Sunday, April 27, 2014

On Slackpacking and Vacations: Days 60 - 68

From our previous post, Grandpa Kibble had just joined us for a fun week in the woods from Atkins to Woods Hole Hostel. Unfortunately he had injured his knee just out of town, so The Ramen Shaman came up with a plan for us to still make the miles while keeping Grandpa Kibble involved. We decided we would slackpack over the next few days. Slackpacking is the term used for hiking a section of trail with little more than water and some snacks for the day. The joy of slackpacking comes from being able to do more miles faster than you can carrying a fully loaded pack. We learned a lot about ourselves and our hiking style in the few days that we slackpacked, enough that we needed a vacation from it all!

Day 60: Chestnut Knob Shelter to Laurel Creek - Slackpacking Day 1
The first 6 miles of this day were normal hiking miles, but we dropped off our packs with TruBrit at a roadcrossing and slackpacked the rest of the day. This was the only day of slackpacking Cheez-it enjoyed! The miles seem to fly by and you don't feel exhausted going uphill. Our night concluded at Fort Bastian, which was fun, but weird. Grandpa Kibble decided to become a trail angel to our little group of 12 hikers, and planned to intersect us at various roadcrossings throughout the next day with drinks and snacks. The Ramen Shaman decided that he would stay behind with his dad to spend some quality time and help with coordinating the trail magic. It would be up to Cheez-it to pick up the next 25.5 miles on her own!

Day 61: Laurel Creek to VA 608 - Slackpacking Day 2
We arrived to the trailhead later than we had hoped (10am) due to TruBrit's shuttle schedule. Being slower hikers even while slackpacking, Icicle, Quailman, and I would be struggling to finish the 25.5 mile section before nightfall. The start of the hike began just fine and we kept a steady pace for the first 8 or so miles. Then we arrived at the roadwalk over I-70. I had hiked ahead of Icicle and Quailman while they took a little break and subsequently arrived at the road first. You exit the woods onto a dirt road and follow the road down to a paved road. Once you intersect the paved road, you can't see any more white blazes from where you stand, but there is a beaten path up a hill next to the road. I climb this hill and check out the view of the valley below, but soon I realize there are no white blazes and the footpath has dead-ended off of the other end of the hill, which is steep and covered in loose shale. I carefully pick my way to the bottom of the hill back to the road, feeling a little more than foolish. Thankfully I spot a white blaze on the nearby road sign and I know that I'm at least heading in the right direction. I follow the road as it takes a sharp left turn and crosses over the top of I-70. I spot a white blaze on the opposite guardrail and head for it. Once I arrive, I turn 360 degrees over and over again, trying to spot the next white blaze. I pull out AWOL's guide at this point and read the entry, "AT re-enters woods north of road." I whip out my compass and check that yes, I am indeed facing north, but no, I cannot see where the trail re-enters the woods. I spot a footpath that rounds the guardrail so I head over to check it out. I get a few dozen feet up the trail, but I can't see any white blazes, so I abandon the trail and decide that it would be better to wait for Quailman and Icicle so that we can all try and figure this out. I spot another white blaze on a tree by the road, facing in asuch a direction that you cannot see it from the guardrail white blaze. Quailman and Icicle arrive a few minutes later and we are all scratching our heads. I finally decide to walk further down the road to the east to see if I could find another blaze. And there it is. On a rock face oriented in such a manner that you can't see unless you are right in front of it is painted a lonely white blaze. I call out to the others and we all hike down the road together. We wasted 45 minutes wondering around on a road trying to find the trail. NOBO thru-hiker beware! This section is not well blazed.

This is only the beginning of our troubles. We head down to the trailhead and get back on. We decide to skip filling up on water at the trailhead and start the steep climb up. The shelter is only a couple miles away afterall, and we can just get water there. WRONG! The shelter ends up being 0.3mi off of the trail, and the water source is another 0.3mi farther past the shelter. Even though we are all low on water, we decided to just push on 8 more miles to the unreliable stream. This ends up being the biggest mistake of our entire hike yet! It's hot and the three of us are stuck on a ridgeline with no water! I hike ahead with the intention of filling up at the hopefully flowing stream and bringing it back to Icicle and Quailman. When I am about 3/4 of a mile from the road and the stream, The Ramen Shaman appears carrying tons of water for the three of us! I tell him to hike back to them because they only had 1 liter of water between the two of them. We all meet at the road crossing and find out that the unreliable stream is dry. We would have been in big trouble if The Ramen Shaman hadn't showed up. Together, we finished the last 4 miles and chose to be picked up at VA 608 instead of pushing the original 25.5 miles to Trent's Grocery. These last 4 miles were the most fun out of the day, and we ended our first full slackpacking day in good spirits. Grandpa Kibble left us beer and snacks at the road while he went to pick up a bunch of burgers for us, which was incredible and amazing. We spent the night with our trail family (Batman, The Priest, Noodle, Radioman, Cowgirl, Flex, and Poohbear) around a warm campfire at Trent's Grocery. Radioman was even kind enough to share his wine and salmon pate!

Day 62: VA 608 to USFS 103 and Woods Hole Hostel
The morning was very stressful as we were faced with another 20 mile day to get into Woods Hole Hostel and a hot, homemade dinner at 7 o'clock. We got to the trail late again, and set off to make up the missed 5 miles and the next 15 miles into the hostel. The first 5 miles were mellow and we even got to cross a suspension footbridge! The next 10 miles were miserable. We hiked as fast as we could and skipped the side-trail to the waterfall. Cheez-it's ankle was sore and she fell behind the group, slowing everyone down. The Ramen Shaman ran ahead to get to the privy at Waputi Shelter, and the rest of us hiked quickly to meet him there. When we were less than a mile away from the shelter, we were all commenting to one another that hiking at this pace was no fun and we really weren't enjoying ourselves. Just then, Icicle took a bad fall and banged her knee pretty badly. That was the tipping point! We all just laughed at ourselves for trying to stick to a schedule that didn't make sense for us and was causing us all to be miserable! We threw up our hands and said "Screw it!" and decided to arrive at Woods Hole whenever we felt like it. We were done pushing ourselves to the point of not having any fun. We took a long break at the shelter to eat and rub our sore feet. Vegemite ended up catching up to us, and we hadn't seen him since Damascus. Grandpa Kibble called and said that he had left the car at the forest service road, and that really raised all of our spirits since we would be able to get to Woods Hole before dinner. Vegemite was down for catching a ride as well! We hiked on and stopped for a short break at a rocky overlook that gave us wonderful views of the Virginia farming valley below. It was quite the end to another crazy day. When we arrived at the car, we all piled in and headed for the hostel and a hot meal.

Day 63: Zero at Woods Hole Hostel - Zero Day 1
We decided to take a zero day after our rough couple of days in order to rejuvenate a little. This was lucky because Cheez-it had just been contacted by a professor for the Virginia Institute of Marine Science back in Atkins and had been meaning to contact him for a phone interview. This day provided that perfect opportunity. The food and the atmosphere at Woods Hole is awesome, but they are overpriced in my opinion. For $15 you get a bunk in the unheated bunkhouse (which you are responsible for cleaning up), a gross privy, and an outdoor shower (which is no fun in mid-April). Our zero day had Cheez-it's spirits low, even though her phone interview had seemingly gone well. That night, we all sat around and contemplated options. We had the opportunity to visit the VIMS campus in Gloucester Point, VA in order to meet the professor and make an impression, and we decided that now was the perfect time. Icicle and Quailman were feeling like taking a few days off as well, so we hatched a plan the next day that would lead to all of us having an amazing beach vacation!

Day 64: Zero at The Days Inn in Christiansburg, VA - Zero Day 2
Neville of Woods Hole offered to give us a ride into Christiansburg to start our adventure. We would hit up Williamsburg and the VIMS campus, and then drive to Virginia Beach to relax by the ocean! This day was full of walking from the hotel to the convenience store across the way to get beer, and then to the Cracker Barrel for dinner. We also watched Marley & Me, which was a mistake.

Day 65: Zero in Williamsburg/Gloucester Point/Virginia Beach - Zero Day 3
We started out the day renting a car and spending the 4 hour drive saying how weird it was that we were in a car. Then we arrived in the Williamsburg/Gloucester Point area and drove on the Colonial Parkway, which was really beautiful. Cheez-it got to meet with her potential advisor and get a nickel tour of the campus. Then we all piled in the car and drove back to Williamsburg becasue we thought it might have a cool downtown area to hang out it. We could only find the overly commercialized portion, so we drove to the subburbs to eat at place called Oceans & Ale. During this time, we reverted to calling each other by our real names, which also felt weird. Eric, Kristin, and I each made bets about how many chicken wings Chase could eat. Eric won with his guess of 27 wings, though Chase admitted later he was saving room for Ben & Jerry's. We then drove another hour to Virginia Beach and checked into our amazing oceanfront hotel and beachfront room ($54/night on priceline; about $13.50/person i.e. cheaper than the typical hostel rate). The next day was sure to be epic.

Day 66: Zero in Virginia Beach - Zero Day 3
We felt so relaxed on this day after spending all day hanging out by the ocean and sipping fru-fru drinks. $2 fish tacos at the hotel bar. This was the first day we actually felt rested on a zero day.

Day 67: Zero in Virginia Beach - Zero Day 4
We had an indian food buffet. That's all that needs to be said about this awesome day. We began to fell anxious about heading back to the trail, especially after we found it that it is essentially Cold War Part Deux out there.

Day 68: Zero in Virginia Beach/Pearisburg - Zero Day 5
This was a whirlwind car trip from Virginia Beach to Richmond to Pearisburg! We stopped in Richmond to visit the REI to pick up a few things to get ready for our return to the trail. We originally intentioned to hike a few miles, but the rental car agency closed at 5pm, so we had to get a hotel! Day 69 will be a return to Woods Hole to catch up on the 12-ish miles that we missed into Pearisburg!

Our vacation from the trail truly was restorative and we are ready to get back to the trail. There is a statistic floating around out there that 80% of thru-hikers that take more than 3 zero days in a row ultimately leave the trail. We don't like the negativity associated with such a statistic, because when you are feeling low on the trail, sometimes the best medicine is to take a few days off. I think it helps to get far away from the trail and the trail culture, that way you approach it with a fresh set of eyes after a few days off. 

Sheila spent her vacation chasing birds on the beach and getting very sandy and wet! She also got a good grooming and a foot massage. I think she will always be a beach dog at heart. 

Well, that's all for now folks! 

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Trails and Tribulations: Days 41 - 60

Hello loyal followers! Sorry for the long stay between blog posts! It has been a crazy couple of weeks since we left Damascus and the only reason we have time to update now is due to the fact that we are in Virginia Beach on vacation from our adventure! Kelley is being considered as a candidate for admission to the Virginia Institute of Marine Science at the College of William & Mary (a very exciting and intimidating time in our lives!) so we decided to take a few days to visit the campus and escape to the ocean in order to rejuvenate our souls in preparation for the return to the trail life. Our good friends, Icicle & Quailman, also decided they needed a couple of days off and have joined us for this minor detour! Check out their awesome blog: Trail Mix & Dirty Underwear.

You might be wondering why we would need to escape from the trail for a few days. A series of events led up to this, starting with the weather turning on Day 60. I'm planning on detailing this culmination of incidents and happenings that led to our decision to leave the trail for a few days in the next blog post, which I will be posting tomorrow or the next day. For now, here is a summary of our days since our last post!

Day 41: Hogback Ridge Shelter to No Business Knob Shelter
This was our first 20 mile day! Holy cow! That morning we had decided that it would be ideal to make it to No Business Knob in order to get into Erwin early the next day before the forecasted thunderstorms rolled in.Thankfully most of the slush that was on the ground the previous day had melted away and the going was easy. We arrived at Spivey Gap (15.8 miles into the day), filtered water, ate raw Ramen noodles, fed Sheila, and pushed on into the growing darkness. Night hiking with emergency headlamps is no fun, but we were really excited to see that Boomer and Smudge were awake in the shelter as we arrived well after hiker midnight (around 9 o'clock in the evening). We made a quick dinner and hit the hay!

Day 42: No Business to Uncle Johnny's in Erwin, TN
The descent into Erwin is seemingly endless. You can see the town for at least the last 3 miles, growing ever closer with each switchback. We made it eventually to Uncle Johnny's and checked into the only cabin they had left, Cabin F at a rate of $40 per night. The "free" town shuttles were really just a dinner and breakfast shuttle to one spot in town. We ended up having a good night and meeting Sunshine and Youngbeard, a newly engaged couple that we hiked with through Hampton, TN.

Day 43: Uncle Johnny's to Indian Grave Gap
The weather looked atrocious on this morning, but soon cleared to blue skies and sunshine. We witnessed some of Uncle Johnny's more suspicious business practices as they quoted a couple $55/night for the same cabin we stayed in. We learned later from Icicle and Quailman that they stayed in the same cabin, but only because the guy who had reserved it alone all of a sudden found himself shacking up with Socs and Blaze, two pretty college age girls. The guy panicked and left because his girlfriend would have been very uncomfortable with the situation, so Socs and Blaze offered to share the cabin with Icicle and Quailman. Apparently this sort of thing happens pretty often when bunkroom spaces fill up. Buyer beware.

We ended up staying at Indian Grave Gap at Freshground's Leapfrog Cafe, a traveling trail magic food fiesta set up by attempted thru-hiker, Freshground. He made us hot dogs, chili, and homemade fries that night and banana pancakes, eggs, and bacon in the morning! Unfortunately there were no privies for the next 20 miles.

Day 44: Indian Grave to Cherry Gap Shelter
This was a short day because I felt like crap after all the food. We met Radioman,Cowgirl & Cooper the Miniature Pinscher, along with Poohbear and M this night, and reunited with Penguinman. Sheila ate people poop because previous visitors to the shelter had decided that it was OK to poop behind trees 0 feet off of the trail. Disgusting!

Day 45: Cherry Gap to Roan High Knob Shelter
Another long, hard day at 17-ish miles! Cheez-it felt great during the last big climb, while The Ramen Shaman's energy drained. For the last few miles of the climb, the trail was literally a sheet of ice, which made it dangerous and slow going in the setting sun. We managed to make it to the shelter, which was up another steep, icy trail, where we stayed with Sunshine,Youngbeard, and M. It was the coolest shelter I've seen so far with a fully enclosed space with windows and a door! Perfect for keeping out the wind.

Day 46: Roan High Knob to Doll Flats (NC border! - 2 States down, 12 to go!)
It was slow going again as we came down Roan High Knob due to the continued sheet of ice. The next section of trail was full of beautiful balds, referred to as the Roan Highlands. The climb up Little Hump and Hump Mountains made us very tired and the final mile to Doll Flats seemed infinite over rocky terrain. It was a beautiful campsite though, and we had great company.

Day 47: Doll Flats to Upper Laurel Falls
Tennessee was such a beautiful state! We were greeted with many rolling, green hills and many beautiful streams and waterfalls. We found a sweet headlamp at Jones Falls, which we have named The Sun due to it's brightness. We camped right near the river and enjoyed a peaceful night's sleep.

Day 48: Upper Laurel Falls to Black Bear Resort in Hampton, TN
Black Bear Resort was really incredible, partially because it really was just awesome and partially because we stayed with such great people and had such a good time that night.We split a cabin with Sunshine & Youngbeard, and partied with Windscreen, Batman, Tree, Dorothy, Coconut, Spicerack, Cowgirl, Youngbeard, and Mr. Blue Sky until actual midnight. The hostel was very dog friendly and had a great layout, and they didn't have a problem shuttling you into town to resupply at Dollar General versus resupplying with them.

Day 49: Black Bear Resort to Watauga Lake Shelter
We missed Laurel Falls! We accidently blue-blazed on the high-water trail, and got lost! But thankfully we saw Spicerack and Coconut and found the trail again.The hike up Pond Flats was stupid. You literally climbed 3000 feet just to come back down 3000 feet. Watauga Lake was beautiful, and we spent a fun night in camp with Batman, Owl and Dr. Scrambles.

Day 50: Watauga Lake to TN 91 (Yellowblazed into the Hiker's Inn in Damascus, VA - 3 States down, 11 to go!)
On this day, we realized we had to push long mileage days in order to get into Damascus on time, which would set us up for meeting The Ramen Shaman's dad in Atkins on the correct day. I also got really down and felt very tired after realizing we wouldn't have the opportunity to take a zero day for another two weeks. With some harsh weather blowing in, we decided to pull an 18 mile day instead of a 21 mile day and to go into Damascus early. That way we could take a rest and recoup before heading for Atkins. This meant missing 22 miles of trail, but it also meant reuniting with Icicle & Quailman, whom we had been missing! We already spoke about doing that section of trail again, so the 22 miles didn't seem very significant to us. We also realized that people on the trail don't actually care what you do during your hike; only online armchair hikers care.

That night we met Batman at the infamous Blue Blaze Cafe and learned he had hiked the 41 miles from the Watauga Lake Shelter that morning, a feat quite worthy of a beer or two! You can find his awesome blog here!

Day 51: Zero at Hiker's Inn
The Hiker's Inn was amazing. The room we stayed in was clean and comfy, and they let us borrow some bikes to do our resupply.

Day 52: Hiker's Inn to campsite by pond
We hiked out with Icicle & Quailman, happy that the "band" was back together. They are amazing friends and hiking and camping with them again was awesome! The miles seemed to just fly by. Soon enough, little Cooper the Min-Pin (Cowgirl's dog) came running up behind us. We hemmed and hawwed about going back to the shelter to see if they were there, but decided to push on to the campsite by the pond, which is where we thought Cowgirl and Radioman were staying. We made the right choice, and Radioman expressed his gratitude by sharing his booze.

Day 53: Pond campsite to Elk Garden campsite
We climbed Whitetop Mountain and Mt. Rogers on this day. Well, really only Whitetop because we didn't do the blue-blazed summit trail to Mt. Rogers, but we were essentially at the top. The views were beautiful, but the wind was cold, so we hustled down the mountain to eat lunch and push on. We camped at the Elk Garden VA 600 campsite, which had a surprise privy!

Day 54: Elk Garden to Bearpen Trail campsite
The Grayson Highlands are full of rocks. We were so tired at the end of 11 miles, we camped at the first spot we could find outside of the park. It was very beautiful though, and seemed unlike anything else in America. The ponies were cool too. Cheez-it was very worried about Sheila scaring off all of the ponies and ruining the experience for everyone, and she thought this was the case until we arrived at Wise Shelter. The Ramen Shaman ran down to filter water and called back to the shelter "Ponies!!" We were all ecstatic! Walrus, a section hiker, equated us all to 5 year-old girls which was an accurate assessment of our behavior. To be clear, Sheila didn't give a damn about the ponies until we seemed very excited about them, at which point she decided to bark like mad. The ponies didn't care. We pushed on to a beautiful campsite at the Bearpen Trail intersection and spent a great night by the fire, listening to Quailman read The Hobbit.

Day 55: Bearpen Trail campsite to Trimpi Shelter
Another long day! 18 miles! But it was totally worth the sore and tired feet, because the next day we arrived at the famous Partnership Shelter for pizza delivery! Boomer, Smudge, Tree, Batman, and Dorothy were all in the shelter while The Lolligaggers camped.

Day 56: Trimpi to Partnership Shelter
Food is an excellent motivator. We made these 12 miles before 3pm! And it was a just and excellent reward! Pizza, beer, and good times loitering in front of the visitor's center with the whole gang from Trimpi Shelter.

Day 57: Partnership to the Relax Inn in Atkins, VA
This time we were motivated by an AYCE buffet at The Barn Restaurant that closed at 2pm in Atkins, VA. We woke up at 6am to the sound of The Ramen Shaman cracking a beer and hiked the 10 miles into town. The Priest caught up with us and walked into town with us. Mason (The Ramen Shaman's dad) arrived that evening bearing gifts of delicious oatmeal cookies from The Ramen Shaman's mom, Debbie. All of the hikers who hung around that night, including Batman, The Priest, Noodle, Cowgirl, Poohbear, Radioman, Icicle & Quailman enjoyed them immensely and they were gone in no time. It was a fun and productive night and we can't thank Mason & Debbie enough for their generosity! The buffet was disappointing though as they imposed a 3 plate limit and no refills on fountain drinks. We also switched into our summer gear, dropping our pack weights from the 40-50lb range to 25-35lb range. Cheez-it also heard back from a professor at Virginia Institute of Marine Science saying that she is being considered as a candidate for admissions!

Day 58: Relax Inn to Knot Maul Shelter
This was our first day hiking with Mason (aka Grandpa Kibble)! We were all excited to leave town and start the adventure, but on the first uphill it was clear that Grandpa Kibble's pack-weight was a little much and our hardened hiking legs were too fast under the lightened load of summer gear. The Ramen Shaman ended up carrying Grandpa Kibble's pack to make things a little easier on him and we all trudged on to the shelter. At the shelter we met The Cougars, a group of 3 older ladies who are section hiking together. They were a lot of fun!

Day 59: Knot Maul to Chestnut Knob Shelter
This was a day from hell, and is now Cheez-it's worst day on record. The day started out normally enough, overcast and a little rain, but as we climbed the 5000ft up Chestnut Knob, the weather turned. The rain turned into sleet, and the sleet turned into snow. Sheila coat was covered in a layer of ice and sleet. The temperatures plummeted on the Knob and the wind picked up, blowing at a sustained 20mph with gusts to 60mph. Thankfully the shelter on top was a fully enclosed concrete shelter with a door. About 13 others decided to stay in the shelter built for 8, but Cowgirl and Radioman made sure that the three of us had bunk space. The sudden turn in the weather combined with our lack of cold weather gear really caused Cheez-it to spiral into a depression and snap at The Ramen Shaman. The next few days would not do much to lift her spirits. The Ramen Shaman came up with a plan for us to make up the missed miles by slackpacking for the next few days. Radioman, Cowgirl, Poohbear, Noodle, Icicle & Quailman were all down for slackpacking, which was cool because we ended up traveling with this little group for the next few days.

Day 60: Chestnut Knob to Fort Bastian at Laurel Creek (near Bastian, VA) - Slackpack Day 1
The plan called for us to hike to the next road crossing and drop off our packs with a guy named TruBrit who runs Fort Bastian, a place with tenting and pizza delivery. Grandpa Kibble hiked the remaining 10 miles with The Ramen Shaman, and decided that he would be a trail angel for the following days to our little group due to having injured his knee. This put a damper in our spirits because we were really looking forward to hiking with him. TruBrit's place was really interesting, and so was the man himself. We were all convinced he was a pathological liar after he told us that he had been a millionaire 3 or 4 times over and subsequently gave away his wealth each time and said he had hiked over 150,000 miles in his life. We did the math on this last part, and figured out he would have had to hike 3000 miles every year since he was born if we assume he is 50 years old. The stories he told were entertaining to say the least.

We will be updating the mail drop page later this evening and adding photos to our Facebook page tomorrow morning before heading back out on the trail! Thanks for your continued encouragement and support!

Monday, April 7, 2014

Our 40th Trailaversary: Days 26 - 40

We are in Damascus! We decided to yellow-blaze 22 miles to get out of a bad wind & rain storm and honestly, we couldn't be happier! Not only have we been reunited with Icicle and Quailman, we have also been able to hang out in what I would consider the coolest trail town so far! Our original plan allowed for no dilly-dallying in Damascus, which would have been pretty terrible...

I'm changing our format again to make it easier on me, especially since we hardly ever have cell service and I never want to write in camp at night. I'd rather be sleeping!

Day 26: Zero at Double Spring Shelter
Day 27: Double Spring Shelter to Icewater Spring Shelter
Day 28: Icewater to Tricorner Knob Shelter
Day 29: Tricorner Knob to Cosby Knob Shelter
Day 30: Cosby Knob to Standing Bear Hostel
Day 31: Standing Bear to Brown Gap
Day 32: Brown Gap to Old Rd.
Day 33: Old Rd. to Laughing Heart Lodge in Hot Springs, NC
Day 34: Zero at Laughing Heart
Day 35: Hot Springs to Campsite near Lover's Leap
Day 36: Campsite to Spring Mountain Shelter
Day 37: Spring Mountain to Hemlock Hollow Hostel in Greeneville, TN
Day 38: Zero at Hemlock Hollow
Day 39: Hemlock Hollow to Jerry Cabin Shelter
Day 40: Jerry Cabin to Hogback Ridge Shelter

The Smoky's
So, as you might have guessed, we survived our super cold night in the Smoky's. The temperature in our little bungalow never dipped below 25 degrees, which is just insane when you consider that it was less than 10 degrees outside the shelter. We spent our zero day playing in the snow (give us a break, we're Floridians!) and yogi-ing food off of the section hikers that passed through. Yogi-ing is the term for acting like a "Yogi Bear" trying to get food from someones pic-a-nic basket! It's easy to do: first, find a day hiker or a section hiker. Next, continually mention how hungry you are and that you are low on food. Section hikers almost always pack too much food, so if they catch on that you are discretely asking for food, they will off-load some of the extra weight right into your belly. It also helps to be a semi-attractive girl asking a bunch of college-age guys. In the Smoky's this was really amazing because we actually were low on food and had to ration for 2 extra days.

Chase actually got his official trail-name on our zero day in the Smoky's, because Pacman was gracious enough to point out that Angeleyes was "so gay." So Chase was redubbed "The Ramen Shaman" for his ability to suggest that mostly anything left at the bottom of your foodbag would probably be really good in Ramen. And he is so right on that.

The rest of our time in the Smoky's was pretty great. Hiking in the deep snow was an experience for sure. Icicle came down with a head cold at Icewater Spring Shelter and her last few days were really miserable. She wrote a really great blog post about it, which you can check out here. We all carry cold medicine now! Our second to last day to Cosby Knob was really great weatherwise, as it was blowing 40mph across the ridgeline with heavy rain! Superfun to hike in! NOT.

We were all very excited to leave the Smoky Mountains. "At least it's not the Smoky's" became a favorite phrase.

We've stayed in a lot of diverse places so far on our journey. There is a lot of lore behind many of the hostels along the AT, and a lot of rumors about each one. I'm going to take a moment to talk about the three hostels we stayed in on this stretch of trail.

Standing Bear Hostel divides the AT community pretty decisively into two camps: people who love it, and people who hate it. I'm pretty sure this chasm is created over the people who own Standing Bear and the resupply options, because the accomodations are normal for the AT (basic bunkhouse, OK cabin). The community kitchen area was really awesome, and the shower was great (hot water FOREVER). The people who run it, Curtis and Rocket, are pretty typical "Dueling Banjos" mountain folk. We interacted with Rocket mainly, and he seemed like a pretty genuine and decent human being (though blazed out of his mind), but our brief conversations with Curtis left us feeling pretty uneasy. Drug use is pretty open and rampant there, so if you're uncomfortable with that sort of thing, definitely stay away. My main problem with the place was the resupply. Everything that a hiker would actually want to buy was marked waaaaay up. All of the meat was out of date. The coolers smelled like pee. I get the impression that they buy groceries at a discount grocery store and then just mark everything up 50%. While you can get buy here, I would suggest sending a resupply box (though I also wouldn't be surprised if they did away with accepting mail drops, as Curtis mentioned that it takes away from his business). Overall, I would stay there again, though we wouldn't resupply and we wouldn't stay for more than a night.

The Hostel at Laughing Heart Lodge was one of our favorite places that we have stayed so far. The location is a little outside of the main drag and the room we stayed in was a little small for the price (the smallest double room in the place, I think), but the common area and the people were awesome. Chuck Norris was a really great guy to talk to and he even let us leave Sheila in the room when we went to lunch and to do resupply. He let us do work-for-stay for one of the nights that we stayed, so we swept and cleaned rooms as hikers left. We were able to save a bit of money by buying some frozen pizzas and frozen fried chicken from the Dollar General and cook in the common kitchen. We hung out with the other hikers staying the night in the living room and watched "Pitch Perfect" while eating pints of Ben & Jerry's. The showers were awesome and had seemingly endless hot water. The lawn was also really great for spreading gear out on. We would most definitely stay again!

Hemlock Hollow is just outside of Hot Springs, and I don't imagine they get too much business unless it's during peak hiker-season. We really enjoyed our time there! Mark and his mom are great people who love the trail! The bunkhouse, cabins, and bathrooms were all built using lumber logged from the property, which was really neat. The location was beautiful! A small creek runs straight thorugh the middle of the property and the cafe has this wonderful porch that overlooks the creek. They let us do work-for-stay for one of the nights, so we stacked firewood with Mark, which was awesome. The bunkroom is heated via wood-burning stove, and it was really easy to overheat the place. We woke up sweating the first night and kept the windows open for an hour to let the heat out. Sheila loved hanging out with Rowdy, Mark's Aussie-mix dog. They played for hours! The only reason we stayed here was because of Sheila: she ate some trash back at Spring Mountain Shelter (the place was a dump) and didn't want to eat or drink that morning or that afternoon. Some winter weather was blowing in that night, so we didn't want to be stuck on the trail if something was seriously wrong. She was feeling fine again by the next day, and we all watched the crazy sleet/snow/rain/wind from the comfort of the cafe. The showers weren't very good, but it has something to do with the way they get the water, so you only have 5 minutes to shower and the next person has to wait 20 minutes. Sailor showers are a must there. The bathroom is nicely heated though, so this wasn't a problem in the winter. The resupply there is pretty limited, but they weren't fully stocked up for hiker-season yet, so that may have been why. We would stay again, but the distance from Hot Springs makes it not ideal.

The Hiker Bubble
 We were unfortunate enough to get a taste for what hiking in the Bubble must be like when we stayed at Jerry Cabin Shelter. We hiked in around 5 o'clock and decided to stay as a section hiker named Codger had a fire going in the fireplace. We set our packs down and start collecting firewood to dry out our socks after hiking in snow and slush all day. About 30 minutes later, a couple come into the shelter and proceed to roll out their sleeping pads right next to the fire. They didn't even say hello to any of us before deciding to set up. Codger had his pack sitting on the floor of the sleeping area next to the fire and he had to awkwardly move it out of their way as they set up. Ramen Shaman and I thought it was weird and really rude, because we hadn't experienced anything like that before. Anyway, we all are introduced and everything seems fine until about 10 minutes later. I'm in the process of blowing up our sleeping pads because we decided we wanted to stay in the shelter with Sheila for the first time, and 8 people show up at the same time. All of them are thru-hikers. All of them started March 1st. I was very instantly overwhelmed with this group. I quickly decided that we should tent, so we moved out of the shelter, and they instantly took over. Everyone was great and nice and happy, but it just seemed so strange to me that such a large group had set out from Springer together and had been hiking together for nearly a month. We then put two and two together and decided that the couple that had come in a little early were claiming their space because they knew that there was a bubble of hikers coming. I remember hearing that there were something like 100 people at Hawk Mountain Shelter one night, and I cannot even imagine how crazy that must have been. My experience with the trail has very much been of an intimate community of hikers that are usually hiking alone and will probably camp or shelter with very few other hikers on any given day.  We all know each other and can recognize one another coming down the trail. March and April starters will have no idea what that is like until much later in the game after most people have quit. I prefer the small group dynamic of early-starters, and I'll be happy when the fast March bubble pass us by.

40th day on the Trail!
Our 40th day was spent hiking miserably in slush. Thankfully we didn't even realize it was our 40th Trailaversary!

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Hello from Black Bear Resort!

Hi! We don't have WiFi or cell service here, so I am unable to post a full update, but I wanted to notify our lovely followers to our progress and happenings! We've posted some photos of our adventures on our facebook page:

We are 48 days into our amazing journey and we are having a blast! Here is a quick update:

Sheila the Mountain Dog (aka Leaflitter) is doing fantastic! She truly loves the trail life. Being in the woods and meeting all the people makes her extraordinarily happy! She tends to sleep a lot when we take breaks and when we stay in a hostel. She is eating 5 cups of food per day, which is just crazy because she used to eat only 2 cups per day. All of her gear is holding up splendidly! Her pack holds about 5 or 6 days of food (about 8 pounds). Her fleece booties from have kept her feet protected from the snow during the few times that we have hiked in the stuff. I love her dog bowl. It's super durable and able to be stuffed almost anywhere. She ate some people poop at Cherry Gap Shelter and didn't feel too good for about a day, but she's fine now.

Chase (aka The Ramen Shaman) is doing fine. He hurt is knee a little but got a brace for it and it seems fine. His heaviest pack-weight has been 64lbs!!!! out of Hot Springs because we over-resupplied, which is probably why his knee got hurt. Ramen says about the hike so far: "All of the negativity from my previous life, with all of the stress over worrying about everyday decisions and future life decisions, has just melted away once I entered the woods. The amount of positivity you receive from simplifying your life and living on the trail and interacting with these great people has done wonders for my attitude and outlook on life."

Kelley (aka Cheez-it) is kicking ass and taking names (JK but srsly tho)! I haven't had any more injuries, though I did fall on my face coming down Unaka Mountain and skinned my knee. Funnily enough, I was singing "Ooo ee oo ah ah, ting tang walla walla bing BANG" (and I fell). Cheez-it says: "Live simply and simply live! That is a piece of shelter graffiti that has really stuck with me and that I think captures the trail experience. It's been life changing and I think it will continue to be."

Thanks for all of the support, and I promise that I will update more thoroughly once we arrive in Damascus!