Overnighter on the Appalachian Trail

I did it!

I wasn’t sure there for a little while if I’d be able to. But I did it, and honestly, don’t feel too worse for wear physically because of it. And mentally, I feel awesome!

What did I do?

I hiked an overnighter on the Appalachian Trail.

Yes, THAT Appalachian Trail. The one that stretches from Georgia to Maine.

In 2012 the dream was born. We were visiting Tennessee and took a trip into Great Smokey Mountains National Park. We passed the Appalachian Trail on our walk up to Clingman’s Dome, the highest point on the AT.

2012

I took a picture of one of my brothers on the trail and dreamed of one day coming back to hike at least a portion of that iconic pathway.

That picture stayed with me for years. And then we planned a family reunion in Gatlinburg, TN, right at the foot of the Smokies, and just 45 minutes from Clingman’s Dome.

I knew what I just had to do.

January 2019 – I make a plan of getting in shape. I start hiking around our property.

February 2019 – I’m out for the count with a broken rib.

March & April 2019 – back in training mode. 3-4 mile hikes in the hills behind our house happen several times a week.

May & June 2019 – we start a busy time on our house build and I basically stop all hikes as it’s too tiring and takes too much time.

And that’s when I started to doubt if I’d be able to do the hike I had chosen.I decided that we were going to start at Clingman’s Dome, the highest point on the AT since that was the easiest access from where we were staying in Gatlinburg. We would be dropped off at the parking lot and hike approximately 5 miles to one of the huts in the afternoon, then back to the parking lot for pickup the next morning. I had even purchased our reservation (required in the national park).

But would I be able to do 5 miles with a pack? And then 5 miles again the next day, mostly up hill? That was way more than I’d done since starting training, and I hadn’t been training for 2 months. And what about my 6 year old daughter? And my sister-in-law who’d never been backpacking before? I swallowed my fears and kept moving forward with our plans.

As we packed for our two week family vacation, I tried to figure out if I could pack everything we would need into our packs, that way we wouldn’t need extra luggage. Turns out I could.

When we got to our cabin in Gatlinburg, I took out everything I wasn’t taking on the hiking trip and repacked my bag.

Complete load out, including food and water – weighed 27lbs

And we started paying closer attention to the weather forecast. Something about rain and thunderstorms. Great.

Most everyone encouraged us to stay with the rest of the family. My 13 year old daughter actually opted out.

But I had already purchased the permits, and I was still really excited to give it a go. I had that itch and it needed to be scratched.

My sister-in-law and my 6year old were also still excited to go.And so we went.

It was chilly up there at 6,600′, in the rain and the fog. But we were prepared.

And so we kissed our family goodbye, and we were off. It was 4:00pm and we had roughly 5 miles to hike.

These Nevadan gals loved the warm rain and fog and spooky, mystical look of the woods.

Quick rest stop
Always the mom

We marveled at all the flowers and mushrooms, and especially the bees and wasps taking shelter from the rain.

The beauty in God’s creation is hard to miss in that part of the world.

We were just loving it!

And I was so excited to be following the white blazes on a trail I’ve heard and read and studied and watched so much about.

Around mile 3, Baby Bird started getting very tired. I was worried about making it to camp before dark and did not let us rest very often. But her Auntie came to the rescue and started a game of 20 questions. I’m not sure exactly how many rounds we played that evening as we hiked, but I’m sure the questions numbered in the hundreds!

Right at sunset, the skies cleared just enough to get some beautiful views of the Great Smokey Mountains.

But we were still a ways from camp and the light was fading fast.

And suddenly it was dark, and we were still a ΒΌ mile from the hut. We broke out a head lamp for the kiddo, but the Sis and I could still see a bit and didn’t want to take the time to dig out our headlamps. Probably not the wisest decision. But I’m happy to say we made it into camp without any injuries from tripping on roots or falling off rocks we could not see in the trail.

When we pulled into Siler’s Bald hut at 9:15pm, there were a couple guys making their dinner and they quietly let us know that there were people already asleep in the shelter. The next 30 minutes or so was taken up with quietly stuffing food in our mouths and setting out our bed rolls on the upper “bunk” of the shelter.

I’m proud to say that none of our sleeping bags got wet in the rain, and that we managed to keep the kiddo quiet while we set up. Definitely a first for that trip! (Probably helped that she was dead tired.)

I had to ask one of the gentlemen where the bear cables were since I could not find them in the dark. The national park requires that everyone hang their packs on the bear cables. Good thing I had watched videos about how to use them so I didn’t have to study everyone else’s bags in the dark to figure it out.

And then I crawled into my sleeping bag and went to sleep.

.

.

Hahahahahaha!

.

.

Ahhh, that’s funny. In a sarcastic and sadistic sort of way.

Sleep. Yeeeeaaaahhh. I don’t think I got more than about an hour of sleep that night. Let’s just say that before I go backpacking again, I’ll be getting a new sleeping pad. I feel bad for the other people in the shelter who had to listen to me toss and turn all night.

That’s what you get when you’re 40 years old, haven’t slept on the hard ground in years, and have arthritic hips. I finally had to get up around 2:30am to lower my pack off the cables and dig out some ibuprofen. I should have taken it before bed, but forgot.

And finally it was morning.We met the other people sharing our temporary home, and shared some of our trail experiences.

I made us some hot water for coffee and hot chocolate. We stuffed some food in our faces again and packed everything back into our packs.

Baby Bird was not feeling it though. She was not looking forward to the hike back. Her shoes and pants were still wet from the day before, her mosquito bites from the other day were bugging her again, and she was tired.

But, like a trooper, she put her pack back on and we took off…45 minutes later than I wanted to.

It had taken us just over 5 hours the day before to get to the hut. And that was mostly downhill.We had a plan to meet up with the family at the Clingman’s Dome parking lot at noon. I wanted to leave the hut at 7am.

*Sigh* well, it is what it is, and I knew from checking my phone periodically the day before where I could expect to have service, so I could keep my hubby updated.

And I was shocked. As we headed out, we actually made better time going back up the trail than we did coming down the day before. Part of that, though, is that Baby Bird just wanted to be done.

Just take a look at that face. 😟

My Sis and I had taken a bit of the weight out of her pack, so that is another reason she was able to hike faster, but, really, she was just ready to be not hiking and knew the faster she got there, the sooner she could be done.

And then an amazing thing happened.We made it back to Double Springs Gap hut that we had passed the night before. There were a couple ladies there and they just raved over B and how awesome she was doing, and how amazed they were. I literally saw her straighten up and, after a short break there, when we took off again, she had a new confidence. And suddenly her attitude was 100% better.

From then on out, she slowed down a bit, but she was happily finding centipedes (we called them huffle-pedes because they are the colors of the Hufflepuff house from Harry Potter πŸ˜‰), mushrooms (“fairy umbrellas and pools”) and other magical sites and creatures.

I was looking at my watch, tempted to tell her to hurry. But I knew I couldn’t do that. I couldn’t take away that little bit of joy that she was finding in the midst of a hard trial.

Can you find the centipede?

And the sun started to peak out a bit more that morning.

For my part, I was amazed at how well my knees and hips were actually doing, even with a heavier pack this second day (from taking on B’s sleeping bag).

Laying in bed the night before, worrying about not sleeping and how long the hike out would take that next day, I just kept remembering all those steps we had come down the evening before. All those steps that I would then have to go up with already tired and hurting legs. I envisioned stopping at each one, barely able to haul myself up it. But while I was tired, I was hiking very well. Even up all those steps.

And then we caught up with one of the ladies from the hut. She had overtaken us a while ago, but then kept stopping on the ridges to try to get cell service to contact her husband. After we caught up to her, she gave up on trying to get service and we hiked together for a while. That helped to pass the time admirably as we chatted, getting to know each other.

She took this picture for us since the Sis was on up ahead on the trail.

And then, finally, we were done!

My hubby was waiting for us at the very end of the trail. We were 45 minutes late, the exact amount of time we were late in leaving the hut earlier that morning.

But it was a God thing, because of we had left on time, we would not have gotten to hike and become fast friends with our hiking companion.

And we would not have been able to give her a ride down into Gatlinburg, which I loved being able to do.

And just like that, our trip was officially over.

I will never forget this trip. It has definitely been a highlight of this family vacation.

I learned a lot on this trip. Some things were good (my new pack and sleeping bag rocked!) and some not so good (I don’t think I would have been able to go much faster even without the 6 year old with me – which means a measly mile an hour hiking speed! And, my sleeping pad does not work at all for my particular body issues.)

Overall though, it was a very successful, and to me, enjoyable trip.

We got to see some amazing views, awesome vistas, and magical scenes, and that was without getting to see very much of the actual Smokies.

I thank God for an amazingly beautiful and wonderful, and safe trip. And I can’t wait to go backpacking again!

First 3 miler

I finally found the time and effort to go for a 3 mile hike in the hills behind our house!

Started the hike in no snow…

It’s been almost two months since I started training and here we are, my first time going 3 miles in one hike. It seems like a pitiful amount. I used to be able to hike 5 miles no problem. And when thinking of walking 8-12 miles nearly every day for three weeks on the Tahoe Rim Trail, I know that I am far from my goal.

However, I am happy with the hike in that I was hiking through snow (again), I gained quite a bit of elevation, I didn’t feel too bad on the hike, and I didn’t feel too horrible the next day.

Ended up having to just roll my pants up to my knees because they were getting wet in the snow. Good thing it was a fairly warm day!

I said in my post about my training goals that I want to get to where I am hiking 3 miles in one hour while carrying a pack just about every day.

Well, I am proud that in two months I have graduated from only going 1 mile each day to 2 miles fairly consistently, and now bumping it up to 3 miles here and there.

“Turnaround Gap” – this is the gap in the trees in other pics I’ve posted. Often this is my goal, the point where I turn around. But not today!
Lots of elevation gain!

I know I’d be even further along if I hadn’t broken a rib and been laid up for several weeks. Hmmm, sounds like how I feel about our house construction. And speaking of building our house, I’d have waaaay more time to hike if I didn’t have a house to build. But, if I keep this training pace up, I know that in just a few more months I’ll be at my daily hike goals. And if I can hike 3 miles in one hour, gaining 500+ feet in elevation in 1Β½ miles, while carrying a pack and do that on a consistent basis, then I’m pretty sure I’ll have no problem hiking longer distances when I have all day to do it.

So, my first 3-mile hike was a success. Soon I need to try carrying my daypack again. I haven’t carried it since I broke the rib. But I think I’m healed enough to start carrying it again. Not that I need to carry a lot when I’m only going a mile or two from home. But if you want to be able to carry a heavy pack, you’ve gotta train by carrying a pack.

Oh, and as a side note, snow isn’t all that bad to hike in. Not only does it help the training (by making things harder), but it can be fun as well.

As you can see from my footprints, I had a bit of fun “skiing” on my way back down.

Happy Trails

-MammaBear

No pain, no gain??

So, as you all know, I’m training to thru-hike the Tahoe Rim Trail in 2020. I’ve started out this year (2019) with the commitment to hike/walk nearly every day. (You can read my training goals here.)

It’s been about 6 weeks and, as I thought might be the case, I am finding it hard to find the time to do anything more than go for a simple, fairly short walk/hike each day. My walks range from 1 to 2 miles, though I usually do hike up the canyon behind our house, so at least I am getting the elevation workout. But I just can’t find more than about an hour to go for a walk every day, what with all the other things I have to do.

So what do you do when you just can’t seem to find the time to make your workouts longer?

Well, you ramp up the intensity.

Only have time to go one mile today? Walk faster than you usually would.

Your 2 mile route no longer making you out of breath? Start carrying a heavy pack.

Go faster if you can’t go further. Carry weight of you can’t do either of those.

Push yourself.

And that’s where I got into a bit of trouble.

I was staying at my mom’s house in town for a few days, so I took my daily walks in her neighborhood. I was on sidewalks on level ground.

Walking on payment

I thought to myself, “Self, here’s your chance to really ramp things up!” No hills to contend with. No snow to slosh through. I was gonna kill it! I chose a 1.5 mile route, and walked it.

Fast!

And the next day, I could barely walk at all!

My shins were killing me, and my knee decided to flare up worse than it’s done in months.

The combination of much-faster-than-normal walking plus being on hard concrete/asphalt injured me. I actually pushed myself too hard.

Now, if it was just the sore shin muscles, I’d laugh it off and work though it. But the flared up knee is more serious. When my arthritis gets aggravated like that, it sometimes takes weeks to calm back down.

I shoulda known better. I shoulda slowed down and been gentler on the knees. But I didn’t and I’m paying the price for it still a week later.

But there’s that old saying, No pain, no gain.” Right?

Right. I do actually agree with it. In order to get stronger, you have to push yourself out of your comfort zone, and often that involves some pain.

But you a gotta know your limits.

Work up to your goals.

Push yourself, but be wise about it.

So the next day, not wanting to miss out on a day of training, I pushed myself to get out and walk anyway. Even though I was in quite a lot of muscle pain and my knee was swollen. And the weather was crappy.

I went much slower, sometimes even literally just limping along. And I chose as many dirt surfaces as the neighborhood allowed.

I was amazed at the difference in how my legs felt when I stepped off the asphalt path onto the dirt. It was immediate relief!

Walking on dirt = so much less pain
A dirt road chosen over the asphalt walking path just on the other side of the drainage

And guess what. I walked 2.3 miles. And didn’t feel any worse the next day.

So get out there and push your limits. Challenge yourself to go further or faster. Ignore the pain sometimes. But also realize where the threshold is of a healthy hurt vs injury, and stay on the good side of it.

Happy Hiking (and safe training!)

-MammaBear

Gear failure

When training for a big upcoming backpacking trip, it’s a good idea to test out your gear ahead of time.

That way when things go afowl, you’re not in a pickle out on the trail.

Now, my gear failure does not pertain to backpacking per se, but I am glad I found out that my snowboots are utterly not waterproof before I tried to use them in a situation where wet feet would be a serious problem.

On my daily walk, I wanted to wear my hiking boots, which are supposedly waterproof, along with my gaiters for the deep snow.

However, I hadn’t gotten more than a few dozen yards from my house when I realized the rain had turned the snow to slush.

It was like walking through a slurpee.

So I went and changed into my snow boots.

And I took off.

The gap in the trees on the horizon behind me is my destination.
The final push.

By the time I had made it to my turn-around point, my feet were pretty darn wet.

Wet, wet, wet footprints in the snow

I saw a cool snow formation on the way back down. A snowball had formed and rolled down the hill. But it had rolled into a doughnut shape.

Doughnut shaped snowball

Slushy, slushy, slushy

By the time I got home, there were literally puddles inside my boots. But don’t take my word for it, look at the stream of water I am wringing out of just one of my socks after I got home!

My boots were so heavy by the time I got home.

Wet: 5lbs 6oz
Dry: 4lbs 1oz That means that there was 1lb 5oz of water!

It took 4 full days for the liners to dry out!

Boot liners hanging above our propane heater in our trailer.

So what’s the take away from this experience?

Check your gear! Test it. Put it through it’s paces. Before you take it out in the back country.

Especially if it’s been a while since you’ve used it.

Did I mention that these boots are at least 15 years old? Yeah, they obviously need some work.

As the boots were drying, I decided to see if I could diagnose the problem. Sure enough, it became obvious when I looked inside without the liners.

See those white “scrapes” near the bottom? That is where the water was getting through.The waterproofing layer was being worn off.
You can see where the waterproofing layer is delaminating from the uppers.

Now that I know what the issue is, I’m hoping a layer of waterproofing and some seam seal will do the trick. We’ll see I guess.

I am not upset that the waterproofing on uppers is failing. As I said, these boots are at least 15 years old. I thinks it’s to be expected, and it is repairable, so no worries.

When I inspected the rubber bottom part of the boots, I was truly impressed. They are in perfect condition. Unlike my Bogs boots. (See below.)

NOT my Sorrel snowboots. These Bogs boots are only 3 years old and already cracking!

In the mean time, I have no waterproof shoes to hike in, so I’ll have to wait till all the slush freezes, or it snows an appreciable amount (new fluffy snow is fine for these boots), or things dry out some before I can get back up into the canyon. So today, I took my daily walk in my parents’ neighborhood since we’re housesitting for them. At least it’s exercise.

1st major purchase

I did a thing!

Or should I say I bought a thing!?

My first major, and hopefully most expensive piece, of gear needed for my thru hike of the Tahoe Rim Trail in 2020.

I replaced my old (1996!), heavy (over 7lbs!) North Face pack with a Gregory Jade 53.

Coming in at 3lbs 9oz, it is not considered an ultra light pack, but it is almost half the weight of my old one. It’s somewhat smaller (55 vs 65 liters), which will force me to pack less. And, it’s PURPLE! Oh, and I got it on sale. Win-win.

And to make things even better, I found a slightly smaller size one for my 13 year old daughter for even cheaper than mine (only the gray one was steeply discounted for whatever reason and I REALLY wanted purple πŸ˜•). I bought both through REI’s website.

I’m still going to need a few more pieces of essential equipment (shelter, stove, sleeping bag, etc). All of my old gear is OLD and HEAVY. But until I can afford more, I can still be training. At least I can throw a bunch of water bottles in my new pack and go hike the hills.

Happy Hiking!

-MammaBear

PS isn’t it so pretty? (Yes, I freely admit that I like my gear to match and if I have a choice, I will almost always pick purple or the closest thing to it. Purple makes me happy. 😊)

No excuses

It snowed 12″ here at home, and my normal hiking/walking/exercise route got that much harder.

But, when you’re training for a big hiking trip like the Tahoe Rim Trail, you can’t let a little (or even a lot of) snow stop you from getting out there and training.

Thankfully, the sun was shining and the wind was calm.

And you know what?

It was an awesome hike.

And that’s often how it goes. But even if it is nasty like it’s supposed to be tomorrow, I’ll still be out there. Because goals are a lot harder to accomplish if you constantly wait for things to be perfect.

Because, surprise!

It’s rarely going to be perfect.

So don’t let that stop you.

No excuses!

PS how do you take a photo or video when the snow is soft and fluffy and your tripod would just sink into the snow?

You set the tripod on a ziplock bag, of course!

PPS I had a setback with my broken rib(s) healing – I slipped on the ice. Not fun. But I’m feeling like I’m back on the mend. So more hiking to come!

TRT pre-planning

I love maps. So as I start planning for next year’s thru-hike of the Tahoe Rim Trail, I’m loving the opportunity to dive into studying the section maps provided by the Tahoe Rim Trail Association.

Some may think I’m starting a bit early. But I know how my life goes. I had a break from building our house since I broke my rib, so I used it to do some planning and dreaming for NEXT summer. Now that I am somewhat recovered and we are started back on our house, I won’t have much of an opportunity to think that much about it. And then it will be spring and the summer and the busyness that comes from those seasons here on the homestead. And then fall and the holidays. And then it’s finally next winter when I’ll have time to get to the planning again.
And I’m too excited to wait that long. πŸ˜„

-MammaBear