Stick a Fork in It, This Hike is Done
I have been off-trail now for three months. It feels both like an eternity and like I blinked and ended up here. I left you guys in Hanover, NH (click here to see previous entry). At the time, I was optimistic about being able to “finish” my hike aka, make it to Katahdin. This would have left the middle 500 miles between HF and Salisbury, CT for me to actually complete the trail. That, however, proved to be untrue as the events of the next couple of weeks played out.
Trail Family Reunites for a Hike
I said goodbye to Silly and Longspoon in Hanover, expecting that I’d meet up with them again soon.
At this point, I had planned that my mom would visit once I got through the Whites. We’d go to Maine and do Katahdin before I set off for home. I’d come to terms with the fact that my feet were simply not going to be able to continue to hike for another 300+ miles.
My hiking partner and good friend Balto decided to visit while I was in Hanover. He and I set out to hike Moosilauke (meaning I skipped over everything between Hanover and there). We spent an evening by a small pond laughing at and with some locals. It was a good night catching up with him, even though I was sad to have parted ways with Silly and Longspoon. I didn’t know it at the time, but I wouldn’t see them again.
Balto and I slack-packed Moosilauke with Ms. Janet’s help. It was an incredible day. After 9 miles over one of the steepest mountains on the trail, I felt quite accomplished by the time the hike was over. Maybe I CAN hike the whites. I’ve got this. I can do it. Balto dropped me off at Chet’s for the night before heading home himself. Trail Tip: stay at Chet’s in Lincoln, NH; you won’t regret it.
A couple of zeros were in order before heading out to do the Kinsman Ridge, which ended up being the toughest 16 miles of trail I’ve ever hiked. This stretch was supposed to take 2.5 days. It ended up taking four. I was in so much pain the second day that I only did 3.5 miles . I took a hard fall going up Kinsman and ended up bruised and battered, with a broken trekking pole. My morale was really low, something that’s hard to comprehend considering the sheer bliss I felt on top of Moosilauke just a few days earlier. I finally made it off of that mountain and hitched back to Lincoln. HUGE shoutout to the outfitter here for mending what I was sure was an un-fixable injury to my Black Diamond pole. I sure didn’t want to hike the rest of the Whites with one trekking pole.
A Pivotal Moment in my Hiking Career
Ms. Janet dropped me and a few other hikers off at Franconia Ridge one afternoon. It was late when I got started, and dark by the time I reached the next shelter after an incredibly steep ascent up a boulder-strewn rockslide. I stopped off at the shelter to fill up my water bottles and eat dinner. Like most established campsites in the whites, this shelter was a pay site. Since I was not trying to pay money to spend the night in the woods, I didn’t plan to stay here. I had access to a “stealth camping guide” that another thru-hiker emailed to me. This guide detailed a spot near the top of Mt. Liberty where one could camp. I was aiming for this spot, which meant continuing another mile and a half or so beyond the shelter.
After dinner, I grudgingly threw on my pack, strapped on my headlamp, and headed on up the mountain. What seemed like hours later (and was really only maybe 45 minutes), I reached the sign for the side trail up to Mount Liberty. Trail Tip: In the whites, camping is prohibited except at established campsites within quarter-mile radius “zones” around shelters and campsites. If you want to stealth camp, you have to make sure you are outside of these “zones”. This side trail led up to the rocky summit of Mt. Liberty, and as I ascended I kept my eyes peeled for a spot I could throw up my hammock. It was very dark by now, but the sky was incredibly clear. I was absolutely awe-struck when I emerged out of the tree-line into an open expanse of sparkly black velvet.
Unfortunately, as beautiful as it was up there, I wasn’t going to be able to hang a hammock at the summit. I turned around and marched back down the rocky path until I crossed the tree line. There were seriously NO good hammock spots. At this altitude the trees all grow very close together and don’t get very big. I managed to spot a small opening in the trees and bushwhacked a few feet into the forest. My hammock fit, though barely, so I set up and suited up for a chilly night.
Until now I had been focused on the job at hand: hike to camp, find a spot, set up. Once the work was done I began considering what I was about to do. In over 1500 miles of backpacking, I never once slept in the woods by myself. Sure, I’d gone on solo trips. However I always ended up at an established site where there would inevitably be another person. Tonight, I was going to be completely alone. I was unnerved at this realization. The panic lasted a few moments until my logical self regained control and I got into my hammock. Remarkably, I was asleep in no time. This was a turning point for me. I realized that I am an incredibly capable woman. I’m capable of taking good care of myself, of living in the woods, of facing the dark alone.
When the Rollercoaster Shifts Again
The next morning started out pleasant. I was able to call my mom and chat with her while I was packing up camp. She was grateful to learn I’d survived the night. I set out for Franconia Ridge, having a goal of around 8 miles that day to get to another stealth site I knew about. I emerged from tree line a few miles later into a glorious, clear, sun-kissed morning. You couldn’t have asked for a more perfect day to hike Franconia Ridge. Apparently everyone else in three states knew it because there had to have been 50 people on top of Little Haystack. It is here that everything changed.
I sat down on a rock, alone in a sea of people, and pulled an apple from my pack. As I began to eat, I was suddenly overcome with extreme sadness. Slow, uncontrollable tears rolled down my cheeks. A ridgerunner, approached to ask about my hike. I was wearing sunglasses, so I don’t know if he could tell if I was crying or not. He questioned me about my thru-hike attempt. I broke down and told him how I wasn’t having fun and how I hated being alone all the time. As I cried, I explained that I was in so much pain I had to stop walking every mile or so and rest my feet. Sadness began to turn to anger at being in one of the most beautiful places I’d ever seen and not being able to enjoy it because my mind was in such an ugly place.
He told me to go home. I listened. Pete wasn’t trying to be discouraging, exactly the opposite. The Whites are a magical place, and he advised me to come back when I could experience that magic to its fullest. He said the Whites were too special not to enjoy. And he was right. I stood up and finished hiking Franconia Ridge in tears. At the top of Mt. Lafayette, I made the decision to end my thru-hike attempt. Rather than continuing north following the white blazes, I turned west and headed toward a Hut, and beyond that to a road that would take me back to Lincoln. This was my first step toward going home.
The Long Road Home
When I left the trail last year, I was in Virginia. This wasn’t so far from Western North Carolina that it posed much of a problem to get back home. This time, however, I was in New Hampshire: an incredibly long way from home. I spent another night at Chet’s, during which time I began making arrangements. I was able to connect with another lady hiker who lived in Florida and was in Connecticut visiting family. She was leaving the following evening to drive back to Florida and was willing to drive me ALL THE WAY to North Carolina if I could get to where she was in CT. Ok. I can do this.
Then I found out there was a bus stop in Lincoln where I could get a bus ticket to Boston. Boston was only about 40 minutes from the small town she was in near the coast. I was able to get a ticket to Boston for $40 for the next morning. Step 1 complete
I posted on Facebook asking if I had any friends near Boston who would be willing to scoop me up and drive me to CT. A friend shared the post, and a friend of hers popped on and said he’d be happy to help. I contacted him and arranged for him to pick me up at the bus stop in Boston the following afternoon. Step 2 complete.
I contacted the sweet lady from Florida and told her it had all been arranged. She agreed to postpone leaving until the evening when I would arrive. Step 3 complete.
Now I had a ride all the way to North Carolina, one day after leaving the trail. Ladies and Gentlemen, this is why this trail is so magical. Step 4 was lining up things back home. I had to get my friend Shannon, who had kept my truck safe for me, to leave the truck in a spot where I could pick it up. I had to arrange for a place to spend a couple of nights until I could line up more permanent housing (thanks Jenn and Eric!), Most importantly, I had to go get my dog. All off these things fell into place during the hours that I spent on the bus to Boston.
The drive back to North Carolina was a long one. We drove clear through the night, stopping only to grab a catnap at a rest stop in Virginia around 3am. To be clear, VA is an incredibly long state. It’s ridiculously long to drive through and unfathomable to hike through. But we made it. Thirty-six hours after I walked off of Mount Lafayette in NH, I was standing back in Franklin, NC. The town that started it all.
Post-Trail Depression Hits Hard
Post hike 2015, I began working as a wilderness therapy instructor. (Click here to read more about that gig) This meant still spending the vast majority of my days and nights in the woods. I didn’t have that luxury this year.
I quickly got a job waitressing, and lined up a gig working some dog sporting events, which was great. But the mundanity of going to work, going home, going to bed, and repeating it the next day wears on you (as you know if you’re reading this blog dreaming of taking a long hike of your own). Then the wildfires started. Overnight, 13 different wildfires were burning in my WNC mountains. This number quickly grew to over 20. They’ve been burning for months. My mountains being on fire certainly didn’t help my mood, and not being able to hike at all because of smoke and trail closures made it all the worse.
Within a week of being home I became very sick. I was battling bronchitis which eventually turned into a mild case of pneumonia. Try dealing with that after spending 3 months feeling healthier than you’ve ever been. To top that off, I wasn’t sleeping. I could fall asleep but not STAY asleep at night. I’d wake up nearly every hour for no reason at all. I had to drag myself out of bed in the mornings, groggy and almost feeling hungover. All of these things combined kept me from being able to keep my activity and exercise up. I couldn’t day hike, and that made everything worse.
Everyone Needs to Just Take A Hike
I quickly became increasingly frustrated with the people around me. I jumped off trail into the middle of one of the most tense political environments our country has seen in decades. The election season was in full force and I was surrounded by people in North Carolina who had completely different perspectives on basically everything than I did. Of course, that’s if you can even get people to talk about anything of ACTUAL significance. The single thing I miss most about the trail is the immediate, intense connections you make with other hikers that enables you to enter deep, meaningful conversation with complete strangers. I miss conversation so much. Loneliness encroaches even when I’m surrounded by people. Everyone should take a long hike so they can understand the significance of this phenomena.
Three months into post-trail life, I feel restless and absent, I feel ill-adjusted to society, I’m still sick, and I have no idea how to fix these things. I’ve accepted that I probably won’t ever complete a thru-hike, but am confident I will complete the trail. I’ve avoided real-world commitments, such as an apartment lease, finding a stable job, or even developing relationships with the people around me, all because I don’t want to have anything tying me here if I decide to run. I’ll figure it out, that I know, but damn if it hasn’t been a hard pill to swallow coming home changed, defeated, injured, and more of an outcast in society than ever.
Hike Highlights from the Whites:
- Total AT Miles Hiked: 1154.9 total unique Appalachian Trail miles. This includes about 300 repeated miles, and 609 miles hiked total this trip
- Mileage Breakdown: (this is more for me and my records than for you guys) 469 miles from Springer Mountain to Damascus VA (2015) + 468.4 miles from Marion, VA to Bear’s Den Hostel in VA (2015, 2016) + 111.8 miles from Salisbury CT to Bennington, VT (2016) + 35.1 miles from Stratton/Arlington Rd to Danby, VT (2016) + 36 miles from Stoneybrook Rd, VT to Hanover, NH (2016) + 34.6 miles from the beginning of the Whites to the top of Mount Lafayette
- What state I’m in: I ended my hike at New Hampshire and am currently residing in Franklin, NC
- Highlights: Hiking Moosilauke with Balto, spending several days and nights at Chet’s place in Lincoln, reuiniting with some lost trail family in Lincoln, spending my first ever night alone in the woods on top of Mt. Liberty, getting to see Franconia Ridge
- Trials I’m facing: re-adjusting to post trail life, balancing my urge to adventure with my need to save money, facing loneliness, fighting consumerism (actually doing pretty good on this one)
This is probably my last post as a blogger for a while! I’m going to try to focus on my writing some and contribute some articles in that way. Stay tuned for future adventures, though. I’ve got some big things in store for 2017 if the stars align.
If you like what you’ve read here on thetrek.co, you can find more posts by me on broader topics than just the Appalachian Trail at my personal blog, Adventure Like A Girl. Head on over and give me a follow!
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