John and I arrived safely home from our trip on Saturday. We took a three day, two night backpacking/camping trip on the Appalachian Trail from Three Forks to Neel Gap. Upon our return we were exhausted and took a few days to rest up and gather our thoughts. Overall, we had a wonderful trip although there were some challenges we had to face.
I will begin with the cons rather than the pros because I would like to end this post on a positive note. In my previous post I mentioned some concerns I had. These concerns were mainly centered around the weather. Turns out this was a legitimate concern. Thursday was fine but Friday was a different story. On our way to Woody Gap we began to hear the rumblings of thunder. It’s hard on the trail to know if a storm is heading your way or if it’s going to pass you. Anyhow, we quick-stepped it to hopefully make it to Woody Gap before the bottom fell out. We didn’t make it. I had decided before the trip to purchase a set of Frogg Toggs, but I only took the jacket with me to save space and weight in my pack. However, once you’re wet, rain gear doesn’t really help! Once we made it to Woody Gap, we sat under a shelter and decided to eat some lunch while we waited it out. But that wasn’t the last time we would see some rain!
That evening as we laid in our hammocks completely exhausted, a storm came through. Our tarp was pitched a little too high and we had some rain blow in on us. By this point, I had had enough! I had been stung by a yellow jacket, fallen twice, rained on while hiking, I was worn out from hiking 14 miles that day (and 12 the day before), I had blisters all over my feet, and now my brand new down underquilt was getting wet! I was lying in my hammock trying to hold the tarp away from my hammock to avoid as much rain as possible and I began to cry out how much I hated this trip and I just wanted to go home! I finally put on my rain jacket and got out in the rain to reposition the guy line and pull the tarp out and away from my hammock. Once I was back in my hammock I cried myself to sleep.
Maybe it wouldn’t have seemed so bad, but our plans had already been derailed that day. Originally, we were going to stop at Lance Creek Restoration Area to camp for the night, but before we made it there we started hearing people whooping and hollering. That was not a good sign. When we reached the area, sure enough there was a group camped out and it smelled as though they were smoking something other than cigarettes. We walked on down to the creek to collect and filter water and discovered that it wasn’t much of a creek at all. John got frustrated trying to fill the bottle and I nearly fell into the creek. We ended up with wet shoes and bad attitudes. We decided that Lance Creek was not the place to camp out for the night and decided to hike on. That added several miles to our day and further exhausted us.
Tired, hungry, wet, frustrated = NOT GOOD! Did I mention how sore my shoulders were? Ugh!
Despite the cons, the pros won me over. First of all, my knee felt great! I was so worried about three days of hard hiking taking a toll on my knee, but it held up beautifully! I am grateful beyond words! The first day was a roller coaster. We went up and down mountains for a good part of the day. The third day we climbed up Blood Mountain and then we went down, down, down Blood Mountain. I thought we would never get to the bottom. It was very rocky, the kind of trail that would have previously caused me a great deal of pain. But through it all, my knee was absolutely fine! Our conditioning prior to this trip paid off. While the hiking was strenuous, I could tell that my endurance was better and that I was stronger than usual.
Another pro was the people. We really didn’t see that many (at least not until we got to Blood Mountain) and the ones we did meet were really kind. We met a former Marine at the Hawk Mountain Shelter who just happened to serve during the same exact years as John. He was having problems with his ankles and had to send his hiking partner on without him. We felt badly for him because he was having to camp out alone for 10 days waiting for his family in Florida to come pick him up on their way to Franklin, TN. Hope he’s doing okay. As far as I know, he’s still there.
We also met a mom and her son. He had been given the trail name “Grasshopper” and “Believe” was the trail name she gave herself. She told us she had been through three back surgeries and open heart surgery. She said nobody was going to tell her what she couldn’t do! She was a slow hiker, but she was out there doing it and letting nothing get in her way. What an inspiration!
In addition, we met a father and son on top of Blood Mountain. They were just out for a day hike but were having a good time just being in each other’s company. The dad took a picture of us (our profile pic for our Couch2Trail Facebook page) standing in the very spot where he proposed to his wife. He said the main difference in our pictures was that she had tears in her eyes. How sweet!
We didn’t go thirsty! We had been worried about the dry 6 mile stretch between Hawk Mountain and Justus Creek. We had enough in reserve. But even if we hadn’t, some trail angels had left some water for thirsty hikers. How nice it is to think that there are thoughtful people out there taking care of the hikers. Complete strangers. Some people call it trail magic, but John and I prefer to think of it as trail grace. Whoever the angels are, God bless you!
One of the best pros was the sheer beauty of the trail. We witnessed some spectacular views including Preacher’s Rock and several unobscured views from Blood Mountain. The trails were dotted with wildflowers such as black-eyed Susans and phlox while some of the mountainsides were covered with ferns. The rhododendron were still in bloom, too! We saw three deer while hiking. One charged straight towards me on the trail and I thought he was going to run me over for a moment! It was a cool sight!
Even though John and I had our moments of frustration, we still enjoyed being on the trail together. These backpacking/camping trips are always a learning experience for us. Even when the going gets tough, we end up finding ways to focus on the positive and make light of the negative. John calls this second degree fun. It may not be fun at the time but we always find the humor later.
In conclusion, this was an awesome trip! Even though we faced many trials and tribulations on the trail, the positives still outweighed the negatives. So I had one bad day. In the grand scheme of things, was it really so terrible? I think back to “Believe” and all of her troubles. She didn’t let them keep her down. Why should I? Besides, the trail is absolutely beautiful and I can’t wait to get back on it to see what lies ahead. It always amazes me how the trail changes and you never know what you’ll see around that bend or over that hill. Thank you, God, for giving us such a beautiful world to live in. Your blessings and mercies are endless!