That One Time That I Fell Off A Cliff
Day 57: Wind Rock to Niday Shelter, 23.1 miles
Today I planned my biggest mileage day yet. I made sure to get up and leave as early as I physically could, putting me on the trail at 7 am. River and Lost weren’t even up yet when I left, and I doubt that they’ll want to do so many miles, so I will lose them again.
Torch and Medicine Man left with me and we hiked a good portion of the morning together. Bird also left around the same time, but was faster and breaking the spiders webs for us. Our first tough climb today was up Kelly Knob. At the top, the view wasn’t nearly as exciting as jumping across the crevasses in the rocky summit.
The trail went waaaayyy down and then waaaayyy back up again. Picture a ridge line, that the Cookie Monster took giant bites out of. That was my hike today. At the third shelter of the day, around 17 miles, I found Torch and Medicine Man setting up camp. Medicine Man had severely hurt his leg, and could not continue hiking that day.
For whatever reason, be it the rocks or the heat or the elevation change, today really took its toll on me. Everything hurt, I was hungry, thirsty, tired, and alone. Upon arriving at the shelter I promptly collapsed at the picnic table and did not move for a solid ten minutes. I didn’t even bother to take my pack off.
There was some serious self-love later on, involving stretching and some self massage. After big days like that it’s important to take care of your body. Yeah, you’ll probably still feel like an old lady the next day, but some self lovin’ is the difference between feeling like a 55 year old lady and a 75 year old lady.
Pro Tip: love yourself after big days and maybe you’ll be able to walk tomorrow.
Day 58: Niday Shelter to Four Pines Hostel, 16.8 miles
After yesterday’s huge mileage, the last thing I wanted to do was another 20 mile day. Bird and I decided to do 17 miles and spend the night at Four Pines Hostel.
Today’s climb took us over Dragon’s Tooth, an impressive stone spire jutting straight up out of the ground. We climbed up to the top and were rewarded for our bravery with 360 views. It was incredibly nerve racking because all I could think of was falling to my death. Thankfully, I did not get a crash course in BASE jumping today.
With 2.5 miles to go, we cruised down the mountain. At first, large rocks impeded our progress but eventually those gave way to flat dirt. There was a group of day hikers going the same way too. I’m very competitive, so beating the day hikers back to the parking lot was an impressive motivator. They smell much better than Thru hikers too, so keeping up was easy.
Four Pines has a reputation as being a “party Hostel” but I think that depends on the people that are there. Everyone who stayed with us was quite chill, and lights were out by 11. The owner runs it out of his garage, and upkeeps it on donation. You basically just find yourself a spot on a bed/cot/couch/lawn chair and claim it. We were shuttled to Kroger with a bunch of other hikers, I ate dinner, and was asleep on my lawn chair cot by 9.
Day 59: Four Pines Hostel to Tinker Cliffs, 15.5 miles
“Spitfire get up.”
“You want to night hike don’t you?”
“Come on let’s go.”
Barely conscious, I rolled out of my cot/lawn chair to begin what would be the longest day of my hike thus far. Bird had been the one to wake me. It was 11:30 pm, and I was running off almost 2.5 hours of sleep.
In the pitch dark, we walked down the country road to return to the trail, headlamps guiding our way. Night hiking has always really freaked me out. You just never know what could be lurking around the corner, hiding in the shadows, waiting to pounce. You trip over everything, and you’re always wondering when your headlamp will die. One of the reasons why I wanted to hike the AT is because I am afraid of it, particularly being alone in the woods at night. Night hiking was a necessary step to overcoming those fears, even if I wasn’t alone. Bird lead the way back to the wild.
Eventually the trail led us out to a pasture. Just past the glow of my head lamp, I could see fireflies ascending from the grass. Bird shut off his headlamp, and reluctantly I did the same. The scene before us was like something out of a book. The ground and the sky were nearly indistinguishable, as the fireflies lit the earth like stars. Without speaking we continued walking, guided by the moon and lightning bugs.
Feeling confident, I took the lead for a while. Of course, I managed to get us lost. It was a small matter to get back to the trail, but it was a reminder of how easily we could find ourselves aimlessly wandering around in the woods at night.
As planned, we reached McAfee’s Knob pre-sunrise. We were the first people up there. The pre dawn hours were just as pretty as any sunrise, so we took our pictures after a short break and continued on to the closest shelter. Once there, we spent the entire day napping and eating.
Around 4:30 I woke up from nap #4 to hear some familiar voices from the shelter. Inasias and Walden, a girl who had stayed at Four Pines with us, were there. Walden was planning on pushing on another few miles to Tinker Cliffs and Bird and I decided to do the same.
Two hours later my tent came out again on the top of Tinker Cliffs. Meredith, Walden and I were watching the sunset together from a ledge.
In an attempt to perfect the lighting for a picture, I aimed my camera at the sunset and took a few steps back, away from the ledge.
Too late. One second I was looking at a spectacular view, the next it was a rush of shadows. Wind swirled around me and pain seared through my forearms. My right heel hit something sharp and I stopped moving as abruptly as I had started. Hands pressed against the cool rock surface, I looked up to see Meredith’s face peering down 15 feet above me. “Guys I’m ok, I think I can climb out.”
As soon as the words left my lips my knees buckled under me. My back thumped against the rock my hands had been on and I stared wide eyed at the other side of the crevasse. Knowing full well what was about to happen, I forced myself to take deep breaths, and moments later found this task nearly impossible. My conscious fought my subconscious “panic” response to hyperventilate. My whole body began to shake uncontrollably. “I (inhale) I ju- (inhale) I just (inhale)”
“You just almost died,” Meredith finished for me. I looked to my left. Not five feet from where I had landed, the cliff fell away. The bottom was nearly another 40 feet down, and concealed by a canopy of trees. I lost the remaining shreds of control I had over my breathing, started to hyperventilate, and then began to laugh hysterically. Clearly, my reactions to serious situations have not improved.
Walden’s face appeared above me. “You need to breath. Take a minute to sit, then you can get out.” Always the voice of reason, that girl. The bottom of my crevasse sloped upwards so all I really had to do was walk out. I locked eyes with Walden and forced myself to calm down. Nothing was broken, all I had was a bruised heel and some scrapes on my forearms were they had been dragged against the sides of the crevasse. Carefully I stood up and staggered out of the pit. Of course, by the time I had managed this the sun was behind the mountains and I could no longer get the picture I wanted.
The three of us were all quite traumatized. Me, because I’d just almost died, and then because they’d just almost watched me die. A few new trail names for me were tossed around, including Cliffhanger and Eight Lives. I ended up taking on an addition, and am now “Spitfire on the Rocks.” Walden, this girl I had just met, came up to me before she went to bed and asked me if she could give me a hug, because she was so relieved that I had not been severely injured. I was incredibly grateful to be safely tucked inside my sleeping bag that night.
One Liner of the Day: “yup, she’s dead.” -Meredith
Day 60: Tinker Cliffs to Troutville, 12 miles
The sunrise this morning was not nearly as spectacular as the sunset, mostly because it was behind trees. We were all up early anyways, greeted by Inasias.
Bird, Inasias and I all hiked together today. Conversation included a musical that Inasias is helping Nemo write. This play would be about the AT, and generally be about funny situations that happen out here. I won’t go into too much detail, but so far it’s hilarious.
The 12 miles into Troutville was an easy day, considering what I had been doing for miles. When I started in Georgia, 12 miles was a full day. Now it’s a nero. Let’s all pause and laugh together.
I briefly stopped in Daleville to stuff myself with fast food. The next mile and a half to Troutville after that was reeeaaaalll slow. I met up with these two older women who were finishing their 50 mile section in Troutville. They were fun to talk to so I hiked that stretch with them. As we crossed under I-81 I told them we had only 0.3 miles to go, and the looks on these women’s faces were priceless. Their eyes lit up and widened. Their smiles reached their eyes.
I took advantage of the free camping in Troutvilles park. They were having a trail festival, and towns people were camped out in the park with the hikers. Meredith and Walden were there too. We all went to the free dinner together, then devised a scheme to get to a movie theater. There were seven of us, Bird, Nemo, Walden, Meredith, Peregrine, Inasias, and myself. It was a wonderfully relaxing evening with friends, I’m so grateful to have all of these strangers to call family.
Day 61: Zero Day
I got a slow start today, knowing full well I was going to take the day off. After the events of the past few days, I deserved a break. Troutville trail days included a free pancake breakfast for hikers, and I took full advantage of it. There was some sort of kitchen malfunction, so the cooks could only make 6 pancakes at a time. Everyone was very patient though, and we all got fed eventually.
My chores today included resupplying and picking up packages. Shoutout to my aunts Martha and Jodi for the support!! Once I’d done all the running around I hung out at the Howard Johnsons pool with Yeti, Huggable, Nemo, Inasias, Dean, Peregrine, Monty, River, and Lost. We generally just chatted and wasted time. At one point Nemo used a thermarest as a pool float.
We made more schemes to get back to the movie theater. Nemo knew a guy in the area who agreed to drive us, and five of us piled into the little Subaru Outback. This time we saw Pirates of the Caribbean 5, which in my opinion was better than Wonder Woman. It blew the 4th Pirates movie out of the water too, but this is totally unrelated to hiking. If you feel like arguing with me send me an email.
Day 62: Troutville to Bobblets Gap Shelter, 17 miles
I bid farewell to Troutville this morning around 8:30, with a MUCH heavier pack. 62 days on trail and I still don’t know how much food to buy. Or rather not buy. Switchbacks made the load easier to bear.
Around 2 I stopped at a shelter and some lovely soul had left fresh fruit and cold water. I LOVE FRUIT, and it was so hot today, this was such a nice treat. I also met Fish, Lanky, and a couple others who planned on going to the same shelter as me. We leapfrogged over the remaining miles.
We squished 8 people into a 6 person shelter because there were zero good renting spots. Torch also camped with us. I managed to get to the shelter at a reasonable time today, and had plenty of daylight to do all of my normal camp chores plus build a fire. Now if only I could do that more often, I’d be much happier.
Day 63: Bobblets Gap Shelter to Middle Creek Campground, 10.7 miles
It rained this morning for the first time in a while, but I’m not complaining. Its been hot out for a while so it was a great opportunity to cool off. Torch and I hiked together for the day.
We stopped at a shelter for a snack and met up with Fish, Lanky, and Dancing Bear. They decided to get a cabin at a campground not far from here and we decided to join them. Some poor soul had managed to leave their frog toggs poncho at the shelter, so it became mine unless I find the owner. Wearing a frog toggs poncho is like wearing a tent. A really breathable tent.
The bacon burgers at Middle Creek Campground are to die for. Also the milk shakes. You know what, just get one of everything.
As always, you can follow me on instagram at erica.runs, or shoot me an email to argue with me about Pirates vs Wonder Woman. Stay tuned for more misadventures!
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