Deer Legs and Hiker Rage – a Recap of Week One

I knew that this hike would be painful.  I knew that I’d be exhausted, although I still vastly underestimated the difficulty of hauling a 27 lb. pack over the hills. What I didn’t expect was how extraordinary and exhilarating this adventure would be.  Here is a brief recap of our first week as flip flopping thru-hikers:

img_0923

The April Fools

Day One: After christening ourselves The April Fools (only partly because of the starting date) John, Linda Vance and I set off northbound from the MD/PA state line. The first sign that we had entered a different world came when we spotted a deer leg with the hoof still attached a couple miles into the hike.  I wondered if this was a sinister omen. Or maybe a giant rabbit foot-like good luck charm? I didn’t know, but it turned out to be the first of a series of odd items we saw in the woods.

img_0932

The wonderful shelter caretakers, Kurt and Tanya.

We made it to our first shelter by mid-afternoon and hung our hammocks, albeit with some difficulty due to our lack of skill.  I promptly conked out from exhaustion (at 3:30 pm), but woke up later and met many of the hikers who had arrived while I was asleep.  We talked to some wonderfully friendly people around a campfire, then retired to our hammocks when it got dark.  It was the ideal setting: no traffic, no noisy planes flying overhead, just the pleasant gurgling of a nearby stream.  There were stars in the sky, the comfort of other campers nearby, and the occasional soft, soothing sound of people zipping up their tents.  It was lovely — until we were awoken by the extremely loudly snoring guy who decided to set up his tent two feet away!

img_0948

Deer parts

So after a sleepless night, we dragged ourselves from camp. Day two brought more body parts, this time a rib cage and jawbone lying beside a road.  This kind of freaked me out, but we hiked 12 miles to the next shelter without further incident, unless you count the fact that my own body parts were beginning to ache (feet, shins, knees).  I have to admit that I felt demoralized by the time we reached the shelter.  I was bone tired, smacked my head on the cross beam at the shelter, and then witnessed how “real” thru-hikers operate when two 20-somethings strolled up, ate their dinner with incredible efficiency, and then set off in the dark with headlamps to complete their 30-mile day.  Luckily, a hot bowl of freeze dried seafood chowder did a lot to pull me out of my bout of self-pity and improve my mood.

img_0978

Ornaments!

Day three: The psycho. This day had a promising start.  After an uphill slog the ground leveled out (what bliss!) and we entered a beautiful forest of pines.  We even spotted a tree decorated with Christmas ornaments, which further underscored the quirky nature of this trek.  We compared our various aches and pains as we hiked along, but there was always something unexpectedly nice to divert our attention from our woes, such as finding a college student cleaning out a shelter in his spare time. Everything seemed pretty great — at least until a psycho arrived at our shelter that night.

What set him off? Apparently he didn’t appreciate John’s friendly greeting. In short order, we’d been sworn at, told to stick an f-ing stick up our asses, and even challenged to fight.  The guy was completely unhinged. His unprovoked rage totally shocked us, especially since everyone we had met until this point had been so nice. Needless to say, we did not sleep well that night.

img_1010Day four was thankfully uneventful after our encounter with the lunatic.  We trudged up and down the hills, taking pleasure in tiny things, such as coming across a few yards of level ground. We heard a pileated woodpecker, saw various holes they’d made in the trees, and admired the pitch pines’ interesting bark. What wasn’t so nice was the smell. My smell. I realized that I desperately needed to shower. Four days is a long time to wear the same clothes.  Luckily, we had the next shelter to ourselves and I spent some time rinsing things out.

img_1029Day five: There is an expression thru-hikers have, that “the trail provides.” That certainly was true this day.  John needed to repair the suspension on the underquilt for his hammock (a rubber piece had accidentally come apart), and lo and behold, he found an old wagon rusting in the woods — with a tire still attached.  Delighted, he cut it apart for later use.

img_1037

Vortex

The trail provided in another big way that day, as well. After getting our passports stamped at the AT Conservancy office in Boiling Springs, we headed to a tavern for a much needed drink. Before long, we found ourselves heading home with Vortex, a former helicopter pilot who invited us to spend the night.  Yes, alcohol was involved in our decision, but the lure of a SHOWER was too hard to pass up. So we spent a somewhat odd, but very pleasant evening in the house of a stranger and got to sleep in a real bed!  Vortex even lent us his car the next day so we could get back to the trail, which totally made up for the encounter with the lunatic.

img_1020So here we are on day six. We had an easy, eight mile stroll over flat farmland to Carlisle, PA, where we checked into the Days Inn hotel.  Not only was the hike easy, but we passed a Revolutionary War-era  cemetery, which was interesting. And it turns out that the owner of the Days Inn once hiked the Himalayas in his native India.  He was so nice that he let one of his employees drive us to the post office to pick up our drop boxes.  So here’s a shout out to him. And we have now had showers two days in a row!

img_1059So we made it through our first week: 65 miles.  Already this hike has reaffirmed my belief in humanity.  Despite the political strife that dominates our news, there are a lot of incredibly generous people around.  Sure, there’s a psycho here and there, but most people are extremely nice.  The hiking is harder than I expected, and I’m not sure how my old knees and feet will hold up over time.  But every day we experience something quirky or new.  Whether we succeed or not, this was definitely the right thing to do!

img_0986

Affiliate Disclosure

This website contains affiliate links, which means The Trek may receive a percentage of any product or service you purchase using the links in the articles or advertisements. The buyer pays the same price as they would otherwise, and your purchase helps to support The Trek's ongoing goal to serve you quality backpacking advice and information. Thanks for your support!

To learn more, please visit the About This Site page.

Comments 26

  • Chelsea Bates : Apr 6th

    You’re a great writer! I thoroughly enjoyed your post. I think the bones are a good sign – they symbolize the indestructible life.

    Reply
    • Gail Barrett : Apr 6th

      Thanks for reading, Chelsea! I sure hope the bones are a good sign. We have certainly seen a wide range of things, including underwear hanging in a tree. I’m sure there is a story there.😮

      Reply
  • Therese : Apr 6th

    Great blogging……….your writing is terrific!!

    Reply
    • Gail Barrett : Apr 7th

      Thanks so much, Therese! I’m glad you enjoy it!

      Reply
  • Rene Tewksbury : Apr 7th

    Have you had a gear shakedown? I am a 64 year old 5’2 woman and 27 pounds would break me. You must be very strong!

    Reply
    • Gail Barrett : Apr 7th

      Not from anyone official, but I’ve had experienced people give me input. I can probably drop another pound or two once the weather warms up, but 27 lbs includes water and five to six days’ of food. It feels very heavy. I’d love to be at 20 lbs. but I don’t want to be hungry or cold, either, so there isn’t a lot I can do.

      Reply
      • Gail Barrett : Apr 7th

        And no, I’m not strong. I’m 62, 5’10”, and about 130 lbs. I need to be careful not to lose weight on this trip.

        Reply
  • Sherry : Apr 7th

    Wonderful stories! Keep them coming! I am taking the trek through you! Hugs!

    Reply
    • Gail Barrett : Apr 7th

      Thank you so much, Sherry! I’m trying to post a blog weekly when we reach a town. My cell phone battery doesn’t last long enough for me to do it on the trail.

      Reply
  • Ruth Morley : Apr 7th

    I’m so glad to hear that you’re back on the trail and DOING IT! Thank you for sharing all the interesting things you saw along the way. It’s amazing how kind people are along the way. It makes me wish I lived along the trail and could do the same. Maybe someday…

    Enjoy your walking. I’m happy that you’re keeping your mileage very reasonable, to keep that plantar fasciitis at bay.

    Reply
    • Gail Barrett : Apr 8th

      Thanks, Ruth! We are not pushing the pace. We were going to try for 16 miles today but cut it short because we were all tired. I have some pain in my feet, but so far it is minor. Keep your fingers crossed that it stays that way!

      Reply
  • Aly : Apr 10th

    Hi Gail, I’m planning a section hike through PA in a couple of weeks. Would you mind telling me what shelter this psycho was at? Might help ease my worries. Thanks!

    Reply
    • Gail Barrett : Apr 11th

      Alt, he was at the Toms Run shelter, heading south. He wasn’t a thru hiker so it’s hard to say how long or where he will be on the trail.

      Reply
  • Jaime : Apr 11th

    Hi Gail, I liked your comment about the Trail reaffirming your belief in humanity. I think that’s the biggest lesson I learned from the AT. Enjoy this adventure as far as it takes you.

    Reply
    • Gail Barrett : Apr 11th

      Thanks, Jaime. Nearly every day so far we have experienced someone’s kindness or generosity. It really is an amazing experience!

      Reply
  • Firehound : Apr 11th

    Keep Enjoying, it’s an adventure of a lifetime !

    Reply
    • Gail Barrett : Apr 11th

      Thanks, Firehound! It absolutely is an adventure!

      Reply
  • Anne Baker : Apr 11th

    Great post! I love your attitude! I’m starting a flip-flop on May 1, so I’ll be behind you, cheering you on!

    Reply
    • Gail Barrett : Apr 11th

      Thanks, Anne. I hope we meet up on the trail!

      Reply
  • Crystal : Apr 11th

    I got to hike just for a day on the AT trail in Virginia this spring but would love to do the whole route one day. How do you like the hammock?

    Reply
    • Gail Barrett : Apr 12th

      Crystal, we love our hammocks. They are so comfortable, and I think they’re a big factor in helping us recover after a tough day. We’ve had trouble finding a place to hang them at a few shelters so far, though. Still, we are very happy with them.

      Reply
  • Pat : Apr 12th

    Hi Gail. Ditto to all if the above. I’m taking notes from your experiences. We have spoken periodically. So far I have two/4 other women interested in doing a ’18 hike. We are trying to decide a f/f vs nobo start. Word is a nobo prepares your body more for what lays ahead in the north. Down side…the trails are more crowded. So yes, your experiences will help. Good luck to all of you!

    Reply
  • Pat : Apr 12th

    PS/ Down side meaning a nobo start. 😀

    Reply
    • Gail Barrett : Apr 12th

      I agree, Pat. There are pros and cons to each approach. We haven’t met many thru hikers yet, although there are a few out there. So doing a flip flop this early is quieter. If you want more company you might start out at the flip flop kick off later in April. I’m really glad we aren’t with the crowds in the south, though. I’m not sure that there is an easy way to do the hike. Starting at Harper’s Ferry gives you MD and southern PA to toughen up before the rocks get worse. I have no idea if it is easier in the south. I do advise training by going up and down steep hills with a heavy pack! Your knees will thank you later!

      Reply
  • Theresa Kline : Apr 12th

    You and John are amazing! You are currently my heros! Sending prayers for good weather and healthy joints!

    Reply
    • Gail Barrett : Apr 13th

      Thanks, Theresa! Sometimes I think we lost our minds to even contemplate this hike. It is so incredibly grueling! But I guess we had to attempt one last big thing before we got too old. And honestly, it’s the best thing we could have done. It is already changing us in so many ways. I don’t know if our old bodies can take this abuse for 2,189 miles, but we are going to try. I hope you’re doing well, too!!!!

      Reply

What Do You Think?