Pebbles and Bam-Bam
A few years ago, I fell off a small ladder attempting to turn on an air conditioning unit in a hostel in Buenos Aires whilst drunk, and awkwardly landed on my foot. The moral of that story is: never trust Michelle to hold a ladder. Over the next few days, we climbed a lot of giant Patagonian mountains, and I started to notice a pain in my right heel. Obviously, I blamed my pain on Michelle’s lack of ladder holding skills.
Fast forward to the future. Here I am, walking along the Appalachian Trail, over 30 miles in, a few mountains under my belt, and I feel it: the same heel pain. Only Michelle and that ladder are nowhere to be found. Who could I blame?! After some medical Q&A with Emily, she informed me I’m most likely an unfortunate victim of Achilles Tendinitis, NBD. Nothing a little KT tape can’t fix, right?
Other than the constant dull heel pain, lessened by my morning Vitamin I, my body handled the first 62.3 (every decimal counts) miles like a boss. My legs feel great, I don’t even notice my 30ish pound pack (with food and water) and my spirits are high. Admittedly, I didn’t do a lot of specific physical training for this hike, because honestly, nothing short of climbing up and down mountains for 10-12 hours a day with 30 lbs on my back in the rain, day after day after day could have really prepared me for this adventure.
But over the past year, I’ve climbed a lot of mountains. And each mountain was this full day event, taking 4 to 6 hours to summit and as much or more to come down (Yeah, I’m not that great at the descent). On the AT, I am walking 10 hours a day, but climbing several mountains. Instead of being discouraged by switchbacks (WTF mountain, where’s your top???), or how long it takes to walk a mile uphill, I am always pleasantly surprised and a wee bit skeptical when we reach the actual top (so soon? Are you sure it’s not that peak over there? Well, I’ll be damned.) I view every step as progress, a step in the right direction. As my new friend and fellow hiker Dale likes to say, every step you take is one you’ll never have to take again. I feel incredibly fortunate for this mindset; I know a lot of hikers struggle with the nasty tricks mountains can play on you, especially when heavy packs and bad weather are part of the joke.
Over the past week, I have morphed into a quadruped, my trekking poles now a complete extension of my body. I feel like a gorilla, gracefully (awkwardly) scrambling up and down mountains. On the flats, I turn into one of those AT-AT Walkers from Star Wars (coincidentally named?), mechanically chipping away at the terrain in front of me. I spend a lot of time staring at the ground, calculating my next step, trying to avoid any trail-ending injuries, but when I do remember to look up and around me, a wave of gratitude surges through me. My life is pretty great. Again and again, I hear people comment on the lack of views the AT offers, which truly blows my mind. Are these people hiking with their eyes closed? Maybe it’s just me, but the entire trail has been one pretty incredible view. I’m a walking, talking bobble head, constantly amazed at the awesomeness surrounding me. Watching the scenery change from maple trees to pine trees to magnolia trees sure beats staring at a TV or computer screen, anyway.
Over the past week, I also morphed from Tosha -> Hiker #1289 -> Pebbles, my trail name and identity for the remainder of the hike. Trail names are a funny thing, and I am pretty sure they exist because people have a shitty time remembering all of the names that cross your daily path: Dougs, Dales, Robs, Steves, Kims, it’s almost impossible to keep everyone straight and you start to feel like a knob constantly asking, sooooo, who are you again?
But trail names carry meaning. That guy is Stryker because he almost got hit by lightening once. That other guy is Mouse Daddy because a mouse had babies in his pack while he slept in the shelter. I am Pebbles because I pile my giant mess of hair on the very top of my head and Dale thinks I look like Pebbles from the Flintstones. Works for me. Plus, it’s a huge honor to be christened by Major Castle (Dale’s actual name/coolest name ever). But Emily straight-up refuses to be Bam-Bam.
Ahhhh, miss Emily. This girl is truly hiking her own hike. Neither of us chose to get a shakedown at Neels Gap because both of us are very happy with our pack weight and gear in general, but I can only imagine what they would have thought about her Kindle, stored in the cardboard box it came in, full-sized deodorant, bar of soap, heavy wooden bowl and spoon, pound of walnuts (but they’re brain food!) and half pound of gummy vitamins. I have no idea how her pack weighs 32 lbs with food and water. Seriously. No. Idea.
Seven Day Breakdown :
Day 0 – Amicalola Falls -> Len Foote Hike Inn off the Approach Trail 5 mi
Day 1 – Len Foote Hike Inn -> Hawk Mountain Shelter 12.5 mi (only 8.1 count toward the AT)
Day 2 – Hawk Mountain Shelter -> Woody Gap 12.7 mi
Day 3 – Woody Gap -> Neels Gap 10.9 mi
Day 4 – Neels Gap -> Blue Mountain Shelter 18.8 mi
Day 5 – Blue Mountain -> Unicoi Gap 2.4 mi (Nero Day, hitched into Helen)
Day 6 – Zero Day in Helen, Georgia
It’s been a glorious first week and so far, we’re loving it all. Today, we’re enjoying our Zero Day, sitting in the coolest coffee shop in Helen (Hot & Sweet Gourmet Coffee and Ice Cream), staring at the tourists wandering this weird little Bavarian themed town.
I think it’s time for a beer. We earned it.
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