The journey to Hot Springs (5/1-5/3)

After our R&R in Knoxville, the Cuddle Puddle wanted to push the 33 miles to Hot Springs for the weekend to make it to the annual Bluegrass Festival there. Those 33 miles still to this day on the trail are the most memorable.

Most of the trail goes through the thick of the forest and you get some pretty stellar views after a climb, or through thinner parts of the forest. Otherwise we are used to being surrounded by trees on both sides all day everyday.

These 2 days we got to experience some awesome balds, my favorite view, meet some former thru hikers that would spice up our next week, and our first night hike.

This was the view from a bald little bit off the trail that had a Federal Aviation Administration tower on it. The views from it and the trail away from it had awesome views of the Smoky Mountains and the mountains surrounding them.

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After a lovely mid day nap (gosh, life on trail is so difficult) I hiked through the late afternoon and evening to the much anticipated Max Patch. I didn’t know what to expect on Max Patch, I just had heard it was another great view. However, when I reached the bottom of the bald I didn’t realize the beauty I was about to be surrounded by. It was late evening, just before sunset when the sun has that powerful warm glow that creates a beautiful spectrum of colors in nature and sky around you. When I got to the top of Max Patch, it was literally the most beautiful view I had ever seen in my life. And I did what I think any overly emotional sap would do. I cried my eyeballs out. It was just so gorgeous! Mountains and mountains as far as I could see with the beautiful sun and sky illuminating different parts of the scenery with the posts of white blazes in the distance leading to the unknown north. I was speechless. My hiker family was waiting for me and together bundled up in our sleeping bags (it was flipping freezing and crazy windy) we watched the most glorious sunset. That moment was perfect. Up on Max Patch I realized how lucky I am to be standing where I was. Who was I to deserve to be looking at such beauty and wonder? In my mind I thanked everyone who helped me be where I am now and is continuing to support and encourage me. In that moment I was the happiest I had ever been and I couldn’t imagine the trail possibly getting any better. Everything in that moment was perfect.

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On top Max Patch we met 2004 former thru hikers Boo Boo and Mad Scientist who were section hiking and heading to Hot Springs. They were awesome! Amidst my slightly embarrassing tears and sniffles of happiness they promised me that the trail will get even better and what I was feeling in that moment would grow the farther north I got. I couldn’t even begin to imagine that!

After the sunset we headed out for our first night hike. I was in front and really just focused on making sure I didn’t lose sight of the white blazes. At a stream we stopped for a late night dinner before hiking on to a campsite where we stayed the night.

(4/3) The next day before Hot Springs we stopped at a mini cave:

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4/11-4/15 Rowdy AT times and zeros on zeros

4/11 Had the most glorious breakfast I’ve ever had! Gary and Lennie cooked us pancakes, biscuits, scrambled eggs, sausages, hashbrowns and blueberry syrup! Where we ate was an attachment of the house Gary built to look like a one bedroom cabin. It had all these old cooking supplies and was so cozy! The Blueberry Patch has been open for 22 years and Gary and Lennie moved there specifically to care for hikers- 2 amazing people!

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Gary drove us back to Dicks Creek and it was great to hit the trail. Powered up Buzzard Knob with Chewy and As Knob with Sweeps. It was another sunny day and the climbs are getting harder, but we were going to hit the Georgia/North Carolina border and we were pumped! Sweeps and I got there first and it was so exciting! We dance partied it out and felt on top of the world! 1 state down, 13 to go! There was also a note to us from Hemlock! Notes are the coolest and most fun way to communicate on trail.

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Shortly after the border we stopped at the famous twisted tree for some pop tart action and a water break.

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Then NC really rolled out the red carpet. We had hiked 9 miles to the border that had about a 1000 foot increase in elevation. We where about to do that again in under 2 miles. Couthouse Bald had 3 separate summits and they were the steepest and hardest climbs I had experienced. While I was dying I was thinking about how it actually felt like I was climbing a mountain and that motivated me to not keel over. It was hot, so whenever I hit a tunnel of rhododendrons I kept calling it the AC and made a goal to keep hiking to the next one. Sweet relief whenever that happened! There was a bunch of switchbacks and it was a lot of work with no good view at the top, but hey! A bunch of people dropout before North Carolina so I was happy to be on the trail. Made it to Muskrat Shelter and saw a bunch of familiar faces and got to meet new hikers too. A group of us went to watch the sunset and it was the most spectacular view I had ever seen. It wasn’t even the sunset itself, but the layers and layers of gorgeous mountains in different hazy shades for as far as you could see. The pictures I took on my camera do not at all come close to what I saw, but it is a picture I will keep in my memory for a long time to come. Here are a few pictures of the sunset.

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4/12 We wanted to make it to Carter Gap Shelter 12 miles away today. We were coming up to Deep Gap which was right before a pretty large climb up to Standing Indian Mountain. Sweeps, Odysseus, Chewy, Nick and I decided to take a break at the gap. And then the most amazing thing happened! Our first big TRAIL MAGICCCCC!!!! NOBO 2013’s Breeze and Windy rolled up with some of their friends and offered us cases of beer, hotdogs, hamburgers, and bacon. It was truly spectacular! As a few more hikers filed in it truly turned into a magical moment as Breeze was telling us his trail stories and we realized we have so much ahead of us and so many more amazing people to meet. It was overwhelming in the best way possible. It was also interesting to hear how much Breeze misses the trail and how lucky we are to be hiking it.

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We ended up staying at Trail Magic for 3 hours! It was sad to leave but after all the beers were gone, the hike up Standing Indian Mountain didn’t seem so bad. The view on the mountain was amazing!

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Firefox, Brave, Odysseus, Sweeps, Fall N’ Oats, and Peepshow on Standing Indian

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We ended up going about 9 miles altogether to Beech Gap but it ended up being an awesome day on the AT!

4/13 The plan for today was to go a good 12 miles so we could be close to Winding Stair Gap and get into Franklin in the morning. We where having a great hike about 9 miles in and knew we would be scaling the glamorous Albert Mountain which just looks like ‘A’ in the guide books it’s so steep. Right before the climb this is what I walk into:

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More trail magic!!! This time in the form of sloppy joe hot dogs and endless servings on chips, sodas, and honey buns! Thanks to the Oconee County Hiking Club! After feasting until I could be rolled up the mountain, I hit the trail with Wings. Climbing Albert was the steepest climb yet and consisted of having to practically rock climb in some areas. But we finally made it to the top and had a glorious view!

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We also had hit the 100 mile mark (109 including the Approach Trail)!! In true AT fashion this milestone was graffitied on the fire tower on the mountain

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We chilled up there until the rest of the crew caught up and took a sweet group shot with Admiral Caboose, me (DQ), Moxy, Odysseus, Sasquatch, Ranger, Sweeps, Tessla, and Easy Day. We yelled into the mountains and the echo went on foreverrrr, it was so cool!

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After trail magic and conquering Albert, spirits were soaring and we where all feeling great! We had a 2.5 mile hike to Long Branch Shelter (built in 2012 and fits 16 people. 2 story and super fancy) and me, Ranger, Tessla, Sasquatch, Easy Day, Admiral Caboose, and Wings decided to press on to the next shelter. We were half joking about walking all the way to Franklin but where still feeling great. After 3 miles we hit Rock Gap Shelter and ran into some familiar faces. It was about 6 o’clock and we were feeling like totally hardcore. Me, Ranger, Easy Day, Sasquatch, Admiral Caboose and Irish Mist decided to press on to the 3.8 miles to Winding Stair Gap. We knew the moon was going to be bright and thought a night hike would be a great idea! After a pretty tough hike, navigating the trail during a super cloudy night, and 20 miles, we finally stumbled to the road! We made it! Now we just needed to get to Franklin 12 miles away and find a place to stay. A super thought out plan. After getting to town, we went where we knew hikers would be. The local bar! Ended up seeing Wild Turkey, who was another girl I had started the Approach Trail with. It was a great night filled with meeting new hikers, a well earned margarita and 3 mile walk to a janky motel where we stayed the night. It was a spontaneous and hard day that ended up being a total blast!

4/14 When we woke up, we quickly realized that maybe a 20 miler in the first 2 weeks of trail was not the smartest idea. Our feet and knees where crying and hobbled like old men to meet up with our group who was coming into Franklin in the morning. We all went to Outdoor 76 to have out feet looked at. I learned that the insoles in my shoes where unnecessary and were very detrimental to my feet and the reason for a lot of my foot pain. The outfitters was a really cool place with great craft beers and a wall to sign your trail name to.

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We had also gone out to eat and received trail magic in the shape of the remnants of a yellow chocolate cake and it was the most fabulous thing in the entire world. You really start to appreciate the little things like scraps of food. NOMS!

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I had also received the most amazing Wisco care package consisting of cheese curds, spotted cow and whiskey. I spread the love in the form of cheese to hikers and locals that had never had a cheese curd before! I changed lives one curd at a time. That night we went back to the bar and tore down the house with some thru hiker karaoke. The best kind of karaoke.

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We met some great locals and it was so cool the huge thru hiker community that was in town.

4/15 Rather than head to the trail we decided to take another zero to relax and run errands. Also those of us that hiked the 20 still felt like we were falling apart. We resupplied, got stranded at Walmart for several hours, and feasted on pizza. Aka bummed around all day long and had zero productivity. But it was great! Everyone is getting so much closer and we saw Mac and Cat who had started the approach with us! Its been chill hanging out in town but we are so stoked to get back on trail. We will be at the NOC in 2-3 days and Fontana Dam in 5-6!

Also this day was important to me because during the Approach Trail when I was having a hard time and through the tears had given myself until April 15th to decide to stay on trail or go home. There is no doubt in my mind that the trail is the place for me. I am so happy and lucky to be hiking on the Appalachian Trail! I’m sorry this post was short and uneventful, I am still getting used to this blogging business. If anyone has suggestions for more things you would like me to talk about or more/less pictures just let me know- I would appreciate it!

Cheese and love,
DQ