Daily Archives: March 25, 2013

Day 19: The NOC! Huge!

So. I appear ro be on the zero-to-zero plan. That crazy cold snap that’s terrorizing the east dumped about six inches of snow on the mountains. I was originally planning to hike through the Nantahala Outdoor Center (NOC), since I just stayed at the Aquone, but now I’m looking at a safety issue. The next three nights are going to be in the upper teens. More snow is coming tonight. And after this it’s two days to the freaking Smokies, which I’ve been dreading for six months. I need to get there with dry gear. So here I am, snowed in at the NOC for two nights. I’m in the bunkhouse. Ironically, after last night’s bout of loneliness, tonight I’m hoping to have the bunkroom to myself. So far so good!

Oh! Before I forget! Socks’s husband Dreamer is recording the hike for his Michigan paper. At least, I think it’s for the paper. Socks is writing articles along the way. But anyway, Dreamer recorded videos at the Aquone. If you want to see me frolicking, you can google his blog. It’s TNT on the Trail, I believe.

Ramblin Rex is here. So is the Postman. The Aquone folks were here a bit ago, but they’ve passed me now. As usual. 🙂 Also, I spotted Quaker when I went for my shower.

Anyway, the walking was tough today. Oh! The Aquonites are slackpacking, so in an act of supreme kindness, they took my package to mail it for me so I wouldn’t have to carry it over the mountain! My pack is lighter, but today’s miles were hard won.

I fell. A lot. The ground was icy and treacherous under the snow. My feet kept slipping out from under me. Twice, though, I fell hard. Once I landed on my butt on the snowy rocks and slid six or eight feet as though I were on a sliding board. That one was funny. The second one, not so much. My pole came down on a wet root and I fell right over the edge of the trail. I tumbled in leaves and snow for about ten feet until the trees and underbrush caught me. My poles and my legs tangled together. I’m so thankful I didn’t break a pole!

That’s when I decided to stay here the extra night. Nineteen bucks well spent. I seem to be fine—maybe a little sore around the ankles—but that spill really shook me up. All it takes is one unlucky step to end a hike.

And that’s it! I ate a Snickers and a Milky Way for dinner. I may be the first thru-hiker ever to come home fatter than when she left.

But… the NOC! What a huge milestone! More on that tomorrow.





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Day 18: Wiggy

At the Aquone Hostel. Maggie cooks dinner for about nine bucks and breakfast for about four. She’s a magnificent cook. Seriously. Last night we had pork chops, cabbage, mashed potatoes, and an English custard and cake (which my mom used to make once in a while, her people being English). Breakfast was giant waffles, strawberries, cantaloupe, bananas. Even if I weren’t hiking, I’d have been in heaven. Tonight is meatloaf.

I asked Steve (Wiggy, 2010) for advice. He had a lot of it, all of it excellent! I can’t really summarize it into a line or two, so I’ll try to paraphrase what I remember. Wiggy says:

It’s all mental. All of it. General knee pain, physical discomfort… when those drive people off the trail (short of an actual injury), it’s mental.

Surround yourself with positive people. If someone is continuously negative, get away from that person; they’ll drag your mind to the negative, and you might lose the mental game.

As soon as you can, stop being boxed in by the shelters and the trail guide. By a thousand miles, you’ll be a professional: You’ll drink when you find water, you’ll camp when you’re tired, and you won’t be afraid anymore that if you miss a meal you’ll die. You’ll be out of camp qiickly, and you’ll just walk.

Stay happy. Listen to music, drink your hot chocolate… whatever you need to do. Enjoy.

If you want to see animals, get on the trail by 6 AM. If you wait until 10, you’ll only see hikers. The animals are long gone into the woods.

The mountains have been there for a billion years. You, walking through, are a blink. You’ll never, ever change the mountain—so find a way to enjoy it no matter the conditions. If it’s uphill, find a way to make it fun. Downhill? Find a way to make it fun. Snow, sleet, rain, cold? Make it fun

Wiggy is wise. 🙂

I think it’s fairly obvious that I’ve had a rough start. There are things I didn’t anticipate that have completely blindsided me. The cold, sure. The altitude. The fact that my short stride makes me one of the slowest hikers out here, when at home I’m fast.

But the worst is that this is so lonely! I somehow expected that I’d hook up with people right away. And I did—but they’re long gone. The people here at Aquilone are couples. And their chatter is all about hikers I’ve never met. The solitude is relentless; everybody passes me, and the next batch of people are their own bubble, one that I haven’t been part of.

But I get it now. That may simply be the nature of my hike: to walk it in quiet solitude. I think I’ve been fighting the mountain. The lighter pack will help. I’m sending 3 or 4 pounds home from the NOC tomorrow (and I’ve sent so much stuff home already that it’s hard to believe I could reduce by that much). When spring comes, warm green weather… that will help, too. I’m not a winter person!

The rest of this week will be cold with snow showers and rain. Nights in the 20s until Thursday, then up into the Smokies. I have a feeling that spring will come in the Smokies.

Oh, and I had an epiphany about this tent issue, which has now driven me into town twice. The tent is three parts: footprint, fly, tent. Sometimes the tent is relatively dry. After a rain, the fly is always soaked. But in my haste to pack up, I’ve been jamming all three pieces into the outside pouch of the pack. Result? By the end of the day, the fly has saturated all the other pieces and the. backpack as well. That sets me up for one of those horrible nights.

I’m going to try this: I’ll pack the three pieces into ziplocks—not to keep them dry, but to keep thhem separated from one another and from the pack. If the sun comes out for a half hour, I’ll dry the tent, then the footprint. Then the saturated fly won’t keep soaking the rest.

Adapt, adapt, adapt.

I feel great. I think I’ll start my hike over tomorrow. The trail will show me how. 🙂

Edited to add: Two new hikers arrived this afternoon: PopPop and Blackhawk Bob, who started the day after I did. PopPop hiked the trail in 2001. He said, randomly during the course of a conversation, ‘It’s hard to make friends this early. People are still dropping out and finding their pace. But later in the hike, the friends you’ll meet… we’re still having reunions.’

So there it is. Every question brings an answer out here.

Wiggy and Maggie:






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Day 17: Meltdown! And a surprise!

In the middle of the night, it started to pour—icy rain that was only a degree or two from snow. Wayah Bald Shelter clings to a hillside; the few relatively flat spaces for tenting aren’t flat at all. And for the first time, I managed to pitch my tent sloping both to the bottom and to the side. I spent all night trying to keep myself from rolling to the right and soaking my down quilt.

I woke up with three inches of water in the bottom corner. In the deep mud, two of my tent stakes had pulled out, and the fly had emptied into the tent Disaster. Not only was the tent soaked again, but again there was rain predicted all day and all the next night, with low temperatures in the twenties.

My first plan was to go a short five miles then claim a space in the actual shelter, and spread the tent (and everything else) out to dry. But as I marched, I just started to cry. A big huge ugly cry. That stuff was saturated; no way was it going to dry. I remembered that last icy night with a wet tent, and I was overwhelmed with the logistics of the upcoming Smokies leg (the resupply issues, the mandatory 15-mile days, the weather extremes and probable snow), and my pack was too frigging heavy.

I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t trudge up any more mountains. But there’s no other choice out here. You have to walk. You have to. There’s nobody to call (short of 911), no road, no taxi. Even if it hurts, there’s no choice but to walk.

So I walked and cried and discussed it with the trail, asking for some wisdom or clarity with regard to the best possible decision.

And I remembered a new hostel that had opened. I had their phone number. I checked my notes. They had a pickup point in four miles.

So here I am, in the Aquone Hostel. And this is a magical place! More like a high-end hotel than a hostel. Maggie and thru-hiker Wiggy, from England, built this amazing house themselves. I’m here with another group of hikers in their fifties, two married couples and one woman whose husband and children are at home. Socks I met before; she’s the hiker with the torn meniscus who underwent serious medical treatment in Franklin. That whole group is slackpacking this leg, thanks to Wiggy. Although they didn’t know each other, coincidentally they’re all from Michigan.

This isn’t a rout, like Hiawassee was; it’s more of a controlled retreat. I got nine miles today. Tomorrow I’ll work through that Smokies schedule and nail down the terrifying resupply issues and mileage. I’ll get the pack dry (everything in the tent absorbed that bathtub full of ice water; I wouldn’t be surprised if my pack was 40 pounds today).

Aaannddd… it’s time for the come-to-Jesus meeting with my pack. I’m sending everything home. Everything. Half my toothbrush. My underwear. My shorts. The second half of my trail guide. My camera ( I’ll use the phone). It all goes home at the NOC in two days. I’m chucking the tissues, the baby wipes, all but a few drops of liquid soap—literally every spare gram that doesn’t involve safety.

There are a lot of new friends here, with starting dates ranging from the first through the fourteenth. I wish I were making better time. Coming to grips with my inner Lord of the Flies will help. Also, we talked gait last night, and Slow-but-Sure told us she figured out a way to double her pace on the grueling uphills. She’s pushing off more with her back leg. Brilliant! I think I’ve been more or less exclusively pulling myself uphill with my poles and the front leg. I can’t wait to get out there and try what she demonstrated. Makes me wonder if I can figure something out for the rough downhills, too.

Ironically, here in the Taj Majal of hostels, there is no internet (they have a computer for guests to use to check email and such). 🙂

My advice? Skip the NOC and stay at Aquone. They even have a small resupply area. Wiggy’s done it; he knows what we need.

In the photos, the lone guy in the rain is Quaker from Pittsburgh. On the couch are some of the Aquone gang: Blackhawk Bob, who’s traveling with a humidor; Spow-but-Sure; PopPop; Bud; and Marky, who felt like a long-lost sister.





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