Maryland, or as I like to call it, the land of luxurious toilets!!

Day 1 or 96

Harpers Ferry to Crampton Gap Shelter, 10 miles.

Yep, back on the trail peeps, only for a few days, enough time to knock out another state but I’m definitely back. Feeling so good about hiking again, packing my pack was so exciting, doing a food supply shop, packing everything into zip lock bags, being frivolous and packing 3 pairs of underwear, buddy I was pumped, until I felt the weight of my full pack and suddenly it all came flashing back, walking until your feet were bleeding, bruises everywhere, dirt in all your creases, matted hair, bears, snakes, ticks, all the dreadful things, what the hell was I doing……..

Adventuring with my best friend, that’s what, and I couldn’t wait to get going, I was physically (shout out to Sarah and her marathon ballet) and mentally ready, I felt strong of body and mind, so off we went!

The first 3 miles were a glorious, flat, canal towpath, a nice gentle ease in,  it’s over a month later in the summer compared to last year so it was hot, not as hot as it could be, a tornado blew through the state just a few days previously and cleared a lot of heat out but the humidity was high, humidity = sweaty, very very sweaty! I was absolutely ready to get into the trees and up mountains by the time the 3 miles were over, as soon as we turned off the towpath the trail was right there,  familiarly brown, roots and rocks galore, but I’d missed it! No prizes for guessing, it was up time, the elevation in Maryland is pretty low in comparison to other states and the climb out of town felt unusually easy. The best thing about day one is undoubtedly being able to pack a gourmet lunch, subway subs! 

When willow and I hike together we often spend hours not saying a word to each other, not because we have nothing to say but because we have so much to think about. The silence is often broken up with profound thoughts and stories about life, work, family and play and other times we talk about our favourite vegetables or best ever showers!  

Right at the end of the day we popped out at Gathland State Park, Maryland is rich in civil war history and there is cool stuff to see and read but very best of all was the flush toilets and running drinking water. Even if you don’t need to go, as a hiker it’s mandatory to spend at least 5 minutes trying to poop in every real toilet you come across, this one had seats, a locking door, paper, soap, it was pure luxury! 

With less than half a mile to our destination for the evening we filled every container we had with water, this late in the summer, the streams we crossed were bone dry, so we couldn’t believe our luck to have running drinking water. We hiked on feeling good after our first day and found our spot for the night, it was upsettingly off the trail though, I will walk all day to get to a destination, but when I get there and have to walk 0.3 of a mile off the trail I get pretty upset and I am fully aware of how irrational it is. Luckily the campsite was worth walking extra for, there were lots of beautifully flat spots, lots of logs to sit on and the whole place to ourselves. Nearly all of the thru hikers are way ahead by now if they are to make it to the end before winter sets in, but we did cross paths with a few sections hikers.  

Our evening consisted of camp chores which look like; crocs on, quick yoga stretch, tents up, sleeping pad inflated, sleeping bag out and pack unpacked, cook dinner whilst having a quick baby wipe wash, eat dinner, brush teeth, spend 20 mins trying to hang a bear bag, a couple of tent games including what’s in my hand (willow really got me with holding a trekking pole this time) and bed.  The crickets, cicadas, and other night insects were so loud I could barely hear willow in her tent right next to mine but I comforted myself by thinking that I wouldn’t be able to hear the snap of a branch under the foot of a larger animal which keeps me awake a lot more!

Day 2 or 97

Crampton Gap Shelter to Anapolis Rocks, 14.9 miles.

We planned a pretty big mileage day today considering we have only just got back the trail, but we were up for it. Maryland had been pretty well behaved so far. Nice trail, easier elevation, nice weather etc, and the morning flew by. There are very few views on this section trail and so deep into the summer months, the vegetation is lush and full, blocking out a lot of light, it really is a green tunnel, the air feels like it’s full of oxygen, the smell is like no other, unless you can smell yourself, that is a smell I could do without.

7 miles bashed out by lunch, willow took a small tumble on the way, hitting the deck knees first, she seemed to bounce down and back up again but managed to scrape up her shins, so we were glad our pitstop included yet more flushing toilets and running water. My feet really were feeling it, the trail before lunch went from trail to boulder field a few more times than necessary and we rocked into lunch starving, I had to really contain myself from eating my next days breakfast already! We probably sat for over an hour for lunch, it was such a lovely spot, there were a few hikers milling around and I was also putting off putting my shoes back on but we forced ourselves back into our sweaty everything and took off for the afternoon. 

Within a couple of miles we were going to see the original Washington monument, the one before the big white finger in DC. I caught a glimpse of a sign that said ‘Washington Monument State Park, 4 mins’ that was of course driving time, which was slightly disheartening as it would take us over an hour to stomp the 3 mile uphill!  

Right after the monument was my turn to bite the dust. I’m not as bouncy as willow, when I go down I go down hard,  so hard in fact I literally couldn’t get up, my hands were pinned under my body and my body was completely pinned under my pack,  I was panicking, then laughing, then when I was finally free, crying again at my stupid scraped up leg and stupidity. It’s such a shock when one second the trail is under your feet and the next it’s right under your face.  My thought pattern is always; oh my God I’m dead, nope I’m not but I’m definitely paralysed, nope I feel everything and I’ve definitely broken my pelvis, nope just kidding I’ve got a bit of a graze and I’m filthy but I’ll survive this time. Completely dramatic I know but falling hurts as a grown up, you are really far from the ground!!

We had a bit of trouble finding a camp spot for a while tonight, we had to hike nearly half a mile off the trail, but we got a great location right next to a water source coming right out of the rocks,  it was ice cold and amazing. I stripped off and washed as much of the days sweat off me as I could stand, it was like an ice bath. Today we passed a few day hikers carrying just a little water bottle if anything, out on a little mile long hike and they said something along the lines of ‘great day for a walk’, now usually I’m very jovial and respond with great English niceties, however when you just biffed it with 35lbs on your back I just wanted to scream back, ‘you mean nice day for some very vigorous sport, I’m a fricking hiking athlete bitches’ however I refrained. 

Had a bit of a mishap with dinner, we have been trying new things and had found a pesto pasta, but didn’t realise it was spaghetti pasta which didn’t fit in the pot and whilst trying to break it up I spilt pesto dust everywhere and we were pretty convinced a hipster bear would come for us in the night (spoiler alert, we made it!)

We were treated to a great view right by our tenting spot which was Anapolis Rocks, a beautiful vantage point where we sat and took in the glowing sky after the sunset. A pretty great day considering how terrible it could have turned out, chuffed with our mileage, chuffed with how uninjured we both are and chuffed with not having to dig a hole to shit in so far!

Day 3 or 98

Annapolis Rocks to Raven Rock Shelter, 12 miles. 

Today was a head down and hike kind of day.  We had no real view points or points of interest, it was just us and a very wooded trail, which was a relief as it would have been roasting in the direct sun. The trail wasn’t easy today, lots of boulders making it slow going and tedious, meaning we got to our lunch destination much later than anticipated, both of us having the hunger cranks, I literally ripped open my food bag and started eating immediately, so hungry in fact I did eat some of my next days breakfast!  

We had done a good bulk of our miles in the morning giving us a more relaxed afternoon however the trail had other ideas, the very last mile and a bit of the day was an uphill battle, I’ve really been working on my uphill strength and was very pleased that I was able to finally keep up with feather weight Willow. It was a tough climb because it was so sweaty, that amount of humidity just zaps your energy, I was sweating so much it was pooling on my eyelashes then I would blink salt water into my eyeballs, which was mildly unpleasant. The humidity has caused other even more unpleasant side effects, when you are wearing tight sports shorts and your are moist for pretty much 90% of your day, chafing happens, arse chafing to be exact and not forgetting the spectacular rash!

We arrived at a shelter tonight which was pretty much brand new, it was beautiful, but still my tent is the place I want to sleep, always. We got our camp chores done and had time to sit, and relax before retiring for the evening to our boudoirs. I actually had a pretty terrible nights sleep which mainly consisted of a series of unfortunate events, including but not limited to, rolling over my water bladder causing a small amount of flooding inside my tent, finding what I was convinced was a tick on me and after realising my headlamp batteries had died and I had deleted my torch app on my phone realised it was actually just a small very sticky sticker from the inside label of my t-shirt attached to me and also my air mattress deflating every few hours, not my favourite!! 

Day 4 or 99

Raven Rock Shelter to some Road crossing in Pennsilvania, 8 miles.

Packed up ready to go with only crossing the Maryland – Pennsilvania border on our minds.  We had a quick view point pitstop first thing followed by a literal sick joke boulder field decent for what seemed like miles. It was truly tough going, so impactful on your body, it’s impossible to get any kind of pace going and we are so fearful of falling that it takes forever! After just 5 miles we came to Pen-mar State Park where we ate lunch on real benches and pooped in a real toilet, I must always remember to appreciate these small things in the real world, it’s so easy to take for granted! 

After just a 5 min hike after lunch we crossed the border of Maryland and Pennsilvania, ending my 6th state and entering my 7th, it was also the Mason-Dixon line. I have now officially hiked all of the trail in the southern United States and have now entered the northern states. Unfortunately on this trip we could go just a few more miles to end the day,  I dearly hope my future will consist of more hiking, this trial and others all around the world.  I try not to complain too much about trail life, it certainly isn’t the easy life, but I’m addicted. 

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17. Pringles

DAY 88 and 89

The last 2 days were extremely weird.  I found it very hard to get a hitch back to the trail where I got off as it’s a toll road and the driver would have had to pay $20 to enter the national park.  I ended up getting a ride much further down the trail and with much deliberation I decided to hike south instead of north so that I didn’t miss the miles.  Made me feel very virtuous.  The trail was very bland today, and hiking in the opposite direction was disorientating, I dont think it helped that it was all uphill. I passed many familiar faces who all protested I was going the wrong way. I camped close enough to town that I could hear the 4th of July funzies, there was a brass band playing the stars wars theme and it made me chuckle in my sleeping bag.

After another weird southbound day I got myself back on track.  I spent an unexpected zero day in Front Royal,  it was my first real zero miles day in about a month.  I was able to sit in bed,  eat food and watch telly whilst it poured with rain outside,  exactly how bad weather days should be spent.

Day 91

Front Royal to Manassas Gap Shelter. 10.7 miles.

Because of all the rain and storms, it’s so humid. It’s about 95 degrees (35 Celsius) and 80% humidity. Within half a mile I had sweat running off my elbows and my glasses kept steaming up until finally I just took them off and hiked blind for a while.  The trail turned extremely rocky and it took me a minute to realise why it was taking me so long to make progress, I couldn’t see!! Parts of the trail were very well behaved,  the flattest trail I have ever had, with huge and imposing poplar trees lining my route.

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Unfortunately the trail inevitably always goes up,  just under 1000ft but I felt every one of them.  I had to stop about a mile from the shelter which is unheard of for me,  I’m a plow on regardless kind of girl, but I had nothing left in my tank. I sat directly on the trail to eat some salty snacks.  The last mile was horrendous on my achillies and I was so relieved to get to camp.  I quickly pitched my tent and got my camp chores done. At 8:15pm I’m in bed hardly able to keep my eyes open!!

Day 92

Manassas Gap Shelter to Rod Hollow Shelter.  12.9 miles.

Today I cried a lot.  I cried because I was sad and missed home,  I cried because I fell over and bashed my knee,  I cried because I kept tripping and felt so clumsy,  I cried because my achillies is really bad and I mostly cried because I couldn’t get a damn Coldplay song out of my head and quite frankly I hate Coldplay!! Today was long and so very hot,  the humidity just sucks all of your energy. There were no nice views, just miles and miles of a green tunnel.

Day 93

Rod Hollow Shelter to Bears Den Hostel. 9.8 miles.

Bold statement: Today was some of the hardest miles I have ever hiked.  I entered what is lovingly called the roller-coaster,  it’s 14 miles of relentless mountain climbing,  9 peaks, no switchbacks,  straight up and straight down, rocks and boulders everywhere.  It was easily 100degrees, I felt like I was in the Hunger Games!

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Sophie Neverclean 

There were several saviours to the day,  firstly I came across some epic trail magic. Parents of another hiker had set up at a dirt road crossing with cold beverages,  veggie chips and snacks galore, it was so wonderful.

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Trail magic 

Secondly I passed the 1000 mile mark!  WHAT?!? I think I just hiked 1000 miles,  how ridiculous!

Lastly after dragging myself up the last mountain of the day, I’m very serious when I say dragged, it took me nearly an hour to climb 0.6 of a mile, I arrived at Bears Den Hostel. For a small fee you can stay or camp, use the shower and laundry facilities, they had frozen pizza you could cook and a lounge with sofas to chill on. I miss chairs with backs so much,  on the trail you either sit on the ground or if you are lucky the shelter may have a picnic table.  The hostel was everything I wanted after the hellscape of the day.  Today could have been terrible, but as much as it tried it just wasn’t. I was physically challenged beyond anything I’ve put my poor body through before but somehow I was exhilarated. The evening was spent with some great people, up until recently I’ve felt like a hiker imposter, like everyone else was legit and I was just pretending, but today I was one of them, a hiking viking!

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Day 94

Bears Den Hostel to David Lesser Memorial Shelter.  11.4 miles.

I had a great pancake breakfast before leaving the hostel this morning, what luxury! The first part of the days hike was equally as brutal as yesterday,  the serious sweating has of course brought out the best in my skin, my leg rash is back with vengeance, but after 4 miles, a great snack with a view and the end of the roller-coaster,  I was finally done with Virginia!!!!!! Virginia has held 544 miles of the AT containing both my very worst and most bestest parts of the trail. I am so thankful to have reached this state line,  it’s through sheer stubbornness and determination that I’ve even made it here.

Not many minutes later the heavens opened and it downpoured,  for once I let it fall on me, I made no attempt to stay dry, grateful for the coolness and relief from the heat.  I was rewarded for my positivity about the weather with a trail centre where I was able to snag a free cherry soda to drink with my lunch. The rest of the miles seemed down right easy and uneventful in comparison to the last few days and I breezed the final 4 miles. The shelter I’m camping at tonight is one of the very best I have stayed at.  It has a porch with benches, the tent sites are all flat,  and there is a separate covered cooking pavilion with a porch swing which is where I’m sat writing my blog tonight.

Day 95

David Lesser Memorial Shelter to Harpers Ferry.  9.4 miles.

Great nights sleep last night,  I felt very at peace,  the trail the last few days has been so very challenging,  possibly the most challenging this far and I just feel so accomplished.  I guess now is a good time to announce that I’m ending my trail journey here in Harpers Ferry,  the spiritual half way mark of the AT.  Apart from the fact I’m considerably more broken than I care to admit,  I actually feel good, not great but good about this being my destination. The trail has become my tube of pringles (who doesn’t love a crisp metaphor)  if you eat half the tube you can put the lid on and save the the rest for another time,  you feel good about your decision and so does your body.  There are times when you look down in the tube and think well,  I’ve gone this far, I may as well finish the damn tube! The second half is never as tasty, tainted with guilt, leaving you with a very uncomfortable feeling.  I fear the ‘well I may as well carry on’ mentally will not only break me but leave a bad taste in my mouth about the trail. Right now the trail is still magical and wonderful to me but I’ve been hiking in considerable pain for several hundred miles because I’m too damn stubborn to stop, but I want to be the one to make the decision,  I do not want to be thrown off. I know you will all say nice things because you are all wonderful and your support has been my only form of sanity some days but I can’t help but feel I am letting people down. Once I have had time to think about the last 3 months I will dedicate a post to this decision, hopefully with more profound things to say that aren’t about snacks.

My final hike into Harpers Ferry was great, I got to pass another state line between Virginia and West Virginia and everything smelt wonderful from the rain.

Harpers Ferry holds the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, the head office of the trail if you will.  I was able to have my pic taken for this year’s hiker log.

I couldn’t be luckier or richer in friends, Willow who has been my adventure partner, cheerleader and rock throughout my journey joined me for my last few miles of my trail journey.  We hiked to the Maryland state line, ending how we started,  scared, clueless,  but overwhelmingly happy.

16. Getting into the groove

Day 79

Rockfish Gap to Calf Mountain Shelter.  7.6 miles.

Great news,  I got my replacement mattress pad in the post today, mine has had a puncture in it for several weeks meaning that overnight it deflates and I end up with my old lady bones on the ground, I’m excited about the prospect of a full nights sleep.

Coming out of town I always do a short mileage day as my pack is always at its heaviest. The terrain and trail was well behaved,  I was just thankful to not be climbing directly up 4000 feet. I arrived at the shelter in great time and at the shelter was a ridgerunner, a trail warden if you will,  I love listening to their stories of pure human stupidity, like people hiking the trail in flip flops or complaining because the trees are in the way!

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Perfect rest stop

It promises to rain tonight and for much of the day tomorrow,  I’m trying to he positive about it, but it’s so hard, I understand rain is the weather of my people but I can’t like it! I will enter Shenandoah National Park tomorrow which I’m excited about, loads of nature, views and tourist stops selling burgers and milkshakes.

Day 80

Calf Mountain Shelter to Blackrock Hut. 13 miles.

Around 4am there was an almighty storm, the thunder was so strong I could feel it in the ground underneath me, the rain was so heavy and loud it was oppressive and the lightning was blinding.  It did not start to even let up until after 10am. I finally crawled out of my tent and was surprised to see every other hiker still in camp, when usually people are on the trail before 8am. Everybody’s gear was a wreck including mine, my ickle tent is wonderful and feels like home to me, but no backpacking tent can withstand the level of wind and rain from last night. I had no choice but to pack everything away saturated wet inside and out, my ground sheet was buried under a sheet of thick sludge and all I could do was stuff it in.  The weather was dreary and rainy all day and I felt like my pack was so heavy it was holding the sky up. About 6 miles into my day at a road crossing a car pulled up, long story short,  I must have looked so pathetic they ended up driving me a couple of miles up the road to get me closer to my destination,  they fed me delish chocolate and I was somewhat embarrassed by my lack of cleanliness.

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Hiker grime 

I had just a couple miles to the shelter and I got there seconds before another major downpour.  I have to sleep in the shelter tonight as my tent is such a wreck, but the group of hikers here are funny and interesting.  I feel like I am saying that more often now. Approximately 60% of hikers that started in Georgia have now dropped out,  the 40% of us who are left are serious about the trail, making shelter life more bearable.

Day 81

Blackrock Hut to Loft Mountain Campgrounds.  6.1 miles.

Up and out by 7:30am this morning, that’s a record for me,  but also I never sleep well in shelters so I’ve was awake from the early hours. I climbed Blackrock mountain early on, which had an incredible view down the Shenandoah valley.

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In the Shenandoah National Park there are proper Campgrounds you can pay to stay at. They are mostly aimed at the road travelers with big campers but they also have little tent spots as well. For 15 bucks it’s so worth it, you get a flat camp spot, a bear vault for storage so no need to throw and store your food in a tree and a picnic table to sit at, sheer luxury for a hiker. To top it all they have flushing toilets, running water and a little shop, I’m pretty sure it’s a Hilton! I was able to admire an incredible sunset right from my campsite and had a real feeling of being humbled and privileged to see it. I am going to spend a day here before meeting my good friend Fin who is coming to hike with me for a week. I’m so much looking forward to having some company.

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Day 83

Loft Mountain Campgrounds to Pinefield Hut. 7.1 miles.

Such a great day,  I love having a hiking buddy and I’m lucky Fin is an experienced backpacker.  The weather was great,  the hiking was easy and we just chatted up a storm. We stumbled upon our first piece of Shenandoah wildlife in the form of a rather large rattlesnake which took us a while to work out how to get around it. We are taking it easy for the first 2 days then I’m hoping Fin will motivate me to be doing more miles in a day than I have been recently. Fin is an athletic trainer so I’m hoping she will help me with my getting stronger goal, watch this space!!

Day 84

Pinefield Hut to Hightop Hut. 8.6 miles.

Another great hiking day, Fin and I are great hiking buddies, similar pace, similar routine and loads to chat about. There was a threat of rain and storms early evening so after a quick lunch at a beautiful overlook, which just so happened to be the 900 mile marker we booked it to the shelter and quickly decided to sleep in it to stay dry.  The rain never really transpired to anything and there was a weird vibe with some other hikers,  I definitely love my tent.

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Day 85

Hightop Hut to Bearfence Mountain Hut. 12.9 miles.

Woah,  my first bigger mileage day in rather a long time and I have to say a brilliant trail day. The Shenandoahs have a bad rep from thru hikers because it’s busy with tourists and roads, but also because the trail is deep in a green tunnel with less viewpoints.  I however have been loving it. The trail is well maintained,  the terrain although very hilly is manageable, sometimes even leisurely.  We got 6.4 miles in before 11:30 where we stopped at a great picnic ground for a long lunch.  The sun came out and dried up all the rain so that achey, smelly hikers could hike the trail again.  It’s been pretty humid recently which means when I hike my glasses steam up #glassesgirlprobs. The 6 miles after lunch were good too, but by the last mile I was feeling it. On the side trail to the shelter we saw out first bear,  a cute little baby about 15ft away from us, rustling in the trees the otherside of us made us shit our pants and run, getting inbewteen a mama and baby is a sure fire way to get a bear chasing you and as Fin is a triathlete,  I’m pretty sure she’s got the upper hand.

Day 86

Bearfence Mountain Hut to Rock Spring Hut. 11.5 miles.

Boom, another double digit mileage day! Hiked our arses off all morning with the promise of a burger for lunch that did not disappoint. What absolute pleasure it is to hike in glorious sunshine, green all around with views to die for then get a great to try the famous Shenandoah blackberry milkshakes. I’m.worried I might get too accustomed to food that is so readily available.

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From the shelter tonight there is a beautiful view down the valley where I got to watch yet another breathtaking sunset.  I truly feel like I’m a better person for experiencing such beauty.

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Day 87

Rock Spring Hut to Byrds Nest Hut. 10.9 miles.

Another pretty big mileage day considering and I’m not going to lie, I’m feeling it, like someone poured concrete into my shoes overnight kind of feel. We had just a few miles to our lunch destination today, Skyland Resort, a fancy hotel in the middle of the Shenandoahs. I wasn’t going to let the fact that I look and smell pretty ripe stop me from getting my second hot meal on the trail.  I devoured a roast chicken dinner and then needed a small nap to recover.  They had great sofas in the reception area, I had completely forgotten what heaven it is to sit on soft furnishings with a supportive back to them!

The afternoon was tough but magnificent views put a pep in our step and we soon arrived at our last shelter before Fin has to go back home. Having such great company makes the miles float past.

The weather has been getting chilly at night and I usually sleep with my whole self,  head included in my sleeping bag, but I smell so bad I literally can’t stand my own stink. Tomorrow we have a 4 mile quick hike into town where I will have my first shower in 10 days.  I had no idea I could be so OK with being so gross.

15. Short and Sweet

Last week I left everyone feeling very sorry for myself after my fall, and while things are certainly better, no pain, no gain has taken on a whole new meaning. I’m certainly testing my ability to endure which is not necessarily a bad thing but an uncomfortable place to live life.

Day 73

Buena Vista to Seeley Woodworth Shelter. 7.7 miles.

Hiked out today on what felt like weak limbs and an overly full pack.  The weather was great,  decent terrain, all in all an OK hike.  A lot less pain would make the day go from OK to great,  from around the 6 mile mark my feet,  ankles and knees started to protest with the ferocity Emily Pankhurst, if I listened to my body and stopped to rest, getting going again was agony, it was an out and out fight with myself with no medal for the winner.  I dug deep and went into overdrive to make it to the shelter.  I’m frustrated because I was upping my mileage really steadily for a while,  I should be doing 16-18 mile days no problem, instead I’m doing less daily miles than in my first week on the trail and that’s a struggle.  My only goal now is to get stronger and let that strength take me as far north as it can.

As I write my blog tonight there is a severe thunderstorm happening.  My poor little tent feels like it’s being blasted into space, I’m being shaken from the ground up, lightning is coming from everywhere and I’m genuinely scared of being crushed by falling trees.

Day 74

Seeley Woodworth Shelter to The Priest.  6.6 miles.

Today was hell, literal hell. I made it worse I’m sure because mentally I was in a bad place but that aside it was still terrible. The thunderstorm died out overnight, I survived and managed to stay relatively dry but it was still drizzly when I got up. I’m extremely efficient at packing up from inside the tent but there is nothing I can do to make packing up a saturated tent better.  My ground sheet was covered in a thick, cement like mud which if I could have dried it would be OK but I had to pack up with an extra 2 lbs of mud to carry.

Damp and cold I started hiking around 9am and within minutes the heavens opened,  I quickly suited up to prevent a complete soaking, put my head down and hiked. On paper the first 6.6 miles were supposed to be pretty easy,  in reality it was continuous short, extremely steep ups and downs and with the trail now a river my feet were soaked and squelching,  I kept tripping on hidden rocks and it was freezing.  The visibility slowly got worse and for the rest of the morning I could barely see 10ft in front of me. Someone told me that when the trail gets tough I should walk with my head up (this is impossible, I would fall on my face instantly and I don’t have enough tears for that) and I should smile, smiling releases happy endorphins in your brain. I tried so hard to do this today,  not so successfully I think.

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Swamp monster 

I arrived at a shelter at lunchtime and immediately made the decision to go no further,  all I wanted was to be dry and warm. The shelter is called The Priest and instead of signing the trail register, hikers write a trail confession which entertained me for a while.

Several other hikers appeared out if the mist in the same depression I was feeling and also decided to go no further and so the grumpy hiker shelter was formed.  We sat and reminisced, not about the good times but about all the times when the life of a hiker is purely about dodging the hellfire sent by the trail gods. It was a huge weight off my tired and aching shoulders to hear other hikers describe feeling like being on the same rapidly sinking ship, young, old, athletes, newbies and chubby English girls fighting just to walk.  You know it’s been a hard day when at 8pm,  camp is completely silent.

Day 75

The Priest to Harpers Creek Shelter.  7.6 miles.

I slept really well last night,  it dropped in temperature and I was in all of my clothes, socks and tucked fully into my sleeping bag.  It was so snuggly I didn’t want to get out, and I didn’t until gone 9am.

I was dreading the day,  if it was a repeat of yesterday’s weather I was having such negative feelings that I wasn’t sure I could continue.  My day was going to be a 4 mile descent, loosing over 4000ft of elevation,  followed immediately by a huge ascent gaining the elevation plus some back again.

To my absolute pleasure, when I got out of my tent, it was blue skies, birds chirping,  full Disney Princess.  I saddled my pack and got going. Within 10 minutes I was greeted with a spectacular view that had I carried on hiking yesterday I would have missed.

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For over 2 hours I picked my way down the mountain,  the terrain wasn’t great and it crunched every bone in my body but eventually I came to the very bottom where I ate lunch with my feet in the river,  sun on my face in the company of some other great hikers. Sat under a swinging bridge in the valley of 2 magnificent mountains I felt like anything was possible,  gone are the dark thoughts of yesterday and in are the welcoming thoughts of adventures to come.

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Happy places

I knew it would be a gruelling climb up to the shelter, but I greeted it like an old friend, it’s the last 4000ft climb of Virginia and I felt stronger in mind even if my body was betraying me. I arrived a third of the way up the mountain at a great campsite feeling full of beans. I had a leisurely supper, read, chatted with fellow hikers and took a lot of ibuprofen,  my vitamin of choice. There are several weekenders here and I impressed myself at how efficient and how normal my camp chores seem to me, I can get my tent up and bed set, dinner made and eaten,  bear bag hung and in bed in less than an hour,  tonight I chuckled at how long it took three young guys to fight with the rain fly on their tent.  The trail is such a mental game and I have to keep reminding myself of that,  I’m falling asleep looking forward to the trail tomorrow, today has been a great day.

Day 76

Harpers Creek Shelter to Maupin Shelter.  6.4 miles.

I had a very restless night sleep worrying about climbing the mountain today.  I finally fell asleep telling myself, it’s not K2, I’ll make it! For the most part, on the trail in my little cocoon I sleep wonderfully,  much better than at home where my insomnia can be insufferable.

As such I got a late start,  it was a mean 4 mile relentless climb up several thousand feet of elevation.  I went for it hell for leather and it really was hell. There were boulder fields, sharp rocks, hand over hand climbing and steep switchbacks.  Something today was different,  because yesterday was so great,  today I felt invincible,  I put my headphones in and selected very specific songs to listen to, gentle reminders of the people I love. So with the help of my soul sisters, I got down to business,  to save the break of dawn, dodging wagon wheels with just one spoonful of sugar and beasted the mountain.  I climbed for over 3 hours, sweat was dripping everywhere and I felt like a warrior.  

There was no glorious view to greet me at the top which was a slap in the face, but just a mile later I got my reward.  I could see the mountain I came down yesterday and the mountain I climbed today which all looked very imposing, giving me that small and insignificant in the world feeling.

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After such a physically demanding day, again it’s been very short mileage.  At the shelter there are just a few exhausted hikers telling fun and exhilarating stories of the trail. Tomorrow I have just a few miles to a road crossing where I will get a ride into town.  These last few days have been rough physically,  my achillies is really slowing me down and hurts continously but I’m glad I hiked out, I’ve made very few miles in comparison to my usual mileage,  but it’s all forward progress.  A days rest and food are in my future,  but I will look forward to getting back on the trail.

14. Thrills and Spills

Firstly the flu bug I had knocked me for six, I spent 4 days in bed feeling completely rotten. I haven’t been that ill for years,  I don’t think I have ever taken 4 consecutive days off work but there was no way I could get out of bed.  I was Poorly enough that I had to put the Harry Potter movie on silent because it was so loud! Anyway you get the picture,  I was a sad sack of feeling sorry for myself,  while all kinds of meth heads who apparently live at the motel roamed outside my room.  Good news is that apart from my usual lingering cough I feel so much better.

Day 59

Pearisburg to Rice Field Shelter.  6.7 miles.

Guess who’s back, quick clue it’s not Backstreet??  (nineties girl reference)

Yep, the very best hiking buddy in the world who just so happens to be one of my very best friends,  Willow!!  For one ish week I get her back for some great sights and milestones.

We just did a really short half day to ease us both back onto the trail.  Life was pretty great until about half a mile from the shelter when the heavens opened, loud crashes of thunder were directly over our heads and we were instantly soaked through and as soon as we got to the shelter it stopped. There was a great group of people at the shelter tonight including an English couple. I shared my Percy Pigs in exchange for some Ambrosia custard,  it’s the small things that can change your trail mood in an instant.  Just up the hill from the shelter was a fantastic view, I stood there with my great friend all felt right in the world.

 

Day 60

Rice Field Shelter to The Captains.  13.9 miles.

Pretty average hiking day, we spent a lot of time on a ridge line, but the forest was so lush and green we didn’t get any views.  The weather was extremely humid, so all day hiking we were covered in a film of sweat followed by a film of bugs stuck to the sweat. Deja vu, about a mile from the shelter it poured on us, we were slightly more prepared this time with our rain gear accessible but I’m not sure I was any less wet. I’ve got myself a new rain poncho which, love would be an over the top descriptor of how I feel about it but in comparison to my rain coat it’s marvellous

We arrived at the shelter which was a bit dank and Willow persuaded me to hike on to a campsite called the Captains and I’m so glad she did.  The Captain is a person whose house is literally on the trail and he lets people tent in his garden for free. He has built a cool zipline across the river to get into his yard which was great fun and we were lucky enough to arrive right as some hikers were cooking up some hotdogs and invited us to join them, it couldn’t of turned out better.

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Zipping

 

Day 61

The Captains to War Spur Shelter.  11.5 miles.

Basically the jist of the day was that the trail kicked our arses. It was a mixture of really steep uphills, humid weather and miles of boulder fields that did it.

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This is unacceptable

We were both super crabby, hungry and in pain for most of the day, we are rarely crabby with each other which is so wonderful about our friendship, e can still laugh even when life is a sick sick joke. As per our new normal it rained about a mile out from the shelter and continued to rain and thunderstorm throughout the night. There is always beauty to be found in the darkest of mental places, we got to see a great view today,  Virginia is delivering on spectacular sights.

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Day 62

War Spur Shelter to Laurel Shelter. 7 miles.

After yesterday we significantly reduced our mileage, I mean nearly halved it. One of the things I’ve learnt on the trail is when you are having a bad day,  walk less and eat more, it makes the hugest of differences. What we did realise was that we only brought the bare bones of food and it just wasn’t cutting it so the new plan was to get off the trail a day earlier than planned and wallow in the luxury of 2 days worth of food. We had to work for it, climbing up a never ending mountain for several miles for a mediocre view (I’ve become a view snob) then followed a steep descent. We arrived at camp in luxurious time and quickly pitched up. The weirdest thing happened: not one other hiker came to the shelter to stay. It has never happened before, the trail is certainly clearing out as people drop out but this was weird, we played cards and tried to pretend we weren’t freaked out, but I definitely slept with my trekking poles in my tent.

day 63

Laurel Shelter to Blacksburg. 3 miles.

We survived the night at what felt like murdersville shelter and we were up at the break of dawn with only food, a shower and a bed on our minds. Had a ridiculous moment when we realised our food bag that we so diligently hung high in a tree was in fact stuck and after several failed experiments to get it down,  including a piggy back and a broom it was finally released by bashing it out like a pinata. Willow isnt called Willow for nothing, she got to put her ridiculously long limbs to good use.

 

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It was an easy 3 mile hike to the road crossing, followed by 2 easy hitch hikes back to Willow’s car. Fried food was consumed and the rest of the day was spent lying in bed laughing about silly things. We decided to take advantage of having Willow’s car and we plan on hiking much shorter sections, allowing our packs to be lighter and more luxury items to be available (bread, cheese and fresh fruit). We are very much looking forward to our holiday on the trail and spent far too long planning our fantasy picnic.  Clearly I’ve been extremely hungry on the trail as it’s all I’m talking (and thinking) about.

Dragons Tooth 

Dragons Tooth is an incredible rock monolith on the top of a mountain. We camped a coupled of miles away and got a nice early start before the sun started to scorch us.

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Our homes

The first 2 miles of the trail were nicely graded uphill and extremely well maintained.  The last 0.7 miles got very serious.  It was literally rock climbing the whole way, if I had children with me I would want them in a harness. Our trekking poles were completely useless and we stowed them straight away, there were huge step ups, sheer rock faces and metal hand holds drilled into the rock. We had a great time actually, it was really exciting, very technical and extremely strenuous, we loved it.

To make the day even better, Dragons Tooth was amazing.  A huge rock cropping you could climb all the way up, the view was outstanding.  The weather was perfect, as was our picnic with fresh nectarines. If you asked me what would be my favourite thing to do I would go as far as naming this day, adventurous hiking,  good food and best friends to share it with.

The hike back down was as strenuous if not more than going up. We got back to the car,  grabbed some dinner and drove to our next spot on the trail.  We are very lucky that in this particular section there are several instances where the trail crosses a road with a car park,  it is very popular for people to hike short sections or day hikes in this area. We had 2.5 miles to hike uphill to our camp spot, but seeing as we had only hiked about 6 miles in the morning we blasted up.  The campsite was the worst, very rocky and not at all flat. I did run into another English guy and had an enjoyable chat about hiking on Dartmoor and how, in less than 100 miles from now we would have hiked the equivalent of Lands End to John O’groats with the added elevation gain and loss of climbing Everest 10 times.

McAfee Knob

I had literally been waiting for this day since the trail was but a twinkle in my eye. McAfee Knob is one of the most iconic landmarks on the trail and the most photographed, for very good reason.  The view was like no other I have ever seen.  We were incredibly lucky and had perfect blue skies with great visibility.  It was just a short 3.9 mile hike to the summit and then we had the luxury of time,  we sat, ate, napped and contemplated all afternoon with the rest of the world carrying on their business below us.

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Mum don’t look

We hiked just under a mile down the other side of the mountain to a stealth camp spot and ate fancy cookies for supper like grown ups and headed to bed with our alarm set for 4am to hike back up to the top for sunrise.

At 4am it was still pitch black. We packed up in record time and were hiking with our headlamps as our only light source by 4:30am. This was our first night hike and I have to say I was really scared.  At one point we could see green eyes staring at us from the woods,  Willow got her bear bell out and we tried to make noise to scare the night creatures away.  We got to the top in perfect time,  it was packed with other beauty loving hikers. We sat and watched the sky changing colours and the sun rising for several hours,  I don’t think I will ever forget that morning for the rest of my life.

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Day 68

Daleville to stealth campsite. 7 miles.

Back on the trail again for a couple of days before Willow has to leave me again. Just a short 7 miler out of town on a very well behaved trail, uphill but well graded. It had been extremely hot,  on the upper 90’s,  but the trail was shaded and every so often there was a nice breeze. So far the best hasn’t bothered me too much but I am plowing through water which means carrying more which means a heavier pack.

We arrived at our tent spot in ample time to leisurely soak our feet in the stream before dinner.

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Now that willow has her own tent we have invented tent games. Gems such as which zip is this zip?  And what’s in my hand?  Are top favourites, we don’t miss the Internet at all……

Day 69

Stealth campsite to Bobblets Gap Shelter. 10 miles.

Today was a day of ups and a spectacular down.  We decided to get up early and hike the bulk of our miles in the morning before it got too hot.  We only had 10 miles to hike and we had done 7 of them before 11:30am. Today the trail followed the Blue Ridge Parkway with plenty of sweet views. We found a great tree to set up under for a long break. We ate lunch, we napped, we chatted with people both, driving, cycling and hiking the Parkway, we even got given cokes and a chocolate bar from complete strangers, it was wonderful.

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Lunch with a view

We only had a short 3 mile hike to our destination for the night but, 0.3 from the shelter DISASTER,  I completely bit the dust, biffed it right on the trail. I stood on a rock that rolled, I rolled my ankle over the top of it and the downward force threw my pack over my head making me bite my tongue, followed by me landing full weight on my opposite knee. It’s one thing falling over, but falling with a 35lb pack is a whole new sick joke. I cried and cried and cried like a toddler right on the trail for over half an hour,  I just couldn’t get my act together, I think I was in shock.  I found myself wonder what I would do without Willow.  I ditched my first aid kit long ago, proudly boasting that I hadn’t used it and wouldn’t need to and suddenly there I was,  hysterical and in desperate need for an alcohol wipe.  Took me a long time to get my shit together after the fall and to honest, I went to bed that night nearly crying again,  falling over as an adult really hurts.

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Day 70

Bobblets Gap Shelter to Middle Creek Campground.  9.7 miles.

Today was a mentally a very difficult hike. When I woke up I was optimistic that my body would have recovered overnight,  but as soon as I stood up pain shot through my knee, ankle and worst of all my achillies tendon.  Dosed up to the eye balls with ibuprofen,  we started our hike, the terrain was the best I could of asked for, but everything felt unstable.  On a normal day I roll my ankle 5-10 times,  but it never hurts, today every time was excruciating and mentally upsetting, I kept bursting into tears, at one point I saw Willow roll her ankle and it left me hysterical for a minute, ending in some serious cry-laughing. After dragging ourselves 10 miles, we came to the end of our day and got a  free ride to a nice campground with food, swimming pool and flat tenting spots. For the last few nights we have had to pitch on very sloped spots and in the night you find yourself in a bundle at the bottom and it’s such a pain trying to inchworm your way back to the top of your mat. We swam in the pool, ate hotdogs and sat at a picnic table enjoying the cool evening, the smallest things make me feel like I’m on holiday. Tomorrow Willow has to leave me, I’m going to RICE the crap out of my injuries and try to remind myself that the trail isn’t a punishment, but potentially  a life changing event.

13. Hi ho hi ho……

Day 47

Marion to Atkins. 11.6 miles.

Nice easy day hiking, little ups, little downs, mild weather. Crushed the miles in 5 hours hiking with a guy whose real name was Cornelius Rumblejunk, made my day! On the way I passed an old school house that you could look around, I was loving the punishment list!

I wanted to stay in Atkins, but the only motel was fully booked, literally no room at the inn, so I ended up shuttling back to where I started my day in Marion. Best decision ever, I got a motel room, a giant pizza and it rained all night!

Day 48

Atkins to Knot Maul Shelter. 14.3 miles.

Because it rained all night long the trail was bog. It was so muddy I either slipped and slid or it was so sticky I couldn’t move my feet. There were three major uphills to battle today, the first one was short but very steep, fresh morning legs meant I coped well. The second was long but well graded and very enjoyable (what?  Who am I?). At the top was a milestone I seriously never expected to see, let alone stride past, the quarter way marker!!

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The third was steep, long and at the end of the day which was pure torture. The terrain was so varied today, I spent time in the woods, on ridges and walked through open fields with wildflowers and cows, it could have been Devon.

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Day 49

Knot Maul Shelter to Chestnut Knob Shelter. 9.7 miles.

I was dreading today’s hike, the end of the day was a mammoth 4.5 mile uphill. The first 5 miles of the day passed unremarkably except for the fact that it rained even more in the night rendering the trail a slip and slide again, I have got myself a groin strain from gripping so hard.

And then it was time to climb, steep and continuous. I actually had a really proud moment when I outpaced several hikers who were in my age bracket,  I usually only overtake the over 70’s. The view from the top was incredible. The shelter is a fully enclosed stone building which I decided to sleep in as it’s freezing up here at the top, but even as I write this I can hear the mice scurrying.

Day 50

Chestnut Knob Shelter to Stealth campsite. 15.1 miles.

Today was a weird day, the weather was perfect, blue skies, warm in the sun but a cool breeze, but the trail was not! There was a long stretch of about 10 miles with no markers or indicators to tell me how far I’d hiked. My mind played tricks on me, I would rest after what felt like eternity, convinced I’d walked at least a mile, but when I checked, barely 10 mins had passed and I’d maybe walked 0.1 mile. I upped the anti in the afternoon and plowed through the miles and was rewarded with a great stealth camp spot right next to a river crossing with mini falls. I soaked my feet and ate my dinner with a great view and I am reminded just how lucky I am.

Day 51

Stealth campsite to Bland. 8 miles.

Everything was a blur today. I nailed the 8 miles in way under 4 hours knowing my reward was food, food, food. At the road crossing I managed to get a hitch into town with a guy I’m lovingly calling a redneck who informed me the next section of trail is well know for copperhead and rattlesnakes (deadliest snakes in North America). His passing piece of advice was, if I get bitten and suck the venom out, don’t swallow it!!! No sir I won’t!! I’m in town for less than 18 hours and I intend to enjoy every glutinous minute of it!

Day 52

Bland to Jenny Knob Shelter. 11.7 miles.

Today was hot and humid, such a change from the cold and wet I’ve been engulfed in recently, it felt more like a jungle. I was covered in sweat all day but grateful that the trail is drying out.

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The Amazon?

There has been a strange outbreak of caterpillars, they are everywhere, hanging from the trees, I looked down at one point and I had 4 on my shirt, later I found 2 in my hair and countless on my pack but, even with these tiny hitchhikers all over me I still managed to pass the 600 mile marker.

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Day 53

Jenny Knob Shelter to Wapiti Shelter. 14.7 miles.

Last night was the first night I didn’t sleep in socks! Yay!

I was really looking forward to today as I had a great pitstop at a waterfall to look forward to and it didn’t disappoint. After just 8 miles I was happily eating my lunch in the glorious sunshine, feet in the river, watching water cascading over the falls. It was perfect, I spent over an hour relaxing and didn’t want to leave.

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I had just 7 miles to hike in the afternoon over relatively easy terrain. I have discovered that no matter how many miles I hike whether it’s 5 or 15, the last mile of the day is torturous, so I was relieved to arrive at camp for the night. Tonight has been one of my favourite at a shelter so far, there are only 5 people here, all great company, laughter and stories were shared and the absence of trail Bros was extremely refreshing.

Day 54

Wapiti Shelter to Woods Hole Hostel. 8 miles.

I woke up this morning not feeling great, stiff neck, sore throat, you know the rest. Took me a while to pack up, lacking energy, good job it’s just a short day today. Unfortunately it started with a huge climb, very steep and rocky. It completely whipped me. Luckily there was a cracking view from the top where I sat recovering for over an hour.

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I only had 4 miles left to hike but completely misjudged my water needs and subsequently I ran out with over 2 miles to go which made the hike nearing on miserable. I arrived at the most magical, rustic hostel, caught up with some trail friends and ate a great feast. During the night my health rapidly declined to a miserable state, so I am now in town nursing a full blown cold and my very typical hacking cough, hoping to kick this bugs arse with lemsip and fresh orange juice.

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12. Faith Restored

Day 41

Damascus (Trail Days)  to Saunders Shelter.  9 miles.

I was ready to leave, I needed to be back on the trail surrounded by mountains and serenity.  I hiked out with a trail friend I met in the Smokies, we both have a similar hiking pace and social anxiety which meant she was equally ready to get out of town. We didn’t leave until 4:30pm and had 9 miles to hike. We knew we would get into camp late but nothing could stop us leaving.  It was amazing to be hiking again but my trail vacation meant that any fitness I had built up got left behind in my beer cup. The hike was hard and when we rocked into the shelter at 8:15pm I was a mixture of very proud that we made such amazing time but also very very broken. My feet felt like I was walking on broken glass,  I had hoped that resting them would of given them a head start but they were worse than they had ever been, all I could think was that if they felt like this in the morning I’m not going anywhere.

Day 42

Saunders Shelter to random campsite. 12.3 miles.

It was freezing in the night, the temp dropped to well below freezing, when I first woke up there was a frost so I promptly went back to sleep. Goods news was that my feet recovered a reasonable amount overnight and with some massaging I coaxed them into my shoes. Oh yeah, I bought new shoes, I’ve ditched my big boots in favour of trail runners, basically, very light trainers with a few extras. They have pros and cons, but I’m willing to try anything that might help me walk the next 1700 miles. So far I like them, they are comfy and so light in comparison to my boots,  but they definitely don’t offer a much support. I’ll keep you posted.

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New shoes

The morning hike was very nice, a well behaved trail meant we did great mileage before lunch and the weather,  even though it’s chilly is great for hiking. The afternoon saw a huge 4 mile ascent. I was beginning to get pretty bad trail rage when I looked around and realised what a view I had, no one can be angry at that kind of beauty.

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We arrived at a stealth campsite, set up our tents and started layering up, to bed tonight I am literally wearing everything, 2 pairs of socks, 2 pairs of leggings, 2 long sleeved tops, hat, scarf and gloves, my down jacket and sleeping in a down sleeping bag, I’m warmer than last night but not by much.

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Day 43

Campsite to  The Scales campsite. 15 miles.

My hiking buddy decided she needed to get off the trail today as she wasn’t feeling well so I’m back solo again.

Today was one of my very favourite days on the trail so far. I busted out since great miles first thing in the morning then bag a long climb up to the highest peak in Virginia, Mt Rogers. It was hard going over difficult terrain but I stayed upbeat, hiked at my own pace and actually enjoyed it. From the top I was rewarded with magnificent views.

From the top I entered Grayson Highlands State Park, I had been looking forward to this section since this whole hike idea came about. It’s beautifully rugged and best of all it’s teaming with wild ponies. The whole day reminded me of hiking on Dartmoor, only much steeper and much higher.

It was a very technical descent, lots of rock climbing, squeezing through tunnels and caves and for over 4 miles it was a boulder field.  I twisted my ankles in every direction possible and impossible, slipped, shunted and tripped but I still have yet to biff it. Every mile or so I would come across a little family of ponies,  one even followed me for half a mile, it was so amazing, I loved it so much.

Big milestone today, the 500 mile marker, I didn’t stop for long, seeing it made me just want to keep hiking, it was very inspiring.

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Proud

When I got to the shelter, my destination for the night, I found it already full and due to state park restrictions got cannot camp in the park. I was forced to hike on. I hiked for another 2.5 miles and came across as few tents set up in a field,  they were a trail maintenance team and had a great set up with a campfire burning,  a primitive toilet with toilet paper and everything. They were very friendly and offered me snacks and fresh water, since things turn out great on the trail.  It’s still very cold tonight but it’s supposed to rain, I’m very much looking forward to assume more summery weather,  everyone is very surprised at the unseasonably cold weather this year.

Day 44

The Scales campsite to Hiker Hostel. 14 miles.

I woke up periodically during the night to lashing rain against my tent,  I stayed dry and warm,  thank goodness, I love my little tent home. The forecast called for rain all day so I decided to not drag it out and got on the trail the earliest to date. It was a head down and hike the miles kind of day. It was slippery and frustrating being so wet and I could feel the trail ripping my feet up, I decided to get off the trail after 14 miles and dry out at a hostel which was a great choice because my feet couldn’t of taken much more. Just as I was crying out in despair I came across a loud and cascading waterfall that got me though the last several miles.

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Ripped up feet

For now I’m resting up for a day but can’t wait to get back on the trail. Life is good.

11. Trail Vacation

So I’m back after a few days break from the trail. I took a couple of days rest, my body, especially my feet were crying out for some recovery time. While I genuinely love living such a simplistic life, everything I could possibly need fits in a pack I carry everywhere with me, sometimes my mental health needs more, shampoo and conditioner, cheese, fruit and talking to people I love is usually enough to revive me.

I spent the next couple of days at a enormous hiker festival called Trail Days, a convergence of about 15,000 hikers, with street vendors,  food, parties etc. It has meant I have now crossed the border from Tennessee to Virginia,  my 4th state and the 400 mile mark. I wanted to check it out just so I could say I’d experienced it, but as most of you reading this who know me will know, it was 100% not my scene. I’m really glad I went,  mostly because it made me miss and crave the trail so much. I couldn’t wait to get back to the mountains which, with the drama of the last week I spent on the trail felt great because I was worried I wouldn’t feel like that again.  I actually left half way through the festivities,  believe it or not there were more monsters in town than in the wilderness. Check out this bad boy I  woke up to on my tent, I also flicked at least 10 ticks off my tent which sealed the deal on my early exit.

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Not my favourite!

I’m going to try really hard to not whine and complain all the way through this post, but these last few days on the trail have really tested me, physically and mentally.

Day 31

Hot Springs to Spring Mountain Shelter. 11 miles.

I thoroughly indulged myself in town and leaving civilisation behind was hard. It was a big uphill day but the temperature was cool enough that I was able to hike in a long sleeved top and I was still chilly.

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Hot Springs in the distance

There has been a devastating forest fire in this area and the trail only reopened days ago.  All day I hiked through charred trees and blackened brush, some of which was still smouldering and smelt terrible.

It was a hard day of hiking,  people say you develop trail legs and hiking will become second nature,  knocking out 20 miles or more. Well I call bullshit, I’ve been hiking for over 4 weeks and my legs feel like wobbly jelly everyday, like someone has filled my boots with concrete and I’m huffing and puffing bloody little pigs out of their homes. I hope the day when every uphill isn’t torture on my body is soon.

There are lots of people at the shelter and camping tonight. I have a pretty decent flat spot for Agnes (my tent) to be pitched , it’s pretty chilly up here but I’m tucked up in bed by 7pm, funnily enough not the earliest I’ve been to bed on the trail.

Day 32

Spring Mountain Shelter to Little Laurel Shelter.  8.6 miles.

Well that was a very unpleasant night. It started to rain and as the temperature dropped it turned to sleet then snow.  All the snow that collected on the outside of my tent froze solid so I was basically sleeping in an ice cave and not the good kind with furs and vodka. I wasn’t freezing inside but I was just on the edge of keeping me awake cold.

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Ice around my tent

It meant I had a very slow start to the day, it continued to sleet until about 10am and I saw no point in leaving my sleeping bag to hike in that kind of weather. Plus, overnight my hiking boots which I keep in the vestibule of my tent froze solid where my feet were sweaty the day before, also extremely unpleasant, so I didn’t leave camp until 11:30am.

The first half of the day was good it stayed dry but the trail was a slippery mess. I crossed paths with several hikers who had biffed it in the mud,  I’ve yet to bite the dust on the trail but I know it’s coming and it’s almost worst worrying about falling over for the first time. After about 4 miles there was a sign that said store, so naturally I followed it to find the strangest booth selling junk food especially for hikers, I call it heaven!  Half an hour and 1000 calories later I set off for the second half of my day. After 2 more miles there was a sign for a hiker hostel and I seriously stood at the road crossing for 10 mins trying to decide what to do. Eventually I thought, stick to your plan Sophie, it’s only 3.3 miles to the next shelter,  every step you take today is one you don’t have to take tomorrow (insert pep talk here). I was dead chuffed with myself, on I hiked passing up the opportunity for a nice, inside, warm bed. Literally 10 mins after leaving the road crossing it began to hail, teeny hail stones that were like needles falling from the sky, then the wind started, blowing tree and leaf water on to me every 5 seconds, also did I mention it was 3.3 miles of steep uphill, the trail was so muddy that it was like trying to climb up the wrong way on an escalator. The mountain seemed never ending and I definitely cried and swore a lot, but eventually after and hour and a half I arrived into camp, very wet, cold and grumpy. I immediately set up my tent in the rain, boiled some water to make a hot water bottle with and got in my sleeping bag. This is definitely the coldest it has been so far on the trail, my boots are caked in mud and my clothes are soaked through to my underwear and I’m going to have to wear them tomorrow.

Day 33

Little Laurel Shelter to Jerry Cabin Shelter.  6.8 miles.

Another very uncomfortable night, freezing temperatures and gale force winds.  I had to put cold wet clothes back on this morning, my leggings were frozen at the foot ends, I can’t think of another word for unpleasant, but you get the picture. My tent looks like it has been mud blasted, there is no way I’ll be able to sleep another night in it. The weather is so bad already I’m just doing a short day so that I can secure a spot in a shelter tonight. It hailed all morning so I got another late start, the terrain was extremely challenging, big boulders to climb over which I would usually be excited about, but the fog was so thick I couldn’t see anything, every surface I stepped on was slick with wet moss or mud and it continued to sleet.

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Challenging terrain

After just 2 miles I was pretty close to breaking point. I saw I sign that was nailed to a tree that said Trail Magic up ahead. At first I thought I’d missed it, it’s hard to keep track of what day it is on the trail, but as I rounded the next corner there was another sign pointing off the trail and to go 150 yards. At first I was worried it was leading me to murder town but I decided to follow it, and I’m so glad I did. A local hiking group had set up a village of big tents filled with all the food and drinks you could ever dream of. Despite the weather they were barbecuing burgers and hotdogs, roasting vegetables, they had a roaring fire going and a tent full of homemade bread, cakes, chips, fruit salads and snacks. I immediately burst into tears and hugged the nearest kindly man I could find. It was so uplifting and heartwarming to think how much work these people had put into making a perfect strangers day better. I ate and cried, and ate some more, they said they knew this section of the trail was tough which is why they had chosen that spot.

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Trail magic

I’m not sure words could describe how much that act of kindness meant to me, it was hard to tear myself away from them, as I was leaving a lady was trying to stuff peanuts into my pockets for later, but I still had 5 more miles to hike. It continued to sleet all day and I continued to be extremely grumpy about it until I rocked up to the shelter and realised it was the 300 mile marker. Every item of clothing I have with me is soaking wet, but at least I have a spot in the shelter for the night.

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300 miles baby

 

Day 34

Jerry Cabin Shelter to Erwin, TN. 10 miles.

I was much warmer last night in the shelter, but I couldn’t face putting my wet clothes back on so I decided to hike in my pj’s. It’s not the best idea as it’s vital to have dry clothes to put on after a day of hiking, but I was hiking towards town so I didn’t care about anything but warm. It stayed dry today and the terrain was good. I have been so miserable for the last 3 days it was like the trail was saying,  ‘i don’t know what all the fuss was about’, me and the trail are on a friendship timeout right now! I got to a road crossing and immediately stuck my thumb out, and within 5 mins I was in a car heading towards town. I know rain is the weather of my people but it really has been hard. I never expected snow in May and was mentally unprepared for it. I’m now drying out and warming up in a motel, I’m taking a few days off this week, I need some recovery time as I have a few injuries that need to heal. I’m skipping ahead this weekend to Virginia as there is a huge hiker festival going on, so for now I leave you much happier, warmer and dryer, gearing up for more trail heaven and less trail hell.

 

9. Much better

Day 25

Newfound Gap to Pecks Corner Shelter.  10.2 miles.

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Only 1972 miles to go……

Absolutely glorious day of hiking, very uphill but the gradient was perfect,  we were treated to some spectacular views, cool temperatures, clear skies, perfect. The highlight of the day was a small detour to an outcrop of rocks called Charlies Bunion, a lookout point that gave us views for miles and rocks to play on.

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The rest of the afternoon saw us hiking along the mountain ridge with serious drop offs on both sides,  every few steps would take your beath away from either the drop or the beauty.

Day 26

Pecks Corner Shelter to Cosby Knob Shelter.  12.6 miles.

Nature flocks to me!! So today I ate lunch with a bear! After another great morning of hiking we stopped at a shelter for lunch only to find a bear hanging out. There were a few hikers around beating their trekking poles to keep him away but he kept coming back, circling around, I felt bad eating my salmon in front of him. I have to say, naturally I was afraid of him, but I was also in awe that I’m able to share the woods with these guys. To top off an already great lunch stop, I also got to dance with a butterfly.

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Mr bear

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The trail is not always what I expect but it is always interesting and surprising.

We definitely decided to sleep with our trekking poles in our tent with us tonight just in case Mr bear comes back!

Day 27

Cosby Knob Shelter to Davenport Gap. 8 miles.

Only a short day today,  but the majority of the miles were downhill, I know I seem to complain a lot about uphill,  but let me just tell you a quick bit about downhill. Now, I actively like going downhill, what I don’t like is downhill where the trail is full of little rocks, like gravel but big, moving chunks of chipped off mountain rocks. It makes your feet feel like they are being grated, not the nice pedi-egg dead skin remover, I mean an angry Italian grating slices off your soles like parmesan cheese. None of that mattered when we got to the Gap to see our very own trail angels in the form of my best friends parents, who are driving north and offered to take Willow with them. They rescued us for the night and took us out for the best tasting burgers and the fanciest hotel we have stayed in, white sheets and a flat screen TV, we were like pigs in shit.

Day 28

Max Patch to Deer Park Mountain Shelter.  17 miles.

The Boyd family kindly dropped me off at the top of the mountain today but without my hiking partner. Today was my first day as a lone wolf.  Max Patch is a huge bald on the top of a mountain, everything was green and lush from overnight rain, but cloud came in quickly and I got very disorientated, I could barely see my hand in front of my face, luckily I was saved by a couple of hikers and together we found the trail through the fog.

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Max Patch

I quickly blazed ahead of them and busted out 5.2 miles before lunch over very favourable terrain.

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Wild flowers everywhere

It meant I only had 3 miles to do in the afternoon so subsequently I arrived at the place I had planned to camp at 2:30pm, WAY to early for me to stop and without my hiking partner to reign me in I decided to push on to the next shelter 8 miles away. Some might say it was reckless, especially since it was raining and there may or may not have been thunder and lightning, but it was too late to take back the decision, so I carried on. In reality it meant that I was hiking until gone 7pm and did my first big mileage day of 17miles. When I got to the shelter I was greeted by familiar faces and congratulations on such grand mileage, as well as my favourite trail dog Vinny, who’s paw prints I had been tracking all day convinced I would run into a bear around each corner. I’m glad I did it, it was a real body and mind test but I will not be in a rush to do it again.  Camping tonight on my own was weird, my tiny tent felt like a 6 person tent when just the night before it felt like a half person tent. Surprisingly I wasn’t scared, lonely maybe, but I must remind myself this is my hike. 

Day 29

Deer Park Mountain Shelter to Hot Springs. 3.2 miles.

After my epic day yesterday I only had a few miles to hike into town today, which was great as it was my birthday and all I could think about was bed, shower, food! I treated myself to a few luxuries including a boutique motel with a fancy 4 poster bed (bad news was the barbarians didn’t have a TV in the room, thank God for Netflix) and a full size bottle of shampoo and conditioner, happy birthday to me!

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Luxurious

I didn’t mind spending my birthday on my own, today and every other day has given me such appreciation for my family and friends.  I have said before that I am hiking to give myself the very best chance to be a better person, recently I have found myself saying I’m hiking north,  not that I’m hiking to Maine,  I will hike until the trail is done with me, that may be in 5 days, 5 weeks or 5 months, my goal is not to just finish the trail, but to transform myself with each step. Enough with the deep and meaningful for today,  here’s a picture of my birthday meal, which would not be complete without some fried cheese. Happy days everyone!!

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Fried goodness