Trail Update #2: Learning to Take it Step by Step
It has been a wild ride since my last trail update two weeks and 174 miles ago. It’s hard to summarize it all, but when I look back it feels like this last stretch has been about me learning to take it step by step. In the physical sense, I’m learning how to walk day in and day out, 12-20 miles a day with a 30 pound pack on. How I walk when my pack is full after a resupply is different than how I walk when I’m cruising in to town free of food, fuel and water. Walking up hill requires smaller, quicker steps that tax my calves, while the flats let me open up my stride and shake my legs out. Downhills are opportunities to pick up speed, but roots, rocks and mud make the downhills tough on the knees and quads. Walking in the rain and mud is totally different than walking on dry ground. Every day, every terrain, is teaching me how to walk. My legs are responding by getting stronger and stronger. My calves are almost the size of my thighs at this point. So much for getting super lean cut calves, I get calves the size of dinner plates.
Emotionally and mentally, the trail is trying to teach me to take it one step at a time as well. Sooner after leaving Franklin, NC, I physically, emotionally and mentally fell a part. I came very close to leaving the trail but thanks to my family and some of my good friends, I pulled myself back together and kept on walking. Thinking about getting to Maine when you’re only 200 miles in is a total mind fuck. Thinking about getting to the next town when you are 4 days away is a mind fuck. I’m finding I have to make short term goals, like the next town, to keep myself motivated, but I also need to stop thinking about how many miles I have to go to the next shelter or town. It’s too easy for me to get caught up in what’s next, I can get too focused on the destination, rather than experiencing what is happening to me in that moment the trail. So many people out here pride themselves on 20-30 miles day, and I envy them. But I also see the same people blow past amazing views in order to make those miles. I don’t want to be that person, I think they are missing out. I am making an effort to feel the path below my feet, stop when the view is nice and rest more often. I really do not know if i’ll get to Maine, but I want to make the most out of whatever time I am out here.
A big thank you to Sarah R, Sara D, Colie, Christine, AL, Latif, Emily, Corey, Safa, Mom, Dad and Jenna for being amazing support people for me. I am more grateful than i could ever say. You have no idea how much you are helping me, thank you.
A detailed account of the last two week follows:
Destination: siler bald shelter
Weather: lots of rain
Notes: I’m sitting in the only cafe open early Sunday morning in rural western North Carolina. Just the half a mile walk up the hill has me soaked through but I know it’s time to move on. No rain no maine, right?
The emails, txts, calls, messages and even Instagram posts of suppet have been amazing. My friends are amazing and insightful. How did I get so lucky? Christine, Sarah, Colie, Latif, Emily, all have been awesome. It is giving me the postivity I need to head back out in the rain.
Back on the trail the rain continued all day. It was heavier today than its been to the point that I had no choice but to laugh, stomp through puddles and shout at the top of my lungs (with Gerhad who caught up at this point). Sliding and wet the whole day. Did my best to recall all the supportive things my friends said to me over the last few days and made a mental list of all things to be grateful for.
Reached camp around 3:45, started at 11:45, so timing was decent. Something about hiking in the rain and the mud that makes me so tired. Only did 8 miles today, but feels more like 16. Can rainy day miles count as double?
Got my hammock set up faster than normal, a huge win. It’s easier when there are good trees readily available. The downside, while eating dinner the clip that connects my tarp to my risgeline snapped, not a hard fix, but I’m concerned it broke at all.
I fell pretty hard today coming back from getting water. The brunt of my fall was my chest into the end of small, downed tree beach. It’s really going to hurt tomorrow to out my pack, the bruise is already big.
Now I sit in my hammock, away from the drinking and the pot smoking. All I heard was good things about the AT community and while everyone is nice, there is a lack of intelligence I find boring. Conversations are high level, mostly about drinking or stupid things. And there is way more drug use and drinking I would think possible in the woods. Still praying for a real companion(s). I wonder if it will happen.
Destination: wayah gap
Notes: to be honest, I didn’t write anything in my journal this day. This was the day I almost quit. After a tough day in the rain the day before I awoke to a huge thunderstorm at 7am. The wind gusts where so strong it blew up three of my ultra light tarp stakes, bending one in the process. I sat in my hammock holding onto my expensive tarp so it wouldn’t fly down the mountain side, as to hailed in my hand and I watched lightening strike around the mountain and tree limbs fall. I was terrified, down to my core. I cried, a lot. I cried and called my mom crouched behind a tree when the storm passed. I got angry that everyone else around me thought the storm was fun and laughed it off. I felt unsafe, I shut down.
After a long while I packed up camp, slogged the .5 miles up a stereo and muddy hill side to get back on the AT and kept on hiking. I was about half half way up wayah mountain when I crumpled. I sat down on the trail and cried. I could not will my feet forward, my mind could not justify camping another two nights at 5000ft in thunderstorms. So I walked back down the mountain to the road. I called a cab and waited to head back into Franklin.
As I waited I ran into jedhi and snowda, two people who are bright lights on the trail. They said soem kind words, held off from judging me and I appreciate that. A long warm bath later, hours of phone calls with people who care about me and a good nights sleep encouraged me to keep going, so I did.
Destination: NOC to sassafras gap
Notes: decided to jump past the 25 or so miles up to a NOC. Something about the next section just felt like it would break me. All the shelters are at 5000 feet, the winds would be strong in my hammock and I wanted to catch up with some of the people on the trail I’ve really liked (scribe, kamikaze, lady unicorn). My spirits felt better as soon as I stepped out at NOC, it’s a fun place, and the frolicking flower friends where there! So was rain man, the German girl, the two couples of section hikers I like. These people are a breath of fresh air from from the party people I’ve been stuck with. Tonight at the shelter I was asked why I am hiking, how I’m doing, what are my goals, all fantastic questions!
I started the 7 mile climb talking to song bird and borris. They where fantastic, I wish I could keep up with them. Song bird knew the names of flowers and plants, she even have me some sour grass to try.
I then met up with Jason and kamikaze. I really like these two, they are kind, smart, down to earth and like to have real conversations. They go slow but steady, look out for each other, and are making and effort to include me.
I wanted to go farther today, but about 4 miles in I stepped on a rock in a certain way and my knee caught and pain shuddered up and down my leg. For the rest of the day my knee has hurt with every step that isn’t flat, even trying to move it while sitting. The pain is sharp, sometimes it is so strong it makes me shudder, other times it’s just annoying. Not sure what to do about it, maybe see a doctor?
I’m so grateful it was nice out today. It’s the third nice day I’ve had on the trail and the first sunny day in almost two weeks. The view from the jump off was beautiful, I need a good view to keep me motivated.
Now it’s almost freezing cold and I’m in my sleeping bag hoping my body heat starts to warm me up soon. Thinkng about a long day tomorrow so I can zero Friday and start the smoky’s.
Destination: Cable gap shelter
Notes: so what did I learn today? I’m not physically ready for 15 mike days! I made it, but it took me 11 hours with breaks for food, water and constantly putting on and taking off my rain jacket.
Slept horribly, I didn’t set up my underquilt well and my feet where exposed in the just above freezing air. Lesson: underquilts work.
Started hiking around 7:45am with kamakzie, scribe and older dog. I let kamakzie set the pace, I wanted to try going slower to see how it would feel on my knee. The pace was okay for the amount of uphills we had to do today. It was probably the hardest day yet in terms of climbs, including Jacobs ladder.
The wonderful thing is that we had great views several times today. It makes it so much more fun to be out here when you get rewarded with a view. You can see how the mountains around us use to be an ocean floor.
Pushing the 15 miles had more to do with getting closer to fontana so we have more time tomorrow and the campsite at mile 12 was super windy and I’m very sensitive to wind right now. With the potential all of thunderstorms pushing on to a lower elevation even if it made my feet ache.
The knee is in a bad way, it’s sends shooting pains of bent more than 90 degrees and hurts more on the uphills now than the downs. Hoping to see a doctor tomorrow.
It’s been nice having people to camp with and I’m glad I made the jump up 20 miles. This group is older, kinder, less partying and more into real conversation.
Destination: paradise on the AT via Fontana dam
Notes: woke up comfortable in my hammock, it’s wonderful when your warm and all wrapped up. It took me nearly 45 minutes to get up and out into the cold morning. But it was only 7 when I got up, so it’s not like I’m late to leave camp.
I made a real breakfast this morning of glutenfreeda oatmeal, Justin’s almond butter and republic of teas high caf green tea. While I don’t like cooking in the morning, it’s time consuming, I have to wait to pack up and cleaning dishes suck, it was a great fuel for the 5.5 miles into fontana. I left camp around 8:30, put on some dance music and flew up the mountain. Music has a wonderful way of keeping my head relax long enough for my heart to do the work it needs to do. Interestingly, almost no knee pain today. That’s probably cause I was on my way to the doctor and we all know how whatever is ailing you stops once you’ve made up your mind to go to the doctors.
On the way down I had a great conversation with wiz bang. She’s interesting, thoughtful and has a lot of depth to her, my favorite type! I think she will be a day ahead of me, but I hope I get the chance to see her again soon.
Now I’m at Paradise on the AT, a new hiker b&b run by Cynthia. She is awesome! Friendly, interesting and easy going. The place is just a few miles from yellow creek gap and it’s beautiful. It’s so nice to be in a home. In addition to cooking dinner and breakfast, Cynthia will take you to resupplying and doing laundry is easy.
For the rest of the day I will rest, plan my trip through the Smokies and ice my knee.
Destination: fontana lodge
Zero day to get packages and food together before hitting the smokies tomorrow. I have a six day plan which will get me to standing beat where my next mail drop is. It’s going to be a tough six days, tomorrow is a 12.5 mike accent. Followed by many 13ish mile days. Outside on the thunderstorms tomorrow, the weather should actually be pretty good through the smokies. I’m nervous tomorrow, lightening is scary. Here is hoping it passes over.
There will be six people staying in this room tonight, it’s going to be a party (oh man I hope I sleep!
The next push is, what I hope, makes me start to feel like a real they hiker. 9 days straight, a big mountain range, 200+ miles. I’m hoping it will be what I need to push me into having a good relationship with the trail and with myself on the trail.
Destination: Mollies ridge shelter
Today was great. The rain held off and we walked for mike and miles through fields of tiny wildflowers. I tried talking a picture of every wildflower I passed so I could share them with mom and dad. There was this one field full of beds of tiny white flowers in beds if green, surrounded my ofd white birch trees. It looked like the home of the fairies and I was happy to spend a few moments tsing it all in. There was also a fanatic view about 6 miles in of the great smokey mountains. The mountains extended for miles and miles, it was breathtaking. I also hiked up the blue blaze to see the view from fire tower. I made it up a flight and half and then realized I’m scared or heights.
I hiked a good portion of this entirely uphill day with sparrow. I enjoyed her conversation, and we kept up a good pace. With all my stops for food, water photos and a long lunch I made it up to the shelter in 8 hours and 15 minutes.
Tonight I sleep in a shelter for the first time and I’m super nervous about having mice crawl on me and around me. It may be a sleeping pill night so I can pass out before I hear them. I’d love to hammock camp, the sunrise is going to be beautiful, but it’s pretty windy and at some point I have to do it. Might as well be now. This shelter even has a fire place, it would be quaint if it wasn’t for the mice.
Over all a great day, first time I didn’t think of leaving the trail.
Destination: Derrick knob
Notes: you know what keeps mice away? The sound of an overweight older man snoring so badly the walls of the shelter shake. So I didn’t have to worry about mice, instead I slept to the wall of sound and barley got any sleep. When i sleepng my my sleep pad my arms fall asleep and my hips hurt. I am grateful for the shelter though because around 3am a huge thunders times blew through bring strong winds, lightening and downpours. The shelter, while excessively noisey, stayed warm and dry.
I leaned today how lack of sleep affects my hiking. Every quarter mile of this challenging day felt harder than anything is done before. I was light headed/dizzy for some of the day and had to stop often. It took me 8 hours to complete the 12 miles with a half an hour lunch break. It also rained on and off all day, making the trail slippery for the seven up and down climbs I completed today. While the flowers where still pretty, it was hard to appreciate on the lack of sleep and the bad weather.
I’m snuggled into my hammock now, and it is very cold and very damp. I added my sleeping pad liner for any extra layer of warmth, but I’m concerned at how cold I’m going to be tonight in my hammock. I don’t think it will go below freezing but I imagine it could do. I’m hoping it doesn’t drop below the mid 40s.
I’m weary today, as weary as I was in the beginning. The smokies are no joke. But I’m just 12 miles from the 200 mile marker, a few days ago I didn’t think I’d make it this far, I thought I’d be hike reassessing and moving forward.
Destination: gattlinburg via clingmans dome
Notes: boy did I climb and climb today! It was pretty much uphill the entire 10 miles to clingmans dome (also the highest point on the AT and the 200 mile mark)! I moved at a decent pace and needed very few breaks. It’s nice to see how I’m getting stronger. Everyday just a little stronger. And more sore.
Hitting 200 miles was really exciting. It felt like a real accomplishment and the views from clingmans dome help to make the milestone seem more special.
Last night was cold, the coldest it’s been yet on the trail. The thermatore on a guys pack read 35 degrees at 7 am. Thankfully my hammock set up worked pretty well. I stayed warm, so long as I didn’t move. The temps where supposed to be lower this night and at 700 feet higher up so we went into town to sleep instead of freezing.
Destination: newfound gap into gattlinburg
Notes: nice weather, fields full of wildflowers, but mentality not a good day. I feel ready to start my new life now, not in October. Will right more soon, too tired.
Destination: pecks creek shelter
Notes: spoke to AL this morning about my desire to leave the trail so I can start my next chapter now as opposed to pushing it off until October. He reminded me that there is still a piece around the Devine feminine inside of me that the trail has the opportunity to open if I let it. He encouraged me to be with the feelings of resistance, to see if I could get beyond them. I tried this today by focusing on my feet and the feeling of them hitting the ground. Trying to open myself to the feminine in the nature around me.
After a while I caught up with Christine and we talked about this stuff and others. I like her, she’s sweet, thoughtful, observant and has depth. I was glad for her company today and I hope we hike together for a while.
The first 8 miles felt good. The terrain was the most forgiving it’s been in the smokies and the views where incredible (including Charlie’s bunion). I’m grateful for the nice weather we have been mostly graced with since hitting the Smokey’s. The terrain is challenging, it’s nice to be able to appreciate the views both big and small. When the trees break on the ridgelines the views are amazing. The trees at lower elevation are in bloom and you can see spring creeping up the mountain side. At 5,000 – 6,000 feet there are amazing little wildflowers greeting you along the path.
I’ve noticed in the last few days how important sleep is to how I feel hiking. When I don’t sleep well not only do I find hikig exhausting and annoying, my mental state falls to pieces and I spend most of time thinking of all the wonderful things I could be doing if I quit.
Tonight, since it is the Smokey’s and it may rain, I’m going to try the shelter one more time. It may be a huge mistake, a may not get a wink of good sleep, but somehow trying it out feels like the right decision.
Tomorrow will be a 13 mike trek to the second shelter, and the day after will get us to standing bear. From there it’s three more days to hot springs and the day off I can tell my body needs. Each day my energy wains earlier, my feet hurt sooner in the day, my legs are more sore when I get into camp. Just 5 more nights, than a break.
Miles: 12.9 plus .4 from shelter to trail
Destination: Cosby knob shelter
Notes: In a last minute decisions moved from the shelter to share a tent with lady unicorn so moon could have my spot in the shelter. She’s struggling with her tarp set up and I didn’t want to deal with the mice already running around the shelter. I slept terribly again, partly due to the cold, partly due to how uncomfortable my sleeping pad is. The only time it feels okay is when I sleep on my back which I can’t do.
After a long night I got on the trail late, around 9:30. The trail today was pretty forgiving, mostly ridgelines and forgiving ups and downs. We lost a lot of elevation today as we head out of the Smokey’s. I hiked with a new group today, Ricky ticky, ryhthm, wiz bang and moon. I liked the change in pace and appreciated the conversation and the company. They seem down to earth, positive without being annoying, funny and warm.
The rain held off until the last few miles, than we hiked through some freezing rain, hail and clouds. I made it to the shelter around 4:30, including a long lunch and hanging out to take in a great view.
It’s 7pm and I’m snuggled in my hammock, trying to warm up. The Smokey’s have been cold and with the damp air and rain, I’m cold down to my core. I’m hopeful for a better nights sleep tonight. We were asked to bear bag our packs, so here is hoping the Bears stay far away al night long, the rain lets up
And the wind stops. The wind is the worst part about the hammock. Even with my underquilt it just cuts right through. At trail days I’ve got to ask the hammock guys the best way to hang my set up for the rain.
Destination: standing bear farm
Notes: Woke up to a wet sleeping bag, and I have no idea how. It rained throughout the night, but my tarp stayed dry on the inside. It was just above freezing so it could be condensation. I’m not sure, but just my sleeping bag was wet.
I stayed in my hammock reading for a full hour before I got up. It was so so so cold and I was so warm in my hammock, plus I’m in a good point in my book. It’s so hard to get going when it’s freezing out. I didn’t get on the trail until 9:30, but thankfully after a few uphill miles, it was the longest downhill we’ve had, over 7 miles to get the fuck out of the Smokey’s. They are beautiful, with fantastic views and lots of wildflowers to take in but the terrain is challenging. It’s at elevation, it’s rocky, it’s cold, it has miles upon miles of uphill climbs and you are forced to camp at shelters.
I passed snow/sleet on the way down but as I lost elevation it was amazing to see spring unfolding before my eyes. The temperature warmed up 30 degrees, the trees where blooming, waterfalls cascaded down the mountain. It was so pleasant.
We crossed 1-40, which was loud and weird to see civilization roaring past me at 80 mph. There was one last climb into the hostel, there is always one last climb.
30 miles to hot springs, I’d love to d it in two days but tomorrow is a very big climb for 13 miles. I’m not sure my tired legs can pull it off. Maybe if I was coming right out of town and well rested but my legs are aching.
Designation: max patch
Notes: best end to a hike ever ontop of max patch. Can’t believe I pulled 13.3 uphill miles from my tired, sore legs after 8 straight days of hiking. For the last major uphill to max patch I kept telling myself I was stronger than I kno. That and dance music pushed me up the last 3.6 miles, with 8.8# of water for the last .6 miles. It was tough, so tough, but reminding myself I am strong gave my body the resolove to keep going.
Max patch is unbelievable, 360 degree views, a blazing sunset, an almost ful moons Im cowboy camping with kamakazie and moonlight. It’s pretty amazing. It’s going to get cold but the wind is mild.
Destination: hot springs
Notes: Woke up at 6 am to the most amzing sunrise and alli had to do was sit up to take it all in. magically, the weather gods where nice to us, and kept the wind mild and the temp nice last night so I actually got hot while cow boy camping. I’d wake up in the middle of the night to take off some clothing to be amazed at how the almost full moon light up on the entire valley.
All the beauty inspired me to pull off my first 20 mile day. Well the beauty plus Wiz Bangs’s awesome copmany all day. We had awesome conversation for hours, received trail magic and dunked our feet in a beautiful icy stream. It wasn’t easy and my feet are swolen and numb but I now get two or three days off in hot springs. Excited for the break and to check out this very hiker friendly town.
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