About the Author, Lydia Kuhn: “Hey everyone, my name is LJ and I like bright colors, sunny days and keeping my succulents alive. I plan to thru-hike the AT this year because, “why not?” Travel is a huge passion of mine and when I find my travel account running low, I pick up shifts as a physician. I am a novice blogger but excited to share my journey.”
The thunder was booming overhead, the rain pelting the already soaked tent walls, a pool of water creeping towards me from the not-so-waterproof seams of the tent as I sat in the middle, knees clutched to my chest, teeth chattering as I unconsciously rocked to keep warm in my soaking clothes. “This sucks. What the heck am I doing here” is all I could think about. Just 4 days in to my 9 day shakedown hike for the AT and I was already dreaming about quitting.
“Well, this is just great”, I said to my hiking partner, frustration oozing out of every wet poor of my body. It had rained every day since we started the Foothills Trail in North and South Carolina. Our planned 77 mile through-hike was throwing us plenty of unexpected weather. I had not really been prepared for this. Interestingly my biggest worry about hiking the AT had not been elevation or the trail itself, it had been having to hike in wet, cold weather. Well, the wet, cold weather had found me and everything I had was soaked. The rain-cover for my backpack had barely withstood the first 5 minutes of downpour on day 1. My pack was dripping wet and everything inside had suffered the same fate except for my sleeping bag and puffy jacket which I had the forethought to put into a trash bag. My partner was going through the same cold, wet concerns as myself. We had been hiking for 4 days in rain and our wet socks and shoes had done a number on our feet. His feet looked rough. For a moment I stopped thinking about myself and realized we both needed a pick-me-up. I opened my pack and started sifting through my wet things to find my camp stove and pulled it out. I boiled some water and pulled out a packet of hot chocolate and made us both a cup. The hot cups in our cold hands and the warm liquid hit us both at the same time. We smiled and at that moment I knew we were going to be ok. As we finished the last drop we were already making plans of how to get as dry as possible and put on our precious dry puffy jackets and get in our sleeping bags without compromising them. In 30 minutes we were warm and the trials of the day appeared more manageable.
We both knew we were reaching our breaking points. Me – the constant wet clothes and slogging around in wet shoes for 10 miles a day was tearing down what little mental fortitude I had. For him – concerns that we didn’t have enough food as after just a few days he was losing weight and constantly hungry. We needed a plan and we needed a resupply.
Cell service had been almost non-existent during the hike and we barely crossed near any roads with enough cars to try to get a ride. It was January. We were the only hikers out here. By some mercy, my partner checked his phone and he had 1 bar. The Foothills Trail Conservancy website listed several volunteers who could help hikers in need. We called all of them. Finally, one guy picked up. His hiker name was “Taz” and he was a complete Godsend. We backtracked 2 miles to a pick up point the following morning and not only did Taz take us into the small town of Salem to resupply but he also let us do all our laundry at his house, shower and fed us a pizza before dropping us back on trail. Our total outlook on life and the trail changed from his generosity. Not only did the weather change but also our perspective. By the time we finished our 77 miles we had encountered 3 trail angels; people who went out of their way to be kind. As we walked the last few miles into Table Rock State Park we reflected on the unexpected things we had learned while on trail. The experience had been hard. For me, the weight of my pack had been an unexpected burden and hard on my joints as well as my ability to make miles every day. The wet and cold had put me into a negative headspace that had almost ended my hike. But small things like a hot cup of chocolate helped me take a step back and re-evaluate. And sometimes stepping off the trail to get dry is “ok” if it allows you to reset and refortify. But most importantly, we had both been overwhelmed by the kindness of strangers. It renewed our faith in humanity and ourselves.
I have been told that the AT is full of trail angels, kind hikers and a sense of community. If it is anything like what I experienced on the Foothills Trail, I can’t wait to be a part of it.