Day 6: For real this time

Day 6

Unicoi Gap to Sassafras Gap

Miles hike 10.4

AT mileage 62.8

Today is the day!

My parents and sister sacrificed their weekend to drive me down to the trail at Unicoi Gap in GA. We stayed the night at Quality Inn in Helen, GA. I called around to several hotels and it was the only place that let us take our dogs. Unfortunately I got sick the day before my hike began. I somewhat expected it because all of the people who are close to me were sick the previous week. I fell asleep at 9pm last night and slept til 7am today. I woke up feeling like trash but determined for it not to affect my hike. I was sad that we didn’t get to do much in Helen, it seemed like a cool town. I was too sick, we forgot the dog’s cage, and my parents needed to hit the road so they didn’t get home too late.

At 10am my parents dropped me off at Unicoi Gap and we took some pictures by the plaque. Emma hiked with me for 3 miles over Rocky Mountain and my dad slack-packed me. We met up again at Indian Grave Gap. As I was climbing up Rocky Mountain I felt like I was going to throw up if I had my pack on.

At Indian Gap I said goodbye to my family. As I hiked on alone, this dream of mine seemed real for the first time. I couldn’t believe I was out here actually doing it.

I hiked all day by myself and didn’t see many other people at all until I sat down for a snack. I had to keep reminding myself to take a break. My body was already hurting so bad. I think it was because I’m so sick.

Eventually I made it to my campsite at Sassafras’s Gap. I was worried I was going to have to camp alone and considered hiking one more mile to a campsite I knew people would be at. Luckily a few people I had met earlier came along. I wanted to go to sleep immediately but it was not even 5pm yet and we had so much daylight left. I took some medicine and melatonin hoping to get a maximum amount of sleep tonight. Right now I’m laying down in my tent. It feels so good to be horizontal. It’s supposed to be 47 tonight which I hope is true! I’m using a new 20 degree sleeping bag for the first time.

Day 5: Back to Real Life

March 15th

Low Gap Shelter to Unicoi Gap

Miles Hiked: 9.7

AT milage: 52.5

Elevation chart from Guthook Guides.

This morning we woke up at 5am, packed up in the rain and were hiking before 6am. We got up super early in hopes to make it to Unicoi gap before noon. That way my dad and sister could make it home at a reasonable time after the long drive.

Clay lead the way. The first 7 miles of the hike was really easy. Most of it was downhill or very gradual uphill. The trail was covered in water and basically turned into a small creek. This was the first time my trail running shoes actually got completely soaked through on this trip. It wasn’t bad. We hiked very fast as a group for the first five miles taking only one water break. At mile five (halfway done) we hit Chattahoochee Gap and the sun rise was almost over. It was 7:40 AM.

Right before mile 7 the trail started to get really rocky. I was taking my time. I really did not want to twist my ankle the last day on the trail and be too hurt to return. I fell down and got really angry. I was completely fine until that moment. All at once I could feel how hungry, thirsty, and tired my body was. I knew I had to keep moving to get to the car but I was going significantly slower. Clay and Caroline took off. I really needed to stop and give myself a break from my pack. It was rubbing into my hip and shoulder bones really badly today. Emma was very nice and stayed back with me. She lead the hike back to the car with me behind her making sure I didn’t fall too far behind. She knew I was really hungry so we stopped to eat more for breakfast at the top of the last mountain (Blue Mountain). The last two miles were downhill to the gap. It was a complete mudslide or very rocky so we had to go slow. I wanted nothing more to sit down. Eventually I made it. At the end was some trail magic but I didn’t stop by the tent since dad was waiting for us in the car.

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Emma and I eating breakfast on top of Blue Mountain. I didn’t take many pictures at all on the days it rained all day. I didn’t want to get my phone wet and ruined.

It was a long tough day for me. I was really struggling physically and mentally thinking about how much I do not want to go back to real life (school and work). I wanted to keep walking on to Maine with all of the people I had met along the way this stretch. I know I am coming back to Unicoi Gap to finish that goal in a few weeks but I can’t stand to think about school. This semester I have taken on 21 credit hours and it’s been pretty hard. I’ve been struggling to balance my time spent at work with my time spent studying. 6 more weeks until its all over and I can be back on the trail. I check my count down app on my phone every day.

When I got home later in the evening I cleaned up all my gear and my body. I noticed for the first time how much my feet had swollen from the trip. I knew they were swelling a little bit but I really thought my toes looked like sausages now. I couldn’t see the bones on the tops of my feet either.

Day 4: Walking Through the Clouds

March 14th

Bull Gap to Low Gap Shelter

Miles Hiked: 10.4

AT mileage: 42.8

Elevation chart from Guthook Guides.

I slept a whopping total of five minutes last night. The wind storm kept me up all night  and then it started raining around 5am. We woke up at 7am and were out of the tent by 7:30 getting our food and going to the bathroom. By 8:30 we hit the trail.

It was a rainy, foggy, windy day. The whole hike we couldn’t see more than 10 feet in front of us. Clay took off ahead of us around mile 1 or 2 and we didn’t see him all day until we reached the shelter.

Caroline, Emma and I hiked together all day. We went pretty slow and tried to sing songs but no one could remember the lyrics to anything. At 11am we ran into people who were doing trail magic at Tensatee Gap. I had a doughnut and got a nice beanie with a white blaze on it. They also gave us these little hand towels to dry off. It was everything I needed at the time. We continued our hike 4 more miles to the shelter.

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Dad took this picture of us with the people providing trail magic. One of their trail names was King Tut. I can’t remember the others. They told us they come out every Tuesday and Thursday for seven weeks. They really seemed to enjoy supporting the hikers.

Clay made it to the shelter about an hour before us. When we got there around 2 we were very thankful that we all got a dry spot to sleep in. We did camp chores and hung out with the others. The rain stopped until it got dark. I slept next to Otter and Sunshine who were from Texas. They stared a few days before us and were taking a zero at the shelter because Sunshine was exhibiting symptoms of hypothermia. They were a fun couple and I really hope they make it to the end.

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The group staying in the shelter. From left to right: Sunshine, Otter, me, Emma, Clay, Caroline, and Preach.

Day 3: Mountain Crossings

March 13th

Lance Creek to Bull Gap

Miles hiked 8.5

AT mileage 32.4

Elevation chart from Guthook Guides.

Today we slept in because we were all so exhausted from yesterday. I was really slow getting ready and took my time. We hit the trail around 9am and hiked very slow. After the miles we put in yesterday it felt like we had all day long to do 8.5 miles. We took a break at Jarrard gap before we started heading up Blood mountain, the highest point on the AT in Georgia.

The climb up Blood mountain northbound on the AT wasn’t bad. Sassafras mountain which we climbed the day before was much much harder. At the top we met Dad. I was so happy to see him and that he was able to make it to the top! He was worried he wouldn’t make it up in time to see us but I know he really wanted to make it. We hung out at the top and took pictures. It was REALLY windy. The mountain reminded me a lot of Old Rag in Virginia.

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Emma and I on top of Blood mountain.

The decent down from Blood Mountain to Neels Gap was very rough. I can’t believe my dad climbed up that! It would have taken me forever if I was backpacking.

When we got to Neels Gap we stopped into the infamous Mountain Crossing outfitter/ store. They had TONS of stuff from gear to souvineers. I bought a post card and an AT patch to sew onto something. After that dad offered to take us into town to get food. I didn’t want to but everyone else in the group did so we went! I was SO glad we stopped.

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The outdoor seating area at Mountain Crossings.
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It is estimated that 20% of AT thru hikers give up at Neel’s Gap. These are the shoes that many of them hang up on the tree when they give up.

In town we went to an all you can eat pizza buffet. I had the biggest salad ever and tons of pizza. I ate enough so I didn’t need to cook dinner. I could see how easy it is to get sucked into the comforts of town and blow all my money on food and a warm bed making me not want to get back on the trail. Next we made a quick stop at CVS and Walmart. Caroline and I both found out our rain jackets are not water proof so we both bought some cheap rain coats/ ponchos from Walmart. I’m hoping to put mine over my whole pack tomorrow but we will see. Eventually we made it back to Mountain Crossings so we could continue our hike. It was one mile uphill to our campsite at Bull Gap.

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We were so hungry we could barely stop eating to take a picture at the pizza and salad buffet.
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Emma and I in our shared tent at Bull’s gap.
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Camp set up at Bull’s gap.

Tonight there wasn’t as many people at camp. We got set up and hung out bear bags PCT style for the first time. After we all got in bed, dad was searching all over for his glasses. Emma and I remembered he dropped them in the woods when we were bear hanging so we went to search for them in the dark together. He was so lucky we found them. It was funny.

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Dad and Emma setting up Dad’s tent. This is the tent I will be taking with me on my thru hike. I let dad use it for the week.
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Dad hiking up to Bull gap campsite.

The wind is very strong tonight and it is whipping straight through our tent. I have good cell service so I’m catching up with my mom and boyfriend with texts before bed. We are expecting rain all day long tomorrow.

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The group on top of Blood mountain.

Day 2: The long day to Lance Creek

March 12th

Hawk Mountain Shelter to Lance Creek Campground

Miles hiked:15.8

AT mileage: 23.7

Elevation chart from Guthook Guides.

Last night at the shelter before bed, the four of us (Emma, clay, Caroline, and I) decided we felt good enough to try for a longer day of hiking tomorrow. We wanted to get around a different group of people thinking the next shelter would be just as crowded and have the same amount of people in it as the first one. The original plan was to hike a little less than 8 miles to Gooch Gap Shelter. The new plan was to try and hit that shelter before noon and push on another 7 miles to Lance creek. Our total mileage for the day was 15.8.

We all woke up at 6:30 and left camp before 7:30. I’m pretty sure we woke the whole shelter up by getting ready but it’s just part of sleeping with a group of 10 people or more. It was still dark when we left camp and started hiking. First we went down the wrong trail that went up to the summit of Hawk mountain. We turned around when we saw a sign that said “not the AT”. Eventually we found the AT and continued on. The sunrise was great and we ate an easy breakfast on the trail. I liked eating breakfast on the go. It made the morning a lot faster than usual.

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Sunrise around mile 2.
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Breakfast stop on the trail.

Around our fourth mile we started climbing a really big mountain between Horse and Cooper gap. It seemed like the strenuous climb was going on forever. The downhill was even more harsh on my knees. Later we found out it was called sassafras’s mountain and a Georgia local who lives off the AT told us it was one of the two most difficult mountain climbs in Georgia. We were proud of our effort. We made it to the Gooch gap shelter around 11am and hiked on to Gooch Gap parking lot to meet dad for lunch. We hung out and ate with him for at least an hour before hitting the trail again. He decided to camp by himself at Gooch Gap shelter. Our hike to Lance creek was quite a way from a parking spot.

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Justice Creek

The next half of the day we climbed three more mountains and got the best views of the whole trip. I slowed down my hiking pace a lot along with Caroline. My feet were hurting really bad and one of them felt injured. When we finally got to Lance creek, I pulled off my shoes the top of my left foot was bruised. Everyone had swollen feet.

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Great views from Big Cedar mountain.

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Ramrock Mountain

The campsite was packed as we had expected. We were able to find some random flat spots away from everyone else to put a tent and got to hang our food on the bear cables. I was so hungry I think I ate my entire lunch I had packed for tomorrow. We all hung out and enjoyed the last evening of nice weather.

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Emma and Caroline cooking dinner.

Day 1: The Rainforest

March 11th

Springer mountain shelter to Hawk mountain shelter

Miles hiked:7.9

AT mileage: 8.1

Elevation chart from Guthook Guides.

I slept great last night. Today we woke up at 7:30 broke camp, and hit the trail at 9:15. Our mileage was really easy. It was pretty much all downhill except the last 2 miles. After we hiked one mile we went to Dad’s car at the springer mountain parking lot and dumped off some gear/ picked up more food. I got rid of my sleeping bag liner and an extra pair of leggings. Caroline got rid of some clothes hoping to drop her pack weight. Dad took our trail friend Johnathan back to Amicalola falls so he could drive his car back up to springer and distribute hard copies of surveys to thru hikers at the summit. He is doing a psychology study on thru hikers for school.

The scenery made it feel like we were on a completely different trail today. It felt like the rainforest with the rhododendron bushes and red dirt. The Benton Mckaye Trail passed over the AT several times today. The weather was humid, warm (50s), and rained a bit from 2-3. We got to cross several interesting bridges. At one point we passed some people in army uniforms hiding in the bushes. There is some training place close by and you can hear them fire guns and set off fake bombs.

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Emma and Caroline in the Rhododendron bushes.

For lunch we stopped at long creek falls for about an hour. We took our time since we knew we would get to camp so early.

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Our lunch spot set up along side Long Creek.

Right before we arrived at camp it started raining for our last two miles. We started going fast to make sure we got a spot in the shelter. Our destination for the day was Hawk Mountain Shelter. The four of us and one other person took over the entire second level of the shelter. Dad came in shortly after us and pitched a tent since the shelter was full. We just hung out and made dinner.

At the shelter I got to meet several interesting people. First was lion heart and his two dogs. They hiked the whole AT together in 2017 and are doing it again this year. Later in the evening right before bed we met two people who had made or dyed everything they own lavender. Turns out they are in a band called the Mailboxes. They are thru hiking the AT this year and going on tour afterwards. They played a few songs for us. Other people I met at camp were fireplug and colonel.

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The Mailboxes and their lavender set up. Jillian played her Ukulele for us outside the shelter and sang.
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Lion heart signing the trail register with his two dogs Nova and Severus. He signs their names with his every time.
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Nova one of Lionheart’s dogs.

Day Zero: The Approach Trail and The First White Blaze

March 10th

Miles Hiked: 8.8 on the Approach trail plus 0.2 on the AT to Springer mountain shelter. = 9.0 miles

Amicalola Falls State Park visitor center to Springer mountain shelter.

This morning we broke down our very wet camp fairly quickly. It down-poured the entire night before and no one slept well. Emma and I had our tent set up in a puddle.

I checked in as a thru hiker around 9:30AM at the visitor center. I am officially hiker number 757. We sat through an orientation session about leave no trace and a bear hanging tutorial. After that we weighed our packs and took the obligatory pictures. My pack weighed 31 pounds with food and water but I will be carrying a pack with a lot of different stuff when I return on my own. Caroline’s pack was the heaviest at 40 pounds but everyone else was under 30 pounds. Before we set out I sent some post cards to family.

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The tag that will be attached to my pack. It identifies me as a thru hiker.
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I am the 757th hiker to begin a journey to Maine in 2019. Upwards of 3,000 people make this attempt every year.
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Getting my pack weighed. 31 pounds.
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The gang before we headed off down the approach trail.
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Dad drove us down to GA and camped with us every night except the last one on the trail. He parked at trailheads close to the campsites so he didn’t have to hike as far as we did. I was so happy he was out there with us and getting to see what this is all about.

The approach trail was the hardest backpacking I’ve even done so far. The elevation gain was significant. Some people skip the stairs at Amicalola falls but I really wanted to do them. We climbed around 600 stairs to the top of the water fall. After that the elevation gain wasn’t too bad until the final mile up to springer mountain.

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Emma and I standing at the top of the falls with the Georgia mountains in the background.

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Me at the bottom of the falls after the first few stairs. I quickly ended up stripping off all my layers.

The weather was beautiful and we stopped for snacks/lunch. At one point I saw a mouse scurrying under some leaves as we walked along. It took us about 5 hours to get to the top of springer mountain from the visitors center.

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Snack break.
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Seeing green grass line the trail for the first time in a long time was a blessing.

At the top of springer we met my dad who hiked in a mile from the springer mountain parking lot. We all signed the trail register and took pictures by the first white blaze of the Appalachian trail. It felt surreal to finally be beginning this hike.

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“A footpath for those who seek fellowship with the wilderness.”

Next we hiked on 0.2 miles to springer mountain shelter. There was plenty of room left in the shelter but we wanted to dry out our tents so we set them up and camped in them. The shelter had a privy and bear box for our food. We talked to quite a few people who were there including a ridge runner who was making sure everyone was following LNT (leave no trace) principles. He kept track of how many hikers stay each night and there were 23 of us that night. We ate dinner and did the usual camp chores. Afterwards we hiked back to the first white blaze and watched the sun set from the view.

The weather was nice for sleeping at 40 degrees. Some time in the middle of the night I woke up panicking because I thought a mouse was in my sleeping bag. No one heard me except Caroline and Emma thankfully. I intended on writing this all before I fell asleep but I fell asleep incredibly quick. It was a good night.

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Carolines one person tent and Emma and I’s two person on top of Springer Mountain.

Arriving and Night One at Amicalola Falls State Park, GA

On March 9th my dad, sister and her friend Clay, picked Caroline and myself up from my apartment in Columbus to drive down to Georgia. It felt like such a long drive for me because I was so excited, but it was only 8-9 hours. I set up and tested the sattelitephone my parents got me to carry on the way down. It’s really nice to have and gives my mom a peace of mind. I can send her some preset messages saying I’m okay whenever I have a GPS signal.

My Garmin Inreach

We arrived at Amicalola around 7pm. It was dark and the fog was incredibly thick. When we finally found the campground we set up tents in the rain. We sat in the car for a while playing games and eating our left over subway for dinner. The forecast looked great when we went to sleep. It started raining around midnight and did not stop. It’s 6am right now and it still hasn’t stopped. Setting off with heavy wet gear isn’t ideal. I have a little hope we will make it to the shelter before others tonight to grab a spot and we can dry out our gear a tiny bit there. The entire weekly forecast changes each time I look at it. I don’t think my goodwill light weight rain coat is waterproof and I completely forgot the outfit I was going to hike in. I only have one cotton shirt with me which is a big no for wet and cold weather.

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Emma all suited up in her Frogg Toggs

Hocking Hills State Park, OH

Today Jeff and I made a short trip to Hocking Hills State Park in Logan, Ohio. We hiked a 5 mile loop hitting some major attractions of the park. The snow fall was perfect and we didn’t see too many people which I was very happy about. I have only visited this park in the winter but I hear the summertime crowds are overwhelming. Thankful we got the chance to visit!

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The Lower Falls
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I believe this is Rose lake
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Overlook on the George overlook trail
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Jeff and I on the A frame bridge over the creek
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A better picture of the lower falls from Jeff’s phone

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Trail marker that features the three long distance trails that run through Ohio all over lapping at one point. The North Country Trail runs from the NY/VT border in to the middle of North Dakota. The Buckeye Trail makes a loop around the whole state of Ohio. As you can see, the historical American Discovery Trail runs coast to coast.

The Timing and Logistics of My Thru Hike

This post originally appeared on my Appalachian Trail Blog on thetrek.co which you can read here

What is a thru hike you might ask?

While some may not agree, I have found the definition of a thru hike to be a lose term. The definition that I tend to see used the most and the one I chose to define a thru hike by is: “Hiking the entirety of a long distance trail within a calendar year”.

First this definition implies that the trail is long enough that it needs to be completed over multiple days or at least an incredible amount of effort to do in a single day. I say this to eliminate the possibility of using the term to define completing a ten mile trail but to be inclusive of the shorter long distance trails. For example one could complete a thru hike of the 70 mile Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail in western Pennsylvania by spending several days and nights backpacking the trail, or someone could do an ultra trail run of this trail in one day if they are able to.

Second, this definition sets a time frame on the completion of  a thru hike. For trails such as the Appalachian Trail whose milage is quite significant (2,192.0 miles in 2019) completing the trail within a one year time frame is quite a challenge especially considering the limitations of the weather on the northern terminus.

Whatever your definition of a thru hike may be, I simply state this one to inform you of the one that I am using.

“Hiking the entirety of a long distance trail within a calendar year “

Traditionally thru hikers on the Appalachian Trail will hike the entire length of the trail without taking more than two consecutive days off, or maybe a week if they need to. My plan for completing my thru hike is slightly different than most but I wouldn’t call it completely unconventional.

A week from today I will be heading down to Amicalola Falls State Park in Georgia to begin my hike at the southern terminus of the AT over my college spring break. My official start date is set to be March 10th. I plan to hike 52.5 miles of the AT and the 8.8 mile approach trail to the summit of Springer mountain where the trail begins. I will be with my dad, sister, and two of our friends for this small section. After spring break…. you guessed it… I will be returning to Ohio to finish school.

After I finish the semester at the end of April I will be returning to the point where I left off to continue on the remaining 2,139.5 miles alone. My graduation date from college is set to be on May 5th but I will not be walking at the ceremony. I don’t have a set date for my second part of the trail to begin in April, that is dependent upon if and when my professors let me take an exam early.

Other than town stops and zero days, I only plan to come off trail one other time which will be for my best friend’s wedding at the end of May.

I anticipate finishing the trail hopefully by the beginning of October.

I have a count down app on my phone which I check almost every day. I can’t wait to start… only 8 more days and 16 more hours until I set foot on the approach trail!

Why I am walking 2,200 miles in 2019

This article originally appeared on my trail blog for The Trek which you can read here

The Appalachian Trail is more than just a physical challenge, a great majority of it is actually a mental undertaking. What makes a person successfully walk 2,200 miles through the rain, over mountainous terrain, sleeping in unfordable conditions, with a probable injury and in the company of only themselves most of the day? The short answer to this would be a strong mentality behind completing the trail. In 2017 the Appalachian Trail Conservancy reported that 19% of people who attempted a northbound thru hike were successful. See statistics on AT thru hiker completions here.

In preparation for my journey I have read the book Appalachian Trials by Zach Davis, the owner and editor-in-chief of the website theTrek.co. This book discusses the psychological and emotional aspects of successfully thru hiking the entire AT. The book helps you mentally prepare by guiding you through exercises that will help you before, after, and during your thru hike. These exercises include the making of three lists. I am making my three lists public so you can know the answer to why I am hiking the trail. The first two are fun to read, the last one, not so much.

I am thru hiking the Appalachian Trail because …

– I will never stop thinking about it if I don’t

– Now is an opportune time in my life to do so, if not now then when?

– I want to experience a long term solo journey while also challenging my mind and body

– I want to become more confident in myself and decision making skills

– I want to experience this historical trail and it’s culture before the opportunity to do so is limited and the nature of the trail is compromised

When I successfully hike the Appalachian Trail I will…

– Have achieved the hardest thing I have ever tried to accomplish

– Feel as if I can accomplish any goal I put my mind to

– Have lots of stories to share, memories to treasure, and experience to rely on

– Have turned my body into a lean hiking machine

– Have no regrets

– See life in a new perspective

If I give up on the Appalachian Trail I will…

– Be disappointed in myself and feel that it is okay to settle in other aspects of my life

– Have to explain my failure to others

–  Live with the fact that I had an incredible opportunity to achieve a life goal and I gave up on it

– Feel embarrassed and ashamed

I know that there will be many days where I will think about quitting. The purpose of making these lists in advance and also making them public is first to remind myself why I want to accomplish my goal and second holding myself accountable. If you are reading this and are someone I may potentially be calling from the trail telling you I want to quit, please remind me to look at these lists again and why I am doing this.

Sources of information, inspiration, and motivation (to plan a thru hike of the Appalachian Trail)

This blog post originally appeared on my trail blog for The Trek which you can read here.

Before hitting the trail I have asked countless questions about what I am really getting myself into. To answer this question I have done my own research on just about anything I could think of for the trail. In an effort to help others learn about what I am doing I figured I would pass on the sources I have learned from. These are some of the many resources I have used while I am  preparing for my 2019 thru hike of the Appalachian Trail

Websites

The official website of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy 

The Trek has an official 101 guide

PMags.com A Quick and Dirty Guide to the Appalachian Trail – This website is exactly what it is titled. It lists an over view of a lot of details you will need to know about hiking the trail and gives you links to other websites to find out more information.

Facebook groups

I am in a few different Facebook groups in which I talk to people about details of the AT and you get to know what the general plans and questions of others are. It helps you connect with other people planning a hike.

The groups I am in are:

  • Appalachian Trail Class of 2019 -Every hiking class has a group
  • Appalachian trail women’s group
  • Appalachian trial section hikers
  • Backpacking Flea Market for Women
  • Backpacking gear Flea Market

Books 

Helpful literature to inspire your hike and learn more about the history of the trail:

Grandma Gatewood’s Walk by Ben Montgomery – The story of the first woman to hike the Appalachian trail end to end. She did it with out any of the gear or resources everyone uses today and she is from a small town in Ohio. This book includes lots of history about the beginnings of the Appalachian Trail.

A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson – After living abroad for twenty years Bill returns to America and decides to rediscover it by hiking the trail. He starts in Georgia with a friend and they hike six and a half weeks. He does some of the trail day hiking by himself and then finishes again with his friend in the 100 mile wilderness. This book includes  history of the trail along with some of the scientific background of the forrest surrounding the trail.

Stuck Between a Rock and a White Blaze Searching for Significance on the Appalachian Trail by Julie Urbanski – This book is about a girl named “stopwatch”‘ and her experience of hiking the AT with her husband “optimist”. This is her second thru hike (her first was the PCT) and she talks a lot about her mentality on the trail. I really enjoyed the insight to what she was thinking a long the trail including the point where she almost quit.

Appalachian Trials by Zach Davis – This books is exactly how it is advertised: a psychological and emotional guide to successfully thru hiking the Appalachian Trail. This is the only book I’ve came across that talks about one of the hardest if not the hardest part of the trail. It gives you tangible exercises to mentally prepare yourself for the trail.

A Journey North by Adrienne Hall- This book recounts Adrienne aka raindrop’s experience of hiking the trail. Much like Bryson she discusses the natural history of the trail and the efforts it takes to sustain the trail. I like hearing a similar scientifical/ political story of the trail from a female voice. One thing I noted while reading the book is that her hike took place before 2000 so all of the information has most likely changed. It didn’t make it any less interesting. This book made me appreciate all of the people that have stood in support and protection of the trail and its environment since it’s creation.

Podcasts 

The 2180 – Celebrating the 70th anniversary of the first thru hike of the Appalachian Trail, this podcast features the stories of many people who have been impacted by the trail. These people include the hikers, the maintainers, the supporters, and the hostel managers. I listened to this pod cast on many cold weather treadmill runs.

Sounds of the Trail – This podcast followed the journeys of hikers on the AT and the PCT. They reported back from the trail with updates and interviews. I enjoyed the personalities of the hikers and the podcaster.

Trail Journals 

Walking With Wired – The only trail journal I personally have read every entry of is Erin Saver’s, trail name: “Wired”; AT class of 2014. Her journal was a big inspiration for me and I passed a lot of time reading it. She has great detailed personal stories and pictures to go along with them.

 

Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area Climbing Trip

In December I signed up for a trip on a whim. A club from my university was hosting a week long climbing trip to Nevada for $300. This included gas, camping, firewood, and a hotel in Vegas for one night. The best part was I didn’t have to take my own car and it was already planned out with experienced climbers leading the trip. I thought this deal was too good to pass up. We left on the 27th and began our 30 hour drive to Red Rock Canyon right outside of Las Vegas. The cars we took were very nice rental mini vans.

The whole group. Looking rough on the last day. 

The Long Drive There

On the way to Red Rocks we got stopped by a massive snow storm in New Mexico. Luckily my group stopped before we got caught in stand still traffic. We got a hotel for the evening in Tucumcari. This town was right along historical route 66. We stocked up on groceries for the week at their store and went to a mom and pop Mexican restaurant called La Cita.

Mural outside Lowe’s grocery. Tucumcari, NM.

We continued our drive at 2am since we figured that less people would be on the road and it would be safer to drive. We were right. The conditions weren’t the greatest but we made it through. Since the Grand Canyon was only a one hour drive off of our route and we knew we didn’t have time to climb that day anyways, we took a nice detour to the South rim.

Grand Canyon, South Rim. 

Despite being the middle of winter and a majority of the services at the park not operating due to the government shutdown, there was still a CRAZY amount of people at the canyon. I can’t imagine how busy it would be if we visited during the peak season. I would be miserable. At the canyon we hiked a small portion of the Bright Angel trail. We went about 2-3 miles down the canyon for a round trip of 5ish miles. I wish we had more time to reach the river. The trail was icy and the climb out of the canyon was difficult. This was my first time to the Grand Canyon and it was breath taking. I learned that some people hike the canyon rim to rim. This is a new goal of mine. While we were hiking we passed some backpackers going uphill. I was jealous of them but also thought about how incredibly hard it would be to hike out with a big pack on my back.

Canyon walls from halfway down the canyon. Looking at them made me want to climb badly. 
Sunset on the drive out from the canyon

Arrival in Red Rocks

When we finally got to the campground it was after dark and everyone was in their tents. A girl I rode with in the car, Emma, and myself were sharing a tent with a girl who was already there but we didn’t know which one it was. It was a hassle to find her tent and try not to wake everyone up in the campground but we needed a place to sleep. The campground was closed for the week due to the government shutdown and there were heavy fines in place for camping there. Since our group had prior reservations the owner let us stay as long as we chained up the gates every time we passed through. There was a “no trustpassing” sign posted on the gate. Yes, trespassing was spelled incorrectly as “trust-passing”. I wish I had a picture of the sign.

The campground was much more dustier than I had expected. All of the tents were spread out and the paths to them were marked with stones. For most of the trip the wind was very strong and I don’t think it got warmer than 45 degrees. Even though the temperature said it was in the 40s it definitely felt much colder the whole trip. There were many nights we sat in cars for a while at the campground just because it was so cold.

Day 1 of Climbing: Civilization Crag

The first day of climbing the van of people I drove down with decided to choose an easier crag to start with. We went to civilization crag at the first pullout of the park. I climbed two routes. The first was a 5.7 on slab which I top roped and then mock lead. In retrospect I regret not leading it. The second was a 5.9 which was super fun. The approach to this crag was pretty difficult. Lots of scrambling was involved. I would not have been able to navigate to this crag if I was here alone for the first time. Someone in my group knew where we were going.

View from the first pullout

The scramble to the crag.
Jackie leading a route. 
First climb. 5.7 in Civilization crag.

Day 2 Climbing: Kraft Boulders

Our second morning in Red Rocks felt like it was the coldest of all the mornings we were there. We could see some snow in the distance and on the tops of the mountains from the campground. We decided to go bouldering this day. It was my first time ever bouldering outside. I found it to be very fun and now I am  much more inclined to try bouldering inside. I believe the only boulder problems I completed were V0s. I was okay with that. I knew that I was very out of shape from not climbing much the previous semester. When I was bouldering I felt much safer falling several feet on to a crash pad with spotters around me than I feel when I am lead climbing and know I won’t hit the ground.

This route was on the back of a classic boulder called “potato chip”

It was new years eve and we had a night of drinking planned. It is tradition on this annual trip to climb the hill between our campsite and Vegas before midnight. When midnight hits you can see all of the fireworks over Vegas. Your entire field of vision is supposed to be filled with fireworks. I was so cold I ended up going to bed at 10:30pm. I didn’t care about having fun, hiking, or staying up till midnight. I couldn’t get a spot around the campfire and I had already been shivering since I woke up. I am so glad I went to bed early because when I woke up in the morning I found out that no one ended up going on the hike and most people went to bed ten minutes before midnight.

Day 3 Rest Day: Arizona Hot Springs

Since everyone was tired from the past few days of climbing we took a rest day as a group. We went hiking at Lake Mead National Recreation area about an hour from our campsite. This is another tradition of this annual trip. The hike to the hot springs was 3.2 miles but took forever since it was all in gravel. It went through a slot canyon which was a first for me. On the way some members of the group jumped off a cliff into the Colorado river. It looked fun but I did not participate. I knew that if I jumped into the water that cold my body would freeze up and I wouldn’t be able to swim. I am already hesitant to jump into rivers to begin with. As we got closer to the hot springs we started hiking through some shallow water. You could tell it was getting warmer the closer we got. We arrived at a metal later where everyone stripped to bathing suits and left our things. At the top of the later was the first hot spring. They were not what I had expected at all. The spring was somewhat busy for the amount of strenuous hiking we had to do to get there.

The Colorado River
Some members opted for a cold cliff jump into the river before we hit the hot springs.
Following Michael through the slot canyon to the spring. 
Emma, Lyle, and I on the hike in to the springs. The Colorado river is in the background. 

The first hot spring was pretty warm. I sat in this one a little bit to adjust to the temperature. Next I made my way to the second hottest tub area. I sat in this one for quite a bit longer. I was pretty dehydrated and hot tubs make me feel light headed to begin with. Finally I was able to make it to the hottest section of the spring which was really hot but it felt so good. The hot springs were definitely one of the coolest if not the coolest place I had ever been. I am glad that not that many people could bring their cameras up there. If they did I have a feeling the place would be ruined. I met the guy who maintains the springs by building the dams out of sand bags to make them every year. He told me he goes there about 3 times a week. He was naked which wasn’t super comfortable but I had expected there to be more naked people.

Ladder up to the springs

The hike out from the hot springs was ever harder than the hike in. It was back through the gravel but this time it was all uphill. I didn’t stop the whole way and I was one of the first ones out but not by much. I hiked all by myself and I was proud of myself. At the parking lot I saw two weiner dog pups who were hiking and it made my day.

Day 4 Climbing: Meet Up Wall and Black Corridor

The first crag we went to this day was “Meet Up Wall”. It was a longer scramble in from the second pullout which doesn’t have much parking. I climbed 3 different routes here. The first was a 5.6 called “Safety First” which I top ropped and then lead it for a second climb. Then I climbed “Message Board” 5.7. The last route I did at this crag was a 5.10a called “Upcoming Meetups”. Everything I climbed at this crag was slab.

After we finished up this crag we migrated closer to the parking lot to the “Black Corridor”. This was my favorite climbing area. It felt like I was in a gym, except outdoors. Here I climbed a 5.10c but I’m not sure what it was called. This was the hardest rated route I’ve ever climbed outside but I feel that I’ve climbed some harder 10as in other areas. The challenging part about this corridor is that a lot of it is in the shade all day making it very cold. We strategically planned some climbs based on where the sun was shining on the rock.

Message Board 5.7
5.10c in the Black Corridor

Day 5 Climbing: Black Corridor

We returned to Black Corridor for a second day. I believe I climbed 3 routes here ranging from 5.9 to 5.10. I was pretty lazy and cold  this day.

Day 6 Climbing: Kraft Boulders

For our last day of climbing we decided to boulder before going to our hotel in Vegas for the night. At this point my hands were exhausted from climbing but I tried a few different boulders for a while anyways.

The Long Drive Home

The drive home was uneventful. We made it home three hours ahead of the last car. Everyone just wanted to get home because we had our first day of school the next day.

Backpacking at Zaleski State Forrest Round 2: December

This is a link to the map I am referring to throughout the post. Pictures are at the end.

After two different plans to go backpacking fell through, my friend Caroline and I found three days that we could go backpacking at Zaleski State Forrest in Ohio. We knew it was going to be cold since it was December, but we wanted to experience what it was like to go backpacking in the winter. Turns out it wasn’t as cold as we had expected it to be. I think I may have backpacked in colder conditions on my last trip to Shenandoah. We were extremely lucky that it didn’t rain a drop this trip!

Day 1

7.2 miles

We began at the school house backpacking trail head marked as point A on the map and camped at backpacking camp #2 marked as point I. When we were getting ready to hit the trail at the school house a car of people pulled up and let us know that it was the last day of hunting season. I was nervous but we were the only ones at the trail head so we proceeded. In retro spect next time I would bring an orange hat or clothing item. Once we were on the trail hiking I felt fine. It seemed to me that I could see through the forrest very well and would be able to clearly tell that we were people traveling through the woods and not animals.

It was a VERY muddy first day. I slipped and fell in a big pile of mud twice that day. The beginning of the trail was blazed very well but the closer we got to point I the less blazes there were. I was familiar with the trail so far as my first backpacking trip ever was here. We saw one person on the trail that day and it was the only person we saw the whole trip. He was smart and wearing a bright orange long sleeve shirt. He had a backpacking pack on and told us about the trail we were about to traverse. We came to the conclusion that he was day hiking with his pack due to the timing and location in which we met him and the details he told us of the trail.

The first night we ate rice and tasty bites Indian sauce packets for dinner. Two lessons learned here #1 make sure you buy instant rice or it will take forever to cook and #2  tasty bites are not a great food to bring backpacking. We both only ate half of our meals and the trash bags smelled strongly of terrible Indian food the rest of the trip. We both decided that this meal only tasted good the first time we were on trail because we were so hungry. Never again will I voluntarily bring this meal on trail. It is also expensive for backpacking food at $3 for a packet of sauce!

The temperature stayed in the 30s that night and both of us were pretty warm. It sucked that the sun set at 5pm so we went into the tent SUPER early. I stayed up till past midnight listening to some coyotes howling before I fell asleep. We read through the trail register and laughed at how much people complained about the mosquitoes. We had zero bug issues since it was so cold outside. The campsites had outhouses and surprisingly still running water which was so nice. It doesn’t take much to make a backpacker happy with a simple luxury! I was worried we would have to cache water but it was not needed at all. Even if the pump had not worked there were abundant streams everywhere!

Day 2

11.8 miles

We hiked from camp at point I to camp at point P. Again it was VERY MUDDY and we both took some falls. I felt like going home halfway through the day and when we got to point K on the map I said something to Caroline. I told her this was our chance to either go home or continue on for one more night. We both decided to continue on. Later that night when we were talking in the tent we found out that we had both wanted to go home at that point and didn’t want to ruin it for the other person.

After we made it to camp at point P we set up our tent. It was 2 pm so we continued hiking on without our packs to do the northern loop. Part of the trail had been rerouted. I hiked the first 2.1 miles of that loop (counterclockwise) very fast in hopes that we could do the whole loop. When we finished the 2.1 mile section to the road we were shocked it had still taken us an hour! We thought we would hike much faster without packs on. At this point my body was so exhausted and I was very thirsty since I didn’t carry water for this part. We decided to take the road and skip the 2.7 mile section above it. It was about a 10 minute walk before we hit the trail again. This 2.0 mile section of the trail was very poorly blazed and went straight through a mud filled ravine. I thought I was going to lose my boots in the mud a few times. There was a point that we almost got lost because of the poor trail markings. After wandering around a bit and figuring out where we were on the map we found the trail again. It is always in the most remote section of a park that the trail is poorly maintained and clearly not used as much.

At camp we made mac and cheese and cheesy hash browns for dinner. I think this will always be one of my favorite trail meals. Again we went into the tent super early since it was dark and we wanted to stay warm in our sleeping bags. We talked about how bad we wanted to go home and how much more we had to hike the next day. We both agreed that we would have night hiked out if the trail wasn’t a mud pit and we were a bit closer to the car. We made plans to cut the trip short the next day by hiking the road back to the car. The temperature was supposed to get down to 25 degrees that night but we were both so warm that we felt warmer than the first night!  There were less coyotes howling that night.

Day 3

5.7 miles

We woke up at 7:30 and left camp at 8:30. Our boots were frozen solid. It was a 5.7 mile hike back to my car (measured using my car on the way home) using the road. It only took us 2 hours and we were so happy to make it back to the car at 10:30! The road was not busy at all, although the cars were going fast (45-50mph?), we barely saw any.

On this trip I wanted to practice using the hiking poles my mom got me for Christmas. At first it felt very awkward and I was frustrated by them. They felt like random extra weight in my hands that wasn’t helping me. At one point I gave Caroline a pole to help her get down a hill. We ended up each hiking with only one pole the rest of the trip. I am SO GLAD we had the hiking poles. I definitely would have fallen several more times without it. The mud was so slippery I was constantly using the pole to balance. The poles were also a great help going up hills as well when I felt like my legs couldn’t lift my heavy pack. Although I thought the poles were super unnecessary for a small trip like this I think they played a huge role in making it more enjoyable. I will always bring my poles from now on, even if it is a short trip!

Caroline and I both had sleeping bag liners and thought they worked fantastic for the trip! We both have the Sea to Summit Reactor Extreme. It seems really thin and I was questioning how it would really make my bag that much warmer. When I was using it I felt that it made a huge difference in the temperature range of my bag. Would definitely recommend it to anyone who is going camping in the winter.

We were surprised to see how bright green the moss was in December. The green was highly contrasted against the brown colors of the dead forrest. 

Beavers (assumedly) gnawing away at the trees! This is the first time I have ever seen this, I thought it looked cool. 

Caroline pointing at the trail that had turned into a stream. So thankful for waterproof hiking boots. 

The sunrise after night #2 

We survived night #2! 

Caroline at one of the only view points on the trail.