3: Wapiti shelter to PearisburgĀ 

Slow Man and I were up with the sun, but thanks to daylight savings, that was a luxurious 7:30am. A quick breakfast, goodbyes to Slow Man, and I was on the trail for 19 miles. 
The first thing I had to face was an ascent. 2000ft over a mile and a half. That’s a little more steep than I’d generally prefer to see, but let’s be honest: in my condition, everything is steep and I don’t like any of it. 


I had to stop and eat. And drink some water. And whine to myself about how I just didn’t like it. I convinced myself to keep going by thinking about how good my legs would look. It’s like really terrible squats that never end, for like…9 hours. 
There’s a bit of a lack of pictures from today too. My hands were cold, ok? The kind of cold where the skin on your fingers burns and your lips won’t quite move when you try to talk. 
But I finally earned some views. 


And got some more rocks. For anyone hiking SOBO, you might think that the Pennsylvania rocks end in PA. WELL, obviously that’s not true. 


I was upset. 


Just kidding. I had a light pack, I was on a flat stretch, and I had enough battery to listen to a podcast. I flew over those rocks like a barefoot babysitter walking on Lego. 


I sat on the ledge at Pearis Ledges. 


I stood at Angels Rest. 

And then I cursed my way downhill for the next 4 miles, wondering how much longer it could POSSIBLY be until I got to my car. 


It was longer than I would have preferred. 


My legs were tired, my feet felt beat up, I was thirsty and hungry and severely dehydrated. I had a migraine threatening behind my eye. My hip bones were bruised from two pairs of thermals and a pair of shorts and the hip belt of my pack tightened as much as I could get it. My triceps ached from pulling myself up mountains and tiny little inconsequential hills that felt like mountains to me. 


But I finally saw my car, just across the bridge. And do you know? I almost didn’t walk over to it. I hesitated. I thought, “well, I could just walk through town and back real quick.” 


I didn’t. I still had a 5 hour drive back home, and I was sweating in the 50F day. But that hesitation, that longing to keep going even if just for a second…well, it helped me find myself again, I guess. I wasn’t missing some crappy guy. I was missing the trail and the version of me that I’d always been. 
Up on Pearis Ledges there had been a slack packer and two day hikers. We’d all chatted pleasantly, and as I’d hiked down, I’d surprised myself by thinking how glad I was to be alone again when meeting people. I wasn’t anyone’s girlfriend, just tagging along. I wasn’t an afterthought in introductions or taking a backseat in the conversation or cringing at whatever someone might say. 
It was nice, to hold my own presentation in my hands again, I guess. I don’t really know how to word that correctly. But I hope you know what I mean. 


This weekend I’m off to Las Vegas for a mechanical engineering conference. I’m not sure when my next trip will be, but I’m looking forward to it. And I’m glad of that. 
Miles: 19.3

Trip Total: 45.3
MVP: the first 2 miles of running down to pearisburg. Then it got old šŸ™‚

LVP: right foot

2: Jenny Knob to Wapiti Shelter

Late last night, probably around 9 or so, two NOBOs came in to the shelter. They were courteous about it, though, so I can’t fault them for it. Eventually we’ll all be the person coming in after dark. 
In the morning we introduced ourselves. They were Rock Bottom and Fruity Pants or Fruit Pants or something, from Boston and New Hampshire. They were nice. We chatted for a bit, and on the subject of Woods Hole hostel, I discovered that they’d run into SarTec and Butcher at some point. 


“He said he was the last SOBO, but there was another one like 100 yards behind him, so…” (that was Butcher behind SarTec, who wasn’t a sobo. Still, I took a perverse delight in SarTec being so discredited. Of course I told them the truth.)
I headed out around 8, unsure of my destination for the day. I passed Slow Man a few miles in. He mentioned that he was going to stop off at Trent’s for a hamburger. I said I didn’t think I’d stop there, but maybe I’d see him at Wapiti if I couldn’t make it to Doc’s Knob. 


Mostly the trail was fine. Mostly. I mean, I felt the uphills. I was tired and bored. I forgot my battery charger so I couldn’t listen to music or podcasts. 


Still bridges. 


When I got to the turnoff for Trent’s, I was hungry. So of course I went. 


I sat and waited for Slow Man. He was an hour or so behind me, so that made up my destination for me. That and I was tired. 


He sat down and we chatted for a bit, and then the man who was cooking sat down too. 
He opened by telling us that he didn’t believe in these transgendered folks. That was a choice. He stuck with that topic for a while, then meandered on to Black Lives Matter and Hillary Clinton, with a brief detour at Putin taking out a hit on somebody. 
Then we got into “this nation needs to go back to being Christian.” Well, I was a little tired of it all by then. 
“Which Christian?” I asked. “Catholics aren’t so good at it. Episcopalians seem ok, but then again, they’re good with the gays. Methodists are pretty different from Southern Baptist, so how do you pick? Maybe we go with Jehovahs Witness so that we don’t waste any more time on federal holidays and we just work every day. Puritans didn’t celebrate Christmas.”
He looked at me. “Well I’ve never heard of puritans. Are they still around?” 
The conversation veered into the Bible. Did you know that unicorns are mentioned 13 times in the Bible? “Maybe they meant rhinoceros,” I said. 
“Can’t be. It says a one horned animal.” 
“So…a rhino. Or maybe one of those Komodo dragons.” 
Another local had sat down and agreed vehemently with me. The cook was adamant that it was a unicorn. 
Slow Man and I thanked him for the food and left. Unicorns. 


The rest of the hike was pretty easy. Lots of rhododendrons and little bridges and streams. I couldn’t get that conversation out of my head though. Sometimes I think there is a translation error in society. He reads “one horned animal” and thinks UNICORN and sees no other possibility. Good if you’re a fantasy novelist. Bad if you’re a preservationist in Africa. 


Every sentence he said he looked at me with raised eyebrows, as if to say, “you see? There’s no other possible way to look at this. Logic and facts!” A sort of “aha!” With the eyes. But of course I didn’t see. I like separating church and government. And I don’t think the Bible meant unicorns, strictly speaking. 


I made it to the shelter just after 4. I set up my bed and did chores, and then waited for Slow Man. He came in an hour or two later. Some snacks and tea later, and now I’m snug in my bag and ready for sleep. 


My muscles are tired. My head is tired. My feet are tired. This feels good. 


I hope you can tell from this picture (and maybe I shouldn’t say anything) but this shelter was disassembled and moved from its original location. When it was put back together, some of the logs were put in upside down, so the graffiti is upside down. If you want to know WHY it was moved…google it. 

Miles: 14.5
MVP: cheeseburger 

LVP: unicorns 

9: out and back and trip thoughts

I Am and I went to bed in our bunk room in a good mood, both content with our lives. He lives in Asheville but there are ways our paths might cross and that would be neat. We didn’t exchange contact info and I’m not sure I even got his real name. I won’t ever forget him sitting down at the table and helping me plan out sections and figure out when I could do my own thru-hike, though. Or the rest of his life advice. 

We decided to both get up early. 
I woke up before my alarm and started moving. I was headed to Newfound Gap by 6am, saying my goodbyes to new friends. 

  
Once I got there, though, I didn’t really want to get started. That took a few minutes. The hiking was slow and I’ll go ahead and apologize for the lack of pictures. Here’s what happened: I hiked 11.4 miles into the smokies. I met a thruhiker from Alabama with whom I have a friend in common. I stopped for lunch, I talked to a ridge runner. I didn’t find my glasses. I searched even more slowly coming back out. I climbed up into every likely area. It was a huge pain. 

  
I ran into Ninja, Dr Love’s friend. That was a little awkward but nice. And then I ran into Kris (Chris?), the German woman from the other day. We talked for quite a while and when we parted ways I was kicking myself for not exchanging contact info with her. I did tell her to be on the lookout for I Am, because I thought they would enjoy each other. 

  
Late in the afternoon I ran into two men headed to the same shelter that she was at. I asked them to leave a note for I Am telling him not to bother with the glasses, that I couldn’t find them, and to give Kris my contact info and tell her just that I’d enjoyed talking to her and if she wanted to keep in touch or needed anything, that was how. 

  
They agreed. I was glad. 
At a certain point I knew I had passed the glasses point, so I started hoofing it back. I made it to newfound gap just as the sun was setting. I saw a man sitting alone and wondered if he needed a ride, but then recognized him as the father of a father-daughter pair dr love and I had met at spence field. I stopped to talk to him and learned his daughter had taken a wrong turn and was being brought to him by the Rangers, but he had to wait hours for her. I stood and chatted with him for a good bit, hoping I was helping him pass the time. He was a nice guy and his daughter was very capable, so I knew it would all be fine. It’s just waiting is hard. 

  
I was glad I did those 23 miles. I didn’t find what I was looking for, exactly. But I did find people I wanted to see again. And I think I found people who needed to be found at a certain moment. Ninja had thought I was Dr Love’s girlfriend, I think, so I was glad to correct that. 
The German woman sent me a text later saying she had just decided to get my contact info from I Am when my trail magic had arrived via the two men, so it was nice to know that she wanted to keep in touch as well. And that I was someone’s trail magic!
And I think I helped that dad feel a little less worried and alone while he waited for his daughter. Or at least I helped pass the time some. 
So maybe, when I wrote that I just didn’t feel like I was done hiking yet, I was right. There were things I needed to do. 
After Max Patch, I joked with my mom (a minister) that she should just keep in mind what all of this solo backpacking is doing for my relationship with God. And while I’m pretty flippant about religion and God and church in general, that part is becoming more and more true. Are there people and experiences brought into our lives when we need them? I mean, not like chess pieces. But maybe if we seek them out and listen to those compulsions, those “I should go back” voices, then we end up where we need to be. 
I did get what I needed to out of that day. I’m not done, though. There’s still more I need to do. (That means more trips, mom.)
I like the challenge of the big miles. I’ve never been athletic and I like having people assume I am (even ask if I do triathlons HA). I guess that’s something I’m looking for in myself- can I challenge myself physically and meet it? How far can I push myself? Can I get to 25 miles? 30? Could I do the 4 state challenge? (43 miles in a day.)
It’s mental too. There’s not a reason I have to make it to a particular shelter, really. I’ve just never fallen short of my mileage goal and I don’t want to break that streak. 
If only I applied myself to my studies like this. Maybe if dynamics of machinery involved more snickers. 
So I’m not saying I’ll avoid the trail. I Am asked if I was going to trail days and while I don’t think I’ll be doing that (it would take a pretty specific invitation from someone for me to go), I would like to do something for my birthday. Ponies, I think. I’ll have to see where the bubble is and plan accordingly. There is hiking in my near future. After the interactions I had on my last day, I think it’s clear that I need to keep hiking. Even after Max Patch and my chat with I Am. 
It turned out to be a good section, if not what I expected. I did smoke the smokies, like Carpenter said. I did 20 miles most days. I learned new recipes and I’m not a master at the alcohol stove but I’m getting there. I did 23 miles…twice. I still don’t really have a trail name (redstar just doesn’t feel right to me), but it’ll come. I feel more comfortable with my center of mass and how I balance going downhill. I feel more comfortable being out of breath going uphill. I work out the stiffness quicker and I push through it better when I walk. 
And my legs…well, they are something else. 

*****

   
    
    
    
    
  
   
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
 
  
Thank you all for joining me on this very *angsty* section hike. I love you all!! Xx

 

8: a zero in hot springs

I woke up this morning stiff and sore. Zeroes finally made sense to me. There was no way I could have hiked into the smokies to look for my glasses. 
I had a text from Julia, one of my very good friends from school, that she was at Fontana lodge, so dr love and I packed up (easy to do when you haven’t used your sleeping bag) and went down to the lobby to meet her. 
It was so good to see Julia again. I hated to put her out as our shuttle back to newfound gap, but I loved having the time to catch up with her and chat about school and professors and friends. Julia has gotten me through a lot of hard times and good times, and I’ve missed her since she graduated. 

  
We stopped at McDonalds in Cherokee. The cashier kept trying to ask me “for here or to go” and I kept trying to order more food. 

  
I ate all of it. That biscuit? That was Dr Loves and I didn’t eat the bottom because it had syrup on it. 

  
We got to Newfound Gap and Dr Love and I said goodbye to Julia. I will have to see her again soon. (Soon!!)

  
The drive up to hot springs was beautiful and quick. My car had again been invaded by mice, but this time I had tried to protect anything important, and I had succeeded. I just used some packing tape to clean the poop up out of the driver’s seat and said goodbye to Dr Love. 

  
I stopped at Laughing Heart Hostel to get the scoop on a bunk for the night, then headed in to town for the more indulgent side of my spring break. 

  
Hot Springs has to have hot springs, right? And if you know me, you know I love a good spa. So I went in search of the famous hot springs to see if I could get a massage and a soak. And boy did I. 

History nerds: this place started in 1778.

  
  
Here’s my view from my private tub. 

  
The tub attendant fetched me some water, so I got to hydrate my poor sunburnt face while I soaked and stared at the river and took in the smell of woods and leaves and wind and mineral water. I wrote some, and then I sat back and thought about why this trip seemed so unfulfilling. I’d set a new record for miles (22.9). I’d done the smokies in 4 days- that’s 76.9 miles (without counting the blue blazes). But I just didn’t feel good about this one. 
I feel strong. I feel capable. And I feel like I can do a whole lot more. And you know what? When I’m out there, with all of those NOBOs starting out? I feel like none of it matters. I’m “just a section hiker.” I’ve hiked everything they have, at this point. But it doesn’t really count, I guess. 
I think I’ll be avoiding the trail for a few months. After I find my glasses, I mean. I don’t know. Maybe it was hiking with Dr Love; maybe it was the Smokies. Maybe it’s just where my head is now. 
I know that I’m capable of doing things that are difficult. I may not always make the smartest choice at the end of the day (snickers and bed instead of cooking dinner) but I survive it all. And I may be just a section hiker, but I think I’m a pretty tough section hiker. But as soon as some thru-hiker says “oh section hiking! Now that’s the way to do it!” I just want to punch them in the face. It’s my only option! I’d be thru-hiking in 3 months if I had a choice! Don’t give me that crap.

 
Yesterday, hiking down to Fontana, dr love and I stopped for lunch in the sun. I unrolled my sleeping pad and laid out (for additional sun burning) and ate. And despite the fact that I couldn’t bend my right leg and had shooting pains in my left, and the back of my left heel was bruised, and I was basically out of food and just had a granola bar (which I split with Dr Love) and water and whatever Dr Love gave me (he was generous with food and, luckily, I don’t eat much), everything was perfect. I loved my stench. I loved the sun burning my face. I loved the pain I felt because I knew it meant I’d been hiking hard. I loved the miles I had left because I knew that meant it wasn’t over. We started walking again and it hurt, and I was slow to warm up my muscles, but what a feeling it was. 
Sitting in the hostel now (when I am writing this; it will be posted later), I wish I were hiking again. I know it will hurt tomorrow, to go up to wherever I left those stupid glasses and especially to come back down, but it will hurt even more to get in my car and leave. 
I don’t know when my next section will be. I have to go straight from school to work. I’d like to do something fun for my 30th birthday in May but I haven’t decided where and I don’t know…well, I just don’t know. It’s something I’m going to have to sort out my feelings on. And maybe give control of my bank account to someone in case I just pack up and start hiking and don’t come back until I get to Maine, just to prove that I can do it right now. 

   
  
*****

  
Do I look refreshed?

 
Those were my hot tub thoughts, I guess. After the spa, I went to the outfitter to poke around (nada) and then had lunch. I wanted a bacon cheeseburger. I ordered it. 

  
It took me 6 minutes to eat that entire burger. I ate all the fries, too. I wasn’t even particularly hungry, I just figured I’d eat. 

So after my soak and massage and burger and mill about town, I came back to the hostel. I had a bit of a cry in bed, frustrated about the fact that …well, just frustrated. I got up and went to join the other hikers in the next room, introducing myself as “just a section hiker.” 
Well, turns out they were all section hikers. No clue where the NOBOs are but they aren’t here. We watched a movie and ate some frankenstew they’d heard about from a hiker further up the trail (yes I ate more) but eventually I came back into the other bunk room and chatted with I Am. 

  
I Am thru-hiked back in 99, I think, and he’s out sectioning now. (And during that thru hike he stopped for a soak in the hot tub, so we bonded over our appreciation for mineral water soaks!) We talked about what he’s out looking for, and why I’m so frustrated with this section, and lots of other things. It was exactly what I needed. And what he needed. 
So I feel better. I Am helped me plan a few more sections (Harper’s ferry south for Christmas break) and was just the kind of connection I needed to make when I needed to make it. Not the food kind of trail magic you always hear about, but the people kind, I guess. 
I am a tough girl. And I am determined and focused. And each time I go out for a section, I become more focused and determined and comfortable with who I am. And I am not a totem or accessory, but my own person with my own hike. 

That’s for me to remember when I go back to reread this. 
*****

“And I don’t know if it’s the chili or your smile but something is warming my heart!” 

*****

One more day of hiking (big critter never found my glasses). But maybe I Am will find my glasses in the woods and it will be his birthday present, to do a kindness for someone else. Or maybe I will find them, and I will be self-sufficient but grateful for the love and support offered to me. 
Or maybe some bear is wearing them, happy his astigmatism has been corrected. 
My heart is filling up again, at the laughing heart hostel. 

  

7: spence field to Fontana dam

Last night was crap. Some idiot built spence field shelter in perhaps the windiest place on earth (and no one has installed wind turbines there!) and then they put a tarp up. Back and forth all night. 

And THEN the people next to me left out a full roll of toilet paper so some little mouse friend kept visiting me with toilet paper nests. Everyone woke up with toilet paper nests. 
Knees and hips hurt too. The good news is it was warm. I mean TOASTY. I had to take off my socks and my jacket and I would have taken off my bonus leggings but it was too difficult inside my sleeping bag nest. Still, what a treat to sleep with warm feet and no socks! 
It was a slow morning getting around. Dr Love made me his special breakfast– carnation instant breakfast, chocolate elation granola, and trail mix. With water. It sounds disgusting but holy crap was that good. 
I stretched for a while and we headed out around 9. The trail started off easy. Then it got hot. It got so hot I finally put on shorts and pulled back the mess of hair I’ve just been letting flop around in the wind. 

  
Stylish. 

  
Action shot of my muscular legs. Beast legs. 

  
Upon my throne 

We cruised for a while and then hit Doe Knob. There are NOT enough words in the English language for me to accurately describe my feelings about Doe Knob. Maybe if I added in German. Something angry and Anglo-Saxon. Every time you would think “ah! That must be the top!” HAHA NOPE. there’s more to come. 

  
 
Here’s a dead mouse (?) for my mom. 

  
Eventually we made it to the top and started going downhill though. And I do mean downhill. 

Oh! At one point I was ahead of Dr Love and I heard a noise on the trail. I looked up and there were all these deer just RIGHT THERE. they didn’t move either. When the wind blew they would look at me (a little offended, I think) but they just kept on eating. It was amazing. 

  
We stopped at Shuckstack Firetower. I’d promised Carpenter I would take pictures for him there. He’d missed it on his hike out of the smokies in December. I had a gorgeous day for it (except for the gnats and my smell). 

   
 
   
     

  

  

  
In my almost-an-engineer-in-training (so,basically my opinion counts for nothing except I have taken a lot of math classes) this Firetower is a death trap. 
We went down and down and down and down. And then, miles later, we hit the road. FONTANA DAM. 

 
 

  

Checking out my sunburn 
The middle of the dam was where my section ended. I’d walked out here during my last weekend section, so I had connected my dots.   

 
  
Dr Love, however, needed to get to the marina to finish his thru hike, so on we went for another 1.4 miles. That made today’s easy 17.6 miles into a total of 19.2 (if you count shuckstack). So, since my other “easy” day also added a .75 there and .75 back blue blaze to mt Cammerer, that made today one of my lower mileage days (not counting the 3 miles to deer park or 7 to standing bear). Pretty good for a lazy section hiker. 

  
We got to the marina and called for a shuttle. We went straight to the restaurant and I ate a ton of food. Then we showered and now I am typing this up to post in the morning. No word from big critter on my glasses, so I’ll have to make a decision on that soon. 

  
The bathroom at the dam was incredible. 

And there’s my official section done!  Wow this feels like an anticlimactic end. I don’t know that I’m ready to type up my feelings on this yet, so I think…you might be looking for some more blog posts on this section. Let’s not put this one in the books just yet. 

   
I am clean

Better than a thermarest   

6: mt Collins to spence field

I woke up this morning to the sound of Fresh Ground making fresh ground coffee. Seriously, he carries around beans and a grinder and a French press. I woke up and started writing the entry from the night before while he built up a fire in the shelter too. When I finished and actually got up, he made me a cup of coffee and we watched the sun rise up through the trees. It was beautiful and fun and perfect. 
   

  
 Everyone slowly woke up and ate breakfast, everyone getting a cup of coffee who wanted one. When I packed up my bag, Fresh Ground and Mustard both wanted to try out my pack to see how it felt. mustard had been carrying a huge old bag that weighed 60lbs and he was, according to Fresh Ground, ready to go ultralight. They were both impressed with the HMG Southwest. It’s a great bag for a 130lb 5’9 woman AND a 6′ tall muscular good ole boy from Georgia who can carry 60lbs easy. Fresh ground has neck problems and he was pleased with how it felt too. 

  
I can’t remember why I took this but here is my face. 

  
Dr Love and I headed out around 9. The trail started off nice. I think. To be honest, today is kind of a blur. We hit Clingman’s Dome, the highest point on the AT. We were the only people there and we had a gorgeous day for it. 

   
    
   
 We added an extra mile to our day when Dr Love thought we could get water at the visitors center. We could not. Half a mile down, half a mile back up. 
We kept going, stopping at shelters to warn people that there’d been norovirus at all of them. I had a lovely conversation with a German woman NOBOing. We talked about knee pain and languages, two things I know a lot about. 

Behind one shelter was a family of deer! Here is one of them. In case you’ve never seen a deer. Lol.   
It got hot. 

  

We got to the top of this huge mountain and this was all it had. 

  

My opinion. 

  

That’s crap, AT. 
We hit thunderhead mountain and rocky top at sunset. 

   
 There was night hiking and we got to the shelter. Dr love made dinner (it was incredibly good) and got water and even hung food bags while I was generally lazy. And now here I am writing this in bed. I’ll post tomorrow on our easy peasy 17.something miles down to Fontana Dam. For now, sleeeeeeeep because I’m so full of food. 

  
Night hiking makes me happy! Haha. Jk. But it kind of does. 

MVP: liptons side with garlic and salmon!

LVP: left knee? Dunno man. 
Ps: one of my favorite parts of hiking is horrifying my mother with stories. Just wanted that down for the record. Love you mom. Never gonna stop hiking. Never gonna stop texting you the word poop. ā¤

5: Tricorner knob to mt CollinsĀ 

I have a great pillow. It’s super light and you can inflate it to just the right pressure. I actually have two, due to the beneficence of my dad, so theoretically I could have one under my head and one between my poor exhausted legs (side sleeper). 
Unfortunately, I did not bring either pillow on this trip. 
In January, when I first met Gonzo, I gave him SUCH a hard time for his clothing pillow. He would arrange it just so and then cover it with a cotton scarf that he’d been given. It was lumpy and you couldn’t reposition it easily. I think I made fun of it every single night. 
And now, here I am with barely any extra clothing. The extra clothes that I do bring I intend to sleep in. So my extra clothes are…a rain jacket, a pair of shorts (that I brought to wear when I retape my knees or to wear over my extra leggings, because they’re thin and a little see through), and a rain jacket. I decided to make do with just the hood in my jacket so I could add my hat to the lumpy pile too. It would usually be at least one pair of socks, but the trail is so muddy and slushy that both pairs of my hiking socks have been soaked at the end of the day, so they’re always drying out. 
Anyways, all of that goes in my dry sack that I carry clothes and sleeping bags in. And I roll it up with a little extra air and use that as a pillow. One night I got to cover it with my down jacket because we had a fire and I was warm enough, but usually it’s just gross plastic on my face. What I wouldn’t give for a soft cotton scarf to cover my clothing pillow. 
So I’m sorry I ever made fun of your clothing/scarf pillow, Gonzo. It was way better than mine.

I woke up early with the section hikers sleeping next to me. I ate a pop tart, packed up quickly, and set out before the sun was even completely up. 

   
 
It was still slow going with the snow and I had a good 18.something miles to make, so I was glad for the time. 

  
I stopped for a picture at Eagle Rock, a place I’d stopped before with Stewart. 

  
And I went by Charlie’s bunion, another place I’d stopped with Stewart. 

 
I stopped to chat a lot. I ran into a group of section hikers out for a loop, all college guys. One of them even went to TTU and was a mechanical engineering major! None of them could believe I was doing the trip by myself or for as long as I was. At Charlie’s bunion, though, I chatted with some day hikers who were just getting in to backpacking. They were excited to meet someone who did section hikes and asked about food and shelters and all sorts of things. 

    
I also finally met a nice NOBO– Major Teepee. We talked for a while about the trail and standing bear and stoves. And I met another section hiker, Turkey Tracker, doing the smokies alone for her birthday. 
I got to the shelter around 6:15 to find Dr love already here with some college guys on spring break. All pretty cool. He had brought me cool ranch Doritos and chocolate, so that was very exciting. Later, 3 more (very cool) NOBOs showed up, so my distrust of NOBOs is unfounded. Big Critter, Fresh Ground, and Mustard were all highly entertaining and a lot of fun. 
I did leave another pair of glasses in the woods, but Big Critter is going to look for them and if he can’t find them then I’ll go back to newfound gap and search myself. I have a good idea of where they are but it’ll be easier to find while the snow is still there. I promised him a care package mailed to whatever town he wanted. “Hey, hikers have to take care of each other!” He said. 
Not a lot of pictures today. The trail was crowded with day hikers and honestly, the shelter last night had me in a foul mood in the morning. 
The afternoon improved considerably when I got to speed past the day hikers in my microspikes while they slipped in chacos and tennis shoes. The only downside was an outdoorsy bro and his girlfriend who would NOT let me pass them. He was trying to show off (he commented on my water filter when I was stopped for water at one point) but he was just being a jerk. His poor girlfriend was having a really rough time and he just refused to help her. 
I did get to tease an entire lacrosse team for being so slow to climb up the trail, which was great. 
Everyone smelled way too clean, even the lacrosse team who just got done playing two games, which is how I KNOW I smell awful. 
I passed a mom and daughter sitting on the side of the trail. “Now there goes a brave woman!” The mom said. I laughed, but what I wanted to say was that I never feel brave. I feel strong. Sometimes I feel ferocious. Sometimes I feel exhausted or scared. I definitely feel hungry. I feel lonely and frustrated and elated and triumphant and wracked with pain and cold. I feel happy and content and smug and all sorts of things that are good and bad. But I’ve never once felt brave. 
I think, maybe, if you’re doing something you’re compelled to do, it’s not really bravery. Or maybe bravery isn’t a feeling at all but a characteristic. Regardless, doing this, it doesn’t require bravery. It’s just walking for a while with stuff on your back. There are people all around me who will look out for me, like Dr Love and Carpenter and Big Critter. As Big Critter says, “a bad day on the trail is better than a good day out there.” 
I think he’s right. 
I’m writing this in the morning, actually, because I spent all night talking to Fresh Ground and Mustard and oh boy someone got up early and is starting a fire!! It’s Fresh Ground, that Saint. I’ve just found the motivation I needed to visit the privy in the snow. 
MVP: cool ranch Doritos

LVP: left knee. Left foot? Can’t decide. 
Ps: dr love knows carpenter. Small hiking world, huh?
PPS: mustard told a hilarious story about getting frozen to a privy once and I just want to make note of that for myself. I never want to forget that story in his good ole boy Georgia accent. Man last night was a good night. 

4: standing bear to Tricorner knob

I am sitting on a snowy log posting this. My butt is cold. I hope y’all appreciate the things I go through for you šŸ˜‰

Well I didn’t sleep great at standing bear. Maybe I just need to hike for 20 miles to sleep well. Haha wouldn’t that just be the thing. 
Anyways, I woke up and chatted with Gator and Drifter for a bit, then grabbed some food from the resupply (chips and an oatmeal cream pie. No cool ranch Doritos though). I settled up with lumpy and said goodbye.  

  
Lumpy and Gator in the bunkhouse
I’d freaked myself out last night about the climb into the smokies. I’d even texted Gonzo about it. Of course, he’d replied “ahh you’ve got this,” because, I guess, Gonzo either 1. Thinks everything is easy or 2. Thinks I’m capable of anything. But gator confirmed that it wouldn’t be that bad. And once I got started it seemed they were both right. 

  

   
Magic mailbox of goodies. 

     
     
Road walk

The weather was beautiful and I was cruising. Then I fell. 

  

    
  
I ran into a few section hikers and chatted for a bit. They were all guys and they all thought I was crazy for planning on going to Tricorner Knob today. One guy even asked if I was sure that’s where I was headed. Dude, I’m good at walking. I learned from the best. (Listen to how cocky I am now. One 23 mile day and I’m top dog lol.)

    

Davenport gap shelter. 
I ran into four college guys, two former boyscouts. They thought they were top notch backpackers…until they met me. “You look like you have half the stuff we have and you’re out for way longer!” “You’re going 18 miles today?!?” 

They had one friend who was just dead after 8 miles, so I told them that that’s how I was after my first trip….last July. That killed them. I had fun chatting with them and generally being a badass hiker who impressed the snot out of them AND hiked super fast (I said goodbye to them at a stream, then ran into them as I came back from the Mt Cammerer side trail, which is .75 miles). They were nice and you could tell that it kind of killed them that I could out backpack them. Thanks, Carpenter and Gonzo, for getting me to hike so far. And thanks, Cumberland Physical Therapy, for getting me to hike so fast. 

  
I finally met some NOBO thruhikers. One was Brent or Brettnor something. 

 
The other thruhiker was a woman. We chatted briefly. I asked her if she was going to stop at Standing Bear. She said she wasn’t sure; she’d read about it and didn’t know if she should and was it ok. And now here I was, a mere section hiker, qualified to give advice to a thruhiker! I told her she should. She did 12 miles in that crappy snow today so she’s doing fine. 
Anyways, here are some pictures. 
There was a lot of snow. It sucked. 

                            

Sorry these are out of order. It’s really a brain teaser for you. 

      
I got to the shelter about 7:15 and it was PACKED. no one was particularly friendly. There’s one NOBO thruhiker who I guess has done it before. He’s older and obnoxious. I had texted Dr Love that I was going to make friends whether they wanted to or not but I didn’t. I just ate and sat by the fire for a minute and now I’m writing this. I’m kind of emotionally drained. It was a day of very high highs and kind of low lows. 
I’ll see dr love tomorrow. I hope he has a little food for me, but I think I could get by if he doesn’t. 
Wait, can I just ask? Do NOBOs get any less obnoxious? Or are flip flops and SOBOs the only cool thruhikers?
MVP: microspikes

LVP: snow

3: groundhog creek to standing bear

I woke up this morning and…I was lazy. How lazy? I could reach my food bag from bed so I ate breakfast in bed. 
  
  
Then I was still lazy so I “let things dry” in the sun for a while. The dew point was crazy last night so everything WAS wet. That’s what I get for camping in a valley next to a creek. 

   
I also let my feet enjoy the sun and the slightly warmer temperatures. 

   
Eventually carpenter told me to get my butt in gear, and that a shower awaited me at Standing Bear, so I packed up and headed out. 

  

  
The first few miles were SLOW. What a slog. I sat down and finished my caffeine water and had a snack and then powered through. 

  
I enjoyed snowbird peak. 

  
I studied this broken hiking pole to determine what kind of material failure it experienced. 

  
(I do believe this was ductile failure.)
Ran into some section hikers and then a former thru hiker named Two Putt (just stay on par). I chatted with him for a bit, then walked on to standing bear. 
I was greeted by Lumpy, who gave me the nickel tour then invited me for a drink, since he’d been painting. I didn’t question his logic. We chatted over a slowly-sipped shot of bourbon, then I went back to the bunk house and petted Sylvester the cat before going for my shower. 

  
After a steaming hot shower, I chatted with Drifter and, eventually, Robyn. We talked about possums and walking and all sorts of things next to the giant wood heater. 

  
I’m now in the kitchen cooking a pizza. I’m chatting with Gator, who is friends with Carpenter and Gonzo, and Drifter, who does not know them but who is nice all the same. It’s nice to have connections with people. There is ostensibly wifi but I haven’t been able to connect, so I’ll have to hope I can post this some time tomorrow during my horrible intense climb into the smokies. Seriously. Look at this. I’m going all the way to the right in one day. Ugh. Do I hate myself? 

  
No. I love myself, and that’s why I give myself the present of exploration and adventure and challenge and blah blah blah. 
Here’s to warmer days soon!!

  
MVP: uhhh hot water
LVP: cool ranch Doritos because I don’t have any and I really want some. 

2: deer park to groundhog creek

Well I slept like crap last night. I might as well open with that because the rest of the entry is going to be overwhelmingly positive. There are nights and days when I am hiking that am I miserable, and last night was one of them. 

The shelter was junky. It was trashed and just…kind of crappy. There wasn’t much clearance between the floor and the sloped ceiling and every beam was covered with spider eggs. I kept waking up when things would drop into the sloped metal roof and sliiiiiiiide down. I thought it was some animal just trying to torture me. 

  
I woke up at 3 am to the ground covered in snow. By 6:30am, most of it was gone. I was still feeling lazy, however. 

  
I ate breakfast and packed up eventually, then headed out. 

  
The hike was beautiful. There were gorgeous old trees and creeks and huge rocks. The snow and ice made it even more striking. 

  
I only saw three people today. One man, who passed me right when I was leaving a HAPPY BIRTHDAY VOICEMAIL for Dr Anna Foust (happy 30th, my dearest friend!!) and so I didn’t speak to him. And a couple who sort of gave me directions when I got lost this afternoon. Mostly it was a lonely day. 

But that gave me lots of time to think. I think about all sorts of things, but today I was mostly thinking about friends. Anna, who has been such a good friend to me for so long. Other friends who have played in the snow with me, from the Blizzard of 93, to cross country skiing in the Alps. 

And new friends, whom I have met at school or hiking. It was nice to take out memories while I walked. 

And then I ate more breakfast. Everything gets squished so I get creative. 

  
Aftermath

  
I ate more

  
I took time to stretch

  
I took a load off

  
 
And I hid in a cave 

  
But out of the 23 miles I walked today (yes, 23!) my favorite was Max Patch. It might be one of the most important moments of my life. 

I started walking up

  
It was beautiful and clear. The mountains in the distance were snow capped and bathed in sun. 

  
There were markers leading up to the top. Clouds started rolling in and the snow was thicker on the ground. 

  
I got to the top and there was nothing. Not a marker, not a mountain. Just me and the snow and clouds. It was a vast emptiness and I swear if organ music had started playing at that moment I would not have been surprised. If a bush had started burning but not been consumed, I would have simply stood there. It was like another world, with me at the center. I turned circles with my arms outstretched and just took it all in. My moment of everything. I wanted to own every emotion at once. The world was mine and I was the world’s and here I was, standing at the center of it all. 

  
I kept walking 

  
  
And raced against the sun to make it to the shelter. I knew I would lose, but it’s a fun game. 

  
Lots of animals on the trail. This one stayed on for quite a while!

  
I made it to the shelter and set up bed, cooked dinner, and texted Gonzo and Carpenter that I’d made a 23 mile day. 

MVP: tortillas

LVP: the mouse that ran through my hair at 3am this morning.