Day 1: Sunday, May 1st 2016
I’d been checking the weather for days, thunderstorms Sunday to Tuesday. The thought of starting in a storm made me nervous. I didn’t need to be sick, have Flow visit AND get struck by lighting all on the first day. The weather forecast last night said thunderstorms and when I wake up this morning it’s just overcast. I tell Madre it’s time. Today is the day! No waiting around because Monday is supposed to be stormy as well. I get my gear ready, talk to Sister and get messages from friends. After I’m almost ready I call Dad… He’s in Cherokee, what a wonderful surprise! Except that I immediately become overwhelmed at the thought of he and Madre being in the same place at the same time and I begin to bawl. Some of it was probably Flow, some of it was fear of what mom and dad would do as I set off on my big adventure and most of it was the thought of them being together again. My parents do not get along, haven’t for a long time. The last time I can remember them being in the same room together was at a friends wedding and Dad left early. It freaked me out knowing they were both going to be there to send me off. Don’t get me wrong, I was thrilled to have two parents who love and support me there but the fact that they both were there terrified me. Madre assured me they would be civil but that didn’t ease my mind. I have a good cry which means more boogs from my sickness and even more red nose (I. HAVE. A. RED. NOSE. ALWAYS! Unless of course I have on make up… Which I won’t during this adventure. You will see it in all my pictures- Glad that’s out of the way).
I calm down a bit, wash my face, get all packed up and load the car and head up to Clingmans Dome. It’s a 45 minute ride up from Cherokee and Madre chats about this and that trying to calm me down, it works a little. I talk to Bubba (my brother, Jonathan) and he wishes me good luck and that also calms me a bit. As soon as we arrive at the top at Clingmans there’s a big sign with blue letters that reads “See ya at the coast! Love you Dad” and again… lots of emotions. I love it, and him!!
Madre and I pull around and see Dad and say “Hi!” and I thank him for the sign. Dad says he will see us at the top and starts walking. I go park my car and get ready to go up the .5 mile to the top. Holy crap, it’s as if my 36 pound pack is crushing me from the inside out. I go slow and say to Madre “Why did I want to do this” jokingly. She’s going at a steady pace with me and we make our way up to the top of Clingmans Dome. Dad is videoing my approach and I try to smile… I’m already tired. I have some water and a snack and put my light jacket on as we are now up in the clouds at 6,643 ft. Madre, Dad and I all chat a little (which is nice but strange) and take pictures and before I know it, I’m ready.
We walk back down to the start of the trail and I’m so freakin’ excited and still a bit weepy. Dad has tears filling his eyes and then Madre does. I do now because they do. We get pictures with the Mountains to Sea Trail sign and I tell them I love them many times as they do in return. I look at the trail and say “There it is!” It’s surreal in a way. All the time preparing and research and now I’m standing at the beginning of the trail with all the hope in the world. This will be life changing! Hopefully in a way I cannot yet understand but will figure out along the way. I walk a few steps and turn back for more pictures and Goodbyes and I love yous. Then I walk.
For a good long while I don’t think of anything. I just careful plan my next step. It’s slippery on rocks, it’s up, it’s down, and then back up again. I try to get in a rhythm that’s appropriate for me and say to myself “Just walk” and “Hike your own hike.” I think about Madre and Dad and wonder if they walked down together. Did they speak to one another? What did they say if they did? Were they kind to one another even though I wasn’t around anymore? I sure hoped so.
As I walk and think about my parents I notice that I’ve started doing this thing in my head telling myself there are shortcuts. When the trail goes high on one side and low on the other, it’s a shortcut. It’s not a shortcut by any means but it gives me something to look for. When I see one I say it out loud. I laugh at myself for doing so. I come to an opening maybe a mile from the start of the trail and stop to catch my breath and check out the mountains in the distance. Pretty. I’m off again. I find a cool looking fallen tree to have a snack and some water on and take my pack off to give my shoulders a break. It’s a quick rest of maybe 8 minutes and gear back up and walk.
I think about all kinds of silly things, sing songs in my head and sometimes let out an occasional “fuck” when I slip on wet leaves or rocks. I take my time and meet AT hikers along the way saying a friendly “Hello” but don’t stop. I make it 3.7 miles to Mt Collins shelter and to the water source. I refill an empty water bottle and rest. I’m exhausted and sick and realize there’s no way I’m making it to my 9.1 mile goal campground today. But I realize that I’m not done hiking just yet. So I hike for an hour on a trail and tell myself after that turn back and you can stay at the shelter. There are places to set up my tent and then I’ll rest up early tonight and be better prepared for tomorrow. Keep in mind, I feel like crap and look worse. But that’s what I do, I walk about 2 miles extra instead of the 5 plus to the campsite.
When I arrive back at Mt Collins there are lots of hikers getting settled for the night and eating dinner. I say hello to many as I walk by and find a spot that’s empty to put my tent up for the night. I’m so tired by now that I end up putting my rain fly on backwards and leave it. I can’t be bothered. That is until I’m laying in my tent, resting, and I hear a nice gentleman say “Hello in there, I’m going to help you if you want it.” I come out to meet a seasoned hiker, Paul, who is happy to help me out a bit. Paul and my camping next door buddy, John, help me get my rain fly on and stake it correctly. I thank them and we chat for a few minutes before I retreat back into my tent. I just need a little rest.
After a bit I get out and have some dinner, which is silly to say because I’m too tired to make a hot meal so I just snack instead. When I’m done snacking I put my food up and go into the woods about 100 feet to put my bear canister away for the night. Then I’m back inside my tent because the rain has started to fall. The thunder and lightning soon follow. Loud cracks of thunder hit super close to where we are. I count in between thunder and lighting and only get to two.
It storms all freakin’ night! I toss and turn mainly from sleeping outside and cough a little but for the most part I get some good rest. At least until around 3am when it hits me… I have to pee. I grab my headlamp, put on my raincoat, unzip my tent and go for it. It’s raining and there’s a possibility of bears… it’s the quickest pee of my life. Relieved, I head back to my tent and pass out.
Total Miles: 3.7 (plus 2 extra not on the trail)
Day 2: Monday, May 2nd
The birds are chirping and the rain has stopped. I wake up early with all the other hikers around 6:40am. Today’s goal is to get to Campsite #53, Poke Patch, which is 5.4 miles from Mt. Collins shelter. I get dressed (in the same clothes as yesterday) inside my tiny but amazing Big Agnes one person tent and go pee and then retrieve my bear canister. I eat Poptarts and grab some snacks for my pack throughout the day and take down my very wet tent. John helps me shake out my rain fly, tent and footprint and tells me it’s really a two person job. Great. Maybe he can follow me around instead of finishing the AT and help me shake my tent shit when it rains for the next 1,146 miles.
I’m packed and moving out at 8:15am. But first I have to go get more water which is down a slippery rock slope .1 mile away. The sign lied. Even the guys who are walking up say so and I didn’t even ask. I get my stream water and hike back up the so called .1 mile and then another .3 to get back to Fork Ridge Trail.
It’s not long before I get to Clingmans Dome Road and see a car with people standing nearby. I say a broken “Good morning” (freakin’ cold) to an older gentleman with gear on and two ladies. We chat and it turns out he’s also hiking the MST. I find this exciting and we exchange hellos. His name is “Pick” (trail-name) as in “Pick up your feet” and he ask me mine. I tell him I don’t have one yet, it’s only my second day. He gives me the ole up and down look and says “Legs!” I smile so big and laugh… Of course I love it!! So now I have a trail name… Hell yes! So now I’m “Legs”. We chat a bit more about the trail and how we both have the same SPOTGen3 tracking device and all the while I’m just checking him out. “Pick” has a green shirt pulled up to his chest and his big belly is exposed. He’s a sight. I like him already. He’s 73 and his goal is the same as mine… Simply to finish. His friends get a picture of us (I wish I had) and I wish him luck and tell him I’ll see him at the campsite. I walk.
Today’s terrain is much different than yesterday. Today everything is wet from the rain and I’m literally on the side of a mountain. I could easily slip or fall and just go right off the side. There’s barely enough room on the trail to put two feet together at times. There are lots of fallen trees to maneuver over and under but it’s mostly all down hill so that’s nice. At one point I have to take my pack off and slide it very carefully under a fallen tree. Next I straddle my pack so it doesn’t go sliding down the mountain, grab my trekking poles, and inch my way under this massive freakin’ tree.
I come to a part of the trail that’s very overgrown and the trees and bushes are very close together. Im now pushing my trekking poles in front of me to see the trail. Spiderwebs. So. Many. Spiderwebs. At first I think to myself “It’s just spiderwebs, blow up on your face when you feel one, you’re fine.” And that works. But within seconds I hit another one. Then another. I start to bring my hands to my face but notice that if I don’t stop waking completely there’s no way to know if I’m hitting trail or not. My eyes are closed when I brush them off of me. I’d rather stop then fall off a mountain. But I get irritated after the 2,519th spiderweb. I didn’t keep track but I know I’m close. I don’t like stopping. So for a while I let them tickle my neck, nose and chin but when they get to my eyes I can’t deal. Even my hat isn’t helping. At one point I blow one away assuming it’s gone only to find that I blew a big ass spider down my top and into my sports bra. After a small freak attack and a few choice words to the spider, I’m back at it. Good times on the trail.
I walk and I think. I think to myself, I’m glad I wore my pants again today even though it’s hot out. More bushes and trees brush up against my legs and arms and I find myself wondering if Pick’s belly is ok or if he put his shirt down or if it’s all scratched up by now. I see big snails and count them and think of my Double kiddos and wonder how they are today. I think about not falling off a mountain and that reminds me of the song “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” and that makes me think of the movie Stepmom. Then I think about the fact that if I met Julia Roberts we would be friends and I bust out laughing at myself. My mind goes in a million different directions as I take step after step.
I make it to Deep Creek around 1:30 and I take off my pack, my shoes and my socks to give my piggies some air and to dry off. I grab my water, my Lifestraw, and snacks and find a rock close by to rest on. I rest and eat and listen to the creek for a good hour. I enjoy the sun shining on me and I’m happy. Then it hits me, I need to dig a hole. I do. I’m proud of myself. I pooped in a hole I dug myself and then covered it up! Winning at life today people! I wash up and return back to my rock and wonder when Pick will arrive. I refill my water bottle from the creek. The water is good and cold. Dirty to look at but tasty nonetheless.
Up next is making it to the other side of the creek without falling or getting my pack wet. I put my camp shoes on and pack up my socks and shoes and pull my pack on. I carefully put my trekking poles down in the water before I make a move and then go one foot at a time. Slow and steady. I have horrible ankles and really don’t want to hurt them day two. I make it across. I’m so happy I smile and let out a big “Woohoo!” Campsite #53, Poke Patch Camp is just on the other side of the creek. Made it!
I put my tent up perfectly just before the rain comes. I rest inside for a bit while I listen to raindrops hit the top of my tent and watch the big drops slide down the sides. It’s peaceful. I write in my journal trying not to forget a single thing. It doesn’t rain long and I walk back to the creek to see if Pick is there yet. He is. Shirt still up, belly still out. I call out “I’m glad you made it!” To which he replies “Me too!” He’s going to rest and we chat back and forth over the creek for a few minutes before he decides he’s not crossing today. He can wait until tomorrow. I tell him to enjoy his evening and stay dry and take off back to camp.
It’s 6:40 now and the rain starts back up. Night number 2 in the rain… Awesome. I lay back down to rest and think just go to sleep. I’ve got a big hike tomorrow up a big ass mountain. I need good rest. I change into my camp clothes and get settled for the night. I lay down. Everything is sore and everything hurts. I stare up at the tiny little bugs as they have gotten trapped between my tent and rainfly. Some are calm and some flutter about when a rain drop hits near them.
At 7:16 just as I’ve checked the time and closed my eyes for the night the lighting and thunder start up. I’m almost asleep when I hear a horribly loud crash. I jump and my heart is racing. “What the fuck was that?” I say super loud hoping Pick can hear and answer me. I put my shoes and raincoat on and go outside to see. A tree has fallen no more than 18 feet away from my tent. Holy shit. Here I am worried about bears when a tree could just as easily fall on me. I go check on Pick but see nothing and assume he’s ok. I crawl back into my tent. I do some deep breaths and close my eyes again and try to relax. Not ten minutes later I hear something new. I say “Hello?” praying its people and not a bear growl. I hear “Hello” back. Thank goodness. A voice asks me if I mind coming out he needs help. I don’t think twice (which maybe I should have), I grab my raincoat and open my tent. It’s four younger guys soaking wet from the rain. Two of whom find a spot nearby to rest. The other two say they’ve been lost and are looking for Mt. Collins. I CAN help. I tell them it’s 5 miles up a mountain across a creek and they insist on going tonight. Crazy fuckers. They don’t stay long and I make sure they have flashlights. I tell them it’s going to be slick and about all the trees that are down and wish them well. No way in hell I’d be doing that… In the dark… In a storm. I get back into my tent and say a little prayer for them. I close my eyes and watch my eyelids glow when the lighting strikes and listen to the loud bangs of thunder. And then I sleep.
Total Miles: 9.1