Saturday, April 30, 2011

Tennessee: A Love Story

Dear Tennessee:

I have to admit, I was not fond of you at first.  I wouldn't say it was an active dislike, as that would be a step too far, but as I wandered my way through the Smokey Mountains, weaving my way between you and North Carolina, I did notice two things that were a bit troubling.  First it was the gnats- scores of them, descending on my head, buzzing in my ears.  But they weren't biting gnats, just irritating ones, and small enough that a stiff breeze would knock them away.  Consequently, I started eating my lunch in windy areas: problem solved.  But the second thing I noticed about you was not a problem with a solution, but more of a statement of fact: you don't have privies at the shelters.  Now, please understand that this in and of itself was not an issue, but since the AT was weaving in and out of North Carolina you can imagine how one (namely, me) might start to compare you to your neighbor to the East.  And in my defense, when comparing a privy to a 'privy area' (which was a steeply sloped area littered with tampon applicators, underwear, and toilet paper), even the worst privies I've visited (such as the ones that faced the trail or the ones that were starting to get full) were still easier to navigate and more pleasant.

However, after the Smokies you started growing on me, Tennessee.  I'm not sure when it was that I first started liking you; perhaps it was just shy of Erwin, when, exhausted after a day of humidity and heat, the early morning rain brought the smell of wet dirt and a feeling of freshness that lifted up my soul and propelled me into town.  The low mileage days out of Erwin also helped- meandering and moseying my way across your topography really allowed me to stop and appreciate your views, and, to be honest, your lack of views as well. 
 The Beauty Spot is known for its views.  I think I preferred the lack thereof.

Coniferous forest on the top of Unaka Mountain, with the barely visible trail.

By the Roan Highlands I was madly in love.  The gentle rolling balds, with their resident goat population and tremendous views took my breath away. 

 Pictures don't show the beauty of the highlands, or convey
the degree to which bubbles of joy were emanating from my throat.

The path among the grass reminded me of South Africa.

But it's not all the views, Tennessee.  It was your hostels, your gritty, honest towns, your lakes, your rivers, your bridges, your waterfalls, and your butterflies.  It was the neon green of your forests, and the explosion of spring that met me every time I descended into your valleys.

If I had a hundred lifetimes to live, I'd spend at least one in Tennessee.


Wednesday, April 20, 2011

One Month In

Greetings from Erwin, TN, where I am currently wearing nothing but my rain gear and a pair of Crocs while typing on the Internet.  Creepy, but sadly becoming rather commonplace around here.  I'm spending the night at Uncle Johnny's Hostel, which is literally about 15 feet from the AT.  I can hear all of you muttering to yourselves: "What, ANOTHER town day?  Isn't she SUPPOSED to be hiking?" (Your grumbling makes me afraid to admit that I took advantage of the namesake of Hot Springs.  Let me tell you- sitting in a hot tub near the river sipping on a beer is hard work, especially when you only have a lighter to open said beer.)  Well, friends, I've gone about 70 miles since 5 pm on Saturday, and figure that I can use a bit of a break.  Also, it was raining this morning, and I have to admit that I'm a little bit of a sucker for a dry bed in the rain (even if it's a dry bed with a plastic-coated mattress in a room that smells like feet).

The past few days have been challenging- not necessarily in terms of terrain or mileage, but in terms of temperature.  (Granted, hiking nearly 20 miles per day for three days isn't easy, but it's doable.)  Those of you who know me best know that I function well at colder temperatures... for those of you who don't know me well (hello, people on Twitter!), my temperature preferences can be summarized in a short list format: 1) I like snow, and 2) I normally live in New England, where it is cold.  The hot temperatures... well, let's just say that I'm not that much of a fan. (This is one of the reasons why I wear a dress while hiking.)  Somehow the temperature of the South in the Summer didn't factor into my planning and thinking about this trip (okay, fine, there wasn't all that much planning going on with regard to this trip), and two days ago when it started getting hot I realized that I might be in trouble.  Yesterday I arrived at the shelter I had scouted out as a potential lunch spot in time for an early dinner and realized that I need to stop letting the temperatures slow me down so much, because if I'm struggling to make miles through Tennessee in April, I'm going to REALLY be struggling in Virgina in May.

Because of all of my lolly gagging, I had to hike at night to catch up with my group.  My head lamp batteries were good (thank you for the reminder, Ivy!), and I saw a lot of interesting things, including multiple millipedes.  It wasn't particularly frightening or scary, although I have to admit that I did pick up my pace a bit when I saw the patch of trees that had been clawed up by bears.  Seeing the light of my hiking buddies' tents through the dark forest felt particularly good, as did the chill of the rain against my skin this morning.  One of the things that has not felt good recently has been my hammock- I just can't seem to get comfortable at night. Sleeping on the AT so far has meant that I wake up a couple of times per night, but lately I haven't been able to fall asleep, and when asleep I tend to wake up just about every hour because I'm either too hot or too cold, or, as it turns out, completely scrunched up in a ball at the end of my hammock because I did a very poor job leveling it.  A night on a bed (even one with a plastic coated mattress in a room that smells like feet) will do me well.

So that's the news from Erwin, Tennessee.  I'm a month into this adventure, and am doing well (although I've got a new heel blister), eating well (thanks to my Aunt Lidia and my folks), and am feeling on top of the world (even though I'm only at 2,000 feet of elevation)!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Things That Make My Heart Sing

I didn't want to leave the last post as the leading post for very long, because it's a bit of a bummer, and honestly, only represents about 0.00001 % of my time hiking.  So instead I've written a list of some of the things that have invigorating me, bringing me joy, and making me feel whole as of late.

1.  Beautiful scenery.  My first two days in the Smoky Mountains were tough- the weather was hot and humid (those of you who know me best know that this is not the type of weather that I function best in), the terrain was challenging, I was doing more miles than I was used to (14 - 16 miles per day), and there were gnats.  However, the stretch between Newfound Gap and Davenport Gap was some of the most beautiful hiking that I've ever done.  A big portion of the Smoky Mountains is ridge line hiking- you weave in and out of Tennessee and North Carolina, with the ground falling away from either side of you.  Periodically you go down into a gap, where the forest floor is carpeted with tiny little white flowers with purple and pink centers, and a hush descends on everything, making you feel more alone, and serene, and peaceful than ever before.  The Smoky Mountains are surreal, wild, and wonderful.

Ridgeline hiking.

I think I stopped about five million times to take in the view
during the hike from Newfound Gap to Davenport Gap.  The
views stretched for miles and miles and miles.
Charlie's Bunion was by far one of the neatest little rocky outcrops
in the Smokys.  Also, it's a great spot for posing in a stupid manner
with one's hiking poles. 
The mountains just go on and on and on....

2.  Letters from home.  So I've been getting a lot of mail from all of you.  It's been wonderful to hear what you've been up to, and I love it that instead of journaling my activities at the end of each day, that I can just write a letter to someone I love, instead.  I've been saving the letters I've received, and only opening them at the end (or, sometimes in the middle) of tough days.  I just mailed my first package of letters home, and was surprised to find that the weight of love is about a half a pound.  Thank you.

3.  Lazy Mornings.  The day after my friends showed up it started to rain early in the morning, before any of us had left the shelter.  The temperature dropped, and, because we only had about 10 miles to do (all of which was downhill), none of us moved.  Instead, we hung out in the shelter for the morning, listening to the rain pound on the tin roof, warmed by a fire in the fire place, slowly but surely eating our way through our food bags.  Not being rushed, and not having far to go was lovely.  (Also lovely: watching Eats geniusly toast a bagel on a brick next to the fire place, before smothering one half with cream cheese and the other with cheddar cheese.  It would have been still lovelier if he had shared....)
Getting ready to brave the rain.

4.  Sunset and Sunrise at Max Patch.  Okay, everything about Max Patch, minus the lack of privies.  Max Patch is a grassy bald that has a 360 degree view from the summit.  I camped up there with Eats, Jetpack, Who Knows, Mr. Black, and Velvet a couple of days ago, and it was just surreal.  To be up that high, camped on soft grass, completely surrounded by mountains was absolutely wonderful.  (In writing this blog, I'm starting to realize that I need a few new adjectives- awesome, wonderful, beautiful... I'm using these words far too much.)  (Small aside: it's impossible to camp on a grassy bald in a hammock.  For the record, I did try, but... no.  Thanks, Jetpack and Eats, for letting me squeeze in your tent with you, because it would have been too damn cold to cowboy camp out on my own.)

Photos don't do this place justice.

About  5 minutes past sunrise.

Who Knows, Jetpack, and Eats.  Mr. Black is still in his tent. 
(I don't think he's much of a morning person.)

5.  Not having the right words to describe this experience.  I keep struggling to come up with secular words to describe how I feel about participating in this adventure, but the word I keep coming back to is blessed.

6.  Trail magic, and learning to say 'yes.'  On my mad dash away from the creepy guy at Clingman's Dome, I came across a fantastic couple named Mountain Mama and Godspeed, who were giving out trail magic at Newfound Gap (if you guys are reading this, thanks again for everything!).  They pressed a hot dog into my hands, along with soda and a banana, told me to tell my mom and dad that I'm looking good, and gave me a card with their phone number on it, so that if I ran into any trouble in the next hundred miles I'd have someone to call.  It floored me.

Mountain Mama and Godspeed.

Later on I was resting by the AT sign catching up on twitter, when a woman approached me and asked me if I was okay.  When I told her that I was 'just fine, thank you, ma'am' she asked me if she could make me a sandwich.  Having partaken in trail magic twice in that day, I turned her down, even after she insisted that she could make me a sandwich for the road. 

I've been talking a lot with the folks I've been traveling with about how hard it is to say yes, again and again, when people offer kind things to you.  I'm not sure if it's a New England thing or what, but the amount of support and help and kindness out here is amazing, and makes me continue to believe that (creepy guys aside) the world is full of the best kind of people.  I feel honored to be able to meet some of them as I travel along the trail, and I'm looking forward to paying it forward when I return from this journey.

6a: Hot dogs.  You all know that I have some very funny rules about what meat I'll eat and what meat I won't.  On the AT I've decided to ask fewer questions about the food that is given to me by trail angels, and instead just be grateful for the energy and food.  Consequently, I didn't think twice when the hot dog was put into my hands, and instead devoured it (and it tasted SO GOOD).  The energy I got from the hot dog propelled me up the mountain: I practically ran all the way to Icewater Spring Shelter.  You meat eaters may be onto something here....

7.  Small towns with railroad stations and good music.  Last night I went to Iron Horse Station for a drink and some music.  I forget the band's name, but the music they were playing was traditional folk/bluegrass music, and was just lovely.  As they played, the rain poured down outside, a train passed by the in background blowing a long, low whistle, and I sipped my (excellent and local) beer, feeling thankful for the moment and wishing I could stay in Hot Springs for a long, long time.  (Confidential to Surjeet: Your prediction may be partially right.  Damn you, bluegrass, and your tugging at my heartstrings!)

Iron Horse Station.  It's a bar, and a hotel, and
a cafe, and a fantastically funky art scene, all rolled up
into one. 

 8.  Hearing from all of you.  I can't tell you how much I love it when you comment on my blog or on my facebook page.  Knowing that you are sharing this adventure with me is fantastic. Again, thank you.

I have a lot more that I would like to share, but I hear that there is a hiker ice-cream eating contest coming up.  I'm off to enjoy the beautiful day in Hot Springs, North Carolina.

Creepy People and Uncomfortable Situations

So as I mentioned in my last post, there are some creepy-ass people out here. While I've met only one woman that I didn't like out here (she complains non-stop), I haven't met any women who make my skin crawl (to be fair, there aren't a lot of women out here, so it's not really much of a comparison).  Sadly, the same can't be said about the men, some of whom I'm happy to go far out of my way to avoid (such as, for example, hiking 22 miles in one day).  (Small disclaimer: almost every single guy I've met so far has been absolutely wonderful- I feel well taken care of and watched out for out here, despite hiking alone most of the time.  All of the men (and boys) I've been interacting with on a regular basis are incredibly nice, polite, and interesting.)

The creepy guy who showed up early in the morning at Clingman's Dome is one such example of a guy that I want absolutely nothing to do with.  I had noticed him at the shelter the night before, a skinny, twitchy guy who seemed to not ever to be still (or to stop talking).  His conversation (if you can call a soliloquy that) focused mostly around his military past: being a sniper.  After making a mental note to not call attention to myself around him, I proceeded to tune him out, until he showed up the following morning on the viewing platform at Clingman's Dome.  After babbling incessantly for a while about the view, and the climb up, and everything else under the sun, he settled on the often-discussed topic of Trail Days.  Trail Days is coming up in early May, and is a two day hiker celebration containing consultations with doctors, gear manufactures, dancing, boozing, and frivolity.  Anyhow, creepy guy looked straight at me (the only woman who made the climb that morning), and said to the group "I'm really sorry, but Trail Days is great because women come from miles around to fuck all the hikers.  Sorry."


A) Saying that you're sorry before you say or do something potentially offensive does not make it okay to say it. 
B) Hikers don't look or smell particularly good.  (A mere glance at my heels would make small children cry, and I haven't even discussed how each shelter smells strongly of unwashed feet.) I sincerely doubt the truth of his statement.
C) I don't need anyone to make me feel welcome out here.  I belong in these woods, and I belong on this trail.  But making me feel unwelcome by virtue of my gender is an assholish thing to do.

So I out hiked the bastard, and left him behind.  Unfortunately, this meant that I had out hiked all of my friends, who had spent the day in Gatlinburg.

Also, unfortunately, this meant that the following day I hiked into one of the most uncomfortable shelter situations that I've seen so far.  It had been an okay morning- not particularly great because my feet were hurting badly from hiking 22 miles the day before, but I was making good time and was loving the morning weather.  I stopped at Tri-Corner Knob shelter for lunch, and was immediately struck by a couple of things.  First, nobody responded when I said hello.  There were about 8 folks there, and normally when I walk into a shelter, either someone recognizes me or is at least friendly.  Instead, nothing: it was as if I didn't even exist.  Second, the conversation of the folks around me wasn't one I could follow- it was all over the place, and didn't seem to make a whole lot of sense.  And finally when one of the guys wandered up to me and said hello, he apologized for being drunk at noon.  And that's when it clicked.  I had wandered into a small group of partiers, who were spending the day drinking and drugging it up at a shelter: the reason why I couldn't follow their conversation was because I was sober.  When my friends caught up later that evening, they relayed a similar experience at the shelter.  There's a saying out here: hike your own hike.  This means that each of us should be free to have our own experience, and to hike the trail in our own way.  I don't mean to say that the folks who are getting wasted out here every night are doing the trail wrong; they're just doing it differently (much, much, MUCH differently) than I am.

Anyhow, I've rambled on enough about the things that have been upsetting me lately.  Despite the creepy people and periodic uncomfortable situations, one of the things that has been absolutely wonderful is the sense of community.  Like I've said earlier, I've never felt so watched out for before.  There have been some absolutely amazing things that I've seen and done in the past few days, and I want to make sure that I share all of them with you as well.  But first: More Ice Cream!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Stories from the Trail

Greetings from Hot Springs, North Carolina, where I am taking my first day off in three and a half weeks.  I've spent days in town before, but I've never taken a FULL day off (in thru-hiker language, this is referred to as a zero).  I was thinking the other day about what sort of mood I'd be in if I were to be working for three and a half weeks with no time off, and the conclusion that I came to was that there is no comparison.  I've been having trouble keeping track of the days of the week, because every single day feels like a Saturday in early July, with the prospect of a beautiful, lazy day ahead (except that "lazy" here refers to hiking 14 - 20 miles per day).


I wanted to write today about stories.  One of the last times I called home  my mom said, "I love your blog, honey, but where are the hiking stories?"  I gave a relatively trite answer: what hiking stories?  I get up, I eat oatmeal, I hike, I eat lunch, I hike, I eat dinner, and I sleep.  The only stories I've had to tell have been one liners that fit within 140 characters, except that I don't have reliable cell phone coverage, and can't twitter them as they're happening (lucky you).  Examples include the following gems: There were deer grazing near my hammock; I was concerned about ticks.  Or: Someone put a hot dog in my hand and it was the most beautiful thing I've ever seen.  Also: My standards have sunk so low that I no longer mind putting on dirty clothing after I take a shower.  And: My feet hurt so much I am contemplating having them surgically removed.  But stories?  Real stories?  Those have been surprisingly hard to come by.  I haven't seen any bears, I haven't gotten giardia, the scenery continues to be beautiful, and (confidential to Ivy, who asked) I've been doing a good job of planning my bathroom breaks around shelters with privies (except for Max Patch, which required me to walk downhill, through the pricker bushes, and into a forest tilted at 45 degrees and littered with toilet paper and freshly scratched up dirt.  Not too terribly pleasant.).

Anyhow, again.

So on Sunday morning I woke up before 5 am for a sunrise assault on Clingman's Dome (I know, I know... Bree?  Waking up voluntarily before 5 am?  Inconceivable!  Well, friends, it wasn't Bree waking up at that early hour, it was Ladypants.).  I could see the stars shining when I peeked out of my hammock, and decided to try my luck for sunrise on the highest point of the AT (confidential to everyone in New England: I was just as surprised as you are to learn that it's not Mount Washington).  I packed up in record time (usually it takes me between 1 and 1.5 hours to go through my morning routine), and had started hiking by 5:30, my stomach full of Snickers bars.  A group of younger guys passed me within the first 30 seconds, and within about 5 minutes their headlamps had disappeared into the darkness, leaving me on the trail, in the dark, completely on my own.

The trail, illuminated by flash (NOT headlamp).

I've been thinking a lot about fear the past few weeks, and about how everyone has a very different take on what frightens them.  Some folks are deathly afraid of snakes or spiders, some of heights, and some of being alone.  The very first time I found myself afraid on the trail was in Franklin, NC, when I stopped by a hiker party.  It was a relatively small affair at a local motel, with the beautiful sounds of bluegrass floating down from the second story balcony.  I was among friends, I was sipping on a good beer, and I was having a nice time talking to folks.  And then the drunk, creepy guy showed up.  He was a former thru-hiker and a veteran of a war a while back, and my goodness, was he loaded.  I did my best to edge away from him, and wound up hearing later that there was an altercation with the cops and a dog and a knife.  From what I understand, nobody (dog included) was harmed, but man, creepy folks with a bit too many drinks down the hatch scare the shit out of me.  The next day I bailed on friends (who were staying an additional day), and resumed hiking.  I solo camped that night, out of sight of everyone, by myself.  And it wasn't until I was in my hammock, snug in my sleeping bag, that I finally regained my sense of safety.

So as you can imagine, hiking through the woods at 5:30 am by myself with a dying headlamp (Public Service Announcement: if you do this, be smart and check your headlamp batteries BEFORE you attempt a night hike) really didn't feel like a big deal to me.  My headlamp only illuminated about 5 feet in front of me, and consequently I couldn't see the white blazes that marked the trees, nor could I clearly see any signs marking intersecting trails (of which there were several).  I wasn't worried about bears, or snakes, or anything, really, because I was so fully occupied with watching my feet.  (Warning: metaphor coming up.)  At night, you see, it's hard to judge how steep the next step is, or how how wet the mud you're about to step into really is.  It's also hard to know which way to go, and so instead of worrying about what nasties might be waiting to jump out at me, I was completely occupied with using my senses and my judgement to determine the correct path (this lead me into drainage ditches a couple of times, but I was easily able to backtrack out of them).  I could smell the spruce trees, and the mud, and could hear the approaching morning, but between the darkness, the poor illumination of my head lamp, and my foggy glasses, my visibility was severely compromised.  Not being able to see the comforting signs of white blazes made me a little bit uncomfortable at first, but then I realized that not only was the morning about learning to trust myself, but that this whole trip is about trusting that I'm on the right path, doing the right thing, at the right time.  Each and every morning that I've woken up out here, whether it's been in town, sharing a room with 4 other people, or in a shelter in the Smoky mountains, each morning I've woken up I've thought to myself: "This is exactly what I want to be doing.  This is exactly where I want to be." 

It's been absolutely amazing.  And I'm only three and a half weeks in.

By the way, since this was supposed to be somewhat of a story, I should let you know: by the time I reached the summit, the clouds had rolled on in, and sunrise, alas, was not to be seen.  Still, the camaraderie at the top, the sharing of coffee, and stories, and breakfast, and the amazing views (after waiting about an hour and a half for the sky to partially clear), made all of it worthwhile (although they did not produce particularly good photographs).

The summit of Clingman's Dome has a viewing structure on top,
which allows you to get above the trees.  Yes, trees.  Even at 6,684 feet,
there are trees on top.  It's a bit different than Mount Washington.

Another view of the viewing platform.


And then the creepy guy arrived.  Rather than make this post annoyingly long, I'm going to write about him and his kind in my next post, which I'm auto-setting to update in the next few days.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Definitions, Continued

Greetings from Fontana Dam, where I find that my brief, 2 hours max pit stop to resupply, do laundry, and take a shower has morphed into an all day event involving ice cream and somehow avoiding lunch (gotta work on that, as this ice cream isn't sitting well on an empty stomach).  Anyhow, I'm here briefly, and will be setting off tomorrow morning bright and early for the Great Smoky Mountains.  I've been hearing great things about the geology and the views, although less great things about cell phone reception.  Expect me to be incommunicado for several days.

I left a couple of pertinent definitions off my my list from last time, and so here is part the second of vocabulary that will help you understand future entries in this blog.  This will hopefully be my last 'definitions' entry, and I'll move on to another entertaining way of keeping you all updated.  Hopefully.

To start.

Whiteblazing - The AT is very well marked by white blazes.  In fact, it's so well marked that most hikers do not carry a map or compass, but instead rely on their guidebook and the white markings on the trees (or signs, or trash cans) to know the way.  It can get a little confusing leaving the shelters in the morning (do I go left or right?), but generally, it's pretty easy.  Every once in a while I get a little bit uncomfortable because I'm not used to not having a map, but then I just follow the crowd (and crowd it is- there are about 30 people that I see regularly).  Anyhow, there are also blue blazes, which generally lead to either shelter or water.  All other blazes (orange, red, etc.) are not related to the AT, and are consequently ignored.

There are a couple of other terms that are thrown around that are similar to whiteblazing, such as 'pink blazing,' which refers to men adjusting their schedules to follow certain ladies up the trail.  (I'm sure that some women do the same thing, but there are far fewer of us on the trail, and most ladies seem seem to be hiking with a partner of some sort.)  Blue blazing (not to be confused with blue blazes) refers to taking shortcuts along the AT (ie: not being anally retentive and insisting on walking every single step of the AT).  Green blazing refers to those folks who smoke weed the entire length of the trail. (Holy shit are there a lot of those folks.  I know I should be used to it by now, but I've never seen so much abundantly available weed before.  Also beer at the shelters... I'm sorry, but my pack weighs 40 lbs when full.  I'm not carrying in an entire 12 pack of PBR to drink, and can't understand the folks who do.)

An example white blaze along the trail.

Hitchhiking - I suppose that for most of you, hitchhiking is not something that you do frequently, along with riding in the back of pickup trucks at high speeds.  However, as an AT thruhiker, hitchhiking is the best way to get around town (although I've heard that this is less true farther north).  Most trail towns are very hiker-friendly, and contain lots of folks who have hiked the AT before.  I've been surprised at how easy I've found it to hitchhike- several times I haven't even turned around to stick out my thumb before a car pulls over.  It's kinda nice, and I've really enjoyed getting to meet interesting folks. 

Jetpack and Eats, on their first back-of-the-pickup truck ride. 
(For the record, I rode shotgun, and had a lovely conversation with
the man who picked us up about hiking the trail and the need to
give back to trail community.  More on that below.)

Sense of Humor - Having a sense of humor helps make each day that much more fun.  Although humor can get old at times (In case you didn't know, I have a theme song to go with my trail name, and it's sung to the tune of the Spiderman theme song.  Sadly, it's a bit too catchy, and has gotten stuck in my head far too many times (and makes me wish for Cee Lo Green to return to the rotation in my head).  Happily, it has also gotten stuck in the heads of the folks who sing it at me often, and they're starting to stop.  Thankfully.)  Anyhow, humor often breaks the monotony, and provides plenty of opportunity for immature giggling, as seen below.

This is an actual trail name. 

This is a modified gap name.  I'm sure you agree, both are funny when unexpected.

Trail Magic - Up until a few days ago, trail magic meant finding a cooler of soda or some muffins left on the trail for curious thru-hikers to find (which is AWESOME).  The idea behind trail magic is for the folks who either make their living by the trail (running hostels, or shuttles, or outfitters) or those who have hiked it before to be giving support to those currently hiking the trail (who, when the finish, feel so grateful that they return the favor by leaving things for others to find).  Picking up hitchhikers is another common way to give back, which is one of the reasons why it's been so easy down here. (Also, it's legal.  That always helps).  Anyhow, a few days back I was hiking the trail and approached a gap at around 5:30 in the afternoon.  I tend to be cautious whenever I see cars near trail crossings; I hike alone mostly, and don't want to be the statistic that proves I was wrong about how safe the trail is.  Anyhow, as I approached the gap I saw a van, and immediately became suspicious, as it was a large van (not too dissimilar to the Silence of the Lambs van).  However, I quickly noticed that some of my buddies were lounging on the grass near the van, and so I approached.  As it turns out, it was two former thru-hikers (Doc and Llama) who were handing out beer, soda, donuts, chips, cookies, wine, burgers, and hot dogs, all for free.  I ended up hanging out with them (and their three dogs and young son) all night, and in the morning they sent us on our way with donuts and coffee.  Amazing! 

A word about the trail community so far- it's been amazing hiking with folks I don't know so well and having them look out for me.  The other day Jetpack and Eats waited at a trail junction because there was someone sketchy there as well, and because they knew I wasn't far behind.  Today Bat mentioned that he'd been hoping I'd show up at Fontana Dam soon, because he knew I hiked alone.  Between knowing that folks are keeping tabs on me, and seeing how welcome I am whenever I show up (someone always yells out 'LADYPANTS' whenever I arrive somewhere), it's been an absolute joy to be part of this community.
Trail Magic has never been so awesome.  It was unbelievable.
New England- you've got to step it up... maybe not to this level,
because you'll go broke, but a few sodas and cookies left at trail crossings
sure would be nice.

Hiker appetite - Ladies and Gentlemen, I'm afraid to say this, but I've turned into a glutton.  I knew that I would get the thru-hiker appetite one of these days, and would be eating like mad, but I didn't really expect it to happen so quickly, and so extremely.  Exhibit A: Getting into the N.O.C., stopping by the restaurant, and eating an entire 10 inch pizza by myself, and not feeling full.  Exhibit B: Breakfast the next morning consisted of three sweet potato pancakes, home fries (friends, that's a lot of potatoes right there, but sadly, not my record for most potato products eaten in a single breakfast), two slices of toast, two eggs, and two cups of coffee.  I ate it all, too.  Nom nom nom...

So much food!

Media Blackout and Government Shutdown - So as far as I understand, there's a lot that I've been missing, living the simple life in the woods and all.  It's been very nice to not be keyed into the whole 'world is ending, we're all gonna die, and thankfully Fox News is going along for the ride' thing.  For example, I have no idea what's happening in Japan.  I'm aware that Elizabeth Taylor has died, but I don't know any of the details, and can't even venture a guess as to what song Elton John will sing at her funeral.  Also, there's a royal wedding coming up, and I can't tell you a thing about it.  Hooray!  The only thing that concerns me these days is the government shutdown, because that may or may not (depending on the source of the news) affect both the postal service (Letters from all of you!  Care packages from home!) and the Park Service (Being kicked out of the Smoky Mountains would be a major bummer).  But honestly, what will be will be, and no matter what happens, I'll follow parental advice, and just walk it off.

More updates from Hot Springs, North Carolina.  Laters, gaters.

Saturday, April 2, 2011


Hiya, folks.  I'm writing to you today from a trail town: Franklin, North Carolina.  I've walked over 100 miles already, and honestly, have loved (almost) every moment.  The hardest part of this has been the nights- I just get so damn cold!  I'm working on a solution to this that does not involve torching my severely lacking in warmth zero degree bag (WTF! It has not been below zero yet!), and hope to be warm through the Smoky Mountains, which are coming up SOON.  I have yet to sleep the night through- mostly I get my sleep in several hour increments, before waking up to either rain, insanely loud snoring, or lack of warmth.  But honestly, this doesn't matter too much, as I've been spending between 10 and 11 hours every day in bed.  Turns out it's hard to keep your eyes open when electricity isn't providing a reason to do so.  :)

To get you all ready for updates to my blog for the next few months, I'm presenting the definitions for commonly used phrases on the trail.  Hopefully this will help alleviate any future potential communication issues.  Buckle in, because here we go (in no particular order):

Appalachian Trail: The Appalachian Trail (or, AT) is a hiking trail that runs from Georgia to Maine, covering 2,181 miles (+/- 10 miles, depending on your source).  Over 2,000 people set out trying to hike the AT each year; only about 25% succeed.  The trail winds its way through 14 states, and the elevation gain is the equivalent to hiking Mt. Everest 16 times (or so I've been told).

Sometimes the trail looks like this, and it's a good day.

And other times, like this.  This is less of a good day.

Hikers: A thru-hiker is person who hikes the trail in one year.  Section hikers are hikers who hike the trail in sections across many years.  Either way, upon completion, these hikers become 2,000 milers.  You can hike the trail either from the north to the south (a southbounder, or SOBO), or from the south to the north (a northbounder, or NOBO).  For example:

Hopefully, your favorite NOBO thru-hiker,
as viewed from the start of the approach trail at Amicalola Falls.

Ditto, but on the AT.

Shelter: A three sided structure with a roof, usually with a sleeping platform that allows 7 to 12 hikers to sleep (or attempt to sleep, if they forgot ear plugs).  The nicer shelters are clean, new, and have picnic tables.  The less nice ones are mouse infested hell-holes with privies without roofs (or no privies at all).  All shelters have log books where you can note the date and any comments thus far about either the shelter or the hike.  Common courtesy dictates making room for those hikers who arrive late, or when it's raining. (This is why last week I spent a very cozy night surrounded by 10 men in a shelter designed for 7.  Talk about a cultural experience!)

This is the shelter where I spent my first night.

Blood Mountain Shelter, the oldest shelter on the AT. 
Pretty and spooky, all wrapped up into one. 

When there isn't room in the shelter or when I'm feeling like I want
a bit of alone time, I sleep in my hammock.  Yes, it's comfy. 

Bear Bags: There are bears on the AT, some of whom have already grown fat by stealing the food of hikers who perhaps weren't quite careful enough.  There are numerous people already who have had their food stolen during the night by bears, mostly in the first few days (and mostly for the people who weren't camping at shelters).  (One guy goes by the trail name 'Bear Bait' for this reason.  More on trail names below.)  This is because at most shelters there are things called bear cables, from which to hang your food bag at night.  The bear cables are high enough, and complicated enough that bears can't get at the food.  This also keeps the people in the shelter a bit safer, because if the food is hung high and far away, the bears are less likely to look at the tired hikers wrapped in their sleeping bags as tasty sausages. 

Bear bags in the foreground, shelter in the background.

Rain: There's a saying on the trail: No pain, no rain, no Maine!  The weather is not going to be perfect for the entire 2,000 mile hike, and sometimes you're going to have to hike in inclement weather.  As such, on the day that that I did an easy 7 miles in the rain (and consequently tore up my feet with blisters) I wrote a limerick:

I hiked all morning with heel pain,
Cold and alone in the rain,
Through thunder and lightening,
Which I found to be frightening,
I sure hope I make it to Maine!

Rainy day.

Tree struck by lightening the night before.  There were
 shards of bark and wood scattered up to 30 feet away. 
It made me very glad to have stopped hiking at 7 miles the
day before.  Eeek!  (Sorry, couldn't rotate this one.)

Trail Names: The AT is a place for many things, including anonymity.  Nearly every hiker takes (or is given) a trail name, usually having something to do with an event that happened early in their trip (ie: Bear Bait) or something funny or clever (ie: That Guy).  Some people chose their trail name based on their real life nickname (ie: Sarge) and others just make no sense at all (Searching Polo).  Anyhow, I was feeling minor anxiety as I started to approach 100 miles because I didn't have anything even close to a trail name, and nearly everyone else I knew already did.  However, I'm pleased to announce that after having several names tossed around (including No Spam), I have been dubbed "LadyPants."  For those of you questioning this name, take a look at the photo and see if you can figure it out.

Hint: I'm wearing pants!  And a dress!  That makes me FANCY! 
(Although not as fancy as the woman in a hiking skirt, perfume, makeup,
and a French manicure.... unless you think that my dirty fingernails count
as a reverse French manicure, and my odor... well... let's just leave it at that.)

Hiking buddies: Flying solo has been wonderful so far, but lately I've been enjoying the day hiking with others.  (As much as I love living in my head, I haven't gotten as much hardcore thinking done because I had Cee Lo Green stuck in my head endlessly on repeat.  Not a happy way to hike, I'm afraid.  I'd like to Forget him, if you know what I mean.) Surprisingly, my new group seems to enjoy my company as well.  :)
Who Knows, Rainbow, Firestarter, and me, LadyPants.

Off to the post office.  I hope you all enjoy your Saturday!  LadyPants, over and out.