3 Weeks in the Wild

It’s funny how you get accustomed to things out here. In the past two weeks I’ve slept in shelters a handful of times, but being in a tent feels a little more homey. I’ve become used to not having a nice bathroom to do my business in, waking up with the birds, and dealing with condensation in my tent on the rainy days. Junk food has quickly become a large part of my regular diet, but I’m starting to come up with new ways to reintroduce fresh fruits and vegetables (oh how I miss them). The funny thing is… I don’t miss what I used to call home.

I write to you from our second state, North Carolina, and what a welcoming that was (the Appalachian rollercoaster). I feel my self getting stronger and my attitude becoming much more positive. I’ve finally learned some patience with both my body (miles takes time) and others as well. However, I still need to work on my bear bag hanging skills, according to the knot on my head.

Two Sundays ago was the hardest day (and worst) I’ve experienced so far. About 2 miles into my 4.5 mile hike to Plumorchard Shelter my stomach started feeling sour. I sat down a few times and my pack continued to get heavier and heavier. The heat made the feeling extremely overwhelming and eventually I realized what was happening – food poisoning. I was stopping every 10-20 minutes to vomit and continued to sling my pack on my back and move several more feet each time.

About .6 mi from the shelter I threw my pack down, stuck my head in between my knees, and had a mental breakdown. It’s a helpless feeling when you’re that sick 40+ miles from the next town. Fortunately, my mom (also a nurse) was by my side the whole time. She offered to hike the remaining .6 to the shelter and return to get my pack and I. I sat on a large log for about 15 minutes trying to calm myself down and eventually talked myself into getting back up. My knees felt weak and my body felt hot, but I whipped my pack back onto my shoulders and hustled down the hill to get to the shelter as quick as possible.

When I arrived at the shelter I had a greeting party. Everyone was offering some form of help, which made me feel at ease. My mom had secured two spots on the top floor of the three-tiered structure where I climbed into my sleeping bag and dozed off for the next four hours. The remaining of the night consisted of more vomiting, napping, and chatting with the group of hikers I’d previously met at a hostel. It took a few days to finally get over being sick. My stomach didn’t like much of anything that I ate, but after a zero (i.e. taking a day off the trail) at the shelter I was ready to get back on the trail.

Experiencing that kind of hell on the trail made me appreciate everything and everyone even more. Every hiker that crossed my path was willing to help. The group we were with the first night even named our floor of the shelter “the Hospital” . They tossed fresh water, Pepto, and food my way without a worry. My mom made my breakfasts, lunches, and dinners.

I’m lucky to be surrounded by people who are caring and share the same ambitions as me. I’ve met people from all over the world, from Australia to Denmark, Texas to Wyoming, and Luxembourg to New Zealand. A majority of us are out here for the same reason – to unwind and experience the world from a challenging but raw perspective. I continue to learn more about myself and others every day. I’ve mentioned before that I feel like I belong here and that becomes more apparent each day.

We are still taking it relatively slow, with the distance that is. This past week we managed to walk our first 11 mile day (we felt it the next day). Between new Merrell boots for myself and a fresh Gregory pack for my mom, we are feeling pretty good about increasing our mileage and making it to the Smokies. Every day has its own challenges, whether your feet or knees are aching, your pack won’t stop squeaking, or you just don’t feel like walking. The next day will probably hold a different challenge, but you find ways to overcome them.

Even though we’ve completed roughly 6% of the trail, moral is high. As mentioned, some days are much harder than others but it’s the rewards of each day that keep you going. I’ve started writing down my favorite part of each day in my trail guide for encouragement and to remind myself of the little things that move me forward. It also makes my days better when I get to chat with family and receive pictures of my furry one back home.

Here’s to the trail and its rewarding atmosphere. I hope all that are reading this will go out and do something you enjoy this week 🙂

The Little Things

Some people think thru-hiking is a long vacation. Perhaps this may be true, but hiking all day every day (almost) is both physically and mentally demanding. Sometimes it takes me hours to fall asleep in the cold weather (or I toss and turn all night), making it even harder to get up in the mornings. Mornings can also be tough because you have to decide whether you want a hot breakfast or if you should start hiking to catch up on miles. Then there’s the mental and physical challenge of hiking the constant changes in elevation all day long.

Each day is different. Your mood plays a big role in how you hike and it’s also important to pay attention to what your body is telling you as you walk. Most hikers will tell you Georgia is one of the hardest states and taking it slow will increase your chances of making it through. I’ve taken this to heart, making sure I don’t push myself too far.

Each ascent I make sure to walk at a steady pace, focusing on my breathing and telling myself I will make it over each mountain. On breaks I make sure to take my socks off and look at my feet to find any spots that may blister or swell. I’m already experiencing bruised feet and a pulled tendon in my inner right foot, so I’ve been taping my foot and have already planned for a new pair of shoes to arrive at my next stop in town. After all, your hike depends on your feet.

Hiking the AT is far from easy. Sometimes I’ll think to myself that my feet won’t make it up the next ascent, but I continue to find ways to increase my moral. It may sound cheesy, but the little things really do make climbing these hills easier. I’ve found that turning on some tunes, slowing my pace, or even just talking about what food I’m craving or plan to eat for lunch or dinner helps. I find it important to also remember where I am and look around me and take in the sprouting buds, mountain views, green tunnels, silcence, etc.

On hard days I think about the fact that this is my job now and if I can make it to the next site I’ve done a good job. Even if I walk a few miles I’m still closer to Maine. Despite the hard days I know this is where I want to be and for the first time in a long time I know where I belong – here in the mountains. I’ve only been on the trail for a week and am already learning so much about myself. This is the best decision I’ve ever made and I can only continue to grow from here.

My First Day on the AT

Tonight is cold… a damp cold. I’m snuggled into my down quilt paired with many layers of clothing, including my jacket (puffy). A heavy rain has continued since early evening, leaving most hikers buried under their sleeping bags. I hear crinkling from my mom’s sleeping pad, distant snoring, and the constant tapping of the rain. As my first day on the trail comes to an end I think about how great of a day it was.

My first day on the AT was better than any imagination I’d had. The past few days have been quite chaotic between last minute purchases, traveling, planning supply boxes, missing gear, etc. We began our day with 3 hours of sleep and a two hour drive to Amicalola. Within a matter of minutes after being dropped off we experienced the beauty of the trail.

At last minute we decided to skip the approach trail and head straight to Springer Mountain (the official beginning of the trail). The Visitor Center wasn’t open when we arrived, so we went to the lodge to ask for information. As we arrived we began talking to a couple from Texas whose daughter was also starting their thru-hike today. They offered to give us a ride to Springer mountain and we hiked with her for the remaining of the day.

Our day was full of laughter, sweat, and eventually… COLD rain. We hiked 8.1 miles to Hawk Shelter and quickly set up our tents trying to keep our gear as dry as possible. The temperatures dropped rather quickly, leaving my fingers numb and making our tent setup rather difficult. Once camp was set up everyone quickly got into their sleeping bags to warm up and stayed in their tents for the remaining of the night.

Despite the cold, my moral is high. I’ve watched vlog after vlog and like most say, it’s nothing like experiencing the trail in real life. The trail is beyond what I expected. I am so excited for the next days to come.

Less than a Week

It’s hard to explain exactly how I feel with less than a week to go until I start the trail. There is so much preparation involved with planning a thru-hike between budgeting, gear, research, etc. I’ve probably read more books in the past month than I did in college. It’s a crazy feeling knowing that everything I’ve been working on for the past 5 months is about to come into play.

In all honestly I’m feeling pretty emotional about starting the trail. I’m nervous, scared, excited, etc. Most of the time they’re so many thoughts going through my head that it’s hard to think about actually waking the trail. My mom closed on her house sale this week and come April I’ll also technically be homeless, which is kind of crazy. However, it’s quite exhilarating to leave a place I know I don’t want to spend the rest of my life in. I’m excited to get out into the wild and experience everything in raw form.

Sharing this experience with my mom means the world to me. We’re both in a similar mindset in regards to this being our “fresh start”. We’ll both be without a home, missing our loved ones, and setting off onto our first long-term backpacking trip. There are going to be plenty of days of laughing, crying, cursing, sweating, and getting to know ourselves better as we get closer to Katahdin. I consider my mom to be one of my best friends and I know this will only draw us closer.

Knowing that I only have a handful of things left to do is a weird feeling. I’ve been working extremely hard to make this happen and it’s so close to becoming a reality, which may be what scares me the most (but in a good way). My emotions are quickly rolling in about leaving. I’ve received so much positivity from my close ones and I couldn’t thank them enough for already being on my side before I begin this journey.

Despite all these emotions, I’m keeping my head up and trying to remain calm. I’m already starting to learn more about myself that I didn’t know before, which is part of the reason I decided to walk the Appalachian Trail. I’m finding healthy ways to relieve stress and physical pain, like yoga. Everything I’m preparing myself for now I believe will help me on and off the trail. Perhaps that is what i need to keep telling myself on the days my mind seems to be restless. It’s time to start believing that the AT is going to happen.

“Spring Cleaning”

Some people didn’t believe me when I said I was going to walk the AT. At times I didn’t really believe myself either, but here we are with 19 days left until the adventure begins. It seems as though I check my calendar every day in hopes to make this feel like more of a reality. In all honesty it still doesn’t feel all that real.

When I first decided to hike the AT I told myself I would make this the beginning of a fresh start. I said I wanted to pack what could fit in my car (besides furniture and my furry one of course) and leave the rest behind in Ohio. Last week I began to make that goal a reality and ended up with 6 bags of donations and enough boxes to comfortably fit in my car.

So how does it feel to get rid of all that stuff? AMAZING! I keep telling myself if I’m going to make this my fresh start I’m going to do it right. Doing 9 loads of laundry certainly wasn’t the most fun I’d ever had, but the feeling of relief afterwards was well worth it. If it was something I hadn’t worn or used in the last year, I donated it. If it was something I didn’t get much benefit out of keeping, I donated it.

Living out of boxes for the next few weeks is going to be pretty interesting, but this is what I signed up for right? I’ve actually gotten quite a bit of positive feedback from people I talk to about completely changing my lifestyle. Some still think I’m crazy, but I won’t disagree with that. I’m young, so this is the best time to change my goals and what not.

Anyways, the point of this post was to share how excited I am about completing one of the big steps to making this trip happen. I hope that it may encourage you to do a little spring cleaning as well (it really does feel pretty good). Next step is finishing research and getting all that gear into my pack and on my back. 19 days… Can you believe it?