Day 63: Mile 526.9 | Stealth Camp
I woke up to a sunny day! I didn’t get up until 9am. Screaming Eagle, Snow Plow, and Duck had already left camp and Poe and Savage were still asleep. I packed up slowly and ate a breakfast of honeybuns and Instant Breakfast mix. I was really tired I knew that I was only a day out of town. Marion had very affordable motel rooms so I resolved to get my own room this time so that I could have a quiet and restful zero finally. I’d been having a hard time sleeping and recovering at hostels and in shared motel rooms. I walked slowly through the Virginia woods. A bit lonely, to be honest. I listened to Levar Burton (of Reading Rainbow fame) read adult short stories on his podcast Levar Burton reads, my new favorite. His deep voice soothes me and, at times brought tears to my eyes. His story telling made me happy, nostalgic, sad, and excited. Emotions out here come and go quickly.
I ran into Grandma Shorty and Plod Along and we walked and talked about shoes for a while. Grandma Shorty was having foot troubles and I could, obviously, relate. Plod Along, like me, wore La Sportivas and loved them but Grandma Shorty wasn’t so sure they’d work for her feet. We talked about home, for them it was Massachusetts, and found we had a lot in common! I loved walking with them. Eventually we came to a big hill and I sped ahead. We roamed through forests and pastures:
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I listened to Levar Burton reads. This episode he read a story called 'Kin'. The story and the way he reads it in combination with my state of loneliness that day made me suddenly homesick. I arrived to this cow pasture. The smell of cows, grass, and pine trees filled the air. The exact smells of home in early summer. My homesickness induces from the story became extreme. Emotions overtook me and I knelt down at the edge of the field and cried. A few cows ambled toward me, confused I'm sure. I cried heavily for a few minutes as the podcast ended. I gathered myself and got to my feet. One of the braver cows came toward me as I wiped my eyes and sniffled. I reached out a hand. She sniffed it and let me pay her nose but she moved away quickly after a few pats. I thanked her and made my way through the pasture.
I've been overwhelmed with emotions many times on the trail. By far, the strongest inducer of emotions is smells. Things that smell like home get me every time. Especially if I'm alone. As much as I want to be independent and strong, I'm realizing out here that I'm very attached to home and family. And, perhaps, that's not such a bad thing. But, it is certainly a weakness on long trips...
I made it to Trimpi Shelter, passing some section hikers on the way (who I didn’t realize would one day in the future take me into their home! You’ll see...). When I got to the shelter there were only four older men there. I had wanted to camp there but I wasn’t sure who else would show up and at 4pm I still had time to find another spot to camp. I really didn’t feel comfortable camping with 4 older men that I didn’t know. I was nervous and scared after some previous experiences on the trail (which I will discuss in a more detailed personal post when I get home). I used the Privy there and went to move on.
I made my way back to the trail I ran into a guy that I had met at Boots Off. He had tried to flirt with me and get me to braid his hair. At Boots Off it seemed to be a funny joke but I had felt a bit uncomfortable. Now, alone in the woods with no witnesses, I felt threatened. I felt a fight or flight instinct kick in. Sweat surfaced on my forehead and I’d barely walked up the blue blaze (side trail) back to the AT. He said hi to me and asked where I would be camping. I vaguely told him “I don’t know, some stealth spot up the trail.” He shrugged and laughed. “That’s it? No mile you might be near?” I laughed nervously but felt scared. I told him I’d see him later and pulled out my earbuds to put them back in. He said he’d see ya and headed down the blue blaze to the shelter. I walked quickly, the fastest I had all day.
My heart was pounding. In my head I told myself there was no need to worry, no need to feel threatened, no one was trying to harm me. But my previous experiences echoed in my mind. My body had these fight or flight reactions for a reason. I had felt lonely earlier in the day. Now, I just felt scared and all I wanted was to be alone or to show up to a campsite and see familiar faces. I suddenly regretted walking alone, despite the amazing feeling independence had given me earlier in the week.
I quickly and sheepishly hiked up a hill to a stealth camp site. I gathered 4 liters of water before camp and carried it a mile and half up a hill because there was no water near the campsite I chose. If I had stayed at the shelter I wouldn’t have had to carry 8lbs of water up that hill. If I hadn’t felt threatened I wouldn’t have had to burden my back with 38lbs for an hour. If I lived in a perfect world of equity I wouldn’t have had these problems. But I also wouldn’t be me. I wouldn’t be so strong. So bold. So defiant. Perhaps I wasn’t in danger today, but previous experiences were enough to justify my reaction to myself. I wondered how many other women on the trail felt this way. How many women in the world experienced this fear, this threat every day. Every woman was the answer, really, I was sure. At some point rape culture has pervaded their lives in some threatening way, whether they label it that or not.
Anyway, I’ll write a separate post about this in the future.
I chose a campsite in a grove of pines. It was on a hill but I didn’t care. I was alone and that was what mattered to me. Everyone I knew was too far ahead or behind me to be able to camp with them, I thought. I set up my tent while I listened to one last SciFi story read by Levar Burton. I set up my sleeping pad like a chair and boiled water for dinner. I wrote in my journal and put on some cheerful music. With no cell service, I was isolated and it was kind of nice but I also felt this longing feeling to call someone. I felt a little lonely and a little nervous. There wasn’t a lot of room for another tent in my little grove of trees so felt fine playing my music without headphones.
After a bit the guy I had met at Boots Off came up the hill. “Mind if I join you?” He asked me. I told him I did. “You do mind?” He asked. “Yes.” I repeated myself, strongly. I told him I just wanted to camp alone. He said, in a sarcastic manner, “Alright, Ms. Princess, I’ll go somewhere else.” With his hands in the air, mocking me. The incident frustrated me. But I tried to shake it off. He left and I went back to my journaling.
I fell asleep in the sun in my chair, exhausted. I was awoken suddenly when Nomad and Hodag came up the hill! People I knew! I was excited to see them, but I realized after this entire day of being lonely that I actually had wanted to be alone. But I let them set up their hammocks nearby. We hung out while they ate dinner and I went to bed early. They offered to share their motel with me but I really wanted my own room. I had originally planned on staying in my tent at the Partnership Shelter (a shelter similar to the Fontana ‘Hilton’ that had showers, a clothes line, and electrical outlets) but found out that the showers weren’t on yet and I really needed a shower.
1. I stood up for myself
2. Good stories
3. Spent most of the day by myself finally
Day 64: Mile 533.5 | Travel Inn @ Marion
The next day we all got up early, 6:30am. I was the last one out of camp at 7am. The three of us walked together for a bit but Nomad and Hodag didn’t walk as quickly as me. I walked ahead eventually up and over a ridge. I got service over the ridge and called my mom. I did some research on town amenities, too. After three days without cell phone service it was so comforting to hear the voice of my parents. It’s incredible how much I use my phone in daily life at home. Honestly, it’s unhealthy. Out here on the trail I’ve really started to realize that. Without cell service I’ve been forced to sit alone with my thoughts instead of scrolling social media, I’ve listened to stories and music multiple times and gotten new meaning and enjoyment out of them instead of binging media online all the time, I’ve picked up new ‘analog’ hobbies like chess and yoga, I’ve read more books and focused on myself and my ideals. I went into town with this in mind.
At the Partnership Shelter (which sits next to the visitor’s center at the gap where you go into town) I saw Ghost (we met in Hot Springs, NC) and Fixed Gear. We talked for a bit and I found out there is a free shuttle into town.
I also got a text from Miles while I was there. I was hoping he would catch up to me! He said he would be in town that evening and he’d let me know when he got there. I went up to the visitor’s center to get a ride into town and there I ran into Plod Along and Grandma Shorty! I was so happy to see them. After yesterday, they were a comfort to me. They felt like family. They offered to share their ride with trail angel Jim with me. I happily joined them.
Jim gave us some amazing natural salve that his wife makes for hikers! He told us about the best places to go in town and took us to the cheapest motel. Grandma Shorty, Plod Along, and I all agreed to meet in half an hour for lunch after we had rinsed off. I got a double room because they didn’t have any single non-smoking rooms left. It was only $2 more per night. On the way to my room I ran into Rick James. He asked if I had had lunch yet and I told him of our plans. He decided to tag along.
At 1:30 we all went over to the closest restaurant, a ‘Mexican’ place, Grandma Shorty’s favorite because she is gluten free. We had a lively conversation over lunch about New England, the jobs they retired from, family, and the trail. I ate a fatty steak with veggies and rice and had a beer. The lunch was very satisfying. Put on the patio in the sun, I felt so happy to be surrounded by friends.
After lunch Rick James accompanied me to Walmart. Since I was still eating Mountain Houses each night to try to maintain my struggling appetite, I had to create and mail a resupply box to the next town since they didn’t have a very good resupply selection and didn’t sell Mountain Houses. With two resupplies, I had a lot to carry. Like the true hiker trash I am, I put it all in a cart as I checked out and walked that cart all the way back to my motel 0.2 miles up the street. Absolute. Hiker. Trash. I was a bit embarrassed, to be honest, and probably shouldn’t have ‘stolen’ a cart from WalMart but we can’t turn back now!
As we walked up to the motel, I saw a hiker sitting near the motel office. It was Miles! I invited him to share my room with me. Knowing he felt the same way about TVs as I did, I figured he would be quiet. Rick James and Miles helped me unload my groceries into my room and I resolved to bring the cart back the next day when I went to the post office. Miles and I settled in and I repackaged my resupply into a box and my food bag. We spread out our gear to air out and showered with proper toiletries this time (thanks to the WalMart $1 travel section).
Miles hadn’t eaten yet so we went back to the Mexican place. I got a small, inexpensive salad this time while Miles ate a whole meal. We talked for a while and I finally learned his real name, Ted. We realized we had a whole lot of things in common. After dinner we went back to the motel and shared a bottle of wine I had gotten while at WalMart.
After we finished the wine we went outside the room so that Miles could smoke. We got our jackets on and went outside. As I closed the door he yelled, “Wait!” But it was too late. We realized I had just locked us out. The key card was in my wallet which was in my fanny pack which was inside... we stood there for a moment in the dimly lit open ‘hallway’ of the motel. I kicked myself for not thinking.
As he smoked I wracked my brain. I looked at the window to our room, which I had opened earlier in the day to air out the Hiker stench. I remember when I opened the window earlier that the screen had rattled when I did. I didn’t think I ever locked the window after I closed it either. Without a word, I went to work sliding the old screen out of its brackets. The ‘70’s construction made it an easy break in (not that I have experience...). I easily opened the window, crawled inside and opened the door. I closed the windows in the room and made sure they were locked this time. I put the screen back and we went back inside.
Miles and I stayed up and talked for a bit. The town noise kept us up.
2. No TV in town!
3. Tex Mex food!
Day 65: Mile 533.5 | Travel Inn @ Marion
We got up super late. Rain clouds hung low in the sky outside. We went to McDonalds first to get ‘brunch’ on the cheap. We saw Grandma Shorty and Plod Along there and we, of course, had a lengthy conversation with them. Then we went to WalMart (again) to get Miles’ resupply. We ran into Future and Tang on our way there. After we headed to the laundromat. We were there for a few hours and I got some blogging done.
While Miles waited for his sleeping bag to dry (we do have to wash them once in a while), I went to the post office to pick up a package my mom sent me and to send out my resupply box. On my way there a car honked at me and waved me over from across the street. I walked over. A woman rolled down her window. “A girl like you shouldn’t be walking around this town in a dress like that alone! Hop in and I’ll give you a ride.” I hesitated. The middle-aged woman seemed harmless but her statement surprised me a bit. I was wearing my town dress, them hem of which fell around my lower shins. I took of my pack and put it in her trunk. I snapped a photo of her license plate as I closed the trunk and sent it to my parents just in case. She took me to the post office. On the way, she told me that there was a lot of drugs rolling around Marion and that it wasn’t the safest place for a young girl to be alone. She asked where I was staying and told me that the motel I was staying at used to be a drug den before it was bought out by this nice Indian couple bought it out recently. She said hikers really changed the motels around there. We got to the post office and she waited for me while I did my business. When I came back outside she drove me over to the motel. She wished me well and made sure I got back to my room safely. She told me she would pray for me. It was generous of her to give me a ride and I, of course, thanked her but the experience rattled me a bit.
Back in the room I sorted through my laundry. I called my friend, Chelsea, and caught up with her. We hadn’t talked in a while. It was so nice to catch up with her. Miles got back shortly after and we both took naps. Later, Maverick arrived to the motel and him and Rick James came over and shared some beers with us. They went back to their rooms after a few hours and Miles and I just hung out until we fell asleep. I slept a little that night but, overall, Marion was a sleepless town.
2. McDonald’s (don’t judge me)
3. Care Package from Mom (thanks mom!!)
Day 66: Mile 551.2 | Crawfish Trail Campsite
Miles and I left the motel at exactly 11:00am (checkout). We made our way over to McDonalds one last time to get ‘brunch’. Terrible, hiker trash, I know! While there a woman came over and asked if we were thru-hiking. We told her we were. She explained that her husband and her were road tripping down the coast. She asked if I was online at all. I wrote down my blog for her and she followed me! So exciting to make some new friends! We ate and had some coffee and then called the local bus which was supposed to go to the trail. We just missed the morning shuttle and the next wasn’t until 4pm. We called Jim, the trail angel instead. He was there in a jiff and he took us back to the trail, leaving us with protein enhance cookies at the trail head. Such a nice guy.
We did 19 miles and felt pretty good most of the day. We bonded while we hiked and talked about absolutely everything. We ran into some people that I’d never met but that Miles had met before. It’s insane how you might never meet the people behind you! Clouds slowly moved in throughout the day and it rained on and off throughout our hike. We saw some deer run across the trail!
We got to camp late, around 9pm since we hadn’t left until noon. We set up next to a flowing stream in the dark. I went to get water and in the rhododendron bushes I saw a pair of eyes reflecting back in the light of my headlamp. I squealed a little. Miles came over. “What is that?!” We asked each other. We crept closer and the animal didn’t move away. Closer and closer we crept and in the light of my headlamp we finally saw it was a little raccoon! It was adorable but definitely a little burglar. We made sure to hang our food bags well that night. It was warm and humid when we went to bed. We shared Miles’ tent that night.
1. I didn’t have to set up my own tent
2. Finally vibing with a hiking partner
Day 67: Mile 560.3 | Campsite Bear Knot Maul Branch Shelter
We woke up late, groggy. I’d slept in just my underwear, it was so muggy the night before. The sun was out by the time we started stirring. I got up to go pee, forgetting to put on some layers. I didn’t realize how close to the trail we had actually camped because it was so dark when we set up.
I found a tree to pee behind and when I finished I turned around to go back to my tent. Not 20 feet in front of me, without my glasses or contacts, I saw a train of three male-looking hikers slowly make their way down the trail which our tent was APPARENTLY directly next to. I rant to the tent and dove inside, shocked. The men laughed and one yelled, “Thanks for the trail magic!” They’d definitely seen me almost completely naked...
Miles laughed and my cheeks burned with embarrassment as I shoved him and started laughing myself. Without my glasses, I couldn’t even see who saw me! The embarrassment quickly faded because I didn’t even know who to feel embarrassed around! I had been feeling more and more confident about my bod in the last few weeks as I lost weight and got into thru-Hiker shape. We laughed. I resolved to not be embarrassed but it was hard to ignore my body’s natural reaction.
We packed up camp and started walking. Right out of camp we passed the 1/4 way sign! It was encouraging to see how far we had gone. It was less rainy this day, but still a bit rainy and humid.
We hiked through pastures and farm lands:
We didn’t go as far this day because we left so late. The holes in my shoes were getting worse. We camped not too far past the shelter.
1. Learning to apparently face my fears
2. Building my confidence?
3. Only 9.1 miles felt pretty good