JUNE 3, 2017
10 resupply towns
When I look at a map of the entire trail I get a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach when I calculate the average mileage needed to finish before fall, a small panic creeps out of suppression. These thoughts can consume you if you let them. Over the past month and a half I have learned to plan one week at a time, shoot for a reasonable average mileage, and appreciate the distance traveled instead of stressing what is yet to come. Success on trail is about maintaining balance. This means you can't always "hike your own hike" and "just listen to your body" and "do what makes your soul happy man." At the same time, sticking to a ridged schedule is a sure fire way to miss out on a lot of amazing aspects of this journey. Therefore, my 500 mile blog is a celebration of acclimating to this lifestyle. I'm currently enjoying a zero at the community pool in Marion, Virginia. We've picked up our pace significantly due to the development of our trail legs and a wonderful discovery that more miles more quickly affords you more rest days in town!
In my last blog, I mentioned two mottoes to live by on trail:
In the last 400 miles both have held true. I would like to add two more to the list.
3. I'm always hungry
There is a well known phrase on the trail referred to as "hiker hunger." Hiker hunger causes you to crush multiple 500 calorie honey buns in one sitting (their price: calorie: ounce ratio can't be beat). Personally, I reach for the poptarts. For reference, here is the progression of my breakfast on trail:
Week 1: coffee + 1 oatmeal
Week 2: coffee + 2 oatmeal
Week 3: coffee +2 oatmeal + 2 poptarts
Week 4: coffee + 2 oatmeal + 2 poptarts + 2 instant breakfasts
Resupplying is definitely one of the most difficult chores to master. If you eat too much before you won't buy enough food for the next section, and if you are too hungry (or dare I say slightly intoxicated) you buy far too much. I typically carry too much of the "wrong food." I like to pack out fresh veggies, assorted cheeses, and other foods that aren't "worth their weight in price or calories. Ultimately, it's my weight to bear and I enjoy the comfort of variety.
4. It's always raining.
One of the most cliche, well known, and unfortunately true mottoes on trail is "no pain, no rain, no Maine." Before arriving in Damascus it rained on us for 8 consecutive days. According to some previous thru hikers that's nothing noteworthy. All you can do is suck it up and make yourself a cup of coffee and force those wet socks over your blistered, wrinkled, water-logged toes. We have finally entered a spell of beautiful weather that makes packing up a wet tent worth it.
I've recently started walking with music. Music is such an integral part of our lives because it works as a needle and thread that generates a woven mesh of memories. Just one song can remind you of people, places, events, sights, smells etc. Smooth Criminal played and instantly brought me back to hale-ray softball circa 2010, Suzy are you okay?
Pro: feeling like the protagonist of a high adventure film
Con: having nothing but time to mull over the less pleasant memories
I downloaded an audiobook app that lets you borrow books from your local library for those times. I have 1700 more miles to knock out some of life's "must read or consider yourself uneducated" novels.
The AT climbs to 6,643 feet at its highest point, which is marked by a lookout with a 360 degree view of the surrounding mountains. Ironically, the views along the exposed ridge line leading up to the peak were even more breathtaking. This probably has something to do with the flood of muggles (non-magic folk) who drove to the top. We walked 200 miles to appreciate a view that was plagued by children complaining about their half mile walk from the parking lot. Can you believe it was uphill? How dare they design the park like that? My friend Andy said it best, "I feel like if we stay up here any longer, we might become civilized."
We woke up early because we knew bad weather was imminent and there were four miles to hike before we could hitch into Gatlinburg to resupply. I trotted ahead of the group with pure excitement for the luxuries of town days. Hot showers, hot food and hot water for laundry awaited our arrival. I used these fantasies to distract me from the trees that bowed earnestly to the 75 mph wind gusts. It’s always important to be aware of your surroundings, but I felt it was more important to put my head down and get the hell out of there.
I finally stepped out of the forest onto a welcoming paved and winding road. There was a beautiful mountain view and signage for restrooms and the Tennessee/ North Carolina border. It was heavenly. As I was processing the influx of stimuli, the wind storm hit full throttle. A park ranger SUV whipped into the parking lot and the ranger motioned aggressively for me to approach the vehicle. She informed me that there was a serious storm building (shock face) and that the road to town was closed (non sarcastic shock face). When I told her our group of about 10 was out of food she snapped into action and radioed for backup. When everyone started to emerge from the trail the ranger began shuffling us into cars and sending us down the mountain. It was like a movie scene when the hero says, "come with me if you want to live!" We probably should have been more concerned with the situation at hand, but we were too relieved to have a ride into town without having to hitch!
We finally got to town after stopping many times to remove downed trees from the road. Our quest to find lodging was seriously delayed as half the town lost power. We waited outside one hotel, while fire trucks raced up the mountains to combat a forest fire. It was more or less a disastrous adventure that continued for the next two days. The road back up to the trail remained closed from Thursday through Saturday morning. Gatlinburg, in a nutshell, was an overpriced, tourist/hiker trap that literally forced us to stay for two nights. We managed to make it economical by squeezing 11 dirty hikers into one honeymoon suite. We even utilized the jacuzzi as an epsom salt bath for our aching feet!
The Smoky Mountains:
These mountains have been both breathtaking and unnerving. They afforded us an experience with weather of a more unpredictable nature than even New England has to offer. Although there were many amazing sites (Charlie's Bunion) there were also a lot of restrictions due to the popularity of the park. At one point nearly 40 hikers had to pack into a 12 person shelter because of the snow and limited tent sites. After our first 20 mile day we exited the park and celebrated the end of the Smokies with beer and a burning of our permits!
I have never seen anything like it in my life. I watched the sun set while a full moon rose with a view of the smoky mountains behind me and my future climbs before me. Even after the sun set the moon illuminated the entire bald, casting shadows with its light. It was a perfect evening that ended with star gazing and jokes at the expense of some unruly muggles.
Many of you know that the witches and wizards in the Harry Potter series refer to non magic folk as muggles. In the hiking world, we often refer to normal people as muggles and section hikers as mudbloods. It makes us feel like we somehow possess some type of magic. Muggle isn't always a derogatory term, sometimes they provide trail magic and when we smell them (you can always smell a muggle before you see him) we know we are getting close to town!
Awesome little town of 600 residents that offers affordable dining, resupply, a great campground and a soak in a hot tub with water full of minerals from a natural hot spring.
The dumbest thing I've done so far:
Honestly, it's a tie between trying to tough out a ten mile hike with a 24 hour bug and hiking in a thunderstorm.
I woke up on the morning of May 15 feeling nauseous. I decided it would pass and began hiking with the group. About one mile in I realized it was not going to pass delicately. I downplayed my discomfort and told the group I would meet them on top of big bald for lunch. I only ended up making it there after Christine came back and helped carry my pack up the last big climb. Another friend, Phil, carried my pack the last mile to the shelter. I was exhausted and severely dehydrated for obvious reasons. After a slow period of rehydration and rest I came back to life. I was extremely lucky to be surrounded by such great friends.
On May 27, we arrived at the shelter around 7 pm after 18 miles of hiking. The space in the shelter was full with very limited tenting options. Despite the thunder in the distance the boys decided we should night hike to the next campsite four miles out. I should have known any idea developed by 5 guys should be reevaluated.
Night hiking was eerie and tiring and simultaneously thrilling. It became especially interesting when the storm rolled in hot and heavy. The thunder and lightning were just a few miles off as we scurried over the ridge line and prayed for the campsite to be on lower ground. We finally came to the campsite soaked and covered in mud only to find that it was shaped like a giant bowl. It would be a lake by morning so we had to claim spots along the edges on steep inclines. The irony is that the sleeping situation would have been the same if we set up at the shelter and we would have been able to set up before the rain!
I survived both situations, hopefully I learn from them!
Grayson Highlands and Roan Mountain were both seriously beautiful areas. I'd love to come back and hike Roan Mountain in better weather. The Grayson Highlands have wild ponies that like to steal trekking poles and screw with hikers. They have no fear of people and approach you hoping for snacks. I didn't feed the wildlife but I did break the rules and pet them! Damascus has a reputation for being an awesome hiker town. Everything was over priced and there weren't any great options for spending the night. I will admit that I am lucky to hike in a large group because we were able to rent out a hostel for ourselves from "Crazy Larry."
Back on the trail tomorrow, next stop Bland, Virginia.
Happy hiking or whatever,
May or may not accept this as my trail name
I eat a lot of peanut butter
Andrew Walter President of Wild Edge Inc.
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