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.

20130326-231002.jpg

20130326-231025.jpg

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!
Wow!

the PCT method

20130324-231019.jpg

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. 🙂

20130317-222349.jpg

20130317-222407.jpg

20130317-222527.jpg

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.

20130315-184850.jpg

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!

20130315-190209.jpg

20130315-190229.jpg

20130315-190258.jpg

20130315-190319.jpg

20130315-190341.jpg