The Approach Trail
to Fontana Dam

 

The beginning of the trail was rough for me. I had way too much weight, very little experience with my gear, and only made it three miles on the approach trail (i.e. I didn’t even make it to the AT) on day 1. But it was all worth it. I kept my chin up and decided to adopt a mantra: “this is still better than where I was.” Repeating this to myself when my muscles ached or it was pouring rain helped me remember why I was on trail and helped me adjust to the vagabond lifestyle.

I was very fortunate in that I met a lot of very kind people and received a lot of support during this section. My sisters came and hiked with me, I was gifted lots of trail magic, and picked more experience hikers’ brains. Determined to learn the ropes, I sought out new skills and learned to give other hikers a chance to share with me their wisdom.

 

Statistics

Section/Overall

Total Miles: 87.3 / 2189.2
Hiking Days: 17 / 168
Zeros/Neros: 1 / 27
Average MPD: 10.3 / 15.3
Longest Day: 15.4 / 27.4

 
 

Highlights

  1.  The approach trail: It’s worth it, in my opinion — hiking the approach should be everyone’s preamble to this trail.

  2. The streams near three forks: I’ve always loved water; the streams set a certain mood for the beginning of my journey

  3. Blood Mountain: There’s a certain vibration this mountain has that’s captivating - plus its a fun and technical climb downhill.

  4. Addis Gap: Just one of the loveliest campsites on trail! Although it’s unfortunately becoming overused. Worth the walk!

  5. Bly Gap: Such a special spot that marks your transition into North Carolina!

 
SHOUT OUT TO YOU, TRAIL ANGELS ♥ Mom & Dad ♥ Cookie, Tumbleweed, & family ♥ The guy who made us hot dogs ♥ The hikers who were providing food and taking trash ♥ "Solo" ♥ ALL OF THE TRAIL MAINTAINERS ♥ Anyone and everyone else who supported hikers in this section!

The Great Smokey Mountains

 

By this point in the trail, I no longer felt like a newbie. I could sufficiently hang a bear bag, I was starting to feel more comfortable around other thru-hikers, the famous “hiker hunger” had set in, and I was beginning to make it up mountains without having to stop for breath every 10 steps.

My morning routine was one I still cherish. I would wake up when I wanted and take my sweet time eating oatmeal, drinking coffee, and reading whatever scrap article I had obtained from previous town days. I started hiking whenever it felt good, and if I found a spot that spoke to me during the day, I’d stay there a little while! My friends came to know this as “Glacier-Swiss time.”

 

Statistics

Section/Overall

Total Miles: 108.5 / 2189.2
Hiking Days: 9 / 168
Zeros/Neros: 3 / 27
Average MPD: 12.1 / 15.3
Longest Day: 16.4 / 27.4

 
 

Highlights

  1.  Shuckstack Fire Tower: This is the first fire tower you can climb up, a great “welcome” to the Smokies!

  2. Clingman's Dome: A sunrise hike with new friends up to the highest point on the AT… one of my favorite trail moments!

  3. Charlie's Bunion: This blue blaze is not to be missed! I am a sucker for outcrops with good views. I also tried my first Snicker’s bar here. :)

  4. Elmer's Sunnybank Inn: What a fascinating and special place - full of history and love! Thanks, Elmer for the stay!

  5. Smokey Mountain Diner: Order their chicken friend steak. Get extra gravy.

 
SHOUT OUT TO YOU, TRAIL ANGELS ♥ Mom & Dad ♥ Cookie, Tumbleweed, & family♥ RainDrop & Floyd ♥ The section hikers who gave me protien bars ♥ The church group giving away food at Newfound Gap ♥ The people who attempted to trail magic us at Max Patch ♥ The Accomplices ♥ ALL OF THE TRAIL MAINTAINERS ♥ Anyone and everyone else who supported hikers in this section!

Hot Springs, NC to
Damascus, VA

 

This section was filled with new friends and crazy adventures! The first day I hiked out of Hot Springs, I stumbled upon a Beltane festival. Then, I spent the following few days “pushing miles” so that I could walk into Trail Days in Damascus. I have all kinds of stories to tell from Trail Days - stay tuned for a Trek Article!

Some other wild things that happened during this section included meeting "The Clan of the Box and Blade," finding the “Skinny Dippin’ Hole with my girl friends, and volunteering for Hard Core trail maintenance, which was one of the most rewarding experiences of my entire hike.  This section truly embodied the spirit of adventure I had hoped for when I started this trail.

 

Statistics

Section/Overall

Total Miles: 194.9 / 2189.2
Hiking Days: 13 / 168
Zeros/Neros: 4 / 27
Average MPD: 15.0 / 15.3
Longest Day: 20.9 / 27.4

 
 

Highlights

  1. The Roan Highlands: A beautiful mountain filled with rhododendron (but fyi no view from the top!)

  2. Doll Flats: Your last stop before leaving North Carolina for good. It's a beautiful, open area with soft, green grass. Not to mention, this is the section of trail that the Hard Core team worked on this year!

  3. Jones Falls: Another blue blaze not to be missed if you’re a fan of waterfalls & mid-hike cool-offs.

  4. The Skinny Dipping Hole: Deep water, no people, & good jumping rocks. You just have to get a local to tell you directions!

  5. The Beach: Beach! What more shall I say?

 
SHOUT OUT TO YOU, TRAIL ANGELS ♥ Mom & Dad ♥ The group who had a feast waiting for hikers just before the white rock cliffs ♥ IvanaSherpa and Old Drum ♥ The women in the Roan Highlands who offered me food ♥ The man who gave me a goody bag full of treats at Roan Highlands ♥ Bob Peoples ♥ Zach Davis ♥ Riff Raff ♥ The family who brought BBQ & Beers to one of the road crossings before Damascus ♥ Delicate Magma & Harry ♥ The church who hosted spaghetti dinner on the Thursday of trail days ♥ Any group who offered to cook for hikers during Trail Days ♥ The Hard Core trail team leaders ♥ ALL OF THE TRAIL MAINTAINERS ♥ Anyone and everyone else who supported hikers in this section!

Damascus, VA to
Pearisburg, VA

 

I’m happy to say that I never experienced the infamous “Virginia Blues” — the state, and especially this section, was filled with a lot of "Glacier-Swiss Time," or solo time I spent at outcrops, places with views, etc. soaking in the sunshine. Virginia's rolling hills, sunny skies (most days), blooming wild flowers, and beautiful landscape allowed me to get the most out of this.

I had a lot of “firsts” in this section: my first marathon day (walking 26 miles), first hitchhike, first slack-pack, and first experience “cowboy camping” (just sleeping on the ground with no shelter).

 

Statistics

Section/Overall

Total Miles: 178.3 / 2189.2
Hiking Days: 12 / 168
Zeros/Neros: 2 / 27
Average MPD: 14.6 / 15.3
Longest Day: 26.0 / 27.4

 
 

Highlights

  1. Buzzard Rock: A beautiful outcrop right outside of Damascus. Spend a little time here!

  2. The Old School House: Stepping into the old school house is much like stepping back in time. The best part were the old "rules for teachers,” and free orange soda!

  3. Woods Hole Hostel: Best shower on trail + smoothies + all around good vibes

  4. Angel's Rest: A blue blaze rock maze where I watched a thunder storm roll into the valley.

  5. Grayson Highlands: A unique landscape filled with tiny ponies and bouldering rocks

 
SHOUT OUT TO YOU, TRAIL ANGELS ♥ Mom & Dad ♥ Cinderella ♥ Sam ♥ The man who took picture of me and Excaliber in Grayson Highlands ♥ The people who left candy before Marion ♥ Every person who gave me a ride in this section ♥ Pizza Brains and Dreamer for slackpacking ♥ The people who left trail magic at the school house ♥ ALL OF THE TRAIL MAINTAINERS ♥ Anyone and everyone else who supported hikers in this section!

Pearisburg, VA to Waynesboro, VA

 

This was my first section hiking with a group, and it was an adjustment, but well worth it. I came to know and love these people as if they were my own family, and we were all our raw selves in the woods together. Virginia continued to be beautiful, and the adventures didn’t let down either.

We started seeing fields of fireflies, received our first true home stay trail magic (thanks to Connie Robertson!). Four Pines Hostel was a hoot and the Home Place filled my stomach better than it had been in a long time. We took an impromptu river trip after revamping our hiking wardrobe, and although I didn’t jump, I did swim across the James River.

 
 

Statistics

Section/Overall

Total Miles: 207.0 / 2189.2
Hiking Days: 10 / 168
Zeros/Neros: 4 / 27
Average MPD: 14.8 / 15.3
Longest Day: 25.4 / 27.4

 
 

Highlights

  1. Dragon's Tooth: The name is as it sounds - and worth a climb to the top!

  2. Four Pines Hostel: Hands down, top three hostels on trail! I’d stay here if I wasn’t hiking.

  3. Jennings Creek: A sweet, sweet swimming hole not to be missed!

  4. Bluff Mountain (at night): Maybe it was the moment, but this mountain top was my favorite in VA.

  5. Cole Mountain/Hog Camp Gap: Hiking Cole Mountain at dusk was beautiful! Then awaking to a swing in an open field was a really nice surprise!

 
SHOUT OUT TO YOU, TRAIL ANGELS ♥ Mom & Dad ♥ Honey Badger & Angel ♥ Connie & Sandy Robertson ♥ The crew at 4 Pines Hostel ♥ Lisa & Dana Welker ♥ Sheryl ♥ Berry & Rosmery ♥ ALL OF THE TRAIL MAINTAINERS ♥ Anyone and everyone else who supported hikers in this section!

The Shenandoahs

 

The Shenandoahs were unique with daily Waysides and camp stores, a high population of black bears, and over abundance of tourists. The gentle terrain my trail family to hike high mileage days and still have time to eat dinner before having wine and watching the sunset.

After “the Shennies,” we made it to Harper's Ferry, the symbolic half-way point. Harper's was historically very interesting… but more interesting was Stony Brook Organic Farm. The farm is run by one of the 12 Tribes communities; their culture is fascinating and I thoroughly enjoyed staying there.

The “Trail Fam” also went to Washington DC by train, which worth the time away from trail and extra expenses.

 

Statistics

Section/Overall

Total Miles: 168.0 / 2189.2
Hiking Days: 10 / 168
Zeros/Neros: 3 / 27
Average MPD: 16.8 / 15.3
Longest Day: 26.2 / 27.4

 
 

Highlights

  1. Rock Scramble: Literally, the name says it all. The view and fun climbs are well worth dipping off trail for a little while.

  2. The Waysides: No matter how opposed to the tourism you may be, stop at a wayside & order a blackberry milkshake.

  3. Madam's Organ (Washington DC): The live funk music, friends, and moments we had here…

  4. The Appalachian Trail Conservancy: You can’t miss this iconic stop.

  5. Stony Brook Farm: Run by the 12 Tribes, it was very interesting learning about another religions’ beliefs and way of life.

 
SHOUT OUT TO YOU, TRAIL ANGELS ♥ Mom & Dad ♥ Jessica & Forrest ♥ Gordo ♥ Eva ♥ Sarah & Alfredo ♥ The man who sang us "Keep on Trekking" at Madam's Organ ♥ The bartender at Madam's Organ ♥ The woman who bought us pizza after the show ♥ The Stony Brook Organic Farm community ♥ The boyscouts who gave Crackers and I snacks ♥ Lunar & Galactic for trail magic pancakes ♥ Texas Poo for breakfast sandwhiches ♥ The woman who gave me a Snickers bar ♥ The woman and her family who popped out of the grass and gave us beer ♥ The "Ball Stamps" crew who gave us major trail magic at the campsite in the Shennies ♥ ALL OF THE TRAIL MAINTAINERS ♥ Anyone and everyone else who supported hikers in this section!

Harper’s Ferry, WV
to Port Clinton, PA

 

I crossed the Mason-Dixon line for the first time in my life during this section, and the North took me by surprise. We began walking through corn fields, historical small towns, and civil war battle fields. The terrain seemed flatter, flowers and trees became more and more foreign to me, the land just had a different feel to it…

During this section, I ate my last bowl of trail oatmeal, bonded immensely with my ever-morphing trail family (we had now become known as “the crazy at-eight” although we were consistently never just eight people), and started listening to music while walking alone. Listening to music affected my hiking in surprising ways: it helped me meditate on new thoughts, it helped me focus and endure when I needed to get up a challenging mountain or get into camp before dark, and it took campsite bonding to a new level.

 

Statistics

Section/Overall

Total Miles: 187.8 / 2189.2
Hiking Days: 10 / 168
Zeros/Neros: 1 / 27
Average MPD: 18.8 / 15.3
Longest Day: 24.7 / 27.4

 
 

Highlights

  1. The Vista at Rock Loop: I can’t stand when people do graffiti art on trees/rocks/etc…. but this was one exception.

  2. Pine Grove Furnace/Fuller Lake: Do the half gallon challenge, digest, then take a dip in Fuller Lake. <3

  3. Coffee 101 in Boiling Springs: This coffee house has great vibes & caters to hikers by providing free wifi & bottomless cafe

  4. The Doyle: I wouldn't recommend staying here, but definitely stop in for a beer. The aliens make it worth it.

  5. Port Clinton Fire House: The Fire Department allows hikers to visit. These folk were great company!

 
SHOUT OUT TO YOU, TRAIL ANGELS ♥ Mom & Dad ♥ The guy who gave us a wifi hot spot at the liquor store in MD ♥ The guy who gave us Kalondike bars ♥ Medicine Man ♥ The person who anonymously paid for my 1/2 gallon challenge ♥ Kaleidoscope's friends who visited at the Doyle ♥ Juice for sharing pizza! ♥ The trail angel who drove our group to resupply and eat in Port Clinton ♥ The Port Clinton Fire Department ♥ The volunteer snake handler ♥ The couple who brought us shampoo and conditioner in Port Clinton ♥ ALL OF THE TRAIL MAINTAINERS ♥ Anyone and everyone else who supported hikers in this section!

Port Clinton, PA to Kent, CT

 

Northern PA was hard - beginning with the ascent out of Walnut Port (fun, but challenging) and then transitioning sections of tiny, pointy rocks that prevent a normal foot-landing pattern. Some hikers have an amazing ability to speed-hike during these sections, balancing on the tips of the pointy rocks… but they are few and far between. Most hikers, like myself, are just forced to slow down.

Despite the rocks, there were a lot of great moments in this section. People were kind, wild blueberries abounded, and mountaintop landscapes transformed, characterized by exposed rock, grouse, and pine trees. I took a side trip into New York City during this section - ate a hot dog on the street, took the subway, drank martinis, rode the Staten Island ferry. It was a nice trail vacation.

 

Statistics

Section/Overall

Total Miles: 236.9 / 2189.2
Hiking Days: 14 / 168
Zeros/Neros: 3 / 27
Average MPD: 16.9 / 15.3
Longest Day: 27.1 / 27.4

 
 
SHOUT OUT TO YOU, TRAIL ANGELS ♥ Mom & Dad ♥ Deleware Water Gap church hostel ♥ Gary Wiltshire and fiend ♥ Joelle ♥ The policemen who gave us a hitch ♥ Douglas ♥ Whoever left the ravioli and mangos ♥ Whoever left water caches ♥ Whoever left trail magic sodas ♥ The snack vendor who gave us free pringles ♥ Larry ♥ The hiker group at Foodies who gave us pizza ♥ The kind soul who drove Cornsilk and I around Fort Montgomery ♥ The woman who drove Cornsilk and I back to Graymore ♥ The couple who gave us apples ♥ Joe at Clarence Fahnstock State Park ♥ Amy and Bill ♥ ALL OF THE TRAIL MAINTAINERS ♥ Anyone and everyone else who supported hikers in this section!

Kent, CT to Hanover, NH

 

With each day of walking, the terrain became more foreign. The New England AT took us through mountains donned with tall pines and fire towers, over stretches of wooden boardwalk, and introduced us to frequent chattering red squirrels. We climbed a few snow-free ski slopes, and had plenty of memorable experiences (a New England brunch, sunrise hike, an intense hail storm, and the best birthday of my life!)

The crazy at-eight ended our section by taking a hiatus from the trail at Sunshine's parent's lake house. The days at the lake house were spent relaxing. We had family dinners, southern-style breakfast, and Grandma B even made his homemade blueberry pie (with blueberries harvested by hand earlier that day). The lake house was the perfect way to commemorate our trail families time together as we knew our time together would come to an end as we transitioned to the infamous White Mountains.  

 

Statistics

Section/Overall

Total Miles: 294.1 / 2189.2
Hiking Days: 15 / 168
Zeros/Neros: 2 / 27
Average MPD: 19.5 / 15.3
Longest Day: 23.7 / 27.4

 
 

Highlights

  1. Ice cream shop, Kent: The first time I ever tasted an espresso milkshake.

  2. Tom Leonard Shelter: The overlook at this shelter is beautiful. If the platform is free, its a great spot for breakfast & sunrise

  3. Upper Goose Pond Shelter: This shelter has everything: canoes, a dock, two privys, a caretaker (who may or may not make you food), and some great tenting space! If you can stay here, definitely try to.

  4. Greylock Tower: Another great sunrise hike… memories of drinking cocoa after ascending in just the knick of time.

  5. Congdon Shelter: Near the shelter, there is a ledge where you can tent… perfect for a quiet sunrise.

 
SHOUT OUT TO YOU, TRAIL ANGELS ♥ Mom and Dad ♥ My trail family: Texas Poo, Cornsilk, Kaleidoscope, Rigga, Sunshine, Killer, Oil Can, Krusty, Grams, Splinter, Lil’ B ♥ Tom Levardi ♥ Cinderella ♥ Sunshine’s Family & Family Friends ♥ ALL OF THE TRAIL MAINTAINERS ♥ Anyone and everyone else who supported hikers in this section!

The Whites, NH

 

Hiking in The Whites was one of my favorite parts of the whole Appalachian Trail. Many of the mountain summits required hand-over-hand, "put your poles away" style climbing - which we had not encountered up to this point on the trail. Beautiful views ran rampant in The Whites, which were a treat because many summits on the AT with met with little to no "reward.”

Along with the amazing terrain, the AMC huts were a huge privilege. If you got to work-for-stay, you received dinner left overs for free. As expected, the Whites caused my trail family to disperse, and I spent most of this section hiking with just one other person.

 

Statistics

Section/Overall

Total Miles: 154.2 / 2189.2
Hiking Days: 11 / 168
Zeros/Neros: 1 / 27
Average MPD: 14.8 / 15.3
Longest Day: 21.9 / 27.4

 
 

Highlights

  1. Mooselocke: The best way to enter the Whites on foot, and the descent was epic. One of my favorite mountains on the AT.

  2. The Kinsmans: Another amazing set of mountains whose summits reward the climb. The wind was so intense it blew the granola right out of my hands!

  3. Lincoln: Lincoln was full of surprises. A wonderful trail town with incredible people.

  4. The Wildcats: Particularly, the ascent out of Pinkham Notch. A series of exposed ledges, popping in & out of the forest.

  5. Gentian Pond Shelter: Located on a rocky outcrop overlooking a massive pond, this was a truly tranquil spot.

 
SHOUT OUT TO YOU, TRAIL ANGELS ♥ Mom & Dad ♥ Bill Ackerly ♥ Chet ♥ Teradactyl ♥ Cornsilk ♥ The man who bought Cornsilk and I cookies ♥ The Huts for providing work for stay and leftover food ♥ The man who gave us snacks on Franconia Ridge ♥ The man who gave us candy in Zealand ♥ Spyglass ♥ ALL OF THE TRAIL MAINTAINERS ♥ Anyone and everyone else who supported hikers in this section!

Maine

 

Although each state brought it's own special characteristics to my thru-hike experience, I would say that Maine enthralled me the most. With howling loons, leach and beaver filled ponds, and frequent mating grouse, Maine felt the most wild. The trail was characterized by skirting sandy ponds, attempting not to trip on giant tree roots, and slippery bog bridges.

Maine was also unique in that it was the home stretch. At this point in my thru-hike, I had become accustomed to living in the woods: never showering, wearing the same clothes every day, eating constantly, and packing my life on my back. Knowing the hike would end was surreal. The days after the hike ended felt surreal. For a week, I felt like I was taking zeros, and then the zeros just never really stopped. Finishing the hike never "hit home" like you would imagine, but it propelled me forward into the "real world," where I would spend the coming months merely preparing for my next walk in the woods.

 

Statistics

Section/Overall

Total Miles: 286.5 / 2189.2
Hiking Days: 20 / 168
Zeros/Neros: 0 / 27
Average MPD: 15.1 / 15.3
Longest Day: 20.0 / 27.4

 
 

Highlights

  1. Mahoosuc Notch: It’s only a mile long, but so incredibly fun. I felt like it was more of an adult playground than a hiking trail.

  2. Bigelow & Bald Mountains: Theses were just two of the several incredible mountains we climbed in Maine.

  3. Shaw’s: Shaw’s was my favorite hostel on the entire AT. Poet and Hippie Chic are two incredible hosts!

  4. The Birches: This shelter (a lean-to facing a thicket of birch trees) was so symbolic for me. It was my final trail magic.

  5. Katahdin: Mama Katahdin, the beautiful beast - and the most perfect mountain to finish off a 2,000 mile hike.

 
SHOUT OUT TO YOU, TRAIL ANGELS ♥ Mom & Dad ♥ Lynn ♥ Poet & Hippie Chic ♥ Macklemore & Macklemore's mother ♥ The strangers who gave us beer at the first road crossing in ME ♥ Dougles ♥ Crystal ♥ Spyglass ♥ Paperclip & Little Giant ♥ StarStuff, Swazie, & Family ♥ ALL OF THE TRAIL MAINTAINERS ♥ Anyone and everyone else who supported hikers in this section!

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April 1st - Sept. 16th 2015