Monthly Archives: March 2013

Shifting focus …

… From macro to micro? From seeing the big picture to examining the details?

There are times when I hike along and see a log. This is how my brain works …

Oh cool! A log! It’s really old and half rotted! Look at that dark wet jagged area where it had broken… Oh and over here it’s crumbling away and you can see red coppery dark red crumbly aged wood tumbling out. All the holes from insects where the bark has stripped off. I wonder what lives in there? I wonder if they’re moving around yet? Oh that bark is over an inch thick! look at this heavy slab of bark lying here curled up with mosses like thick emerald green plush, deep velvet almost like fur. Oh look closer! Teeny tiiny red brown stalks emerging from this incredible luscious green. Oh blooming already? They barely move in the breeze. Oh how the sunlight backlights this tiny landscape! What incredible beauty in a six-inch patch of mossy bark!

I wonder if anyone else who passes this log sees the same as I do? Or do they just mentally register “log”?


Redefining brutal …

… sometimes feels like an almost daily thing. March 29 for sure felt brutal.
I spent the night camped with about 25 or 30 others at Bly Gap. It was a really nice bunch bunch of folks and we had a huge toasty fire with lots of hiker talk and off-color jokes. The night was clear and cold. When I woke up at about 11 to pee, I wondered why the person in the tent behind mine had their headlamp shining my direction. When I woke up a little more fully, I realized it was a gorgeous bright moon. Stepping outside my tent to take care of business, the night was magical… a stunning sky lit by a glorious moon and, off in the distance, I could hear a pair of owls calling to each other through the dark. I got to experience this magic again at about 4 AM but the moon was mostly gone by then, taken over by clouds.
As beautiful as the night was, I did not sleep well. I had been tired and cold all day and my body just could not seem to relax and get comfortable. I was warm enough but my calves kept cramping and waking me. Adding to that, I had camped on the flattest space available but I still was on a slope and kept slowly sliding sliding sliding towards the door of my tent. The night before, I barely slept in a shelter where it had gotten down to 15° and this night was probably about 20° there in Bly Gap.
I woke in the morning determined this time to make myself a hot breakfast to start my day right! After a breakfast of coffee, cocoa, oatmeal, and salami, I prepared my pouch of lunch and snacks (including a high protein orange yogurt smoothie in a small Nalgene bottle for later that morning), got everything packed up and headed out of camp at the late hour of 9:45 AM.
The rest of my campmates were heading to Standing Indian Shelter 7.7 mi away, a distance I felt was probably beyond my ability, given my lack of good sleep for the previous two nights. My goal was to hit Muskrat Creek Shelter (2.8 mi) for a late lunch and decide at that point how much farther I would want to go.

And right after the gnarled tree, I hit knee high log-bermed steps taking me up about 500′ ele in maybe 1/4 mi. OOF! Wow, that made the old glutes burn, let me tell you!!!! At the top, I found a lovely log to sit on and have my little orange smoothie. I unscrewed the lid, put the bottle to my mouth … and my taste buds were shocked! This is not an orange yogurt smoothie! No … I had grabbed the wrong baggie of orange powder and made myself cold tomato soup!!! I consoled myself with half of a Big Sur Bar and could only laugh at myself. 🙂
Everything kept going up and I asked myself at one point does North Carolina only go up? Will there be any down at all in this state?
Courthouse Bald (summit 4666′) was beautiful with it’s craigy rocks and rhododendron forests.
Have I mentioned before how enamored I am with the rhododendron forests? I absolutely love the wide glossy dark green leaves and the twisty, slightly shaggy branches that arch over the trail to create an inviting shadowy tunnel of green. At this elevation however, that shadowy tunnel enabled the snow to remain and get packed down into near ice by the footsteps of previous hikers. You had to watch where you placed every step so carefully. Where there was no snow-turned-to-ice, there was often thick deep black mud. Several times a foot would start to slide and it was very slow going for me but with the footsteps and slide marks of the previous hikers, I had a bit of warning where the slipperiest spots where.
It was getting later and later; I was getting tired and beginning to consider that I might actually stay the night at the shelter coming up. Finally I made it to Muskrat Creek Shelter. It was 3 PM. 😦 The floor of the shelter had somehow flooded and turned to ice or perhaps it had simply filled with snow and been packed down but stepping into the shelter felt like stepping into a refrigerator; it was immediately and obviously colder inside the shelter than outside. No way was I going to spend the night there! I heated up my tomato soup for a late lunch and discussed options with a few other thru-hikers who stopped in for the same purpose. We pretty much all came to the conclusion that nobody wanted to spend the night in the icebox masquerading as a shelter so, one by one we used the privy (ice on the floor!), finished our lunches/snacks, and headed on down the trail with the idea of stealth camping at Deep Gap 4 mi away.
I was already getting tired and the idea of four more miles … 😦
That’s when the snow started to get deep. My first warnings were the 2′ deep drifts of snow alongside the trail which eventually became 2′ of snow everywhere with the trail cutting through, packed down again like ice. It was slippery enough when level but on a long long downhill, it was downright treacherous. I lengthened my hiking poles and proceeded slowly and cautiously as I was able. It was evident that hikers before me had slid, slipped, and fallen. I wasn’t surprised… It would’ve been far easier to go down that one long hill on skis or a toboggan! I was so close to losing my footing many many times. Still not sure how I managed to stay upright through that entire thing. There was one point where I slid about 3′ down the trail without losing my balance as if snowboarding.
Then the snow started coming down. I’d had a few flakes falling here and there but now the snow began in earnest… big fat clumpy chunks of snow. It was sticking this time, piling up and eventually obscuring the footprints of those who had gone before me. With the heavy cloud cover, I was starting to lose light and I really really wanted to get down off that mountain. Though I was hungry and there was rehydrated beef stew sitting in my pack, I did not want to take the time to stop and eat. The footing was getting more and more tricky as I had to pick my way across rock fields with 1-2″ of snow obscuring the difference between rock and ice. There were trees fallen across the trail that I had to climb over much like mounting a horse on one side and then dismounting on the other. What’s up with that North Carolina? Have you not heard of these amazing inventions called chainsaws?
Trying to hurry… trying to be careful… Somehow I put my right foot down and it slid to the left and I did some incredible aerial acrobatic and rolled/slid about 7– 10 feet downhill off the trail. Fortunately there was a 2′ deep snowbank to cushion my eventual landing. I laid there for a moment… mentally checking out all my parts… am I okay? My right wrist, back, and right knee all felt twisted …. but nothing was terrible; nothing was screaming. Nothing was broken! I had landed head downhill, on my back, with my pack on. Those lovely fat flakes of snow were falling in my face and the trees and sky looked really cool from that position but …. I had to get up and out of there and nobody was there to help me out. I was on own. THAT process would probably have been worthy of America’s Funniest Home Videos. Shift, roll, grab, use the hiking poles … it was a process! Think of what a turtle would go through if you put it on its back … with its head downhill … in the snow.
As much as I wanted to get off the mountain, I was that much more careful with my every step. There was no hurrying. If I have to do this in the dark, I have a headlamp. That would not have been my first choice but I would rather hike safely with a headlamp than recklessly in faltering daylight.
Three times I thought surely Deep Gap and the parking lot was around the curve and each time when I came around that bend in the trail, there was more trail. I had to stop thinking/expecting because the disappointment was just too much. I wondered if I had somehow passed the gap and was on my way to Standing Indian Shelter? I couldn’t possibly of passed the gap which was a forest service road, but… I felt like I had been hiking forever! Indeed I had been hiking for many hours, albeit slowly. I had to set all expectations aside because standing there feeling helpless and disappointed was not going to get me out of what could be turning into a dangerous situation. I had no choice but to hike on. So I did.
The trail curved and I suddenly saw way below me the road and I cheered! I still had to pick my way through the icy mud and rocks carefully and came into the parking lot unsure of my next step. Okay… To be perfectly honest my next step was to pee! There was an old fire ring and places to put up tents and it was nearly dark so didn’t have a lot of options. My first choice was to catch a ride into town, get a hot shower, dry bed, and buy Micro Spikes for my shoes before tackling the next mountain. I walked through the parking area holding my phone up to the sky, trying to get a good Verizon signal when a minivan pulled in (nearly ran me over), parked and disgorged a bunch of Boy Scouts and troop leaders. “Hey, are you going into town?” I boldly asked the strangers.
So here I am… safe, warm, and dry … a few odd deep bruises and a little sore but okay.
Yeah …. kinda brutal!









There was this moment …

… or maybe two where I doubted myself, my skills, my gear, and my strength to continue on.

Once, I woke to a chilly morning and found everybody else in my little hiking group had already packed up and left. Everything felt so hard and beyond my abilities. I was miserable; if I had had cell phone service, I would have made a call to G asking her to please drop everything and come get me. The next afternoon, I stopped in the middle of the trail, exhausted, and just stood there on the side of the mountain. I could not find any beauty around me. None. I was tired and cold and felt so alone. The chill wind cut through my clothes and through the balaklava pulled up over my mouth and nose … I felt utterly sorry for myself … and I cried.

Someone told me there’s no crying in the mountains. Bullshit.

There really are no other options. Nobody’s going to come and scoop you up off the side of the mountain. There’s no magic wand or magic carpet and certainly no elevator around. The only thing I could do was get done crying … and keep walking.

That’s just how life is sometimes; you just have to keep on keeping on.



Lions and tigers and …

… Bears! Oh my!

There are bears. Like for real bears.
If you think bears are cute (which they kinda are) and you value their lives, you’ll do everything possible to keep them safe … which includes preventing them from learning to like people food!

We wanted to catch the morning shuttle from Dick’s Creek Gap into Hiawasee first thing in the morning do chose to set camp on a flat space along side a creek about .6 mi up the hill from the gap. Darkage, Smalls, & I were talking and joking as we set up camp when suddenly Darkage said “bear!” He’d seen a little bear cub’s butt as he shelled and took off into the brush. Smalls and I turned a 360 scanning the area just in time to glimpse a large dark shape crest the hill behind us and scoot away. Whoah!
That evening, we scrupulously went through every pocket of pants, jackets, and packs and burned or bear bagged EVERYTHING. Darkage found the best possible bear bagging tree about 40′ away from our camp and used the excellent PCT method to hang all our smellables. Yes, even lip balm!
And we all went to bed.
Something woke me in the middle of the night and … I smelled shit! Ew! Like a mix of shit and garbage! OMG was that ME?? I fell back asleep.
In the morning, as we were breaking camp, Smalls mentioned smelling shit the night before and I replied that I’d also smelled it. We looked at each other and realized ….. That had been a bear! It had been close enough to smell!!
Darkage and Smalls went to retrieve our food bags and … found a paw print!

the PCT method


Peeing, pooping, and other things in the woods…

When you’re out in the woods for even a full day let alone days on end, Nature calls.
Here are a few handy tips I’ve learned along the way. If you’re female, you might want to invest in a “stand to pee” device. I happen to use the p-style which works pretty good for me. This enables me to pee standing up without completely disrobing. There’s a bit of a learning curve involved here. For one thing… As females, we’ve been conditioned to not let go of our urine while standing up. We’ve been taught this since we were one or two years old! It can feel “wrong”. You need to be fairly knowledgeable of your own anatomy and you might want to practice at home naked a few times first so you don’t accidentally pee down the leg of your hiking pants. Not that I would do that of course. No… Of course not. And aiming… remember you’re new to this. Practice. Aim at something that will not splash back at you!
One of the really nice benefits of using a stand to pee device like this is you can get away without using toilet paper! Now some women who squat will just carry a bandanna as a pee rag and have it clipped somehow to the back of their pack to flap free and air out. They’ll rinse it out occasionally and toss it in the laundry in town.

Pooping is a bit more involved. :/ When you start feeling that urge, it’s time to start looking around for an appropriate place. This time of year there’s little if any cover in the form of bushes to hide behind. Start looking early because as soon as your bowels get the idea that it’s time well… it’s time! Carry with you your own toilet paper and do not count on finding leaves or grasses to take care of back end business!
There’s a couple of ways you can do this without making a mess. Some women like to find a log if they can lean back on with their feet out maybe 2 1/2 or 3 feet ahead of their rear end. Some can just hold their pants out of the way, squat, and rise when done. A lot of women Will park themselves just slightly downhill from a sapling or branch that’s good grabbing thickness to provide support and help keep their balance. You’ll need to dig a hole with trowel, boots, or hiking pole. Have your toilet paper ready at hand and a couple of baby wipes handy. Then… You do your business. Cover your pile of poop. The used toilet paper and baby wipes go in a separate ziplock Baggie to be packed out. Not so difficult at all except perhaps in the rain.
Blowing your nose is something you may have to do a whole lot while you’re out on the trail. Skip the tissues! Master the snot rocket. It’s easier done than you might think. Lean forward and place one finger against the side of the non-blowing nostril and do a big blow to eject whatever happens to be in the remaining nostril. Then repeat with the other side. One trick you need to remember with this is to not blow into the wind. 😉
About passing gas or belching: just do it. You’re outdoors. You’re among hikers. There are few bodily functions that are taboo topics among hikers… Even perfect strangers!
Dental hygiene is important. Don’t forget to brush your teeth. Use floss. 😀
Sweating Is just plain going to happen. Don’t bother carrying deodorant. You’re working your body really hard; let it do what it was designed to do. There’ll be all kinds of bodily smells … some you did not even know that your own body was capable of producing! Baby wipes are your friends.
A brief little note about baby wipes… if it’s really really cold at night like below freezing… And you need to freshen up before you go to bed, make sure the baby wipes aren’t actually frozen before attempting to use them on any sensitive areas. I’m just saying.

A Beast and a Beauty …

I started the morning hiking alone and decided to go into town on my own. As I walked across the parking lot at Unicoi gap, familiar face asked if I by chance needed a ride into town. Well I did! And I stunk. Oh believe me I reeked to high heaven. This was not glistening lady sweat. I’m sure there was a distinct well perhaps the word “stench” would be appropriate? I insisted we roll the windows down in the car! Laundry, shower, Facebook, groceries, checking on mail drops, sorting out my pack, planning my next few stops, yeah… after 2.5 very rugged miles of trail down off Blue Mountain to the gap, that takes up a good portion of the day!

Every now and then as an hiking along, I have to stop I just have a few words with a particular tree. This happened today with an incredible matriarch of the forest. She was clearly past her prime and in fact it was only her shell and her spirit that was supporting the life of others. I placed my left hand on her smooth solid, slightly damp bark – free trunk and I looked up up up at her weathered white form against a perfect blue sky. I swear from that one angle you could see her female form leaning forward as if she were a figurehead on an ancient sailing ship. I could see the curves of her strong thighs and hips, her belly rounded and rising to breasts and arms stretched forward. How long had she been there? What sights had she see in her lifetime? Her power and beauty are still so evident and made even more so by the scars revealed with the stripping away of her bark.
This will be me. This what I wish: to strip away my bark and show my scars.

Standing beside her, I took our photo and, as I looked at it, perhaps for the very first time … I actually believed I was beautiful.

What I wear …

… when I hike? Several of you’ve asked me what I’ve chosen for clothing.
I have 3 categories of clothing. There’s the clothes I wear for actual hiking, the clothes that I add for particularly cold or rainy weather, and then there are my camp/sleeping clothes.
Let’s start from the bottom up with my every day hiking clothes. I start with in Injinji toe socks. I had wanted to go originally with all wool but i liked the idea of toes not rubbing together and I have not had one single blister or hotspot!
My hiking pants are by Eastern Mountain Sports. Lightweight, rain resistant (not rain-proof), I chose men’s designs because of the looser waist and more pockets.
Choosing the right bra was a challenge for this larger gal! Eventually I settled on a satin soft cup, wireless bra from Cacique. It has padded straps, wide mesh all across the back, and 4 hooks. And they come in pretty colors too!
I love the comfort and fit of Minus 33100% Merino wool shirts and start out the day with either my grey 1/4 zip long sleeved shirt or the pink short sleeve T shirt.
Over that, I generally slip on a loose synthetic Nike dri-fit T shirt.
I wear a cotton bandanna on my head.
It it’s really cold, I will wear lightweight silk longjohns under the pants. I could add my Smart Wool glove liners. Depending on wind or rain I might add my Outdoor Research hooded rain jacket and/or my Marmot insulated waterproof mittens over the glove liners. I might switch out the bandanna for my warm Mich Fest cap.
When I get into camp and I’m no longer hiking is when my body cools down. I change into my camp clothes which consist of a super lightweight diwn jacket, midweight Minus 33 1/4 zip wool top, Eastern Mountain Sports heavy weight TechWick tights, heavy warm socks, and my Crocs. These are the clothes I sleep in as well. 🙂




Rocky Days …

So today was a rough day in a lot of ways. So much to be grateful for… The trail angel giving us a ride to the gap we needed to start from the winds were not nearly as bad as they were yesterday. Which was brutal! I had pleasant hiking companion my own age. Hiking some of these trails it’s really hard. It’s the backpack it’s my weight; it’s my age. it’s the terrain. I really only have a hard time going uphill and some of the very steep downhills I have to be careful of. But this morning was just so so hard and I wanted nothing more than to be in bed and roll over into my lover’s arms. That’s not going to happen anytime soon. Actually it might never happen again… And that horrible unknown is well… Horrible. I don’t deal so well with unknown things. I always say that if I know what to expect can deal with anything. Anything. It’s when I don’t know what’s going on and I’m in the dark, when I’m clueless. Those are the times that I don’t deal so well. Fact is there are unknowns in life. There are unknowns in love. There are unknowns on the trail. I hate that! So much of my life has felt like it’s been on shaky ground. I need something solid. And I think that’s one reason why I’m hiking this trail.… I need to be able to count on myself. No one else can give me that solid ground. I have to find it or make it on my own.
And ego… This trail! When it hit me how much this trail is about ego! Why not do something shorter than this? Why why why bite of something so so big? I could’ve done the Benton McKay trail. Or the Camino. Or the local FingerLakes Trail! No… it HAD to be the Appalachian Trail and it’s 2183 miles.
Wow! None of this is what I was planning on saying in my blog today! But it’s been the stuff on my mind all day as I’ve been hiking.


Blood Mountain

… Did I build it up so big in my head that I was just scared of it? My shuttle dropped me off at this nondescript place and told me all I had to do is take that blue blazed trail up a mile and I’d run into where I had previously left the AT the day before. I honestly did not have a lot of faith in what he was telling me but I did it anyways and it turned out he was right. The trail was pleasant and I had a lovely time. I didn’t see a single soul on that blue blaze trail to get up to Jarrard Gap on the AT. It was another really excellent day for soul-searching, didn’t run into a single thru-hiker the entire 6.5 miles. I did run into a couple of locals that were just out for little day hikes and 2 really skinny young SOBO guys.
It was really cold and I had to stop several times bundle up. I used my new Aqua Mira drops in the spring. I just generally really enjoyed the silence of the trail … which was sometimes drowned out by my busy thoughts. I sang the thank you song over and over and over again always adding new verses! Actually going up blood mountain from that side was relatively easy! Lots of slow gentle switchbacks. When I started getting to the Rocky outcroppings I started getting really excited! It was beautiful the sky was beautiful! The clouds were beautiful! The rocks were stunning! The rhododendron trees were were fabulous!
And… I made it to the top of blood mountain! I was the only one there as I explored the old shelter and briefly considered staying the night there. But I was afraid I would freeze and I did not have a bear canister for my food. I hopped around on the slick rock Taking loads of photos and just enjoying the butter glory that is our earth. So much joy I felt! I made it to the top. I didn’t die. I was going to be okay! I still had 1.5 miles to get down and had been amply warned to be very careful of my footing on the way down. The warnings were very much justified! And I did indeed slip once… coming down hard on my right elbow and my right butt cheek. I hurried as much as I dared considering the treacherous terrain but the sun was going down fast and I certainly did not want to be out there after dark. I came down that last hill and could see Mountain Crossing store across the road. I made it!






Third time’s the charm?

Okay briefly … I started this morning at Woody Gap, hiked past Lance Creek and on to Jarrard Gap. I had a blast without a heavy pack and often paused to commune with a particularly stately tree or photograph remarkable mosses and lichens. When I got to Jarrard Gap, I admitted that at my pace, I wasn’t likely to make it over Blood Mountain by dusk so looked for the road access mentioned in my trail guide … and realized it was 1.6 mi behind me. Well! It was either retrace my steps that 1.6 mi and find a ride from there to Neel Gap …. or hoof the 5 mi to Neel Gap in the darkening rain. Stealth camping was not an option since my pack was being delivered to Neels Gap for me and I had nothing with me but rain gear, water and lunch. :-/ Not a difficult decision!
So I turned around to retrace my steps back to Henry Gap.
The trail was pleasant even in the rain and I continued singing and chanting (thank you, Gael Mackenzie!) feeling really good despite the now pouring rain. I even paused to make a short video.
Suddenly I found myself at … Lance Creek!? I had passed the Henry Gap side trail by nearly a mile! The skies had opened! I begged a moment’s shelter under another hiker’s tarp to catch my breath. Wow! I was going to traverse that same section of trail for the THIRD time! I could only laugh and shake my head. Lesson: pay attention!
This time I really hurried. By then, the trail was a creek with 2 inches of running water and I was wet through to the skin. I kept thinking of pancakes waiting for me. (Did not realize exactly how food motivated I am!) I huffed back up the trail and found the unmarked turn off, following it to a road with a house. Do I dare knock on a stranger’s door and ask for shelter on the porch while I call for a ride? Nooooo! But then I saw bumper stickers on the car … HRC equality symbol, “I ❤ equality", and pro-Obama! My people!!!! I knocked.
Well I got my ride (from the owner of Wolf Gap Hostel) and made it to Mountain Crossings JUST as they were putting up the closed sign. I yelled "wait! you have my pack in there!" and they let me in. Whew, that was close! With a solid night of rain predicted, of course there were no bunks available so they sold me a frozen pizza and referred me to Blood Mountain Cabins next door.
I was soaked and half frozen! I turned the thermostat to 70, preheated the oven, peeled off layers of wet clothes (I must say the Minus 33 merino wool shirt performed great!), popped the pizza in the oven, and stood in the hot shower till the pizza was done! My hands were so chilled that the water felt scalding but soon I stepped out of the shower to a warm room and ready pizza. I live to see another day!
Many thanks to those who made generous donations allowing me to get this cabin for a night! ❤