Trials and Treasures

Since my last update I’ve hiked from Helen GA to Gatlinburg TN so it’s definitely past due for me to share. This is going to be a much longer post, and written differently because I have a lot to go through, so bear with me.

Let’s start with the bubble. Most of the hikers I was around in the first 50+ miles have since gotten off or been left behind. I average around 12 miles a day with a few exceptions which I’ll get into later. This isn’t a bad thing though. It’s important to hike at your own pace. Unless you have unlimited time and money, you shouldn’t feel obligated to stay with any one group or person. People are the heart of this trail, and eventually, you’ll be in a bubble where you’re hiking style is the same as those around you. If you can remember that then half the mental game is won. After all, a huge part of this is knowing that you have support, and nothing is better than walking into a shelter for the night and seeing familiar faces cheering you on.


 The Long Night





Remember when I said there were exceptions to my mileage per day? So this is the part where I tell that story. After Helen, I was cruising. Beautiful weather and a fun stay in town had me feeling like gold, for about 24 hours. Then it started to rain.

Now I know the saying, “No pain, No Rain, No Maine,” but I’ll be damned if it wasn’t some of the coolest weather I’d ever seen. Something about hiking through fog so thick you can’t see 20 feet in front of you is genuinely magical. It puts all kinds of weird thoughts in your head sure, like “this is great zombie weather,” or “Man, I wonder if skinwalkers are real,” but mostly it’s very calming. The cool wet air has a somber sense of beauty to it. The woods are quiet and maybe it’s just me, but I found myself wanting to be quiet too.

The problem that I wasn’t thinking about during that day, was just how much heat that fog can suck out of the air and ground. That night at plum orchard I was cold, incredibly  and uncomfortably cold. The next day though, was even worse.


I climbed up Sharp Top and the trees were frozen. At the summit where they were most exposed to the sun, ice began falling from the branches and I celebrated crossing into North Carolina as the forest pelted me with it. I was excited though, I’d gotten through the first state! The weather sucked, but who cared? Myself and a few hikers made a push for Standing Indian Shelter and my worst night on trail began.

It was cold when we got to the shelter, and most of the spots inside were taken. This didn’t bother me in the slightest because I set up my tent, and another hiker- Phoenix- started a fire. Some good conversation and laughs were had, and everyone was settled in sleeping bags around 8pm or so for the night.

11pm: I woke up, freezing. I mean absolutely an icicle. I put on some more layers and couldn’t seem to get warm.

11:30pm: I crawled out of my tent, and realized it was completely coated in ice. In a matter of 3 hours the temperature had dropped into single digits and frozen both of my water bottles, my tent, and almost completely put out the fire we’d had going. With some hot coals left over from earlier in the evening though, I rekindled the fire.

At this point, it’s probably important to say that I had (HAD) a 20° synthetic quilt from Enlightened Equipment. Now, this would be a great option in warmer weather, it’s a great product. The issue is that synthetic material isn’t nearly as warm as down material, which keeps body heat in far better. Then you add that 20° is a survival rating, NOT a comfort rating. On top of this I’m rocking a zpacks single wall UL tent, which again, is great for WARM weather. Basically what I’m saying is, I was in danger of hypothermia without that fire.

12:30am: “Winter,” another hiker, who’s equipment got wet because of the rain and fog joins me at the fire. He asks if I’m okay and chats for a little bit, taking what has to be my sorry state. I’m huddled in front of the fire, quilt wrapped around me, trying my best to keep warm. I assure him I’m okay, just freezing to death.

2:00am: “Camel” comes to the fire, practically hyperventilating. Turns out,  like me he’s got all the wrong gear for cold weather and has been suffering in his tent. We talk for a while about possibly backtracking to a service road where we could hitch into town, or if we can make it to 6am or so, we could get a hostel to shuttle us. At this point he and I are heating rocks to pull into our respective bags to keep us warm.

3:30-4am: I had enough and asked Camel if he wants to go, because at this point I’m mad at the world. I should be mad at myself for not anticipating such cold weather,  but nope. I packed my gear as quickly as possible,  shoving things wherever they’d fit and hoping for the best. Camel didn’t want to move from the fire, so I told him I was moving on.


The Best Day

Strapping my headlamp on and taking off, the next 14 hours were an absolute fever dream. Water sources were completely frozen so I couldn’t refill my bottles. Hell my BOTTLES were already frozen so there was no way for me to thaw them anyway. I walked like I was in a trance and when the sun came up I kept on.

For twenty four miles I walked, knowing that the best place to get a hitch would be Winding Stair Gap. For the first time in a very long time I prayed. I was delirious, dehydrated,  exhausted, and freezing, but when I got Winding Stair a man on his way to work almost immediately stopped and picked me up.

I’m not the most religious person around. I believe in a higher power, I believe that spirituality is important, but I’m not exactly devout, and never have been. This trail is starting to change the way I think though. This man that picked me up, asks me where I’d like to go.  I tell him that I just need to get into a hotel and get out of the cold, and explain as we drive into Franklin the night I just had. He asks what my budget is like, and drops me in the hotel parking lot, he even waits to make sure a room is available before leaving.

The room wasn’t ready right away, but the manager hands me a 25% off coupon for the huddle house right next door and since breakfast seems like an amazing idea, I headed over. After eating the waitress tells me that if I need to resupply,  there’s a Walgreens right across from them, so of course I go over and grab some pedialyte and ibuprofen.

The next day, after sleeping for probably 13 hours, I headed to Three Eagles Outfitters. I cannot recommend this place enough. There I met “Solace”, who’s hiked the AT 3 times, and gave me a ton of helpful tips and information. He helped me pick out some new gear, and even drove me to the laundromat then PAID for my laundry. While I was there, an elderly woman approached me and asked about my hike, told me that God would provide,  and gave me 20 bucks saying dinner was on her.

The outpouring of positivity after the night of what was essentially torture had me energized and ready to hike again. I’ve never experienced anything like it. Call it Karma, or a prayer answered, or just good luck, but the people of Franklin got me back on track when only hours before I really thought I might quit. Others DID quit.



After Franklin I felt amazing. So much so that I hoofed 15 miles from Winding Stair to Cold Spring Gap. There I caught up with Medicine Man, and met Bambi, Heimlich, and Movin’ On, who offered me a place at the bunkhouse they were staying at the next night.

The following day it rained, but nothing could keep my spirits down. I spent the majority of my time nerding out with Bambi about Brandon Sanderson Novels and laughing my way up Wesser, before climbing down into the Nantahala Outdoor Center (NOC). Medicine man caught up with us before we got there and since it was his last day for section hiking, he offered to buy us lunch. Warm and comfortable in the bunkhouse, I’d already nearly forgotten about the terrible time I’d had on Standing Indian.

This is the part where things get a little crazy. Fast forward two days to Stecoah Gap. Myself and the hikers around me all purposely planned to hit it that morning because of a comment on FarOut saying there would be trail magic, and there was MAGIC. Former AT thru-hikers and their tramilies from other hikes were there with an incredible amount of food. I’m talking a taco bar, burgers, snacks galore, and yes, beer. These people were amazing, and so much fun, and were even generous enough to drive a few of us homeless hippies into town. But that’s not where it ends.

The next day I pulled another 15 and hiked the the Fontana Hilton, the most “famous” shelter on trail. There they were again, doing trail magic! These guys were having their own mini party in the parking lot, and planning to section hike through the Smokies.

From there I spent the next few days getting to know the 2021 tramily known as “The Dirty Bubble.” They even let Bambi and I hang out with them at an Airbnb in Gatlinburg where we hot tubbed, partied some, and stayed the night. They even bought us lunch the next day! I don’t know if I’ll run into them again, but in case I don’t:

Nana, Ninelives, Truncle, Tripod, Zoey, and Road Soda: you guys alone made this hike so incredibly memorable. Thank you for an incredible time, and keep being awesome. I hope one of these days I get to pass the favor and do trail magic half as well as you did.

The Trail is its own special kind of magic. Giving up on the hard days means you never get to experience the heights of the good ones. I think that’s one of the biggest lessons out here. Stay positive, and when you get hit the hardest, there will always be something more to look forward to.

Happy trails everyone!

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Comments 2

  • Sparks : Mar 26th

    Truly enjoyed your blog this morning!
    What I would like to see is dates added to the “events”
    so I can get a better idea of what to expect when I start
    my NOBO and SOBO walk of the trail.

  • KB : Mar 27th

    Keep on truck’n, like the dodah man…..


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