A hundred miles. My friends and I have hiked over a hundred miles. On the scale of the entire length of the Appalachian Trail, it may not seem like a lot, but I assure you, we celebrated when we realized our accomplishment.
Peanut, Techie, and I emerged from the woods at Dicks Creek Gap, and Gary of the Blueberry Patch Hostel picked us up along with a few other hikers. He and his wife Linnie have run the hostel for many years, and they operate purely on donations. Upon arrival, we were escorted into the bunkhouse and changed into our rain gear so that Gary could launder all of our clothes.
Yeah, that’s right. For a couple of hours a half dozen adults ranging in age from 24 to 60 sat around in what are essentially plastic pants and jackets tending to our blisters and catching up on emails. Every time we shifted in our seats or on our bunks, we would crinkle and crackle with the folding, rubbing fabric. We took turns showering and redressed in our rain gear, reveling in clean hair yet feeling self conscious in our loose fitting attire. Or at least I know I was feeling self conscious, completely exposed under my layer of plastic.
Just another thing to get used to. One of the many understated situations that mark the experience of being a thru-hiker. When you only have one outfit for daywear and one for night, options are few when getting clothes washed. And just one of the many reasons to sit back and laugh. Nothing else to be done.
The bathroom was a separate building behind the bunkhouse, and it magically produced steaming hot shower after steaming hot shower until we’d all scrubbed three plus days worth of dirt and grime off our bodies. Or at least that’s what I’d hoped until I got out and noted the incumbent deep fissures engrained in my calloused hands and feet. I wasn’t able to completely fix the problem, but I did at least manage to clean under my fingernails and toenails. I haven’t yet succumbed to my layers of filth.
Once our clothes were done, Gary was kind enough to drive us all into downtown Hiawassee’s grocery store Ingles. A variety of our hiker friends came and went, but Peanut and I spent the afternoon catching up on emails with the free wifi and enjoying our first glorious town meal: chips and guac and salsa, steamed lentils, apples, bananas, and a little candy. It may as well have been a steak and lobster, it was so delicious.
After spending the evening hanging out with some friends at their Budget Inn hotel room…
…witnessing a couple of them shove obscene amounts of (mostly) junk food in their packs (at least ten pounds each, no kidding), we caught a ride back to the Blueberry Patch with a friendly local guy Matt. On that note, I must say that I’m so glad I have such a healthy selection of foods available to me through my mail drops. Most hikers subsist on ramen, Pasta Sides, mashed potatoes…and junk food.
Anyway, the following morning Linnie served a beautiful spread for breakfast, made with love, I assure you. And I, who doesn’t usually eat much for breakfast – and not until about 10am – found myself eating a large helping of scrambled eggs, sausage patties, hash browns, and orange juice.
And everything was doused in homemade blueberry syrup. Ok, not the OJ, but only because I didn’t want to be rude.
Peanut and I ended up Zeroing with Lentil and Zen at the Budget Inn the following night, she for her blisters and I for a minor case of bursitis in my left knee. And maybe also because being in town makes getting in touch with people easier, and I miss my people. Maybe. But probably not…because I’m a big girl, and big girls don’t admit things like that.
When we finally made our way back into the woods after our day off in Hiawassee, we started with a 12 mile hike, which took us to the GA/NC border.
You thought I’d slip that in there without saying anything? Pshaw! You have to be kidding me. Did you hear that? We hit our first state border. Our first state border! So many firsts are upon us. I hope it doesn’t stop being so exciting.
NC welcomed us with a steep three mile climb, after which we settled in for the night at Muskrat Creek Shelter. I ended up snug as a bug in a rug in the shelter (as opposed to tent) for the first time, and with a low of 40 (relatively warm) I finally had a good night’s sleep (ie more than two hours).
The following rainy, foggy morning Peanut and I holed up in our sleeping bags until about 10am as everyone ate breakfast and packed up around us. We dodged comments about being grumpy, sleepy women, and I managed not to say a word until about 10:30. Since we seem to have a reputation for waking up giggling, this was quite an accomplishment… and seemingly cause for concern among some of the guys. Truth be told, Peanut and I both just needed some downtime. We’d been surrounded by men without a break for days on end.
Alone time is hard to come by.
The two of us left the shelter at noon, refreshed by our lazy morning. We met Lentil and Zen five miles down the trail and hunkered down for the rest of the day as a heavy thunderstorm bore down on us.
The wind and fog were just the beginning. Before long, the thunder and lightning greeted us as the rain and hail reverberated loudly off the shelter’s corrugated tin roof. We bided our time playing Hangman (throwback!) and other word games. Yeah, we were all the cool kids in school. I know you’re jealous. Before long, we were joined by Trouble, Preacher, Sour Patch and North Star, who were all seeking shelter from the storm. By 8pm, all of the inhabitants cozied up, and we women were told to stop jibber jabbering and go to bed. We get no respect, no respect I tell ya.
The next morning the sun rose, trail dried, and temperature warmed. Our little clan hiked our first sixteen mile day to the fabulous new Long Branch shelter, setting ourselves up for a relatively short 7.5 mile hike the next morning.
En route to the shelter, we climbed a steep .3 miles to the first fire tower on the trail.
We took off our packs, climbed the stairs, and braced against the wind. The view was clear and beautiful.
In our revelry, I looked at the guide and realized that we’d hit the 100 mile mark. 100 miles! For those of you that have thru-hiked yourself, it may seem like a drop in the bucket. But for those of us who hadn’t spent a night in the woods not two weeks before, nonetheless hiked 20 miles in a row ever, this left me with a pit of emotion in my chest.
It’s such a small thing. It’s such a huge thing. Here’s to many more huge small things to come.