Tell the Ones That Need to Know: We are Headed North
It’s been a good long while since I’ve last blogged. That was only to give you a lovely little anecdote on a mouse in my tent. In case you were wondering, I still haven’t gotten over that. Don’t suppose I ever will.
Pink Blazing – Hot Springs and Erwin
So there are a lot of different terms out on the trail. White blazing is the simple concept of following the
In Hot Springs with Josh. Of course I would pink-blaze for him!
white blazes. Aqua blazing is when people choose to canoe/kayak a portion of the mileage. Yellow blazing is when you hitch a ride to a town and skip a portion. And pink blazing? Well, pink blazing is when you speed up or slow down for someone you find lovely and nice and swell. I am now guilty of doing this very thing (and kind of forcing BB to do the same by association…sorry).
After 34 long hard days of not seeing a young Joshua Taylor, I was finally able to meet up with him in the town of Hot Springs. However, with Josh’s schedule, we could only meet him on a certain day. So BB and I got dropped off by the fabulous Muriel on a Sunday and had five days to do less than 34 miles until Thursday when we would see Josh. Looking at this now, that is utterly ridiculous. We could have killed that in 2.5 days. But when you’re in love….(or in BB’s case, when you are sharing a tent with a goon in love).
So our 5 days passed easily. We enjoyed great weather and the clear and obvious improvement in our hiking. We recognized that we were beginning to move faster on the uphills and gaining just a better pace in general.
Hot Springs was easily my favorite town. I loved how the trail ran right on through and how everything was so close and easy to get to. We washed our clothes and then met Josh at our “cabin” of sorts. It was like a home with two bedrooms, a kitchen, two sitting rooms and two bathrooms. We got it for a great price because it was all the inn had left. But we loved the seclusion and comfort of what felt like a little home.
BB and I with Sherlock at the Hikers Ridge Ministries. Such an awesome guy!
We also hit the Hiker’s Ridge Ministries in town – a small little facility where the famous Queen Diva and Sherlock continually offer hikers coffee, wifi, a comfy environment, and cookies! Sadly, Queen Diva left the day before we came to town, but Sherlock was excellent company. He’s a deep thinker of all subjects, and it was awesome to share thoughts on great literature and religious matters. Together, Hot Springs gets a solid A+. We loved it so much, that when we prepared to leave the next day, we changed our minds and took a zero day. Hot Springs was just too lovely.
We hit the trail from Hot Springs on a Saturday morning and planned to meet Josh in Erwin on Thursday. Same amount of days as before, but we now planned on doing 68 miles. Obviously this meant that we would be putting in some longer days than when we were headed into Hot Springs. And these days were indeed long. BB and I both feel that this little chunk of trail was particularly demanding. It included a frustrating ridge that was super rocky and strenuous as well as many hills. I personally still find the uphills better than the downhills, but that doesn’t mean I want to do them all the time either.
Our time traveling to Erwin also had some really awesome moments. We met some really neat people and enjoyed some great conversation. There was Count and Lavendar, a couple my parents age that had spend the past 15-something years working in England and were now back in the states hiking the AT. We also met four members of the “Dirty Dozen,” a group of men that belong to Narrowgate Ministries. We really clicked with them during our lunch break and became instant BFFs (I know this because we gave them each one of our Gatorade packets…that’s friendship folks). We also spent a night at the Bald Mountain Shelter laughing at our own cleverness as we wrote a story in the shelter log. We played the game where one person writes a sentence, passes it to the next, and so on. The trick is that you can only read the sentence immediately before your own, so the story gets wild real quick.
Part of the group at the Bald Mountain Shelter was the Hambrick family. Simple Man and Chocolate
Tigger and Mud Magnet around the fire. We haven’t seen the family since this shelter because they hike so much more than us.
are the parents, and they are thru-hiking with Dash (17), Lollipop (15), Turbo (13), Tigger (11), and Mud Magnet (9) – 5 of their 10 kids. Let’s all just appreciate this family for a moment because they are doing something incredibly difficult with FIVE other mouths to feed and look out for. And one of them is 9 years old. But they were awesome and super fun to be around.
We got to Erwin as scheduled, but we were the only ones. I won’t berate and get onto Josh via the Internet (no need, because I already did that in person), but let’s just say that BB and I waited for like, 2-3 hours on a certain Mr. Taylor to give us a ride to the hotel. After getting tired of waiting, we ended up walking there ourselves. It’s one of those things where it’s like, yes we are hiking 2,189.2 miles, but I don’t really want to walk a smidgen more than that. But I’ve already
Views of the Nolichucky River from Erwin, TN.
forgiven Josh so it’s like whatever….I think. I think I may always be a little bitter about this.
Erwin was pretty chill, we stayed in our room at the inn for most of the day watching Parks and Recreation, catching up on our phone calls and eating a pint of Ben and Jerry’s. But the next morning came and even though it looked ugly out, we knew we couldn’t repeat another zero like in Hot Springs. But we stayed in Erwin for lunch and didn’t hit the trail until around 1:30, a later start than we have ever had. So off we went, hiking a staggering 4 miles (jokingly…) out of town.
Onto Roan Mountain
We continued our days on the trail with more excellent weather. We also encountered some trail magic – the first we have seen since the Smokies! These days passed by quickly as we upped our mileage and
Our view of Hump Mountain from Little Hump Mountain. A very cool day for sure.
saw fabulous sights. We enjoyed the dense spruce forest coming down from Unaka Mountain and Roan Mountain. Then we came across the famous Overmountain Shelter, an old barn converted into a huge shelter with a great view of the Yellow Mountain Gap. We didn’t stay there, but we took several pictures and explored for a while. After leaving the shelter we took flight and ventured up Little Hump Mountain only to be followed by Hump Mountain. While these mountains weren’t outrageous in elevation, they were still a pretty good challenge for us as we trucked onward. The views however, were fabulous. This was one of my favorite days because the views and terrain of these mountains were quite unlike a lot of things we have seen. We camped that night on the NC/TN border, excited to have finally completed the NC section.
The Overmountain Shelter: easily the coolest we have seen so far.
The next day required BB and I to do something we had never done before: hitchhike. But we needed to get to Roan Mountain, TN for a resupply and a milkshake from Bob’s Dairyland. Since the trail didn’t go through the town and we didn’t have a shuttle, we had to pull out the ol’ hitching thumb. It took us no time at all for the fabulous Mark of Roan Mountain to pick us up. A landscaper about our dad’s age, Mark was on his way to a weed-eating job, but was more than happy to take us to town, get us to the Post Office to send our letters, and then to the grocery store. He even gave us his card and told us to send him a card when we finished the trail! So nice! So we resupplied, stuffed our faces at Bob’s Dairyland (truly a magical place), and sat for an hour to digest all the food we devoured. Just as we decided that it was time to get back on the trail, we got up to hitch again, and who pulls up before we even hold out our thumb, but Mark! He was dropping a hiker couple off at Bob’s. He took us back to the trail and we thanked him once more for being so wonderful. First hitch was a success.
Busting it to Boone
We got back on the trail and began to bust it. Our plan was to get to the road to Shady Valley by Friday at 6:00 so BB’s lovely friend, Paige could pick us up. We would take a zero at her home in Boone with her husband Clint. These would be the last of our hospitable friends for a while. We only know a few people up North, most of our buddies are in the South (my shameless plug for any Northern friends to offer us their homes).
The four days to the Shady Valley area would be some of the most challenging for me for many reasons. One reason would be the physical demands. I can already say that the AT is the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. Easily. But the past week or so were even more challenging for me because we began to put in longer days. At the beginning when we did around 8-10 mile days, we would start at 9:00 and end around 3:30-4:00. At this point our mileage is anywhere from 13-16 and our hours are 8:30-5:30. To me, the more intense hills and mountains at the beginning for shorter bouts of time are much less exhausting than the longer days, even if the terrain has lightened up a bit. Along with that,
Gorgeous views that I get to see so often.
this week would also be the longest I had ever gone in my life without showering. By the time we got to Paige and Clint’s home, it was 8.5 days since our last shower. That wears on my morale for sure. I also had the added effect of leaving Josh once more. Since he dropped me off at Springer, I had been preoccupied with my adventures. Now I had something that I realized I did miss. Being with him made me realize just how much I did miss it too. And lastly, it was during these final four days on our way to Boone that I discovered that I had contracted a UTI. Never had one before and I am now an expert on dying to pee and then being unable to. All around, those four days were a major challenge and I was so happy to see Paige and Clint. They graciously welcomed us to their home and spoiled us. We went to some awesome places to eat, got a lovely car tour of the town, and relaxed in their home. I also got a chance to get an antibiotic for my UTI (shout-out to Dr. Farmer, you’re the best)! Boone is a really cool place and I’m glad I got to see it along the way! Our zero day there was absolutely splendid.
We’re Hiking to Virginia
BB and I had to force ourselves back onto the trail after such a lovely stay in Boone. Even though we got a late start on Sunday, we made decent mileage and stealth-camped less than 10 miles away from Damascus, the next trail town we would hit. It was our last night in Tennessee for a long while and the
Always good to see when you are moving onto another state.
prospect of the next morning were exciting to us.
We awoke and hiked the miles into Virginia easily. Damascus is a pretty neat town. A lot of hikers hang out here, especially at this time of year. This weekend the huge festival Trail Days will take place here. This event draws present and past hikers from far and near. There are vendors, booths, music, and all kinds of awesome gatherings. It’s like the AT Christmas for most. After getting into town, BB and I ate lunch at a cafe while watching The Family Feud from afar (a silly part of my civilized life that I actually miss: Steve Harvey being sassy), and then resupplied at the Dollar General. With no other chores to be done, we laid in the park under a tree and relaxed. Our plan was to leave after the hotter part of the day and hike four miles out of Damascus to a campsite. However, as we lounged, our trail friend Ranger showed up! We’ve been leap-frogging with Ranger for a while. He’s a super awesome and friendly hiker from Kansas that we have really enjoyed getting to know. After talking to him for a little bit, he convinced us to stick around for dinner as he graciously offered to pay (what a stand-up guy…). Unable to turn down a free dinner with an awesome companion like Ranger, we headed to Bobo’s in town. Ranger reminds me of Kanati in a lot of ways so naturally I trust and like him a lot. He’s done a lot of hiking all over and has wanted to give the AT a
This is ranger at Bobo’s. He’s a pretty swell guy.
shot since he retired. Sadly, he won’t be able to thru-hike this year, but it’s for good reasons: his kids are getting married and he’s going to get another grandchild!
As our dinner came to a close, the weather became rainy and ugly. On top of that, my antibiotic wasn’t really working all too well and I was still in a lot of pain from my UTI. So BB and I decided to stick around for the night and see if I didn’t feel better in the morning. If I did, we would hike on. If not, I’d get checked out at the medical center here. So we went over to the hostel that Ranger was staying at and get a place to stay. Which is really just a nice way of saying we paid this guy Woodchuck 10 bucks to set up our tent in his yard along with around 15 other hikers.
And that’s where I leave you: laying in my tent and listening to hikers around me. Hopefully I’ll be in better spirits tomorrow and BB and I will be on our way. We don’t want to take too much time off since we will be taking about 5 days off at the beginning of June (my baby sister is graduating and I am going home to see it). So here’s to making it to Virginia, miles of trail ahead of me, excellent friends like Ranger, and clean bladders.
Hiker Smells: As we left Erwin, I made sure to spritz a good deal of Josh’s cologne on my clothes. It makes me think of Josh and it makes me not stink as much, which is a win-win in my book. Even with the help of a shower and Josh’s cologne, he still said I smelled like B.O. But as we were getting back on the trail, a fellow hiker Downhill passed us and said, “You guys smell so good!” So there you go…just a different perspective.
Truffles: As I hiked down Unaka Mountain, I turned a corner and saw an unusual sight: an older
Truffles was a pretty swell pig.
woman feeding a pig. She was a section-hiker named Kinder (formerly a kindergarten teacher) who had found this pig. Other hikers had named it Truffles and we were pretty sure that it wasn’t a wild pig. So I fed it almonds, adored it for a bit because it was cute, and hiked on. 3 miles later at the shelter, BB and I had been in our tents and who should show up but old Truffles? She had made her way to the shelter. The next morning she was gone, but a mile into our hike and she was waiting for us at a gap, just hanging out like she owned the place. She’ll probably be at Katahdin when we get there, just waiting for us.
I’m Getting Salty: It’s not hard to tell that summer is rolling in. How do I know? I am probably the most sweaty girl you will ever meet. I ran cross country in college and after a practice a petite blonde teammate (who in all honesty probably weighed what I did in the 5th grade) asked me if I had jumped in a lake. I hadn’t, just ran the same amount of miles as she had. As we hike on, I am sweating buckets. I end my day with flakes of salt on my arms, face and clothes. It’s truly disgusting.
My Precious Boots: As you know, I have an obsession with my Asolo boots. If these boots were a
My new Oboz. They’re alright I guess…
man, I would have married them a long time ago. I. Love. These. Boots. Well, I am more than saddened to say that the weather is getting warmer and full-grain leather, Gore-Tex, ultra-supportive boots make my feet sweaty. Pulling my feet out at the end of the day would reveal them to be raw and stinky as can be. While in Boone, I finally caved and bought some lightweight shoes. I am now hiking in a pair of Oboz that, combined with my rainbow colored Darn Tough socks, make me feel like the nerdy kid in the 6th grade. But they feel great on my feet so I sadly shipped my boots back to Indiana. I’m not going to say how much that box weighed…
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Hey I'm Rachel, your average Indiana English teacher with an unusual approach to her post grad years: NOBO hiking the AT. I love reading, guacamole, exploring, and deep-cleaning my car. I hate grammar, know-it-alls, sedentary lifestyles, and coffee. I'm hiking with one of my dearest friends and looking forward to an amazing and worthwhile adventure.