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All’s well that ends with Elmer’s

Sunrise on Snowbird Bald
Sunrise on Snowbird Bald

As I expected, today was the best day on trail ever. I *love* the section from Standing Bear over Max Patch to Hot Springs. If there were a heaven and if I were to go there, I would just do this section over and over again. 30 miles through a botanical garden of flowers of all colors and sizes…views on what I still think is the most incredible “mountain” on the whole Triple Crown–Max Patch…ah, what a spectacular day. And it was only made better by the delicious wholesome All You Can Eat vegetarian meal at Elmer’s amazingly home-like antiquey Sunnybank hostel.

I left Standing Bear at 5 after making myself some eggs (apparently, they are microwave-able) and made it up to the top of Snowbird, a beautiful, grassy Southern bald, for what I imagine was the most beautiful Easter morning anyone could have. I felt so fortunate to be on the trail, so lucky to be hiking, and so special to see the Smokies and all the mountains lit by an emerging pink sun.

Brown Gap Trail magic
Brown Gap Trail magic

On the way down, I saw a sick weekend southbound hiker, and since there was no one else about at that hour, helped him up Snowbird until we found his friend an hour later.

There was incredible Brown Gap trail magic led by the Rat Pack (super trail maintainers). My friend Pi got my into the idea of offering the best food in my food bag to trail maintainers as thanks…what these guys were doing trying to feed me was beyond my comprehension! This was all you can eat eggs, bacon, grapefruit juice…mmm.. To make it better, someone left sodas 3 miles from Brown Gap for the last bit up the mountain.

Max Patch lived up to my memory of it—the most beautiful place in the world. The only bummer was that the new shoes I got in Fontana were a bit too small for my now swollen feet and I’d gotten a blister on my pinky toe. I took a break at a campsite, dreaming of Leukotape (sports tape that sticks forever…and is only available online) and getting new shoes in Hot Springs. Miraculously (more trail magic!), a weekend hiker saw my blister and offered me as much as leukotape as I wanted!!!

One of 273 photos I have of Max Patch
One of 273 photos I have of Max Patch

The rest down to Hot Springs was prety fun and I got into flow and ended up going much faster than normal. I didn’t realize that I hadn’t eaten since Brown Gap until it’d been almost 7 hours since my last meal (bad, bad hiker). The last uphill before Hot Springs was a bit tricky, but all was better on an easy downhill right into delicious food…

What a spectacular day! This trail is so incredible. I can’t wait to get off the computer and hike some more!

Dinner at Elmer’s
Dinner at Elmer’s

Lessons from Canada

Last views from the Smokies
Last views from the Smokies

There were so many people in the shelter, I apologize if I woke anyone up when I got up at 6!

It took me a long time to find the way back to the AT in the dark, but I finally was on my way at 6:45 after wandering back and forth and probably waking up the poor tenters!

Super chill day with a nice downhill. I walked for 4 hours with Eh?, from Canada, and learned all sorts of cool things about Canadian history and politics. That’s why I love the trail—where else can you be exposed to so many people with different experiences and outlooks on life in a safe/friendly atmosphere where everyone has enough time to chat with you for 4 hours???

Everyday I’m out here, I’m so happy that I feel like I’m dancing up and down the trail. I’m doing what I love and it’s awesome. I can’t get over how great my life is!

AT Maildrop at Standing Bear
AT Maildrop at Standing Bear

Got in at noon and made phone calls for 3 hrs by the side of I-40 (I knew there was no reception a mile up the hill at the hostel). Already made my reservation for Easter dinner at Elmer’s in Hot Springs. Great weather forecast for tomorrow–the day I’ve been looking forward to for 3 years—going back to Max Patch, quite possibly my favorite spot on the entire Triple Crown. I am *soooo* stoked!

Seeing old friends in odd places

With Cimarron–attempting to be the oldest person to thru-hike the AT.
With Cimarron–attempting to be the oldest person to thru-hike the AT.

Wow–just calculated the mileage for this section and it was a lot longer than I thought! As I hiked this yesterday, I thought it was 23 miles and a grueling 23 at that. Good to know that feeling came from some extra miles instead.

But I met all sorts of famous and familiar hikers today–so it was totally worth it!

Which way is the white blaze? Almost an exact replica of the photo I took here in 2008.
Which way is the white blaze? Almost an exact replica of the photo I took here in 2008.

Finally figured out how to use the delayed timer on my camera to grab a photo of myself at this boulder with two whites blazes–arrows pointing at the other blaze. I thought it was funny in 2008 and took a photo there–and that photo is the “AT photo” I’m using for the Triple Crown ceremony. I think this one might have even turned out better!

Newfound Gap is the place to yogi if you’re a thru-hiker
Newfound Gap is the place to yogi if you’re a thru-hiker

Since I heard rain on the shelter and thought today was a short day, I slept in today and didn’t leave until 7. Turned out it was just misty and cold–warranting a coffee break at Icewater Spring Shelter! The climb up Clingman’s Dome wasn’t bad—and I actually got really happy and excited doing it because I could smell the Balsam Fir. It looked and smelled like the AT up in Maine–how amazing the forest ecology of the Smokies that it can have such a diverse distribution of awesome plants!

No view (or bathroom) on Clingman’s Dome. Hard to say which I was more bummed by.

Around Newfound Gap, I ran into two packless people who identified me as a thru-hiker—pretty amazing I thought given the tiny size of my pack. They ended up being AT thru-hikers, too–Wild Child and Dash who I met on the PCT in 2009!! I guess some time on the PCT gives people an eye for tiny-packed, smelly folk like myself. They may have left some trail magic (thanks!!).

Shameless state line photo. Also a replica of a 2008 thru-hike photo, except without Johnny Thunder and the Thundercats
Shameless state line photo. Also a replica of a 2008 thru-hike photo, except without Johnny Thunder and the Thundercats

I hung around the Appalachian Trail information board at Newfound Gap that visitors use to learn about the trail, the history of the park, etc. A large group approached me asking; “Are you a thru-hiker?” And we chatted for a while and I even got invited back to their cabin for a night of being warm (it was freezing at Newfound Gap!), dryness, plenty of beer, food, and internet. How it killed me to decline. Another kind family brought me over to their car and gave me Gatorade and cookies–the dad is hiking part of the trail in June and was thoughtful pack snacks in case he ran into thru-hikers during his family vacation!

Met the famous hiker Cimaron, an 88 year old guy setting out to be the oldest thru-hiker. He was super nice and I even got a photo with him–I wish him the best of luck!

Had a snack break with Shutterbug and her awesome friends (sorry I can’t remember you—you had a Jerry Chair, though!). They were hammock gear heads and made me feel pretty pathetic in the knowing-how-to-use-my-gear department. Awesome what I learned and all the cool gadgetry they had!

As the clouds lift, the Smokies are enchanting
As the clouds lift, the Smokies are enchanting

Lastly, I met Squatch, the famous thru-hiking documentarian at Tri-Corner Shelter. He remembered me from the PCT Kick Off and seemed quite impressed that I’m 25 and a Triple Crowner. He, a 17 year old thru-hiker (!!!) and I were sitting around the campfire, and they were both pressuring me to go to Trail Days, and I kept saying no, no, I can’t…until I finally just told them that I am going for the unsupported female record (at least what I’ve read the record to be), so I can’t. That finally convinced them that maybe Trail Days wasn’t going to happen, but then Squatch wanted it on film, and it was all dark and smoky and happened so quickly and next thing I knew, I had agreed and there it was. So, the cat is out of the bag. He also mentioned that the girl featured in his first documentary, “Walk,” who wanted to be the youngest Triple Crowner at 20 didn’t end up doing it. He said there’s a good chance I might be the youngest woman Triple Crowner, though I hope that honor goes to Salamander, who is one of the coolest people I know and I kind of hope I end up becoming her when I grow up.

Sweet return to the Smokies

Wildflowers in bloom in the Smokies
Wildflowers in bloom in the Smokies

Woke up to the sound of rain on the shelter. But what better place to have to wake up to the rain than the Fontana “Hilton?” I grabbed my stuff in the dark and was able to pack up under the dry comfort of the Hilton’s eaves. I made it a whole 100 yards to the restroom at the Hilton, where I drank in luxury two cups of hot coffee (made with hot water from the faucet)!

I strolled out at 6 am for the road walk. I’m a little sketched about walking on a road in the dark as a little girl all alone, but didn’t see anyone about. I wasn’t sure where to get my permit for Smoky Mtn Ntl Park, but the coffee hit my system, and I headed towards the bathroom at the Visitor’s Center. At 6:30 am, they were locked, but in a desperate attempt to try out multiple bathroom door entrances, I found the permit station tucked away in the back.

Hikertrash breakfast
Hikertrash breakfast

I’d been dreading the climb up Shuckstack Mtn–2000 feet straight of gain that I remembered as being never-ending from my 2008 thru-hike. I walked it with C-Bass and an older guy whose trailname was given to him decades ago by his best friend who died in Vietnam. We camped at Birch Spring Tent Site, where my hammock turned into a bathtub and I told myself I’d quit the AT if I had one more night like that. C-Bass’s positive attitude kept me going…and look at me now! This time, Shuckstack Mtn was super chill–I got to the top and was like: “Oh, I’m already here.” FYI–it’s a way harder climb on the BMT.

Grasslined path in the Smokies
Grasslined path in the Smokies

Didn’t see anyone until I took an hour long break at Mollie’s Ridge Shelter and as I was leaving, Kentucky Greybeard (the ridgerunner) came by. He said he’d never heard of anyone making it to Mollie’s Ridge from Springer in 6 days before and he hadn’t heard of someone attempting to go from Fontana Dam to Siler’s Bald Shelter. I was quite touched.

Saw Jaybird and Booberry (?) from Gardinerville, NV—I used to drive through there on my way to Lee Vining all the time! They were super nice and I had a great chat with them and Blairfoot.

View of the distance mountain the Smokies
View of the distance mountain the Smokies

The weather was spectacular for photos on Thunder Mtn where Tin Man (hiking for heart charity) took my photo. The climb to Derrick Knob Shelter was totally ass kicking. I loved seeing it again (I stayed there in 2008 and had a fantastic time with Johnny Thunder and the Thundercats there—we hoofed it to a crazy night in Gatlinburg–what fun!)

On the way to Siler’s Bald Shelter, I met OWF and OWF’s Keeper—who are from Norfolk, CT and worked at Great Mountain Forest and had played beerpong with Star Childs (kind of the unofficial mascot of forestry school). What a small crazy world! We chatted about delicious New Haven food all the way to Siler’s Bald…where we ate our hiker food. A beautiful and rewarding day with great people. I really do think the Smokies bring hikers together…what a socially and ecologically beautiful place.

Back to Fontana Dam…through horrendous rain

This is the best photo all day. Kept my camera in its ziplock baggie for most of the day because of the rain.
This is the best photo all day. Kept my camera in its ziplock baggie for most of the day because of the rain.

Taking a nero (near-zero—a short day) to hang out at the Fontana Hilton and rest up before hitting the Smokies.

I made a pact with myself not to run on this trail, but the PO for Fontana Dam closes at 3 (!!!), and there was no way I was going to make it there without running on the downhills. It was surprisingly easy–and I made it with 15 minutes to spare. This was great, as it gave me enough time to get my package (with new shoes!!!!) and also grab stuff out of the box that I wanted to bounce onto Hot Springs.

Last night at Sassfras Gap Shelter, I saw Shawn (aka Gotta Go) who was with me at the Hiker Hostel. When I got up at 5, I heard him say: ‘You’ve got to be kidding me.’ He was only joking, though. I always ask people the night before if it is ok if I can stay in the shelter even though I’m going to be getting up early, and no one has had a problem yet.

To my incredible sadness, I hit Cheoah Bald in the dark and didn’t get the view. I was hoping to hit it at sunrise, but was too early. I ran into two thru-hikers cowboy camping (not using a shelter) on the top—I bet they got a stern wake-up call at 7 when it started raining like crazy.

So—I realized that today I got my first horrendous rain since I started training on the BMT. I’m getting smarter about being wet, though. In the past, I would push harder and faster to stay warm when wet, but this time, I took a break at Brown Fork Gap Shelter around 9:30, took off my wet clothes, put on dry clothes, dried stuff, and made myself a couple hot drinking. By the time I was finished, it had stopped raining!! Now that’s luck.

Ran into Chef at Cable Gap Shelter, and then met the Dude, two women with a dog, another guy, and a girl hiking solo (yay!)–all whose names I’ve forgotten.

Got a hitch into the Dam and am still eating. So excited for a shower…

Recovery from Injury

Could there be anything more fairy-tale beautiful than descending to the NOC and watching spring emerge before your very eyes?
Could there be anything more fairy-tale beautiful than descending to the NOC and watching spring emerge before your very eyes?

Pulled into the NOC for a burger and beer two hours ago and off to do another 7 miles (?)

So many exciting insights on the trail–how it has changed since 2008 and how different it is from hiking out West.

But the computer place closes in 5 minutes, so I’ll have to update tomorrow from Fontana Dam.

Loving the AT! *Ok–now time for those updates* Woke up to find out that my IT band no longer hurts. Wow. That was a fast recovery. I guess sending it happy thoughts worked. I crawled out of my hammock at 7 am—my latest start yet. I could’ve been out earlier, but wanted to give my IT band a full 12 hours to rest (even though all I could feed it last night was mashed potatoes) I met No Worries at Cold Spring Shelter and Scribbles before Copper Ridge Bald (yay! another girl hiking alone!). I met not Nick near Tellico Gap. I was super stoked to run into Road Runner on the way down from the NOC. I correctly guessed that he runs on roads from his name—and thought if anyone knows how to stretch an IT band, it has to be a runner. He was able to give me some great suggestions. Thanks, Roadrunner! Speaking of stretching, I met Yogaman doing some yoga and he’s also having IT band issues. Got into the NOC at 2:50 (also ran down the hill—promised myself I wouldn’t but was trying to call my mom before she left for work at 12 PCT. I made it in time, but she didn’t pick up). Surprisingly, I took care of eating, getting a burger to pack out, getting a beer, shower, resupply, internet, and many phone calls all in 3 hours. Yay for quick chores! Got into Sassfras Gap shelter (what a beautiful shelter) at 8:10 to a beautiful sunset. So, insights on the trail since 2008: It seems to me that there are many more: cell phones, cell phone usage, Iphones (did Iphones even exist in 2008?) young people, guys (and gals) with awesome hipster glasses, trash, women hiking solo There are fewer: uphills, rain, older people That’s my wisdom for now.

Visiting an old, dead, friend

RIP to the second oldest yellow poplar.
RIP to the second oldest yellow poplar.

 

Left Standing Indian at 5:45 am–after the guy whose friend lives in Franklin had already left. That guy was trying to catch the 11 am shuttle to Franklin by Ron Haven, I guess. I had thought about trying to catch the shuttle to Franklin, mostly because I remember eating at this *awesome* All You Can Eat Southern food buffet in Franklin in 2008. No modern guidebook mentions the buffet, though, so I didn’t think it’d be worth the hassle of going into Franklin for a buffet that may be out of business.

I got to Albert Mtn at 11 am—now Albert Mtn was the type of steep I remember the AT being! The weather was fantastic, so I had to climb the tower and grab a photo. When I hiked in 2008, the weather was crummy, so it was awesome to get the view from up there. I met Winnie and his two buddies on top.

Had to stop in at Big Spring Shelter–the second shelter I stayed at on the AT in 2008.

I took the side trail to see Wasalik Poplar–the 2nd oldest yellow poplar in the world. I realize that taking side trails is kind of against the spirit of a speed hike, but I *really* wanted to see the poplar and have spent the past three years regretting that I didn’t take the side trip in 2008. To make matters worse, the tree was still alive in 2008. I still was pleased to view its grand dead trunk, though, and met a nice family with two kids from Manchester who grabbed my photo with the tree.

Somewhere around 3 pm, I hit Winding Stair Gap into Franklin and realized that my foodbag is filled primarily with coffee. Decided to push on.

I was SO stoked to see Siler Bald. I *love* Southern Balds. Really love them. Love them enough that I wrote my Silviculture forestry management paper on them—and got back the comment: “While I appreciate your enthusiasm, this paper is twice as long as the limit.”

Met No Hurry on the way down from the bald–and he lives in New Haven! (where I used to live!) He’s also getting graduate research credits for hiking the AT….hmm, sounds disturbingly familiar.

IT band started hurting like crazy on the way up from Wayah Gap. I had intended to make Wayah Shelter, but I was in so much pain, that I decided to call it a night and rest it. Very frustrating for all my excitement about hiking to have an injury already…

Day 3: Standing Indian to Tray Mtn

North Carolina-Georgia border. My first state is down.
North Carolina-Georgia border. My first state is down.

Left Tray Mtn at 5:50 excited to start the day after a cold night. Sad to make it to Dicks Creek Gap and realize that Cloud 9 hostel no longer exists there–so many fun memories from 2008.

Met a bunch of thru-hikers at the gap, most memorably a couple with a dog named Olive.

From Blue Ridge Gap to Bly Gap, I met Buckeye (who thru-hiked in 1999!), Jabber and Mush (who I joked had done the Iditerod), and Tabitha (another girl hiking solo! Yay!).

Had to stop in at Muskrat Shelter and sign the log. Muskrat was the first shelter I stayed at during a cold night back in 2008. There was a piece of a recently crashed Cesna by the side of the shelter, and I met two guys there.

Cesna remains at Muskrat shelter
Cesna remains at Muskrat shelter

Made it to Standing Indian Shelter at 6:30 and met two guys from Bates (who knew my friend’s sister), Clay (who had new dreads–made me miss my old dreads), a girl who had made her own solar panel/phone charger, and a guy who had a friend in Franklin but a dead phone battery (and couldn’t remember his friend’s number). So many cool and funny people on the trail.

I was exhausted by the end of the day and couldn’t figure out why until I realized that I had done over 7,000 feet of elevation gain!!! That being said, the AT isn’t as gnarly for me as I had remembered. I was expecting steep up and down and up like on the Montana/Idaho border on the CDT. It’s been a surprisingly lot of contoured ridges like on the PCT. This has been *wonderful*.

Day 2: Neel’s Gap to Tray Mountain

Fried chicken trail magic…my first of the AT
Fried chicken trail magic…my first of the AT

 

There was a huge storm last night, so I was happy to be inside for most of it. The hostel overbooked (I was so stoked to get there to claim the last bunk–only to be told after I received the bunk ticket that it had gone to someone else. They were super nice, though, and said I could stay on the staff couch).

Ran into Baltimore Jack and Matt, who gave me trail magic after Hiwassee in 2007 and I also ran into at the PCT Kick Off last year.

Many thanks to Lumpy, Rachel, and Tits McGee for half a pizza and all the leftover hotdogs at Neel’s Gap. Not the healthiest dinner, but a good one.

Ran into Trek at the hostel, who said he ran into my old boyfriend/hiking partner, Frogs, out on Springer yesterday. Funny that he’d be out there the very day I had planned to start! Hope his training is going well.

Ran into Wren at the hostel, another lady hiking solo. So stoked to see her and Moosette out there.

Got out of Neel’s Gap at 6:30 and it was raining as I hiked in the dark, but the sun came up and it cleared. I walked with a weekend hiker named Star (!) with his dog for about an hour and learned a lot about GIS and mapping from him. Some older guys out for the weekend told me they ran into Trek and I was wondering how he was ahead of me given that I started so early. I finally caught him at Blue Mtn Shelter, where I took a break, and discovered he left at 5:45!!

Got Frankenfoot’s trail magic at Indian Grave Gap—fried chicken!!! Apparently, I ate it so voraciously that he had to take a photo. Glen and Kevin were there, too.

Pulled into Tray Mtn at 5:50 and met two awesome thru-hikers who did Peace Corps in Armenia–so I had to ask them about Armenia. I mean, I certainly hadn’t heard of anyone who had even been to Armenia. Apparently, it is the size of Maryland, and the bus system runs better interprovince than intraprovince. Also, very easy to hitchhike there.

That’s all for now.

Day 1: Springer to Neel’s Gap

This “start” photo was taken the day before I started on top of Springer.
This “start” photo was taken the day before I started on top of Springer.

 

Left Springer at 4:30—was going to leave at 6, but got SOOO excited I couldn’t sleep.

Saw Pinkberry and a bunch of the folks I met at Hiker Hostel, which was super cool.

Met Razor at Blood Mtn Shelter.

I’m at Neel’s Gap now. Got here 3:50 and they say a storm is coming on and that there’s more bears up ahead, so I’m happy here.

It was great to be on the AT again. I drank 5 L of water, though! Certainly not on the CDT anymore!

You would never see these three things on the CDT: Water, shelter, or a sign.
You would never see these three things on the CDT: Water, shelter, or a sign.

Only problem with the AT is that there’s so many people, I have trouble dropping trou’.

Nice and cool today–a perfect start to a great trip!