I worked at a lively campus sports bar back in college. As part of opening the bar every Sunday, I’d set up the condiment bar with the usual Wisconsin suspects: giant tubs of horseradish, relish, pickles, mayo, onions, spicy mustard, etc. I’d carry the tubs from the bar refrigerator over to the brightly lit condiment island, peel off the thin layer of saran wrap, and bask in the odd smells of almost real, bought in bulk, pre-cut vegetables. The onions in particular had a peculiar smell; 30% sweet, 30% sour, 30% plastic, 10% onion, 100% off.
Anyway, that’s exactly what I smell like pretty much permanently. Warm, chopped, day old, condiment bar onions. I’m okay with it. It could be worse.
Here are 16 other things you probably don’t want to know about week two and three on the Appalachian Trail:
Emily’s refusal of the trail name Bam-Bam sort of backfired. She said, “I’m NOT Bam-Bam,” so many times, she became Not Bam-Bam. Word on the trail is, there’s another Pebbles and Bam-Bam up ahead, and you can’t imagine how much confusion duplicate trail names cause, so we might be short-lived.
Mother Appalachia read my blog last week and roared with laughter. On the night of our Zero Day in Helen, she stole all muscle memory of my giant Patagonian mountains and replaced them with more recent memories of her own mountains. They are my new normal now. Then she got together with her mountain friends and pushed the peaks higher, the gaps lower. Climbing out of Unicoi Gap, I realized what a nasty trick she had played.
I now find myself wondering about the location of the top of the mountain.
I know Emily also wonders about the location of the top of the mountain because of our awesome communication skills. One of us will grunt, “Yep,” as we’re making our way up yet another tree-lined staircase to the sky, and the other will respond with, “Mmhmm,” which is obviously code for, “WTF mountain, where’s your top?” and “Sonofabitch.” I don’t mean to hate on the ups. We’re actually much more verbally abusive to the downs. Uphill just takes energy. Downhill attacks both knees with a baseball bat.
Shelter mice are well-fed. I know this because we watched their wide bodies waddle up and down our tent one very long night at Long Branch Shelter, whilst clutching our head torches in faux, but sort of real terror, fearful they’d chew through the tent like we just read had happened to two other girls on the trail. In the morning, we discovered they had chewed holes, but only through my bandana I keep outside. And I keep it outside because it’s my pee rag. Joke’s on you, little mice.
Four miles at the beginning of the day feels like nothing and time floats by in a dreamlike state. Four miles at the end of the day feels like everything is broken, and your dream turns into an awful reality when you check your watch and realize you’ve only been walking eight minutes since the last time you checked, and you’re absolutely positive it’s been over an hour. Eight minutes.
We basically have two speeds: Injured and Energizer Bunny.
One year I decided to run a half marathon, but had to gracefully bow out due to severe shin splint issues, which I half-assedly attempted to counter with these hot pink compression knee high leggings the guy at the running store said might work. They did a little, but thankfully not enough, because I really didn’t want to run that half marathon. Anyway, since I’m prone to shin splints and I really do want to finish this hike, I decided to wear them on the trail. I’m not sure how much they help, but I don’t have shin splints and they do an excellent job hiding the one place my legs noticeably grow hair.
MAKE SURE YOUR WATER BLADDER TOP IS SCREWED ON TIGHTLY BEFORE YOU PUT IT INTO YOUR PACK, AND THEN PUT YOUR PACK INTO YOUR TENT. Just a suggestion.
I’m sorry, what? You brush your teeth every night and morning? I don’t even know where my toothbrush IS. By the time we roll onto our piece of land for the evening, I have just enough energy for three things: building our home (setting up the tent), cooking a gourmet meal (inhaling calories of easy mac), and playing cribbage. And sometimes we fall asleep before the cribbage part of the evening arrives, which is sad. So yeah, personal hygiene falls pretty low on the list, like all the way down to my Things To Do On Town Days List. I find myself thinking things like, “It’s been four days since my last shower…I think I can make it a few more.” Yes, I’m gross. And no, I don’t care.
I’m incredibly jealous of whoever’s job it was to name trails, gaps and milestones along the AT. I also have a sizeable amount of respect for these creative minds. Ohhhh I get it, Winding Stair Gap. Clever name you motherf*cker, you think you’re cute, don’t you. Young Lick Knob, Gooch Gap, Swag of the Blue Ridge, Chunky Gal Trail, Swinging Lick Gap, Sweat Heifer…you all make me smile.
I am overly aware that people can be super shitty. Like, real shitty. But all of that shittiness seems to evaporate on and around the trail. People like to call it Trail Magic out here, but I like to think that being out in nature, walking the trail, even being near the trail, knowing others are out there wandering with a purpose, just makes you want to be better. And then you realize just how easy it is to be better, to be nice, to give someone a lift who is going the same direction, to offer an extra candy bar to someone who has none, to buy the hiker’s $6 breakfast, to give two girls a lift to the grocery store because your daughter is 1,000 miles in and you hope someone extends the same courtesy after her 20 mile walk uphill.
Seeing a thru-hiker is as exciting as seeing a bear in the wild. A few days ago, Emily and I had just sat down for our routine morning break atop a grassy bald, when a tour group approached from the other direction. A few folks wandered excitedly over and asked the usual: where did we start, when did we start, where are we from, are we hiking the whole thing?! Two ladies asked to take our photo before unloading a bunch of snacks, which we happily munched on while one woman exclaimed, “Well, we look forward to seeing you guys as much as we look forward to seeing a bear!” I know what my face said, because I have exactly zero desire to encounter a bear on this journey. Her face registered my face, “No no no, that came out wrong! I mean, we WANT to see you. We’re wildlife seekers!” Yeah, okay, I’m good with being on the same level as wildlife.
When I first started riding my bicycle around Madison, I opted for a single-speed because gears annoyed, and I’ll be honest, confused me. The more bells and whistles shit has, the more bells and whistles that can andwill break. Turns out, buying my first real bicycle was very similar to buying my first thru-hike pack. I went with Granite Gear’s Crown 60 mosty because it has zero bells, absolutely no whistles, yet everything I need. As an added bonus, their customer service is top-notch. I bought three Granite Gear packs from Moosejaw (amazeball site for hiking/cycling/snowboarding gear) trying out sizes and models, two of which I needed to return directly to Granite Gear, which if you are unfamiliar, is located in Two Harbors, MN. I called the Returns Department number I found on their website, and got Linda. I am pretty sure Linda runs all departments at Granite Gear. She may be the only employee, sitting at her desk, answering whichever phone rings, inserting the department labeled on the telephone into her greeting, “This is Linda, X department.” Except all she said was,”This is Linda,” like I was calling my mother or my friend. I loved her immediately. Linda was as confused as I was on how to return bags bought from Moosejaw directly to Granite Gear, so she said, “Ah, just box ’em up and send ’em over. Directly to me. I’ll get it settled.” But Linda, how will I know if you get them? “Just write me a note, remindin me of this conversation, include your email, and I’ll shoot you a message.” The Midwest business model. Trust and honesty.
So I love sunsets and sunrises even more. In the Real World, it can be hard to catch them – you’re sleeping, eating, working, distracted, doing something else. When I left to hike the AT, I was over the moon about being able to see every sunset and every sunrise for five entire months…and then I started hiking the AT. More often than not, your beautiful sunrise is behind that mountain and your sunset is barely visible through those trees. And even when there is potential, see #10. So naturally, we started hiking earlier, and kept hiking later.
An absurd number of rocks in the Smokies are shaped exactly like Wisconsin. Don’t be alarmed, I saw a few Minnesotas, one California and the entire continent of Africa several times as well.
Now I’m 274.4 miles in, chilling in Hot Springs, feeling like a dog off its leash. And for those of you who care, the mile breakdown. Otherwise, The End.
Day 7 – Unicoi Gap -> campground past Dicks Creek Gap 17.7 miles
Day 8 – Campground -> Standing Indian Shelter 15.7
Day 9 – Standing Indian Shelter -> Long Branch Shelter 16.2
Day 10 – Long Branch -> Winding Stair Gap 7.3 mi (half day into Franklin)
Day 11 – Winding Stair Gap -> Cold Spring Shelter 15.8
Day 12 – Cold Spring -> Sassafras Gap Shelter 18.4
Day 13 – Sassafras Gap -> Cable Gap Shelter 15.2
Day 14 – Cable Gap -> Fontana Dam 7.1 (half day into The Hike Inn)
Day 15 – Fontana Dam Visitor Center -> (enter the Smokies, must stay at shelters) Spence Field Shelter 16.4
Day 16 – Spence Field -> Double Spring Gap Shelter 13.5
Day 17 – Double Spring -> Icewater Spring Shelter 13.8