Variety is the spice of life…One month on the trail

It is just over one month of being on the trail and I am amazed at how far physically and emotionally I have come. I have pushed myself in ways never before and am amazed at the changes taking place. I feel stronger every day and feel blessed to be living in nature and to experience everyday miracles.

I have now embraced trail life to its fullest and feel more comfortable and happy with the time I am on the trail rather than in town. I am able to overcome challenges more readily and no longer fear the unknown. Even the rainy weather is embraced and enjoyed rather than feared. Blueberry and I walked 22 miles one day, up and over rocky mountains, and still enjoyed the day. Of course, I do enjoy the rain even more while in the security of a shelter, but it is no longer a deterrent for me in enjoying the day provided. At night, the lightning storms are a dramatic source of entertainment (better than anything you would find on tv) and the soft patter of rain lulls me to sleep.

So where am I now? I just pushed a record best day of 33 miles in a day and am in Damascus, VA, one of the best trail towns. I am waking up earlier every day (6:30am at the moment), pack out of camp within an hour, and am accustomed to the daily task of hiking up and down the countryside. My hiking partners have changed this past month, but for now include Jumanji and Sequoia. I am the slowest of the three, but am also the leader of the pack and am always chock full of ideas for each day, such as how many miles I think we can hike, where the best picnic spot will be, what we can do in town, etc. I am always scanning the trail as well, always quick to share a new view that we might have missed.(My speed is a little restrained by admiring new things in the day and taking way too many pictures of every new sight that takes my breath away.)


Sequoia, Jumanji, and I at the VA state line, 30 miles into our 33 mile day!

I think the first week of the trail was an adjustment period and challenged my reasoning for being on the trail. The second week was about enjoying the Smoky Mountains and developing a familiar routine each day that worked for me. The third week was about finding a pace that worked for me and finding out where I fit in the trail community. Now that a month has passed, it is about challenging myself in new ways and embracing the lessons learned from doing so.

Here are some of the changes that I have noticed in my life that have taken place these past few weeks:

My sense of smell is heightened

A few days ago Pocahantus mentioned how potent deodorant smelled and it made me realize how much our senses have been re-calibrated to nature and not synthetic products. Nature smells whole and refreshing. You can smell the pines and the flowers as you pass by. Luckily, we can’t smell ourselves, but the “daywalkers” (day hikers, as referenced by Wanderer) smell a little too clean and aggravate our senses with the synthetic smells. I love the fresh mountain air and it has been doing wonders for my allergies not living in the city.

I am more aware of my surroundings and present in every day life
It is amazing how comforting the sounds of the forest truly are. Many would probably refer to the woods as quiet, but it really is a rich sounding environment. I love trying to distinguish the different bird, owl, insect sounds and feel more attuned to the environment around me. Last week I heard a faint crack in the forest and turned just in time to see a tree collapse before my eyes. I love hearing all the small sounds and it is quite jarring now when I approach a road crossing or enter a town. I am slowly feeling much more comfortable in the sounds of the forest rather than city life and it feels great.


Of course, nothing beats the sound of rushing water, especially at Laurel Falls 🙂

I have a big trail family

I always thought it would be awesome to live in a big hippie commune and it sort of feels like that is my current life. It is great getting to know people in the trail community while enjoying the outdoors together. There is little facades in the trail life since you are surrounded by people constantly. People are quick to show you who they really are and you love them for it. I feel connected to everyone I meet, even briefly. It really is a strong community of people who has each others back. If anyone is lacking something (IBU, fuel, food), it is easy to find a lending hand. (Just don’t abuse it, of course!) I love being part of such a vibrant community. Plus, every night feels like a big slumber party in the shelter houses. Who doesn’t miss those days??

Unbelievable food concoctions

Food for the trail is becoming pretty standard, so we now find ways to spice it up, literally. Hikers carry a wide array of spice collections and have found new ways to change up their diets. People carry cayenne pepper, hotsauce,cinammon, siracha sauce, and many other spices and are quick to share it with others to mix up their palates. So far the best meal I have seen on the trail was sushi made with a seaweed snack pack, premade rice, and spicy thai tuna packets. Mind blowing… Creativity is definitely key when consuming so many calories in a day. (I think I personally eat 3000-4000 calories a day and am still losing weight…)

I’m no longer scared of leaving a familiar bubble

For the first two weeks on the trail, I was starting to outpace most of the familiar faces on the trail and was disappointed not to be part of a trail family. I was scared of being on my own and not seeing any familiar faces in camp. The Smoky Mountains were nice since it almost made you travel in groups together through it since you couldn’t stealth camp but had to stay in designated shelters in specific locations on the trail. By the end of the Smoky Mountains, I was attached to some of the people I have seen on a daily basis. However, I also knew that I was able to push more miles than I was currently doing and wanted to hike at my own pace. After some big mile days, I managed to leave my familiar bubble and was pleased to find myself in a new bubble of equally interesting and kind people. It made me realize that I am fine on my own and can manage just fine without familiar faces.

Food standards have been lowered

Did you know how amazing the omelets are at Huddle House? How about the food at the Chinese buffet? Town food always tastes amazing and like the best thing on earth. Never trust a thru-hiker’s food recommendation. Everything tastes like heaven that isn’t dehydrated food or cliff bars.

I now hang my food bag at night from  myself rather than the bears

At night it is pretty standard to hang your food in the trees to prevent it from being eaten by mice and bear. However, now I think I hang it to prevent me from eating into the next day’s food supply. It is amazing how full you can feel one minute and then be completely hungry within an hour. We have all been down the route of debating how quickly we can make it to the next town in order to justify eating more food. It is a dangerous game to play! I am thankful for bear bagging to keep my food safely away from myself at nights.

But most importantly-Every day, rain or shine, is truly a miracle

Although I had a rough start, I have to say that I have never been happier in my life than on the trail. There is a peace found in nature and a spiritual connection to God that I enjoy in every day life. I love the relax pace of trail life and seeing the gradual change of scenery. I love laying down in flowered meadows and high-fiving baby pine trees as I pass. I love seeing butterflies in the sky and playing in the river on hot summer days. I love seeing the “smoke” come off the trees in the valleys after it rains. But most of all, I am excited to see what each day will bring, for better or for worse, and truly see God in the every day miracles.

One of my favorite morning scenes of smoke rising over the valleys below

One of my favorite morning scenes of smoke rising over the valleys below

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Comments 5

  • Ioana : May 2nd

    Shauna, it sounds like you are having an amazing experience. I look forward to read your posts, whenever they happen. Keep enjoying nature for all of us!

  • Michael Coleman : May 2nd

    I love your statement about seeing God in everyday miracles. I live near the trail in Asheville, NC. I love the mountains. With each sunrise causing the sky to glow over the peaks…the long shadows of clouds gliding over the mountains…the lushness as Spring comes into being…Cool misty mornings. Yes, I wake up sometimes and look up and think, yes, God was thinking of us today. I hope to do the AT when I retire in a few years; I’ll be almost 60yo. Hope my knees and back can take it…I can’t think of a better place to spend my leisure time. Good luck and safe journeys.

  • THE DON : May 2nd

    Nice post. Hope you continue to have a blast.

  • Jeremy White : May 3rd

    Glad to hear you’re enjoying the trail life, Shauna. You look very happy in the picture with friends. Thanks for sharing your experiences. I’ve enjoyed reading the posts.

  • Graeme : May 25th

    Another enjoyable read. Glad you’re having a great time and coping with all the challenges you set yourself. Once you finish. I will be tapping your brains re. Bariloche region…yep finally after many visits to Argentina I have booked a flight for Nov with intention of spending at least 2 weeks in Sthn Arg.

    Anyway safe travels, look forward to updates.


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