Trail update!!!! West Virginia to Connecticut!

Hey guys!!! Okay so time for more updates! It’s been insanely hard to keep up with the daily entries, as is mentioned in earlier posts, so instead I’m gonna start giving general updates and get the dailies uploaded one I’m back home and able to edit and upload photos to go with them. So, here’s what’s been going on lately…..

I left harpers ferry after spending several amazing days with my family. They brought up several coolers full of trail magic and set up shop at a state park where my hiking friend Coma had gathered around thirty hikers. Many of them I’ve known for quite some time and some had been a part of the aqua blazing adventure so it was awesome that my family got to meet them and get stinky hiker hugs. So that was the short trip through West Virginia. I celebrated my 23nd birthday and the one year anniversary of Rebel passing away with the people closest to me and had some forth of July fun dressing up with other hikers.

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After my short break from trail life, I crossed the bridge over the Potomac and the Shenandoah rivers, marking my entrance into Maryland. Heads up to those of you getting a pic at every state border, there’s no sign here.

Maryland was much better than is expected. If never really given Maryland much thought before, in my head it was like the red headed step child of the states. I am, in reality, pleasantly surprised by how beautiful and historical and FLAT it is. Maryland crosses several small fields, dozens of roads, and countless battlefields and historical landmarks. The dozens of roads translated into a soda almost every day. It’s funny how back home I never craved sugar drinks like soda but out on the trail I practically base my day around how I can score the syrupy carbonated goodness. Anyways, Maryland is definitely on the list of places to take my non hiking friends and family for short backpacking trips because of it’s small stay inclined and historical sightseeing spots.

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Before I knew it, I was standing in Pennsylvania. This was the state that all hikers headed north bound are afraid of. By this point we’ve somehow conquered the Virginia blues but are faced with a new threat… The jagged peaks of rocksylvannia. Looking at the terrain profiles back in Virginia, so many of us hikers coined the term ‘trail porn’ referring to the flat elevation profiles of Pennsylvania as compared to Virginia’s steep accents and descents. Now that we reached PA however we were learning that our twenty five miles a day averages are a thing of the past. In a chance passing we met a man named Marcus who invited us to stay at his home that weekend. A few days later, comatose from completing the half gallon challenge where hikers eat a half gallon tub of ice cream marking the halfway point on the trail, we called Marcus back and five of us spent an amazing few days hiking and slack packing with him, his wife and their three children. We went to Hershey park, saw the Doyle hotel, went to a hero show and heard some bluegrass music. It was such a great time and saying goodbye to the the kids, now my evil minion army, wasnt easy but the mountains were calling one more.

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Like i said before, the first half of pa is gorgeous. There are rocks but also many streams and fields. It’s the second half however that fit hits the shan. At several points you are literally bouldering straight up rock faces cursing the day Benton MacKaye was born (after the town Palmerton, there is a spray painted sign saying ‘turn back’. I’d advise you listen to it). Several hikers attempted the wall may challenge, where you purchase a bike and ride it to the next wall mart and return it. Haven’t seen them since but i heard the bikes didn’t get far. Eventually however you reach Delaware Water Gap and boom, just like that you are in the eighth state of new Jersey. Spoilers alert… This border crossing doesn’t have a cool sign either. Do be sure to hit up the rangers info station, they are super cool and in return for you signing their log book they award you a junior ranger badge!

New Jersey I should say was also a big surprise. Unlike Maryland where I didn’t know exactly why I expected to hate it, the oompa loompah stereotypes of reality TV made me think all of jersey would be one big frat-tastic urban sprawl of jocks and deuschbags. Jersey was far from that and was a nice split from PA, which had already gotten old. In jersey you hike on ridge lines and see nothing but mountains and small farms for as far as the eye can see (minus one nuclear power plant…). It was definitely not the gross overflow from big northern cities I’d expected it to be. Good for you Jersey.

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From hiking through new Jersey, a fellow hikers family picked us up for some trail magic and we stayed at their house right across from New York City. The following day we meet even more hikers, including fellow Appalachian Trials blogger Amy Stardust, and explore as much as we could in a single day. We hit ground zero and the freedom tower, wall street, China Town, museums, times square, the statue of liberty, and more! It may have been a zero day for trail miles but we walked our butts off and ate so much dollar pizza. I always love getting to meet hikers families too, they’re always so awesome and supportive of their kid’s smelly hiking buddies. After taking a train back to the trail my first night back in the woods was serenaded by a pack of coyotes not to far off from the shelter. They started up all night yelping and singing to one another and it was so cool to listen to. And just like that, the great state of new York was over. I’m glad that I got to see both the big city and the farms and fields of the more rural new York. The city was a huge culture shock and I’m not sure that I’ll ever be back but it was an interesting experience to say the least.

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It’s strange that only a short train ride separates the big city from the upstate country side. The contrast was so different, no more people! We were back in the land of cows and trucks! Yee haw! New York was a lot to take in, maybe that’s why I was so relived to hit the next state….. Connecticut!!!!!

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Yes I think the rocks are here to stay. Ugh.

Well anyways, I’m halfway through this state, hoping to be in Massachusetts by the weekend where hopefully my former they hiking buddy Angry Bird and I will meet up and then it’s off up and away! I’ll save the details of Connecticut until the next update, so stay tuned and remember you can support or donate to backpacking for a cause by clicking the link up top!!! Happy trails y’all!!!
Love Rodeo

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VA, the longest, most intense, and favorite state so far.

This one is for you guys. So I realize I’ve been slacking off a lot over the past month as far as sending off trail updates to everyone and letting y’all know what life has been like. In not gonna lie, Virginia had been my most difficult time on the trail thus far for a variety of reasons, both good and bad. Virginia had been the best, most exciting and most frustrating experience and I’d absolutely do it again if given the chance. Well, maybe with less up hills…..

A common phrase thrown around the beginning of the trail is that VA is flat. Anyone who can make that claim has obviously never been to VA or even looked ahead in their trail guide book. From multiple three thousand four accents and plummets to the mountain ridge named the “roller coaster”, VA may not be as high as the Smokies but it’s much more intense.

As y’all know, I’m from Virginia. Born by the beach, raised in Richmond and graduated from Virginia Tech, VA is my favorite place of earth. I looked forward to getting here so much and was excited to show my new friends my neck of the woods and reconnect with my besties back home.

From the moment we hit Damascus for trail days festival (and don’t worry, I’ll fill in journal articles about all of those adventures!) the crazy roller coaster of this fourth state began. Scout and I saw wild ponies, we hiked in lightning storms on mountain ridges, and began waving off paid hiker shuttle services and mastering the art of hitch hiking for free. It was a scary idea at first but now I’m confident that if I needed to I could hitch into California by tomorrow morning.

When I got up to the Pearisburg/Roanoke section of the trail, I had intended to skip a few days of hiking the areas I’d already done while in college. In reality, the HOME vortex proved to be much more powerful than the silly town vortex I’d experienced in Hot Springs. I spent a week and a half wearing makeup and showering regularly, kayaking and taking the dogs to the lake, and visiting with friends. I also locked in the amazing job in Hailfax County that I’d been interviewing for and began making plans to move immediately after completing the trail. So hard to leave!!!

Eventually I pulled myself back out of the real world and met my stepsister Kelsey, and together we spent several days backpacking across my familiar terrain. We eventually got to Troutville, where I met my dad at my aunts house, located a minute from a side trail leading to a shelter. Thankfully we took it slow, both for her sake and mine considering I’d been of trail for so long. Scout made it clear as well that he too had lost his hiker legs.

Kelsey eventually went home to plan her new life with her fiance and we kept hiking up to Waynesboro, where Scout and I gathered about sixteen of our closest hiker friends and rented canoes for a three day long aqua blazing adventure. Several sunburns and countless experiences later (including listening to the US vs Germany soccer game on a camp radio on the river while sipping strawberry shine) we got back on the trail in Luray. 

In the Shenandoah’s Scout injured his paw and my mom met us in Front Royal to take him home. We learned that his injury was a little more severe and that he wouldn’t be able to continue hiking for the next several weeks. I’m not sure yet how we’d be able to coordinate getting him back up north as I’ll be finishing PA by then, so this may mean the end of his hike. While I’m heartbroken to continue on without my trail partner, my original plan was to only have him hike five hundred miles or so throughout VA. With that in mind the little beagle making it almost a thousand miles from Springer mountain to the end of the Shenandoah’s is incredible. Scout is a trooper and is happily eating junk food in my parents air conditioned house snuggled next to our big fat cat. Lucky dog.

Anyways, my biggest, hardest state had been conquered and I’m off to Maryland first thing in the morning. I may not hit the four state challenge (hiking from the VA state line to the PA line in 24 hours) but I know there are a million more memories in store. Stay tuned and as always, happy trails from your hiker friend Rodeo!!!

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AT Trail Update 4

June 14

Happy Father’s day! I woke up super early this morning… Well early for me anyways. It was 6:30 and already light out. Everyone else was still busy snoring away, and no sooner than I had unzipped my tent my phone began ringing. Crap, that means I had fallen asleep the night before without turning my phone over to airplane mode….. Sure enough the battery was down to twenty percent. Shoot. I answered the phone and was met with several loud “hello?!”s from my dad on the other end. He’d decided to come down and spend father’s day morning with me before heading back to Richmond and was calling to find my location. ” bark house? Buck hose? ” “no dad its black horse gap” “bucket oar gap got it!” Twenty minutes later dad rolled up in his Toyota rav 4 and we speed off down the blue ridge parkway towards literally the only place to eat that early in the area, burger king. Luckily his car has USB charger ports so I was able to partially recharge some of my iPhone battery along the way. Dad and I drove further down the parkway and spent a half hour or so checking or the awesome overlooks while he tried convincing me once more in vain to get off the trail early. He looked at his watch and jumped up, realizing that it was nearly nine o clock and he had to get home for father’s day plans with my other sisters. A kiss and a hug later and I was waving goodbye from the peaks of otter overlook, several miles down trail from where he’s picked me up at. I gave directions to several day hikers headed the opposite direction from me and before departing down the trail myself spent a few moments chatting with a former 2002 thru hiker who was picking up a friend. I took off down trail about a mile before stopping to switch or of my sleeping clothes. I’d work then into town because they were the last smelly of my clothes and so I reluctantly pulled my sweaty hiking shirt back on. The ripe smell of deet and body odor clung to me like flies on… Well, like flies on a hiker. Suddenly scout began growling and edging towards the bushes. I couldn’t see why but moments later a large does popped out and sprung of down the AT. Scott gave a gruff final growl towards the doe as it retreated into the forest, and then a surprised yelp when another hiker appeared behind him. It was giggles, whom I had not seen since Damascus. I learned that she had sprained an ankle and was of trail for a week healing and that she to has yellow blazed sections. We chatted for a bit, mostly comparing the hard decision to return to the trail and the things we’d missed back home, but I quickly surpassed her and before long had made the few miles to cove mountain shelter. Here I saw gandolf and blaze the dog having a brief snack as well as penguin and Mr toad with squeaker. I tried feeding scout who was apparently still full from his breakfast (dad had bought him a sausage biscuit) and began snacking myself. I knew the crew from the night before was going to try to make it to the swimming hole and so I pushed on the short three miles to the Jennings creek swimming hole where other hikers were already gathering. As is the case with almost everywhere I go, second later a cop rolled up. Although no one had done anything wrong, he informed us that camping and fires are prohibited despite the site being marked as a campground. I might have liked this porky pig look alike had he not threatened to arrest us if we had alcohol. Maybe if he hadn’t referred to us as you people, or maybe even if the officer hadn’t complained about how much he hated both thru hikers and the AT. Nope I didn’t like him one bit. Once officer cranky pants left I dove in for a swim and caught crawdads until Blackbeard and the rest of my camp mates from the night before arrived. I spent ten minutes trying to help swiper find a non existent hole in her sleeping bag, after which point my swimsuit was mostly dry, I’d also met a girl named mouth of the south, who was celebrating her first day back on the trail after two weeks at home. It was a good feeling too know I wasn’t the only one who’d gotten off and to see so many people coming back onto the trail made me smile after so many friends had already left. Mouth and I hiked a final few miles that day to the next shelter where I crashed for the night. She moved on but I spent the night watching fire flies with swiper, biohazard, and some new guys named have to and mogli.

June 15
The day I have been dreading had finally arrived. Over 3000 ft climb in just a few miles last ahead of me and I was less than enthusiastic to say the least. Scout lounged around camp that morning too as if he knew what lay ahead and was trying to put it off. After a short breakfast, I rolled out of the shelter and began a long, hot day stretching 17 miles from Briant ridge shelter to marble spring campsite. OK so 17 miles doesn’t sound long but it was mostly up hill the entire day. I collected water at the first shelter I hit, Cornelius creek, and ate lunch at thunder hill shelter with gandolf, blaze, the Alaska couple, mouth and joe, and Mr toad and penguin. I caught a small ring neck snake and passed him around for everyone to hold before letting him go. Almost everyone stayed there for a bit, nervous with the constant thunder cracking in the distance(ironic considering the name of the shelter). Gandolf and I pressed on with the dogs however, not yet ready to call it a day. We never got wet. We hiked together for a short stretch but as is the case with me on every uphill I quickly fell behind. We meet up at the wide clearing where refugee, karate kid, mouth, and several others eventually joined us. We spent a relaxing, storm free night laughing and joking around the fire, complaining about ticks and the need to resupply. I did a little writing and got to bed early for a change. I really began to realize that this was a great group of people whom I wanted to continue my adventure with. 🙂

June  16

I always have the strangest dreams on trail. Now it’s lunch time and I can’t for the life of me recall what I was dreaming about, but I remanded it was odd. I was up and packed earlier than usual, a habit is like to continue, and was hiking down trail by seven thirty am. Less than two hours later I hit matts Creek shelter. Six miles in two hours, that’s got to be a personal best in this kind of terrain. I waited for mouth, karate kid and Joe and we set of together to hike the flat 2.2 miles to the 501 road where we planned to hitch into Glasgow va. Hard to believe we’re nearly done with Virginia after how much I was looking forward to getting here over the last three states. The boys planned to drop packs at the James river footbridge and cross back over to jump off the longest footbridge on the AT. Trail magic came at the other end in the form of sandwiches and drinks from a thru hikers parents. With the delicious gifts of munchies came a warning however: rangers were sitting in the woods waiting for bridge jumpers. Despite zero signs prohibiting jumping, there was a $150.00 fine for those caught and our trail angels had seen three tickets issued that morning. Not wanting to cut our trip short due to semi suicidal leaps, we settled for a quick swim before hitching a free shuttle into town, also courtesy of or angels. Scout and I are waiting for our laundry to finish drying now before we had to dollar general to resupply for the next few days. I think the plan one o reconnect with mouth and co is to hit up either the towns shelter (with showers) or to hike two miles tonight to the next shelter down trail. These options mean a either a 16 our 18 mile day tomorrow to brown mountain creek shelter, a medium level day with a swimming hole awaiting us at the end.

June 17

I should have stayed in frapping glasgow….. Littlefoots parents came back around six and offered to take two hikers back to the trailhead. Not knowing where mouth and Honeybun’s were and not wanting to give up an easy hitch, I hopped into their now cram packed minivan and before I knew it we were of on the AT. It was a really easy two mile hike to the shelter but the heat made it drag on. The shelter was a cute one, built next to a good sized stream with as new privy built behind it. Mouth and her husband rolled in not long after I did.  Seemed like it’d be a good night. False. It was a hot night. Not like “oh id like some air conditioning” but like the “pack her in ice she’s about to boil from extreme temperatures” hot. Awful. To make matters worse, anytime I was put off my sleeping bag the no see ums (winged devil ant things) swarmed at me. I was the only one in the shelter without a bug net so I was  THE target for the swarm. It was a no win situation. Staying in the bag meant boiling in my own sweat but getting out of it next any amount of exposed skin was instantly attacked by the tiny black biting insects. I slept maybe an hour that night, constantly drinking water to try to replace what I was sweating out while trying to remain invisible to the bugs. The next morning I got up at five o clock, still dark outside but I didn’t care. I was exhausted and wanted to get as far away from the hell shelter as possible. As soon as the sun was up I was already standing in top of the mountain, angry and nearly in tears. Ate breakfast watching birds fly over a view of the valley below me and the James river footbridge of in the distance. By lunch time I hit the powell memorial, erected in memory of a four year old boy who wandered away from his schoolhouse over a hundred years ago and died on the mountainside. Hurts joke that he haunts this area. I’m not a big believer in ghosts but i did get stung by a bee on the boob while reading the marker where his body was found. Haunting or hilarious coincidence, it sucked. (Mom’s joke was was that it was attracted to my bee cups)….. Soon after my stinging experience I hit a crummy shelter with a brown stagnant pond for a water source The motivation however was the next shelter, brown mountain shelter, was listed in the AWOL guide book as having a swimming hole. Five miles before the shelter however, a rickety bridge hung over a decent sized mini river with mouth and honey buns swimming below and I caved. I swam and soaked my knee in the surprisingly warm water for a half hour before pulling myself out to waddle the remaining few miles to the shelter. I passed the 800 mile marker but never made it to the shelter. Little foot, her boyfriend, karate kid and a few others were camped out just before the footbridge leading up to the structure itself. Knowing there was a clear forecast and after the Buggy experience the night before I elected to tent. What followed was perhaps my best nights sleep in the past three months.

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AT Trail Updated 3

April 26

Two miles in the next day I hit clingman’s dome, which had impressive views but was honestly not as big of a sight as what I’d expected from all the hype about it. Another mile or so and I got to mile marker 200! I met up with a hiker named 5-0 while taking a snack break and he mentioned hitching into Gatlinburg for a short resupply. Not needing to but wanting more snacks and a cheeseburger I hiked with him to the Tennessee north Carolina state line and proceeded to have possibly the fastest hitch in and our of Gatlinburg ever. We were almost immediately picked up from new found gap by a couple on vacation celebrating a birthday and after a burger, fries and a phone charge from the super awesome crew at five guys burgers, we hit Walgreen’s and hitched a ride back to the trail from a Canadian couple on a business trip slash vacation. Total time, under two hours. We rule. From there we hiked three more miles to ice water spring shelter and enjoyed the fruits of our labor, cheese and slim Jim’s wrapped in tortillas and peanuts stolen from five guys. Even though our Cajun French fries had gotten a little soggy, they were still good and we made a lot of friends that night passing them around. Jeff was already at the shelter and he announced that he was changing his trail name to Lost Boy since he’d taken a wrong turn at clingmans dome and walked over a mile the wrong way. Lost boy seemed to fit him more than majestic anyways. A weekend hiker asked us if we wanted to play a dice game, and since it was still early for bed we got half of the shelter in on a game called blisters. Apparently a former thru hiker had discovered multi colored dice in a hiker box and created a simple dice game about the Appalachian trail where you play to 2200 points. Different combinations of dice rolls lead to higher scores, no scores (or blisters) or game over (getting of trail). It was an awesome idea and by the end of the night the hiker who brought the game had also earned a new name, Blisters. I met a girl named dairy queen and a guy named Odysseus, both part of the bubble of hikers calling themselves the  cuddle puddle. Odi was particularly cool because I’d been following him in the shelter logs. He had an ancient coin he’d do a crayon rubbing of after each of his entries in the logbook. Swiper eventually crept in just before bed and we all stayed up probably too late gossiping and sharing trail stories.

April 27

Up and attem! Today was a groggy sort of day, I left ice water springs shelter a little later than normal, almost none o clock, but soon regained my hiker flow. Our new hiking crew for the day consisted of lost boy, swiper, DQ and myself. First stop for the day, a small but sketchy cliff side trail that led to a rock formation known as Charlie’s bunion. The terrain was incredible. Somehow we’d traveled from the hundred acres first style woods filled with wildflowers and bear poop to a rocky Colorado gorge. The trees shifted to mostly pines and dry bushes and the earth turned red. Charles bunion is a round tumor like projection from the cliff side that reminded me of a round, american version if pride rock from Disney’s the lion king. The girls and I scrambled up it for a photo and DQ screamed ‘whoot spring break!!!’ And pretended to flash the wilderness. Somehow or minds collided with the same thought and (careful to not show the male in our party) all three of us flashed Charlie’s bunion and the countless trees and critters below. Perhaps not a moment I’d tell my future students about, and definitely not something that would up on hiker girls gone wild, but for a brief giggly moment these two girls and I, all former camp counselors who’s only just met doing the same crazy adventure, had a goofy bonding story to share between us. end We spent the rest of our day singing camp songs and ended at try corner knob shelter. It was here that we meet Spencer. Let’s talk about Spencer. Spencer was a ridge runner, aka a seasonal employee of the ATC who works with park services to maintain the trail and enforce park rules. The previous ones I’ve met were very laid back but Spencer was a little more serious about his job. He refused to shake hands with anyone and spread stories of noro virus. He wanted packs off of the shelters pack hanging racks because they were an eyesore. He said he’d be checking to make sure no one zeroed in the shelters (a rule he made up). He threatened to call law enforcement of anyone broke his rules. We aren’t the biggest fan of Spencer. Now also recall that the shelters in the smokies are reserved for day hikers. Long distance hikers can use them to however we fall to the bottom of the totem pole and, should the shelter fill up with reserved section hikers, they hikers are required to vacate and forfeit their sleeping space even if they’d been there all day. By the end of the night we had nearly thirty hikers wanting shelter from the doomsday worthy storm predicted for the night. Suddenly a an update came in, the weatherman was calling for tornado warnings in our area. Against Spencer’s complaints, twenty seven smelly hikers crammed into the 14 person shelter and twenty seven packs hung not only from designated pack hangers, but from rafters and support beams too. Spencer fled the noro virus breeding ground and wasn’t seen again. Poor guy, he was only trying to do his job and do it right. If you’ve ever seen the movie down periscope, Spencer can best be represented by rob Schneider’s character, an over eager newbie trying to start his career.

April 28

Today was the day id been looking forward to for the last week. If I could push my longest day yet, a 21 miler, I could be reunited with my dog. The week of had been nice, not having to carry food or worth about another living thing besides myself, but I was ready to reclaim my beagle. Swiper and I made an incredible five thousand foot drop exciting the great smokey mountain park and when we hit the first road I began to get a strange headache. Without warning, a river of blood began shooting out of my nose and pouring down my team reeve t shirt. I guess I’d somehow been affected by the sudden change in elevation because I hasn’t had a nosebleed in years. I made a gurgled nose that probably resembled a bit feeding is young and swiper turned around to see me clutching my face with blood running down my hands. She laughed for a solid minute, like all good friend do, before giving me her last two wet wipes. Funny story about wet wipes, they don’t absorb liquids. They are meant to wipe. I was out of toilet paper and had nothing else to stop the bleeding with so I continued down the trail with my nose up, and wet wipes in hand. At the gap we stood for twenty minutes not sure which direction the trail picked up on, and like normal the trail made the decision for us. The trail takes care of those who follow it, I believe it more and more each day. As I did on the side of the road looking like I’d just murdered a family and eaten them raw, an older gentleman in a tan Buick pulled up and have us a lift to standing bear hostel. I will never pick up a bloody faced, frizzy haired mountain child off the side of the road so I have to say this guy just bought his way into heaven and got good Samaritan of the year award. We unloaded at what remains still my favorite hostel on the trail, a small farm with an outside cooking area, showers, and laundry on a washboard just like grama used to do. Before I’d even gotten up to the house I heard a familiar bark, and scout tore towards me like a rocket. You know those emotional videos of army guys coming home abs seeing their dog after deployment? Scout made them look like simple hellos. He cried and screamed and rolled as if he were on extasy and got attention from everyone at the hostel. I expected him to have separation anxiety and Vietnam war flashbacks from his days in the pound but this little sucker has been living the high life. Not only had he gotten five days of from hiking, he’d slept in the bed with the hostel owner and his wife at night. Spoiled ass beagle….. Swiper and I stole bed sheets from the hostel and fashioned togas while we did our laundry, which priced to be harder than expected. It came out smelling like feet. We should have washed the socks separately….

May 5

I did it!!! I made it out of the vortex! Hot springs is the coolest trail town I’ve seen so far, naturally making it the most dangerous. I shudder to think about how much time I wasted in town getting caught up in my friends and real world things like showers and soda. I freaking love soda. Like, I drank it in the real world but not like this. When I get to towns that’s the only thing I want besides clean laundry…. An icy cold diet Dr Pepper or Pepsi or Coke or Cheerwine. Yea I said diet. I get weird looks from my fellow hikers for drinking diet but i only ever drank diet soda all through college so now I can’t stand the taste of regular sodas; they’re just way too syrupy. Mmmm soda.

Anyways, today sucked. Looking back it wasn’t all that bad but then again I’m currently fed and watered and laying in bed next to a snoring beagle so my judgments a little off. Today we did our longest day yet ( I shudder to think how long the days will end up if we continue at or current pace). Nineteen miles, mostly uphill. Funny how my long days always end up being the hard, uphill days. Knowing we’d be pushing our limits after a three day break, I took scout’s pack and l let him roll of leash for most of the day.

At mile marker ten we reached the next shelter where I met an older gentleman named naturally hob which he informed me stood for hiking or biking. He was a former thru hiker from twenty plus years ago who’d only just retired from a lifelong career running a summer camp. Hanging from his pack were two large turkey feathers and an eagle totem he’d whittled himself. I also meet two section hikers, Rasputin, who’d done 85% of the entire trail in pieces, and Ivan, a Russian man in the country for an engineering seminar who’d decided to hike rather than hit the main US tourist traps. I freaking love the AT. Is like taking the roster from a random airplane and throwing everyone together in a backpacking situation. Old, young, athletes and those wanting to lose weight, dropouts and doctors. Heinz 57.

We pushed another nine point something miles to the shelter that night, passing up an opportunity for a hostel that hob took full advantage of. I met up with solitude, the German hiker numb toes, and a new friend by the name of Yogi at the shelter and quickly ran for water down the blue blaze trail. Scout was to busy being solitude for some of the Pepperoni’s he was putting on his trail pizza to notice, but halfway thru the water collection process I heard his unmistakable aroooooorooooooo echo thru the mountainside. Translation: “Mom!?!? MOM!?!??!?!!!!!!!” I walked back up to the shelter to find my friends looking inquisitively at me as to why scout howled. They had never heard the mellow beagle make a sound before. He had apparently wondered off down the task in search of me and gotten scared. I whistled really loudly and sure enough a minute later the chiming of id tags and charging doggy feet erupted from the now darkness. The dumb dog hadn’t tracked my scent but had logically figured to continue down the Appalachian trail where I had yet to go. Some hunting dog I’ve got here… And people wonder why I always say that of he could talk, Scout would sound like he had a stuffy nose all that time.

My Florida crew never did catch up, I’d figure with brother nature’s ankle and the late start theyd never cover the same distance. Bedtime for the night was made complete by trail magic when solitude gave me a big slice of his trail pizza, which turned out to be the motivation I needed to crawl into bed with my shelter mates.

May 6

I slept in by choice today feeling guilty for being so behind in my writing and yet not getting very far with it. Yogi gave me some caffeine pills to get me started and whoosh…. Game changer. I packed up record speed and took off down the trail fueled by granola and caffeine, skipped a side trail to a fire tower (I’d seen enough and was trying to catch up with lost boy and the girls) and charged over one of the rockiest places I’ve seen on the trail so far. I met preacher taking a snack break and learned that somehow I’d passed ken without seeing him, and pushed on another few miles to the shelter. I covered seven miles in just over two hours and stopped for an early lunch at the shelter where i meet 3D, a hiker my age from up north who was taking the day of so he could night hike and escape the heat. Not a bad idea considering it was nearly 90 degrees. Solitude and the others caught up and we chatted during a quick lunch. I stupidly didn’t refill my water thinking I still had half a liter and trudged on.

That’s when things started to go downhill. About an hour of walking in the intense sun and even scout was struggling. I considered taking A nap to try to beat the heat. Scout tried digging in a dried up puddle for water and kept looking back and forth between me and the empty water bottle dangling from my pack. Poor thirsty beagle. Then the cramps started, followed by a migraine and instant nausea. I was that but knew this wasn’t from dehydration; even though I’d been sweating all day I’d had several litters of water already. I found a new water source thankfully that had been busy whacked and blazed but was to new to be in the guidebook and spent about an hour there filtering water and calming my nausea while scout happily drank his fill. Looking at the map I knew the terrain was mostly downhill and we only had six miles to the next shelter, two of which I’d already completed.

So we pressed on again and I noticed I was no longer sweating. I made it another two miles, stopping occasionally, before I had to find a seat. As if on cue (like most things on the trail, You get what you need when you need it most) a huge tree lay on the side of the trail being for a butt to sit on it. I almost made it ten seconds of peaceful sitting before violently hurling up my lunch and a good part of breakfast too. It came up so sudden that poor scout who’d been nervously watching me for the past hour barely had time to yelp and escape the splash zone. I’m not sure how much time passed sitting on the log puking up what felt like every liquid in my body, but eventually I summoned the guts to saddle back up and stagger, as if in a trance, to the shelter.

I was so angry when I arrived… There were the girls. Dairy Queen and sweeps, the girls I’d been chasing all day to catch back up with were packing up from their break and getting ready to head out and here I was unable to continue with them. The thought lasted maybe ten seconds before I dropped my backpack on the ground and collapsed into the icy cold creek next to them. I knew it was cold but barely felt it. I told the girls I was fine and that I’d catch up with them soon, rolled over and feel asleep in the creek in the middle of the trail. To anyone walking by I must have looked like a dead body, guarded by a beagle with the utmost look of concern.

I woke up not too much later, rolled over and found myself starting straight into the eyes of a very fat newt. Realizing where I was and how freaking cold I was, I scrambled out of the water and up to flint mountain shelter where my pack lay abandoned. No one else had passed through o it seemed but I knew preacher and men and possibly the Florida crew would be there in a few hours. Plus I was cold. I put on every layer I had and crawled into my sleeping bag in the 80 something degrees and passed out trying to keep water down unsuccessfully. Scout curled up next to me watching the shelter door and never budged.

Preacher and ken arrived at some point as well as numb toes, who held my braids back in between bouts of vomiting. They all conversed about getting me to the road now or if they should wait, but just as it began getting dark my heroes arrived. Whiskey and the rest of the Florida gang rolled in. Whiskey was a drug sales Rep in the real world and Blackbeard was an EMT, so between the two of them force feeding me electrolytes and monitoring my water intake, I was able to overcome the nausea and get some real sleep. I don’t think scout ever left my side, even when everyone cooked dinner even though he hasn’t eaten since lunch. What a good boy.

May 8

I woke up this morning feeling much better than what I had last night. I didn’t vomit once during the night but ironically Scout had. Could we had eaten something bad? The possibility rattled through my brain as the Florida gang rise and began to eat breakfast and pack up their tents. I drank more of the potent lemonade electrolyte mixture and we headed off not really sure where the day would lead us. A mile later we found out. The trail crossed a pretty busy back road and stuck in the ground right next to the trailhead on the other side was a sign advertising a new hiker hostel and restaurant. It didn’t take our group of now six hikers long to unanimously vote on walking downhill two miles to the hostel. Between injuries and mysterious sicknesses we all needed a burger. At the hostel we were greeted by Sasquatch and several others we’d meet along the way who were helping to build a horseshoe pit. As we entered the small general store we were greeted by a man who in a past life must have been a professional wrestler. That or the grounds keeper for Hogwarts. The man was very tall and pure muscle with hands as big as dinner plates. Strapped to his hip was a very visible pistol that only added to his intimidating appearance. Mark was his name, and he was the owner of the hostel. Despite first impressions, mark was a totally awesome guy who comes us up some of the best burgers we’d ever had. After lunch we played in the creek for a bit (okay I did laundry) and sprawled out in the shade of a big oak tree to discuss or plans. No one wanted to spend the money on another hostel stay just yet, so we had mark call his buddy to shuttle us into Erwin for the night where the plan was to sleep right at the trail head. A big blue ford pulled up minutes later and we hopped into the bed of the truck. Our shuttle driver was named Michael and in driving around with him I learned all about his farm and family. He was a good old country guy who’d worked his but off to put his kids ahead in life and was happy to just be working the farm that’d been his family’s land for generations. We pulled into Erwin and told Michael of our game plan and he looked back and forth at our group of dirty hikers and then at scout.

Next thing we knew we were back on the truck headed back towards the hostel to stay down the road at Michaels family farm for the night. He drove off road through his fields to show us possible camping sites. I was having a blast as we bounced around in the field but the Florida crew had different thoughts I’d later learned. “Why did he go off road?!?! We could have died in the back of that truck!!”. I couldn’t help but laugh at them, they were legitimately afraid for a bit having been raised in the fast paced city life. Once we set up camp Michael offered someone a motorcycle ride since he had to go to the store anyways. Not surprisingly the Florida crew was hesitant but I sprang up, tossed scouts leash to whiskey and hopped on. Motorcycles are awesome and so much another than horses. We hit 85mph at one point and i was torn between thinking about how strange this day had turned out to be and how I could never tell mom I jumped on a motocross with a stranger and flew down back roads with a busted spine. I was wearing a helmet though! Back at the farm we got showers and Michael built a strange looking fire for us, however the thing burned until morning light and we never once had to touch the thing or add more wood.

May 9

Time to try this getting into town thing again. We woke up and packed our gear and loaded into Michaels truck. He drove us back into Erwin tn and dropped us off in front of a dollar general and pizza place. I still wasnt totally ready for a big meal but the pizza buffet was six bucks a person so I forced down some calories (that’s the most positive way I can describe it, how do you mess up pizza?) And slipped a plate to about who was tied outside. While the others settled their bills I walked into dollar general to resupply and to grab something for nausea. I got ahold of Pepito bismal and motion sickness pills unsure of which one would help me the most but couldn’t look at the food aisle without getting the urge to vomit. I’d save resupply for later. The group reconvened in the pizza plus parking lot and decided to fork out ten bucks for a hostel stay rather than five a piece to the trail head from town from the shuttle driver. Minutes later our shuttle arrived driven by a man named Sarge. He informed us that there was a shuttle running to a Mexican restaurant, the liquor store, and Walmart that was free to hostel residents. We set up tents in the yard, got laundry started and towels for showers and boarded the van for Mexican food. The hostel was the right choice, Amy, swiper and honey badger, raven, puzzle, train, war chief, cotton and more friends were all staying there too. This of course made for an excellent time at Mexican, full of margaritas and catching up with long lost trail mates.

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AT Trail Update 2

April 16
Worst night thus far. The temperature dropped down to fifteen degrees making one of the most miserable nights in my camping career (second only to the night my boyfriend and I woke up in our 35 degree bags to several inches of unforseen snow). The wind crept up through the floorboards of the shelter eliminating any insulation we might have gained from sleeping pads, and our mass of nine people in the tiny shelter huddled together like a bunch of bundled up caterpillars trying to stay warm. I had a strangers feet(on the sleeping bag of course) against my back…there was no shame. The next morning was a slow, icy start that only brought more bad news. Ice was everywhere. Filters had frozen. Water bottles, camelbacks, platapus, and nalgenes alike were all cracked open from the expansion of millions of little ice crystals. My sawyer squeeze was in one piece but to my dismay when I began filtering water for the morning sure enough beads of water ran down the sides. Oh well, guess I’m getting giardia today. In talking with my cellmates i learned that everyone had dreamt of something warm: beaches, bonfires, etc. Me? I dreamt that ghost rider had turned evil and was taking over the castle from Disney’s Frozen. In thinking back on Nicholas Cage’s flaming skull head melting Olaf into a taking puddle it dawned on me that I may not be your typical twenty-something girl.  Before I headed out it had become official, standing Indian shelter had been renamed “frozen” Indian shelter. As I hiked on I noticed these strange plants lining the trail that I had never noticed before. The more I walked the more I realized these were not plants but ice formations. Unbelievable. The were so many tiny underground channels of water on this north Carolina mountainside that the freezing temperatures literally caused ice to pop up out of the ground like plants, shooting up and curling on themselves. I crunched along the alien landscape for seven miles mostly talking to scout about freezing and about our quickly dwindling food supply. For real, i hadn’t planned for two “nero” days (less than five miles but not quite a zero day) due to all the rain. Our remaining food consisted of one pop tart package, a pack of tuna, a single pasta side and a quarter packet of mashed potatoes. Scout refused to eat the canned dog food I’d bought him in Hiwassee and rather than lug it around I’d given it to a couple from Alaska hiking with two big sled dogs. This meant our breakfast for the two of us was a single package of brown sugar pop tarts. All the energy we needed for our longest day yet. We hit the next shelter, where Jeff, Amy and the others had stayed. I’m not sure what time it was but a few last minute hikers were finishing packing up camp when we came through. We had made great time and had crushed those seven miles of mostly flat terrain when of course, scout’s leash grew taught behind me. I turned thinking he’d gotten snagged on a log or something and saw the most pitiful Beagle face with his right paw raised. Mother ducker…. I walked him a few more steps to identify his issue and it was the same paw he’d twisted earlier in the week. We’d trucked so hard that morning he’d re-sprained his little foot. Not having snacks i hadn’t even consider breaking for longer than it took us to get a few swallows of waste each before moving on. I stopped on the site of the trail and cooked up some delicious tuna taters for him, hoping the food and break would replenish his energy. Let me tell you the are few things as stressful in my life as knowing town was two days away, that we didn’t have any thing left but a single pasta side between the two of us, and that my tiny dog couldn’t press on. While he wolfed down his lunch I repacked my bag so I could fit his pack inside mine, and for the next five hours we flip flopped between me carrying him for as long as my arms held out and us walking very slowly down the trail while he gingerly crept along. I was nearly in tears from guilt from bringing him, from not having food, from pushing hard that morning. I hit an empty looking road right before the Albert mountain fire tower and I took two steps towards it, ready to wait for a car to demand they take me to town. Something nagged at me, the strong feeling that the trail would take care of us. Everything happens exactly the way it’s supposed to, don’t give up on the trail and it won’t give up on you. We pressed on. Scout was obviously miserable but understood that stopping wasn’t an option. The food had helped and he actually beat me to the top of the .1 mile climb to the base of the fire tower. Wed done it. Mile 100 of the Appalachian trail. After taking a brief break where Scout passed out, two of my new friends from freezing Indian shelter, butterscotch and freight train offered me a handful of almonds and butterscotch hard candy as a friendly gesture, not knowing pur food predicament. I was starving and both gifts felt like a thanksgiving dinner. I woke the snoring Beagle up from his nap and we limped the remaining, thankfully flat, two and a half miles to the next shelter. When we arrived Scout crept over to my pack and sat, signaling he was ready for his dinner. My heart dropped and the guilt returned as I looked at our sad little pasta side. We had done a sixteen mile day, our longest yet, on pop tarts. Another hiker by the name of freight train was doing an inventory and i learned he planned to resupply in Franklin, the next town. I asked if he’d sell any of his extra food to us and the man handed me a package of Raman noodles and strawberry pop tarts, no charge. Raman has never tasted so good in my life. Scout and I ate like kings and he even got leftovers from the bear burrito. With bellies full of carbs, aching feet, and a feeling of accomplishment from surviving yet another trail trial scout and I crawled into bed.

April 17
I accidentally deleted April 16th and am too mad to re write it right now.

April 18th

For a brief moment when I wrote up the next morning of forgotten where I was. I was rummaging through what I thought were the contents of the fridge thinking about making Jesse and I omelettes for breakfast when a loud Beagle snore woke me up. Oh yea….. That’s right I’m a hiker hobo now. I grabbed my tablet and began posting the first journal entries onto WordPress and photos onto Facebook. In my infinite wisdom I’d decided to shower a second time at ten thirty when the shuttle left at eleven. It wasn’t just me however who was chaotically shoving beginnings into my pack in no particular order and jumping onto the bus last minute… Everyone was behind this morning. The hotel was 12 a night per person and we were going back into the wilderness to get sweaty and rained on…… Hash tag hobo life. The hikers from the parking lot the night before passed out extra beers and everyone on the shuttle spent a few minutes chugging beers and organizing their packs before we began an easy four mile hike to the next shelter. Siler bald shelter was a pretty steep half a mile off trail but it had the works-bear cables, privy, etc. Our group of fifteen or so hikers who had chosen to not press on as the rain showers began settled in and had a pretty casual night repacking purchases from town and cooking expirable luxury foods. You know, typical hiker things. I began concocting out of boredom a list of hiker pick up lines…… Hey baby, wanna squeeze my Sawyer? Is that a trekking pole in your pocket or are you just happy to see me? It’s gonna get cold tonight, wanna heat things up? (I never said they’d be good!) We also met what I’m convinced was an a angsty runaway seventeen year old by the name of towely. He was obviously stoned out of his mind and had apparently spent the evening failing at catching birds for his dinner and asking strangers for weed. He was an odd kid who universally creeped most of us out but in all honesty he was just a misguided teenager. As the light faded and everyone settled into bed towely came in with a flask of whisky and offered me a drink while I was writing in my journal. I politely declined and snuggled into my sleeping bag bidding him good night, thankful that tonight the hikers sharing the shelter with me were predominantly older, bigger gentlemen. He crept off silently to bed and several minutes later when I was convinced he wasn’t coming back to shoot us all with his bebee gun, I too joined my sheltermates in the nightly snoring competition.

April 19
Rise and shine it’s another day. An eleven miler day to be exact. I packed up, ate a big breakfast with Scout, and advised the now sober towely to go back to his parents house,  From siler bald shelter I took the blue blazed loop trail that had originally taken us hand a mile off trail to this shelter and wound up .4 miles ahead of where id left the trail. Whatever I’m not a purist and I had miles to kill. I hiked with Walter white and burrito until we reached a stone tower overlooking an amazing view and marking mile 120. Here we saw Alexandria, one of the two northern Virginia girls who we had last seen hiking off with majestic at freezing Indian shelter days before. I had carried her mp3 player, rain jacket and katadyn water filter for two days after she’d left them behind accidentally. Good timing because today was a rainy yucky day. Alex informed us that she was kind of on her own as Jessica and effing magestic were now a thing, and as the four of us ate lunch we dubbed them “jeffica”, the hiker version of a celebrity hookup. Alex and actually had a pretty cool conversation hiking to cold spring shelter, something I’m grateful for because until this point we’d never really talked much. Turns out we had a lot in common, including having left boyfriends at home in order to come hike the trail. We claimed the last two spots in the shelter, I experimented with macaroni and cheese and jalapeño flavored tuna for dinner, and I read the shelter to sleep by reading the first few chapters of Peter pan in my teacher voice. So that’s where I am now, the last one awake about to hit the hay. Until tomorrow’s adventures, happy trails!

April 20

The pirates were closing in and time was running out. We had no time to retreat back to the forest and John and Michael were still straggling behind on the beach. “Do something Peter!!!” Wendy cried out just as several men popped out of the trees ahead of us. Ambush on the beach? Those damned dirty pirates finally had a bright idea for once. Wendy screamed as she was scooped up by black bearded man covered in tattoos and before I had chance to react I’d been snatched up by a grizzly pirate by the name of angry bird. Just then scout gave a loud snore.
Oh yea. I’m not Peter Pan. I’m the hobo who quit her job to destroy my joints by hiking the Appalachian trail. The pirates who I dreamt of were actually two of my fellow hikers, majestic and angry Bird. Heh the AT does funny things to your mind.
I sat up and took a look at my actual surroundings: I was still in cold spring shelter surrounded by a German couple, Alexandria, majestic, Kenny and of course… A snoring beagle. It was easter Sunday and coincidentally the six month mark from the day I broke my back falling off of a horse while leading a trail ride at the pumpkin patch. We called it my backiversary.
I quickly packed my things and said goodbye to the rest of the camp. Just before I headed out I turned my phone on to wish my mom a happy easter and I noticed that I had a new email alert. It was from an awesome private boarding school that I had interviewed for right before leaving for the trail. The best news was, they were offering me a job when I got off the Appalachian trail teaching wilderness education and helping to design a horse back riding program. Holy smokes….. Had my crazy idea to hike the AT led to what would hopefully be the start of my career??? Why yes it had. So with my exciting news fueling the day, I hiked twelve miles to the Nantahala Outdoor Center where I found myself in kind of in a culture shock… I was used to three sided shacks in the forest and what was in front of me was an entire mini city on the river complete with multiple bars, restaurants, outfitters, general store and more….. Hiker heaven. I crossed the bridge overlooking a kayaking obstacle course and found the faster hikers from my group sitting on a beach front each with a six pack two thirds of the way to completion. Apparently this city on the river was considered one massive resort so open alcoholic containers, even glass ones, were allowed everywhere on the property. It wasn’t long before I found myself a little tipsy from my own six pack splashing in the water with a rather unhappy looking Scout. He apparently didn’t appreciate the chance to swim in the icy river as much as I did.
When the rest if the crew arrived we went over our options. A new friend offered a cabin for the night but it wasn’t dog friendly and the NOC offered places but I’d be 25 bucks for the night. My hobo cheap self elected then to waltz down the railroad tracks with my random trail buddies and setup my tent on the rivers edge. After laundry, a shower that charged 25¢ a minute and a spicy hamburger from one of the restaurants, my little dog and I crept back to our stealth camp only to find that it wasn’t so stealthy as we had originally thought. Our small cluster of the tents had multiplied into a small army, further known as tent city. That night happened to be not only easter Sunday but also stoner holiday 4\20 and scout and I had unknowingly stumbled onto the mainstage of the pothead fairgrounds. Well it was an interesting night to say the least and when I woke up and began my daily routine at 630 am I made a lot of unhappy campers from those “trailerheads” who’d stayed up so late the night before. I felt like a million bucks and even braided my hair that morning before mailing a package home, picked up my mail drop and trekking poles, getting a delicious chicken salad sandwich, and catching up on my diary while waiting on my phone to charge on the sunny patio overlooking the mornings paddling lessons on the river obstacle course. I want to come here when I die.
The kids who’d gone to the cabin that night apparently hadn’t gotten much sleep as it’d turned out to be one big party house and they were having a slow start. My tent has been a little wet from the dew and a slight sprinkle overnight and, not wanting to disturb the hungover residents of tent city I had left my tent up to dry in the sun. It was turning out to be a pretty warm day. Those who’d wandered out of their tents were playing guitar. I sat around for about a half hour and walks with whiskey began randomly singing a song he’d made up last night called tail song. The idea is you take turns coming up with lyrics on the spot about trail life and the rhyming usually turns out hilarious. I sucked balls at this game. I finally packed up and returned to my wall outlet to get a few more minutes of charge on my phone. Everybody was still sitting around the patio waiting for a heavenly dose of motivation to begin the seven miles of straight uphill following this tropical paradise. I was set and ready to go and had honestly stalled all morning as well, hoping the group would elect to take a zero day (thereby making it acceptable for me to zero as well according to Brittany logic). Alas I knew the forecast for the next day wasn’t pretty and that if I spent another night in tent city I’d avoid the trail completely for another day as the thunderstorms rolled in, so I cinched up my backpack and hit the trail.
Big ducking mistake.
Problem number one, I left during the hottest part of the day. Number two, I’d consumed very little water and drank the night before. Number three I was walking straight up the biggest steepest mountain I had ever climbed in my life with maybe a cup of water filtered days ago. Welcome to hiker hell. I def wasn’t hungover by any means, but my poor timing mixed with dehydration meant I spent the next seven miserable miles climbing uphill with extend stomachs cramps and no water.

Why did I leave the NOC… Why did I leave home… Why did I leave when I did, why didn’t I wait until dark and hike in the cool night she, and why the hell did these crazy people make this section of the trail so damn vertical!!!!! Exhausted, cramping and convinced I would die as an example of what not to do while hiking, I crawled into the last shelter spot and passed out. No dinner, no nothing. Not a day I’d ever like to repeat and a very hard but valuable lesson learned. Hike in the morning and pack extra water.

April 21

Maybe not a million, but I woke up feeling like $100k bucks the next morning. Id chugged several liters of water… Unfiltered… Before crashing the night before and my fluid levels had finally balanced out. Plus I had to pee like never before. I nearly broke my neck on the ladder forgetting I had slept in a loft of the shelter and dashed to the privy to take care of business. They tell you not to pee in privy’s to help maintain the proper moisture balance for the decomposition of human feces. To that I say screw you crazy people, it’s a free country and Ill pee where I please. America… Hell yeah!!!

The hike today was pretty uneventful aside from Scout and I learning how to walk one another with trekking poles in the mix in a downpour. Crappy though the weather was it kept me cool for another day of mostly uphill climbing, leveling out my crappy attitude about having left the NOC. I reached brown fork shelter surprisingly faster than I had anticipated. I had heard that this section of the trail known as Jacobs ladder was extremely intense. While climbing up Jacobs ladder, I half sobbed to myself that the worst was yet to come since as it turns out, Jacobs ladder isn’t marked at all on the trail. A guy close to my own age by the name of Grunt had hiked with me that morning and told me his football coaches advice….’embrace the suck’. Once I’d chanted that a million times going up that steep hill my head cleared a little from my bad mood. Uphill. It’s just what you do… Like pooping. I actually began singing a little and trying to come up with verses for trail song in my head, defeating the purpose of making lyrics up on the spot but also ensuring that I’d be set the next time it was my turn. I crashed into again the last shelter space and began writing. Pretty uneventful since I got here but tomorrow I’ll hike to Fontana dam and will spend my last night with scout who is going to be kenneled while I’m in the smokies. (Recall my car is now totaled and is no more so Jesse can’t come rescue him). Let’s rock n roll!

April 22

When I had left home to come hike I had given my parents a box containing all of the books and stories about the Appalachian trail I had read prior to my trip. Taking on the phone to my mom during my first week mom joked about how boring it was, “all this AWOL guy does is walk, eat, walk, poop, walk, sleep. Is boring as hell”. She wasn’t totally far off from the real thing. It’s actually more like eat walk poop repeat. By now I’ve adjusted and gotten into the hiker swing of things. I have my morning routine and my snack breaks and when I make it to a shelter or camp for the night I have the same routine that I work through. I’ll admit hiking long distances does have a good deal of repetition, but something about it makes you appreciate the little changes you’d normally takes for granted.

Today we woke up and scout and I hiked, just like every other day. It wasn’t bad, no major uphills or obstacles. I’d told myself I would wait until the next shelter to munch on my few remaining pop tarts but my tummy was threatening to eat itself if I didn’t meet its demands. Plus scout has already eaten his moist dog food and was back to the regular dry stuff, which meant he wasn’t really eating anymore. So we had as pop tart break, during which Jeff aka Majestic caught up with us. For the next mile or so we hiked together until we reached a very small four person shelter I mixed my cookie spread with Raman noodles to make a hiker trash version of pad tai. Eh… It was okay but scout finished it for me with no complaints. About a mile or so after that shelter I got a clear Ariel view of Fontana lake. The water was so pretty from a distance and Jeff and I had a gel out moment over the idea of swimming. The view of the lake (and eventually the dam) growing ever closer, we found the m motivation we needed to reach the Fontana dam marina which had the greenest and yet somehow the clearest water I’d ever seen. Jeff and I ventured down to the marina itself and I munched on an ice cream bar while Jeff asked the cashier about swimming. The man behind the counter informed us that we were welcome to swim by the floating docks and that the water was a sunny 60 degrees. Not doubting the man for a second, or possibly because we were just so intent on swimming to even recognize what the man said, I whipped off my smelly hiker shirt (relax, my sports bra covers more than my swimsuit back home!) and dove into the water. Sailing through mid air I realized the man had been joking and realized my mistake too late. I plunged beneath the icy green water and instantly went into shock. Apparently I looked like I was having the time of my life because Jeff, who has been reluctant to get in, dove in after me. By the time he’d surfaced I had found my voice “holy shit I think I’m dead”. Jeff flew out of the water almost as quickly as he’d jumped into it but I on the other hand was realizing the floating dock didn’t have a ladder to get back or and it sat pretty high above the water. After a dramatic and flamboyant performance that made me resemble a suicidal whale, I got out. Did I mention that this was a horrible decision?

By the time we dried off Jessica and Alexandria had caught up and the four of us M’s are our way to the Fontana Hilton shelter, a 24 person shelter with a short walk to a bathhouse. Erh merh gerd….. Showers!!!! I took a very cold shower only to get out and discover the hot water was being used up by Solitude, a hiker who has been a part of the 4/20 festivities. The dude was doing his laundry in the shower to avoid paying the three dollar fee in town. As it was, the was only one shower each in the male and female side of the bathhouse so not only were the girls angry, the boys waited in a line outside for solitude to finish. It wasn’t a huge inconvenience really, all we had was time… besides everyone likes Solitude; He’s a chill guy with a good attitude on the trail. So I claimed my space in the huge shelter and began cooking my last pasta side dinner. Yuck, bacon Parmesan sure sounds better than it actually tastes. Scout didn’t mind it though. About an hour later Walks with Whiskey, Blackbeard, Brother Nature and Butterscotch (now going by the name 5-0 since he’s from Hawaii) rolled in with their recent town purchases including plenty of adult beverages. Angry Bird caught up as well and his brother who’d stopped in for a visit provided some trail magic by bringing a cooler of sodas and beers. Before long the shelter filled up and we all found ourselves buzzed around the campfire singing trail song.

Trail song…. Trail song
Making up the words as we go along
Trail song, trail sing
Cuz you know we’ve been hiking all day long

Sometimes it’s a Bitch sometimes it’s a pain
Like up and down the hills, like hiking in the rain
But I got something that’ll change your mood
Cmon brother nature and play us a tune

I turned down the group trip to walk to the dam tipsy and at night and instead snuggled into my sleeping bag for one last night with Scout..,,, he snored… a lot

April 23

Rise and shine Beagle! I got up, fed scout and packed my things, separating my laundry, wallet and chargers. As soon as the morning shuttles began scout and I were on it and we caught a ride to the Fontana village lodge where I picked up my resupply mail drop as well as an easter package from mom containing candy, a fanny pack, booties and a new leash for scout and tuna!!!!! Best easter ever. Laugh all you want but my fanny pack is my new favorite thing – it fits my phone AND snacks!!!!! I love snacks…

We waked to the village general store and I began charging my phone and doing laundry. I put the booties on scout and just about peed myself laughing at his attempt to shake then off. While my clothes got significantly less grody I walked around town in only my rain jacket and sleeping pants and took inventory of my resupply box. I ended up buying luxury items of cheese, pepperoni, tortillas and soda at the most outrageous prices and sat loving on scout until the shuttle from Standing Bear Hostel arrived to take him away. So depressing. The driver, Curtis, seemed like a pretty cool guy and I learned that Squeaker, the dauschund mix from the top of Georgia hostel whose owners tented next to me, was also staying there. On his way out, he gave me a ride back to the trail. After debating if I should start a late hike or not trail magic came in the form of brownies with the forecast of rain for the next two days. Mind made up. I was taking a zero. I finished up my first night without scout by hiking to the dam with 5-0 and a hiker named Leonidas and by introducing a busy campfire to the game werewolf. After a quick round that ended with 5-0 confessing as the werewolf, I hit the hay on my first night as a true solo hiker.

April 24
The good thing about sleeping closest to the shelter door is that the sunlight wakes you up as soon as it decides its time to start the day. With the days starting to get longer this meant had a pretty good head start and now that I was rocking solo I was able to pack up in record time. Before most people had even picked their heads up I was headed down to Fontana dam. It was a short and flat walk to the actual start of the great smoky mountains national park where I met rocky the squirrel, who, in case I haven’t mentioned yet is hiking northbound by hiking south. Yes you read that right. He had two cars and drives up, slack packs to his southernmost car and drives north of the first car, in effect hiking north to Katahdin by hiking south. Brilliant considering he can slack pack as a solo hiker and always had a vehicle in towns. I’m super jelly. He was just on his way south when I met him, and I couldn’t help but stop to chat for like ten minutes with a group of cowboys taking their horses on a camping trip. Reminds me of the good old days running all over town on Rebel. So anyways I dropped my permit off and hit the uphill climb into the smokies. Originally of just planned to push it to the first shelter but it was a yucky cold and rainy day so I kept moving and before I knew it if hiked my longest day yet, 17 miles including the big uphill. Life without Scout was flying by pretty quick. I met up with Jeff and a girl named Squirrel and booked the remaining four miles with them until we finally ended or rainy day at Spence Field Shelter. Not much to report about that night, we went through the normal hiker routine and motions and prepared for an early rise the next day.

April 25
Day two in the smokies. Now things were starting to get pretty. I understand now why the park had such strictly enforced rules and regulations; the Smokies are unlike any other place over visited. Absolutely beautiful, and the only sign of human life aside from the shelters themselves is the narrow footpath on which we walked. The landscape was starting to shift to, no longer were we looking at the regular forests similar to those in Virginia. These are lined with wildflowers and moss, making a fairytale walkway suitable for Neverland or Rivendale (that was the Lord of the Rings elf kingdom right?). Now we didn’t have a single cloud on the sky, very different from the previous days showers. After I’d gotten bored listening to my iPod, a rare event in and of itself, I thought I heard raindrops and stopped to pull my pack cover out. Wait, I wasn’t getting wet…. What the hectheI bent close to the ground and realized that these weren’t raindrops, but thousands of thing little crickets that jumped when you got close to them. Crickets….. Bah humbug. It was kind of cool though and eventually my twisted head was signing trail song with the beat of the thousand crickets thinking in the background. 13.8 miles later I crashed at double spring gap shelter.

To be continued….

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AT Trail Update 1

My diary so far minus any editing so sorry for typos!

April 6

Day 2 on the trail is about to end here. My family dropped me off at Springer a little later in the day than I would have liked to have gone so rather than risk setting up camp in the dark I chose to crash at shelter numero uno, which overall only had 3 other campers despite the 50 plus campers. Aside from weekenders and scouting troops I reckon everyone was just excited about setting up the I tents. Lessons learned on day 1: sa-an oo-an and wan-an are good morning/afternoon/night in Chinese and if you plan to have your dog hiking partner clean up your uneaten food, do so BEFORE giving him his meals, and before troops feed him honey ham and zebra butterfly cakes. Oh did I mention I’m hiker 986.(I remembered BC my new friend “butterfly” who gave us the snack cakes was #985) Pretty cool cuz its the same when flipped 180 degrees.

This morning i was up and on the trail by 7ish and at mile 6ish i experienced my first bout of trail magic. The georgia adventurers group had set up shop and was cooking hot dogs and passing out fruit and candy and other goodies to hikers, Now I’m camping at hawk mtn shelter. I had an 8 mile day and wanted to do more but were supposed to get a thunderstorm and I didn’t wanna risk the 7 mile walk to gooch gap and get caught in the storm. So I quit early and staked my claim as the first hiker to settle at hawk mtn shelter. I’d never seen a privy so full…..as others began to arrive we broke out cards and out f the 14 adults the only game we could think of was go fish. So we fished until someone decided to build a fire. Somehow I was elected to build the durn thing but the ground was so wet, so I turned it over to my new friend and weekender James, who was able to get a bright burning fire roaring with the aid of half a tub of hand sanitizer. I also met two hikers around my age, Jeff and Charlotte who I think I’ll become good friends with. Charlotte and I decided to call a hostel and see if they accept dogs, which they do. So that will be our goal for tomorrow, giving us a 10ish, possibly 6 depending on how bad this incoming storm turns out to be. Right on.

April 7

So storming was a little inaccurate. Complete and total downpour more like. I feel bad for all of our non shelter friends who arrived too late to claim a shelter space, they all go soaked. Funny, multiple people who’d dished out hundreds of dollars for the big Agnes tents were no better off. Note to self, when rain is forecasted fight for shelter space.
We woke up and Hanna Jeff Charlotte and I were the first to head out. Jeff and hannah quickly passed us but luckily Charlotte and I have a similar go-stop-go pace. We crossed two bigger creeks and got a little soaked. The plan was to hike 12ish miles to woody gap and call a hostel. In reality with the rain and steep rocky up hills we hiked 7 to gooch gap, called a ride once we realized everyone who’d been there the night before had decided to take a zero day. Me of those individuals was miss Amy, a fellow trials blogger. I was impressed to see the girl has brought a huge ass book to read along the tral. The thing must have weighed at least a lb. Gram weanie problems. Anyways from there six of us hiked a mile to the next road and spent the night at a hiker hostel called the wolf pen gap country store and hostel. We paid five bucks for laundry and twenty for the nights stay and it was worth every damn penny for a warm dry bed. I feel like a weenie to be settling down in a hostel on night number 3 but whatever I’m a dry weenie.

April 8

So today we woke up in a hostel cleaned, showered and full of pizza and candy. The four of us, Jeff Hannah and Charlotte hitched a ride back to suches gap and hit the trail. We stopped for several relaxing breaks at the many mountain stream crossings and took off our shoes and relaxed at a great rock view of the valley below. After lunch with our new friends who it turns out were the zero dayers from gooch shelter the night before, we settled down at lance creek campsite. Amy strolled in not long after us along with the brothers from gooch/lunch. Hannah gave tom his hat that had been left behind at their hostel. Oh and they have trail names now too. Fire sauce, pockets and fucking majestic. Oh and great idea #1: flavored water purification  tabs.

April 9

Another awesome day, OK to be honest I didn’t write jack last night. We hiked out of lance creek and made it to the walasi yi center at mountain crossing. The girls got pack shakedowns and Hannah got a new tent to replace her bivy tarp combo. I sent home scouts old pack and a few random items and immediately wished I’d spent more time analyzing the contents of my pack. I meant to send home a spare set of clothes and a bowl from my cookset. O well there’s always next time. We kept hiking very confused until we just barely passed swain creek gasp and camped by a broken tree hanging over the trail. Hannah and I perfected the bear bag hanging method used on the pacific create trail. See attached poorly drawn sketch. After we woke up late and headed out scout twisted a paw and i took his pack for the day while he walked off a small limp. I gave him aspirin and he aeemed to do ok. We hit trail magic at hog pen gap. A small group of friends with a former thru hiker were celebrating his thru hike start date by bringing hikers sodas and fruit. Scout enjoyed a new buddy when he met a rottie named Easy. We hiked on mostly separate and I stressed out because I’d forgotten to resupply our water at hogpen, distracted by trail magic. The fiveish mile stretch was easy and mostly flat but little man was clearly exhausted. I refilled at the first spring I saw and looked over my shoulder and saw….the freaking shelter. We were there. Hannah and Charlotte….pockets and fire sauce I mean…kept going to blue mtn shelter while majestic n I stayed for the night and claimed shelter space. It a sweet shelter, water n bear cables, the works. The other girls caught up as well as Amy and the brothers and graham cracker and his dad who were on their lat day of their eight day adventure. Cracker got a fire going (pictured)and the rest of us hung out in the shelter until bed. The plan is to wake up super early and head out asap to meet the girls at tray gap shelter. Short day for them, long day for us but I’m glad scout got a break. Tomorrow’s gonna be mostly flat until the latter part of the day and in two days time we should hit hiwassee. Over halfway down with Georgia!!! Let’s do this!!!

April 11

OK so today honestly was my roughest day thus far. I woke up from low gap and hit the trail by 730. By 11 I was at blue mtn shelter where scout and i finished off the last of our delicious cookie spread while conversing with two soloists, sky eyes who’d stayed at low gap the night before and asked 15 year old cracker for weed, and angry Bird, a former thru hiker doing a section on his break from work. We crushed the first, easy half of the day and during our second half, from unicoi gap to tray mtnb I nearly died. Kay not literally, but an already worn out dog hiker combination plus two steep up then downhill elevation changes of over a thousand feet made for an exhausting wipe out. I was almost in tears but the lack of water for a six mile stretch put both a physical and mental strain on me. I hit tray by 3 pm, only an hr after Charlotte and Hannah. Charlotte I learned through the grape vine had acquired a new trail name to replace fire sauce…bear claw. My first thought was the delicious pastry, but turns out she earned the name by cutting a claw off of a dead baby bear along the side of the trail. If heard about it through the hiker grapevine the day before, and the fearsome foursome had discussed collecting battle trophies of our adventure  but I couldn’t believe shed actually found it. I’d charged through so fast I’d missed collecting a prize that would be a surefire conversation starter for years to come. Turns out the thing was half rotten and the tiny cubs claw was so small I probably would have buried it with my damn trowel rather than hack its big toe off. Poor bear. So after being both depressed and jealous of the tiny claw i set up shop in the shelter on top of tray mtn. I had carried scouts pack all day BC he’d limped a bit in the beginning and I didn’t want to push him, especially on a longer day. 15 miles, our longest yet. I hurt. Everything hurt. I was in tears. I cooked with my friends and tried to stifle the searing pain that had started in my right knee by downing an unhealthy dose of pain killers. Then something amazing happened. Just like in the stories, trail magic floated in when it was needed the most. Three angels by the names of Todd beth and Pete hiked in with sandwiches, cookies, chips, apples ice and….beer!!! Yeungling to be exact, the best beer I’d ever tasted as of that moment. I’d had it plenty of times before however today it was magical. Magic beer, trded for beagle stickers which led to my usual shpeel and Todd produced two dollars from his pocket fort the cause. Scout played with other dogs and I passed out in a sweet slumber of beer and full bellies. worse day turned to best moment yet. I love how the at turns things around like that. I cant wait until my turn to return the trail magic and make someone’s day magical.

April 12

Woke up bright and early at tray shelter with my new buddies and packed up for an eleven mile day. I learned that by mixing water with a little bit of honey and granola I could make a sweet and crunchy cereal on the go. Scout and I headed out before the crowd and eightish miles in we stopped for water where we met Courtesy and his son Big Horn, two section hikers trying to meet some thru hikers they’d seen off at springer the weekend before. We dropped packs and walked .3 m off trail to claim our prize, the only waster source for a five mile stretch. Upon returning to the trail, my friends had caught up and we continued the hike, pockets and I taking the lead. We crashed onto park benches at dicks creek gap and waited for the rest of the crew to file in as we fought for signal. Alexandria and Jessica were the only ones with signal and they called our hotel. Problem … The budget in was jam packed full of guests, no rooms left. We called around and no luck, either the hotels lacked rooms. Didn’t answer or hated dogs, we settled for the top of Georgia, a new hostel that had been opened for nearly a month. Our shuttle diver dropped us off and we were instantly greeted by a huge jerk who screamed  no dogs even though wed called ahead to confirm. The owner came out and immediately baby talked scout. Scout responded with a wag and a single lick. Over ruled, beagle could stay. The only condition was that scout and I had to tent camp outside, but I was still able to shower and do laundry. That’s all I cared about. We even got a foot bath that night consisting of hot water and marbles. We rolled our feel in marble tubs while the owner gave advice and showed pictures from his own adventures.  We took a shuttle into Hiwassee and got a little tipsy at a Mexican restaurant. Half the crew went for the top of Georgia, the other half, being beagle less decided to shoot for a holiday inn in the center of town. Scout took a nap outside the restaurant whole the waiter, familiar with the hiking community, continued bringing us extra alcohol from the bottom of the blender when others ordered drinks. I downed a double shot of tequila with no chaser and everyone clapped. I’m not a beast, I was just too tipsy to taste it, and it bit me in the ass end minutes after when I was running around ingles grocery store like a chicken with its head cut off trying to get food for me and danny while she watched scout. 15 mins to grocery shop while being drunk and trying not to miss the last shuttle back to the hostel led to some shitty decisions. Like, no snacks or lunches just breakfasts and dinners. Or like getting back to the hostel, realizing you got too much and -still drunk- sending half of your shit home. Good job Brittany. The hostel gave me scrubs so I could wash every bit of clothing I owned, and my shower revealed my sun tan was more dirt than sexy tan. Finally, in setting up my tent i realized my sleeping pad was gone. Totally missing. After packing up that morning I hadn’t ever opened my main compartment and the only time I’d left my pack was to get water. Could a day hiker have swiped it? The lowest crime on the at is theft, mainly BC no on wants to carry extra heavy crap. The other girls left after me and said the shelter was empty, it hadn’t been left behind. Freaking a… After a breakfast and fight with Mr cranky hostel worker over who’d paid for breakfast, I purchased a new sleeping pad from the hostel, a more compact model. I caught the 830am shuttle back to the trail and turned my phone on. Jesse had texted me asking me to call him asap. Be news was to follow…

April 13

Turns it, on his was to work that morning while cruising 70mph down the interstate Jesse had slammed into a deer….. In my car. Unable to get online or do anything, I told him where to find the ins information and to contact my mom. A mile into the trail, struggling to not cry about the events of the past few he’s, I saw some trail magic. A single beer beautiful and cold was propped up against a water side trail sign. I broke down. For a half hour I drank my beer and sobbed to my mom on the phone. I’d hit my low. Car was totaled, pad was stolen. Dog was limping and not eating his food. Every joint hurt. “Do you want to go home?” My mom asked softly over the phone. My response came immediately. Hell no. I wasn’t even close to being done. The past week was amazing. I wasn’t giving that up for little bumps in the road. I sobered up, crushed four miles to orchard gap shelter, and spent the afternoon laying in the sun with danny and Walter white while everyone else tickled in to our first three story shelter. It was the perfect night to make up for such crappy news. A religious group called the youth with a mission, ywam trickled in and not only gave me chocolate and coffee, but one woman who was seeing her husband the next day agreed to carry a letter for me to the nearest mailbox. It was a update to Jesse that contained a check for rent that was past due, she was our life saver. I bonded with my crew as well as new friends, and had a great night to rebound from the bad news.

April 14

This morning we woke up and danny came up to me looking guilty. She pulled out my orange thermarest stuff sack and original sleeping pad , which was similar in size and color to her big Agnes tent bag. Danny was the swiper, she’d packed it in the shelter at tray mountain thinking it was her tent and at the hostel hadn’t noticed BC she hasn’t needed a pad or tent. So now I’ve got 2 sleeping pads. Eff. Lucky for me Jeff doesn’t have one and in exchange for using it he carried it all day. We hit the Georgia north Carolina line four miles after the shelter and waited for everyone to take a go pro selfie, beagle included. A super steep foggy rainy uphill hike after I hit muskrat creek shelter, where my ywam angels gave me chocolate. Moments after my arrival the downpour began. The crew filed in one by one and were all currently hunkered down. I’m guessing were turning a 4p shelter into a 10 p group snuggle fest BC the downpour and wind have dropped the temp super low. Jeff and the other guys even jimmy rigged a tarp so Alex could sleep in her tent since she hates the idea of mice. This shelter was also the site of an older plane crash and bits of hull were scattered I around the forest floor, never reclaimed. This shelter wasn’t as pretty as many of the newer, closer to civilization (therefore better maintained) shelters and the entire thing was one massive graffiti fest. The shelter itself was a living log book. I drew a horse and a beagle, adding to the chaos, and snuggled in for the night. Sean, the younger of the brothers, finished his butt blaster, now a daily meal, and set up shop on the table since no room was left in the shelter. We fell asleep joking that if he fell off in his sleeping bag he wouldn’t be able to free his arms in time to break his fall, and that his trail name became bear burrito. Hey its better than butt blaster.

April 15

So much rain. Thunder a little, but mostly just nonstop freezing rain. According to the bear burrito, we also had a bear cub visitor, but no one knows if he was dreaming or not. It was a slow morning, no on wanted to venture out into the wetness. I was thankful that I had not hung my stuff out on a clothesline like everyone else, their hiking clothes got soaked. Lazily, I dragged myself out of bed, sleeping beagle still snoring in my bag, and put on my dry but still very smelly hiking clothes. I was the first one to venture out into the drizzle for the day, and had to stop and take a picture of Chunky Gal Trail, which I had seen referenced in many trail stories and diaries. Gosh, its so cool how all of my stories were coming to life. On by one I’m actually visiting the places and meeting the people and experiencing the trail magic referred to in my books. Awesome. Well, I was taking it slow picking over the wet mossy rocks and sean and Alex quickly caught u with me. Sean slipped and banged his knee up pretty badly. Wed also seen weather reports that the temperature was supposed to drop below freezing that night and thee three of us swerved in to standing Indian shelter where we met Kenny, danny and Walter white were bundled up taking a zero day. Amy, Jeff and the others decided to keep going but Charlotte and I stayed fearing the next shelter, another seven miles out, would be full. The shelter filled up fast, making us glad we had already saved our spots in the shelter. I was fed and in bed wearing everything but my wet rainy t and shorts by one, shivering, when it started snowing…..it was going to be a very very long night.

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Stickers!!!

So much to say and so little time left to say it and do all the other junk I have to do to prepare last minute!!! I am only DAYS away from starting my 2014 thru-hike with my beagle, Scout. I’m almost totally packed out of my house and packed for the trail, and I’ve already started publishing articles as a blogger on Appalachian Trials. I also found out I was accepted as a gear reviewer for Backpacker Magazine and received my first item in the mail a few days ago, a pretty green sleeping bag from RAB. I Can’t wait to try it out.

Here is my first gear review assignment! RAB Outdoor's lovely down bag!

Here is my first gear review assignment! RAB Outdoor’s lovely down bag!

Also, because my entry video had been accidentally sent to the SPAM folder for the Badger Sponsorship, Zach (Appalachian Trials author) being the wonderful person that he is told Larabar about the mix up, and WHALLAH! They send me loads of larabars and a good luck note! I’m so excited and impressed with the mass number of people who are behind me and who have been so supportive both with words and through donations and contributions to both my journey and to Team Reeve.

 

As I mentioned before, I plan to fund raise along my hike, but I never really said how. So it’s time for a drum roll, its time to get it out! We have come up with a means of fundraising for spinal cord injury research that is both practical and lightweight for backpacking. Scout and I will be selling stickers with the completed image below.

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Stickers are 3×3 inches and are printed on vinyl material making them suitable for putting on any type of gear, car, water bottle or outdoor items. They feature Scout the adventure beagle and the Team Reeve logo, and will be for sale in person for $1 a piece, or $2 to have them mailed to you. All proceeds go to the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation. To place an order, you can either contact me directly, mail in donations to:

Team Reeve

Attn: Brittany Neal

2200 Lake Surrey Drive

N. Chesterfield VA 23235

Or make donations online/through your mobile device atChristopherreeve.org/teamreeveallstars2014/trailmagic

Thank’s again for your support, and stay tuned for updates in the final hours before we set foot on the trail!!!

Happy Trails,

Rodeo

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14 Days and Counting!!!

So the date is set, I’m finalizing my projected trip itinerary and I’ve got a plan! Time flies, its so hard to believe that six months ago I was stuck immobilized in a back brace and covered in bruises. (Harder still to believe that Rebel’s 1 year is approaching. I’m not looking forward to July 5th on the trail) Now I look at the world around me and see boxes piled high in my apartment, drop boxes made up and ready for mailing, and backpacking gear folded and organized neater than any dresser drawer I’ve ever owned. Heh, it reminds me of moving out of my college dorm at the end of every Spring.

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So my wonderful contacts over at Team Reeve and I were discussing ideas for fundraising and WHALLAH- the sticker idea came to life. If you’re an outdoor nutjob like myself, you probably have a car, trunk, kayak, forehead, or SOMETHING covered in stickers with brand logos, events, etc. If you aren’t so crazy, you have to have seen some sort of SUV parading around town with the entire back glass covered in stickers. I have two theories behind this trend. 1. We like to show off our pride and gear even when its not with us. 2. Stickers are shiny and we like souvenirs. You can bet your shiny hiney that if I’m ever at an outdoor festival or any event really that has booths, if there’s free stuff that’s where I will be. Stalking…like a tiger…who wants stickers.

Okay back on subject, I sketched a quick design and turned it over to the lovely and talented Macky (my younger sister) because she appears to have the time and energy, not to mention the photoshop skills to bring it to life. Here is the before and after:

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Amazing right? Lol so what we’ve decided to do to fund raise while on the trail is that Scout and I will be selling these stickers for $1.00 as we hike. Not only will we be carrying them with us, we will also have them for sale for $2.00 which includes mailing them to your address. If you’d like to order them, email me at britt08@vt.edu with your address and how many you’d like, and make a donation at our page :

christopherreeve.org/teamreeveallstars2014/trailmagic

 I hope to have these bad boys here in the next few days and we’ll get the ball rollin!

Stay tunes, and as always happy trails!

-Brittany

 

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Eeek! Crosssssing Path’s With Snakes On The Trail.

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From what I’ve noticed working at a camp over the years, there are three kinds of people in this world: Those who love reptiles, those who are indifferent to them, and those who want to be as far away from them as possible. The best way to identify the type of person you are with (or who you are yourself) is to mention the word ‘snake’ and observe a person’s reaction. Fans will light up and some people won’t pay much attention…but the real excitement comes from the person who wants every last creepy cold-blooded scaly thing to die in a fiery explosion.

Although definitely not cool, one of my favorite things to do at camp was catch small, harmless snakes and drape them around my wrist or shoulder without drawing attention and wait for campers to notice. Until my experiences at summer camp, I was halfway between indifferent/terrified. I wasn’t afraid to hold a snake if someone told me it was tame, but despite my willingness to wrestle wild horses and cattle on a regular basis I never had the bravery to go catch one myself. Dogs, cats, horses, they’re all easy: obvious personality and body language similar to our own. Snakes…..nope they’re scary.

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The more I learned about them at camp, the more I became fascinated by them and wanted to know more. I started hanging out at the nature centers and handling serpents on a regular basis, and while I still use catch poles and gloves until I’m confident in the specific animal, knowing about them makes me smarter and therefore not afraid of them. Turns out, different breeds have different temperaments and the animals have individual personalities and memories, just like any other animal.

Most hikers will cross paths with snakes dozens of times on the trail, after all you are in THEIR home. There are several things I want to point out to you today that will not only help keep you safe when you come across snakes (who honestly don’t want to be near you any more than you do them) but will also help you identify what type of snake you are dealing with and what to do in the event of an accident.

Part 1: What’sssss In A Name?

Here are the major breeds of snakes you may encounter on your hike.

Non-venomous Snakes:

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Black Rat Snake – These guys get really big, and typically darken with age. Slower snakes and members of the king snake family, they eat other snakes and are very intelligent. My personal favorite cabin guard. These guys aren’t too smelly to humans but their scent keeps venomous snakes away (king snakes can eat venomous snakes and aren’t affected by their toxins)

Black Racer – black, pretty fast moving and temperamental. Often poses as a rattle snake by slapping its tail on nearby leaves to scare potential threats away.

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Corn Snake – great climbers, a variety of color patterns common. Once tame they are super chill and are happy just to hang in there with you, but out in the wild they’re prefer to be on their tree and left alone.

Ring Neck Snake– WIDDLE CUTIES! These tiny little snakes feed mostly on bugs and worms and typically don’t bite because they’re so small. They’re pretty calm and easy to handle but they release a putrid musk that can make your eyes water!

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Garter Snake – These guys also come in a HUGE variety of patterns and colors depending on the state. Shorter snakes, but fast nonetheless, not great at climbing and they do give live births.

Northern Banded Water Snake – These guys are most commonly seen by ponds and mistaken for water moccasins. Short but very fat (this helps them swim and float) these guys are dark brown/black and can be pretty nasty. Luckily, they have many small teeth rather than large fangs so you’re going to end up with more of a shallow series of scratches rather than deep puncture wounds. Their musk makes you want to find a skunk and be its buddy just to forget the snake smell.

Venomous Snakes (aka cat eyes and triangle heads):

Copperhead – Hemotoxic venom, small-medium sized snake. Almost looks like a giraffe print, they have a blotchy pattern that ranges from dark brown or blackish all the way to a dusty sandy color. These guys don’t have a way to warn that you are in their space and therefore can be considered more dangerous than the rattlers.

Timber Rattle Snake aka Canebrake Rattler – Hemotoxic venom. Again here we’ve got a variety of color patterns available. Patterns vary by snake and region but typically shows a wiggly w-shaped band or series of splotches that make up rings along its body. Snake will typically rattle then hiss to warn you before it ever strikes.

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Water Moccasin aka Eastern Cottonmouth – Hemotoxic venom. Usually only seen closer to the coasts, these are aquatic based snakes that live near rivers and swamps. They have a more jagged striping pattern than the northern banded water snake (who is most often mistaken as a water moccasin) and the distinctive triangular head, a white line around their lips and a yellow tip to their tail.

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Part 2: Crosssssssing Pathssss.

While this is something that seems like common sense, I am still going to cover it because there will always be the ding dongs who see a snake and for some unknown reason get the uncontrollable urge to either catch, poke, or kill it. I know this because I have taught many of these ding dongs. DON’T MESS WITH THE SNAKE.

If you went to Africa and were walking around in the safari and all of a sudden a pride of lions passes by, would you run up to Simba to scratch his belly? If someone ran up to you and started poking you wouldn’t you want to bite their head off and leave? Let me say it again, LEAVE THE DAMN SNAKE ALONE!

After you’ve spent a night in a shelter and had mice eat through your bag, or scurry across your feet you will grow to appreciate these legless hunters. Whenever we removed snakes from kid infested areas, we typically released non-venomous ones under our staff cabins to hunt mice. Mice eat your things and carry diseases. Mice are bad. Snakes not so bad. (The presence of so many snakes near staff camp kept kids out of our  area too!).

So let’s get back to you and your hike. Whether you’re day hiking or thru-hiking you’re bound to come across a snake at some point. Say you’re stopping for a break and you notice you’re sitting right next to one, or your walking down a trail and ones lying right in the middle of the path. Here are 3 pointers for this situation.

  1. Don’t Run.
  2. Leave It Alone.
  3. Don’t Run.

The majority of the snake related injuries, hilariously enough, aren’t from the snake at all, but from humans turning and blindly running in fear and tripping or running into things. Find a way around the snake and give it the space it needs; it’s a lot easier for you to take the long way around than to find a doctor when you’re 25 miles from the nearest town.

While it’s nice to give your fellow hikers a heads up and let them know there is a serpent sunning itself ahead, you do not need to take it upon yourself to move it away from the trail. Remember, they are cold blooded animals that need to sun themselves or seek shelter to survive and they don’t want to bother with humans. Take note, if you notice the snake has a bulge from a recent meal or if it appears to be shedding, the snake is in a very vulnerable state (shedding snakes temporarily lose some of their vision as the outer scale detaches)  and will be more temperamental.

Despite popular belief, a North American snake will not look at a human as a potential food source: they swallow their prey whole, how on Earth could a snake even get over a human’s enormous head? Jk, but seriously, snake bites, like dog bites, occur when the animal is fearful or stressed. Their food focus is much smaller, think rodents, smaller reptiles and amphibians, and yes…other snakes. In 90% of the ‘non provoked’ cases (without screwballing with a snake to get a reaction), a snake bite occurs when a person is in the wrong place at the wrong time. Usually in these situations a person steps on or startles a snake they didn’t even know was there in the first place. You’ve seen video clips of human pranksters getting punched by their prankees; it’s just a natural reaction!

Part 3: When Accidentssss Happen.

While I’ve yet to have the misfortune of really getting whacked by a snake, I’ve had close calls – Including the time I stepped into a nest of baby rattlers wearing flip flops and the time I picked up an albino corn snake that turned out to be an albino adult copperhead. If the odds just aren’t in your favor and a snake bite does occur, here are 5 myths we need to clear up ahead of time.

Myth 1: If its not venomous, I don’t have to treat it.

I mentioned that snakes eat mice right? And that mice carry all sorts of cooties? While the snake itself isn’t going to give you rabies by brushing up against your leg, their mouth is a festering pool of bacteria from the prey it eats and even a small prick therefore has the potential to become infected. Clean out the wound thoroughly and keep a close eye on it – If it becomes swollen, overly sore or hot get it checked out!

Myth 2: Baby snakes are more deadly than adults because they can’t control their venom output.

Eh, I heard this one a lot. Yes, it’s true that young snakes haven’t quite gotten the hang of how much venom to release to kill their prey and often dump it all in. It is also true that adult snakes understand that venom is a precious limited resource and  that if they feel threatened and just want to issue a warning, they can issues what is called a ‘dry bite’. So there is some basis behind the myth.

Now, consider this: Who has bigger fangs? Who’s venom sack is larger? The adult snake. Meaning that while a baby might issue venom more often, the mamma will bury it deeper into your body making it more effective and causing more damage faster. If mamma decides to give you some juice,  she’s got a lot more of it in store and even if you get a ‘dry bite’, those fangs probably have minimal bits of venom left over on them so even dry bites can be dangerous.

Myth 3: Venom sucking

Okay so luckily these days most people have learned that the old cowboy trick of cutting an ‘x’ and sucking out the venom doesn’t do jack to help a situation. Think about it, you’re not gonna get all of the venom (which is already doing its job), now the victim is bleeding out from the ‘x’, and YOU feel like your mouth is on fire because you’re literally spitting venom. Gotcha, don’t suck the venom. Moving on.

Myth 4: Tying a tourniquet

The next myth is that if you are bit by a venomous snake that you need to immediately tie a tourniquet. Okay,  let’s cover this guy in a little more detail. What happens when you tie a tourniquet? You cut off blood supply to whatever is below the tie. While you may trap the venom in that limb, odds are the victim is going to lose everything below the tie because you’ve already cut off blood flow to the area. Because of this, tying a tourniquet is not recommended in most cases. Now, if you are dealing with a small child, elderly person, or otherwise compromised individual who poses a higher risk, this is a different story. A person can adapt to losing an arm a lot more easily than they can losing their life.

Myth 5: Anti-venom

If you get to a hospital the doctor will immediately administer anti-venom right? Well, once upon a time maybe, but studies are showing that with many types of snakes, anti-venom can cause more harm than good. In particular, lets look at hemo-toxic snakes like rattlers and copperheads. ‘Hemo’ (meaning blood) gives a clear indication of what the venom does – it attacks the blood cells of the victim, preventing clotting and actually eating away at the tissues. Not pretty. Despite how nasty and scarring this venom can be (not to mention painful), unless dealing with a small, older or immune compromised person doctors these days will typically leave you in a hospital bed pumped full of fluids and continue to monitor swelling at the bite area. This isn’t always the case however, as there are other types of venom (neurotoxins, etc) that can be deadly without immediate action. Rule of thumb, if you have the misfortune of being bitten, get it treated.

Okay, got that down, now what am I SUPPOSED to do?

Okay, snake bites you. Boom. Ouch. Now what?

  1. Stay calm. If you scare yourself and start hyperventilating you can pass out. You need all the oxygen you can get. If a victim is losing it and freaking out, talk to them in a calm and collected voice, and instruct them to take slow, deep breaths. When my kids have asthma problems and start taking scared, short and shallow breaths, I tell them to pretend they are breathing through a straw. Oddly enough this analogy helps calm them down.
  2. Call for help. Don’t scream and run around and scare yourself/your patient even more, but use a phone, etc to call for assistance. Try to not leave the victim alone and keep them awake.
  3. Have the victim sit upright, possibly against a tree or something, and immobilize the limb while keeping the bite wound lower than their heart and head. Don’t apply ice or a tourniquet. The goal is to make it as hard as possible for the venom to spread while still allowing blood flow to occur. Be sure to remove any jewelry or clothing around the area in case swelling does occur.
  4. If bleeding out, put pressure over the wound but not enough to fully restrict blood flow to the area. Without going after the snake, try to remember what it looked like so you can describe it to doctors when you seek medical attention.

So maybe you were indifferent and now you’re terrified. My bad, my intention is definitely not to scare you out of snakes. They are super intelligent creatures who continue to amaze me with their personalities and habits and the fact that they have adapted the way they have is nothing short of miraculous. My intentions in writing this were merely to make you aware of what can happen when you cross paths with a snake, to teach you a little more about identifying them and their habits, and to prepare you for the worst in the event that you ever find yourself needing it.

Keep in mind that snake bites are rare and that snakes don’t want to be near you anymore than you do them. They are peaceful creatures just trying to find their way and make a living in the wilderness, much like yourself. Be respectful of them, appreciate them from a distance, and everyone can continue along their merry way without ever having any tragic endings. =)

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Photo updates of the past few weeks…

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Playing around at Angel’s Rest

 

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Scout and I in the snow after our surprise 18inches!

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I was asked to join The Good Badger’s bloggers on the Appalachian Trials website!

 

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Had a good hike to Dragon’s Tooth (Ranger’s first time rock climbing and wearing a pack)Image

Playin on the trail again…

 

 

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Beagle’s are perfect trail companions, energetic enough to keep up but lazy enough to crash when you make camp and not cause problems! 

 

 

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Got my team Reeve T !

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