Thursday, May 24, 2012
Every year, trail days hosts a hiker parade. Past hikers and current hikers unite to walk the city and be honored, or so I thought. Turns out it is tradition to bomb the hikers with water balloons, water guns, and garden hoses. I had no idea this was going to happen, and I spent the entire parade ducking for cover behind other hikers. They were even bombing us from the rooftops!
Geared up and ready, we got a late start back on the trail on Sunday. Combined with the car sickness from all the winding roads back to the trail, (remember, we aren't used to going more than 3 miles an hour) we only got about 4 miles that day.
For the next couple days, we hiked in rainy conditions through some pretty tough terrain. Yesterday, I think was the toughest part of the trail, physically, thus far. I'm not a great rock climber, and doing it with a 35 pound monster(aka backpack) on my back. There was some serious maneuvering going on. Hiking poles tossed aside, needing both hands to hold on, I was just praying not to end up in the emergency room.
One mile before our destination, we came to a parking lot where we knew we had some trail magic waiting. Our friend, "walk and eat" had his parents visiting on the trail for a few days. They had an RV and were cooking hikers breakfast and dinner every day. The night before, they felt bad that they didn't have vegetarian cuisine for me and cheeks. Yesterday, we were surprised with veggie dogs. Those were the best three veggie dogs and Dr pepper I have ever had! There's no magic like veggie dog magic. I got up the next mile with ease after the nice dinner break. I had good company at the shelter. A couple wise guy section hikers had heard of my bear encounter and had all sorts of new trail names for me. They settled on "her hieness, queen of the bear wrestlers". Luckily, I am able to laugh about the story now. Speaking of bears, I finally got to see one. Two days ago, I saw a bear about 50 yards away. Luckily, this one was running away from me, like it's suppose to. It made the whole bear thing a little less scary, and it was actually pretty cute.
Today, we made it to McAfee knob, which is a famous part of the trail for the view. I have been sitting here for 2 hours now, waiting for the clouds to lift. I would love to get a clearer look at the view, but for now, here I sit.
Wednesday, May 16, 2012
As I hiked to the Woods Hole Hostel, rain pouring on me from what it seemed every direction, my wet clothing clinging to my frame, my feet slosh in my wet boots as I walk through a river which this section of trail has become. One word comes to mind. ADVERSITY. This word seems to play a theme for the last week of hiking. This trail is very difficult. Even when it's easy, it is difficult, it seems. There are a lot of conditions that make each days hike more or less difficult. We deal with weather, steep climbs and descents, slippery, wet terrain, sharp rocks, unsteady rocks, ankle rolling, knee jarring rocks, biting flies, mosquitoes, ticks, poisonous plants, curious animals, and so on. Someone (actually a lot of people) told me, "as soon as you get out of Georgia, the trail gets so much easier. It really didn't. It had some different elements, some easier, some more difficult. I also heard the same thing about Virginia. I am going to tell you now, the trail never gets easy. We have walked through several fields and pastures since we got to Virginia. Yes, these hill aren't as steep, but guess what? It still offers up some other aspects. Poison ivy and oak are everywhere! In the woods, the trail is a little better defined, in a field, the grass is longer, and so is the poison living in it. I am very cautious with where I step, but still have managed to get itchy poison spots on my foot, hand, leg, and get this...rear end! It's not much different than dealing with the dozens of itchy bug bites I have though.
The rainy, gloomy weather seems to get me down while hiking. Though staying on the trail is still a huge physical battle, it seems to be turning into quite the mental battle too. Some days, I think to myself, "gosh, this is really miserable. Do I really want to continue?", and then I think of the places I haven't seen yet that are in close reach. Then I think, "okay, that's my next goal, then I will reassess how I feel" seems there is always something else within reach... I better keep hiking.
Last week, I had one day in particular that really made me question staying on the trail. It was a nice morning, and we started hiking around 7:30. The guide book made it look like a pretty easy day with the exception of one really long climb. The climb was within the first 9 miles, so we decided we could handle a 19 mile day. The climb went by fairly quickly, and we had a nice lunch break atop Chestnut Knob. The remainder of the day appeared easy, when looking at the guidebook. It was not. A series of short, steep up/downs full of rocks we had to scramble over for 10 miles. It was after 6 o'clock when we arrived at Jenkins shelter, our destination. I was exhausted! My knees and ankles were hurting from pivoting and balancing over rocks for 5 hours. I had good company at camp. Chronic, Juggler, and I tented, and Subway, Scooter, and Aimster were in hammocks. Voltron kept going because he needed to get to town early the next day. We had dinner, and enjoyed some roasted marshmallows before bed. I was awoken just before midnight. My tent was collapsed on top of me, I was startled, and confused. Did a branch just fall on me? It took me a moment to come to consciousness and start to move. I fumbled to unzip myself from my mummy bag so I could move my arms. Then suddenly, my tent pops back up, and there is no longer any weight on top of me. Still confused at what had just happened, I hear something walking by my tent. I had a hard time finding my head lamp as it had been nocked out of the pocket I keep it in, on the side of my tent. I finally find it, unzip my tent, and lean out for a look. It is so dark outside. I can't see anything, but hear steps still behind my tent, where my light does not reach. I zip my tent up again and wonder what to do. Soon, I hear a loud thud and a holler from where Subway is. "are you okay?", I say. No answer. By now, I see that everyone else is flashing around their lights too. Juggler is nearest to me, and he has a tarp tent that he can see under. I ask him if he saw an animal, but he didn't. He heard something walking for quite some time though. Finally, Chronic pipes up and said, "it was a bear! He slashed right through my tent!" (I'm leaving out a few explicits here. Let's just say he wanted the bear to come back so he could teach it a lesson). Okay, so here is where my panic sets in. I just had a bear on top of me! Why would it do that? I still don't know why. He slashed Chronic's tent first, and Chronic thinks when he yelled at it, he sent it running my way. Then, it headed to Subways hammock, where it swiped at his backpack which was hanging on the end. Turns out he didn't answer me when I asked if he was okay, because the bear was standing right next to him. Once we all were awake and talking, the bear went away. Luckily it never came back. Chronic, Juggles, and I all got out of our tents and huddled close together in the shelter for what would be a sleepless night for me.
In the morning, I examined Chronic's tent and cringed at the three slash marks. It wasn't a small paw that made those marks. Then I went to my tent. I realized then that my tent was slashed as well. My rain fly is ruined, but my tent body, and more importantly, my physical body is unharmed. All of us are unharmed.
We still don't understand exactly why the bear did what he did. By all records and studies, black bears stay away from people. We didn't have food in our tents. Our food bags were hung in trees, and the bear made no attempt at them.
I keep telling myself that if the bear intended on hurting me, I would be hurt. However, it did hurt my spirit. I can't say that I have felt much comfort at night in the woods since then. I contemplated leaving the trail, but was given some good advise to "get back on the horse", so that a fear would not fester in my mind. The news of the event spread quickly, and the other hikers have been very supportive and caring. Needless to say, it was too dark, and I am still yet to SEE a bear. However, my desire to see one has quickly dwindled.
Tonight, I am spending my second night at Woods Hole hostel. It has been the perfect place for me to be right now. Today, I enjoyed a wonderful massage after breakfast (which I helped prepare the night before. I now know how to make creme brûlée French toast), yoga in the afternoon, and meditation after dinner (which I also helped prepare). Tomorrow I will head back on the trail. I have some anxiety about it, but I'm going to give it a shot. After two days hiking, I am getting off the trail with a bunch of fellow hikers for a couple days. I am joining a group who has rented a car and a house in Damascus for the trail days celebration. This is convenient, because a rep from Big Agnes (my tent manufacturer) will be there with a new rain fly for me. They will also be able to repair my tent poles that got slightly bent. it's a good time for me to take a break from the trail and get my head back into a good place.
By the time I post this, I will already be on trail. I don't have service at the hostel, so it will have to wait until I can phone my parents for a little per warning.
Sorry for the unpleasant post, I know it will worry some people I love. To make up for it, here is a photo of the massage/meditation room in the hostel
Friday, May 11, 2012
Usually, I would be out by the shelter or picnic table to socialize with the other hikers, but I wanted to make sure to stay warm before temps drop. I was reading a book on my kindle, but Subway inspired me to write a quick post. I had heard of his name, and he had been following just a day or two behind me for quite some time, he said. Each shelter has a journal that hikers can leave a quick note, thought, or message. That is how he knew he had been on my tracks. We didn't talk long when we met, I was in my tent, but had my vestibule open still, and could see who was coming in to camp. The brief interaction we had, made us instant hiking friends, thus the trip to my tent to offer a cookie gift. This may sound weird to those reading this, but this is exactly what it is like to hike the AT. I, "Passionflower", am a hiker along with "Subway", "Voltron", "Chronic Fatigue Syndrome", "Hopalong", "Wanderer", and anyone else who gets into camp late. We all have a goal in mind. We want to enjoy hiking the AT. We are all part of an instant family. We care about each other, help each other, share food, share motel rooms, discuss political issues, make fun of each other, and hope each other makes it to their goals. People wonder if I am alone out here. I am not.
In addition to the hikers, there are the trail angels. These people give us rides, feed us, and cheer us on. A couple days ago, we met a hiker who was finishing his trip the next day. There was also another hiker who was finishing his section hike the next day, but going in the opposite direction. Turns out they were both going to Nashville when done. Ken was going to take a bus home. Bob had a car. They had just met, and Bob instantly offered to pick Ken up at his hiking destination, and take him home to Nashville. Turns out, me and several other hikers were going to be at the pick up destination also, around lunch time. Bob, being the trail angel he is, showed up with a pizza for each hiker, and picked up Bob to take him home. He wouldn't accept payment, just said to "pay it forward". We did, as we shared the bounty with others who came through.
A few miles later, we came across a couple coolers left by a Christian group. One had sodas and the other had peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Second lunch!! Score!
The generosity, kindness, and sense of community from the people among and around the trail are amazing. Not that there isn't that odd person that you might steer clear of, but for the most part the trail is full of "cookie gifting" individuals like Subway.
As a side note, we passed the mile today that means we have hiked over 25% of the trail. Woohoo!! There might be a celebration dance video coming soon....
Miles hiked: 556.1
Miles to go: 1628.1
Also, I had my first fall. I haven't met anyone else who hasn't fallen yet. I almost made it 500 miles. I fell at mile 497. Blarney!! No injuries, just got a little muddy.
Thursday, May 3, 2012
Tonight, I am staying at the Hikers Inn in Damascus. There are rooms in the home (kind of like a B&B, without the breakfast), and there is a hostel in a building behind the home. It's really nice. The bunkhouse has two bunk beds, and there is a separate private room with a queen bed. I am in the private room. As the trail goes on, I have noticed there are fewer woman still hiking. There are also fewer gentlemen...just mostly males, old and young, who have lost their manners. This is why I try to snag the private rooms! Hiking the AT has become a lot like what I think it would be like to live in a southern college frat house. Oh, the smells!! The hikers with some manners left tend to gravitate to the more expensive lodging (my room is $35. That is considered pricey for a hostel). For instance, last week I stayed at the Kincora hostel. Bob Peoples is the man who runs that place. He is a master trail man, and works a lot on the trail, including miles of re-routes. He is an amazing man who actually reminds me of Elmer Fudd. His hostel is a $5 suggested donation. With that price, you can expect to be bunking with some interesting fellas. It also doesn't bring in any income to keep the place very clean. The saving grace there is that no alcohol is aloud, so the rowdy crowd stays away. After a night there, I stayed in the Black Bear Resort to take my day off. It was a very basic hostel, but the cleanliness made a huge difference. It was $10. They also rent cabins for $50, and I hear they are nice.
A lot of people wonder about the hostels, so I hopes little explanations help. I really love getting to see all the different hostels I have. Even the not so cozy ones have given me great memories. I will never forget the Aquone cabin hostel! Most cozy ever!
Here is a picture of "chronic fatigue syndrome" I asked if he was opening a candy store...but he was just getting his next few days of food ready to hike. Hahaha!
I also want to mention how great-full I am of my friends and family who give me so much support while I am here. I lean on my friends a lot, and they are truly angels.
To celebrate my third state, I think I will just start posting a bunch of pictures for you all until Chris gets out of yoga and calls me :) enjoy!
Tuesday, May 1, 2012
Have you ever heard a whippoorwill? Well, it has a cute little chirp, until you realize it likes to chirp at night...really loud. I was trying to sleep when one decided to do its chirpy business right in our camp. Earplugs went in!
A couple hours later, about a quarter to midnight, I had another visitor. A squirrel jumped right on my tent, and did a funny little dance, and then slid off my vestibule and ran away. It startled me awake, but turns out it may have been a good samaritan squirrel trying to tell me something. At that very moment, I heard Voltron say from his tent, "Lori, are you messing with the food bags?" As I told him no, I heard the noise he was hearing. Out come the earplugs, and I was definitely hearing some loud tree cracking noises.
There was a bear trying to steal our food bags which we had so carefully hung in a tree to keep him from stealing. How rude!
In the time that I debated on what to do, and had my tent zipper partly open, Voltron jumped out and started yelling. neither of us saw for sure, but the amount of noise it made running away, and all the grunting, I'm not so sure it wasn't more than one bear. Thanks to Voltron, our food was saved. The bear had broken the branch, a couple more tugs and it would have fallen down. The bear, or bears, never came back to our camp, but turns out after our camp, at least 2 other campsites were robbed. One guy had a bear eating spilled food right outside his tent, and two other guys lost their food bags which were also hung. I didn't sleep much the rest of the night!
So there you go. My first real bear adventure, but I am STILL yet to see a bear!