I Pooped in the Woods and Other Misadventures
Hold on to your hats ladies and gentlemen, the third installment in my AT adventure is a big one (and it’s coming from my cell phone)!
Day 15: NOC to Sassafras Gap Shelter, 6.8 miles
Nothing really can prepare you to go back out to the wild after staying a night in a (semi) real bed. Especially when the forecast for the next four days is straight up rain. Sadly, as we set out from the NOC, or trekking poles pathetically clicking behind us, nature was giving us a free shower.
The climb out of the NOC was one of the longer more difficult ones we had faced yet. Somehow, I started thinking about all the massive hills I had run up over the years of cross country. “It’s still not as bad as Durago” I told myself. For whatever reason, this helped me put my head down and charge through it despite the rain.(The last time I raced on Durago it was actually raining. True story.) I busted out the 6.8 miles to the closest shelter like nobodies business.
The plan was to get to the shelter and see how we felt. The answer? Comfortable. Under a roof was exactly where I wanted to be if it was going to be pouring. As the day wore on, the rain slowed and eventually stopped. Tape decided to give up his spot in the shelter and set up his tarp. He has this innate fear of mice, coming from his stay at Wayah Bald Shelter. In the middle of the night a mouse ran right over his face. He was so freaked out that he dragged his sleeping bag outside to a campsite and cowboy camped that night.
Pro Tip: rain gear is really good for making you sweat. And wind protection.
Day 16: Sassafras Gap Shelter to Cable Gap Shelter 15.2 miles
I awoke this morning to a large black silhouette lying on the floor of the shelter. Puzzled, but not troubled, I went right back to sleep. Come daylight, I found out that it was our musophobic friend Tape. His tarp had collapsed in the downpour that night and he had gotten soaked. Desperate, he moved into the dry dirt floor of the shelter.
I feel like I’m finally getting my trail legs. The mileage today didn’t bother me at all. Maybe that’s the short day from yesterday but hey I’ll take what I can get.
As we hit the 150 mile mark, I slipped on a rock and lost my balance. Unable to right myself, I fell towards the downhill side of the slope. I was very lucky that the side of my pack hit the ground before my head did, because it cushioned the impact of my skull on a rock. My pack weight combined with the awkward angle I was at did me no favors. I was like a turtle on its back. All I could do was hold my head in my hands and wait for help. Luckily Elmer Fudd was right behind me. He freed me from my backpack and helped me up. Thankfully, I was not seriously hurt, but it was a reality check to how quickly things can go wrong.
We tackled Jacobs ladder today, and it was by far the most difficult climb we’ve done up to this point (this WAS worse than Durago). A solid 800 ft of elevation gain, straight up, but I did it and it’s over and my legs are all the stronger for it.
Over lunch we decided we wanted to go all the way to Fontana. (This would have been a 20+ mile day). Three miles later, this plan went right out the window, and I think I was the only one that was disappointed. Today was the first day that we hiked as a big group for any length of time. It was nice to be around people for a while but I found that I hike much faster when I’m in a group. I don’t stop and take pictures as often either. Pros and cons; get there, but with no actual enjoyment of getting there.
Pro tip of the day: wet rocks are slippery.
Day 17: Cable Gap Shelter to Fontana Hilton, 6.7 miles
It was a short but eventful hike into Fontana. River and I caught up to Pumpkin, and we found a turtle just chillin in the middle of the trail. Shortly afterwards, I finally caved and pooped in the woods for the first time (not in a privy). I may or may not have gotten poison ivy trying to find a good spot, but I guess I’ll find out soon enough.
Fontana is a cute little resort, but by far the smallest place we’ve stopped at. They had most of what I needed, except pepperoni. I guess it’ll just be cheese and crackers for now…
Also, shoutout to Deb, Jodi, and Jeremy for sending me stuff to Fontana!
Warning: rant and explicit language ahead.
Now, it takes a lot for me to get so upset that I ignore you completely, but a couple hikers today pushed me over the edge. Instead of hanging their bear bags, they’ve been sleeping with them the whole trip. Have I told them not to? Yes. Do they listen? No. Now we’re about to go into the Smokies, where bears have been a problem recently. Their response? “I’m not fucking hanging anything.” Oh really? You want to put yourselves in danger? And all of us? And all the bears that will go after your food? Nice. Good to know my fellow hikers have no respect for the people, animals, and forest around them.
Pro Tip: don’t be a dick, hang your fucking bear bag.
Day 18: Fontana Hilton to Russell Field Shelter, 14.5 miles
I was up early today, around 6. Pre dawn, I walked to the bathroom sans headlamp, the sounds of my sandals hitting the pavement and loons calling to each other on the lake accompanied me.
I set off alone today, still blowing off steam from the day before. Sometimes I think I would have preferred the solitude of a SOBO hike, but it didn’t work out that way. I’m here now and I’ll have to make the best of it.
I entered the Smokies today! Shuckstack mountain had this awesome fire tower with wicked cool views. The breeze made you forget how hot it was outside, but it also reminded you of your mortality as you climbed the rickety steps up to the top of the tower.
The Saga of Cell Phone Dude, part 1
A few hours down the trail I got to a junction. As I approached I sang to myself “conjunction junction, what’s your function?” Briefly I looked at the sign to determine its function and noticed something else as well. There was a phone there, and after looking at the pictures it was clear it belonged to a thru hiker. I decided to take it with me to try to find its owner. I came to the first shelter and asked around. “He just left,” someone said. “Went on to the next one.” Onward I went! Only 3 more miles. Fudd and I sang Lion King songs, but he only know the words in German so it sounded really strange. As we arrived at the Russell Field Shelter, I was again told that cell phone dude had moved on. Tired, I decided to set up my tent where I was and catch up in the morning.
One liner of the day: Elmer Fudd as he opened a Cliff Bar, “it looks as if it has already been eaten.”
Day 19: Russell Field Shelter to Siler Bald Shelter, 14.6 miles
I was the last one out of camp today. Some unforeseen complications lead to more morning chores than usual. Oh well, what can you do. I hiked alone and in silence for most of the day, but I did run into a massive group of day hikers. They were waiting at a junction for some of their group to catch up. As I approached they started cheering and clapping (which is actually really intimidating when you haven’t seen a crowd in a month). They were cool though! I chatted with them for a few minutes and then moved on. We leapfrogged most of the day and they became my personal cheerleaders, giving me encouragement and making me laugh.
I also met a woman who immediately dropped her pack and handed me some raisins and two clementines. She told us she was proud of us for undertaking the AT. Imagine that! A woman I had never met, proud of me for following my dreams.
You never saw food disappear so fast. The clementines were gone before I started to walk again. The raisins followed shortly after, and I don’t even like raisins.
For whatever reason, the second half of today mentally kicked my ass. Maybe it was all the PUDs (pointless up and downs) without any views. Maybe it was how muddy the trail was from the rain. I couldn’t tell you exactly why. All I know is that I found myself coaching myself through the last few hills, wanting nothing more but to sit down and be done for the day. I got to the shelter, but it was not a pretty sight.
About a half hour after I arrived it began to pour. All of my belongings were safely inside the shelter, or so I thought. LD came inside and said “ahh hey Spitfire, where are your boots?”
My heart sank. I sprinted outside and retrieved my now drenched Merrells, lamenting the fact that I’d have to walk in them the next day. Luckily for me, the shelter had a small fireplace and someone had built a fire. I put my boots next to it to dry. I’m crossing my fingers that it worked, but I decided to wait to find out until morning.
Cell Phone Dude Saga, part 2
As I walked today I asked people if they had seen a young guy looking for his phone. I was told he had stayed at the shelter just two miles ahead of where I stayed, and that he had left early this morning to backtrack to look for it. He had left all his belongings at the shelter, so I figured he’d come back. When I got there I left his phone with a note by his things.
Fast forward to about 6 pm. I’m making my dinner and these two guys appear out of the rain. One of them squints at me like he was trying to solve a really complicated riddle. “Are you Spitfire?” He asked. It was cell phone dude! Turns out his real name is Highlander. He thanked me for returning his phone, and I apologized for the atrocious amount of extra miles he had to walk today. And they all lived happily ever after. The end.
Pro tip of the day: turn your socks inside out to decrease friction. Also, make sure you listen to your outdoor ed teacher and do it before your pinky toes turn to hamburger (thanks Raelyn).
Day 20: Siler Bald Shelter to…Siler Bald Shelter, 0 miles
Very little to report today. We woke up, it was pouring, we went back to bed. We did not move from our (semi) dry shelter spots. Thus my first real zero day occurred. Was it everything I’d ever dreamed of? Nope. There was no fast food to eat, no real bed to sleep in, and no porcelain throne to poop in. Just a roof over our heads to protect us from the torrential downpour outside. Sure, we’d hiked in the rain before, but this time Mother Nature took it to a whole ‘nother level. At which we laughed and said “all aboard the nope train to fuckthatsville.”
Elmer Fudd had taught us how to play a card game called Plump a while back, so we played a round to pass the time. I won, for the first time ever, and it’s in the shelter log as proof.
I met an individual who strongly reminded me of someone that worked for me, whom I had wanted to fire since the season started (Sarah, if you’re reading this you know who I’m talking about). Not to name names, but they were one of those people you just know is up to zero good things, regardless of how sweet they talk. I promised myself I’d hike fast the next day.
Pro tip of the day: winning Plump is 10% how good your cards are and 90% how ballsy you are.
Day 21: Siler Bald Shelter to Newfound Gap, 12.1 miles
I have heard many things about Gatlinburg, most of which revolve around how expensive it is for hikers to resupply there. Armed with this knowledge, I planned to skip Gatlinburg altogether and resupply at Standing Bear Hostel. I had also planed to hike yesterday. Unfortunately, neither of these things happened. Because of our unexpected zero day in a shelter, many of our group did not have enough food to skip town, and we were forced to end our hike early today.
As I put on my boots today I noticed two things: 1) they were still wet and 2) they didn’t quite fit the same way. Upon further inspection I realized I had melted them by the fire. Awesome.
Trail conditions as told by White Walker: “I imagine this is how it feels to walk around in the bottom of a privy.” In other words, the rain had turned the trail into a muddy mess. In happier news, we actually got a semi decent view from Clingman’s Dome, and hit the 200 mile mark. Wahoo!!
Trying to call for a shuttle to Newfound Gap was impossible for some reason, so we split the group in two and attempted to hitchhike. Elmer Fudd, White Walker, and I got a ride from two awesome ladies who dropped us off directly in front of a Dunkin’ Donuts, and refused to let me pay them.
If you’ve never been to Gatlinburg, I don’t recommend going after spending the 20 days prior in the woods. I got out of the car and was immediately bombarded with the noise of multiple songs and people yelling, the sight of thousands of little flashing lights and buildings that towered over your head, and the smells of a million different foods and perfumes. In front of one of the shops I was confronted with a scene out of a carnival. Wax clowns pretended to throw knives at a rotating wheel with one of their own pinned to it. They spoke too, words that I don’t remember in voices that sounded like they came straight out of a horror movie. On the other side of the street, a giant T-Rex stuck its head out a window, moving its pathetic little arms around for no purpose. In a sentence, Gatlinburg was like Hampton Beach in August, but without the beach and with twice as many overpriced tourist shops.
Once we got over the initial shock of town, we gorged ourselves on what tasted like the best pizza ever from the Mellow Mushroom (10/10, would recommend). Nothing like a chicken bacon ranch pizza. I was halfway through my first piece when White Walker reached over for his second. Hiker hunger is real!
My Trail Name
You may have realized by now that I’m going by the name of Spitfire (although it depends on who you ask). Someone realized how much energy I always had at the end of the day. I bounced around camp like a jumping bean. That, taken in combination with my hair, birthed the name Spitfire. There are still a stubborn pair calling me Ginny, but they are the only ones I’m allowing to do it. So there. Ta-daaaaa!!!
That’s all for this post, stay tuned for our encounter with norovirus, Max Patch, and more!
As always, you can follow me at erica.runs on instagram or shoot me an email at [email protected] Or both. Or neither.
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