Sunday, March 27, 2011

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March 22

Another beautiful day today! Warm and mostly sunny (I'm dreading the first day of rain!) The group from the cheese factory last night hiked about 10 miles to Deep Gap Shelter where we are staying tonight. The 7 of us leapfrogged eachother throughout the day and we all made it here by 2:00. A fairly short day with a big 1000-foot climb near the end. The trail started with a short climb up Tray Mountain and the view was spectacular! One of the best yet. We covered some short ups and downs until the final climb and descent to the shelter. Several more people have shown up so the area is littered with tents and food bags. We're all planning to head into Hiawassee tomorrow morning. The group I've been camping with is planning to get up early and leave camp before dawn so we can catch a shuttle into town that leaves at 8:45. Looking forward to a shower tomorrow and good food!
On another note, I'm almost out of Georgia! The GA-NC border is coming up in the next few days so that should be exciting...moving right along!
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Back to the Woods

March 21
This woods seemed so alive this morning. The smell of leaves seemed to rise from the ground with each step I took, and there were streams and springs flowing freely across the trail. The sun returned, and with it its heat, but it was a beautiful day.
Several people from the shelter last night and I hiked 13 miles to a campsite at an old cheese factory. The first 7 miles were relatively flat and I completed them by noon. The last 6 miles were up, down, up, down, up. We did get some trail magic though! At Unicoi Gap a church group (the same one with the free burgers on Saturday) was waiting with snacks and cold drinks. And chairs! It was great. My knee felt pretty good today...I don't like taking medicine and I told myself at the beginning of this trip that I would not become a Vitamin I addict so I've been taking it pretty sparingly. It has been feeling better though.
There are 7 of us (and a dog) camped here at the cheese factory: Don, Lee, Phil and AJ, Bobby, Justin and Daisy (the dog), and myself. An interesting but pleasant crowd. Bobby started a fire and we all sat around and talked for a few hours. Very, very nice...although it's 11:00 and I'm still up! Anyway, it's been a great day.
I should be in Hiawassee the day after tomorrow; this will be my first trail town experience! It's supposed to be hot again tomorrow and I've been sweating like crazy (read: I smell bad) so a shower sounds really great right now.
So does pizza. Yeah, my appetite is totally kicking in.

March 20
It was a bit cooler today but very windy! The clouds hung around all day with the threat of rain but thankfully I haven't gotten wet yet. I am at Low Gap Shelter which is about 11 miles north of Neel's Gap. The hike wasn't bad and I made it here feeling pretty good. I took some Ibuprofen this morning which I think helped my knee because it didn't bother me much until the last mile or two. I also focused on planting my heel and rolling my foot into each step and that seemed to be beneficial as well (and looks a little more natural than dragging the leg behind me). Low Gap Shelter is a pretty spot with a stream running right beside it. It's peaceful to lay here and listen to the water (and the dog snoring beside me...). This is my first night in a shelter; there are a few campsites nearby but I decided to stay "inside" tonight with 5 other people and a dog.
Today on the trail I talked to a woman and her daughter who had their food eaten by a bear last night. Apparently the same thing happened to some other people in that same area the night before. Scary!
My appetite is starting to kick in. I ate quite a bit of (free!) food yesterday and am really starting to crave food; it's a good thing because I need the energy!
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March 19

The climb up Blood Mountain today was not as difficult as I expected but the descent was painful! Lots of rocks, steps, and steepness. Not so good on the knee. I only hiked about three miles today to Neel's Gap, where I am staying at the hostel at Mountain Crossings. When I arrived, there was a church group grilling hamburgers on the back patio! Love free food. I got a shower and did laundry and feel very refreshed. On top of all the magic, the employees of Mountain Crossings threw a birthday party for the owner...more free food! I resupplied here as well and got myself a pack cover and a fuel bottle (an empty pop bottle--top of the line!) that hopefully doesn't leak. I also went to buy some toilet paper (one of the super expensive and super tiny "camping" toilet paper rolls), and the store employee handed my money back to me and said, "Have you checked the ladies room?" and made a rolling motion with his hands. Seriously? So, I went to the bathroom and got some toilet paper. Works for me.
So, the knee stills hurts and if it's still bothering me by Hiawassee I will have to do something about it. I'm hoping it's not. I talked to someone here at Mountain Crossings who said it might be a problem with my meniscus...not what I want to hear! I've never torn or broken anything so I don't know what that pain is like, but this feels like more than just a tired knee. We'll see what happens in the next few days.
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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

It's Spring Down Here!

March 18
The Georgia sun is hot! Today was another shorts and t-shirt day, about 75 degrees. I am at Woods Hole Shelter and came 11.9 miles from Gooch. There are 11 people here and we've been talking into the night...it's 9:00--very late! I was in bed at about 7:30 last night and woke up at 5:30...not much to do when it's dark outside so I laid there until I couldn't take it anymore and got up at about 6:45, milled around in the darkness for awhile, and waited on the sun.
The trail to Woods Hole was again a lot of up and down, and (not to complain, but) my knee really (really) hurts. It started out okay but got progressively worse. There were a few times when putting any weight on it sent sharp pains shooting up my leg but if I stopped for a minute it wouldn't be so bad. For about the last 7 miles I was leading with my right foot and kind of dragging the left behind. Not very graceful looking but it felt better. I'm hoping the rest I've had this afternoon and will have tonight will help it. If not, Blood Mountain tomorrow is going to hurt!
I met a few more new people today, including another young woman who is thru-hiking. She's a bit older than me but it's nice to see someone else in a situation similar to mine. We got some more trail magic (more water!) at Woody Gap. I also took advantage of the wonderful (that's entirely serious) pit toilets in the parking lot. It's amazing what you appreciate when all you have is what's on your back.
The trail has been beautiful--the lack of foliage allows for some awesome views. Nearly every mountain has a view so the scenery never gets boring. The weather has been awesome but I know it won't last much longer. I can dream though, right?

March 17
It was about 72 degrees today and sunny. Perfect. I didn't use quite enough sunscreen though. Today I came the 7.3 miles to Gooch Mountain Shelter. It's crowded, but not as much so as last night. Luckily I got here at about 2:30 so I got a decent tent spot. The hike was hard and I'm glad it wasn't any longer. Maybe I'm just worn out from yesterday? I hurt my left knee going downhill; I'm hoping it will feel better tomorrow. Today has been more encouraging than yesterday...I've met a lot of new people and am starting to see the same people multiple times along the trail.
I experienced my first "trail magic" today! For about six miles there were no water sources and a group of people who were doing some trail maintenance left some jugs of water at Cooper Gap. I was rationing my own supply (and thus not drinking enough) so I took advantage of the opportunity.
I don't have much of appetite but I know that will change here soon. Oh, and I stink. And it's only been two days. I should be to Neel's Gap in a few days and should be able to take a shower and resupply there. Looking forward to it!
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The Journey Begins - 3

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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Journey Begins

March 16
Today was the big day! I left Amicalola Falls at ten till 9 this morning to head to Springer Mountain, where the official trail begins. The approach is 8.8 miles and was not as difficult as I expected. I made it to the summit in a little less than 5 hours. A beautiful view! I teared up (but didn't full-on cry) when I saw the plaque (is that the correct spelling?) and the first blaze. I've been saying all along that this whole thing hasn't felt real...it definitely felt real in that moment. I waited for my parents to get there (I made better time than I expected so they were "late") and we had a nice photo shoot. They hiked with me down to the parking lot where their ride was waiting and we had a tearful goodbye. Then I was off on my own! I planned to stop at Stover Creek Shelter but there was only one other person there. It was about 4:30 but I decided to push to the next shelter, Hawk Mountain, 5 miles away. I rolled in about 6:30 and it is crowded! There are probably close to 30 people (maybe even more) and there are tents all over the place. Unfortunately since I was late to arrive, all of the good spots were taken. My tent is on a bit of an incline and I can already feel myself sliding downhill. I also blew my sleeping pad up a bit too much so it's pretty firm. Should make for an interesting night! It's about 40 degrees now and is supposed to be in the 70s for the next few days. Hopefully that will make for some pleasant hiking.
So, how was the first day? Overall, not bad. I pushed myself harder than I wanted to so I will probably only do about 8 miles tomorrow, versus today's 16.6. I feel okay, but I know I need to ease my body into this. This lifestyle is certainly going to take some getting used to...it's strange to be in an unfamiliar place with unfamiliar people, but I know that most everyone else feels the same way. So, 7.8 miles down, 2173.2 to go!
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Counting Down...

March 15
I'm starting tomorrow! My mind is racing. I can't help but think of everything that could possibly go wrong. I'm to the point now of questioning myself why I am even doing this, but I know it's just nerves. I don't think I'll be getting much sleep tonight...not good quality sleep anyway.
Tomorrow marks the beginning of...something. I'll let you know what in a few months!

March 14
I've decided to wait until Wednesday to start. My parents are staying the extra night in Georgia (they were going to start driving home on Tuesday), so they are still planning to meet me at the top of Springer Mountain, the official start of the AT. We're staying at the lodge at Amicalola Falls State Park tonight. They are already booked for tomorrow night so we are planning to find somewhere to stay in nearby Dawsonville.
It's kind of funny; I have to keep reminding myself that tomorrow is my birthday. I have been so preoccupied with starting the trail on the 15th that the date has seemed to only have that significance. I'm giving the 16th some purpose now!
We stopped at the Visitor Center today on our way in the park. There is a sign-in for thru hikers at the front desk and a scale outside to weigh your pack. The approach trail begins behind the center, and I admit that I teared up when I saw it. I'm waiting until Wednesday to walk through the arch where the approach begins--no cheating, right?

March 13
Two days!..maybe. There's a 90% chance of rain on Tuesday. Yes, I know I am going to have to hike in the rain, but why should I purposefully start on a day of rain? I'm not absolutely set on the 15th, I just thought it was a good day to start since it's my birthday (birthday cake on Springer sounds kind of nice doesn't it?...rainy birthday cake, not so much). I am considering waiting until Wednesday but I know that it will inconvenience my parents; they may have to miss out on meeting me at the top. Either way, the forecast for the rest of the week looks nice so I'm definitely grateful for that.
Excited to be in Georgia tomorrow! New state #1!

March 12
It's my last night at home. I saved everything for the last minute so I've been stressed out trying to gather everything and hoping I don't forget anything. I think it will be awhile before I get a good night's sleep again.
Everything feels really strange. I know I am leaving but in my mind I cannot fathom being away from everything for months and months. I don't know how I will be able to handle it, and that's what's stressful.
Basically I am laying in my bed right now and thinking, "Holy cow I'm really doing this."
Holy cow. I'm really doing this.
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Saturday, March 12, 2011

Gearing Up


I've been fiddling around with my stuff this week trying to figure out if, how, and where everything will fit in my pack. For those interested, I created a page ("Gear List" at the top) and listed my gear. This is everything I am starting with but I am sure I will make some changes as I go. Overall, I'm pretty happy with the weight. My dry pack (no food or water) weighs about 22 lbs. For total starting pack weight, 30 was my goal, 35 was my limit, and I came in right about 31. Not bad. This is with 4 days of food and 2 liters of water.  Obviously I will be eating food as I go, and depending on my location I will have to carry more food, so of course the pack weight will fluctuate.

So, the good news? Everything fits; everything seems to work. The bad? Thankfully nothing major to report...not yet anyway. There are a few minor issues/observations that have come about:

1) I think my fuel bottle leaks. It's sneaky though, because when I turn it upside down and try to see where it leaks from, nothing comes out. It had been laying on its side earlier and I picked it up and the bottle was slightly moist, so something is going on. There is a spout at the top; I think maybe when I squirt fuel out of the spout a few drops remain inside, which then leak out even when I close it. You know how when you're drinking from straw and you stop sucking, a bit of liquid comes out the bottom? It's kind of like that. It will be stored upright in a side pocket in my pack so I don't think it will be much of a problem. At least I hope it will not be much of a problem.

2) I am not good with a lighter. To light my stove I have to stick the flame down inside, and I burn my thumb when I turn my hand upside down. If there is a trick to doing this, I haven’t figured it out and I’ve decided I'm going to stick with matches.

3) I don't have a pack cover. I've bought and tried two and neither fit correctly. I have my camp shoes strapped to the outside of my pack so it takes extra fabric to wrap around those, and both covers are too small. I don't know if I will be able to find something before I start or if I will just make do without one until my first resupply point. Here's to hoping for no rain?

4) Speaking of rain, I was planning to test my tent in the rain, and I set up camp in the backyard a few nights ago to do so; however, the test was aborted when my cat snagged the fabric in an attempt to play with one of the crossing pole hooks on the rain fly. The damage was minor—one small hole and a few snags—but I did seal the area with silicone just to be sure. Since I haven't had the tent out in the rain, I suppose I will just have to trust my seam-sealing workmanship?

5) I have never used a hydration bladder and I feel like I'm sucking in a bunch of air with each drink. I'm assuming this is normal and is just something I will have to get used to...or maybe there’s a trick to this too that I have yet to learn. Either way, the water gets to my mouth, so that's what matters, right?

Again, I don't think any of these things are worthy of much worry. I am sure I'll encounter much bigger problems!

This will probably be the last post before I start the trail. I may write more but will wait to publish until a few days in. Thank you everyone for the support and encouragement! (And thank you municipal court for excusing me from jury duty on the 31st!)

(I just changed the calendar on my wall to July. My sister is getting married so I will be coming home for the wedding, and if all goes according to plan, the calendar will be correct the next time I see it. A simple action, but significant...I'm really leaving!)

So, here goes nothing? Here goes something? Here I go.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Running Out of Days

I'm leaving home in a week.

A week?!

The passing weeks have grown to months and time has been flying by. I expected that everything would require attention at the last minute, and that is exactly what is happening. I'm trying to enjoy these final days but the excitement that is growing inside of me makes me wish that this week will pass quickly. I am overwhelmed with things I need to do, but really, what do I need but to grab my pack and head south?

My last day of work was Friday. It feels strange to think that I won't be walking into the office on Monday morning, but at the same time the progression feels natural, feels right. I am very thankful for the way things are working out and it reinforces my conviction that now is the right time for me to do this.

I anticipate that the mental aspect of hiking 2000 miles will be more difficult than the physical; physical struggles are, in part, mental challenges. I have been imagining myself in arduous situations and in my mind working through my potential responses. I am (half-subconsciously?) attempting to create a self-fulfilling prophecy. This is the only type of mental preparation that I can think to do, and it does hold promise of being beneficial. Each option I consider concludes in finding a way to smile, to laugh. I want always to seek, and ultimately to find, a reason to smile.

This coming week will be spent thinking, fine-tuning my gear, enjoying the comforts of home, and preparing to leave familiarity behind.

I can't believe it's almost time.
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