A Week on the Appalachian Trail
SATURDAY – 8.3 Miles
We left Augusta at 7am. Kelly drove me and Annmarie 4 hours to Erwin, Tennessee. We parked at Uncle Johnny’s hostel and reserved a cabin for the night we got back.
Then we met up with Kelly’s friend Heather aka Lil Heath who drove us an hour out to our starting point in Hot Springs, North Carolina. We stopped at a Taqueria – I got chips and salsa and a sweet potato black bean taco (regret set in later). We also each got chicken quesadillas to pack out for dinner later to avoid cooking on our first night (Kelly sadly lost her quesadilla later on the trail but somehow saved her empanada).
As we waved bye to Heather at the trailhead a random guy asked to take our picture – he seemed super excited for us.
When we first got on the trail, it bordered the French Broad River which was really beautiful. There were a lot of switchbacks leading up the mountain that were difficult but we got to see the Lover’s Leap Lookout before we headed into the woods completely.
The first mile was extremely painful. My upper and lower back were cramping, my collarbone and hip bones were bruising from the tightened straps on my pack. It was hard for me to catch my breath – it felt like I was wearing a corset with 40 pounds on my back. I started to feel claustrophobic and anxious about the trip – questioning why I was even doing this. Turning around and bailing was tempting. Kelly reminded us that our bodies were going to acclimate and she was right. Soon we got into a groove and the pain was manageable.
We saw some wildlife: a black rat snake, a few happy trail dogs and a frog jumped out in front of me and Kelly and almost made us fall. We sat on every bench we came across (per Kelly’s tradition).
Toward the end of our hike we filtered some water from a pipe in a creek to refill our bottles. It’s comforting to be resupplied with water but you can feel the added weight.
The last 2 miles were straight incline. We had to stop often to catch our breath but we made it to the fire tower before sunset. It was a perfect spot to spend our first night especially with rumors of bear activity in the area. We all immediately stripped down naked and wiped the dirt and sweat off our bodies – deliriously laughing the whole time.
We blew up our sleeping pads, laid out our sweat-soaked clothes to dry, changed into our camp clothes and ate our quesadillas. Then me and Annmarie enjoyed our Nutella out of the jar as we watched the sun go down.
As we were tucking in for the night, two young girls (a history and a philosophy major) showed up and talked to us for a bit – they were in town staying with their grandma and were excited to meet us. As we were trying to fall asleep around 10pm a southern couple came by and drank and talked below us before finally coming up to see the view. We joked with them about bears being able to climb stairs and stealing our food.
I was the only one who brought a sleeping liner instead of an actual sleeping bag after me and Kelly talked about it probably being pretty warm at night – we were very wrong.
SUNDAY – 11.3 Miles
The wind picked up in the middle of the night and it got very cold. I buried myself completely in my blanket but couldn’t fall asleep. Luckily Kelly invited me to scoot over next to her in the middle of the night to share her sleeping bag. But the huge gusts of wind kept lifting it off of us.
We all woke up around 6:30am. We shared about our crazy dreams and how little sleep we got – maybe staying on top of this fire tower wasn’t the best move. I dreamt that a group of campers were throwing my phone down a line in a hallway and it fell and cracked and I couldn’t read anything on it and I started crying. Kelly dreamt she was peeing and almost went in her sleeping bag.
It was misting above us – cold but really pretty. We could see it above our heads traveling through the openings of the tower. Our hiking clothes were more wet than when we laid them out so we shoved them in our sleeping bags to warm up as we made our cold oats and instant coffee. As we moved around we could all feel the aches and muscle soreness from yesterday’s climb. After stretching a little we brushed our teeth overlooking the mist above the mountains as the sun came up, packed up and headed out.
We filled up on water at a nearby creek then got on the trail. We weren’t fully awake yet so we hiked in silence for a bit. It was nice to just soak up the sounds around us – the chittering of bugs and birds, our shoes and poles slapping the damp ground, leaves brushing up against our shins, and the trees above us blowing in the wind sounded like the ocean.
Whenever we took a water break, Kelly would pull out the map and show us the upcoming inclines, declines – anything else she’d always describe as just “bee boppin around.”
As we walked, Ann would point out every snail. She’d do it so much that Kelly started calling her Snail Scout – she earned her trail name day 2.
Kelly pointed out some plants that were new to me. I made sure to avoid the stinging nettles (apparently you can make tea with them).
We passed by some tombstones before crossing paths with a woman – blonde shaggy hair with striking blue eyeliner. She introduced herself as Lucky Two – she had a light youthful spirit. She told us a story about a bear encounter and showed us her mini military grade horn. That freaked Ann out a little since she’s fearful of bears and darkness – but she was out here conquering both.
After breaking for a quick snack I put in headphones and listened to some of my favorite film soundtracks to help me get through the last 2 miles. It was really magical to be in the middle of such an insane place, away from everything, listening to such inspiring music. Pure magic.
We broke for lunch – and as I was balancing my PB&J sandwich on my thigh a dog ran up to me and almost mowed me down and made me drop it in the mud – that would’ve been devastating. I shared some of my food with Ann since she didn’t pack enough (no wonder her pack was so much lighter than ours).
Back on the trail we met Dave Jones aka Valium – a trail maintainer known for his laidback and easy-going personality.
When we finally got to the shelter we set up our tents to keep the bugs away and hung our backpacks up on rigged hooks to keep the rats out. We filled up our bottles in a nearby creek so we wouldn’t have to do it in the morning. Also I pooped in a hole for the first time – the privy was absolutely disgusting.
We brought out our cook pots for the first time and boiled water for pasta. Once we finished and packed it all up we strung up our food bags on a bear pulley system.
MONDAY – 10.6 Miles
I woke up from another nightmare. I was pulling gum out of my teeth and throwing it on the ground. Then I was driving with my ex-in-laws and Sierra going to Dairy Queen, then somehow I noticed David got some of his tattoos removed.
When we got our food bags down in the morning I noticed a small hole had been chewed through mine – a rat had gotten some of my bread! Not a huge deal – Kelly helped me patch it up and I made my oats. A woman known as Fiddle walked up and joined us at the picnic table. I watched her put candy corn in her coffee – a smart way to pack sugar. She told us about her hiker friend that was paralyzed now from a falling tree branch landing on her car. Fiddle told us: “when your feet hurt, be thankful.” I thought about that a lot throughout the rest of the trip.
Our hike out of camp was super foggy and really beautiful – but pretty difficult due to the steep incline.
When we got to White Rock Cliff I was drenched in sweat so I took off my shirt and bra to dry off in the sun. The breeze felt amazing. I also earned my trail name – Tater Tots – because Kelly said I always have them out. She’s not wrong. It feels good being nude in the woods and I’ll take every opportunity I can to strip down.
When we got started again we walked along alot of mossy boulders and on the side of some cliffs. I was getting tired and started making stupid mistakes and almost folded my ankle – Kelly gave me the rest of her trail mix and that gave me the energy I needed.
We saw two rattlesnakes – one was easy to avoid but the other started coming toward us. We pushed down some small trees off trail to get around. The stinging nettles cut up my legs a little and made my right eye swell up so Kelly gave me a Benadryl which helped.
The trail opened up to a meadow which was a welcome surprise. As we crossed it I was just amazed at the view. I don’t think I’ve experienced anything like it.
We started hearing thunder so we cut our miles short and camped early. We cooked our dinner inside our tents to avoid the downfall and the mosquitoes. Before bed Kelly showed us how to rig a bear hang with the PCT method.
TUESDAY – 12.2 Miles
Another sleepless night. My tent started leaking during the night and I was super cold. I tried to tuck myself into the fetal position to avoid getting wet and stay warm but that didn’t really help.
I had a dream that Rhett and Kelly moved to Chattanooga and was sad.
Kelly took our food bags down in the rain. After we ate, we took the tents down in the pouring rain and booked it 3 miles to the next shelter. This was the day we finally got our trail legs. Something about the rain, our packs getting lighter and our legs getting stronger helped us make our fastest pace yet.
When we got to the shelter we took our wet bags off and slid in under the roof. We met Connor – he was still in his sleeping bag. We talked a bit – he told us he was 6 days into his hike and his toenail had fallen off. He left for a bit and I didn’t hear him come back so I jumped and screamed louder than I ever have before.
The rain finally cleared up and we had amazing weather. Ann’s knee was starting to give out so she made a brace out of bandanas which seemed to help.
Kelly turned on some music to amp us up and we had a little stretch/dance party before our last 3 mile push. We crossed Devil’s Gap and then we ran into a literal wizard of the wood – an old man with long gray hair and a huge beard and a wooden stick. He told us his name was Billy but he wanted to lose his name all together. This was his second time hiking the entire AT.
When we got to camp, Me and Ann bathed in a nearby creek. It was cold and refreshing and felt so good to end the day with. We all agreed that this day was probably our favorite so far even considering how it started out. In some weird way we were thankful we experienced the bad and good together.
As we tucked into the shelter for the night we were surprised by a guy showing up. His name was John aka Raw Dog. Apparently he ate a trout raw one day out on the trail. He was interesting and it was nice to meet someone new.
He laid out his sleeping bag next to mine and Kelly let me borrow her sleeping bag which I appreciated.
WEDNESDAY – 10 Miles
Kelly woke me up in the middle of the night. It was too cold so we had to share the sleeping bag. I heard mice all around me the entire night. She told me she had a dream that Raw Dog was selling sleeping bags for $25.
We made hot coffee for the first time – we needed it. We bandaged up our blisters on our feet as Raw Dog told us about his experience growing up as an Eagle Scout. We waited on Ann and got on the trail a little late – we joked that her trail name had a double meaning now.
We crossed Sam’s Gap and hiked uphill for what felt like forever. We knew we were moving toward some kind of view but Kelly kept it quiet as a surprise. Ann pointed out a mountain far in the distance and asked if that’s where we were headed. I thought there was no way – it was way too far. I was wrong.
When we finally emerged from the woods we hiked up to Big Bald Mountain – it was breathtaking. Yellow wildflowers were all around us and you could see rolling hills and mountains for miles in every direction. It was one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been.
We met a traveling preacher up there and a photographer from Tennessee.
Kelly shared some oats, honey and peanut butter with me. Eating on that mountain with that view was so peaceful – I’ll never forget it.
Some of our gear was still wet from the rain so we unfolded our tents and tarps out in the sun to lay on.
Then a familiar face showed up – Raw Dog! He introduced us to Austin aka Bearfoot. We talked with them for a bit – Raw Dog lived up to his name telling us about the mushrooms he ate that tasted like chicken and the crawfish that he almost caught.
We left the guys and hiked the last mile down the mountain soaking in the view one last time.
Back at camp I traded snacks for some of Kelly’s m&ms since I was already out of Nutella. Ann had her last hot meal. I got naked per usual and wiped my body down in the sun – my favorite routine now after being wet and dirty for 12 hours.
Raw Dog and Bearfoot showed up a little later and started cooking dinner. Then a man named Gus breezed in. He told us he had just pushed 26 miles. He set his pack down and immediately lit a cigarette – his trail-name: Iron Lung.
Me, Ann, and Kelly watched as Raw Dog shoved ramen noodles, powdered potatoes, and peanut butter into a pot. We convinced him to cook his spam instead of eating it out of the can. We all pretended he was on a cooking show and we were the judges. We gave him a decent score since it actually looked pretty appetizing.
Me and Kelly decided to shove ourselves into the sleeping bag liner together and try to share it. It was a tight squeeze but we made it work. This shelter was a double decker so the guys slept above us. We heard them all casually talking about getting to town the next day. We had originally planned to camp tomorrow but we were quickly convinced otherwise – if they could do it we could do it. Kelly was willing but a little doubtful. We figured we’d decide in the morning.
We giggled a lot throughout the night about stupid stuff and tried not to keep everyone up but we eventually fell asleep.
THURSDAY – 17 Miles
Another awful sleep. I had a dream my ex was spraying me in the face with bug spray. Kelly and I fought over the sleeping bag all night and I woke up every hour off of my sleeping pad, freezing on the wooden slats. My hip was so sore I had to pick my leg up with both hands to reposition it throughout the night. I don’t know how my body was going to hold up but today was going to be the day we hit town – we were committed.
We all stumbled into the cold and quickly changed into our damp hiking clothes and made coffee and breakfast. Raw Dog made some taco rice concoction with corn. We all joked about it being “hot & brown” aka edible and that was good enough.
Iron Lung pulled out of camp quick per usual – we left soon after leaving Raw Dog and Bearfoot behind, although they’d pass us later.
We booked it. We were crossing Spivey Gap soon enough. We filled up our bottles at the last water source for the next 10 miles or so. 11 miles in we hit the shelter that would’ve been our camping spot for the night – instead we ate lunch there. That was encouraging.
We noticed some paper hanging from the roof of the shelter – it was a note from Bearfoot – encouraging us to keep going. It was really cute. Raw Dog soon joined us at the picnic table. Since we were pretty sure we wouldn’t be on the trail past today, we unloaded our extra food into his pack – packets of tuna, pasta, honey, oats, etc. – he seemed grateful. We entertained him with our TikTok, chugged some extra coffee, Kelly handed out some Vitamin I (Ibuprofen) and we got back to it.
We hit the final climb and it was tough. I couldn’t stop because I knew if I did I wouldn’t be able to get going again. Once we hit the top my right knee started giving out. For the last 2 miles downhill I used my hiking poles as makeshift crutches basically. I started to see the river and cars between the trees and that encouraged me to keep a steady pace. We hobbled into town – 17 miles in 7 hours. Amazing.
We got to the hostel and waved to Bearfoot. We joined him and Iron Lung at the picnic tables. I sat on a sun bleached chair and ripped right through it. It was funny and it felt good to be folded up like that so I stayed, soaking up the sun and talking about our hike today with the guys.
Raw Dog got dropped off from a shuttle carrying a whole pizza, a carton of chocolate milk, and cookies for everyone. Iron Lung lit a cigar – classic.
Me and Ann quickly found our cabin and the showers. We just laughed and screamed at how incredible it felt to finally scrub our bodies and smell decent again. We talked about making a yearly tradition out of this experience. Then we found out we put our stuff in the wrong cabin – we locked it and apparently the owners don’t have all the keys anymore… so someone had to pick the lock for us.
Bearfoot joined us for dinner. Kelly drove us to a Chinese restaurant – the same one she had wanted to eat at years ago when she hiked the AT and wasn’t able to. Dinner was fun, we shared life stories and talked about the interesting people we met on the trail. We got milkshakes on the way home then walked along the bridge above the river – one final look at the mountain we just climbed. Then we tucked in early and turned on a movie to fall asleep to. A perfect end to a great week.
When I first stepped foot on the trail it was incredibly difficult. I didn’t think I’d enjoy the experience enough to return – but I was wrong. I learned so much about myself and what I’m capable of – I experienced moments of absolute misery and pure bliss – sometimes in the same day. This was definitely one of the most physically and mentally challenging things I’ve ever tackled but I’m so grateful for the opportunity and the friendships that were strengthened along the way.