2: Laurel fork shelter to a campsite near 19E

I woke up several times in the night, and had very choice words for whatever animal was living underneath the shelter. Nothing seemed to scare it off, not even flash photography. I do have several pictures of the bottom of the shelter if anyone is interested, though. 

I got started around 7:30, and it was a rough start. Luckily, the trail rewarded me with some incredibly beautiful scenery and some very interesting blazes. I know I must say that each section is the most beautiful one yet, but this one truly is gorgeous. 

The trail also gave me endless rock steps, though. Eye roll. Gooood morning lindsey. Who’s the unstoppable force now?

But then I got here. 

And then I got endless rock stairs, part 2. Not cold anymore! Now drenched in sweat. 

This morning, the trail felt like I was in a Disney film, honestly. The path was wide and the sun was filtering through the trees. There were flowers on the bushes and trees and birds around me. Rocks and moss gave everything texture. It was hard not to be happy. 

The water crossings reminded me of my very first backpacking trip with Stewart in the 3 Gorges section of the Cumberland Trail. My big mile day that trip was 8 miles and I thought I was going to die. Look at me now. That was in July. It hasn’t even been a year. 

Hiker hunger has hit, hard, but I have too many miles and the elevation profile isn’t as generous today. It’s a “to go” sort of day. 

This cabin was next to a pond with a loquacious bullfrog. 

Another burnt out section. I kept trying to snack but everything tastes like ashtray. 

The cropped picture

The real picture

Found a bench. Sat for 10 seconds. My European buddy Maxipede caught up. We’ve been leapfrogging each other the past two days. He’s doing Harper’s Ferry south, I think. He’s done everything north. Good sort. He took my picture today. 

View from the bench


Here’s a cemetery. I would say “it me” except this was mile…24 and I was hurting too much to be dead. 

And yet again, I was rewarded with incredible views right when I thought I couldn’t make it. I had blisters on my blisters, my muscles were aching, I was making insane bargains with myself and fantasizing about eating an entire pizza…and then this. 

You know, you’re in these dark and shady woods, and up ahead you start to see a little more light filtering through. It’s a sudden thing, really. The woods just…end. It’s really great when you’re listening to T-Swift’s “Out of the Woods” when you break out into a meadow or onto a grassy bald, and the smell of the grass hits you (it’s sweet now, like hay) and the sun is out and even with the wind you just feel…lighter. I love the woods, too, the dark shadows and the filtered light and the birds darting around, but I think it’s the contrast. And hitting this one at magic hour, with the light turning golden and pink, it was just perfect. 

I made it 27 miles. I hit a campsite with a few guys and ate…some things that are perhaps not quite considered dinner. I bear bagged ON THE FIRST TRY* and tomorrow I’ll have 20.5 miles to go. 

I’ve already popped 4 blisters tonight. This won’t get posted until tomorrow or Monday. 

MVP: I’m not much of a music person, but my “lady jams” playlist (Miley Cyrus “Bangerz”, Haim, Grace Potter’s solo album) really got me through today. And Grace Potter was the cause of the unfortunate hike-dance injury. 
LVP: that ashtray taste. 
* my bear bag rope is reflective, so even though I was camped across a bridge from the guys and it was dark, they could very easily see what I was doing when I went off to hang my food. I picked out my branch, tied a rock to my rope, and psyched myself up. “Ok, lindsey. Let’s do this. Don’t look like an idiot section hiker. Think about hyperbolas. You’re good at calculus. You’ve totally got this.” One, two, three, four swings, I let loose, and that rock swung up and over the branch EXACTLY where I wanted it. I looked so freaking smooth. 

For the record, they hung their food on a line strung between two trees and they acknowledged that it was too low. 

3: 19E campsite to Hughes Gap

I told myself that I would wake up early and just GET. GOING. And that would give me plenty of time to cover my 20 miles and get to food quicker, and then back to Augusta so I could get some good sleep before I had to leave for work at 5:45am Monday. 

But sleeping on the ground is actually pretty comfortable. It’s definitely better than a shelter, it’s just shelters are more convenient. And so when I woke up at 4:30 (I’m pretty good at internal alarms), I decided on 30 more minutes. And at 5am I said the same thing. It was cold! And at 5:30, I decided to hold child’s pose for…30 minutes. And finally, at 6:30…ish, I started walking. I didn’t trust the creek water (too close to the road, too much runoff) so I hiked half a mile before I stopped for water. This is the tent site I’d sort of meant to stay at, but when I’d seen the other one with people still up and plenty of room (AND a fire going, although not a good fire) just half a mile short, I figured I’d stop early. And good thing, too. For one, it was packed. And for two, look at this pitiful bear hang. (For the record, it should be 15 feet high and 4 feet from the tree trunk.)

Then up and up and up to Doll Flats for breakfast….and 5 hour energy. That thing really did work magic. Thanks for the tip, Carpenter! 

Also, sometimes I just shouldn’t check the elevation profile. 

And wouldn’t you know it, that was the final North Carolina state line. If my sections had made any sense, I would either be entering or leaving North Carolina for the first or last time. But I knew what it meant. I was 18 miles from finishing my second state. 

There were lots of rocks. 

It was still pretty. 

I accessorized with my sunglasses neck strap thingie. I needed a headband; I didn’t have a headband; I made a headband. Voila. 

I was cold all morning, and eventually I was up far enough that I started seeing frost flowers (are these frost flowers? I’ve been calling them that since January). 

I started hitting the balds. There’s hump mountain, little hump, grassy bald, Jane bald, and …maybe another one. I’d have to check. It was FREEZING. Look, there’s even frost on the grass. The wind was so strong and relentless it would catch my sleeping pad like a kite and try to spin me around. Not like I’m unsubstantial or anything, but I am kind of aerodynamic I guess. 

The little red dot off in the distance is Overmountain Shelter. My shuttle driver Tom  (Sam’s gap to Hughes gap, the 30 miler) told me it was one of his favorites. I’ll have to come back just so I can stay there I think. 

I was also tempted to stay in this cave. 

This section was just…a lightening of my spirits. I put in my headphones, I tightened my pack against my back, and I forgot about everything. There was sun and I was happy. At one point, a saddle between two balds, the trail was smooth flat dirt, so I ran. I stretched out my arms and lengthened my stride and quickened my pace and let my face break out into a grin and I sprinted. I skipped some. I trekking-pole-fist-pumped. I air drummed. I spun circles. I shoulder shimmied. And then I noticed that I was on grassy bald and it was a VERY popular destination for day hikers. Whoops. 

6.6 miles to go south from Carvers Gap and it was THE WORST. The climb up was all loose rocks. The climb down was steeeeeep. 

I did see the Cloudland Hotel site. Imagine coming up here as a fancy old timey person for your vacation. I can dig it. 

My face when I saw my car through the trees. My toes had been numb for…hours. I was promising myself all sorts of food. 

And there it is. 74 miles in 3 days. Done. 

I got in my car and hit up the first McDonald’s I saw. This is my receipt. I ate all of it. (I would have more food pictures but those were the only times I was eating while I was stopped. I know y’all are disappointed.)

Man what a great section. Just a few short days and I’ll be headed out for another one. I hope you’re ready- the next one will see 2 big milestones AND it’ll have ponies. Also I’ll turn 30. 

MVP: that McDonald’s though
LVP: carvers gap to Hughes gap 

Ready for the next one? Let’s go again, Saturday!

1: TN91 to Laurel Fork Shelter

I left my apartment in good spirits. One of the interesting parts about section hiking is driving through the tiny, small little pieces of America that you wouldn’t ordinarily get to see on a journey from one city to the next. Did you know that there are places that still have operating video stores? I’ve seen several on my drives to hikes. I’ve seen more…creative fashion than I can describe, and beautiful murals depicting questionable historical events, and factories with crowds of people outside of them, and grocery stores I’ve never heard of, and all sorts of places and things I wouldn’t have discovered if I weren’t doing all of this driving through tiny little towns. It’s a nice way to see the country. 
This drive took me on one particular road through South Carolina. For some reason, the road was chock full of huge mansions. One house was a legitimate plantation, with a historical marker and everything. The other side of the road was just empty, or sometimes there were storefronts with a subway and maybe a dollar store. 
I stopped for dinner at McDonald’s and got my meal for free. Obviously this trip was off to a good start. 

I got to Hughes Gap at 10:20 and, instead of looking for somewhere to pitch my tent, I decided the back seat was good enough. My car is relatively clean, since I’d had to make sure I wasn’t carrying any contraband to my work (we have an extensive list), but it still isn’t enough room for my 5’9″ to sleep comfortably. I slept very little, but enough. 

Vicky, my shuttle driver, was right on time at 7am. I got in the car and we immediately hit it off. We chatted the entire way to TN91. We even stopped for McDonald’s breakfast, which was a real treat. 
I said goodbye to Vicky with a hug, and promised her I would call Uncle Mike (the actual shuttle driver, but he had a conflict that morning so Vicky filled in) for my next trip. 

I hit the trail at 8:03, grinning as my feet squished and slid in the deep brown mud. 

Fat white rumps ahead of me took me by surprise; deer jumped off into the woods. 

Birds were singing furiously in the morning sun. 

Furry grass (perhaps furrier due to my lack of glasses) bordered the long brown path winding atop the ridge line, punctuated by thruhikers who refused to give me the right of way when I was coming up the one mountain. Oh well. 

I stopped at the grave for Nick Grindstaff, a hermit. I thought about the people who choose to live alone, the people who are alone by circumstance, and the people society forces to live alone. I thought about Training Wheels and her calling to work with veterans with addiction and PTSD, and was grateful for her work. 

I kept checking my pace, and I was doing well. This is the face of a woman who knows she’s on track (in this hike, in life, in general). 

Electric lines, because. I got a lot of compliments on my hair today. From old women AND cool hippie chicks. 

The rhodos were starting to bloom!

I didn’t stop much. This was at Iron Mountain shelter, where I ate my lunch (half a package of poptarts) and put on my ankle brace. No idea what’s wrong with my ankle, but it sounds squishy and now (tonight) the bone from my big toe is red. Exciting! It’s fine(ish) with the brace on. 

The trail really was pretty gentle down to Watauga Dam. I had a nice road walk, contemplating how sunburnt I would get without any tree cover. 

I walked around the lake, but I made the mistake of hike-dancing too intensely and I did something to my knee and had to sit for a minute to get that back where it was supposed to be.

The hike up from the dam was odd. I’m not sure if it was a controlled burn or a wildfire but half the trail was recently burnt and the sharp smell of smoke still hung in the air. Even if that section of the trail hadn’t been closed for bear activity, I think I could have skipped it. Maybe it was burnt because of the Bears? I don’t know. It was creepy. 

Soon I got close to the shelter. I started crossing Laurel Fork, the wide cascading water that will be running behind the shelter eventually. It was beautiful. 
The trail was beautiful too:

The funny thing is, I went 27.1 miles, and then in the last tenth of a mile, the trail gave me this:

I hate it any time the blaze is painted on a rock. It’s never a good sign. But tell me, how can you not fall in love with the trail when it pushes you 27.1 miles, and then the last tenth is the thing you hate the most? All you can do is grin, and go. And when you get to the top, and look back at what you’ve just climbed when your feet were already screaming from blisters that had torn open miles ago, and your stomach is protesting the fact that you never stopped for a real lunch or even a snack, and your triceps are exhausted and all you want is just to sit and drink water and take off your shoes (but you can’t because you were too lazy to fill up your water at…any of the water sources when you should have)…that feeling is what keeps me coming back. That feeling that every time I do more than I think I can. I have yet to find a limit. There is nothing I cannot do. There is no mountain that can defeat me. There is no pain that I cannot push through. There is no amount of exhaustion or hunger that I can’t overcome and beat down to submission. I am the master of my body and my will is supreme. And I am an unstoppable force. 

The shelter was empty. This unstoppable force went for water at the beautiful Laurel Fork, ate a granola bar, hung her line to bear bag her food (I’m not going to be the next hiker to get bit by a bear), and got in bed. 

Tomorrow: another 27 miles. Un. Freaking. Stoppable. 

MVP: bear bag hang skills

LVP: delicate princess feet 

The plan: TN91 to Hughes Gap

For those of you who were wondering, here’s how the horrible, torturous, semester of no eating and lots of crying ended up:

Mechanical Engineering Analysis: A

Heat Transfer: B

Dynamics of Machinery: A (and I made a really cool 3D printed project that I will be happy to tell you all about)

Materials and Processes in Manufacturing: B

Design and Professionalism: A (and I think I got the second highest grade on the written paper for the project)

So, overall, pretty good. 

My heat transfer class
As soon as exams ended I packed up and went to Birmingham to celebrate my sweet baby sister turning 18 (!!!!!!), then lazed about with my mother for Mother’s Day, and then I moved to Georgia to start my fourth and final co-op rotation. 

I love the company I work for, and they are good to co-ops. It was a hectic start, but to be honest, I feel more confident in myself, and that made work a little easier. One of my goals for this rotation is to be more assertive, and I definitely feel like I’ve become that sort of person the more I’ve been hiking. 

Anyways, as you might know, I’ll be turning 30 on May 23. I’ve had in my mind that I want to be in the Grayson highlands on my 30th birthday, but I never imagined that I’d be far enough along on the trail to have connected my dots all the way there. I figured I’d just jump ahead. 

Well, y’all know me. And you’ve seen the miles I’ve been pulling. And I started looking at the map, and since I didn’t end up at trail days this weekend (carpenter couldn’t make it down and I wasn’t going to go without him. Gonzo is, predictably, MIA) I had time to hike. My work schedule gives me every other Friday off, so that’s three full days of hiking. And you all know what my legs look like. (OH! I hate to bury this story down here because it’s SO GOOD, but oh well. At the grocery story Tuesday night, some guy stopped me and asked me how much I lift. I kid you not.)

So I spent a lunch break looking at miles and doing some calculations and then I called for a shuttle. And tomorrow I’ll be driving up to Hughes gap to spend the night just inside the woods, and Friday morning I’ll meet my shuttle (hopefully; I still haven’t gotten it confirmed). 

I’ve got two 27 mile days and then a 20, but the elevation profile looks pretty sweet and I think I can do it. And it should set me up nicely for a very lovely 30th birthday. I hope y’all are prepared for some great hiking this weekend and next. 

My pack weighs 15.2lbs with all my food and no water. That’s not bad. I could cut weight by switching to the alcohol stove instead of the canister, but I know I won’t want to fiddle with it after those sorts of miles on such a short trip. I’d probably just not eat dinner for two days. 

I am switching to my quilt instead of my bag for this trip. The weather looks mild enough, but I switched out the fleece for my down jacket just in case. 

You can also see some of the behind the scenes stuff– the tripod I’ve been using for my phone, and the Bluetooth remote shutter clicker thing (which needs a new battery) that means I don’t always have to set up the timer if I want a decent picture. 

Also, new flask for the bourbon, courtesy of Casey. And new bourbon, also courtesy of Casey. 

The adventure starts…I mean, TECHNICALLY tomorrow, but the hiking is Friday. I hope y’all will follow along!