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!