Day 3: Tuesday, May 3rd
I’m up at 6:40am and ready for my day. It’s very cloudy and will most likely rain. Everything is wet. Thankfully I stay dry inside my Big Agnes tent (I Love you Big A!!) all night and even get a bit hot and unzip my sleeping bag for some air. My shoes are moist and today I need to hike 11.6 miles up a mountain all while keeping my feet dry. That’s the goal today: make it to Newton Bald Camp #52 with no blisters.
I break down my wet gear. This is where John would be helpful again I say to myself as I dig my stakes up from the now muddy spot my tent is in. Dirt and mud have splashed all over the bottom and sides of my tent, footprint, and rain fly. I get really dirty. Gross dirty. Good thing I put the same stinky clothes on I’ve been wearing for days now. Maybe the dirt will mask the funk from my smell, maybe not… I just try not to sniff anything because at this point I’m disgusted with myself. It took three days to gross myself out… Just three days.
For breakfast I have crackers and a protein bar and chug lots of water. I go refill my bottles and see about Pick. Still can’t see anything. Brush my teeth and get my pack situated. I leave Pick an arrow I make with sticks on a nearby stump so I know he’ll see it and know I’m already off. It’s 8:15.
Within 5 minutes I’m stopping to put on my raincoat and I see a small stream up ahead. I cross and don’t get wet, yay! I know there are several streams and small creeks (12 at least) that I’ll cross today. Probably more so now that it’s been raining for two days. Maybe 20 feet after that one there’s a big creek. After a quick glance I know there’s no way I’m making it across without getting wet to below my knees. I unbuckle my pack and throw it down. I get out camp shoes, my towel, and waterproof socks. I opt for camp shoes and roll my pants up and slowly make my way across. Yes, made it! Now I think to myself, do I dry my feet off and put my waterproof socks on or do I hike a bit in my camp shoes and just assume there will be more creeks/streams like this one? Camp shoes for the win because I don’t want to take my pack off again. This time I go about 100 feet before I see a stream and the rain starts. I cross but it’s too slippery and my ankles aren’t feelin’ it and the little voice in my head says to put my shoes back on. So pack back off, dry my feet as best I can since the rain is falling, put on waterproof socks and shoes. Pack back on. I walk. I say out loud “Screw it, today’s a get wet day!” So the next steam I get to I step all in it, still with some caution, but I just go for it. I walk for maybe an hour with soggy feet before checking my map to see how many more I have. There are many more before I dry my feet again and change into dry socks. It’s a lot of rocks and stones and more water trails but after Pole Creek campsite #55 no more creeks. Again, everything is slimy and wet and it sometimes takes me a while to decide which way to go. I find that if I think too much about it I’ll have been standing in the same spot for a whole minute.
Making my way pass several camp sites, I get excited because at the last one I know I’ve made it about 3 miles in a little over two hours. Even in the rain I have a smile on my face and I’m thrilled. I hike up to campsite #57, the last campsite of Horace Kaphart, a writer and outdoor activist. I have a snack and rest. I know that after the next mile the trail goes up 4.9 miles practically straight up a mountain. I make it my mile up to Sunkota Ridge Trail at 3,430ft.
Then I hike slowly up a mountain. I take small breaks and rest my chest on my trekking poles and bend down to breathe. Only I still have boogs from my cold so I get out my bandanna and blow my nose. As I do this I think of my Grandaddy who always carried a white handkerchief and it brings back many happy memories. I smile at the happy thoughts and as I do the sun starts to shine. I’ve stopped near a fallen tree and I can see the shadow of my fingers on it. I take my raincoat hood down, close my eyes and lift my head up to the sun. “Hi Grandaddy!” I say out loud and have a moment and take a picture of my shadow.
I walk. It’s now almost 12:45 and I’m on the side of a mountain and it’s pretty clear out now. I stop for a break, kick my feet up over my pack and think maybe I’ll see if I have service. I do! I call Madre and get no answer… It better be important. Call Dad and he picks up. Chat with him and tell him I’m doing well and it’s all good. He tells me he’s on Facebook and to make sure I call Madre. I’m happy but freaked out again. It’s strange hearing my parent say to call the other one. They know I will but for them to tell me, it’s a bit of a roller coaster. Hang up with him after I love yous and call Madre. Talk with her (it was important, she’s signing papers for her new house) and she tells me to call dad. Wow! She puts my mind at ease when she says they talked the whole way down from Clingmans about me and my siblings. I laugh and say “Holy crap” many times before I start to believe her. I only chat with them for a total of ten minutes before I send my loves a message and post on Facebook. I smile again. It’s so nice to hear voices I know from people I love and get messages from girlfriends. But then my phone dies because all my text, Facebook messages, phone calls and emails come through at once and eat up my last 20%. *PLEASE send any sweet messages and kind words to my Facebook page or message me there not via text.* I’d like to take pictures on my phone often but keep it off otherwise. I’m taking tons of pictures on my camera but need some for when I post blogs. I make a mental note to do just that after I get my phone up and charged again. I’ll get used to not having it soon.
After chatting with my parents and hearing how proud they are and that they love me, I’ve got more motivation to keep trucking up this mountain. It seems like it takes days. I stop and break for a few minutes and then start up again. I stop again and drink water for only a minute this time. At this point everything aches. I keep going. I see lots of horse manure on the trail. There are signs that say some of the trails are horse trails but I really hate having to dodge horse shit while trying not to misstep off the side of the mountain. At one point I don’t see any for a while and think to myself “Maybe the horses pulled a Man from Snowy River move and they flung themselves off the side of a mountain.” Then I think about Bubba and how many times we watched that movie. Even the second one is good, Return to Snowy River. I try to remember the character names. After a mile I remember, Jim (handsome) and Jessica. I think about how badass Jim was on that horse and laugh because right now I think I’m badass. This mountain is a killer.
Something happens between thinking of horses and then Disney movies and now I find myself singing “Just keep swimming” from Finding Nemo but I replace the word swimming with walking. I do some whale talk out loud and say “Noooo, thhhiisss doesnnntt huuuurrttt aaaatt aaallll! Yooouurreee ffiinnneee!” A little bit later and up a little higher, I feel a cool mountain breeze and it gets windy, so naturally I have me a Pocahontas Color of the Wind moment. I close my eyes and let the breeze wash over me. It gives me small boosts of energy and turns my sweat to chills which fills nice.
So many thoughts go through my head as I walk. If I could write them all down you’d think I’m crazier than you already think I am. At one point I think that my trekking poles are really just long legs I wear on my arms. They help me pull up or steady myself or grab places before I can get to them with my real legs. I decide I love them. They need names. I think on this for a bit and come up with silly names from history, movies, funny saying and anything that makes me smile. Some options before I settled were Peanut butter and Jelly, Kate and Leo, Johnny and June and New and Legs. But I ended up naming them “Do It” and “To It”. Do It is in my left hand To It is in my right. This takes thirty minutes but it passes the time so I’m psyched.
Finally, I make it to the Thomas Divide Trail sign and I’m so happy I kiss it! That means it’s only 1 more mile to my campsite. I’m filled with many emotions as I make my way that last mile and when I get half way there I hear something. Sounds like people playing horseshoes so I assume people are up there staking their tent. I make it. I’m so freakin’ proud of myself I could scream but don’t because there are two people, a couple from Florida, putting their tent up. I say a quick and breathless “Hello” and find a place to put my pack down. I chat with them as I rest and grab my water bottle. They tell me their names but I don’t even bother listening after which I ask which way the steam is for water. The lady points to her left, “Down there, it’s a really slippery slope.” Great. I grab “Do It” and go down about 50ft sliding most of the way. I drink almost 32oz in minutes and fill it back up before making my way back up this muddy slope.
Once back up I waste no time getting my wet tent out and letting it dry out in the cool breeze. I hang it along with other wet items on tree limbs and on fallen trees with rocks on top so nothing blows away. I sit and eat snacks, still no warm meal yet, too tired and take my meds. I have a Snickers bar for a “making it up this mountain” treat. I think about something a friend, Josh, said to me on Thursday at NoDa Brewery before I left. I really did wish he could Hunger Games me a parashoot present beer right now.
My tent is dry and I start setting up around 6:40pm, I take my time. I get done and chat with the couple, find a pee spot and hide my bear canister. By 8pm I’m in my sleeping bag ready for rest. It’s cold on top of this mountain. So much so that I sleep in my big coat. It keeps me warm but I do hate sleeping in clothes… Blah. I think about my bed at home and all the leg room a queen size bed has to offer and how this sleeping bag makes my feet squish so close together that I get mad that I have feet. I finally get situated and hear the man reading a book to the lady, sweet, but I hope it’s the end of the book because I need sleep. I say Good Night to them and they are quiet. The wind blows quickly around me and I zip my sleeping bag all the way up so I’m totally covered. I close my eyes and I’m out. I’m out for 17 minutes until I hear coyotes howl in the distance. Not too far away but far enough that I don’t get frightened. I’m out again.
It wakes me up. A noise to close to me that my whole body is trembling. Something is definitely outside my tent! I can hear it moving. It’s not big enough to be a bear but probably a coyote. My nerves are shot. My hands quiver as I reach for my whistle and flashlight. But I just lay there for a minute hoping it goes away. It doesn’t. I blow my whistle a little to try and scare whatever it is away but not too loud as to scare my neighbors. Still there. I tell myself I’m brave and get my flashlight and shine it towards my tent opening. Now to truly be brave and open the door. I do. My fucking rainfly has come loose from its stake and is flapping in the wind. Holy crap!!! And Thank You Lord!!! Tonight is NOT the night I get eaten by a small wild animal, Yay! I get as cozy as possible and do deep breaths until I fall asleep again. I pray I sleep until 6:30 with no more interruptions.
Total Miles: 20.7
Day 4: Wednesday, May 4th
It’s frigid when I wake up and I have to pee. I go find a good spot and then get right back in my tent. I put my clothes in my sleeping bag to warm them up and take my meds and journal about yesterday. The sun comes up through my tent, it’s magical and almost warm. It’s 8:20 AM and today’s goal is to walk roughly 5 miles to the Smokemont campground. After that it’s only 3 more miles to Cherokee and I can get a hotel room and shower.
I make my way down… DOWN the mountain. There are a few ups but mostly it’s down and I’m happy about this. For a few minutes I’m just smiling and walking without a lot of thoughts so it’s nice. But it’s still very chilly. That mountain breeze is no joke. I kept my camp pants on and put my hiking pants over them, have on my long socks, and have on three layers of tops, plus my thick Buff. The wind whips around me as I go from one side of the mountain to the other. It reminds me of Lombard Street in San Francisco where the road is crooked and goes right to left and left to right. I’m still just excited to be going down a mountain which then reminds me of a song.
I’m goin down down baby, yo’ street in a Range Rover. Street sweeper baby, cocked ready to let it go. Shimmy shimmy cocoa what? Listen to it pound. Light it up and take a puff, pass it to me now. Oh I still love me some Country Grammar!
I sing that for a while then I sing:
Down down baby, down down the roller coaster. Sweet sweet baby, sweet sweet don’t let me go. shimmy shimmy coco pop, shimmy shimmy rock, shimmy shimmy coco pop, shimmy shimmy rock I met a girlfriend- a triscuit, she said a triscuit-a biscuit, ice cream soda pop vanilla on the top oooo Shalida, walking down the street, ten times a week. I meant it. I said it. I stole my mama’s credit. I’m cool. I’m hot. Sock you in the stomach three more times.
Because who doesn’t love Tom Hanks in Big?! I picture Tom Hanks shimmying up the staircase and that red headed kid and him doing the vanilla on the top swirl above their heads and I must sing that song eight times before it gets old. Then I think of Tom Hanks as Jimmy Dugan when he throws the baseball glove and hits Stilwell angel right in the head and laughs. I giggle out loud. Then I think of Sisterita and how we do the “Mule” and “Nag” name calling thing from the movie and my happy goes from a 6 to a 10! I’m all smiles today.
I can see it from up ahead and have no idea how I’m going to go around it. A tree has fallen but it’s not just the trunk that’s in the middle of the trail. Lots of branches make it seem as though it’s now an obstacle course to the other side. I pretend I’m Catherine Zeta-Jones in that Entrapment scene with the lasers. I sexy my way through just like she did… and then have a giggle.
As I continue downhill I still find myself slipping on leaves, rocks, and sometimes even over myself. I’ve fallen a handful of times by now and so far have only gotten a few scratches and bruises so I’m thankful for that. I start to get down where water is again and pass several streams where I can refill my water bottle and have a little rest. At one point I come to a fallen tree that goes from one side of the trail to the other side and think “I’m going to Dirty Dance my way over that log!” Which of course, I don’t, but it makes me giggle at the thought of it then I sing:
Hey, hey hey baby! I want to know if you’ll be my girl. Hey, hey hey baby! I want to know if you’ll be my girl. When I saw you walking down the street I said that’s a kind of girl I’d like to meet. She’s so pretty, Lord she’s fine I’m gonna make her mine all mine. Hey, hey hey baby! I want to know if you’ll be my girl.
After that I only think of “Nobody puts Baby in a corner.” More walking leads me to a footpath over a stream and then I remember all those volunteers and people who work so hard at the Friends of the Mountains to Sea Trail who make this all possible. I make a mental note to volunteer after I finish my hike. I’ll take friends with me and make it a weekend getaway for good instead of an alcohol filled, see some places kinda trip. Do something good for a purpose I can relate to and believe in. Then after some hard volunteer work, I’ll deserve a drink.
Something startles me to my left. It’s two turkeys running across what is now a gravel road over to the right side of the mountain. I say to them “Nobody puts Baby in a corner!” and laugh so hard at myself. Next up I cross a little bridge where I play Poohsticks with myself. I win! As I continue walking I pass by three little ladies who are out for a daily stroll. Not too long after that, three little gentleman come walking by too. I stop and have a chat with them because they look like they could use a break. They also wanted to know what a girl was doing out in the middle of the woods by herself. We have a quick chat about the trail and then I wish them well and I’m off again. I come to a shooting range which makes me think of my dad and brother and I stop to have a rest at the picnic tables there. After a quick rest and a few more bridges a make it to a sign that says Mingus Creek Trail and Mountains to Sea Trail. 26.7 miles!! Yay for me! I waste no time going to the restroom there to wash up a bit. Then I am off, headed on the road towards Cherokee.
I’m happy to walk close to the road where people are in their cars driving by. So much so that I start waving at random cars because I can. Only 3 miles to town and it’s a beautiful day.
I make my way to the Oconaluftee Visitor Center and go in to have a look around. A man who works there asked me for my trail name and I’m happy to tell him “Legs” with a smile and giggle. He writes my trail name down, the trail I’m hiking, and the date that I got there. It’s nice chatting with him as he seems very eager to hear all about my adventure so far. A few minutes later I’m out the door back on the road. It’s gorgeous out!!
As I walk towards town I pass the great Smoky Mountains National Park sign and have a couple take my picture. They ask where I came from and if I’m hiking the AT. I’m happy to tell them that I am not and I am walking a different trail, the MST, and they are enthusiastic about hearing of a new trail nearby.
Half a mile down the road I can see signs of life with stoplights and gas stations and places to get a warm meal. In town I find the closest hotel I can get to and there’s a little place to eat across the street and I become the happiest person alive. I get checked into my hotel go straight to the door, take off my pack, and run a hot bath. I soak for a good long bit and after that I have a shower. I put on the only clean clothes I have and walk across the street to the Little Princess Restaurant for an all-you-can-eat buffet. Hiker hunger is no joke. I eat and savor every bite. I talk to some family and friends when I get back to my hotel and start blogging and enjoy my nice cozy bed. Tomorrow is a zero day which means I won’t hike any and I’ll get some much-needed downtime so my body can get a real rest. I brush my teeth, turn out the lights and crawl into the clean, white sheets of my hotel bed and then I sleep.
Total Miles: 26.7 (plus three to town)