400 Miles On The AT

Two posts in one day?! Who am I?? I’m a person who has a lot of time to kill in this town, that’s who I am.

Okay! Let’s get right to it.

One of the other hikers I met around this time was named FiiSH, which stands for “Fuck it I’m staying here.” I didn’t know how old this note was when I came across it, but I stupidly waited 10 minutes for her to show up just in case it was recent. It wasn’t. But I did have her contact information and made her feel sufficiently bad about not removing the note before she left. She also did end up buying me drinks the next time I saw her. FiiSH is rad, be like FiiSH.

One of the culinary creations I’m most proud of out here on the trail is this beautiful burrito right here. Rice and beans are a backpacking staple, especially for vegans, so I decided to dress it up a bit to make it a little less boring. In this burrito there is: white minute rice, seasoned instant refried beans, TVP (textured vegetable protein), dehydrated vegetables, 1/2 a bouillon cube, taco seasoning, and fresh red onion. Oh. My. Goodness. It’s magical and amazing and I’ve eaten so many of them since.

I’ll do an all encompassing recipe post at some point I’m sure, where I’ll talk about everything I eat out here on the trail and the recipes I come up with to avoid paying for expensive pre-made freeze dried meals.

The next morning I remember quite well. The morning fog hadn’t lifted yet and I got an early enough start to see rays of sun peek through the trees and glisten in the fog. It was absolutely magical, and it felt like I was in a real life fairy tale.

I get an extra boost of motivation every time I pass a sign that has mileage listed for the end of the AT. There was one at Newfound Gap that I took a photo with that didn’t make it into the last blog post, and shortly after passed another that had the mileage for Baxter State Park, the home of Mount Katahdin and the finishing line for the Appalachian Trail.

Also along this stretch of 100 miles I came across a bald that rivals Max Patch, and actually another hiker and I had a conversation about how we thought it had better views. (Sorry Max Patch, thanks for the cowboy camping sunrise still, though.)

I’ve come across so many new and beautiful plants on this trip! I always like to document when I come across something I’ve never seen before, here are a few from this section.

Continuing to head North I came upon this view of the Nolichucky River descending into Erwin, TN.

I made my way to Uncle Johnny’s Hostel where I waited for a friend I was really anxious to meet.

I had befriended this beautiful human being named Annie on Instagram the year prior, and when I decided to do the AT she mentioned it goes right through the town she lives in. Having never met in person before, she offered to pick me up from the trail, chauffeur me around, house me, feed me, AND let me shower and do laundry. She’s amazing and I’m so so grateful for her generous hospitality.

Leaving Erwin I picked up a new pair of shoes, hoping these would be the pair that would FINALLY work with my feet and (assumed) collapsing arches. When I hiked the John Muir Trail I wore a pair of Salomon Ultra Primes, and loved them, and didn’t experience any foot problems at all. So I ordered another pair hoping they would work just as well out here on the AT. I’m happy to announce that they got me all the way Blackburn Trail Center, just before Harpers Ferry. They would’ve gotten me all the way here but I found the exact same type of shoe in a hiker box and decided to snag them since they’re a 1/2 size bigger and my feet were feeling cramped in the other ones.

More trail magic! I had matched with someone on Tinder (Yes I have a Tinder out here, what of it?) who offered to bring me vegan trail magic, to which I said, “YES PLEASE.” He ended up following through with his offer and brought some amazingly delicious plant foods to the trail.

Next up I got to walk though more fog, which I actually don’t mind at all because out in Utah we don’t get a lot of it. It made me feel like I was in Scotland or something!

I still also appreciate the bright, sunny views as well.

I unfortunately was still having problems with my feet because I was trying to figure out the perfect shoe/insole combo. I ended up getting some Superfeet insoles back at the NOC that I was trying for the 983745489th time, and (I think) they ended up giving me quad problems. I don’t know what else could have possibly caused me to have issues with my quad muscle in my left leg, so I’m assuming it was the insoles because I haven’t used them since and I haven’t had any more issues. On this particular day though, I was really worried because I could barely walk on it. I couldn’t engage it and walked the trail stiff-legged like a pirate with a peg leg. I was hiking at a speed of 1 mph, which is agonizingly slow, but did end up making it to my destination.

Reaching the 400 mile mark wasn’t the happiest of milestones for me. I was worried about my feet, worried about my quad, worried that either or both would force me to quit the trail. It must have been apparent that my mood was in the dumps because the hiker behind me asked if I was alright and then offered to give me some time alone at the 400 mile mark.

I’m happy to report the next ~600 miles were much more enjoyable, and that not every post from now on will be a sob story. (Although stay tuned for my current woes that’ll get written about once my blog reaches my 1000 mile post.)

Again, thanks to everyone for following along and supporting me! Hopefully I’ll get the next post written sooner rather than later!

300 Miles On The AT

I’m in Harper’s Ferry right now, after just having hitched to their public library with the intent of catching up on a blog post or two. So here we go.

After Clingman’s Dome we wanted to go into Gatlinburg, Tennessee. It was the only morning of bad weather we had throughout the entire Smokies. It was cold, rainy, windy, and we couldn’t for the life of us get a hitch into town.

Finally we found out a church group does regular shuttles into town and all we had to do was wait for the next one. Well, with the weather being so terrible, I opted to wait in the bathroom (which was heated and actually quite nice).

We finally made it to Gatlinburg, and it was different than any trail town I had been in thus far. It’s a tourist town, so there were flashy attractions, gimmicky souvenir shops, and families on vacation filling the streets. While the flood of “city folk” were a bit annoying, I was grateful for the vast array of restaurant choices. I had (almost) a whole bag of cajun fries from Five Guys, a dairy-free milkshake from Ben and Jerry’s, and a vegan pizza from Mellow Mushroom. Definitely the best food I had eaten since the start.

While ordering at Five Guys, this conversation ensued:

Me: “One large cajun fry, please.”
Employee: “You know a large fry feeds four adults, right?”
Me: “Or one thru-hiker..”

I would like to say I ate the entire bag (it was sure close, though) but unfortunately my overfull stomach won over my need to prove him wrong. Instead I walked away with a stomach ache and had to immediately go back to the hotel and lay down, a mistake I’ve made only once.

At the hotel, once I was feeling better, I did some bathtub laundry, which is pretty much just soaking your dirty hiker clothes in hot water in the bathtub when you’re too cheap to pay for laundry services.

The next day we got back on trail and proceeded to enjoy the Smokies with impeccable weather.

I also found a tree stump the looks like an avocado!

I did, however, get to see the Smoky Mountains finally live up to their namesake.

After the Smokies I made my way to Standing Bear Farm where I was lucky enough to enjoy some tasty vegan food,

and then made my way to Max Patch! Max Patch was a pretty amazing sight.

We stayed until sunset, and sat there on the grass watching the sun descend behind the mountains.

That night we decided to cowboy camp, which is camping without a shelter – you just set your sleeping pad up right on the ground. I had never cowboy camped before, but this seemed like a pretty great place for my first time. I was sure glad I did because waking up to the sunrise the next morning was absolutely incredible.

Later that day I ran into some trail magic! Trail magic is when people bring hikers food and supplies out of the goodness of their hearts. I didn’t eat the burgers but I did make myself a nice veggie sandwich and partook in the other treats as well.

My mom also likes to send me “trail magic” in the form of tiny bottles of wine, which I am very thankful for.

The trail keeps on providing beautiful sights and I get to keep on appreciating them.

And there it is! 300 MILES! I look awkward in this photo because sometimes I don’t know how to stand but here it is nonetheless.

Thanks so much to everyone following along with me on my journey! I’ll apologize again for behind so behind on my posts but know that I’m working to get caught up as soon as I can. Thank you for your patience and keep an eye out for the 400 miles post coming up next!

200 Miles On The AT

Y’all (I say y’all now, btw) I am t e r r i b l e at updating this. I. Am. So. Sorry. My Instagram stays current, but for some reason it’s been difficult to sit down and donate a chunk of time to updating my actual blog. I’m going to do my best to keep it updated from now on, but we’ll see.

So! Here’s what happened between mile 100 and 200. *BRB while I endlessly scroll back to the beginning of my photos..*

Franklin, NC! Mile 110, NOBO. We stopped at a restaurant in town and the only thing I could eat was two forms of fried potatoes. Don’t get me wrong, I love me some potatoes (boil em, mash em, stick em in a stew) but options would be nice.

We also stopped by Outdoor 76, I talked to Rob the foot expert, and we all got a drink from the bar in the back of the store. Queue a, “5 thru-hikers walk into a bar..” joke.

I elected to get a 6.9% hard cherry cider, which was so good I had to get another after finishing the first. It only took two before I was feeling pretty tipsy..

I stopped by the free pancake breakfast that the local church runs, but they didn’t have anything I could eat. I thought ahead and brought my own almond milk so at least I could have some coffee. They have a tradition of taking instant photos of every hiker and offering to send it wherever you’d like. Here’s mine:

Back on the trail! At this point my arches were really hurting, and heeding Rob’s advice, I decided to lower my daily miles. This also meant saying goodbye to my original tramily, which wasn’t easy. (Confession: I may or may not have cried.. more than once..)

During my time hiking solo, I accidentally crashed a wedding.

I was forced to zero at a shelter due to weather.

I got to see a rainbow!

And I got to walk through a magical frozen wonderland even though it meant surviving a freezing cold night the evening prior.

Coming down into the NOC (Nantahala Outdoor Center) I FINALLY got to see some green, instead of the sea of brown I had been walking through the entire way so far. It was so nice it gave me reason to pull out my GoPro and use it for the first time since I started. I also passed by some cool plant life as well.

I ended up staying in Bryson City, a town about 15 minutes from the NOC. I didn’t realize when I booked my hostel stay that it wasn’t right on trail, so it forced me to hitch into town. I had never hitched before, especially solo. While I do admit I was slightly nervous, everything turned out just fine. It took me about 20 minutes to get a hitch, but once I did, the nice gentleman who picked me up drove me right to my hostel with no problems.

If you’re looking to stay at a hostel in or around Bryson City, I’d definitely recommend Smoky Mountain Hostel. The bed sheets were fresh and the washing machine actually cleaned my clothes, and neither cost extra. They had a “hiker box” of leftover food, and I ended up making this curry and vegetable quinoa dish which tasted pretty dang good considering what I had to work with. One of the things I’m finding I really like about being on the trail is getting to be creative with limited ingredients.

Next up was Fontana, which was bittersweet for me. I was dealing with some foot problems and decided to play it safe by taking a few zeros (days in which zero miles are hiked) at the Fontana Hilton. Do not be fooled, this is no hotel, but by AT shelter standards it may as well be. Bathrooms with plumbing, toilet paper (not always included in restrooms out here), AND showers were walking distance from the shelter. The shelter was large with room for about 2 dozen hikers, and was a great place to hang out and meet lots of new people.

After a few days rest I finally got back on trail and set out into the Smokies. I was fortunate enough to have impeccable weather, even though a few days earlier my friends had to deal with a snow storm. I was luckier.

Mile 200 lands at Clingman’s Dome, the highest point on the AT.

There wasn’t a resident “mile 200” landmark there, so I quickly gathered some rocks and made one myself. We all put a foot in and BAM, instant mile marker photo.

Every time I complete another 100 miles on the AT, my excitement grows. I’m sitting at mile 863.7 as I write this, about to enter Shenandoah National Park, eager to continue North and see what else the trail will bring.

Week One On The Appalachian Trail

It’s only been a week out here on the trail and I’ve already learned so much. Here are some of the things I’ve picked up so far..

Shelters

Pros:

-You can escape the rain and keep your shelter dry, because packing out a wet tent in the morning is less than stellar.

-You can meet new people and make new friends since people tend to congregate at shelters.

-Easy set up and take down limits your time spent in camp if you’re trying to get more miles in.

Cons:

-Mice are annoyingly persistent at finding your food, and will even chew through your gear if it smells like there is something they can eat inside.

-They’re noisy. If shuffling through gear, rolling over on a Thermarest Neoair (seriously how are these so popular), or snoring will keep you awake, consider camping nearby instead.

-They provide zero privacy. You’re in such close quarters with about a dozen other people, and other than a nearby privy, finding time to yourself is in short supply.

-Bears have figured out that where there are hikers, there is food. If you’re around people who don’t properly store their food there’s a good chance a bear will find it.

Gear:

I now understand why so many seasoned thru hikers rely on the Thermarest Z Lite Sol (closed cell foam accordion-like sleeping pad), because I’ve already had to patch my Nemo Tensor. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love my sleeping pad, but with so much time spent in shelters it’s exposed to me and a dozen other hikers shuffling around it each night. We’ll see how long I last with it before I trade it in.

I’m so thankful I chose a (almost 100%) waterproof pack. As promised, the AT is wet, and knowing my gear is safe makes me feel a heck of a lot better hiking in the rain.

I really enjoy the ease of my Purinize purifying drops. Watching people struggle with their Sawyer filters (again, how are these so popular) makes me wonder how they got to be so widely used. They’re cumbersome, they malfunction on the regular, and are hard to clean if they get clogged. That’s a big no thank you from me. I switch off between two Smart Water bottles and I’m drinking one as the other is purifying. Works great. Plus it’s a one part system and only takes an hour. I’ve also seen some Katadyn filters and really like the ease of those as well.

Looking back I don’t know why I chose to switch up shoes right before the trail. I’ve exclusively been a Salomon user, and forcing my feet to adjust to Altra’s on the trail was not a good choice. I had to buy inserts when I got to Neels Gap because of the pain in my arches, and when I wear through these Lone Peaks I’m definitely switching back to Salomons.

I love loooooove my quilt. Its versatility alone is worth having a quilt instead of a sleeping bag. I can open it up and use it as a blanket on warm nights, or sinch it up tight when it gets cold. Win win.

I love my polycro footprint for any other trail, but trying to prevent it from getting ripped in shelters is an impossible task. I put it under my sleeping pad, and with all the commotion it’s gotten ripped three times already. I’m thinking about switching to some tyvek for its durability even though it is a bit heavier.

Food

I definitely overestimated how much food I would need. I knew it would take time for my hiker’s metabolism to kick in, but I’m barely eating 2000 calories a day even with hiking anywhere from 8-15 miles with 25 lbs on my back. Here’s to hoping it kicks in soon because it’s no fun carrying food and not eating it.

I don’t know why I thought I’d want to sit down and actually prepare lunch. I packed things like beans and tortillas, and hummus and pretzels, which would make great dinners instead of lunches. When I’m moving trying to get miles in, I’m finding that the last thing I want to do is take time to make lunch. I think I’ll switch to a meal bar, or something else easily consumed, for lunches and save the cooking for dinner.

Community

One of the big reasons I chose to do the AT was because of its reputation for having such a great community. And let me tell you, the rumors are true. I found a trail family (tramily) on day one, and they’ve been such amazing hiking partners. In addition to the hikers, I’m also appreciative of the people who set up trail magic. There are so many people looking out for thru hikers out here and I hope they know it’s not going unnoticed or unappreciated.

Overall I’m having an absolute blast out here, it’s everything I’ve wanted it to be so far and I’m definitely looking forward to the rest.

First Post!

How exciting is this?! I’ve been wanting to start a blog for quite some time now, and while the theme has evolved as the years have passed, I’ve finally gotten around to actually doing it. *tiny dance party for myself* As most of you may know, I’m going to be starting the Appalachian Trail on March 31st. While I was on the John Muir Trail I decided that three weeks in the wilderness wasn’t enough, I needed more. So I started planning for the AT as soon as I got back to Utah, and here I am only two months away from actually doing it. I’ve gotten almost all of my gear, I’ve been working and saving as much money as I can, and in a little less than two months I’ll be on a plane en route to Georgia, stepping foot onto the AT where I’ll spend the next 4-5 months walking all the way to Maine. It’s going to be difficult, and wet, and I can’t imagine how many mental breakdowns I’m going to have, but I’m still excited. I’m excited to meet new people, see new places, learn new skills, and accomplish new goals. It’s going to be an amazing experience, one I’m excited to share with everyone! So stay tuned for more posts about my preparations, my gear set up, and more!