Monday, September 27, 2010

The 100-Mile Non-wilderness and Katahdin!

Now that I've been home for a week, it's time to tell you about the last part of my journey. 

We resupplied for the last time in Monson, ME.  By this late in the hike, resupplying was generally easy because we had finally figured out how to do it right.  Unfortunately, we were resupplying for an unknown about of time.  We weren't sure exactly how many days it would take to get to Katahdin.  The 100 miles past Monson are known as the 100-mile wilderness because there is supposedly nowhere to resupply for 100 miles. 

So we entered the 100 Mile Wilderness with a lot of food and a lot of energy.  This was the home stretch! And everyone had said we would have no problem making up time.  That was a little misleading, but we were still on schedule. It turned out to be a blast and one of the most enjoyable stretches of the hike.  The first few days were slow-going because we had so much food in our packs.  At this point in the hike I was probably eating only 2,500-3,500 calories a day, which doesn't seem like that much for the amount of exercise we were doing, but 10 days worth of that food is heavy!

Day Tripper and I didn't see many other hikers the first few days in the 100 mile wilderness. It was nice to have a little "solitude" and to have a shelter to ourselves... or so we thought.  One night settled into our sleeping bags at dark and we were surprised to see hikers coming into camp one-by-one until almost 10:00.  It was the crew that we had left behind in Rangeley.  They were doing 25+ mile days and really, really hating their lives and the trail.  They were trying to get the trail over as soon as possible, while we were trying to enjoy our last few days.  The extra 5 miles they were doing made a difference- they couldn't take side trails to see ponds, they couldn't stop to scout for moose, and they couldn't ride the boat across the lake to White House Landing. And they never wanted to hike or camp again, whereas I went hiking within a week of coming home.

After a few days we stopped at White House Landing, the only place to resupply in the 100-mile wilderness.  It is basically a bunkhouse with a restaurant, but the novelty is that there is no way to walk there from the trail.  You get to the dock and sound a foghorn so the owner of the place drives a motorboat over to pick you up.  We sounded the foghorn and somehow that turned on a downpour, so the restaurant was a nice short break from the rain.  We didn't spend the night there but we did each eat 1/2 of a pizza, half of a 1 lb hamburger, and half of a pint of Ben and Jerry's.  And I still wasn't full!

In the "wilderness" the terrain was difficult for the first two days, but then it leveled out and we had no problem going 15-20 miles per day.  The only thing that slowed us down a little is that some sections of the trail in Maine are very muddy.  The Maine Appalachian Trail has constructed "bog boards" or wooden planks over the mud in some sections.  I think the main purpose of them isn't to help us as much as it is to prevent trail erosion.  Well, when it rains those things get very slippery!  I was constantly slipping off of them, but mostly landing on my feet.  Except once when I didn't, and I landed on my knees, elbow-deep in mud. Fortunately it was raining so I get cleaned off pretty quickly!

We learned that the 100-mile wilderness is not actually a wilderness at all.  The area is mostly a national forest (I think?) and that means that the resources are meant to be protected but not completely conserved.   That meant that we heard (and saw!) logging trucks every day.  There is even a railroad that goes through the 100-mile wilderness!  But we did see our third moose.  It was swimming in a river so it couldn't run away from us, so we finally got some good moose pictures.

After leaving the "wilderness" we spent the night at Abol Bridge Campsite, where our old friends Conan, Backwards, and Skippy were waiting for us! They had taken a zero day to wait for us so we could summit Katahdin together.  They had also hitched to town and gotten food for the night and champagne for Katahdin!  So we had a campfire with an amazing view of Katahdin, hot dogs on the fire, and a little bit of beer.  Or maybe it was a lot of beer, because somehow we missed hearing a bear sneak into Skippy's food bag 100 yards away and steal Ramen and Poptarts.  We started calling him the "ninja bear" because we never even saw him do it!  Good thing we were all sick of Ramen and Poptarts after 2100+ miles!

The next day we walked together into Baxter State Park, the home of Katahdin.  The "state park" is not actually park of the Maine State Park system.  It was established by a private trust set up by the late, great Governor Percival Proctor Baxter.  So it is independently run and has some strict rules- like limits on the number of thru-hikers who can stay there.  You also have to leave to summit Katahdin by 10 am in September, and things like that.  But I am a rule-follower, so everything worked out fine.

It rained all night, but the weather report predicted that it would stop raining at 8 am.  So we left at 8 am for our last day of hiking.  The crew included Conan, Backwards, Day Tripper, Skippy, Skippy's girlfriend Alisha, and me.  And just as predicted, it stopped raining.  It was a "Class II" day, meaning that "hiking above treeline was not recommended", but we were trusting that the weather would get better throughout the day.

The climb up Katahdin is ~4000 feet of elevation gain over 5.2 miles.  For those of you who don't hike, I will translate.  That is STEEP.  People say that it is the hardest climb of the entire trail, but it was made easier by the fact that we left a lot of stuff at the Ranger Station. In fact, I think I was the only one to carry my own backpack and not a loner daypack.  After the ascent, I saw why.  There was a lot of very technical bouldering and climbing on rebar that would have been difficult with a heavy pack throwing you off balance.

The climb up took about 3 hours, but honestly, it was FUN.  The clouds cleared so we had amazing views, and it was a blast.  It was more than I thought it would be.  We got above treeline and the trail leveled out a little.  There were at least four false summits so it was hard to be sure where the top actually was, but finally we saw a group of people and knew that they were at the top.  So, we reached the summit of Katahdin.  It wasn't windy, it was just a little cold, and the clouds would move in and out giving us occasional views of the valleys below.  There were about a dozen day hikers at the top, and they all applauded for us. 

At the summit we had a great time taking pictures and enjoying the view- taking it all in.  We sang Happy Birthday to Skippy because it was his 30th.  Conan and Backwards sprayed each other with champagne and we drank what was left in the bottle. I thought that I would cry a lot, but I didn't cry until Backwards started crying.  It was more of a happy crying than a sad crying.  It was overwhelming to be at a place that I had dreamed about for as long as I could remember.  The feeling that I felt most was sheer joy.   I couldn't stop smiling.  I felt lucky to have had the opportunity and time for such an amazing journey.  I felt blessed to be with people I love so much in a place that will always be sacred to us.

So then we turned around and went home.  The hike down was kind of annoying, because there is no "extra credit".  We were done hiking the AT, but we still had to get back to the parking lot.  Also, I didn't mind the steepness going up but by the time we got down my knees were really hurting.  That was a sign that it was time to stop hiking for a while.  Overall, I will say with confidence that so far the day that I summitted Katahdin has been the single best day of my life, and hiking the AT was the best choice I ever made.  I am still processing thoughts on everything that happened and all we accomplished, so I will have one more closing blog post for you all.  Thanks for reading and being part of my journey.


Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Life's Not Always Rainbows and Butterflies, Except for Sometimes

The remainder of southern Maine before the 100 mile wilderness was amazing.  We climbed some big mountains- Saddleback, Sugarloaf, and the Bigelows.  We crossed the 2000-mile mark.  We took a day off in Stratton, ME to weather out the rain of Hurricane Earl.  The weather cooled. We ate lunch in a canoe in a lake, we swam near sand beaches, and we saw another moose.  We ate flapjacks at a remote camp and then rode across the Kennebec River in one of the the country's last man-powered ferrys.  We began to truly enjoy ourselves in a way we hadn't since Virginia.

Oddly enough, even after the difficulties of the beginning of Maine, this was my favorite section of trail.   The Bigelow Mountains in particular were are favorite mountain range there. It had a lot to do with the fact that it was such a beautiful day when we were there.  It was raining in the morning, and as we reached treeline we saw one of the most beautiful views of the trail complete with double rainbows.  This sounds corny, but it was really magical and in that moment I realized that it was all worth it.  All of the miles were worth it for little moments like that.

The Bigelows were the last 4000+ ft mountains before the 100 mile wilderness, which also added to our elation.  I think that is where it really, truly sunk in that I was going to make it to Katahdin.  Supposedly there is a view of Katahdin from Avery Peak in the Bigelows.  There were so many mountains visible to the north that we had no clue which one it was, but that is where I realized that it was actually there.  It was not some imaginary peak of trail lore.  It didn't exist only in my dreams- it was there, and we were going to climb it. My faith in myself was restored and I realized that was what I was missing all along. 

Take-home point? Life is beautiful and so is Maine. Sometimes you just have to endure difficulties to be awed.


The House of Cards Collapses in Southern Maine

To all you inquiring minds who are dying to know- I summited Katahdin and finished hiking the Appalachian Trail shortly after noon on September 17!!  To backtrack, lots of exciting and important things happened in Maine, so here goes-

The last few miles of New Hampshire included a lot of boulder-hopping, but we trogged through the obstacle course riding on the excitement of crossing into our last state.  We got to the border and saw that the famous blue "The Way Life Should Be" sign was gone.   So, no picture with that sign! Shortly after entering Maine we ran into some southbounders who told us that the trail ahead was an obstacle course, but if we hurried and gave it all we had then MAYBE we could make it in time for Day Tripper's deadline.  He needed to be back for work by September 20, which would be very reasonable if we hadn't taken time off to go to a wedding...

So we stopped at the nearest shelter to evaluate our plan.  It seemed like we had everything under control, and if we had fresh legs it would have been ok.  But after almost five months and almost 2000 miles, my body was completely broken down.  We had just survived the White Mountains but they had left me more fatigued than I had ever been in my life.  I was so exhausted I could have slept for days, but instead we kept going just as hard as we had been.

The beginning of Southern Maine was a near-breaking point.  Summer 2010 has been abnormally warm on the East Coast, and another freak heat wave was occurring in Maine.  Temperatures in the 90s are uncommon for that area, supposedly.  We never saw anything different. That, plus the wicked hard terrain, took a toll on me.  In the first half of the trail, I cried three times.  In southern Maine, I cried three times a day.   I don't mean to be whining- I knew this would be hard, but I didn't know how it would affect me physically and mentally.  Day Tripper compared it to a house of cards.  You keep building and building and suddenly you put on the final card and it all collapses.

The final card for me was Mahoosuc Notch.  The Notch is known as the "most difficult mile of the trail".  It is basically a jumbled boulder field.  A lot of people say that you have to take your time and it is fun.  It was fun; I love bouldering and had a blast with similar boulders later in Maine.  But the problem was time.  The stress of a deadline was just too much.

But the universe provides, and a trail angel came in the form of another thru-hiker, Scatters. She is an aspiring writer who is working on a book of short stories about dating on the trail, and Day Tripper and I are one of her stories of interest. Scatters was in a hurry to meet her mom at the end of that day.  Her parents have a house in Rangeley, Maine and her mom was taking some hikers for the night.  Her mom made us a delicious steak dinner with homemade blueberry pie for dessert.  And her mom offered to drop us off anywhere the next day, and I made the most difficult decision of the entire thru-hike.

We resumed our hike the next day.  But, in the interest of time, health, and general enjoyment of the trail, we resumed our hike about 30 miles from where we left off.  So we skipped those miles.  It was a very difficult thing to do and  I felt incredibly guilty, like I was cheating.  Thirty miles, or two days worth of hiking, isn't much in the grand scheme of our hike, but it certainly kept me awake at night.  Those of you who know me well know that I am a rule-follower and I try to be an honest person, which is why I am admitting this.  I do intend to go back and hike every mile that I missed.  I have never defined myself as a "purist" or someone who tries to hike past every single blaze, but up until that point I made an honest effort to try.

One of the hardest things about the decision was how judgemental some people were.  I would guess that over half of thru-hikers skip small sections or "blue-blaze".  Blue blazing is hiking on a trail other than the AT for a while and skipping white blazes.  Anyway, some people had trouble minding their own business.  The take-home point here? Don't judge until you walk 2,000 miles in someone else's boots.

So we left from Rangeley at a more reasonable pace.  We still had lot of huge climbs and boulder scrambles ahead, but it didn't seem so intimidating.  And we managed to rebuild our bodies and spirits enough to summit Katahdin while truly being able to enjoy the rest of Maine, and it was blissful.

More soon!


Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The White Mountains and our first Moose sighting

Lack of internet access and a busy schedule to finish the trail have caused me to neglect my blog- sorry! I am currently in Caratunk, ME and will write about Maine in a little while, but here is my story of the White Mountains.

The White Mountains greeted us with a big climb and a steep, slippery descent: Mt. Moosilauke.  The meaning of this name has nothing to do with "moose" or "lake", but we saw our first moose there! As we neared the top of the mountain and the alpine vegetation zone we heard some scampering in front of us.  It was a young moose, and he was freaking out.  He was running in circles and grunting.  We had heard that moose will usually just scamper off if they see people, but this one was crazed and the vegetation on both sides of the trail was too thick for him to move through.  Eventually he just went the other way and we discovered that the reason for his behavior was that there was a couple coming down the trail towards us, so he felt trapped.  All ended well, and we got a nice picture of a moose's butt.

Moosilauke wasn't nearly as difficult as it is made out to be, but the Whites as a whole are.  Our hourly pace slowed from 2.5-3 miles an hour to 1 at times.  The trail requires a lot of hand-over-hand scrambling that is more like rock climbing than hiking. It was certainly something different!

The real bummer of the White Mountains was our time spent in Lincoln, NH.  We had to spend three nights there because Day Tripper had an abscessed tooth and the only dentist for miles around wasn't there on the weekend.  So we just sat around impatiently.  Fortunately she cam back early from Cape Cod just to take care of us- picked him up at the hotel, opened her office at 7 pm, and gave us the thru-hiker rate.

After leaving Lincoln we were eager to get into the heart of the White Mountains.  It was a blessing in disguise that we were delayed a few days because that allowed a storm to pass.  Bad weather in the White Mountains is a lot worse than bad weather in a lot of other places on the trail because a lot of the trail is above tree line and exposed.  We had great weather across Franconia Ridge, followed by a few days of light rain. The day we summitted Mt Washington was VERY wet and windy but tolerable, especially because Mt Washington is the 2nd highest peak on the AT and has the "worst weather in the United States".  It holds the record for the highest recorded wind speed anywhere on land in the world.  Somehow, miraculously, as soon as we reached the summit the sky cleared and we had a great view of New Hampshire and Maine.  Some people claimed that we could see all the way to the Atlantic Ocean, but that looked like a mirage to me.

In addition to surviving the terrain of the Whites, we survived the AMC.  This organization, the Appalachian Mountain Club, is responsible for maintaining the AT through the Whites. Thru-hikers refer to them as the "Appalachian Money Collectors" because they charge a fee for using the shelters.  That's fine with me- it's just $8 per person per night and I guess it is a high-use area, so whatever.  The real annoyance was the hut system.  There are numerous mountain huts along the trail that people pay $100+ per night to stay at.  Through certain stretches there are no camping spots because you are above treeline They allow you to do work for stay, which basically meant washing dishes, etc to stay there for free.  We couldn't complain because it is a privilege to stay in the huts for free, but at the same time thru-hikers would rather not stay there, we were just forced to.  Long story short, we were treated pretty rudely in some instances, and it would be beneficial for the AMC to build more shelters in the White Mountains so thru-hikers and rich weekend hikers could be kept apart and get more of the experience they want.

Mentally, the White Mountains were very difficult and that was magnified by the fact that we took time off in the real world to go to a wedding.  They were hard physically, but we were well-rested so we managed to trudge through them. And, up to that point, were the most beautiful spot on the trail and overall a good experience, until we got to Maine.  Maine takes the cake as our favorite spot, and I will write more about that later.  Right now I have to go eat lunch because my hiker hunger is back full-force and I only have a few more weeks to eat whatever I want without feeling guilty!


Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Live Free (on big mountains while wearing Nike shorts) or Die

Live Free or Die is the state motto in New Hampshire.  That's right, one more state line down and less that 400 miles to Katahdin!  Sorry that I haven't updated in a while- I took a little time off for Day Tripper's brother's wedding.  His family is from Georgia, and ironically the wedding was held in Dahlonega, Georgia.  That is town near the start of the trail! We passed the hostel that people stay in before climbing Springer Mountain and went to the outfitter where people buy last minute gear.  It was very bizarre to be back there, mainly because my flight was two hours long.  That means it took me two hours to travel the distance that I walked in 4.5 months!   Walking was more fun, although on the flight I played a really fun trivia game on the plane's seatback touch screen.

Here's my account of Vermont/the beginning of New Hampshire.  It was SO beautiful and made me even more stoked for the White Mountains, albeit a little scared.  Remember how I said in my last post that Vermont has no pointless ups-and-downs? Well, I found them.  They are all in Northern Vermont.   I slowed my pace to be at a convenient spot to leave the trail for a wedding, but when I probably would have slowed down anyway.  Highlights included Killington Peak and an overnight stop in Rutland, Vermont for some great trail magic.  Also, I never saw a moose, but there will be more chances for that in Maine.

On one interesting day in Vermont I was walking the last few miles to the sheltershelter and saw an overweight old man with a walking stick lumbering up the trail (I do believe it is possible to lumber up something, not just down).  His shirt was unbuttoned, his gut was hanging out, and he looked like Santa Claus on a camping vacation.  My first thought was "I'm not so sure about this guy".  Lo and behold, he is Warren Doyle.  I thought he was kidding and psychotic at first but then remembered that Warren Doyle is leading a group of twelve on a "thru-hike" this year.  Basically, people pay him to facilitate their thru-hike.  They walk the whole trail but "slackpack" it, meaning they don't carry full packs and a van meets them every night with food, their tents, etc.   Warren Doyle is famous for founding the American Long Distance Hiking Association (ALDHA) and setting an early speed record on the trail, a thru-hike in 66 days.  SO he went about 3 times as fast as me.  This year Warren is completing hike number 16 of the AT.  16 x 2175? That's a lot of miles. It was a pleasure to meet him.

In all of his thru-hikes, Warren has never gone southbound (SOBO).  I hiked with him for a bit the days after meeting him and he explained why- to him it is more meaningful to have a mountain like Katahdin at the end.  It's huge, the hike is hard, it's remote, it's historic, and it has important religious value for native people.  It also has important spiritual value for thru-hikers as an iconic mountain at the end of a long journey.  Springer Mountain isn't nearly imposing enough to do that.

Recently we have been running into a lot of thru-hikers walking south.  They are a little over a month into their journeys so it is interesting to compare their hike with ours at that stage.  Generally, southbounders have bigger beards than northbounders and are just a little bit crazier. There is more solitude during a southbound hike than a northbound one so maybe you have to be a little crazy to want to do it that way?  But their is no other explanation for why they all look like they have been on the trail longer except they're weird.  A lot of them are also arrogant about the fact that they have gone through the hardest mountains and we haven't, but seriously- they have walked 25% as far as us and most of them will still quit.  In my opinion, they just haven't yet realized that the hardest part of the trail is mental, not physical, and a few more months of thinking all day will humble them a little.  Actually I think most of them are arrogant to hide how insecure they are about the fact they have only hiked a small section of the trail so far.

Anyway, I was anxious to get to Hanover, New Hampshire for my mail drop (and Ben and Jerry's).  I decided to have my winter gear sent to myself a little farther up the trail, so this mail drop was just care packages from friends and family.  The postmaster was glad to see me because all of my packages were taking up too much space!  Thanks everyone- on really rough days I am reminded of everyone at home cheering for me to finish and that makes a world of difference. 

Hanover is the home of Darthmouth College, and it is very similar to Lexington, VA, where I went to college.  Preppy undergrads, a beautiful campus, and a small town college feel.  The weirdest thing is that three different groups of people asked me for directions.  How did my uncleanliness indicate I was a local?  I didn't have my backpack on.  I honestly think they assumed I was a student because I was wearing Nike running shorts.  Every sorority girl in America has Nike running shorts in at least three different colors.  They are comfortable, dry, quickly, and are universally flattering, which is why I hike in them.

New Hampshire has already presented more challenging terrain than we have seen in a while, and I have only hiked 40 miles of it so far. Rebar steps in rocks and loooong climbs were rewarded with fire towers and AMAZING views.  I saw Mt Washington, Mt Moosilauke, and some of the other presidentials in the distance. 

Tomorrow we head back to New Hampshire.  I am ready and hope that my trail legs haven't gotten lost in one week.  I am very well-rested and well-fed, and tonight I am meeting up with a best friend from college and one from graduate school (St Lightining, you can read about her in one of my posts from April) for a last little bit of the real world before the test of mind, body, and spirit that is about to come. 


Thursday, July 29, 2010

Ben and Jerry's next flavor? Vermud

A persistent underlying theme of my thru-hike? ICE CREAM.  What better place to be than Vermont, home of Ben and Jerry's?

I love Vermont. The Green Mountains are more rugged than mountains we have seen lately, yet beautiful. Beaver-dammed ponds add something new to the scenery and there have been some amazingly crisp mountain lakes for swimming.  The weather has been mild and there are few pointless ups-and-downs.  There are lots of ups-and-downs, but they lead to fire towers and views and lakes and things worth hiking for.

The only problem lately has been MUD.  Thru-hikers have nicknamed the state Vermud because the trails are very, very muddy.  Immediately after crossing the MA/VT border we were slogging through mud.  For a while we tried to avoid it by hopping across rocks.  It reminded me of that game that we played when we were little- the one where we jumped on furniture and tried to avoid the "hot lava" or carpet.  We jumped on rocks, logs and roots to avoid slimy mud.  Eventually that got frustrating and I just started walking straight through the mud.  I heard Day Tripper cuss for the first time, thanks to Vermud.

One positive aspect of the mud is that it preserves moose tracks!  I have seen dozens of huge tracks so far but have yet to see the moose itself. Unfortunately my camera is dead and I won't be charging it until New Hampshire, so I will have no pictures Vermont.  I'll come back someday though, because this thru-hike is really just an adventure along a narrow corridor of the Appalachians.  There is so much more of these mountains that I have yet to explore.  Plus I need to try my hand (or feet) at some of the Vermont ski slopes that I've been hearing about.

Day Tripper had to leave the trail AGAIN after just two days in Vermont, so I'm tackling most of the state solo.  But not really, because I am in a little cluster of other hikers, most of whom I really like.  I have been hiking around two especially interesting women lately- Wild Poodle and Cahoda, both in their 60's.  This is Cahoda's 5th thru-hike attempt.  These women are examples of persistence on the trail and how all-consuming this dream can become. I think this is their year.

I should be in New Hampshire in about a week. New Hampshire is home to the hardest section of trail- the White Mountains.  So I still have a lot of challenges ahead of me.  Also,  I am taking a week off of the trail in the middle of August to go to Day Tripper's brother's wedding, so that puts my Katahdin summit date somewhere around mid-September.  Less than 600 miles to go from here, but it feels within reach.

Time for some ice cream!


Thursday, July 22, 2010

High Points and Northern Hospitality

I'm in Massachusetts. Not sure how that happened, but the miles are flying by.  As of today I have less than 600 miles left! This morning I honestly considered taking a hike on the Long Trail, which runs over 200 miles from the AT in Vermont to Canada, to make this last longer.  That's on my list of future trails though, and for now I have to live in the present and savor this as much as possible because I know it will be over soon.

Connecticut was quick and awesome. It was my last state in the Mid-Atlantic portion of the AT, which meant the last state with wimpy mountains.  The highest point in Connecticut is Bear Mountain, which Day Tripper and I just happened to be on top of during the scariest thunderstorm of my life.

The trail passes through or near some very quaint cities in Connecticut, and it seemed like we were on a travelling tour of Connecticut neighborhoods for a while.  We are definitely in New England!  One thing was very noticable about mountain towns here- rich people live in the mountains in the North, while poorer people live in the mountains in the south.  Interesting observation.

We also did something that I vowed to never do but I couldn't resist- an aqua blaze! Aqua blazing is floating down a section of the trail instead of walking, and in Connecticut near the Housatonic River the AT parallels the river for ~6 miles.  At first I felt guilty about not walking those miles, but we could see the white blazes as we floated, and I promise I won't do it again! It was amazingly fun though and a great break from our normal routine. So we rented tubes from a local outfitter and aqua blazed thanks to our new friends Dave and Nate.  They are a father and son duo that we met at a grocery store in Kent, CT and they helped shuttle us for the tubing trip.  They seemed eager to help, probably because they needed a break from their cross-country trip, the purpose of which was to research hot dog stands because they are opening one called Little Chubby's Weiners.  If you are ever in Wichita, Kansas I suppose you should go.  They even gave Day Tripper a shirt because he lost his in the river- great trail magic!

Massachusetts has been amazing for a few reasons.  First, we finally met up with Conan and Backwards, some of our favorite hiking partners.   We had been chasing them since Virginia, and Backwards got giardia so we actually passed them without realizing it.  We met up at Benedict Pond in a state forest in MA, where we were celebrities for the day.  Somehow word got out among families swimming at the beach there that we were walking from Georgia to Maine, and we spent the afternoon chatting about our trip in exchange for lots of delicious food and drinks.  The best part of the day was when Andrew, a five-year-old kid from New Jersey looked at us with big blue eyes and said very matter-of-factly "Hopefully you won't starve on your way all the way to the corner of the United States".  Hopefully we won't, but with the obscene amount of money I have been spending on food lately I think I'll be ok.

This state has offered some amazing views and scenery, something that was missing in the Mid-Atlantic.  A hightlight was Upper Goose Pond, where the Appalachian Mountain Club maintains a cabin next to a pond for swimming complete with canoes and kayaks and topped off with a pancake breakfast.  Yesterday we summited the highest point in the state, Mt Greylock, and had a sneak peak at the White Mountains, theinfamous mountain range that awaits us in New Hampshire. It's hard to believe that we're getting so close to the Whites, and so close to the end.

People in Massachusetts are much, much more friendly than I had expected.  I had heard rumors of "Massholes" which basically are snobby, arogant New Englanders.  I have yet to meet them.  Maybe it is because we are friendly and kind, and we know the importance of respect to local residents in town and on the trail.  Take-home point of Massachusetts- kindness encourages kindness. 

Now I'm going with Backwards to visit the Crane Museum, a museum at a famous paper factory where all the money in the US was once made.  Random, maybe, but it's free and who knows when I'll be back in Massachusetts?  Vermont tomorrow will be the first state on the AT that I have not yet visited, so it will definitely feel far from home. Farther from home every day, but closer to Katahdin.


Monday, July 12, 2010

One Thumb in the Air for the Big City

Here I am, sitting squeaky clean in my friend's apartment in New York City.  You may be asking yourself "How on Earth did Thunder get to New York City"?  Sure enough, the trail doesn't go through Central Park, but I am going to be walking through it in a few hours. It's an interesting story, but the fully understand my New York state of mind we have to go back a few days to the New Jersey/ New York line.

Numerous people have warned me about the often overlooked difficulty of the Appalachian Trail in New York.  It's short, just like New Jersey, but it's steep and rocky.  Remember my description of the Roller Coaster, a section of trail in Virginia that is difficult due to its pointless ups and downs? If those hills in Virginia had a baby with the rocks in Pennsylvania they would name it New York.  I should give it a break though, because under normal circumstances it wouldn't be too bad.  It was just HOT. Again, 100+ degree days on the trail are no picnic.  The heat just zaps all of our energy and causes dehydration and sickness.  Every day during this recent heat spell was harder than the previous, and it definitly took a toll on us.  I was reluctant to go to bed every night because I dreaded waking up in the morning and walking.  That's not how it's supposed to be.  I found myself fantasizing about playing Flash games in an air-conditioned office cubicle.  

So in an act of desperation, another thru-hiker, Heads Up, and I hitched into Greenwood Lake, NY.  This was the one time on the trail that I most wanted to stay in a hotel.  I almost threw my budget into the wind and said screw it, it won't matter if I'm broke if I die of heat exhaustion.  But I really do want to make it to Katahdin, so we did the next best thing.  We went to Subway in an attempt to sit in the air conditioning all day.  Just our luck- the AC was broken, but it was a cool 86 degrees and we were able to drink gallons of fountain drinks to rehydrate. It was actually a blessing that the AC was broken because it was easier to start hiking again.

Heads Up and I hiked some big miles together to make it to the train station by Sunday.  I was planning on a trip to NYC to visit my friend Mallory in Manhattan and pick someone up at the airport.  There is a train station on the trail near Pawling, NY but the train only runs on weekends.  After three 20+ mile days pushing for the train station, Heads Up gave up and hitched a ride from the trail to the bus to the city. I was on my own to finish two more 20+ mile days

I made it to the train station, only to find that the schedule was wrong and I was three hours early!  I was starving and fantasizing about ice cream.  The station was actually just a platform next to the train tracks and there was no TCBY for miles around.  Well the second-best trail magic of my hike occured.  As I was sitting in the shade, a day hiker came to the platform.  I thought she was taking the train into the city, so we starting talking.  She was actually just waiting for a friend and was then going to drive into Manhattan.  She offered me a ride and said "as long as you don't mind stopping for ice cream first".  Was I dreaming? Nope.  I had lunch and ice cream with Cathy and Khristine.  Then I rode with Cathy to Brooklyn and we took the Subway to Manhattan.  It was wonderful to have someone help me navigate the Subway and point me in the right direction in the big city.  The universe provides!

The city has been unreal, but I am really enjoying it.  It's nice to walk around and see so much going on around me- these people are much more entertaining than the chipmunks and squirrels I have been watching lately.  One thing I have noticed is that people really don't pay attention to anyone but themselves.  I was nervous about being so dirty and smelly in the city, but aside from one girl who moved away from me on the Subway, no one has even looked at me.  It's kind of sad after experiencing the instant connections that I have with other hikers when I meet them.  Also, I am reminded of what I love about the woods in the first place.  It's a simpler life with less things.  But I'll admit, I did enjoy seeing people wearing cute clothes, and Mallory even let me borrow a dress to wear for the day.

Now I'm off to navigate the subway/bus system alone so I can go to the airport to pick up Day Tripper.  Yes, he is coming back to the trail!!! Unfortunately only until Rutland, VT- about two weeks.  Then I'll be on my own again for the White Mountains and Maine.  We're going to walk around Central Park this evening, which I'm not too excited about because I don't want to walk anywhere but north on the AT.  My feet hurt.

No wonder they hurt, another milestone has been reached.  I am officially 2/3 of the way from Georgia to Maine!


The Garden State? More Like the Black Bear State

I left Palmerton, PA after saying goodbye to Day Tripper, but I wasn't alone.  I hiked with Grolar Bear, whom we nicknamed Grumpy Bear, because he complains so much.  Nevertheless, the hike out of Palmerton was FUN.  It was a lot of rock scrambling on a pretty exposed face, the temperature was cool, and Grumpy Bear didn't even complain!  Those are the best moments these days.

After a few more days of rocks in Pennsylvania, we hiked down into Delaware Water Gap, PA.  I stopped at the hostel and saw a familiar face from Springer Mountain- Gutsy! The woman I hiked with on the very first day of the thru-hike.  She was section hiking and slack-packing her husband, so it was just a coincidence that I ran into her.  We walked across the Delaware River together, which was kind of cool because Washington crossing the Delaware River was a historical event during the Revolutionary War, and it was the weekend of July 4th!  I walked across the bridge that they have built since 1776 and through a park full of families having picnics.  A snapshot of America.

Crossing the Delaware also brought me into New Jersey!  The state was short and relatively uneventful- the thing that I will remember most was the HEAT.  High 90s, sunny, and miserable.  Without Day Tripper I could slow my pace a little so that helped.  One thing it didn't help was the water situation.  Most of my water comes from springs and streams, and 90% of those sources in NJ and NY have been dry.  It's very stressful not knowing where your next water is coming from, and a liter of water is over two pounds so I have had to carry a lot more weight than I would like.  Fortunately, a few kind souls or "trail angels" leave gallons of water at road crossings.  Some even leave coke, which is like rocket fuel on the trail- caffeine plus sugar plus hydration.  I would like one IV of coke, please!

New Jersey was also interesting because of the bears.  There are more bears per square mile on the trail in New Jersey than any other state, and they are not timid.  I have to admit that I have an irrational fear of bears, epecially when I am camped alone.  Especially on the 4th of July, when I saw two Mama bears and four baby bears in a single day.  So, I used an empty Gatorade bottle as a beer alarm by putting coins and batteries in it and shaking it every time the bears came near my campsite.  It worked, and I got a little bit of sleep although not much because it was very warm that night and I was really missing Day Tripper.  This seems a little ridiculous because black bears very very rarely harm people.  I later found out that I wasn't the only thru-hiker who was scared of bears in New Jersey.  SpringKat, an older Irishman, used firecrackers to scare the bears away from his campsite.  I heard it worked well- I may have to try that trick next!

More on New York soon!


Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The "Rocksylvania" Blues

I am currently in Palmerton, PA, mile ~1250.  I love this town.  It's clean, friendly, and has a very Western feel.  We weren't planning to stop here, but an unfortunate event yesterday forced a stop in Palmerton.  But before I talk about the heavy stuff, here are some recent trip details:

I found the rocks in Pennsylvania.  There are definitely in the northern part of the state, and they are sharp and gigantic.  I figured that anything labeled on a maps as "Knife's Edge" is probably sharp, and it indeed was. But no stretch is continuously rocky for more than a few miles, so alternating boulder-hopping with smooth terrain has made it tolerable.  There isn't too much elevation change here, so that makes it easier as well.  My feet are doing great in "Rocksylvania".

Day Tripper and I saw our third bear this morning!  And I have seen two rattlesnakes in the past week.  Don't worry, they are very scared of people so I'm not worried about getting bitten.  I was worried about both a thru-hiker named Grolar Bear and Day Tripper getting bitten because they like to harass snakes.  Day Tripper even caught one and PICKED IT UP.  I was hysterical because I was so scared of it.  We got some pictures but they are not great because my hands were shaking as I took the pictures.

I also had the pleasure of seeing my very best friend since middle school, Erica.  She came to visit in Port Clinton and took us out to eat and to the grocery store.  It was amazing to see her and I was reminded that one of the benefits of hiking the AT is seeing old friends along the way. We also went to the Cabela's store in Harrisburg, which is the most ridiculous outdoor gear store I have ever been to.  In addition to being gigantic, they have taxidermy version of ever animal anyone would ever want to kill- bears, mountain lions, elephants, birds, etc etc.  There were even some animals I hadn't heard of- hundreds of them.  It was a bizarre experience to say the least.  I just needed bug spray...

And then we left Port Clinton and planned to hike to Delaware Water Gap, which is on the border between PA and New Jersey, before resupplying.  Yesterday afternoon as we crossed a road by a mountain restaurant Day Tripper suggested that we charge our cell phone in an outlet outside the closed restaurant.  It was random for him to suggest that, but he had a hunch that we needed to check the messages.  So it was there that Day Tripper found out that his beloved grandfather had a stroke earlier that morning.  He passed away last night and Day Tripper made the decision to end his hike and go back to Georgia to help out his family.

So now I'm hiking alone again.  After ~1000 miles with someone so closely, this is definitely the most difficult day of my trip thus far. I realized that somewhere along the way "my hike" turned into "our hike" even though I stubbornly refused to admit that for two months.  There is no doubt that I will be incredibly lonely in the coming weeks, even though I still have plenty of friends around me.  Don't worry, I'll be ok. Now I'm hiking north for both of us.  Even though it will be harder than before, my determination is greater than ever. 

Take home point?  It can all be over in an instant, so appreciate every day.  Also, never get a haircut that would be inappropriate to wear to a funeral.


Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Mason-Dixon line followed by a 1/2 gallon-sized failure

Two more state lines down, and the halfway point has officially been crossed!!
I'm sitting at the Doyle Hotel in Duncannon, PA.  Officially in the north, but people are still friendly.  And it is HOT. 98 degrees outside right now but the tavern here is nicely air-conditioned.  For $14 per person, we couldn't resist staying the night.  When another hiker was being wishy-washy about staying, I said "what are you on, a death march or a vacation"? The truth is that it is somewhere in between.  Today it felt like a death march.  Anyway, here's the story of Maryland, southern Pennsylvania, and my failure to eat a half gallon of ice cream at once.

Maryland.  The AT through it is short and fairly easy.  Some hikers even attempt to complete the whole state in a day, about 40 miles.  Day Tripper had to go home for a few days, so I took it easy so he could catch up.  And in my 3-day traverse of Maryland, I began to miss Virginia.  Maryland had some good historical exhibits and some good wild fruit (mulberrys, raspberrys, apples, cherries, blueberries) but that was about it. No views, no interesting climbs, a few nice shelters but a few mediocre ones, and lots of road crossings.   Overall, I am totally indifferent about the state of Maryland.

Leaving Maryland and crossing into Pennsylvania I passed a major mile marker- the Mason Dixon line!!! It was just a post in the ground with "Mason-Dixon line" written on it with a black marker.  I heard that so many people have stolen the sign in the past that they stopped replacing it.  Now we're out of the land of sweet tea and soda, into the land of pop and Yankees.  Besides the fact that no one here in PA says y'all, the southern part of the Keystone state has been just like Maryland- a whole lot of boring.

Pennsylvania  is famous for its rocks, but the rocks on the trail are much worse in the northern part of the state.  It hasn't been too bad so far. There have been few views and LOTS of road crossings.  Walking across the Cumberland Valley provided a sight I hadn't seen in a while- miles of corn fields, wheat fields, and cows.  Walking through tall grass across majestic fields sounds beautiful, but in reality it is terrifying because of the possibility of lyme disease.  Two guys I have been hiking closed to have been diagnosed with it this week, but the treatment if it's caught early is simple. One out of five hikers is said to contract lyme disease, so the more friends get it, the less likely my chances are.  Just kidding... 

In PA Bloody Nose and his girlfriend Emily joined me for the weekend. The brought bagels, M&Ms, and some awesome company.  Together we crossed the AT midpoint and Bloody Nose was able to travel the 1/4 mile of the trail that he skipped during his 2007 thru-hike.  Also, the duo got to witness my attempt at the famous half gallon challenge.

At the Pine Grove General store in PA there is a tradition for thru-hikers to attempt to eat a half gallon of ice cream as quickly as possible.  I had been thinking about the challenge since before starting my thru-hike, and I was pretty confident that I would have no problem finishing it.  I choose cookies and cream, by far my favorite flavor, and dove in with a flimsy plastic spoon in hand.  About 5 minutes into the half gallon, I already felt ill.  At minute 22 I slowed down and hit a wall.  I finished a little less than 3/4 of a gallon, which is failure. After an hour rest I walked away slightly disheartened about a few pounds heavier. I did vomit just a little bit of it up, but it wasn't full-blown spewing. And once we were back on the trail, I felt awesome and we were able to hike 15 more miles that day for a total of 23 miles.  Maybe I should eat ice cream everyday!!! Just fyi, the previous day a hiker had finished a half gallon in a little over 8 minutes.  An average time is somewhere between 30 minutes and an hour.

Just after finishing the challenge, I found out that Day Tripper had hurt his knee and was meeting me in Boiling Springs, PA.  I took my 7th zero day (day off) there at an amazing place called the Allenberry.  It's a resort and "playhouse" that I otherwise would not have been able to afford, but they have great hiker rates and a swimming pool, a jacuzzi, and a game room. Great place to spend the day recovering. And we watched the movie Major League, which led to...

haircuts.  Day Tripper and I just got haircuts in Duncannon.  My hair is very, very blonde and dry these days because I'm outside 24 hours a day, so I got a few inches of scraggly cut off.  Day Tripper opted for something a little more unique.  Are you familiar with Charlie Sheen's character in Major League? The "wild thing"? Google a picture of him if you're not.  Day Tripper got that haircut.  I will try to put pictures on facebook soon.

That's all I've got for now.  I'll let you know how the rocks in northern Pennsylvania treat me.   The temperature is supposed to continue to be 10 degrees above average, but every time it gets too hot I will close my eyes and think about a cool breeze on Katahdin.


Monday, June 14, 2010

It's Been Real, Virginia. See ya.

Once again, I have so much to say and so little time to write.  I'm in Harpers Ferry, the unofficial halfway point of the AT!  It was the halfway point at one time, but the trail is getting longer every year due to rerouting.  I have decided that for some future entries I am going to write everything by hand and let a friend type it for me because finding time to put all of my thoughts down in town is entirely too stressful and time consuming.  And right now I need to purchase some health insurance online because mine is about to expire and there is a decent chance I will need to go to the doctor in the next few months for a broken ankle, lyme disease, etc.

The Shenandoah National Park was MUCH easier than last time I attempted the entire hike.  We had decent weather, lots of delicious food at park waysides, and lots of great company. Also, the park is very well graded, meaning that the trail is not too steep through that area.  It did get monotonous after a while, and Day Tripper and I were incredibly disappointed to not see a single black bear in the park.  Friends of ours saw dozens of them!  I think that Day Tripper talks too much or something...

We had a short break in the park to visit with Bound, a friend from Camp Alta Mons who finished her thru-hike last year.  Then we left the park and entered an area of Virginia that is nicknamed "The Roller Coaster" because it has so many pointless ups-and-downs.  That, added to 95 degree weather and high humidity, was very difficult.  I may have broken down into uncontrollable weeping (which is a symptom of the famous "Virginia Blues" that everyone gets in the 500+ mile stretch of Virginia).  That 18-mile day was the first time on the trail when I thought "why am I doing this?", and I'm sure there will be more of those days to come in Pennsylvania, a state that is notoriously difficult because of sharp rocks.

I was thru-hiker #325 to visit the Appalachian Trail Conservancy headquarters in Harpers Ferry,  VA.  More than half of the people who started the trail this year are estimated to have left, and another half of us will not summit Katahdin.  Those are scary statistics, but things are going better than I thought at this point.   Nevertheless, it is slightly disheartening to notice the numbers thinning.  Day Tripper and I have been spending nights only in shelters, whereas at the beginning of the thru-hike shelters were packed.  The Appalachian Trail never promised anything but blood, toil, sweat, and tears, and that is what we are experiencing.  But hopefully the view from Katahdin will be worth it.


Mail Drops Part 2

I am currently in Harper's Ferry, the unofficial halfway point of the trail! Hard to believe that I have made it 1,000 miles. Thanks again for all of your notes of encouragement through both the mail and the internet- it really helps to know that so many people are pulling for me.  For those who are interested here is a list of the remaining maildrops for the trail. Including the estimated date of arrival is important because some post offices will send things back if you don't include it.

1) Erin Tainer
c/o General Delivery
Port Clinton, PA 19549
ATTN: Please hold for AT hiker ETA 6/20/10

2) Erin Tainer

c/o General Delivery
Hanover, NH 03755
ATTN: Please hold for AT hiker ETA 7/20/10

3) Erin Tainer

c/o General Delivery
Monson, ME 04464
ATTN: Please hold for AT hiker ETA 9/1/10


Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Waynesboro: Friendliest Town on the Trail

Damascus is technically the friendliest town on the trail, but Waynesboro sure has felt like it. People here are so nice.  We got to town this afternoon so Day Tripper could pick up a package.  After dominating the AYCE Chinese buffet (the waitress starting glaring at us after the first hour be were there), the highlight of the day was a free swim at the local YMCA.  Day Tripper used to coach swimming so I also had a free lesson.  And chlorine is very effective at cleaning clothes- my shorts haven't been this clean since the beginning of the trail!

Daleville to Waynesboro (mile 853) flew by.  Most of it has been familiar territory because I hiked large portions of this section in college.  We have been swimming a lot lately, and our humid, hot days have turned into endless quests for swimming holes.  We also jumped off the James River Foot Bridge, a 30-ft plunge into the James River.  It was the perfect temperature for a relaxing swim before a 3000 ft climb.

Day Tripper, Pistol (a new friend) and I had the pleasure of being taken into Lexington, VA. The director of the Outing Club/an old friend, James, let us stay in the Outing Club house.  We ate dinner at Don Tequilas, had coffee at Lex coffee, and had a nice guided tour of campus by me. A great visit for sure.  And I just realized that I talk about towns a lot, but we don't actually spend that much time in towns.  They are just blog-worthy that everyday trail life.  If I wrote about everyday trail life it would be the following:

We woke up, packed, ate, walked, ate, walked, went to the bathroom, walked, ate, read, slept.  Multiple by ~120 days. Throw in a few wildlife sightings and overlooks that are starting to look the same and you'd have a thru-hike. An added bonus is that the trail is also a tour of the towns and culture along the Appalachian corridor.

One complaint is that the humidity has brought the bugs out in full force.  I am covered with mosquito bites, which isn't the worst part.  The worst is the pestering.  Having no relief from gnats flying around your face all day and no-see-ums gnawing on your legs at night is slow and steady torture.  And also cause for crying and mild cursing (I think that was only the second time that the trail made me cry).

Tonight we're staying at the Lutheran church hostel and tomorrow we're entering the Shenandoah National Park.  I saw at least 4 bears in the SNP in 2007, so I'm stoked for some black bear sightings this week.  We're also going to pump out some big miles (three 20+ mile days in a row planned for later this week) just because we can.  The plan to see an old friend halfway through the park and the rumors of a milkshake at a restaurant in the park have me lacing up my boots.  Actually my trail runners have a really modern cable clasp system instead of laces so my shoes never come untied, but regardless- stay tuned!

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Reflections on 1/3 of a thru-hike

I'm in Roanoke until tomorrow!  I just finished the stretch from Pearisburg to Catawba (mile ~700).  I hiked with Backwards and Conan, the married couple from Florida, for that whole section after a crazy weekend at Trail Days. 

I don't even know how to begin to describe Trail Days. We all slept in tents in the woods next to the town of Damascus.  Our tent site was called "Poison Goose".  We didn't know why until the next morning when someone informed us that the campsite was in a huge patch of poison ivy and there was a plastic goose stapled to a nearby tree.  Anyway, it was  a huge tent party complete with a midnight drum circle, a jam band, and a lot of hippies.  After being on the trail it was overwhelming to see so many people in one place, but it was a great chance to catch up with other thru-hikers who have fallen behind or pulled ahead.  We only stayed for one night though because Day Tripper had to catch a bus back to Atlanta the next morning to sort out some stuff at home.

My dad drove us back to Pearisburg to resume our hike.  Of course it started pouring as soon as we pulled up to the trailhead and rained on and off for three days.  I don't mind walking in the rain at all- in fact, sometimes it's refreshing.  I am never very excited about packing my tent up when it's wet because it was heavier.  There are two big problems I have with walking in the rain.  The first is that everything smells much worse (including our bodies) so I had the worst body odor I have ever had in my life.  The second is that rain makes the trails and rocks more slippery so we walk more slowly.  I have been known to slid in the mud more than once...

There were a few special/weird things that we experienced or observed this past week.  We walked past the largest tree on the AT (the Keefer Oak tree), the Eastern Continental Divide, and the house that was the inspiration for the movie the Blair Witch Project.  It was creepy- a wooden house in the middle of the woods with black handprints on the windows and near the door. Some of our friends slept in it, but it was pretty dilapidated so we decided against it.  We got some nice trail magic- we had sodas 4 out of 5 days. People in this area sometimes leave soda in streams near road crossings so we have a cool drink before climbing some big hills.  The best soda was from a cooler in the yard of a section hiker who lives near the trail.  He had a zipline that we used to cross the river behind his house-pretty sweet!
I switched out some gear in Roanoke this weekend. I'm on my third new pair of shoes, I got a new pack from GoLite because the frame of my first one was messed up (thanks to Day Tripper for some smooth talking with the customer service rep and to Outdoor Trails in Daleville), I have a new rain jacket because my old one was only about 1% waterproof, and I switched to my summer weight sleeping bag.

As of Sunday, I'll be 1/3 of the way finished with my thru-hike.  The miles were flying by for a while, and now they are creeping slowly.  Here are some thoughts:

-It's always better when we're together.  Like I have said before, the people I am with are making this experience.  Conan and Backwards are our new best friends.  They are a day ahead of us now because I took a day off for mail drops, and we miss them terrible.  Having people with a great sense of humor makes our time on the trail so much better.   Also, the 75 miles without Day Tripper were hard and I was happy to see him again, to say the least.

-I need other people.  I need help sometimes.  I'm stubborn and have tried to resist it, but some days I need Tripp to fix my sleeping bag, I need Backwards and Conan to make me laugh, I need advice from other hikers, and I need my parent's logistical help.

-The Appalachian Mountains are home.  I am now in familiar territory.  I've hiked all of the section for the next ~200 miles.  I'm seeing it with a new perspective because so many things have happened in my life since I last climbed some of these mountains.  The entire Southern Appalachian Mountains have felt like home so far and I am totally in my element.

-It is extremely refreshing to live such a simple life.  I love just having the things on my back.  Waking up and knowing that all I have to do it walk and eat and talk and socialize is incredibly liberated.  My daily routine is established.  I still have a bad habit of just throwing everything in my back instead of organizing it, but that likely will never change.  And the core of my simple life is the fact that

-I'm walking to Maine. I have made it this far.  I can make it all of the way.  And this truly is the greatest adventure of my life. And even though I know I can make it, I have found that

-It doesn't get much easier. Although I have my "trail legs" under me now, each day is still a struggle. I love being out here and would not trade it for the world, but some days it takes all of my willpower to just put those boots on. My knees are starting to hurt, my skin is constantly burned from the sun, I am sick of trail food, and this is hard. No one ever said it was easy, but I have been surprised at how it really is a mental challenge as much as a physical one.  One blaze at a time and we'll be at Katahdin before we know it.
I have no idea when my next update will be, but I'm sure I'll have some great stories from Central Virginia in a few weeks.  Stay tuned,

Friday, May 14, 2010

Almost Heaven, That's Virginia

So, I am WAY behind on my blogging.  But I just wanted to let everyone know that I am still alive and well.  Here's a quick update:

I have been hiking with Day Tripper and a young married couple from Florida- Backwards and Conan.  Snickers zoomed ahead of us for unknown reasons. The group I am with now is awesome and we are doing great together.  We joyously cross the VA state line about 10 days ago!  It's good to be home, and good to be in Virginia because it is a bit easier than earlier terrain.  Or maybe we are just in better shape?  My calf muscles are HUGE- pictures to come this weekend or next.  We passed through one of the prettiest areas on the trail so far- the Grayson Highlands/ Mt Rogers National Recreation Area.  Mount Rogers is the highest point in Virginia, but the trail doesn't go over the summit.  I have been there before, so no big deal.

The highlight of this area was PONIES! There are two herds of wild ponies living in the area.  They are actually related to the wild horses of Chincoteague (sorry if I spelled that wrong).  They are smaller though because of the harsh weather on Mt Rogers.  It is a beautiful area and we had a great time finding the ponies and feeding them peanut butter.  We also found the best spot yet to "cowboy camp".  Cowboy camping is just sleeping outside without a tent.  We found a perfect secluded rock that was just the right shape.  It was very romantic, and Laura Rickard if you are reading this- I have to say it was comparable to all of our accidental romantic camping spots at Mt Rainier.
Virginia has continued to be smooth sailing since Mt Rogers, with some 20+ mile days here and there.  My perfect shoes are wearing out- 500 miles appears to be their limit, so I need a new pair soon!  The rocks on the trail just eat shoes.  I have hiked to mile 626, which is in Pearisburg, VA- about 25 miles west of Blacksburg and 75 hiking miles shy of Roanoke.  This weekend there is a huge hiker festival in Damascus called Trail Days.  We passed Damascus about 10 days ago, so my dad very kindly picked Day Tripper, Conan, Backwards, and me up in Pearisburg so I could get my car and travel back to Damascus for two days.  So now I have two zero days in a row and I have already begun to use them wisely. 

One comment about hiking so far every day- my brain has become tuned to a weird frequency of random things from my past that were all but forgotten.  Old TV shows, songs, and memories that I had not thought about in years pop into my head with no trigger.  I think that this is because my brain is not so focused on things like work, school, TV, celebrity gossip, etc.

Conan remarked that it was nice to feel carpet under his feet for the first time in months.  I enjoyed putting on a shirt that was different than the two I have alternated between for months.  Day Tripper used a loofah (even though I told him not to use my loofah, I'm pretty sure he did).  It's the little things in life that are making us happy these days.  The trail has already done a great job of making us appreciate those things- a plate of spaghetti, two showers in one week, wildflowers, maps with correct mileage, and clean water, just to name a few.  Already I see this transformation in all of us and I am anxious to see what the next 1500 miles hold.

Pictures will be coming soon- either Sunday before I get back on the trail or next weekend when I am back in Roanoke for a night.

Miss you all,

Monday, May 3, 2010

I stayed in Erwin a few hours after Atlas and Snickers hiked out to wait for Day Tripper to get back to the trail.  He took a few days off to have a tuxedo fitted for his brother's wedding. I have been hiking with him since then and we are going to hike all of the way to Maine together. 

We hiked over some beautiful balds in North Carolina/ Tennessee and sumitted our last 6,000 ft peak before the White Mountains.  Here we got the weather that we missed in the Smokies- cold, rain, wind, snow, and lots of hail.

We spent one night at a barn that was converted to a shelter.  It was a blessing because there were too many people there that night to fit in a normal shelter.  With the near-freezing temperatures and rain it would have been miserable to sleep in tents.  We all huddled in our sleeping bags and tried to sleep despite the icy wind that was traveling through the walls and shaking the barn.

The next day we had trouble getting out of our sleeping bags because it was so cold and no one wanted to hike.  Up to that point I had been eager to hike every day, but it took all of my might to pack my bag and put on my cold, wet clothes.  My hands have never been so cold.  Fortunately, we had a warm shower in Roan Mtn to look forward to.  It was a hostel day! I have actually been staying in hostels about once a week.  More than I expected to, but I won't be staying in many in Virginia so it's fine.  We stayed at Mountain Harbour in Roan Mtn, TN.  Definitely the best hostel that I have visited so far.  Great people, great breakfast, and a very clean building.  We also watched a movie for the first time in months!  The Net, starring Sandra Bullock and complete with drunk thru-hiker commentary.

I also met Gingersnap and Orange Moon, friends of Bloody Nose from his 2007 thru.  There are trying to finish the trail this year.  They stayed at my parent's house in 2007 and Gingersnap said that my mom's spaghetti dinner was a lifesaver that that point.  That night I woke up in the middle of the night and couldn't stop thinking about spaghetti!  Every since that day I have been waking up hungry every night.  Other hikers do too.  One women risks bears and keeps pop tarts in her sleeping bag for such occassions.

The day that followed was my best day on the trail thus far.  More to follow in a few hours. Right now I have to go get lunch with Day Tripper, Conan, and Backwards.  Then we're going to just relax!! I am taking my second zero day (aka day off) in Damascus, the friendliest town on the trail. 

I wish I could write but my time on the public library computer is running out.

Life is good. That's the only take-home point I have right now.


ps- Thanks for the packages! I'll post a new mail drop list in a few weeks.

Security Cameras and Rain

I hiked from Hot Springs, NC to Erwin TN (mile 340) with Snickers from New York and Atlas from Canada.  Here are some funny stories from the trail:

1) On the first day out, we took a side trail to check out a fire tower.  When I got there I really had to pee.  So I decided to go off in some bushes near a small building that housed some equipment for the nearby power lines.  I looked around to make sure no one was there and did my business.  I then climbed the fire tower and had a nice lunch with Atlas and Snickers.  As we were climbing down the ladder, we heard a beeping.  Turns out that the power company had a security camera that was mounted on the building and was pointing to the exact spot where I was peeing! Oops, lesson learned.  I'm sure some security guards got a good laugh that day.

2)  There are a number of black bears on the AT.  They aren't dangerous but we do have to worry about them stealing our food.  So every night we tie our food up in trees.  Actually usually Day Tripper ties mine up for me because the process involves throwing a rock over a limb and I have bad aim.  One of the funniest moments on the trail so far happened during a rainy evening with Atlas and Snickers.  We cooked our meals in our tents and then I attempted to bribe Atlas to set up my bear bag because Day Tripper wasn't there.  It's easy to bribe hikers with food!  The sight of this bearded Canadian trying to hang bags of food from the tree in his cotton underwear was just too much-  I definitely got some great laughs to end that rainy day.  Looking back it doesn't seem that funny, but the take home point here would definitely be that finding things to laugh about in hard times is going to be what gets us through this.

We got to Erwin in the afternoon and decided to camp in the yard of Uncle Johnny's hostel.  For all of you future thru-hikers I would recommend not staying there.  It's very dirty and the people who work there are insane.  But I guess you get what you pay for, and I wasn't paying much.  But it was nice to eat a lot- we had an AYCE (all-you-can-eat) pizza buffet for lunch and Mexican for dinner. No margaritas because TN has strict liquor laws. AND I ate a pint of ice cream.  I'm training for the half gallon challenge in Pennsylvania, which is an attempt to eat a half gallon of ice cream as fast as possible. 

More on later adventures to follow!


Friday, April 23, 2010

And there I was, in a cage with eight juvenile delinquents....

This update is about my time from Gatlinburg, TN to Hot Springs, NC (miles 200 to 270).  Right now I'm in Erwin (mile 340).  I will follow with details about Hot Springs to Erwin, TN later.  Sorry, computer time is limited and rushed always.

I left Gatlinburg in a hurry in an attempt to rush ahead of the party crowd.  It was getting to be a little too much.  I was more than happy to leave.  A Canadian hiker remarked that Gatlinburg is like "America-land", or how foreigners perceive America.  Overweight and tacky. So I left.  At Newfound Gap Hercules and I talked to some tourists who were amazed that we were hiking all the way to Maine.  I agree, I am still amazed too!

The rest of our time in the Smoky Mountains was wonderful.   I still can't believe that the weather was 100% perfect the whole time that I was there.  We had great views from the ridges, sun, and cloudless skies.  The last night in the Smokies was spent at the Davenport Gap Shelter, just a few miles from the park boundary.  I was sort of unhappy to be spending the night in a shelter that had a cage in front of it (to keep bears out or hikers in?) but I was with some great people.

As we were falling asleep I decided that I needed to pee. As I undid the latch on the cage, I looked out into the dusk (yes, we go to bed before dark) and saw a dozen people in prison uniforms walking down the trail towards me.  It was creepy- they reminded me of the others from the TV show Lost.  Turns out that they were part of a youth therapy camp from Alabama and were allowed to come to the Smokies as a reward for good behavior.  And they had a permit, while we didn't, so we spent the night packed like sardines in the cage with the juvenile delinquents.

The worst part of all was that I couldn't sleep because one of them was wearing perfume and after all of this time smelling trees and B.O., perfume makes me nauseated. And Day Tripper snored all night.  And so ended my experience in the Smoky Mountain National Park.

The following morning I stopped at Standing Bear Hostel to split a Digiorno pizza with HDMama.  Great breakfast.  It did a great job of fueling a mega uphill, but I was hiking with Day Tripper and with him time passes really easily even when the terrain is tough.  We talk about everything and sometimes nothing and that's ok.  I'm thankful for some good hiking partners.

The few days between Standing Bear and Hot Springs were a blur except for the sunset from the top of Max Patch- one of the top 10 moments of the hike so far.

We pushed into Hot Springs, mile 270, where Day Tripper had to get off the trail.  I did laundry and stayed at Elmer's Sunnybank Inn, a very hiker-friendly place that I definitely recommend.  We had a delicious organic vegetarian meal of vegetable curry.  I am generally opposed to vegetarian food but it hit the spot.  I also watched a movie for the first time in months and it was awesome.

What I/we have learned the past week or so: find people that bring out the best in you. I realized that while the guys I was hiking with had what they thought was my best interest in mind, in the long run it was good for me to branch out.  To be frank, I have been surprised about the alcoholism and drug use on the trail.  That's why we pushed hard away from a few people after Gatlinburg.  It's easy to stand my ground and I am slowly finding my niche here. 

Also, I'm 100% healthy.  No blisters, knees are great, I'm eating enough, and I'm wearing sunscreen.

More on Hot Springs, etc later hopefully! The line for the computer is long.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Clingman's Dome and I Hate Ramen

After organizing food from my maildrop and tightening the laces on my new shoes (see previous post) I walked over Fontana Dam with Kristen and Khakis (his new trail name is Studmuffin) and climbed into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  Every thru-hiker's story I have ever heard about the Smokies includes terrible weather, but so far we have had nothing but sunshine, blue skies, and 75 degree weather.  It has been blissful and perfect walking weather to say the least.  Despite the 6 oz of sunscreen that I have been carrying, I already have a killer tan.  Some trees are beginning to bud and wildflowers are out, but we still have weeks before there is enough tree cover to prevent the major tanning that is going on.

I have been hanging out with "the fraternity" some and have met some other great characters.  This is partially because of the rules of the national park.  All hikers must stay in shelters or camp next to them, so people are concentrated in small areas.  It is obnoxious in terms of mileage because some days I have had to choose between a 12 mile day and a 17 mile day when I really want to go 15 miles, for example.  Also, some of the shelters have bear cages around them and can be dirty.  And not all of them have outhouses- gross! The just have large shovels and a designated "toilet area".  Double gross.

My mileage has slightly slowed, but it's not because I don't want to go faster.  My muscles could take it (they called me thunder thighs for a reason) but I don't want to put unneccessary stress on my feet and knees at this point.  I need to be conservative with miles here to increase my chances of making it to Maine.   I have seen too many people drop out already due to blisters, leg and foot problems, and other uncontrollable issues such as family emergencies.  Also, I want to enjoy the scenary as much as possible through the Smokies while the weather lasts.

One major thing that has changed is my appetite.  I cannot stop eating.  Someone who is a veteran thru-hiker warned me that last time his hunger started on his ascent into the Smokies and didn't stop for 5 months.  I'm right on schedule with that.  I have 5 days of food for the Smokies and finished all my lunch and snack food in 3 days!  That's the reason that I am in Gatlinburg now.  The Gatlinburg Food City was like heaven today.  Also, I'm trying to find ways to vary my diet.  Yesterday I had Ramen for breakfast and for dinner.  I don't even like Ramen anymore, and I'm pretty sure my sweat is starting to smell like it. 

Despite the regulations and my insatiable appetite, my time in the Smokies has been incredible so far.  I've walked along 5000 ft high ridges with sweeping views of nothing but mountains all around me.  There are still a few patches of snow that have been easy to navigate.  Also, I reached the highest point on the AT- Clingman's Dome! It's 6643 ft above sea level I think.  It's kind of a tourist eyesore because there is a parking lot 0.5 miles from the top, but fortunately they were paving the parking lot so I got to enjoy the views alone.  I have been spending more and more time hiking alone lately, and I generally enjoy it.  I always know that there is someone I know ahead of me or behind me in case something happens.  I am never lonely and always know that there will be smiling faces to great me in camp or along the trail.

Clingman's Dome also put things in perspective because of the crystal-clear day.  We could see some of the mountains that we had climbed last week and the week before.  And last night (April 11) we stayed at a shelter at mile 200.  I'm completed almost 10% of the trail already, which actually seems like a lot because I never want this to end.

That day I got to hang out with a southbounder named Lucky whom I met in Virginia at the beginning of March.  That was really cool because as I passed the ~200 mile mark he was passing the ~2000 mile mark.  I had a good time hearing his trail stories and his thoughts as his trip is winding down.  I also am glad that I chose to go northbound because of the weather and the camraderie. The one main point that I have been ruminating about lately and Lucky agreed with is that the trail is a great equalizer (TAKE-HOME POINT).  Out here the things that we normally use to judge people don't matter.  Money doesn't matter.  Cars and houses don't matter. Education doesn't matter- in fact, only two or three people even know that I have a Masters degree and I'm going to keep it that way.  Religion doesn't matter- most people here are Christians, some are atheists, some are in between but few are judgemental.  The thing that brings us together is  our love of the trail and our common goal of walking north.  It also seems like we're all out here searching for something.  Some of us don't know what and unfortunately I think that many of us with never even find what we're looking for, but here's to hoping.

Right now I am in Gatlinburg, TN.  I got a ride here from another thru-hiker whose husband came to pick her up at Newfound Gap.  I have avoided hitch-hiking (the universe provides!) We are anxious to head back to the trail early tomorrow morning because this town is terribly tacky.  The lights are blinding and the traffic is too much to handle after just a few weeks on the trail.  And the town is bringing out the worst in some of us- another group is not quite dissolving but morphing into something stronger and better. That's the way it goes out here.  After less than 12 hours here we are ready to go home to the trail.

My next major stop is Hot Spring, NC.  Talk to you then!


Crocs, Thunder, and St Lightning (aka Kristen) to the Rescue!

Right now I am updating from Gatlinburg, TN where I am taking a 1/2 day to resupply.  I'm dividing this updates into two posts for easier reading. So this one is information about the stretch of trail from Franklin, NC to Fontana Dam.

Our group left Franklin in good spirits but quickly dissolved.  The break-neck pace that we were setting was fun while it lasted but was unsustainable.  We had planned on 10-12 mile days, but have already learned that planning in futile.  The first day out of Franklin Nick and I had to hike 15 miles because the shelter we had planned to stay at was full and there was no water and the following campsite.  Fortunately, we found cold Pepsi that a Trail Angel left in a cooler at Burningtown Gap, where we spent the night. 

The next few days were moderate mileage days into the Nantahala Outdoor Center.  The Nantahala mountains are breathtaking and my trail legs were getting stronger each day.  The weather was awesome and I continued to meet people, but I had a major problem developing.  I was still wearing the shoes that didn't fit in the toes.  My feet were majorly swollen and I had some killer blisters on every toes.  So I basically hobbled 30 miles from Franklin to the NOC with nothing keeping me going but the promise of new boots and the possibility of an ice cream cone.

I also got my trail name- THUNDER.  I love it.  Long story short, after some of the guys had been joking that my nickname should be thunder thighs, one of them (Tree) thought he saw me on the trail.  He called "Yo Thunder Thighs" up the trail

After an agonizing 3000 ft descent into the NOC, I arrived at the Outfitter just before closing time.  And.... not a SINGLE pair of shoes in my size.  Seriously? I wear a women's 8.5 or 9, which is average.  I did need wide shoes, but they didn't even have any none-wide ones for me to try on.

So I thanked the guy working there, and walked outside to where my friends were sitting and tried to pull myself together. No luck- the first major breakdown of the trip occured.  I burst out crying in the middle of the parking lot.  Fortunately I had some great friends there to console me, and although I felt a little foolish for crying, I wasn't the only person crying about something that day.  So it was ok and there was a very wonderful solution- my good friend Kristen from Utah volunteered to bring shoes to Franklin- more on that later.

The high point of the hike so far came later that evening, after I had a hamburger with Silent Bob from Pennsylvania and was sitting with my feet soaking in the Nantahala River.

And I hiked 25 of the next 27 miles in my pink Crocs.  Seriously, it was amazing and all of my blisters healed in three days!!  Despite a scary thunderstorm on a ridge after Stecoah Gap, those miles were awesome.  I started hanging out with a group of guys dubbed "The Fraternity".  They include characters named Superman, Cope, Grizzly, Hercules, Sockeye, etc.  They are somewhat rowdy men in their 20s and 30s who hike hard, party hard, and go to bed when I tell them to.  Most importantly, they are always looking out for me, and I am very, very grateful for that.

So the hike to Fontana was awesome, and it was then that I first felt like a thru-hiker.  I visited Fontana Dam on a geology fieldtrip in 2005, so it was the first place on my thru-hike that I had visited before.  I remember seeing the AT there in 2005 and knowing that someday I would return as a thru-hiker, and I did!

We took a shuttle into Fontana Village and ate hamburgers.  We washed up in secret showers that we found in the rec room of a hotel in the Village.  I had no soap so I filled my shoe with handsoap from the bathroom and took it to the shower.  I dried myself with paper towels.  Then I did laundry in a bucket at the carwash.  Seriously, the universe provides.

Then the long-awaited moment- Kristen drove all the way to Fontana from Birmingham Alabama!! She braved a rockslide and 7 hours in the car to bring me 8 pairs of shoes to try on! I found the perfect ones, and have had no blisters since.  She also brought hot dogs, donuts, and beer for me and all of my friends!  She stayed at the fancy shelter with us and hiked into the park with me the next morning.  It was wonderful to see her and I am so grateful to have such a wonderful friends.  The guys started calling her Lightning, and then St. Lighting- patron saint of vagrants and hobos.  She was a big hit because they hadn't seen a clean, pretty girl in a while.

So I set off into the Smokies with new shoes, new friends, and a huge smile on my face.  I'm going to find some ice cream in Gatlinburg now and then I'll be back to write a post about the first half of the Smokies.

The take home point of this section of the trip- the universe provides.  Everytime I have needed a person to give encouraging words, a water source, a sunny day, or a little bit of inspiration, there it is.


ps- Supposedly I have a theme song- "Thunder" by ACDC.  I have never heard it but people sing it as I enter or leave camp.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Free and Easy Down the Road I Go

Happy Easter! I'm in Franklin, North Carolina taking my first "zero day" of the trip.  My legs feel great but the pace we have set so far has been blistering (higher than my expected average for the whole trip!) so we are going to slow down a bit.   This entry is sort of disorganized but so much has happened already and I have limited space, so here it goes:

Will (trail name Bloody Nose) drove me to Springer Mountain on March 27.  It was a beautiful day to start a 2175 mile hike.  We hiked the 0.9 miles south to the top of Springer, I signed the register, we took the obligatory pictures, and I was off.  It was actually pretty anticlimatic.  Will and I stopped at the first shelter where he passed out some beer and soda to thru-hikers, and he hiked a few more miles with me to Three Forks, where we said goodbye.  I thought I would be sad at this point, but by this time I had met so many people that I already didn't feel alone.  I was really grateful that he could share the beginning of the experience with me and look forward to seeing him later down the trail.

The first day I hiked with Gutsy, an amazing 60-yr-old women who has already thru-hiked the AT, PCT, and most of the CDT.  She gave me tips on hiking alone, doing multiple 20 mile days in a row, and in general being a badass.  I enjoyed hiking with her so much that I went an extra 4 miles to camp with her at Cooper Gap.  This was an awesome decision because there was a "trail magic" event going on.  Trail magic is basically any help that a hiker gets from other people, or "trail angels".  Some 2009 thru-hikers had set up a grill and were passing out burgers, hot dogs, and beer.  I got some great advice from past hikers and made some great new friends on the first day on the trail.

Gutsy tried to persuade me to push 20 miles with her the next day into Neel's Gap, but I knew that would be reckless.  So I hiked alone for an hour until I met up with Nick from Georgia and his dog Jamie.  It was raining (with intermittent hail) all day so we hiked 15 miles to the Wood's Hole shelter.  We hunkered down and shared the space with four other hikers and began our routine of going to sleep at approximately 7:30.

The next day we did a short 4 mile day over Blood Mountain (no view) and went to Neel's Gap, where they have an outfitter and a hostel (and free hamburgers).  At the outfitter, Mountain Crossings, the employees go through thru-hikers' entire packs to help them shave weight.  Ryan (trail name Squirrel) helped me, and after telling me I needed to discard one tent stake, a Nalgene, and one pill bottle he said that it was the best pack he has seen all year!!!!!!  The total with no water and two days of food was 21.5 pounds. Sweet, no wonder my knees feel great so far.

Nick and I spent the night at the hostel, where we meet Nat (trail name Ice) who has since joined our group. Miss Janet and Baltimore Jack are some local legends who run the place, and they are awesome.  We also met an interesting skinny Asian 20-some-yr-old who was hiking in all wool and 6 pound boots. I gave him his trail name- Dry Clean.

The next morning Dry Clean, Ice, Nick  and I set out on what turned out to be a 22 mile day.  We didn't mean for it to be at first, but we started hiking and kept going!  The terrain wasn't bad, and at the end of the day I was tired but not exhausted.  It was at this point that we realized we could push hard and make it into Franklin for the Annual Hiker Bash this weekend- so that's what we did.

After a 16 mile day we stayed at the Blueberry Patch Hostel in Hiawasse, GA, which is run by a Christian couple.  The next day we crossed our first state line and were suddenly in North Carolina.  That was another 16 miler but the roughest day we have had.  The trail was suddenly much steeper and there was a controlled burn in the area so there was a lot of smoke and ash in the air.  At this point our "group" consisted of Nick, Ice, me, and Tyler aka Khakis and this is how it has stayed since.  Then came the second 20 miler as we pushed past people who had already been on the trail for two weeks. We were the only ones crazy enough to do two 20+ miles days in the first 7 days.

We made it into Franklin yesterday morning for the Hiker Bash and some much-needed rest.  Our plan is to slow down a bit, but we'll see.  Once I get going I like to keep going.  The thing limiting me now is definitely my feet.  My shoes are too small in the toe box so I have blisters on my toes.  The outfitter in Franklin is terrible and did not have a single pair of wide women's shoes are small men's shoes, so I'll have to make due and hope that the outfitter in 30 miles has a pair that will fit.

Franklin has been great- most of the people that we've met so far are here.  I told the group today that we are going to start the tradition of buying a lottery ticket in every state we hike through.  Nick won 40 bucks today.  We have been eating our share because the food we carry on the trail isn't great, but I haven't gotten sick of Ramen yet.

Other random tidbits- 
1) I don't have a trail name yet.  There have been suggestions including "Legs", "Gingerspice", "Not Ginger", "Thunder thighs", and some very inapprorpiate ones, but none have been fitting.  I'll let you know as soon as I accept one.

2) One highlight of the trail has in fact been the people.  After a week I already have some amazing friends.  The trail does "fast forward" friendships because it is a foreign environment and our daily struggles are the same.  There are some strong personalities, but I haven't met one person I dislike.
3) I don't have a schedule, but I will definitely be in Damascus, VA for Trail Days in May even if I have to find ride back. 

4) The weather has been amazing, minus one day of rain and hail.  It has been really warm my 20 degree sleeping bag has been very cozy at night.  I am looking forward to seeing the trees bloom as I "walk with spring" because there is no shade this time of year and my skin is suffering.

5) I have been taking pictures but have no way to upload them until I get to Catawba (600 miles from here).

The plan now is to leave tomorrow morning and arrive at the NOC (Nantahala Outdoor Center) in a few days.  We only have 60 miles left before Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which is going to be rough.  There is still snow there and the rules about where to camp our pretty strict.  I don't know when my next update will be, but I will definitely update in Hot Springs (160 miles from here).  The elevation changes from here to the Smokies are brutal, but I think my legs can take it, especially since we are going to slow down.

Take home points:  The trail rocks, I'm healthy, and I have honestly never been happier.   Despite my big mileage I have not struggled much yet, and I know that will come eventually when the terrain gets harder, the weather gets bad, and some people go home. But for now it's springtime and the livin's easy here in North Carolina.