The Great Smoky Mountain (Lion) National Park (4/23-5/1)

Surviving the infamous and daunting Smoky Mountains has been the talk of the trail since pretty much the start.

Questions like: “How many base layers are you bringing? What are you going to do when you see a bear? Are you ready for the snow? How many down jackets do you have? How bomb proof is your tent/hammock/rain gear? Are you scared you are going to go crazy on top of one of the mountains, get hypothermia and die?” get tossed around on the reg. I got the impression that everyone’s goal was to get out of the Smokies stat. I just knew it was going to be gorgeous and was pretty jazzed. I was really only nervous about being cold at night in my hammock and figured the smokies would be just like any other day.

Before I go into the day to day play by play, here is what you need to know about the Smoky Mountains. Visit the GSMNP website for even more info!

The Smoky Mountains are known for it’s beauty- when you can see it- and it’s intensity. With the high elevation, rainy and foggy weather, views often do not exist. The GSMNP is also known for their structured rules and regulations. Quick note about thru hikers: we do not like structure, rules, or regulations, hence why we opted to live in the woods for 6 months.

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In order to go through the Smoky Mountains you need to buy a permit. A thru hiker permit is different than a section or weekender (anyone who is out for a couple days) permit. A section/weekend hiker must buy the permit and must also specify which shelters they are staying at each night. This is their reservation. A thru hiker estimates their time of entry and the permit is good for 38 days. However, once you enter the Smokys, your permit only lasts for 8 days. Ridge runners ‘patrol’ the trails making sure hikers have their permits and are following all rules. Before we entered the Smokys we were told we would see a ridge runner at least once a day.

There are only shelters in the GSMNP, you cannot stealth camp anywhere. It is also required that you must stay IN the shelters. The only exception to that is that if a shelter has reached full capacity, you can camp outside of the shelter. However, if you are a thru hiker with a spot in a shelter and a section/weekend hiker shows up after you that has a reservation, you must leave and set up outside no matter the weather or time. You are not allowed to sleep in the same shelter more than one night (essentially you cannot zero in the smokies). You might be thinking, “Well whoopty doop, so sad you can only stay at shelters” however, we are all used to being able to camp where ever we want. So previously if you wanted to do a 10 mile day, you can stop essentially anywhere near that 10 mile mark be it a shelter, campsite, or stealth camp. However, the shelters are spaced oddly in the smokies, so one day you might have to choose to either go 7 miles to the closest shelter or 14 miles to the one after that. There is no happy medium, which can make staying in the Smokies frustrating.

Overall the Smokies were awesome and a whole new world!

(4/23) After waiting in Fontana Dam to see if my underquilt arrived (which it didn’t) Sasquatch and I left for the trail at about 12:30. It was another hot and sunny day and a great day to be hiking.

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The view of the Smokies from Fontana Dam.

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The AT going over Fontana Dam.

It was a steep climb up to the ridgeline of the Smokies but it was exciting to finally be there! It was a 12 mile hike to Mollies Ridge Shelter and the shelter was booming! There were over 18 tents and hammocks set up and a shelter full at 12. Everyone was excited to be in the Smokies and preparing for a cold night ahead. There was supposed to be a meteor shower that night, but it was too cold to be sitting outside for very long once the stars were out. The wind was super strong and it was another freezing night in my hammock. I really wished my underquilt had come in on time. I slept in all my layers including my rain gear to try to keep warm.

(4/24) Had another nice 12 mile hike to Derrick Knob Shelter. Got to go over the famous Rocky Top Mountain in Tennessee!

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That night as I was going to bed I had my headlamp on it’s red light. I looked up past my hammock and saw these / glowing red eyes looking at me. At first I got nervous because I thought it was a bear due to it’s red eyes. Then I remembered I had my red light on. I turned it to the spotlight to see these huge glowing greenish eyes. I bought maybe it was a dear so I walked closer to it to get a better loon and to spook it away. As I got closer the animal never flinched. Finally it turned away slowly and as it turned I could see powerful shoulders and a long, skinny brown tail flow behind it. It was a mountain lion!! I watched as it slowly slinked away and a tiny bit of terror sank in. I had just walked closer and closer to a mountain lion that had been staring at me. And could actually eat me if it had wanted to. Super casual. It was so crazy but also super cool! My heart was racing when I went to bed but I woke up alive the next morning. Yay!

4/25 It started raining early that morning and I was able to pack up my hammock and gear before anything got too wet. It rained pretty hard off and on throughout the hike. It even started hailing at one point!

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There were no views that day and everything around you was white. It was so peaceful and really cool! We hit Clingmans Dome, the highest point on the AT at about 6,644 feet and couldn’t see anything. We were just surrounded by white and wind, but it was still awesome.

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That night we stopped in one of the most loved and hated towns on the AT – Gatlinburg, TN. Described as an amusement park town and tourist trap it certainly would overwhelm any hiker with it’s drive thru wedding chapel, ripelys believe it or not museum, and moonshine tasting. It was overwhelming and a little bit annoying being around so many people spending so much money on an excessive amount of unnecessary souvenirs. It’s crazy to think that we are always trying to lose pack weight and get by with as few things as possible when sometimes in society our success and worth based upon the amount of goods we have. But that being said we did partake in the free moonshine tasting:

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And after that it just seemed practical to get mountain lion henna tattoos haha

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Despite taking a zero (again!) it was so great to get back on the trail.

4/26 It worked out great that the day we left Clingmans had thick clouds and the day we got back on it was clear and sunny!

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That day we hit the 200 mark!

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And beauty all around us:

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Newfound Gap:

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4/27. Woke up to another foggy morning but an awesome hike! It’s so cool to see the different environments of the mountains. All you can see is white. It’s hard to picture how high up you are and the views behind the clouds.

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Hiked to Charlie’s Bunion, a famous spot in the Smokies. Even though it wasn’t clear, it was still an awesome sight! The clouds and fog would roll in and out of the huge valley and you could see giant mountains looming in the distance. I was there alone and it was silent, peaceful, and powerful (especially when you would get dizzy looking down off of Charlie’s Bunion seeing how high up you were).

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The weather eventually cleared up and I got another day full of beautiful views.

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Part of the Cuddle Puddle (the name of our hiker family) Gulliver, me, Sweeps, and Sasquatch.

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That night at the shelter we had a ridge runner staying with us who never asked to see our permits but enjoyed questioning us and our skill level. That night severe thunderstorms were forecasted so we fit 27 people in the 12 person shelter that night.

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4/28 The shelters in the smokies were pretty bomb. They had 2 levels of bunks, a fireplace, huge tarps to block the wind, and an overhang with some benches and tables. That night it poured and there was a storm. We woke up in the morning to it still raining really hard. It was about 7am when the ridge runner started telling us to leave, and questioning those of us that were still laying down trying to sleep making sure we weren’t taking a zero at the shelter and that we needed to leave soon and start hiking because there were tornado warnings. Real cool.

The weather ended up not getting that bad. It just rained on and off and was really windy depending on what side of the ridgeline you were on.

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Parts of a plane crash:
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4/29 Our last day in the Smokies! It felt bitter sweet. I was bummed to leave the views and scenery, but it will be nice to camp wherever we want and escape the ‘privy areas’ at each shelter (no privys, just landmines and tp everywhere). I was really bummed I never got to see a bear though- but hopefully sometime soon!

The last shelter in the Smoky Mountains. Caged in with a fence to prevent bears from entering the shelter. We found out from the shelter log that last night a mama bear and her cubs hung out for several hours and put some rips in someone’s tent that was drying. Pretty crazy!

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Last awesome views in the GSMNP!

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Crossing a river and following the AT along a highway to Standing Bear Hostel.

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Standing Bear Hostel was a quaint place with a trampoline, treehouse, chickens, and a beer cave run by Rocket and Lumpy. We did not stay there but I’m glad we checked it out. That day the Cuddle Puddle got picked up by Odysseuss’ Aunt and Uncle who took is to their home in Knoxville.l for 2 days. They spoiled us to southern cooking, showers, laundry, pizza, movies, clean sheets, candy, and a day in downtown Knoxville. It was fantastic generosity from an awesome family!

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Jason Derulo and THE LISTS

So we can all agree that the goal of consistently updating you on all of my feels and thoughts on everything AT has failed. Here’s to hopin the goal of thru-hiking goes a liiiitle better. Hey-oh!

I apologize for my absence, but I feel like I’ve done you little kittens a favor. I have saved you your precious time! Rather than reading hours of boring updates I can give you the sparknotes version of my life so far. You’re welcome 😀

Mandatory sweater wearing, packer fan, too cute for words kitten.

Mandatory sweater wearing, packer fan, too cute for words kitten.

1.) Flight booked. I leave Monday April 1st for Atlanta. Hiker shuttle to Amicalola Falls State Park. Sleep.  Start hiking the Approach Trail to Springer Mountain and to the start of the Appalachian Trail bright and early on the 2nd of April. Boom City Golden! If any of you are interested this is a great read on the history of Springer Mountain.

2.) Gear packed. It’s been chaotic. And I got a little DIY-y and it worked! For those of you interested I will very  soon post my gear list and pack weight on here!

3.) Goodbyes are poopy, but my friends and family are amazing and so supportive and motivating! ❤


Boom. Now that we got that outta the way. Let’s talk about my thoughts on my decision to solo thru-hike. Cue Jason Derulo and my theme song for my hike.

In regards to me hiking by myself, Jason is right (let’s be real. He’s buddies with 2 Chains. He’s always got it right!)  Just listen to these lyrics:

I’m feelin’ like a star, you can’t stop my shine
I’m lovin’ cloud nine, my head’s in the sky
I’m solo, I’m hikin’ solo
I’m hikin’ solo, I’m hikin’ solo, solo

And that motivation for when the weather sucks:

Told me get my shit together
Now I got my shit together, yeah
Now I made it through the weather
Better days are gonna get better

Jason it’s like you wrote this song for me!!

But the Jasonmiester aside, I am really stoked to go on this adventure alone. Yes, I will meet amazing people and make amazing friends, but one of the main purposes of this hike is to get a better understanding of myself. To push myself. To challenge and motivate and to grow with myself. I want to be a better person because of me. I am extremely selfish like that and I am ok with it. Relaying on only myself on the AT is terrifying exhilarating and will help my grow more into the person I want to become. I am hiking for me.

But no worries! I am certified in the highest levels of Jiu Jitsu and will be carrying jugs of pepper spray to ward off anyone or anything that gets in my way. BAB.


Finally. One of the many books I read in preparation for hiking the AT is called, Appalachian Trials by Zach Davis. It was sent from the hiking gods and goddesses! Zach is seriously amazing (and hilarious) and has started a website that has also taken over my life in the best way possible. Even if you are not hiking, it has great blogs and articles by crazy great people hiking the AT, please check it out!

I would be nothing without you, Zach!

I would be nothing without you, Zach!

Zach’s book is all about the mental preparation and challenges of the AT. Although other trails have higher difficulty levels, the AT is known to challenge mind more than any other trail. No lie. So Zach recommends bringing 3 Lists with you. Whip them out when times are tough, weather is dumpy, and you want to quit. These Lists are vital and can give someone the motivation they need to continue. After procrastinating (who, me?!) I have made my lists and want to put them on here! They are kind of long. #sorryimnotsorry. So drum rooooolllllllllllllll………

“I am thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail because…”

  • There is no better time than now to hike
  • I have been dreaming of this trail for 4 years
  • I want to challenge myself mentally and physically and prove to myself I am able to set a goal and achieve it
  • I want to live simply and immerse myself in natures beauty
  • I want to learn more about myself, my strengths, weaknesses, and where I want to take my life
  • To become more confident in my capabilities and myself. If I can do this- what can’t I do?
  • I want to feel great about my body and myself  and appreciate what my body can do everyday. I no longer want to be defined by appearance, but by capabilities
  • I’m craving adventure!
  • I want to create lifelong memories and friendships. This is an experience of a lifetime
  • Bragging rights, obvi
  • I want to find love and happiness in myself, others, and nature
  • I want to be independent and rely only on myself
  • I am a strong women who wants to be stronger
  • To make my fam proud!
  • I don’t want to regret not trying
  • What else am I going to do? Get a job?! Scoff.

“When I successfully thru-hike the Appalachian Trail I will…”

  • Be THE WOMAN! WOOT!
  • Be proud of myself! And allow myself to be proud!
  • Tell everyone and their mother
  • Never say ‘I can’t do that’
  • Have great calves
  • Have completed and followed through with a goal and dream
  • Proven those naysayers and doubters wrong. Suck it!
  • Be a stronger person and have a better understanding of where my path in life is going
  • Join the elite ranks of being a thru-hiker!
  • Know that I have what it takes to set a goal and achieve it
  • Start thinking about the PCT (too soon??)
  • Have lived and adventured! What’s next? This is a stepping stone to the next big thing!

“If I give up on the Appalachian Trail I will…”

  • Be disappointed in myself
  • Have to tell everyone I gave up and be faced with embarrassment and endless humiliation
  • Feel like a failure
  • Have to find a job. Or live out of a cardboard box. Or both.
  • Live with regret
  • Hate the world. And hate raindrops on roses, whiskers on kittens, bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens
  • Not have a better understanding of myself and will not have grown like I wanted. I will have shrunk!
  • Always wonder ‘what if?’

 

Thank for reading! I super ultra promise another post real soon! Don’t hesitate to ask questions or comment and all that good shtuff!

Peace like a river.

Call of the Wild

 

They have cradled you in custom,
they have primed you with their preaching,
They have soaked you in convention through and through;
They have put you in a showcase; you’re a credit to their teaching —
But can’t you hear the Wild? — It’s calling you.
Let us probe the silent places, let us seek what luck betide us;
Let us journey to a lonely land I know.
There’s a whisper on the night-wind,
there’s a star agleam to guide us,
And the Wild is calling, calling. . .let us go.
-Robert W. Service “Call of the Wild”

Hi friends!!

While in college I never really knew what I wanted to do with my life. Once I graduated I was expecting to have a big epiphany and figure out my calling in life. And I did have an epiphany! Just not the one I wanted. Once I graduated I realized that I am now confident that I have no idea what I want to do with my life. So after graduating in December from UW-Eau Claire with a Bachelors degree in Social Work, I have been trying to decide what to do as I enter the infamous real world. Look for a job? Move and start my career?? Go to grad school???

However these super fun options lack the big adventure I am craving. None of these will mentally and physically challenge me in the way that I want. They aren’t very risky, I want learn a lot more about myself and what I am capable of. So I have decided that my best option is this: Put off the real world just a little longer (my parents are so proud!)! And I am going to do this by…….

Thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail! 

Hiking the AT has been a far fetched dream of mine for a few years, but now that dream can finally become a reality! I’m graduated, no real job, and have ample amounts of free time- what better to do than hike for 6 months?! I will be starting my hike around April 1st, on Springer Mountain, Georgia and will complete (fingers crossed!) the trail around September on Mount Katahdin, Maine.

I will use this blog to update anyone who is interested about my adventures leading up to the AT (like laying down in the aisle of the camping section at Cabellas for 4 hours) and my adventures (and challenges) on the Trail itself. I also wanted to start this blog to hold myself accountable and hopefully gain some support and encouragement from my friends and family here back home 🙂

My next few posts will be more about what exactly the Appalachian Trail is, a better understanding of why I am hiking it, and what I am doing to prepare for it. Then once I hit the Trail, I will update it as often as I can. If you are interested in following me on my adventure (or just interested to see if I survive) you should keep checking this out!

Thats all for now!

Peace like a river.