It was early to rise for the Thru Crew. The objective of the day… Slack pack 20 miles!!! We rocked it, along with Shutterbug and Little Foot.
Miss Janet dropped the nine of us off at Iron Mountain Gap, and planned to pick us up when we returned to Erwin. We started hiking at 9:45.
Right away we are met with sunshine illuminating these beautiful people flowers. Nature is just so stunning, when you take the time to take it all in.
We stopped about three miles in to eat lunch, and refill our water bottles. Then we made our way to Unaka Mountain. Miss Janet have Zoey some bubbles to play with as she frolicked along the trail. The kids all enjoyed a little reprieve from hiking to play with them.
There was a chill in the air. Shutterbug and Little Foot were especially chilly, and covered up their faces as much as they could with their rain coats.
And thought it is rare, we were all able to get into one picture, courtesy of Shutterbug.
We continued to hike on through the forest, and we came upon this Christmas Tree decorated in memory of a young man who had passed away.
Riley really liked the pineapple ornament, and we found Woody and Buzz Lightyear as well.
There is so much brokenness in the beauty of the trail, and equally so much beauty in the brokenness.
Not long after we made our way through the forest, we came to Beauty Spot Gap, where we landed upon more trail magic. A fellow veteran and Thru hiker, Onesimus, was grilling chicken for hungry hikers.
Kole took over photography duties and captured some interesting shots… Look closely…
He can be crazy, but then he had an eye for some beautiful shots as well.
After we finished stuffing our faces, we kept on hiking down towards Erwin. Shutterbug, Little Foot and I finished making our way under headlamps.
Miss Janet picked us up from the trail, and took us back to her pad. Coy had created a massive pot of Gumbo and everyone filed their bellies until they were content!
We completed our first 20 mile day!!! It was absolutely amazing!!! I’m not sure how it will feel to make 20 miles with full packs, but it was awesome slack packing.
Rain, rain, go away! We took yet another zero day. As the reason came down in sheets, we hung out at Miss Janet’s house.
Ryan and Deacon Dave worked on Miss Janet’s van. They fixed her air conditioner, and along with a couple of other mechanically inclined hikers got her horn working. It now makes a very distinct A-ooo-gah sound! It’s pretty awesome!
Miss Janet let the kids paint her trail angel wings on the front of her van.
Belle enjoyed the freshly mowed grass in the backyard!
We went to Walmart and picked up some groceries to make Shepherds Pie, and came back to make some serious food for all of the hikers staying at the house. The Shepherds Pie had 12 pounds of hamburger, 4 large cans of green beans, 8 regular cans of creamed corn, 20 pounds of potatoes and 4 cups of cheese. Well, by the end of the night, nearly the entire thing was gone.
It was a quiet but productive rest day. We were able to facetime with our friends Paul and Stacy Cassidy. They surprised is with an Amazon Gift card… It was perfectly timed as we received it just as we were making plans to order Taylor’s travel guitar. We loved seeing our friends and cannot wait to see them when we make our way into the Shenandoah mountains.
The late afternoon turned beautiful. So we decided to put up the tents in the backyard.
We are learning to enjoy whatever it is that comes our way, and we seek out opportunities to give back when we are able. Seeing Miss Janet’s face light up at the sound of her horn, and the feeling of frigid air flowing quietly through her vents made it a wonderful day!
Happy Trails ~ The Thru Crew
It was our intent to hike 11 miles from Spivey Gap to Erwin, picking up the miles that we had left unfinished, however a storm had rolled in, leaving the mountain top pretty dangerous. Many hikers have been posting pictures of themselves fighting to stay upright in the wind, hikers have had to be rescued from the top of the mountain because the temps had suddenly dropped. Though the area that we were planning to hike, the distance and the fact that we would not be sleeping on the mountain would have kept us from the dangers of hiking, we opted to go to the library instead. We had spent a few days at Miss Janet’s, and though it was an awesome experience and a lot of fun, we were tired of being in such close quarters with other hikers. We needed some quiet. No place like the library to find just that. The nasty weather outside made the library an even more attractive alternative to hunkering down in doors with other hikers, or hiking in the pouring rain.
Miss Janet dropped us off at the library just as it was opening. The kids were able to read, color, update their friends on the latest events and chill in the quiet. Ryan spent some time perusing through different magazines and catching up on current events. I spent the morning pouring over our plan… trying to figure out where and when we were going to hike, trying to formulate some sort of plan for flipping north. The more I tried to figure that out, the more I thought about how much that was going to change the dynamic of our hike. I questioned if we are ready to be in our neck of the woods again? Are we ready to have friends and family around us? These questions are difficult to answer. We all miss home. We all miss family and friends. We are all ready for a little more normal, but not yet. We have so much to sort through. Taylor wrote something that he decided not to publish, but in it he explained how much “noise” there is in NH. In his writing, the intention of our journey is so eloquently stated… we need to get away to the silent place, to the place where no other voices can be heard but those of God and eachother.
The friction that started to stir in me, and the hunger in our bellies led us to McDonalds, where we set up in the back corner of the restaurant and had heartfelt conversations for several hours. The results of those conversations are what let me to write about change.
Miss Janet pulled into the parking lot with a van load of hikers. As they jumped out, we jumped in. When we got back to Miss Janet’s there were a few dozen hikers. Looking around at all the hikers, and knowing what the weather was going to be, we made the decision to go back to the Super8 for another night. It ended up being a wonderful decision. Ryan and I were able to share a king room, alone. The kids slept a couple of rooms down the hall. We ordered in pizza and we all got a wonderful nights sleep.
This morning when we woke up, our intentions were to stop by Walmart to resupply our packs, drop off our packs at Doe River Hikers Rest, and step out from Carvers Gap to slackpack northbound the 14 miles back to the hostel. Well, we stopped at Walmart, and we dropped off our packs, but that is when everything else changed. The weather was so bad that many of the shuttles in the area were driving on icy roads to the mountain pass. Several of our friends, to include Huggy Bear, Little Foot and Shutterbug were all rescued off the mountain this morning. They told us that the visibility was so low that they were having a hard time following the trail, several hikers were experiencing the early stages of hypothermia and it was flat out freezing. Now, freezing temperatures are not fun, but they are not particularly dangerous, in and of themselves, but when there are freezing temperatures, freezing rain, and high winds… that is dangerous. We knew that since we were planning to slack pack the miles, we would not have gear to bundle up in if we ran into any problems. This particular stretch of the trail is 14 miles, with no way to get off the mountain if the weather turned even worse. With all of this information, we decided it was best to resign to another day off trail.
We all went down to the Roan Mountain Hiker Fest for a little while and saw a bunch of familiar faces. We also were able to chat with some new folks, who were kindly passing out treats to the hikers. Especially appreciated was the hot chocolate that they were making. It was cold today, and humid… so it was just bone chilling.
We finally met our new friend David Magee. His daughter, Samantha, attends the church where my father-in-law was the preacher for the past 10+ years. He is the owner of the Doe River Hiker Rest. He had extended an invitation many weeks ago. It was nice to finally meet him.
He has a single wide trailer set up nicely for hikers. There just so happens to be exactly seven beds. In the main house there is a large family room where we visited with a bunch of hikers. The boys found the stringed instruments and had a great time picking out tunes. I love watching them explore the instruments and learn from other hikers with more experience.
Taylor found a dulcimer. None of us had ever seen one. He tried to play it like a ukulele. Well, as we learned today, it is an instrument that is supposed to be played resting on your lap. It is played from the top. We had a good laugh.
When it came time for dinner, David recommended a little place called Smoky Mountain Bakers. Seriously, we’ve never had pizza that was as good as that. Brick oven pizza with thin, crispy crust. It was so good. They were supposed to close at 8pm, but stayed open just for us. It was super kind of them. They even sent home a huge box of home baked goods to share with all of the hikers staying here.
An older gentleman, who goes by the trail name, Mystic, is staying with us in the trailer. When a hiker is in danger, and when the weather is so super crummy, you find a way to fit one more. There was an extra mattress here, so we threw it down on the floor next to the bed in the living room for Ava and Zoey. Mystic was one of those hikers struggling with pre-hypothermia. We are glad that he made the decision to come into town. He is a super interesting man. He joined the Army’s JAG Corp in September of 1978, and has worked for the government ever since. He retired in March, and headed out here to the trail at the end of March. He is crushing this trail thing!!!
After dinner, we came back to the hostel. Ryan and David took a long hike down memory lane. David is from a town not too far from where we live. They talked for a couple of hours. He even knows where Lowville, NY is. (This is a town that Ryan drove through every weekend to get home, not too far from Fort Drum.). Sometimes it seems like the world is this huge place, and then all of the sudden it seems so small.
Thank you David for your generous hospitality!!!
We are hoping to crush out the 14 miles from Carvers Gap back here tomorrow. Apparently, the view from the mountains are absolutely breathtaking. It will be cold, and a bit windy, but it is supposed to be a completely clear day.
Well, it is far past hiker midnight, so we will say good night for now…
Happy Trails ~ The Thru Crew
Ah… It is so nice to wake up to a nice dry tent. We woke up, ate a quick breakfast, and started packing up our tents and sleeping bags and pads. We found that we were tenting right next to Pigpen and Shutterbug. They are sweet gals, that we have bumped into here and there, but never really got to know.
Pigpen is hiking as an ambassador of the ministry, A Christian Ministry in the National Parks (ACMNP). She is an amazing woman, with a huge joyful heart. She is hiking the trail, as a personal goal, but also with a goal to share the love of Christ with other hikers, and to share the Gospel. She is super fun, and very encouraging.
Shutterbug is the third person in her family to hike the trail. Her dad completed the trail in 1989, and her brother completed the trail last year. She gets her name from her love of photography. She is carrying her camera with her out here, taking beautiful photos. Her laugh is contageous.
Before we headed out from camp, we ran into FogHat. He was in the van with us from the Hiker Hostel up to Amicalola. He started his hike the same day that we did. He is from near where we live in New Hampshire, but currently lives in Mass. He is a really genuine hearted man. He shared his story with us, and we are humbled to be able to know him.
We hadn’t hiked far when we found ourselves hiking through a sweet smelling field. There is a unique scent of the grassy fields here. It reminds me of the few summers we spent up here in the NC mountains, visiting my grandparents. I wanted so badly to just sit under a tree and take it all in… but we had to get going, so I just walked through the fields slowly, taking in as much as I could.
As I came off of the top of the mountain, I found the kids climbing rocks. They love climbing, and it is awesome how nature provides the best playground equipment. They climbed up and down those rocks for nearly an hour.
Taylor snapped a picture from the top of the mountain, down into the valley below.
The views never get old. We are absolutely in love with the moutains. We LOVE the beauty of creation that surrounds us on a daily basis.
As we continued to hike, we kept seeing these signs for a new hostel that was right down the road from the Rector Laurel Road crossing. We decided to walk down to the hostel and check it out. Well, that was an experience for certain. The signs advertised cold sodas, wifi, snacks, pizza, hotdogs, and shuttles. Since I had spilled the potato soup all over Taylor we were down a little food, so we thought that we might be able to catch the shuttle into town for dinner.
It was like a scene from Deliverance. It was super sketchy. They didn’t have hardly any of the amenities that the fliers listed. Their soda selection was limited to a handful of off brand cola. We saw the sign that said the shuttle went to town at 6:00. It was 5:45. The sign said that the shuttle was $20.00. We asked Pigpen, Shutterbug, and FogHat if they wanted to go into town and grab something to eat… they said YES! We went to load up and the driver said, “OK, there are seven of you, it will be $140.00”. WHAT? $140? To drive to town for McDonalds, or something like it. Umm, NOPE! He told us that he would give us a discount, and that he would do it for $70. Still, NOPE! FogHat decided that he was going to stay there for the night, but the rest of us decided to keep going a little further and stealth camp for the night. It was super hard to settle for the beans and rice, when the thought of pizza or burgers was on our minds, but alas, it would do.
After we set up our tents, we made dinner, filtered water, cleaned our dishes, and the kids played a game of the Appalachian Trail Game with Shutterbug and Pigpen. It was SUCH a crazy day… but it was so fun. We are experiencing all sorts of things out here, and making all kinds of crazy memories.
Happy Trails ~ The Thru Crew
There are some days when life on the trail seems just so normal that the camera doesn’t come out often. There were some views that were incredible… Breathtaking beautiful!
Signal is so in and out up here. Our stove quit working right, so we had to make some phone calls to get another one on its way… I checked my phone frequently and when I finally had signal, I sat on a log to chat with REI. Just as I was finishing the phone call, our friends Checklist and Trail Name (aka the Grahams) came hiking past. It was awesome to see them again. We chatted for a few minutes, and they were off to Max Patch.
We didn’t hike many miles, just under five actually. The kids, as usual hiked ahead of us. Ryan and I arrived to camp, the tents were already set up.
Some have questioned if this is really a smart idea for our kids to be our here. Their thoughts have been focused on the physical demand on each of their bodies as they carry the heavy packs and hike the long miles. They FLY on these mountains! It is amazing how strong they are… And they feel no pain the next day! SERIOUSLY? Ryan and I have to take ibuprophen every night before bed.
OK, back to the day. We made dinner and built a fire. We had a really deep conversation about our futures. It was hard to hear the boys recount the feelings they have about not feeling they really fit anywhere… Really. They have friends and family, but our life had been so transient that deep roots have never really been established. The conversation lasted for a few hours. I’m sure we could each write really long posts about how each of us felt and what each of us took away from the conversation.
The greatest take away, though, is that we need to have many more of these conversations. We assumed that when we came out here we would just talk and talk and talk. We assumed that we wouldn’t have any interruptions in our day. The reality is that wether you are home or on the trail, time still ticks by. Nothing worth having or doing happens without being intentional, and we are learning how to be more intentional with our time with each passing day.
Hey Little Stars: are these the flowers you read about? Flowers are blooming everywhere!
When we started at Amicalola Falls, I was excited and a little bit nervous. Quickly, I realized all the things I once gave no notice to, I find really interesting, like the weather channel a faucet, or even the wonders of a toilet. And you have to slllloooowwww ddddooowwwwnn, realize that your life and the trail are not races. One of are friends Mrs. Janet told us “you can not spend the entire time looking at your feet, look up, take pictures, have fun, who cares how many miles somebody else is doing, hike your own hike.”
There are many notable things about the trail. My favorite would probably be the people. There has been so much support and help. Just being able to talk with people has been cool, and they have no care of what people think about them.
My favorite person I have encountered is Mrs. Janet, her car is AWESOME!!!! She knows everything about the trail and has hiked and section hiked the trail at least twice. She has about a BJILLION bumper stikers, and she knows alot of riddles. LOVE YA MISS JANET!
-Riley M. Owen : )