Yes, I Am Out of Georgia!
Two months, a few states, and 1,000 miles later…
Starting on the trail I thought I’d be more likely to update regularly, but I should’ve known by my study habits in college that I’d fall behind on this, too. I had a friend share with me recently that she replaced a bookmark for another hiker’s blog from last year with mine now. As she told me that I proceeded to spew my drink all over her dashboard out of disbelief, knowing that my blog was not living up to the same expectations. That’s when I knew, OK, yeah, I need to update this thing. So here we are. So much has happened since Georgia that I’m at a loss of where to even begin. Like any old awkward start to a conversation…
Let’s talk weather
The night of March 1, after hiking Wayah Bald in North Carolina, the weather went from warm and tolerable to straight cold. I knew it was going to hit at some point, but I was dreading that moment. That night I put on every single warm layer that I had with me, and sat in Lil Blue’s hammock with him to eat and stay warmer. We and a few others all sat together under the tarp laughing and carrying on about how shitty the weather had turned. We were so used to warm rain and sun at that point that freezing rain and wind put us in a pretty funny state of mind. Maybe it was the tequila we had packed out and being tired from hiking all day. Or maybe it was knowing that while we were weeks into our hike, hundreds of other hikers were experiencing their first night on trail in some pretty rough weather.
Anyway, after that night the cold stayed around until, well, just a few days ago. It was a long, long winter and especially long since I was living in it day in and day out. The exact day that I entered the Smokies, the first winter storm hit and snow covered the ground from there on out. The weather in the Smokies was always talked up and harped on about hikers having to get rescued from hypothermia during snowstorms and cold snaps. I thought to myself, “OK, well I have the right gear, all I have to do is get through the Smokies and the snow and cold will be over.”
Boy, was I wrong. After an extended lunch at Standing Bear Hostel celebrating being out of the Smokies, I hiked back into the mountains and quickly realized that winter was in full force all along the trail. I was pretty accustomed to dealing with low temperatures at this point so I shrugged it off and kept moving. I eventually found myself hiking like a penguin during a big climb just to get a better grip in the snow-covered trail. The amount of micro adjustments that had to be made were exhausting. Every step required that much more attention and energy to push myself up or down the mountain. During the day, it was easy to stay warm from the constant movement, but the nights were long. I found myself cinching my quilt up as much as possible, not caring that I was suffocating because for those few minutes I’d be warm. Then morning would finally roll around and the second I’d get out of my quilt, the countdown to get moving would start instantly.
Here and there we’d have a few sunny days when the rays from the sun were that much more noticeable, and the thought of winter being over would cross the mind. The last two winter storms of the season hit for me while hiking over the Roan Highlands, and then again while hiking into Woods Hole Hostel. Coincidentally enough, both days my friends and I were lucky enough to slack pack those sections. Well, more like run up and over the mountains to get back to a warm hostel. The Roan Highlands day was a little over 20 miles and we had at least four balds at high elevation to hike over. The freezing rain and wind was so strong that the right side of my face was completely red and wind burned, and I thought for sure I was going to lose my fingers that day. The balds were quite intimidating since there was no coverage and snow completely covered the ground.
My friends and I took off running multiple times throughout the day, just to return warmth to our hands and feet. Even while getting blown around while crossing over the balds, we still made the most of it, and ended up having a really fun day and night. The next slack pack into Woods Hole was a little more irritating. We were then in Virginia, and at this point were really over the cold weather. One of us didn’t even bring gloves, I didn’t bring my trekking poles or waterproof socks. We just wanted to get through it fast. We had a friend grab our stuff at a road crossing after lunch, so we only had 13 more miles to go. Thirteen miles is a half-marathon, so we thought, people run those in two hours so this will be a breeze. Long story short, we didn’t finish in two hours and it was a very cold afternoon. Lucky for us, we had warm dinner and beds waiting for us at the end!
Winter finally decided to slow down, and I’m happy to say that spring is in full bloom and summer feels like it’s right behind. If not already here as well. The past few days hiking out of Virginia have been hot, I mean brutally hot. I felt like I was hiking in slow motion all day during the high of 89 degrees. Judging by the amount of times I catch an itch or find myself swatting away gnats, I’d say the bugs are really happy about the heat. With a change in the weather, I don’t think I’ll be able to lie down on the side of the trail as much as before. I’ve already found one tick on me, and have seen poison ivy popping up here and there. Sunburn, chaffing, bites, scratches, sweat, dirt, etc., all fun new things to be concerned about with the warmer weather. But there are also that many more flowers to stop and smell, beautiful green colors flooding the trail, and I’m not shivering in my tent at night. There’s always something to complain about on trail, but then there’s just as many good things to be thankful for as well. It’s a balance, and I wouldn’t change it.
I feel like now I’ve reached a turning point in my hike. I’ve hiked through Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia. From here on out, it’s all new territory for me. Being from Virginia and visiting the other states randomly, a lot of the trail has been familiar. Passing through the ATC the other day in Harpers Ferry was my third time visiting, but first time as a thru-hiker. I had many other moments like that in North Carolina, and especially in Virginia. There were so many memories and familiar places that were revisited and experienced, but through a totally different frame. I’ll be honest, hiking through the Shenandoahs and being so close to home while living a different life was bizarre. There was something about seeing families come and go from the waysides that left a pitted feeling in my stomach. I definitely knew then what people meant by the Virginia Blues. It was a long time coming getting through those 550 miles, but I got to see friends and family throughout the month, so it helped keep my morale up and feel supported by people back home.
Before wrapping up, I must add that my Altra Lone Peak 3.0 trail runners lasted me over 1,000 miles of hiking. I am so proud of those shoes and how well they held up. I paired them with the green Superfeet to help my arches once getting to Erwin, Tenn. I’ll be getting new ones later today, but I plan on getting the exact same pair and insoles, because of how great they’ve been so far. I’ll also be swapping out my Enlightened Equipment 10 degree quilt for a 40 degree quilt since I think the warm weather is finally here to stay for a while. My gear has been treating me very well, and I won’t be changing up too much else. Recently, I went from the Aquamira drops back to my Sawyer since I don’t have to worry about freezing temperatures anymore. Lastly, I’ve been going stoveless, and I’m loving it. I’m way too lazy and impatient when getting to camp at night so I stopped cooking meals. The simple life of tuna and mayo, wrapped in a tortilla, is the way for me.
Until next time,
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