Day 41: The Place

Day 41

Stealth Spot to Damascus, VA

Miles Hiked: 15.3

AT Milage: 470.7

This morning Emma and I hit the trail right at 7am. We were really excited to get to town, we were looking forward to the pizza buffet for a long time. We quickly made it to town by 2pm. We crossed the Tennessee/ Virginia border and took one major break to get water. Water has been scarce on the trail for the last 40 miles and it has been really hot outside. We saw a black bear (#5) run across the trail about 6 miles from town. The first thing we did when we got into town was go to an outfitter to look for some things that we needed. They were out of all most everything since Trail Days was last weekend and 20,000 hikers were in town buying everything. Next we checked into the hostel known as “The Place”. This hostel is inside in a 100+ year old church and it is the oldest hostel on the trail. We met a hiker named Parker at The Place who made it to Damascus in 20 days! He said he has to average around 26 mile days every day to make it here and it is his first zero. At 4pm all of us got showers and walked to Pizza Plus to eat dinner. It was an all you can eat pizza and salad dinner for $8. We ate so much food and then went to the grocery store to buy food for the next few days. We had a great time hanging out. We were laughing about how we were the only people each other had talked to for a significant amount of time in a few days. Back at the hostel we just hung out and went to bed around 9.

Day 40: The Rabbit Hole

Day 40

Vandeventer Shelter to Stealth Spot

Miles Hiked: 17.8

AT Milage: 455.4

This morning I woke up at 5:30 AM because I wanted to see the sunrise. There was a cool view of the lake and surrounding mountains from behind the shelter. It was a super foggy morning and I couldn’t see much so I went back to sleep. I woke up at 8am to Emma pulling on my feet with her backpack packed and ready to go. I was exhausted and probably would have slept until 10AM if she didn’t wake me up. I quickly got my things together and we hit the trail just after 8:30. We stopped for water about 3 miles in and I was extremely irritated. Filtering water has become my least favorite task on the trail. I always get the water all over myself and knock over my already filtered bottle by accident. I try to hold still as I squeeze the bag to get as much water as possible into my bottle, but bugs continuously land on me and I brush them off which leads to me spilling more water. On top of all that, the dirt sticks to me and turns into mud on my hands which I then wipe all over my shorts and wonder why on earth I even bother to do laundry. 3 miles later Emma and I found ourselves at Iron mountain shelter taking an hour long break in which we each ate 1,000 calories of food. We were trying to make our picks lighter and make up for the calorie deficit of the past few days.

After the break I called my mom and talked to her for a while and so did Emma. We kept hiking on through the heat of the day. Around 2pm we were going to stop for water but the springs were pretty much dried up. I convinced Emma that instead we should try to get milkshakes at this hostel that was a mile down the trail. Emma called the hostel called “The Rabbit Hole” and they came to pick us up from the trail head which was extremely nice. The place was located 2 miles off trail. We would not make a 4 mile round trip for milkshakes but since they picked us up we went! When we got to the road a past thru hiker who is the owner of Rabbit Hole named “Rabbit” picked us up. He explained to us that this year is the hostels first year being open. It was super nice when we got there. All of the hostels I have visited so far have been some of the oldest ones on the trail (which I like) and there was a huge difference between the two. The Rabbit Hole was extremely nice and clean. The milkshakes we got were so good that I wanted another but I figured I would probably throw it up on the trail if I drank one more.

Around 4 o’clock rabbit drove us back to the trail. The first part we hit Northbound was a wheel chair accessible section that goes through a field with a cool barn. Then we walked through pastures that had cows in them. My feet were killing me. Every rock I steeped in felt like it was stabbing me in the bottom of the foot. We wanted to get a lot closer to Damascus so we could have an easy day off tomorrow but I gave us early. I was just not having a good hiking day. We set up camp at a random campsite on the side of the trail.

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!