*A big portion of the trail crisscrosses NC and TN, so during this time I am going back and forth and honestly a lot of the time I don’t know exactly which state I am in! I just follow the White Blazed road 🙂
Day 27: Standing Bear Hostel-Groundhog Shelter, 8 miles
I showered up at the hostel in the outdoor shower, let’s just say I found the Outdoor shower to be very interesting.
I sat around until about 11 am waiting for my package to arrive- it was already a few days late. I was looking forward to it because it contained some new man panties (I’m wearing men’s boxers to prevent/heal leg chafing) and a backup charger for my phone, as well as my food resupply. The package never came and I didn’t want to wait any longer, so I asked the staff to forward it on for me and then I headed out into the woods and further away from the Fear and Loathing in the Smokys.
I started feeling extremely nauseous, overheated, and tired and didn’t make it very far. I struggled to make it the 8 miles. I wasn’t sure what was going on with me, so I set up my tent and told myself I would rest for a bit and walk again if I started feeling better. I met another hiker named Camel, and felt guilty leaving him alone when he was socializing with me, but I felt awful so I resigned to an early bedtime in my tent (Camel later turned out to be one of my favorite new friends on the trail).
Although I had a big climb out of the hostel area, I didn’t think that was causing me to feel ill- I mean, by this point climbs were not a big deal and I was recovering quickly after ascents. As I was laying down, I could hear the camp fill up and I could hear the crackle as the others made a campfire- which I was extremely disappointed to miss because fires have been few and far between, since most thru-hikers are just too tired and go to bed too early to make fires. I tried to eat a few snacks and drink water, but I couldn’t get much down. I sat there thinking about what I could have possibly caught, and finally realized that I was probably experiencing side effects from the tetanus shot (and the antibiotic). That made me feel a little bit less worried and I slept a little restlessly until the morning.
Day 28: Groundhog Shelter-Cat Pen Gap, 15 miles
I woke up just before sunrise. I was feeling better and rain was expected after 8 am, so I grabbed my bear bag and left hoping to get a few dry miles in. The wind was extremely strong and trees and branches were falling everywhere. I did get hit with a few branches, but luckily they were little ones so I just got a few bumps and scratches.
I made it up to the final climb to get to Max Patch, a famous Bald on the AT. As I was making the ascent, I looked up at the sky and was shocked at the clouds- I thought they might be funneling! I said a big swear word and ran back down the hill to the lowest point I could find and watched the clouds. I didn’t see any changes and there was really no where to go but up- so I made the climb.
When I got on top of Max Patch, the wind was so blowing so hard I had to fight to stand, and I had to walk at a 45degree angle and make sure my poles were in the ground to help hold me up. As it was happening I literally thought to myself that I was going to try to explain this to people at home and they would probably think I was exaggerating- hard to believe with out seeing it for yourself! Very scary!
I stopped for lunch at the next shelter and my old pal Grill was there (I met him at the cool B&B), as well as a new friend, Homeward Bound (he is from Maine and is “walking home”). Grill was slackpacking SOBO to pick up some miles he had skipped because he hitched a ride into Hot Springs for an early resupply.
I set up camp for the night at Cat Pen Gap. The wind was still howling and actually blew tons of dirt into my tent. I spent time cleaning it with baby wipes, but each time was pointless because the wind blew more in. It covered my sleeping bag and everything in my tent- including me. I gave up and nestled down into my sleeping bag to keep the dirt out of my eyes. I embraced the suck, knowing that I was heading to Asheville the next day with my favorite girls for a day off the trail made it a lot easier!
Day 29-30: Catpen Gap- Hot Springs- Asheville
I hightailed it in the rain to get to Hot Springs to make sure my friend wouldn’t be waiting on me. My first stop in town was a diner for a hot cup of coffee and a real toilet.
My college roomies and I had planned a little weekend getaway in Asheville. They all currently live in North and South Carolina, so it was a great place to meet up with them. We saw each other a few months back, but prior to that most of us had not seen each other in almost 10 years.
Laura picked me up at a restaurant in Hot Springs where I had a beer, salad, and wings while I excitedly waited for her arrival. I was shocked that she finished work early and came into the restaraunt to find me. She was in luck because she also got to see other smelly hikers and meet my pal “No Touching”.
Laura and I headed to our mountain top Air B&B and stopped for dinner on the way ina small town near Marshall, NC. We had to join a club to be allowed to eat and drink there- one of the many strange (to me) southern rules. We had the most amazing Philly cheesesteak sandwiches and then headed to the cabin to wait for our 2 other roomies. While we were unpacking our things, I heard a big laugh from Laura and asked her what was so funny- her husband sent her a text message that said something along the lines of: “Between you and me, how bad does Trish smell?” 😂😂
Kimberly and Katie, our other roomies, called and said they were right around the corner and headed our way, so I sat like a dog and watched out the window for them. I saw a pair of lights in the driveway that weren’t moving, and after a while of not moving and not being able to reach either of the two via cell phone, Laura and I headed down the very long, very steep driveway to investigate. I wore my headlamp and carried my pepper spray in case of danger 😜
Our roomies Katie and Kimberly were about 1/2 way up the drive, with one of the vehicle wheels hanging over the steep ravine. They used Onstar to call a tow truck. Shortly thereafter, a tow truck, two fire trucks, and a cop car arrived…. because we roll with an entourage and Kimberly took Katie on “The ride of her life”!
We schmoozed with the cop while we waited for the tow, and hours later we were finally able to enjoy each other’s company. We stayed up late chatting and catching up.
The next day we enjoyed an amazing breakfast. I couldn’t help but think about how much breakfast has simproved since our college days! It helps that Katie is a professional! Yum!
Katie did my hair and Kimberly loaned me makeup to try and make me less dirty Hiker-chick-ish. We had a great time on the town and shared lots of food, love, and laughs. I love these girls so much, even after 10 years we went right back to where we left off. They make me laugh until my stomach hurts, and they listen to my crazy ideas and give me support without judgement. Spending time with them gave me a lot of confidence to get back on the trail, and I hope that I can repay that somehow to each of them in someway.
The following morning we had another great breakfast before we parted ways.
Kimberly and Katie headed home and Laura graciously took me on an REI run to make sure I was well prepared to get back on the trail. After my experience of almost freezing in the Smokys, I went a little overkill on extra rain gear and a spare shirt, as well as a few extra tent stakes.
Laura dropped me back off on the trail in Hot Springs, and it was bitter-sweet, as I was excited to be back hiking but sad to leave the comfort of my long time friends. It was really difficult to head back into the woods alone after having so much fun being around such an amazing group of ladies.