Trusting My Gear Gives Me New Confidence


13 Days and 109.4 miles since Springer Mountain.

So far I have stayed in a bed five nights and shelters eight nights.  That’s more beds than I had expected so far but circumstances have made them reasonable choices at the time.  What you may notice about these first thirteen nights is that I’ve slept in my tent zero times.  I’m finding this preference for a shelter over a tent puts me in a huge minority.

I’ve also really started contemplating why these preferences exist.  The main advantages of a tent that I was considering are no mice, less germs, and social privacy.  The social privacy is the only one I find myself caring about.  The mice are pretty bonkers at some of these shelters but as long as you hang your belongings and stow your food correctly, they’re just skittering little cotton balls with eyes.  The germs don’t bug me much.  I employ the basic hygiene and common sense I’m able to out here and it feels sufficient.  The privacy would be nice though when I want to read a little later or get up early without annoying anyone.  It also becomes very appealing those nights where you could swear there’s a sleep apnea study happening inches from your ear.

The advantages of a shelter are solid protection from any rain and falling trees, plus you can breakdown camp faster in the morning and get hiking quicker.

However.  I’ve since realized there’s another advantage to tenting and it’s pretty obvious.  So obvious that I had to re-examine why I was avoiding my tent.

You don’t have to make it all the way to a shelter to put up a tent.  And you don’t have to worry about there being space available.  Long story short, you can focus more on hiking and less about the destination when you’re not set on sleeping in a shelter.  Like I said obvious stuff.

So why was I avoiding it?  The answer is that I wasn’t comfortable with my tent.  I came out here with a nice tent, a good number of people have it on the trail but there was a lingering doubt about it in the back of my mind that I wasn’t really confronting.  I’m a big guy and it just wasn’t long enough for me and the “bathtub” wasn’t deep enough for me to be confident in the rain.  The bathtub is the portion on the ground that is waterproof, below the mesh or zippers or anything.

In my mind a tent should feel like your little house each night and mine felt like a liability that I was trying to avoid.  So now that I’m being honest with myself about it, I bought a new tent in Franklin, NC; a Big Agnes Tiger Wall ul2.  It’s awesome.  Now I’ll be getting back on the trail fully confident in my arsenal of equipment.  I’ll hike as far as my body allows each night.  Not until the next shelter every day.  It was an expensive decision but faith in your gear is paramount.

I woke up at Hostel Around the Bend last Monday morning ready to rock.  I had breakfast complete with a cup of coffee and a Mountain Dew.  The extra caffeine injection proved to be a useful tool because I took off from Dick’s Creek Gap and hiked like an animal without stopping for 8.9 miles until the Georgia/North Carolina border.  It felt good to hit the milestone but felt great to do it in such an efficient manner.  The caffeinated soda method will be used more moving forward.  I finish the day with 16.7 miles which is the most I’ve hiked so far.

Tuesday I can’t sleep real well so I get up quietly and hit the trail by 5:40am my headlamp lighting the way.  Feels good to know I’m the first one out today.  I get to Carter Gap Shelter before 10:00am and there are already people hunkering down for the thunderstorm that’s supposed to begin soon.  I decide I might as well hunker down too.  It’s almost nine miles to the next shelter and even if I do get there before the rain, there’s not a great chance there will be space available.  So it’s a long day at the shelter.  But a dry day.

Wednesday I could have made it into Franklin but didn’t want to pay for an additional day at the hotel.  I had a reservation for Thursday and Friday and the weather was looking like Saturday might be smart too.  Coming in Wednesday would have been far to much hotel time.  So I put in a mid-level day of hiking including passing the 100 mile mark and the difficult ascent of Albert Mountain.  I then posted up at Long Branch Shelter where it stormed much of the night again.

Thursday I put in the final 7.2 miles to Winding Stair Gap and easily hitched into Franklin and checked into the Hilltop Inn.  Decent hiker spot with close proximity to the outfitters, grocery store, and famous Lazy Hiker Brewing Co.  A lot of us congregated at the brewery Thursday night and it was a blast.  This is such an interesting and eclectic group of people, and it was a good night to get past the “where you from and what do you do for a living?” conversations.  I left the brewery with the trail name Footlong, head full of beer, and acquaintances that had become friends.  Fun night indeed.

Friday I paid for it though.  I took full advantage of my hotel bed and rested much of the day.  We went to the outfitters, Outdoor 76, where they were feeding hikers burgers and hotdogs.  I ate and I bought my new tent before retiring to the room.  My wife and I had agreed Friday would be good for both of us to have a long proper phone conversation.  It was really nice and we talked until nearly midnight.

Saturday has been all business.  Mailing my old tent home (after an hour walk to the UPS store), resupplying at the grocery store, doing laundry, and securing my ride back to the trail tomorrow.  It’s snowing in Franklin and even more on the trail.  But it’s time to get back out there.  Time to start thinking about getting my permit to hike through Great Smoky Mountain National Park.

Thanks everyone!  I’m trying to update this thing approximately every Sunday but cell service could get dicey this coming week.

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Comments 9

  • Steve Fuller : Apr 9th

    Proud of you Mike. Hope things continue going well for you. I applaud your willingness to make your own trail. I’m from Chicago and when you get done love a chance to buy you a beer or whatever it is you drink.


    • Big Mike : Apr 18th

      Thanks Steve! Yeah doing my best buddy! Figuring it out little by little. Beer in Chicago sounds fabulous brother. Appreciate you reaching out man

  • Bob Hanson : Apr 10th

    Hey Mike. Friend of Tim McMahons here. Every year I select 2-3 or 4 hikers to follow on this journey. All of them have different backgrounds, and it’s fascinating to observe the change in people over the course of distance, difficulties and time. Your start is not unusual and I really like your accepting attitude and sense of letting the trail come to you. Jealous as hell that you willed this to happen in your life. Best of luck.

    • Big Mike : Apr 18th

      Hello Bob! Sure do appreciate you reaching out! I’m trying to be realistic about this whole thing. Lot of folks out here seem to have it all figured out. I’m not one of them. But pretending like I know what I’m talking about when I don’t is not a good way to learn.

      Let’s be in touch

  • Karen : Apr 10th

    Enjoying your posts.
    Your attitude and insights are real.
    Happy Trails as you persevere.

  • Jake (StoneCold) : Apr 10th

    I’ve enjoyed reading about your experiences so far. Great attitidue and outlook on things. Hike your own hike. Enjoy only having to worrying about walking and planning your next resupply/town stay.
    Takes me back to my 2017 thru-hike…dude, you are going to have the time of your life!!! I’ll be following along!

    • Big Mike : Apr 18th

      Hell yeah StoneCold, cool of you to offer the kind words. I’m enjoying the free form of it but I’m also here for any advice brother! Take care man

  • Theresa Koehler : Apr 24th

    Hey! I saw you posted about Franklin, NC. We own a VRBO house there and live there 6 mo of the year. (Winters). I’m so glad you enjoyed Franklin. We absolutely LOVE It!! I love how you Have accepted the challenge and everyday. Good Luck and stay safe!


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