There Are Angels Among Us and The First 100 Miles
“You’ll meet more angels on a winding path than on a straight one” – Terri Guillemets
There are trail angels among us, and many of them aren’t aware…
Trail angels like my buddy Federico, who I haven’t seen in 10 years, who hit me up as I approached Springer Mountain and asked if I needed anything. I told him I was doing great but did say jokingly, “I could use some toilet paper.”
I thought portawipes would fit my bathroom needs and then they didn’t. Guess who was there with a roll of TP and a huge smile on his face? Federico. Yes, he is available ladies.
Or Angels like Brenda, the manager at Kennedy Creek Airstrip. After shuttling us to her resort, she offered me the use of her car because I thought I left my GoPro at Woody Gap. Are you serious lady? You just met me! I haven’t given you a dime, and you are lending me your car? I have heard of southern hospitality, but that takes the cake! Yes, I did take her car back to Woody Gap only to not find my GoPro. (Turns out my GoPro decided to hide under my backpack and didn’t want to be found. Whoops!)
How about the middle aged couple who stopped me and other thru-hikers to give us trail magic and asked us to pray with them? Together we bowed our heads and asked for protection and safety while we attempted our thru-hikes. As soon as we were done praying together, the couple was gone. Quite angel-like. I was left feeling blessed to have met them.
Who can forget about Fresh Ground the AT legend? If you have spent anytime reading about the trail and trail magic, you already know who he is. He has been feeding thru-hikers and AT volunteers for years and is beloved. Brandee and I kept narrowly missing him our first 10 days on trail until our stay at Hostel Around The Bend. On the morning we were headed out, he stopped by and fed everyone staying there. I encourage you to follow his exploits on Instagram. He is the definition of a trail angel.
Or Zachary, a 2022 thru-hiker, who was just doing a quick day hike near Woody Gap. He stopped as he approached, chatted us up and gave us words of encouragement. He reminded us that hiking the trail isn’t just about hiking, it is about the experiences and people you meet along the way. He then ran to his car and gave Brandee and I a few snacks to take with us. Little did he know that his quick conversation and nourishment would give me extra fuel to get through my day.
Having only been on the trail for two and a half weeks, I have only seen a sliver of what the trail has to offer. These people, and numerous others, have helped to give me the strength to get through rainy days, tough ups and downs and sleepless nights. As I said before, I am sure they aren’t aware of the good they are doing for me and everyone else on the trail. That makes their magic that much sweeter.
The highlights and lowlights of the first 100 miles
I still haven’t decided on how often I will be updating. I originally thought I would do every 200 miles, but here I am writing after the first 100. Mostly because I have so much that I have experienced and I want to share. I think I will update every 200 from now on, but we shall see.
So far, here are my favorite moments, good and bad, in no particular order:
1 – Meeting our tramily! In life, you never know when you meet someone if they will be in your life for just a fleeting moment or if they will stand the test of time. It is no different on the trail. On our first day on trail, we met “Spear.” Great guy, from Michigan, and a very experienced hiker. We have played a game of leapfrog with him during our our first 100 miles, and beyond. His wisdom has been invaluable. On our second day on the trail, Brandee, Beo and I met Lane, Eddie and Renee (Couch To Trail) at Hawk Mountain Shelter. We have hiked with them ever since. I can’t forget about our current traveling partner, “Turtle” from Texas. His enthusiasm and southern charm is contagious and he has fit right in. Sure, there have been nights we have been apart, but not many. We have planned days on and off the trail together and eating nearly every meal with them. As we continue to get stronger and more used to trail life, our bond has strengthened. We all have different hiking tempos and future plans along the trail, but we will let the trail decide what happens in the meantime. This is our tramily and I am forever grateful for having met them and gotten to know them.
2- Beo is a bad ass dog. I am a little partial to him, of course, but he has been amazing. One of the concerns Brandee and I had was how Beo would acclimate to trail life. No matter how much you prepare or get approval from your vet, you still worry. As amazing as we think Beo is, not everyone will agree. I am proud to report he has been great on the trail and we haven’t heard any negative feedback. We aren’t sure if it is the cattle dog in him, but as soon as he puts on his little pack, he flips into work mode. He typically hikes with me, but will constantly check on Brandee who is never too far behind. He hasn’t been perfect. Beo has ripped a hole in our tent, and popped Brandee’s Nemo Tensor, but those growing pains are to be expected. We have given him 2 whole days to do nothing but rest and his paws look great (Mushers Wax every day) and his temperament has remained positive. He is still a blue heeler, so some stubbornness is to be expected. Unfortunately dogs aren’t allowed to hike in the Smoky Mountains, which means we will be dropping him off in about 60 miles at Fontana Dam. We will then pick him after we are done with the Smokies at Standing Bear Hostel. I will be sure to update how he is doing after that, as well.
3 – Blood Mountain Sunset and Sunrise. I have found that no matter how much you plan on the trail, be prepared for those plans to not work out. On day 7 of hiking (Day 5 on the AT) our tramily made plans to stay at Wood’s Hole Shelter. Brandee, Lane and I were hiking ahead of Couch To Trail after we made plans to camp at Woods Hole. The three of us arrived at the shelter very early and decided to call it day. The blue blazed side trail to Woods Hole is a longer than expected .4 mile side trail off of the AT. When Couch To Trail got to the shelter trailhead, they decided to hike up to Blood Mountain. They didn’t have a way to tell us unless they decided to hike the extra mile, so they hiked on, sending a text to Lane.
Lane got the text a little later, and we decided to stay since we had started a fire and set up camp. Until…
A while later, as the sun was going down, we kept going back and forth on whether we should join them at Blood Mountain. We hadn’t hiked much that day, but we were tired. Brandee really wanted to stay, and Lane wanted to try and go. I was the tiebreaker, so I hesitantly said we should stay. That is until Brandee broke the silence and said, “If you really want to go, we can go…”
I jumped up and said, “Let’s Go!!” We quickly broke camp and asked the one section hiker who just arrived if he wanted to keep the fire. He said he did and we left. We hiked as fast as we could to Blood Mountain.
The decision was a good one. We watched a picture perfect sunset and I got up to film the sunrise. The extra miles were totally worth it.
Oh yeah, and I now have a trail name. Introducing me, C.J. “Let’s Go” Roberts. Brandee said it fits me perfectly. I have to agree. (Brandee, who is from Methuen, MA, has a new trail name too. It is “Bean.” As in Boston Baked Bean.)
4- Hostel Around The Bend to the rescue. Brandee, Beo and I were hiking towards Dick’s Creek Gap. Beo and I were a little ahead of Brandee and were the first to arrive at the Gap.
As we waited, Brandee emerged from the Rhododendrons bruised and woozy. I asked her what happened, and she said she had lost her balance and fallen going down some rocks. She had had not hit her head, but her elbow was bloody. She had also bent one of her poles so badly, that it was unusable. This was not good. I checked to make sure she was ok, and we met our shuttle driver, Jason from Hiking Not Homeless Shuttle.
He took us to Hostel Around The Bend to pick up the rest of our food resupply. We had actually picked up our resupply when we were at the hostel two days prior, but knew we would be hiking by the hostel again, so left half of the resupply to save weight.
Good decision on our part.
Hostel Around The Bend was perfect. When we arrived to pick up the rest of the resupply, Gordon, the owner , was super helpful. After telling us he would have happily picked us up instead of using Jason, he pointed us to the on premise outfitters that has nearly every piece of gear that you need for the trail. Wow. He was better supplied than some other outfitters we have visited. No fluff, just gear. Brandee was able to get some new trekking poles for a good price within our budget. Apparently many people don’t know they have an outfitters. I am proud to report that they do and couldn’t have had better timing.
On our previous visit, they lent us some tent sealer so we could fix our leaky tent. They also helped “Couch To Trail” get a new sleeping quilt.
I should also mention the place is super clean and Lisa, Gordon’s wife, and the rest of their hostel family (Grazer, Lennon and Bear. Sorry if I am forgetting anyone!) were super hospitable and knowledgeable. Visiting them and learning so much from Gordon was a huge highlight of our first 100 days. We will be back.
5 – Getting to North Carolina was a tremendous milestone. The most mileage I had ever hiked before was the 40 miles I had hiked during last summer’s AT shakedown hike in the Shenandoah mountains. Hiking 78 miles to complete our first state on the AT was an accomplishment I will never forget.
Make no mistake about it, this trail is very hard. Not just the hiking, but everything else that goes with it too. The weather has to be accounted for. Injuries have to be tended to and mended. We are hiking as a group, which means we are hiking each other’s hikes, not just our own. Getting to NC proves to me that we are capable of hiking a ton of miles if we take care of ourselves and celebrate our wins.
Which brings me to…
6 – My weight loss. I knew my body would shrink on the trail. I just didn’t think it would change so quickly. My clothes are baggier and I am tightening my belt on my pants a little bit more. Within 2 weeks I have lost 10 pounds! I haven’t been down to 175 pounds in years and I feel great. I don’t really want to lose much more weight, but I know I will.
In the meantime, I am currently eating all of the time. Carrying the extra weight of more food is no fun, but I have quickly learned this: You get what out you put into your body. On days I get enough sleep, eat plenty of food and drink enough water (with electrolytes), I hike better, faster and with a clearer head. On days I don’t treat my temple well, I cramp and my mileage suffers. Lessons from the trail.
7– Learning that if I don’t use it, I need to send it home. Extra ounces are not necessary. As the miles add up, every step is going to be felt more and more in my tendons, joints and in my bones. Ounces equal pain, as they say.
Brandee has sent back her rain pants. I sent back extra electronics that I wasn’t using. I have put a plethora of handwarmers I have packed and put into our resupply boxes, in nearly every hiker box in Georgia. I have my eyes on my puffy jacket and microspikes next. I haven’t used them, and I am not sure I will. (Although when I am able to do laundry, I have used my puffy as a jacket in town.)
Biggest Lesson Learned
Being able to complete the Appalachian Trail takes a tremendous amount of hard work and luck. The best you can do is to prepare yourself to the best of your availability and roll with the punches as they came.
The day before we were hiking to Winding Stair Gap was a hard one. The weather was bad, Brandee and I had a disagreement and Beo was being difficult. I slipped a couple of times on trail and I was down to one energy bar. I went to bed wet, upset and ready for a break from trail life.
The next morning the weather cleared up and was nearly perfect as we hiked northward. Our tramily gave us some of their food to fill us up as we planned to stop and resupply. Then, it was like the heavens parted. As we hiked into Rock Gap, we ran into Fresh Ground, again. He, along with some trail buddies of his, were there feeding the early morning hikers. What a turnaround. Trail magic from an angel.
It is said that the trail will provide. You hear it when you read blog posts and watch videos about the AT. You don’t truly see it and know it until you get on trail. I now see it. I now believe it. The trail WILL provide.
Never quit on a bad day. Let the trail do what it does best.
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