Day 37: The Station at 19E

Day 37

Carver’s Gap to Mountaineer Shelter

Miles Hiked: 23.6

AT Milage: 404.0

This morning Emma and I got out of our tent at 6AM. I really wanted to wake up and see the sunrise but we were both so tired. Last night we set up our tent close to a road and there was a larger tent set up that looked like someone had been staying there long term. Emma said she saw the tent occupant walk by after I fell asleep before 8pm. The tent had us a little nervous but I was too tired to hike any further. I had already been forced to move from the original shelter we had intended on sleeping at. Around 2am Emma heard a vehicle pull up on the road close to our camp. Two people got out and were talking extremely loud. They walked back into the woods and were shining their lights all over the place, including our tent. I slept through most of it but Emma was really scared. They eventually got back in their car and left. The whole thing was very weird. I expect that something weird could happen anytime I camp close to a road. My previous encounters with a camp close to a road include a man who was stealing hikers food and a rowdy night due to other hikers coming back from town drunk at midnight.

When we hiked out of Carver’s Gap we began to enter the Roan Highlands. We walked over two balds that were very pretty. It was cold enough for me to be hiking in my puffy coat. The clouds were constantly moving over the mountains that we were hiking on top of and I thought it looked really cool. For a morning break we stopped 6 miles in at Over-mountain Shelter. This shelter is unique because it is an old barn that had been converted to a shelter. It can fit probably more than 20 hikers. I wish we could have stayed last night but the milage didn’t make sense. We ate lunch on the side of the barn with a view of the valley. People could sleep on the outside of the barn still under a shelter and wake up to see the sunrise. It was beautiful!

After the break, we hiked over Little Hump and Hump mountain. I can see why the Roan highlands are many people’s favorite section of the trail. These mountains were bare of trees covered almost completely in long, soft, green grass that billowed like waves in the wind. There were rocks scattered all around as well. My favorite thing was seeing the trail behind and in front of me. I could see very long stretches of it leading up the mountain. There were a few other hikers going over them at the same time as us and it was fun to watch their small figures hiking across the mountain in the distance.

Emma and I were thinking about camping at an old shelter site but it was so early in the day and we only hiked 14 miles at that point. I convinced her that we should go get food at this brewery that was a half mile walk down a highway from where we were. We are both running extremely low on food and were very hungry so she agreed.

Walking on the highway was kind of scary. It was not an inner state but the cars were flying by us at 50mph on the side of a hill. We eventually made it to the brewery called “The station at 19E”. At the brewery we met Bill who worked there and showed us around. He was extremely hospitable. The brewery was also a hiker hostel and had some amenities hikers would be interested in such as a small resupply and charging outlets at the bar side. I got my favorite drink which was a hard cider I was craving. Emma and I both ordered a hotdog with fries for $5. As we sat at the empty bar more hikers started to come in, mostly day hikers who were out visiting the Roan Highlands. Apparently this section of trail is a big attraction. Two of the day hikers were very interested in hearing about how my thru hike was going and they paid for our meals! Not only that but another pair of hikers gave us a ride 0.7 miles down the highway back to the trail. It was so nice to not have to walk down the scary road again. We were so glad we made a stop. I found the break to be mentally refreshing more than anything. I was getting really irritated at the rocks and roots on the trail today and felt mentally exhausted. The short two hour break at the brewery gave me a chance to think about something other than where I am going to place my next foot step for a while.

After the food, Emma and I had a lot of energy. We got back on the trail around 7ish and hiked until 9:30 pm covering about 9 miles during this time. We walked through a meadow and along a super pretty river for a while. The trail just keeps getting better and better. We stopped for a 20 minute break at a nice and tall waterfall. After 8:30 we turned on our headlamps and hiked in the dark. I will admit I was a bit scared and hiked really fast because of this. I was playing music really loud so the bears could hear us coming.

At the shelter Emma and I tried to quietly sneak in. To our surprise there was only one person sleeping in it! One of the reasons we wanted to hike so far today is because the picture of this shelter looked so nice. It is a newer one that is 3 stories and could probably fit 15 people.

Day 39: Going SOBO over Pond Mountain

Day 39

Kincora to Vandeventer Shelter

Miles Hiked: 17.6

AT Milage: 437.6

This morning Emma and I woke up at Kincora around 8am. Last night Bob offered to drive Emma and I to Watagua lake so we could slack pack 9miles southbound over Pond Mountain back to Kincora. He said after that he would drive us back to Watagua Lake and stop in town on the way to grab food so we could hike out to Vandeventer Shelter for the night. This was an extremely kind offer. Most of the time you have to pay for slack-packing but Bob just wanted us to have a great day on the trail!

We took Bob up on the offer. Before dropping us off at the trail head Bob offered to swing by Dunkin doughnuts. Emma really wanted to go so we did and we bought Bob coffee and a doughnut. As we hiked up Pond Mountain we were so thankful we did not have our full backpacks on. It was a tough mountain with no view at the top. One of the big long climbs you do just for fun on the AT. Later I learned from Bob that the AT originally was a three mile walk down the highway but now about 9 miles have been added when it was rerouted to go over Pond Mountain as a safer option. It was so weird hiking southbound and carrying almost nothing. We passed so many hikers going North today. One that stood out to me was this super young and nice girl named “Sunny-side up” who said Hi to us and asked if we were thru hiking. I thought her leg muscles looked huge like this was her third thru hike or something. At the bottom of pond mountain we came across laurel fork falls that were huge! We spent about an hour taking a break, enjoying the falls, and soaking our feet. We made it back to Kincora around 1:30pm. Bob then drove us back to Watagua Lake to continue hiking North. But first we made a quick stop to grab groceries and a subway sandwich. Emma and I were glad because we were so hungry and didn’t have enough food to keep hiking without resupplying.

Once Bob dropped us off, Emma and I walked to the beach area of the lake and out our subway sandwiches. I was so happy and full for once. We started hiking again and it was super hot. The temperature was in the 80s. We saw so many snakes today. I got great videos of some which are on my Instagram. I couldn’t believe how many snakes were out. Quarter-way to the shelter we hit the Watuga Lake Dam where we took a long break to enjoy the view. I am having such a great time with my sister hiking with me! We are always laughing at something stupid that we do together. I’m so glad I’m getting to spend all of this quality time with her doing something we will never forget. I thought about how long it’s been since we have lived together and it’s been 3 years!

We finally made it to the shelter at 8:50 right before it got completely dark. There were three other hikers there who we talked with and sat around a fire. I slept in the shelter with a thru hiker name turtle and Emma slept in her tent. I went to sign our names in the log book and saw that Sunny side up had already passed by. She wrote that her and another hiker were trying to do a 57 mile day to Damascus, VA (the next town). This is crazy! By the looks of her legs earlier I fully believe she can do it. I hope Emma and I can catch up to her because I want to hear about it. Emma and I were thinking about trying to slackpack 42 miles into Damascus but didn’t think we could physically make it. We thought we would have to hike 24 hours! I can’t wait to hear this girls experience if we ever meet her again.

Happy Trails!

Day 38: Kincora

Day 38

Mountaineer Shelter to Kincora

Miles Hiked: 16

AT Milage: 420.0

This morning Emma and I slept in, or at least tried to. It’s been so hot at night we can’t sleep in our sleeping bags without sweating a puddle. If we sleep outside our sleeping bags we risk getting bit by a lot of bugs. We finally got on trail after 9:30. Part of the reason we left so late is because we wanted to give our feet a longer rest. I like to have at least a full 12 hours of no hiking before I hit the trail again. My feet have been hurting so bad they often keep me up at night.

Today was really hard because Emma and I were so tired. We were both running out of food and it was hurting. When we counted how many calories we had to eat it was less than 2,000 which is no where near close enough. I felt like I was getting super irritable because it felt like my blood sugar was dropping.

As we were nearing the place we were going to camp I just kept thinking about staying at one of the hostels that was less than a half mile walk from the road. At Dennis Cove Road we ran into a hiker named Will and Sorchi. Will had his car and two dogs. He isn’t thru hiking but he has been driving to all the major trail heads and walking a tiny section with both his dogs. They camp in his car together at night. Will gave Emma and I some popsicles and made us sandwiches. It was the best trail magic ever. We were both starving due to not eating enough food and the popsicles were so cold and refreshing for the very hot day. Sorchi took off shortly after we left to go check out the Kincora hostel located about 0.3 miles from the road crossing. Kincora was a really cheap hostel that Emma and I were considering. According to comments on our mapping app it was owned by an Appalachian Trail Legend, Bob Peoples.

At 7pm Emma and I decided that a bed sounded really good, especially for only $5 so we headed to Kincora. The walk to Kincora was down a nice country road that went by meadows, horses, and an old barn. When we turned down the driveway we came upon an old looking cabin completely covered in ivy. It looked like something out of a fairy tale. We walked around the cabin and were really confused because no one seemed to be there until we heard voices coming from the back near a porch. Bob saw us and welcomed us in. He told us to make ourselves at home. Bob was in the middle of telling Sorchi one of his many stories. The inside of the cabin was covered in pictures of people summit-ing Mount Katahdin after they finished the AT. One of the walls had several certificates and plaques with Bob’s name on them, some of them designating him as a lifetime member of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) and the American Long Distance Hikers Association (ALDHA).

Bob is a legend on the Appalachian Trail for many reasons. To begin with he plays a serious role in maintaining the trail such as building stairs, switchbacks, bridges, and the trail itself. It is easy to take the path that I walk for granted, yet everyday I always find myself in awe of how much work it took to move some of the giant stones to make a staircase or ensure water runs off the trail rather than on it. Bob is in charge of a trail crew called “Hard Core” that gets together to do major trail projects several times a year. When describing sections of the trail that he helps maintain to me, he knew exactly how many switchbacks, stone stairs, and springs there were within every mile of the trail he is in charge of. It is quite a large section and I am impressed. Bob has hiked the trail with Earl Shafer the first man to ever thru hike the Appalachian Trail EVER. He also has many tales of his hikes from all around the world. He told me he bought land in TN, and opened Kincora around 1996. He does not do it for money, but instead to meet more hikers. This year he should reach the number 25,000 for the amount of hikers who have stayed at his place. Bob really emphasizes how much the trail is about the people more than the hiking. He embodies the spirit of the trail in a special and unique way. Two years ago he was inducted into the Appalachian Trail Hall of Fame. A very special honor. I just wanted to describe how much of a legend this guy is on the trail. I’m sure there is plenty more of him I don’t even know about. If you are interested in learning more I would just google his name “Bob Peoples”. He is often invited as a special guest speaker at large hiker events.

At this hostel Emma and I both took a bunk bed upstairs. The only people staying there were Emma, myself, Sorchi, and a woman named Bookworm who thru hiked in 2000 but has helped Bob do trail work almost every year since. We got showers, did our laundry, and hung out listening to Bob and Bookworms trail stories until bedtime. I forgot to mention that Bob is a big cat person. He has several (maybe five?) cats that live outside the hostel and three raccoons. One of the raccoons came up to the porch and ate food out of a dish. They have learned to behave just like the cats. It is very odd, but gives the place an even greater fairy tale feel.

Happy Trails!

Day 36: Cloudland

Day 36

Cherry Gap Shelter to Carver’s Gap

Mike’s Hiked: 19.1

AT Milage: 380.4

This morning Emma and I woke up at 5:30AM and were hiking at 6:05. We did our first 7 miles super fast. My feet were feeling great. I was really frustrated and scared when I rolled my ankle badly going downhill. I always try to be so careful when walking downhill but regardless, I fail to not roll my ankles in a painful way. It makes me very angry. Going uphill is a lot more enjoyable for me despite it being more difficult. After 7 miles we took an hour long break to rest our feet and eat and drink.

After that we hiked 3 more miles to a view and took a short 15 minute break. 3 more miles later we took another really long break to fill up water and rest. We only had 5 more miles left to go but they were all straight up hill. Even though my feet were very feeling great and we took the perfect amount of breaks, I was dead tired hiking up the last mountain. It was a 2,500 foot climb over 5 miles. I think I was so tired due to a poor night of sleep last night and not eating enough food during the day, specifically high sugar foods. I ate a lot of nuts today that don’t have many carbs in them and I could feel the difference. I think almonds (not almond butter) are food my body has a hard time digesting as I hike. Today was a difficult day with over 5,000 feet of ascending.

At the top of the mountain we were supposed to camp on, were the ruins of an old 1800s resort/hotel called “Cloudland”. The whole building was torn down but there were some bricks left behind. The evacuated meadow was beautiful and it was hard to imagine what the place looked like over 10 years ago or what lead to the destruction of the establishment. The shelter called Roan High Knob is the highest shelter on the Appalachian Trail at 6,270 feet. It is unique because it is completely enclosed with a door. The forrest around it reminded me of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park except not as old. I wondered if it had something to do with the higher elevation of the forrest compared to it surroundings. The Smokies had a similar elevation often above 6,000 feet.

The area around the shelter was insanely buggy. The amount of gnats in the air looked like a blizzard. I looked down at my arms and they were covered in tiny black specks. When I wiped them away the tiny bugs got squished and looked liked they were bleeding on me. I was so tired I didn’t care about the bugs but they were annoying Emma a lot.

Today we barely saw any other hikers at all. A total of two who were together! There have been significantly less people on the trail ever since we got back on the trail in Erwin. I just think about how lonely I would be without Emma here right now.

After we ate dinner at the shelter, Emma got so annoyed with the bugs she made us hike 1.5 more miles to Carver’s Gap. I was really frustrated because I was so tired. We ended up camping at a stealth spot she found via the comments on the mapping app we use. Today turned into more than 12 hours of hiking because of this.

Day 35: Beauty Spot

Day 35

Random Stealth Spot to Cherry Gap Shelter

Miles Hiked: 15.2

AT Milage: 361.3

This morning we started getting ready at 7:30 am. I didn’t sleep well at all last night so I wasn’t motivated to get on the trail. I really didn’t want to say goodbye to Jeff either. He left at 8am to hike back to his car and Emma and I got on the trail at 8:15.

About two hours into our hike we ran into “Brother Tom” who was doing a formal trail magic set up at Indian Grave Gap. He had camping chairs set up for us to sit in and served us sweet tea and banana bread. We sat and chatted with him for a half an hour before we continued on to our lunch spot at “beauty spot”. Beauty spot was a large bald with views of the surrounding mountains and Erwin TN. The wild flowers on the hike up were the best I’ve seen on the trail so far. The rhododendron bushes were blooming with pink flowers. I saw some Daisy’s and other flowers but I’m not sure what ones the were. If you can identify any of the plants, leave a comment below!

On top of beauty spot we ate lunch with Locks, Storm Chaser, and Breezy. It was fun hanging out with them all. I was surprised to see Locks again but he ended up taking four zeros in Erwin because he got super bad shin splints. He is hiking slower now to help his legs heal. I hope he gets better!

After beauty spot we had a climb of Unaka Mountain. There were no views at the top but the forrest was beautiful. It reminded me a tiny bit of the smoky mountains. There were lots of old pine trees with moss which I loved. Near the top of the mountain we ran into a tree decorated with ornaments. It was in memory of a 22 year old biker who had committed suicide two years ago today. It was sad. There was a log book at the tree that many people who had similar stories had signed.

After Unaka mountain we had 4 more miles almost all downhill to Cherry Gap Shelter. My ankles and knees hurt super bad today and I was getting really hungry and grumpy by the time we were two miles away. Emma let me try wearing her new trail running shoes to see how I liked them. I thought they were okay but would not buy them myself. When we were exactly two miles away from camp Emma pointed out a bear on the hillside beside us. I wouldn’t have seen or heard it if she didn’t point it out. It was a very small bear but we couldn’t tell if it was a cub or not. We did not see a mama bear.

Once we got to the shelter we ate dinner and got ready for bed. We figured out that we were 67 miles from Boots Off Hostel and wanted to be there in 4 days. Tomorrow we have a long hard day with a big climb so we are waking up really early so get a head start. Before bed, I enjoyed a freeze dried ice cream sandwich that my aunt sent me in the mail. It tasted just like ice cream minus the cold and wet part with a bit of crunch. Thanks aunt Missy!

Day 34: On the Trail Again…

Day 34

Erwin, TN to random stealth camping spot

Miles Hiked: 1.8

AT Milage: 346.1

This morning I woke up at my house extremely tired from the night before. I was so slow getting all of my belongings together for the trail. We didn’t leave our house until 11am for the 7 hour drive back to Tennessee. I had to pack my backpack, pick out new food, shower, and run some errands like getting more cash.

My boyfriend drove my sister and I back to the trail the whole way! He was so patient with our many stops including one to Walmart so I could get shoe insoles. I bought some plantar fasciitis Dr. Schools shoe inserts for $12. I just wanted to try them out to see if they would help with my aching feet. I don’t think the trail running shoe I am wearing has a very hard rock plate in it so I can feel the middle of my sole (the sorest part) slamming on each rock.

Two other new things I am carrying with me on the trail this time include a small fish eye clip on camera lense for my phone and a legless chair. The camera lense will help me capture more depth in my images and make them look cool. The legless chair will allow me to have a seat with back support. These two items are considered “luxury items” since they are something that is completely unnecessary to be carrying. The chair weighs a little over a pound, which is a lot for a luxury item. I am a bit skeptical about how long I will carry it. I keep comparing its weight to a one pound peanut butter jar I carried around one week as dead weight that I never used. It may sound crazy or funny to worry about the weight of a few ounces or extra pounds in a pack but everything adds up quickly. The lighter your pack the easier your body can handle it, but the less comfortable you will be due to lack of items that may enhance your back country camping experience. As a long distance backpacker it’s all about finding a balance between comfort and pack weight on the trail. What comforts are you willing to sacrifice to carry a lighter pack? What items are worth their weight? Typically if an item is not being used everyday it shouldn’t be carried. The more uses a single item has, the more valuable it is to carry. A saying used on the trail is “ounces turn in to pounds, and pounds turn in to pain”. Some items I removed from my pack this week are my fleece pullover, pillow, hat, gloves, and back flushing syringe for my water filter. Sending home cold weather clothes is always risky. I’m hoping it is the right time! The last night I spent on the trail is the night my sister was probably hypothermic. I believe I still have all the necessary gear to get me through a coldish night but if it’s too much to handle I will plan on hiking a farther distance to be in a town with a warm bed.

We finally arrived in Erwin, TN after 7. It was getting late so we only hiked 1.8 miles before it was dark. This is my boyfriend’s first time backpacking. He is just staying one night (tonight) before he drives back home. I’m so thankful he drove us all the way down here and did something that is completely out of his comfort zone!

Days 30-33: 4 Zeros for the Tomm’s (and my body)

Miles Hiked: Zero

AT Milage: 344.1

I knew from the start of my hike that I would be getting off the trail for a few days so I could go see my best friends get married back in Cleveland Ohio. Because of this I purposely did not take a single day off the trail until I had to go back home for the wedding. Most people take about one day off per week. Since I’ve been on trail almost a month it would make sense for me to have four zero days in by now. I told myself I wasn’t even going to sleep on a real bed in town a single night before the wedding but that didn’t happen. I wanted a shower more than anything and that often required a significant effort to get off trail to have one, in which case it made sense to stay at a hostel or hotel. Although I did not take any zero days, I did take a Nero and a few easy days. A “Nero” means near zero miles hiked.

Anyways, I am glad I didn’t take a single zero before the wedding. It was challenging in a good way and helped me keep a good pace going, as far as getting to the end of the trail in October. The less time you spend in town, the less money you spend. As a result my first month on trail was significantly cheaper than other hikers. After the wedding I calculated that I need to average just under 15 miles per day if I want to make it to Katahdin by September 30th. This does not include days off the trail. If I want to take a zero to rest my feet, I will need to hike 20 miles three days in a row. I plan to be doing multiple twenties in a row within the next month. It’s taken my body quite a while to get used to the milage. My feet and knees seem to be what are holding me back the most. I know everyone else has the same aches and pains as I do. I think it is something I just have to push through to make it to the end. I don’t anticipate it ever going away.

On my days off I took time to hang out with my family and boyfriend and the rest of it involved wedding celebrations since I was in the bridal party. Nathaniel and Teresa if you’re reading this getting off trail for your wedding was the best thing ever! I wouldn’t want to miss my best friends walking down the aisle together for anything. Love you guys so much!

It was a little strange to be off trail. Almost everything I did was something I wouldn’t be doing in ordinary life. I laughed at the sharp contrast between life on the trail and being involved in a formal wedding celebration for three days. I didn’t think about the trail too much. I mostly tried to focus on how my body was feeling during the rest. My knees were still in a lot of pain whenever I had to walk up and down stairs which surprised me. I think they just feel so overused. My feet felt okay until the day of the wedding. I know I was on my feet in uncomfortable shoes a lot that day, but my soles were aching the way they did after I hiked 15 miles. I was very surprised. My loving boyfriend ended up massaging my feet a lot during the reception because they were in so much pain. I was a little worried about getting back on trail the next day. Something I did to help my feet during the zero days was soak them in hot water and epson salt. I’m not sure if the epson salt did anything but soaking them in hot water felt great. After the wedding my boyfriend and I drove back to my house really late so we could get on the road back to the trail in the morning.

Happy Trails!

Day 29: Back to Ohio

Day 29

Big Bald Mountain to Erwin, TN

Miles Hiked: 16.9

AT Milage: 344.3

After barely sleeping all night, I got everyone up at 6am. We wanted to get on trail as early as possible because we were planning on driving home to Ohio from Erwin, TN where Emma and Caroline parked their car before they took a shuttle to meet me in Hot Springs, NC. Most people who section hike, like Emma and Caroline, park their car at the end of their hike and pay someone to drive them to the spot they plan to hike from. We got out of camp by 6:30 which I was very happy about.

The morning was chilly and cloudy. As we hiked we continued to warm up and strip layers of clothing. Everyone’s feet were hurting really bad. The past five days Emma and Caroline hiked 72 miles making their daily average above 14. The last section they did with me we hiked 60 miles in six days making the daily average 10 miles a day. This week was significantly harder for everyone. I am so proud of them for doing big miles with me! Caroline will be hiking the 2,600 mile Pacific Crest Trail next year so she has been using these section hikes on the AT as a chance to prepare for what she is getting in to. I really don’t have much to say about today except that it was extremely challenging. We all wanted to get to town so bad. The lure of hot food, a shower, and bed for the night get stronger the closer you get to town. One of the favorite things about the trail is how much sweeter it makes all of the simple things in life. We all discussed how shocked we felt the first time we visited town in the middle of our last trip together. I remember that I couldn’t believe that I could get water from a soda machine without having to filter it. I wonder how I will fee being home for the next five days or so. Not only am I returning to civilization but I will be attending events for my best friends wedding for three days straight that require me to get cleaned up and wear nice clothes with makeup the whole time. This is something I don’t normally do in my regular day to day life.

A few miles into our hike around 9am I was coming down a steep hill pretty fast with Emma and Caroline behind me. All of a sudden I saw a bunch of black shapes moving very quickly through the woods. I was scared! Then a mama bear and two cubs popped out on the trail 40 yards in front of us. The mama bear looked at us and they all kept running across the trail and down the other side of the mountain. I was so happy and excited to see bears! I’ve been waiting so long to see them and was disappointed I didn’t see any in the Smoky mountains which has a high population.

We continued our hike and took many breaks. Something that made me laugh today is that we all sounded like a bunch of cows walking through the woods. Emma and Caroline have metal objects (a trowel and coffee cup) hanging off their packs that kept clanging together. Every step they took made so much noise! I have a trowel hanging on my pack too but it doesn’t hit anything to make noise. If you are wondering why we were all carrying trowels aka poop shovels they are to dig a cat hole to go to the bathroom in. This is a common leave no trace practice that people in the outdoors follow so that you don’t run into human waste in nature as much, but it still happens.

Caroline eventually broke away from the pack of us and hiked the last 4 miles alone. Emma and I were going at a crawling pace due to our hurting feet. We both hiked in our crocs for a while and then switched back to sneakers. Sometimes hiking in a different shoe helps distract your feet from their pain for a tiny bit. Some people even hike all day in crocs or sandals!

Caroline reached the trailhead at 2:15 and Emma and I got there at 3pm. We all walked to the car. On the way home we stopped at a gas station to change and McDonalds for chicken nuggets. The drive took about 7 hours including stops. I am so happy to get rest for a few days and see my family and dogs!

Happy Trails!

Day 28: Late Start, Later Night

Day 28

Flint Mountain Shelter to Bald Mountain Shelter

Miles Hiked: 18.9

AT Milage: 327.4

This morning we got out of camp so late. It’s the latest I’ve ever started a day on the Appalachian trail and I’ve only ever started later when I was on a trip with 8 other people. Starting the day late just makes my day feel so much longer. I love getting the miles done first thing in the morning. When we woke up it was raining so none of us were motivated to move from our warm spot in the shelter. Also, Emma, Caroline, and I were squeezed in the corner of the shelter so we would have had to climb over lots of people to get out. I just wanted to wait for everyone else to move their stuff before I started packing up mine. It was 8:30ish when we left camp. I know this isn’t super late in the morning, but ideally I love to be on trail at 6:30. I sat around in my wet clothes freezing while I waited on Caroline and Emma to finish packing up.

Once we were on trail the weather was much nicer. It didn’t rain all day, but the sky sure did look like it. The trail was still very muddy from the last three days of rain so we had to step very carefully. Halfway through our hike we made a long stop for lunch. We talked to a girl named Alice who I’ve been hiking around for a few days and dried out our tents.

If you haven’t been keeping up with the news, then you might not have heard that there was an attack on trail maybe a day or two? ago and someone died. It was the first murder on the trail since 2011. About two weeks ago I was warned by other hikers about a man threatening people with a knife. Since the news was spread via a hiker group facebook and I knew it was 200 miles northbound from my current location on trail I didn’t worry too much about it. Well this same person is the one that committed the recent attack on two hikers with a large knife. It’s terrible to hear this news because the trail is a place I’ve always felt safe and so many people outside the hiker community have such a huge misconception about it. It seems out of place in our current state of the world to trust strangers at the level you have to to get by on the trail. I have trusted and been trusted by so many people on trail in ways that I would not in my life off the trail and I haven’t once regretted it. Everyone out here has each other’s backs and looks out for one another in ways you wouldn’t expect. Many people often say that the trail restores their faith in people because the thru hiking community is so unexpectedly different from other groups of people you may come across. Point is, as tragic as this incident is, I think it can cause an even larger misconception about my safety on the trail than there was to begin with. My safety, specifically as a woman, has been something that has been questioned by almost everyone who I have told about what I am doing. I believe they have a good heart behind being concerned about me, but it is frustrating to constantly have others worry about me in a place where I feel safer than I did living in Columbus Ohio or driving on the highway. Statistically and logically speaking I face a much higher level of danger in public places. When I get off trail to get food or a shower in a regular town I am required to be much more aware of my surroundings than on trail. I won’t go into it to much in this post, but as far as being a woman on trail goes with safety, the biggest dangers I will face (weather and injury) do not differentiate between genders. Again, it’s sad to hear this news, but I just wanted to address the misconception about my safety on the trail vs my regular life.

Back to the day on trail, we took so many breaks and had a lot of milage planned. This was really draining for me because I usually hike alone and only take a break when I need to, not when two other people with me need to. I felt like we were hiking FOREVER. We finished the day by hiking over “Big Bald” mountain. It was very cold and we got an awesome view of the sunset through the clouds as we were in a cloud ourselves.

We finally got to camp at 8:30. This is the latest I have ever got to camp. We were hiking for 12 hours straight today! I could not believe how long we were out there. I love to get to camp early so I have a longer time to rest my feet for the next day and I get into my sleeping bag around 7:30. Even after my first 20 mile day in the smokies, I was at camp setting up my tent by 4:30. I was so exhausted from being on my feet for so long today.

There were three open spots in the shelter so we took them. It was so dark I couldn’t see anything in the shelter without my headlamp. I ate a cliff bar and a snickers bar and climbed into my sleeping bag as fast as I could. I was tried and grumpy. Emma and I had spots right next to each other on the top bunk. The temperature was expected to drop into the mid 30s tonight.

About an hour after I was all warm and cozy in my sleeping bag, I hear Emma saying my name. I woke up to her shivering. She asked if I had any extra clothes so I reluctantly gave her my puffy jacket I was wearing because she was clearly freezing. I was already wearing all the clothes I owned and so was she. She continued to shiver and couldn’t get warm. I decided the next thing we could try to do to warm her up was to have her cuddle with me. I was almost laying on top of her and I could still feel her shivering. Next we tried to fit me inside my sleeping bag, inside of her sleeping bag. It didn’t work, but we were laughing so hard about it. Finally I decided I would just switch her sleeping bags. I have a 20 degree sleeping bag meaning it will keep me alive at 20 degrees, not comfortable. Emma was borrowing her friends 40 degree sleeping bag and using my sleeping bag liner which makes it a little warmer. After I switched her, she was able to get warmer and I was really cold, but not shivering. If she still couldn’t get warm the next thing we would have to do is pack up and start hiking so she could get her body warm. I was so glad we didn’t have to do this. We were already making so much noise and keeping everyone in the shelter awake. It was a night to remember. Emma thinks the reason she couldn’t get warm is because her feet were so cold before she even got in her almost useless sleeping bag. In the morning we found out that Caroline had an emergency blanket on her which would have been helpful. No one slept much that night.

What a day! I am so proud of Emma and Caroline for doing such a difficult and high milage day!

Happy Trails!

Day 27: Competition

Day 27

Little Laurel Shelter to Flint Mountain Shelter

Mike’s Hiked: 14

AT Milage: 308.5

This morning I got out of my sleeping bag at 6:15 and we all got on trail at 7:05. Everyone else in the shelter was still sleeping except Spider who got on trail about 15 minutes before we did. We wanted to be the first ones out of camp so we had a chance at getting to camp in the next shelter. Every time the weather is bad on trail, hiking turns into a competition for the day. Everyone wants to get a spot in the shelters, especially when the weather is bad for several days in a row.

It rained all morning as we hiked. Walking through the rain for multiple days in a row is very challenging both mentally and physically. The trail turns into a mini river and every step you take is ankle deep in mud or on top of a slippery rock. Eventually the rain stopped for a bit and we scrambled along a ridge line above tree line for quite a while. Scrambling is when you are climbing up big piles of rocks often using your hands. I was going so slow over all the slippery rocks. Every step I take requires a lot of patience and thought in the rain. The scramble along the ridge line was some of the most technical trail terrain I’ve hit so far.

We took a quick lunch break at the next shelter and talked to some hikers who were lingering. I am always shocked to run into people who sleep in really late on trail and get to camp really late as well. I hit mile marker 300 today and felt proud about it for a while. Only 1800 something more miles to Katahdin!

I had very high hopes for getting a spot at the shelter, but I knew I shouldn’t have them. Every time I get really high hopes about a shelter spot in the rain, I feel crushed and in bad spirits when it doesn’t happen. The closer we got the more I tried to tell myself that we would not get a spot. When we got there the shelter was packed with a group that seemed to be related to each other. Miraculously they offered to move over and make room for us without us even considering asking them. This was extremely kind of them because most other hikers would not want to have a shelter completely packed to the brim. We ended up fitting 9 people total in the shelter. Everyone’s sleeping pad was shoved right up against each other and there wasn’t an inch to spare. We had a great time getting to know this group of southbound section hikers. They made a giant fire out of wet wood and made sure everyone could enjoy it. We realized how incredibly lucky we were to get a spot in the shelter when a large number of hikers who were behind us showed up to the shelter 30 minutes after we did. If we had hiked any slower or taken one more break, we would have had to sleep in wet tents in the rain all night. The section hikers were some of the most enjoyable people I have met on trail so far. Staying in the shelter with us are two father-son duos, one thru hiker who is leapfrogging southbound, and another solo section hiker. All of them are going southbound and will probably stay together for their whole sections because they like each other a lot. We ended up playing the card game “speed” with them which was fun. More and more people kept showing up to the shelter late into the evening. Most of them were people who were at the same campsite as us last night. I assume they must sleep in until after 10pm because I doubt they are slow hikers. I am so happy and thankful to be in a warm, dry shelter, with an enjoyable group of people for the night. Now we are only 32 miles from the car in Erwin, TN. I am wanting to get there as fast as possible so I can start my long stretch of Zeros to rest my feet.

Happy Trails!

Day 26: A Little Rain Never Killed Anybody

Day 26

Spring Mountain Shelter to Little Laurel Shelter

Miles Hiked: 8.6

AT Milage: 294.5

This morning I woke up at 7 and listened to the rain hitting the tent hoping it would stop. I didn’t start packing up things until 7:20 knowing that the rain would continue all day long. As I was packing up I was very happy to find how dry everything stayed in the new Duplex tent made by Zpacks that I shared with Emma, then I discovered a puddle in the corner of the tent. We decided that that puddle formed because I had my own tent in a bag pushing up against the tent wall allowing the water to drip inside rather than run off. It was after 8 by the time we left camp. I can’t believe how slow the rain makes me move in the morning.

Our goal was to hike 16 miles, but we ended up only hiking 8.6. When we got to the shelter we were surprised to find that there were empty spots and we were all soaking wet with no promise of the rain stoping. We quickly set up our sleeping bags and took a nap. The shelter quickly filled up with other hikers and people started setting up tents. I am so thankful to have a warm and dry spot tonight.

There was only one person at the shelter who I had met before. His name is Spider and he hasn’t taken any zeros either. I found out that I am only four days behind “the bubble”. “The Bubble” refers to a large group of thru hikers who started around the same time near the most popular date to start the AT. Because I am hiking faster than them I have caught up considerably and will probably pass many people. I have already passed a great number of hikers who started around my theoretical starting date. Most of the people at the shelter tonight started in early April. I have been on trail for 26 days now (not including the time I had to go back to school) so my start date would be April 15th. Almost all of the hikers here with the exception of Spider stared before the 10th. I met a few who started on the 3rd.

Happy Trails!

Day 25: Hot Springs, NC

Day 25

Deer Park Shelter to Spring Mountain Shelter

Miles Hiked: 14.2

AT Milage: 285.9

This morning we all woke up around 6am in the shelter. I felt something crawling inside my shirt. I went to scratch it and I grabbed a bug inside my sleeve. I whipped off my shirt as fast as I could and threw it outside the shelter. I’m not sure what bug it was, but it’s funny how much I cared about it when I’ve been sleeping and living in really dirty places for such a long time at this point. I didn’t sleep well last night. I could hear so many mice crawling around and making loud noises as I lay there awake. I woke Emma and Caroline up in their tent and made a carnation breakfast with water. We hiked 3 miles downhill to town. Everyone was very excited to reach Hot Springs, NC since it had been such a long time since we ate any substantial food. Emma and Caroline weren’t as entertained because they just came from civilization. We all ate breakfast at the Smoky Mountain Diner (Myself, Emma, Caroline, Flamingo, Cocoa, Flip, Locks, and Locks’s friend from out of town). I ordered a huge breakfast skillet plus a BLT sandwich with an egg on it. My eyes were bigger than my stomach. I couldn’t eat it all so I shared most of it with Emma who didn’t want to order anything. It was delicious food, large servings, and a great price.

After breakfast, I made us all stop at an outfitter in town so I could buy some post cards and mail them out. Emma and Caroline filtered some water from the French Broad River. For a moment we considered going tubing because we saw a local place that had tube rental available for $20. Emma and Caroline came out to hike, so I didn’t want to make them go on extraneous adventures. I think it is something I could have convinced other thru hikers to do if I stayed in town for a zero. As soon as we hit the trail, it was an uphill hike almost all day until we reached camp. Every-time I go into a town there is always a drastic elevation change going downhill into it, and a difficult uphill going out. What makes the uphill worse is that usually my pack is at its heaviest weight filled with a new load of food to make it to the next town. Emma and Caroline brought me food for my resupply. I told Emma what I needed her to buy and she got it for me. It is the heaviest food bag I have ever carried. It’s hard to get an idea of how much food I need unless I see it. I should only be carrying about 5 days of food but instead I think I have 9 days. My pack has never been heavier in all of my backpacking outings. Today was extremely difficult because of all the extra weight that slowed me down. This was probably more advantageous for Caroline and Emma because they don’t have trail legs and wouldn’t be able to keep up with me if I hiked my usual pace.

I loved getting to catch up with Emma and Caroline today. They are my favorite people to backpack with. We got some great views of down town Hot Springs and the river when we hiked the first mountain out of town. Eventually we came to a dammed pond which was very interesting but also kind of gross. Emma drank some water from it (after filtering) and it smelled like sulfur. I meant to tell her not to get her water from a stagnant source if she can avoid it, but she was so thirsty and there weren’t any other close reliable sources. Later we came upon a really nice fire tower which was a surprise because it wasn’t even in the guide book. It was brand new, probably built last year. Most of the fire towers so far have been extremely sketchy so it was nice to climb up something sturdy for a change.

By the time we got to camp my feet were killing me. We took plenty of breaks today but I think my heavy pack weight and extended amount of time on my feet due to slow hiking did me in. I can’t wait to take my first zero days. I have to get off trail on the 15th because I am in my best friend’s wedding. I am so glad I will get a chance to rest my sore feet for a solid four days. The wedding is the same weekend of “Trail Days” a traditional and exciting AT hiker festival that happens every year in Damascus Virginia. I’m really sad that I have to miss it for the wedding. It is a great chance to catch up with other hikers you haven’t seen in a long time and meet many famous AT hikers and gear company start ups. I might try to go another year when I’m not on trail but it won’t be the same. Regardless, getting off trail will be a great rest for my body, but probably be difficult to cope with being away from trail and the shock of how hard backpacking is again when I get back on.

We are expecting heavy rains and severe weather for the next few days, starting at 3am tonight. It will be interesting.

Happy Trails!

Day 24: Cozy Corner

Day 24

Roaring Fork Shelter to Deer Park Mountain Shelter

Miles Hiked: 14.7

AT Milage: 271.7

Today was a great day of hiking. I got on trail a bit before 8am. I caught up to a guy named Noah who I hiked with for a day near Wayah Bald. I was surprised to see him again because I thought he was way ahead of me but turns out he took a zero or two in Gatlinburg. It’s always funny to run into people you thought were long gone. Sometimes people run into someone they met the first week of hiking and haven’t seen since then when they are 100 miles from Katahdin.

The only mountain climbs today were of Chestnut Mountain and Bluff Mountain. They were only 1 and 1.5 miles accents each. Flamingo caught up to me and then passed. I hiked with a guy named Flip for a significant amount of the day after that. We made it to camp at 1:30ish and met Flamingo there. We were happy to get to camp first and so early because we all got a spot in the extremely small shelter. The only other people who slept in it with us three for the night were Cocoa and Locks who came into camp shortly after us. My feet were hurting bad today. I figured out that they mostly hurt when I hike all day without taking a break. It’s hard to sit down and eat lunch when I just want to get to camp before the rain and there isn’t a nice view.

At camp we aggressively made a fire. It was the best one we have had yet. It burned a ton of wood and we roasted the marshmallows that I packed out. My sister Emma and Caroline were supposed to meet me at the shelter today so I was waiting in excitement. I knew that they were going to bring me a cheese burger from McDonalds and I ran out of food for dinner. When they showed up they were carrying so much food for me in their arms. I felt bad. They were carrying my week resupply which was a lot more food than I had expected. My pack will be extremely heavy tomorrow morning.

Day 23: Max Patch

Day 23

Painters Branch to Roaring Fork Shelter

Miles Hiked: 13.3

AT Milage: 257.0

This morning I hiked out of camp significantly later. I am not living up to my name of “Early Bird”. The first 2 miles up to snowbird peak were steep. Kentucky caught up to me and hiked with me to the top. There was an old air traffic controller building at the top which was interesting. I hiked pretty slowly today. I wasn’t feeling great due to the amount of junk food I’ve been eating. At one point I took of my shirt because I smelled so bad I couldn’t stand it anymore. I regret not washing it at Standing Bear, but I requested my sister bring me a new one when she meets me tomorrow night.

I reached Max Patch at 1:30. I sat up there for an extremely long time enjoying the view. I really wanted to cowboy camp on the summit but it is dangerous if the weather is not good because you are the only thing taller than a blade of grass for a significant amount of space. Cowboy camping means camping without a tent. In other words just laying down in your sleeping bag and staring at the stars. Flamingo and Ethan joined me at the view and we all hung out for a while until we saw a rain storm coming in. Whenever you are at high elevation and a storm starts it always sounds like the thunder is coming from right beside you instead of above you. I hiked the last 2 miles in my crocs again, however this time I took multiple falls because I slipped in mud.

The above photo was taken by Flamingo on his fish eye lense clip-on for his phone. I really want to get one of these for my phone so I can take cool pictures like this! They seem pretty easy to fit on to anyphone and use to take a wide angle photo and a super close up photo.

At the shelter I took a spot in the corner. We made a fire and cooked some marshmallows that I bought at Standing Bear and packed out. It was a pleasant and uneventful evening.

Day 22: A Nero out of Standing Bear Farm

Day 22

Standing Bear Farm to Painter Branch

Miles Hiked: 2.2

AT Milage: 243.7

This morning I woke up in the bunk house and finished up my blogging from the day before. I really enjoy keeping a trail journal but it is a lot of work sometimes. I always try to write down everything before I fall asleep because otherwise it won’t get done at all. I’ve never kept an extensive journal such as this one for very long. I find it difficult to hold my self accountable and be self disciplined with writing.

While everyone was eating breakfast I decided to get my laundry done. This means using the old fashioned washboard in a sink with a bar of soap and then hanging things up to dry. I only washed my socks and underwear because they were the dirtiest things I own. Everything else could benefit more from a washer or dryer. I was very thankful for the washing board because a washing machine would not have done my socks much good at all. The dirt is caked on so thick on my socks that they absolutely need to be hand scrubbed with an abrasive to become fully clean. Every time I have put them in a washer so far they still come out significantly dirty. After I washed my clothes I bought a giant bottle of lemonade and trail mix for breakfast. In retrospect I should have taken advantage of the nice food but I wasn’t sure where everyone was getting it from. Most of the food at this place is expired which doesn’t matter for the majority of items sold but I didn’t want to buy any month old yogurt or other cold items from the fridge.

I originally planned on taking a zero today but it was super hard to watch all the other hikers leave. Everyone was going to camp on Max Patch tonight, a 13 mile walk from the hostel and a location on trail I’ve been looking forward to seeing for a long time. Max Patch is an expansive bald with beautiful camping if the weather is nice. Even if Max Patch wasn’t close, getting back on trail is extremely tempting for me. I like to spend as little time in town or civilization as possible because it just leads to spending more money. I decided to hang around the hostel all day and then hike two miles north on the trail to a campsite next to a creek. This would allow me to get back on trail, avoid spending money, and hopefully camp alone for the first time. Being in the woods alone in the dark, specifically camping, is my biggest fear. I have never camped alone in my whole life before but it’s one thing I want to do at least once on trail and get used to doing for later adventures in life.

So I hung out at the hostel all day. I added the pictures to my blog and published all my posts which took a really long time. I have to wait until I have good service or WiFi to put the pictures on my blog and it’s really annoying. The hostel had many books laying around so I read some of them. I was mostly interested in the ones about the A.T. and Smoky Mountains. I found one book about a man thru hiking the Buckeye Trail in Ohio. I would like to get my own copy to finish reading it. Many people have been carrying books on trail and I wish I had chosen at least one to bring and read. I just don’t want it to be a book I’m attached to because I will want to mail it home. It would be a lot easier to burn the book like some people or leave it for another person at a hostel. The hostel also had copies of the “AT Hiker Yearbook” (I think that’s what it’s called). The creator of the yearbook travels up and down the trail during the hiking season to get pictures of people and you can also submit some online. I loved looking through all the stories of hikers in the previous years. I found pictures of Pongo and Rockslide from their previous thru hikes and pictures of Onesimus doing trail magic.

Other than reading, I got to hang out with Ethan some more and get to know him better. He graduated in general studies from UConn a year ago and enjoys doing farm work a lot. Sometimes hostels will offer a work for stay. This means that a hiker will do some labor for the hostel in exchange for a free bed for the night. Ethan was taking advantage of this for the second day in a row. He cleaned the entire hostel kitchen and dishes several times as well as helping move some dirt and rocks around for various projects going on. He has a trac phone and carries a journal with him. He seems so free from human distractions and temptations because of this and I’m slightly jealous. I know he gave up having a smart phone but I’m not sure how long ago. I might decide to go a week on the trail without using my phone except for pictures and writing drafts of posts for my blog to see how it feels. After I leave today I’m not sure when I will see Ethan again because he hikes pretty fast and I’m about to have to slow down because my sister is joining me and I have to go home for a wedding. Ethan was given the trail name “cucumber” last night. I’m not sure if he is gonna let it stick or not but time will tell!

Before I left the hostel I resupplied my food for two days and tallied up my tab. The food I bought was absolute junk with no nutritional value other than a large amount of calories. I need to find a way to eat better/ healthier on trail but it’s difficult when I choose not to have a stove, need to eat a large amount of food, and have no way to keep anything fresh. Even though they are really heavy I might try to get some avocados soon. If anyone has some healthier stove-less trail food suggestions, leave them in the comments below. I’m been surviving mostly off of granola bars, snickers, tuna, and cheese.

Around 3:30 I finally left the hostel. It was a completely uphill hike to my camping spot. I set up my tent fully expecting to be alone. Then Kentucky and another hiker named Alice came and set up their tents about 100 yards away. I guess I will have to save camping alone for another day.

If anyone has anything they would like to hear more about as far as daily trail life or an itching question please leave a comment! I will try to address it in a future blog post. If you have a suggestion about how to improve my blog or writing please tell me that as well. I love all the comments and feedback that people are leaving. Thank you all SO much for reading. I was inspired to start an online trail journal/ blog after reading Erin “Wired” Saver’s blog called “walkingwithwired.com”. She is a hiker that I look up to and relate to a lot. I hope one day for my blog to be professionally developed the way hers is. One step at a time for now. I am taking in every moment of this hike as it happens. I don’t want to worry about my blog logistics too much until I am off trail. I highly suggest going to check out her page if you are interested. Sadly she just “retired” from thru hiking and keeping her blog updated this year, but I learned a great deal about what the AT would be like for me, from her. One day I hope to run into her on a hike.

Happy Trails!