Hiawassee, GA (got off trail at Unicoi Gap, 52.9, day before).
This is my first zero day–a day with no trail miles. I’m staying in a Budget Inn in Hiawassee, GA and they will shuttle me to the trail in the morning. Of course I am doing some walking, mostly to resupply, eat and trade out gear. These rest days are critical to recovery, especially as I gain my trail legs.
I really thought I had made good gear choices, but I’m finding that I need to make some serious adjustments. At Neels Gap I replaced my backpack and sent to storage about 3 pounds of unnecessary gear. My sleeping bag is simply not warm enough and I should have replaced it there as well. Instead I purchased a much better one over the phone (from Mountain Crossings, the outfitter at Neels Gap) and it’s being sent ahead to a hostel at Dicks Gap. When I get the new one, I’ll return the older one to REI (Thanks for a wonderful return policy!). This will be warmer and save me almost a pound in weight. Today, I got a 1 ounce knife to replace my 3 ounce Leatherman mini. I replaced my Snow Peak stove and windscreen for a Jet Boil system. It’s slightly heavier, but heats 2 cups of water in under 2 minutes, saving fuel and time standing around in the cold waiting for tea in the morning. Because I will only have to carry one fuel canister instead of two, it’s only a few ounces more overall.
My tent is the best piece of equipment I purchased. The Big Agnes, Fly Creek UL2 is one of the most popular on the trail. My down jacket, fleece cap and rain jacket have been lifesavers, but I threw out the Packa. Great concept, but it didn’t work for me.
I’m feeling better. This morning was the first that I didn’t throw up. As you can imagine, this has kept me from consuming much food at one time or drinking a lot of water. As a result, I may have dropped a couple pounds! But you can’t hike far unless you are hydrated and fed, so it’s slowed me down. Still not sure what the malady is, but I seem to be getting over it. Slowly.
Though I am a bit stiff in the morning, I have not been truly sore, probably because of the low mileage. It is critical to fully recover overnight and not push myself to the point of pain. These young men can tell themselves “No pain, no Maine” as much as they want, but that’s not a strategy for someone my age. For me, the key to finishing is to avoid injury and just keep moving forward at a pace I can maintain. The miles will take care of themselves as long as I don’t stop. It does not matter if I’m the last one to summit Katahdin. I just remind myself that if I allow myself to recover each night, I will be stronger by April and can increase miles then.
The other key, IMHO, is foot health. I have dutifully stuck with the “duel sock method.” That means I wear a thin liner sock beneath a thick hiking sock. It reduces abrasion and I’ve had no blisters. I also inspect my feet each night before putting them in thick, warm, dry socks that I carry just for sleeping. This morning was the first that my feet were tender upon rising, but I did 3 miles of rocky trail at speed yesterday, in addition to my highest mileage day with no break. Considering, I think they are doing well. Wish I had gotten a half size larger shoes, because my feet swell and could use more room. But the style and performance of my Merrells is great. They’ve stayed dry and handle the rugged terrain very well.
I do have a few more bruises and cuts than when I started. A scrap across the back of my knee is a mystery, but I remember getting both the bruises on my upper arms as chunks of ice fell from trees overhead. THAT was a walk I’ll never forget. Glad I’ve been through it, but hope to never repeat it! Other than that, a couple small bruises that I can’t account for. Nothing major. I did have a bit of low energy today, but a zero day, hydration and a couple nights in a warm bed should cure me.
But I’ve discovered a new malady that I’ve not seen before–a dry, sore throat. It’s the cold, dry air combined with the extra breaths needed to hike. I’ve become a mouth breather! My throat is just a bit raw, but extra fluids and breathing through my nose made a big difference today.
SHOULDA, WOULDA, COULDA
A phrase you hear a lot on the trail! In hindsight, I wish I’d have dumped Sprint and gotten Verizon as my wireless carrier. Much better reception on the trail. While I can often send a text and check simple apps, I can almost never make a phone call. Hope the situation will be better farther north, but I doubt it.
We’ve had our first 2 hikers leave the trail. Both are experienced long distance hikers–they’ve done the CDT and hiked the AT 3 times. He is having back pain and she wrenched a knee. Did I mention it pays to be lucky, too? I’m sure there are others who left quietly as well.
Just spent an hour talking to Katniss and her husband Ben, plus a new hiker, Tex. Tex is having knee problems and is taking his second zero this week. Before long, Katniss and I had stepped away from the boys to discuss the “special” issues women face on the trail. Menstrual cycles are a huge pain and you have to use special supplies that are biodegradable or pack everything out (the officially preferred method. Preferred by men, that is.). Chaffing is a problem! As gross as it may sound to you ladies I have found it impossible to wear underwear and hike more than a few miles without chaffing. I go without. Katniss was coming to the same conclusion. I carry baby wipes to clean up my privates every night. Katniss had just gotten some Vagisil wipes for the same purpose. She also has trouble with constipation, a common complaint. Men do have it easier. It would be so nice to stand up, with a pack on, to pee!
Did you know that hikers have their own way of blowing their nose? With all the cold air and wind, you can’t stop your nose from running. But you can’t carry a box of Kleenex either. Most everyone has a bandana, but it doubles as a neck warmer, washcloth and headscarf, so you don’t want to use it for your nose. Instead, you stop, bend at the waist, plug one nostril and blow off trail. Repeat other side. Really. You get good at it too.
After theses days on the trail, I’m reminded how wonderful modern conveniences are. Being able to turn a tap for clean water, a machine that washes my clothes, and a heater that works with a single button, seem like miracles! We forget how lucky we are. Even that horrible sagging mattress made me smile last night.
The ability to just throw away trash is amazing. I have to pack out every Cliff Bar wrapper for days before I can get it in a trash can! It really shows you how much trash we create every day.
I’ve signed up for the 9a shuttle to Unicoi Gap, 52.9. My plan is to hike to Tray Mountain Shelter, 58.6. It’s only 5.7 miles, but straight up, straight down then up again. It will be tough enough for me! As I type this I’m listening to the young men outside my window brag about “big miles” and “no pain, no Maine.” Let ’em talk!