Okay, so now that I have your attention, yes, I hiked on the AT! Granted it was only about roughly two (2) miles of the entire Appalachian Trail, which is roughly 2,200 miles give or take. It changes yearly by a few miles because of re-routes, etc., but I was hiking the AT nonetheless! I was excited about it, and I imagined what it would be like to actually thru-hike the AT someday. Will I ever do that? Who knows, but I can certainly aspire to be a better hiker. So let’s back track a bit, shall we?
About a month and a half ago, I am sitting around my van with my family, and I mention to my sister that the next big thing I want to tackle and try to do is backcountry hike. I really want to get away from it all, get away from the hustle and bustle and be one with nature. Within a few minutes, she had pulled up a local hiking group and sent it to me to check out. Within a couple of days I had chosen a Backcountry 101 hike to try. I had chatted via email with the group leader for the hike and discussed gear, food, and my lack of being in shape. He assured me that they would have gear for me to use if I didn’t have certain pieces and reassured me that I could do this trail. It was only a couple miles in to the shelter and the elevation was 300 – 500 feet per mile. It was to Max Patch in North Carolina, and we would be hiking into the Roaring Fork shelter for the night.
So here is my modus operandi. When I set my sights on doing something and I actually decide, this is what I am going to do, then I dive straight into it. I study. And when I say study, I mean study! I read. I watch videos. I look at reviews. I go to company websites and study dimensions, details, tutorials, etc. on whatever it is I am thinking about. I watch other people doing what I want to do on YouTube and learn from them. I write lists. I practice. In other words I do everything I can to be completely prepared as possible. So that’s what I did with this as well. Now, mind you I don’t have a lot of “hiking” gear. I have some camping stuff and some things I use for my camper van, but a lot of that was either too small, too big, too heavy or just not appropriate for backcountry hiking, because with this type of hiking you want to have as light a pack as you can have because you are carrying everything you need to live and survive in the wilderness on your back. And the hike leaders all suggested not to purchase a lot until after the clinic because they were going to teach us all about the different types of equipment one would need for this type of hiking. So I borrowed a backpack, trekking poles and rain jacket just to get through this weekend. I did purchase a sleeping bag just because I didn’t want to borrow that, and I had a few of the others things I needed.
Now, let’s talk about me and my physical issues. I am overweight….(no, I am not one of those teeny tiny little vegans who only have salads and eat grass….I LOVE FOOD!) I have a bad knee from a previous injury, and my back is not the greatest, but I thought hiking would be a great way to get into shape, lose weight and strengthen my back and knees so I was willing to push through. However, about two to three weeks before I was to go out on trail, my left foot started hurting, the ball of my foot, out of nowhere! Seriously! I was so frustrated. I did everything I could to try and help it and it just didn’t get better. So I made an appointment with a podiatrist but that appointment wasn’t going to happen until after my hike, so what to do. I thought about canceling because I didn’t want to do further damage to my foot, but I was so excited about going and I had done so much to prepare I didn’t want to give in either.
(SIDE NOTE: For those of you who don’t know or couldn’t guess, I am vegan, and I am a member of the Gentle Barn here in East Tennessee, an animal sanctuary. One of the sweet animals they have rescued was Dudley, the cow, and he was precious. He was rescued from a farm when some wire got wrapped around one of his legs, and it had to be amputated. He was brought to the University of Tennessee to be fitted for a prosthetic and was rehabilitated. People from around the world came to see Dudley and hear about his amazing story. I went to meet Dudley with my boys, and it was an experience I will never forget. Over the two years that Dudley was with the Gentle Barn, he had to go in for different updates and procedures to his prosthesis which is normal. A week or so before my hike, Dudley had to go in for another adjustment because of a small wound on his residual limb. The short story is that Dudley became ill and they made the very difficult decision to let him go. Dudley passed on June 24th, 2017. Dudley changed lives. He was an ambassador for a vegan lifestyle. He helped children and adults suffering with their own emotional pain. He was a beautiful spirit that will be missed forever. For more information, please visit http://www.gentlebarn.org/tennessee/. )
So I am definitely NOT comparing my story to Dudley’s, but when I heard about this, I was so very sad. I loved Dudley so much, and I thought how great would it be to hike in his honor! He had a prosthesis. He was a survivor. He never gave up, and showed the world how determined he was to live and thrive! He would be my inspiration! So that was it. I was going to hike for Dudley! With every painful step, if I hurt at all, I just thought about what he must have gone through before he got help and rescued and what he went through all the time adjusting to his prosthesis. And I kept going!
We learned sooooooo much. We learned about survival skills. We learned about gear, pitching tents, how to filter water, cook stoves, backpacks, simple first aid, how to hang a bear bag and why, trekking poles, hiking boots versus trail runners and trail shoes, gaiters, how to keep food warm longer, how NOT to walk around in the dark, and the list goes on and on. When I got my tent set up and finally crawled in to go to sleep, I was scared. I heard so many (scritchy-scratchy) noises, it made me crazy. I didn’t know if it was mice, snakes, bears or what. I imagined all sorts of things. I finally decided that if I was going to try to sleep at all, I would have to try to put ear plugs in to drown out the insanely loud forest. I thought which is worse, hearing “it” coming or being oblivious to “it” and dealing with it when “it” happened. LOL…I slept pretty terrible. I kept waking up. I got cold.
Oh, yeah, and then “IT” HAPPENED!!! I had to pee in the middle of the night!!! I had decided before I went to bed that if I HAD to get up and pee in the night I would just do it behind my tent a little ways away and then take care of “things” in the morning. I wasn’t about to climb out of my tent in the dark night and trek about 100 yards away to a privy that was lined with what I was sure to be snakes, mice, spiders, and probably bears just waiting to eat me alive in the middle of the night! I am sure you are laughing right now, but for real, this is what I was thinking. Well, the thing is, I didn’t just have to pee if you know what I mean, which meant that I had to make the trek. So I held it. I held it for a long, long time, PLANNING! I held it until it was either make the trek or there was going to be a catastrophe. So I get my headlamp (which was way too dim for backcountry hiking), I got the little flashlight that one of the leaders gave me that would light up a football stadium, and my phone flashlight so I could set it down and light up the privy. That is 3 lights, count them, 3! Everyone had said that if you have to go to the privy in the night you can just turn on the lowest beam so that you don’t wake people with bright lights. HAHAHAHAHAHA….not! I lit up everything. I am pretty sure I could have landed planes with the lighting upon my person. Then when I got to the privy, we were taught to slam down the toilet lid so that if there were creepy crawly things under the lid, they would be dislodged and you could safely sit upon it. Trust me when I say, I slammed that lid. I slammed it hard. Finally taking care of business while trying to light up the night sky in the middle of the forest was quite the adventure. I thought what in the hell am I doing? Well, the truth is I am having an adventure of a lifetime. Back to the tent I went with a renewed sense of accomplishment. I somehow felt like a pro now. I had conquered the demons. I had faced my fears. I felt stronger somehow. I think I drifted in and out of sleep for the rest of the night, and when morning came, I felt like I was capable of just about anything. I thought I can probably thru-hike the AT!!! I drank coffee, ate my granola bar and peanut butter, and went to the stream to learn to filter water. It was glorious!
We packed up camp, and hiked up to the top of Max Patch. It’s a beautiful “bald” as they are called where there are no trees and you can see 360 degrees. It was breathtaking. It was a feeling I can’t describe. I cried at the top because it was just so emotional to see such beauty and to know I had accomplished so much to get there, and not just going to the bathroom at night in the forest, but the physical pain, the emotional game, all the steps of my life that brought me to that point. That was it. I knew this is what I wanted to do. This is how I want to live out my years. I want to go on as many hiking adventures as I can. I want to day hike, backcountry hike, section hike, you name it! It was so challenging but so rewarding. Our teachers were amazing, patient and kind. They helped me every step of the way. I made new friends who were helpful, funny and caring. I came home and joined a women’s hiking club that I plan on doing a lot more hiking with. I am going to get in shape on the trails. I am going to become stronger, and long-term goal is to section hike the AT one day!
I was the last one on the trail. I was the slowest up and down the mountains. It was muddy, slippery, wet, cold, hot, and everything in between. It was hard and challenging in every way. I was sucking wind. I was scared in the dark. I was nervous and scared, AND I DID IT ANYWAY! It was one of the greatest experiences of my life!
Since I have been home, I have studied and done so much more research on what and how to hike safely. I started making gear lists and learning about what I need to do. I have started studying orienteering. I have joined some online backcountry/hiking groups to learn more. I have studied trails and gotten apps. Hiking is my new adventure in life, and I plan to make the most of it. Stay tuned. Peace, love and hike on!