5: partnership shelter to Bham, AL

I crawled out of my tent this morning, and chuckled on my way to the privy.

Bodies, scattered everywhere. Tucked into their little mummy bags, hidden behind logs around the campfire, scattered throughout the grass (no tents), all snoring and wriggling and breathing. Partnership shelter was an experience. 
I had coffee with Stormtrooper. 

But soon, it was time for me to pack up and say goodbye. I knocked on everyone’s tents and bid them farewell, hoping I would see them again up north. I know they’ll all make it. 

Uncle mike was waiting for me in the lot. We headed to TN-91, trading stories. My car was waiting for me, and, as usual, so was a nice snug mouse nest inside of it. 

I hopped in and headed for Birmingham, stopping only for…

McDonald’s. I had to hurry, though, because I didn’t want to miss seeing my baby sister graduate high school. She’s not really a baby any more, I guess. 

Maybe the only thing that would have gotten me off the trail was seeing Macy graduate. It was so hard to leave. I miss it already. The rhythm and the rituals; the jokes and quips. I miss stretching my legs across a stream and I miss tilting my face up into the sun. I miss rolling over onto a root and cursing myself for not bringing gloves in the icy rain. I miss dreaming about food (I always dream about food) and looking at my miles and my guide and planning the next resupply…I miss my friends, and the strangers, and the people I haven’t met. 

Birthday Girl is ready for another hike. 

I mentioned on Facebook that you might see a shift in how I hike this summer. Virginia is quite a drive from where I live in Georgia. I can’t really justify getting up there for weekend section hikes. So I think I’ll spend the summer hiking places I’ve been before; miles I raced through or saw in winter. I might try to get involved with a little trail maintenance and, the biggest shift– I won’t always hike alone. 

But I have new miles planned too. I’ll head north for 3 weeks in August to hike around New Hampshire and Vermont, hopefully see Carpenter and maybe even Brew and Stick and Danger and RD and Stormtrooper. 

Just try and keep me out of the woods. 

Until next time, my friends! Let’s hope August speeds quickly along!

4: hurricane mtn shelter to partnership shelter

Well, how did 30 begin? I woke up to sunrise. 
I got out of my sleeping bag slowly, surrounded by my mostly still sleeping new friends (family?). I went to grab my food bag, but somehow, it was stuck in the tree. Well. 30 was presenting me with my first challenge already, it seemed. I tried to throw a rock at the bag, but my hand-eye coordination has never been great. I eventually found a small dead tree and poked the bag. It fell down immediately. Success! I told my friends at the shelter about my issues. 

“Well, you did have a perfect birthday, so you can’t expect today to be without challenges,” Stormtrooper said. 

“That’s true,” I replied. “And I killed it.” 

“You sticked it.” Well…it was hilarious to us. 
We ate breakfast together, and then started heading out, one by one. 

We only had 19 miles to the shelter, and the trail was mostly easy. We were all highly motivated by pizza. 

I stopped for lunch with Brew, RD (red dragon), and storm trooper. Danger stopped by for a second, but hiked on. 

I hit this gorgeous meadow. It smelled like an expensive home furnishings store, like hay and flowers and linens. It was incredible. The grass was almost up to my head. The sun was bright and I knew my friends were in front and behind me and my legs were strong and my pack was light. 

I got to a bridge and smelled…something like middle school. What was it…lilac! Like bath and body works! Lilac was growing everywhere along the banks of this stream. Brew and stormtrooper caught up as I was smelling the flowers. 

“We going swimming?” One of the guys asked. 

“…yeah.” We stripped off our packs and shoes and piled into the swift, cold water, squealing as we ducked under. It was freezing, but dunking my head under felt amazing. We scrambled out and I unrolled my sleeping pad so we could dry off in the sun. 
Brew toweled off and left first, but stormtrooper and I sat around for a while, enjoying the sun and the laziness. A man stopped, asking if we needed a ride anywhere. We told him thanks, but no. Eventually, mostly dry, we got ready to hike again. 

The last few miles slipped by. Uncle mike, my shuttle driver, had told me they would be quick, and he was right. I caught up to brew and used his quick pace as my pace, getting in to Partnership shelter before 4pm. It was packed, so we had to tent. We set up our little tent family to the side, glad to be away from the party atmosphere at the shelter. 

I tried to take this picture but evidently I didn’t stop walking quite long enough. 

Brew set a fierce pace on the sweet, flat trail. 

We ordered the pizza and sat around the visitors center in the sun, talking and watching a weird older couple fight about ordering food. 
Finally, finally, the pizza came. Danger and I were on pizza duty. And ranch pickup duty. Brew is a serious ranch addict. 

We devoured 4 pizzas. I ate about 5 or 6 slices myself. Stormtrooper dubbed me worthy of thruhiker hunger. 

While we ate, though, the group gave me my new trail name. It was between mouse car and birthday girl. Another hiker had already called me birthday girl, and we all liked the implication of always telling people I’m birthday girl, so that’s what we decided on. I’m officially birthday girl now. This was the celebratory piece of pizza after I was officially named:

I’m going to miss them so much. 

We built a fire back at our tent city, and sat around laughing. We took group pictures (brew has the serious group picture, so I’ll have to get that from him later). 

It’s been two days with my trail family. They gave me a name, they spent my birthday with me, and now I have to leave. Maybe I’ll see them in August though. I’m going to miss them so much. They are all so amazing. 

I’ve never been more tempted to just keep walking. 

3: elk garden campsite to hurricane mountain shelter

Happy birthday to me!!! 

Whoever wrote those nativity hymns about cattle lowing got it all wrong. They make WEIRD, LOUD noises. 

I woke up a lot last night, mostly freezing. At 4am I decided to start eating and that helped me get a few more hours of sleep. 

I celebrated with birthday cake, too. Did you guess what my second milestone for this trip was? I turned THIRTY. it feels good, honestly. I’m exactly the kind of person I always wanted to be. Except with more blisters. But that’s vastly improved with my new double insole system. 

I started hiking and was immediately rewarded by hiking through a COW PASTURE. I love cows. They have best friends! 

Can I present this gorgeous stretch of trail without comment? 

Here is fatmans squeeze. My pack and I made it through. 

Finally, FINALLY, it was pony time. I sat down on a rock and this one immediately came up to me. After I left the ponies ignored everyone else it seemed like. I got special birthday treatment. 

And can you guess what my third and final milestone of the trip is? 

The trip has been amazing. 
This afternoon I met a thru hiker named danger. Then, later, I met another named storm trooper. He offered to let me pass him but I liked his pace so I told him I’d like to keep following him as motivation to not slow down, and we chatted for several miles. Eventually we stopped when we ran into his friend at a sign for trail magic. We went down to check out the hiker feed. Pork and beans! We ate, meeting up with Danger, Red Dragon, Brew, and Stick. The whole group of us set off for the same shelter. 
We got here and set up camp. I had mentioned at the hiker feed that it was my birthday, and they treated me right. Red dragon is a classical voice performer, and he performed a song for me. It was INCREDIBLE. Have you ever had a professional musician sing an Italian arts song just for you, in a lean to in the woods, with new friends and the sun setting behind you? I have. 

 Brew built up a fire, stormtrooper sautéed some ramps he’d foraged on the trail, danger gave me some candy, and everyone was friendly and cheerful and it was just…perfect. 

I ate my birthday dinner and my birthday cake (uh, #3 for today) and we sat around the fire sharing stories. We’re all headed to the same shelter tomorrow, and we have our pizza order all planned out already. 

If this is thirty, then bring on thirty one. My day has been filled with the beauty of nature, the generosity of strangers, the love of my friends and family, and the promise of more to come tomorrow. 

2: Virginia creeper campsite to Elk Garden campsite

After I wrote yesterday’s entry, Justin and I sat by the fire a while longer, then swung in his hammock when the rain started again. I mean, look, if the trail is going to continue to send incredibly attractive former marines my way (gonzo, Justin), who am I to say no? The extra miles today were worth it. 
I woke up first, of course, but not as early as I would have thought. My tent was warm and snug and it was hard to get up. But I did, and I trekked back the 2 miles to the AT along the Virginia creeper trail. 

Also I found this tie at the campsite so I decided to make this a business casual hike. 

There were these half legible instructions for some complicated detour…which turned out to be the trail I had on my guide. Nbd.

A nice bathroom and trash can. I opened that trash can from the wrong side and it took an embarrassingly long time to get it to close. 

The AT and the Virginia creeper followed each other, and this stocked trout …stream? It was nice. 

But soon I was headed back up. And up and up. 

The trail was beautiful, with these great tumbles of stones on the left and the trout stream down on the right. There were constant little water crossings, sometimes seeping up out of the ground, sometimes gushing out of a rock. I felt a *little* betrayed after the lack of decent water all the way in to Damascus, but I’ll take it. 

I’ll be honest, I was still feeling lazy. I think I might have over done it last weekend on the 74 miles, or maybe I’m just ready to slow down. Either way, I can’t get enough to eat and I just don’t have the motivation to make miles. Since the sun was out and I had a wet tent, I found a big flat sunny patch and sat down for a long lunch, drying my tent and socks and feet and taking a nap. 

I’m running low on deet, so I decided to make a headband out of my no-bugs bandana. Fashionable. 

More sitting. Also an arm band. 

Creepy rhodo tunnel is creepy…

The trail joined with the VC again. A grandmother (a kid called her grandma) told me there was a place where I could go down to the river just ahead, so I did. I soaked my feet, which was basically an ice bath. 

I’m currently stacking BOTH insoles. It’s pretty much the best solution to my arch support problem, and I’m getting way fewer blisters, but my pinky toes are getting squished. I kind of think I need to size up anyways. Boat feet. 
Imagine you can smell me coming. 

Interestingly, this picture was taken at chest height. The trail was just that steep. 


More water crossings. So many violets!

I’m going to the veeerrrryyyy top of that hill. 

It was gorgeous. And windy! 

I sat up on buzzard rock and had a snack. 

And then I could see storms rolling in, so I hiked on. 

More beautiful trail. 

And finally, I got to the VA 600 tentsites. It was cold and raining when I got here, so I hid under the bathroom roof. I actually cooked dinner there, but it stopped raining right when I was done cooking, so I wrapped my pot of ramen up in my pot cozy and trucked across the parking lot to my tent site. I sat up my little home for the night, crawled in, and ate my ramen in bed. All toasty warm. 

I guess there’s a pasture across the road. Something (cows?) is making a terrible, unearthly racket. 
MVP: butterscotch crimpets

LVP: cold rain 😦

1: TN 91 to virginia creeper tentsite

I left Augusta friday just ecstatic. I love my new position at work. It’s going to be a good stretch for me, I think. 
I got to TN 91 about 10:30. I’d said I would never again sleep in my car, but it was pouring rain when I got to the parking lot, so I stretched out in the driver’s seat this time. I figured it had to be an improvement over the backseat, right?

Well it probably would have been, except you know how much mice love my car. One came in and started messing around and I couldn’t let it go. I had an Otis moment and slept very little. 

I woke up at first light and started walking. Headed north from TN 91 meant I walked through Osbourne Farm. The fields were wet with rain and low and heavy fog. 

I made a friend. 

15 miles to Damascus!

It rained and rained and rained. Fortunately, my bike riding friend Catherine had mailed me some chamois butter from Texas to try out. I still got some trench foot but blisters seem to be minimized. 

I stopped for lunch in this abandoned mini shelter. 

And some yoga. 

Someone left an entire bag of trash. I packed it out.  

I sprayed deet in my eye. This is me checking for eye damage. I had no water to flush my eyes with. There really weren’t a lot of convenient water sources. 

So, I mentioned last trip that this section would see me hit 3 major milestones. Well, here’s the first one:

I’ve officially completed Georgia, North Carolina, and Tennessee now! That’s 3 states down! I mean, a ton more to go, and Virginia is 550 miles of trail or something ridiculous, but still! 

I made it in to Damascus, texting Carpenter the whole last few miles. I stopped in to Mt Rogers Outfitters to nose around and learned that there are still American Chestnut trees in this area, and I learned that I’m headed up into an area with Pitch Pines. The dude taught me how to identify them, so that will be a fun activity. 

I went over to Bobos for dinner and GORGED. 

While heading out of town, though, it started pouring. A guy sitting on the porch of Hikers Inn called me over to join him to get out of the rain, so I did. I had plenty of daylight to get somewhere. We started chatting, and eventually the rain let up. His name is Justin and he got separated from his friends when he got sick. He asked if I wanted to camp with him at this cool site on the Virginia creeper trail and I figured…sure, why not? So I’m a mile or so from the AT and that’s ok. I’ll have time to make up the miles tomorrow. For now, I have a full belly and Justin made a great fire despite the rain. I haven’t had time to enjoy camp like this in a long time. And I haven’t had a successful campfire in a VERY long time. 

So the adventure has already begun! I know I didn’t post an Itinerary. I’m going to keep this one a surprise for y’all. (Don’t worry, mom and carpenter both know where I’m generally supposed to be and when.)

I can tell this is going to be a good one. 
MVP: campfire sitting

LVP: car mouse