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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.