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.
… 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!
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! ❤
Here I am at Wolf Pen Gap Hostel with some extra time on my hands. A bunch of you have asked me privately about my gear so I decided to show you few of my favorite things.
Dirty Girl Gaiters
Like their website says “Anyone can wear black gaiters! But a dirtXy girl’s gotta do what a dirtXy girl’s gotta do! Accessorize!” These do a bang up job of keeping rain, mud, and debris out of your hiking or running shoes and they look snazzy as heck.
Ultra light Cuben fiber stuff sacks from zPacks
I have the sleeping bag sized stuff sack, the roll/lock food hanging bag, and the AWESOME fleece lined Velcro close bag that flips inside out to make a great pillow!
A sit/kneel pad that’s part of a ThermaRest Z lite sleeping pad. I just cut a regular size sleeping pad into a couple of sections and only kept one. This is come in so handy, so many times!! I keep it strapped to the side of my pack so it’s always handy for me to sit on a damp log or cold rock. It also serves as a nice space to kneel getting in and out of my tent. And it can act as additional cushioning/insulation under my sleeping pad.
The Jet Boil Sol. There are several versions of jet boil out now. I got this one a couple of years ago and it is serving me well. It still doesn’t simmer as low as I would like but it does what I need to do.
AquaMira tablets. So long this water is not murky and full of gunk, these simple to use tablets are taking care of my need for clean water.
Cho-pat knee braces. I took the advice of other long distance hikers who are my age and older and I don’t regret buying these. If I feel a little twinge in one knee, the brace goes on immediately and saves me. If I wake up feeling stiff in the morning, the knee braces go on and stay there for an hour or two until my body warms up. Love them!
Minus 33 100% merino wool clothing wow! I am totally sold on merino wool shirts now. I have two of the quarter zip long sleeve shirts, one midweight and one light weight. I have a lightweight short sleeve T-shirt and tank top. They are all incredibly comfortable and machine washable/dryable. They are a bit on the delicate side however, so be careful of snags. Minus 33 carries women’s sizes up to 3x, though I think they run a tiny bit snug.
So those are a few of my favorite things for now.
Hawk Mountain Shelter to part way up Justus Mountain
How did I manage to hike 9 miles pn day one and totally crap out on day two?
Waking was interesting. In an effort to not freeze to death the night before, I had used my emergency blanket underneath me and then up over me but somehow in the middle of the night it had slipped up over my face causing a serious gathering of condensation. I became aware of this in middle of the night when icy water dripped on my face. Yes. It had been a fairly miserable night punctuated by that stunning display of nature when nature called.
Morning was interesting. I warmed myself front and back at the bonfire some others had built and tried to take my mind off the fact that whichever side was not actively being warmed was freezing. Honestly breakfast was the farthest thing from my mind but I knew I had to eat Something. Two chocolate Carnation instant breakfasts, Starbucks instant via coffee, and some protein powder in hot water topped off with a normally chewy but at that moment hard crunchy breakfast bar. It was food.
The only way to get warm was going to be to hike so I packed everything up and I hiked. It quickly became apparent that I was not moving as fast as I did on day one. How did I manage to cover 9 miles that previous day??? Was it adrenaline on day one that kept me going? Was that the lack of serious sleep that was now causing me to slow down? It quickly became apparent that I was going to be much much slower than day one and Leah went on ahead. That was cool. No problem. We had agreed in the beginning to hike our own hikes.
Did I mention that on day one I got my first injury on the trail? Yes indeed! I slipped on an icy rock while crossing a stream and banged up my left shin really good. I’m quite proud of the bruising! Well that left knee was bothering me a little bit on day two but as soon as I put on my Cho-pat knee brace, all was good.
The weather for day two was terrific! It was exactly the kind of weather I had hoped for. The trail was muddy in some areas, other areas were dry and rocky. Still other areas had frozen mud. I was enthralled with the stark beauty around every bend and stopped at one point on the side of a mountain to shout into the wilderness “YOU ARE SO BEAUTIFUL!” Part of the trail was that rich red Georgia clay and other areas were scattered with iron pyrite, mica, and marble. I really wanted to pick up samples to take home for grand daughter Evalyn.
I hiked slowly and took whatever breaks I needed. Eventually at the bottom of Cooper’s Gap I realized that was no way I was going to make it to the next shelter 3.5 miles away up a mountain. (and did I mention that everything is up?) Three very nice folks from Paducah, Kentucky all around my age said they had just been told about a campsite under a rocky overhang about a quarter-mile up the mountain and invited me to camp with them. I quickly accepted their offer and we slowly trudged up that last quarter mile.
What utter delight to have warmer temperatures and be out of the wind for the night! We got to see the sun set from our rocky perch and, after a dinner of potato soup with spinach and chicken, I turned in at about 7 PM.
Again nature called in the middle of the night and this time I was able to crawl out my tent and move three steps to the left. I could see below me lights of a small town and a million stars above and then … I peed off the side of the mountain. <~ Amazon Moment
… I woke at the hiker hostel excited and nervous … one of the last ones up. Mad dash to pack my pack, use an actual flush toilet for time for the last time for who knows how long, and eat a hearty breakfast.
I was being picked up by my Facebook friend Leah and her parents for the ride to the parking lot .9 miles from the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail. To say that we were excited is an extreme understatement.
The road up there was crazy steep, narrow, twisty, and snow-covered. It only added to our ever increasing adrenaline rush!
Getting out of the car that last-minute adjusting gloves, jackets, packs we kept looking at each other and saying “oh my god! we’re here! oh my god, we’re here!”
The .9 mile trail from the parking lot to the trailhead was icy slippery rock key and we didn’t care… We flew! That adrenaline and our excitement carried us all the way to the top of Springer where the icy winds whipped us. This was no genteel southern welcome! Oh no! This was Mother Nature daring us… challenging us … already demanding our best.
We made great time that day, hoofing 9 miles to Hawk Mountain Shelter at a reasonable time. But it was cold… I can’t even describe how cold. But apparently got down to 19° that night and the wind was about 40 miles an hour with occasional gusts higher. My boots and water bottles were wrapped in a plastic bag stuffed into the foot of my down sleeping bag so they would not freeze overnight. Put on every article of clothing I had except for my muddy damp hiking pants. And I was still cold. I was already wearing my hooted down jacket but not until I pulled my wind/rain jacket into my sleeping bag and tucked it around my thighs and butt was I able to get to sleep. I slept what felt like all night, waking at what I thought must surely be close to dawn. Pulling out my phone to check the time, I was dismayed to see it was only 10 PM. Ugh 😦
I rearranged repositioned myself, forcing myself to sleep for the rest that I would need the next day. I actually was fairly warm… Except for my nose. My nose was freezing.
And the inevitable happened. I had to pee. I was afraid this would happen. But knowing myself and my bladder very well, I knew was very likely. I held off as long as I could, trying to get a little more sleep in each time, my bladder woke me a little more urgency. Eventually, it had to have its way and I oh so very very reluctantly disengaged myself from my little cocoon of warmth to emerge to a midnight wonderland of sparkling frozen delight. The wind had died some and the sky was clearing enough for me to see thousands of stars scattered across the sky and a million glittering ice crystals coating every branch and pine needle. It was magnificent! My p-style helped me take care of business quickly with minimum skin exposure.
I crawled back into my warm cocoon grateful for the opportunity to have night.
I consider the adventure to have begun the moment I close the door behind me at home. Loving tearful goodbyes with granddaughters and my daughter at the airport. Crazy rush all last night, about 45 minutes of sleep trying to get my place ready for my renter who’s awesome!
Did I mention that my friends threw me a surprise going away party at coffee night? There were about 30 wonderful women with smiles and hugs and some of us and cried!
I was ready as I’m going to get! I’ll have four days in Phoenix playing with the grandchildren and camping out in my son’s backyard with my trail gear. LOL I’ll pack everything up each morning and set everything up again each night. This should help me get into the routine but I will need on the trail.
You have no idea how excited I am! 30 years of wishing and dreaming and reading and planning and hoping and …
I am actually making it happen!
I can’t even think about all this without either jumping up and down or crying. You know… I expect I’ll be doing a lot of both on the trail.