4/7/2018 – Day 29

Erwin, TN – zero day

Wasn’t planning on taking a zero today, but my mom’s original plan of hiking with me changed once we found out it was going to be cold and wet all day. She got here around 10am and brought the blue Osprey pack because the green one won’t tighten around my hips anymore. The blue one fit much better! I found out last night that Braden and Racheal are in Erwin and decided to take a zero also. They ended up joining my mom and I for lunch at Las Jalapenos and our resupply at Wal-Mart. Great to see them again and to know we’ll probably be hiking to the same shelter tomorrow. Staying in the hostel part of Uncle Johnny’s tonight. A lot of people in here that I met in Hot Springs. Pretty relaxed night hanging out in the hostel where it’s warm. I’m debating doing 2 21/22-mile days to be able to stay at Overmountain Shelter before I get to Mountain Harbor. The terrain doesn’t seem so bad. Just a lot of uphill to get out of Erwin, so we’ll see how it goes.

Today was very cold and rainy all day. I knew before my mom made it to Erwin that there was no way either of us would want to hike in this weather. I was right. When my mom did finally make it, she said she would just hang around with me for the day to explore Erwin and hang out with other hikers. With her, she brought her extra osprey pack for me to try on because it was a smaller model than the pack that I had been using so far. I tried it on and the hip belt tightened enough with extra space left for me to tighten it more when I needed to. It was a huge relief to have a pack that fit me again.

Late last night, I got a message from Racheal and Braden that they were in Erwin and were planning on taking a zero day. They opted to stay in a motel instead of the hostel which is why I did not see them when they made it to Erwin. I messaged them to ask if they would want to join my mom and I for lunch at a Mexican restaurant in town and that my mom would be able to pick them up and drop them off at the motel. That was an easy offer to accept and my mom then got to meet two of my closest friends that I had made on the AT so far. Any future AT hikers who are reading this, I highly recommend Las Jalapenos in Erwin, TN. Delicious food with enough to fill up any thru hiker. None of us had resupplied yet so after we finished eating, my mom drove us to Wal-Mart to get food for the next section of the AT. We met back up at the front of Wal-Mart, dropped Racheal and Braden back at the motel, and headed back to Uncle Johnny’s.

There wasn’t an available cabin for me to stay in this night so I stayed in the hostel. Most of the people in the hostel that night, I had met in Hot Springs when we were all treated to a big Easter meal . One of those people included a veteran who was hiking with her service dog. Unfortunately, I did not record her name and do not remember it now, but I do remember part of her story. She was discharged from the military after suffering severe injuries following a fall from a tower. She still has lasting effects from that fall that flare up randomly which is why she has her service dog. This dog was huge and fluffy and one of the nicest dogs I’ve ever met. When she wasn’t wearing her service dog vest, she was very playful and would move from bed to bed in the hostel to take naps around different people. I was very happy to see them both again.

My mom hung out for a while with the other hikers and I in the hostel but she had a long drive back to South Carolina, so we got a picture together and said our goodbyes. After she left, a lot of hikers went into town on the shuttle to get dinner but I opted to stay at the hostel. The outfitter store at the hostel also sold small frozen pizzas so I got two of those to eat for dinner. While at the store, I asked if I would be able to exchange my darn tough socks that have holes in them for a new pair. Darn Tough socks have a lifetime warranty so if any holes appear from normal wear and tear, they will replace them for free. Some outfitters even offer to swap them out for you and thankfully at Uncle Johnny’s, I was able to do that. They told me to put my old socks in a sealable bag – to contain the smell – and then pick out a new pair of darn tough socks that are the price equivalent of the ones I was turning in. The hostel will send my socks with holes to Darn Tough with the tags of the new socks I picked out so that their store could be reimbursed. I got two new pairs of socks that day and am still using those socks to hike now in 2020.

I was planning two longs days of hiking out of Erwin to make it to Overmountain Shelter before the next hostel I was planning on staying at. Overmountain Shelter is an old converted barn that fits up to 24 hikers. I had stayed there once before on a section hike with my mom and knew I wanted to stay there again. I went to bed early before any other hikers but before I was able to dose off, I heard some people asking, “Is Slider here?” and “Where is Slider?” I recognized those voices and immediately jumped out of bed to see Grant and Graham standing in the hostel. I was very tired, but so excited to see them again that I hung out with them outside by a fire some other hikers made. It was raining lightly outside, but I managed to stay awake for another hour with them before finally turning in to bed. Tomorrow was going to be an early morning.

My mom (Italian Ice) and I taking a picture while sitting on my hostel bed before she left to drive back to SC.

4/6/2018 – Day 28

No Business Knob Shelter to Erwin, TN – 6.2 miles

A fairly easy hike into Erwin this morning. A few climbs, but nothing real big or long. Mainly just a decent into town. I stayed in a cabin at Uncle Johnny’s Hostel (trail magic from mom). Nothing special. Just a room to myself with a giant bed. The space to myself was a great change, even though the ceiling leaked when it rained. The sewage system was down at the hostel, so the showers and toilets were not working. They had to bring in porta potties and a woman who worked there let me (secretly) take a shower in a private bathroom in a cabin that had not been checked into yet. Got a free shuttle into town to an $8 all-you-can-eat pizza place. Also got ice cream to eat later. For dinner, I ended up hanging out with a group of guys from Ohio here to fish and a group of rafting guides. The fishermen made sausages and potatoes, the rafters had beer, and I had a p-bone. Best night sleep so far on the trail.

I listened to music for the first time on the trail this morning. I was up early that I didn’t see any other hikers out on the trial, so I felt okay playing my music without using headphones. I was craving some jazz music and thankfully had service to be able to use data to listen to some Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald. I listened to their music a lot on the AT and learned “Summertime” from a recording of theirs. That was easily my favorite piece of music to play while out on the trail. Anyone I spent a lot of time with on the AT can tell you that if my pBone was out, I was most likely playing “Summertime.”

As my mom and I were planning her visit to meet me in Erwin, she said she had reserved a one person cabin for me to stay in instead of bunking in the hostel. She will meet me the next day with her extra pack since the one I had been using started to be too big and would fall down past my hips as I was losing weight on the trail. The cabin was a small space, but I welcomed the privacy of a room and bed to myself for the first time in a month. Unfortunately, there was a leak in the ceiling and while the room was mostly dry by the time I got to Uncle Johnny’s Hostel, a corner of the bed was still a bit damp. All the other cabins were full but I didn’t mind the one I had already. They left the fans in there and by the time I actually slept in the bed, it was dry.

There was another unfortunate problem at Uncle Johnny’s while I was there. The sewer system was down so they did not have working toilets or showers. They had porta potties set up for guests to use. That was still a step up from squatting over a cat hole so not a problem for me. I was talking to one of the women working who checked me into my cabin about the sewer system being down and she offered to let me use the shower in their biggest cabin that was connected to a separate system from the one that wasn’t working right now. A big group of people were coming in later to stay in it but she said I had enough time to get myself clean before they checked in. The hospitality of people along the AT never ceased to amaze me. I was more than happy to take her up on her offer and thanked her profusely.

Uncle Johnny’s Hostel is right along the AT, but it is a bit further off the trail to get into town. The hostel offers shuttle rides a few times a day to an AYCE pizza buffet, a Dollar General, and a market. I ate my fill of pizza and sweet tea and got my resupply at the Dollar General that was right next door to the pizza place. While looking for food, I found pints of ice cream being sold for $2 each so I got two of those along with a giant honey bun for breakfast the next morning. The ice cream was gone before I went to sleep.

Back at the hostel, I heard from some other hikers that a big group of fishers and rafting guides from Ohio were offering food to any hungry hikers so my dinner was set. It was pretty cold that night and also pouring down rain but thankfully they had a big tarp tent set up that fit a surprising amount of people under it. I wish I had taken a picture of all the food because there was so much there along with coolers of beer. We chatted about my time on the trail and how all of them met each other fishing and rafting. All of the guys in the fishing groups and the rafting group were from Ohio so I was able to connect with them very well. While I grew up in South Carolina, my grandparents on my moms side live in Ohio along with some of my cousins. These guys were super nice and really knew their way around a grill. I went to bed that night happy and with a full stomach.

The thru hiker diet is not a healthy one.

4/5/2018 – Day 27

Hogback Ridge Shelter to No Business Knob Shelter – 20.7 miles

It got below freezing last night and it was still pretty cold in the morning. Got a later start at 7:45, but it was all good because when I got to Sam’s Gap after a few miles, there was trail magic! Silent Paul (thru-hiked in 2007) cooked scrambled eggs and hash browns. Also had chocolate chip cookies, oranges, and soda. I drank a root beer for the first time in a while. Didn’t stop again until I got to the top of the bald before Bald Mountain Shelter. Beautiful 360° view with sunny skies and minimal wind. Played some p-bone and ate lunch up there. After that it was mainly downhill. Had to take it slow because of my tendon, but I still made fairly good time and got to No Business Knob Shelter by 6:10pm. There was one other guy there, but he ended up hiking on towards Erwin. Grant (Wisconsin) showed up maybe 30/45 minutes after me. He set up his tent, so tonight it is just me in the shelter. There are no bear cables at this shelter, so Grant and I hung out food bags up together. Also, no privy, so I had to do the fun poop and squat. Nero day in Erwin tomorrow. Hopefully that’s enough time for my tendon to heal more.

I was getting very tired of these cold mornings but it did help me pack up and get moving very quickly in the mornings, even with my later start on this particular morning. After my failed attempt at trying to eat oatmeal in the mornings, I had been eating anything I could get down quickly with maximum calories for my breakfast since day 3 of my hike. I still can’t eat oatmeal now over a year later. I’d eat a bar or a frosted honeybun – my favorite – while I packed up my bag and be on my way. Whenever I got hungry again in the morning, I would eat my ‘second breakfast’ that was always a clif bar. This particular morning I did not need my usual second breakfast because less than 3 miles into the day, I saw a sign that pointed uphill and said, “Trail magic, scrambled eggs, hash browns, soda, oranges.”

This is where I met a popular trail angel who goes by the trail name, Silent Paul. Silent Paul thru hiked the AT in 2007 and it was cool to hear his stories about how different it was just 10 years ago. Ever since his thru hike, he had set up trail magic in this location at Sam’s Gap in Tennessee just off of I-26 and right by a grave yard. He told me that he used to have hikers rake leaves around the grave yard to earn their trail magic but since it was just me there he said I didn’t have to. While he was cooking my eggs, I took my pBone out and played for him and was joined by another thru hiker. I ate my heart out, thanked Silent Paul for his generosity, and started hiking again.

There are not a lot of spots on the AT where you get a good 360 view but today I would get one of those great views. Balds on tops of mountain are few and far between. So much so, that some of the balds you walk over cannot be sustained by themselves. There are a good amount of ‘man-made’ balds that would have disappeared years ago if it wasn’t for workers who maintain them. Big Bald was a small bald patch on top of a mountain with an amazing view. I stopped there to eat my lunch and to play some music into the wind. Grant came up the bald as I was hanging out there. He took some pictures and then kept going and I followed shortly after.

Not far after Big Bald, there is a shelter called Bald Mountain Shelter. Nature was calling and I did not want to dig a cat hole so I went off trail to use the privy at the shelter. There I met some other hikers who were hanging out around a fire. They said that they had spent the night at that shelter and were in no hurry to start hiking today. This is a great example of hiking your own hike. I would never stay at my campsite so late into the morning/afternoon, but I met plenty of other hikers who preferred to sleep in and hike later in the day.

My tendon was still hurting but with my sister’s advice, I was taking it slow and at least not making the injury worse. It had not hurt nearly as bad as it did when I reached the 300-mile mark so that kept my mind at ease. I learned about biofreeze the year before from someone in one of my mom’s hiking/backpacking group and I am forever grateful that I had it with me from day 1 of my thru hike. 100% worth the few ounces of weight.

At the campsite, there was another hiker(unfortunately do not remember his name) who was making his dinner. We struck up a conversation as I was setting up my things in the shelter. He said he was going to hike a few more miles before calling it quits for the night so once he finished his food, he packed his things and hiked on. Not much later, Grant made it to No Business Knob Shelter and ended up setting up his tent. This shelter/campsite did not have bear cables or a privy and the water source was .3 miles south on the AT. Thankfully I saw that before I got to the shelter so I filled up on water as I passed it. Grant and I hung up our food together that night and agreed that whoever got up first would leave the other persons food bag hanging in the shelter. I was unable to avoid digging a cat hole tonight but it was at least easy to find somewhere to squat and do my business with only one other hiker there to hide from. It was also nice to have a shelter to myself for the night again but a bit weird because most nights so far, the shelter would be full of other hikers. I was happy to not have to worry about waking up to someone snoring though. That unfortunately, would happen a lot during my hike.

The trail magic sign that Silent Paul left on the AT to point hungry hikers his way. He was set up a steep hill but it was more than worth the steep climb to hear his stories and eat his food.

4/4/2018 – Day 26

Jerry Cabin Shelter to Hogback Ridge Shelter – 15.5 miles

Didn’t mention it yesterday, but I reached the 300-mile point! Started off with cold rain this morning. I had service as I started climbing so I tried calling Laura about my tendon. No answer. Ended up sending her a text later and at the shelter that night I had great service, so I got her response: Don’t hike so fast, put more weight on poles, use bio-freeze, and ice whenever possible. Rain stopped after 10am, so overall, not a bad day.

I was up and moving before the others were awake in the shelter. I did not do much exploring through the campsite the night before because of my injury so when I walked through it on the trail, I noticed a lot more people camped out than I thought. All either still asleep in their tents avoiding the rain or just starting to pack up their things.

Once I started getting to higher ground, I tried calling Laura but got not answer, so I sent her a text and hoped she would get the message. I continued to use bio-freeze a few times throughout the day and would stretch out my leg to help alleviate some of the pain. At the shelter I thankfully got a response from Laura and based on my description to her, she said I had patellar tendonitis. The biggest thing I had to worry about was to not adjust all of my weight on my opposite leg because that could cause an injury there if I did that for too long. I slowed down my pace, put more weight on my poles, and took more frequent breaks and made it alright to the shelter.

During one of my breaks, I met another hiker named Grant. He got off the AT the year before at Hot Springs because of an injury so this year, he got back on where he left off. I would see him on the trail for a couple of days, but eventually I pulled ahead of him and I never heard about him after that. A very common thing to happen on the trail.

I don’t remember much about this day besides dealing with my patellar tendonitis and that it just really hurt. I was still worried that I might have to take a few days off of the trail to let it heal and that was the last thing I wanted to do. Getting the response from Laura helped me a lot and I was able to make it to the shelter without making the injury any worse.

There were a lot of these little guys hanging around the trail.

4/3/2018 – Day 25

Spring Mountain Shelter to Jerry Cabin Shelter – 15.9 miles

Woke up a bit later than I wanted to (6:40am) and within 10 minutes, everyone else in the shelter was up and moving. That’s usually how it goes in shelters. Not a very long day, but a tendon in my leg started hurting on the last few miles. Really hope it’s better in the morning. If I had service, I would try to call Laura, but no one has service at this shelter. Played my trombone sitting on the side of a cliff. It was sunny with a high of 70° so perfect p-bone temperatures. Two Clicks was feeling sick, so he got off at a road to spend the day at a hostel. I didn’t have his filter to use, but Peanut ended up letting me use her dirty platypus bag, so I still have clean water. Some cold days coming up. Hopefully not too many.

When you sleep in a shelter, as soon as one person wakes up, it usually means everyone else will wake up. Me being a morning person meant that I would accidentally wake up a lot of other hikers each morning. It didn’t help that my headlamp did not have a red light setting on it so if I absolutely had to use a light, it would light up half the shelter. I know better by now and have a proper headlamp for my next thru hike. Once I got moving this morning, everyone else in the shelter slowly followed suit.

I used an AT app on my phone that would say what the weather each day at every shelter on the AT would be. It was a high of 70 today, but I knew from the app that some cold days were on the way. I enjoyed the warmth while I had it. 12 miles into this day, I came across a sign pointing towards Whiterock Cliff. I had done a good bit of climbing that day so far and my leg was feeling pretty stiff so I walked out to the cliff to a gorgeous view for a snack and a pBone break. Before I got my pBone out, another hiker sat down at a separate junction of the cliffs. I liked to play music when I was by myself at views like this, but I didn’t let this one stop me. When I walked back onto the trail, he stopped me and said that that was the last thing he expected to ever hear out in the woods. He said he really enjoyed it and that he didn’t want to make any sound that might stop the music. He is another hiker I wish I could remember the name of because his response was one of the most genuine I had gotten at that point on the trail. My intentions for thru hiking with a pBone were never to get attention/fame from it. I just wanted to bring my music with me and hoped I didn’t bother anyone with it. My favorite moments playing the trombone are when I was alone playing towards a beautiful view.

The next section of trail after Whiterock Cliff looked flat on my map, but it was a very rocky strenuous section with small ups and downs. It was perfect for me though because I’ve always loved climbing rocks since I was a kid. It was also very exposed so in bad weather, there is a bypass trail to take. Thankfully the weather was great so no bypass for me. At the shelter that night I heard from other hikers that this time of year is about when rattle snakes start coming out and that rocky section was a very popular spot to see them. At this point, the only snakes I had seen were small black snakes that would slither away as soon as they heard me coming or when I almost stepped on them because they were sleeping in the middle of the trail.

The last 3 miles of the day were the slowest I hiked the entire trail. A pain had slowly developed in my right leg below my knee. It felt like there was one focal point with a less intense pain going down from it in a line. During those last three miles, the pain was excruciating. I put as much weight on my poles as I could. I probably would not have noticed passing the 300 mile point if someone hadn’t spelled it out in sticks on the ground. I took a quick picture there and kept hobbling on.

Two Clicks unfortunately had to get off the trail earlier that day at one of the road crossings, but thankfully there were multiple people there willing to let me use their water filter. There was a group of hikers around my age hanging around the shelter so I spent the rest my time there stretching my leg and talking with them. I tired to contact my sister, Laura at the shelter too because of my leg. She was close to finishing her grad degree in physical therapy so she was the best person I knew to give me advice on what to do. Unfortunately I had zero service there so I would have to try again tomorrow.

It hurt like hell to crouch down and take this photo because on my leg but this was a milestone that I wanted to record, so I did it anyways. I was happy reaching that point, but it was also a low point for me on trail because of the possibility of an injury taking me off the trail.

4/2/2018 – Day 24

Hot Springs, NC to Spring Mountain Shelter – 11 miles

I planned on sleeping in this morning but ended up waking up before 6:30. By the time my tent was packed up, only one other person tenting was awake. Went to the diner in town and sat down with Pilgrim. Ate some eggs, bacon, and 1 giant pancake. I forgot to get toilet paper yesterday so I went to the outfitters and had to wait 45 minutes for it to open. Finally started hiking around 9:20. Only did 11 miles and because I was up so early, I was one of the first ones to the shelter. On the way, there was a lookout tower with the bottom half of the stairs missing. I was able to climb up the beams easily and see a pretty good view. The adapter I bought for my water purifier ended up not fitting my platypus bag, so Two Clicks let me use his. I’m going to need to get my Sawyer squeeze from dad’s somehow. Hopefully I can get mom to get it and bring it to me when we meet up in Erwin.

I don’t know why I thought I could sleep it. It rarely happens when I’m off the trail so as soon as I was awake, I was ready to pack up and get going. Thankfully the diner opened up at 6am so I was able to get a good breakfast before heading out of Hot Springs. There was one other thru hiker there so I sat down with him as we ate our breakfast. His trail name was Pilgrim and he said that he was known as ‘the good Pilgrim.’ Some years ago another hiker named Pilgrim made a bad name for himself by being rude to other hikers and taking advantage of trail angels. The thru hiking community is a great one, but unfortunately there are some who give all of us a bad rep.

After breakfast, I realized that I did not have any toilet paper left so I went back to the outfitters around 8 to find out that they did not open until 9. I wasn’t trying to airdry or wipe with leaves/moss on the trail so I waited for them to open to get some. While waiting, I got to talking with another hiker who had been through a lot in his life and had a lot of stories to tell. I wish I had written more about our conversation at the time, because I can’t remember anything right now. I’ll do better for my next thru hike.

Going northbound out of Hot Springs, you immediately start with a steep uphill. It wasn’t anymore than a mile but with a full resupply in my pack and a very hot day, it was a hard and slow climb. About 8 miles from Hot Springs, you will come across a sign that will point you towards the Rich Mountain Lookout Tower a few tenths off the AT. On this sign someone had written, “As of Oct. 2017: Tower is worth the short hike but half the stairs are gone. If you can hike the entirety of this trail, you’re likely fit enough to climb the support to the ladder. Be careful <3.” That was more than enough for me to pay this tower a visit. I climbed up the beams easily to a cool 360 view of the mountains around me.

Back on the trail, I run into another hiker named Life Alert who I hiked with for a short while trading stories about our time on the trail so far. After that encounter I never saw her on the trail again (very normal thing to happen on the AT), but I found her on social media after I finished the trail. When she finished, she ended up starting a podcast – Podcast Here – and I was even one of her guests on her podcast. She has hikers of all types on her podcast and it is structured more like a conversation versus an interview. Go give it a listen! You can find more info about her and her podcast on her Instagram pages @trailnamehere and @podcasthere.

I ended my day early 11 miles in to ensure a shelter spot and because I was already pretty tired. At the campsite, I realized that the adapter that I bought for my filter did not fit the platypus bag that I used to hold the dirty water. The adaptor was meant for a sawyer squeeze and just barely did not work for what I had. Thankfully there were more than enough people there who would let me borrow their. In a few days, my mom would meet me in Erwin, TN. I had a mini sawyer squeeze that I left at home so I would just have to make due until Erwin when she could bring it to me.

At the shelter, a hiker called River Guide had a YouTube channel and was interviewing all the hikers that came through this campsite. When he interviewed me, I played my pBone so I am in one of his videos. Unfortunately, he spells his name River Guide in a very specific way that I can rarely remember so finding the video was not easy for me to do. Each time I do find it, I immediately forget how I got there and repeat the cycle. Oh well. I ate a lot of my food once at the shelter. A lot because I got there so early and a lot more to take some weight out of my pack. The full stomach helped me sleep really well that night.

The Rich Mountain Lookout Tower missing the bottom half of it’s stairs.

4/1/2018 – Day 23

Deer Park Mountain Shelter to Hot Springs, NC – 3.2 miles

Nero day. A short hike into Hot Springs early in the morning. Tented at the Laughing Heart Lodge. The owner, Jeff, told me if I played my p-bone I wouldn’t have to pay to stay, so that’s exactly what I did. Got lunch/drinks with Eskimo, Mean Spaghetti and a few others, then got my resupply for 5/6 days to Erwin, TN. Got an adapter for my water filter for $10 so no problem there anymore. Jeff and his crew made a big Easter Sunday dinner for the hikers at the hostel. Ended up being more food for dinner after 8pm. Didn’t end up going to sleep until 10ish because of food, being asked to play my p-bone, and karaoke. Breakfast tomorrow at the diner and then hiking on!

Today was what I consider my first real nero day. Nero means ‘nearly zero’ meaning you only have a few miles to hike into town and you plan on staying in town for the night. It was a really nice morning and a very pleasant 3 miles into hot springs. As soon as you come out of the mountains, one of the first things you see is The Laughing Heart Lodge – a popular stop on the AT. I find the owner Jeff and tell him I want to tent in the lot outside of the hostel because it would only be $10 instead of the $20 to stay in a bed so he showed me where to set up and said I could pay him later.

I ended up setting up by Eskimo and Mean Spaghetti and got lunch with them and some other hikers. After I ate, I needed to go to the outfitter to get a new water purifier. At the outfitter, the guy who helped me said that I could buy an adapter that would attach to the part of the purifier that I still have to save money and avoid buying a brand new purifier. I had to go back to the hostel and grab what I had so that we could test if it fit it correctly, so I walked back up the hill to Laughing Heart and back down. Thankfully, it worked and that problem was solved.

Around Easter time, Jeff and the other workers at his hostel make a huge meal for thru hikers and anyone else around. They were very generous and years of them doing this meant that they had enough practice to keep the food coming. Somehow, they did not run out of food. Later that night, they brought out what was left for all of us to pick at. After eating, I was sitting around with Jeff and some others when he told me, “If you play your pBone, you don’t have to pay me a penny to stay here.” So I got my pBone and played a few songs for everyone.

Mean Spaghetti and Eskimo went out for drinks that night while I stayed at the hostel to save some money. I didn’t feel like drinking then anyways. Jeff invited me and the other hikers at the hostel to partake in some karaoke after dark. I went just to watch. It was over pretty quickly with 7 people in there and only 2 willing to sing. Kind of an awkward end to the day, but hopefully his karaoke nights aren’t always like that. I ended up staying awake way longer than I wanted to. I had not stayed up to 10pm since getting on the trail. I wasn’t planning on getting an early start the next day, so I had extra time in the morning to sleep in.

My first view of the Laughing Heart Lodge

3/31/2018 – Day 22

Groundhog Creek Shelter to Deer Park Mountain Shelter – 23 miles

No rain today! Sunny with a high of 67°F. The gap before climbing to Max Patch there were 2 women who thru hiked in the past that had trail magic. They cooked sausage, egg, and cheese biscuits. There was also coffee, chocolate milk, juice, fruit, teddy grams, fruit snacks, and jugs of water. I left part of my water filter at Cosby Knob Shelter in the Smokies, so the clean water was great! Max Patch was amazing! It’s a large grassy bald on top of a hill with a 360° view. Eskimo and I hung out there for a bit. I put out my tent and sleeping pad to dry from the rain the night before and I played my p-bone for a bit. A couple comes up to us and told us they left trail magic up there for thru-hikers. It was a box of fruit – apples, oranges, bananas – a water jug (more clean water!) and a trash bag. If I didn’t have 23 miles to hike that day I wouldn’t have needed to eat lunch later. Eventually I had to pack up and keep moving. It got so warm that I hiked in my sports bra and no shirt for a few hours. It felt amazing! Can’t wait for another weather day like today. Also met Mean Spaghetti today. Him and Eskimo got drunk tattoos together. Mean Spaghetti’s is of him on a plate of spaghetti and meatballs. I almost didn’t make it to the shelter tonight. My feet really hurt the last 5 miles that I almost stealth camped. I’m glad I got here though, because I got a spot in the shelter and I met a dad backpacking with his daughter. They’re finishing in Hot Springs tomorrow and he said I can take whatever food they haven’t finished. Also, they’re from Charlotte! I didn’t get to camp until 7pm and its 9pm now. Past dark, meaning past my bed time. Excited for my break in Hot Springs tomorrow!

22 days on the AT until I had my first real warm day and it was glorious – minus the fact that I did not have a water filter and I was still 26 miles from town. I asked Eskimo if I could use his but he did not carry a filter with him and braved the possibility of getting giardia. I was not as willing and hiked on hoping to run into someone that would let me borrow theirs. Not long into the morning I ran into Eskimo again sitting in a chair and enjoying some trail magic breakfast from 2 past AT thru hikers. I happily joined him. These 2 women made a hot breakfast for us and even had fresh gallon jugs of water so I was able to fill up both of my 2 liter water bottles. That should be just enough to get me to Hot Springs the next morning.

The trail magic was set up at the bottom of Max Patch so once I was done eating it was time to go up. Max Patch was everything and more from what other hikers had described it as. It is a big bald – no trees or anything on it obstructing the view – surrounded by green hills. My tent was soaked from yesterday so I laid it out in the sun held down by my hiking poles and my pBone – balds are notoriously windy. Eskimo and I were sitting up there hanging out when he told me about a friend that he was hiking with that got behind him who went by the trail name Mean Spaghetti. They met each other in Georgia and had been hiking together ever since. They even got tattoos in town together. Eskimo got the word ESKIMO on his arm and Mean Spaghetti got a tattoo of himself hiking up a plate of spaghetti and meatballs with Mean Spaghetti written over the top on his calf. I met him that day and immediately asked if I could see his tattoo and it was even better than I imagined it would be. I later found out way farther down the trail that a lot of people asked him the same thing before he knew them and it got on his nerves, so sorry MS for being one of those people <3.

While sitting up on Max Patch for the hour and a half I was there, I dried all of my gear, played some pBone, and even got more trail magic. An old couple carried up a cooler of soda and fruit and even hung around for a few minutes to talk with Eskimo and I. I still had about 15 miles to hike to get to the shelter I wanted to end my day at so eventually I packed every and started hiking again. Eskimo said he was going to try and hike the full 26 miles into town so that he and Mean Spaghetti could go straight to drinking beer and then sleep in all day the next day while they took a zero day. I was more than happy with sticking with 23 miles – assuming I even made it that far.

Today was a beautiful day. Spring is always my favorite season, not just because my birthday is in spring but also because all the wildlife is coming back to life, flowers are blooming, and all the animals that hide away in the winter start to come out because they know that the cold is going away. It always puts me in a good mood. The last few miles before the shelter were really hard on my feet and my hips from my pack. I almost stopped 2 miles back to stealth camp, but I did not want to spend the night alone so I pushed forward and made it before dark!

At Deer Park Mountain Shelter, I met a dad and daughter hiking together who were from Charlotte, NC! I grew up only 30 minutes from them. Eskimo told them that I should be spending the night at this campsite and they had extra food ready to give to me. I took a granola bar and a mountain house apple pie dessert. I had never had one of their desserts so I was excited to save it for a rainy day. There were some other older women who had set up in the shelter already, but there was still space for me in there. I made sure to set up my sleeping pad and sleeping bag just before the sun went away. I ate my dinner quickly and using my headlamp, wrote in my journal until around 9pm. I was spent and was happy to finally crawl into my sleeping bag and fall asleep before having a nero day in Hot Springs tomorrow.

My attempt at a candid photo on top of Max Patch with my pBone.

3/30/2018 – Day 21

Cosby Knob Shelter to Groundhog Creek Shelter – 17.6 miles

Made it out of the Smokies! Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t as nice as the day before. It rained most of the day and even hailed at one point. Shelter was full when I got there so I had to set my tent up in the rain. Met Eskimo because our tents were beside each other and we held a conversation through our tents.

The first part of the day I avoided rain until I made an early lunch stop at Davenport Gap Shelter. As soon as I am under cover of the shelter, the rain starts and within 5 minutes it is pouring. I took a longer break than usual to see if the rain would let up some. It slowed down a bit, so eventually I put on my rain jacket and continued on to exit the Smoky Mountains in the next mile.

I had been hiking down steep trail for 5 miles so once at the gap, I headed up the next mountain. What comes down, must go up on the AT. With the rain, cold, and steep uphill on the last half of my day, my feet hurt like hell and I was exhausted and hoping the shelter I planned to stop at had space for me. Unfortunately, that was not the case. I was a wet, muddy mess and needed to rest before I started setting up my tent in the wonderful AT rain. I hung out under the not so great overhang of the shelter with other hikers and a dog. The dog was a welcome surprise! It was at this time that I realized that I did not have my water purifier with me. It was still hanging up in the last shelter I spent the night in. I was not feeling so great at this point.

I leave the shelter to go find a spot for my tent and can only find one space that isn’t full and/or a pool of mud. This spot just so happened to be right next to someone else’s tent. They were hanging out in the shelter while I set up, no one was there to stop me, so I put my tent up as best as I could in the rain without getting the inside wet. Once set up, I get in my tent, put on my dry clothes, and cooked my dinner in the vestibule of my tent while wrapped up in my sleeping bag. You are not supposed to cook or eat food in your tent because the food smell will stick to it and attract animals, but I was way past caring at this point. I also thankfully had enough water to cook my dinner and have some left over for the morning, but not a lot.

While cooking, I find out the tent I set up next to belonged to another thru hiker named Eskimo. We both ate in our tents and talked for a long time about the trail and our lives off the trail. It was really nice, but eventually my exhaustion kicked in and I had to end the conversation so that I could sleep. My tent was going to be soaked in the morning and I did not want to think anymore about having to put away a wet tent. Only good news at the end of today is that I would get to Max Patch tomorrow.

Every once in a while the AT will follow the side of a road. The scenery on the trail changes every day, but the one constant is always the white blazes. As long as you saw a white blaze, you knew you were in the right place.

3/29/2018 – Day 20

Icewater Spring Shelter to Cosby Knob Shelter – 20.3 miles

Got started hiking by 7:20 this morning – earliest start time yet. It was foggy in the morning, but once I started hiking the sun came out and stayed out all day. I finished hiking in short sleeves and wanting to take my pants off (high of 61). Still with Buckeye, Lose/Fast/Square, and the Australians. There was a mom and her 9-year-old daughter at the shelter. I taught CJ how to hold and make a sound on trombone. She passed out jolly ranchers to all the hikers here. I’m trying to figure out a way to attach my p-bone to my pack without the case. So far, no luck, but if I can figure out something by Hot Springs, I’ll send the case home there.

I woke up and starting packing away my tent and gear before the sun was up. First time doing that. Once I got hiking, the sun was barely up, but enough that I did not need my head lamp. It was a foggy and misty morning that started off pretty cold. I ran into a section hiker who was hiking with a giant rain coat and rain pants on. Thru hikers learn quickly that rain pants are not a necessity. When there is enough rain for you to want to put on rain pants, you will still get wet so it’s best just to hike wet and have a set of dry clothes to change into once you are camped for the night. Thankfully the fog went away quickly and the sun was out for the rest of the day.

The usual group of hikers that I’ve been running into since Georgia were at this shelter along with some other section hikers. Once of my favorite section hikers that I met on the AT was a mom and her 9-year-old child. I feel bad for not remembering the mom’s name but I do remember that the girl’s trail name was ‘Snow Poke.’ She liked to poke the snow banks on the side of the trail with her hiking poles. Snow Poke is the coolest 9-year-old I’ve ever met. She was on her first backpacking trip starting at Newfound Gap and ending at Max Patch – I would be at Max Patch in a few days. In the trail register she described her day of hiking by saying that there were too many “hillys” along with a drawn picture of her and her hiking poles.

Snow Poke spent a long time trying to teach Racheal how to talk ‘gansta.’ They are both very white so it was very entertaining to watch this happen. When they were done with that I showed her my pBone and offered to let her play it. She was doing really well holding it properly and even getting her buzz to make a sound, but she seemed embarrassed so she handed it back to me to play her a song. Later after we all finished our ramen/pasta side dinners, Snow Poke ran around to all of us with a bag of jolly ranchers offering some to anyone who wanted them.

At this point in my hike, I was getting a bit annoyed by the extra weight of the case of my pBone. The actual instrument barely weighed anything, but the case made it almost 3lbs. I spent some time that night thinking of ways to attach my pBone to my pack without the case, but I wasn’t able to think of anything then or later on. I just dealt with it the rest of the hike.

I had a PCT hiker tell me recently that he didn’t think that he would hike the AT because there aren’t a lot of big expansive views on the trail like on the PCT. While that is true, I think views like this are just as beautiful. I was over-the-moon happy to wake up and hike through views like this every day.