13. Hi ho hi ho……

Day 47

Marion to Atkins. 11.6 miles.

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

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

Day 48

Atkins to Knot Maul Shelter. 14.3 miles.

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

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

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Day 49

Knot Maul Shelter to Chestnut Knob Shelter. 9.7 miles.

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

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

Day 50

Chestnut Knob Shelter to Stealth campsite. 15.1 miles.

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

Day 51

Stealth campsite to Bland. 8 miles.

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

Day 52

Bland to Jenny Knob Shelter. 11.7 miles.

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

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The Amazon?

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

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Day 53

Jenny Knob Shelter to Wapiti Shelter. 14.7 miles.

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

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

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

Day 54

Wapiti Shelter to Woods Hole Hostel. 8 miles.

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

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

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12. Faith Restored

Day 41

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

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

Day 42

Saunders Shelter to random campsite. 12.3 miles.

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

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New shoes

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

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

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Day 43

Campsite to  The Scales campsite. 15 miles.

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

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

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

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

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

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Proud

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

Day 44

The Scales campsite to Hiker Hostel. 14 miles.

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

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Ripped up feet

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

11. Trail Vacation

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

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

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Not my favourite!

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

Day 31

Hot Springs to Spring Mountain Shelter. 11 miles.

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

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Hot Springs in the distance

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

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

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

Day 32

Spring Mountain Shelter to Little Laurel Shelter.  8.6 miles.

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

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Ice around my tent

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

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

Day 33

Little Laurel Shelter to Jerry Cabin Shelter.  6.8 miles.

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

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Challenging terrain

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

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Trail magic

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

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300 miles baby

 

Day 34

Jerry Cabin Shelter to Erwin, TN. 10 miles.

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

 

9. Much better

Day 25

Newfound Gap to Pecks Corner Shelter.  10.2 miles.

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Only 1972 miles to go……

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

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

Day 26

Pecks Corner Shelter to Cosby Knob Shelter.  12.6 miles.

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

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Mr bear

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

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

Day 27

Cosby Knob Shelter to Davenport Gap. 8 miles.

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

Day 28

Max Patch to Deer Park Mountain Shelter.  17 miles.

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

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Max Patch

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

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Wild flowers everywhere

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

Day 29

Deer Park Mountain Shelter to Hot Springs. 3.2 miles.

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

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Luxurious

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

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Fried goodness 

 

 

 

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!! 

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!!!

 

 

 

5. Hard Goodbyes

When I started to plan this adventure I was desperately unhappy.  I had lost my fight, my drive, my enthusiasm and love of life. I couldn’t wait to get home from work so that I could spend a solid 10 hours not seeing or speaking to anyone and although I had chosen the solitude,  I was horribly lonely. I knew things needed to change but couldn’t decipher which part of my life needed the revamp.  The more I reflected on it the more I realised every part of my life was interwoven,  changing one thing wasn’t an option- hence the Apalachain Trail idea was born. I could change so many things is one foul swoop, it was and still is the perfect plan.

As soon as I had a focus,  an end game and a plan my life began to change.  I felt proud when I talked to people,  I began spending time outdoors,  adventure seeking,  dragging friends along with me. I started dancing, something I never thought I would do again, which all started to mend the unhappiness. I laughed, cried and tapped my little feet more and more until now, a year on, I’m having to let it all go, leave it behind and it’s heartbreaking.  I know that without the Appalachian Trail there is no way I would of pushed myself in this way which is why I remain whole heartedly committed to the challenge,  but it does not make the farewells to family and friends, any easier.

The trail is bringing out the best in not just me but everyone around me. The kind words,  support,  new and old friendships I have formed feel rock solid,  thank you,  thank you,  thank you,  I am taking you all on the trail with me, like our or not!!

4. Hair today, gone tomorrow!!

I would like to start this post with saying how much I LOVE having long blonde hair. I’ve always had long blonde hair ever since I was young, it makes me feel like me! Guess what?? maintaining beautiful long and blonde hair on the trail is a near impossibility, my hair gets matted as it is, I often rate it on a scale of good to jack sparrow, let alone not washing or brushing it for days on end. I can hide twigs, food and pens in my hair now, what would happen in the 100 mile wilderness?

I decided over a year ago when I was planning this adventure that I would grow my hair as long as I could, then, right before I left I would have it all cut off and donate it to the Little Princess Trust who make real hair wigs for children who have lost their hair. So last week I walked in to my hairdressers and was proud as punch for her to lop of a whopping 12 inches off and walked out with a lush chocolate brown bob.

Check out the before and after pics and tell me what you think! I love my cool undercut, makes me feel bad ass!!!