One Month In
Hello! Things are still going well out here! I’m currently in Erwin TN, about 340 miles into the trail. Since I last posted I hiked through the Smokies, experienced the wonders of Gatlinburg, went up and over Clingman’s Dome which is the highest point on the entire trail, reached Hot Springs, did my first 20 mile day, night hiked and cowboy camped for the first time, and now today I’ve hit the one month mark.
While we hit both the 200 and 300 mile mark in the last few weeks, more significant for me was reaching Hot Springs at 274 miles. Now, this hike is longer than The Long Trail and officially my longest hike ever.
I’m still mostly with the same group of people, though currently Bones is about a day ahead of us, as he left Hot Springs a day earlier than we did to meet up with family.
As I said above, today marks one month on the Appalachian Trail. I distinctly remember saying on the first day something like, “I can’t wait until I’m two weeks in and I have everything figured out.” Now, I laugh thinking about that statement–it’s a month in and I have very little figured out at all!
In some respects around the two week mark I had come a long way. I had a relatively established routine and hiking group, I knew which items in my pack I was and wasn’t using, I could set my tent up with only a mild struggle, and I had accepted that some part of my body would probably be hurting at all times. Still though, it’s the last two weeks that I realized I still have a lot to learn about being out here on the trail; most of all, I need to find balance.
Hiking the trail is sort of like being a college freshman released from your parents grasp for the first time. Only, on the trail it’s society’s expectations that you no longer need to abide by–most people are jobless, some homeless, candy is a legitimate meal, time is endless and responsibilities are few. This change of pace takes some adapting to.
When I say I need to find balance it’s in multiple respects. First, there’s the battle between indulgence and depletion. The trail is continuous cycles of these two things. I spend the day wearing myself down as much as I can, and then when I get into camp or town all that hard work makes me feel like I can do anything I want to my body; whether it’s smoking a cigar, drinking a few too many beers, eating candy bars smothered in frosting, or chowing down on a cheeseburger sandwiched between two grilled cheeses. Does the fact that I’m walking all day validate the things I eat or do when I’m not walking? Maybe, but maybe not. I definitely could take better care of myself out here, and I think that will be my aim for the days ahead.
I’m also having trouble figuring out what I should be doing for miles and how long to be in town. It’s a struggle weighing my health, budget, and deadline. If I push high miles with a shin splint am I being tough or am I being stubborn (the actual dilemma of the day)? On the flip side, when I want to do low miles or stay in town an extra day I can’t decide if I’m being smart or if I’m being lazy. How long can I stay in Hot Springs and not feel like a lazy slob? (Answer:
forever 3 days).
So much has happened in the last two weeks, so I’ll just share a couple highlights in no particular order:
One member of our group had a birthday! Iron Chef turned 36, so Rocky, Bones, and I decided to make the day special. We secretly bought party hats, streamers, a small brownie sheet, and frosting when we were in Gatlinburg and surprised him with them all when we got to the shelter that afternoon.
We met Gumby, a guy who thru-hiked the AT in 2011 and was back out for a small section from Hot Springs to Erwin. For three days he acted as our trail guru and good luck charm, giving us all sorts of protips and trail stories. He provided advice on everything from bathroom technique, to how to walk, to how to deal with the trail mentally. While we knew the motto “the trail provides” Gumby completely embodied it and showed us what that phrase could actually mean. He conjured up all kinds of magic, bought us dinner, and found us rides. Hopefully he’ll come out and meet up with us again in VA for a few days.
We met the one and only Miss Janet, trail legend and lovely lady. Finally, with our own ties from Miss Janet we feel like legitimate hiker trash.
We’ve hit the highest point on the trail! It’s all downhill from here, right?
The Smokies were beautiful, we lucked out big time on weather here.
What can I even say about Hot Springs? It is both wonderful and a trap. We took two zeros and a slack-pack day there. Rocky’s completely awesome parents came to visit and we had such a great time hanging out with them.
Between the actual hot springs, the Take Out diner, Queen Diva and the Hiker Resources Ministry Center, and ArtiSun ice cream Hot Springs is a place you can’t help but love. I was reluctantly dragged away pleading, “just one more day!” While we probably spent too long there, it was fun running into people that we haven’t seen since the first and second nights on the trail.
Gatlinburg however, is probably Hot Springs’ opposite in every respect. Everyone was super friendly there (of course, we are still in the south afterall), but everything commercial and weird has found itself a home in this town. We ran into one hiker just before Gatlinburg that said, “3 days and $1,200 dollars later I managed to get out of Gatlinburg with a Samurai sword and a bottle of moonshine.” We ended up taking a zero day there because after eating at Bennett’s BBQ all you can eat breakfast bar (which has pulled pork on the breakfast buffet!) we needed an entire day to digest.
We’ve been very blessed by encountering so much trail magic. Just before coming into Erwin there was a couple who thru-hiked in 2007 that brought a grill out to a campsite on the trail and made hot dogs for hungry hikers. After feeding us they drove us way out of their way into Erwin.
I’m also in awe of how many people are willing to give us rides. I knew hitchhiking was the general mode of travel into and around town, but the willingness to give us rides and the enthusiasm the drivers have about what we’re doing caught me completely off guard. If you ever have any doubts about the goodness of people, hike the AT because it will completely restore your faith in humanity.
Perhaps the most magical moment happened on top of Big Bald. Iron Chef, who has wanted a travel guitar for the trail for weeks now and couldn’t find any online, saw a hiker with a guitar strapped to his pack coming up to the bald. Chef asked if he could see the guitar and the other hiker, Admiral Caboose said he could have it! He was sick of carrying the extra weight and was holding onto it until he could find a guitar player who wanted it. The trail provides, seriously.
Easter was probably my favorite day on the trail so far. We woke up to a beautiful morning that turned into a cloudless afternoon. We reached Sam’s Gap in the early evening and Gumby found us a ride into Mars Hill where we had dinner at Waffle House and grabbed a couple of beers. Then, we found another ride back to the trail and night hiked a few miles to a campsite called The Meadow, where we cowboy camped under a clear and starry sky.
This website contains affiliate links, which means The Trek may receive a percentage of any product or service you purchase using the links in the articles or advertisements. The buyer pays the same price as they would otherwise, and your purchase helps to support The Trek's ongoing goal to serve you quality backpacking advice and information. Thanks for your support!
To learn more, please visit the About This Site page.