One month of hiking: Enjoy the walk
Oh. my. goodness. We’ve officially been hiking for one month! Last time I posted, we were at mile ~273 and now here we are at Damascus, our fourth state and over 400 miles in. So I guess that means it’s time for a super-duper-way-too-much-information-summary-post!
Days on trail: 31
Total miles: 469
Current location: Damascus, VA
Life is so much simpler when all you have to do is look for the next white blaze. There are unique struggles to hiking long distance, but overall it’s a pretty simple existence. So here’s way more information than you ever wanted about the most important aspects of our hike. Get ready for some real talk.
We’ll start with gear because it’s an easy one, and one of the keys to success out here. Without effective gear, you risk being too cold, horrible blisters, uncomfortable nights, and a myriad of other ailments. Before hiking, Caleb and I spent a lot of time meticulously researching gear. For the most part, our efforts have paid off and we have been really happy with our choices. But, even we haven’t escaped a few updates already:
- Umbrella – sent home. I purchased a super compact and lightweight umbrella thinking I would use it primarily as a sunshade, but also potentially for the occasional torrential downpour. Alas, I just am too lazy and not bold enough to pull off the umbrella. I wasn’t confident with the way it rigged to my backpack and ended up not wanting to mess with it. However, even slathering sunscreen religiously left me sunburned, so I sent the umbrella home and bought a highly fashionable hiking hat instead (no photo proof yet, but I promise I will provide one eventually). It’s been a great purchase.
- Sleeping pads – replaced. Night #1 on the trail, we pull out our ~2 year old Exped inflatable sleeping pads, blow them up, and…black mold allll over the inside. Since it’s generally not a great idea to sleep every night with your body only one layer of thin plastic away from black mold and cleaning options out here are limited, we decided to make the painful purchase of new pads on trail. As you can imagine, it was expensive. But, the replacement Sea to Summit Ultralight pads we bought are almost identical weight, better R-value (warmer), and take less lung capacity to inflate! What was initially a disappointing purchase has turned out for the best.
- Select clothing – size changes. Caleb has lost about 20 pounds, and I’ve lost close to 10. We expected this, but not how much it would effect our clothing fit. Caleb’s undies are so loose now that chafing has become a big issue, and I’m also experiencing it from my super loose pants. For now we’re waiting to get different pants, but the underwear needed to be replaced ASAP. Our shirts are pretty loose as well, but that’s less critical in terms of comfort.
Overall, we’ve been very fortunate in terms of physical ailments. Of course there’s the daily soreness, foot pain, occasional blister, etc, but there’s really only been two big issues. For me, it’s a fun rash that started at Fontana Dam. Both my arms are covered in red, itchy bumps. For Caleb, it’s knee pain. Our last full day hiking in the Smokies, Caleb slipped on a patch of ice and fell directly on his right knee. Incredibly, we’ve been hiking anywhere from 15-20+ miles per day on it, but it’s a constant source of pain. It’s been about 3 weeks for both these problems, so yesterday we took the time to go to a medical facility. We both got some medications and Caleb got the good news that he probably just has some tendonitis, no long term damage. So hopefully, once we hit the trail again tomorrow we’ll be ready to start fresh! We both have noticeably lost weight, and our legs are looking awesomely strong. It’s incredibly empowering to look back on the last month and realize my pale little legs brought me all the way here.
Anyone who has read Appalachian Trials knows that the mental side of hiking is just as challenging as the physical side. For me, this has been my greatest struggle. I was prepared for it not to be fun every day. I was prepared for it to be cold…the first week. I was not prepared to go to bed cold, sleep in the cold, wake up in the cold, have frozen hands every morning, and be wearing multiple layers most of the day. To be fair, we have had some gorgeous weather, but the sheer amount of cold mornings has really gotten to me. Once we get hiking, I always feel better, but there is something about waking up in the cold that really bums me out. Additionally, I did not anticipate how much my and Caleb’s relationship would change out here. Now, Caleb is my hiking partner above everything else. Planning mileage, running errands on town days, pacing, stopping for lunch, it’s all a totally different set of things to think about. We make a great team, but there are definitely times we could benefit from a little space or independence (which isn’t super easy when sharing a tent). Being here in Damascus for a couple days has been really great for giving me a minute to reset my brain and think a little more positively. I’m nowhere close to wanting to quit, but I do have a new respect for the mental challenges I will continue to encounter.
The trail itself
I think I’ve been a little remiss in my posts in detail about the hiking itself – the scenery, the environment, etc. When we started, it pretty much looked like winter. Lots of brown. Now, we’re starting to see beautiful hints of spring along the trail. Seeing green patches or even the multicolor blooms on the trees is a welcome break from the beginning. But, since the trees are still bare we benefit from more views than some of the later starters get. Seeing endless hills on either side of you is a comforting sight. I know I have been pleasantly surprised with the variety we’ve seen – pine forests, big grassy balds with sweeping views, classic woodland, rocky ridges. Our favorite portion so far was from Erwin, Tennessee to the town of Roan Mountain (which I think is North Carolina? Or maybe Tennessee also…). I tend to love the sweeping views, but I have also learned to appreciate the little details, like tiny white flowers along the trailside, and interesting moss, trees, and leaves. We’ve seen a couple impressive waterfalls with a very different character than those in the West. But mostly, what I love about the trail is that it’s quiet. We are out of the big bubble now, so we only see a few people each day and we can choose to walk in silence if we don’t feel like talking. My mind isn’t constantly obsessing about bills, to-do lists, and feeling like my life is passing me by. I’m finally living moment to moment, one foot in front of the other. Like Caleb said – if you’re going to be successful out here, you have to just enjoy the walk.
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