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AT- Days 13-16

Day 13

Back on the trail again today. I stayed alone at the motel last night, as my friends had headed out earlier that day and I needed the zero. When I got off the trail the day before, I met a guy briefly who was hanging out where I was waiting for the shuttle into town. He said he was camping nearby and waiting for a check to come in before he could continue on up the trail. He seemed like somewhat of a hobo guy- almost overly friendly and super talkative. Like he was lonely and anxious to talk to people. He said he had been camping nearby for several days waiting for this check. I was actually trying to hitchhike since I was there earlier than the shuttle, and him standing next me and talking was probably hurting my chances of getting a ride since they thought it was 2 of us. But I talked to him. Turns out he lived in Nanakuli in Hawaii for a bit, so we talked about that for a while. Anyway, yesterday evening when I came back to the motel after grabbing some dinner, there he was, just kind of hanging out in front of the motel. We talked for a bit and he said he really needed a shower but didn’t have enough money to rent a room. I told him he could shower in my room and he seemed very grateful. So then I was really torn. I wasn’t entirely sure about his guy. He seemed fairly harmless, but I wasn’t positive. He smelled like alcohol. I was just feeling cautious. I guess I was just worried about him stealing some of my stuff in the room. He eventually took a shower in the room, but it took him a long time to get in there. He was tearing his pack apart in the room looking for stuff, and talking my ear off the whole time. Even when I got a phone call, he was sitting there listening and interjecting into the conversation here and there. Part of me felt like I just really wanted my privacy, and the other part of me felt like I should offer him the other bed to stay for the night. I could tell that he was hoping I would offer, but in the end when I didn’t offer, he finally said he was going to head out and maybe night hike or camp near the trailhead and make an early start the next day. I shook his hand and said goodnight. But I still felt conflicted and kind of bad that he was going out there.

After he left, I checked my phone and was amazed to receive my largest donation yet just before going to bed. I got $500 from my former student in Thailand, Nok, and her husband Joe. Hugely generous of them! The donations seem to go in ebbs and flows and it has been ebbing lately, but that large chunk puts us just under $9000. Getting close to the initial goal! Really amazing of them! The only difficult thing last night as I went to bed was that the heater in the room wasn’t working. Didn’t notice it too much the night before with 4 guys in the room, but alone it was quite cold. Had to put on my down jacket and grab an extra blanket from the other bed. It almost felt like I was camping. I told the guy at the front desk about it in the morning and he checked it out and gave me half my money back, which was very nice of him.

My hiking umbrella was in at the gear outfitter, so I went and picked that up to try out. Then I took the free 9:00 shuttle that the motel provided back to the trail head at Dick’s Creek Gap. And guess who I saw there? Yup, the guy from the night before. He came and talked to me, and said it had been a super rough night. His tent had broken a pole and some other campers had to help him set it up. He said he was having thoughts of quitting the trail, but was going to take another day off and try to get his head straight and keep going. I felt bad. I think a night in a bed in the motel would have been good for him. In hindsight, I should have just let him stay and helped him out. It was just a tough decision at the time, because I didn’t want to get into a bad situation. But maybe I was just being too closed. Who knows. Feel bad for the guy.

It was just sprinkling a bit when we started and rain was forecast for today so I tried out the umbrella right away. It tucked under my sternum strap pretty nicely and was ok to hike with. I still need to find a Velcro strap or two to fasten it to my pack strap and have it hold better, but wasn’t too bad for a first try today. It seemed to keep me dry and not be in the way too much. It didn’t rain like it was forecast to today, so I couldn’t really try it out fully, but I think it will be good when it does rain, especially when trying to eat lunch on the trail.

The plan was for me to catch up with my friends today at Sassafras Gap. They did 2 shorter days out of town, so I had to do a longer day, 11 miles, to catch back up with them. The first half of the day wasn’t too bad. Ups and downs as usual, but not too extreme. But the final mountain we had to climb today really took it out of me. It seemed endless and was very steep. I pushed through it, and finally arrived at the agreed upon campsite, but no one was there. We have a signal where we pile 3 rocks to let those behind us know that we are camping there in case they miss the spot, or we do it with an arrow if we have moved on further. They left me the arrow one, and at first I felt pretty exasperated. I was tired after 11 miles and didn’t feel like hiking any further, especially not knowing how much further they went. But when I looked at my map, it showed the spring for water being 0.7 miles away, so I figured they just decided to camp closer to the water source. I soldiered on and found the spring, but there was no where to camp next to it. So I pushed on a little further, thinking they would have just found the nearest stealth camping spot up ahead. I kept walking and still didn’t see them, and was about the say screw it and just set up my camp somewhere, when I heard voices and smelled campfire. Turns out there was a full shelter just ahead. For some reason, my app didn’t show it and so I had no idea. It was in the guide book, but I was just relying on my Guthook app, which is usually very reliable. Strange. Anyway, I made it here, and it is a much better camp site. Just sucked having to do the extra mile or so.

I was really paranoid about the rain starting, which is forecast for tonight. The worst thing is to arrive at camp in the rain, as the inside of the tent gets wet before you can get the rain fly on. I had heard thunder in the distance a mile or two before I got to camp, so I thought the rain was imminent and it did start to sprinkle just as I was setting down my pack. But it stopped and the 3 other guys came over to help me set up my tent faster just in case the rain did come. But we all got lucky. The rain has pretty much held off all evening, allowing us to hang out and cook around the campfire, have our dinner, wash the dishes, filter water, etc. Just when we had finished dinner did it start raining finally, so we all bailed for our tents. Now it’s just a light rain, but it is forecast rain a lot tonight. We will see. I’m just happy to be in a dry tent! Tomorrow we head for Beech Gap campsite, 9.3 miles away. That won’t be so bad after doing 11.8 today. Longer than I wanted to do, but glad I caught up to everyone, and the next few days should be shorter.

Oh and I did hear from 2 different people today that there is a guy from Hilo on the Big Island who is about a day behind me. Apparently an older local Japanese guy. One guy said it sounded like his first language wasn’t English, but I told him nah, that’s just his pidgin. Anyway, I hope this guy catches up to me somehow. I’d love to meet him and talk story. Crazy that there is another Big Island boy out here. His trail name is “Big Island.”

Day 14

Woke up to the rain this morning, so went back to bed for an hour. Luckily the rain stopped and I could get ready in dry weather. It was super foggy and hard to see anything with my headlamp. Got on the trail by 8 and hiked 9.3 miles to Beech Gap campsite. We had to climb over Standing Indian mountain, an 1100 ft. elevation gain which a lot of people we apprehensive about the night before. But when I looked at my app, it showed the gain over 2.5 miles, which sounded pretty gradual to me. It ended up being a very nicely graded slope that wasn’t too hard at all. Much different to the climb yesterday when we first hit North Carolina. That was a rude welcome to this state. Got to camp nice and early today, which I like. Gives me lots of time to get camp set up and then to relax.

Ian, Becker, and Richard all made it here eventually along with a few other campers. One guy has a service dog with him. He’s a military vet and doesn’t seem to have any physical limitations, so I’m guessing the dog is for emotional support. He is hammock camping, which is very popular out here. LIke fancy hammocks with a tarp strung over them to keep the person dry. They are pretty elaborate to set up and seem too cramped to me, but people out here swear by them. This guy said his dog is capable of climbing up into the hammock and sleeps with him in there. Guess they stay warm! Also met an older guy at this campsite who said he has done the entire Appalachian Trail in sections over several years, but this is the first time he is attempting it in one shot. He was cooking his dinner as we were talking, and suddenly a rabbit showed up. He smelled the food and was hanging out hoping for some. First time to see a rabbit out there. Kind of cool. And a girl named Sunshine is also camping with us tonight here. She tell us that she rode her bicycle from Seattle down through California and then across the south to Florida. She is now hiking the AT up the east coast, and then will try to figure out something out to cross the north to complete the box. Some amazing people out here.

Day 15

As is often the case, the available campsites for today were either 7 or 12 miles away when we ideally wanted to hike 10. So we pushed ahead and did the 12 to here at Long Branch Shelter. Along the way, we crossed Albert Mountain at nearly a mile high. The peak of this mountain marked the 100 mile point on the trail (which doesn’t include the 8 mile approach trail I did on the first day- unfortunately that doesn’t count). We sure had to earn it tho. The hiking day wasn’t too bad, but the last half mile to the top of Albert was almost vertical. We saw it on the map and it looked crazy steep, and the map didn’t lie. I had to forego the trekking poles and use my hands to scramble up the rocks. It was a killer. But we were rewarded with a beautiful view from the top. Felt good to reach that landmark. I know it’s not much when we are facing about another 2100 miles, but everyone was still pretty excited about it. It took us a while to get here. I did the math and we have only been averaging about 7.6 miles a day so far. But that is perfect. Exactly as planned. Those 100 mile landmarks will start coming a lot faster once we get fully up to speed. Hard to believe that we have already been out here for half a month.

I ran into Edward and Caroline while hiking this morning. They are 2 girls who we met in the last few hiking days. Edward seemed like a strange trail name for a girl, so I asked her about it. Turns out it is short for her full trail name, “Edward Shitter Hands.” Lol! Of course there was a good story behind this name. She told me she had gone out to pee in the middle of the night one night, and it wasn’t until she got there that she realized that she also had to poop. But she hadn’t brought her trowel. So she dug a hole with a stick, did her business, and then picked up some leaves and covered all of it. It wasn’t until she got back inside her tent that she realized that she had gotten some doo-doo on her hand when she was covering things up. She told her hiking friends her story the next morning, and they gave her the trail name. Hahaha! The other girl, Caroline, flew all the way out here from the UK to hike this trail. She also had a doo-doo story. Apparently someone out here has been pooping near the campsites and not digging a hole or burying it. She has seen 4 examples of it, and when she went behind a tree to pee the other day, she stepped in it. She is super angry about it of course and desperately wants to find and kill this person. I hope she finds this unsanitary bastard and turns him in.

(Please excuse all the poop stories if I’m telling too many. It is just such a fact of life out here and so frequently discussed. Some hilarious stories come out of it. We are not like all of you back home, with your fancy indoor plumbing in your heated houses. We gotta dig, squat, and. bury like animals out here, so we try to keep it all humorous :)

With the longer day today, we ended up shaving off a day from our original plan to get to the next town in 5 days. We will make it in 4 days instead. Just a 7 mile hike to the road to get in to town tomorrow, With my usual early start, I hope to be at the trailhead by 10 and either hitchhike or catch the 11am shuttle into Franklin, NC.

Day 16

I left camp this morning at 6:20am and hightailed it to Winding Stair Gap where the trail meets the road. It was pitch black and foggy for the first hour as I hiked with my headlamp. I got phone reception on a mountaintop and called the hostel. They said there would be a free shuttle at the road area at 9:30am, so I jammed as fast as I could and made it by 9:20. 7.2 miles in 3 hours. Not too bad. I am definitely feeling my legs and cardio getting stronger and my speed and distance are picking up as a result. Also I think the weight loss everyone talks about is starting to happen. I just weighed myself at this hostel I’m at, and if the scale is accurate the I have already lost 7-8 pounds. Came down to the roadway to wait for the shuttle and someone had left a box of trail magic at the foot of the trail. Box full of cookies, rice crispy treats, all kinds of other sweet sacks. So amazing of people to do this kind of stuff for us. Turns out if I had come a bit later someone else showed up with boxes of Krispy Kreme donuts and all kinds of other goodies.

I took the shuttle in to Franklin, North Carolina, We had to walk some to find this hostel. It is terribly sign posted and hard to find, plus we had to walk down and then up 2 big hills to get here. As much as we all walk everyday, everyone hates having to walk much in town. These are supposed to be our rest days. This hostel is cool tho. It’s actually a big house that has been converted into a hiker hostel. I’m in a room of 4 with a bunk bed and a queen. Early bird gets the worm, so I got the lower bunk and don’t have to share the queen with anyone. They do our laundry for us here for $5. I got a hot shower and put in my laundry, but was then was kind of trapped here until my clothes were done, since it is too cold outside for the shorts and t-shirt I was wearing while washing all my clothes. I finally get mine back, but in the meantime my other friends showed up and went through the same process. Since we are all planning to go to dinner together tonight, I’m now having to wait for them as well. It’s 4pm and I only had a Snicker’s bar for breakfast, thinking that I would get a big lunch once I got here. Now I’m about to starve to death and their laundry is still in the drier. There are some downsides to being in a group. I almost took off alone to go eat, but have hangrily decided to wait.

A girl we met hiking last week was here when I arrived. Turns out she is now working here at this hostel. Some places let hikers work and stay for free, or earn a little money for their hike. She does massage and teaches yoga, so she is considering getting off the trail entirely for a while and earning money here, although she is loving the hiking life so is conflicted. Another girl working here is from London and hardly has enough money to do the trail, so she is staying a few days to make money to fund her hike. She said she is planning to do this quite frequently so she can afford to finish.

My tent is super muddy after camping in the rain a few times. And the footprint just never has the chance to dry out. Most of us are in this boat, so we ran our bear-bag lines between some trees outside for some makeshift clotheslines. It seems a bit pointless, since it will be wet and muddy again once we get back out there. Some hikers are packing up their wet tents in the morning and then drying them out during their lunch breaks if it is sunny at all. I guess that is a good plan, but I really hate to stop for long once I’m going. I don’t even like taking a lunch break, although I do for the energy food. I’m so stiff and sore after I sit for too long and feel like it just wastes time when I have so many miles to do.

Ok, well almost time to go eat I think. Finally! Gonna go pull my tent off the line and then go find some food!

Back from an awesome dinner. I would die young if I lived down here. Fried everything, but it is delicious! Fried pickles, fried green tomatoes, fried mushrooms. Amazing. This restaurant even gave out free ice cream sundaes to all hikers. Classy touch. After dinner, everyone headed to the local brewery for beers, so I peeled off and walked around town for a bit. Most things were closed as it was getting later in the evening, but it was still really nice just to mosey around and see the town. Very quaint small town with a Main Street and all the shops along it. I’m actually finding that exploring these little towns along the trail is one of my favorite parts of this experience. When we hike, the scenery looks exactly the same everyday. Dense leafless trees that look dead, dead leaves on the ground, and miles and miles of hills and dirt. It actually looks pretty grim, especially if the skies are grey. I know this will change in the woods when we get further along and spring starts. But when those shuttles pick us up, we are at lower elevation and everything just magically greens up. Big pastures, lawns, old southern style houses, barns, colorful plants and flowers, etc. It’s like a whole new universe as we drive through the countryside to the town. Then the town itself is a whole new world of restaurants, shops, people, etc. I actually feel like I am in the state or in the south when I come into town. The woods all look the same and could be anywhere in the world. It’s an interesting combination of trail/camping/hiking life on the one hand, like we disappear into a different realm for days at a time, and then suddenly we pass through this portal and end up in this new and interesting civilization on the other hand. Hikers from the south are not so interested, as it is all the same to them, but for me this is all a totally new and fascinating world. I love it. And so aside from the physical rest and mental reset to avoid burnout from hiking, these town stops are also just part of the journey for me. A big part of the overall experience and travel. They were not something I thought much about when preparing for this hike. It was all about the gear, the hiking, the trail life. But I am pleasantly surprised to find that there is a whole other dimension to this trip. I actually get to see the small town life of the entire east coast of the US!

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