Wild Hogs, Bear, and Norovirus!! Oh My!!

Day 20

People really like fear mongering the Smokies. I have heard so much talk of how you will freeze to death, bears will steal your food and your first born, and you will be stuck in the rain as soon as you cross into the park. That the hills are terrible and your are so remote from everything that you will die… I’m beginning to wonder if the people doing this are trying to get other hikers to drop out or just scare them.

Like the woods requires a certain level of respect and awareness, but this is not the most remote place in the world. I have had service for most of the day (Thank you, Verizon).

We had a pretty phenomenal nice clear day. Blue skies and sunshine. I will admit it was a little chilly in the upper 50⁰s but it wasn’t uncomfortable. The grade on the climbs were gentle and I have yet to see a bear. It is still early evening and still have time.

I am a little concerned about the integrity of the Ursack. There has been too many bags that have been shredded by bears this season on the AT. Maybe it was a bad batch of bags. Maybe the bears have learned if they fuck with it enough, they can chew through. I just really dont want to lose my food to a bear.

Day 21

Last night was filled with strange noises that we all believe were hogs rooting through the undergrowth. So at least not bears… Right? I apologize to my fellow campers for shining a light at the spooky noises and potentially blinding you. I wasn’t trying to watch you pee but scare off the scary noises.

Today was very very hard and equally beautiful. The wildflowers were blooming and the day was again unusually sunny. I felt like trash. I was drained and exhausted most of the day. My new orthotics while making my foot pain less, have been making my toes numb. I’m hoping this goes away with breaking them in, but it slowed me up a lot today. I am trying to figure out still how to eat, I think my fatigue was due to not eating enough. I know it’s the hiker hunger, I need to start fueling better. I really dont care about the quality of the calories any more, just the number. This last resupply had a bunch of healthier low sugar/high protein foods in it and while they have 100-200 calories, they arent giving me the energy I need. I honestly just need to eat full sugar, full fat, and decent protein. In the real world, I have no issues with these health foods, but out here, they aren’t helpful. Especially when you wake up hungry in the middle of the night to grab a snack and everyone thinks your a bear…

People are apprehensive about the rain tomorrow. I am not. I am in the smokies, I have had the rare day with no rain in the smokies for this time of year. If you don’t want to walk in the rain, then don’t hike the AT. It is going to rain. There is nothing you can do about it besides embrace the suck and be prepared for the effects. It is going to be cold and wet, I plan on making the most out of it. I don’t care if I miss the views, I am here to be present in this hike. Enjoy the little things that you are given. This is a god damn gift! Enjoy it!

Day 22

It was rainy and cold but the miles came easy. I don’t know why, but I feel like I just do better in the cold. Maybe it is because I trained in the frigid Nebraska winters, I am just used to it being frigid. Just push through the suck. Maybe it is because I am so used to having to keep my head down and dig in. I did that in my masters, dealing with grief, and helping to raise my autistic brother.

I got kind of mad today. No, let’s not down play it, I was down right pissed. I felt like I was being judged on every call I made. Then when I was trying to be helpful, building fires or making plans, and I felt like I was being left to do it all, patch it together. I understand it is a crappy hiking day, but I was cold and tired too. Be helpful, share the load. Be considerate.

I know, I am slow. My knee has been hurting on the steep down hills. It’s annoying and I am trying to take it in stride (Literally!). I typically don’t hike with a group and have come to learn to like being alone in the woods. It’s nice being able to take the time to feel comfortable being alone and today I needed to. I was in such an annoyed mood that I didn’t want to be around people. I have been in therapy long enough that I know it isn’t fair of me to take out my emotional baggage on others. Perhaps I come from a different school of thought, but in the outdoors when things take a turn for the worst, I was always taught to share the suck and work together so that everyone is better off.

Maybe I am projecting, but it was just a crappy day. Such a crappy day I couldn’t appreciate that I reached 200 miles today. Wow! I don’t know if I was more pissed that I let my foul mood ruin such a big mile stone! 200 hundred miles! Like that’s a big deal and I let stupid people and stupid things rock me.

Day 23

Melancholy, that was the feeling of the day. I woke up missing my home, my bed, my pets… My routine. I woke up missing the small things from home. My dog snuggling into me at night. How nice it is to sit on my couch with a cup of coffee in the morning. It felt like something had been pulled my core, like a small piece of me was missing.

Walking alone in the woods in the mist just seemed to amplify the melancholy. How tired I was. How badly my knee hurt. How the cold seeped into my core if I stopped walking.

It was only a five mile day, but in my head it felt so much longer. Maybe it was because we were going into Gatlinburg today and the miles to town just felt longer. But, it took an eternity.

Gatlinburg is a lot. It is a lot for someone who lives in society, it is absolutely overwhelming for someone who has been in the woods for a month.

Gatlinburg reminded me how much safer I feel as a solo female hiker on trail. Most people think the woods is a scary place, we think of fairy tales and horror stories about the woods. I got cat called and followed by a man in town today. This is the first time I have actually been scared for my safety while on this trip.

I am a bold person, I told the guy to buzz off in a colorful choice of vocabulary. I don’t tolerate being harassed by anyone. I have a brown belt in krav maga, I know how to keep myself and those around me safe, but today I was more scared than having hogs rustling outside my tent.

Before I started this hike, many people asked me what I was most scared of on trail. Was it bears? Ticks? Mosquitos? Sadly, it was none of that. I told them I was scared of other people, mostly men.

Perhaps my fear is due to the way society teaches people who are assigned female at birth to be constantly vigilant of men, that their intentions cannot be trusted. This deeply ingrained and flawed view has followed me out here and I am thankful this encounter in Gatlinburg has been my only unsavory encounter on trail. My interactions with the men folk have been incredibly heartwarming. So many have shared their heartfelt stories and deep thoughts, moments that typically aren’t seen outside of deep and close friendships. I am so grateful that many of these hikers felt safe enough to be vulnerable to share these thoughts and feelings with me.

Day 24

Back on trail from Gatlinburg. I am happy to get out of Gatlinburg, it is excessive in many aspects. For future hikers reading this, of you want to resupply in Gatlinburg, send a box. The options are few and far between and incredibly picked over and expensive, as Gatlinburg has a higher tax rate.

This morning free shuttle options were scant and Waffle and I ended up hitchhiking. This was my first time “officially” trying to get a hitch and luck was in our favor. We immediately got a hitch from a lovely couple who have read about thru hiking and wanted to support some hikers. They were so kind to us and ended up giving us $10. To that couple, you are too sweet and I hope you enjoy your visit!

Today had mixed weather, sunny then wet and cold (Just what I wanted to be sweaty and chilled)! Today felt good, but my knee is still giving me trouble on the downhills. I think besides taking medication to get past it, I need to incorporate more breaks, even if it is cold and rainy. Although, I am convinced Tylenol might be able to fix anything. Even with a later start, we got in our ten miles and today was just a good day despite the weather

Day 25

Today was absolutely gorgeous. Bright blue skies and warm. The terrain wasn’t too soupy, but there were plenty of little streams from the wet weather. It was a great day to walk 13 miles. I think I am finally figuring out how to finally take care of my body on this hike. I was worried about my knee pain but as long as I take enough breaks and just enough medication on board, it feels better. Overall, my knee seems to be improving.

I was glad to not be shivering in the cold today, it was a nice change to be in the sun and gentle breeze. A definte moral booster, as sometimes it is challenging to not be miserable out here sometimes.

A lot of people tell you to embrace the suck, and that is true, you have to or you dont finish. Someone brought up the point, “There are no ‘good’ days out here. There are good moments. It come down to how you decided to embrace them.”

Thru hiking sucks. Being out in the woods is uncomfortable, exhausting, even painful. No one wants to live outside eating only dehydrated food and shitting in a hole. But, despite that, you have days were you prove that you can indeed crawl up that mountain or not melt and die when you get caught in the rain. It’s the little victories and moments you share with the folks around you that make you stay through the suck.

Day 26

Today was a fun little 10 miler into Standing Bear Hostel. Today also marked the end of the smokies, which was a very exciting milestone! I was so excited to get out of the Smokies. Now, no shame on the Smokies. They are gorgeous and absolutely stunning, but god damn, they are unpredictable.

As I mentioned earlier, people like to fear monger the Smokies. Claiming that hikers will die from exposure and falling to their death as soon as soon as you cross the boundary line. Oh don’t forget the bears will ravage you, your food, and your children.

All in all, even with the ouchy knee, the smokies were not bad. The terrain was well graded, trails were well maintained, and the shelters were (Generally) in good shape. The thing that makes the smokies difficult is that the weather is incredibly unpredictable and you have to camp in the shelters, so you have very little room for flexibility or error. I understand the parks requirement to stay in a shelter due to bears, but I did not once see a bear in all the smokies. I saw more snails, salamanders, and evidence of hogs than bears (RIP the salamander I accidentally peed on!). Honestly, I was more scared of bears at Carter Gap than I was the Smokies. The reason the Smokies is scary is because you have to actually plan the logistics and you can’t just wing it.

There you have it, my opinion on the smokies.

Standing Bear has a great little set up, decent resupply, and great vibes. I was pretty content with buying a beer, a snack, and eating peoples cast off slices of pizza. I needed the extended break from hiking and the shorter day to recover. I was pretty tired and just needed to do nothing for a few minutes. I was pretty torn about whether or not I should have stayed in the bunk room or camped down the road. I am pretty glad I chose to camp, despite not sleeping well. I am trying to save money on trail by not being sucked into town or hostels every chance I get. So I am trying to only stop for a minute, grab a beer or a snack, take a break, and move on.

While at Standing Bear, I was talking to a hostel staff member about how I received my trail name. He commented that maybe I could use a little more lucky and gave me a four leaf clover that he had pressed. This has become my favorite and most dear piece of trail magic. I have managed to press the clover in my phone case between a dollar, so it is safe until I can do something with it.

Day 27

I hiked 14.3 miles and my legs didn’t fall off!! Now the longest day on trail, I feel like I am getting the hang of hiking longer miles. I think I still need to take more breaks as my knee only gets sore at the end of the hiking day. Speaking of, my knee is not getting worse but appears to be getting better with a mix of vitamin I and Tylenol. I think incorporating some more breaks during the day may do the trick.

Today I got to walk through Max Patch! Boy was it stunning, even if it was cold. As a girl from the grasslands, Max Patch reminded me of my time as a research assistant out in the Sandhills of Nebraska. I love the prairie and how vast it can seem, the sea of grass surrounding you. The views from Max Patch is absolutely stunning, being able to see the (DREADED) Smokey Mountains and every hill you have climbed up till now. Being in that field made me realize how grateful I am to be out here, but also how much I miss home. A bittersweet thing, you are excited for what you have accomplished and are looking forward to see but missing the things you left behind.

The weather is taking a turn towards the colder. Today was windy, bright, and chilly. Somewhere around 50⁰F during the day and I can feel the temperature drop as I write this. I am hoping I have the gumption and energy to walk the 18 miles I intend to tomorrow and push to Franklin, NC. For my zero. I don’t mind walking in the cold, but the wind has been so miserable today, I almost got knocked over on Max Patch.

I beat gravity and had the most wonderful time!

Day 28

I hike 12.6 miles with Norovirus! It was aweful! But now I can brag that I had one of my best mileage days while vomiting! God… type two fun is kind of fucked up…

So what happened exactly, you may ask. Well, I was hiking from the NOBO side of Max Patch not sure if I was going to hike the 15 miles to the shelter or the full 18 into town, so I decided to wake up early and hike until I was either too exhausted to keep going or desperate to get to town. So, thats what I did, I walked a lot and I was doing great. I was cruising up the difficult patches of trail and having a really good time. Then there was trail magic of homemade fried apple fritters. I couldn’t help myself. They looked and seemed so good. I had to, the hiker brain wanted apple fritters.

But after eating the apple fritter, I knew something was amiss. Something wasn’t right, but I kept walking. The slight twinge of nausea turned into “Shit… im going to vomit” feeling. Perhaps it was the grease it was fried in, maybe it was because I was dehydrated and hadn’t had enough electrolytes. Nonetheless, I walked. As you may know, there comes a time when you have fought with your body on the topic of projectile vomiting. You have done your best to suppress the urge, nay the need, to projectile vomit and you have told your body that it is just a phase. You have begged and pleaded with God and your guts, that this too may pass. Then your body rudely informs you that, despite your efforts you will be throwing up somewhere and if you act quickly maybe it won’t be your shoes.

This is when I threw off my pack, slid down a tree, rolled over off the trail and proceeded to empty my guts onto the forest floor. As I was contemplating the proper LNT manner in which to dispose of 4 ft of projectile content, another hiker had come up behind me and thought I had fallen and was unconscious. After he checked me out and made sure I was okay. I began to hike again.

Guys, let me tell you, hiking post vomit is not great. It sucks. The down hill section wasn’t bad, I had gravity working with me. But uphill, not even steep! Just rolling uphill sections, made me want to die! Just fighting gravity made me want go lay on the ground and cry.

Perhaps it was the post puking brain, my loss of calories, and now dehydrated meddled state, but I was not feeling super comfortable about hiking six miles to town or staying in a shelter. As every minute passed, I began to feel weaker and sicker. FYI future thru hikers, many of the hostels in Hot Springs have a no sick hiker policy. As I had become sick and didn’t know how long I would be sick, rooms and bunk plans I had made with fellow hikers had fallen through. So, I did what any smart slightly anxious person would do and call any hostel with a shuttle that would take me in.

There is a reason they call my Lucky. Laughing Heart Hostel in Hot Springs took me in and had the set up for sick hikers, and had been taking in hikers with norovirus for the past week. Laughing Heart let me camp in a quarantined area of their yard with access to a private bathroom. I am so thankful that they shuttled me in and took care of me.

For the love of God guys, wash your hands while on trail. Hand sanitizer doesn’t cut it. That tiny bottle of Dr. Bronners that so many of you think is extra weight, is a life saver. Norovirus has an incubation period of 12-48 hours. So sometime between me getting out of the Smokies and apple fritter trail magic I was exposed to norovirus. I do not blame the apple fritter trail magic, as a thru hiker you are bound to get tummy troubles on trail. But, I would not wish breaking a fever in a tent with intense stomach cramps and diarrhea all night on anyone (Well, maybe a few people…). So, wash your hands! Don’t share food or utensils! If you think you are sick, get off trail or find a safe place to be sick and rest! Take care of yourself and fellow hikers. If you encounter a sick hiker, help them out to the best of your ability without risking yourself.

A Night Time Thought

As I sit here in my motel room, finally alone. I realize this is the first time I am by myself since starting trail. That no one is going to walk into this room, no one is within my radius. I will sleep alone tonight, by myself. It is just me, in this bed, listening to the faucet drip.

It is a little daunting. I know that I am not in danger, that the door is locked and I am safe. But, what comes in the night without the distraction of others? Thoughts and fears I have been shoving out? Questions I refuse to ponder? What will visit me tonight?

I never thought I would feel so out of place being truly alone with myself, despite being in the woods alone everyday for the past month.


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Comments 3

  • thetentman : May 5th

    Nice honest post. Thank you. If I were to offer you advice it would be to relax and ease up on the worries. It will be ok. One foot in front of the other. You can do it.

    Good luck.

  • Dawn : May 5th

    FYI Hand Sanitizer DOES NOT kill Norovirus. So, good job pushing the hand washing.
    I am following a lot of thru hikers and Noro seems a lot more prevalent this season than last season. I don’t recall seeing it any posts the last few years. Good luck, stay safe. Keep yelling at the creepers

    • Guinevere Drabik : May 7th

      I believe this seasons uptick in noro cases is due to last seasons rush of thru hikers who’s plans were cancelled by covid. A lot of human waste seems to have been mismanaged due to the numerous hikers.


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