The Best Laid Plans
If there is one thing the trail is teaching me, it is flexibility. Before we left home, we carefully planned our first four days: reasonable mileages, where we would camp each night, how much food we would need for each meal. Now normally I’m not really a planner. Rigid schedules usually bug the crap out of my little type B personality. But something about walking into the woods with just enough supplies to reach our next destination was intimidating.
Pride and Patience
The night before our start date I starting feeling bad, but chalked it up to nerves. However, in the morning, I woke up and could barely move. I had a fever of 101 and ached all over. I insisted that I still needed to try and start that day. I wanted to prove I wasn’t weak, or that I had the strength push through adversity. If I couldn’t do it now, how was I going to cope with 2000 miles? I attempted to walk down to the lobby and it was all I could do to get back to the room, let alone try and carry my pack. So, I got back in bed and my mom booked the hotel for another night.
The next day, I was feeling weak but not nearly as sick so we decided to summit Springer Mountain and then take it easy with few miles to the first shelter at Stover Creek. The weather was beautiful and it was exciting meeting everyone. Almost everyone at the shelter was planning on hiking the 12 miles to Gooch Mountain shelter the next day and then 16 to Neels Gap the following day. I thought that sounded pretty reasonable and we would be caught up from the day we missed!
We woke up the next morning thinking we would walk an easy 12 miles to the shelter. However, I was still so congested, walking up hill felt like I had an elephant on my chest. And over the past couple of days I had barely eaten more than some chicken broth so I felt like I was running with my tank on empty. I collapsed into the tent that night after eight excruciatingly slow miles and crawled into my sleeping bag without eating dinner. It was so demoralizing watching everyone pass us. At this rate, I would be in Maine next year. As I rested though, I started to appreciate how pretty our campsite was. Because there are no leaves on the trees yet, we had a nice view of the sunset. We were in a gap with a forest road and a few minutes later someone pulled up and wanted to know if we were thru hiking. We affirmed that we were, and he said he was doing trail magic and offered us some hot mint tea. Our first trail magic! An hour ago, I didn’t know how I was going to keep going, and after some rest and kindness from a stranger I was excited about what tomorrow had in store. I may not be as fast as a thought, but we are going to do this.
The Trail Provides
The next day we did about 8 miles again. Still slow, but I didn’t feel like dying at the end, so maybe I was getting stronger. My appetite was back, so that helped as well. Most people stayed at Gooch Mountain shelter that night because we heard it was supposed to rain, but we wanted to get a jumpstart to Woody Gap in the morning so we went a couple more miles and tented.
In the morning it was misty but not pouring. I actually loved it. Everyone was bundled in their rain gear, but the feel of the cool wind and rain on my body after days of hiking in the hot sun (no leaves = no shade!) was like heaven to me. After a few miles we reached Woody Gap. It was the first road we came to on the trail, and here we had the option to go stay at the hostel a couple miles down the road.
It seemed like cheating to take a break this early, but a chance to rest and maybe let my lingering cough heal (as well as my new blisters) seemed too good to pass up. The same gentleman who gave us hot tea a few nights before was there with a whole group passing out red lentil soup and the warm food and fellowship was overwhelming.
Now, the previous afternoon I had spent about an hour (literally) singing the praises of Coke and how it was the first thing I intended to buy when I got to town. The first hiker box we walked up to had 2 20 oz Coke bottles sitting on top and I danced for joy. Thank you kind stranger who carried those for 20 miles!
We spent the rest of the day at the crowded hostel relaxing, playing games, and eating the best pizza I have ever had.
We were talking to a thru-hiker who we had hiked with all morning. Everyone was trying to decide what to do about the 5 mile required bear canister stretch. It would either involve two short days to Neels Gap or an 11 mile day. I told him that since we were probably not going to stay at the hostel we would do a short day the next day in order to go past Neels without having to stay. He told us that if we changed our minds, he had an extra room in the cabin he already reserved and would have burgers and hot dogs waiting there. Woah! Two nights of showers and hot food and the prospect of a real bed (the hostel had wood bunks) made the 11 miles not seem so long.
The next morning we hitched back to the trail and hiked as hard as we could. We reached our intended campsite by 11 and that sealed it. It was way too early to stop. We knew that our last climb of the day was Blood Mountain and we had been hearing how tough it was for weeks so we only took a few short breaks all day. We reached the summit earlier than expected and laughed at the fear mongering. It was nothing compared to some of our favorite climbs back home and the views were the best so far on the trail. When we started the decent we realized what everyone was taking about. I was tired already from the longer than normal day and we still had a few miles to go. The back side of Blood was steep rock which was still slick from the previous day’s rain. By this time my feet ached so bad I didn’t know how I was going to keep going and every step on the sharp rocks was like stepping on glass. I tuned out my screaming feet and kept moving forward. Eventually I heard the faint sound of cars passing and saw a little grey building peaking through the trees. We had made it to the first major landmark on the trail.
We are now fed and rested. We are going to Nero today after we resupply and just tent a couple of miles from here with no plans after that but to keep walking North.
See you up the trail!
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