The Garden State

Back on the AT for a few days. We had originally planned to just jump right back on where we left last year but there had been some super flooding and we were hearing stories of hikers having to wade through flood water up to their necks carrying their packs over their heads. We decided to skip Pennsylvania and move on to the Garden State of New Jersey, just over 70 miles in 6 days, should be a walk in the park!

Day 1

Kittatiny Point to Mohican State Park.

9.5 miles.

Snake Day (you’ll see why)

We have done absolutely no research on hiking in New Jersey, it was such a split second decision to change our plan we had no time to really do anything but have enough food for our hike. My pack is upsettingly heavy, I actually weighed it for the first time ever and it came in at 33lbs, (15kg or 2.5 stone) it’s got a full day’s worth of water and 5 days of food in it and to be honest I was a bit gutted it didn’t weigh more because it feels like so much!!

Really nice gradual uphill, nice wide trail, little bit rocky but what a difference from Corsica!

Lunch time we got a gorgeous spot, apparently one of many lakes we will pass. We dipped our toes in until the fish started to freak me out and this water snake made us both shit ourselves! There are several very poisonous and deadly snakes in this part of the world, one being a water moccasin (cottonmouth pit viper) which we think this one might be.

The rest of the day was pretty nice. That was until I had a close encounter with a very large rattlesnake. It was inches away from me when I heard it rattle and I did a comedy jump in the air and a not so smart thinking run backwards towards Willow. Luckily it moved out of our way pretty quickly but made my legs shake for a while.

I didn’t want to admit to willow how much I was suffering, my feet and knees were killing me still from our Corsica hike, I could barely bend my knees to step down off rocks and finally had to admit it as I sat down on a rock only 0.2 of a mile from our destination for the night, nothing to worry about, Willow was suffering in silence as well, so as soon as we let it out life got better. It was just upsetting how much I was having to beat my feet back into submission, I thought they were already under my control, but they had obviously smelt freedom in the week between my hikes.

As soon as we got settled at our tent spot for the night (evening yoga, leg rubbing and air mattress inflation) we heard some commotion and a hikers dog had just been bitten by a copper head snake, that’s three deadly snakes in one day!! The dog was in a bad way, it’s back legs were already paralysed from the venom, and if you know me you’ll know I like dogs way more than humans so it was all a bit stressful.

Played a not so fun game of ‘would you rather’ before bed which consisted of debating which was better between opening your tent to a bear or a rattlesnake, pretty sure that contributed to a night of very vivid animal attack dreams, not ideal when you are knee deep in wilderness.

DAY 2

Mohican to Brink Road Shelter

13.8 miles.

Today was incredibly green, every green colour you could ever imagine we could see today. We are deep.in the woods, occasionally we pop out onto a ridge or a pond but other than that we are deep in a green tunnel. We did get the opportunity to climb a cool fire tower which gave up our best views yet, we were just about high enough to see the top of the cloud line.

The trail has been unbelievably rich in wildlife, nothing scary today, except that we met a couple of hikers who had unfortunately walked through a hornets nest and had described the moment where she thought she was being attacked by flying snakes, eeeeek!

This is what we have been seeing for 90% of the day, the forest is very young and dense (like the students I used to teach!!)

Tonight we have a not so great camp spot, it’s nice and flat which is nice but the mosquitos are pretty unbearable. We have heard that tomorrow morning we will cross a road with a petrol station, which we confirmed with some southbound hikers so I’m pretty happy to go hard on my snacks tonight and replenish tomorrow!

Day 3

Hey there friendly blog readers! Willow here! Sophie asked me if I wanted to be a “guest writer” about one of the days on our New Jersey section and I must say, I’m quite honored. ūüėČ I first thought I should choose a day that provides the best opportunity to make fun of her, or defend myself against any potentially embarrassing stories she’s told about me in the past, but I realized A: she’s pretty open and will tell her own embarrassing stories, and B: whatever she has said about me is pretty much spot on! So I decided to write about the day we called “the day we almost got a snack”…which just seems appropriate!

Day 3,

Brink Road to Mashipacong Shelter

12.4 miles

So we were really keen to aim to hit a really interesting place to stay at the end of Day 4, so we decided to go for a shorter mileage day today so that both days would be a sensible length. We woke up and ventured out into Mosquito Town (Brink Shelter – SO bad) and had breakfast with some other hikers before setting off on the trail.

Now, we knew we’d be at a road crossing at a place called Culver’s Gap about three miles into our day, and AWOL and Guthook both mentioned that there was a gas station. (Just a side note, these are the guides nearly every hiker uses at least one of – one is a yearly book, the other is an app that geolocates you and has up to date comments. Both have their pros and cons but together work really well.) We double checked with some southbounders the night before and they confirmed, yep, gas station and some restaurants. Hurrah! we said as we ate way more of our snacks than would normally be allowed! As we hiked down we were both leaning hard into food fantasies about what gas station snacks we’d buy – coffee and juice and salty snacks, oh my! – and came out on the road to discover that…the gas station did NOT SELL SNACKS and both restaurants didn’t open for hours. We were both really upset about this fact, and at least three other hikers passed by, equally annoyed. That gas station is missing such a money making opportunity…at least put out a vending machine, guys!!

The rest of the morning continued pretty uneventfully until lunch. We planned to stay the night at a shelter with no water source, so we stopped to filter and fill up with extra water for cooking later. As we walked down a blue blaze to a shelter and stream, we passed a man who was clearly not a hiker, but we asked him about whether the water source was flowing. He said that he didn’t know about that, but that he was a camp director and in a half hour he’d be bringing fifty kids from his camp for lunch and we’d be welcome to have a drink a snack with them. Well then! Jackpot!

So we filtered our water and they arrived, and were super, super nice – great staff, nice kids, only one problem…they were a diabetic youth services camp, and because they had to spend ages calculating carbs and ketones…we just couldn’t stick around long enough to nick a snack! Foiled again…the day we almost saw a snack.

In more somber news, that afternoon we arrived at a place called Sunrise Mountain, with a covered pavilion on top. Sadly, one of our trail idols, Jennifer Pharr Davis, came up to this shelter on her first thru hike and found a man who had committed suicide. Knowing that made it a bit eerie, but we decided to be conscious about thinking about that person and honouring their life and struggle. It really was a beautiful spot.

Mashipacong was a decently nice shelter in a clearing. Sophie and I arrived quite early that evening but decided to stick around, and after a while we were joined by a nice older gentleman we had met earlier and several other hikers. We popped our tents quickly as rain was brewing, and spent the evening in our usual thrilling rota of activities – sore muscle yoga, Kindle reading, and a last late night* buddy pee trip before bed (*late night = 9PM, FYI). We do lead a glamorous life…

Day 4

Mashipacong to the Secret Shelter

12.5 miles

It was really nice of willow to not only contribute to this blog as she is so very important to our adventures but also to skip over the tantrum I had when I didn’t get the snacks!!

Today started off with rain falling on our tents, I would say we have reached expert level in packing up our belongings completely inside our tents and we can even take down the inside layer of our tents without having to get out!

The worst thing about it raining today was that we are passing the very highest point in New Jersey and we have not had many rewarding view points so far so we had been looking forward to that, but the very best thing was definitely Willow and her comedy horse silhouette with her rain poncho on, cheered me up a treat!

The first 5 miles were pretty terrible, it really rained hard and the terrain was mostly down hill with slick rocks, my feet really took the brunt, there’s nothing you can do to protect the skin on the bottom of your feet once they are wet! The saving grace was a visitor’s center which offered not only a place to dry off and inside flush toilets but a free can of pepsi for hikers!! We stayed here well over an hour, until the rain was definitely passed over and the sun was out!

Only a mile later we hit the highest point in New Jersey, and got some nice views from the observation deck.

The afternoon did not disappoint either, we were out of the green oppressive tunnel and hiking through some pretty glorious meadows.

We headed for a cool little place to stay just off the trail tonight called the secret shelter. It’s on a piece of private land owned by a former hiker who thru hiked in 1989. He has built a shelter and a well water tap, it has an outside warm water shower and privy, we are tenting on some great flat land and really love it here despite some pretty shady characters at the shelter who just gave us an opportunity to roll our eyes frequently and mouth to each other ‘go get a job douche bags!’

Day 5

Secret shelter to Vernon NJ

13.9 miles

Today we are hiking to a town to resupply our food, that means we are allowed to talk about food all day today! We don’t allow ourselves to do this unless it’s a town day. We have invented some new trail games this year which include, which Harry Potter character am I thinking of? And what smell am I smelling? To add to our old faithfuls which zip is this zip? and what’s in my hand? New Jersey has the highest population of black bears but I’m pretty sure our chattering has kept them away!

Today was the day of the bog boards and boardwalks. The trail maintainers in New Jersey are both wonderful and sadistic. Whilst the boards keep my feet dry and out of the bogs, they are really slippery and often crack and creak when you step on them.

We walked a completely flat section around an amazing wildlife preserve which was teaming with birds of all sorts and later in the afternoon through a state park with an elevated boardwalk where we saw deer and turtles frolicking beside us.

We were picked up at a road crossing late afternoon by a really nice family who run a motel near to the trail where will will be staying tonight. First order of business is high calorie beige coloured food followed by showering multiple times with nice smelling things and lying very still on a bed.

Day 6

Vernon to Waywayanda shelter

5 miles

We planned today to be a Nero which means nearly zero miles, a short day. I was kind of worried about the first couple of miles as they appeared to be straight up on a section of trail called Stairway to Heaven, you know when they name a section of trail it’s for a reason and I was very apprehensive about climbing a rock staircase for 2 miles.

It actually turned out to be just fine, sometimes I forget that I’m much fitter and much more seasoned for hiking than I ever have been, it was actually very enjoyable.

The problem came over the next 3 miles. We were caught in a massive storm, the heavens opened and dumped gallons and gallons of rain on us and for a hot second we were dangerously in a thunderstorm, it was so dark in the woods we couldn’t really see a thing but all around us the ground was shaking from thunder and at one point we heard a lightning strike hit a tree, it was so loud, we both screamed, although neither could hear each other over the rain and ran towards each other. Water was rising around us, at one point we were knee deep in water fighting the current of a burst river, we were saturated, packs and everything as we didn’t have time to stop and get our rain gear out, it was too dangerous we needed to find shelter. I think it was one of the most frightening things we have experienced, it just came on so quick and the power of water can be so devastating.

We did get to the shelter and just stood there in shock for quite a long time. We couldn’t even get it together to get our wet stuff off and it was really hard for me to see a time in the future when I wasn’t going to be wet, I was totally disheartened. We did eventually make a plan that included wearing our dry rain ponchos with nothing on underneath for a while to air dry as we didn’t have anything to dry our bodies with, which we just hope the other hiker in the shelter didn’t realise and ate some jelly sweets which helped.

Unconventionally we have decided to put up one of our tents inside the shelter tonight, the thought of sleeping in the shelter with mice running all over you all night is not every appealing but it was an absolute monsoon outside so this is our compromise. Bit of a squeeze for 2 people but a great bug net!

Day 7

Waywayanda to Prospect Rock

7 miles

The storms and rain were relentless all night and way into the morning, there was some loud rolling thunder and cracks of lightning but I have to say the rain was very soothing and I slept really well. We had to wait until mid morning before we could leave but at least we had been into town the night before so we had a fresh set of hiking clothes to put on. We did end up deciding to do a much shorter day than planned, I think willow could have sucked it up and done the 15 mile’s but I was done, 7 was going to be my max, I wanted dry feet to be in my near future because they were in bad shape.

We braved the trail and by trail I mean river, the trail was a foot under water at best, bridges had been washed away, and we just had to wade our way through.

There was seriously one section where I was thigh deep (willow long legs was just knee deep but Sophie short legs suffered a bit) and it turned out to be really fun (until we started thinking about thoes water snakes then we had a pep in our step)

Within a few miles we had reached our goal of crossing the New Jersey New York state line, it was a pretty unimpressive site but we were over the moon to have completed another state.

We actually decided to hike on as just over the next mountain was the highest point in New York state so we trotted on for a scenic lunch on Prospect Rock. We had a great surprise on top as you could see the Manhattan skyline from the trail, we could make out the Empire State building and the downtown skyscrapers, it was so cool to see it from the wilderness.

Later that day we met the most amazing trail angels ever. A person who went to the same university as willow and has worked in Girl Scouting lives right off the trail and offered to pick us up. Janet and her family were so brilliant, they took us to dinner and even drove us miles back to our car, they were such kind people and I’m so glad to have met them, this was the perfect example of how kindness can really make a difference to a person’s day and what a perfect end to our section hike on the Appalachian Trail, until next time!

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New Adventure, equally as ridiculous!

This blog was originally to document my time on the Appalachian Trail but I thought I would digress and tell you all about my most recent adventure.

Willow and I have decided we are now long distance hikers, it doesn’t matter what trail we are on, we like to pack up our troubles in our packs and walk, hike, skip and biff!

Lots of research went in to where we wanted our next hike to be, we always agree that we like to go to places neither of us have been before, there were lots of contenders, but we finally agreed on the GR20. Located in Corsica, it’s billed as the toughest hiking route in Europe, right up our street!

Day 1

Vizzavona to Refuge de L’Onda

Mileage – not much (6.75 miles)

Elevation – too much!!! (3870ft up, 2200ft down)

Baptism by fire does not even come close.

We arrived in Corsica last night and after a difficult journey due to the ever striking french air traffic controllers we didn’t arrive until well gone midnight, got up in the morning and caught the train to the mid point of the trail, Vizzavona. We are hiking the trail north bound which is against the flow, most start in the north and hike south, even our guide book is written that way so we are doing a lot of our own interpretation. The guide book has it broken up in stages and if we stick to it we will be hiking for 9 days straight. We will be stopping each night at a designated Refuge, high up in the mountains, they can only be accessed by foot or by mule. They provide basic beds, dorm style, some food and water. We are carrying our tents and will be sleeping in them to reduce the cost of our trip but mainly because I have a complete sound adversion to snoring!!

We arrived in Vizzavona about mid-day, we grabbed a few more bits to add to our food bags and set off. We had a basic elevation profile but again we had to reverse it, but all the signs and maps had said it was about a five and a half hour walk. The trail is well marked with red and white blazes which we will be following all the way.

Our first blaze

The beginning of the day was as wonderful as could be, we practically skipped along a wide rocky path, gently sloping uphill. We passed some amazing cascades and vowed to make the most of any swimming hole we find along the trail. We stopped for a picturesque lunch, wonderful, everything we had wished the trail could be. As the afternoon wore on we began to really climb, and I don’t mean in elevation, I mean literally rock climbing,the terrain was boulder after boulder, slabs of rock and straight up vertical in parts. We climbed way above the cloud line until we couldnt see down where we had come from anymore.

Five hours passed and we still were climbing higher and higher, on several occasions we had to stow our poles and just hand over hand climb. I had a minor heart attack when I lost my footing and slid down a rock face like one of thoes slimey toy men you get in a kinder egg that you throw at a wall and watch them fall down, except I have skin, which I left on the rock and also one false move and the 3000ft drop behind me wouldn’t have been a great end to the day. I only cried a little bit out of pure shock, but from then on I couldn’t stop my legs from shaking. We did have a moment of despair, looking up and still seeing so much elevation to go, the day was closing in and we realised we literally had no idea where we were going and if we would make it before dark. Reality set in when we passed a snow field reminding us how high up we were going to be, we were on the toughest trail in Europe and we needed to dig deep.

We finally reached the summit and looked over at our first real mountains.

we had just climbed the foothills. We were now at over 6000ft and had a scary decent down the other side. It had taken us nearly 7 hours just to get to the top and we still had to get down to the refuge. The down was tough with steel drop offs on both sides of us,we had to re-enter the clouds, which were beginning to make us wet and cold.

Just as we were beginning to think we had gone totally off course or that we had somehow missed the turn to the refuge we finally saw it. Such a relief to know you have somewhere to sleep, to put down roots if only for less than 10 hours. There was a large enclosed field for tents (enclosed because the predator around here are wild boar) and a shack which we were hoping would have either cooking facilities or a meal to buy, but we were out of luck, so we shared a twix and a snickers and set about making our home for the night. Bit of a wild day, way harder than I could have dreamed, even when reading the words toughest trail in Europe, I was nearly a bit cocky about it think we would be able to double up on stages, do 2 in one day, well if it’s anything like today we might struggle to make it. Note to self, make better choices tomorrow, early start, more food should help!!

Day 2

Refuge de L’Onda to Refuge Petra Piana

Mileage – 6.75

Elevation- 2985ft up, 1640ft down

Ok so another lesson learnt, it’s bloody freezing up in the mountains. I was so cold last night, the kind of cold where you feel like you will never ever be warm again, I was literally wearing all of my clothes and completely enclosed myself in my sleeping bag, pulled up over my head. Willow was freezing as well, this is a worry as I don’t have anything else I could possibly do or wear, I wore a pair of shorts, leggings over the top, a vest, a t-shirt, a long sleeve and a fleece, socks and a head band.

This morning the sun is shining, the sky is blue and we had food to eat for breakfast! Already better than last night!

We had a much better understanding of what to expect today, and our hike started off great and just got better and better. We had a short descent in the morning which led us to a small farm selling bread and cheese followed by what we knew was going to be very up for the rest of the day.

We were walking alongside a gorgeous River and vowed to find a place to swim and eat lunch, which we did. The water was ice cold snow melt and beautifully clear. What a luxury being able to be clean on day 2, frivolous really!

The absolute rest of the day was a steep and rocky ascent, on and on, up and up, scrambling over rocks. I had a minor melt down about needing a snack and willow convinced me to carry on, which was totally the right choice because about 50 paces later was our next refuge!

We booked ourselves in for a refuge dinner, not knowing what to expect, they are expensive, around 20 Euro each, we were hoping for our first hot meal in several days and boy did it deliver. Served family style around a table of hungry hikers, bowls of steaming hot lentils came out of the kitchen, along with plates of thick cut bacon, it was literally heaven, we devoured it and held our bowls up Oliver Twist style for more! There was wine and cheese of course because after all the is France, and a bowl of tinned peaches to finish, seriously great meal!

Due to sleeping in a freezer box last night we decided to rent a 2 man tent from the refuge and sleep in the same tent to try and conserve some heat, we are high up on an exposed ridge tonight with an amazing mountain view, so worth the suffering to get here!

Day 3

Refuge Petra Piana to Refuge Manganu

Mileage – 6

Elevation – 2430ft up, 3220 down

Much warmer last night, I’m not going to say toastie as I still had to sleep with absolutely all of my clothing on but it was much more comfortable.

Tough little upwards climb this morning. The first hour of hiking is definitely the hour of suffering, trying to get your legs to respond, warming up your body and lungs struggling to cope with the elevation and carrying a pack. We had amazing views from the top which were only a little bit spoilt by a willow farting loudly in front of some hikers which we blame solely on the dinner of legumes!

Now the next part of our day was very interesting in a if I put a foot out of place I’ll fall 4000ft to my death kind of way. We literally bouldered our way around the bowl of the mountain, hiked through snow fields, which were terrifying as you could hear the water rushing under you and could see claw marks in the snow where other hikers had fallen and tried to not slip of the edge of the mountainside. We hiked the very edge of a ridge line and climbed up a sheer rock face using a chain bolted into the rock. At this point all I could think was how furious my mother would be at how close to the edge I was, it was exhilarating and just the right amount of danger to make every step we took count.

We finally climbed to our our mountain pass, Bocca a e Porte at a height of 7300ft and looked down at our looming descent. It looked completely impossible and was definitely a one step at a time job. Only 100 meters and and we encountered a large and steep snow field, one false move and we could have slipped down into a huge boulder field below. One step at a time we laugh-cried our way through it, chanting I will not die on the mountain to myself, I was possibly on the verge of hysterical by the end and you know the saying ‘it scared the shit out of me’ well as soon as my feet were not lingers on treacherous ice I immediately had to shit, right there and then, it terrified it out of me!

We still had several thousand feet of decent which luckily weren’t nearly quite as scary but were bone crunching, down steep rocks. We kept looking back up, not believing where we had come from!

We finally reached a fabulous refuge with a small river running alongside. Once we set our tent for the night we took ourselves for a soak in an ice cold stream. The freezing water really helps with any aches and pains as well as helps with the stench of our bodies and clothes. Washing your undies in the river is quite possibly the very best luxury on the trail!

Day 4

Refuge Manganu to Refuge Castel di Vergio

Mileage- 10.5

Elevation – 1560ft up, 2200ft down

We had been really looking forward to today’s hike as the guide book had used phrase’s such as gently graded, nice paths, able to stride out, but we were hesitant to have false hope. So far saying we were hiking on a trail would not be accurate, we had been mountaineering, rock climbing and snow shoeing. We had been hiking 6 miles in about 8 hours each day be today’s mileage was our highest at just over 10. We got a good start and soon found ourselves in a meadow of heaven, no rocks, green fields, I felt like Bilbo running though the shire.

The hiking was fabulous and just what we needed to restore our legs. There were a couple of tricky sections and some magnificent views.

The only real thing to upset our stride was a heard of wild pigs cavorting towards us to which I scurried up the bank to hide and willow boldly protected us from.

Great camping spot tonight in a field by a hotel used as a ski resort in winter. There are showers that were surprisingly hot and wonderful bearing in mind the only soap I have is biodegradable washing up liquid and a small gas cooker where we were able to make some delicious cous cous for dinner.

Day 5

Refuge Castel Di Vergio to Auberge Vallone.

Mileage – 9.5

Elevation – 2855ft up, 2790ft down

Today was billed as another of the easier days and let me tell you what a bare faced lie that was!

It started off with an ok up, walking up a valley, but that soon turned into a sharp rock and scree up hill scramble, we could see a refuge that was our halfway mark but for 2 hours it didn’t seem to get any closer.

During the morning we noticed some people running towards us in race gear and for the rest of the day we were faced with a flood of ultra marathon runners, all fit and strong looking, not having to carry a heavy pack and people offering them beverages along the way, it really pissed me off, mainly because I was struggling so much to just bloody walk the trail I didn’t need huge French and German guys running towards me showing off their strong quads appearing to not be suffering at all!! (My opinion later very much changed when I hiked the terrain they had come from, they were super humans)

The afternoon was just a wicked downhill, steep steep rock faces and high winds. We are certainly feeling like we have our trail legs and can feel them getting stronger, but nothing can stop the crunching of your knees and ankles on a descent, there were several occasions when we had to sit down on the edge of a rock and butt slide down.

Our refuge tonight is a bit strange, it can only be accessed by foot or by mule but it has a bar that has a flat screen TV playing the world cup games, brilliant! They even cooked us an omelet for dinner!

Day 6

Auberge Vallone to Ascu Stagnu

Mileage – 5.5 miles

Elevation – 4035ft up, 4100 down!!

I was very concerned about today, it had been worrying me for a while. So much elevation up and down over a relatively short distance meant I knew we were in for a world of hurt. We had been told it was very beautiful but I was worried it wouldn’t be enough to motivate me to persevere. The morning started with our usual hour of suffering followed by some serious rock climbing and bouldering. It was actually a lot of fun, we have both gown to love this terrain, finding places for your hands and feet, making a leap to a new boulder, reaching beyond where we thought we could. We were climbing in the shade of the mountain which helped, it was actually freezing which motivated us to keep moving.

When we reached about two thirds of the way up we had read in the guide book to look out for a scree slope to the top. I was pleased to reach this landmark in the day for approximately 3 minutes before I realised how hard a verticle climb on loose scree really was. Every step was really half a step because your feet just slide backwards. I had a mini breakdown where I just started uncontrollably crying for a second, like loud wails, made even worse by willow trying to comfort me talking about Mexican food because then my crying turned into mourning over how much I love guacamole and how long it will be until I can eat it again. I got over pretty quickly but it just shows how crazy the mountain can make you!

The view from the top was an amazing, snow peaks and a frozen lake! It was almost too cold to stop for a snack, we met some German girls in the same spot but coming the other direction who told us that the next refuge had a hotel next to it with a bar that was playing the world cup games and that England was playing, motivation to plough on for us!

Further up we climbed until we were on the shoulder of the highest peak in Corsica, Monte Cinto. We didn’t have the luxury of time to hang out at the top as we had got word that the weather was on the turn so we hastily began our descent and by hastily I mean I took one step onto the downwards scree slope and caused a rather large landslide,my feet were buried in rubble and I just kept sliding down, another laugh/cry moment as it was both hilarious and terrifying. We had well over 4000ft over two miles of this and I couldn’t see how it was possible to take more than one step. We used a series of bolted chains to help us and on multiple occasions we both just had to sit on our bums and ride the scree. This section is actually a diversion, previously seven hikers died when some unstable rocks become loose and caused a huge shift, we were playing in the big leagues today and we felt the weight of it right on our shoulders and as the day went on in our hips, knees, ankles and feet. The constant pounding of stepping down off big rocks felt like stepping on a huge bruise on the bottom of both feet, there felt like there was no gaps between any of my joints, just bone crushing into bone! We fell into complete despair when it began to rain and we realised we could see our refuge but had to descend fully into a gorge way below and hike up out of it to get there, I went into that zone where I can’t really remember things, like when I arrive at work but don’t remember how I got there and have to physically check if I put a bra on! It’s a zone where I become very staggery. More of a tumble than and ramble we finally made it and immediately made the decision to get a plush hotel room for the night and do some luxurious washing of underwear in a sink! Before we even checked in we went straight to the bar, bought an orangina and some snacks and watched England smash out another win.

My shower tonight was amazing, the hotel had little bottles of shower gel so wasn’t just washing up liquid clean I was spa treatment clean, I can’t wait to put on my sink washed damp undies tomorrow, what a treat! We absolutely nailed the best steak dinner of my life in the hotel restaurant, I didn’t even care how much it cost, it was a shut up and take my money kind of meal, I actually started eating off the plate before the waiter had placed it on the table!

Today was the hardest hiking I have ever done and I’m damn well proud of us, we’re mother f**king mountaineers!

Day 7

Ascu Stagnu to refuge Carozzu

Mileage – 3.75

Elevation – 2330ft up, 2280ft down

It’s very hard to gauge what each day will bring. The guide book tellls you elevation, distance to hike and an estimated time for each day. Today was our lowest mileage day at just under 4 miles but the time given was well over 5 hours which was very concerning. Whether it was just slightly easier for us going in the opposite direction or whether we really have got our trail legs we absolutely nailed today.

It started off with a fun and reasonably short uphill climb, lots of vertical rock walls to traverse and an amazing view from the top of the mountains we climbed the day before.

At this point I just want to give a shout out to my trail runners, I wear a pair of Altra Lone Peaks and I have never once got a blister, the grip on them is amazing and I never feel like I have to rip them off me feet, cracking pair of shoes!

The downhill was even fun today, we hiked over huge spasimata slab boulders, using chains to slow our descent and provide good handholds.

We crossed over the river at the bottom on a high suspension bridge and very quickly found ourselves at our tent spot for the night, great day’s hiking.

Day 8

Refuge Carozzu to Refuge Ortu

Mileage – 5

Elevation – 3445ft up, 3460ft down

Another great climb this morning, very sweaty though, the air has turned very humid. The profile for the day was up for the morning, across a ridge and down at the end of the day.

That little flat stretch across the top was probably some of the hardest tertian we have encountered,we were on a sharp ridge line with drop offs on either side of us. For some unknown reason I took a strange turn and lost all the colour in my face, felt really dizzy and had to immediately sit down and loosen all my pack straps. Not really ideal. Luckily it passed with some gentle sips of water and my head between my knees, meanwhile willow was making an emergency evacuation plan and practicing her french for the rescue team, something along the lines of, mon amis c’est tres fatigue!

The views really are incredible. I love to look back over the peaks and recognise the ones we have hiked over, we are starting to feel a real sense of achievement.

Wicked downhill that was never ending to finish the day, had to stop for a snack and ibuprofen break, just rock after rock and we couldn’t even see the bottom because we were above the cloud line.

We did finally arrive at our very last tent spot and refuge. Weirdly this is the majority of peoples first day, we chatted with some hikers who were pretty broken after their first ascent up to the refuge, we were asked loads of questions about the up coming trail and felt like bloody rock stars having got to this point.

The last night provided us with an amazing sunset and a real life unicorn friend.

Day 8

Refuge Ortu to Calenzana

Mileage – 7.5

Elevation – 770ft up, 5130ft down

Typical woke up to thunder in the sky this morning. We have a lot of elevating to loose today so we were keen to get going. Just as we reached an exposed ridge line, hanging on to metal chains we were caught in a huge thunder, lighting and rain storm which was less than ideal. We decided to hunker down under a tree until it passed, it just didn’t feel.like a good idea to keep hiking with metal trekking poles in our hands and lightning flashing around us!

It did soon clear and so did the trail. Our last day was filled with actual trail, few rocks, wild flowers and a welcoming army of butterflies. We had views down to the Mediterranean coast and finally glimpses of civilization.

We elatedly hiked into our final town of Calenzana, absolutely thrilled to have made it, stupid smiles on our faces.

The following picture my not be beautiful to you, it may not compare to to the scenic views I have provided you with, but these legs, these torn to shreds, filthy, bruised legs are what I am thankful for.

Ps, this is not a tan line, this is reality!

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. 

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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