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