The Decision~

It’s 5:30am and I’m waiting to board the train to DC. It’s the first time I’ve ever traveled by train and I’m slightly nervous. (Thanks to that terrifying train scene in Anastasia). As you may have guessed I am off the trail. This decision was reached after a week of contemplation and mental scenarios. The bottom line is: I’m ready to return home. Well, almost.

Over the upcoming days I will travel to DC and see a dear friend, while spending hours moving through the museums and monuments that the city has to offer. My next destination will be a return to a small town in New Hampshire that I used to call home a few years ago. More good friends to see, and babies to meet. I will return to Florida within the next couple weeks, but I cannot say for sure-(sorry grandma).

My experience hiking the AT was an amazing and memorable one. The people I met, the views I worked hard for, and the towns I visited will all stay with me. Many people want something out of a thru-hike attempt. Whether it’s clarity regarding life decisions, to brag that they made it all the way, or simply because they love the trail, there is some reason. I did not have such a reason. I wanted to hike the trail because I wanted to. So I bought the equipment and began to hike. The hiking itself isn’t difficult. (That’s not entirely true, some terrain definitely is tough and is only exacerbated by the weather and the 45 pound pack on your back). It’s the realization that you are always in some level of discomfort -foot, ankle, knee, back, shoulder pain. Staying consistently damp from either rain, sweat, or fording rivers. Eating salty ramen for the fourth time that week just to purchase more for your resupply. The part that really gets you is the fact that you are choosing to be there. That is where the difficulty lies. I held dreams of making it all the way to Katahdin in Maine, but then I realized currently, financially, it was not feasible. So I set my sights at the halfway marker, Harper’s Ferry. This was the plan for roughly a week until I had to see a podiatrist for the ongoing foot pain I was experiencing. I was holed up in Pearisburg, VA after my trail family hiked off into the morning heat. I reached out to a friend from college who lives in Roanoke and she graciously drove the hour out to retrieve me. I stayed with her and her fiancee for two nights. We reminisced about our college days, I played with their cats, almost completed a Pixar puzzle, and answered many questions regarding the hike. (Thanks again Rachael!)

This is Ranger. He is a cutie.

The Roanoke star is the largest man made star!

The snake that greeted us on our walk to the starπŸ˜–

The star’s view. The city of Roanoke below.

It was in Roanoke I discovered the train station and after a night of internal debate, I decided to “hop on that train!”, as my grandma put it. I had been getting more and more reluctant in my hiking and realized I had mentally checked out of it. For someone who didn’t go into this trip wanting anything, I felt like I got everything I needed. Instead of pushing on and making my hike a chore, I decided to leave it when I enjoyed it and now I’m sitting in this train. I’m excited to continue my adventure and see DC. I’m looking forward to returning home and reuniting with my darling cat, Lando. I have thought about it thoroughly and I am happy with my decision and the portion of the trail that I have hiked. So, here’s to new adventures!

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Creepin’ and wild ponies

After two and a half days hanging out in Damascus, the trail was calling. My friends hiked out on the AT and I decided to hike out on the Creeper Trail until it met up with the AT. My hike was pleasant, I saw five deer galloping in a field and I walked through a quaint little town.

One of many bridges I crossed!

Little waterfalls were frequent on the Creeper.

This river ran all along the Creeper Trail.

The Creeper Trail is an old railroad bed. Apparently the train ran throughout Virginia until the ’70s.

Wildlife spotting! Leaping deer.

As I mentioned, everything was lovely. The weather was nice, the hike was nice, my veggie sub I packed out from Subway that morning was very nice. I was so caught up in how nice everything was, I missed the turn where the AT picked up. I kept walking, and 3 miles later a Bike Patrol man informed me I was a long ways from the AT. I had three choices: double back and hit the trail, hike the remaining 6 miles of the Creeper and hope to find a ride to the trail, or admit defeat and hike 1 mile to stay at bed and breakfast and figure it out in the morning. I decided to hike back and get on the AT. Bike patrol guy (Dennis) even escorted me and took us on a “short cut” while informing me of various historical facts for the area. Once reunited with the trail, I hiked a mile and set up inside the Lost Mountain Shelter. Caveman, who I last saw in Gatlinburg was there, so we caught up. Shortly after, my friends arrived. The night was beautiful and the campfire kept us warm.

Early sunlight woke up me at 6:30 and I started my day a little after 7. The hike was mainly uphill and it was relentless. Atop Buzzard Rock my friends arrived and Quesodado took some nice pictures of me:

After Buzzard Rock, we hiked another 4 miles to break for lunch at Elk Meadow. Trail magic was waiting for us! A coke, orange, and swiss cake rolls were quickly devoured. We laid in the sun, soaking up the warmth and dreading getting back on our feet! The next stretch of land we are headed into is known for having wild ponies. The thought of these ponies fueled me through the day and I was not disappointed. I decided to stop early at Thomas Knob shelter and leave the rocky descent, my 500 mile marker, and Fat Man Squeeze rock tunnel for Sunday. While writing in my journal, 6 ponies arrived. They enjoyed licking everything and scratching themselves on the picnic table. Rumor is there are two baby ponies and I would be elated to meet them. Pony photos below:

The hike this morning was beautiful, and I scrambled over many rocks and pushed my way through multiple rock tunnels. The baby ponies were precious, and I am officially 25% done with the trail! I’ve made it to Marion, Virginia and I’m shacking up at a shady motel for the night. My stomach has been not well lately and I’m hoping the bug will pass. I have a two night work-for-stay that I will start tomorrow afternoon, then back to the trail!

(More pony pictures just because)

Like that city in Wagon Wheel…

After my brief solo stint, I met back up with my tramily. Iron Man’s friends were going to host a group of 6 smelly, tired hikers for the weekend. The couple were super nice, they had two kids and it felt like being home. We played with the kids, we had Super Nintendo contests (I lost 8 times in a row at Mario Kart, impressed?), ate junk food, and watched The Office. It was blast. The weather was really nice on Saturday so they took us for a spin on their pontoon boat on Boone Lake. At first I was hesitant, since I have seen one too many cheesy sci-fi/horror movies that have to do with tectonic plates shifting and either freshwater sharks or piranhas going on a feeding frenzy. My odd fear was for nothing; no freshwater sharks or piranhas or lampreys. Not even alligators! I didn’t think it was possible to have a body of water lacking an active alligator community, but then again I wasn’t in Florida anymore! Here in Johnson City, Tennessee you don’t worry about such things.

The hike out of town wasn’t bad elevation wise, but weather wise. It was freezing, windy, and raining. For the majority of the day I was pelted with little snow pellets that packed a lot of punch! I made the 16 miles into shelter relatively unscathed and pitched my tent. It’s the first time setting up camp in about 6 inches of snow, so let’s see how it goes! Rumor is there is sunny and warm weather waiting for us tomorrow, but since I can barely feel my toes and am wearing every possible layer of clothing, I remain skeptical.

The stream my foot slipped in.

Watauga Lake, before the snow.

Welcome back snOWwww

The beginning of a snow storm!

A fresh blanket of snow covered everything. My tent had icicles, my sleeping bag was pretty soaked, my shoes were frozen solid along with my water bottles and yesterday’s socks. And I forgot to sleep with my water filter, so it’s bust. My day was off to a fine start, and I was elated when I saw a fire was going at the shelter. Odie himself was there, thawing out his water bag. Odie is the guy who each year receives pictures of hikers and compiles them in a neat yearbook. (Thehikeryearbook). I tried to stay near the fire as long as I could, but I knew I had to face the snow eventually. The hike out was chilly and windy, and slippery in places. It was in one of these places that I tripped and rolled my ankle very hard. I tried walking on it but it only exacerbated the issue. Luckily I made it to a road! Unluckily, I had no cell signal. Dejectedly, I began my slow walk into town. Three miles in, a kind prison officer pulled over and gave me a ride to Damascus. I’m finally in Virginia! I’m resting up at Crazy Larry’s Hostel where I will make good use of the heating pad and ice pack.

Back at it Again

I’ve done things since my last post. Mainly I’ve walked, tripped, stumbled, jumped, and sighed. I ate a Snickers bar at the top of Whiterock Cliffs, I camped at an old Union soldier gravesite, I hiked a 17 mile day, and I met some awesome people.

If you squint you can see the fire tower, I walked from there!

Enjoying a Snickers and Weezer a-top Whiterock Cliffs.

My view from my campsite at the Shelton Gravesite. The Shelton Gravesite marks where two Union soldiers were buried after being ambushed by Confederates after a family gathering.

The hike out of Erwin,TN was a tough one! It was a rainy, foggy day that lasted all of 17 miles. The first 6 were all uphill and before the day was through the trail threw a few more at us for good measure. Murphy, who was acting as my cheerleader and coach, and I rolled into camp around 8:15. My feet hurt and I was exhausted, but I didn’t cry or have a breakdown once!

I strayed from my tramily again and ended up at Greasy Creek Hostel. I had the pleasure of meeting the firecracker of an owner Ceecee and her astute and slightly scatterbrained co-worker, Gadget. The hikers rolled in, I finally met Spamtown Rick! I had been following his shelter log updates for weeks and it was like meeting a celebrity. Many stories and anecdotes were shared over a group viewing of Planet Earth. The next morning I set off to hike Roan Mountain and I loved every minute of it. Roan Mountain was tough in the sense that it was long, roughly 6 miles, and with limited views. At the top of Roan, I found out there used to be a hotel at the top of it in the 1800’s. (Photos below)

After Roan Mountain came the balds. Round Bald, Jane Bald, Little Hump Mountain, and Hump Mountain were incredible and I enjoyed the hikes immensely. Unlike a mountain, you see where you are starting from and where you have to end up. The balds are honest and brutal, and they offer breathtaking views. My favorite hike so far, hands down. Look at the photos and see for yourself.

I’m enjoying my evening in the Station 19E bar/hostel. I heard nasty weather was coming in for the weekend so I’ll research and decide on a game plan. Damascus, Virginia is roughly a week away and I’ll be finished with another two states!

Ain’t no Party like a Hiker party because a Hiker party ends at 8pm

While in Gatlinburg I decided to skip the second half of the Smokies and I have yet to regret this decision. Unfortunately, the skip would also include a chunk of trail I wanted to see, Max Patch. I will return one day for my Max Patch sunset!

The “skip” landed me smack dab in Hot Springs, NC. And what an adventure it was. Upon arrival, I was reunited Brian “Long Legs”, who I haven’t seen since Neel’s Gap, and with part of my trail family, Murphy and Kylo. Murphy was as talkative as ever and Kylo was sporting a kilt, naturally. We ate and talked, caught up and shared stories of our time apart. We didn’t have a room that night but we set up camp along the river and it was beautiful! No forecast for rain so I didn’t bother with my rainfly, and that was the best sleep I’ve received on trail. The three of us also participated in the hot springs mineral bath, which was relaxing and felt great for an exhausted body.

The remainder of my tramily arrived the next day. Quesodado, Overdrive, Iron Man, and the Good Pilgrim were a sight for sore eyes! Quesodado is Dayze, she’s from Maine and was originally hiking with her beautiful pup Flynn, who is an English Setter. Flynn has returned home, but Dayze hikes on. Overdrive is Lindsay, the super humble Ivy League Marine who I should have mentioned before. Iron Man is a “ladies man” type, but is also super sweet and is from Pittsburgh. He’s traveled all over and has many interesting tales. The Good Pilgrim is a gray haired musician from Louisiana. Apparently there is another on the trail known as Pilgrim, but he has a horrible reputation and the FBI is currently looking for him. The Good Pilgrim has dubbed himself “Good” and conducts many acts of kindness and pays it forward in hopes of not getting mixed up with that other guy. The gang was back together!

The day everyone arrived also happened to be Overdrive’s birthday, so Murphy and I planned a little surprise celebration. We bought a box of Hostess cupcakes and stuck trick candles in them while we sang Happy Birthday and gave her our card. The candles’ refusal to go out resulted in the room slowly filling up with smoke and almost set off the smoke detector. (We really know how to party!)

We hung out in Hot Springs the next day and ate much, laughed much, and enjoyed the company. We also managed to watch the majority of the Star Wars marathon that was on in the tavern.

The hike out of Hot Springs was a doozie. It was hot. It was all uphill. There were many a bug flying dangerously close to my nose and mouth, so I did not risk stopping. Slowly I hiked and eventually I got to a campsite near a fire tower and set up camp. That night, around 2:30am, the rain, thunder, and lightning began and I had barely an hour’s sleep. It was terrifying and it felt like my tent would be ripped out of the ground. I managed to stay dry and woke up to the rain to put away a wet tent. The hike today was pleasant, though I was incredibly tired. I stopped at a “Mom and Dad General Store” that looked super sketchy but I took my chances. The nice man inside informed me of all snacks and lunch items and I was thrilled, mainly because I was just going to sit on a log and eat some cheese and a tortilla for lunch. I ate and chatted with the owner, Dwayne for about an hour and a half about all things. I finally set off again, uphill.

Now there is a 5 mile stretch uphill that I was not looking forward to. This stretch happens to begin when you cross a road Hemlock Hostel rests on. At this road, two hikers, Magellan and Buckets informed me it was supposed to be in the 20s tonight so they were headed to the hostel. I had a bag with a wet tent, an exhausted mentality, and a hurt shoulder (I suspect from weight distribution in my pack). I decided to join the two at the hostel. Upon arrival I set my tent out to dry, ate decent food, used the not so decent wifi, and took an amazing shower. We set off at 7:30 tomorrow. The day will be long, I have to cover 17ish miles. The family has a cabin booked in Erwin so we can resupply quickly and do laundry, we have until Saturday to get there.

I have recently started The Fellowship of the Ring on Audible. Listening to Frodo’s adventure will help me get through mine. 😊

The Smokies say Relax

I was so excited to finally begin hiking in the Great Smoky Mountains. Then I began hiking in the Great Smoky Mountains. My hopes for a beautiful week in the Smokies were shattered when the fog, cold, rain, and wind rolled in. It was everything I didn’t want. I hiked uphill frequently. Doe Knob, Rocky Top, Thunderhead Mountain, and Silers Bald are all elevations I climbed to no view. Well, the view was foggy and I couldn’t stand there too long because the wind was so strong, it almost knocked my pack and I over. Each day was as cold, windy, and disorienting as the last.

My first night I stumbled into camp pretty late, so I had to set up my tent. We had a friendly bear roaming around the campsite, but he didn’t cause any trouble. That was the talk of the week!

Fast forward to today: I hiked the highest point of the AT, it’s called Clingman’s Dome and the view was incredible. The hike, even though it was essentially 3 miles up, wasn’t too bad! The fog had cleared and the sun was out. Moments upon descending Clingman’s, the clouds rolled in and the winds picked up. I hiked the remaining 7 miles to Newfound Gap, which marks the North Carolina/Tennessee state lines.

A section hiker I met at the shelters offered to give Caveman and I a ride to Gatlinburg. (Gatlinburg had the motels and Cici’s Pizza that I had been looking forward to for two days!) As we were loading up the car, a noise went off. Suddenly, an odd smell of hairspray and Raid filled the air. She had accidentally set off her bear spray and we were all assaulted by it. It was not a pleasant experience and I would not reccomend it to others.

I’m currently hanging out in Gatlinburg, hiding from the thunderstorm. Gatlinburg is a wild place, there are so many things to see you don’t know where to look at! The Cici’s was incredible and tomorrow I have a pancake breakfast with Caveman and Bluegrass to look forward to! (Caveman is on his second thru-hike and I had met him back in the NOC. He likes to hike barefoot in the summertime and doesn’t believe in filtering spring water. Bluegrass is from Mississippi and bears resemblance to the actor Michael Shannon. They are both super nice and tell interesting stories).

The hike up Rocky Top. I can hear the wind in this picture!

The beautiful views. Totally worth it.

The fog would roll away briefly, so the camera came out.

The hike up to Clingman’s Dome felt like a walk in Endor. So cool.

I was laying with my boyfriend on the couch, my darling Lando resting on my legs. We were napping while watching Netflix, it was cozy and perfect.

Then I woke up. I didn’t wake up to the birds chirping or sunlight streaming on my face, but to the ridiculous snores of the guy laying next to me. Technically his sleeping pad and elbows were digging into my side and sleeping bag, so I wouldn’t exactly say he was “next” to me, but more like he was trying to absolve my tiny spot in the shelter. This was at 10:30pm, 2:15am, 4:35am, 6:00am, and finally (officially)7:30am. Once I decided to get up and start my day, I was sad because the dream was so real yet so unattainable. (I miss you dearly Lando, I miss you so much Raedyn 😘)

My last post, I had holed up at NOC to wait out the snowstorm and leaving yesterday, I was glad I did. Everyone said hiking out of NOC was terrible because it’s essentially a 6 mile climb uphill, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. It wasn’t any more difficult than what I had done so far. The scenery was beautiful because snow covered everything. There were some areas where the snow came up to my knees!

“Following the trail”

The Wade Sutton Memorial

Winter wonderland/ The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe vibes

Now, the climb up was great. A few slips but nothing serious. The next morning was a different story. Cheoah Bald has an elevation of 5,062 feet. That means that I’d be hiking downhill, on top of icy snow. I fell. A lot. I lost my footing. A lot. I further upset my knee. I didn’t think I would make it down the darn thing, but through some miracle, I did.

The view from Cheoah, I’m hanging with the locals.

The lifeless eyes of a girl who’d realized she’s made a mistake hiking in a foot of icy snow. Will she ever get off this darn mountain? (Spoiler alert: yes.)

I hiked to the North Pole (badum tss)

SO.

I’ll be heading into the Smokies tomorrow. I’ll be going slow, because snow is abundant and I’m trying to keep the injuries to a minimum.

-Mudfoot