The Great 8: Days 19 – 28

Day 19 – 13.7 miles

My shuttle to the trail got me there pretty early and of course it was raining. Heavily. Lucky for me, I overpacked on rain gear. So I slapped on some rain gaiters, a rain kilt, and of course a rain jacket. The piece de resistance though is my umbrella that I can clip to the shoulder of my pack. Overkill? Maybe, but I stayed dry for the most part, in pretty heavy rain too.

The elevation climb was actually gentle, and there were switchbacks, which was very surprising! So getting back up in the mountains wasn’t the usual BMT slog fest. It was a pleasant walk in the rain. The rain darkened the tree trunks and gives the leaf color a pop. It seemed extra green today.

I thought my knee was better after the rest. I could walk around in town without any pain. I failed to take into account my pack and the uneven slick terrain. I’ve been going slow in the hopes that will help, but I’m not sure? It feels the worst going up and down the steep slopes, which is most of the BMT.

I stopped relatively early. An hour before sunset. I didn’t make it to the original campsite I’d planned on Bob Bald. (I wanted to camp there because of the funny name.) As soon as I set up my tent and hung my food it started pouring rain. Im staying mostly dry. This Dyneema tent I’ve got is a little cocoon.

Today I am grateful for that gentle elevation climb.

Day 20 – 4.7 miles

The day started out drippy wet, where the wind knocks the moisture off the leaves making it seem like it is raining. I packed up and headed out fairly early. The mist curled through the trees obscuring the path ahead.

And what a path. For some reason, right after Cold Spring Gap the trail wants to act like its the Whites in New Hampshire (think crazy hard and rock climbing). Combine this with an absolute downpour, I was climbing up either a waterfall or a bog, depending on the steepness at the moment. After slipping and sliding over wet rocks and tricky roots, my knee called it quits. Or rather I did, because it was hurting so bad.

I asked myself: Self, why are you forcing this? I didn’t have a real good answer other than pure stubbornness. So I thought my knee was better but it wasn’t (not for the BMT anyway). No sense in further damaging it because “I have to complete it”.

I managed to get one bar of weak signal and called The Hike Inn who said they’d be able to pick me up! It meant backtracking a little, but that’s fine. Going down that hellacious mile to where I camped the night before only reinforced that this was a good idea. My knee started to have a sharp pain with every crunch down. Luckily the forest service road back to the Cherohala Skyway was mostly mild.

I got picked up and wrapped in towels. Tom even brought a bag of ice for my knee. After getting showered and laundered, the owner Nancy took me and another hiker into town where we ate Mexican and I resupplied. I was operating as if I was going to continue. Worst case scenario I’ve got a big bag of snacks.

Today I am grateful to Tom and Nancy for answering the phone and being able to pick me up. Also that 1 bar of 4G.

Day 21 – 0 miles

I slept and ate and elevated my knee. Nancy stopped by to see if I wanted to go into town. My knee felt great, no pain at all. I went to Walgreens and got a knee brace though. I’m not sure what is going on with this thing.

Today I am grateful for restful sleep.

Day 22 – 10.1 miles

I woke to the pounding of a downpour on the roof. Great. In an awesome turn of events though the rain died down by the time I got dropped off at the trailhead. My knee felt fine, but the 32 pounds (I weighed it at the Hike Inn) on my back didn’t do it any favors. I put brace on it just in case.

I said bye to Tom and turned my sights toward the Smokies. (If you hike in this area definitely give Nancy and Tom at the Hike Inn your business, they’re good people). FINALLY! Back in the Smokies, one of my favorite National Parks, though Death Valley is still number one in my books. The trail was so mild and forgiving, as they are when you maintain them. There were a few blow downs, but you could tell they were very recent.

I cruised along side the Fontana Lake at a steady clip, making sure not to over exert my knee. First I passed an Antique Road show of old cars (from the 30s I think?) left in the wilderness. Their rusted metal carcasses were no match for the trees and ferns that overtook them.

I spent a pleasant lunch at Lost Cove Campsite where I was even able to take my socks off to air out! The sun peaked out from the clouds and everything started to steam. I crossed Eagle Creek on an old metal bridge.

In the afternoon when I was hanging out at Possum Hollow for a snack break I heard some thunder in the distance and the light got dim. Dark storm clouds were rolling in. Lucky for me the trail turned into a flat old road bed and I scurried as fast as my knee would allow to the Calhoun House. Built in 1928, it is the only remainder of a mill town called Proctor. I made it to the porch of the house just in time. It isn’t locked and you can walk around inside if you want. It smelled moldy and looked creepy so I decided to stay on the outside. I sat and read a book on my phone while the rain splattered on the creek in front of the house. I was dry so it was pleasant.

After 30 minutes or so I packed up and made my way to Campsite 86 known as Proctor Field, just a short walk away really. I’ve set up on a bed of pine needles which actually feel comfortable. The only uncomfortable thing is that I think the squirrels are mad at me for invading their turf. They keep chattering in the tree above.

If I’m careful and can maintain a steady pace I think my knee will hold out. I hope so, because I really want to finish this section.

Today I am grateful that my knee held out.

Day 23 – 12.6 miles

More rain in the morning. A deluge really. I didn’t get started till late but once I did get going it felt great. The air was cool and crisp. Climbing up to Welch Ridge warmed me up quick though. There was cell service up there so I took a “whats going on in the world” break.

There are still plenty of ups and downs but they don’t seem as extreme as the southern part of the BMT.

I saw some southbound hikers and what appeared to be two hunters with dogs. There was water everywhere and not just cause it rained. It seemed like every 100 feet there was another creek to go down to and go back up from.

Occasionally I would get a glimpse of the lake through the trees. For a purported Lakeshore Trail it doesn’t seem to actually go down to the lake. That’s fine by me though, because that is where the mosquitos live. I like being up high on the ridgeline.

Even though most of the trail was mild today, I just couldn’t make the miles I was aiming for. I get real pessimistic and critical in the afternoon. Today I just decided to stop early and hope that there aren’t any rangers checking permits. (You are supposed to stick to your chosen backcountry campsites on your permit.) I’ve been feeling pretty “meh” lately.

Today I am grateful for the chat with the only other solo female hiker I’ve seen on the trail.

Day 24 – 18.1 miles

I managed to make it through the night without getting rained on. It made waking up early and getting going easier. I made it to the campsite I was supposed to stay at last night to find three ladies still enjoying their morning coffee. The site was pretty, but I’ve gotten used to camping alone and I’m not sure I remember how to be sociable. Not that I ever really was in the first place. Im glad I stopped where I did.

I noticed a pattern with the trail this morning. Turn left inland and away from the lake, go down to a water source whatever thay may be, cross it, veer right towards the lake and climb up. Rinse and repeat. Sometimes there would be a little straight part, but mostly it did this all morning. I felt like I kept doing the same thing over and over.

Going around one bend I saw a rather large bear who promptly exited stage right. All along the trail I’ve been seeing bear poop, full of berry seeds. I’ve been poking them to see how old they are, they’ve all been dry. Down by one of the many unnamed little creeks I saw a littler bear searching through the brush. It was a lithe little shadow who didn’t respond when I clicked my trekking poles. I swiftly made it up to the other side keeping an eye out for any angry mama bears.

You can always tell when you get close to a major trailhead because the path becomes well worn and wide. About a mile from the Tunnel to Nowhere I spotted day hikers. I tried to not creepily sniff them. So fresh. So clean.

The Tunnel to Nowhere was built in the 60s as part of a roadway that they never finished constructing. Now its a tourist destination to walk the 1000 yards and turn back. On Guthook (a hiking map app), comments stated that the tunnel was creepy. It may have been when there weren’t hoards of children with glowsticks running and yelling. It made me think that the tunnel could be a cool rave venue…if it was still 2000.

It was a brief roadwalk down to the new trail that I’d be following: Noland Creek. On the way down I saw two snakes and thought oh its that kind of creek huh? The path was a smooth forest road of gravel. It made the miles easier and I actually got to camp where I’d originally planned!

Today I decided to eat more snacks and take more frequent shorter breaks. I noticed that I turn into a cranky baby in the afternoon which just drags down my energy. Sure enough right around 1500 I was getting antsy to be done, so plopped right down on the side of the trail and ate my first Snickers of the whole trip. Maybe it was just psychomatic (addict, insane!*), but after awhile I felt my mood shift and things weren’t so melodramatic anymore. I’m sure the sugar helped.

Today I am grateful for making mileage in decent time.

*everytime I say that word i have to end it with Prodigy’s extra bit. *shrug*

Day 25 – 14.7 miles

Today was tough, both physically and mentally. I did all the mental hard work before this trip with all the planning, cross planning, and contingency planning. But there are just some things you can’t plan for. Weather. The park closing your campsite choice. How unexpectedly tired you feel. Downed trees.

I’m doing the actual physical work, and it’s surprising. Not to play the getting old card, but I am, everyone does. Now that I’m over 40 things just don’t work the same. I’d like to think of this hike as a rediscovery of what my body can do with all the demands placed on it, especially after years of neglect and stress. I can do 18 miles, but only if I eat enough calories and take many breaks. I can sleep comfortably in the backcountry, but only if I set up in the right spot. I can do the long hard ascents/descents, but only if I control my breathing and manage my pace. Also stretching is important.

The responses are a little slower and my recovery is definitely longer, but I’m doing it. After so long of taking care of others physical needs first it is deeply satisfying to tend to only my own. It is a deliciously selfish act.

All that to say, today was still tough. There were two waist deep creek fords early in chilly morning that were kinda scary and slowed me down. There were downed trees I had to crawl through. Going down Pole Road Creek was rough and had multiple wet feet crossings. And then I lost one in a pair of my favorite socks. They were Darn Toughs with bears on them and you could see their little claws.

In the afternoon it was a long hot dry climb up and up and up. Where I was practically drowning in water earlier, there was not a spare drop to be found. I put on some podcasts to distract me from the pain in my knee and feet. I even stopped and ate a Payday.

The sun has been setting earlier and earlier and I was getting close to walking in the dark. The last three miles seemed to stretch on forever. Finally I crested Newton Bald right as the sun set.

Only to find I had company and a lot of it. There were at least 8 other people jostling for spots. It was crowded for a Sunday night. I wasn’t feeling chatty so I went and got my water (100 yards downhill of course) and set up my tent. After eating some snacks to stave off hunger, I crawled into my tent and lay blissfully flat.

I thought I’d fall asleep quickly but I lay there…not doing that. I had to replay the day and figure out why 14 miles was so much harder than the 18 before. All I could figure was my attitude about it? Also it is easy to stay awake when five other people are up way past hiker midnight yakking loudly by the firepit. As soon as I heard a man complaining about vaccine mandates I put my ear buds in so I wouldn’t emerge from my tent like a banshee full if righteous indignation IF YOU WOULD HAVE JUST GOTTEN THE VACCINE…

Today I am grateful that the last 0.2 miles to camp were flat.

Yay! A bridge!

Day 26 – 14.5 miles

I woke early and tried to be as quiet as possible with my crinkly things. But not too much, seeing as how my site companions stayed up late. The descent to Smokemont was gentle and fast. I felt like I was flying and nothing hurt, all was right with the world.

The trail after Smokemont campground was a well used horse trail that went to Chasteen Creek Cascades. This pretty lunch spot looked a lot like Long Branch Falls on the AT. After lunch the horse trail stopped playing around and got real. Real hard.

I encountered a new menace: freshly fallen leaves over loose rock. When the leaves are all fluffy and not trampled down they hide the treacherous rocks underneath. My feet twisted this way and that, with my arches taking a beating. Onwards and upwards, forever climbing.

I started to get annoyed and contemplated again why these shorter days were harder. Part of it is my attitude, part of it is the trail conditions, but mostly I think it is time. The backcountry permit put me on a schedule where I have to camp in designated spots. I am forced to go a set mileage in a certain amount of time, no matter what. That was stressing me out and I didn’t realize how much. I have to go go go, why are you so slow? you’ll never make it before sunset, stop stopping so much!

Here near the end of this section, I’ve decided I don’t care. I’ll get there when I get there. What a relief. And then I came to a campsite I thought was closed for bear activity like the last two, but it wasn’t! There was even a camper already set up and it was Judy from Lightheart Gear (IYKYK)! I found out she used to be an FNP too. How wild it that?

Now I get to chill and relax before sunset. Have a chat with an awesome lady and not have to climb a 1200 feet ascent in an hour. What a win!

Today I am grateful that the Enloe Creek Campsite was open and that I got to meet Judy.

Day 27 – 10.1 miles

I did not sleep much. My tent was on a slant and I was itchy all over. Eventually I took a Benadryl and zonked out, but it made me groggy in the morning. I definitely didn’t wake up on time. Oh well. At least I got to have one last conversation with Judy before we split ways (she was going south).

The climb up to Hyatt Ridge wasn’t that bad, but I know that I would’ve hated it yesterday. Once up top the air got thin and chilly. There were more pines and their scent kicked up with every step. The decent was rocky down to Beech Gap where I had lunch. After which was another extended climb up to Balsam Mountain.

Since I wasn’t caring about time or mileage I went slow and then slower. The further up I got the more Boreal the forest became and even though it felt neverending, my spirits lifted at the sight of pines dripping with verdant green moss interspersed with the shocking yellows/reds of the Birches. A cool breeze knocked leaves off in showers that lazily drifted through shafts of sunlight dappling through the canopy. Very sweaty and very dirty, I gingerly stepped through this mountain top church feeling a little bit soothed.

I’ve been asked many times why I like thru hiking, or what I get out of it. Its often hard to explain, but after listening to a podcast it became a little clearer (Real Talk Radio with Nicole Antoinette – Episode with Amanda Jameson, if you’re interested).

It is these mountain top moments of peace/clarity/awe/joy/whatever that bring me back to myself. They teach me the true things that can’t be planned or forced or commodified. The trees, sky, moss, birds, wind, and light fill me up with something unnameable, but significant just the same. Each moment is cherished because they are fleeting as the landscape changes. The only way to get up to that mountain though is to walk and put yourself in the way of those moments. Or thats what I think anyway. There are other ways achieve these moments, but I find that the movement is what works for me.

Also you can eat whatever you want and still lose weight. Win-win in my book. Which also what I am grateful for today.

Day 28 – 16 miles

I woke up chilly which was a first. It took awhile to get the gumption to crawl out of my sleeping bag. Eventually I shouldered my pack and moved through the dew laden trail.

The trail up to and after Laurel Gap Shelter is all Boreal, which means high elevation pines and cool chill air. I associate this type of forest with Maine and it brought back kinder memories of vacations and finishing the AT. The sun dappled the ground and everything seemed fresh.

The climb up Mt Sterling was tough but not interminable like the rest of the BMT. The higher you go, the trees start of thin out and you see a little more out into the distance. It feels like you are about to get the prize. After rounding a corner of brush you come upon the top Mt Sterling which doesn’t have views, but it does has a fire tower you can climb!

The top of that fire tower is a bit creaky and worrisome, but the views are unparalleled. You finally get to see some mountain range! It was a beautiful day and the wind was mild. I got some awesome pics, ate some cheese, and rested a bit. Even though there were 6 miles to go downhill I considered this the mental end point. Which is probably for the best because when I got to the end of the actual trail at Baxter Creek, I didn’t see a BMT terminus marker. Or at least they didn’t make it obvious. It just kind of ends.

I took advantage of the bathrooms and then started the 3 mile road walk to the Appalachian Trail. So now I’ve connected that loop! Made my way to Standing Bear and ate some pizza. Soon it will be southbound on the AT!

Today I am grateful for the awesome views on Mt Sterling.

The Great 8: Days 13 – 18

Day 13 – 13.4 miles

I slept so good on that flat dry hotel mattress, but I woke up feeling hung over. Very weird because I did not drink. I’m guessing it was all the pizza and Coke I consumed the night before?

I got to the trail and realized I was also feeling a sort of civilization hang over too. My nervous system has been a wreck for years now, always on constant alert, usually for things I can’t control or even name. When hypervigilance and high anxiety becomes your norm, understandably it is incredibly hard to relax. Impossible really. Physically, you literally can’t slow down and all the bumper sticker philosophy just relax and let go! won’t fix that.

Walking the trail for the past weeks has forced my body to recalibrate. Instead of worrying about the general insanity of the world, my immediate and very real concerns are simple. Are you hungry? Ok eat. Are you thirsty? Yes, drink some water. Is that a bear? No it is just a very loud squirrel. I am appropriately on alert for things that directly affect my immediate situation. I can meet my own needs in a concrete and tangible way. And oh, how relieving is that? My nervous system can take a break, chill out. I drank that water, ate that food, found that campsite, and made those miles. Good job hormones! You did it Epinephrine! Now go get metabolized and let me sleep.

After all this woodsy quietude and lack of consistent access to social media, it is bit discomfiting to go back to it all. Everything is so loud and in a way that is very jarring. I mean, I already knew this. I guess its finally seeing the juxtaposition of a quiet brain vs our loud society. Does this even make any sense?

The rest of the day didn’t shape up any better. The trail continued its neverending quest to somehow go up even when going down. The spiders OWN this part of the trail. Every five feet its another web to the face so that I had silk dangling from my hat. I am one with the spiders. In fact, I am a spider now and spiders are great!*

The weeds were overgrown and I had to climb over or around lots of blow downs (big dead trees in the way). My feet hurt. It may sound like I’m complaining but I’m just reporting the news. This trail is hard work.

And it was all very frustrating. But that’s okay. I let it out. Who was going to care that I cried? Or that I screamed curse words at spiders? Or that when I tripped for the third time I just lay in the pine needles and had a hissy fit? Certainly not the squirrels or those damn spiders. Real emotions let out in real time and truly being in the moment. Thats why I chose this hard work right?

Also I made 100 miles today on the BMT, which makes it about 133 total. It doesn’t feel like that many and it doesn’t feel like I’ve been on the trail almost two weeks. I guess it is hard to see progress when you are in the middle of it.

Today I am grateful for pit toilets.

*Paid for by the Spiders are Awesome Committee.

Day 14 – 14.5 miles

It seemed like there were some long term residents at Lost Creek Campground. They apparently leave a dog in the tent unattended. They also wake up at 0530 in the morning to have loud arguments and then drive their loud vehicle up the mountain.

Since I was up, I had a nice breakfast drink by the creek. After a lovely pit toilet stop I made my way up the gravel road back to the trail, which immediately goes back down to Lost Creek.

The next 3 miles are the best I have seen on the trail so far. A beautiful dramatic creek walk looking at all the ways in which water carved its way through the mountains. The water was crystal clear and blue tinted in some places, like glacier water. The sun made its way into the valley and glittered off the busy water. The trail itself was relatively mild and best of all no spiderwebs! I floated beside this creek in awe and joy and didn’t even feel my sore feet. It was peaceful and I soaked it up.

But eventually good things must come to end and the creek walk did. I was dumped out into some mountain roads and shuffled my way into Reliance. The Hiawassee river flows through it and there was even a thoughtful pedestrian lane on the bridge to cross the river.

I made my way to Reliance Fly and Tackle where I heard there was a good burger to be had. It was like something out of a Hee Haw sketch. As I walk up to a stereotypical backwoods looking gas station there are four good ole boys sitting out front drinking. One even had the Boomhauer accent. Maybe it was more like King of the Hill. As I was obtaining my burger the owner and de facto leader shot at the stop sign with a shotgun. Everyone hooted and hollered and then had to each individually go inspect the sign. Many observations were made and the bullet in question was approved, I guess?

I mentioned that I had to walk back the way I came to get back on the trail (as this stop was a little off trail). It prompted a discussion of how I should get back, in terms of local mountain instructions. Boomhauer said something about a powerhouse and a “swanging bridge”. The others were talking about going up and down the hillside based on water levels of the river. Finally one fella broke it down and said go up that road (pointing to the road in front of the store) and it will meet the trail. Okay?

Sure enough the road went up and then down and the BMT met up with it by the river. And the trail promptly went into the overgrown bush. I stayed on the road.

There came a point when the trail turned away and up from the road so I had to return. The trail snaked its way up to a ridgeline only to immediately sink back to the river. But this wasn’t the fun wide open river. No it was a claustrophobic buggy nightmare. The skeeters were out in full force and hangry. I got my revenge though because I think I ate about 20 of them just breathing.

In order to move 10 feet forward you had to go up 200 feet in elevation and come back down. Its why I hate walking next to water. The geography of water side walking isn’t always a straight line, like a nice sandy beach. Sometimes the only way forward is up the rocky mountain and then down the rocky mountain.

The mosquitos chased me up the river to my campsite. So now I have dozens of bites on top the scratches on my arms and legs. I quickly and poorly set up my tent and threw everything in. Only two of the little bastards managed to make it in and were quickly dispatched. I am now sitting in my tent hoping that as the evening cools they’ll go to sleep and I can fix my tent.

Today I am grateful for the walk along Lost Creek.

Day 15 – 16.6 miles

I think I twinged something in my derby knee running away from the mosquitos. It is a chronic issue, something I’ve learned to baby. I woke to swarm of more mosquitos around my tent and tried to run away from them but my knee wasn’t having it.

I crossed the creek and trudged up through the maples and sassafras to higher elevation. I traded mosquitos for spiderwebs. As I was coming around a bend I scared a turkey who in equal measure scared me. It gobbled off into the brush leaving me to my thoughts.

The past week or so, the trail has really gotten to me. I itch all over, my feet hurt, and the trail itself has been the opposite of rejuvenating. As I thought I about it, I realize its my own fault. I’ve been ascribing to some arbitrary thru hiking “rules” that cause me to harshly judge myself in which I have to do high mileage days. And for what point? There is no trophy at the end of this.

On the other hand I do have a schedule to keep. The backcountry permit for the Smokies is set for specific days. And I have to get there. Maybe I should have given myself more time?

I reviewed the reasons I started this whole thing in the first place and no where does it say “to complete every step of the BMT”. One of the reasons was too push myself, and I have (I haven’t exercised in forever remember?), but not to the point of more burnout. There is also that whole getting my mind right thing.

The trail joined a motorcycle track that was pretty much five or so miles of cruising along a ridgeline. It allowed me my self absorbed ruminations. After Unicoi Gap though, the forever climb and the heat got me super critical of myself. Why can’t I just do this? Why is it always so hard? Why didn’t I go to the beach?

I stood huffing and puffing on that steep incline and realized the only way I was going to get through this was to stop wishing for the situation to be anything other than it was. A thought popped up hard things can be hard and you can still do them. If I could just accept what was in front of me, then I wouldn’t waste energy on thinking how it could be easier.

I also thought what would I say to one of my friends in this very situation? I wouldn’t berate or bully them, but tell them to take it easy and make sure to have some fun. I certainly wouldn’t talk to them the way I talk to myself. Why is it so much harder to be nice to yourself?

So I took a deep breath and a deeper swig of water, then accepted the fact that I would be continually climbing to camp and that I’d get there after sunset. There was nothing else to be done about it, except to do it.

A calm settled over me and I kept moving along. Up ahead I heard some rustling and saw a dark shadow. Thinking it another turkey, I crunched forward. Nope, it was a bear. A juvenile by the looks of it. As soon as it caught sight of me it sprinted off trail and rocketed down the mountain. I looked down and saw a perfect feather (turkey I’m guessing) and laughed at how the universe decides play.

And guess what, I did do it. I got up the forever mountain, I walked through the dark, and I made it to camp. I did the hard thing. I didn’t have to berate myself in the first place.

I decided to reschedule one of my planned stops in Tellico Plains a day early. So I’ll be getting off trail for a couple of days. I know how hard I’ve worked and how far I’ve pushed myself, but I also know I need rest. Especially this knee. It might sound whiney or even naive, but when you haven’t made time for yourself to rest in so long, you kind of forget how. Even your vacations turn into work. I guess that is one positive point to this whole sweaty ordeal.

Today I am grateful for Welsch’s Fruit Snacks.

Day 16 – 2.2 miles

I got to see the sunrise through the trees and I didn’t have to get up early to start walking. I slept in and enjoyed my morning drink. I only had 2.2 miles to go to Sandy Gap where my shuttle would pick me up to go to Tellico Plains.

It was a pretty ridgeline walk with an acutal view! The breeze was light and cool. The ascents and descents were manageable. Of course that was only for 2.2 miles. I’m sure right after the gap it got real again.

I got to the gap, surprisingly, a little early. So I sat and listened to a podcast that dealt with personal and societal pressures. The idea of performing your hardest and when to let go. It was an unplanned recap of my own thinking for the past two days.

So now I sit in A/C once again, full of food, and freshly showered. I’m going to rest my knee and wallow in all the comforts. I’ll reevaluate my planning and then most likely let the mountains take me where they will.

Days 17 & 18 – 0 miles

Zzzzzzzzzzz…..

My knee is feeling better. I’ve ate my weight in sandwiches. I’ve taken many showers. I feel ready to tackle the last part of the BMT.

The Great 8: Days 6 – 12

Day 6 – 0 miles

Had a great sleep at AT’s. Spent the morning sipping coffee, and chit chatting. Eventually AT took to me Lowes where I picked up a contractor bag. The Nyloflume bag I had been using apparently had micro tears because my sleeping bag was wet when she picked me up. A contractor bag may be a little overkill, but at least my bag will be dry.

AT drove me to Skeenah Creek Campground where I also had sent my first resupply box. I thanked AT for much appreciated hospitality and waved goodbye. I was alone again.

The campground put me in a trailer room (looked like the kind they use for construction offices), but there was no working A/C so they moved me to a cute little Shasta. Where I am now. Eating left over pizza.

Today I am grateful for coffee with a friend.

Day 7 – 10ish miles

I did not sleep very well in the Shasta. The bed was too short because, well, the whole trailer is short. Also the bedding was dirty and even though I shook out the leafy stuff it feels weird to sleep on dirty things that aren’t your own. The only snippet of the dreams that I remember had bugs in it.

I decided to take an alternate route of my own making because the forecast called for rain and lots of it. Basically I just road walked back to another part of the trail. And of course it rained. As soon as I stopped to put on the rest of my rain gear it calmed down.

I took a break at a Baptist church that had a covered picnic area next to a cemetary. I think I might have triggered the mountain gossip mill with my road walk, because three good ole boys came rolling by in a white pick up giving me the stink eye. But since I was already moving there wasn’t much they could do. I don’t think they get many hikers in these parts.

In fact, except for the two (or maybe one?) Army dudes I haven’t seen anyone on trail. Not even day hikers. I suspect the rain is keeping a lot of people inside. I’ve thought about trying to sit out the worst of the storms too, but then I’d never get anywhere. The thing about the Appalachians is that is rains all the time. If you waited for ideal weather then you are going to be disappointed all the time.

Once I was back in the woods I felt safer, even though the rain and wind were kicking up, knocking the trees about. By the time I made it up Deadennen Mountain the rain stopped and the sun came out! I hooted and jumped about in an awkward jig, I was so happy. It meant that when I got to camp I could dry out my socks!

I went along the ridge line with a little pep in my step, despite the sore spot on my heel. The wind was still brisk, but now there was sun!

Camp was at the top of Tipton Mountain. I had to haul 4 liters of water up a steep slope, but that’s okay because now I’m up in the Sassafras and warm and dry.

Today I am grateful for the sun coming out.

Day 8 – 11.6 miles

The gusting wind in the canopy contrasted nicely with the warm cocoon I had going in my tent overnight. I slept quite nicely despite the slant that my tent was on. It made me keep sliding to the side. I woke pretty early but I have a hard time getting moving. I always do. Even at home. The siren call of a comfy bed is too alluring.

The trail on the other side of the mountain was overgrown with asters, goldenrod, and brambles. The spiderwebs that were crafted with precision the night before smacked me in the face. I feel like I’m some kind of Godzilla figure in the spider community. Here I come stomping down the trail destroying their mountainside condos. But even deer use this trail so its not the best place to be setting up shop.

I sat on Brawley Mountain underneath a fire tower you couldn’t climb. I noticed a little spider mama protecting her brood while I ate a Cliff bar.

The wind and sun ushered me down the mountain. My step got quicker as the BMT dumped me out onto a road at the Toccoa River. Just down the street was Shallowford Bridge and then the Iron Bridge cafe! Hot food!

But I’m sad to report it was just a Meh burger. I did however meet a cat and that made my day. If there is a cat within sight distance of me I’m going to try to make friends. It made me miss my kitties though. Weasel and Squid were my only real “in person” comfort during the pandemic as I live alone. Their job description now says therapy animal. And I just left them. I know they are safe and well cared for at my parents house, but its the idea that they think I abandoned them. I can’t tell them otherwise, they are cats. Yeah so, that’s weird right? Are yall slowly backing out of this blog?

Mmmhhph. Yeah so, after the food I started up on what was one of the most terrifying road walks I’ve ever been on. Little to no shoulder, blind turns, huge trucks barreling by, and Trump signs/flags all over the place. The pavement hits your feet different and seems to hurt more. After 3 miles they throbbed in pain. Finally the trail veered back into the woods up to Fall Branch Falls, a bit redundant.

At the bottom of the falls I took a little break and found my knife that I thought I had lost earlier today. Usually it is clipped in my left pocket with my chapstick. I noticed it was gone about 10 mins out from Iron Bridge Cafe. I thought I might have dropped in the bathroom so I went back and looked around. It was nowhere to be found, so I wrote it off as a loss. Then after my break I saw it on the ground, neatly sitting in front of my pack. Here’s the thing, I would have heard it fall if it was stuck in my clothing somewhere. Also I hadn’t removed it from my pocket for any reason today. So I’m pretty sure my knife quantum leaped to this new location because it didn’t want to do that road walk. Thats my theory and I’m sticking to it.

There were so many day hikers, and they all smelled so good, like fresh laundry. I did not. One young child went EeeeeEEEeeeewwwwww! After he passed me. His mother hurried him along with an apology, but also judgment in her eyes. I cackled so hard I had to sit down on a conveniently placed bench.

Back up on the BMT proper, it was back to up down up down. Mostly up. If there was an easier way or a switch back offered, the trail designers said “nah, let’s go straight up that side”. But that is the Appalachians for you.

Today I am grateful for cats. All of them, but especially my own.

Day 9 – 9.3 miles

I had a dream about my cat. I was trying to find a carrier and wandering around in a panic. I woke up all sweaty despite the chill in the air. I heard something canine (wolves?) howling. It also sounded like some young ones were trying to join in but not quite making the harmony.

The day started out with some delightful ridge walking. I had some lunch on Scroggins Knob where I was able to air out all the damp things! The trail took a steep dive in elevation down through a pretty meadow and onto private land. This meant more road walking.

The first part wasn’t so bad. All gravel and back country roads. I enjoyed looking at all the cute cabins. However I had to cross US 76 which was very busy and very loud. I made it across but had to sit down for a minute just inside the tree line. The anxiety hit my nervous system like a bullet. My heart was beating fast and I was hyperventilating. It was quite a shock. Eventually my nerves settled down and I was able to move away from the wretched highway.

More road walking, this time paved and with cars flying around corners. However there was a bit of shoulder to walk on. I quickly made my way up the mountain roads to join the BMT back in the woods. There is a shelter on this private land that they let hikers use. It is nestled right underneath a house and next to a road. So no privacy. Ill be doing my business in the dark.

Today I am grateful that I did not get run over by a truck crossing that highway.

Day 10 – 18.1 miles

Finally I meet a fellow NOBO thru hiker. A guy named Rover showed up to the shelter last evening. He seemed nice enough but it also put into context the difference between this trip and 2018’s AT. In one word: socialization. First of all, this trail has none compared to the AT. It is very sparse and hardly anyone does it. Secondly, the easy camaraderie and familiarity of thru hiking is gone for me. All I’m thinking is does this guy not believe science? Is he an anti-vaxxer? Does he still support Trump? Is this guy a QAnon looney?

With all the Trump flags and signs in this part of the country, still hanging, I’m not taking any chances that anyone I meet on trail is “safe”. Not that I freely trusted everyone before, but somehow now it’s different.

I made polite talk (ugh..) with the dude and knew I wouldn’t be seeing him again anyway. He was doing 20+ mile days. Not my scene.

The elevation was killer today. All uphill at >45 degree angle. This trail will definitely get your butt in shape. Everytime I stopped to catch my breath (which was frequently) I noticed spider webs everywhere. Most were perpendicular to the ground but some were parallel like a trampoline. Perfectly round and tightly woven they looked like the underside of a CD floating in the bushes.

I think what is so frustrating about the interminable climbing is that there are definitely no views up top. Just more green tunnel. But sometimes is flattens out for awhile and it feels like you are cruising along high up above everything. Your worries are down there and you can’t help but think about both the literal and metaphorical weight you are carrying.

I got to my original stopping point of Double Hogpen Gap early and just decided to keep going. This put me up over another mountain and down into a valley. There weren’t any viable campsites until South Fork where I threw down my pack and called it an evening. I looked up how far I went and was surprised to see I managed 18 miles! It may not seem like a lot, but for the Appalachians and considering the fact I went couch to trail, it is.

Today I am grateful that my feet didn’t fall off after 18 miles.

Day 11 – 14.2 miles

I get a late start. My feet throbbed all night. I even elevated them on my pack to no avail. Also I was just plain tired. I keep having to gently remind myself that I haven’t hiked like this since 2018, so I can’t expect to make miles easy right away.

I might have picked one the toughest trails in the southeast to jump off the couch onto. Today’s selection of trail included a lot of stream hopping at first and then mostly fighting my way through overgrown weeds and brambles. My legs are looking pretty rough.

Double Springs Gap is the Georgia/Tennessee border and the home of two very disappointing springs. Originally I planned to stay here for the night, but I arrived early and the place seemed kind of creepy. Probably all the twisty Rhododendrons. Stinky too. I must have some past karma with Rhododendrons I need to work out.

Like a real dum dum I decided to make one last climb for the day. It was a slog fest up Big Frog mountain and Tennessee’s big Hi YALL! to NOBO BMT’ers. There was one mile of over 1000 foot elevation change through overgrown brambles and over loose rock. It was brutal. But I did it and actually made it to camp an hour before sunset (a real win for today).

Today I am grateful that tomorrow is town day (re: shower)!

Day 12 – 9.1 miles

I woke with a vigor because today is Town Day! I am most definitely ready for a shower. It has been said that you get used to your own stink, and to a certain extent you do, but I still think being clean is better.

The other side of Big Frog was gentle in its descent. Almost an apology for the other side. The rising sun spiked through yellowing leaves giving the trail a sparkly mood.

I spent most of the walk down from the mountain thinking about the things I’ve carried. Literally, I definitely carry too much food, especially for how not-hungry I am. I also probably carry too many comfort items – do I really need that many baby wipes? Those are things I’m willing to physically carry, because it behooves me to be clean.

Metaphorically, I’m wondering what i can take off my back. What no longer serves me to carry about? What is so heavy it prevents forward movement? What bundles can I finally lay to rest?

The great thing about walking in the woods for so long is that you have all the time to think. So I’ve got a few ideas. Im still ruminating on them.

Today I am grateful for modern plumbing and hot water heaters.

The Great 8: Days 1-5

Day 1 – 7ish miles

My alarm woke me at 0430 from a frantic dream full of whispered plans and adrenaline pumping anxiety. Not a good way to start your day, but nothing to do but tell my subconscious brain to take a chill pill. I had already packed the night before so after giving my kitties extra nubbins, me and my Dad head out into the inky pre-dawn.

My Dad was riding up to Mountain Crossings at Neels Gap with me so as to drive my truck back the 3.5 hours to Columbus. He got to nap for awhile until Atlanta traffic made me stop suddenly and swiftly.

We got to the gap and took a few pictures. My Dad even tagged a blaze so now he’s an AT hiker! I said goodbye and headed up and up and up the Appalachian trail towards Blood Mountain.

Finally! I was back on trail. And of course it was raining. But this, I didn’t mind so much. The canopy of leaves kept most of the water off my head, the breeze was cooling, and the foggy mist made everything seem like a dream. The car wash of shrubbery soaking my legs brought me back to earth though. But even that didn’t last long.

Soon I was up in the stinky Rhododendrons and the musty carpet of fallen foliage. I was happy for this smell, because it meant I wasn’t at work. I wasn’t toiling uselessly to uphold a system that doesn’t seem to care. I wasn’t trying to do my job helping people who in the end didn’t want help. I wasn’t watching people die from something that could have been prevented. I wasn’t being gaslit for my experience and knowledge. I wasn’t yelling at grown ass adults to keep their C-collar on (do you want to be paralyzed?) or traumatizing someone’s granny with straight caths. And definitely wasn’t holding in my pee for 12 hours. Welp that little “verbal vomit” came outta nowhere. Keeping it in.

I stopped about a mile in to inhale a Cliff bar and really take it the fact that I would be walking out in them hills for the next month and half. It still doesn’t feel quite real.

I knew what would really suck would be falling and hurting myself on the first day so I took the Freeman trail to bypass going over Blood Mountain. On a good dry day the trail on this mountain is precarious. I know because I’ve already been up and down it three times. I think it cut off a mile or so of the AT, but I’m not out here to “crush miles” or even walk every step of the AT or BMT. This isn’t that kind of trip.

I also didn’t bring my Canon, so I won’t be getting all the “artistic shots” and videos. I brought my phone and a little gimbal camera. And depending on how I feel afterwards may or may not fashion the footage into a video. This isn’t that kind of trip.

I got to Lance Creek pretty early around 1430. I could’ve pushed farther, but I factored this stop in when planning. I knew I’d be tired from driving and would want to end early. I set up my tent in the rain and laid out for a nap. It was a pretty good nap. I woke up, filtered some water, and ate some food. No one has come by, so I’ve got the place to myself. Another benefit of the rain: keeping the crowd down.

Today I am deeply grateful that I have the opportunity, means, and ability to walk this trail.

Day 2 – 8.2 miles

The day started out misty as the rain plopped down on my tent. I actually slept pretty well which is a first. I don’t usually sleep very well in the backcountry, always on alert for sticks breaking or I just can’t get comfortable.

I packed a wet and dirty tent (never fun) and made my way towards Preachers rock. The rain was mild so I didn’t get too wet and the mist curled through the trees creating a moody dreamy vibe. I spent the first part morning in a contemplative mood. There weren’t any views but there was pit toilet at Woody Gap that was well recieved. There was also cell signal so I conducted my very important business (posting on IG).

I scrambled up Ramrock mountain to get my very first real view on the trail. I sat there munching on cheese and met two day hikers, one of whom used to work at Memorial in Savannah. The very place I’d just left! A weird coincidence.

I continued on to Gooch Mountain Shelter (the Goooooch!) As I got closer the rain grew heavier and I actually started to get drenched. Out of nowhere I started laughing because this is exactly what I needed. I didn’t even stop to put on my jacket. I just moved through the pines and cedar laughing like a loon and letting the rain wash away my sweat.

By the time I actually made it to the shelter I was soaked, but happy. There was a couple from Atlanta that I chatted at. I say “at” because I don’t think I let them get a word in edgewise. Apparently two days by myself turns me chatty. Another couple of people showed up, one of whom is a Starbucks shift supervisor (my old job that I was recently contemplating wasn’t so bad). Another coincidence. I don’t know what those are about, maybe nothing; but this trip does feel a little serendipitous.

I’m made a corner in the shelter, so hopefully my stuff will dry out a little. Ha! Such wishful thinking.

We looked through the log book and some previous tenants of the shelter used it to keep score on a game of Rummy. Someone named Wizard had their own scoring system that seemed to consist of symbols, a robot, and of course a penis. This prompted a discussion on what the dick to currency conversion rate would be. The only person who had the necessary equipment to comment on this did not know. I don’t think he ever had to do the math. I guess we’ll never know.

Today I am deeply grateful for all the pretty spider webs with rain droplets on them.

Day 3 – 7.7 miles

I didn’t sleep very well. I never do in shelters. The floor is so unforgiving, even with an air mattress. The arm I’m laying on will go numb and then I have to flip which wakes me and everyone else up. But it’s the price you pay to stay dry.

The day started out misty but warm. The humidity is ramping up. I spent most the morning mindlessly thinking about life and things. Eventually that’ll stop (I hope) when I get tired of my own thoughts. I already have a separate post planned that goes more in depth on why I’m doing this. Because why not? There isn’t much to do but walk and think and breathe.

There were a lot of ups and downs. Everytime I made it to a gap, I knew there was a slog of a climb coming up. But I’m glad of it, because it gives me a real good work out.

I hustled it to Hawk Mt Shelter because despite the sun trying to peak out the weather report said rain was coming. This puts me 0.7 miles short of my goal for today. I don’t mind it. Gotta use these shelters while I can. The BMT doesn’t really have shelters. I think there are two. So its all tenting all the time.

There was a couple of people there at the shelter. One fella who was an former dentist from New Jersey was hauling one of those old fashioned external framed packs and he also had very strong opinions on Chanterelles.

I fell asleep (kinda) to the thrum of rain on the metal roof and the rifle fire in the distance. The Rangers were out doing night exercises? It reminded me of home.

Today I am deeply grateful for the little patches of sunlight in the afternoon.

Day 4 – 14.4 miles

Whooooweee what a day. It started out the usual. I could see a sunrise though the trees, but the clouds soon obscured all the color. I took off first and encountered a cranky hunter (I think?) a little up the trail. The reason I think he was a hunter is that he carried a hand gun and was wearing camo. He also didn’t follow the unwritten code of the trail to nod/say hello/grunt at passersby. Just dead eyed stared at me. Very creepy.

I beat tracks to Long Creek Falls where the noseeums ate me alive. But I was going to eat my Cliff bar by a pretty waterfall! After that it was a steady climb up to the Stover Creek Shelter. Incidently this is where I first received my trail name Compass back in 2018. All I did was help a dude back to the trail. My trail name story isn’t very interesting.

Following that stop it was more climbing and passing a bunch of day hikers. I tried to move to the side so they wouldn’t smell me. But I could certainly smell them! So fresh and like clean laundry! I’d forgotten how bad you can smell.

As I climbed Springer Mountain the wind and rain came rolling in so I skipped saying hi to the AT monument at the top. There really isn’t a great view on a good day let alone when it’s raining. The start of the BMT is 0.3 before Springer’s summit and it winds back down the other side of the mountain. It’s kind of unassuming a little sign, here’s the start. The BMT looks pretty much exactly like the AT just slightly more rugged. It crosses the AT a couple of times and even merges with it for awhile before splitting west.

There was a melodramatic view at Owen’s Overlook. I sat there for awhile letting the wind and mist buffer my face while I ate some cheese. The spot I had planned to camp didn’t look very appealing so I continued on. And on. And on. I just kept walking. The rain occasionally gusted through and the wind kept knocking more water on me. Finally i made it back to Three Forks where the mosquitos were awake and in business. I threw up a damp tent, dragged my dirty pack in along with a bunch of forest detritus, and snickered at the mosquitos flailing against the mesh.

Even though I managed 14.4 miles I didn’t feel all that hungry. Munching on M&Ms I rolled out my feet which were very unhappy. Changed into my jam-jams and now I’m writing this blog post.

Its funny, it still doesn’t feel real to me that I’m out here. Its like my brain is in limbo and waiting to see if this experience is going to last. My body remembers and is handling the changes oddly well, but my mind seems to have some trouble letting go.

I noticed that checking my social media is a bit distracting and made me feel icky. I was sitting on top of a mountain, originally checking my texts, and somehow ended up scrolling for about 10 minutes with no memory of what I looked at. It was like a I was hypnotized and felt like a betrayal to the trail experience. I wonder if I’ve gotten so used to social media approval that its absence makes real life seem unreal? Either way, it would seem this forced break with the internet is going to have some benefits.

Today I am deeply grateful for the emotional view at Owen’s Overlook.

Day 5 – 10ish miles

I slept well in the mosquito palace, despite having some intense dreams. Of course it started raining heavily as soon as I set off, drenching my clothes in minutes despite all the rain gear.

I waded past Long Creek Falls again and finally set off on the BMT as it heads west away from the AT. The rain was pulling a Forrest Gump. It came from above, sideways, and even below. The trail transformed into a slick clay slipn’slide and at some points (always uphill) was an acutal creek. It was really hard to be mindful and grateful when you are cold and wet. Also when everything you’ve got has been wet for days.

At some point, in a river of mud, I started internally yelling at myself for not being strong enough. I should be bad ass boss babe-ing this, no whiney complaints! You’ll dry off at some point, stop being such a pussy! I came upon an unnamed Bald (literally just listed as Bald on the waypoint). The driving rain eased up and the wind calmed. Another, kinder thought drifted through my mind, why can’t you ask for help?

I stood at that grassy bald underneath a slate gray sky and realized the rain was offering help, I just had to ask for it. Could I bluster my way through and tough it out Amazon style? Probably. Did I want to? Nope. And thats fine too. Luckily there was signal up there and I was able to get in touch with a derby friend who lived near(ish)by. AT was going to pick me up at the Toccoa River and let me stay with her overnight! I just had to get there.

The wind picked back up, but thankfully the precipitation was merely a drizzle. As I was descending one of the many PUDS I heard some odd stomping behind me. Thinking it was another hiker with a serious pace, I turned around to let them by, only to be scared shitless by a bedraggled Army dude in full gear and rifle come right up on me. He said Excuse me ma’am and ran down the hill. I was left wondering what that was all about…and ma’am?

On the other side of another mountain I saw either the same Army dude or another sad one coming towards me this time. I was hoping I wasn’t walking through some military training exercises…but why use a public hiking trail?

The wind burst through the trees on Wildcat Ridge and even knocked a heavy limb down right next to me. I took this as sign that getting off trail was the right decision. I hurried along the sodden trail and finally reached the swinging bridge at Toccoa River, which was frankly kind of terrifying. After that I met with AT, who drove me to her apartment. I ate some delicious pizza and took a glorious shower! We sat on her soft carpets and talked about life and STUFF and looked at all the pretty lights that she has (disco ball and galaxy light=win).

And now I get to sleep on a soft warm DRY bed. It was truly serendipitous that I found signal when I did and she answered my text so quickly. The universe gave me break.

Today I am truly and deeply grateful to have friends who are there when I need help.