About the Author: Pat-Rice Z is a Jersey girl who has relocated to the DC area. She is a 2019 AT Thru-Hike hopeful who is considering going NOBO or leapfrogging, however the adventure unfolds. You can find her on Instagram @halfway_to_the_sky.

To see all of Patrice’s posts, click her name above!

Week 6: May 7-May 13

This past week had certainly been an interesting one. My trail companions helped me celebrate my birthday in Erwin and then the next day we were off of the trail again. 

We climbed over multiple balds…all of which in rain but the views of the Roan Highlands that I was able to see were incredible. Usually I hike alone and meet up with my hiking group at mealtimes but we stuck closer together this week because, “you can go faster alone, however farther together.”

Coming out of Erwin, I found an “AT” necklace on the ground with a sliver of amethyst and tied it around my pack. The owner excitedly found me a couple days later, “YOU FOUND MY NECKLACE!” He then offered me shrooms, weed or beer. I have to laugh, drugs have been present at 50-60% of the shelters I have stayed at. There are always “safety meetings” present and the other day someone dead faced explained to me how he splits up his acid so that, “the colors are brighter but I’m not messed up.” 

That night my hiking group stayed at the Overmountain Shelter which is a converted barn that can house over 20 people. The view was incredible, not something to miss. It was definitely a party palace however my group and I fell asleep at 9 pm without a problem. The bubbles of people you find on the trail bring a variety of people. I have met hippies (people who more or less live on the trail), retired white collar professionals, graduates from college, and families. I mention the drugs because I think it is important for people to realize that there may be an element of illegal behavior present on the trail especially near shelters. No one has been a problem and people have not acted disorderly but not everyone wants to be around that element. But anything that happens in real life, happens on the trail. 

Which brings me to a very sad story which is what everyone has been talking about. I am currently at the Boots Off Hostel and news just broke that 100 miles north of us, two hikers were physically assaulted and in critical condition. A gentleman with an unstable mental illness and his dog were hiking parts of the trail a couple weeks ago and were picked up by cops in Unicoi County after threatening hikers however was released and we all thought we were safe. The man however was released and last night he stabbed two hikers, a man and a woman. They were able to make it to safety and get medical assistance and the cops were able to apprehend the attacker. [Editor’s note: the man, Stronghold, later died from his injuries.]

Overall, this is a tragedy. We hikers on the AT are a close knit group and we look out for each other but this story definitely shook me. Your mind wanders to the ‘what ifs’ and this story makes you re-examine your reasons for hiking the AT. Is the AT worth it? Am I safe out here? Then again I now live in DC and there have been so many times where I know I was followed walking to my car when I found myself in the wrong neighborhood. This violence on the AT was an isolated incident. My heart goes out to the victims and I pray that no more violence befalls my fellow hikers.

We are all very excited about Trail Days next week and we are comparing pictures of the Roan Highlands. I walked over Little and Big Hump Mountain in 50 mph wind, it was crazy, and fun, and exhilarating all at the same time. My hiking partner and I asked ourselves a million times, “what am I doing here?” As soon as we got off the mountain, the sky cleared and the wind died down and we stopped at Hostel at Station 19E for a well deserved beer. 

So this week there have been high highs and low lows. The mental aspect of hiking is kicking in. I also found a tick on me this week which gives me another thing to think about. I plan to take 3 days off at Trail Days and I just can’t wait. Happy Trails and stay safe out there!