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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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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Pre Smoky Mountains

Pre Smoky Mountains

NEW! A Photo Gallery added to the side of my blog with tons of pictures I’ve been taking! Please check them out! It is on the right side of the screen below the follow buttons. I am only able to do this when I have access to a computer and add the captions when I have tons of time and stay up til 3 in the morning which I don’t want to do again anytime soon, so it might be awhile before I can update the gallery again. But in the meantime I really hope you enjoy all of the photos! 🙂 please let me know if you have any questions about them at all! Some where taken on my phone, others on my camera, and some are from instagram. Boom. Enjoy!

 

4/19: The Nantahala Outdoor Center is awesome! Cool outfitter, awesome river, amazing food, and unexpectedly comfy bunk beds. A nice mix of locals, tourists, river guides, and thru hikers makes for a rowdy time. We were not planning on taking a zero there, but we heard about live blue grass music that night and a few of our friends rolled in and we decided to enjoy our time at the NOC. We hung out at the outfitters, and resupplied. I had a lot if extra food so I sent it forward to Gatlinburg (half way through the smokies). Because I had been so so cold at night I had ordered an underquilt from hammock gear and was told it was going to be in Fontana Dam the time I got there in a few days. I decided to send my inflatable therma rest x therm back home. I also sent back my silk sleeping bag liner and bought a warmer liner to hopefully help sleep warmer at night. It was a rainy day but enjoyed the time with friends and even got a personal blue grass concert at the bonfire. Angrybird, a 2013 thru hiker, gave us all words of wisdom to enjoy your time on trail, take your time, respect the trail, and make lots of friends and memories. I felt guilty for taking another day off, but I think Angrybird is right. And it is also important to give your body a break. The night was fun and I got to meet new thru hiker friends!

The AT went over the Nantahala River at the NOC:

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4/20: Had a great Easter breakfast with Pigpen, Becca, Fall n Oats, Angrybird, Peepshow, Doug, and Tigergin. You can tell hikers are in town with all of the packs outside:

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Headed out for the legendary climb out of the NOC, the mountains where in the clouds:

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Solitude colored hard boiled eggs and his them around the NOC. At the trail head he had a whole box full, complete with a salt and pepper shaker!

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The NOC is also down for it’s major descent in and it’s major ascent out. There was a lot of hype about it and it was easier than I thought it was going to be. It was a gorgeous day and trees and flowers were starting to bloom so it was a fantastic hike.

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Casual millipede:

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A memorial for Wade Sutton, a Forest Service Ranger who died in 1968 trying to put out a forest fire. There were prayer cards and stones and pebbles all around it. I stopped and paid my respects and added a stone to the large collection.

It’s important to remember and realize the amount of labor the volunteers and workers put into the AT to make it was it is today. Most of all of the trail upkeep is all done by volunteers who have to carry heavy hand tools (no power tools are allowed in most areas) and saw fallen trees, create steps with logs and rocks and dig drainage trenches. Without the continued hard work and dedication of these people we would not have this amazing trail! Since then, whenever I come across fallen branches on the trail I try to move them out of the way. I have even met hikers who will move and cut fallen trees out if the way! It’s those little things you don’t really think about in the early days of trail that are actually a huge deal in your everyday hike.

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Natural sunscreen and air conditioning via the rhododendrons:

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Views of Nantahala Gorge (where the NOC is located) from the Jump-up:

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Sassafrass Gap Shelter Outlet:

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After stopping at the shelter for a lunch break, I climbed up to Cheoah Bald. It was gorgeous!! The Trail suddenly opened up to this huge view and it was so pretty! It was awesome just to sit and chill and take in everything around me.

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I also discovered a short side trail that lead to another view off of the bald. It was a small spot and everything was so quiet and peaceful. It was awesome!

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After passing Locust Gap where everyone was going to camp for the night, I decided to hike a little longer and stealth camp by myself. Stealth camping is where camp off of the Trail that is not at a shelter or a designated campsite. Stealth camping is totally kosher in most parts of the AT. I found a great hammock spot about a mile and a half up on top of a ridge and enjoyed a quiet dinner and sunset to myself. It was perfect. A great ending to a great 12 mile day.
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4/21: I slept in and hit the trail about 9:30. In 2 miles I hit the recently hyped up Jaccob’s Ladder, famous for climbing 600 feet in 1.3 miles. We had heard rumors of people practically climbing up the mountain on their hands and knees. I was nervous for it, but also excited for the challenge. It was a pretty steep climb, but not at all as hard as I thought- I think I’m definitely getting my trail legs!

It was another hot and sunny day and I hiked most of the day by myself. I got to Cable Gap Shelter where I met Wolf and Strider. It was about 4ish and I had hiked about 10 miles and there was miles 6.6 miles until the Fontana Dam Shelter. I was feeling pretty good and knew I would see familiar faces ahead, so I decided to hike on. I was keeping a great pace and eventually you could see Fontana Dam from the distance. 20140502-072212.jpg

Since I could see the dam I thought I would be at the Fontana Dam Shelter (known as the Fontana Hilton) real soon like. 2 hours later (sooo looong) I finally arrived at the Fontana Crossing over NC 28. It was only 1.1 miles to the shelter. It was the longest 1.1 mile of my entire life! The trail went on and on and when you could finally see the shelter you still had to go up and around the mountain to reach it. The positive thing was that because of the lower elevation everything was green and beautiful. 20140502-073326.jpg

The Fontana Hilton gets it’s name because it is a 20 person shelter, there are 3 large areas to set up tents, just down the road there are bathrooms and a shower, and down the road even farther is the Visitors Center with huge granite bathrooms. I had about a 17 mile day and I was feeling really tired by the time I reached the shelter. Met up with some friends and got to meet new people as well. I did not want to sleep in the shelter and the only available spot to hammock was on a steep hill. At the bottom was an inlet/cesspool filled trash and real funky looking water. As I was setting up my hammock and unpacking my gear I took out my sleeping bag which was in it’s stuff sack compressed like the size of a volley ball. I set it on the ground and accidentally kicked it. I watched in horror as my sleeping bag ferociously rolled down the side of the hill, gaining speed and momentum about to fall to it’s demise. And then at the last second, a strap snagged a log and saved it! Praise the woods!

4/22: Woke up and broke down camp just before the rain hit. Tang, Muscadine, Sasquatch and I got a ride to the Fontana Lodge which is like a big resort. I had a mail drop there with food and was expecting my underquilt to be there. I got my food but no sign of the underquilt. Sweeps and the rest of the Cuddle Puddle showed up at the Lodge and I decided to take a zero to wait for my underquilt so I could have it for the smokies, where it is notoriously cold, windy, and rainy. Had a cool view of the Great Smoky Mountains from Fontana Dam and it was such a change to see blooming trees and flowers! 20140502-081033.jpg

More to come soon I promise! Today also marks my 1 month trailiversary! After (or maybe before) my post about going through the Great Smoky Mountain National Park I will reflect on this past month and what I have learned.

Thank you so much god reading! Don’t hesitate to ask questions or give me your thoughts! 🙂

Peace like a river,

Dairy Queen

Mountains for years!!

4/16 finally left Franklin! Got a hitch to Winding Stair Gap and had a nice nearo of 5 miles to Siler Bald Shelter. It was a really cold night and we found out the night before it has snowed there and had stayed on the ground for a few hours. We where finally reunited with Mac and Kat who we had started the approach trail with! Met some new friends Tinder and Birch and we all huddled around the fire for as long as we could before going to bed. I have been struggling staying warm at night and tonight was no exception.
Gulliver (previously known as Nick), Odysseus, Mac, Tinder and Birch huddling around the fire:

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4/17: Woke up with crazy frost on the ground

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Hiked up Siler Bald for the most amazing view yet! A full 360 degree view of layers and layers of beautiful mountains! They almost looked like watercolor. Spectacular!

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Had an awesome hike to Wayah Bald for even more great views!

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Kat and I enjoying the view:

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Team cuddle puddle:

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From the tower we could see Clingmans Dome in the Smokies where we will be in about a week

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We could also see Siler Bald where we came from earlier. It’s the bald spot you can see in the mountains. It’s such a cool feeling to see how far where you came from is, makes you feel pretty powerful!

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Stopped at Cold Spring Shelter for a good 12.5 mile day.

4/18 Had some awesome climbs up Rocky Bald and Wesser Bald. A overcast day but great hiking weather!

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Solid crew on the Wesser Bald Tower: Kbar, Flint, Bamboo, Birch, Tinder, Odysseus, Sweeps, and Gulliver.

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I hiked to Rufus Morgan Shelter which is only a mile away from the Nantahala Outdoor Center and decided to get a bunk there.

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Stayed dry from the rain and enjoyed new and old friends and a bacon BBQ burger. Delish! Who knew hiking was going to be this great!?

Just a Peak…..It’s my gear list!

Hold the phone. 2 updates in 3 days?!! Praise the heavens it’s a miracle! After millions of hours of researching and comparing gear, scouring forums and blogs, sending too many annoying emails, going through my own only -certified-for-Camp- Unie gear, and a little DIYing I am finally ready to reveal to the world what I will be bringing with me on my hike!  WARNING: This post might bring out my inner newbie gear nerd and does not contain much humor. Sorry I’m not sorry. But if for some reason you are interested in what I am bringing and my opinions on them, then keep reading!

Backpack! Backpack! Backpack! Osprey Ariel 65

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Osprey Ariel 65 in Deep Sea Blue

Camp Unie 4 Lyfe. The place that inspired me to travel the trail on the loose.

Camp Unie 4 Lyfe. The place that inspired me to travel the trail on the loose.

Love this backpack! It was a birthday gift from my parents (before they knew of any plans to hike the AT. The pack that started it all. You can blame them 🙂 ) and I absolutely love it! It’s roomy but comfy (so far! We’ll see my thoughts once I actually hike some mountains. The side compartments are a little small and oddly shaped and it’ll be interesting to keep fitting my platypus H2O bottles in there, but otherwise everything else seems very durable. It has a capacity of 65L and weighs 4lbs 15oz. A little heavier but it’ll also be sturdy and reliable and I like that. I even pimped it out with a Camp Unie patch.

ENO DoubleNest Hammock with converted ENO BugNet sewn on top and jazzed up with Dutch Bling

ENO Double Nest Hammock

My Baby

My Baby

I love my hammock! I have had it for almost 3 years and it is purrfect. The doublenest is ultra roomy. I can wrap myself in a cocoon and also stash some gear around me too. I just get way better sleep in a hammock and I love being able to put it where tents can’t go. I’ve also got a set of Hennessy Snake Skins. They are like an insta stuff sack for your hammock and prevent it from ever touching the ground. I’ve heard wonders and so far they are pretty cool!

The BugNet

Before

The ENO Guardian Bug Net Before

I’ve also had the ENO BugNet for 2 years and for not having to worry about weight and at the time still learning the basics of hammocks (and I’m still learning!), it is a great bug net! It fully encloses you and your hammock all around. And it’s removable for when you don’t need it. However. I always put it on (not for fear of bugs but just because it I felt more comfortable) and it can be a tiny bit time-consuming, the ropes don’t always reach where you want them to, it’s heavy, and it doesn’t pack down very well. I wanted a hammock that had a bug net on top all the time. I felt it would be more efficient. However, I did not want to spend a ton of money and buy a new hammock with the bugnet. I found some guidelines on how to make your own bugnet. But then I procrastinated and couldn’t get the materials in time. Panic. But then: Lightbulb! I had a perfectly good bugnet already. I googled until my fingers fell off hoping someone had tried this before. Nothing. So I performed surgery. I removed the bugnet zipper and attached it to my hammock. Cut up the bug net, and eventually sewed it on the top of the hammock. Sounds easy. Took me forever. But it worked! I shaved off a ton of weight. I also got a whoopie sling ridge line to keep the sag in my hammock while also keeping the net off of myself. It’s a miracle! I’m so proud. Fingers crossed it stays together more than 2 days.

Post Op. Hammock with Bugnet sen on top

Post Op. Hammock with Bugnet sewn on top. This is also before I installed the ridgeline.

 

I completely took the zipper off the bugnet, sewed it onto the hammock and then sewed it onto a different section of the bugnet

I completely took the zipper off the bugnet, sewed it onto the hammock and then sewed it onto a different section of the bugnet

The Suspension

I also realized that my hammock’s suspension (what you use to hang your hammock up) was wayyyy heavier than it needed. I also strongly disliked ENO’s smart straps. They were the first straps to come out and ENO has since greatly improved there straps. However the ones I have the loops are too spaced out and it takes awhile to get the right fit. Again they are also heavy. And the ropes and biners that were in my hammock were unnecessarily heavy as well. Then I found Dutch. What an incredibly helpful guy! A master hammocker and genius. I upgraded to some beautiful whoopie slings with a dutch hook, and lighter, shorter, webbing with a dutch clip. Installed a continuous loop in replace of the heavy rope and biners. Saved crazy amounts of weight and cut my set up time by minutes!

The Tarp

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The Tadpole! So cute!

Stingerz from Dutchware

Stingerz from Dutchware

Tadpole with cordpockets and the linelocs I sewed on. Used lash it for the tie outs.

Tadpole with cordpockets and the linelocs I sewed on. Used lash it for the tie outs.

Mesh Tarp Sleeves from Mountain Goat Hats and Goods

Mesh Tarp Sleeves from Mountain Goat Hats and Goods

I know you are sick of me saying this. I also had an ENO DryFly as a tarp. This is new and I used it a lot last summer. Yes it keeps me dry. However, with its six guy lines plus having to set it up over the bug net there were about 80 million ropes going every which way. Also while researching gear I realized it was really heavy, and it is (22oz). So I needed to find a tarp that was lightweight, big enough to cook under, but not too big where it seems like I’m living in Noahs Arc, pack small, and most importantly not expensive. Oh boy. Lightweight tarps made from cuben fiber, sil nylon, ARE CRAZY EXPENSIVE. I was looking anywhere between $167-$300. Hell no. But then! I found the Tad pole! Shout out to Marty from Wilderness Logics (great company in NC) who answered my questions. At only 11.5oz and 132”x92” FOR ONLY $90!! Amazing! And then you can customize it to fit your needs, add on cord pockets, doors, pullouts, tri-loops. I absolutely love this tarp! I sewed on lineloc 3s to each webbing loop for my lines and got some Dutch Stingerz for my Ridgeline (love them too!). I also got some sweet mesh tarp sleeves to store my tarp in, make set up even easier, and allow my tarp to dry a little even when stored away. It’s also nice that you can set up your tarp in the sleeves above your hammock, but take off the sleeves when you want your tarp open. Katharina is the women who makes them in this cozy cottage in the Santa Cruz Mountains, and she is the best! Derek from the Ultimate Hang also deserves a huge shout out! He gave me the stepping-stones, tools, and pro advice on how to create the ultimate hammock using what I already have, DIY, and inexpensive alternatives.

Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm

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I’ve always used a sleeping pad in my hammock but I wanted an upgrade (Plus when sleep in shelters I can had a nice pad to sleep on) Something lighter than what I had a ton times warmers. The Xtherm is just that! It’s 15oz but made to be a winter sleeping pad. It has two layers of triangular baffles to create a ton insulating cells, which slows convective heat loss.Hammocks sleep cold and I want to make sure I keep warm on the AT. This paired with my quilt I think I will be just fine. Just like the reviews said, it is loud and crinkly (albeit less noisy than the XLite). I am used to a durable thicker material and the XTherm does seem a lot more fragile.  I don’t feel quite comfortable carrying this on the outside of my pack, but maybe if I find a good bag or something to wrap it in I can keep it on the outside.

EnLIGHTened Equipment Enigma 850DT Sleeping Quilt

So cozy!

So cozy!

I realized I needed a new sleeping bag when 0* bag left my freezing in Isle Royale temps of  20s and  low 30s. Upon researching I discovered the joys of quilts! No zipper, no hood and open on the bottom. The rating of your sleeping bag or quilt doesn’t matter when you lay on top of it. Your weight pushes down the insulation and it essentially becomes non existent. Which is why hammocks are colder. You have air blowing under you rather than ground that helps insulate you. So with the help of a sleeping pad under you (or a under quilt under your hammock) you can stay just as warm with a quilt. I am really nervous about being cold so I knew a down quilt would be the best. But there is lots of rain on the AT and down and water are not best buddies. Then I heard about a great company in Winona, MN called Enlightened Equipment. All bags are custom-made to your size and needs. The Enigma 850DT is perfect. It has DownTek treated down that is resistant to moisture. The bottom is also completely sewn up around the feet and to the catfish area to help keep your dogs nice and toasty. It comes with straps to attach to your sleeping pad if you want. This bag is so warm and perfect! I haven’t stopped sleeping in it since I got it. And Tim Marshall was so friendly and super helpful! He whipped this puppy out in under a week! This combined with my Sea to Summit silk liner and my Xtherm, I think I will be nice and warm!

Black Diamond Trail Trekking Poles

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These babies are 15.9 oz and I got an amazing price for them on Steep and Cheap. Seriously I saved buckets. If you want to save buckets on your gear, Steep and Cheap is the way to go. I have never used hiking poles before, so I know that I am bound to look ridiculous when I start, but once I figure out how to use them I am sure they will be great. Also when I got them I had no idea they were purple and greenish. Super cute. That’s what hiking’s all about right? Also the inside of the straps are like this furry fleece. They make your hands feel like princesses.

Salomon XA Pro 3D Ultra 2 Gtx Trail Runners with Superfeet Green Insoles

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I’ve decided to hike with a trail runner because I had heard they are better in the long run for your feet. They are more breathable than hiking boots, a little more flexible, dry faster, and might not give you quite as many blisters. They also run a bit large so I went with a size 8.5. I also invested in a pari of Superfeet insoles (Green) so help protect my joints a little more and hopefully ease up on my knees a little. They provide mad support and feel really sturdy under my feet. I need to break them in more as they can be slippery on rocks, but I feel pretty confident they will last awhile. I also have an amazing pair of Merrel hiking boots that I recently started thinking about hiking in initially while it is still cold and sending my Salmons when it warms up. I am still deciding on that.

JetBoil Sol

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My only experience with camp stoves is those and Camp U-Nah-Li-Ya. I’ve grown used to them, love them and have learned their parts and how to repair them. I am used to having to work and wait for your water to boil, and I love it! However, I decided that since I think that I will mostly be boiling water anyways rather than cooking 20 pancakes and a cauldron full of nugget of gold, I wanted something that could do it fast. And boy does the Jetboil deliver! Boils water in under 2 minutes, stores inside of itself, weighs 10.5oz, and if when I am tired of having ramen everyday, there is the option to get a pot support and jetboil pan that work with the stove. It is so user-friendly, it’s almost scary. It actually is scary though, your turn the fuel on, hit the igniter switch and BOOM! Almost Insta-Boil! Its great!It’s capacity is 0.8L and has a quaint insulating cozy and handle attached to it. Bring on the ramen!

Water!! Sawyer Mini Water Filter and 2 1L Platypus Water Bottles

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I was recommended this water filter by a great friend of mine, unbeknownst to the all of the amazing reviews of this little guy! Simply fill up your water bottle, screw the filter on top, and drink from it! It weighs a tiny 2 oz and is good for 100,000 gallons, filters %99.9999 of bacteria and protozoa. It also comes with a straw and the pump to clean it. So far it’s been working great and I’m excited to use it on trail. I also am bringing 2 1L Platypus water bottles. They are collapsable and can stow away if empty. I will also bring the bottom half of a plastic water bottle to fill up the platypus in the times where there is a weak water flow. I am not bringing a hydration bladder, I have a feeling I will end up getting one but I am going to try without for right now.

SPOT Satellite Messenger

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This is what is going to allow my mom to sleep at night! This nifty gadget sends my GPS location every 10 minutes and also allows me to send 2 custom messages to check in with my folks. It alerts them via email (also texts, but you have to have a national carrier for them to receive them) which is pretty sweet. There is also an SOS button that I can use in a life or death situation. When I push SOS, it alerts the emergency services and hundred off helicopters come rescue me! Or something like that. But for real, it’s pretty neat and allows my parents to look to go to a website and check my path and location to make sure I’m alive. Yay!

Patagonia Ultralight Down Jacket

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These down jacker was another amazing steal on steep in cheap. I think I got over %52 percent off. I am not a fan of the color, it kind of makes me feel like a leprechaun or shamrock shake, but it is nice and toasty.

Mountain Hardwear Solidus Pullover Fleece Jacket

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Found on Steep and Cheap, super comfy! Has pretty long sleeve, but I like that. Very warm and soft. Also has a extra large hood that is meant to go over helmets and such. I think it’ll be great going over the messy buns on top of my head. It’s perfect!

Icebreaker BodyFit Plus 200 Pace Leggings 

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Steep and Cheap. Meant for cold weather. Merino wool. Boom. I also have a pair of of reebok leggings that I already own and a pair of Gramicci Native Art that I think are kind of retro, so I will also bring one of those. Icebreaker is also a pretty awesome company! They value the sheep  and employees of their company and you can even trace your specific piece of clothing to the original farm! It’s pretty neat.

Icebreaker BodyFit 200 Oasis Crew Long-Sleeve

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Found on Steep and Cheap (can you tell lived there?). Merino wool, nice and warm and comfy.

Icebreaker Bolt Crew Top  and Nike Dri-fit short sleeves

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Steep and Cheap. Tighter fitting, but still pretty comfy and made our of merino wool. I also have 2 other nike dri fit shirts that I already have. I will bring 2 t shirts to start and then swap one out for a new one when they get tired of hiking. I like this shirt because it’ll keep me warm when it’s cool outside but then will also wick moisture and sweat away when it is warm outside. Versitile. I like it.

Sports Gym Girl Ultra Skirt

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Found on Steep and Cheap. Seriously the most comfortable thing I have ever worn. Has built in shorts that don’t slide around and prevent chaffing, great coverage, and it was at a price I couldn’t pass up. Not sure how I feel about the color though, kinda…you know. But when it warms up I will try this out and see how it goes!

Bridgedale WoolFusion Trekker Socks

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Read amazing reviews about these socks! Think Smartwool but more awesome! Plus they are made in the UK so they make me feel exotic. Amazing costumer service too, they helped me pick out the perfect pair. I went with a midweight and they feel great in and out of my hiking shoes.

Stoic Merino 200 Boy Boxers

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Founds these babies on Steep and Cheap as well. Ultra comfy and made from merino wool. I had read that the seams get twisted when you wash them, so I just stitched a couple of X’s in various places to keep the band in place. I will bring 2 pair and will have a 3rd sent at some point to swap out. They are seamless and are just overall comfy. And dat merino wool doe! So great.

Food

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I am bringing 7 days of food to star with. I also have 7 mail drops planned for along the trail. I organized everything in ziplocs and then put breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks, in a gallon ziploc just to keep a little order in the food bag. Lots of instant pasta, rice, couscous, and power bars. I am also making homemade granola that will have lots and lots on good nutrients in it and be super delicious. My initial food bag weighs (without the granola yet) a little over 11 pounds.

AWOLs (David Miller)Guidebook

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I don’t need anything else as long as I have this! Tell me milage, elevation, nearest shelters, towns, what’s in the towns, places to stay, resupply, etc. Fabulous!

Everything else

Other items I have: 2 sportsbras, my tevas for camp shoes, rain jacket (heavier one for now and then I’ll switch to a lighter one. I’ve had both for a few years)  rain pants, lighter, spork, journal, a book, headlamp, phone, ear plugs, knife, first aid kit, sewing kit, rope, duct tape, toilet paper, toothbrush and toothpaste, Dr. Bronners soap, maybe a camera, hat, gloves, sunglasses, baseball cap, and I think that’s all!

 

Thank you so much for reading! Feel free to comment on anything, give advice, ask a question, etc! It’s appreciated!

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.

Soooo You’re Going to Walk A Lot?

So my goal of updating this blog consistently has been about as successful as convincing my mother I am not going to get simultaneously attacked by a rabid bear and a ginseng hunter while making an unexpected appearance (Finally, my 15 minutes of fame!) on the History Channel’s Appalachian Outlaws. My apologies.

So in order to compensate for my lack of updates, I will combine some more info about the AT with a few questions I have been asked when I inform people of my completely insane decision to thru-hike.

Is the Appalachian Trail near the Appalachian Mountains?

Why yes, despite the deceiving names, the Appalachian Trail runs through (aka, up and over every peak of) the Appalachian Mountains. This means hiking through 14 states covering about 2,181 miles. I will be starting my hike on Springer Mountain, Georgia and ending on Mount Katahdin, Maine.  The Appalachian Trail Conservancy has some fantastic information about the AT itself.

So it’ll just take you a couple weeks, yeah?

Contrary to popular belief, I am not the bionic women or Jennifer Pharr Davis who hiked the AT in 46 days, 11 hours and 20 minutes. So I, along with other thru-hikers, am giving myself the average timeline of 5-6 months to complete the trail.

What happens when you get eaten by a bear?

If my chants of “GO PACK GO” do not prevail, I will weep uncontrollably.

In reality, there are only black bears on the AT. And they are essentially oversized Winnie the Poohs. Cute and cuddly. Hikers just need to hang their food up at night, keep it out of their tent etc. and da bears will keep to themselves.

JayCutler_crop_north“Don’t worry, I’m never a threat.”

What happens when it rains?

By spending half a year in the woods, you are bound under Mother Nature’s reign. And there is bound to be rain (PUN!). “No rain, no pain, no Maine,” becomes a hikers mantra. Apparently the super badass AT class of 2003 got 24 straight days of rain. You just deal with it and hike on. So it is inevitable and that’s where a rain jacket and rain cover for your pack come in handy! I know I have told a few of you that I am bringing my hammock- don’t worry it also has a rain fly.

Do you hunt and forage for your food?

Don’t get me wrong, I am flattered that y’all think I’m BAMF enough to be able to sustain myself on twigs, berries, june bugs, and squirrels. Or that I again am super human and can carry 6 months worth of cans of spam on my back. But typically hikers carry about 5 days worth of food at a time. The thing about the AT is that you are usually about 4-5 days away from a town to resupply (maybe do laundry, charge the mobile device, hit up an all you can eat buffet). Another option is mailing yourself supplies a head of time and picking them up at certain post offices along the way.

How will I know you didn’t die?

This blog! Shamless plug: sign up for automatic email updates! Wahwhoo! I will also have my cell phone and will be checking it once a week(ish)- so you can still text and call me! Also, if you want to give me your address I can send you super quaint postcards. Adorbs.

Thanks for reading- you little kittens are fantastic! Also I just want to thank everyone for the outstanding support and encouragement I have been getting- it is truly heart warming! If you do have any questions about my hike or the AT, feel free to post a comment! 

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