4/18/2018 – Day 40

Lost Mountain Shelter to Wise Shelter – 17.5 miles

Did most of the beginning of my hike alone. All the uphill parts in the beginning. It was surprisingly warm this morning and a bit humid. Played my trombone some at Buzzard Rock to a beautiful view. At Elk Garden, I finally caught up to 2-Clicks (first one to leave camp this morning). Homebound, 2-Clicks, Baba Ganoush, Soothe Sayer, Buckeye, and I started hiking together from there and as we spread out, we met up again past Mt. Rogers at Thomas Knob Shelter for a long lunch. Soon followed by Honeybun. After lunch, I decided to hike with my pBone out of the case and in my hands, so I’m ready to play when I see ponies. Soothe Sayer was nice enough to carry my poles for me. In Fatman Squeeze, all of us went in together and I “tested” the acoustics with my pBone. They were great. Best acoustics on the trail so far. Saw ponies not long after. One that looked pregnant and a baby that both walked right up to us. My trombone had no effect to them. At Massie Gap, Honeybun’s dad was there with some trail magic. I had 4 oranges and lots of cookies. Everyone at the shelter from last night is at the shelter tonight.

I started hiking like I usually do, on my own. This time though, there was a large group of us who planned on staying at the same campsite/shelter again rather than just Rachael, Braden, Graham, Grant, and I. Part of the way up the first climb of the day was a spot called ‘Buzzard Rock.’ There wasn’t a full 360 degree view there, but it was out of the trees and fairly high up so it was a great spot for a quick pBone break. After the first part of the morning, I ended up spending a lot of the day hiking with some of the new hikers that I first met in Damascus – Homebound, 2-Clicks, Baba Ganoush, Soothe Sayer, and Buckeye (same Buckeye who I met back in Georgia).

A few years before my thru hike, I took a 2 day backpacking trip through this section of trail including the Grayson Highlands with my mom and another friend of hers. Only difference is I hiked it southbound so I got to hike it north this time. The highest peak in Virginia is Mt. Rogers and the AT just so happens to go right by it. It is just a short .5 miles to get to the top of it but I had hiked it already with my mom and her friend so I felt no need to hike up there again. Plus, there is no actual view at the top. It’s all in the trees. I remember thinking that it looked like the forests of Dagobah where Yoda lives in the Star Wars films. It was really beautiful but I was ready to get to Thomas Knob Shelter to eat my lunch.

Homebound hiked up to Mt. Rogers while the rest of us hiked on to the shelter and enjoyed a nice and long lunch break. It was very muddy around this shelter – likely because of a mixture of rain and ponies walking everywhere. Through the shelter register, we found out that hikers who slept here had to be careful with all of their belongings because the ponies would try and eat whatever they sweat on to get salt. That would include backpacks, all clothes, and even the straps on hiking poles. We somehow managed to not see a single pony while we were eating at this shelter.

When we got hiking again, we started off spread out a bit but eventually were all hiking together in one big line of hikers. I had seen one pony so far before this. Just barely though because it was by itself and wandering away from the trail, so I was hoping I would see more later on. I was excited to try and play my pBone for the ponies to see if they would like it as much as cows do so once our group started hiking together, I actually took my pBone out and hiked with it in my hands. Soothe Sayer graciously offered to carry my hiking poles so that I had 2 free hands for the pBone.

Before getting to the actual Grayson Highlands State Park, we passed by a rock formation called, “Fatman Squeeze.” It wasn’t too tight of a squeeze, but it was a fun change from the usual hiking. Inside the Squeeze, I immediately noticed the echo in there and told everyone to stop so that I could ‘test the acoustics’ with my pBone. It sounded really cool in there. 2-Clicks even got a video of it.

0.7 miles after Fatman Squeeze was the southern border of GHSP. To hike into the park, all you need to do is go over a fence which they have stiles over so hikers can easily get over the fence while keeping the animals in or out of the park where they should be. It didn’t take long once we got into the park for us to come across 2 more ponies that actually came up to us – most likely just because we had been sweating all day and they wanted to lick that salt off of us. One of them gave Baba Ganoush a bath basically because he just sat on the ground and wasn’t stopping them from getting their fill of salt from his skin. Of course the first thing I did once we saw the ponies was play my pBone…they did not take to it like the cows did. One of them walked up to me while I was playing and them proceeded to try and bite my trombone slide. I didn’t want to end up with a broken pBone, so I gave up on the music and put it away in it’s case on my backpack. It was very disappointing but I at least still had the cows to play for.

Honeybun had told us that his dad was going to meet him at Massie Gap today and that they would do some hiking together. When we all got there, we thought we might quickly meet his dad but we ended up getting some trail magic from him. His dad set down a blanket with apples, oranges, bananas, granola bars, and a big box full of cookies for all of us to enjoy. It was a nice snack for all of us before we made it to Wise Shelter to camp for the night.

Very friendly ponies.
Soothe Sayer in the background.

4/17/2018 – Day 39

Damascus, VA to Lost Mountain Shelter – 16.2 miles

I was the one of the only ones awake by 7 am at the church. I decided to get breakfast at Mojo’s. Why not splurge since I won’t be back for Trail Day’s. Rachael and Braden walked in as I was leaving around 9 am. Grant and Graham (possible trail names – The Giver or GTB’s Grandpa Tinkle Baggage) got breakfast at Crazy Larry’s. Graham calls him Scary Larry. Didn’t have long to hike today and the weather was nice, so I took my time and hiked slowly. Got to the shelter at 4 pm. Lots of people stayed at Lost Mountain tonight. Starting to hike with a new big group along with the 4 I’m already with. Stoic, Baba Ganoush, Duracell, 2-Clicks, Soothe Sayer, Homebound, the Tortoise, Stylo, Honeybun, Firebeast. Someone made a campfire and a lot of us were up way past dark. I didn’t turn in until 10 pm. Probably because there was a good bit of whiskey being passed around – not by me. Grayson Highlands tomorrow!

I was pretty used to being the first one awake, especially in town so I had a pretty good system going to pack up quickly and quietly. Besides my sleeping pad – which is very loud when I empty out the air – I think I do a pretty good job of not waking up the hikers I share the room with. I couldn’t say goodbye to Damascus without one more breakfast at Mojo’s, so I got a big breakfast of chocolate chip pancakes, scrambled eggs, potatoes, and bacon. I just missed eating with Rachael and Braden but I was ready to get moving and we were all planning on getting to the same shelter that night, so I would see them later. Graham has some possible trail names. The day he and Grant hiked into Damascus was when it rained all day, so they were soaked to the bone. Graham’s hand looked pretty grim after that from being soaked all day and gripping his poles so tightly. He showed a picture of his hands and it looked like they belonged to a grandpa. He has two working trail names right now – The Giver(I came up with this because his old and gray looking hands reminded me of the man from the book The Giver and GTB, Grandpa Tinkle Baggage. I don’t remember the full explanation for that one but I do remember it gave us all a good laugh.

There is another trail that goes through the town of Damascus besides the Appalachian Trail. It is called the Virginia Creeper Trail and is a 35-mile multi-purpose trail. It is very flat and wide; quite the opposite of the Appalachian Trail. Heading north out of Damascus on the AT, the trail follows the Creeper trail for about half a mile before turning sharply off of it to start climbing up. Some hikers choose to stay on the Creeper Trail until it crosses the AT again a few miles later to avoid the steep climb out of Damascus. I wanted to stay on the AT the entire time so I hiked up.

Not too far out of town, there was a creek crossing. There were no rocks or branches in the water to walk on to avoid getting wet, so this was the first time I had to wade through the water. I took off my socks and shoes because I didn’t want them to get soaked when I still have 15+ miles to hike. When I was drying my feet and putting my socks and shoes back on, a few other hikers chose to walk straight through the water and not care about wet feet. I had not yet had to deal with that problem on the AT and I planned to hold off on wet feet as much as possible.

I don’t remember much about the hiking of this day. This day was really important because all the same hikers that I hung out with at the hotel in Damascus were at the same shelter and campsite that Rachael, Braden, Grant, Graham, and I had planned to stop at. It was like my first week on the AT when the campsites would be packed every night. It was great though because we all got along really well. We had a campfire going, multiple people packed out whiskey, and a lot of us stayed up past dark. One of the other female hikers was one I had met hiking up Blood Mountain my 4th day on the AT. She had a trail name at this point – Stoic. It was a very fitting name. She was very quiet and seemed like she could sit still for hours without ever moving. When we got the fire going, she sat on the ground right in front of it without flinching, even with the fire would shoot out sparks at all of us. We joked that it was yet another good example of her stoic-ness.

Before going to sleep, I remembered to write down the names of all the thru hikers that I hung out with today at the campsite. I figured I would want that to reference back to since I have always been bad at names. Trail names are easier for me to remember, but this list definitely helped me learn everyone’s names quicker. Tomorrow, we all planned to stay at the same shelter/campsite again after hiking through Grayson Highlands. We were all very excited to see the wild ponies that are kept there to control the growth of brush along the balds. I have hiked through Grayson Highlands once before with my mom and I was very excited to see that section of the AT again.

Most shelters along the AT have privy’s for hikers to take care of their #2’s and sometimes #1’s. Lots of them have ‘art’ from hikers like this poop poem. Author unknown.

4/15 – 4/16/2018 – Day 37-38

Damascus, VA – 2 zeros

One zero day turned into 2 zero days. It did in fact rain all day on the 15th and the weather for the 16th was forecasted to be even more cold and snowing (which it did – even in town). Also, Grant and Graham got into Damascus on the 15th so it has been great hanging out with them again. We all met up at Mojo’s for lunch/dinner at 2:30 and proceeded to get drinks from the gas station across the street to take to the porch of Crazy Larry’s Hostel where G & G were staying. Crazy Larry doesn’t allow people to do that usually, but he let it go because he never actually told G & G that. The Crazy Larry name suits him well…after a while we decide to go somewhere else, but nothing was open past 5 on a Sunday so we end up at a hotel where a ton of hikers were sharing rooms. Lots of food and drinks getting passed around and lots of catching up with hikers I hadn’t seen in a while and meeting a few who had been reading my shelter register entries but had not caught up to me yet. Stayed there until 11pm. Still got up for Woodchuck’s AYCE breakfast. Woodchuck’s didn’t have any more beds available for the 16th, so I ended up staying at a church that takes a $7 donation from thru-hikers who bunk there. No central heating, but still much warmer than being on the trail. My Marmot rain jacket was peeling on the inside and was becoming less and less water resistant, so I sent it to Marmot HQ (lifetime warranty!) and they should replace it for free. Mom let me use her card to buy a new rain jacket. Got a green men’s Mountain Hardware jacket form Mt. Rogers Outfitters ($120). The men’s size fit me better and the sleeves were actually long enough for my arms. Only downside is there aren’t any zippers under the pits to allow more circulation. Went to Mojo’s again for drinks with G, G, R, & B before heading to a new pizza place in town for dinner. This place had Guinness signs everywhere and even a map of Ireland, but they didn’t have their liquor license yet, so no beer…Pizza was great though. Even saw everyone from the night before there a while after we got there. One guy from last night didn’t realize I was the one hiking with a trombone, so they kept pointing me out and he told me he was a “fan” of my register entries. It’s been a couple of days since I’ve even played my p-bone, but it’s crazy/weird the recognition I get from it. No matter the weather, it’ll be time to start hiking again tomorrow!

With 2 full days off of the trail, I had a lot more time to write in my journal which is why I was able to include so much more details for these two days versus days where I was out hiking all day. There are some things that I remember and did not include in my journal so I will fill in the details as best as I can remember.

It was an easy decision to choose to take 2 zero days. 1: It was cold and raining all day on the 15th and then cold and raining and snowing on the 16th, 2: Grant and Graham got to Damascus on my first zero day and wanted to take a zero day on the 16th, so I wanted to stick around with them and Rachael and Braden to hike with all of them again once we left town.

At Woodchuck’s Hostel, I was told that there was a bed available for the night of the 15th so I took it. While I was being shown around the inside of the hostel, I mentioned to my guide (I wish I was better with names…) that my birthday was coming up the next week (April 23). He wished me an early happy birthday and told me that he had a pink ribbon that said ‘Birthday Girl’ on it. I don’t remember why he had it but he offered to let me have it if he could find it. Later that day when I got back to the hostel kind of late, I saw that he left it on my bed for me. It was a really sweet gesture and yes, I did carry it with me and clipped it on my pack when it was my birthday.

That afternoon, I heard from Grant and Graham that they were staying at Crazy Larry’s Hostel and wanted Rachael, Braden, and I to meet them at Mojo’s for food and drinks. We happily obliged. Mojo’s was the only restaurant where we could get drinks. All the other restaurant were fairly new and did not have their liquor licenses yet, so Mojo’s was the place to go. Mojo’s closed by 5 pm (maybe even before that) so we ended up getting some cheap beer from a gas station and took them to the porch at Crazy Larry’s to drink and hang out. Crazy Larry came out at one point at first to tell us that he doesn’t like people to drink at his place but he forgot to tell Grant and Graham that when they first checked in, so he said it was okay this one time. We just had to make sure not to get too loud. He hung out with us for a little while after that. He had a reputation as being a bit crazy, hence the name ‘Crazy Larry’ but he seemed to embrace that well enough. He had a lot of stories that he shared with us about his life and how he ended up where he is now. Another one of the many things that I wish I had written down because I remember none of it. I honestly forget most conversations I have.

We ended up wanting to find somewhere else to go and drink, but nothing was open that served alcohol but we ended up finding somewhere else to go. I don’t remember who found out about it from who, but we ended up in a hotel room that 4 hikers were sharing – Stylo, Walnutz, Baba Ganoush, and Tortoise. The room next to theirs had a lot more hikers in just the one room with all of them sleeping there that night. The party we were invited to was for Eskimo! I hadn’t seen him since Erwin, TN. It was his birthday so there were lots of drinks and snacks being shared with everyone – pretty much what would happen with so many thru hikers in one area anyways. I met a lot of new hikers that night. Some of which said that they had been trying to catch up to the hiker with a trombone. One of them even told me that they expected me to be a guy. Breaking down barriers one stereotype at a time! That night was probably the latest I had stayed up on the AT besides my first night in Franklin, NC. All of these hikers also planned to stay in Damascus for a zero day the next day so we were happy to see them again after that night.

Day 3 in Damascus was even more cold than the first two. I got up early for the breakfast at Woodchuck’s but found out that they did not have availability for me to stay there another night and I did not want to tent outside so I stayed at a church hostel where Rachael and Braden had stayed at the night before. The church takes $7 donations from hikers who stay there. There is no central heating, but it was still better than my only other option of sleeping outside or paying a lot of money for a BnB.

A lot of hiking brands have warranties on their clothing and gear and thankfully marmot had a really good one. My marmot rain coat was peeling on the inside and since that was not a tear or break caused by me, they would replace it for free. That ended up being a store credit for me to use in their online store. I needed a new raincoat that day so I went into an outfitter and ended up with a Mountain Hardware men’s raincoat. I got a men’s size because it fit me a lot better. My arms are long so women’s coats usually did not have sleeves that are long enough for my arms.

Grant, Graham, Rachael, Braden, and I started the afternoon with drinks at Mojo’s and then went to a new pizza place in town for dinner. They had an Irish theme inside with maps of Ireland and Guinness signs hung up everywhere. Unfortunately this was one of those restaurants that did not have their liquor license yet so no beer for us here. The pizza was worth the visit though. A big group of hikers from the party we went to last night ended up walking in after we did. At one point, I could hear them say “Slider” and point at me. One of the guys came over to our table to say that he didn’t realize I was the one with a trombone last night when we first met and that he was a fan of my trail logs where I would always sign my trail name with a drawing of a trombone.

Damascus is a very small town but I really enjoyed my time there, even with the bad weather. I met so many other hikers who would end up becoming life-long friends so this town will always be a significant place for me. ❤

Hanging out at Crazy Larry’s
Left to right: Braden, Grant, Graham, me(Slider), Rachael

4/14/2018 – Day 36

Abingdon Gap Shelter to Damascus, VA – 10 miles

Made it to Virginia! Beautiful sunrise in the morning. Braden and Rachael were awake before I set off, but not awake enough to enjoy the sunrise. Some of the boy scouts were just getting up as I set off. It was a fairly easy descent into Damascus. Another warm, sunny day. Got to Woodchuck’s Hostel before 11. The “tent” site was a gravel pavilion (as they called it) so I couldn’t use stakes to hold my tent down. It almost flew off before I got my pack in there to weigh it down. Got dinner with B & R at Pizza Plus (AYCE pizza) and then went to the brewery in town for drinks, live music, corn hole, and low key being hit on by one of the hostel workers (mid-50s?) and a thru hiker who felt the need to lift up his shirt to show me the tattoos on his chest. Weather is supposed to be cold and rainy tomorrow, so I am taking a zero. Got a bed in the hostel this time at least!

I woke up while it was still dark outside. That made finding my food bag a bit difficult. I hung it up farther away than usual and it is a black bag. I did finally find it as the sun was starting to come up, giving me some light to work with besides my headlamp. The sunrise was gorgeous this morning. I loved it when I was up early enough to start hiking during a sunrise. Rachael and Braden not so much…I heard that they were awake, but when I told them they should get out of their tent to look at the sunrise I got the usual grunts that I get whenever I say something to non-morning people early in the morning. So I told them I’d see them in town and started hiking. A few people from the boy scout troupe were up but most of them were still asleep. Fine by me.

The 10 miles to Damascus was very easy hiking. Pretty much downhill the whole time. 10 miles of downhill does take a toll but until the last few miles it wasn’t very steep at all so that helped a lot. The AT goes directly through the town of Damascus. For NOBO thru hikers, you’ll come out onto S. Beaver Dam Ave. where there is a gravel pathway through the grass that follows beside the road. There is a famous sign with white blazes on it that welcomes thru hikers to the town. It says, “Appalachian Trail. Welcome. Damascus, VA.” At a junction of this road, the AT turns right, down the main road of Damascus where the thru hiker parade happens during Trail Days. I kept walking straight to get to Woodchuck Hostel where I would be staying that night.

Woodchuck’s did not have any hostel beds available but they had a space for me to tent outside. They don’t want hikers setting up their tents in their yard so they had gravel pavillions. Thankfully my tent is a free standing tent so I could still use it without needed to use stakes because there was no way stakes would work in the pavillion. Woodchuck’s also has a tepee that fits 8? people in it. I met a few of the hikers there while hanging out around the hostel. One of them was from Glasgow so I was able to talk to her about that city because I had visited Glasgow in 2016. I did my laundry there and likely ate something for lunch that they hostel was selling. I can’t remember what but it was probably pizza and/or a pint of ice cream. That’s always my go-to meal in town. Burger and fries were my #2 choice.

Rachael and Braden stayed in a BnB that night. When they made it to town and checked in, we met up at an $8 pizza buffet place, exactly like the one in Erwin, TN, for dinner. After pizza, we walked to the only brewery in town, Damascus Brewery. There were not many places to drink in town so lots of people were gathered here. There was corn hole, live music, a food truck, and plenty of beer to go around. I even saw S’mores there with his family. He seemed to be feeling much better thankfully.

We ended up sitting at a table with one of the hostel workers and another thru hiker whose name I cannot remember. After 2 years, I don’t exactly remember our conversation. I just remember some of the comments being a bit weird and then at one point the thru hiker felt the need to pull up his shirt to show us all of his tattoos and explain them in detail…We didn’t sit with them for very long. We went back to playing corn hole way past hiker midnight and eventually called it a night.

About to take my first steps on the AT in Virginia!

4/13/2018 – Day 35

Stealth Campsite to Abingdon Gap Shelter – 26.4 miles

My longest day on the trail yet, but I didn’t feel as tired at the end as I did yesterday. There were no big ups or downs, so it was smooth sailing all day. Not that my feet don’t hurt right now. Started off with a great sunrise and headed off around 7:20 am. I stopped at spring 2 miles on to get water and found Braden and Rachael eating breakfast. They made it the 24 miles to Abingdon Gap Shelter also! I passed by S’mores fairly early in the morning. He was moving pretty slow, but I didn’t think anything of it until a different thru-hiker told me he was feeling sick the night before. I hope he makes it to Damascus okay. I’ve been within a few days of a thru-hiker named “Tall Man” for a while now. Today was the first time we’ve been writing in shelter registers on the same day. Him always ahead of me. I thought I might meet him at this shelter, but there were only 2 section hikers here and a boy scout troop. Maybe in Damascus.

I woke up to a beautiful sunrise. It was nice to wake up in a spot without other hikers around for once. This was one of only a few nights on the AT that I spent the night alone. I quickly did my morning business and got moving. There were a lot of miles to cover today but thankfully after the first few miles, it was relatively flat. 2 miles in, I run into Rachael and Braden eating their breakfast. The water source is just a small trickling stream so I was there for a little while waiting for my bottle to fill up. While there, R and B told me that a bear came walking by their tent last night likely because of the water source. Thankfully the bear ignored their tent, got its water, and went on its way. Hiking on, I checked the trail register at the Vandeventer Shelter and saw the name Tall Boy. I’d been just a few days behind this hiker for weeks. It showed that he spent the night at that shelter last night so I was getting closer. If I didn’t finally catch him tonight I thought maybe I would at least in Damascus the next day. That’s a popular town for thru hikers to spend time in. I wouldn’t make it there for trail days in May so this was my chance to explore the town.

I ran into S’mores. He usually hiked faster than me but I actually passed him. I didn’t think it was unusual at the time until another hiker later on in the day said that he was feeling sick. I didn’t see him again until Damascus so I know that he made it alright to town. Around lunch time, I was feeling more hungry than usual. Today was the first day that I really felt my hiker hunger. Instead of my usual tortilla with salmon or tuna, I opted to cook a ramen bomb and then finished my nutella while I read through the log book at another shelter. My hunger satisfied, I kept hiking.

There was a short half a mile section today that went through a grass field that was handicap accessible called Cross Mountain Accessible Trail. It wasn’t paved but the dirt trail was flat without rocks or roots in the way and it was very wide. It was nice to briefly walk on a trail that wasn’t going to trip you if you weren’t looking down at the ground.

I felt mostly okay hiking today despite the large amount of miles. It wasn’t until the last few before the shelter that my feet really started hurting. But I made it and there was even space for me in the shelter! I ended up setting up my tent later on though because there were mosquitoes out and a boy scout troop that was very loud. They were all very nice but they did not follow hiker midnight like thru hikers do. In the middle of eating my dinner – 2nd ramen bomb of the day – Rachael and Braden came hiking into camp! I wasn’t sure if they were going to make it but I was happy to see that they did.

All of us knowing that I would most likely be up and moving before R and B were awake, we planned on meeting up for lunch in Damascus the next day. It was 10 miles to get into town so to take advantage of a nero day, all three of us wanted to get up a little bit early to have ample time in town.

Handicap Accessible Trail at mile 448.6 according to the 2018 Northbound AT Guide.

4/12/2018 – Day 34

Moreland Gap Shelter to Stealth Campsite – 20.3 miles

Decided not to hike the full 24 miles to Vandeventer Shelter today. I was tired, hungry, and ready to set up camp. The weather was actually sunny and warm today. You can now clearly see my sock tan…it was only a matter of time. Tomorrow’s forecast shows the same kind of weather. I hiked today without a shirt for about an hour. I don’t have sunscreen and my arm just under my armpit was starting to chaff. What’s worse, going over the big Pond Flats climb, someone tells me there is trail magic at the bottom. If there was any before, there was no trace of it by the time I got there. Oh well. I could not have picked a better campsite. Views on both sides. Played my p-bone towards the sunset and now I am watching the last rays of sun disappear behind the mountains and city lights. 3 snake sightings today, but many more dogs so some good animals.

The beginning of the day was relatively easy with the trail being mostly downhill until I got to Pond Flats which is a steep 2.6-mile climb up and 2.6-miles back down the other side. This is another section that I have hiked before with my mom. Laurel Falls is a popular spot for day hikers so there were a lot of people out. At the falls, there is a natural pool that some people were swimming in and a couple of people who were trying to climb the rocks beside the falls to jump in. I didn’t hang out there for long since I had seen it before and because I had a big mileage planned for today. The hiking around this area was a lot of fun and besides seeing a thru hiker peeing on the side of the trail without him realizing, I had a great time.

Not long after the falls there was a fork in the trail that separated the path between day hikers and thru hikers. A family there for the day was sitting at the fork and I stopped to ask them if they knew which way the AT went. They pointed up – which was what I assumed but it doesn’t hurt to be safe and ask. I ended up talking them for a little while. They asked me the usual questions about thru hiking, “How many miles do you hike a day?” “What do you eat?” “How often are you able to shower?”, etc. They were very nice – like most people on the trail – but eventually I had to be on my way. It was a warm day and I knew I’d be sweating extra hard going up Pond Flats.

Going back a few years, I remember this particular section vividly because it was so hot and humid when my mom, step dad(Andy), and I were hiking it. This climb up Pond Flats in particular was a struggle for all of us and we even stopped to consider turning around and calling it quits on the rest of the backpacking trip. I did not want to and was able to convince my mom and Andy to keep going. We pushed on and made it! Back in 2018, it was hot but not as blistering hot as it was a few years prior. I did take my shirt off on the way up to help but also knew I couldn’t hike like that for too long because I did not have sunscreen with me. Part way to the top a sobo section hiker was coming down and told me that there was trail magic on the other side of the mountain. That was more than enough motivation to get me moving faster up Pond Flats. About halfway up, I stop to catch my breath and to drink some water. Another thru hiker was taking a break at the same spot. We starting hiking again at the same time so we start chatting. His trail name is Rodo (I don’t remember why) and we would end up seeing each other multiple times along the trail. At this point in time though, he stopped at the top of Pond Flats at a campsite to wait for his friend to catch up and I continued hiking with nothing but trail magic going through my head. Finally on the other side of the mountain, I come out to a gravel road and follow the white blazes to cross a busy highway…no trail magic. I was so upset to have missed it. I wished that the section hiker hadn’t said anything to me about it so I wouldn’t have been so disappointed. Thankfully as a northbound hiker, I still get plenty of trail magic…just not this day.

No trail magic so I kept hiking. It took me a good 15 minutes to find where the trail went. After crossing the highway, I thought the trail followed right beside the road before breaking off back into the mountains. I followed the road but thankfully turned around quickly. It felt very wrong to be walking that way. Back where I first crossed it, I see a small hint of a trail and follow that and thankfully see a white blaze. It was hard to see until I was actually in the trees on the trail.

I was super tired and my feet were hurting. I originally planned to hike 24 miles to the Vandeventer Shelter but at this point I didn’t think I would want to try and make that. I ended up stopping after hitting 20 miles for the day at a cool little stealth spot that looked like people had camped there before. There was only 1 good flat spot for a tent, so I set up my things. I had a few hours before dark so I took my time making my dinner. I even watched an episode of The Office on my phone since I had service. I didn’t watch Netflix very often on the AT but this was a moment that I was happy to have that option. Braden and Rachael had the same plan for the day as me. As they were hiking past my campsite we said hi and they told me that there is a water source another mile or two down the trail that they were going to camp at. Thankfully I had enough water to last me through the night and I would be able to filter more the next morning where they were going to camp out at.

The rest of the night I had my pBone out. I tried and failed to learn some new songs while watching the sunset. I was too tired to focus and actually memorized something new so eventually I put it away and went to sleep. This was easily one of my favorite campsites.

Beginning of the sunset at my campsite for the night.

4/11/2018 – Day 33

US 19E to Moreland Gap Shelter – 19.1 miles

Amazing breakfast at 8 this morning followed by a 30-minute nap at 9. Started hiking at 10. Got a cramp on the first uphill. I guess the nap wasn’t enough to let all that breakfast food digest. I didn’t stop until Mountaineer Shelter a bit after 1/1:30 for a snack. I really didn’t feel hungry, but something small would at least hold me over for a while longer. Jones falls was the 1st really cool waterfall I saw on trail. The hiking today was fairly level, so 19 miles wasn’t so bad. I did almost step on a snake though. The animals are definitely waking up. Had some trouble hanging my food bag. There weren’t a lot of good choices and the 1st one I tried was just barely too high for me to throw my rope over. I found a shorter one (probably too short), but at that point, it was good enough.

Mountain Harbor has my favorite breakfast on the entire Appalachian Trail. Tea, coffee, pastries, and any other breakfast food you can think of. All home made and seemingly never ending. It was more food than all the thru hikers there could finish. I ate until I was full and then some…I paid for that later. After breakfast, I had until 9 am to be out of the hostel so I went to my bed to take a nap and try and nap away my full stomach. My body on the trail metabolized food a lot more quickly than off trail so I thought a 30-minute nap would be enough for the food to digest enough for me to start hiking comfortably. It helped some, but I was moving slow from the food and extra sleep I got.

Back on the AT, the trail goes straight up for 2-and-a-half miles. Not fun with a full stomach so I got a cramp in my side. Some stretching and water helped to get rid of that. Within an hour, I was feeling much more awake and less full. It wasn’t until about 9 miles into the day that I finally stopped to take a break and eat some food. I ate enough food this morning that even after 1 pm, I did not feel like I could eat my lunch so I just had a snack – likely a clif bar or some goldfish. Not long before that break, I passed the 400 mile mark. I wasn’t good at following that on my own, but I always saw when I passed another 100 miles on the trail because someone wrote out the mileage number in sticks on the side of the trail. I’m always looking down while hiking because otherwise I’m likely to trip over rocks, roots, and whatever else is on the trail, so it is easy to see a big number spelled out on the side of the trail.

About a tenth of a mile off the trail was a big waterfall. It was the first big one I had seen. All the other ones were barely a few feet tall if that, so this was worth going a little bit off trail to see. I saw my first snake of many on the AT. For whatever reason, they like to hang out either right on the edge of the trail or in this case, directly in the middle of the trail. I almost stepped on it and it scared me once it started moving with my foot right beside it. It was a small and harmless snake, but I still jumped from the surprise of almost stepping on it.

19 miles for the day felt really good. After the fist climb of the day, the ups and down were very gradual so it was easier than usual to get some more miles done. At the campsite, I set up in the shelter, ate some food, and went to find somewhere to hang my food bag. That proved very challenging. The trees were skinny and tall and did not have many branches low enough for me to throw the rope over. I tried – unsuccessfully – at one spot for almost 30 minutes, but the branch was just barely too high for me to get the rope over. The only other spot I could find was a much shorter tree with a branch hanging so low that a bear definitely could have taken my food overnight but at that point, I did not care and used it anyways. It was at least away from the shelter and everyone who was tenting so I wasn’t worried.

Serving #1 of my breakfast at Mountain Harbor ❤

4/10/2018 – Day 32

Overmountain Shelter to US 19E – 6.9 miles

1 month on the trail. Commemorated with sunny skies and a relatively warm day. Really windy coming over the balds, but with beautiful views. Had a bad fall coming down one of them and landed on my hand. Nothing is badly hurt, but I definitely twisted my wrist a bit. It hurts to move it too much. Packing my bag is going to be really slow for the next week. When I got to the monument on top of the bald, I played some pBone and one of the guys who stayed at the shelter with me took a video and picture. Waiting for him to send it to me. Made it to Mountain Harbor before 11:30. I mentioned my mom and Andy and the owners immediately recognized my mom’s name. They added a food truck to the hostel, and I got a BBQ/bacon burger with fries that was amazing and then some nachos later on. Braden and Rachael got here last night too! Around 5:30ish. There are 2 overweight cats, at least 4 dogs, and a goat that are all super friendly. Crazy Brit and his son stayed here too. I got 2 Heinekens from them! Very excited for breakfast in the morning!

I was sad to hike away from Overmountain Shelter but happy to be hiking towards Mountain Harbor today. I had a beautiful 7 miles to hike over balds. It was very cold overnight so the trees and ground were all covered in frost. The sun came out quickly though, melting a lot of the frost. I was happy for the warmth from the sun but soon realized that the melting frost was making the trail very muddy and slippery. I had a lot of close falls going up and over those hills.

At the top of Hump Mountain, there is a plaque built into a rock commemorating Stan Murray. When the Appalachian Trail was first completed in 1937, a lot of it was on private property and there were concerns that without federal protection, it would go away. Stan Murray did a lot of work to protect the AT and especially Roan Mountain and the balds in the Highlands of Roan where his plaque now lays. It was at this spot that I stopped briefly to pull out my pBone and play some music. 360 degree views and sunny made it the perfect venue. I later got pictures from another hiker who came up over Hump Mountain as I was playing. He tried to get a video too, but you could not hear any sound. Hiking on from Hump Mountain, I slipped on a particularly bad patch of mud and caught myself with my hand. Not good. The fall was hard enough to cover one side of me in mud and twist my wrist. Thankfully with nothing broken, I continued on and was able to stay on my feet the rest of the way to the hostel.

Mountain Harbor hostel is a special place for my family. Before thru hiking, I had stayed at the hostel once with my mom and a second time we left her car there while we went on a section hike. My mom has been there more than I have and even met my step dad – Andy – at the hostel. She stayed there with a hiker meetup group that Andy was also with and the hostel was accidentally over booked. My mom and Andy ended up having to share a room in the main house with one of them sleeping in the bed and one in a cot and by November 2016, they were married. Checking into the hostel I mention my mom’s name and the owner immediately recognized her and even had a story about another couple who met there and got married.

Mountain Harbor is a big house with a lot of animals including 2 cats, 4 dogs, and a super friendly goat. I always had something to do because there was always one animal that required attention. The hostel had some new additions just this year including a food truck that I took full advantage of. A hiker named Crazy Brit who I had met the day before while getting trail magic was at the hostel too and had Heineken with him! He let me have some while I told him about my time studying abroad in Ireland and backpacking around Europe.

Later on Rachael and Braden made it to the hostel but had to tent because all of the hostel beds were taken. I got some more food with them at the food truck and made sure to tell them to splurge on the breakfast that the hostel offers. Mountain Harbor BnB and Hostel will always have one of my favorite breakfasts. It is all homemade, AYCE, and absolutely delicious! Worth every penny!

Playing my pBone by the Stan Murray plaque.

4/9/2018 – Day 31

Campsite to Overmountain Shelter – 21.9 miles

Woke up to the sound of snow still falling, so I had little motivation to get out of my sleeping bag and tent. Didn’t leave camp until 8:10am. Made it to Overmountain by 6. It wasn’t snowing for long and thankfully it didn’t really rain. It was mainly just foggy all day and almost no wind. The last time I did this section a couple of years ago with mom, it was warm, but there was also a thunderstorm that created a lot of fog. Not too different this time except for the cold. I even missed the same sharp turn in the trail as last time. This time because I was hiking and talking with a guy – S’mores and neither of us noticed a problem until we got to a road with no white blaze. Looking forward to getting to Mountain Harbor tomorrow!

I woke up to the sound of snow falling on my tent and immediately let myself close my eyes for a little bit longer in hopes the snow would stop long enough for me to pack up. That was not the case so eventually I got myself moving (mostly because I always have to pee really bad in the morning), grabbed my food bag, and ate my breakfast in my tent. Yes, you are not supposed to eat food in your tent because of the smell but I could not care less at that point so that’s what I did (insert shrugging emoji here). After packing up all of my things inside my tent, I hit the sides of my tent to knock off as much snow as I could before getting out and packing away a vey wet and very cold tent. As I was strapping my backpack on, the other hiker staying at this campsite poked his head out of his tent. Both of us had slow mornings that day.

This section on the AT to Mountain Harbor was a familiar one to me. I had section hiked it with my mom – Italian Ice – a few years earlier. Roan Mountain was a well known spot on the AT because of amazing views and at the top is the Roan High Knob Shelter which is the highest shelter in elevation on the AT. Unfortunately, I did not get a chance to see any views the first time I hiked over Roan Mountain because there was a thunderstorm for the entire day that did not end until we got to Overmountain Shelter for the night. The thunderstorm also caused my mom and I to miss a sharp turn in the trail – that we were also warned about – because our heads were down to shield our faces from the rain. We did not realize our mistake until we came out to a road a few tenths of a mile later and not finding any trails or white blazes on the other side of the road, we remembered the warning we were given.

Back to 2018 when I was thru hiking, this day I would also be hiking over Roan Mountain. Thankfully there was no thunderstorm and the snow stopped after a short while but because of the snow earlier in the day, it was very foggy so I still have yet to see the amazing views of Roan Mountain. The other hiker that stayed at the campsite with me was a very fast hiker so he was ahead of me at this point. Halfway up Roan Mountain, I passed by him taking a break at a campsite. Up and over the top of the climb, he had caught back up to me and we hiked together for a while chatting about our lives. His trail name is S’mores. I don’t remember the full story of how he got his trail name but basically he ended up at some random campsite of (I think) non-thru hikers who were making S’mores. They invited him to join and because of his hiker hunger and love of s’mores, he ate a shit ton of them and thus ended up with the trail name S’mores. S’mores if you are reading this, let me know if I remembered this correctly!

Engrossed in conversation as we were coming down the other side of Roan Mountain, we ended up coming out on a road and I immediately realized that I did it again. I missed the sharp turn. I recounted the story of when this happened to my mom and I to S’mores as we turned around to find our way back to the AT. This second time around, I saw that there were a few long and skinny branches laid across the trail to show that there is a turn there. If you aren’t paying close attention – like S’mores and I – it would be easy to miss. Back on the correct trail, S’mores and I continued trading stories until he eventually pulled ahead of me.

There was one more shelter to pass by before I got to Overmountain Shelter. When I got to it I saw S’mores again looking like he wanted to stay there. I told him about the next shelter that was less than 2 miles away and he decided to hike the rest of the way with me. Overmountain Shelter is a large 2 story converted red barn that can fit up to 30 people. It has 2 sleeping platforms at the bottom separated by a picnic table and a ladder in the back leading up the enclosed 2nd floor with 1 small window. It was still really cold that day and we could hear some other hikers up on the 2nd floor so S’mores and I headed up there to set up our sleeping pads and bags. S’mores had met one of the hikers up there already – it is very common to run into hikers you know but haven’t seen for a while. Another hiker up there went by the trail name Pyromaniac because she liked fire and setting things on fire…thankfully she refrained from doing that here except to cook her food. I found out that the day before, Pyro had heard from her trail family that was behind her that they were trying to catch up to her. To slow down her pace she hiked only 4 miles to Overmountain Shelter and has already camped there for a day and a half and said she was planning on staying there until her friends caught up. That’s some real dedication to a trail family.

Before it got dark, I made sure to use the privy to pee before going to sleep. I wish I got a close up picture of the seat because someone had bedazzled it and drawn a poop emoji on it. Minus the added decorations to the toilet, this privy is famous for being very minimal. As in just enough wall coverage to barely block someone’s view from the barn from being able to see your bare ass on the toilet seat. It doesn’t sound very inviting but at least to me, it is an exhilarating place to relieve yourself and I recommend everyone try it out. It comes with a nice view too. Don’t knock it till you’ve tried it!

Converted barn that is now the Overmountain Shelter on the AT and the very exposed privy on the other side of the shelter.

4/8/2018 – Day 30

Erwin, TN to Campsite – 21.5 miles

I saw Grant and Graham last night for the 1st time since I left Fontana Dam. I was already in my bunk about to go to sleep and they walk in and find me. They heard from others at Uncle Johnny’s that I was there so they went and found me. We caught up for a little while, but I was planning on hiking out early the next morning, so I didn’t stay up long. Ended up waking up at 5:40am and was hiking before 7am. No one else was even awake. It had snowed overnight and was still a bit chilly, but the sun was out all day (high of 45ish) and the ice/snow still on the trees made some amazing views. More trail magic today! Sausage biscuits from McDonald’s, hot chocolate, and lots of other snacks. I called Mountain Harbor and reserved a hostel spot for April 10th. Planning on staying at Overmoutain Shelter tomorrow, so another long day of hiking. Fingers crossed I don’t wake up to rain or snow. Also tied my bear bag using a PCT hang for the 1st time.

Even with the extra time I spent up the night before with Grant and Graham, I was awake very early. Earlier than I usually get up. No one else was awake and it was still dark outside. I took all of my stuff out of the bunkhouse so that I could pack everything without waking up any of the other hikers. It was very chilly but I got to enjoy a beautiful sunrise as I was getting my pack ready to go. Hiking north out of Erwin, the AT crosses the Nolichucky River, over railroad tracks, and then a steady climb away from town. When the sun came out, it made for some great views with the ice and snow covering the trees and ground.

My original plan for today was to stop at Cherry Gap Shelter 17 miles from Erwin, but another hiker said that this shelter was supposedly very small and in really bad shape. He told me about a good campsite a few miles past that shelter that would be worth the extra miles to stay at. If I stayed at that campsite, it would make it easier for me to make it to Overmountain Shelter the next night and then to Mountain Harbor Hostel. About 10 miles in to the day, I saw a sign that said there was trail magic ahead! A couple parked their car on a gravel road where the AT crosses and had hot chocolate, coffee, sausage biscuits from McDonalds, and lots of other small snacks. I had some hot chocolate and a biscuit while talking with the couple about their past thru hike and with the other current thru hikers who were also taking advantage of the trail magic. Eventually the cold got to be too much so I said thank you and goodbye and continued north.

The climb up to Unaka Mountain right after the road with the trail magic was not particularly long, but I remember it being very steep. Even with the chill still in the air, I was hiking up this mountain in shorts knowing full well that if I stopped moving, I would immediately go back to being cold so that got me up Unaka very quickly. At the top of this mountain, a church group had decorated a short pine/evergreen looking tree (I’m not good at identifying trees) with ornaments as if it was Christmas in March. I ended up taking a short break at the top, taking time to look at the decorations on the tree, find a spot to pee, and to call Mountain Harbor to see if they had a bed available in two days for me to reserve. I had service so once my reservation was made, I knew I would try and stay at the campsite past Cherry Gap Shelter tonight.

When I passed by Cherry Gap Shelter, it was exactly as it was described to me. Small and rundown with a slanted floor that would make sleeping on wood even more uncomfortable. I was more than happy to pass it by. I made it to the campsite with a few hours of daylight left so I had plenty of time to kill. I set up my tent, filtered my water, and sat in the grass for a bit playing my pBone before cooking my nightly ramen bomb. As I was finishing up my food, another hiker stopped at the campsite. This was a big grassy area so he was able to set up his tent with plenty of space between the two of us. We had met already but at that point, I could not remember his name so I made no effort to strike up a conversation because I felt bad and didn’t want to ask what his name was again.

After eating, I gathered up my food bag and for the first time on my own, I successfully hung up my food using the PCT hang. Hanging a food bag this way takes away the need to tie the rope around a tree to keep the bag from falling, thus making it a lot harder for any animals to cut it down. The last time I was able to check the weather, it predicted snow and/or rain tomorrow. I went to sleep hoping that it would hold off until I was able to pack away my tent. One of my least favorite things on the AT was packing up a wet tent, especially when it’s cold outside.

Beautiful, frosty bald