Trail Update #6: the week the honeymoon ended
*disclaimer: if you don’t appreciate openly discussing bodily functions, click away now. Also this post is long, intended to be funny, and a little bit lacking in my usual plethora of awesome pictures. Consider yourself forewarned.
Friday, April 21. Grassy Ridge Bald, NC. Mile 380.9 (except not really, because Grassy Ridge Bald isn’t even on the AT, but we’ll get back to that part). 1:02pm.
The text I sent Mr. snapchat read:
“Goals for the day: 1. Do not fall in the mud. 2. Do not shit pants (again). 3. Get into my sleeping bag.”
But snapchat, you say, how on Earth did you end up off the AT setting a goal to not shit your pants (again)??!?
Well, folks, let’s start at the beginning…
Tuesday, April 18
AT miles walked: 12.7
I was heading into Erwin, TN to shower/wash clothes/resupply and stay in town for the night. The day was pretty easy as the terrain was mostly downhill, but mid-way through the day my stomach started feeling uneasy. I stopped twice to dig catholes (read: stopped to poop); and the second stop made me raise my eyebrow a bit. Something was not right.
P.S. Henceforth all references to pooping will be identified by ?.
In town, Wes was stoked to go to Bojangles, but I didn’t feel hungry at all. The crew checked in to the (highly not recommended) Super 8 motel and got cleaned up. Slim was itching for Chinese food, so we headed out for some around 6pm. Here’s where things take a turn for the worse. Walking to the restaurant I started feeling really off. My back suddenly started aching and I felt super nauseous. I thought I was just really hungry in that way that sometimes you’re so hungry you start to feel sick, but in the restaurant everything looked and smelled foul to me and I had no appetite. I ate two bites of dinner; I felt awful, and I thought I was going to pass out while resupplying at the grocery store after dinner.
Back at the hotel I crawled into bed with the chills and a headache, and stayed there until morning, leaving only to puke my guts up multiple times. ???
But here’s nice picture from the day:
Wednesday, April 19
AT miles walked: 0
The rest of the crew headed back to the trail, but I just couldn’t. I drank some orange juice at breakfast and ate a small bowl of Special K, then laid in bed until about 1pm. I walked to the Post Office and back to the grocery store for some fresh fruit, ginger Kambucha and Pringles. I felt better, just tired and weak and so proceeded to lay around the rest of the day watching movies on my phone, planning to hit the trail in the morning.
Thursday, April 20
AT miles walked: 17.8
I woke up early and packed my things, planning to get some good mileage in to try to catch up to the guys. I made a bowl of oatmeal in my hotel room, but couldn’t stomach it and ended up leaving it untouched. (Hint: this should have clued me in to something but, alas, apparently I need to learn these lessons the hard way….).
My shelter options were one about 5 miles away or another about 18 miles away. Being on my own, I wanted to stay at a shelter because it’s far more likely that a big group of people will be at a shelter rather than maybe one or two people, or none at all, at the random campsites along the trail. Despite not eating I was feeling okay so decided to push for the farther one, Cherry Gap Shelter.
I felt tired during the day, but the hiking was actually okay, even though the trail went uphill for 13 of the 18 miles. I stopped a lot and made sure to drink water, but I had to force down the peanut butter tortillas I had made for lunch, and then later an orange, and that was all I could eat during the day. At camp I made my usual oatmeal for dinner, and I made myself finish it but it was a struggle. Some section hikers shared cheese and chocolate, and these things were appetizing so I went to bed thinking I was on the up-and-up. Oh, how I wish that had been true.
I fell asleep early but woke up around midnight to some troubling tummy gurgles. I laid awake for a bit watching a mouse run between my tent and rainfly (it was actually pretty cute and didn’t bother me as I would have expected) and ended up falling back to sleep.
Friday, April 21
AT miles walked: 8.6
In the morning, I woke hungry which I took as a good sign. I ate a granola bar, packed up my stuff and hit the trail. After the previous day’s mileage, I figured I might even be able to catch the guys that day.
I made it about 200 yards from the shelter when I felt one warning gut gurgle and knew it was an emergency situation. There was nothing I could do, I had no time to waste, so I ran behind the nearest tree to ??? but, folks, it was too late. I didn’t know what to do! What do you do??!? I basically just cleaned myself up, tried to cover my ? tracks as best I could, and kept walking. I was kinda in shock – I mean, I’ve lived abroad, this is not the first time this has happened to me, but it’s been a while.
A mile or so later there was a less immediate but still troubling ?, and by then I was pretty sure I needed to get off the trail. I made it 3 miles to Iron Mountain Gap where I sat in the parking lot for a good 30 minutes trying to decide what to do. I had no cell service, but I could see on Guthooks that I was in the middle of a triangle between Erwin; Roan Mountain (where the guys were heading) and Hampton (where my college friend Rachel’s husband was planning to pick me up to stay at their house the following week).
I didn’t know where to go. All three towns were pretty equidistant as the crow flies, about 10-15 miles, but there was no straight shot to any of them from where I was. I knew Erwin had an urgent care clinic, but I wasn’t sure if I was sick enough to warrant a trip there, and anyway I didn’t want to back-track. I didn’t have phone service to call Rachel to ask if I could go there early; Hampton was a whopping 55 AT miles away from where I was and I didn’t want to get myself that far away from where I had gotten off the trail; and Rachel has a 7-month old who I didn’t want to get sick. So I decided to go to Roan Mountain and stay in town for a night until the guys got there. Roan Mountain was only 30 AT miles from where I was, so I figured I could get a shuttle back to Iron Mountain Gap when I felt better, arrange to slackpack with a hostel, or (worst case scenario) come back and make up the miles later.
I had to hitch 16 miles south (with a lovely couple) to Bakersville to get to 261 to go 10 miles back north to Roan Mountain. (In Bakersville another lovely couple picked me up on their way to Roan Mountain for a birthday celebration.)
I asked the couple to take me to a hostel right on the trail where I could rest and wait for the crew. However, in the car on the way there I saw that we were going to cross the trail once on the way to the hostel, and only 5.5 miles from the shelter where I knew the guys were heading that night. My ego, pride, and codependence got the best of me then, and I decided to get back on the trail to finish out the day and walk myself into town the next day instead of hitching (aka yellow-blazing) all the way there. In that case, too, I would have only skipped 16 miles of the trail, easily made up in one day hike or slackpack day.
And so I was dropped off at Carver’s Gap at 11:15am to walk 5.5 miles to Overmountain Shelter (also it’s a beautiful old barn shelter I didn’t really want to miss. Also, of course, I didn’t take a picture of it).
From Carver’s Gap there is a pretty moderate climb for a short distance to the tops of Round Bald and then Jane Bald, and you can then take a side trail further up to Grassy Ridge Bald. OR you can miss the trail marker and accidentally hike an extra 0.75 miles uphill, in the hail, on a day you feel like you want to die. I must have looked as sick and miserable as I felt, because when I asked a couple at the top of Grassy Ridge Bald where the trail was, they subtly and kindly walked me back to it rather than just giving me directions.
It took me almost 4 hours to walk the 5.5 miles to the shelter, and though I still felt tired and weak and generally ill, I was able to eat some dinner that night, and I felt bolstered by seeing my friends.
Saturday, April 22
AT miles walked: 9.2
The next day we hiked our last two mountains of North Carolina, Little Hump Mountain and Hump Mountain.
The balds are beautiful, and unlike anything I’d seen before, but I can’t say I’ll miss North Carolina. I was happy to get into Tennessee where the terrain looked easier for a few days.
When we got into town I drank a Dr. Enuf (a Johnson City, TN treasure) and ate a breakfast sandwich and salad at Bob’s Dairyland. Later I ate a buffalo chicken and pineapple pizza and a cupcake at Smoky Mountain Bakers, and it felt so good to have an appetite again. I weighed myself and had lost 5lbs since we were in Hot Springs just 9 days before.
Sunday, April 23
AT miles walked: 18.4
The forecast for Sunday was for all.the.rain. It was supposed to rain up to a total of 5 inches over the course of the day and night. Slim, Lil’ Pup, Sir P. and Piper all decided to zero, but I just really wanted to get going so I could cross into Virginia and get to Damascus, 5-6 days away. Mentally, I’d been itching to get to Damascus for a couple reasons: I wanted to be back in Virginia; it was the next huge milestone ahead of us and another of those ‘if you can make it there you can make it all the way’ waypoints; and the timing would work out perfectly that if I could get there by Friday morning I could carpool home for the weekend with Rachel. I also wanted to get to Watauga Lake, 2 days away, where Rachel’s husband Reuben could pick me up from the trail to resupply, shower and spend the night at their house. Knowing that I’d be able to get clean and warm again at Rachel’s in 2 days, and not have to wait all the way until Damascus, was really the only reason I felt so comfortable setting out despite the forecast.
Walking 18 miles in the rain was actually totally fine. Hats off to my Marmot rain pants and Outdoor Research rain jacket for keeping me dry all day! It was freezing and miserable as soon as I stopped, but the hiking was actually pretty pleasant. (You know you’ve been really sick when hiking 18 miles in the rain seems pleasant.) There was NOBODY on the trail, though. I left from the hostel with Pen Pal and the only other people we saw hiking all day were 3 nurses from Rochester – Junk, Inside Out, and TBD- who I first met near Neel’s Gap. We all ended up at the same shelter that night and the 4 women:1 man ratio was a pleasant departure from the norm.
(photos are blurry as they were taken from inside a ziploc bag)
Monday – Wednesday, April 24 – 26
AT miles walked: 56.9
The rest of the week I just booked it. I hiked 14.9 miles on Monday, 23.5 on Tuesday, and 18.5 miles into Damascus yesterday. Monday I came down in elevation and spent the day dealing with the consequences of the heavy rain the day before aka wading the trail. Below is not a creek, it is the trail; and the water was flowing.
At Laurel Falls, I stood dumbfounded to see the trail go straight into the river. The water was so high the trail was completely under water and impassable. Upon seeing this, I had to back-track for the second time that week and then take a high water bypass trail instead.
Hiking on the flooded trail, through the high water, and -especially- coming to the impassible section by myself on Monday, I felt afraid of the trail for the first time. Stupidity is probably the biggest danger and threat out here, followed closely by ticks, and it felt stupid to be wading the flooded trail alone that day. I was extremely relieved when the trail finally turned away from the Laurel Fork and began climbing Pond Mountain.
After making it to Watauga Lake, Rachel and Reuben and their daughter Maeve graciously put me up on Monday night, and took me out for dinner, where I found my appetite is no doubt back with a vengeance.
Reuben dropped me back on the trail on Tuesday morning and I walked the 42 miles to Damascus by Wednesday afternoon because I am impatient and stubborn and simply because I could and I wanted to.
The Honeymoon Is Over
I say this not (just) because this past week was hard in many ways, but because this week was just real. It was rainy and sunny and shitty and awesome and tough and easy and everything in between. I was alone and sick and scared at times. I was badass and sure of myself and completely at ease at times too. I had to -and got to- make decisions on my own and for myself, I had to -and got to- trust myself and walk the miles and embrace the adventure of this adventure. I will (hopefully) fall back in with Slim and Lil’ Pup soon enough, no worries (we’re actually all three separated at the moment). Also, HAPPY BIRTHDAY WEEK SLIM!!! ???
Things I’m Grateful For:
1. My health
2. The privy at Overmountain Shelter is definitely in the Top 3 of least disgusting privies I’ve seen
3. I was up all night vomiting in a hotel room and not in the woods
4. Nobody was around to witness my pants-shitting incident ?
5. The trust and kindness of the two couples who picked me up and drove me to Bakersville and Carver’s Gap, respectively
6. The package that my former boss and current friend, Jennifer, sent to me in Erwin with the electrolyte powder and BonkBreakers that ended up being the only things I could really get down for a couple days
7. Rachel and Reuben’s hospitality
8. Jelly beans
9. The apple someone left in the hiker box.
Happy hiking and more to come…
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