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Almost?

14 Jun

We have been a bit cautious when using the word “almost”. Starting 400 miles back people kept telling us we were “almost” done. We would always smile and say “well, we know a lot can happen in (insert # here) miles”. The last few days have been a prime example of that.
We had to pick up our food drop Monday before leaving Fontana Dam. Jen lost the Rock/Paper/Scissors game and had to shuttle into the village early for the box. It was raining, of course, and we had gotten up early to get to the PO when it opened. Jen left for the shuttle and I continued to fill water and break down our camp. I had our stuff ready to go and just needed Jen to return with the food for our packs so I read while I waited, and waited. Soon I decided to heat up water for coffee and wait some more. It was pouring rain. Finally at 1145 poor Jen returned to the shelter looking like an angry drowned rat. When she arrived at the village, after waiting for a shuttle that never came and taking a ride from a random resort employee, she found that we were in resort summer hours and the PO did not open until 1145. So she waited… And waited. They were nice enough to open “early” at 1130 for her to get our package and get back to the trail. By the time she got back to the shelter neither of us were in the mood to hike out into the rain, so we took a second zero day.
The good thing about a second zero day is that you are ready to hike when the time comes. We were getting antsy and were excited to head out for a long day. The other nice part was that we headed out into a sunny day. The weather was warm and humid, but we were not complaining. Sun = Happy Hikers.
This day saw us 18.2 miles further down the trail. There were many short steep climbs, but with the sun shining we were just happy to walk. At the end of the day we set up camp in one of the many gaps, and proceeded to cook dinner. Unfortunately the wet weather has brought in lots of gnats. It wasn’t long before they set their sites on us and the dog. Poor Georgy had to fend for himself as we sought shelter in our trusty tent.
On the twelfth we walked down into the NOC. A large outdoor center on the Nantahala river that specializes in rafting and kayaking. We were very happy for we ate BBQ and drank beers. After lunch we secured our status as professional hobos outside of the outdoor retailer. We rested in their display hammocks and charged our phones in the outside outlets for about, I don’t know, three hours. It was great. Bear laid on the cool concrete near the door so he got wafts of AC as shoppers went in and out. As I said, professional hobos. Once digested we walked another 0.8 miles to the nearest shelter to sleep for the night.
We woke at our normal time, 8-8:30, and started hiking. The morning was sunny, but very windy. We snacked at an overlook and were able to get phone service. After looking at the weather it became obvious that the wind was moving a storm our way. We continued to walk and the sky changed quickly. Soon it was that sickly green you witness before a hurricane or tornado. The wind was strong and our adrenaline spiked when a tree crashed down to the right of the trail. That wood cracking was enough to quicken our pace along to the next shelter. There we decided to just stay the night and make up the miles in the morning.
June 14, up early and hiking before 8am! It was a clear, cool morning and the sun was starting to shine. We walked easily and covered the miles quickly. We met a father and son around lunchtime who shared some food with us. Jason and Jeremy were out to cover a section of the trail. When we ran into them again a few miles down the trail they offered us a ride into town! Traci and Zach, mom and son, made up the rest of this fabulous family. After not only giving us a ride to pick up our box and taking us to the hotel, they insisted on picking us up in the morning to take us back to the trailhead. Trail Angels! We are so grateful for their generosity. Once again it is hard to find the words for how thankful we are for their acts of kindness. Franklin was the kind of town where cat calls are still whooped out of windows of trucks and hitching made me nervous.
Fast forward a few days of walking and we are continuing to make great time. We are looking forward to seeing our families in less than a week! We have crossed into GA and have less than 60 miles to go. I think we are almost ready to use the word almost. However, we are still cautious. Maybe we will say “almost” when have less than a mile to go. Maybe when there are just a few steps left. It is a tricky word and our emotions and exhaustion level change by the day, sometimes hour. I can say that we are ready to see our families and our significant others and look forward to sharing this massive achievement with those who have helped make a lifelong dream a reality.

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Trail Provisions

26 May

Well, we are now at a place in Roan Mountain, TN. I have never been here, but have read a lot about eastern Tennessee as I have dabbled in my love of Appalachian folklore and life. It is a very beautiful part of the country. Green mountains, gorgeous trail, and spring fed hollows. It is simple in its beauty with untouched mountains and a sparse population. This is the part of the trail where it gets the reputation of being a “green tunnel”. The trail has a life of its own as it meanders down the coast, and it also has its own bit of magic that is rarely talked about off the trail.
We have explained before about trail magic and trail angels. However, there is another saying amongst hikers and it is that the “trail provides”. It sounds hokey I know, but I swear it is true. You just have to put it out into the universe and chances are you will get what you need. We, of course, have examples.
Most recently we experienced the trail providing for us in Damascus. We had always planned on staying in and zero-ing in Damascus. We had never even considered that we may be there during Trail Days. (A festival for hikers and vendors.) For a hiking town Damascus is surprisingly not dog friendly. There is a hostel there that accepts dogs but when we called for a reservation they were booked. So our new plan was to hike in, get our box, and hike out to the other side of town. For no real reason we ended up taking an extra day to get to Damascus. As luck would have it that extra day allowed for a vacancy at the hostel. We had a half day into town, an enormous meal, and a hostel with Internet! This proved to be awesome because it allowed me to Skype with my husband, and Jen to “FaceTime” with her boyfriend. We were happy girls. (The ice cream sundaes we had for dinner may have also helped improve our moods.) We needed a place to rest and refuel, we were sure it was not going to happen, and as we walked by the hostel we noticed a vacancy sign. It was early in the day and there was room in the Inn. The trail provided.
Another example. On our last day in the Grayson Highlands we had cut our food quite short. Somehow we had not put lunches in our last drop. We are not sure what happened but we suspect somewhere we will have double lunches. When that happens it will be less of an issue. Too little food proved to be a challenge. My poor hiking partner was starving. I was hungry, but Jen just does not have the fat reserves that this lady has and it was quite difficult for her to keep her energy level high enough to sustain the hiking we were doing. After a meager breakfast we set off down the trail with our empty food bags. Then, about 4 miles in, there was trail magic! Polaris, a thru hiker from last year, was there to support his moms current thru hike. His dad had driven in coolers of drinks and food! They were super friendly and encouraged us to take some food for the road…and we did. That day we went from having nothing to having too much. It was truly amazing. We were hungry, and then we were not. The trail provided.
Now for an obscure example of the trail providing. Somewhere in the Northern part of this journey I received an impossible gift from the trail. A tiny screw. My phone case is water proof. Where the head phone jack is there is a watertight screw. The case comes with a replacement plastic screw in case you lose the metal one. Well, I lost the metal one and then the plastic one. We were in a very rainy patch and I was worried about my phone. I keep it in my hip belt pocket to use the camera. At that particular time we did not have an extra zip lock and my phone was vulnerable. So that evening in the dark of the shelter I looked to my left and what did I see? A screw for my phone case! I asked everyone who was there if it belonged to them and no one claimed it. Magic! My phone was saved. I like to think that the screws I had lost showed up to replace the hardware I now use for my phone case. This little guy has been with me since. It is in my case now. Once again, the trail provided.
I know this may sound silly, but believe me it is not.
Last, but most definitely not least, was a time in Maine. I was sick. Not the call out from work sick, but the I need to get to the hospital sick. I had been running a temperature way above 101 for almost two days, been very ill multiple times, had not had a shower in at least 7 days, and had been deliriously resting in a tent while my hiking partner did her best to care for me with what she had. It was not much. We managed to get to a “road” sandwiched between two mountains. No cell service. No cars. Then as we were trying to figure out what to do, a family showed up. After talking to us for a bit they decided to cut their trip in half and take us to the hospital. So, these total strangers loaded up two dirty hikers and a dog and took us to the closest hospital. I cannot thank these people enough. When in need I was provided true Trail Angels.
I don’t know how it works or why. It is one of the great mysteries of the trail. All I know is that it is somehow true. If you put it out there…chances are you will get what you need. “The trail will provide.”

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Minor Changes

20 May

I am laying in a top bunk of a hostel as I write this. You heard right, top bunk. So when the headline reads “AT hiker dies in tragic bunk bed accident” you will know it’s true. I feel there should be laws about people over a certain age sleeping in bunk beds, but when you’re basically homeless any bed will do. Actually the hostel in Damascus is quite lovely despite the bunks. We are staying at a place called the Hikers Inn and we are grateful for they allow our 4 legged companion to stay with us. They even have a dog bed! I know my hiking partner posted a recent update so I will spare you a repeat of those details. What I wanted to talk about were the small changes that have taken place from the beginning of our journey until now. Some friends have inquired about the differences so I will tell.
One of the main changes we have made is in terms of mileage. When we first started last June we wanted to do big mile days. Our first day on the trail was 25 miles. We were doing fine until all of our little issues started to build up. Swollen/infected feet, porcupines, abdominal problems. So, we started a series of high mileage days followed by low or no mileage days. We struggled with consistency. What we found out around Pennsylvania is that we really liked days around the 18 mile mark. This amount of miles left us feeling like we covered significant ground but also have us time to enjoy views and smell flowers. So during these southern states we are trying to learn from this. We were doing well, but this last week resembled mileage from our earlier months. Big, big, nero, big. So we have used the time in Damascus to come up with a plan that is consistent in hopes to accomplish timely miles and be nice to our bodies.
We made very few changes to our gear. I bought a new 20 degree synthetic bag for the wet spring, and in anticipation for the PCT next year. I love the bag and have been happy on wet mornings. Jen kept her 1+ season bag and added a liner. The liner is a thin piece of fabric that adds 15 degrees of warmth to her down bag. She too is happy and warm. I plan on getting a liner as my summer cover as we head further south. As the days get warm it is truly all we will need and takes up less room in the pack.
Our packs are the same. Mine has needed repairs and some patching, but Jens was of a bit sturdier build and has held up well. I have no complaints though, we put our packs thorough a lot and under the circumstances they have done better than any I have owned. We still carry 32-35liters of gear and food with our packs weighing in at about 30 pounds when full. We did have to purchase new pack covers to fight off the rain, but that is a purchase well worth it’s weight.
Our footwear and apparel have had minor alterations. I am currently hiking in the same shoes as Jen, but look forward to getting new shoes in Erwin. The shoes we are in are fine, but my feet are low in volume and have a bit too much room in my current shoes. Jen will also get new shoes in Erwin. We will weigh in on her thoughts at a later time. Our socks are different. We have a new favorite. For a long time we both swore by a certain brand of wool socks. Now, we are swearing by another. Darn Tough wool socks are made in Vermont, and as far as we are concerned… they rock. We are also sporting wool shirts. Last year Jens best friend Alison gave her a wool shirt to hike in. She conquered 1300 miles in that shirt before it needed to be retired. We were in awe at how well it handled both the wear and tear as well as the hiker smell. This section we each have one of these fine garments. They are, as expected, holding up quite well.
Mentally, we are better. Our attitude is slightly healthier than before. We no longer just have to put our heads down and hike. We have less pressure due to weather, and enjoy talking about the miles to come. We will do a comprehensive gear post/ review when we are done with the hike, but that requires links etc. that are bit too fancy for the phone. Stay tuned, we will update you in a few days!

Progress

3 May

Well, I need to apologize. I was trying to find a more photo friendly format and lost control of the blog for a few hours. It is not the easiest to try and do everything from a smart phone.
Currently we are in Pearisburg. We have had two zero days and will head out tomorrow. We most likely would never have stopped in this cute little town, but one of friends that we hiked with in the fall lives here. Gritz completed his thru-hike in December with a few of our other friends and we could not wait see him and hear about the end of his hike. We were able to hang out for a few hours and walk along the New River, get some food, go to Wal-Mart, and laugh A-LOT. It has been great to see Gritz. Plus his mom, Mama Gritz, supplied us with a bag full of baked goods! Thanks Mama Gritz!!!
Originally we only had one zero day planned for Pearisburg, but after waking up this morning and realizing my feet were still quite swollen and that I was still very tired we stayed for another night. Georgy and Jen have also enjoyed the rest. None of us sleep our best in the shelters, especially now that they are getting full. We are in the southern part of the thru-hike attempting Nobo’s. The trail and shelters can feel quite cramped at times as they continue to spread out.
We had a pretty damp week as well. It rained for a full day and two others we hiked completely through the clouds. We spent the majority of these days damp and cold. We were very happy when the sun started to shine again. So happy in fact that the first patch of sunshine we had we dropped our packs and pulled out our tent and clothes to dry. I am not sure we will ever complain about sunshine.
The last of our week saw us hiking 18 and 20 mile days. The days are getting longer and we are taking full advantage for some bigger mileage. Hopefully we will continue to get stronger and put more and miles behind us during our weeks.
Our last hiking week had a lot of milestones:
-Hiked 92 miles
-Crossed the 1500 mile mark
-630 miles left
-Hiked McAfee’s Knob ( most photographed spot on AT)
-Hiked Dragons Tooth
-Celebrated Jen’s birthday!

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Argh!

3 May

Having technical difficulties. Argh! Please stay tuned.

Three days

19 Apr

Well we are on day 3 and doing pretty darn OK. We only hiked 2.3 miles our first day out, passing the point of our initial heartbreak. It was there we said a prayer to the trail gods and then quickly moved forward without looking back. We stayed our first night (and all of them since) in shelters by ourselves. It is nice to have the solitude as we get our heads and our bodies back into trail shape.
Day 2 consisted of 10 miles. We crossed over Cold Mountain on a sunny day and enjoyed our hike over a couple of Virginias famous bald mountains. We got to the shelter early and enjoyed a late lunch early dinner, we refer to this as “linner”. This allowed us to hit the hay early in preparation for the next day. However around 1 am we were awakened by a deluge on a tin roof. It sounded as if we were laying on the Tarmac with 747’s taking off ten feet above our heads. Georgy was even taken aback and nestled down close for a bit. We slept through the night in a series of twenty minute naps. As the rain passed over through the night we were still awakened by loud drops of water hitting the roof as it fell from the trees.
Not feeling rested we started our day despite the very strong urge to stay in bed. It was damp and foggy. We finally convinced each other we needed to just bite the bullet and get up. Coffee was a must and it was a good idea. We climbed straight up out of the shelter and over our first peak for the day. Then it was a 4 mile down hill. Our knees were feeling it and we were both quite happy to enjoy a beautiful section of trail that paralleled a babbling creek. We had some lunch by the creek and then set out to finish our day.
This ending was a doozy. We climbed, and climbed. It was our first real climb since being back and we felt every step. Jen let me lead and we kept a nice turtle-like steady pace up and up. Our last 1/2 mile to the shelter was quite vertical. We were very happy when it was time to take the turn onto the side trail that finished our climb for the day.
We feel good about our 15 mile day. It wasn’t easy but we kept a respectable pace and made god time. Tomorrow we head into town for a re-supply and then back out for a quick 2 miles to the next shelter.
I know everyone wants to know about Georgy Bear. He is doing well. He has settled back into trail life and is smiling along with the rest of us. We are all quite happy to be back. While we miss our significant others and our families, the trail feels right. It feels like home.

Starting to feel real

28 Mar

Well, I am going to be honest. When we left the trail back in November we were heart broken. We didn’t want to talk to anyone but each other, and we wanted to just get back to work and bury our heads in the sand. I think we both were quite successful.
We talk every day, and a lot of it has been us alternating who gets to be sad and who gets to be positive. Every day we miss the trail. For a while there our return to the AT was far enough away that it did not seem like it was ever going to happen. We watched fellow hikers post their finishes on Facebook and on their blogs. While we were happy for them every post of a finish invoked waves of nausea and tears. One finisher (who didn’t even do the first 100 miles) had the nerve to tell me that storm Sandy was “annoying”. ANNOYING!!! Those of us that had to leave the trail have many different terms for the storm. All of them far more negative and inappropriate than “annoying”. Jen can attest, I held my composure quite well on my following posts to Facebook. I wanted to verbally assault the guy on the public forum but instead I explained our circumstances objectively while fighting back tears of rage.
Since then things have started to change. We had a 30 day challenge through January that I lost. I will be the “water wench” for the first two weeks of the trail. *sigh* BUT, to be honest I am so happy to get back to the trail that I don’t really care.

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