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Smokies? Check.

9 Jun

It has been a long, wet week for Lucky and I in Great Smoky Mountain National Park (GSMNP/Smokies). We had been anticipating this 72-mile section of trail for many states as Northbounders had recounted their tales of difficulties in the Smokies. Cold temperatures, snow, endless wet days, and lots of climbing combined with the park’s “No Dog” policy made us dread what was coming. So after dropping Georgy off with Lida from Loving Care Kennels (who picked him up at the trail side before entering the park), we headed up into GSMNP. We stayed the first night at Davenport Gap Shelter, which stood out as the only shelter in the park that is still caged. This is suppose to prevent bears from entering the shelter, but ends up just making us humans feels like we are on display in the zoo.

Day 2 we hiked 14.8 miles to Tri-Corner Knob Shelter, the most remote shelter in the park. We enjoyed our only day of sunshine of the week and made it to the full shelter before the evening rains began (which would continue every night the rest of the week). We made our current favorite dinner (Thai peanut pasta) and bedded down in the spacious shelter as our sheltermates kept the fire going in the shelter’s fireplace.

Day 3 was our shortest day of the week, 12.6 miles to the most popular shelter in the park- Icewater Spring Shelter. Being forced to walk shelter to shelter was one of the other frustrating rules of the park. Everyone has to stay at shelters each night and must have a permit for each specific shelter (luckily thru-hikers are exempt from the second part). Since we had a shorter day we decided to “grease the groove”, which involved doing push-ups and planks every hour on the hour to improve our fitness. Though it was tough, it really broke up the day! At Icewater we got to meet some great folks, including a couple of married nurses who gave great career advice. We also met some of the coolest kids ever! Amelia (10 years old), her brother Brody (8 years old) and their friend Porter (also 10 years old) were on a camping trip with their dad’s Jason and Adam. The 5 of them were hiking the 72 miles of the AT in the park and were doing the same mileage as us. These kids were doing 15 miles a day with few complaints and an awesome attitude. They were definitely the most hard-core (as well as the most fun and well-behaved) kids we have met on the trail!

Day 4 we knocked out 15.5 miles, crossing our first two big milestone of the smokies- climbing Clingman’s Dome (the highest point of the AT at 6,643 feet) and having less than 200 miles left! Both were exciting and we were also able to sneak into the shelter minutes before the evening’s deluge of rain began.

Day 5 was our longest day in the park, 17.5 miles to Mollie’s Ridge Shelter. We enjoyed our final lunch with the awesome kids and dads before climbing to the top of Rocky Top and a HUGE milestone- 2,000 miles completed! A photo shoot ensued, along with calls and texts home to share our accomplishment. As usual, the trail made sure we knew our place and rewarded us with an incredible lightening storm and 4 inches of rain in under an hour. Needless to stay we looked like wet rats when we entered the full shelter too late. Thankfully everyone welcomed us to set up our tent in the cooking area and we were able to have a dry night despite the endless rain.

Today was day 6, and we exited the park with glee. We finished the last 10 miles in under 4 hours, leap frogging with a group of Sierra Club members who had been very sweet to us, providing us with morning coffee and even hanging our bear bag in the rain! The kindness of strangers never fails to warm our hearts and every moment of trail magic means a lot to us. The final amazing moment of the week came when Lida returned my gorgeous boy to us- a happy Bear, groomed for the summer. Now all three of us can continue a Smoky-free adventure for the last 165 miles!

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Top Ten Essentials

9 Jun

In outdoor stores across the country they provide a list of 10 “essentials” for an outdoor adventure. These usually include a compass, map, sunscreen, etc. After 2,000 miles we have decided to create our own list- Carrot and Lucky’s 10 Thru-Hiker Essentials. Here it is:

1) Ear plugs- After many a sleepless night in the shelters with snoring hikers and loud early morning risers, We realized the importance of ear plugs. Lucky and I pop them in early and enjoy the blissful peace of muffled noises we can’t quite decipher. Our quality of sleep in shelters went through the roof.

2) Eye mask- This one closely follows #1, this time allowing us to get to sleep before sunset and stay asleep after sunrise. I use a bandana and Lucky uses a Buff.

3) Fruit snacks- We eat these constantly throughout the day. They provide quick bursts of energy while our bodies digest the protein bars, and they are delicious. Also, they have 100% of your vitamin C-bonus!

4) Visor- This one provides a duel purpose- it not only protects from the sun (so you can send expensive sunglasses home), but keeps the rain out of your eyes as well. Love it.

5) Benedryl/melatonin- These have become begrudging essentials to our trail life. While we would love to be able to sleep well without them, after years of nightshift it just isn’t possible. The extra help these sleep aids provide is priceless!

6) Thermarest Neoair- This is the last sleep essential, but a huge one. It is expensive ($160) and worth every single penny. It provides warmth and an incredible 2+ inch barrier from the ground. We have slept the whole night on huge roots and not even noticed!

7) Platypus- While the name brand isn’t necessarily important, Platypus is making a great hydration bladder with a zip closure. Having a straw available with water at all times makes hydration a lot simpler when you are hiking all day long.

8) Drink mixes/Coffee- While we try to drink as much water as we can, eventually we need some extra energy or electrolytes. I have tried to go caffeine free in the backcountry in the past and it was not worth it. Instant coffee in the morning and caffeinated energy drinks in the afternoon improve our quality of life tremendously!

9) Compactor bag- After many weeks of rain, keeping the inside of our backpacks dry has become key. We line our packs with heavy duty trash/compactor bags and it keeps everything inside completely dry. Amazing!

10) Dry sleep clothes- This one goes along with #9. After being soaked to the bone for 8-12 hours in the rain, putting on dry clothes to sleep at night makes all the difference. Essential!!!

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2,000 Miles Down!

7 Jun

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Erwin to Hot Springs

30 May

This week has been an incredibly tough, but rewarding, week. After hiking 26.2 miles last Saturday into Erwin, TN we spent the night at Uncle Johnny’s campground where we had sent our resupply box. We ate a hardy breakfast at Huddle House (including sausage for Bear) and set out on the 68 mile section to Hot Springs, NC. As we have learned over the past 1,900 miles, each town stop ends with an uphill climb back into the mountains. This was no different. With full packs, full bellies and brand new shoes we had shipped ourselves we were struggling. It has become a seemingly impossible task to make ourselves hike more than 10 miles out of town, and Sunday was no different. We got 9.5 miles before finding a beautiful stream to camp by and enjoying some cheddar broccoli pasta for dinner.

Monday we fared better, hiking 17.5 miles including lots of climbing over Little Bald and Big Bald, which included incredible 360 degree views. We even got to enjoy some southbound company in the form of two section hikers, Sarah and Tammy. It has been a little isolating to be the only hikers going our direction and over the next three days we got to enjoy the comradery of leap frogging with other folks and sharing food (mainly them sharing with us beggars thru hikers!). Tuesday we did 14.7 miles from Hogback Ridge Shelter to Jerry Cabin Shelter, including breaks to dry our tent out in the sun after a spontaneous rainstorm soaked everything the night before. Unfortunately, by this time it had become very obvious that Emily’s new shoes were too big and the little “hot spot” that had started Sunday had become a full-blown blister. Morning wound care was soon introduced and became TID (3x a day) by the next day. Huge props to her for not letting it slow her down one bit and continuing to knock out the miles!

Wednesday started off with 5 miles of beautiful cliffs and some more technical terrain over to Camp Creek Bald, before we descended 6.5 miles into Allen Gap. There we enjoyed some sodas from Mom’s Store while chatting with Sarah, Tammy and some bikers touring from Florida to Canada. Then we proceeded to climb the last 7 miles of the day before camping on Rich Mountain and enjoying some dehydrated meals including a ridiculously good chicken, potatoes and dressing with breadcrumbs. Yum!

This morning we got up at 8am (our usual wake up time) and had tea and pastries before knocking out the last 8.2 miles into town. We hadn’t been able to find a dog-friendly place to stay and were getting stressed out about possibly being unable to “zero” tomorrow. Luckily, we walked right into Iron Horse Inn and they welcomed Bear along with us for two nights. Again – the trail provides! Now we are off to nap (and time off our feet for blister healing) before heading out to enjoy some beers by the river and then a long night’s rest!

Here are some photos including some views from Big Bald, our “yard sale” drying method for our gear, and Bear and I cuddling up. Also included is one of Emily’s blister- not for the feint of heart!

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Tennessee!

16 May

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We finally crossed over the border today into our 12th state!

Finishing Virginia

15 May

Emily and I are relaxing at the Hiker’s Inn in Damascus, VA, our last stop before crossing over into Tennessee. It has been a long time since we crossed over the state line from West Virginia to Virginia- over 500 miles (and 6 months) ago. So it will be an amazing feeling to go into our 12th state tomorrow, knowing we only have 450 miles to go! That being said, Virginia has been so good to us. From getting to spend time with our families to enjoying the variety of scenery, it has been incredible. We have finished this last week in VA with one of the highlights of the trail for many people- Grayson Highlands. It is known for its beautiful vistas, open field hiking and most importantly the wild ponies that live in the area. We saw over 20 ponies, including some very new colts that looked only a few weeks old. Georgy befriended one at Thomas Knob Shelter and they spent an evening and a morning playing while the colt’s mom and I looked on. It was an incredible experience and here are some pics from the last week:

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Food Update

14 May

One of the big questions we get about trail life is “what do you eat?” Since we have definitely adapted and improved our diet since we started in Maine, I think it is time to come back to this question. One of our big changes in strategy during this second part of the trail has been food drops. We bought all of our food for the last 800 miles and separated it into 3-6 day groups and shipped them to ourselves in towns along the trail. Many gear stores and hostels accept packages for thru hikers along with post offices. So now it has become a game of hiking drop to drop instead of scrambling to find grocery stores or gas stations to buy food and supplies. This has worked well for us because at this point we know what we like. Pop tarts? No thank you. Fruit snacks? Yes please!

So here is the breakdown of our breakfasts, lunches, dinners and snacks followed by pics from our last drop.

Breakfast:
-Drink of 1 scoop Slim Fast high protein, 1 instant coffee packet and 1 scoop dehydrated milk
-Dehydrated pineapple, mango and kiwi
-Fig newtons or protein bar

Snack 1:
-Protein bar (we shoot for at least 20grams. Powerbar chocolate peanut butter is a favorite)
-Fruit snacks (Welches is my fav, Motts is Emily’s)

Lunch:
-Tortillas with either peanut butter, Justin’s maple almond butter, Nutella, or tuna fish salad packet
-Pretzels or salty trail mix

Dinner:
We eat 5 main dinners:
1) Kraft Mac and cheese (comfort food that never gets old)
2) Thai peanut pasta (whole wheat linguini with peanut butter, soy sauce and brown sugar)- so much protein and so filling!
3) Whole wheat pasta with Sundried tomatoes, olive oil and parmesan cheese- delicious!!
4) Darn Good Chili- dehydrated chili found with the soups
5) Lipton Cheddar pasta with broccoli with a packet of tuna mixed in.

Dessert:
-Mini kitkats, Reese’s peanut butter cups, Jordan almonds, almond joy pieces.

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500 Miles left!

14 May

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Yesterday we passed the 500 miles to Springer mark. Here is our celebration!

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Trail magic

9 May

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Emily and I are sitting on top of a mountain outside Atkins, VA enjoying the first sunshine in days. To make it even better we got some great trail magic- PB&J’s, brownies and orange soda. Yum!!!!

Trail Legs

24 Apr

Something that is often discussed among thru hikers is the concept of “trail legs”. It describes the strong legs of a hiker with hundreds (or thousands) of miles behind her who is able to cruise through 20+ mile days. Trail legs can really only be achieved one way- day after day of hiking endless ups and downs. The result = Priceless. The ability to hike all day long with relative ease is what makes thru hiking doable (and much more enjoyable!)

For Emily and I this past week, and the next couple coming up, are all about rebuilding our trail legs. When we got off the trail in November we were able to hike 20-25 miles a day with few complaints. After 163 zeroes 10-15 miles a day have been more our speed. We have been working hard to find a balance between pushing ourselves to get back in shape, while still listening to our bodies and avoiding injury. Having said that, our first week back we knocked out 94 miles and we are pretty darn proud. Yesterday we were even able to hike 18.5 miles, motivated by the idea of a comfy bed and a hot shower that awaited us in Daleville, VA.

The trail itself has been beautiful- well maintained with very few roots and rocks to trip us up. Spring is definitely in the air and the lower elevations are incredibly green and lush. While the ups and downs have been reasonable, they feel pretty intense on our too-well-rested legs. But, we have kept our heads and slowed our pace resulting in a happy medium of both miles covered and enjoyment of the trail.

Below is a shot of the Guillotine, which we passed through a few days ago.

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