earthtrekblog

Adventures of Life


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Can Virgina really be this long?

VA is almost done!  I have 165 miles to go before I pass through the boarder into West Virgina.  Knowing VA is almost a quarter of the trail, 600 miles, and I entered it on the 27th of May and plan to be leaving it in the next couple of weeks I’m happy.  My pace has picked up, although in the day to day scheme it may not feel like it.

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VA is an interesting place.  I have seen terrain change while rounding a corner or coming over a mountain.  I’ve walked into a field and left going into what appears to be scrub brush from the western plains. 

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I have heard about more people leaving the trail than I ever imagined, some who I knew, many who I didn’t and am saddened I never got the chance to hear their story. 

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The rumors of this being the “easy” part of the trail seem to be only those, rumors.  This is where the term “Virginia Blues” comes from as folks battle the mental game of getting through a state with many miles and few “markers”.  The state lines become your goal and when a month has gone and you haven’t seen a state line you start to question if you really are progressing. 

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I made it to the 800 mile marker and threw my arms around No Shame, so excited and thrilled to think another 100 miles was done and I have under 290 to reach the halfway point in my journey.

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The goal here is to keep on trekking.  I’m not ready to leave the trail, it has not beaten me, I may be dirty, smelly and battered but I came out here ready for a fight and fight I will!

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The truth of the trail

The trail is a physical strain and a mental game.  In the past three weeks more than 7 people I know have left the trail.  The heat is increasing, the miles are getting longer and the people are getting fewer.  Each time someone leaves it makes you question your own intentions.
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The past couple days on trail have been the most difficult for many reasons; the terrain although different is no “easier” despite the chant given by prior thru hikers that “Virginia is flat and easy”, the heat and humidity has been off the charts, and my hiking group has dispersed.  Now all of these have simple solutions, or so it may seem from the outside. 
But trail time is different, as is the perspective of hiking day in and day out as miles pass beneath your soles.  The truth about Virginia is not that it’s any easier but your strength as a hiker has increased.  Hike around the heat and humidity, start early, siesta and hike into the night, but that only works if you don’t have an unfounded fear of the dark.  Find a new group and redesign your “trail family”, and then hike into the night with someone you just met.
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With so many thoughts coursing through my mind I felt it pertinent to share some of the wonders of my trail time.  Every day is not always filled with smiles, I have cried more times than I know, both from physical pain and the mental games of the trail.  Despite those moments I find extreme joy and happiness in the world and people surrounding me.
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And after two fails of uploading pictures I believe you’ll have to enjoy only a glimpse of my journey for today.

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Hypothermia was real...

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Thank you Top of Georgia

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Slack pack day

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Dog on a log!

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Comfort is a necessary.

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Human connection

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Max Patch sunrise.

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Hump Mountain

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Hump Mountain

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What has become a common theme...

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Jones Falls

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McAfee knob

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Tails from the trail: Part 2

National Forest Service gets reports of mysterious tree deaths:

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Deforestation seen along the trail

My trail family has started deeming my ability to get “trail magic” the ‘Bookie  Effect’.  This came about after our stay in Hot Springs, NC, where I was hooked up with farm fresh cheese, a car for the day, and a birthday dinner.  It seemed my bright smile, innocent demeanor, and love for life was contagious with the town folks. The group encouraged me to use this strength whenever they deemed it might be beneficial to themselves, or me.
After a couple weeks of good laughs regarding how this worked, or didn’t, it started to morph.  Our group had just returned to the AT from Trail Days and we were regaining our trail legs.  I had taken the lead, typically I hold a good even pace, and the other three, Rikki Tikki, Scribe, and Older Dog, were strung out behind me.  Well as things go, I was a little gassy, and I happened to crop dust the group, unexpectedly of course.  I didn’t think much of it as it was such a small escapee. 

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Brave souls willing to risk the "Bookie Effect"

The sudden accusation of crop dusting from the crew 20 feet behind me had me blushing, giggling, and blaming No Shame (my dog) for what was apparently a foul odor wafting around behind us.  Being a kind soul, who was extremely embarrased, I dropped to the back of the group so as to not subject them to this experience again.
Throughout the following day there was much laughter, teasing and flatulation within our group.  It was a long day of hiking , especially after 6 days without a full pack on.  We covered more than 10 miles and had over a 4000 foot elevation gain.  Despite the climb, our views were limited and with only a quarter mile to go Roan High Shelter awaited us, the highest shelter on the AT.  Again being the sweet soul I am I had dropped to the back of the group, I also didn’t want a repeat of the prior day.  I was more than 50 feet behind Rikki Tikki, who had just ducked off the main trail up to the shelter, when I heard the gasping, sputtering, and laughter rolling through the trees. 
Apparently the wind was blowing in just the right direction to send the noxious fumes through the trees and almost drop Rikki Tikki to his knees.  Scribe ten feet behind him had the pleasure of watching Rikki go through a myriad of facial expressions while stumbling to keep his feet beneath himself. 

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Roan High Shelter

Over the course of the evening I was the brunt of the jokes.  No one would sit near me for fear of the sudden death of their meal, or just residual effects.  While setting up my tent I was aware of wind direction and possible fall out if it was a rough night.  Don’t get me wrong when Rikki Tikki called me out during a wind change I pretended not to hear him, I’m not a complete angel.
Come morning, traveling down the same trail I was reminded that just 12 hours prior this used to be a beautiful trail, the trees were green and the birds were singing, and Rikki Tikki was able to breath.  But there was this new thing travelling north along the AT and the National Forest Service was calling it the ‘Bookie Effect’.

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New measures being taken to try and reduce impact


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Stories from the trail part 1

There are things which happen so quickly that you forget they occurred.  Days pass by and suddenly your memory is triggered and you find yourself alone on a trail giggling or maybe making a side comment to your crew, setting the whole campsite off on wave after wave of laughter.

Awesome hiker problems!

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Proper hammock setup:
The other night our small group had rolled into camp and were getting set up.  Two of us, me and Scribe, had tents and were struggling to find a flat space, fighting gravity all night is never fun after a long hike.  Older Dog was looking for a good hammock set up.  As we assembled our tents we were startled by a sudden “crack!”  There had been no report for bad weather.  I looked up just in time to see a hiker picking himself up off the ground, a look of utter shock on his face.  One of the trees he’d strung his hammock from was leaning forward, the roots pulled out of the ground.  Older Dog felt it best to find some trees which weren’t so close to this hiker. Note to self: when picking hammock trees locate live ones with more than a 5 inch diameter.

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Vestibule space:
Going back into the early weeks of my trip, I had just started hiking with some new folks, Rikki Tikki, Moonlight, and Rhythm.  Our pace on the trail was well matched and the good natured humor within the group much appreciated.  Our days started out with Rikki Tikki sitting down and playing a beautiful wooden flute. 

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We would group up and head out.  On our third day Rhythm was talking about foot issues he was having, on the trail there is a limited number of topics covered; food, feet, privys, gear, and sex, usually in that order.  I offered to hook Rhythm up with a blister pad, my favorite cure for foot ailments, but it would have to wait until camp as it was buried at the bottom of my bag.  We’d all settled in and were getting ready for dinner when I remembered the blister pad.  I dragged it out of my pack and walked over to Rhythms tent, which was zipped up completely.  Without thought I reached my hand up under the vestibule, offering up the blister pad.  The screech that came from the tent seemed inhuman, especially coming from a grown man. 
“I’M NAAKID!”
It took everything I had not to die laughing, instead without pause I shook the blister pad and said “That’s great, here’s the pad you asked for.” 
Without out fail throughout the week you will hear the screech “I’m naakid!” from someone in our group.

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Is this my tent?:
Trail Days were a very interesting affair.  I don’t dare say they represent the general population of thru hikers as it seems the loudest people are the ones who are most easily heard (surprise, surprise). Unfortunately this was the case late night and early morning.  On our first night in “tent city” our small fellowship defined our camping area.  We placed our tents throughout a clearing, made ourselves at home, fended off the drunk next door who claimed trail magic filled with lots of cursing and yelling, and headed off to dinner. 

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We wandered the grounds familiarizing ourselves with the event.  After a little time sitting around the campfire we headed to bed.  At about 3 am the voices from across the fire grew louder and more obnoxious, it was 3 am after all.  I quietly unzipped my tent and called over quietly, “there are about ten folks trying to sleep over here.”  The voices quieted and the group opted to move along with quiet apologies.  This was bearable.
Night number two.  There is a giant fire which burns early into the morning.  Folks gather around the drum circle, singing, dancing, drinking.  Again we called it a bit of an early night.  And again about 2:30am we were disrupted but the drunks.
“This is our spot, I know it is!” One of them slurred. 
“No, I don’t think it is.” His more coherent drunk friend replied
“No.  This is my tent!” The first drunk announces as he fumbles with the zipper to Scribe’s tent.
“No, this is not your tent!” Comes the quietly controlled voice of Scribe.
“It has to be my tent.  It’s talking to me!!”
With repeted attempts to enter Scribe’s tent his friend finally came to fetch him.
He redirected his attention and headed off across the site into the dried creek bed 15 feet away.  With a loud crash we hear the scream “I’m stuck in the creek, help me!”
This poor guy must have been having one hell of a night if tents were talking to him and empty stream beds held rushing water.

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Sometimes you need to be willing to squeeze in to get where you want to go!


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A woman’s world on the AT

Coming out here, to the AT, I was nervous.   I was alone with my dog headed into the great unknown.
The trail is your teacher.  No matter how much you know or what plan to gain from it, it is the trail which guides and provides for you.

I came onto the trail with a decent amount of trail knowledge already tucked into my back pocket.   I understood how to make camp, hang a bear bag, cook food and respect leave no trace (LNT).
What I didn’t bring with me was a bottle of mace, a big knife, or an ego. 

The first week was a learning curve as I rediscovered what legs can do (lots and lots of walking) and that it is possible to meet people and in the course of a day know you’ll be friends for a long time to come.  In the same respect I’ve also met people and realized it was fine if they kept on walking.

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As a person on the trail I feel no less equipped than any other person.   There is a common phrase,  hike your own hike (HYOH), which is repeated over and over again as a mantra.  People can provide ideas, information, and experiences but it is up to you to accept them, or leave them, and move forward.  Here are a few things which apply to me as a hiker, and a woman.  MEN there may be more info than you are interested in knowing, than again it may provide you with a good conversation piece.

When it comes to hiking alone.  Go. Do it.  You will meet amazing individuals who will fill the space and you will no longer be “alone”.  These remarkable people will become your “trail family” or contacts throughout your time on the trail.  When predefined groups enter the trail they often interact amongst themselves and don’t reach far to make new connections

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Trail buddies for life!

When you meet these wonderful folks on the trail do yourself and them a favor, don’t shake hands.  During the first week on trail I offended more people by opting out of handshakes and here is why I opted out; having just left a privy I was headed for my tent to snag my hand sanitizer when someone asked for direction to the water source.  I rattled them off quickly and was going to continue on when he introduced himself and offered a hand.  I started to extend mine when I suddenly realized I hadn’t sanitized yet and withdrew my hand rapidly while explaining, “sorry, I just hit up the privy and haven’t cleaned up yet.”
The response was all I needed to know never shake a hikers hand. “That’s ok!”

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There's a reason some privys are not to be used...

I don’t touch hands with other hikers, I don’t reach into offered food bags, and I don’t accept food unless I’ve seen them pouring food from it.  An elbow is the closest thing you’ll get to a fist bump from me.

The “trail diet” is a fascinating thing.  You eat what you see, and anything else which crosses your path, bugs, dirt, etc.  You will be counting calories but in a whole new way.  When I pick an item up and the calories for a single serving are below 150 I tend to reconsider eating it.  I want items where the calories are over 200 and I can make a hearty meal with over 1,200 calories.  Despite this style of dieting I have dropped 30 pounds in the past 6 weeks.  Town days are a thing of gluttony, double servings of pretty much any meal I order and ice cream is a must.

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Thanks for the birthday snack fest!

Now onto the good stuff!

Peeing in the woods isn’t all bad.  I won’t lie,  men have a distinct advantage when it comes to peeing in the woods UNLESS you are willing to step outside your comfort zone and give the Pstyle a go.   I swear by this female urinary device. 

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Pstyle storage. Easily accessible. And cleaned after every use.

There are numerous ones out there but I have heard this one has advantages, the urine doesn’t back up so it’s not a guessing game whether it is empty. BUT don’t think it’s all peaches and cream.  This thing takes practice, some say best done at home, than again necessity pushes you to be more accurate.   I have days which I label my 85% accuracy days.  Yup,  we all have a learning curve. These are laundry days.  Days where I was in a rush or didn’t focus on the task at hand and ended up “leaking”.  It’s ok, in my mind those days are few and far between. 
The convience to be able to stand on the side of a mountain and take a moment to enjoy a “vista piss” and not worry about exposing myself to a crew above makes every learning curve worth it.  Or the day I’d reached a mountain top before the rest of my group and sidled up behind a tree.  Having just rinsed off the Pstyle I hear a cry “did I catch you pissing?! Because if I did you just made my day!” Glad his day was made…

Women, I know you are all thinking about the frustrations or concerns regarding menstruation while on the trail.   Really it’s nothing.  Yes it may require a little extra time to clean up but truth be told it’s simple.  Options have changed and we are better informed.  It is up to you how you want to manage while hiking, using either, pads, tampons, or the ever increasing in popularity, menstrual cup. 
I hear concerns from women about how to pack out used items.  Ziploc bags.  Everyone has their own way, cover the bag in duct tape to strengthen it and keep items out of sight.  Some use a coffee bag to store their ziplocs in, and toss a coffee bean in the bottom to cover perceived odors. Personally I don’t want to carry anything out and find the menstrual cup to be highly effective. 
The concern about cleanliness and this are no different than any other situation, if your hands are in that area, you want them clean to start.  Take time to plan your day accordingly, give yourself extra time at lunch to take care of business.  Personally I opt out of using privys as I find the woods to be more sanitary. 

If you want to go out and enjoy the trail go and do it.  Become one with nature! You will define your adventures!

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After a day of "slacking" it was important to see if I could convict people I'd built up lots of glute muscle!


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The Great Smoky Mountains a photo journey

The Smokies were incredible, met new and wonderful people, hiked without my companion and side kick, No Shame, for a week, and enjoyed the beauty of a section of trail like no other!

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Clingman's Dome in the fog. Happy with a little trail magic, a banana and coke!

I first need to send a shout out to the wonderful trail angels who picked me and my hiking buddy up at Clingman’s Dome.  We’d just come off the trail after 4 days of serious and difficult hiking, the air was cold and the rain was biting, and I couldn’t zip my rain coat tight enough to contain the stench!  Despite our foul odor you loaded us up in your car and dropped us off at our hotel with an invite to dinner, after we showered.  My evening out with you was fabulous.  The food was great and much appreciated but talking with you was the best.  I will leave you unnamed as we don’t want to blow your cover and interfere with your witness protection. 

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Part of our "Fellowship" entering into the GSMNF

The GSMNF was full of trail magic.  You have heard of one wonderful couple but without the assistance and support of other “trail angels” this section of the trail would not have been as enjoyable!

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Shuckstack Fire tower

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Looking out from Shuckstack to Fontana Damn

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The start to the "enchanted forest" a carpet of Spring Beauty and old fallen trees

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Misty morning hike from Mollies Ridge Shelter

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Shelters in the Smokies have fireplaces in them

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Last couple miles up Thunderhead Mountain

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A break in the clouds atop Thunderhead Mountain

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Derrick Knob Shelter sunset

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The terrain changed and the woods turned green with moss

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The terrain changed and the woods turned green with moss

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Beauty left over from the year before

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Riding the trolley in Gatlainburg, we won't talk about the 4 miles walked to get to the post office...

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Trail angel Michaela! Thanks for helping us get back to Clingman's Dome

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Clingman's Dome tourist picture

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View of where we'd been from Clingman's Dome

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Things just kept changing from green to green

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200 miles done!

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Walked through moss covered trees for days!

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There is no reason to be upset when this is your morning view

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There were some cold nights in the Smokies

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The moss took over!

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The little things

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Awesome trail magic at Newfound Gap! Thank you ladies!

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New discovery! How can this be so right?!

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It's true, less than 2000 miles to go!

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Lunch time view from Icewater Spring Shelter

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The new meal! Tuna with Cheetos!

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Charlie's Bunion

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And yet they let me out there to play...

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Ridge line walk. 100+ foot drops to either side.

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What every hiker should look like!

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Silver birch

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Beautiful skeletal trees

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Plane crash site in park

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A peaceful resting place. Dead bird trail side.

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Sunrise at Crosby Shelter

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Goats Beard making breakfast

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Crosby Shelter sunrise

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Painted Trillium

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Another overlook to lose yourself in

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Davenport Gap Shelter, the only one with bear cage, happy to say I didn't stay there.

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But I did visit briefly

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The only sign to let you know you left the Smokies! Sorry SOBO'S no big greeting for your trip through.

This section of the trail was beautiful, cold, physically challenging, and inspiring.

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Thanks for the family visit on trail, with a dry place to sleep, more food than I knew what to do with (but it all found a home in my belly) and a place to get my girl back!

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Happy to be back with me but still having anxiety attacks about me brushing my teeth!

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We can't be seperated! Photo credit goes to fellow thru hiker Moonlight

Sunrise on Max Patch

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And some spiders are best found in the bathroom.  I don’t want to find this one in my tent.


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The Appalachian Trail provides for the hiker

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Today is filled with excitement!  I have made it one month on the trail! I am still excited by the prospect of what is around the next bend or the view from the next rise.  To celebrate my time on the trail I spent a moment and flipped through my AWOL trail guide,  using a pencil to mark up the pages with notes on my journey.  As days pass you fall into the routine; wake up, pack up your gear, poop, make breakfast, pee,  hit the trail,  eat, hike, hike, eat, pee, eat, set up camp, pee, eat, pee, and sleep,  It’s hard to pick out the moment you saw an incredible view or paused to take a picture of a snail on the trail.  These are memories I want to keep fresh.

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Spencer Field's amazing privy

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Max Patch sunset being viewed by "No Shame"

A quick idea of what I’ve accomplished in the past month:
-Crossed into 3 of the 14 states the AT travels through

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Yup, we're doing it!

-Hiked more than 200 miles

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Made it 200 miles!

-Have less than 2000 miles to reach Katahdin, Maine

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1,972 left to go!

-Summited the highest peak on the AT, Clingmans Dome, 6,655′

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Tourist moments

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Clingmans ' Dome

-Completed a 17 mile slack pack

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-Made it up a 3000′ elevation gain in 6 miles

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-Crossed through the Great Smoky Mountain National Forest

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-Guided a raft trip down the Nantahala

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-Combined some interesting food, seen even odder combinaions made

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Tuna with mayo and cheetos!

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The German "snack"

-Experienced amazing “trail magic”

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Am living life and enjoying every second of it! So happy to have celebrated my birthday on the trail!

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Mom sent gluten free cookies and candles, my trail family sang to me!


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Magic on the trail abounds

To often I’m at loss for words when it comes to the trail.  The beauty which surrounds me is beyond belief.

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Spring Beauty

I am lost in the small parts of the trail, slowing down to take in a single water drop or to step over an insect.

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And then there is the ever expansive trail which opens before

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Rhododendron tunnel along Standing Indian Mountain

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Trail along Copper Ridge

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Much needed river day on the Nantahala River

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Fontana dam

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What lies ahead

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This journey has just begun and I’m so happy for it!

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Hiker life

In the hiker world there is a lingo you quickly learn.

“Hiker midnight”
Anytime after 8pm or the sun has set.
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“Hiker appetite”
The ability to consume huge amounts of food without effort.
The odd combination of foods which you’d not normally consider combining, peanut butter and tuna.

“Hiker fashion”
Either trail clothing which you wear for a week at a time or the random attire you put on for town days while washing your trail clothes.
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There is also a point where hikers discover a whole new type of challenge, not the day to day drone back in society

What do you do when the “facili-trees” are bare of leaves and you need to go to the bathroom?
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The moment when you become aware you have a clear view of the crew making dinner in the shelter when you’re seated on the privy.
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Your feet get more attention than your hair
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You discover you were photo bombed, not by your friends, but by bugs
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When the weather gets wet your dog gets the rain coat
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Lessons learned on the trail

The first week on the trail seems so surreal.  I have done so much and yet, already, each day is blending into the next.

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The names of mountains bounce around in my head, Big Cedar, Hawk, Blood Mountain, Springer, Powell, Kelly Knob. They’re are already too many for me to count.

I have gained my trail name, Bookie!

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The people are amazing; Ghost, Moonlight, Rhythm, Rikki Tikki, Ambush, Arrow, Possum, Twig, and so many more!

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There is something to be said for what you will eat on the trail.  I have developed a trail appetite and creativity gains you points. Most common breakfast is oatmeal with carnation instant breakfast mixed in, this one thing has so much potential for adaptation!

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Gluten free wrap with peanut butter and Hershey bar!

Blisters,  I know blisters,  at least that is what I thought.  But on day two, when between my toes was burning, I was perplexed.  I had heard nothing of blisters between toes.  I settled into my tent and looked at the situation, they seemed just little bubbles of annoyance,  things that should go away. Go away they did.   With needle and thread I punctured my blisters, leaving the thread in overnight allowing them to drain and settle.

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Blister threading

This worked for one of them, the other two were more of a chronic issue,  one where alternative options were needed.  Toe socks it was! 

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When you’re too cold to function take care of your own basic needs.  After a long day of hiking through rain and mist our arrival at the shelter was bleak as every other hiker on the trail in the surrounding 5 miles was there.  I struggled to get fine motor function going,  after trying to warm myself with hot food and good company I retreated to my tent to shiver through the beginning stages of hyperthermia where I dried off and regained the wonders of normal body functions.

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First week in photos

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Natural rain shelter

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Blue Mountain Shelter sunrise

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Trail magic