Notes from the trail- night hiking, slackpacking and more!!
Wow, once again so much has happened and yet, I spend all of my days walking north on one single trail. I’m trying to come up with a linear timeline to document what has happened since I last blogged, but bear with me because time does not work the same way out here that it does in off-trail life.
First and foremost, I am currently in Damascus, VA at a hostel called “Crazy Larry.” Crazy Larry is a middle-aged man who seems rather relaxed for a guy with crazy in his name. He is currently sitting in his kitchen with Pink Floyd blasting from his computer and chewing tobacco in his mouth. His dog, Sally, is chilling by his feet and dirty hikers (including myself) are mulling about his house.
Things that I now covet when coming to a hostel:
Clean sheets, good water pressure, a shower filled with various shampoos, conditioners and soaps, a scale to weigh myself as it is always a fun thing to do after exercising day in day out, laundry included in the stay (they do it for you here!), a hiker box (a box where hikers put gear or food they no longer want), shuttle services for errands, and breakfast! This place pulls out all the stops.
I’ve been incredibly impressed with the hostels I’ve stayed at so far on the trail. I suppose after years of dealing with hikers, you learn what you need to have to earn yourself a good reputation. Shout out to Doe River Hostel in Roan Mnt. TN for being my favorite so far. It was my favorite because of the goats and the dogs… obviously.
Ok, moving backwards in time a little bit. There was a day around mile 380 when it was raining hard. It was right before Roan Mountain and I knew I had a climb after already hiking seven miles. I was soaked from head to toe and freezing because of the wind. Days like this on the trail are dreadful. Being cold and wet for hours is awful. Eating is so hard in the pouring rain and my hands always become numb so I have to open packaging with my teeth. Additionally, my shoes weigh about 633 pounds when filled with water and I, without fail, always get shin splints when my shoes are wet. So, I’m hiking and miserable in the rain and repeating over and over again “NO RAIN, NO PAINE, NO MAINE.” This is a hiker mantra and it basically means if you cannot handle pain and cannot handle rain, then you will not make it to Maine. All of a sudden, I pass a gap with a sign that says “greasy creek friendly,” and think to myself “what da heck does that mean?” I continue walking until I see another hiker coming the opposite way. A friend named Lee who I have known since day 1 tells me there is a hostel with HOT FOOD and I’m sold. I walk 0.6 miles to “Greasy Creek Friendly” and am greeted by CeeCee. CeeCee is an older Jewish woman who mandates you wash your hands about 40 times a day at minimum and has a sign in the bathroom that says “if you pee in the shower, you will make me cry,” which seems like a reasonable response. I stay here for the night with some other hikers and we decide the next day to SLACKPACK.
Slackpacking is when you leave your pack with someone and they shuttle you to one spot and then meet you down the trail a little to give you back your pack. I brought a small backpack, given to me by CeeCee, with food and water and was shuttled 12 miles away from Greasy Creek and then hiked backwards or south on the trail 12 miles towards Greasy Creek where I left my pack. This made the Epic Roan Mountain a descent instead of an ascent, and I finished 12 miles in 4.5 hours. It’s amazing what hiking without 35 pounds on your back can feel like after almost 400 miles. I flew down the trail.
The next day CeeCee drove me ahead again to that 12 miles spot ahead of her place and I went northbound with my pack, leaving the comforts of Greasy Creek where I spent two nights and ate cheeseburgers in a recliner while watching Spongebob. It was hard to leave.
Ok, moving forward a bit. Because of that rainy day where I only hiked 7 miles and then the next day of slackpacking when I only did 12, I fell behind a little bit. My personal goal now is between 14 and 20 miles a day unless I am going into a town, in which case I usually take half a day off from hiking to rest. I made the decision on the morning of May 27 ( I think that was the day) that I was going to hike 27 miles. It was the first sunny day in a long time and I was feeling good. My day began at 11 am and I hiked continuously until 12 am the next day. This brings me to the topic of NIGHT HIKING.
I was alone. It was 8:30 pm and the forest was getting dark although the sky still looked a little blue. The sun had disappeared behind the mountains and as light faded out, I turned on my headlamp. Now, I rarely use my headlamp out here but apparently I’ve used it enough to have low batteries but not enough to know that it gets dim when the batteries are low. It is night time and my head lamp is dim. I have eight miles to hike in the dark (about 4 hours), but I am determined. If you had told me six months ago “Hey Carolyn, you should go in the forest and hike alone at night in the pitch dark with a shitty headlamp for four hours!!” I would have said Heeecccckkkk no, but confidence is easily built out here and the forest becomes your best friend and your greatest enemy.
I walked for three hours and made it 25 miles that day and to be honest, I was scared shitless. I think I was mostly scared because my headlamp was producing quite literally no light. At one point, I heard an animal in front of me and froze. I stood and whistled and tapped my poles together and this creature of the night just kept snorting. I think it was a wild boar. Eventually, I got up the nerve to just keep walking and pray that said wild pig was not going to hurt me. I found at mile 25 a group of tents and recognized them as the tents of the group I hiked with in the beginning and so I stopped, happy with the knowledge that in the morning I could wake up surrounded by friends.
I ended up night hiking four times this week. The last three were with new batteries in my lamp and so it was much brighter and less scary. I feel brave that I can night hike, but I feel even braver saying openly and honestly that I kind of hate it and hope to not do it again unless absolutely necessary. Nothing out here is necessary though so I’ll just say…I think I’ll pass on night hiking alone from now on.
Well folks, I’m exhausted. I hope these stories bring you some form of entertainment. I will blog as soon as I muster up the energy!
Onward and Upward!
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