With my hike over, I’ve been busy organizing all of the photos I took on trail. It’s been a great way to reflect and relive my adventure. In an effort to make up for the large lapses in my blog when I was too busy hiking and eating and sleeping to write, I decided to fill in the gaps by answering some popular questions I now get asked.
Q: It all looked so great! What was your favorite section of the trail?
A: The White Mountains, NH.
The Whites cover a little over 100 miles, making up the majority of the trail in New Hampshire. Aside from Killington Peak in Vermont, The Whites are the first time since Virginia that the Appalachian Trail exceeds 4,000ft elevation. Even more special to the elevation is the effect it has when combined with the latitude of New Hampshire: 4,000ft is now the alpine zone, where trees cannot grow due to an extremely harsh environment year-round.
The Whites led us up the trail (including rock scrambles, rock slabs, mud, and roots) to many 4,000ft peaks and ridge lines lasting for miles, with views lasting for exponentially more miles. It was challenging and forced everyone’s mileage to slow down, but the slower pace allowed us to soak up the views morning, noon, and night. I mastered layering for hiking in the alpine terrain with strong winds and fierce sun, to hiking in the tree-protected, warm and cozy notches. (Well, I didn’t win against the sun– I got pretty burnt giving me the marks of a true hiker: the glorious sock tan.)
The terrain was only the base of the perfect trail recipe. I had the perfect hiking weather, a rarity in the fierce and relentless Whites. Most importantly, the trail placed some wonderful people in the mountains with me. I got to hike through it with many thru hikers, section hikers, and day hikers. Most notably I had Velveeta, Minnie Mouse, Bunyan, Trinity, and MacGyver to share the trail and views with.
A special part to the trail exclusively in the Whites are the Appalachian Mountain Club Huts. (AMC is commonly referred to the Appalachian Money Club by thru hikers.) There are 9 huts along the Appalachian Trail that cater towards (rich) backpackers planning on staying 1-5 nights in the Whites. They are buildings in the back country that have bunks for people willing to pay that includes a hot dinner and breakfast with stay. To accommodate (cheap) thru hikers unwilling to fork over an arm and a leg, they offer work-for-stay. This allows a few thru hikers at each hut to sleep on the dining tables and eat leftovers in exchange for a chore around the hut. Other choices for camping in the Whites are confined to designated campsites (also costing money), or stealth camping wherever you find a good spot for your tent (free!). I took advantage of free stealth camping, work for stay one night at the famous Lake of the Clouds Hut, and eating cold leftovers from the day before at huts as I passed through during the day. A well fed hiker is a happy hiker!
Enough of explaining why– you have to see why the Whites trumped all other sections. The pictures don’t do it justice. If you ever find time to travel to the Whites, even just for a day hike, I highly recommend it! (Scroll over each photo for a caption.)
The first 4000′ in the Whites
Velveeta and I bearing the cold on a summit
One of my favorite climbs: Mt. Kinsman, south peak
Beginning of Franconia Ridge (and all of the day hikers)
Franconia Ridge with Trinty (front), Velveeta (middle), and MacGyver (furthest away)
Webster Cliffs for sunset/camping/stargazing
At Lake of the Clouds Hut, 1.3mi before Mt. Washington’s summit
Mt. Washington: 6289′
Inside Lake of the Clouds Hut
Valley views hiking from Washington to Madison
On our way to the Presidentials from Mt. Webster
Cog Railway tracks to Mt. Washington for all the lazy, non-hikers (Sorry, if you’re one of them.)
Alpine mud doesn’t have a large root network, leading to the discovery of crotch deep mud! Ha
View looking back at the Presidentials
Somewhere on my crazy, exhausting 21mi slackpack across the Wildcats and Carter
March 19 – August 25, 2017: Springer Mountain, GA – Mt. Katahdin, ME
160 days: 2,190.3 miles
On August 25th, I summited Mt. Katahdin in Baxter State Park, achieving my dream of becoming an Appalachian Trail thru hiker. It was one of the best days of my life, and I will vividly remember climbing the mountain and kissing that sign forever. The day was full of triumph, emotion, and sad goodbyes to lifelong friends.
The journey was raw, challenging, rewarding, and most importantly full of joy and camaraderie. I thought having a few days at home to process would help me put the summit into words, but the summit was not a moment;it was the culmination of the 5 months leading up to it. To describe the entire journey is near impossible. Hopefully some day I can put it into words, but for now all I can say it is surreal to be an official thru hiker. The journey was nothing short of extraordinary. I fell in love with the trail and everything about it. (Even the rainy days… maybe.) It will always be a large part of who I am and who I will become.
Over the past month, I’ve hiked through some of the smaller states on the trail: New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and I’m currently working through Vermont. This past month has of course been physically demanding. I’ve been on a love-hate roller-coaster with the trail.
For 830 miles, from Narrows, VA until Kent, CT, I hiked everyday. No full rest day without donning my pack – a few shorter days, but no true rest day. That is an outrageously long stretch without a break, and my body and my mind were essentially screaming this to me.
June was a pattern of pushing big miles during the week, so I could slow down and enjoy lower mileage with friends visiting on the weekend. During the week, I was hitting close to a 20 mile average – hiking from 7am until 7pm (with a few breaks in between). I was slowly getting pounded down by the numerical standards for a “good, full day of hiking,” that only existed by my own thoughts.
A few days before I took 3 days off in Connecticut, I remember calling my mom after a 25 mile day. I was just going on about how I wasn’t truly enjoying the trail. I was hiking and hiking just because.
Two days before that, I cut a 20 mile day short, down to a 12 miles day, solely because I couldn’t find the motivation to go further. I’d stop at every lookout for at least 10-20 minutes, and have to will myself to get back-up and continue. Mentally, hiking had become a chore.
Luckily, my long-awaited three day rest was less than a week away. I spent the 4th of July weekend at my boyfriend, Kyle’s, house in Connecticut. Aside from a few errands and cleaning gear, I did nothing associated with hiking. We went to the beach, hung out with friends, went sailing, and of course went to a 4th of July BBQ. I was surrounded and loved by so many people as Tess, not Rabbit.
After a sad goodbye, I was back on the trail on July 5th. There became on odd gap of thru-hikers in the trail, and I went the entire day without seeing another thru-hiker. Transitioning from being surrounded by wonderful people in Shelton, CT, to seeing no one, was a very rough time. Since I was gone for 3 days, most people I knew were far ahead of me by now. Luckily, at 7pm, a hiker named “One Gallon” arrived at camp. He’s an amazing hiker, yet is so humble about it. His hiking resume includes 40,000, most of which come from his Triple Crown (completing the Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail, and the Continental Divide Trail). I’ve spent the past 10 days hiking on and off with him, gaining knowledge and listening to stories.
Since then, I’ve run into a whole slew of new thru-hikers, but none that I truly connected with as well as I have with others in the past. This “loneliness,” mixed with overcast and rainy days, has made for a roller-coaster of emotions.
On the 13th of July, I was hiking through mud on a dreary Vermont day, surrounded by people I didn’t particularly connect with. Everything I owned was damp and I wasn’t enjoying myself, to say the least. My thoughts spiraled to, “Well, I haven’t really enjoyed the past bit on the trail. And today sucks. I still have so much left! Why am I even still out here?” Why don’t I just end the misery and quit?” July 13th was the first day on the trail that I’ve considered quitting.
Luckily, I chose to go into Bennington, VT to buy some more food for the next stretch, but more than anything, it was a mental refresher. I had a chance to remove myself from the trail, talks to locals, and get pizza and ice cream. I cut the day short and only hiked 1.5 miles more, once I returned to the trail. Some conversations with others, including “One-Gallon” and “Canada,” helped turn my mind around. Oh – and the guy hiking with his cat, who sits on his pack all day!
Since the 13th, the weather and my outlook has brightened, and I’m enjoying the people and the lush terrain of Vermont.
Two notes/quotes have kept me going on the trail:
1.) “No pain, no rain, no Maine.” – unknown
2.) A message from Abby Pressley, a friend who hiked last year, “Enjoy each moment, lonely, rainy, discouraging, or scared. There are 1,000x as many moments of glory and all of these shape the faith off saints.”
As of today, in 3 months, I’ve covered 1,240 miles. Ever since the halfway point, and even before, I’ve received lots of praise from friends, families, and strangers on my accomplishment of making it this far.
About a week ago, I listened to a recording Kyle, my boyfriend, added to a playlist – it was his ASP Staff Share (The staff on Appalachia Service Project share how God came into their life, changed it, or taught them an important lesson. They last approximately 5 minutes and are spoken to youth volunteers.). His staff share centered around pride. I’ve heard it before, but this time the message hit home – I was accepting all praise for the trip as if it was truly a “solo” expedition.
“Solo” is extremely far from reality. Yes, it has been my own two feet that have carried my body and my pack this far. On the surface, that’s all it is, but hidden in each step is the support of many.
First, and foremost, I have been extremely fortunate to stay injury-free. Just walking for a mile in the rocks in PA will demonstrate that there’s a million and one opportunities to trip, fall, twist an ankle, or get busted up. I praise God for keeping me as safe and healthy as possible. Behind his watchful eye is the abundance of prayers that have blanketed me this far on my journey.
My mom deserves her own mention. She supported me in every single way possible. She has prayed for me. She (and my dad), drove me down to Springer Mountain, she visited when I was sick, she backpacked a whole week with me (covering 80 miles – Wow!), and she shuttled when my whole family visited. Aside from visiting, she is my logistics resupply coordinator at home. For food (and other items I need on the trail), she sends packages to prearranged outfitters or post offices along the trail every few days. I had the first 10 boxes prepacked, but now she builds them with food I left at home, newly bought food, and meals she dehydrates and vacuum-seals. It’s not an easy task (and I’m not the easiest at times to communicate with), but she continues to do it with a smile. She’s the main reason I have access to food that I like, including home-cooked meals (a rarity on the trail). She’s a SuperMom!
Kyle also deserves a special shout out as well. He is understanding when I go days with limited service. When I have a bad day (and have services), he’s the first one I call. Being away on the trail could be straining for us, but he still supports me through it all.
My morale on the trail is generally high due to simply living on the beauty of nature, but it is not always easy to remain positive. I have many trail friends, friends visiting the trail, and trail angels to thank for brightening my day, cracking a joke, or laughing through the misery of the rain, wind, snow, cold, and heat. I couldn’t do these miles without the on-trail support.
Just as important as the on-trail support, is the off-trail support. Knowing I have a huge team cheering for me back home (whatever home is for you), has lifted my spirits and kept me going. It’s brought a smile to my face and made the miles easier. I couldn’t do it without your praise and prayers.
I certainly couldn’t of made it this far on my own. The Lord, my mom, Kyle, and friends have kept me safe, empowered me, and supported me in each step I take, and that I’ll continue to take to Maine.
For a whole week, I had the privilege of sharing the trail with my mom. It was an eyeopening experience for her, but also for me.
In order to hike easier terrain, I was picked up at mile 750, to then jump ahead to the start of Shenandoah National Park at mile 860. (I returned to mile 750 after the week with my mom to complete the section that I had skipped over.) As my grandpa dropped us off at the trailhead to the park, he reminded us one last time to stay safe, have a good time, and most importantly, remember that he was just a short drive away if we needed anything. Being stubborn, just like my mom, we both knew that we were going to finish the entire week.
The first day we hiked 7 miles into the park, making it in just before the rain. All of the novelties and fun of learning how to backpack had long since worn off on me- it had become just a routine. With my mom on the trail, I was reminded of the learning curve that I experienced when I first started. Upon arriving at camp, we set-up our tent, then crawled in just as the light rain started to fall. It was 6pm. She looked at me and said, “Okay, so now what do we do?”
I responded, “Ha, well normally I don’t get to camp until 7 or 8 pm, so this “free time” is foreign to me. Now I usually blow up my air pad, so we can start with that?”
The rest of the evening was spent cooking dinner in the shelter with the other hikers. I didn’t notice right away, but she quickly pointed out that we were the only females at campsite, out of over a dozen people. I had gotten so used to being in the minority, but she was right– females are underrepresented on the trail (Ladies- get out and enjoy the trail!).
The next day we went 13 miles, while trying to beat a supposed evening storm (that never ended up coming). It was fun to catch up and chat with my mom while hiking. When we got to camp, we were the only women again. Not awful, but we were stuck with a group of immature and obnoxious thru hikers. Our wishes for them to put in more mileage that day didn’t come true, but such is the trail. Not every thru hiker is pleasant to be around (The large majority is great, don’t get me wrong.). The saving grace of our stay at Blackrock Hut was that we slept well and there were some kind, older men to conversate with.
On Tuesday, my mom was feeling tired and only had 7 miles in her to get to the campsite. I wanted to get in more miles, so I hiked 6 more, and she hitched up Skyline Drive to the access trail to the shelter. It had poured at the shelter before we arrived, so our evening entertainment was 3 guys trying to start a fire for over an hour.
Day 4 was spent hiking in and out of the clouds for 10 miles before we needed to find a ride to Elkton, VA to get our resupply box. Near the end of our hike, we met a day-hiker named Alex, who gave us a ride to the post office, went to lunch with us, and dropped us back off at the lodge for the night. He was a true trail angel!
Day 5 was our big mileage day. We left our packs at the Big Meadows Lodge, and planned on hitching back down where we got off for the post office and slackpacked the whole 18.5 miles back to the Lodge. The best way to sum up the day is that rain, cold, and wind sucks, but we did it! I’m super proud of my mom– what a big mileage day! She’s a
The day ended with doing laundry and frantically setting up our tent at 9pm in the rain and dark. A 2016 SOBO hiker, Slip’n Slide, let us share their tent site with them at Big Meadows for free.
Thursday was pleasant weather, and an easy 7 miles to then hang out at Skyland Lodge. Great food and comfy beds! Friday was an 11 mile hike to meet my grandpa at 2pm for my ride back to mile 750. The weather finally cleared up for some good views. A great way to end the week with my mom!
Hidden behind the miles I spent with my mom was a lot of reflection and emotions of my own journey thus far on the AT. The first half of the week with her was unexpectedly frustrating due to lower mileage and a slower pace. The week before I had just started to pick up my mileage, averaging 18 miles a day. I had the freedom to leave camp when I was ready, hike as fast as I pleased, and take breaks when my stomach told me to eat more. The freedom of independence on the trail that I had gained became glaringly obvious and underappreciated when my mom joined. I wouldn’t trade the week with her for anything in the world, but it made me realize that visitors completely change my
personal hike on the trail. It is hard, challenging, and frustrating to coordinate logistics, hike with, and entertain guests on the trail. That said, having my mom on the trail was worth it all. Her presence opened my eyes again to the awe-inspiring views I had grown accustomed to glancing at or just walking by. I loved having her there.
(I apologize for the lack of postings recently. I’ve been busy putting in miles and haven’t had much access to a computer. In addition, Kyle, my trusty helper in updating the blog, has been travelling the world.)
It does not confine me, yet it shows me my limits. It humbles me, then it picks me back up. It welcomes and accepts all who are willing to experience it.
I choose to believe in the power of nature.
It is the one place where I am still allowed to truly dream. There is no one to tell me “no” out here. There are only the trees to show me how tall I can become if I stand the test of time– the tribulations of the seasons, strong winds, and frigid downpours. They are a strong fortress to all that tries to break them down.
I choose to believe in the power of nature.
The panoramic vistas show me how small I am in this world. Yet, those same mountains I climb prove to me I can conquer anything. They show me even the largest hurdles to overcome can be tackled one small step at a time. The mountains empower me to take on the world, so matter now minute I may seem.
I choose to believe in the power of nature.
I watch as the mountains transform from a dead, gloomy landscape to a place teeming with life. The grey and brown that once surrounded me is replaced with carpets and canopies of green sprinkled with bursts of color. The once-quiet woods now put me to sleep with the song of frogs and wake me up to the melody of birds. Just as the barren landscape explodes with life, it reminds me that even life’s trials will one day turn from dim to vibrant.
I choose to believe in the power of nature.
The sunshine warms my soul and energizes me; my entire being soaks up its rays. The sun reminds me of how light is so vitally important to life. I watch as the same warming afternoon rays hit the tall grass. The same sunshine and cool breeze energizing me breathes life into the meadow. It dances and shimmers to earth’s sweet song, creating waves as far as the eye can see. It begs me to dance along with it.
I choose to believe in the power of nature.
It welcomes me. It allows me to dream. It empowers me. It teaches me. It begs me to dance. I choose to believe in the power of nature.
I thought being sick away from home while I was in college was hard. Now that seems like a walk in the park.
On Thursday, April 27, my friend and I were hiking 18 miles for the day so he could meet up with others to do a 33-mile hiking challenge the next day. It was relatively easy terrain, so it seemed rather doable– except that the previous few days had been 16+ miles with poor sleep at night.
Halfway through the day, we stopped for lunch. I ate summer sausage with cheese on a tortilla, all from brand new packages. After lunch, it was 9 miles of a slow, steady climb to the top of the ridge.
Over the next 7 miles of intermittent rain and my desire to keep moving and make it over the mountain to camp, I forgot to snack. All I had was good ol’ water and a few sips of some gross drink made with a blue mix packet. Upon reaching the water source 7 miles up, I came upon my friend, Munch, and a group of hikers that I’d recognized from before. I knew I needed a break and a snack, but they were just about to leave, it was about to storm, and I didn’t want to get caught alone.
Less than a mile from the shelter, the sky darkened, the wind picked up, and the rain began to fall. I stopped to put on all of my rain gear, and at this point I’d fallen back so much I couldn’t see the hikers ahead of me. While I was stopped for a moment, I figured it was a good of time as any to eat a snack for that final push to camp. I took a bite of my favorite bar– a chocolate caramel Gatorade protein bar– and it didn’t taste good. This should’ve been a red flag, but I didn’t think much of it, packed it away, and kept hiking. I was exhausted and desperately wanted to get to camp.
I got to camp as soon as the rain was letting up, and was relieved to hear there was still a spot in the shelter. I was not in the mood to set up my tent, and all of the remotely flat spots were taken.
Feeling pretty off at this point, I just wanted to be alone. I felt awful, had no appetite, was tired, hungry, and as a result: emotional. I took my mopey self down the steep, awful 0.5mi decent to the water source. (Any water source over 0.1mi from the shelter has hikers complaining; 0.5mi is unheard of.) Once I arrived at the spring, I laid down and pathetically cried. The light rain falling on me only added to the mood.
After composing myself enough to preform the simple task of filtering water, I felt almost too weak to squeeze just 16oz through the filter. It all came to a head when I realized why I felt like crap. I quickly jumped up and sprinted as far away and downstream from the water source as possible. I threw up what was left in my stomach from lunch. Feeling a little better, but not great, I filtered the rest of my water and began my sluggish ascent back to camp.
I passed my friend’s tent on the way to the shelter, but I didn’t have enough strength or courage to tell him what exactly happened. All I said was I wasn’t “feeling well”. I didn’t want to say I threw up because: a) the whole camp would’ve heard, and b) I was so emotionally weak I probably would’ve started crying.
I had no idea what I had, so my mind floated to worst case scenario: Norovirus? 24-hr stomach bug? Waterborne illness? Or just food poisoning or exhaustion? I didn’t want to instill panic in myself, much less others.
Feeling weak and nauseous, I couldn’t get myself to eat dinner. I felt better than before, but still awful. I forced myself to drink some water, a few sips of a Breakfast Essentials shake, and a nibble of a ClifBar.
By 8:30pm, the entire camp was in bed. I’d told a few people I wasn’t feeling well, but no one knew to what extent. I woke myself up at 10:30pm and 12:00am with the urgent need to throw up. Getting out of bed to a trashcan or toilet is one thing. Unzipping a sleeping bag, finding a headlamp, putting on camp shoes, and running as far from camp as possible is another. After midnight, I didn’t sleep well. I was fearful I’d have to sprint out of bed again and again. Luckily, that awful internal alarm to quickly get up never went off again.
I woke up in the morning feeling tired and depleted, but no longer nauseous. Others left camp early, but I took it easy, slowly gnawing at my Poptart and drinking water and the rest of my Breakfast Essentials shake. Between bites, I was plotting how in the world I was going to get off this mountain.
By the grace of God, I had service at the shelter. I’d been texting my mom all night. She was willing to drive 6 hours to meet me if I didn’t get better. I told her I would be fine, but secretly I really, really wanted my mom.
At 10am, I was packed up and ready with a plan. I had an 11 mile trek to the next road crossing, where I would get a ride to a cabin/campsite area. The cabin was $40 cash only; I had $39. (My mom called the nice owner, and he said he wasn’t going to squabble over a dollar. Thank goodness.) My pack felt 30lbs heavier than the day before, the sun felt like it was melting me, and I couldn’t go faster than a strolling pace.
Half a mile in, I called my mom to share I was finally hiking… very slow. She shared the news that she was leaving town in an hour to meet me for the night. I started crying out of relief, and so did she. Now I truly had a reason to hike.
With any small incline, I couldn’t go more than 20 yds without stopping to take a breather. It took me almost an hour to hike that first mile. Arriving at a good shady spot with a view, I told myself I earned a longer break. For an hour I sat there, eating the slightly more appetizing protein bar from yesterday, calling Kyle, and relaxing to the point of almost napping.
I knew I needed to keep going to get to a water source sooner rather than later, so I heaved on my pack and continued at a snail’s pace. To keep myself moving forward, I played a game with music: I could only take a rest at the end of each song. This kind of worked, with many more added breaks in there.
I struggled to the water source, took a 45min break, and pushed on to the shelter– a whopping 6.8mi from the morning’s location. It took me a total of 5hrs to get there, and I was purely motivated by the promise of a nap at the shelter.
Within minutes of arriving at Iron Mountain Shelter, my pack was off, an alarm was set, and I was fast asleep on the plywood surface with only my clothing bag out as a pillow. I awoke to my alarm, begrudgingly got up, drank some fluids, and slung my pack on. Only 4.5mi of a slight downhill to the road crossing! If I was traveling at my previous pace, I’d arrive at 7pm. Luckily, I was feeling better and my body was grateful for the downhill. I felt like I was hiking, not just strolling (and struggling) along.
The miles went by quickly– well, relative to the previous 6.8mi. My mom only had to hike in 1/4mi to find me. I was overcome with relief seeing her, knowing that my struggling was almost over and she was there to love and care for me.
We went back to the cabin we were staying in for the night. (A one room structure big enough to fit two twin beds, a nightstand, and a camp chair.) I was in heaven there. My mom brought a plushy cotton towel to shower with, cotton clothes, my pillow, my teddy bear, almond milk, pedicure supplies, and other comforting things from home.
After a long shower, my appetite was slowly returning. It was 8:30pm, and the sleepy town of Shady Valley, TN was asleep for the night. We drove 30min more to Damascus, VA for dinner. That night, I slept the best I have while on the trail. I felt like royalty in my cotton pajamas with a real pillow on a low quality mattress.
Before my mom took off to Columbus at 1pm the next day, we enjoyed the morning over breakfast and pedicures on the lawn in front of the cabin. You can’t beat warm sunshine, fresh air, a good view, and the best company. I regained my appetite and hit the trail that afternoon. As much as I despised the trail the day before, I was willing to forgive and happy to be back.
Long story short, getting sick and hiking 11 miles is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. That, and mom’s are superheros.