A Peak into Affirm’s Appalachian Trail Journal
So it’s official. I solo hiked from Springer to Katahdin (which I am petitioning to rename K-titty). I started on April 3, 2014 and finished on September 23, 2014. It was a blast. However, I’ve been disappointingly absent from blogging. On top of having the worst cell phone provider to use on the Appalachian Trail (SPRINT), I apparently forgot to write on a daily basis now that I’m back in civilization. Kind of like that one time I forgot to go to the gym 468 days in a row.
To kind of make up for my serious lack of contribution in content for this wonderful site, here are some edited highlights from my personal journal I kept on the trail. Looking back on it, I’m a little disturbed to see the weird things my mind fixated on to deal with the monotony of hiking day after day. Here you can get a summary of what went through my head with a few recollections of memorable moments. You can see the changes happening as I gradually became a seasoned hiker… minus the photographic evidence from the end of Georgia to the Shenandoahs. That’s a long story. Possibly involving baby sasquatch thieves. I’m working on recovering those photos. Fortunately I had updated some of them to my trailjournals so I could make do with something.
My First Big Trail Mistake: 170 something miles in, right after the NOC
The climb out of the NOC is basically uphill for 7 miles. I seemingly experienced every kind of weather there is while going up that mountain because of the drastic elevation gain. Rain first thing in the morning. Sunny blue skies by 9am. Sleet soon after. By the time I was getting hit by a wall of snow/ice, I was bracing myself for the possibility that someone laced my water with LSD. I literally hiked through a tunnel of trees formed by Rhododendrons and emerged on the other side like I had walked through a magical tree portal into Narnia.
The higher/closer I got to Sassafras Shelter, the windier and icier it got. My face was nature’s target for flinging pellets of ice at. It was epic and I loved it. The shelter was totally shielded from the madness which is where I ran into a hiker who looks eerily similar to John Snow from Game of Thrones. Same hair and everything. So of course I had to say “winter is coming! …” to him before taking off to the next campsite. This is where I made my first trail mistake. I didn’t close my camelpak all the way with my frozen fingers and hurriedly strapped it to the top of my pack. 15 minutes later I decided the wet sensation on top of my butt wasn’t just the cold winds and investigated. A whole liter of water leaked into my pack right where I least want water – inside of my compactor bag liner. I wrote a Haiku about it… I call it Wet Sleeping Bag by Affirm. Won’t post it here because it has a lot of profanity in it for such few syllables that a Haiku is composed of.
Side note: I don’t know John Snow’s trail name and Sassafras shelter was the last time I ever saw him. He was one of many characters you meet on the trail. He never acknowledged that he looked like John Snow nor did he act like him (he probably didn’t know what Game of Thrones was) but he was always getting himself into situations. The first time I met him was one cold morning in North Carolina. I walk up and he’s laying in a pile of leaves looking miserable. All he said was “man, I always wake up having to poop. Sometimes it’s pretty urgent. But in North Carolina you gotta jump over rivers and s__t just to use the privy.” That guy was baller enough to take a hitch from a nude truck driver. Well, I shouldn’t say baller. Bad choice of words. That truck driver pulled up to us and literally said “I like to play with myself when I drive, but if you’re comfortable with that, hop right in! I won’t bother ya!” I wasn’t very surprised when John Snow turned up a week later saying he almost died at a biker “hostel” that sold meth. The place didn’t have a website but they put up flyers. The flyer was riddled with terrible grammatical errors but the golden line at the bottom was “We’re open 25/7!”. We like to think that was not a typo. Just being so whacked out on speed that they get an extra hour out of every day.
The day after the camel pak incident…
Destination- Fontana Dam
Starting Location- Locust Cove Gap
Last night I slept next to the most hardcore snorer I have ever encountered in my life. Was genuinely concerned this man was literally dying as I was making breakfast due to his agonal breathing. Oxygen exchange could not have been happening based on the sounds I was hearing. He shook my tent with snores throughout the night which was furthermore impressive since my tent was frozen stiff.
And yes, I survived the freezing night. Was actually very comfortable despite my wet sleeping bag. If you didn’t know this already, learn this now: a wet sleeping bag made out of down material = not having a sleeping bag. A synthetic bag can still retain warmth.
I got rid of my camelpak in the next town.
By mile 230 I had encountered bears, evaded questionable people, woke up to wild boars around my tent, and many other living creatures. The one that I felt most threatened by was tiny.
Today was awesome but I definitely need to take it easy off the night hiking for awhile. I have night hiked at least 1 hour every night in the Smokies which I do not advise for a variety of reasons. One that I did not account for was walking through 450+ spider webs. When I finally got into my tent around midnight and started journaling, I glanced to my right and there was a brown recluse chilling on my tent fly staring right back. It’s eight evil eyes were diabolically looking at me as if it was saying ‘you destroyed my home and kidnapped me 7 human miles into your land of nonsense. I will wait until you fall asleep and kill you.’ I put my Smoky mtns permit to use and smashed it. Even got out of my cozy tent just to burn it.
Mile 247.7: Notes about Groundhog Creek Shelter
The privvy was like a platform where you’re on center stage. You can see everywhere and everyone could see you which obviously seemed to be a horrifying idea to some trying to conduct some nature business. I went in with my morning tea, an American Spirit cigarette, and good morning cheer. Had a nice conversation with people cooking breakfast about 8 yards away from me, waved goodbye to people leaving camp, and said good morning to the Germans crawling out their tents. All while dropping a nice deuce. There’s 4 walls and a hinged door of course but they rise only up to your chest when you’re sitting.
Speaking of sitting… here’s an observation I’m making about Murica’. You see, in America we have fatass pride. We slam our butts into seated positions with authority, dominance, and ownership. We don’t ease into our seated positions with finesse. It’s more of a body slam of confidence with a righteous presumption that our choice of seating is subject to such abuse. Yes. Yes indeed.
Anyways, there’s a bolt or two missing from the foundations of the shelter table which has effectively turned it into a freaking teeter totter disguised as a sturdy table with attached benches. That table is the devil’s playground of deceptive flat surfaces enticive to dangerous cooking apparatus that often contains highly flammable liquids in open containers that are on fire (i.e. alcohol stoves). This is the kind of nightmare Smoky the Bear has PTSD from. Every time anyone got up or sat down, it sent the opposite side flying upwards or downwards. That was the most terrifying breakfast I have ever had in my life. Was that morning wood or adrenaline? Let’s stay for lunch.
Mile 256: I had jotted down a note about the diversity of couples on the trail…
“Where’s your oatmeal at? Is it before or after the used condoms?”
Mile 274: Hot Springs, NC. Embracing the title of Hiker Trash
For some reason the details of the day escape me. Spent a lot of time at the Hiker Ministry where we found a dodgeball. At some point it bounced off someone’s head and into the river. We conducted a rescue mission wherein I became the hero who rescued a ball from the mild not-so-aggressive rapids akin to a lazy river water park attraction. Poison ivy saturated the river banks though. So we played a lil game of dodgeball considering how there was extra incentive not to get tagged… A local guy gave us fresh caught fish because obviously we were too stupid to fend for ourselves. A 2012 thru hiker, Cowboy, invited us over to his trailer where he built us a hobo fire so we can cook the fish and drink Murica’ beer.
Mile 306.2: after the bad weather trail option
When I broke through, the rain came back and I felt sorry for all the people stuck on the ridge behind me. I took the opportunity for a nature poo because it was not fun scrambling through that ridge section with a back seat passenger if you know what I mean. The rain actually felt fantastic while taking an exposed dump in the woods. I did that embrace the freedom thing from Shawshank Redemption once I released the beast and buried it. You know that scene? After crawling out the poo tunnel to freedom and standing in the rain? I did that in combination with Titanic – “I’m the king of the world!”. It was freaking sweet. There’s nothing like have a good poop in the wilderness.
Eventually all the climbing and trekking through sludge did a number on me. I thought about Bruce Willis in Die Hard. ‘It’s not the age, it’s the mileage.’
Right big toe numb since Franklin, NC.
Both big toes bruised from excessive rocks/roots.
Couple of negligible blisters that I didn’t even know I had.
Loads of bug bites.
Left foot aching – could use better insole support.
Strained right calf that does not like uphills.
Shelter talk about food becoming ever more pornographic.
Overcast and windy day. That kept the humidity at bay. Time to eat some hay. Okay.
Uhh… Happy Gilmore came out of nowhere. I couldn’t get out of Ben Stiller’s character from that movie all day. ‘Oh, you’re hurting? Is it because you’ve had yard duty all day?’ I wouldn’t even tell people why I was saying such weird things like that. At least it confused and cracked people up trying to figure out what my deal was. I only broke character once to go Jurassic Park. ‘DON’T GO INTO DA LONG GRASS!!!’ At that point people started catching on, but not the Germans. They now think Americans are the weirdest people. Referencing movies got us over the mountains today. Which was good because the past couple days I had a calorie crisis. Solved it by mixing instant oatmeal, peanut butter and olive oil together for lunch. I called it combat oatmeal. Reason being that I didn’t bother cooking the oatmeal. Just ate it raw and let all that stuff glob up in my stomach and cook there. Will let you know later if I resort to Bear Grylls tactics. Just gotta find a bunch of bear poop.
A potential hiker (or some legit hobo) ordered ice cream in a restaurant. It was served in a cup with a straw and I guess the man had no spoon. He must have given it a solid attempt for a few minutes before finally standing up and announcing, “Excuse me miss, but I’d have to be a whore to suck this!”
That’s only about a select 1/7th of the trail experience… I even skipped over Gatlinburg because what happens in Gatlinburg stays in Gatlinburg. I suppose part 2 will be coming up whenever I get around to it. Which could be 488 days from now if I keep forgetting. If that’s unbearable because you can’t get enough about me documenting my bowel movements on the AT, you can read about the time I inherently crapped my pants here –
-Craig “Affirm” Tsao
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