All of the sudden I heard the backing up signal of a dump truck. Why are they emptying dumpsters at 4 in the morning, I thought to myself… little did I know it was actually 7:30. Only moments later my alarm sounded. Deep sleep!!! We all awoke refreshed, a little sore, but ready to get going again.
After an all-you-can-eat breakfast, we loaded into the shuttle van, provided by the Baymont Inn, and headed back to the trail. But first, we had to meet the trail angels that were passing out a morning round of Trail Magic, and a picture… a couple of us were trying to get Belle to look at the camera. Hmmm.
Friday was such a beautiful day for hiking. The weather was everywhere, but beautiful nonetheless. Everyones spirits were high, making the day really enjoyable.
We pushed ourselves again. We hiked almost 11 miles. We landed at Addis Gap. I cannot say that it was the wisest of choices. We all arrived at the tent site with every inch of our bodies writhing in pain, and exhausted from the relentless up and down of the trail.
Taylor and Ryan went to gather water, while I made dinner, and the other four gathered firewood for a fire. It was so relaxing to sit by the warm fire. We shared the fire with a friend we had met earlier named Wes! He’s a warrior hiking the Appalachian Trail as a part of Warrior Expeditions. The conversation was hilarious. Watching the boys interact with Ryan and Wes, you’d think we have known him for years! We laughed so hard, had a great conversation and solved all the world’s problems, before retiring to our tents!
Could not have woken up to a more beautiful day. We all slept really well. It was a pretty chilly night on the mountain. Ryan and the kids made a fire, and we slowly gathered up all of our belongings. We sang a little, made some video of who we are and what we are doing.
We are beginning to run into people that we “know” more and more. Faces are becoming more familiar and we are getting to know names and life stories. It is pretty cool. I’d say that we are becoming a part of the trail community. After hiking a few miles, we made our way into Low Gap Shelter area. Because we had slept on the top of the mountain, away from the water source, I lazily just packed the dirty dishes in one of the bear bags. (Don’t judge, its like leaving dirty dishes in your sink at night… LOL), we filtered water, cleaned dishes, ate lunch and met some great people, and of course seized the opportunity to use the privy.
As we were packing up, a gal hopped her way into camp, and shouted over to us, “Are you guys the ThruCrew?” I guess that it is all the buzz that we, this crazy large family, are on the trail. It was great to meet Brave and her sister, who was hiking a leg of the trail with her while she was on spring break.
We got back on the trail, and started craving burgers… all of us were fiercely craving burgers. It is amazing what one will do for a big, fat, juicy burger. Well, we have had a number of people reach out to us, after hearing about our journey from all up and down the trail. One of them, a past thru-hiker named Big Jim, offered to help us in any way that he we needed, and to just give a shout out if he could be any assistance. We reached out to him and in a couple of hours had made a plan to hike to Unicoi Gap, grab burgers and stay at the Baymont Inn. We hiked a little more than 13 miles, and it was worth the tired feet in the end.
Our feet were exhausted when we finally made it to the parking lot at Unicoi Gap, but there was Big Jim and a big ole van, ready to take us into town. He even brought his son, which was super cool.
We love hearing stories of past thru hikers. The way that they had to do it, the gear, the support, the resupply… it was ALL so different. Big Jim shared with us all sorts of stories about how his hike changed his life, and the lives of his buddies as well. He told the stories in vivid detail, as if he was there all over again. Have I mentioned he thru-hiked in 1989!
This journey has been so fun. The people we meet, the face-to-face conversations, the collision of so many walks of life, all on the same path. Generosity abounds, and it is so refreshing. Ryan and I had a great conversation with Aaron, a guy who has just left the Navy. We chatted about all sorts of topics until late and headed off to bed… miles await in they morning!
Quite begrudgingly we pulled ourselves out of our sleeping bags… most things were dry, thankfully, but we were so tired. The wind howled over the saddleback as we were trying to pack up. Honestly, we all hate breaking camp in the morning. We just want to get going, and when it is windy and cold all the more.
We are so grateful to everyone who reached out to us with weather updates, and who prayed us through the storm. It was definitively our hardest night on the trail. Ryan feels it was his hardest night in a tent pretty much ever.
We worked together as a team to pack up the wet sleeping bags and tents, and as quickly as possible we were on our way again.
As we move along this trail, this journey, our mission is to heal. Last night was a defining moment for our family. Internally, the tension started to rise from the moment the hail began. Everyone was working overtime to make sure that the only storm we were experiencing was the one that nature was causing. Moments like these in our past have been our greatest weakness as a family. It was often things that were completely out of our control that caused us to lose control. External circumstances would rapidly become out of control in fighting.
Trust was built on the mountain, in the craziest of storms. We relied on one another and worked with each other. The growth may not have been visible to the bi-stander, but it was glaringly obvious to us.
The kids spent most of the day, jetting ahead of us. Each time that we would catch up to them, we found them dancing, laughing, playing ball together, teaching eachother new hand slap rhythms… it is beautiful to see them coming back to life.
And how they have that much energy, I will never know!!!
When we arrived at Hogpen Gap, we were met by trail magic, yet again! It was so nice. We met this wonderful couple, from Iowa. They are here in Georgia as snow birds… they are making their way home a little at a time. Farmer Jim and his beautiful wife, Pat, were so kind. After eating dehydrated meals every single meal… tangerines are a God send. FRESH! YUMMY!
We continued to pick our way up the mountain, passed Whitley Gap and stopped at a nice little spot. We put up our tents, Ryan put on some music and we started a fire.
We made dinner, and sat by the fire as a family. This night was so different from the night before. Sometimes the hard times and the challenges, make the good times truly great! AND THIS NIGHT… WAS GREAT!
“Cut it out.” I mentally screamed at myself. I was sick of hearing myself complain. “Ha, you act sooo hardcore don’t you? One hailstorm and now you think you get to complain. Shut your soft mouth.” Sometimes the only person that will give you the hard truth is yourself.
The night before had been a long one. A rainstorm had blown in, and it quickly turned into a fierce squall. Wind buffeted us at record speeds, tossing the rain sideways, within twenty minutes, we started getting pelted by dime sized hail. Eventually, the tents flooded… Let’s just say it wasn’t a sleep filled night.
That’s part of the reason I came out here, to find my limits, to find that place where I want nothing more than to quit. And then to burn that place to the ground.
There is a picture I keep on my iPod, it’s the image of a canadite, undergoing the stresses of Hell Week, an infamous 1 week smokefest that marks the beginning of Navy SEAL training. Canadites are put through the ringer, getting less than six hours of sleep for the entire week, while undergoing grueling physical challenges. In the image, the canadite is holding a log over his head, covered in sand, trying desperately to complete one exercise or another. The caption says,”Trust the process.” So simple, yet so true.
Those words lingered in my head, as I stewed on my sleepless night, wanting nothing more than to be home in my bed. Trust the process, let it mold you. Take all that pain, take all that frustration, take all that weakness, and let it wash away. You’re allowed to hate it, you’re just not allowed to quit.
It’s a microcosm for life. Do hard things, and let it show you where you are weak. Let those experiences shape you, let them strengthen you.
So there I sat, looking up the next hill, not wanting to move. “Trust the process. Here we go.” I stood up, and took another step. And then another, and another. I won’t quit, because I want to know just how far I can go, and then I want to go farther. So I’m going to keep rushing headlong into what might feel uncomfortable, but what I know is forging a better version of me.
So here we go, one foot in front of the other… Happy trails.
We woke up in soft beds, warm and cozy. The Warrior Expedition hikers brought a huge casserole, and after it was heated, we ate to our hearts content. Everyone put on fresh clothes, after enjoying hot showers. At 11:00, we checked out of Blood Mountain Cabins. After a nice conversation with the man who was running the place, another fellow veteran, we made our way back to Neel’s Gap.
There is a famous tree right outside Mountain Crossings called the ‘Tree of Soles’. As the story goes, in the tree hangs the boots (soles) of those who have hung up their boots and headed home. One set of boots captured my attention. A pair of desert combat boots hung by themselves on a lonely branch.
I guess they kind of capture the essence of our trip. Ryan has hung up his boots, in exchange for freedom. One foot in front of the other, we are making our way home and finding healing one day at a time. After only 10 days in the trail we are growing stronger and more unified as a family.
We finished up our pizza from the night before along with nice juicy apples. While finishing up our lunch, we met up again with new friends, Brady and Jess Graham. We also were able to say hi again to Ms. Janet and to Chris, who generously gave us some new socks. Chris helps hikers, and is a representative for Wrightsocks.
We hiked some beautiful miles with Brady and Jess. They are graduates from Liberty, so it was fun for Taylor to talk with them about their experiences.
We broke camp on a saddleback between Bull Gap and Baggs Creek. Dinner was delicious.
And then all HAIL broke loose… Literally!!! The weather rolled in so quickly, it caught is off guard. Doing dishes in the hail and pouring rain is NOT fun. We were thankful to have already eaten, and that the tents are already up, but it was nuts!!!
Gusty winds, hail, torrential downpour mixed with thunder and lightening continued for the next several hours. It is a little hard to explain how vulnerable you can feel when there is only a thin sheet between you and the harsh elements. We managed to get through the night with one side of one of the tents collapsing twice.
I’ve never wished for an indoor bathroom more than last night when I had to use the bathroom so badly, and had to brave the elements to squat next to a tree…
There is a saying out here… “No rain, no pain, no Maine”. I think we now get the point of that full well.