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.


  1. Rob and I are SO proud of you! I can't wait to find out your trail name - i love it when you let others come up with your name for you, it just makes me smile. :-D Prayers for your travels!

  2. =D YAY!!!! I love it! Good news: I'll be living in a cabin in Luray, VA by early June for my new job at the Sheridan School Mountain Campus! If you don't speed through there before I get there - plan on crashing with me =)
    I'm glad you've found a good group of folks and your body's holding up well. Remember - live every moment, but keep sustainability in mind - you don't want any stress fractures.
    I was in the Smokies this time last year and we got stuck in two feet of snow!!! Eek. But I have some life long friends from that.... wouldn't change it for the world.
    Keep in touch!

  3. Go Erin! Wow! You are a fascinating young women! More guts and glory in you to do the AT! Good luck and keep pushing!
    Love Aunt Joan.