8. It’s not always unicorns puking up rainbows….

Sometimes it’s hikers puking up breakfast!  The last 10 days I’ve had my lowest low but also a great high,  in fact the highest elevation of the entire trail! After a lovely zero day in Franklin, that included lying in bed a lot and eating a ridiculous amount of food we hit the trail where we left off with full packs and rested legs.

DAY 14

Rock Gap to Siler Bald Shelter. 8 miles.

Gorgeous day, blazing sunshine, the weather is really warming up. We spend all day walking north so just one side of my body gets the sun, making for some classic tan lines. We arrived at the shelter which was upsettingly half a mile off the trail,  but it was stunning, it had a huge meadow around it, a babbling brook and even a picnic table, but even better than that there was a hiker staying who was travelling with the smiliest, most loveable golden retriever called Vinny who topped me up with some puppy love! There were only 5 hikers including us staying so we decided to not pitch our tent and give the shelter another go,  glad we did because we got a great night sleep,  toasty warm and an easy pack up the next morning.

DAY 15

Siler Bald Shelter to Cold Spring Shelter. 11.6 miles.

Another beautiful day, we have seriously lucked out on the weather. Our first stop of the day was at a really cool stone tower with stunning views,  it always boosts your day when you get a great pitstop. From the top of the tower we had 360 views including being able to retrace our path through (over) the mountains.

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Wayah Bald Tower
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View from the top

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The rest of the afternoon flew by right until the last mile,  which was all uphill,  it’s always a sick joke when the hardest mile of the day is the very last one, when your legs are dead, and you can’t feel your feet! After doing our evening chores we were treated to a magnificent sunset that made the world right again.

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Home, we call her Agnes
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Sweet dreams are made of these

Day 16

Cold Spring Shelter to Rufus Morgan Shelter. 10.7 miles.

This section of the trail has given us some breathtaking views, but that has also meant a lot of mountains to climb. The morning saw us reach another observation tower, sometimes we climb to towers and admire the views, sometimes we climb the towers and take a nap!

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So tired

The afternoon saw us have to make a 3 mile, extremely steep descent. I actively like going downward,  I can put my ‘sturdy’ legs into action and can usually get a good pace going,  Willow however is the exact opposite but even for me this was toe numbing. At one point we were walking down a ridge no more than 3 ft wide with a 5000ft drop off either side.

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The Jump off

Sometimes when I get to camp I like to lie down and take in my surroundings, look up at the trees,  admire nature, mostly I’m trying to disguise how much my feet hurt to stand.

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Day 17

Rufus Morgan Shelter to Nantahala Outdoor Centre.  1 mile.

Only a 1 mile hike today. Rocked up at the outdoor centre which sits directly on the trail before 10am and went straight for the breakfast place. The bacon tasted like it was dipped in maple heaven, but everything not cooked on a camp stove tastes like sweet baby angels cooked it. We rented a cabin for the night which we were slightly concerned about, you know cabin in the woods, banjos etc, but it turned out to be wonderful,  with a porch to relax on and even a washing line to hang my sink washed undies on!

Day 18

Nantahala Outdoor Centre to Sassafras Gap Shelter.  6.7 miles.

DISASTER!  I woke up around 5:30 am feeling extremely sick, I lay in bed for as long as I could (Google search on my phone included,  how to lie if you feel sick, what plants in North Carolina can help sickness) but I eventually got up and puked. I felt wretched but rallied as much as I could.  We went back to the breakfast place but I couldn’t even eat plain toast, but made the decision to hike on regardless. Today was my hiking nightmare,  nearly 7 miles of continuous uphill gaining over 3000ft of elevation, but on we plodded. I’m not sure if it was a bad idea because we did actually make it to camp,  but it wasn’t pretty,  I couldn’t eat anything so I was at a severe calorie deficit,  I cried a lot and had several ‘leave me to the wolves’ moments.  Willow was an incredible support staying with me, encouraging me to take one more step, I would never of made it without her, but made it we did. Tent went up and I went to bed at 4pm.

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Poorly face

Day 19

Sassafras Gap Shelter to Stecoah Gap.  5.7 miles.

It rained and stormed all night and was still raining in the morning. The tent looked like it had had a mud bath and everything at the bottom end of the tent was soaked from the angle we pitched the tent at. We abandoned ship and warmed up in the shelter desperately trying to make a plan while the rain lashed down.  Big news,  I was able to eat a few peanuts without puking! After a few phone calls we managed to secure a room for the night in a motel in the next town, but still had a 5 mile hike to get there. I was still feeling ropey and dizzy from a lack of food but on we trudged in the rain, then the hail, then the thunder and finally as we approached the road, some lightning for good measure. We successfully hitched a ride into town and began the drying out process, which included Willow getting in the shower with the tent. I would confidently say the last 2 days have been utter shite burgers, I was the closest I’ve been to jacking this in, but in the grand scheme I’m not really thinking that at all, I want to be on the trail, I just don’t want to puke on the trail!

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Tent washing

Day 20

Fontana Dam to Birch Spring Gap. 5.7 miles.

Feeling much better today, ready to go, dried out, eaten food, slept well. Today is exciting because it will be our first in Smokey Mountain National Park. Just a short day planned but it was uphill all the way from the Dam to the Campsite. It was surprising how different it felt, hiking on a completely fueled body compared to 2 days ago.

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The highest peak in the background is our destination
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Healthy and clean
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Fontana Dam

We entered the Smokies which were gloriously green and smelt like Spring. We found a great lunch spot, and an even better camp spot. We climbed a very questionable fire tower which gave us magnificent views back down towards the Dam.

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Very red face after climbing the tower on top of the mountain.
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View from the top

We met some really cool hikers today, including a father and his 13yr old son who are thru hiking, along with some other great people. It has restored my faith in mankind that there are interesting, funny, and sincere people to meet on the trail not just Trail Bros and I’m excited to hopefully hike alongside them more.

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Smokies
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My lunch throne, sometimes I can’t even pretend to be classy

Day 21

Birch Spring Gap to Spence Field Shelter.  11.1 miles.

Hiking was a dream today,  challenging terrain,  but so beautiful, wild flowers everywhere, green everywhere, it really soothes the soul.

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Wild flowers

The rules of the national park mean that if there is space, to reduce human impact on the environment you must sleep in the shelter. It has its pros and cons as discussed before, but I’m adding serious mice problems to the cons,  you could hear them running around all night,  I was paranoid one was going to run down inside my sleeping bag, so I cinched my sleeping bag up around my neck but then got all kinds of sweaty, I love not having to pack the tent up in the morning though.

Day 22

Spence Field Shelter to Silers Bald Shelter.  11.8 miles.

Today was not a dream.  Today kicked my arse big time.  I did not glide into camp I stumbled in, after 6pm, broken and bruised.  On paper today looked good,  but in reality every Mountain we were faced with was a sheer climb, no nice switch backs, or smooth terrain. We had some nice views but they were always after a hideous climb which just made me angry not soothed.  On several occasions I sat down on the trail and refused to go any further.  If I hadn’t heard a story that the night before some hikers camping in their tents got nuzzled by a bear I would of just stopped right there but I had to carry on. When we got to camp I was relieved to hear every other hiker had the same experience as us. After a few sick joke of the day stories all was better in the world.

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Angry views

Day 23

Silers Bald Shelter to Clingmans Dome.  5 miles.

Today was a big day.  Big enough that we were up before 8 am. Today we summitted Clingmans Dome, the highest point on the entire Appalachain Trail,  the highest point east of the Mississippi. It was unsurprisingly a big climb,  but it felt so good to be climbing towards such a big milestone. We would also pass the 200 mile mark,  both of which pushed us onwards and upwards. As we climbed higher and higher the weather closed in until we were literally walking through the clouds. We emerged from the woods onto a paved footpath where normal people were visiting the national park, we felt like primitive creatures compared to the perfumed and cleansed humans around us. Unfortunately there was no view from the top, we were completely shrouded in cloud and fog, but it didn’t matter, we were elated with our achievement. We had to walk another 0.5 of a mile to reach the 200 mile marker, but wow, I’ve walked 200 miles in just over 3 weeks.

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Woodland creature 
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Clingmans Dome tower, shrouded in cloud 
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200 f***ING miles 

I’m writing my blog from a very comfortable hotel room in Gatlinburg TN,  we crossed the state line but will dodge back and forward for a few more days before I’m done with North Carolina for good.  Trail life is still a life I want to live but it’s harder than I could ever of imagined. Everything hurts, all the time, everyday. I am covered in a strange itchy rash, I’m always filthy and always hungry but so grateful that everyday that I have the ability to do the simplest of things,  to walk.

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Another state line
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Allergic to unicorns?  Just keeping it real for your all!! 
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7. First major milestones

Well that’s week two done and dusted.  we learnt some very hard lessons last week,  mainly that my body was not ready for 14 mile days, over mountains with a 35lb pack!!  This week we have done the same mileage but taken an extra day to do so which has meant that instead of needing to be carried into town as per last week, and crying from exhaustion,  we glided (is that a word? Glode maybe?) into town in quite the graceful manner like the almost ladies that we are (I say almost because it’s been 6 days since I last showered or changed my clothes)

Thank you for everybody’s concern over my feet,  they are so much better, healing up nicely which means they are very itchy, and cor, itching feet in a sleeping bag is a whole new set of yoga positions!! Check out all our milestones and firsts this week, it’s been a great week!!

Day 6

Hiawasse Budget Inn.

Today we had a goal and that was to spend 90% of the day in a horizontal position. I would say we were pretty successful at meeting our goal, it got crazy when we started to realise just how questionable the motel was and that got us up.  Washing clothes is fun when you don’t have anything spare to wear,  I sported a pair of shorts and my down jacket as my laundry day outfit, but looking around and spotting other hikers, I thought I had the upper hand of outfits!  Also I just want to talk about Crocs for a second.  Previously they were the butt a lot of my jokes and famously brilliant sarcasm,  but I take it back,  all of it and want to publicly apologise,  they are simply the best and most comfortable footwear I have ever owned,  I am a convert and even wear them with socks and I’m not even a little bit ashamed!

All in all a great recovery day, food,  Epsom salts, ibuprofen and a bed, everything I love.

Day 7

Unicoi Gap to Tray Mountain Shelter. 5.2 miles.

We have planned to keep our mileage low for our first couple of days back on the trail,  my pack is upsettingly heavy with 6 days of food in it. Town time is a great way to recover,  but the cons are A) resupplying means a major load in your pack,  and B) towns are mostly in valleys which means the start of the day is always big uphill hike and today was no exception. We had a late start to the day,  it was after midday before we hit the trail so we arrived at the shelter much later than usual,  all the good tent spots were taken and there was a crowd of,  let’s say, not my people hanging out. We quickly pitched the tent and got in. Mostly people on the trail are friendly and open, but there are also some people who I will avoid like the plague. The next morning we’ve waited for everybody to leave before getting up and out,  it was freezing in the night, the coldest I have ever been,  I wore as many clothes I could fit on, the rest I stuffed in my sleeping bag and slept in my hat,  gloves and scarf. The mountain is shrouded in mist and extremely erie, I want off this mountain!

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Eerie

Day 8

Tray Mountain to Deep Gap shelter. 8 miles.

The weather was weird today, very misty, rainy and dreary.  The worst thing about rain is not actually the wet but having to wear waterproof clothes, or as I like to call them, my sweat suit. Doing that much exercise in a waterproof basically means it’s raining on the inside of your clothes, but instead of clean sky water it’s salty,  smelly, sticky body water.  The jury is still out on whether it’s worth wearing them or not,  so far the best use for them has been an outfit so I can wash my hiking clothes and not have to stand by the washers naked!

We made a big decision tonight and decided to actually stay in the shelter.  The weather was supposed to be rainy and stormy overnight, there seemed to be an alright group of people around and the shelter seemed in good shape. There are pros and cons to shelter sleeping; pros being that it’s warm and out of the weather,  it’s an easy pack up in the morning and it’s a lot more spacious than our tent (even when there ate 18 hikers sleeping in a room built for 12) cons, well just one con is SNORING!!!!! I cannot begin to explain to you the indescribable and completely irrational rage I get at the sound of snoring and this was so loud the only thing I can positively think is that it kept the bears away!  I slept on and off, but not my best nights sleep,  I won’t rule out shelters as we remained warm and dry but I will be investing in ear plugs.

Deep Gap Shelter

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Deep Gap Shelter

 

Day 9

Deep Gap Shelter to random camp spot. 10.1 miles.

The day started off gloomy but quickly cheered up into a great day of hiking. Today was the first day I felt stronger than I did when I started. We seem to have got our mileage really right for us this week, we usually finishing hiking in the 5 o’clock hour and spend about 2 hours doing camp jobs. Tonight we found the best camp spot so far. We were up on a cute little hill but way down in a valley, there is a steam for water which I used to take a cowboy bath which felt incredible,  I had no idea how much dried on sweat salt my face could hold! There are a few other hikers here, one lady we have seen around a lot makes us smile, no idea what her name is but we call her the ‘unique lady’, she hates uphill even more than me and everytime we pass her she likes to tell us the exact mileage and elevation gain to the top.

The night rounded off with a gorgeous sunset viewed through the trees, seeing raw beauty like that I’m certain contributed to the best nights sleep I’ve had on the trail so far.

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Clean camp chic
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Goodnight view

Day 10

Random camp spot to Standing Indian shelter. 10 miles.

Major milestone today, we crossed a state line from Georgia to North Carolina!! Officially completed all of the Appalachain Trail that Georgia has to offer!! It was another great day of hiking, big up hill climbs but we persevered and arrived at our night spot in time for, wait for it,  another wash in the stream, small things guys but what a difference washing your undies out makes!

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State line
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Who’s in what state?

 

Day 11

Standing Indian Shelter to Betty Creek Gap. 11.3 miles.

Whoa,  another milestone,  today we summitted the first (of many) 5000ft mountains, 5435ft to be exact. No view at top which was disappointing,  we are deep in the green tunnel of rhododendrons which are the only green things we see, everything else is still being very lazy waking up from winter. The terrain was amazing and we flew through the miles.  I’m really noticing a change in our pace, we nearly always average about 2 miles per hour now. Today was our longest hiking day this week but it felt really manageable. We arrived at our camp spot and it was really crowded with people who are not ‘our people’. We have dubbed them Trail Bros, they like to make comments like, well if you had driven as far as you walked it would only take 2 hours, and I’m thinking, hey mate, we are at the same place on the trail,  it’s not how far I’ve walked,  it’s how far we’ve walked! They also love taking about gear to which my response is always, I have the very best equipment I can afford,  so to me it’s top of the line!  Bill Bryson gets it so right, when asked why he had a particular pack his response was ‘I thought it was better than carrying my stuff in my arms’.

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Green, misty tunnel

 

Day 12

Betty Creek Gap to Rock Gap. 8.4 miles.

Such a fantastic day today. Knowing you are walking towards a bed, calorie rich food and a shower puts a pep in your step for sure but so does knowing that the 100 mile mark is just around,  no actually up the next Mountain. Albert Mountain to be exact and I was hoping, after looking at the elevation profile it was a typing mistake, it looked like a sheer climb, just under 500ft over 0.3 of a mile. It was not a mistake and it turned out to be a great highlight of the day. We had to stow our trekking poles and climb hand over hand up rocks to get to the top. As people who live to play and climb on things, this was nature’s playground!  We were rewarded at the top with not just the 100 mile mark but the most spectacular views so far,  it was simply breathtaking. The rest of the afternoon was uplifting and miraculous that we were in such great shape after 6 days on the trail.

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Rock climbing fun 
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100 trail miles!!

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The reward from the top

For now I’m leaving you in considerably better shape than a week ago, and feel great about that, don’t get me wrong every morning it takes me about 15 mins just to be able to force my feet into a walking position, my back hurts, my knees kill but it feels incredible!

6. Look mum, mum look, I’m doing it!!!

Well, even though I am completely broken, bruised, and blistered up I am feeling like a bloody warrior!!!  The first 5 days on the trail have taught me so much, not just about myself, how much I can endure and how much gross I can put up with, but also about nature, beauty and simplicity.

I officially have 53 trail miles under my boots that we blasted in four and half days. I have conquered the highest peak in Georgia, Blood Mountain, which aptly named caused quite the blistered feet catastrophe. The weather has been mostly glorious,  I have my usual burnt pink nose, it’s cold at night with temperatures near freezing point and the little tent survived a pretty horrific overhead thunderstorm that shook the ground beneath.

Keep reading for my daily diary!

Day 1.

Springer Mountain to Hawk Mountain Campsite. 7.4 miles (+1 approach trail)

The weather was so perfect, the sky was blue,  you could see for miles over the mountains, it was warm but not sweaty, everything I could of dreamed of for my first day on the trail.  We practically skipped up to the top of Springer Mountain,  which was 1 mile southbound that we would have to retrace to go northbound , but we cared not, because at the top were breathtaking views and the chance to sign our names on our first trail register.

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Springer Mountain
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On the trail

 

It was already afternoon by the time we started officially walking the trail. Everything was amazing, beautiful and overwhelming. We stopped for lunch and filtered our first batch of mountain water, and arrived at our first overnight spot in record time.  Hawk Mountain Campsite is a new addition to the trail and has several cleared off flat spots to pitch a tent,  but very best of all it had bear boxes so we didn’t have to worry ourselves over throwing a rope in a tree to hang food, it had a little stream at the bottom of the ravine to collect water and even had a latrine, it’s like the Ritz of the trail! By the time we cooked a dinner on the tiny camp stove, pitched the tent and did camp chores,  it was easy past my 8pm bedtime.

Day 2

Hawk Mountain Campsite to Ramrock Mountain. 11.6 miles.

Its was really windy and colder than expected during the night, the tent is teeny,  about 130cm wide for two people is very cosy!

The terrain today is becoming more challenging,  some extended climbs and some steep downhills.  I have discovered I like down, I worry for my knees long term, but me and gravity seem to be friends going down,  we work together as a team unlike the ups, where I feel like I’m fighting science head on!

We had our mind set on stopping and making camp at about mile 9ish, but we just couldn’t catch a break with either the terrain or map reading and we ended up walking much further than we wanted.  We eventually found a stealth campsite at the top of Ramrock Mountain,  on our own, nervously we made camp and then were so relieved when 3 more exhausted hikers turned up to camp as well,  I think I’m pretty hardcore,  but I’m not quite ready to camp on my own in the wilderness yet!

The view and the sunset was breathtaking,  it was freezing and very windy but it didn’t seem to matter as we casually gazed over the Appalachain Mountains. Also, today I pooped in the woods!

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Ramrock Mountain

 

Day 3

Ramrock Mountain to Neel Gap. 12.7 miles.

Whoa, today kicked my arse! I knew today would be hard, Blood Mountain was our first 4000ft + summit, and man alive was it uphill,  we gained over 1000ft of elevation over a mile and with 35lbs on my back it was a fight all the way up. I listened to my great playlist (cheers to those who contributed) which really helped,  but I cannot sugar coat how hard it was! I could feel that my boots were starting to rub and there was little I could do about it. We had an overly ambitious mileage plan for the day,  but because of restrictions if you don’t have a bear cannister,  we had no choice but to keep on going, and going and going. Coming down off the mountain was almost worse, the terrain was extremely rocky and didn’t really resemble a trail, my feet felt like someone was taking a swing at them with one of thoes meat tenderising hammers everytime I took a step and to top it off when we eventually staggered to our destination,  which was a hikers hostel, it was almost dark and fully booked. We quickly pitched our tent out the back whilst several hikers described the weather forecast for the night,  major thunderstorms!

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Not even at the top yet!

 

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The view from the top

It wasn’t a bad day,  we conquered a mountain and pushed our bodies physically, I’m exhausted but ready for another day. The thunderstorm rolled in, shaking the ground beneath us, but our trusted little home kept us safe!

Day 4

Neel Gap to Hogpen Gap. 7 miles.

After yesterday’s adventures we decided to keep our mileage low today and I’m so glad we did. My feet are in bad shape and I’m doing a lot of trail doctoring and Willow is having some downhill knee issues.

We have a pretty good trail routine, Willow goes ahead on the uphills, I’m so slow,  it’s one thing I would love to improve on, I always overtake her on the downs so we end up in the same place at some point.  We have short pack on but sit down breaks and then we have longer,  pack off, boots off, food included breaks,  that we call our luxury breaks.

Our campsite tonight is alongside about 10 other hikers just off the trail.  It started to rain pretty much as soon as we stopped.  We quickly fired up the stove,  boiled some pasta and ate it out of the pan in our tent all cosy. Tomorrow is a big mileage day,  we need 14 miles if we are to make it into town tomorrow night!

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Dinner out of the pan, in our tent

Day 5

Hogpen Gap to Unicoi Gap. 14 miles.

OK so I thought I was exhausted before, I thought the trail had kicked my arse before, that was until today happened.

We were up and raring to go, the weather was grey and threatening rain, but we had a great pace going for most of the morning. As the day wore on we were both suffering,  my feet hurt so much my boots felt like medieval torture devices and Willow’s knee was worse than ever. We decided there was a Gap we could make it to, making our day 9 miles instead of 14, but as we reached and passed the mileage we realised the Gap didn’t exist and it dawned on us we had another 5 miles to go, not just any 5 miles, but over another 4000ft + Mountain!  I’m not going to lie, I had a small tear, laughed hysterically,  cried a bit more and put one foot in front of the other for 5 more excruciating miles. The terrain was probably the worst we have encountered,  we were painstakingly slow, but eventually we emerged from the woods to see a shuttle van waiting for us to take us to possibly the most questionable motel I have ever stayed in that has felt like heaven. I was so exhausted I literally could not stop shaking, after putting my pack in the back of the van, I almost couldn’t climb up the step to get in, I had to dig so deep all day I wasn’t sure I had anything left,  but I did, and I wouldn’t of known that about myself if our day hadnt worked out the way it did.

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The terrain
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How we feel about the terrain
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The state of my feet after the terrain

Our day ended with the most ridiculously American amount of fried food money could buy, water that runs out of a tap that you can drink and a bed all to myself,  Whoa what luxury!!!