Monday, May 21, 2012

i'll take being a hippie ten days at a time.

okay, so how awesome is this: last week, i went eight days between showers... :)

i miss hiking so much. <3

saturday morning, after a breakfast of bojangles biscuits 'n' sweet tea, jennifer and i hiked north from the james river foot bridge. the weather the first day out was a little cold, but beautiful nonetheless. and i'll be damned if we didn't run into john & chester ("yah" and "token"), two absolutely wonderful customers from the cary rei. we all stopped and had a half-hour chat trailside. they were southbound, so i gave them my phone number and told them to shoot me a text when they got to trail days.

my legs didn't hurt as bad on the uphills as i remember them hurting down in georgia last year, haha, but my lungs weren't in "talking on the uphill" condition. there were a few nice vistas that first day where we stopped and had breaks for trail mix and oreos covered in nutella thanks to jennifer's genius idea. :D the rhododendron was in full bloom, and it made for a really pretty walk. we camped that night about 11 miles in at a shelter that was supposedly haunted by the ghost of a 4 year old little boy who died on the mountain a hundred years ago. i didn't see or hear anything supernatural, but then again, i slept so soundly that night, i didn't even hear the coyotes that jen said she heard come close to camp after midnight.

the following day was a pretty long one, and it wasn't really all that fun, but we did run into some trail magic at a road crossing, where i downed a fudge-covered brownie and chugged a mountain dew. i think that's what got me up that last mountain of the day. i was really aiming not to camp where we did, but logistics such as sunset, fatigue, and impending rain put us stopping at cow camp gap shelter. the main reason i didn't want to stay in that general area is because that's where stonewall's body was found. if you weren't reading along last year, or if you're unaware, an AT hiker was found dead under "suspicious circumstances" last summer near the trail. the FBI eventually ruled the death a homicide by strangulation. as far as i know, the case remains unsolved. i met stonewall for a brief period south of harper's ferry, and from what i gathered, he was a good guy. it's just a sad, sad situation, and i wasn't scared to camp at cow camp shelter... i just really didn't want to see any remnants of his death (like a grave marker or disturbed dirt). i saw nothing, but thought of him a lot.

the rain began right before we got to the shelter, and after setting my tent up in a constant drizzle, i discovered the seams that were sealed so well three weeks prior in the hail storm in grayson highlands were not to tightly sealed this time. i guess my tent has officially died. the rain dripped in throughout the night and eventually formed puddles all around me. my down bag got pretty wet, and that's one of the main drawbacks of down: once it gets wet, it loses its insulating properties. i said my sunshine prayer, which mainly consists of "dear God, PLEASE let it quit raining before sunrise," but it just didn't work. i told jennifer that i thought i was a pretty decent person, but for some reason, God felt the need to put me through some character-building exercises. the next morning, once i had broken my tent down in the rain, off we hiked. i'd forgotten my rain jacket back in raleigh, so i had stopped by target and bought a $1.50 poncho before we headed out, and i must say, it was money super-well spent. it blocked the cold wind, and i stayed relatively dry because it was so cold, i wasn't really sweating on the uphills.

we only did 10 miles that day, and right before we got to the shelter, two guys hiked up behind us and asked which one of us worked at REI. "uncle nole" (sp?), a hiker we had met the first night out, had asked about the sawyer filter i was testing out. he had mentioned the fact that i had it to these guys, and so they caught up so they could ask about it. their names wound up being "meat" and "coffee to go" and they were the highlight of my hike. :) they are super nice, awesome guys and they made me laugh so much. that night, swayze and i got a spot in the shelter. :) i absolutely hate hate hate setting up or breaking down a tent in the rain, so the shelter made me super happy. to avoid boredom, since we all stopped hiking before five, we cooked supper and laid out pads and bags, and then put our headlamps on and played a game of phase 10 that lasted until midnight.

my sunshine prayers were finally answered in the pre-dawn hours of tuesday morning when it quit raining. all the hikers were talking about the "free lunch" at the dutch haus, a bed & breakfast 1.1 miles off the trail. they'll pick you up at 11 a.m., drive you to their place in town, and feed you. for free. i wasn't really sure if they would allow dogs, but i hiked down with everybody anyways. they had no problem with swayze, so we all loaded up in the back of the pickup truck and when we got there, i was able to lay my tent out in the yard and it was completely dry by the time we left. :) the lunch consisted of amazing hot chili, baked potatoes, and cake. and it really was free. these people cook every single day for any person who hikes into the parking lot with a backpack on. i would love to do that one day.

because of some previous injuries that were resurfacing, jennifer pulled off the trail at the dutch haus and got a shuttle back to her car. it was sad to see her go... the more, the merrier when it comes to hiking. even swayze seemed to be like, "wtf?" when we hit the trail again that afternoon. the remainder of the afternoon consisted of the 1.1 mile straight uphill hike back to the AT, then i think we did another ~12? miles to go two shelters out. we wound up at a really nice shelter right beside a huge creek, and it was nice falling asleep to the sound of rushing water that night. i'm cool with water as long as it's outside my tent. :)

because of two late nights in a row (we stayed up 'til 11ish tuesday night trying to keep a fire going), we were all pretty tired on wednesday. we woke up early and coffee, meat, and i were out of camp by 7. we had a 2000' gain coming out of camp, and we took so many breaks that day. it was just so. slow. going. by noon, i think we'd only done 10 miles or so. what the heck? meat and coffee definitely could have gone on and left me behind... i was slowing them down.

but that day sound up being perfect. we took numerous long breaks, had awesome sunshine, and towards the end of the day, we decided to camp on top of a mountain with a view instead of trying to make it to the next shelter. when we came out at the dripping rock parking lot on skyline drive, it was 430ish? and we still had 2 more miles to hike before we got to the campsite. we all sat down on the side of the road and got to talking. i mentioned how awesome calling and getting pizza delivered roadside would be, and it was a chain reaction from there. i was basically just thinking out loud, but when you think good ideas out loud around coffee, he takes them seriously and makes them happen. :) then "mamaw b" came out of the woods... she is AWESOME. she's a 71 year old lady who's thru-hiking by herself. when meat discovered he had 3G, mamaw b told him to hook us up. :) he tried three different pizza places, and the third one agreed to deliver to the blue ridge parkway!!!!!!!! =D we ordered two large pizzas and 4L of coke, and we all sat around smiling and laughing and eating and drinking and just having fun. alcohol and drugs can't get you that kind of high, folks. that's high on life right there. when every slice was gone, we strapped the pizza boxes to the back of our packs and began the uphill hike to the campsite. we got to the top just in time to see a very beautiful sunset... every last bit of it. it's crazy how fast the sun disappears once it starts setting. once our tents were set up, we had a celebration burning of the pizza boxes and then went to bed. i slept with my rainfly off that night, and right before i fell asleep, i saw a shooting star. like i said: perfection.

the next morning we were out of camp by 630 for the 12 mile hike into waynesboro. we maintained a consistent pace and we arrived in town at 1130... not too shabby. :) the last five miles were really nice because we'd caught up with "sunshine" and "balls", a father-daughter team that hiked the PCT last year. when we were hiking grayson highlands a few weeks ago, tim, jim, and i actually met them on sunshine's birthday. she was turning 12. they have plans of hiking the CDT next year and making her the youngest triple-crowner on record. they are very nice people and it was a joy to hike with them for a bit.

waynesboro provided cleanliness. coffee to go had decided to ride on down with me to trail days, and meat was staying with one of his friends at a hotel in waynesboro, so we all went into town and did laundry and showered at the YMCA and then hit up the chinese buffet before heading to the outfitter. we didn't leave town until well after 5, and then we stopped at jen's house to pick up my stuff that i'd left in her car. then we headed to pearisburg, virginia to pick up orion (or will, as i first knew him), the guy i met on the trail in the shenandoahs last year. then it was to damascus!!!! :) we didn't get into town until 130 friday morning, but it was amazing.

I LOVE MY TRAIL FAMILY. i can't even list all of the people i got to see because it would take forever, but i was surrounded by great people the entire weekend. i had lunch with francois and john on friday, and then tim drove over for the weekend, and i hung out with coffee to go a lot, and jennifer drove down from roanoke and picked up yah and token on her way, and then i got to see jen & nathaniel, and friday night was the contra dance and it was so much fun!!!!! and then saturday i got to see all of my favorite starbucks people from bristol, and i even got to see one of my beautiful friends get married in kingsport. i am so happy for knicky and i feel so blessed to have friends who say that they would love for you to come to their wedding in your hiking attire because you have nothing else to wear. :)

my car broke saturday night on the way to the wedding because i went over a speed bump too fast, and it knocked my throttle out of place, and i had no idea what happened, so i called tim because he's a genius with just about everything, and i described the problem to him. he met me just off exit 19 and fixed my car like a boss. trail people rock. i love it.

sunday began with saying goodbye to coffee to go as he got a ride back to waynesboro, and me giving wren a ride to the trailhead. then i hauled ass back to raleigh so i could clock in at REI by 1 pm.

i can't really say anything else other than i am super blessed to live the life that i do. i am surrounded by wonderful people in a beautiful world and it just couldn't get any better than this. i do believe the woods and the mountains are good for a girl's heart and mind (but maybe not her hygiene...). they make me so happy, and i can't wait to get back to 'em.

Friday, May 11, 2012

i'm back at it! :)

a little over seven months ago, i was sitting in a library in western massachusetts and writing a blog entry that detailed the end of my 1500+ mile journey. those five months changed my life forever. :) i now think two shirts and two pairs of pants comprise a month's worth of clothing. i'm okay with eating things off the floor. pooping in the woods is sometimes preferable to using certain restrooms. i don't freak out if i forget deodorant for a day, and there have been occasions when i voluntarily brush my teeth with soap. for three months after getting out of the woods, i slept on the floor, and "within walking distance" has taken on a whole new meaning.

with the exception of a small pit stop in bristol spending time with awesome people, i basically went straight from massachusetts to mississippi and spent the holidays with my family and best friends that i grew up with. after six years, it was nice to finally wake up in my home town on christmas morning. my original goal was to only be home through the new year, and after january 1st, i began looking for a job elsewhere. i had a couple of options on the table and had applied to a few REIs in the DC area, the southeast, and out west. one afternoon in mid-january after a nice, long run, i got back in my car to head home and a call came in from a 919 area code. i answered, and i'll be damned if it wasn't an REI in north carolina, formally inviting me to an interview two weeks later. :)

suffice it to say, after driving 14 hours to north carolina for the interview, i got the job and started three weeks later. i packed whatever i could fit into my little blue scion, and not that i didn't love my life prior to the move, but God has been nothing but good to me since i got to north carolina. i LOVE working at REI... i work with the best people, i have the coolest job, and the area is so active! there's a state park ten minutes from the house that has a six-mile loop trail that swayze and i have gone hiking/running on a few times, and i've been rock climbing once, and last month a dozen or so of us took kayaks and canoes out on falls lake under a full moon around midnight. it. has. been. awesome. francois's sisters live in raleigh, so he was there the first two months or so that i was in town, so we hung out, and then reese came up from south carolina for a few nights. i've actually even run into college AND high school classmates in my store! taylor and carolyn even stopped by on their way from florida back to west virginia. :)

so basically, life is better than good: it's awesome. and tomorrow morning, it will get even better when i step foot into the woods and hike north to finish those 80 miles that i skipped last year in virginia.

i have missed the mountains and the appalachian trail oh so much. a few weeks ago, two friends and i had a couple of days off in a row so we drove up to grayson highlands and did a little over twenty miles. we got licked by "wild" ponies and we got caught in a pretty nasty golf ball-sized hail storm and we soaked our feet in ice cold streams. other than "perfect", it's hard to describe the exact feeling that comes with walking five miles into the woods, taking off your shoes, finding a nice rock to lay on, and letting the sun shine down on you while the wind tries to blow through your nappy hair.

despite working at REI, my gear hasn't changed much at all from last year. funds haven't allowed me to go completely crazy and revamp every item i own. i did buy a new headlamp yesterday, though, because i've somehow misplaced mine. so i'll be rockin' a 60-lumen petzel instead of the 50ish energizer that i picked up last year in pearisburg when i realized that 8 lumens isn't enough to night hike with. :) i did check out the new sawyer squeeze filtration system from the gear bank, so i'll be using that. it's actually an amazingly simple system, and i'm super excited about it because it was free and i won't have to clean it in the field! :)

so here's to hoping that these next 80 miles will be nothing short of wonderful. we'll hopefully be done with the trail by thursday morning, and that will leave just enough time to drive south, pick up jennifer's car, pick up a hitching hiker or two, and then head to trail days! i am SO excited about trail days this year! SO MANY DIRTY NASTY STINKY HIKER HIPPIES! i love it! and there's a weddin' a brewin' in bristol next weekend for nick & knicky, so hopefully i will be in attendance.

i mean, really. what have i done to deserve a life like this? :)