Trail Update #1: The Ups and Down of the First 100 miles
13 days in, time for an update but I have no idea where to start! The journey so far has been a roller coaster in every way imaginable. The terrain has been up and down and up again, but the climbs haven’t been overwhelming. The ascent of the New Zealand trails make the trail seem easy right now. I’m grateful for that. My emotions and mental state go up and down as well, but I’m finding that it is more dependent on the weather and how much food I’ve eaten than anything else.
Of the 13 days I’ve been on the trail it has rained 7 of them. At this point the trail is either 6 inches of mud or 6 inches of ice cold water. Wet shoes and wool socks are a constant. There have been very few views to speak of, instead I hike through most and rain, with my eyes planted down to avoid falling off the trail.
After 106 miles, the trail and I are still getting acquainted. Some people love being out here, love the trail, love the people, love everything about it. The trail and I are not in love, yet. We are still eyeing each other up, trying to see what we are all about and made of. Some of the time we are happy and at peace with one another. Other times I’m gritting my teeth and fantasizing about quitting while the trail puts another cold stream of water through my shoes. I’m hoping we fall in love soon. I want to fully enjoy this experience, I want to embrace teach struggle as an opportunity to be a better me. I want to walk up on a rainy day, put onmy wet, stinky clothes and shoes and go off into the day happy to be there. I’m not there yet, but I’m going to keep trying.
A more detailed daily account follows with pictures!.
Miles: 8.1 (+1)
Destination: Hawks mountain shelter
Notes: pretty easy start today. Grateful to Corey for the ride and for hiking with me for a few hours. Couldn’t ask for a better friend in that one, thanks Corey!
So far I like the big old trees on the trail and running into trail magic today made me giggle. Its exciting to be apart of the tradition even if I didn’t need the food after only being on the trail for a few hours. There are about 40 people at Hawks mountain shelter tonight, lots of laughter and odd conversations. It’s Supposed to rain tomorrow and for the next few days. Will be a good test of resolve.
The start of the AT on Springer Moutain
Destination: Gooch mountain shelter
Notes: well there is no way to test ones resolve like a rainy day on the trail. I love my Cuban fiber tarp, once my hammock is away it gives me plenty of space to pack my bag under cover. Started raining as I walked out of camp today, and rained pretty hard in sections. Saw a log recently torn up by a bear, so they are out here. There are signs of spring everywhere, my favorite being the little purple, white, yellow and pink flowers popping up out of the brown earth. The climbs today weren’t bad but being soaked and my bag heavy from getting wet it was slow going. It’s hard to eat on the trail in the rain. I ended up crouching next to a tree, gnawing on some jerky. I must have been quite the site to the car that passed by. Made it to the shelter by 1:15, people are so fascinated by the hammock set up. Here’s hoping it holds up in the rain. Everything is muddy, everything. I seem to be muddier than everyone else, even my camp clothes are muddy. I’ve met some nice people today, a few people who seem to be up to my speed. Lots of different people, but everyone is nice and making an effort. It will be interesting to see who makes it where. Anyone, despite how it looks now, has a chance. Who am I to say?
Overall I’m happy to be here, but am not “in love” with the trail. I wonder if I’m no longer capable of being fully present. I have a lot to work out.
Destination: Lance creek
The rain continued this morning, the end of hammock and my underquilt got wet in the nasty storm last night. Not that I was cold, but everything got wet (but my sleeping bag). I didn’t realize how exposed my pack is under my tarp until I woke up to find it soaked through. I had no idea how heavy a wet pack is but let me tell you, my shoulders ached all day. I had to take my pack off at least three times
I rolled into the next camp around 1, after leaving Gooch gap around 8:15. I took my time today, stopped to talk with day hikers and even ran into some trail magic. Banana chips, an epic bar and some plastic bags, score! I had been thinking about banana chips the day before, grateful how that stuff works out.
I was the first person at the creek, followed closely by Russ, a nice man from LA. He works in set design and has given himself 6 months exactly to complete the trail. We moved our sleeping set ups to the farthest campsite and Ellen and her day IO, soon showed up and joined us. I like these two, they are kind, quiet, morning people. No bad words, gossip…mostly keep to themselves but don’t take themselves to seriously either. IO is fantastic, she took a while to warm up to me, but she is beautiful and thoughtful.
I like our camp site, it’s above a creek so I get to listen to the sound of running water all night. We strung up clothes line and dried out everything. The sun is amazing thing, when it finally came out about an hour before I hit lance creek it made me so happy. It added a spring to my step that I needed with the heavy pack.
My favorite thing to do at the end of the day is stick my tired, dirty feet into an ice cold creek. It’s better than icing and it feels great on my tired feet. My feet held up pretty well today. Only started to hurt near mile 5 and when I reminded myself to relax my feet it helped. I also too more break today which also helped.
Hammock lesson: smaller pines don’t make good hammock trees, they bend when you sit in the hammock, taking all the slake out of the lines.
Our camp, loved this place.
Destination: swaim gap
Gorgeous day today, it was in the 80’s which was almost too hot to for hiking. Climbed blood mountain, my first good view, and it made me happy.
Met Bryan and Teresa from Instagram. So good to meet them, though they didn’t catch up with me today.
Got my trail name today from jumangi, crusty beard and kaleidoscope: hot hands. In honor of me accidentally walking off with two peoples stuff at Neal’s gap. Every time I say it it makes me laugh. Named Ellen Jupiter since her dog IO circles around her all day.
Stopping at Neal’s gap was fun and a good opportunity to congregate and I owe weather man for charging my phone. Didn’t crave any food but was grateful for the cold non water drink.
Wanted to walk just one mile last Neal’s gap to a camping spot but couldn’t find it, so a group of us walked an additional 3 miles to the next camp spot with water. The last mile and a half where rough, my legs where tired and I could see how easy it would be to fall. Toe socks seems to cut off the circulation to my toes actually so I left them in Meeks gap along with the my other inserts, my journal and my piece of tyvex. Pack around 28# with food and water.
Really like tonights camp spot, we are up on a small risgeline (below tree line) so the views are good. I hope it doesn’t get too windy or I’m going to be swaying all night. Really like this crew too, seems like real thru hikers. Karaoke sang me billy Joel songs while we hiked the last bit today which made me so happy. The fun, the challenge, the comrade, I finally felt like I am on the trail.
The Frolicking Flower Friends, they gave me my trail name.
On top of Blood Mountain.
Destination: Low gap shelter
Notes: we had great weather last night, it wa so warm I was hot in my bag. I ended up with no pants on and my bag off of me. Fun morning at camp, I like this crew, the three hippie guys like to grunt out their negativity in the morning, followed by spurts of belly laughter. The laugh on jumangi is infectious, I wish I could keep up with them, they are great company. My hope is that I can meet back up with them at trail days.
We had trail magic today thanks to king tut and his ministry group. I don’t even like soda and I was drinking a coke and eating a bag of chips at 9 am. From that point on I hiked with joe from Minnesota, Ellen, Russ, sundance and jukebox. Jukebox likes to call to me in the woods by singing billy Joel at the top of this longs. It makes me smile so much my checks hurt.
Today felt pretty good, my feet aren’t hurting too much but my knee is feeling a bit tweaky on the down hills so I kept the miles short today. Some of my new friends moved on, which is hard to see happen, but I know I need to keep the miles lower so I can move through the smokies quickly.
Getting ready for a big storm tonight and tomorrow. I’m a bit nervous about lightening but we won’t be up to high tomorrow.
Gave Sam (bandit) his name after wearing all black from head to around camp. Bandit and hot hands, the dynamic duo reeking havoc on shelters from Georgia to maine!
Jupiter and I with our new trail magic hats!
Destination: Unico gap
Notes: barley slept last night. With strong winds aNd the anticipation of bad thunderstorms, I am anxious about staying dry. Got up at 5:30 am and started packing before the rain. Ellen and I started hiking at 7am to the sound of looming thunder. We booked it for the first hour, covering around 3 miles. Then the rain started and continued for 7 miles until we reached the top of blue mountain at 10:30ish. It wasn’t a hard part of the trail, but with all of the rain it was hard to enjoy it. I need to work on enjoying the trail when my shoes and sock are wet. At the shelter ontop of blue mountain the wind kicked up like crazy and it chilled me to the bone. There gusts where over 30 mph, kicking up dirt.
Made it down to unicogap by 11:30 to head into top of Georgia hostel. The shower was awesome, I think I used half a bottle of soap trying to clean my legs off. What’s even better is that the hostel gives us scrubs and does our laundry for us, amazing. Since laundry takes a while a group of us went to town to get Mexican in our scrubs. We looked a group of escaped mental patients, but it was great to eat some real food and enjoy everyone being happy being off the trail.
Sir packs a lot gave us his ten golden rule talk and than did a pack shake down on me and a few other people. I didn’t have anything else to get rid of ut upgraded to a few lighter things like a smaller headlamp and lighter stove.
Fancy going to town outfits
Destination: zero day/hiawasse
The right side of my knee where the IT band connects is feeling a bit tight/swollen, so I took a day off to do errands. Didn’t sleep very wel in the hostel, too much noise and I’m getting sick of all the people. Woke up with a sore throat and a stuffy nose, not sure if it’s allergies or an oncoming cold from being run down.
I’ve got a plan to do the next 6 days to get to NOC but I’m not sure I can do the miles if my knee is still sore. It would mean leaving some of my new friends behind but that is what happens on the trail. I’ve never had knee issues before, so I’m annoyed by it, but I can’t fight it.
We will see what happens with the 17 miles of slack packing tomorrow. It’s going to be a long day, but without the pack it should be okay. I need to make sure to take a long break. Learning to listen to my body is a learning curve for sure.
Charades at Top of Georgia hostel, great times
Destination: Dicks creek gap
Notes: I took the slack pack option from unico to dicks creek gap today. I’m glad I did, it was just up and down all day and the ups where more steep then we’ve had so far.
I hiked with joe for a few hours today and enjoyed having a real conversation about life, reasons for hiking and the like. I’ve found there has been a lack of that kind of conversation so far. There are a lot of young kids out here trying to find themselves, which I appreciate, but I’m past that deep questioning part of my life. or at least, it’s a different kind of deep searching. Joe is 28, and I find just being closer in age means we have a lot more in common than most people out here.
Also met Jedi today. Jedi and I had a brief but pleasant conversation about spirituality, the first one I’ve had in the trail and it was a welcome topic. I hope I see him again.
At the end of the 17 miles I met Aaron, a 32 year old from philly. Another solid guy on the trail I hope to see more of.
At the end of the section I met detox, Brooklyn, brad and the happy couple. A really nice group.
Destination: Bly gap
Today the struggle was real. It’s been raining all day, my knee pin turned from an ache to a sharp pain, I left my water bottle at the hostel and it too four tries to get my hammock set up right and I’m still not sure it’s going to stay dry. Everything is damp, everything and I can’t get the chill out of my bones. The 9 miles we did today seemed to take forever, and in getting sick of the people I’m hiking with. They really want to include me and stay together, though I keep telling them to go ahead.
When people think of the at I think they think of big mountain views, camp fires and deep thoughts. In reality it’s wet, everything is covered in mud and the views are few and far between, if it’s clear enough to see.
Lots of lonely feelings today, feelings of being set apart. I wonder if I’ll ever find and get to stay near dear friends.
Crossing my first state line, hello North Carolina!
Regular trail conditions
Destination: camping just south of standing indian shelter
So a bear decided to sniff me out last night, that was scary but I somehow managed to fall asleep afterwards. It sounded like a deep, throaty, growly sniff. I’m surprised it didn’t scare me more than it did, but I refused to turn on my head lamp and see it. As if, by not seeing it it was less real than it actually was. I think if I saw the bear my anxiety would have sky rocketed. Tonight I’m camping at a place where bears frequent, according to the guide book, but I’m hoping for a bear free evening.
It continued to rain all day. The trail was more creek than trail and my shoes where soaked through very quickly. I slide and slipped a lot, at somepoints it was scary because the fall down the mountain top would have been rough. It was hard to get myself in good spirits today, I’m not sure how to enjoy the trail when I’m cold, wet and covered in mud two days in a row. I decided to put head phones on and let my mind me distracted by the music while I made it up the climbs today.
Ended up leaving karaoke, Jupiter and sundance today. They wanted to push on another 5 miles for a 13 miles day, but the side of my knee is still hurting (sharp pains yesterday) so I decided to stop at 8 miles. I will miss their enthusiasm.
The shelters are spaced such that I’ll only have to spend one more night on the trail before heading to Franklin and I have some choice as to wear to stay, so I can have one shorter day and one slightly longer day. I need to stop worrying about miles and listen to my body. She will tell me when she’s ready to crush some miles. Until than I need to heal my knee, which means slower, smaller days and a zero in Franklin.
Trail or river? Trail river!
Destination: long branch shelter area
Notes: It rained again all day. There where at least 4 hours this morning where I fantasized about getting off the trail. I’d imagine getting off all social media, not ever answering a text or email, and disappear. It’s hard to stay even a little postive when absolutely everything you own is soaking wet and covered in mud. Additionally, every hour or so the trail turns into a river and my shoes got covered with 6 inches of freezing cold water. The only benefit to this is that is gets some of the pounds of caked on mud off my shoes. I did fall once walking to get water at carter gap shelter, it’s super steep with no traction, so more like a mud slip and slide than a path.
Thankfully the trail had only a few ups and downs, which means I could walk farther with less IT pain. I started to feel better after running into Detox. Again, I’m finding olderish people my preferred companions on the trail. When we got to the first shelter of the day, 7.7 miles from where we started I couldn’t find a good hammock spot and decided to continue on. I was also starting to shake from the cold, so unwanted to keep moving. Once I put on Amy Pohler’s “Yes Please” audio book I went into some other worldly trance and kept on hiking another 8.6 miles. I hit and passed the 100 mike mark and am now just a few miles from Franklin where I can dry out, rest, stretch and heal. Alberts mountain was quite a climb at the end. It reminded me of rock scrambling in New Zealand, I had to put both poles away and use my hands to pull myself up. No view though, just clouds and more clouds.
Got into camp around 7:30, too late and tired to eat. I barley got my chores done before it got dark. I’m happy with the distance, hopefully my pace will pick up. It’s around 1.7 miles per hour, it needs to go up from here when my knee/IT band is better. My pack doesn’t feel to heavy anymore, huge plus. For now I hope my growling Tummy will keep the Bears away!
Top of Albert Mountain, crossing the 100 mile mark!
Destination: Rock Gap to Franklin
Notes: Woke up early in the rain to find my tarp stake out of the ground since the ground is so wet. Walked 3.5 miles in an hour and a half to catch the 9:30 shuttle into Franklin. Going to stay here, rest my knee, dry out and chill before the next big push through the Smokies. At least one zero day, if not two, to heal up. Spent the afternoon washing, doing laundry, cleaning all my gear out and eating. I don’t eat much in the rain, I think my calorie intake was around 1200 a day, if that. Not enough when you are pushing out 15 miles and carrying a 28 pound back.
Talked to a few spiritual friends back home, I need spiritual support these days. A big point of this trip is for me to reconnect with the Divine. That’s what every one of these bad days is an opportunity to, if I choose to. Friends help with that. I’ll tell you though, crappy days really makes me appreciate things like the sun, a shower and 4 walls to protect you while you sleep is amazing.
Notes: This is a great town. Lots of great people who are helping us hikers out. Got to go in and see the great guys at Outdoor 76. Awesome to see how busy they are and how many hikers they are helping. I wish nothing but the best for them, they are a fantastic resource. People have been awesome, a trail angel showed up and gave me a ride to the post office, a guy at the coffee shop is letting me borrow his laptop to write this blog post, the owner of the coffee shop is going to give me a ride home when I’m done. Franklin, you’re fantastic! Thank you for your hospitality and good food. I’m going to take one more day off tomorrow to really let me IT band rest up. Ice is doing wonders and I want to be back at 100% before hitting this next stretch to and through the smokies.
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Daughter, sister, teacher, organic farmer, MBA student, I’ve had a lot of roles in my 30-years. Before joining the corporate world in the fall, there is one more role I’d like to add to the list: a 2015 AT thru-hiker. So Springer Mountain, I’ll see you in April. Until then, I’ll be planning, traveling to NZ to study abroad and trying to graduate.
Tom : Apr 17th
You ditched my tyvek?!? You could have out it over the pack to keep it dry! I forgive you. My ride got cut short because of some physical problems but once they’ve been sorted I’ll be back out there in the fall. 🙂