Update #3: Life Lessons from the Trail 

Where does the time go? I blinked and now I have been on the trail for 24 days! Let’s do a little recap of the things I have learned so far:

The Trail is Hard

Gandalf and I mentally prepared for the trail by anticipating more hard days than not. That was a good thing; it is so hard to stay ‘in the game’ when you are cold, wet, sore, and tired. It is even harder when you know “real” life is happening and you are missing out on it. Thankfully, the good views and great trail people make life a little easier.

Times I have cried – 3 (I was feeling really down, missing home/friends a lot recently)

On the hard days, it can be challenging to remember to take pictures!

We did quite a bit less physical preparation. We tried a few half-hearted attempts at exercise programs but they never stuck. Best news: I don’t regret being out of shape. Nothing whips you like the trail, and even if I would have been a gym rat, the trail would have been hard. Slow days and low miles at first are key! Also, weight loss is a real. I am three weeks in, and I can’t tighten my hipbelt anymore. This diet program works!

Injuries –  2 (my chronic left shoulder muscle/nerve pain and Gandalf’s chronic knee injury)

Terrain Is Everything

Feel like doing big miles? Great! I sure hope you plan them on a day with less elevation changes and sans rocks/roots. Hint: I have seen very few stretches of trail that fit that criteria. Rocks and roots are killer…I have slipped and fallen plenty already. Step over those wet roots!

Times fallen – 6 (mostly over roots, always into mud)

They should call me mudslide!

A few days ago in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, my group decided to try for a 15-16 mile day. We anticipated ‘easy terrain’ per the AWOL book. We hammered out the first 3 miles in 1 hour, then got our asses kicked for the next 6.5 miles. We hiked barely 1 mph for six hours and arrived to a shelter we planned to pass. We were all pissy and exhausted. We stayed that night after doing less miles than intended, then we hammered out 14 happy miles the next day. Do what is good for your body and mind. Mental burnout is real when you feel you aren’t ‘meeting goals.’

Zero days – 1

Nero days -2

Great moments around the campfire at Fontana Dam Shelter

Trail Life Can Be Very Good

A while back, I read an article about the concept of ‘hygge.’ It’s a Danish principle about coziness, friends, and happiness. The idea is to make life less terrible by infusing your day with cozy moments. On the trail, this looks like a hot drink, a warm sleeping bag, and a dry place to sleep. Fellow thru-hikers are happy to jump on board with anything warm.

Hot cocoa is very hygge

When Gandalf and I first started the t1rail, we didn’t want to stay in shelters because of mice  (eek) and lack of privacy. We changed our minds right quick when the rain started. Riding out a thunderstorm (or snow) in a shelter is much less frightening than being in a tent. Bad weather is less terrible in a shelter.

Sleeping accommodations in the GSMNP shelters are pretty good, and it beats the heck out of a wet tent!

Surprise candy from a section hiker makes me happy!

Nights slept in shelter – 7 (5 of which have been in GSMNP)

Thunderstorms- 3

Snowstorms- 2

Hike Your Own Hike, Kinda

I am a really type-A person, and I like to compare myself to others. I don’t like feeling slow, weak, or emotional compared to other people. However, I just have a let that go on the trail. My willpower and my own two legs are the only thing that will get me to Katahdin, and it doesn’t matter if others get there faster. The your time, rest when you are tired, and take pictures. 

One of the very few sunny moments in GSMNP. Sunrise on fleek 🙂

Queen of the mountain!

Caveat to HYOH: in GSMNP, you hike the hike that the Rangers want you to hike. There is no ‘stealth’ camping in the park, so you have to make it to shelters to camp. There is a serious bottleneck that occurs because of this, especially if the weather is sour. In order to beat the rain one day, Gandalf and I hiked really hard and really fast to ensure we had a spot. That’s a downer….I didn’t sign up for a race.

The Trail Provides, Always

I lost track of the amount of trail magic we have encountered a while back, because there has been so much. Food is always welcomed because I am always hungry. What amazes me the most are the people who transport my stinky body from trail to town in order to resupply.

On the coldest trail day, I called a guy named Jimmy who picked us up and took us to a warm hotel. He had water for us and was a kind face after a few scary-cold nights. Then, he picked us up in town after a day of beers at the Lazy Hiker Brewery and window-shopping in downtown Franklin, NC (which is totes adorbs). 

Embracing the warmth at the Comfort Inn

We tried to hitch a ride to Fontana Village when we got near the Fontana Dam, but didn’t have much luck (not many cars on the road). A man in a nice car passed us, turned around, and offered to call a shuttle for us. He was dressed in a suit and his car was impeccably clean (I don’t blame him for not wanting us in there). He paid our way to and from the Village, which was so fabulous.

Hiker shuttle with sheets over the seats…apparently they hotel doesn’t want our filthy bodies on their nice stuff 😉

On the way down from Newfound Gap in the Smokies, a lovely volunteer couple drove Hot Tea and I down to Gatlinburg. Tin Cup and Gandalf got a ride from a camp who was ferrying hikers up and down the mountain. While we were in Gatlinburg,we had three separate couples ask if they could take us back up the mountain! Such generosity! (Gatlinburg is a funny little place packed with tourists. Resupply at Walgreens for the best price. Hit up the NOC for at free hot shower!)

That makes 3/14 states!

Times I have hitched – 2 (not a hard/scary as anticipated)

Magic rides – 3 (these are the best)

Shuttles – 2 (these can be pricey, I recommend negotiating on the cost)

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Comments 3

  • Avatar
    Zach : Mar 29th

    Great update, Heather. Infused with a lot of wisdom. listrn to your body and your mind will be much happier.

    Reply
  • Avatar
    Jerry Bailey, "Viking" : Mar 29th

    the messages that are common are usually the most truthful! Let your body tell you how fast and far to go each day! Heather is correct, the AT isn’t a race, it’s a journey of our own making! Viking

    Reply
  • Avatar
    Mom : Mar 29th

    That’s my girl!! Loving the pictures!! Keep them coming!! Enjoy the care package!!

    Reply

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