Fontana Lodge and Resort

Here I am sitting, at the Fontana Lodge And Resort. We were originally going to go into the Smoky Mountains today. one of my fellow “flock” members is waiting for an important package filled with food and necessities.  Well, the flock leaves no member behind. Especially when entering the impending  frozen tundra of the Smokey Mountains.

So, we are waiting in the beautiful lodge lobby. Once the package arrives, around 2 pm or so we will hike the short distance to the Fontana “hilton” shelter. Dubbed the hilton for its heated bathrooms, shower, and electrical outlet. Tomorrow we will continue our trek into the mountains. According to the weather at elevation the temperature will be down into the teens.  We are not looking forward to the cold, but we know we signed up for it.

The past couple days have been better for me, spirit wise. I’ve realized that I’m surrounded by good people and need to enjoy the benefits. I also haven’t had cell service (only wifi) for four days, so that hasn’t been a distraction either.

I will update again once im out of the Smokies. Hopefully that plan will take 5-6 days.

Lack of updates

I apologize for the lack of updates.  Finding a phone signal has been hard.

My original intentions were to keep this blog as a daily journal. I have decided that I will use this blog more to update you all on my personal thoughts and experiences, not day to day hike updates. I think blogging will be more fun this way for me and you!  I do update my facebook page with photos and other trail randoms when ever possible. The link to my facebook can be found by clicking on the blue facebook icon on the top of the page.

Since the last time I checked in so much has happened!

I have found my way into North Carolina. It was definitley a great feeling crossing into a new state.  We also hiked past the 100 mile mark, now we are nearly to the 200 mile mark.  North Carolina has been a lot of uphill, but very beautiful as well.

I have met more people than I can keep track of. I also have had to say goodbye to a few new friends  along the way. Everyday is completley different but exactly the same. Yeah, that sounds a bit odd but I will try to explain.

Everyday I wake up and I’m cold. Every morning it is difficult to jump out of my bag. Every morning I need to filter water, make breakfast and pack my bag. Everyday I hike.  What makes the days different are the people you meet, the mountains you climb and the feelings you feel.

Up until this point the trail has been magical. I enjoyed waking up cold, and enjoyed feeling the burn of the climbs. I’ve been out here for a little over two weeks and my life has changed completley.

This week was the first time that I had thoughts of going home. I’m ashamed to say that these feelings were caused by a certain person in my life.  A person I cared about and whom I thought cared about me. I let the negativity consume me. I instantly felt a pang of regret in my heart. I felt that my decision to be on the trail was the reason this person no longer wanted to be a part of my life. For days I was waking up and hiking on, crying and in pain.

Being out here is as much physical as it is mental. Everyday you are overcoming a hurdle. I hate to say it but maybe somethings do happen for a reason. Last night I went to bed telling myself that perhaps the trail is my gift. I’m blessed with this wonderful oppurtunity to hike and to reflect on my life. Some people would give anything to find inner peace.

With the negativity that came into my life recently I have come to a new realization.  The rest of my hike will be for myself, finding who I am. My hike will be about meeting new people, people who share a similar frame of mind to myself. My hike will be about flexibility and letting go of all things that are poisonous to me. 

I give myself a lot of credit for taking a risk, and give up the security of normal life to thru hike. I’m just sad that some individuals don’t share my vision.  At the same time I’m blown away by those that have helped me to get to this point and have helped me wake up and keep walking another day.

I apologize for the vague personal post, but I felt like it was necessary. Now you know what has been flowing in my mind for the past couple days.

I will be entering the Smokey Mountains on Mondays. More updates via facebook, and blog will follow after my completion through the park!

Blueberry Patch

Tonight we are staying in the famous Blueberry Patch Hostel. 

On Sunday we stayed at Blue Mountain shelter. All of our crew camped out and talked by the fire. We were blessed with beautiful weather. The weather didn’t turn cold until the sun went down.  That night we were joined by infinity, maybe mike, fly away, Mary poppins, husker and the machine.

Monday morning we woke up early to make our way to tray mountain shelte. Infinity woke up early to catch the shuttle to town, she needed antibiotics for her toe.  Mary poppins, Maybe mike and myself were on the trail around 9. Daylight savings kinda had us messed up. We knew we had some tough climbs that day. We made it up Rocky Mountain with ease. Had lunch with the crew at Indian Grave  Gap. We have been trying to make it a point to have a long lunch to rest our legs.  After lunch we were on our way to tray mountain. Almost to tray gap we run into a woman with a cardboard sign. She asks us if we were thru hikers, we answer yes and she flashes us her sign: “almost there…..hamburgers.” We raced to tray gap. Funny thing is, Mary poppins told us that morning that she had a dream about hamburgers. I told her to dream about cheesecake tonight! We made it to the gap. Greazy, and No stink had a wonderful spread of food for us. I wasn’t particularly hungry but I ate a cheeseburger anyway.  Fueled by burgers we  eventually made it up Tray Mountain. At the top we were alerted by two loud hound dogs and their lovely companions.  After we reached the shelter  we made camp and ate dinner. I was in my sleeping bag asleep by 7:30.

We woke up and were on the trail by 8:45 this morning. We had an eleven mile day to Dicks Creek Gap. The walk today was uneventful but the weather was the best yet, in the 70’s. Around 2:30 the crew made it to the gap. At 3 we were picked up by Gary and headed to Blueberry Patch Hostel.  Gary strapped all five of our packs on the roof of his jeep. We all looked at eachother in worry, Gary a quiet soft spoken man said that he hasn’t had any fly-a-ways yet. Halfway to the Hostel, Tabitha’s pack fell off the roof into the middle of the road! She took it in stride and we retrieved her pack. It was fine other than a few minor scrapes. We gave Tabitha her trail name: Fly-a-way. 

The hostel is awesome. There is a community room and bunk house, with an external bath house. There are even goats and donkeys on the premisis! Gary drove us to town and Mary Poppins, maybe mike, fly-a-way, the machine and myself ate Mexican for dinner! I had some yummy fish tacos.

Tomorrow we are taking a zero day in Hiawassee to do town chores!

Thank you for everyone for the support and well wishes. My time out her has been great so far. There has been a day or two where I have felt a little home sick or sad. Walking everyday is easy but 3/4 into your day you get tired… and grouchy. Maybe that’s just me. Other than those rare moments life is easy and relatively carefree.

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Week One!

I haven’t updated my blog because I’ve either been exhausted or have had zero signal. I originally thought that I would update  with daily entries but I think that I will stick with a nice summary.   This week has been amazing. I have had my ups and downs but I can’t tell you how great my time out here so far has been. I’ve met so many people that I already can’t keep track of them all.

Monday Kasey and I started on the approach trail. The approach trail is about 8.8 miles, leading to the Appalachian Trail.  The approach starts with 604 stairs going up to the top of Amicalola falls. Those stairs were rough. With a mixture of nerves and anxiety I was in tears all the way up. I was thinking, what am I  doing here? Why did I give up my good job and stable relationship for this? I made it up the stairs and proceeded up there trail. That night we stayed on Springer Mountain (the start of the AT).     

  We woke up the next morning and the trees were covered with ice. We made our way to Hawk Mountain Shelter. That night we met our first hikers. Infinity and Web Sweeper were the first to make it to them shelter. Infinity hiked last year and knew a lot about the trail. Web sweeper  is a New Englander who had experience hiking the Whites. Next to roll in was Tennessean Tabitha, Bean dip from Australia and Maybe Mike from Texas. They group was fun. We were also joined by some section hikers. Later we met Patrick from PA. That night was also cold and I didn’t sleep well from ice falling from the trees and hitting them shelter.

The next day we walked to Gooch Gap Shelter and met up with the crew from there previous night. My knee started hurting me that  day and I was a little scared how it would fair them rest of the trip. We slept in the shelter and had zero mice issues!

         The next morning we were headed to Lance Creek for the night. We had to camp before Jarred Gap because we didn’t have bear canisters. When we reached woody gap we were delighted to Fresh Ground Leap Frog Cafe. A gentleman from North Carolina follows hikers up the trail providing trail magic. I ate two banana pancakes  and was full. I was so happy to receive my first trail magic and couldn’t wait for more. While eating pancakes there was talk of snow coming in that night. We decided to push on and camp instead of staying in town. Mary Poppins, Maybe Mike, Bean Dip, Tabitha, and myself made camp at Lance Creek. We made a nice
fire and stayed warm before turning in. It ended up sleeting that night.

We woke up early then next morning and no snow! We were relieved because we had to tackle blood mountain. Blood Mountain was to be our biggest climb yet at about 4500 ft.  I well say that blood was a lot easier than I expected, the hike down was there hardest part. The view was the most spectacular thing I’ve ever seen. I could of stayed up there all day. We made our way down to Neel Gap. We had a lovely visit at Mountain Crossings. Mary Poppings got a pack shakedown, and removed almost 10 lbs from her pack. I purchased a few items like… A knee wrap, overmitts,  a pizza and chocolate milk! We then ventured down to the blood mountain cabins and had a great night, eating pizza and not feeling guilty! As well as taking multiple showers. Can’t forget fresh laundry too!

  Leaving the cabins the next day was hard. We had an 11 mile hike and it seemed enless. Perhaps pizza was not a good idea. We resupplied in Neel so our packs were heavier than the day before. We received our second trail magic! King Tut, and shaken not stirred were waiting with cold soda and oatmeal cream pies! All was definitely appreciated as we departed and climbed up wildcat mountain.  We made it to camp around 4 pm. We dropped everything and ate lunch and an hour later ate dinner! We are really bad at stopping to eat… Something to work on.  Maybe mike made a great fire for us all. We were joined by some other thru hikers: Cupcake, twenty, patrick, bean dip, infinity, Web sweeper, Mary poppins, Tabitha and Maybe mike.  We stayed up late 9pm!  

This first week has been such a great one. I’m appreciative of the fact that we have been taking it slow with slow mileage days. I’ve seen a lot of people nursing nasty blisters and hurting from doing too much from the get go.  I’m so impressed with the community as well everyone is generous and delightful. The trail magic this week has been a booster as well. I can’t wait to see what the next week and coming months have to hold for us!

Amicalola Lodge

Tomorrow is the day! We officially start our journey tomorrow. I have been feeling numb all day today. Being in the car for 7 or so hours made crazy thoughts race through my head. I never had thoughts of doubt, but I was thinking about how crazy this hike is.

I will be waking up outside and walking for hours, nearly everyday. Everyone at home will be doing the complete
opposite. Those were the type of thoughts I was allowing to consume me.

After driving to Amicalola State Park we checked in at the lodge, where we will be staying our last night.  The lodge is beautiful, an older place, but the views are absolutely breathtaking. Getting to the lodge kicked my excitement into high gear. After checking into our room we traveled down to the park and signed in as thru hikers. I’m officially hiker #217! We will officially weigh our packs in the morning.

After signing in we ate dinner at the lodge. We had a nice buffet style dinner. The vegetarian lasagne was absolutely delicious!  We ended dinner with a yummy piece of cake.

After dinner we came back to the room, dumped all of our gear on the bed and floor and went through one more pack shake down. Both of us were able to eliminate some unnecessities.  Now we are showered and watching a last bit of tv.

We were gifted from our friends Sarah and Alex with a cute infinity bracelet and evil eye bracelet. The evil eye is supposed to ward off unwanted spirits. I will also be carrying a tiny Buddha statue thanks to my kind friends.
Their kind words made me feel great and even more…ready to hike.

Tomorrow we leave for the AT on the approach trail.  I hope to update soon.

I will officially be updating from my phone now. Just fair warning my phone likes to autocorrect “the” to “their.”

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A week from today I will be heading to Georgia!   My excitement is momentous, as can be expected, but my nerves are a little rampant.

I cannot help but feel that one chapter of my life has come to end. I’m no longer a college student, I’m a college graduate.  I’m saying goodbye to an amazing job. A job that has helped put me through school and made life comfortable. Sadly, I also say goodbye to my two year relationship. I could say that the trail broke us apart. But many of my friends know 2013 was a difficult year for me, and those complications made me change as a person.

So, it now seems fitting to share with you my reasons for starting a thru hike on the Appalachian Trail.

 

Mackenzie

Mackenzie, my sister, passed away in 2013, unexpectedly from a heroin overdose.  She was a free spirited, loving and non judgmental 20 year old.  We were very close at heart but far away in distance.  Because we have lived apart for the past 5 years, her death hit me differently than I expected.  For a long time I felt like she was still waiting for me in Maryland, but she wasn’t.  I no longer had that person to text message or call to talk about anything personal. Mackenzie constantly desired to take pictures where ever she went. In the end we didn’t have enough pictures together.

A month before her death Mackenzie and I spent time on the trail. After an unusually cold night in March we had a conversation about what it would be like to thru hike the entire trail. At that time thru hiking was just an interest, not something I saw myself doing in the immediate future. When Mackenzie died I knew I had to hike the entire trail. The realization that life isn’t guaranteed consumed me.  For the first time in my life I made a decision to do something  unfamiliar and life altering.  Mackenzie blessed me with this gift and courage.

To honor Mackenzie I plan to do something special. The Appalachian Trail travels through 14 states. In each state I travel, I plan to spread a portion of Mackenzie’s ashes.

 

Self Confidence

Like a lot of other people out there, I suffer from low self esteem and lack of self confidence. This has been something I’ve battled with my whole life.  As I’ve gotten older I have learned to relax a little bit on the issue.  I feel though that the Appalachian Trail is my gateway to the word of confidence.  First, how many people can say that they have completed or attempted to hike the whole trail?  Not a lot of people!  I’m hoping that  I can push through the bad days and enjoy the good days on trail, and ultimately make it to Katahdin. In the process I will hopefully have learned a whole lot about myself.  The trail will be something to look back to everyday or later in life.

The Challenge

Life is boring when it isn’t challenging. There is nothing like being rewarded for completing something that tests you physically, mentally and even emotionally.  I have been challenged on various of these aspects when I was in college. Now it is time to feel challenged in a completely different way.

Nature

I love being outdoors, I’ve always felt this way.  Being one with nature is an unexplainable feeling.  The simplicity of  everything.   You know what they say, “It’s just walking.”  Well, walking up and down beautiful mountains and countryside is something I actually look forward to. I look forward to waking up peeking out of my tent in the morning and breathing it all in.  I know everyday won’t be this enjoyable, but most days will.
Sharing why I’m hiking the trail has been a topic rather difficult for me to articulate.  There are many reasons beyond the ones I have listed.

One week to go… I can’t even explain to you the emotions I’m feeling!

Preparation: How I Got to This Point

Well, the numbers are in, this year the Appalachian Trail totals 2,184.5 miles. Usually when I tell people of my future endeavor their faces fill with shock.  Yeah, Yeah, I know exactly what they are thinking ,”This girl is nuts.”  I have to agree with them.

When forming the idea to thru hike the trail, the first thing I did was dig out information and research the ins and outs of thru hiking the Appalachian trail.   I’ve read many books and watched dozens of videos about preparation.

The countdown is officially at 50 days until the start of my hike.  Now is the time, the time for me to share my secrets, the methods to my madness.  OK, so no secrets, perhaps some madness?  Below is how I planned for my thru hike, thus far, and how I will continue to ready myself for my wonderful adventure.

((Keep in mind I haven’t completed a thru hike yet! This is purely opinion))

  1. Choose a Start Date

This advice probably sounds obvious, but it’s a very important step.  Choosing a start date helps organize your planning efforts, and makes the trip seem obtainable.  If it is August and you tell yourself, “ I think I’m going to start sometime early spring.” You might end up pushing back your date furtherer and further (or not go at all). Choose a date and alter it, if need be.

  • Choose a date well in advance (if possible)
    • The more time you have to prepare yourself and accumulate gear the better.

I Decided April 2013 that I was going to attempt a thru hike.  After  a section hike in August I chose my official start date (March 1, 2014).

2. Create a Budget

Decide how much money you want to have at your disposal on the trail.  Formulating the number is difficult.  This number all depends on current spending habits and gear.  In my own research, I’ve found people spend anywhere between $1,500- $10,000. That is a huge gap! Consensus seems to be that this year (2014)  hikers are expecting to spend $3,500- $6,000. When setting your budget for your trip:

  • Expect to spend more then you think on the trail
    • Save an extra $1,000- $1,500… Just in Case
    • Have enough money to come back to, at least equal to what you take on the trail

PRACTICE! PRACTICE! PRACTICE!

Practice living on a budget now! Learn how far your money goes, so you are realistic when on the trail.

Now that we have gotten the painful topic out of the way…

3. Gear

I learned very quickly in the hiking world, that hikers, love gear.  If you enter this world you will soon be obsessed.   My best advice is; don’t go crazy, make a list.  The best way to learn about what you will need for a thru hike is to talk to other thru hikers.  Youtube is an invaluable resource. Many hikers from previous years have posted gear videos from before and after their hikes.   Next, read reviews.  Try to read reviews written by professionals.  My favorite website for gear tests and reviews is Outdoor Gear Lab.

BE CAREFUL. Everyone has an opinion, be mindful of whose opinion and or advice you are following.

When buying gear go to an outfitter. Make sure to get fitted for a pack, try on hundreds of shoes, and physically get inside tents at REI (or equivalent).  Do not buy in shore unless you want to.  Many a time I would go to an outfitter to look at gear and clothing and gasp at the price tag.  Nine times out of a ten you can score the same gear cheaper online.  Remember that what ever you take on a thru hike will most likely be trashed by the end of your trek.   This doesn’t mean skimp on good quality gear. BUT does it really matter what color your socks are, or if you got last years down jacket in a funky color?

I didn’t buy everything at once.  I bought my pack first, sleeping bag second and tent third. I purchased my clothing little by little, depending on what I could find for a bargain.

4. Health and Fitness

Everyone I spoke to said to go on hikes with your pack with full weight.  I think this is very important. Not only does this condition your body but it also tests out your equipment.

Most of us have full time jobs or attend school, so walking for a couple hours a day isn’t feasible.  I recommend getting into the gym and getting into a fitness routine.  Incorporate both cardio and weight training. Specifically target parts of your bodies such as your abs and legs.  I decided for personal reasons to dive into a 12 week weight training program.  Bodybuilding.com is a great resource for fitness and nutrition plans. This website allows you to create workouts and plug them into your google calendar.   My advice is to go to the gym and write your entire routine down. Keep track of what exercises you are doing and what weights you are using.

I live in Florida, where mountains don’t exist. Putting myself in the gym and working with personal trainer was one of the only ways I knew of getting my cardiovascular fitness and muscle strength up.  I am realistic though, and know that the only way I will get my “trail legs” is by hiking. For me exercise is a mental hurdle. If I can be in the gym for 2 hours a day 5-6 days a week, sweating, I know I can overcome any mountain.

I hope that this advice can help someone else planning their hike.  This by no means is EVERYTHING you need to know about planning a thru hike. What I have mentioned is just  a tidbit of planning a hike.