Slugs, Bugs, and Rocky Times

I’m writing this post after my first shower in a week. This is the cutest Hostel I’ve stayed in since The Notch Hostel in North Woodstock NH. After doing laundry in a bucket a week ago (everything still smelled afterwards unfortunately) and with an added crunch to my socks, you could say I’m jumping up and down with joy to be here.

The trail has been tough recently. I disliked New York for many reasons – the lack of water for days on the trail, the shelters too far spaced out to make the mileage for multiple days, the constant ups and downs with no views, the snakes, and these new red centipedes that have been appearing since we left Massachusetts. They say to never quit on a bad day and I stand with that, but I would say I’m having a not so great stretch of days. Besides going to the ER in New York, the day afterwards my crew camped at one of the fields nearby a deli. As a side note -the deli crawl would be the best part about New York – being able to stop every couple miles to get Clear Gatorade or cold drinks and allergy friendly food provided good motivation, especially with my hiker hunger as ravenous as it has been. Anyways, the night we stayed in the field beyond the deli it poured down rain all night. The woods were filled with night crawler worms, and I woke up to slugs in my shoes, my tent filled with a stream of water,  everything wet, and worms crawling all around my tent. It was probably my lowest point so far on the trail, and quite literally one of my worst nightmares. My tent also broke the next day.

If you know me well, you know I am deathly afraid of snakes, and worms too mainly because they look like mini snakes. Since getting into New York, going over Rattlesnake Mountain in New Jersey, and now navigating the rocks of Pennsylvania, the threat of snakes is pretty imminent. If there aren’t snakes on the trail, the centipedes are crawling around all over. I wish I could say I’m less scared now, but I’m not. I guess some fears just never quite go away, but I’d like to think each day I am working to face my cowardice with the crawlers and the bugs by being brave and hiking despite sometimes crippling fear. On the warm sunny days in PA so far, I’ve had moments of stopping completely to scan for rattlers before taking each step because I felt paralyzed by the fear and I was hiking alone. Usually having people a few minutes ahead puts me at ease because I know they may scare the snakes off or warn me ahead of time, but I was trying to be independent and brave on my own. I still managed to hike my 20 miles or so. Even though it was uncomfortable I haven’t let it stop me. My friends joke about how on earth have I made it this far being so scared of the critters – I attribute it to being very stubborn. Despite the discomfort, I won’t quit. I’m sticking it out.

My other snake scare was one evening in NY, shortly after Bear Mountain. There was a shelter that was reported by previous hikers to have a resident rattlesnake that crawled into the shelter and wouldn’t leave, which conveniently for him was only an inch off the ground. I was panicked going to sleep. I woke up in the middle of the night and saw something slithering towards my foot, so of course, in my sleepy stupor I lost my head. My friends tell me my bloody murder scream took years off of their lives. It’s like the scene from She’s the Man when the tarantula is crawling on the guy’s foot and they get up and scream and start tango-ing all over the floor. The boys were apparently sound asleep until, judging by my scream, they thought I was actually dying or in grave danger. They immediately jumped up to fight what they thought might be a bear or something that was trying to eat me and were annoyed (and relieved) to find that there was nothing there. I’d like to thing my screaming- midnight-tango dance moves scared the snake off, but I guess we will never know. It’s a good thing no one came into the shelter late that night because I think the boys would’ve accidentally stabbed them in their fight or flight mode. It wasn’t one of my finer moments, but hey, we’re all human.

As for Pennsylvania….eh. I was determined not to make a fuss out of it, as I heard sometimes SOBOS (southbound thru hikers) make less of a deal about it having gone through rocky and root filled Maine first, but it’s exceeded my expectations a bit. At first I enjoyed rock hopping through New Jersey. For some stretches I was even faster than the boys in my group and it felt pretty rad. And then came northern PA. It isn’t the worst in the world, but my knee picked the wrong time to start acting up, and my feet have decided now is the time to begin to blister up again. With the heat some days on the rocks, the chilly mornings and evenings which has been worse due to losing so much of my body fat that I no longer have insulation, and the low morale from painful feet and legs and lack of access to showers and laundry, bigger mile days more consistently, and being hangry almost all the time, it’s just built PA up onto my “least favorite state” list. It’s honestly probably not that bad, and I heard it might get more flat soon! But for right now I’m excited to get out of here and knock out Maryland, West Virginia, and get into Virginia.

It’s crazy to me to almost be at the 1000 mile marker and almost halfway through my journey. The newness has definitely worn off. At first it was all fun and exciting and I didn’t mind so much even when it was raining or I was dirty. Now it’s beginning to feel a bit like a job more than anything. I miss home, I miss being clean every day, and having a clean bed to sleep in. I miss being able to go out and hike for the day then being able to come home and make myself food. At home when you have a bad day at work you can come home, shower, make yourself yummy comfort food or order in, and then settle into the couch with your favorite blanket or cuddle into bed. On the trail when you have a bad day, you might hike some less miles, but there is no comfort, no couch, no warm hug or soft anything waiting for you. You might sit on a rock for awhile with bugs eating you alive until you’ve mustered up enough drive to keep hiking your miles for the day, but it’s just not quite the same. Your feet still smell when you crawl into your sleeping bag for the night – your sleeping pad and sleeping bag probably do too. You also start looking more homeless than before.

My friend did the math the other day, and calculated if we wanted to make it to Springer Mountain in Georgia by the end of October, we’d have to be hiking 18 miles every day without any breaks for 70 days straight. Because of that, I’ve started taking less days off in town because I’d like to get home by early November to rest before my job starts in December. I have been taking much less time off the trail as the terrain has improved, but mentally and physically rest days are really important, especially hiking bigger mile days, so I’m working to find some semblance of balance.

Some days are good, filled with kind people, memorable funny moments, and they don’t feel so mundane. Other days are hard and you have to really push yourself to hike even when you don’t want to. After so many miles, if you want to keep going, you  really have to dig deep to remember what brought you out here and use it to keep yourself moving.

In PA I’ve enjoyed pushing my body’s limits with my first 24 mile day, and hiking more 18-20 mile days in a row. My pace is improving and I’m finding a good flow with 20 mile days so that I can get into camp around dinner time and still take a lunch break in between.

I think back to the last time on trail when I wasn’t having a lot of fun and I remember that I really enjoyed my stretch of time between Vermont and Massachusetts. I think, like everything else, trail life ebbs and flows. I know it isn’t always going to be fun. However, I’m hopeful that things will be looking up soon, especially with some possible visitors in my near future.

I’ve been working to find a balance of hiking alone and hiking with other people. Sometimes personal space and alone time can come at a premium when you’re hiking with people everyday and then sharing the same close sleeping quarters in shelters and campsites at night. It can make you a bit crazy or just super grouchy. No matter how amazing people are out here, too much time spent with anyone will leave you yearning for alone time. As an introvert, and lately a very grouchy hiker, I’ve seriously needed time alone. In town hostels there can often be a lot of people, which is often where the hiker folk go to take rest days from the trail. It can be overwhelming when you need alone time but can’t seem to find space for it, and people sometimes think you’re stand offish when you don’t want to mingle with them. I’ve realized after a few days of hiking alone I miss people, and after hiking a few days closely with people I need my personal space.

Mostly, I’ve been focusing on making sure that I’m really taking care of myself and not relying on others to do so out here. I’ve started to fully enjoy my independence, and I’ve noticed I start getting annoyed when people try to tell me what to do, or that I need to make miles, or parent me too much on the trail. I’m out here for myself, and although I’ve been so grateful to have people watching out for me who mean well, I’m also enjoying spreading my wings and learning to trust myself and empower myself to be my own adult for myself. I’m learning how to care and comfort myself and take care of my needs in the most beneficial way and I’ve realized it doesn’t necessarily support my growth when I have others holding my hand every step. At some points I think I really needed that, and know that it was OK too, just not right now. I still have those moments when I want that and I’ll still honor them, but for the most part I want to stand on my own and hold my own hand through the rough patches. A big lesson I am learning and have learned is how to ask for what I need and how to ask for support – there’s no shame in  asking. I’ve realized the difference is that I want to support myself  mainly on my own, and ask when I’m ready and need to receive support.  I’m so grateful I’ve had people there to support me when I needed it most. I’m also grateful for the contrast so I could see that that kind of support used to serve me, now standing on my own and relying more fully on myself feels more beneficial and rewarding. It’s a large part of the reason why I’m out here. I’m starting to finally feel strong, capable, EMpowered, the “I got this”  feeling, and really loving my  confidence in the disaster maintenance department. I still have days where I’m a mess and want to go home and sit on the couch with my mom or be cuddled up into a warm bed, but I’m getting there and I’m really proud of myself for it.

I’ve been told that the next stretch of Pennsylvania gets better so I’m excited to see what the trail has in store. Thank you so much to those who helped me purchase my new tent – having a little home at the end of the night that keeps the rain out and that actually closes properly with a zipper means everything. Now I don’t have to hike shelter to shelter – I have much more freedom with where I can camp each night and I’m so grateful.

Still not sure I always know what I’m doing but I’m still trekking along. Also. I got a new pair of shorts after 900 miles! It’s amazing the difference a little bit of fabric can make. They make me feel like a hiking queen, or at least for the first couple days after laundry day. It’s the little things out here.

Until next time,


Photo Credit: taken by Beast of me hugging Dover Oak – used with approval

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Comments 1

  • Ruth morley : Aug 27th

    Emily, I’m only 400 miles into my hike (flipfloping SOBO from H. Ferry), but I have suddenly had a swift loss of love and enthusiasm for the trail, mostly based on low water availability and major foot issues. I’m so glad I read your post. I can relate to many of your feelings, even though you have many more miles under your belt (or should I say hipbelt?). You also gave me a good laugh and shivers in describing slugs in your shoes and mini-snakes (worms) in your tent.

    I’m presently healing my feet at the wonderful Angels Rest Hikers’ Haven in Pearisburg, VA. Don’t miss this place!!!!!! Truly a haven. And the owner’ a great chiropractor-acupuncturist with great hikers’ rates.

    And when I start again, I’ll keep in mind how you’ve hung in there and are doing it your own way. Even though we probably have 40 years of age difference, I could really relate to your musings. Good luck on your continuation. And if you meet someone named Chocoholic, that’s me!


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