Day 19: Mile 109.2 | Donn + Sandi’s House
Donn made us blueberry flap jacks with asparagus and eggs for breakfast! And real maple syrup (so rare down here)! After breakfast we went outside with Donn to do some chores. He taught us how to plant peas and carrots. We met the ducks. We trimmed some vines around the property with the help of Lady. We fed the birds. Lastly, we moved some firewood around.
We came back up to the house for lunch. Sandi heated us a roasted red pepper and tomato soup while I made grilled cheese. We had a great chat over lunch about traveling, jobs, and cooking.
After lunch we talked about music for Sandi’s a capella group. We checked the weather again (bad forecast for the next 10 days, of course. Rain and temperatures in the negatives). Donn and Sandi had to go to an appointment and an a capella concert to attend but they didn’t want us to have to stay around the house so they offered for us to drive their van into town. Their 2000 VW Eurovan (if you didn't know, I'm obsessed with VW vans...)! I was so excited (they are selling it if you are interested!!). We went back to Outdoor 76 (I know... I feel like I live there) to get Michelin some warmer layers, a new hat, and to get me camp pants that were on sale. After, we went to the bookstore across the street to browse. Next, we picked up Ohm, Kenji, and ‘Racha at the hostel they stayed at and headed to the Lazy Hiker for some beer.
It was so nice to be reunited with them again! Around 8:30 Donn and Sandi joined us for a drink. When we got home Donn and Sandi offered for us to stay another night. Unsure of how to face the weather and our injuries, Michelin and I decided to stay another night. It had felt so good to be some place that felt like home again. To be around the animals and to be using my hands for something productive. At first I felt anxious about being in Franklin for so long and not hiking a lot during this week. But eventually I calmed down and had a philosophical chat with Donn and Michelin. Even though I wasn’t hiking, I felt happy and at peace.
Day 20: Mile 109.2 | Donn + Sandi’s House
Donn made us biscuits, eggs, and asparagus for breakfast! After breakfast, I blogged and Michelin read his book. We went into town with Donn where he had an art class. They needed new tires on their car so we went with Donn to drop the car off and we agreed to pick up the car and pick him up at his art class when it was over.
Michelin and I walked to Rathskeller (a coffee shop/taproom. Then to Outdoor 76 one last time (we are addicted). We made a loose plan for the the next week. Mostly we just looked ahead at the guidebook to get familiar with the next 40 miles but really didn’t know how to make a plan because the weather was so crazy.
We hung out at the park for a bit and met some other hikers that were walking by.
In that moment I kind of I felt like we weren’t real thru-hikers anymore because we had been in town so long. I started feeling anxious again and annoyed with myself for not hiking more.
Anyway, after we got the car we went to Ingles and then back to Donn and Sandi’s house. They were having a potluck at their church tonight and invited Michelin and I to join them there. We decided to make some taquitos for the potluck. Before we cooked we helped Donn install a new cabinet that he had made for their kitchen that they are renovating. At the church we met some of their friends and played some board games: Exploding Kittens and Ticket to Ride. It was really fun!
When we got back to the house Michelin and I were exhausted. We talked about how we were feeling and how nervous we were that we might be overstaying our welcome. Donn invited us to stay one more night. He also asked us to join him for a concrete countertop project the next day. We decided to stay one last night. I told Michelin how I was feeling guilty and lazy and I was worried about not making miles or progress. Michelin made a very good point about this. He said:
Progress does not always have to be forward.
And he’s right. These past few days with Donn and Sandi I learned so much about myself, what I want my home to be like when I finish the trail, things I could do with my future, things about myself and my anxiety, and what community can be. It’s amazing how much you can feel and see and do in just a few days.
Day 21: Mile 109.2 | Donn + Sandi’s House
Donn made us some stuffed French toast for breakfast with real maple syrup or honey from the bees they keep in their back yard! Right after breakfast we went over to Olga’s (Donn + Sandi’s friend) house in progress to help her fill her concrete countertops. We met their friend Seth as well, the brains behind the operation. As we pulled the concrete mixer under the carport it began to downpour. It was incredible to realize: it’s raining and I’m not wet!
He showed us how to mix the proper concrete mixture for the base. We poured the base and put in some galvanized structural wire. Next, we mixed a new batch of concrete with an epoxy mixture and poured that over the top of the structure and into the molds around the border. We used trowels to smooth out the surface and then used rebar sticks, a sander without sandpaper, and a rubber mallet to get the edges moving to eliminate too many air bubbles inside the border molds.
After, we took recycled glass that Olga had crushed and sprinkled it all over the countertop. Next, we used trowels to smooth the glass into the countertop. We have to wait 28 days for the concrete to completely solidify. Once it does, Seth is going to sand down the top layer to reveal the glass and then clear coat it. It was so fun visiting Olga and Seth and learning how to do this awesome project! We even got to meet Olga’s pigs and help her son look for arrowheads in their future garden area that they had tilled.
We went back to Donn and Sandi’s house. After cleaning the concrete off of ourselves and our clothes, Michelin and I took a solid nap. Then we helped Sandi make shrimp etouffee popovers with squash. They were divine.
Donn and Sandi went out dancing and Michelin and I stayed in. We went for a short walk, packed our bags, and then went to bed early. Our last night at Donn and Sandi's.
Like I do every time I have to leave town, I started to feel nervous like I wasn’t ready. My heart rate was all over the place and it was hard to breathe. I get so close to having a panic attack and talk myself down from it. Every. Time. I. Leave. It’s quite annoying, really. I know I’m fine out there and I’m prepared and I know what I’m doing (sort of). Why do I freak out? I’m learning to talk myself down from it.
Day 22: Mile 112.9 | Siler Bald Shelter
We woke up to a foggy rainy day. But not as bad as the downpour yesterday. Donn made me a delicious breakfast beverage (smoothie) and I drank a bottle of Gatorade. We finished packing up our stuff and left the house around 8:30am. By 9:30am we had said our goodbyes and were back on the trail.
We hiked a short 4 miles to the first shelter. We had been aiming to go all the way to Wayah Gap Shelter but we had no motivation.
Michelin and I were both having a hard time physically and mentally. Town had spoiled us. The fog and rain were getting on our nerves. We got off onto the blue blaze for the first shelter around noon. There was no room in the shelter so I set up my tent (I know a rare occurrence, right?) and Michelin set up his hammock. We ate two dinners (those Harmony House vegetables made a nice accompaniment to my ramen) and then hung out in my tent for a while. Rain and snow were expected for the night.
I felt disappointed in myself for not doing more miles and for letting town soften me so much. I was also super annoyed because my rain fly on my tent would NOT reposition the way I wanted it to because of the hill I was on. The more I use my tent, the more frustrated I get about how small it is. I woke up every hour that night trying to make sure my sleeping bag didn’t touch the sides of my tent. I also had water dripping on me from above my head where my rain fly wouldn’t guy out properly. I decided to start looking into getting a different tent (more to come on this later...).
Day 23: Mile 121.6 | LickLog Gap Campsite
We woke up at Siler Bald to snow. Grumpy, I got up around 7:30am and started breaking down camp. We left, cold, and started hiking. Michelin immediately started feeling pain in his knee when we left camp. We took it slow and stayed together. Our morale was down and the foggy, low lying clouds were weighing me down. We tried to stay positive and sing some songs. It kind of helped, I suppose. We made it to Wayah Gap where there was no snow and the sun began to peek out. We began climbing out of the gap when Michelin started to groan about the pain. After about half a mile we had to sit down on the side of the trail. With tears and about half an hour of deliberation and snack eating, Michelin decided that he needed to turn back to the gap and go home. The pain was too much and we were afraid he might be doing more damage.
I went on without him and he went back to the gap to hitch a ride to town where he could get picked up to go home. I hiked over Wayah Bald in fog and at the top there was about 3" of snow. The fog wiped out the view. A tree with a white blaze had fallen across the trail near an intersection to a side trail. I got a little lost... thank goodness for the Guthook app and its GPS feature...
I made it 11 miles that day to camp at a high elevation gap. My Achilles hurt and my right knee started to get stiff due to my hip flexors being so tight. I hiked most of the day by myself. I stopped to get water before camp at a spring a little off trail.
When I came back up to the trail I met someone named Close Call. He was planning on staying at the same site as me that night. We talked tents, trail names, and muscle roller effectiveness for our last mile to camp. The day had been cold and snowy but relatively sunny.
I set up my tent quickly as the wind picked up. It was really cold so I changed as quickly as possible into my camp clothes. I cooked in the vestibule of my tent (a bit risky but all was fine). The mac and cheese I made got stuck to the bottom of my pot. I made some phone calls for support. I had cried on and off all day. It was strange to truly be alone for the first time since I started really. I got really homesick. And questioned my capabilities.
I called Whisperer, who we were supposed to meet up with at Fontana to tell him it would be just me meeting him. He immediately suggested he’d turn around so I wouldn’t have to be alone. I told him not to. I felt like I needed a day on my own to process what was going on and everything that had happened. He said he’d turn around and he wouldn’t take no for an answer. He just told me to head toward the Nantahala Outdoor Center (NOC which was 16 miles away) and he would met me there.
Emotionally and physically exhausted, I tried to go to bed. I couldn’t sleep. Once again, I was busy trying to keep my sleeping bag from touching the sides of my tent... condensation was quickly becoming my enemy. Whistling wind blew all night. It was (excuse my language) FUCKING FREEZING. In my bag I was ok but I couldn’t move much and I had a hard time getting comfortable.
Around 2am I got up to go pee and saw across the ridge the lights of some town off in the distance. The fog had cleared and the stars were out. As I stood out in the windy night I finally started to feel at peace with being alone. I was calm for a moment and I realized I didn’t really want to be attached to someone else. I wanted to start hiking my own hike for real. I wanted to do the miles I want to do when I want to do them. I want to go into town less and go when and where I want to go. I wanted to take more control and do my own thing. Regardless of the company that I keep doing so. I went back to bed with all of this on my mind.
Day 24: Mile 136.5 | Nantahala Outdoors Center (NOC)
I woke up warm in my bag with a renewed sense of determination. I was going to push a little more than 16 miles (my biggest day so far) and get to NOC today. I was going to get my red Gatorade (which I was CRAVING due to dehydration). I was going to get a new sleeping bag liner and ditch my WalMart fleece! And the sunrise was beautiful that morning!
I got up and dismantled camp. My stakes were frozen in the ground (some guy camping not too far away offered to pee on them to warm them up for me... *rolls eyes*). I laced up my stiff, frozen shoes and got going quickly. I was still cold. I had no appetite and only half a liter of water.
I walked through the stiffness. It was too cold to stretch like I usually do. It took me 4 miles to warm up. Right before Tellico Gap I stopped to call my Mom who had her birthday that day. She also helped me order a new tent (a Six Moons Designs Lunar Solo) because she’s the best mom ever. She even got it express shipped to Fontana Dam.
The more I felt stiff and in pain the more I thought about getting a muscle roller too... I hiked a little bit further and finally ran into Whisperer. He told me he had already booked us bunks at the NOC. The temperatures were supposed to be in the negatives that night. I didn’t have enough money for that and a new bag liner. He said if I buy the pizza he’ll get the room. We called it a deal and kept hiking, even though the deal made me feel a little bit uncomfortable and indebted.
We kept walking as fast as we could toward NOC. By the time we got to Wesser Bald we realized I was going too slow to make it down to NOC before their onsite outfitter closed, where I was going to buy my new bag liner. Whisperer offered to go ahead and get my bag liner and pick up a pizza for dinner before the restaurant also closed. He went ahead while I took in the views at Wesser (he’d already been through there). My first real, no fog views!
I left Wesser around 2pm. I started feeling fatigued. I had hardly eaten or drank anything that day (I hadn’t really realized it. I was starting to realize how much my appetite was holding me back). I was also starting to realize that 16 miles was a bit much for me after having taken so much time off. In my head I tried to divide it up into smaller sections. I tried to push myself. But I felt like I was starting to hike someone else’s hike again.
In pain, exhausted, hangry, and frustrated. I finally got to the last mile. I’m learning that the last mile before town or camp always feels like more than 1 Mile. By the time I got there I could barely bend my right knee properly and my achilles was spurring me at every step.
When I finally got to the lodge we were staying in I was EXHAUSTED. I did my laundry and took a very long, hot shower. We ate pizza and had Powerade (they didn’t have Gatorade). I journaled and blogged a little bit while I waited for my laundry and iced my ankle. By the time my head hit the pillow I was out. I slept 11 straight hours without any medication.