Sunday, April 28, 2013

Woods Hole Hostel

I last left you off with the party at Partnership Shelter outside of Marion, which was a wonderful release and relaxing time for all the hikers there. It was like a taste of home. And to drive that point even further, only a few miles down the trail was Atkins, VA and a home cookin' restaurant with a burger to die for. A perfect hangover meal for those who needed it.

I camped that night a few more miles out of town. The next day was very typical in terms of hiking days until about 2 miles out from the shelter I planned to stop at. I knew it was going to rain in the afternoon so I had been working hard to beat the rain but just as I hit a long series of balds, the storm hit as well. It was your usual afternoon thunderstorm except for the fact that I was running over the tops of mountains on which I was the tallest thing around. The wind was wicked and I leaned at a surely hilarious angle in order to even be upright. It was one of those situations that makes you a really strong prayer all the sudden, but I finally made it to the shelter. The shelter itself was on a bald and the wind blasted it from all sides it seemed. Thankfully it had four rock walls, a solid roof and even a door! It actually reminded me of something from Ireland.

The next day was only a 15 mile trek to Fresh Ground at a campsite at a mile 580. It was a gorgeous day and the terrain was pretty easy. That is how I knew it was a particularly bad day. Despite the wonderful day I was still miserable for some reason. I was just not having fun. It hit me all the sudden that I wasn't enjoying myself on the Appalachian Trail anymore. I hiked and cried simultaneously most of the day. Eventually Maineiac and Genie caught up to me and I dumped my woes on them, which helped. But it was the first time I had ever entertained the idea of quitting. When I finally reached Fresh Ground and filled my belly I felt even better.

That night the entire crew was taken down to a soon to be built hostel to camp that was run by TruBrit. He was the most conservatively minded person politically and still had this belief that America was as great as it was in the 1930's. He was building a entire compound on his own and always carried a gun. We were destined to never be god friends. But he was nice enough to give us beer that night and take us back to Fresh Ground for breakfast.

The next couple of days were fairly uneventful. A bit of rain and a lot of miles being put down. But last this morning we walked down into Woods Hole Hostel. It's half a mile off the trail and is an old 1880's farm turned sustainable/organic farm and hiker hostel. It's a beautiful dream come true for me that this place event exists. Farm animals and canning and jarring and farm chores. It is run by Neville, who took it over from her grandmother when she passed. It is a rejuvenating place to be at, even on a rainy day. I am enjoying the rest and it is helping to rest my soul as well.

I am planning on slowing down in my hike. I will lose my great group and it has taken my suffering and many balls to finally make the decision, but it will end in disaster if I don't slow down. 

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Getting out of Damascus

After much delay we finally left Damascus. The plan was to wait around town and avoid a thunderstorm. What it turned into was early morning drinking at the laundry mat that ended in hiking out as the storm approached. The day before we had taken a zero and had gone to a bluegrass show, Larry Keel. It was amazing to see some really legit bluegrass while on the trail and we all enjoyed it very much. So much so that walking back to our tents camped on the trail was a little difficult. The next morning we didn't know what else to do besides sit in the laundry mat and finish off the case of beer from the night before. I, for the record, don't drink day old Budweiser, so the guys finished off the beer. Until a local came in and started griping about so many hikers drinking in the establishment. "I know that's. not Budweiser you're drinking in here!! And we don't sit on the dryers! It ruined the alignment." The owner of the laundry mat had warned us of the "local trash", as she called them, during a previous laundry mat drinking session and was fine with is watching the TV as we drank. But this particular old woman hollering at everyone at 11:30am for drinking in the laundry mat had a real affect on everyone.

By 12pm about ten hikers were walking out of town into the oncoming rain. Most of us took the creeper trail out of town, a bike trail the repeatedly meets up with the AT and is much more easy as far as terrain. We hiked 14 miles in the rain to a shelter, many hikers still toting unopened beers from the laundry mat. All it takes to motivate some hikers is a little nip in the butt that reminds the they are drinking in a laundry mat in front of a TV before 12pm.

The next day we hiked over the Greyson Highlands. Right before we hit them there was a Boy Scout troop doing trail magic. Among hot dogs and chips and beans and brownies, I had my first hamburger on the trail yet and it was loaded with all the most wonderful parts of a home cooked burger! After this excellence t lunch, we passed through the small state park that is the Greyson Highlands. Everyone talks about how great this part of the trail is. In my eyes, balds are a terrible part of the trail and I strongly dislike them. So many people love them though. They are definitely pretty, but they are always rocky and eroded and incredibly windy and cold. There is only so much beauty that compensates for all the other suckiness of a terrain. The highlands is all balds all day long, so it was a rough day for me. But there were wild ponies and the end of the day did mark 500 miles!

As a group, the 5 of us each packed out an extravagant food for a 500 mile party. Maineiac brought a cake and icing, movie star brought wine, I brought mangos, genie brought baked potato stuff and duffle miner brought ravioli. We made a feast and share it with a lot of other hikers we were with.

The next few days were simply pumping out miles until we hit partnership shelter, right at Marion, Va. I hitched into town with Duffle Miner and Mr. Frodo and got Mexican food, which I had been craving so. A very long time. Particularly a margarita. Then we resupplied with a ton of other hikers and went back to the shelter to spend the night. Since the shelter was so close to town, it is only proper hiker thought to bring as much alcohol back to the shelter as possible. Pizza was also able to be delivered by Pizza Hut because of the close by Mt. Rogers Visiter Center. It turned the night into a hiker party. Raging fire, so much food and beer and whiskey, but everyone still is in bed by 10 pm. It's the way all parties should be.

So far Virginia is a beautiful state. I can see why they say Virginia is for lovers. It makes you want to love everything. Or maybe spring is just finally coming!

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Damascus, VA : 466 miles in!

The haul to Damascus, Va from Roan Mountain, Tn was a long one. Usually towns are only a few days apart but these two were five days apart. It also didn't help that we jumped in and out of Roan so fast it barely counted as a stop.

We planned out our days so that we were lined up to do the Damascathon, hike 26 miles into town from the Iron Mountain Shelter. The terrain has become so mild in relation to what we were used to that this particular 26 miles wasn't too much of a strain. To make it even better, about half way through a hiker was set up at a road crossing doing trail magic. His name was Nomad and when we were in Erwin, Tn we had heard that he had bought a van off of Grim, who helped run the hostel we stayed at in Erwin. Nomad now had this van packed with all the foods a hiker could want and was collecting signatures of the folks it fed. We stopped for a good, long break with him before we moved on.

We had woken up at 4:30am that morning to get going, started hiking at 5:30am and after our long stop and many other breaks we made it into Damascus at 6:30pm. Immediately we realized how friendly this town was to hikers. People gave us directions and smiled and waved at us from car windows and apposing street corners. We weren't in Tennessee any more. The first thing we did was get food at the blue blaze cafe, maybe one of the only places in the world you can walk in after not showering or changing clothes for a week and have people still smile at you. It's also the kind of place you can eat a bunch of tacos, then an order of garlic knots, then a brownie... And I did. It also had a juke box with our group's Smoky Mountain Theme Song on it, "Big Rock Candy Mountain", which we most definitely played. Then we all got bunks at a hostel, showered and slept inside as a thunderstorm raged outside. It was grand.

Right now I am sitting in a laundromat, avoiding the still falling rain. We are taking a zero day here and I could stand to take a second but I don't think I'll be so lucky unless I want to loose the group.

I haven't looked into what town is next or what is coming up, but I do know that we will be in Virginia for 550 miles, which is more miles than we have even hiked yet.

Also, if I've forgotten to mention it, my trail name is Rainbow Braid. Many, many miles ago, someone found a technicolor children's, knit hat with eyes and a mouth on it. He wore it for a while and it was too small so I took it off his hands because I have a thing for weird hats. It has braided teasels on it and alongside my own braided rattail, my name become Rainbow Braid.

Lastly, I am constantly surprised by my feelings towards the trail. I am quite often miserable. I've been battling a cold and hiking straight up an endless mountain bald in rain and fog with a sinus headache and a ear ache really, really sucks really, really bad. But overall, wildly overwhelmingly, I dreamt so long and prepared so much for this experience and I can not express how fulfilling and magnificent it has been over all my expectations. It's difficult no doubt. I am deeply exhausted all the time from all I do but it's just all to good in the end.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Loosing and Finding and also Roan Mountain

My mom dropped me off back onto the trail early Sunday afternoon. I only did a 6 mile day up to the closest shelter but it was still a very tough day. It was wicked hot all the sudden, such a huge change from the icy conditions I left the trail in. And worst of all, all my friends were behind me. A few stragglers I knew were at the shelter but most people were a whole new group of hikers. And just as me and all my friends, these hikers were sick too.

I tented in what seemed to be the quarantined sick section because I had already had the sickness. I got into bed early and tried to get a good amount of sleep but I was battling sadness. I even woke up in the morning with a slight sense of sadness at still being in my tent. It was the beginning of an emotional roller coaster of a day.

2.5 miles down the trail next to I-26 was a former Thru-hiker cooking up eggs and homemade hash browns. I took some time out to fill my belly and talk with the other hikers I had ignored the night before and then set out for a long day.

I was planning on 20 miles to a shelter right outside of Erwin. Throughout the day I checked the hiker logs to see where everyone was. I saw that Movie Star had gotten sick. I saw that Genie and Duffle Miner were heading into Erwin that day. By the time I reached my destination that evening, I had had such a rough time dealing with the day and a half back on the trail on my own that I decided it was time to catch the crew.

It may be true that I had cried more out of sadness (I actually shed happy tears here and there often) in the past two days than the rest of the trail combined (no mom, no friends, no perspective) but it didn't mean that I was being a total girl. So I pounded out the last 7 miles down into Erwin, TN where I knew by the logs that Maineiac, Movie Star, Genie and Duffle Miner all were for the night. I convinced Dan, another hiker who had slept at the same shelter with me the night before, to join me and even after a 27 mile day we made it down to Uncle Johnny's Hostel by 8:30.

I traded sickness stories with the guys and we caught up on the latest news and all commiserated about how we had gotten separated from one another strangely during the sickness days and all felt so alone. It seems as if we had all had the same realization over the past few days. The trail is so much so made by the people around you. The views are nice. The adventure is fun. But it is the people that make it worth doing. 27 miles is a stupid, long way to walk in a day with a 35lb. pack on your back, but we do stupid things for a family and the ones we love. I'd do that stupid thing again and again if it meant meeting up with my brothers.

The next day we caught a shuttle into town and resupplied on food. Then we hiked out knowing that our good friend, Fresh Ground, was only 9 miles down the trail. After the morning errands, we made it into his camp about 4pm. We hung out and ate dinner, sat around the fire and Fresh Ground made popcorn. He has been funding the past few stops fully off of hiker donations and spends his every waking hour cooking for us and running into town to get more food. He has become a beacon of hospitality and comfort for a large group of us hikers. And of course, as he has done 3 of the 4 times I have seen him, he cooked breakfast for those of us who camped with him that night.

The day we left Fresh Ground promised to be a hot one before the sun was even far into the sky. I left after an early, yet still hearty, breakfast. We were planning to go 18 miles, which would set us up to cross over Roan Mountain the next day. By mid day the heat was pretty rough. Many breaks and much water was needed to deal. I can see that hot weather hiking is going to be a much slower game. On an icy day, 18 miles takes me 7 hours because I am nearly running to keep my body heat up and on a hot day it takes me 10 hours to do that same mileage. Despite the rough day, it set us up for a great day.

The entire camp seemed excited to get going the next morning, or just trying to out run showers that were expected that evening. Everyone was up and out early to hike over Roan Mountain, which is the last huge peak until way up north. It is a notoriously steep climb and it was still slightly iced over from some previous storms. The hardest part of the climb was the decent, however, when we found ourselves literally walking down a stream of melted ice and snow, hopping from rock to rock trying to keep our shoes dry. The AT never ceases to throw and new and unexpected dilemma your way.

Roan Mountain, which is all beautiful moss and spruce trees, gives way to a series of balds with incredible views. This leads down to Overmountain Shelter, a huge red barn converted to a shelter. It is a dream come true for me. It's the kind of place that makes you think about getting married just so you can throw a fancy party there. I love it.

Upon leaving we hiked to Roan Mountain, TN, a small town for resupplying. The say started put horrible and ended up nicely. The hike out was a brutal straight up ascent up several balds in foggy spritzing rain. I had woken up sick that day and was not handling the weather and terrain combo well. I felt miserable. When we finally got to the highway, we split and to hitch in. Movie Star and I ended up walking all the way into town. The squalled town of Roan Mountain is still bitter that the Appalachian Trail Conservancy won't let them build resorts on the AT, so they take it out on hikers. We got pizza for lunch, food for resupply, a lot of dirty looks and too many ominous sounding "be careful" to feel comfortable there.

But then luck changed. The sun was out and blue skies were all around. On the way out of town Movie Star, Maineiac and I were able to catch a ride in the bed of a truck belonging to someone who obviously wasn't a local. Moments later, Genie and Duffle Miner arrived at the trail head brought by a section hiker we had met. There was beer and food from Comic Charlie, a section hiker who had cooked up plate after plate of fried potatoes for hikers at the barn. When we finally hiked out, we only went about a mile out and built a camp site up on a beautiful ridge when several "Jeeping" roads intersected.

Now that we have left Roan, we are on the way to Damascus, VA and we are all very excited! It's a major trail town. I have a mail drop from my mom and I have heard so many good things about it and can barely stand the wait!

Saturday, April 6, 2013

If It's Not Snow... It's Possibly Worse

While in Hot Springs I had several options for my future. I could either sit in Hot Springs for another day and a half and wait for my mom, who had a long weekend off work and was coming to visit. Or I could pound out about 30 more miles and have her pick me up somewhere along the trail.

I opted for the second of the two possibilities, trying to save money and prevent boredom.

That day we were all being very slow about getting out if town. Hot Springs is a tough place to leave. We had been given all the junk food snacks we could carry, fresh cookies and fruit, and free homemade ice cream. Six of us had sat in one of the hot mineral spring tubs, five if us completely naked because very few hikers want to sacrifice a dry piece of clothing for the sake of decency. And of course afterwards we had a late lunch at a tavern by the French Broad River.

Finally, a little after 4pm, we all began to hike out except for Movie Star, who told us to go on ahead because he was going to change his shirt. That was the last we saw of him because he didn't make it up to the camp site 9 miles up the trail that we had planned on staying at. Even we who had left together were still setting up our tents in the dark.

The next day I was out of camp early and only Wild Blue and Duffle Miner were on my tail. We knew rain was coming in but we hadn't extracted the ice. Miner and Blue caught up to me 2 miles from camp at a shelter as I was lamenting the bad weather, knowing I had to go 18 miles to make it close enough so my mom could pick me up the next day. Due to the cold, I set out in a hurry after grabbing some water and didn't give them a proper goodbye, and even much less of one for the guys who had still been in their tents when I left where we camped for the night. I didn't realize I may not see them again.

That day I pushed out 18 miles in icy rain, sleet and wind. I must have been nearly running. Even in the muddy, slippery conditions it still only took me from 8:30 to 3:30, fairly early for a full days hike. I didn't stop for lunch besides to pound a snickers bar at another shelter before passing on, which I am sure is where most the guys stayed that night.

I stayed at the next shelter down the line, leaving the guys an official goodbye note in the shelter log there. By pushing that far, I was only 9 miles from a road crossing my mom was going to collect me at. An easy half day.

Someone in the shelter I was at that night mentioned a couple signs taped on the walls of the last shelter back, where I had eaten a snickers. The signs said some thing about watching for vomit around the shelter... The person who spoke of it called it "ominous". Even worse, the night before the guys and I had camped with two girls who were heading back to Hot Springs to "regroup" after one had caught a stomach virus and another had broken a tent pole. They said everyone 20 miles ahead was puking and pooping. I told this to the rest of the folks in my shelter and we all took a moment to be thankful that we were not sleeping in that shelter.

Upon waking up and forcing myself into the frozen clothes I had taken off the day before, I set out into the still miserable weather to meet my mom. The shelter that I stayed in didn't get any service so I had not been able to tell her the exact plan. I had given her two options a few days before and after the torturous day of hiking I had just done to get there, I was terrified she may not come. Running low on cell battery, I finally got a text and a call out to her. She was on her way already. I would beat her to our meeting point but I was so relieved that was coming. After only a day and a half on the trail, I already needed to wash the mud off of all my clothes and dry them out.

And I was way past ready for a hug from my mom. It had been a month since I'd last seen her. Sometimes I am in the head space where I just want to hike and get miles done and stick with the great people I am with. But the time had come that I was ready to see her and take a bit of a break. It was a good thing I did...

She picked me up in a gravel parking lot and we headed to Asheville, about 30 or 45 minutes away. I showered, did laundry, ate food and slept in a bed. Then, at around 2am, it hit me... the stomach virus. Off and on for the rest of the night I was in and out of the bathroom. By morning I was weak but at least I was able to stay in bed. I have spent most of today in bed and am hoping I will be back to full functionality tomorrow so I can get back on the trail.

So far I have heard that both Wild Blue and Maineiac have suffered a rougher sounding version. Unfortunately, those poor guys are still out on the trail, not lucky enough to be in a hotel with a close by toilet. I still haven't heard from Duffle Miner, Genie, or Movie Star. I hope they are fairing well enough if they have caught the bug.

It is always one things after another on the Appalachian Trail...

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Gatlinburg, TN to Hot Springs, NC

Upon leaving Gatlinburg and going back into the Smokies, we once again ran into bad weather. While in town, it was all sunshine and blue sky. As we started out, the sky got darker until it began to snow. We made it to Charlie's Bunion, a scenic rocky area, just before it started to fall but it kept coming down well after we reached the shelter. When we woke up the next morning there was a fresh 4 to 5 inches of snow on the ground. Though the packed down conditions of the trail the day before hadn't saved our feet from getting wet, we were now back to the beginning.

We were so sick of the snow that we pushed out a 23 mile day to get to the I-40 underpass, just outside of the Smokies. The snow turned to slush, which turned into rivers, which turned into mud a s we came down out of the higher elevations. My shoes were now mud caked as well as soaked through. But at the particular spot we planned to stop, we knew great things were waiting for us. Our old friend Fresh Ground was posted up there as an incentive to get us through the rough times in the Smokies. We camped with him that night, the second time for Broken Pack (BP) and I. In the morning, Easter Morning, he made us bacon, eggs and pancakes. It made the day special to wake up with him and eat well and have a sense of celebration on an important day.

This day, Easter, also marked my one month on the trail!

Reluctantly, we left the comfort of Fresh Ground's mobile trail magic station and did a short day, partially to rest and partially to avoid incoming rain. Wild Blue, the real mile pusher in our group tried to convince us to plan on another 23 mile day for the next day. We laughed at him told him to have a good time and have a booth for us a the diner in Hot Springs when we get there.

The next morning I woke up a bit earlier than most days and headed out from the shelter about an hour ahead of the guys. It was just one of those days where I really felt like hiking and felt really good in my own head and was ready for some space and time to think. Just as I was approaching Max Patch, Maineiac caught up. Max Patch is a huge bald in the middle of the mountains. I remember going as a child. Maineiac and I suffered through the wind to eat lunch on the summit. It was too cold for me and I moved on just to keep warm before the others arrived.

That afternoon, I reached the shelter I planned to sleep at 13 miles down the trail only to find that it was a dump. It was tiny, rickety, and on the top of a blustery mountain. It showed obvious signs of leaking in the rain and was far too drafty and small. Of all the shelters I had come across, it was the first that was a disappointment rather than an achievement. After a while of contemplating my options, the guys showed up talking crazy nonsense of pushing on the the next shelter, another ten miles. We all stopped to make an early dinner and the crazy talk turned into pushing another 13 miles all the way down into Hot Springs.

And so it happened. I hadn't even unpacked in my 2 hours of sitting there, disliking that shelter, so I fell in line with the guys as we all readied ourselves to night hike down into Hot Springs. We started around 5pm and walked in tandem to make sure we didn't loose anyone in the dark. It started out being exciting, our first night hike. But it soon turned fairly miserable. We were all walking on fiery pins and needles due to a slew of new blisters that came up during the past week of hiking with wet feet. We would occasionally stop to take a break and share our individual woes, growing weaker as we walked up and over countless mountains in the night. During one particular stop we all needed a snack break. BP busted out two honey buns, took a bite of each and passed them down the line. Maineiac followed suit with a Cinnabon, followed by Movie Star's four snickers, Genie's peanut butter crackers and my clif bar went down as well. Every snack was passed down the line, disappearing bite by bite so that all eight of us, snack having or not, had the needed energy to keep hiking. It is moments like these on the trail, when everyone willingly digs into their packs for the most prized possession and shares it with everyone else, disregarding germs, that you really get a sense of the love and devotion that builds between hikers.

Finally, after long last, and much suffering and after I was quite convinced that I had visited hell's purgatory and come back again, we made it to the trail head at Hot Springs. The parking lot was mud and I shot across it to a road and collapsed. The others followed. Twenty six miles we had just hiked and all of us on beat up feet. All I wanted was to change into clean, dry socks and put on my camp shoes.

It was 11:50pm. We were sitting on a road in front of a hostel in a strange town. The owner came out to ask if we wanted a room and to warn us that we were sitting in a sharp turn that townies often took quickly. We did what anyone in our position would do. Thanked him for the warning and denied the bunks, still sprawled in the street. After a few moments of recuperation, we decided to just move up the road a bit, out of the street lights, and cowboy camp just off the road. We busted out out sleeping pads and sleeping bags and settled in.

The next morning we awoke just before sunrise with the birds tweeting and walked down a hill to the diner. Suddenly our 26mi. day was worth it, thinking that we could be 13 miles back, wishing we were in Hot Springs instead of downing hot coffee and a huge breakfast.

Since then, we have been hanging out taking it easy, meandering up and down the one block strip in town. Some of the guys may head out tomorrow but I will stay at least one more day, until Thursday. Then, my mom may come in town for a few days. We may stay here, or maybe I can talk her into going to Asheville, but regardless I plan on it being a few days before I get back on the trail.

I have been making great time and I really enjoy the awesome people I am with, but I still have so much time I want to spend on the trail. I don't want to speed through it too much. I know this will change my hike. I will have to make new friends and find a new group and be on my own for a while. But I feel ready for it. I am looking forward to seeing my mom and taking a few days off to let parts of my body rest. I will miss the guys I've been with a ton, but I am sure I'll be following them all the way up the trail.