Climb (almost) every mountain

The “holy” mountain, Katahdin, the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail in Maine.

Three years ago this week, I made it to Mount Katahdin….sort of. I’d planned to walk all the way there from Springer Mountain, Georgia to Maine along the Appalachian Trail. I only made it 1,405 miles to a road crossing (and convenience store with decent pizza) in New York. My feet had been in pain for more than a month. Every step hurt. I couldn’t make my daily mileage and I certainly had stopped having any fun. Sitting there, eating my pizza, I knew I had to get off the trail. A friend who lived in the area took me to her house and got me to a doctor. Prognosis: The bones in my feet were breaking down. My hike was over, unless I wanted to suffer permanent damage.

I cried like a little girl for a whole day. Then I began making a new plan.
 
As part of that plan, for a month, I worked at a Maine hostel at the nearest city to the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail. I did it mostly to stay near the trail for a little bit longer. While I didn’t hike Mount Katahdin, I did get to see it as I shuttled hikers to and from the trail.
I’m at peace with my hike and (surprisingly) have no desire to finish the last 800 miles. I may never climb this mountain and that’s OK. Plans have to change sometimes.
 
And now, it seems, my plans are changing again. I’d hoped to stay in Peru for 6 months. The vagaries of visas and less-than-professional English schools have helped me move along a bit faster. Don’t worry, I won’t leave Peru without seeing a bit more of it.
And I have an interesting hike that’s developing for the near future. Stay tuned!

Four Pines Hostel

The view from the hostel includes a honey farm across the road. Four Pines is just .3 from the trail.
The view from the hostel includes a honey farm across the road. Four Pines is just .3 from the trail.
Inside the hostel
Inside the hostel

Four Pines Hostel is located near Catawba, VA.
Since owner Joe Mitchell and his girlfriend Donna took me to Trail Days in Damascus and back, I’m forever in their debt. I also stayed two nights, May 18-19, in their hostel, a converted 3 car garage with a bath, shower, 2 refrigerators, and a stove. If the 8 beds and 3 couches fill up, there’s two barns to sleep in as well. And it filled up both nights I stayed.
Sunday we drove back from Damascus, unloaded the truck and collapsed for the night.

Joe
Joe

Monday Miss Donna offered to slack pack me a fairly easy 6 miles from 311 southbound to the hostel. It was a good way to slowly get back into hiking.

While I enjoyed Joe, I really related to Donna. She’s witty (“if that’s true Joe, I’ll kiss your A** and give you a week to gather a crowd,”) and hard working. And I suspect she’s already dug the hole for the body of the first woman who flirts a little too long with Joe.

many thanks to them both. The hostel takes donations, which help keep it open. When I commented that you have to be a little crazy to hike this trail or take in people who do, Miss Donna said, “Ah, don’t fool yourself. Those are the only sane ones out there.”

While slack packing, I crossed the 700 mile mark!
While slack packing, I crossed the 700 mile mark!
The first half of the hike was a ridge walk. The good kind where you aren't climbing over rock out crops.
The first half of the hike was a ridge walk. The good kind where you aren’t climbing over rock out crops.
The other half of the hike was through fields or along streams. Very pleasant.
The other half of the hike was through fields or along streams. Very pleasant.
The tree canary is filling in, so most of the small forest floor flowers are nearing the end. Still some red Columbine.
The tree canary is filling in, so most of the small forest floor flowers are nearing the end. Still some red Columbine.
This is City Slicka with Daisy the Dog. City has given me lots of advice. He's a yo-yo hiker and is in his fourth continuous hiker. From Boston, he's about 40 and says before the trail he weighted 280 and sat on a bar stool all the time. We tell him he's a drunk with a hiking problem.
This is City Slicka with Daisy the Dog. City has given me lots of advice. He’s a yo-yo hiker and is in his fourth continuous hiker. From Boston, he’s about 40 and says before the trail he weighted 280 and sat on a bar stool all the time. We tell him he’s a drunk with a hiking problem.

It begins! And it’s a rough start

The marker at the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail, Springer Mountain.
The marker at the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail, Springer Mountain.

For those just joining us, I’m about to hike the Appalachian Trail–Georgia to Maine, almost 2,200 miles.

Standing on top of Springer Mountain is awe inspiring…. and a bit humbling. Facing north is an unbroken footpath stretching all the way to Maine. It’s like being 8 years old, standing on top of a long slope after the first snowfall, a blanket of white stretching beyond, unsullied by a single footprint. Like a calendar without a single day crossed off.

For the next six months, time will be measured, not in minutes and hours, but in steps. The day’s difficulties will be rated by the mountain peaks I need to ascend, not the mountains of paperwork I have to turn in. While I have backpacked before, I know this will be new. This will be different. This is adventure. It will be difficult. It will be a privilege.

A fire the first night at Stover Creek Shelter was a pleasant surprise.
A fire the first night at Hawk Mountain Shelter was a pleasant surprise.

March 1: I had imagined what this day would be like. But it wasn’t like that. It was just another day. No hoopla, no feeling of grandness. It was good, but it doesn’t quite feel real. Yet. It was after 2p before my dear friend Michael and I we were at the top of Springer and I signed in at the resister. Michael drove me to the trail and hiked the first mile with me. Thank goddess for friends!

I started the day with one less toenail. An injury over a month ago didn’t seem so bad at the time. But putting on my socks this morning, Pop! Off it came.

I passed several day hikers going in the opposite direction, they looked at me oddly. I imagined that they were a bit in awe, as if it were obvious that this lone woman was starting a momentous thru hike. Only later did I realize that the right side of my face was smeared with the glaze from the donut holes I’d cramed into my mouth as I left Michael at the Springer parking lot. I only walked as far as Stover Creek shelter, mile marker 2.7. There are a dozen thru hikers here. My favorite is Rambo (who did 1,400 miles in 2012) and his partner Tim (who I’ve tried to call The One They Call Tim, after a Monty Python movie). They must be around 20, very laid back young men. There’s also Pack Rat who seems odd. He says this is his 3rd thru hike attempt and that he’s done all but the last 500 miles. But his gear is all new–he’s never even set up the hammock before and he claims his pack is 70+pounds. I am skeptical, but he’s told stories of running all the downhills, night hiking, falling snakes and taking 2 months of zero days. It’s hard to believe, but I’m in no position to call him a liar.

Cold, probably only 40 degrees F today and cloudy. Will drop well below freezing tonight. Adding layers to sleep in.

March 2: From Stover Creek shelter (2.8) to Hawk Mountain shelter (8.1).

Stover Creek shelter
Stover Creek shelter

The start of things is often messy. This hike is truly showing me my limitations. Today did not go well. I was up early enough, but had trouble with my stove and drank my tea lukewarm. Then when I went to pack up the tent I barely had time to take a step to the side when I threw up. Five times! I felt fine after, but knew I didn’t have enough liquid for the day in my system. Yet I was afraid to do more than sip water. I did fine hiking until I hit an uphill patch, when I moved pitifully slow. I got to Hawk Mountain shelter and decided to cook my big meal and take a rest. After an hour and a half, I felt better and decided to put in 2 more miles. But I wasn’t paying attention coming out of the shelter. The AT turns, but I followed an unmarked trail straight up a huge hill. I went a mile before I realized it, walked around trying to find the trail. Finally gave up and retraced my steps. Energy and self esteem depleted, I decided to stay put for the night. This is a rough start. I was sick last week, but hoped it was only nerves. Today it seems like more than that. No energy. Can’t eat or drink much at one time. Must go slow. Good thing I have an extra month to hike.

Decided to take a nap. Sipping water, but can’t eat. Must be 3 dozen hikers here. Dinosaur is from Germany. A NC couple are Columbus and Queen. I have mild diarrhea overnight, fortunately before the rain started.

March 3: Hawk Mountain Shelter (8.1) to Horse Gap.

Hawk Mountain Shelter.
Hawk Mountain Shelter.

This has not been my best day ever. Heavy rain last night and by mistake I left 2 shirts outside in my vestibule So it was wet clothes and a wet tent to pack up this morning. Rained until noon and then the temps dropped. It was heavy fog, so nothing was getting dry. Still not able to eat or drink much at one time. Moving very slowly. But I threw in the towel at Horse gap when my pack broke. I was able to call for a shuttle to the outfitters and hostel at Mountain Crossing. Time to re-assess my gear and replace the pack. It’s been painful and ill-fitting.

A young man named Will helped me pick out a new, better fitting pack and went through all my gear. I’m sending home about 3 pounds of stuff! Did not need to resupply because I’ve barely eaten anything, but did order a pizza, take a shower and did laundry. It’s the little things that bring joy!

If I were a purist I would take a shuttle back to Horse Gap tomorrow. But I’m not going to. I’ve done this section lots of times, the last time in November. Gonna skip it. As slowly as I’m moving I could use the extra time.

I’ve been sick. I’ve had to replace gear. It’s colder and wetter than I’d expected (mostly because I planned to star a month later). I know this sounds like a very bad beginning, but I’m not daunted. I’ll make the adjustments I need and keep moving forward! I believe I can go all the way to Maine. The only way to know is to try.

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