Monday, August 24, 2009

The Appalachian Trail - Better Late Than Never!

Hey all! Finally, I am about to blog about my experience on the Appalachian Trail in June! I'm sorry it has taken so long to put something up about it. Sometimes you just get busy and suddenly it's almost 3 months later! Anyway, as I said, better late than never right? :) So, just to make sure you're up to speed, late this past May, Michelle and I, along with my Brother in Law Al and my Dad, started at Winding Stair Gap in North Carolina, and over the next 8 days, we would walk a total of 53 miles of the Appalachian Trail, to be picked up in Cades Cove, TN. The experience was difficult and often treacherous. It was a little scary, and stressful. But it was definitely an experience not to be missed, and I'm sure that none of us are finished with the AT. If you haven't seen the pictures yet, they're in my gallery on my website. Rather than post a lot of pictures here, I'll just send you that direction for a better interface. It's probably next to impossible to put everything we experienced into a single blog post, but I'm going to do what I can. Here goes! First, I'll say that none of us were truly prepared for a week in the woods. I don't think any of us believed we would be, but that doesn't change the fact that it was more of a challenge than we anticipated. We were fortunate to have an excellent shuttle to our trail head. Without them we'd have dealt with some difficulties that were unneeded. Our driver went over some possible hazards to avoid, and helped us a great deal with pack weight, and food management, so after the three hour drive to the trail, we felt more prepared than we had been, which was good. We would need every extra bit of help! :) Jeff (our driver) also asked us why we had chosen the hardest length of trail in the southern half as our first piece. Well, the location worked out best for our drop off and pick-up, but would we have made an adjustment had we known that before the day we started? No point dwelling on that now. Done is done! (it was all my fault) :) My aunt and uncle met us at the trail head to see us off. With a prayer and a couple of pounds of birthday cookies, (thanks Aunt Patty) off we went! Day one, and we hiked and hiked and hiked. Now, we had some long days scheduled. 10 miles, 12 miles. On our first day we went about 8 before we camped, at a place called Wine Spring. The spring was a little creek, which was where we first filled our water bottles with mountain stream water. A lot of realizations on that first day or two. Let me relate a few:
  1. We aren't making the kind of time we planned. Either have to speed up, or not go as far. (This was also some good advice from our shuttle driver. Relax, and enjoy your time, he said. It's a vacation and you aren't racing. Very quickly we realized we were not going to go as far or as fast as we had planned. That realization and subsequent acceptance made the trip a lot easier and more enjoyable.)
  2. Everything you do has to have a purpose. In the woods, there is no action without thought and purpose behind it. After awhile, the routine got easier, but you have to be aware of every step, lest you plummet over the side of the hill. You have to cook in the right place in the right clothes (as not to attract rodents and bears) , plan your water stops, prepare your camp efficiently, break your camp efficiently, hit the trail early enough to make your next campsite. The thinking can wear you out, but as we often talked about on the trail, you may still be stressed, but you aren't thinking about work, or the lawn, or the bills, You're thinking of things that will keep you alive and healthy. Bears, clean water, dry clothes and shoes. You're trading one set of trials for another. And I can't speak for everyone else, but I found that enjoyable once I was accustomed to it.
  3. Too much food! We all experienced this. Our appetites were slim under the physical exertion. I could have carried two thirds less food and probably still had too much.
  4. Small kindness really does matter. This is related to number three actually. We had too much food, but there were foods that we didn't have that we really missed. Day two we encountered a lady at a picnic site that came near to the trail. She had some fresh strawberries which she offered us, and which quickly disappeared. I actually didn't' have one, but the rest of the group did. Later in the week, the same thing happened when we hiked along with a couple of ladies who gave us a bag of cherries. I had a few of those. Those were the best cherries I've ever eaten. I think just because they gave us a little of something that we didn't have, and couldn't possibly have had without them. It made me realize how significant even the smallest gift or aid can be to someone who is without, and we didn't even need the cherries to live. They just hit the spot. It's funny how much of your time on the trail revolves around food. When to eat, how much, where and so on. At Fontana Dam, NC, just before we crossed into Tennessee, I offered a melted Snickers bar to one of the kids who was sharing a shelter with us. His eyes got wide, and he thanked me as though I'd given him a nugget of gold! We found out a couple of days later that he and his friends had been raided by bears in the middle of the night, and they had stolen all of his food, so he had been living fairly lean for those few days. Likely he'd have taken a Snickers over a gold nugget out in the middle of the woods. :)
  5. I was worried about drinking water from a stream. If you stop to think about everything that drinks from the stream, that crawls in's a little disgusting. But I realized that the taste of the water coming out of those mountains is not to be had from city water. It was so clean tasting that when we were finally able to drink some city water again, it was metallic and heavy by comparison. After we left the hostel where we slept mid week, I was tempted to dump my city water in favor of a spring we passed, but I just didn't want to wait for the purification.

So the hostel is another story. After three or four days, we were very tired, and having a hard time of it, so we decided to take a day off of the trail to heal and relax. We stopped at the Nantahala Outdoor Center in North Carolina. It is a fabled destination for AT hikers and affectionately called "The NOC". A couple of restaurants, $20 hostel rooms. Hot water and showers. We decided that in the spirit of not killing ourselves, and also enjoying ourselves, that we needed to take the time. It was well spent. Laundry done, showers taken, gear cleaned up and repacked, we shuttled ahead so we could meet our pickup in Cades Cove on the appointed day.

I think I can be safe summing up the rest of the hiking. Naturally there are countless stories I could tell you, but I want to keep this blog readable. Feel free to ask me any question you have. But I can say that the hiking and camping were harder, and more worthwhile than I could have imagined. The time I got to spend with the people who went with me was irreplaceable. And as I mentioned in a previous blog, God was there too, as I expected. Interestingly, the bear activity this year is extremely high. People coming and going saw them the whole time we were on the trail. We never saw the first one. I wouldn't trade this hike for a week doing anything else! Also, there are some views of the Appalachian Mountains that you can't drive to. I saw some incredible places. There are pictures of some of them, but pictures don't do them justice. More than once I was awed by a 360 degree panorama of mountains as far as I could see. If you haven't experienced it, that's good stuff! :)

I think the only way I can make sure to answer everything that you might be wondering is in the comments section of this post. Ask a question or anything and I'll see about answering! If it requires another blog post, then all the better! Thanks, as always, for reading!!


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