Trail Update Five: Hail, Rain, and Marathon Miles

I am blister free at nearly 500 miles! Here’s the news from the past few weeks.

Wednesday, April 24: Day 26

After a lovely evening in Hot Springs (beers were had), I made microwave popcorn and didn’t go to bed until 10:30 or so. I was worried about not getting enough sleep, but I woke up at 7 on my own anyway. I ended up making myself oatmeal for breakfast, and Ozy, Best Bear, and I got breakfast sandwiches (I got an extra biscuit) for the hike out. Double breakfast was a good idea, and we did 15.3 miles to a stealth camping site right past Allen Gap. I bumped into Frenchie at the hostel, and while we took a zero day earlier, she ended up having a tree branch fall on her tent (while unoccupied), missed the views at Max Patch, and hit some hard weather. Poor timing!

The hike today was reasonable, with relatively graded and gradual sections except for the last descent. My knees were getting sore, and I ended up stopping at a dilapidated shed with drinks and ice cream for sale. The Powerade helped get me back into shape after such a hot and sweaty day, as it was definitely over 70 degrees and we were in straight sun for most of the afternoon.

I bumped into Ozy at the camp store, and we got water together and found a good campsite. At the end of the day, we stealth camped with Hops, Little Bear, and Burning Man. Lots of laughs, and it was the first night I felt like we were really forming our trail family.

Thursday, April 25: Day 27

I pushed for my longest day so far (18.6 miles) to get to Flint Mountain Shelter. The weather was a bit rainy overnight, which we hadn’t been expecting, but the day was generally overcast and good for hiking. Hops and I took a long break at the four-mile mark to wait out the rain and had some wine, then we took two breaks on two cliffs and enjoyed the scenery. I wasn’t totally committed to the over 18-mile day at first, but since everyone else was pushing, I wanted to keep up. My feet got tired around mile 15, but I had no blisters or serious issues.

Friday April, 26: Day 28

There were four hailstorms today and because of the terrible weather, it was a new record (18.9 miles) to hit Big Bald Shelter. It was just raining during the morning, but we started going over exposed ridgelines and kept hitting hail. I didn’t want to stop because of the hypothermia risk, so I started factoring quadratics in my head (thanks, high school math teachers!) to make sure I could still think. By around 2 p.m. my hands got so cold my thumbs didn’t work to open my Clif bars; imagine being confused because some big fleshy parts of your hand wouldn’t bend. So weird! I knew it was time to get warmer or get lower, and thankfully the trail started heading to lower and more protected elevation. Burning Man and Hops got too cold and stopped at a shelter to warm up and eat (Burning Man ended up staying for hours).

I’m glad everyone was looking out for each other, because you can run into trouble staying out in conditions that damp and cold. We all kept an eye out and everyone except Burning Man ended up at the Bald Mountain Shelter after a cold walk over even more exposed terrain.

Saturday, April 27: Day 29

The morning was freezing, given we were up so high, and I took awhile to get up in the morning. Little Bear and I rearranged our sleeping bags so we could stay warm while boiling water for tea and coffee (plus Hops, who barely slept given the cold). The hike was tough to get started given we had done two long days, but there were plenty of flat sections. My right leg started hurting on the downhills, which I figured was just my leg being tired, though I was paranoid about shin splints. All through the trail I kept thinking there was rain, even though it was sunny, but after some examination the sounds were little black crickets popping out of the dry leaves.

We had a quiet night at Uncle Johnny’s after 16.9 miles and everyone tented to save some funds. We got fed free chili and baked potatoes. Carbs always hit the spot! Sage, Hops, Ozy, Little Bear, and I had some wine and beer over dinner, and Burning Man actually pulled a 27-mile day to show up that night! He was quick to point out he didn’t push for us, but because there was a Bojangles within biking distance. But his bike chain fell off on the way and he had to scooter along with Little Bear. They made it to food though.

Sunday, April 28: Day 29

For breakfast, we took the shuttle to Bojangles, and I had a breakfast sandwich and an extra biscuit. The lady running Bojangles was sympathetic to our hiker hunger and gave us sweet blueberry biscuits too. We all felt initially awesome and then gross after so much food.

We decided to have a giant picnic for lunch and take a nero day, so there was lots of bread, cheese, hummus, guac, and other snacks to share.

I bought WAY too much food at the grocery store and my pack weight went up to at least 39 pounds (up from around 32). Part of it was two pounds of Cheez-Its. No regrets. The actual hiking was only 4.3 miles as we went to a close shelter, and we had a lazy afternoon relaxing in the sun and listening to music.

Monday, April 29: Day 30

In the effort to make it to Roan Mountain in three days, we pushed about 17 miles to get to a nice meadow to camp in. The day got a bit long for me, but we had nice weather, and I spent a while singing to myself on the way. We had a great lunch spot in a shady pine forest grove, then ended up camping with Two for One, Frenchie, Ozy, Hops, Little Bear, and Burning Man. Some of us cowboy camped because the weather overnight was nice, and the stars were absolutely gorgeous.

Tuesday, April 30: Day 31

It’s officially been my first whole month on the trail! It was also my longest day at 20.4 miles because we pushed to an old barn that was converted to a shelter. The views were lovely, though there was a lot of wind. Sage turned 31, and we gave him mini Snickers, hazelnut/chocolate butter, and a Honey Bun with two candles. I also got a terrible headache going to sleep from not drinking enough water.

Wednesday, May 1: Day 32

Now I’ve made it over a month on the trail, but it’s still strange to think that this is my life for another 90+ days. Burning Man wasn’t hungry in the morning and stayed behind us during the day, but most of us met up on the top of Hump Mountain to take a break and enjoy some views. Apparently he ended up being too dehydrated and setting up camp early in the day (good for him for realizing it). The rest of us went about zero miles to Mountain Harbor Hotel for showers and laundry. We’d hoped to go to town and get wood-fired pizzas, but there was no shuttle and we didn’t want to hitch. I got a great box of snacks (thanks, Grandma) so we had plenty to munch on. I also mailed back about two pounds of extra clothes and other items, which helped my pack weight go down a bit. Plus, the weather was warm enough to get rid of my sleeping bag liner.

Hops, Little Bear, and I walked to another hostel in the area to have a craft beer and look for new fuel cans, since I’d given mine to Burning Man. Since he stayed behind and was nearly out of fuel, I’m glad it worked out to get him a way to cook and have warm meals.

Thursday, May 2: Day 33

After a huge all you can eat breakfast at Mountain Harbor Hostel, including the best bacon and potato dish I’ve had in ages, we hurried out intending to do an 18-mile day. We ran into waterfalls about three miles in and a lovely river about six miles in, so the day turned into taking breaks and doing some swimming. Even though it was pretty flat I had a tough time; I think because we started with some climbs on open meadows with the sun shining, so everyone got sweaty right away.

All plans are wrong, as we ended up stopping at a hostel about 12 miles in. No one was at the house, and we spent an hour waiting around (turns out the owner, Scotty, had been getting his car fixed). That evening he played piano for us on his porch for two hours, and we listened to him, the frogs chirping, and enjoyed the creek rushing by.

Friday, May 3: Day 34

We decided to make up a challenge where we stay at three hostels in three days, so we went 20.9 miles to hit Boots Off near Hampton. The hike was generally nice with plenty of flat areas and gentle climbs. We stopped for a break at Laurel Falls before a pointless three-mile climb up and three-mile climb down. Those parts of the day annoy me because they seem silly, especially when there’s no view or any other reason for the climb up.

We shuttled into town to get food and cider to eat around the picnic table. Rain kept falling on and off, so everything was damp. Still no sign of Burning Man, but we hoped he’d catch up in another day.

Saturday, May 4: Day 35

Today we were on a mission to get to a shelter before it started raining. After a good night at Boots Off, drinking cider and enjoying dinner in between rain spurts and stops to set up our tents, we settled down for some breakfast doughnuts and coffee and got ready for the day. There was a thunderstorm coming in the afternoon, so everyone wanted to push 16 miles before the bad weather. As soon as I made it around 3 p.m., the rain started! Frenchie arrived a few minutes later, and we managed to fit seven people into the little shelter. The rain let up around dinner time, so everyone was able to cook and have tea.

Sunday, May 5: Day 36

Today was a huge day and new record for me, at 26.5 miles (more than a marathon). We’re still missing Burning Man, but we pushed to Damascus to stay at the Broken Fiddle hostel and do laundry. Originally we’d planned for 21 miles so we could stealth camp outside Damascus, then hit town the next day, but since the rain didn’t let up, everyone felt like getting inside. Again, all plans while hiking are wrong!

We ordered five large pizzas and had some cider. Thru-hiking is really like the world’s slowest pub crawl with us hitting a town every four to five days and having some drinks. That combined with college, speed friend dating (because you can tell within a few minutes if you’ll click with another hiker), and general low budget travel. It’s a winning combination.

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