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Appalachian Trail: Days 26-38(ish)

Day 26 - March 26th

Daily miles: 11.0

Official distance covered on trail: 285.9

Hot Springs treated us so well. I would definitely go back! We stayed at the Iron Horse Station, and it was easily the best hotel experience I've ever had. Gary, the owner, was so kind and accommodating and fun to talk to. He's spent time in Ohio and his wife used to teach special ed so we had a lot to chat about! The hotel itself had such a cool vibe - vintage and intimate. There are only 15 rooms, and there are old photos and obsolete technologies on display. Also, they have a valet laundry service, which is perfect. Each room has a sky light, and I'm a sucker for natural light. The heavy rain against the sky light window overnight was a perfect lullaby.

We were waffling between doing 11 miles and 20 miles - both outside our preferred daily milage at this time, but there were no other specified campsites in our guide, and while I'm sure there are random spots speckled in between, none would be likely to accommodate all 5 tents. We decided over breakfast that we'd get to the 11 mile shelter and then making a decision from there. Then, on our way out of the diner, some hikers stopped us and told us that part of the trail getting out of Hot Springs was flooded, so we could either try our chances and not know where we were putting our feet or wait until the flooding subsided. We chose the latter.

I probably could have been convinced to take another zero here if I hadn't known tomorrow's forecast is so crummy. But being in town on a warm, sunny day was awfully nice. Since we couldn't leave yet, we got a few drinks from the gas station and sipped them by the high river while letting the sun soak our backs. We put on some relaxing music and found ourselves discussing the book Into the Wild. It was perfectly normal and mundane, but moments like that are my favorites.

We decided to leave after lunch and hope for the best. The water level on the trail was about a foot lower than when we checked this morning, so it only came up to our calves.

The weather today was perfect - sunny and mid-60s. Honestly can't ask for better conditions than that. We were all wearing as little clothing as we could, which makes me nervous for when it gets up to the 80s in the summer, but we'll cross that bridge later. The only downside was all the gazillions of little bugs swarming us toward the end of the day. We had to make a fire to smoke them out of our campsite; otherwise, we all were gonna be in our tents the second we finished dinner. Hopefully they're not always so bad.

The fact is, I was able to do 11 miles between 1:15 and 6:15, including multiple and lengthy breaks to filter water and enjoy the scenery. The terrain was tough, too! Lots of big ascents and descents. And I'm the slowest at uphills and therefore in general, so the rest of the group is even faster than I am! This used to bother me since I'm so competitive and hate being bad/not above average, but now I can just admire my tramily and enjoy my own hike.

At the beginning, it took us a full day to do 11 miles, and now it's almost an afterthought. I feel really good about our progress! I can't see it every day - gradual changes are tough to notice - but I can look at the patterns and look back on my journals from before and see how much better we've gotten already!

People say that, barring emergencies and injuries, once you make it past the Smokies, you don't quit. I can tell that's true. There are days that are less than optimal, but I know that, unless something outside of my control happens, I'm not stopping. We're going to finish this hike. Isn't that wild?

Day 27 - March 27th

Daily miles: 15.9

Official distance covered on trail: 301.8

Had some vivid dreams about bears last night. All good ones. Not sure of other details. I'm bummed that we haven't seen any yet! It was almost the full moon last night, and it was so bright, so every time I woke up, I thought it was morning. But even so, I slept the best I've slept on the trail so far!

Tonight's the first night of Passover, and as much as I dislike eating parsley dipped in saltwater, I'm kinda sad not to be home for the seder. I couldn't be there for it last year either due to covid, and since I'm moving to Colorado after this, I'm not sure if I'll be home for it next year. But speaking of dreams: I mentioned Passover a few days ago, and that night Girl Scout dreamed of a Mountain House dehydrated seder meal, which sounds even more disgusting than the actual seder.

The beginning of the hike today was pretty level - not many huge ups or downs - and I zoomed through the first 4 miles no problem. Found myself thinking, "Hmm, it's been awhile since we got trail magic." Lo and behold, we ran into Marlene at the gap in the road. Most I've ever appreciated hot chocolate! Had a nice long break there before moving onto the nice 6 mile uphill.

Finally met the legendary 9 to 5 today. He's managing a full-time remote finance job while thruhiking, and no one at his job knows he's not at home. He logs huge miles on weekends and tries to spend a few hours at a time on peaks where he has service, as well as stopping in every town to get work done. He says he wouldn't recommend this juggle, but he's setting a whole new standard for thruhikers!

We waited all morning for the thunderstorms, and they finally came when we were breaking for lunch at the shelter 8.6 miles in. We were able to wait out the worst of it, along with 10 or so others.

Another 2.5 miles in, we were stopped by more trail magic! The guy has been set up at this campsite for 4 days and has been giving snacks and drinks to hikers in that span. I'm just blown away that he carried so much from his car to this site, and he says it took him multiple trips, which just sounds like something only the absolute nicest person would do. Had some wine and Cheez-Its. When I'm done thruhiking, I'm going to have a hard time readjusting to a normal diet and not eating and drinking whatever I want all the time.

I think one thing I'll miss the most about life on the trail is unwavering trust in strangers. In regular life, I don't think I'd take anything out of a stranger's car and consume it; out here, you don't even think twice about it. You don't question their motives, you don't assume the worst, you just take what they offer you and join them in conversation for a bit. It's really special, and it's one of my favorite parts of being out here.

I do wonder, though, how my trust of trail magic or random acts of kindness would differ under different circumstances. If I were traveling without other people, or if I were a person of color navigating these small (predominantly white, predominantly conservative) towns, how would my interactions with strangers change? How would I perceive them, and how would they perceive me? Would I find trail magic as magical? Would I be as cautious as I am in regular life, or maybe more? I'd like to think everyone can enjoy the trail the way I can, but I'm sure that's not the case.

The rest of the day was pretty easy. Had a 1.4 mile-long rock scrambling section, which is always fun, and we got some incredible views from the exposed ridge line. We were glad to have waited out the thunder and lightning before that bit. And we reached mile 300 today!

It rained on and off for awhile, and it stayed on while I was about a mile from the campsite. We got here just as it started raining pretty hard, got our tent set up as quickly as we could, and have been in it since about 5:45. Earliest tent time since DST started. There was some lightning probably about a mile from here, judging by how quickly the thunder sounded afterward, but now it's just raining. Should rain pretty consistently until tomorrow or the next day.

Day 28 - March 28th

Daily miles: 17.9

Official distance covered on trail: 319.7

I knew the day was going to be a tough one as soon as I woke up. It was still raining, and not just a light drizzle. We all cowered in our tents for a long time, hoping for a lull in the rain, before deciding it just had to be done. There was no avoiding it. We were just going to be cold and wet, no matter what rain gear we had on.

We knew we had 6.7 miles before the first shelter. Most of us decided to forego breakfast until that shelter because standing still while soaked through is so uncomfortable. Man, we were flying. Finished those miles in just over 2 hours. Rain is very motivating. Also we stopped for a team pee break, and jeezle petes being a guy and peeing on the trail is so much easier!!

At that shelter, we decided that tonight was gonna be a hostel night. We were going to do 15.5 miles today but decided to push it to 17.9 in favor of getting to the road and shuttling to the nearby hostel. At first, Mitch wasn't too keen on the idea - he doesn't want us to rely too heavily on buying our way out of discomfort - but I think it was the right choice for us. We'll have plenty of other opportunities to get wet and stay wet this spring. Plus we did 2.4 miles more than planned, so I think it was a fair tradeoff! And one that I'd happily take any day that I'm cold and wet.

It was another tough mental day. I'm certainly a literal fair weather fan of being outside. It's easy to enjoy it when you're comfortable, but being physically uncomfortable - and consistently so all day - can be really demoralizing. Just knowing that you have a full day of discomfort is tough. But also it's wild how strong your mind can be when its main goal is getting to a point of comfort. At that shelter, I had a Clif bar, a sporkful of peanut butter, and a Samoa cookie (courtesy of Girl Scout, of course), and that was all I ate until getting to the hostel. I ran out of water with 7 miles to go. But I couldn't physically stop until I was at the underpass, out of the rain, shuttle called, close to comfort.

I tried really hard to reframe my thoughts on rain in a more positive light. Like thanking it. Thank you, rain, for nourishing the land and providing growth this spring. Thank you, rain, for replenishing the water sources we so desperately need every day. Thank you, rain, for making sure I don't overheat when the terrain is 3 straight uphill miles. But it's hard to think that when you're also thinking: Fuck you, rain, for making the insides of my boots and socks a sloshy mess. Fuck you, rain, for making my hands and feet start to blister. Fuck you, rain, for soaking all my clothes through and making my bones scream when strong gusts of wind blow through. As the ever-wise Luke Bryan says: "Rain makes corn, / Corn makes whiskey." But rain also makes the days a little less bearable. And maybe they'll be better when it's warm outside, but in the 40s and 50s, it's still just too cold for me.

Even still, today's our longest mileage yet! Amazing how we can achieve that despite being sour. With my rain jacket hood synched around my face, I felt like most of the day was spent staring at the ground and moving one foot in front of the other, but it got me where I needed to be.

Now we're at Nature's Inn Hostel, and it's so cool! We have 7 of us in a bunk house, and it's surprisingly comfortable in here. The main building also has a wood burning oven, which felt amazing when we first stepped in. The showers were so nice and they provided scrubs for us to wear while we did laundry. Also lots of food for us, which we kinda needed, but also kinda didn't since we still have plenty of food from Hot Springs. But it's here, and we're here...

Tomorrow should be another high mileage day. We're jokingly contemplating 24 to get into town and stay at yet another hostel, but definitely more likely 18. All these hostels and big meals are making me realize why they tell you to budget out $1000 per month out here. We're still under that, but it honestly wouldn't be too hard to reach.

Day 29 - March 29th

Daily miles: 13.4

Official distance covered on trail: 333.1

Haha so we didn't do 18 or 24 miles today. We had every intention of doing 18. Just didn't happen for us today.

I think sleeping in that bunkhouse was the best night of sleep I've had in a month. The mattresses were cozier than they had any need to be, and it was exactly how warm I wanted it in the room. We were all still awake around 6:45-7:00.

We didn't shuttle out of Nature's Inn until around 10:00 because other parties staying at the hostel were able to shuttle out before us, so we just had to wait our turn. So we didn't start hiking until after 10:00, which already gave us less time during the day than we're used to having.

The crux of the day happened within the first 7 miles - a steep 4-mile ascent with very little relief. The end result was so worth it, though: Big Bald was a really cool summit with 360° views looking out. The sun was at its best, and we spent over an hour up there.

It's incredible what good weather does to my mood. Hiking is so much more enjoyable to me when the sun is out. I don't hike as quickly because I'm trying to soak in my surroundings instead of grinding out miles to get it over with.

We'd planned on doing 18 miles today, but we found a decent place for all of us to set up camp about 13 miles in, and we were pretty ready to call it. It was already 4:30, which is usually when we've been stopping for the day. *Could* we have pushed the remaining 5? Definitely. But we didn't really want to, nor did we have to. Instead of a 10-mile day + resupply tomorrow, it'll be 15, which is still reasonable. We camped in a meadow near the trail. Not sure it was supposed to be a campsite, but we made it one!

The meadow we set up in has a bunch of wild chives, which we all picked to put in our dinner. Is chives + Kraft mac n cheese a culinary masterpiece? No. Was it better than normal? Also no. But it was still fun to add a natural ingredient to our meals.

Day 30 - March 30th

Daily miles: 15.4

Official distance covered on trail: 348.5

I didn't sleep well last night, and waking up was cold, but it warmed up quickly enough. Our day was pretty easily laid out: 11 miles into Erwin, TN and 4 miles out after resupplying and doing whatever errands we had to do. It was a really pretty hike on the way down to Erwin, and I was at the hostel right off the trail before 1:00.

The town experience itself was frustrating because the town is almost 4 miles from the trail and there were no shuttles running between there, including from the hostel, even though they physically had a shuttle. Around 2:00, we decided to start walking toward the town so we could hopefully hitch in, which eventually we did.

Ate a lot of McDonald's and got a good resupply. Most importantly, Mitch and I got our first dose of a covid vaccine! We'd heard from other hikers that the local high school had a lot of open appointments and even accepted walk-ins, so we tried our luck there before heading back to the trail, and we got our shot within minutes! Hopefully, tomorrow's hike isn't any worse for it.

Matt decided to leave early; he'd joined Oogie Boogie after about a week and planned to make it to Damascus before hopping off trail, but his sleeping pad is broken beyond repair and replacing it with a week to go was too cost ineffective. He refused to take a trail name because he's not hiking the whole thing, but I think we've all agreed on Zoomie because that sums up his personality. He's been such a great addition to the tramily, and even though I knew we'd be parting ways soon, I wasn't ready for this day to be his last one. Luckily, he lives in Colorado, so we'll for sure meet up with him out there once we move!

Got a hitch back to the trail. I think Mitch and I walked an extra 4 miles in town, even with the hitching. Asphalt has no give, and our feet are so accustomed to the softer dirt, so we're both sporting some extra blisters and hot spots.

When we got to the shelter, we found that it was just our tramily. Girl Scout even packed out a bag of wine for us, which we finished before bed.

Day 31 - March 31st

Daily miles: 12.9

Official distance covered on trail: 361.4

Woke up to the sound of rain on the roof. I knew it would rain, but wasn't mentally prepared for it this morning.

We sat there in the shelter ready to leave and watching the rain get progressively harder. When it was a regular rain and not a downpour, we left. We knew it was going to be a low-mileage day before we even started hiking.

The good thing about hiking with the hood of the rain jacket synched down is you can block everything out and just keep walking. The bad thing is, if, with your head down, you miss the turn to keep you on the right trail, you may find yourself a bit lost.

The name "Wrong Way" proved accurate today. I stand by the error, and if I weren't wearing my rain jacket hood, I don't think I would have made the same mistake, but also the trail there was kinda poorly marked. The trail I'd followed was definitely a trail, and I was finally forced to turn around when I hadn't seen a blaze and was faced with dangerous-looking rock structures that didn't look particularly hikeable. I went back down to the trail and saw there were two branches of the trail, but I also realized I wasn't sure which direction I'd come from. The blaze that indicated which trail branch to take was visible from both sides of the switchback, and it looked like the offshoot was the right way to go, so I tried again before deciding it was for sure not part of the trail.

When Mitch, who started hiking after me and didn't see me on the way, got to the campsite and noticed I wasn't there, he knew instantly that that's where I got turned around. It was really scary, though. Suddenly you just don't know where you are or which way you're supposed to go. Fortunately, the rain had let up a bit, so after permitting myself a few seconds to cry out of fear, I was able to dig my phone out of my pack, and I was able to get service from where I was, so I could find my bearings and direct myself back to where I was supposed to be. I decided not to put my rain jacket hood back up for the rest of the day, no matter how much water was coming down.

The rain downsized to a drizzle for most of the rest of the day and it was overall a pretty pleasurable hike. Not many good views, but the elevation change wasn't awful, and being myself (when I'm not lost) is a nice way to be for the afternoon. I didn't listen to any of my audiobook until the last 4 miles, just to let myself think.

I've gotten better at letting myself sit with my thoughts. I used to rely on audio input to get me through long miles, but now I feel like I can be more sparing with it. Sometimes I reminisce on happy memories. Sometimes I replay conversations I regret. Sometimes my head is totally blank. Sometimes there's music. The songs that run through my head range from absolute bops ("Dixieland Delight" gets me through lots of uphills) to catchy commercials (that damn Folgers coffee jingle, for instance) to nostalgic tunes from my childhood (Tom Chapin and Kidsongs have made many guest appearances).

Since it was about to rain when I got to camp and the shelter was taken, Mitch and I set up our tent and got in around 4:00. We're trying to stay awake until 8:00 but we've both been really tired today, and we think it's partially fatigue from the covid shot. Aside from that and our arms being a little sore, neither of us have had any ill effects from the first dose of the vaccine.

Day 32 - April 1st

Daily miles: 12.5

Official distance on trail: 373.9

*staying at 420.0

I'm not totally convinced today is April. The best April Fool's joke is being convinced it's spring but waking up to an icy tent and sub-freezing temperatures that we knew wouldn't rise. Was also a little peeved to find that I started my period overnight, even though I usually don't start until mid-morning or early afternoon, so that was an irritating 1:30am wake-up call. I didn't sleep well because I wasn't sure how well I could put my menstrual cup in without standing up.

It's also officially one month since we started our hike! Not the most ceremonious day, but it's still pretty monumental.

We hiked pretty quickly through the morning, mostly to keep warm. We finished 9.1 miles in a few hours to break for lunch at the shelter. All of our stuff was frozen, even the stuff that didn't freeze overnight, because it was so cold outside. I didn't drink almost any water because the tubes if my water bladder were frozen through and the button to push open my Contigo water bottle was also frozen shut. Most of us are going to have to get new water filters because we didn't think to keep them close to our bodies during the day, and if the tubes freeze (which they definitely did during the day), they expand, rendering them pretty useless.

Our original plan was to hike an additional 5.1 miles to Roan High Knob Shelter, which has a bunch of space inside and actually has a door. It's also the highest altitudinal shelter on the whole trail, which meant it was going to be even colder, especially overnight. We had some service and learned that the windchill overnight was going to be sub-0°, which just... no. Then we'd considered pushing another 1.5 miles to get over the mountain and get to a road to get us into town. We tried calling every hostel and lodging site in the area to see if they had space for us, but even if we'd all split up, there weren't enough rooms available; everyone was trying to escape the weather tonight. We decided there wasn't really an option but to move forward and camp at the shelter.

Once we'd left our lunch break, we were all freezing all over again. My shoes were just as cold as they were when I put them on this morning. My fingers were numb or worse. I got to the next road crossing at Hughes Gap about 3.5 miles later and noticed the rest of my tramily standing there. I'd thought maybe it was some trail magic, but then I saw Mitch on the phone. Apparently a woman named Shannon, who worked at one of the hostels nearby, had been calling around to other lodging sites in and near the town, and called to tell Mitch that she'd found us a place to stay. I don't know Shannon, but she's my hero.

The only issue with this place was we had to wait about an hour for the shuttle, since it was so far away; we weren't supposed to reach this town for a few days. We waited around in the biting wind trying to keep ourselves occupied and entertained. All of us were doing a little shuffle reminiscent of the hokey pokey to keep our feet moving. When the shuttle rolled around, we felt like we'd just been rescued.

The hostel we're at isn't great. There's not much by way of heat and there's no service or wifi available. You can tell it's new and they're still trying to figure themselves out, so hopefully by this time next year, they're good to go. But we keep reminding ourselves: at least it's not windy in here, and it's warmer inside than if we had to be outside.

Tomorrow, we're going to ambitiously try to push a 25-mile day, which is 7 miles more than our previous high. We're going to stay at another hostel tomorrow and our plan is to go southbound on the trail from here to there. Going south to north, let's say that Hughes Gap is A, the hostel at the road 19E is B, and the hostel at Dennis Cove Road is C; we drove A to C, are going to hike C to B tomorrow, hike A to B the following day, and shuttle out from B to C after that to keep going north. Good luck to us!

Update in my body pains: I have basically none anymore except soreness. It took about a month for my body to get beat up enough to stop hurting. It's like that old office joke: "Beatings will continue until morale improve."

Day 33 - April 2nd

Daily miles: 24.7

Official distance covered on trail: 398.6

*staying at 395.3

Today was, by far, our longest hike yet. Including the 0.4 mile hike from the hostel we stayed at last night to the trailhead, we did 25.1 miles, whereas our previous high was 17.9. Big power up! We hiked southbound today to the hostel we wanted to stay at last night, which could be accessed from the road almost 25 miles down the trail from where we stayed last night. Honestly we probably couldn't have done it if the terrain were significantly harder. There were two or three big hills, but otherwise it was pretty level. I finished the 24.7 miles in about 9.5 hours, which is pretty dang good if you ask me!

The day started out cold, of course. We got to the trailhead around 7:30am. I was dehydrated a lot of the morning because the water in the tube of my water bladder froze shortly after we left the hostel and didn't thaw out until around 11:00. Fortunately, since it's not hot outside, I didn't find myself overheating.

The mental game today was the toughest part, but honestly there have been harder days thus far! Had to listen to a lot of my audiobook to pass the time, but did a few hours without. The terrain wasn't bad, and it was really pretty! Usually not too cold, either, after the morning passed.

I know I'll need them tomorrow, but today was my third day in a row not wearing knee braces. The first day, I didn't want them to get soaking wet; the second day, I didn't feel that I needed them; today, I honestly forgot. My knees are sore, but only because I pushed my legs so much today. I think the muscles around my knees are getting stronger, too. And neither my hips nor my heels have been giving me issues recently!

The hostel we're at, Station 19, is so cool. Full bar in the downstairs section with great food, well-heated bed spaces, and a really friendly staff. And loaner clothes so we can actually wash all our clothes! You can tell this place was made for and by hikers. We're staying here tomorrow night as well. Our plan is to shuttle out to where we left the trail yesterday and "slackpack" - that is to say, leave all our heavy stuff here and carry the bare minimum - aka day hike - the section leading to here.

Three nights in a row inside - may need a reminder on how to pitch a tent in a few days!

Day 34 - April 3rd

Daily miles: 21.4

Official distance covered on trail: 420.0

*staying at 395.3

Ok so maybe doing 2 big distance days in a row at this point was a bad idea. But we did it! My quads and hamstrings have never been so sore. Even though we did today with the lightest packs ever - seriously slackpacking is a gem - the long day was hard for me.

Also Station 19 does free breakfast for thruhikers due to generous donors. I won't benefit from this, but if anyone wants to donate anything to a future thruhikers and be a dope virtual trail angel, you can do so here: It can be as little as $5 and it's just a really cool place, so if you feel so inclined, please donate. Their goal for next season is to be able to give thruhikers free bunks as well as breakfast, which I think is just rad. And that's my pitch on that.

We got started late, and I think a lot of the mental difficulties I had stemmed from my knowledge from the beginning that we'd be going late. We started just after 10:00, since that's when we were able to shuttle to our specific trailhead, and 21 miles from then is just a long time. Mitch and I didn't roll into the hostel until about 7:00. We'd considered starting from a point 6 miles ahead of where we'd gotten off the trail on Thursday - especially when the shuttle accidentally took us there instead of where we were wanting to go - but we decided we didn't want to skip that section, even though it was mostly uphill.

Today's terrain was challenging in many ways, but mostly because so many sections of it were not ideal to step on. Screw microspikes and crampons; my ice skates would have been the preferred footwear for some of the stretches, especially in the morning! And when it warmed up, there was so much mud. It wasn't until the last 5 or so miles that the trail was just regular degular glorious dirt.

Lots of really beautiful views today though. That's the good thing about such long uphills - you get to look out over the scenery. One of the balds, though, was straight up 25 minutes (for me) of pretty strenuous up, with no level or downhill relief. It was only 0.9 miles. And it had a few false summits which killed my mental game. At one point, I told myself that if the next summit was a false one, I was gonna roll myself off the damn mountainside. I think what made it so difficult was being able to see the trail ahead and above you; usually the trees can leave us in some blissful ignorance. But it was really stunning from the top!

We also officially left North Carolina for the last time! Since the trail straddles the NC/TN border and goes back and forth so often, we've been in Tennessee many times already; however, we now know we won't be re-entering North Carolina. We would have accomplished this yesterday if we didn't have to do that weird flip flop. But now we can press forward like normal, and we should be out of Tennessee and into Virginia in only a few days!

I was glad to be done with the day, though. Some people are motivated by food, some by bed, but I'm most motivated by just being done with the task at hand. Mitch wanted to do a little off-trailing straight to the hostel on an unofficial but cleared path that the hostel tried to connect to the trail but isn't technically allowed to, according to Karen, who owns Station 19. (Karen called it a "brew blaze" - a play on "blue blaze," which is a side trail, but referencing the hostel's pub scene.) I just wanted to be done. So we compromised and did Mitch's thing while I scowled the whole time. But he was super excited about having this secret nugget under our belts, and I know he loves that sort of thing, so after changing into pjs, I was able to be happy for him.

We're up late tonight. It's almost midnight, and I'm exhausted. But a bunch of us - me, Mitch, Oogie Boogie, 92, and Snackmeister and Chef of the Cornell Kids tramily - decided to have a euchre tournament, so we played a ton of that tonight. We also did a foot soak with epsom salts before going to bed, which was just exactly what my sore feet needed.

Hoping for a more relaxed day tomorrow. I'm too sore for another 20-miler!

Day 35 - April 4th

Daily miles - 13.0

Official distance covered on trail: 433.0

It's good to be back in a tent and sleeping outside. Even though I absolutely loved Station 19 and will hopefully be going back sometime, it felt nice to get back on track today. After breakfast, we shuttled out to Dennis Cove Road and got started on our hike. Actually right after breakfast, we got a box from Karen and Dave and filled it with rocks, pretended it was another thruhiker's resupply box that got left behind at the hostel, instructed Karen to give it to the Cornell Kids to take with them, and see how long they'd carry it. But THEN we got back to the trail.

Even though we only did 13 miles today, our bodies are aching, and I don't think we could have done too much more. The terrain was pretty challenging (or maybe we were just too beaten and battered to be able to handle anything other than level ground). A lot of the beginning was along this beautiful river, and we were hoping to just follow it to the lake at Watauga Dam, but alas: that could not be the case. A PUD ("pud") stands for "pointless up and down," and we had the PUDiest PUD ever at Pond Mountain - a 2.5-mile straight up for 2000 feet of elevation gain and then 3-straight mile down for 2000 feet of elevation loss, with no views at the top! I generally try not to think about the terrain as being pointless, because it'd be boring if it were all flat, but damn, that was truly a PUD.

The section between the dam and Wilbur Dam Road is off-limits for camping because of extremely high bear activity, but we didn't want to do a 17.7-mile day today, so we decided to look for the first campsite after the road. We found one in the first 30 yards, and we probably should have kept going, but fuck it - our feet hurt and we wanted out. Set up camp, got a fire going, and planned out the next few days. We're doing many chill days over the course of this week, and I'm quite excited for that.

Day 36 - April 5th

Daily miles: 11.5

Official distance covered on trail: 444.5

I cannot emphasize how lovely today was. 11 miles? Easy peasy! There was a decent amount of elevation change but it was mingled with stretches of relative flatness. We were able to take many long breaks and still got to our destination before 3:00. I finished the last Harry Potter audiobook right as I rolled up to the shelter.

Not much to report today but I'm just in a good mood. I can get used to this good weather and relaxing day business!

Day 37 - April 6th

Daily miles: 16.0

Official distance covered on trail: 460.5

If you'd told me a month ago that we'd have a lazy 16-mile day, I'd have thought you were nuts. But here we are, having just done the laziest 16-mile day ever.

It's good that it got to be so lazy because I slept so poorly last night. Mostly because my side of the tent was at a slight tilt so I was fighting gravity all night. But around 1:00, everyone at the campsite was awake because we could hear something walking around near the shelter, and we weren't sure if the animal was friendly or not. Some people started yelling at it in the hopes that, if it were a bear, it would scare off, but it didn't leave until around 1:30 when we heard some coyotes sounding in the distance. It was probably a deer, but everything sounds big and intimidating with all the dead leaves rustling on the ground. I was so tired, though, that even if it were a bear, or a boar, or a coyote, or what have you, I was happy to let it be if everyone else would have been quiet and let me sleep.

We did the first 4 miles in an hour. I'm sure that'll become more common but I'm still just freaking out over a 4 mph morning. And we were able to sustain that pace for the next 7 miles, which was nuts. Trail legs? Easy terrain? Little column A, lotta column B. We left the shelter this morning around 8:10 and rolled into the current shelter around 5:20, and we probably only spent about half of that time hiking. We were able to take tons of long breaks today and just enjoy the scenery. Even got in a game of euchre during one of our snack breaks.

We passed through a really nice pastoral section of trail. I think it's someone's actual farmland? We couldn't help ourselves but take a full hour break and admire the scenery and bask in the sun.

Part of why we were able to take it so easy today is because we had lunch plans at 2:00. Problem did the section between Watauga Dam and Damascus as her shake-down hike in February, so she's been staying with her aunt in Bristol while we get through it. She was kind enough to bring each of us a large Domino's pizza, cheesy bread, and cinnamon twists, so we had to time it so we didn't get past the road before then. We spent 2 full hours eating Domino's, watching other hikers jealously gape at our food, listening to obnoxiously loud motorcyclists, and enjoying the heck out of each other's company while taking our sweet time.

From that gap, we only had about 5 miles. It was hillier than earlier's terrain and we were all weighted down by pizza, so it took us a lot longer to get through. But I wouldn't change a thing about today! I loved being able to take such long breaks and soak up the scenery in the wonderful weather we've been lucky enough to enjoy these past few days.

Tonight's our last one in Tennessee! In 6.5 miles, we'll be in Virginia. Almost done with three full states!

Day 38(ish) - April 7th

Daily miles: TBD

Official distance covered on trail: TBD

The downside of eating a full pizza, especially when you're not used to such rich food, is how much it makes you have to poop. I practically ran out of the tent this morning, but at least I had a nice view of the sunrise!

I'm writing this from Damascus! We're officially in Virginia from now until like a month from now. We're just stopping through today, since my parents and Mitch's parents are visiting this weekend. Since we don't want to get too far ahead, we're taking several more easy days from here. Excited to see my family so soon!!!


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