid little mental mistakes like forgetting to sleep with my filter.

Remember that hot bath and ice I was talking about earlier. The hotel I got for the night doesn’t have a working ice machine, hot water, or a plug to stop the tub for a bath, so that was kind of a bust. I’m hoping to be back on trail tomorrow though! And maybe with these smaller mile days and this extra off day my group will get a chance to catch up! 

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Comments 2

  • thetentman : Apr 29th

    Ice Cream will make ankle pain go away, but you have to have at least 2 servings.

  • Chris Pack : Apr 30th

    You can do it Katie!! I’ve just been constantly amazed at your ambition to see all the National Parks and to now hike the AP!!!

    You are a Rock Star!!

    Keep up the good work! I enjoy your posts and pictures.


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