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Back to the Appalachian Trail

Decided to book it to Twenty Mile Ranger station. Pretty chill trail, except going up Shuckstack, which was steep, but I was amazed and stoked to see the White Blazes of the AT again and remember the eventful night I spent with C-Bass and the nice older hiker whose trailname was what his buddy who died in Vietnam used to call him (can’t remember his name). It all felt so magical.

I hung out at Twenty Mile Ranger station and saw a few cars–including a ranger who stopped for me. I was scared because hitching is illegal in national parks and was afraid I was going to be ticketed, but he just asked is he could help. And technically, I was just outside park boundaries, so was probably ok.

A minivan pulled over with a very wholesome looking man who moved aside his kids’ toys and border collie so I could sit in the front seat. He was a dentist from Indiana and was so nice (like you imagine people from Indiana must be), that it was almost sketchy, except it wasn’t.

Made it there by 2:40 and got to the PO in time (apparently, it closes at 3!!). The postmaster was really nice and excited my home address was in Sacramento—I guess her mom is a country music DJ there. She asked if I listen to *whatever the call letters of the Sac country station is* and I kind of equivocated, but she took it for excitement. Apparently her mom will get me free tickets to see *whatever a country music star’s name may be* should I call in and tell her about the experience.
A bit frustrated by my Verizon phone, which is supposed to get reception in Fontana like other Verizon phones, but did not. I did get a bit of internet. The lady at the store was super nice about letting me have a cup, and I filled up with hot water in the bathroom for tea, and she told me to just go ahead and use their coffee machine for my tea. I was so grateful, when she mentioned she likes funky flavors of tea, that I gave her some of my licorice Stash.

Had fun at the Fontana Hilton meeting all the other hikers, and was pretty modest about my experience. I got AT&T reception there and was stoked. There’s a phone charger in the men (but not women’s…grr!) bathroom at the dam, so I had endless talk. It was nice to sleep in a shelter and not have to set up—but someone was snoring. Oh, the AT!

No gnarly fords and two turkeys

Cool, dry day. Hot breakfast and easy terrain with no gnarly fords! Very flat terrain. Got to Lakeshore Drive road, dried stuff out while doing a particularly long session of “anti-backpacking” yoga, and saw cars and people! The Lakeshore tunnel was awesome and the graffiti almost added to the artistic charm. I later saw some horsemen on the trail by Fontana Lake. Lots of horse poop on the trail, and I disturbingly haven’t been great about treating water. I made it to the campsite I had planned on, Campsite 77, by 6 and decided to book it the last 4.2 miles so that I’d make it to Fontana Dam before 4:00, when the PO closes. Undecided whether I’ll take the AT down from Shuckstack mountain right into Fontana Dam, or go to Twenty Mile Ranger station and hitch 6 miles. I am loathe to hitch, but I also don’t want to add an extra 4.5 miles uphill after my excursion to Fontana, and then still have 6 miles of the BMT left in the Smokies. We’ll see how the timing goes. Saw 2 turkeys today. Sadly, one turkey, upon seeing me, flew 100 feet in the air and quite quickly. Poor bird.

Learning from getting soaked

Rained last night quite hard—but the hammock stayed dry under the big tarp. It seemed like such a contrast to my last trip on the AT. I got soaked in an established campsite in the Southern Smokies in my hammock in 2008–a big bathtub of wetness that almost made me quit the trail. This time, on the BMT, in an established campsite in the Northern Smokies in my hammock, I was dry and happy.

I slept very little last night because I was worried I’d have to get up and fix my tarp whi9ch it started leaking–but no such problem.

I was able to make it past the camp I had planned and think I can make Fontana Dam on Friday. This is essential, since I have a package there. (Note: I didn’t notice this was my first 25+ mile day until 2 weeks later, as I write all this down and actually calculate my mileage–pretty cool I got it so early on, but the terrain was easy). I feel a bit like a jungle explorer this past day, bushwacking through a lot of the underbrush, hopping over blowdowns, fording thigh deep swift water, and balancing on wet, sketchy logs to get across streams. The maintenance here reminds me a bit of the CDT. I’m walking up and up endlessly into a foggy cloud where 100 yards ahead is only mist. I am again the only person at this campsite. There were two VERY gnarly fords of Pole Creek today. The type that on the other trails, I would’ve said “Are you f-ing kidding me??” I walked up and down the stream bank, looked for logs and rocks I could jump, and finally decided to go for it. It ended up being thigh deep and swift–probably because of all the recent rain. These fords were before and after Campsite 61–and my guidebook didn’t say anything about them. I came to another ford and was about to get angry, only to notice that there was a bridge next to it for hikers (must’ve been a horse ford). Bridges all the rest of the way. I was stoked! Today, I felt cold coming on (a bit of frozen rain), and switched from a t-shirt to longsleeve shirt and raingear. I was proud I caught myself waay before hypothermia could kick in. You figure with all my hiking experience, I’d know to do this, but I’m such a creature of extremes, I often don’t realize that I’m dangerously cold until it is too late. So sensing it early on made me feel pretty good.

Cold day from Laurel Gap to Smokemont

Very cold last night in Laurel Gap shelter. Wore all my clothes including my vapor barrier silnylon stuff and was still cold. So glad I brought it all. But today got quite warm–shorts and t-shirt weather! Nice downhill with beautiful springs, a bridge, and another long up. So hot outside, but was on top of the world listening to Lady Gaga in the sun walking downhill. I am doing what I love: hiking in beautiful weather with my body at top shape (well, top yoga/climbing shape…hiking, not so much). My life is so good. Crossed a beautiful bridge. Saw one other guy uphill. Decided I couldn’t make campsite 52, so took a long break in the sun and read Benton MacKaye biography (which I am carrying in *hardcover* and is totally worth it). Walked to Smokemont Camp with the decision to walk up to other campers and ask to split a campsite so I wouldn’t have to pay 17 bucks. Found two girls on spring break camping–my kind of people!!! Took a long time to set up my hammock and tarp—but better to practice on the BMT than the AT. I practiced a bit at home, but I’ve never been great at that sort of thing. The girls said they were headed to town, so I hopped a ride with them and got cell reception and a trip to the grocery store. I had waaay too much food in my pack, but cheese and meat and Krispy Kreme donuts (can’t get those in Cali) called to me. Today was hard walking, good weather, fresh food…A fine day indeed!

First day back on trail…getting in the groove again

Raining when I realized I left my umbrella in Ada’s car. Made eggs and shared them with Ice Axe. It was so cozy at Standing Bear that it was hard to leave, especially after Curtis brought us muffins (!) but I could barely sleep last night for the twitch of excitement.

I took the AT up to Davenport Gap, called in my permit from the Big Creek “ranger station” (parking lot). I hate dealing with permits, but this was super easy. I called them on their phone, told them where I wanted to go, wrote it on the permit paper they provided on the spot, and was on my way in 5 minutes.

Weather was misty and dreary, but I eventually warmed up enough to take off my down, nanopuff, 2 windshirts, and heat tech shirt so was hiking in only a t-shirt! There was 4000 feet of uphill and I must admit I forgot how much I need water–I ran out (need to get my trail wits back!). This dampened my enthusiasm enough to make me wonder why I’m hiking, until I took the 0.2 mile side trail to get water… from a piped spring! Yes! I never would’ve taken a side trail for water on the AT before, but the CDT has made me really appreciate water.

I climbed the Mt. Sterling Tower, but it was rickety and scary even by my climber standards.

The trail flattened out and water became plentiful. Made the shelter by 6 and saw 2 weekend hikers (father and son). The sun came out and I dried out my gear. Learned that the Freezer Bag Method of cooking (adding hot water to a bag of food to rehydrate) does not work if your water is boiling: in fact, the boiling water will burn a hole in your bag and food will get everywhere. Embarrassing, but hiking is all about learning. Good to learn this before starting the AT.

Return to Standing Bear

Here at Standing Bear and stoked to see all the AT hikers!! I ran into Ice Axe, who is now the only hiker (besides Frogs) who I’ve seen on the AT, PCT, and CDT! It’s a bit weird being with these greenhorns and tenderfoots, but their enthusiasm is so awesome and it makes me super happy. I always thought if I came out on these trails as a Triple Crowner, that I’d be talking to people, wondering who ois going to make it and who won’t–but that thought hasn’t even crossed my mind. I guess whole attitude has changed: hiking is about the experience, the people you meet, and the flow. We’re all here in this time-place, living a dream. I feel alive again to return here. I was excited to again see White Blazes. I felt a calling of “home.” My legs twitch in excitement for tomorrow. I Know I am supposed to be traveling this trail.

On the plane quivers…

My flight from Sacramento to Asheville was crazy (guess that’s what I get for using my miles to get a free flight). Sac to Denver was awesome because I got so see my friend Duncan from college and deliver him In N Out (sadly, Colorado has yet to offer its brave citizens this fine burger). Denver to Little Rock, AK was fine, until I discovered that my flight left 20 minutes before boarding time without any of the TV monitors or airline representatives telling me as much. They ended up sticking me on a different airline’s flight to Chicago, but that was delayed, too. By the time I got Chicago, my flight had left the gate and was hanging out on the tarmac, so I mossied my way down to the United First Class counter (the economy counters were closed down at 9:30 pm, of course), and they got me a new ticket and a discounted night at the Double Tree. Yes!

Now I’m hanging out in Asheville at the home of my friend Erin, my old housemate from grad school. I’ve got to get myself up to Standing Bear (I’m a bit loathe to pay the hostel $80 to pick me up here…maybe something will work out.

About half way through the flight to Asheville, the twitching excitement of starting a new hike shone through the clouds of fear I had been feeling about doing the BMT/AT. I love putting one foot in front of the other and even though I’ve never done the BMT before and never lived in NC, I felt the asme excitement that I had when I flew home after 4.5 months in Africa. Like coming home relieved me from the cultural and logistical stress of being in Africa, so, too, do I feel that starting a hike relieves me of the worries of my old life. Not that my life for the past 4 months has been particularly stressful–in fact, it has been downright delightful. But I feel like I’m about to return to my calling, and there are few better feelings than that.

Heading off on the Benton MacKaye Trail

Few trails are named after great environmental heroes, and the Benton MacKaye Trail is one of them. McKaye is my favorite environmentalist–the creator of the Appalachian Trail, the first regional planner, and a starch advocate of conservation while also expanding economic opportunities. I often think that if people pay/paid more attention to Benton, we wouldn’t quite be in the conservation mess we’re in right now. I’ll be reading his biography (sadly, despite all his incredible work, there is only one), as I hike.

Even though I’m a Triple Crowner now, I’m apprehensive about hiking the BMT. I’m not concerned about being lost, which seems to be most BMT hikers’ worry, because no matter what, it won’t be anything as bad as getting lost on the CDT. But I am worried about getting wet and about rough terrain. Hiking out west has spoiled me and this mild-3rd class rock scrambling that passes for hiking out East will once again come as quite a shock to me.

I may have a fair share of walking experience under my belt, but I feel more disconnected from traillife than usual. It’s only been 4 months since I was last on trail, but since then, I’ve established a life for myself in civilization and am slightly loathe to exit it. This never bodes well for a new hike. That being said, there is always apprehension before starting a hike, regardless of my experience. I need to jump into the cold pool and get used to the temperature. Perhaps in the process, I can honor my hero Benton for all he has done for large scale land conservation in this country.