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.

3/27/2018 – Day 18

Spence Field Shelter to Double Spring Gap Shelter – 13.5 miles

It was cloudy and drizzling all day, so I decided not to push the 19 miles to Mt. Collins today. Set up my tent for the first time since before Blood Mountain. Didn’t end up needing to, but if my weather app is right, it won’t rain tomorrow until after 10am, so hopefully won’t have to take it down in the rain. Going to resupply in Gatlinburg tomorrow and hike on to the shelter that’s closest out of there.

I don’t remember much from hiking that day besides the constant drizzle of rain. Honestly would have preferred snow over rain. It was already cold and the snow wouldn’t seep into my clothes making me cold and wet like the rain. I do remember speaking with a female ranger(one of the only women I ran into with that position) who was doing trail maintenance and also asked to see my backpacking permit. It was from her that I found out about the blizzard that came through the Smokies the week before. It trapped some hikers in Gatlinburg and those stuck hiking in it were either post-holing through deep snow or sliding around on ice in their trail runners. That is not the kind of snow I would have preferred. The Smokies were kicking my butt so I stopped earlier than I originally planned. At this shelter, there was already a good mix of thru hikers and sections hikers so I decided to go ahead and set up my tent instead of taking the risk of having to set it up in the dark if the shelter ended up being full of section hikers. All of the shelters in the Smokies have a tarp covering the front to block out the wind along with a fire place. I was very thankful for whoever made the fire before I got to the shelter. I was able to dry my socks by the fire and write in my journal.

Set up my tent directly behind the shelter. Not my best work, but it got much better in the 144 days I was on the AT.

3/26/2018 – Day 17

Fontana Dam Visitor Center to Spence Field Shelter – 17.4 miles

A bit cold and chilly, but overall not a bad hiking day. First day in the Smokies! Said goodbye to Grant and Graham this morning and got the 8:30am shuttle with Digs. Once we got to the climb at the beginning of the Smokies, Digs pulled out ahead and I have not seen him since. A ranger took a picture and a video of me playing my p-bone and said he will give it to the ATC. It would be cool if it got featured somewhere. Debating whether or not to pull a 20+ mile day tomorrow to get over Clingman’s Dome before the bad weather. We’ll see how my feet feel in the morning.

Normally I’m up and moving quickly in the morning, but this morning I was dragging. Not too much though because Digs and I needed to be out front to get on the shuttle by 8:30. Grant and Graham were staying for a few more hours to get their resupply boxes from the post office and planned on stopping at the only campsite without a shelter in the Smokies so I was likely not going to see them again after that morning. We said our goodbyes and then Digs and I headed out. On the shuttle, we passed by Pappy! We drove right by him so I missed my chance to meet him unfortunately. If you don’t know who he is, look him up! He is 87 years old and was attempting to set the record for the oldest person to thru hike the AT. That title is currently held by an 82 year old man who thru hiked in 2017. Pappy has also already Triple Crowned which means he has hiked the Appalachian Trail, the Continental Divide Trail, and the Pacific Crest Trail. I hope I can still hike like him by the time I’m 87.

Before getting to the Smokies, the trail goes right over the Fontana Dam. It was a really cool to walk the full length of it and hard not to stop every step to take pictures. On the other side, we followed a gravel road that eventually brought us to a box that said, “A.T. THRU HIKERS DEPOSIT PERMITS HERE.” Officially made it to the Smokies! Digs and I take out our permits that we bought and printed out in Franklin, NC, put them in the box, and continued hiking. The trail went immediately uphill so I lost sight of Digs quickly. He said earlier that he wasn’t sure where he would stop for the night, just that he wanted to get as close to Newfound Gap as he could. That was the last time I saw him. He wasn’t at the shelter 17 miles in that I stopped at so he had pushed forward and probable made it to town the next day.

I took a lunch break at the first shelter that I came to at the end of the first long climb of the Smokies. There were a few other hikers there and a ranger. The ranger warns us that there is a lot of bear activity at this shelter so it is closed, meaning that no one can camp there for the night. Eventually he noticed my pBone strapped to the back of my pack so I take it out to play some for him and the other hikers there. He even took a picture and video to show his coworkers and to send to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. It was very cold and windy that day so I didn’t stop for food for very long. I originally planned to stop at Russell Field Shelter for the night, but I felt good enough to push another 3 miles to the Spence Field Shelter making it a 17 miles day. I was wiped when I got there and my feet were not happy with me. I didn’t have any blisters though so I was happy.

The Smokies have some very specific rules for anyone who is backpacking there. Section hikers are not allowed to set up a tent or hammock anywhere in the park and instead have to reserve a spot in a shelter for each night they plan on being there. Thru hikers are also told not to set up their tents and to sleep in the shelter provided at each campsite only if it isn’t full. With their rules, section hikers have first claim to any spots in the shelter so if it is full of section and thru hikers and more section hikers come in at night, the thru hikers would have to give up their spots in the shelter and only then would be able to set up their own tents. I almost had to do that this night. The shelter had 1 or 2 spots left for other hikers, but a group of at least 10 section hikers walk up and upon seeing that the shelter was basically full, they hike away. They end up coming back and set up their tents because they did not want to ask any thru hikers to give up their spot in the shelter and I was very grateful for that.

Rangers and ridge runners would stop hikers in the park to check for their permits. Thankfully, that night none showed up so the section hikers made it through the night in their tents and the rest of us in the shelter.

This is the picture that the ranger – Nick – took of me after I played my pBone for him. I gave him my email so that he could send it to me once he had service outside of the park.

3/25/2018 – Day 16

Fontana Dam – zero day

The weather was really nice today. Kinda upset I didn’t hike, but also glad I got 1 more day with these guys before we go our separate ways. Grant and Graham won’t hike as far as Digs and me tomorrow and Digs gets off the trail on Wednesday. I’m hoping to get through the Smokies as quickly as I can to get through the bad weather.

It ended up being a very nice, sunny day today when I thought it would be raining. I very much would have liked to have been hiking, but I was more than happy to spend another day with Graham, Grant, and Digs before we all hiked off at different times and paces. The general store at Fontana Dam did not have much in the way of a resupply, but I got enough to most likely get me through the Smokies which was all I was worried about. I heard a lot of bad things about a town called Gatlinburg halfway through the Smokies. Mainly that it is crowded with tourists and a hikers nightmare, so I wanted to avoid it if I could.

While I was resupplying I was able to do my laundry. There were lots of hikers who were staying in the Fontana Dam Shelter doing laundry too so there was a line, but none of us had anywhere to go that day so I got some ice cream and made myself comfortable. Back at the lodge, Graham, Grant, and Digs were laying out on the deck on the 2nd floor. I wanted a nap so I went to our room and slept for a while and joined them later at the restaurant and bar for drinks and dinner.

All day, we were making our way through my mom’s trail magic. We split up what we wanted to hike out with and snacked on everything else throughout the day. This was a nice and very relaxing zero day made 100 times better by my mom – trail name ‘Italian Ice.’ Even though I didn’t get to hike with her, I was still happy to have seen her and I know we all appreciated her trail magic and generosity.

Left to Right: Graham(Gramps), Slider, Grant(Sani), Digs
We took this photo the next morning before Digs and I got on a shuttle to the parking lot to continue hiking. I made sure to send it to my mom, aka Italian Ice.