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.

3/28/2018 – Day 19

Double Spring Gap Shelter to Icewater Spring Shelter – 13.6 miles

Tented last night and it was not so bad. It wasn’t raining in the morning. Another foggy/cloudy/windy day. No view up at Clingman’s Dome, except white clouds. Still went up and recorded myself playing p-bone. Got a section hiker to drive me to town to resupply. So. Many. People. I have no wish to go to Gatlinburg ever again. I let 2 girls move my slide while I played my p-bone at Newfound Gap. So adorable. Also, the Australians caught up and are staying in this shelter tonight.

There was no sun. Very cold and windy morning, but I finally made it to Clingman’s Dome, the tallest point on the AT! At the top, there is a tower that is supposed to give you a 360 view of the Smokies, but all I saw were pictures of the mountains that were covered in fog that day. Still, I went up and decided to record myself playing Amazing Grace on my p-Bone. Then, I continued on towards Newfound Gap.

Once at Newfound Gap, the sun had come out from behind the clouds and the parking lot was packed full of people. I don’t know how many people I asked for a ride into town, but everyone said no. It wasn’t until I was on the phone with a shuttle service telling me that it would be at least $60 to pick me up and take me into town, that a man came up and asked me if I needed a ride. I hung up and thanked him profusely. He had just finished a few day section in the Smokies and had space for me in his car. To get to the grocery store that I needed to resupply, we had to drive straight through downtown Gatlinburg. It was madness. The best way I can describe Gatlinburg is it appears how foreigners imagine America to be – not in a good way. I have no desire to ever go back there again unless I’m thru hiking again and am out of food and have no choice.

To get back to Newfound Gap, I called an Uber. I did not want to try and walk through that mess of a town to try and get a hitch and for the distance to get back to the trail, the Uber ride was surprisingly cheap. My driver was so nice, I wish I could remember his name. He was deaf, but he would still ask me questions when he wasn’t driving about what I was doing. More specifically what the black thing on the back of my pack was. I typed my answers for him into his phone and when he dropped me off, he wished me good luck.

Before heading off on the trail again, I got stopped by a family with 2 little girls no older than 6 or 7. They asked me about my hike and I pulled out my pBone to show the girls. The younger one was very shy, but the older sister was more than happy to move my trombone slide for me while I played a note. Any time I am in a young children’s music class and I have my trombone, I let students do that. It seems small, but they are always so excited just to touch the trombone and it feels good to introduce the trombone and music to them in a way that they can participate.

All I had left to hike for the day was 3 miles of steep uphill. A hard climb, but the sun was out so I wasn’t complaining. My miles were kept short today to compensate my 2 hours in Gatlinburg – half of that time spent getting to and from the town. I’m glad it was a shorter day though since I got to camp with Racheal and Braden aka – Soul Sister and Mattress King – that night.

PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT: I have been referring to some people I’ve met on the trail by their real names and their trail names. I am going to change this by referring to them how I knew them at the point in time that I wrote the journal entry. So no trail names for these people until we get to the point in my journal where they get them. THANK YOU FOR LISTENING

Clingman’s Dome – The tallest point on the AT at 6,643 ft.