Saturday, April 30, 2011

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Friday, April 29, 2011

April 28

What a day!!
The skies have been threatening rain for a few days but the last weather report I'd heard said that today was supposed to be clear, so I figured the clouds would blow over...oh, not so. It started sprinkling at dark and then the storm started sometime during the night and woke me several times with strobe light-like lightning and LOUD thunder. The wind howled and blew the rain as well. My tent was on an incline, so I and the entire setup were sliding downhill...this caused the bathtub floor to level out, so instead of having a vertical wall to protect me from the rain, I basically had nothing. The first few times I woke I noticed there were some drops of water inside the tent...not a huge deal, so I didn't think much of it. Then I realized my clothes were a bit damp from laying on my left side, so I simply rolled over. The next time I woke, my right side was damp too...okay, maybe the water is a bigger problem than I thought! Veto, Pappy, and I were planning to get up at 4 for our marathon day, but it was still storming so we didn't get up until closer to 5. When I woke for good, I was wet all over, and when I packed up my sleeping bag and pad, I noticed a literal puddle in the downhill corner of my tent. No exaggeration...I was laying in at least a gallon of water. Crazy! (But luckily I knew I would be in town tonight...oh, but little did I know what would transpire in town...)
So the three of us packed all of our soaked and dirty gear in the dark and hit the trail at 6:15. We moved quickly on the "easy" terrain, Veto and I out in front and Pappy just a few minutes behind. The day finally cleared but was cool, which was perfect for hiking! Veto and I had 16 miles done by noon, and took our final break 4 miles from town at the TN-VA border!! A very exciting thing to cross another state line!
We descended into Damascus (known as the friendliest hiker town on the trail) feeling a bit worn out after averaging nearly 3 mph all day but excited to be in town where we assumed showers, laundry, and rest awaited us. As soon as we got to the edge of town, Torch, another thru-hiker, informed us that the entire town was out of power because of the storm last night...really?! My shower hopes were suddenly crushed...
We continued along the trail through town to Ruby's Rest, a small cottage we were staying in for the night. The owner, Nikki, informed us of all the storm damage (lots of destruction and we were thankful it wasn't any worse in the woods). She of course didn't have power either and was told it may be a matter of days before it was restored, but said she and her husband and kids were planning to drive into nearby Abingdon for dinner as the town still had power, and offered to take us along. Almost all of the stores and restaurants in Damascus were closed so for resupply we would have to go to Abingdon or somewhere else nearby. Once Pappy arrived we discussed the situation and decided we needed showers and laundry (read: electricity) so Jeff and Nikki told us of some hotels in Abingdon and offered to drive us around to find a place to stay. We all piled into their Volkswagen van along with their two daughters and made our way through the storm's damage...lots of missing roofs, downed trees, and debris everywhere as a few tornados actually touched down in the area.
The first few hotels we tried were completely booked (and one was without power) but we finally found a room at a Courtyard by Marriott in Bristol...expensive for a thru-hiker but totally worth it. I finally got my shower (don't think I want to try to break the 10 day record), we got some food, and are loving the short break from the trail. It's been a day of ups and downs but everything has worked out...and we have a new mileage record (I think the official count was 26.5)! A great day full of great stories and memories. It's all just part of the experience, right?
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April 27

We've been lucky to avoid the rain the past few days! Morning on the lake was beautiful. I decided not to wear my watch today or look at my guidebook while on the trail. Since my phone is dead, I knew I wouldn't be using it and wouldn't see the time, so it was a good opportunity to go "timeless". The biggest difficulty was timing my water purification but I just gave it a good estimate. I have to say, it was pretty neat to be free from time today--no watch, no deadlines, nothing but to walk north. Very simple and very enjoyable.
The trail was more level than it has been and I felt good all day. I hiked most of the day with the group minus Muffin Man. Pappy, Veto, and and I are planning a "marathon" day into Damascus tomorrow--26.4 miles! Should be exciting. Shepherd and Fiber moved on ahead a few miles and will get into Damascus Friday morning. I cannot wait to get a shower and be clean! It will be 10 days--a record for sure! Looking forward to the rest that awaits, and to crossing into Virginia tomorrow!
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April 26

Lots of inspiration in the woods today...

I saw today the edge of morning
The breath, the life, the light and glory
I knew when my eyes first began to see.

I heard today the breath of choosing
The narrow path I'm through with losing
Forgotten but now clearly set for me

I felt today the inspiration
The voice that breathes through all creation
And I knew that I had something more to be

I know that there is so much more to be

Today began slow. I woke around 6:30 and just sat by the river for nearly an hour. So peaceful! I didn't leave camp until 9--the last one out except for Tomahawk--but it felt good. The trail began with a climb, continued with a descent, and ended flat...not bad. I caught up to the group at Shady Recreation Area where we took a nice mid-day break at Watauga Lake. I took advantage of the restrooms and water nice! Unfortunately Muffin Man is having some trouble with his shins so he is staying at Kincora Hostel until they feel better--hopefully he will be able to catch up! We hiked only 7.6 miles today to Watauga Lake Shelter, but decided we wanted to camp by the lake so we actually southbounded for about a 1/2 mile back to a campsite. I'm glad we did because it's beautiful! Spit Walker and Tomahawk are here as well. Damascus by Thursday night is the plan...shower, shower, shower!
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April 25

First time journaling on paper for this trip...the phone is dead!
Muffin Man woke me this morning at 4:40. He, Veto, and I headed out of camp at 6 to hike the 6.7 miles to Hampton, TN, where we planned to stay at the Braemar Castle Hostel. The trail was beautiful! We walked alongside the river (Elk? Laurel?) and next to Laurel Falls. We got to the intersection of the AT and side trail, waited for the others to arrive, and then headed the 1 mile to town. Hampton is a small town but it still felt strange to be walking alongside the road all smelly and carrying our packs. Our first stop was the hostel, which we found out is closed for the season. Seriously?! Now what?
We weren't sure what to do so we decided to get breakfast at the Copper Kettle, which we found to be closed as well. breakfast was Subway and resupply shopping was at Dollar General and a small grocery store in town. We decided to hike back to the trail and camp as there was no where to stay in town. So, no shower and no laundry. Fiber, Veto, and I were headed back to the trail when a young man pulled up and offered us a ride...yes please! It was only about a half mile but much appreciated! We all met up at the trail intersection and found a place to camp nearby. It's tight quarters--5 tents (Tomahawk is with us too), 1 tarp, and 1 hammock. We are camped right beside the river and it's wonderful. We did some laundry in the river and took baths...I actually shampooed my hair and I feel sooo much better! The water was cold but it was worth it. I have a blister on my heel and Tomahawk, a wilderness EMT, doctored me up. Feeling much better! The afternoon has been spent lounging around and enjoying some time not hiking. Today had some unexpected events but turned out well, although I am REALLY looking forward to a real shower in Damascus!
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April 24

Being down by the river, we woke to a heavy dew covering everything...I had what seemed like a gallon of condensation in my tent! Muffin Man and I left camp and set out for a 14.9-mile day. The terrain wasn't too difficult--lots of meandering and small ups and downs--but the day was hot and sunny and the heat saps the energy right out of you. We did cross the 400-mile mark!! Muffin Man outlined a "400" with sticks in the gravel road where we reached the milestone and everyone took pictures...very exciting!
After a lunch break with Muffin Man, Fiber, Veto, and Tomahawk, I was moving slowly and feeling sluggish. We all took another break at a shelter a few miles from our intended destination and then pushed on to mile 410.5 where we are camping in a field along with Step n a Half and Jeannette, Pace, Porter, Tomahawk, and a few others who moved in after dark. It's been just another day on the trail even though it's Easter Sunday...strange to think about what my family was doing today and the fact that I wasn't with them. My Easter dinner was Ramen, beef sticks, a candy bar, and a protein bar...unconventional, but no complaints! We're headed into Hampton tomorrow for cleaning and resupply...and food, of course!
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April 23

Lost on the AT, Part 2.
I was thankful this morning to wake to singing birds and sunshine...there really was a nice view from the shelter! The day started with two climbs: Little Hump and Hump Mountain. I was behind Veto and neither of us saw the trail turning on the top of Little Hump...we continued down the front of the mountain on a non-AT trail. After ten minutes or so, we came to a crossroads of trails and noticed white blazes on the trail we hadn't been following...ugh...can't miss any of the, we backtracked, uphill, on the AT (and met Pappy, Shepherd, and a few others along the way who all wondered what we were doing going the wrong direction...), figured out where we had gone wrong, and then turned around and hiked the correct way down the mountain. It was probably about a half hour time loss but not too big of a deal. The view from Little Hump was great, but then we climbed Hump Mountain, an intimidating sight from the bottom because you can see the trail winding up the bald for nearly a mile, and the views were incredible...360 degrees of mountains, fog, and sunshine. Very welcome after a nasty day yesterday!
I was feeling great today and flew down the mountain to the US 19E crossing where Muffin Man was planning to have pizza...there was a pizza place a few miles down the road and he left early this morning and was going to hitch into town, get a few pizzas, and meet us all at the crossing. That plan ended up not working out, but we did get trail magic at the road! Bob and Trish live about an hour away and came to give us sodas and snacks. Awesome!
The trail after that was relatively easy and reminded me a lot of home...hardwoods, briars, rolling hills, grassy fields, patches of evergreens. It was beautiful! There was a side trail to Jones Falls, which we took, and were treated to a huge (50 feet?) waterfall. Very cool. The trail after that continued downhill to Elk River, and we decided to camp in the meadow along the river. It's a beautiful spot with the water nearby. Everyone washed off in the cold river and it felt amazing after a hot and sweaty day. I rinsed out my hair and soaked my feet...Fiber, Veto, and Shepherd took full-on baths! We rinsed out some clothes too and set our tents up to dry in the sunlight. It's been a beautiful, awesome day...I felt strong all day and am hoping the feeling lasts. Tomorrow will be another 15-ish mile day, and then we're headed into town!...I want ice cream!
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April 22

The day started cold and wet and stayed that wasn't raining when I woke but the rain began around 8 and lasted for a few hours. Fiber, Veto, and I left the shelter in full rain gear and headed down Roan Mountain on the stream/mudhole of a trail to Carver Gap where we detoured to the parking lot because the guidebook showed a bathroom there...a luxury for a thru hiker! Most everyone from the shelter had the same idea so we each took our turn and then headed uphill across a few balds. The wind was cold and drove the rain in our faces; the balds surely would have had gorgeous views had the skies been clear, but visibility was probably only about 50 feet. We planned to meet at Overmountain Shelter to discuss the plans for the night...we made quick time of the 7.3 miles and were here by noon (except for Shepherd who showed up this afternoon). We had talked about moving on but decided to park here as we were all cold and wet and didn't feel like going back out into the weather. We've been sitting around doing nothing all afternoon and it's been wonderful. There are lots of people here, about 23 inside with several outside in tents as well...the shelter is a big barn and we are on the second floor. Supposedly there is a good view from here but it's so foggy we can't see a thing. It's going to be a chilly night but the weather should clear up a bit tomorrow.
So this morning I had a total logic lapse and kept my phone and camera in my rain jacket pocket as it was raining. When I stopped at Carver Gap I pulled them out to find them wet...not my proudest moment. The camera seemed okay but the phone wasn't working was still on but the touch screen wouldn't work. I stuck them in a plastic bag and kept hiking. When I got to the shelter I took the phone apart and put it in a ziploc with a silica gel packet. The touch screen is still "touchy" and doesn't work quite right but that seems to be the only problem. I have insurance on the phone so I may have to find a Verizon store if the problems persist. Thankfully it's still functional for now...if my battery will hold out for a few more days!
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April 21

The rain was gone by this morning and I woke mostly dry...a bit of condensation but it wasn't too bad. I set out on the trail alone around 8 for an easy stroll to Iron Mountain Gap where Mango, a former thru-hiker, was giving trail magic! He had sodas and snacks in the back of his car and even had chairs (with backs!) for us to sit in. Pappy, Fiber, and Veto were just leaving as I arrived and Jen and James and Dreamwalker arrived shortly after me. We sat there feasting on crackers, cookies, and other junk and then I left to continue on to Clyde Smith Shelter for a lunch break. My feet were really bothering me today so it felt wonderful to take my boots off and air them out during the break. Pappy and I left the shelter to head downhill for a few miles and then begin the climb up Roan Mountain. We had planned to stop and camp at Hughes Gap but decided to push on to Roan High Knob Shelter. On the way up Roan, we met a couple picking wild ramps. I tried one since I have never eaten a ramp before...very onion-y and garlic-y (but good!) and the flavor lingered in my mouth for probably two hours afterward. Pappy and I continued the steep, rocky climb and took a break at Ash Gap, a little over halfway up. He stayed a bit longer than I so I hiked the rest of the way alone...again, steep and rocky, but I finally made it to the shelter in one piece. This shelter is the highest on the AT at 6285 (I think) feet. There are two levels and I am up top with Veto, Fiber, REM, Mousebait, Hard Back, Step n a Half, and Jeannette. It's been sprinkling some and the weather report is calling for rain tomorrow morning as well. Muffin Man pulled a huge day today and hiked 24-ish miles to Overmountain Shelter. Shepherd didn't make it here tonight and we heard he is camping at Ash Gap 1.4 miles back. Hopefully the group will all be together again tomorrow night!
Today was a tough day for I said earlier, my feet have been hurting and the uphill at the end of the day is always tough. Still, I'm heading north with a smile on my face and and peace in my heart!
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April 20 - 2

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April 20

Shopping list: new food bag.
Muffin Man has lost his rope so he hung his bear bag with mine last night. I went to retrieve them this morning and couldn't get them down; Tomahawk tried to assist but he couldn't get them either. The tree limb flexed a lot so when pulling down on the rope, instead of the bag going up (PCT method), the whole branch sagged. Muffin Man came to help and he was able to pull it down far enough to unclip the bags. I unclipped both--his came off but mine stuck, so it shot back up along the rope, came loose, and came crashing down to the ground. Being a watertight, airtight bag, the force of the landing literally blew the top off of the bag. Unfortunate but incredible. The rope was also stuck in the tree, so Muffin Man, Pappy, Fiber, and Veto had to once again break the limb down retrieve the rope. Crazy! So, my food bag is dilapidated but Muffin Man has another draysack that I slipped mine into for hanging tonight.
I left camp alone around 8 and the sky was started sprinkling about a half hour later and did that for most of the morning until about 10:30 when it started to actually rain. It didn't last long and I had my rain gear off by noon. The trail was mostly uphill today but it was a gradual climb until Unaka Mountain so it wasn't too difficult. The mountain's summit is covered in spruce trees and it was a beautiful setting...I love evergreens! Lots of flat spots too that would be great for camping but I had to knock out a few more miles. Tonight I am tenting at Cherry Gap Shelter...lots of people here...probably 10 tents scattered about plus a full shelter. Shepherd caught up to us today as planned so the group is back together!
It started sprinkling about 8 and has been raining lightly since. A section hiker here said the chance of rain tomorrow is down to 20% so I'm hoping I won't have to pack up in the rain in the morning!
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April 19

The hostel stay last night was good and breakfast this morning was delicious! The shuttle from Uncle Johnny's took us to JD's Market where I had a delicious sausage, egg, and cheese biscuit, a hash brown, and 420 calories of whole chocolate milk. When we got back, I packed all of my junk and hit the trail with AJ (trail name Veto...story to come later), Pappy, and Muffin Man around noon for a short <5 miles to Curley Maple Gap Shelter. The hike was uphill but not too difficult...beautiful though as we walked beside and crossed several times a stream. The forest is so green and the leaves are finally providing some shade! We've been hanging around the campfire and REM has been playing his mini trail guitar. It's been a relaxing afternoon. Shepherd and Daisy decided to take a zero today so they will try to catch up to us tomorrow. The weather is supposed to be wet for the next few days; hopefully it won't be too bad!
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April 18

Nero into Erwin, TN! Muffin Man, Fiber, and I left camp this morning before 7 for the 5.7 miles into Erwin. There were lots of blowdowns on the trail that we had to crawl through, over, and under. One in particular was a huge downed tree that took me a few minutes to figure out how to climb and slide myself through it and over it. Probably the most dangerous part of the trail so far! We made it to Uncle Johnny's hostel, where we are staying tonight, around 9 this morning. I had called yesterday morning and reserved our spots but we couldn't check in until 1 so we hung around for awhile before catching the lunch shuttle into town. We ate at an AYCE pizza place...amazing! We didn't have time to resupply before the return shuttle came back for us so we went back to the hostel, showered, and waited to catch another shuttle into town for resupply. The laundry facilities here were so backed up that we ended up going to a laundromat and resupplying while we waited. We discussed taking a zero here tomorrow but instead are going to hike just a few miles and do another nero. My right foot still hurts so maybe the short days will be a good rest for it. My pack is going to be so heavy tomorrow as I'll be carrying another 5-6 days of food to make it to the next resupply point...and of course, we'll have to hike uphill out of town! Again, with the rest, hopefully I'll be feeling strong!
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April 17

The sleet I mentioned yesterday continued through the night and we woke this morning to ice covering all of our tents...a COLD morning! My water was slushy as well. It took awhile to get up and running (it's hard to pack when your fingers are numb!) and I left camp around 9. The first climb of the day was up Big Bald...a tough climb but so beautiful...the trees and grass were all covered in a layer of ice and the sun was shining...the whole world was silver! The wind was still blowing hard and I struggled at times to walk straight on the trail across the bald. I stayed for a few minutes to get pictures but the wind was chilling me despite my bulky layers. The trail after that climb was generally downhill with a few steep climbs along the way. I felt good and felt even better when we got some trail magic right before Spivey Gap! Snot Rocket and Dingleberry, AT class of '03, gave us some Pringles and Oreos...delicious! The trail was beautiful and the weather was sunny and cool...perfect for hiking. We arrived at No Business Knob Shelter before 4 and debated moving on for a few more miles to get closer to Erwin, but ultimately decided against that. We will hike the 5.7 miles in the morning.
While hanging my bear bag tonight, the rope somehow got tangled around the carabiner so the bag got stuck in the tree. AJ tried to free it, then Fiber jumped in, then Muffin Man, and when they still couldn't get it, Spit Walker joined the crew. They ended up pulling on the rope until the limb broke and came crashing down. A hilarious ordeal that was recorded on video on several cameras. Thankfully I got my food bag back and seemingly in one piece. Thanks, guys!
The past few days have been good, and although my feet hurt, the rest of my body feels great. I'm looking forward to getting into Erwin tomorrow and taking a shower!! will be a week, since last Monday, since I've had a shower. A personal record, I think!
Aaaand, there's an AYCE pizza place in town!!
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Thursday, April 28, 2011

April 16

One month on the trail! In some ways it seems I have been out here longer but in others, the days seem to be flying by. Time is strange out here; each day seems long and drawn out but the progression of days is so natural that it's difficult for me to believe it's been a month already.
It rained during the night but stopped early morning. I didn't leave camp until 8:30 and it started sprinkling shortly after. I had forgone my rain gear in hopes of getting lucky, but after a few bouts of sprinkles the real rain began and I rushed to get my pack cover and rain jacket on before I was entirely drenched. The forest was very green today and the rain gave a tropical forest-like feel to the trail. It rained for about 45 minutes and then the clouds passed and blue sky and sunshine appeared. I was dried out in about an hour and I met up with Fiber and AJ and hiked with them to the nearest shelter for lunch. We continued on in the sunshine and wind for 5.9 more miles to Low Gap, where we are camping after a 14.7-mile day. There was lots of climbing today but I felt strong and didn't have much difficulty. The six of us are camped here along with Rambling Man, Spit Walker, Click and her father (can't remember his name), and James and Jen. The clouds rolled back in around 4 and it's been sprinkling sleet periodically throughout the evening. Tomorrow is supposed to be clear and we have another moderate day planned: 14.8 miles to a shelter. Hoping to stay dry tonight!
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April 10 - 2

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Tuesday, April 19, 2011

April 15

...And today will be remembered as the first time I got lost (again, I'll start from the beginning...)
The morning began cloudy and windy, and that set the theme for the remainder of the day. I left camp alone and set out on the trail. We planned for a short 10-ish mile day as we are supposed to get some bad weather tonight and we wanted to be in a shelter if possible. The terrain was fairly easy starting out although there were several side trails that were poorly marked and thus confusing. I took a short trail to Whiterock Cliff and was treated to a windy but nice view. The cloudy sky fortunately did not cover the distant mountains. After a half mile or so the trail split; one fork, the actual AT, went up over an exposed ridgeline (Firescald Ridge I think) and the other was a "bad weather bypass" trail that was lower on the mountain. Despite the wind, I took the AT (purist?) and climbed the rocks up to the ridge. The wind was strong, with gusts about 40 mph...there were times when the wind would catch my pack and try to pull me sideways. I would have to stop for a moment and brace myself with my poles. Dangerous but so exhilarating. The ridge offered incredible views of the (sunny!) valley below and I stood fighting the wind for several minutes taking it all in. Probably one of the best views yet and an amazing thing to experience it with the wind displaying its strength over me. Like the thunderstorm from a few weeks ago, it was all very humbling. I descended the ridge but was still in the path of the wind for several more miles. Fiber, AJ, Shepherd, and Daisy caught up to me as I was taking a bathroom break so I began hiking with them. And then we got lost...
We came to an old gravel road crossing. There was a field with an obvious path through it straight across from where we were. We didn't think much of it and just continued straight. After awhile the path turned to what looked like an old "road" that cut through the brush and forest, so we continued to follow it. After a few more minutes we realized we hadn't seen a blaze for awhile and something about the "trail" didn't feel quite right. We walked a bit farther hoping to get some sort of sign that we were on the right path, but had no such luck. We consulted our guidebooks and ultimately decided to turn around. We came back to the original gravel road crossing where we saw a blaze in the distance. So, we were supposed to turn right and follow the road instead of going straight. We blocked off the wrong trail with logs and drew some arrows in the dirt to point others in the right direction. We ended up going about a half mile out of the way (1 mile round trip) but eventually found our way, stopped for a quick lunch, and made it to Flint Mountain Shelter around 2. Thankfully it didn't rain on us but it has been sprinkling this evening and is supposed to rain tonight and tomorrow. The shelter is full with 8 people and Daisy and we've got some tarps rigged up over the opening so hopefully we'll stay dry. Oh, and I spilled beef stew all over myself eating dinner tonight...bear bait? I hope not.
We crossed the 300-mile mark today! And tomorrow will be my 1 month anniversary on the trail!!
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Monday, April 18, 2011

April 13

Back to the trail! My pack is stuffed full and is ridiculously heavy...I'll get into details about that later. I woke before 7 this morning after a decent night's sleep and started packing my bag to leave Asheville. My food bag is enormous and I had trouble fitting everything into my pack. I also discovered that one of my bottles is leaking when I put it into the pack so I'm not sure what to do about that.
The six of us plus AJ's brother, Chris, packed ourselves and our packs into grandma's van for the drive back to Hot Springs. We visited the outfitter before heading down the trail at about 11:30. We weighed our packs there...mine came to 42 pounds! Seriously?! To give you an idea of how much food I've been eating, I started the trail with 4 days of food and 32 pounds; today I had 5-6 days of food and weighed 10 pounds more! It's unbelievable how much I'm eating (and carrying!) We took our time as we only had 8-ish miles to go (the trail goes right through town and we had walked some of the distance yesterday) and the weather was warm and sunny and perfect. The trail was beautiful; we walked alongside a river, a pond, and a few fields. We arrived at the Rich Mountain fire tower around 3:30. Dinner was buffalo chicken rice with a foil chicken pack (delicious) and chocolate pudding/mint pie courtesy of Muffin Man (also delicious). AJ and Shepherd got a fire going so we've been enjoying its heat as it's a little chilly tonight. AJ, Muffin Man, and I are sleeping in the fire tower under the mostly clear night sky. The sunset and the skyline were absolutely beautiful! Phil, Pappy, and Shepherd are camped below. It's a beautiful evening and we're supposed to have nice weather again tomorrow!
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April 14

Today will be remembered for the best trail magic ever! Let me start from the beginning. I woke just before dawn to a still starry night sky and the glow of the new day on the horizon. Beautiful! It was windy in the tower so AJ, Muffin Man, and I gathered our stuff and headed down to the campsite below. Muffin Man and I left at about 7:30 and and made good time to a shelter 2.7 miles away where we took a break. I needed water so he continued on and I got moving after I refilled. It was a cool morning but the sun was shining and it was pleasant. I hiked alone for most of the morning and passed a few people on the trail. When I approached Allen Gap, around 11:30, I saw Muffin Man waiting alongside the trail. "There's a sign for trail magic!" he said, so I continued on and saw that there was trail magic down the road. We knew AJ was not far behind so we waited a few minutes and he and Phil (trail name Fiber, if I haven't mentioned that yet...I'll tell the story later!) showed up shortly. We walked about 300 yards down the road to a nice log house where we were welcomed inside by Hercules and Fal, AT class of 1999. There were a few other hikers there as well, including James and Jen and Dave and Kristy. We were each given a menu of drinks to choose from (I had root beer from a frosty mug), a waffle to start, then a bowl of pork stew, and then our choice of dessert. I chose a brownie sundae...just what I've been craving! The food was so, so delicious. Hercules and Fal said they have been doing trail magic for 7 years and have had more than 2400 hikers come through their awesome! We (sadly) left their house and headed back to the trail for lots of uphill...about 2300 feet of elevation gain over 4-ish miles. Tough with a full belly! I felt okay until the final climb for the day, 1100 feet over 1.3 miles. It was rough going and took me around 45 minutes! I finally made it and caught up to the others who were setting up camp alongside the trail as we'd planned to do. I don't know where exactly we are...somewhere between Camp Creek Bald Tower and Jones Meadow. Not sure if we're in TN or NC as the trail crosses the border frequently. I'm camping in my tent's been almost two weeks I think! There are a few other people camped here as well, including Squatch, who is filming a documentary about the trail....very cool. He got some footage of Fiber, AJ, and I hanging our bear bags (prime time entertainment!). We've been enjoying a fire and a bright moon. It's supposed to rain for the next few days but the sky is clear now and the stars are shining.
My new boots have broken in well and my feet feel okay. My right foot causes me some pain but it's been there since Fontana Dam so it's not the fault of the new shoes. The blister on my left heel is healing and my knee feels great...can't ask for much more!
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April 12

I love zeros! I slept in till 8 this morning and woke up stiff and sore! We lounged around the house for the morning doing laundry and drying all of our gear. Around noon the six of us took AJ's grandma's van and headed to REI where I returned my broken boots for a brand new pair! (REI's return policy is amazing!) An eyelet on the left boot was broken and some of the tread was peeling off as well. I ended up getting the same shoe again so we'll see if these hold up any better. We then headed to Walmart for resupply shopping and then to a Mexican restaurant for a late lunch.
Yesterday we had stopped at a grocery store and gotten food to cook breakfast but that didn't we decided to have breakfast for dinner. Around 9 o'clock tonight we started cooking...AJ fried bacon, Muffin Man made biscuits and gravy, I cooked pancakes, and Shepherd made scrambled eggs. It was all delicious! This was a wonderful zero day and staying in a house has been awesome! Tomorrow it's back to the trail with new boots and full packs!
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April 11

You know the 18.2-mile day we did on Saturday? We shattered that record today with 19.3 miles into Hot Springs, NC. The day began early when I woke before sunrise on Max Patch. The sky was still mostly clear and it was surprisingly light at 6:30. I woke the others and we began our usual routine of packing up camp and breakfasting. I left camp right at 7:30 and headed downhill knowing that today would be a tough day. My feet were sore and stiff but loosened up with use and I cruised down the mountain quickly to the next shelter where I stopped for a privy break along with half the people who camped on the bald last night. Obviously on the bald there is nowhere private to use the restroom unless you walk 5 minutes down the hill (and who wants to do that after hiking all day?). Most of the shelters have moldering privies where tests are being done to determine the efficiency of their ability to decompose solid human waste. They are nothing more than a toilet seat covering an above-ground hole where the waste collects and decomposes along with handfuls of dry duff that is supposed to be thrown in after each use. Most have 3 short walls, most have roofs, and if you get lucky, some have doors. They are understandably smelly and dirty but keep the "pollution" down in the areas around the shelters. A few shelters in the Smokies did not have privies and the designated "toilet area" was a mine field...completely unsanitary as most people do not properly bury their waste. You'd think that in the most-visited national park, they'd have privies to avoid that problem, but...not so. Anyway, a privy is not a pleasant thing to use in most cases but it does offer a bit of privacy in crowded shelter areas.
Back to today: I made decent time this morning hoping to beat the heat and conquer the day's biggest climb, Bluff Mountain, before the sun reached its peak. The climb was easier than expected but anything would have felt easy compared to yesterday! I met up with Muffin Man and AJ on the summit and we sped down the 4 miles on the other side in just over an hour. We've all perfected the downhill jog technique...going downhill is hard on the leg joints; going downhill for an extended period of time with a pack on your back is even harder on the joints. To avoid the repetitive and painful plodding, it's sometimes easier to sink your hips down, "ski" with your poles, and half-jog down a mountain...very carefully, of course. We stopped for lunch at the bottom with 6.6 miles to go. I hiked these last miles alone as Muffin Man and AJ went out ahead...I made decent time, about 3 mph, despite the fatigue that was setting in. The blister on my left heel popped itself after 3.6 of these final miles but didn't cause me much discomfort. The last mile or so seemed to drag on and on as my feet were hurting and I could see Hot Springs displayed in the valley below. I finally made it and plopped next to AJ in the grass to wait for Pappy, Shepherd, and Phil. They arrived shortly after and we headed up the trail, which cut right through town, to the Smoky Mountain Diner where we had a delicious dinner and several pitchers of Dr. Pepper. AJ's cousin met us there with his Grandma's van and we all piled in to go to his parent's house in Asheville, about 45 minutes away. We were planning to take a zero in Hot Springs but this will save us some lodging money. We've been hanging out here at the house and are cooking breakfast in the morning. I am tired and sore and cannot wait to give my body a good rest tomorrow. It's been another long, tough day but there are still smiles on all of our faces...
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April 10

The stay at Standing Bear last night was good and I slept pretty well. This morning the 6 of us went together and bought from the resupply 18 eggs, a pound of bacon, ham, and cheese, and Shepherd cooked us all breakfast in the little kitchen area. Delicious!
I headed out this morning a little after 9 and began the climb up Snowbird Mountain...the LONG climb. The four miles took about 2 hours and the day grew hotter and hotter as time progressed. It was clear and sunny and the heat was nearly unbearable, but the view from the bald at the top was worth the effort. We had 13.6 miles to go today and they were tough in the heat. Lots of uphill coupled with fatigue from yesterday made for some slow going but I finally made it to the top of Max Patch around 5:30. AJ has an uncle who lives nearby and he met us here and brought food for all of us! Incredible. He had a footlong sub and a pound of potato salad for each of us. And yes, I ate it all...yes, an entire pound (800-ish calories) of potato salad. He also brought apple fritters for dessert. A-mazing...thanks Uncle Bob!
The view from the patch is incredible...360 degrees of mountains looming in the distance. There are several people camped up here tonight...we are cowboy camping (sleeping under the stars) but set up our tents as well as there is a chance of rain early morning. I'm laying now beneath the stars and enjoying this peaceful night out in the open with good company. After what was probably the toughest day on the trail for me so far, this is exactly what I need. I can't think of anything more beautiful than a clear night sky and a content spirit.
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April 9

Longest day yet at 18.2 miles! (18.3 if you count the .1 to Standing Bear Farm hostel) I woke up at 6 this morning, ate a delicious breakfast of pop tarts, peanut butter, and a granola bar, and left camp at 7:34. I hiked with AJ for most of the morning and the trail was beautiful...again there were lots of pines and moss-covered trees. The fog was thick and gave the woods a rainforest-y feel. We made good time and stopped at Cosby Knob Shelter for a snack/second breakfast. I hiked on my own for a bit after that before catching up to Pappy for a huge downhill...nearly 7 miles! As AJ said,we were plummeting out of the Smokies! The clouds began clearing and the sun actually made an appearance, and with it the temperature rose. It was humid as well which made for some uncomfortably sweaty hiking. AJ caught back up to us and we caught up to Shepherd, Muffin Man, and Phil. We took a break at Davenport Gap Shelter and continued our descent to find some trail magic at Davenport Gap! A hiker's parents had snacks and bottled water and I enjoyed a pack of nutty bars and two snack-size Butterfingers. (I think I have eaten more candy bars in my 3.5 weeks on the trail than I have in the past year...) The gap marked the northern boundary of the Smokies and we continued along the trail past a beautiful creek with lots of waterfalls and crossings. It was like we walked right into Spring! At the lower elevation, all the trees are budding and leafing; it was all so green! And the sun was HOT...hard to believe that just a few days ago we were hiking in snow! The trail came out onto a road and followed through an underpass of was a funny scene to see a group of smelly hikers walking alongside the interstate. We finished the day with a tough uphill and a short road walk to Standing Bear Farm, where Daisy rejoined the group! We are staying in the bunkhouse tonight along with Towns, Mousebait, Torch, Shark, and a few others. I took a shower (and put my stinky clothes back on...) and have been hanging around the "farm" for the evening. Around 7:30 it started to rain, and then it hailed! The marble-sized ice fell for about 5 minutes and I can't express how thankful I am to have not been on the trail at that time!
It was a long day but my body feels good...probably because so much of the trail was downhill. Unfortunately I got my first blister today though, on my left heel. It had to happen sometime, right? Tomorrow we are planning to cowboy camp on top of Max Patch!!
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April 8

I got my first full night's sleep on the trail last night! I didn't wake until 6:30 this morning and felt very refreshed! I visited the privy and retrieved my bear bag and sat down in the dim morning light to enjoy a breakfast of pop tarts and peanut butter. Everyone else in camp began to stir and we left camp at 8:16 for a 12.6 mile day. After a mile or so we arrived at Charlie's Bunion, a rock outcropping, and took turns climbing out on the rocks and getting pictures. It was beautiful and thankfully pretty clear.
The trail today was beautiful despite the threat of rain that lingered in the sky. We had some wonderful views and hiked through dense pine forests covered with needles and moss. Everything was so green! The weather was warm and comfortable and we arrived at Tri Corner Knob Shelter around 3. We played our standard game of Greed (I won again!) on the top bunk, cooked dinner, and have just been hanging around talking and laughing all evening. It's been another great day; I have really loved the Smokies! Tomorrow we are going to try to push 18.3 miles, our biggest day yet, to Standing Bear Hostel where Daisy will join us once again. We will also leave the Smoky Mountains behind and continue through Tennessee!
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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

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