Day 134: Damascus, VA to Double Spring Shelter (18.5 mi)
We started this morning at about 8 am from the Dancing Bear B&B in Damascus.
The first 6 miles was a very nice and gentle climb with a lot of switchbacks and very tame trail. Near the top of the climb we crossed the state line into TENNESSEE!! I was so elated to see that sign and finally have Virginia in the rear view mirror. Phew! What an exciting moment!
We then continued walking along a ridge for most of the day with some short ups and downs, but trending up for most of the afternoon.
We stopped at a shelter to have our smoothies and met an older SoBo German gentleman and Johnny Five arrived as we were leaving. He has the same goal of finishing before Thanksgiving so I think we will see him quite a bit.
The last 8 miles to the shelter were overcast and windy. The whole day has been overcast and colder than what the forecast had predicted. But we were also above 4k feet all day so it is quite a bit colder up there than in the valley where the towns are.
This was the first time I had difficulty lighting the stove due to the wind. I used our seat pads to shield the stove some and it took quite a while to boil the water as well. Fresh Feet then hung our food and we set up in the shelter with the German fellow, Johnny Five and a section hiker. I got in my sleeping bag as soon as possible to get warm and hoped to get more sleep tonight since I only got maybe 5-6 hours last night and I felt pretty tired at the end of the day. It was quite windy at the shelter, and debatable if sleeping in our tent may have actually been warmer but there was some rain in the forecast and we didn’t want to take the chance. Fresh Feet hung our tent footprint from the shelter to the ground in front of where we were sleeping to block the wind a little and it definitely helped.
During the middle of the night there was some super loud rain (maybe hail?) in shelter. We were glad not to be in our tent! I got up to pee in the middle of the night after the storm and everything was calm and the moon and stars were so beautiful and bright! The leaves had all fallen from the trees at this high elevation and therefore we have had more views of the stars/moon than in the summer months.
Day 135: Double Spring Shelter to Boots off hostel (23.6 mi)
There was a beautiful sunrise and we had an early morning start. The sunrise consisted of a long orange stripe across the horizon over what seemed to be a large body of water. It was very surreal.
We then passed through pastures with calves nursing from mama cows, beautiful clouds and sky and just an all around breathtaking Tennessee view.
The first 14.6 miles consisted of a ridge walk. It was windy and chilly but the sun was shining and coming through the trees. The temp was in the 30s and the wind made it cold, but we had appropriate layers.
We had lunch at a shelter on the top of a ridge with fantastic views, but we got cold pretty quickly so didn’t linger.
Fresh Feet and Johnny Five got water at a spring 2 miles after and I continued hiking because I had enough water.
The afternoon was mostly downhill with a lot of switchbacks (a few climbs) and then easy walking along a beautiful lake as I approached the hostel. We got a tiny house cabin for ourselves with a HEATER and a bed! Woohoo! We charged our devices and made some plans for the upcomg days as the weather forecast looked particularly ominous for Roan Mountain (above 6k Feet) and the bald mountains before it. We wanted to be up there before the storms blew in which meant throwing down some hard big mile days and then two 17 mile “easy” days in the rain.
Fresh Feet went with Johnny Five and the German man to town to get more snacks.
The hiker hunger has very much set in for him and he is a bottomless pit, which is good to see him eating so much!
We will try to have a monster day tomorrow in order to beat this bad weather in a few days.
Day 136: Boots off hostel to Sugar Hollow stealth camp (26.7 mi)
Phew! Today was our longest mileage day yet, but we still managed under 12 hours.
We got started from our tiny house shed/cabin this morning at 7:15 am and walked in the dark with our headlamps until it got a bit brighter. We watched the sunrise as we climbed our first 4k footer of the day and it was an absolutely STUNNING climb. There was a sea of clouds hugging the valley on both sides of the ridge and over the lake that we passed yesterday. Unfortunately there weren’t any good lookout spots to get a picture, so we were not able to capture the majestic ness of it to share, we will just have to hold it in our memories.
As we began to descend the mountain Fresh Feet stopped in front of me and we watched a bear family scurry away from us. There was the tiniest cub I’ve ever seen (not much bigger than a small dog) climbing down from a very tall tree. The mama bear was waiting for the tiny cub to get down from the tree. Once the cub got down he started running down the mountain and the mama bear followed it. We assume it was the mama bear because she was larger and waited for the cub a while and stayed behind the cub as they ran away. Fresh Feet later told me that he saw two cubs, but I was fixated on the cutest little cub I’ve ever seen and just stood here speechless watching them. We were able to watch them run through the open forest for a while. It was a special moment to finally share a bear sighting with Fresh Feet!
Then we descended the mountain and came upon a BEAUTIFUL river. We walked along it and crossed it a few times. As if that wasn’t beautiful enough, Laurel Falls took us by surprise and was massive and gorgeous! All the beauty and spectacular sights were definitely slowing us way down. We worried about maybe needing to adjust our goal for the day since our morning pace was so slow.
Then we began to climb our second 4k footer of the day which was about 3.5 mi long. Fresh Feet stopped to change layers and I ended up hiking up the mountain with Johnny Five who had now caught up to us. We chatted about triathlons and training and getting back into the real world in a mere 3 weeks. The question of “what next?” haunts us all because there really isn’t time or space to really contemplate that too much while out here. Hiking the AT is a practice in mindfulness; in being in the present moment. And that doesn’t leave much room for planning. It is hard enough to try and plan our resupply points and guesstimate how many days of hiking it will take. We really only know where we are going to end up that same day or maybe two days at a time, but we are so very much in the present that my other life feels like a far away dream world. I think I will need to take a solid month (maybe two) to really process this experience and transition back. Red Stripe (a NoBo friend) took a month in Costa Rica afterwards to do a trail detox and to process this whole thing. I think I will need some form of serious downtime to let my body and mind recover and reset. I do think that this 5 month mindfulness practice will really allow for possibilities to flood me in a way that would have been impossible while on the hampster wheel of work, eat, work out, sleep, clean house and run a million errands all the time, repeat. I do feel like my life has changed in so many ways from being out here. Primarily being so much in the present moment and unplugged from the frenzy.
We stopped at the top of a 3 mile climb where there was sunlight and a view! The temperature was significantly warmer than it had been in a long time. I wore shorts, shirt and arm warmers for most of the afternoon and eventually took off my buff.
Then Fresh Feet caught us as we were waiting at the view and he and I took off running the downhill switchbacks. We had lost a lot of time stopping and taking pictures and admiring all the beauty this morning with the clouds, river, waterfall, foliage in the morning light etc and were concerned because we wanted to hike 28 miles today to be able to finish the balds tomorrow before bad weather blows in the following day. We had to run when we could to make descent time.
We stopped for lunch at mile 14.5 at a shelter and Johnny Five caught us and we all ate lunch together.
We then pressed on. I felt a little queasy in the stomach from lunch and was having some acid reflux so while the terrain was pretty tame, I was not able to lay down the hammer and run. Stone and I chatted for many miles and workshopped some of his ideas about maybe pursuing being an inn keeper/ vegan B&B host. There were many big and small ideas floating around and we talked them through.
Finally at about 4:00 I was able to eat a bar and I started to gain some energy back. From 2:00-4:00 (miles 15-20ish) I was struggling to stay awake. The conversation with FF helped, but I was fading. This tends to happen in the afternoon after lunch when my stomach is full And I’ve had a break and my body begins to cool down. Revving up again in the afternoon is difficult. I tend to get a second wind later in the afternoon near sunset which is helpful.
We took a break and got water with about 6 miles to go. We took a closer look at where a good camping spot would be and decided about 1 mike earlier would be a much better camping spot, so it would be about a 27 mile day, which was totally fine!
We did a lot of running in the last 4-5 miles. When it was an up we power hiked and the tame downs we jogged or ran depending on feel and energy. We stayed together most of the time, but we really crushed it at the end and made very good time.
We finally got to an open field by a river at 6:35 pm and set up camp as the sun set quickly. We used headlamps to cook beans and rice in tortillas, hung a bear line, filtered water for the morning, and changed into warm clothes. We then got warm and toasty in our sleeping bags in the tent. The tent felt warmer than the shelters and we missed sleeping in it. It had been over 3 weeks since we camped in our tent and tonight was the night to do it. The lows were in the 40s (not 30s), we were at low elevation (no wind) and there wasn’t any rain in the forecast.
We had expected to arrive when it was dark out and it was nice to get our bearings and have about 30 mins of daylight as we started our camp chores. We were able to do everything in under an hour and a half and then needed to rush to sleep so we could get a very early start in the morning, in the dark. Tomorrow is basically 23 miles of climbing and we need to stop in town to get a resupply package in the morning, which means heavy packs for all the gnarly climbing and probably 30-45 minutes to get the resupply. Hopefully the views at the top of The Balds and good weather will make it all worth it!
Day 137: Sugar Hollow stealth camp to Roan High Knob Shelter (22.8 mi)
Wow! Today was a HUGE day. We crushed over 7k feet of elevation gain (and 4k feet of descent). It was a huge push but we desperately wanted to be on the ridge and summit the peaks today because the weather looks very bad tomorrow and the peaks today are all exposed and called “The Balds.”
We woke up super early and were on trail by 6:45. It was a little later than expected but the tent was soaked from our condensation.
We walked with headlamps for a while and walked through some gorgeous fields but the grass soaked our feet from the dew. The temperature was warmer this morning (like 50 degrees). My hands were freezing however from dealing with the wet tent.
We stopped in at Harbor B&B which was 0.3 ish mi off trail to get our resupply box and repack our bags.
Then we had a massive climb (5.5 mi). We met up w Johnny Five (J5) just as we reconnected to the trail after resupplying. We climbed up with him and took a break halfway up and FF caught us. We finished the climb and got to the top of Hump mountain which was a huge grassy bald. We went down and part way up Little Humo mountain and got water from a piped spring to have our afternoon smoothies. This was a pretty late lunch break and I was fading pretty hard before we got there.
I had a tough time getting going after lunch. A lot of emotional and energy ups and downs today.
About 3 or 4 times I didn’t think I would be able to make it or I just wanted to stop altogether.
The Balds were absolutely breathtaking and reminded us of Franconia Ridge in the White mountains. You could see the trail so far ahead and the wide open views really gave you a feeling of being on top of the world. This might be one of my favorite sections of the AT!
We did some running at the end of the day coming off the Balds.
The last 1.5 miles was all uphill in a deep coniferous forest that was much darker and smelled like a Christmas tree forest. It was so beautiful and contrasted so much with the sunny, grassy Balds. The shelter we stayed at that nigh is the highest on trail, above 6k feet. We shared it with only J5. It had a door and four walls which helped keep the wind out. The upstairs loft area would have been then warmest spot, but there was too much mouse mess, so we stayed downstairs.
I’ve been having a problem lately with not eating my bars and dinners. I know this is a problem and I need to get the calories, but I haven’t been having an appetite at all. I’m just experiencing a total food aversion. I haven’t been feeling nauseous but I could not get a bar down in the entire afternoon. I finally felt my tummy rumble with 1.5 miles left and decided to try a different flavor of bar. I ate two bites of it but couldn’t eat any more. I know this is problematic. I’ve been only eating about 2/4 of my bars each day. I think it may have to do with dehydration. I’m not peeing as often, and I’m not stopping to drink water as often since I dropped my camelback 200 miles ago. I think I’m just generally more dehydrated because it is isn’t hot and I’m not sweating and therefore not feeling thirsty. It’s just very unusual for me to not be hungry for so many days in a row.
Day 138: Roan High Knob Shelter to Cherry Gap shelter (17.6 mi)
We got up and made hot chocolate soylent inside the shelter - what luxury to not be freezing while preparing breakfast and to have a hot drink. It helped keep our bodies warm and expedited the whole “warm up” process in the morning (which usually involves frequent stops to shed layers).
Today was SO windy! We hiked in horrible wind for about 90% of the day. The 10% that was not windy I felt warm and sweaty in my rain pants and rain jacket, but was able to unzip the legs and the front of my jacket to allow for ventilation. The temperature was probably in the 50s most of the day (45 when we left Roan High Knob shelter).
We took our time today. I was feeling kind of sick. I think my body is fighting something off. I was hungry for breakfast this morning and was cogniscent that I needed to drink a lot of water to make up some ground in the hydration department, but I still didn’t experience an appetite for my bars throughout the day. I have had a slight headache for a few days now and just overall feel drained and achy. My face bones hurt and I randomly get bouts of massive fatigue intermittently throughout the day. All things considered it doesn’t seem to be slowing me down much, but I’m not feeling like myself. Hopefully today was a relaxed enough day (and tomorrow as well) that I’m able to recover some. Saturday will be a huge day mileage and elevation wise and the weather looks good so hopefully I’m feeling better by then.
Just before lunch we ran into some SoBo thru hikers headed north. We first saw Rebound, the girl we hung out with in Boiling Springs,PA when it was too hot to hike and then night hiked to the shelter together. It was crazy because we hadn’t seen her since PA and she was one of our first SoBo friends after we flipped. She told us there was a group of 4 of them that had stayed with one of the hiker’s grandmothers at a cabin near Hot Springs and so they were doing a 200 mile stretch northbound. They expected to be back in Hot Springs by Sat night. We are hoping to be there by Monday night, so we will be two days behind them.
Further up the trail we ran into the rest of the group and met Ice Man and recognized the other two hikers. One of them, Scout, we had met in Glasgow, VA at Stanimal’s hostel. He was sick and off trail for a few days then. We also had met Pulitzer (the girl whose grandmother has the cabin etc etc) minutes before we got off trail in Bland, VA for Uncle Ted’s memorial service.
We stopped at Clyde Smith shelter halfway for hot soylent lunch smoothies. Heating up our smoothie water makes a huge difference. Usually after lunch smoothie I’m super cold and it’s really hard for me to get going again because I have all my layers on and just feel frigid from the inside out. My muscles are usually cold and stiff from the break as well. The warm soylent drink helped so much with this!
Johnny Five was going to attempt a pretty big day of 28-30 miles to get into town today and will likely get to Hot Springs a day before us. He likes to throw down pretty big mileage days and then take a zero day. We backed off today and tomorrow will be another low mileage day because we are working around the weather.
We initially expected rain at about 2:00 pm today, but on one of the peaks today I had some cell service and checked the weather again and it looked like 5:00 pm is when the rain would start. Tomorrow’s forecast looks rainy all day and freezing temps over night so we will go into town and sleep inside in a hostel to be dry and warm.
I got to the shelter at about 4:00 and started to set up. Fresh Feet came running in a little later as he was trying to beat the rain. He was able to get water and hang the rope for the food bags before the rain came, which started at exactly 5:00 on the dot.
We ate Thai Lemongrass Curry (yummy!) and I was in my sleeping bag by 5:40 pm. Fresh Feet hung the footprint again to block the wind which made a big difference. We had the shelter to ourselves, which is rare!
We are 360 miles from Springer Mountain today! It seems so tangible and doable! It is crazy to think that it is so close, yet mountains away still.
My back and shoulder pain has not improved at all and was hurting a lot today. I do find that if I stop, take off my pack and stretch, the pinching pain subsides for a while, until it comes back. It would be so nice to not be in pain every day.
Day 139: Cherry Gap shelter to Erwin, TN (17.1 mi)
Ugh. Today was a rough day. We were slow motivating out of the shelter. We did not want to get out of our sleeping bags. It’s easier to motivate out of shelters when there are other people there, but we were by ourselves and the urge to sleep in weighed heavily. I knew that today was going to be rainy and it would be best to get moving.
We were on trail by 8:15. It wasn’t rainy, but it was wet and the trees were dripping water and we were in a cloud. I wore my rain gear over my shirt and shorts as it was about 50 degrees and it was just right. Throughout the day it gradually became more rainy. Fresh Feet waited too long to put on his rain jacket and his shirt and arm warmers were already wet so he was a bit colder today. I stopped and put on my puffy jacket under my rain jacket as once it actually started to rain my jacket soaked through and the water touching my arms made me colder. Not to mention most of the day was downhill, so we were a little chillier since our heart rates weren’t that high. The puffy jacket layer in between my rain jacket and me was perfect.
The ground was rocky, rooty and the leaves hid them which caused both Fresh Feet and I a few falls to the ground and quite a few stumbles. Everything was slick and it was hard to move quickly. Our feet, socks and shoes were soaked completely and water was sloshing around my toes. I couldn’t imagine doing more than 17 miles in this nasty rain. Fresh Feet kept reminding me that a warm shower awaited me. I was feeling especially dirty this morning and it seemed to stall me in getting ready for the day because I was just so unhappy about my smell and how I wanted to wash my hands but I couldn’t because if I got them wet they would get so cold that I wouldn’t be able to use my hands.
The day wore on. Overcast, wet and meh. We walked together and finally arrived at Uncle Johnny’s hostel where we got a private cabin. I took such a hot shower. It felt amazing! They also had a hair dryer which meant I got to wash my hair! Extra bonus!
Fresh Feet went into town to get snacks and dinner. I stayed behind and did laundry, cooked our dinner that we were carrying, worked on the blog and used the hair dryer to dry out my shoes as much as possible.
Day 140: Uncle Johnny’s Hostel in Erwin, TN to Nature’s Inn (24.4 mi)
On trail a bit later than I would have liked this morning because I knew it would be a tough day. We climbed 7,500 feet in elevation gain (that is the equivalent of 750 flights of stairs!) and descended approximately 5,500 feet in the course of 24.4 miles. Phew!
The day was gorgeous. The morning sun over the river and town of Erwin was spectacular with the fall foliage exploding in the mountains in the background. It truly is impossible to capture the beauty in photographs!
We took a break for lunch smoothies at a campsite and I had a pretty quick turnaround so as not to get cold and to maximize time. The boys went in search of the water source and determined there was no water and we would get some at the next spring in 3 miles. Fresh Feet and Johnny Five caught me on the climb and passed me. I slowes down a bit after lunch and felt tired. Today was a little better than normal because the break was so short.
On the climb of Little Bald I slowed WAY down to take a million pictures because the remnants of an ice/snow storm where all over the plants and trees. The sun was shining creating a sparkle that made the winter wonderland feel so magical. Pictures do not do it justice, not even close. The ice pellets from the trees were pelting me and littering the trail making it crunchy to walk on. It was fabulous and at one point I was staring up at the shiny trees and just laughed out loud.
I’m SO glad we did two 17 mile days the last two days and slowed down when the weather was bad and stayed at low elevation. We only had to combat rain yesterday and the day ended with a hot shower and a heated room. Getting caught in the ice storm of last night would have been MISERABLE! Instead we got to enjoy the remnants today with the sun shining on the tree limbs covered in ice.
After Little Bald mountain (which BTW was not bald) and before Big Bald mountain the boys stopped for water.
I filled up quickly and kept going.
Big Bald was phenomenal! I think it may have been my favorite bald yet. The weather was absolutely perfect! It wasn’t even windy! The views were stunning and the path wasn’t too eroded.
The descent off of Big Bald however was a muddy slip’n’slide. The ice was melted on the south side and had caused a very muddy trail for 2-3 miles. This was the slipperiest mud we have encountered yet!
I stopped to take a break and drink some water and the boys passed me. Only a few more miles left until Sam’s Gap. I pushed on and listened to some podcasts.
We are enjoying a variety of different podcasts out here from time to time, although I find myself not needing to plug in as much to help with the late miles. Here are some of our recommendations:
The Wilderness - a historical context for the Democratic Party and what it means for us today. Each episode tackles various issues (racism, immigration, foreign policy, media etc). I HIGHLY recommend listening to this one! Standard hour long episodes. This is a MUST for anyone who is appalled and disgusted with a Trump presidency. Both FF and I have listened to the whole show and are left feeling hopeful and inspired (although I did cry listening to some of the sound bites which just made my skin crawl).
Last Seen - A current podcast about the greatest art heist of all time in 1990 in Boston. The heist is still unsolved. Episodes are short, like 35 mins. Gripping and both FF and I are listening to it.
Serial season 3: omg. (If you haven’t listened to serial, you should listen to seasons 1 & 2 also!). Season 3 is different however. It doesn’t dissect one person/incident like seasons 1 & 2, but rather addresses the corrupt and broken criminal INjustice system from the perspective of the Cleveland courthouse. This is a MUST. It is very well done and current. Episodes are about an hour.
Trail Runner Nation and The Science of Ultra -these are two running podcasts that Fresh Feet has been really enjoying. I have listened to a few and think there is a lot of food info for anyone into running!
Where Should We Begin? with Esther Perel - Each episode is an unscripted one time couples’ counseling session. Very raw and vulnerable and each episode can help you strengthen your own relationship. Seasons 1 & 2 are great, episodes are about 1 hour and can be listened to in any order. Very well done.
We had to wait for 30 minutes or so to get picked up at the parking lot at Sam’s Gap to be brought to Nature’s Inn. We got
a private cabin which was not insulated and the space heater was laughable. J5 ended up bringing over a bigger space heater for us when he went to get one for the bunkhouse. It seemed stronger, but the thermostat read 42-45 degree all night. We slept in our sleeping bags under the blankets and were quite cold. The low tonight in this valley is 36 degrees, so we are glad to be out of the elements and a few degrees warmer. The shuttle in the morning leaves at 8:00 am, which means a later start than we would like, but it also means more sleep.