Day 18: GSMNP Day 2

Day 18

Russel Fields Shelter to Derrick Knob Shelter

Miles Hiked: 9

AT Milage: 189.8

Last night I fell asleep before 8pm and had the best sleep I’ve ever had on the trail. I stayed in the shelter and it never filled up. Everyone staying in it was extremely nice too. I decided to do a short hike today because my feet were hurting really bad and I wanted to see if Flamingo, Cocoa, and Locks would catch up to me. I heard they were staying at the shelter 3 miles before me.

I woke up around 6am and got on trail a tiny bit before 7am after I ate my granola bars for breakfast. I was hoping the rain would hold out until noon, but it did not. When I had about 5 miles left to the shelter it started raining pretty hard. The trail was really rocky and wet which made me walk pretty slow. This was the first day I was feeling mentally burnt out from being on trail. Of course it happened as soon as it rained. At this point I realized I had walked further than I probably ever have without setting down my pack once. I ended up doing the entire hike without taking a single break. I got really hungry and tired but I did not want to sit down in the rain. I made it to the shelter at exactly 11am and crashed. I said goodbye to Rockslide, as he was pushing on another 7 miles at least. It was nice hiking with him the past 4 days while he was resting his legs up, but now he should be hitting heavy miles if his knee if feeling better. I think he’s trying to do the whole trail in 100 days or less.

I set up my sleeping stuff in the shelter and talked to other hikers as they showed up. I was happy to see Locks, Flamingo, Cocoa and her dad. They set up in the shelter for the night as well. Pongo also decided to stay in the shelter, I was happy to see him too. I met him at Fontana Dam. He has a ukulele with him that he has been playing for everyone at camp. I love it. He will be getting off trail in Gatlinburg. He just came out for a section and did some trail magic. I think he finished his thru hike last year.

I was really bored sitting around the shelter all day because I had nothing to do, but I needed my body to rest. I hope I can fall asleep tonight. I feel like I didn’t exert enough energy to get a good nights sleep or even eat that much food.

Day 17: GSMNP Day 1

Day 17

Fontana Dam Shelter to Russel Fields Shelter

Miles Hiked: 14.9

AT Milage: 180.8

Last night at the shelter I had my worst shelter experience yet. Everyone was really mad and so was I, but I found a lot of humor in the situation. The shelter we were staying at is really close to town and it’s the last place to stay before Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSMNP), so a lot of people typically end up there at once. At the Fontana Dam village there was a big mini coop convention where people gathered to party and drive their cars down the “Dragon”, a really curvy road on the border of GSMNP. Somehow a few people from the shelter either got invited to the party at the convention or crashed it, I’m not sure. Anyways, I was almost asleep in the shelter when a group of about four people came in at midnight yelling. One of the men was absolutely ridiculous. Everyone in the shelter was awake and got really mad. Someone even yelled out “shut up!”. The man that was going crazy was screaming so many rude things inside and outside the shelter. One of the people in the shelter said “If that guy comes back in here I’m going to kick his ass!”. One guy went out and then two more followed. I was kind of scared a fight was going to happen but I was also laughing at the whole situation and how idiotic these people were acting. Apparently there was an open bar at the mini coop party and everyone got trashed. About three hours later I woke up again to Rockslide yelling at one of the drunk people who layed down right on top of his stuff. If this whole thing happened at 3 or 4 am I would have just packed up my stuff and started hiking. Unfortunately it was only midnight. Later today I learned that that craziest drunk person who was being very aggressive has been basically stalking this one older lady on trail for about four days. I feel so bad for her, hopefully we have left that guy behind for now!

After I packed up my stuff and left the shelter I began my hike across Fontana Dam. I was really excited to hike across it, but was totally disappointed. I just wasn’t as impressed by the dam as I had imagined a I would be. Apparently it is the highest dam East of the Mississippi River. All I thought about as I walked across it is humanity’s capability to tame and destroy once wild places. I know the dam is in place to provide water to civilization, but that is just what crossed my mind. There are very few wild and scenic rivers left in the world that have not been altered by humans via a dam or other mechanism.

The first mile of the trail today was 100% road walking. It was only one mile but I hated it so much. I wanted dirt beneath my feet and a place to put my trekking poles. After that first mile I entered the southern boundary of GSMNP. I expect it will take me about 7 days to walk through the park. All thru hikers must purchase a $20 permit to hike through the park on the AT. It is good for a 30 day period, but once you enter the park you have 8 days to get out. To enforce the permits, there are people called ridge runners who patrol the trail to make sure everyone is following park rules and minimizing impact on nature via leave no trace principles. As I walked up to the box I was to place half of my permit in, I ran into the ridge runner who was collecting them all so I gave mine directly to him. His name was David. If I didn’t run into him at the permit box and he saw me on the trail later he would ask me to show him my papers. Ridge runners will always ask hikers in the park to show them their permits to make sure they signed up to camp. Speaking of camping, GSMNP has a special set of rules about camping for thru hikers. The first rule is that you must always camp at an established campsite. This means an official designated camp (there is one) or a shelter. You should be doing this to minimize impact in nature anyways, but stealth camping is allowed elsewhere on trail. In the National Park you can be charged a heavy fine for stealth camping or not having a permit. Stealth camping means that you set up camp at an unofficial site. There are many of them along the whole AT. The other rules about camping are about who can stay in the shelter. Everyone absolutely must sleep in the shelter if there is room. Only thru hikers are allowed to set up a tent if the shelter fills up. Section hikers must make a reservation for each shelter they stay at. All thru hikers must first set up camp inside the shelter until it fills up. If a section hiker with reservations arrives the thru hikers get kicked out and they must set up a tent. This is very irritating for many people. A section hiker can arrive at 1am and you can be forced to set up a tent in the pouring rain after you already won a warm cozy spot in the shelter. The last thru hikers to arrive get kicked out of the shelter first.

I was expecting to see a lot of old growth forest in the smokies, but it did not appear to be the case for the first five miles. I climbed the Shushtack fire tower which was very sketchy but had pretty views of Fontana Lake from atop. I ended up hiking all the way to Russel fields shelter where I was lucky enough to get a spot inside. Rockslide kept me company for about half of my hike. It was nice. He should be taking off for a 20 mile day tomorrow. He has rested himself up the past few days and feels ready to start hitting his high mile days to finish the AT in 100 days or less. My feet and knees were super achy today and I had to duct tape my big toes to keep them from painful rubbing in my shoes. Tomorrow I plan to do a shorter day to rest up. Some of the hikers around me have seen bears at places right after I walk by. I am sad I keep missing them because I really want to see one in the Smokies. One other interesting thing about the Smokies is that most of the shelters do not have privies. Instead they have a toilet area which is essentially a poop minefield. It’s not ideal.

Happy Trails!

Day 16: The Hilton

Day 16

Yellow Creek Gap to Fontana Dam Shelter

Miles Hiked: 6.9

AT Milage: 165.7

This morning I woke up in my tent where I was camped in the front yard of Creekside Bed and Breakfast. The creek was between me and the house and it was so nice to listen to it all night long. I packed up my tent and went inside to join everyone for breakfast. I ate breakfast with Rockslide, Soup, Fern, Giggles, and a random person staying there because he was in town for a mini coop show. The communal breakfast was fun. Shortly after, Cynthia drove us back to the trail head.

We had a super easy day hiking to Fontana dam shelter. I thought we were going to hike over the actual dam today but that will happen tomorrow. There was some uphill but it was mostly down. When I hike really fast while talking to other hikers I almost never take pictures. I arrived at the Fontana Dam Shelter at 12:30 and set up my camp inside. This shelter is called the Hilton because it also has a bathhouse with real toilets, plumbing, running water, and power outlets to charge phones. This is the most luxurious shelter on trail. It is very cool, but myself and probably most other people are happy it is the only fancy one. It takes away the rustic part of camping.

At the shelter I called some friends and family and talked to other hikers all day. I have to laugh at what the situation must look like to a random person who could walk up to the shelter. I think we all look like a bunch of sketchy homeless people who have nothing to do but lounge around all day.

At the shelter Woodstock showed up without Tsuke. I was so shocked. Apparently Woodstock hitched a ride from the NOC to Fontana Dam and left Tsuke behind with some love interest he had at the NOC. He said that Tsuke is pink blazing which means that a guy adjusts his hiking schedule to hike with a girl they have an interest in. Tsuke also has their shared tent so Woodstock has no other option than to stay in the shelter tonight. Personally I think he is kind of jealous of Tsuke’s new trail running shoes he got at the NOC. Originally Tsuke was going to hike the whole trail in converse but his feet were getting so torn up. I’m glad he was able to get a new pair and I’m impressed he made it as far as he did in a pair of converse!

An interesting person I met at the shelter was named PONGO. He has already done a thru hike of the trail but he came out this year to do trail magic and a small section. He played the ukulele for everyone which I loved and also are the grossest thing I’ve seen someone eating out here. It was a significant amount of olive oil with a Knorr rice side, ramen, mashed potatoes, and Fritos on top to add crunch. This isn’t much different from a traditional “ramen bomb” that a lot of hikers eat but I was so grossed out with how it looked so I had to get a picture.

If you were wondering what a ramen bomb is, it is a ramen packet mixed with instant mashed potatoes and a choice of meat added on top, most hikers just eat it for the massive amount of calories.

Day 15: Creekside

Day 15

Sassafras Shelter to Yellow Creek Gap

Miles Hiked: 14.5

AT Milage: 158.4

This morning I slept in because I didn’t want to wake up the whole shelter and wanted to head out closer to the group. I was still the first person of the group to leave camp. The climb up to Cheoah Bald, over 5,000 feet, was very steep but the view was rewarding. At the top I ran into Rockslide who I met at camp last night. He ended up hiking with me all day long and I learned so much about him. He used to be a general manager for Broadway shows in NYC. Now he is out here on his third attempt of a thru hike of the trail. He started his hike on the 22nd and is already caught up to everyone who started on the 15th. He hikes very fast, and has been doing some 20 mile days. We hiked 7 miles extremely quickly today. We sat down to have lunch at Stecoah Gap where we ran into Locks and Cocoa who were behind us.

Rockslide convinced me to camp at a hostel tonight. It was such a good deal I could not pass it up. For $20 I got picked up from the trail, a camping spot in the yard, a shower, laundry, access to a hot tub, and a resupply run to Ingles in Robbinsville NC about 30 minutes from the trail. I needed to resupply before the Smokies and everyone knows Fontana Dam resupply is expensive. This was my best opportunity. We got to Yellow Creek Gap where we were to be picked up at 3pm and then a guy named Soup (Clark) who we met earlier walked by and we convinced him to stay with us as well.

The hostel was super nice. It is ran by Jeff and his wife Cynthia out of their beautiful mountainside home that has a refreshing creek running across their front yard. They were extremely nice to all of us and we enjoyed getting to know them. After our resupply, we all ate our dinners we bought at the grocery store. Then I set up my tent and took a shower. They have these big white fluffy bathrobes you get to wear after you shower until your laundry is done, an upgrade from rain outfits. An unfortunate thing that happened was that the puppy at the hostel got ahold of my shoes and ate part of my socks. I’m just thankful my shoes are still fine because I would not have been able to hike for a few days had my shoes been destroyed. Another hiker staying at the hostel named Giggles put her socks in the hiker box which was exactly what I needed. It’s funny how I’ve always been provided with exactly what I need on trail so far.

Day 14: The NOC

Day 14

Wesser Bald Shelter to Sassafras Shelter

Miles Hiked: 12.8

AT Milage: 148.3

This morning I woke up to noises outside my tent and the light of a headlamp. I was so confused because I thought it was the middle of the night. I poked my head out of my tent and saw that it was Creature getting his bear bag down. I looked at my watch and saw that it was 5:50am. At that point I decided to get ready for the day too since I slept well and didn’t anticipate falling back asleep. Creature got on the trail first but I was shortly behind him. We started hiking before 7am. As the sun came up Locks yelled out of the shelter ” what about early bird!?” A trail name suggestion. I took it.

I didn’t talk that much about Creature before, but we camped with him at Wayah and at Wesser. He is a 67 year old man who has beat cancer, ran 105 marathons, and has done 1,000 of the AT. He really enjoyed hanging out with the group of us (Flamingo, Cocoa, Locks, Gatsby, and Kentucky). He planned to get off trail today and his wife picked him up at the NOC. Last night at the shelter he was giving us all his extra food since he was going home. I passed Creature on the trail about 2 miles in. He is super fast and can hike faster than the majority of people I know. He was taking it slow this morning since the downhill hike to the NOC was treacherous.

The elevation profile for the day was extremely difficult. It has been my hardest day on trail yet. It started with 6 miles straight downhill to the NOC and then 7 miles straight up hill to the shelter. The elevation went from above 4,000 feet to 1,700 feet and then above 4,000 feet again. The hike started out with lots of ridge line hiking. I could have easily fallen off either side of the trail and fell straight off the mountain, probably with severe injury. There were several points where the trail came to a big drop off and I had to take a few giant steps down and try not to tumble forward with my pack. After the ridge hiking I walked through some of the most intensely green forrest I have seen the whole trip. I loved it. I got to see a turkey as well! It scared me because it flew away from right in front of me and headed down the mountain. The whole time I was thinking about how much it would suck to be a south bounder climbing up the mountain that I was walking down.

When I was less than a mile from the Nantahala Outdoor Center (NOC) I took a bad fall and tumble. I was thinking about getting to my destination when I took a giant step downwards and my ankle folded inwards. I feel straight down and rolled a little bit. I honestly thought I fell so hard I broke my ankle. I was surprised I didn’t here a “SNAP!”. I laid there for a moment waiting for the pain to come but my foot was just numb. I got up brushed myself off and noticed my knee was all cut up as well. I continued hiking paranoid that I would start to feel pain from an ankle injury soon. The fall really scared me and made me think about the reality of how easy it would be to break a foot like that and have my whole thru hike be over. I was also very thankful to be so close to town. It would hurt to have to walk out several miles from the forrest with a broken foot.

Eventually I made it to the NOC and sat down on the bench outside the general store. Creature came out of the woods shortly behind me and brought me over a Powerade. It was just what I was craving! Gatorade or Powerades are my favorite thing to drink after a long hike. Creature started talking to me for a while while we waited for the rest of the group to get there.

As I was hiking into the NOC I passed one person. It was a man hiking up the mountain with a backpacking pack on. I said good morning to him and just kept hiking. Creature told me about what happened when he passed the same man. Creature said ” Good morning sir, what a beautiful day” and he man hiking replied ” If you think it’s a beautiful day you should see what is hiking ahead of you (me)”. Creature told me this man made him so mad he almost punched him. He wanted to say ” That is my granddaughter and if you say one more thing I will kick your ass”. Creature told me he held his tongue but I fully believe he could have beat the man up. I’m so glad there are people out here like Creature looking out for others on the trail. Creature is one of the most interesting people I have ever met and he has one very lucky grandson. After he gets off trail he is taking his friend’s kid to Alaska to do some sort of difficult hiking. I am so impressed with this man.

When the other hikers in the group I’ve been hanging out with came in we all got a picture with Creature. Everyone was very sad he was leaving us. The guys tried to convince him to keep hiking to Katahdin with us but he has some other adventurous plans. He gave everyone his number so he can come pick them up and take them to his house in Virginia if they need it. The whole group of us then went out to lunch at the river’s end restaurant. I got a burger and shared a salad with Cocoa. Creature ended up paying for everyone’s meal. We were all so surprised. He gave us a little talk at the end about how Jesus was drawing him to us on the trail and that we need to listen for him talking to us when we hike. Creature shed a few tears, it was sad. After lunch we all met his wife and wished him well. It’s crazy how you can meet someone on trail and get to know them so well in two days.

Pictures left to right: Kentucky, Creature, Cocoa, Me, Locks, Flamingo, and Gatsby.

After lunch we all sat down on the side of the Nantahala river and soaked out sore feet while bathing in the sun. Then we began our seven mile uphill hike. At first the hike wasn’t bad. I enjoy going uphill for a while as long as it is gentle. Then it got a lot harder. I hiked with Cocoa almost the whole way. Both of our feet were hurting very badly at the end. It was the longest and hardest uphill I’ve done since being on trail. It was so hard because it was so long. It felt like it would never end. I kept wondering how on earth we could keep going uphill when I looked up and thought I could see the top of the mountain. Eventually we got to the shelter and everyone took a spot in the double decker shelter.

I ate a poor dinner of left over French fries, jelly beans from Creature, and s’mores that Locks packed out for everyone. We all had a great time sitting around the fire and hanging out. Gatsby bought a mystical fire kit that made the fire rainbow colors. I thought it was funny how entertained everyone was by it.

Day 13: Good Company

Day 13

Wayah Shelter to Wesser Bald Shelter

Miles Hiked: 10.6

AT Milage: 131

Last night I slept very well despite the wind storm and being worried about my bear bag I hung directly over my tent. I figured I would just wake up if a bear came but I was still worried. Today I wasn’t the first one out of camp but I still left before the majority of people. The terrain was pretty easy today except between Rocky bald and Wesser bald.

I ate lunch on Rocky Bald with Cocoa and Locks. We talked to a day hiker who has done many sections of the AT. We also talked about why we decided to hike the trail now and the influence that the changing environment and world had on our decision. For me, I thought about how the opportunity to hike the whole AT may not be available in the future, not because of my life circumstances but because of the circumstances of the rest of the world. From my research I have learned about how much the trail has changed in the past 5 and 10 years. I’m really surprised a permit system has not been but in place like the PCT and CDT.

After we left Rocky Bald it was a steep downhill hike to Telico Gap and a steep uphill hike to Wesser Bald. At Telico Gap I ran into Tsuke and Woodstock. I was very surprised to see them there. I was under the impression they have been moving pretty slow previous to me meeting them. The fire tower at Wesser Bald had a wide open flat top to view the mountains from. I hung out up there for a short bit and made a phone call home.

Camp was only one mile north of Wesser Bald. I had a great time hanging out around the fire talking to Flamingo, Cocoa, Locks, and Kentucky. There was also and older man named Creature who was having a blast with us. He is ending his section hike tomorrow but he will probably get to see Flamingo and friends again sometime in Virginia. They exchanged contact information so they can meet up. Everyone had fun trying to give me a trail name but I rejected them all so far. I’m not sure if I’m being picky or not but I want something I really like if people will be calling me it all the way to Maine. For those of you who have been wondering why I have been referring to people with buzzard names it is because it is their trail name. On long distance hikes people often adopt a second name that is given to them by someone else. You are allowed to reject the name if you want. It is part of the spirit of the trail.

Day 12: Wayah Bald

Day 12

Siler Bald to Wayah Bald Shelter

Miles Hiked: 7.3

AT milage: 120.2

This morning I slept in slightly later than normal since I barely slept at all the night before. Last night was my roughest night on trail yet. I was up until 3:30am having massive coughing fits and I didn’t have any water with me at all. I felt like I was constantly choking on phlegm and trying not to gag. It’s gross but true. I also had to pee very bad and was so scared to get out of my tent but eventually did it. I was crying because I wanted to go home. I was just so exhausted and being sick made everything ten times worse. Thankfully I had service and my sister was awake to text me about trail and life stuff.

Noah, another hiker I met a few days ago at mile 100 gave me some oatmeal cookies for breakfast and we hiked up Siler Bald together. I enjoyed his company as we hiked together all day until we reached Wayah Bald. I had to laugh because he told me how he gets bored out of his mind when he hikes alone so he always looks for people to hike with. I have no idea how he’s not gonna be bored the rest of the trail, this guy needs to make a trail family soon. As for myself, I enjoy hiking alone quite a bit. Yes company is nice but I have no problem being all by myself. It constantly feels like I’m on a mission because I am! Still over 2,000 miles to get to Maine. Maybe I will get bored of myself one day, hopefully not any time soon.

At Wayah Bald we ate lunch together and then Noah continued on a lot farther than I planned on hiking. I sat at Wayah Bald for almost three hours to see if I got a second wind to hike more. I did not so I decided to camp at the closest shelter. Flamingo, Cocoa and Bill (now named Locks) showed up and I was so glad to see them. They are a small trail family I had a fun time camping with a few nights ago but haven’t seen in a few days since they hike a lot faster and took a zero day in town. I believe it happened while I was on top of Wayah Bald, but my legs got incredibly sunburned today. They are bright red. It stings a little bit and feels really hot, but to be completely honest I am kind of enjoying how it makes my legs feel warmer.

Wayah Bald is a place on the AT I was really excited to reach because my family and I visited here less than two years ago and I loved it. It’s so ironic that the AT goes right over it and I had no clue I would ever be attempting a thru hike. Below I will put pictures of myself at the same spot two years ago and then today. Since I last visited they have rebuilt the roof of the tower that burnt down in a forrest fire.

At the shelter I had a great time catching up with Flamingo, Locks, and Cocoa. I also spent a good deal of time talking to a new friend I made named Gatsby. Gatsby is in his late 30s and trying to hike the trail for his second time. Last year he made it 800 miles before he had to go home due to multiple injuries. I am always SO impressed when I meet people who are out here to try again after being defeated the year before. I think it is so tough to put yourself through the whole first 800 miles you already did before you had to quit instead of starting again where you left off. Gatsby is a military brat from Guam who has traveled all over the country and is usually employed on a wind farm.

Two other interesting people I talked to tonight were Woodstock and Tsuke. I met them last night and they seemed a little rough on the edges but 100% down to earth people. They started out with regular school backpacks and a six person tent for the two of them. They sent home their six person tent around mile 60 and have upgraded their backpacks since then. They hike about 5-6 miles a day and Tsuke plans to wear a pair of converse the whole way. They also smoke a lot of cigarettes and walked farther to town to buy some one day than they hiked on the trail! They make me laugh so much. I love that they are still out here willing to walk to Maine when it seems they have everything against them. I’m pretty sure most people think they are crazy but I am just so glad people like them are out here trying this. Their packs have to weigh over 50 pounds which is incredible to me. As long as you are respecting nature and the experiences of others I believe there is no one “right way” to be in the outdoors. You can enjoy it any way you want. It holds no expectations for you other than respect.

Speaking of respecting nature, a code of ethics followed on trail and in every other outdoor activity is called “leave no trace” or LNT for short. If you have never heard of it before I strongly suggest looking it up on the “leave no trace” center’s website (lnt.org). Below I will post a picture with the 7 basic principles that are followed.

I wanted to talk about two other people I briefly met on trail yesterday. Their names are Diesel and Summit. They were two older men who have been hiking the trail in sections since 2012. Yesterday they hit their 2,000 mile mark and are continuing on their hike to Hot Springs, North Carolina. They made sure they did not hike the last 14 miles to Mount Katahdin (the northern terminus of the AT). This August they plan to hike the last 14 miles together and celebrate their completion of the trail with their families. I am so excited for them! Hiking to whole trail is such an accomplishment no matter how you do it. It can look much different than a thru hike. I just wanted to highlight another way that people attempt to hike the whole trail. If I didn’t get the opportunity to do a thru hike I’m sure I would be someone who took 10 years or more to complete the whole trail.

Happy Trails!

Day 11: Trail Angels

Day 11

Rock Gap to Siler Bald

Miles Hiked: 7.9

AT milage: 113.7

This morning I still woke up at 7am without an alarm, even though I fully intended on sleeping in because I had a real bed. Andrea and I got breakfast at McDonalds and got ready to check out of the hotel. My pack felt so much heavier after adding in all my food from my resupply. Afterwards we walked to Outdoor 76, a hiker store in town. It was funny carrying my pack down Main Street but everyone knows it is a hiker town. At Outdoor 76 I picked up an 11 Liter waterproof stuff sack for my sleeping bag. I realized my trash compactor bag wasn’t going to work out the way I wanted and I need a way to keep my sleeping bag dry when I’m hiking in the rain.

After I checked out I was sitting outside the store waiting on Andrea who was buying a new pair of shoes because her feet are messed up. She is staying another night in town to rest up but I was planning on getting back on trail today. Outside the store I started talking to a nice guy named Will who was sitting on the bench waiting on his wife and daughter who were shopping as well. We were talking about his family and my current life on trail when he offered to take me out to lunch with his family. I said yes!

For lunch we went to The Gazebo. It was this cute little half outdoor/ indoor restaurant right next to a creek. They had sandwiches and soup. It was delicious! I ate lunch with Will, his wife Astrid, daughter Michelle, her husband Brian and four of their friends who are in town. I had such a good time talking to them and learning about their lives. They got to learn about the trail some too. I explained that what Will did by offering to take me to lunch is called trail magic and people who provide trail magic are known as trail angels. Trail magic can take the form of anything that helps support a hiker. This can look like taking a hikers trash off of them, giving someone a granola bar, ride, or valuable piece of advice. Occasionally people who have previously hiked the trail before or love the trail community set up a picnic of sorts at a point on trail where they know hikers will be passing through and pass out food. Will and family, if you are reading this I told my mom about today and she wanted me to tell you thanks! After lunch I was planning on getting dropped back off in town to wait on the county bus to take me out to the trail. Will went one step further and offered to take me back to the trail! They drove me all the way back to Rock Gap where I got on the bus originally. It was so nice to get on trail an hour or two earlier than I had planned on. I needed the extra time to get my miles in today.

Back on trail I hiked 7.9 miles to Siler Bald. Nothing significant occurred on my hike except when I arrived at the bald. Siler bald is the first bald I have hiked across on the AT and I was really excited to see it. A bald is a bald spot on top of a mountain void of trees and covered in grass. It looks so cool. I dropped my pack and hiked all the way to the top of the bald. It was BEAUTIFUL. There was a 360 degree view of the surrounding mountains just like the fire tower. Unfortunately my phone died as I was walking up to the bald so I didn’t get any pictures but I plan to climb it again tomorrow morning. It was incredibly windy and chilly because air was so exposed. I wanted to camp on it, but being the chicken I am, I hiked back to the shelter where I knew some hikers friends would be staying.

At the shelter I pitched my tent and camped with Sassafras, Frog, Noah and Flash. There were a few other hikers I haven’t met before as well.

I really didn’t get that many pictures today because I was in town and my phone died on trail.

Happy Trails!

Day 10: 100 Miles and a Resupply

Day 10

Carter Gap Shelter to Rock Gap

Miles Hiked: 12.3

AT Milage: 109.5

Today I woke up at 7 and got on the trail by 7:30. I started off my hike with a limp because my leg hurt so bad but eventually the pain went away and I felt nothing! I ran into Colin from Winnipeg Canada at a view point. Colin’s trail name is St. Paul. He was given the name because he is hiking to Damascus, Virginia. Later on I ran into Andrea who I met last night at camp. I felt so good hiking today and the terrain was favorable. I took a small break to get more water and eat a second breakfast but other than that I didn’t stop until I reached mile 100! Mile 100 was just past Albert mountain fire-tower. The climb up to the fire tower was an almost vertical scramble for 0.3 miles. It was very tough but short.

This picture captures how steep the scramble up to Albert Mountain Fire Tower was

At the fire tower I took time taking in the view. There was a 360 degree view of all the surrounding mountains from the top. Visibility today was about 36 miles! It was crazy to see the Georgia mountains to the south and the North Carolina mountains to the north. I got my picture taken at the view and the 100 mile sign. I took the break as an opportunity to eat my lunch which was powdered mashed potatoes with cold water. It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be, and I added hot sauce to spice things up. At this point I realized I was only 6 miles from camp and it wasn’t even noon. I knew it was going to rain tonight so I wanted to make sure I got a spot in the shelter. My original plan was to stay at Rock Gap Shelter, take the shuttle to town in the morning, do a quick resupply and then shuttle back to the trail in the afternoon. When I got to the shelter it was only 2pm. I didn’t know a single person who wasn’t going into town tonight and I wasn’t ready to spend the night alone yet, especially so close to town in a rain storm. Andrea who was going to take a zero day in Franklin, NC caught up to me at the shelter.

For those of you who don’t know a zero day means zero miles hiked on the AT. This typically looks like two nights in a row spent in town or two nights in a row spent at the same camp spot. Hikers typically take a zero day to rest up, resupply, and eat good food, or a personal reason such as visiting a friend.

Andrea was planning on taking the $3 Macon County Bus shuttle into town. The bus came up to the Rock Gap parking area at 3:45. My original plans were to not stay a single night in town until I went home for my best friend’s wedding. The more I thought about staying in that shelter alone the more going to town tonight sounded like a good plan. I ended up walking down to the shuttle with Andrea and then splitting a hotel room with her at the Sapphire Inn. It ended up being $28 for each of us. When we were on the bus we ran into Chill Bill, Fern, and St. Paul again.

Andrea, St. Paul, and I all checked in to the Sapphire hotel together. I checked the hiker box to see if there were any large sawyer squeeze bags inside. I wanted to trade my small bag for a larger one because it helps me filter water faster. Again, for those of you who don’t know, a hiker box is a communal box that a hiker can donate or take any sort of item or food from to help out the next person. They are usually at hostels, outfitters, or other places frequented by thru hikers. I didn’t find a larger water filter bag but I did find a light blue dry fit shirt that looked like it would fit me. Everything in the hiker box smelled pretty terrible so I am washing the shirt with my clothes to see if it gets clean or not.

After we got checked in, I got my permit for smoky mountains national park online. The permit costs $20 for thru hikers and is good for 8 days in the park. I expect to arrive there in a week or so, and it will take me about a week to walk through it. In the smokies rangers frequently check to make sure you have your permit on you and there are strict rules about which type of hiker can camp where. I will explain the rules when I get to the smokies.

Anyways, I needed to resupply my food stock. We ran into even more hikers we knew at the hotel. We all got a ride to the grocery store from two men who were staying at the hotel for a week because they were cars salesmen selling at a big show in town. They dropped us off and waited for us to shop before driving us back to the hotel. It was very nice of them so we collectively bought them a 6 pack of beers. It was fun to talk to them and get to know them. One of the funniest things they said was “Don’t you guys have something better to do than walk all summer? What about swimming to China?”

At the grocery store, my resupply was pretty simple. I got tuna, crackers, relish, cheese, pepperoni, cliff bars, trail mix, ziploc bags, and gummies, as well as fresh fruit and vegetables to eat for lunch tomorrow. It was hard to tell whether or not I was going to starve or if I bought too much food. I will learn what I need as I go.

I had a moment at the store where I couldn’t believe that this whole thing was real. I have thought about and planned this journey for such a long time it felt like it would never happen. I put so much effort into every piece of gear I bought and all the information about the trail I had to learn. It made me laugh about how the reality of this trip is so different than I had imagined but I love it just as much as I thought I would. Life on the trail is so different than life at home. Here I am sharing a hotel room with a random person I just met last night and getting a ride to the store with a person I met less than 5 minutes ago. It’s crazy how much you have to trust people to get by, but they have to trust you just the same. It’s also nice to have such a huge value instantly in common with the people you meet on trail. I know that they all had to make the same sacrifices and go through the same planning process that I did to get here. One of my favorite things someone has told me on trail about how they got here came from Sky Pilot. She told me that she has dreamed about hiking the AT since she was 16. When she was 50 she started backpacking and she walked a certain section of the AT in Virginia 13 times (once every year). Now she is 63 years old, out here walking to Maine, living her dream.

When we got back from the store we ate some of our food and started laundry. When hikers do laundry you wash every item of clothing on you. That means you have to strip down butt naked and put on your rain jacket and rain pants and take time to get a shower. Just thought I would share that funny bit of information.

Thanks for reading and Happy Trails!

Day 9: Listening to My Body

Standing Indian Shelter to Carter Gap Shelter

Mikes Hiked: 7.6

AT Milage: 93.5

This morning I slept in til 7:15, a little later than usual. I woke up feeling sicker than I had the other days. I took some medicine and started getting ready. I believe I was the first one out of camp again.

The climb up the Standing Indian mountain was long but very gentle. At the top I went on the side trail to the peak with a view. At the view was a large grassy area where an old fire tower used to be. There was a single tent up there and the person was still sleeping in it. I sat down for a solid hour. My body was hurting and I was feeling sick. It was a nice break. Eventually the person in the tent woke up and started talking to me. His name was Jason and he was from Tennessee. He told me how he really wanted to give up and the day before he only hiked 3-5 miles. I encouraged him to not give up, but I’m interested to see how he does. Eventually I left the view and continued on down the trail.

Today’s hike was just what I needed, lots of down hill. I keep getting all these weird aches and pains in my foot and I always wonder which one is going to be the one that doesn’t go away. Today it seems I have found the pain that will linger for a while. I have a sharp pain near the base of my right heel and another one shooting up from the middle of my right shin to my knee. These pains feel familiar from sports I used to do in high school. I wasn’t expecting them to start hurting this soon.

I took another long break at Beech Gap. It was shady and provided relief from the intense heat. I keep getting sunburned because I forget about putting sun screen on until I’m in a good hiking groove and don’t want to stop. As a result I have some burns on my arms and backs of my legs. At Beech Gap I ate my favorite meal of tuna, crackers, mayo, and relish, and took time to rest my feet. I have two irritated spots on the outside of my big toes that I don’t want to turn into blisters. I put some duct tape on them and it seemed to help for the rest of the day anyways. I tried to sit at Beech Gap for an hour but I got bored so I hiked on. I found a creek and soaked my heel in it for a tiny bit. It was ice cold. I hope it did something to help. I barely passed anyone today which I was really surprised about because I was the first person out of the shelter. Apparently everyone else is moving really slow too.

Today I really wanted to go 10 miles to camp at a nice view. However, my body was hurting and I know I need to listen to it. I decided to stop at Carter Gap Shelter instead which made my daily milage 7.6. This is the second shortest day of backpacking I have ever done. Doing short days in nice weather bugs me because I know I won’t want to go far in bad weather. I have been incredibly blessed with great weather so far. Tonight I will be figuring out my resupply strategy for the next 100 or so miles.