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Weeks 3-4: April 16-29
I am currently sitting up in my tent in the yard of the Laughing Heart Hostel in Hot Springs trying to decide if I merely have ingestion from eating too much (likely) or the stomach bug that has been going around. At home, I would have just slept on the cold bathroom floor til my symptoms subsided but seeing as that really isn’t an option right now, I am making the best of the current situation. To be perfectly honest, I am terrified of getting ill on trail especially with a GI problem. When I am sick, I like to be private so throwing up around strangers isn’t my idea of fun. I also would not want to put anyone else at risk.
I finished the Smokies and I have to say that they were incredible. Everyone always talks about how the sleeping situation is unfair to thru-hikers but I never had an issue. I moved through the Smokies with a pack of about 20 hikers and the same 4 section hikers. We always made sure that the section hikers had a place to sleep in the shelter and then we set up our tents. I cannot stop raving about the beauty of the Smokies. The views were incredible and you moved through 4-5 different ecosystems. In laymen terms, we traveled from thick forest, to pine forest, to balds, to fields of wild flowers. The climbs were intense and I could not wait for a zero day at the other end but every single view was worth it!
I woke up multiple times with nose bleeds which did make things more interesting. But seeing as my resupply would last me 14+ days, I had plenty of toilet paper and baby wipes that it was no problem besides being just annoying. My left ankle started to swell the night before we left for the Smokies and I can only guess that it is an old injury resurfacing since I most likely adjusted my gait to relieve pain off of my right knee. I have learned to take care of all bodily injuries immediately because even though we are “just walking,” this is pretty tough on your body and the more you carry, the harder it is on your joints. Luckily I have not had any blisters in my feet but I did discover a blister on my left hip- my hip belt has been bothering the bony prominences of my pelvis lately, I also discovered that my backpack has been rubbing my upper butt so I will be purchasing moleskin, just not for my feet.
I enjoyed Hot Springs, the climb down into the valley though was 100% pain. I was meeting a cousin at 3 so I began my 12 mile day at 6 am to give me plenty of time to arrive in town especially since I discovered that I would not have AT&T service. Normally I stop for an hour lunch but I pushed through after scarfing down a very unappetizing tortilla with Sun Butter. I then walked up hill one last time before 2 complete miles down hill. My left ankle started screaming at me and then the front of both my shins started screaming, my right hip started bothering me and the rubbing of my backpacking pushed me past my breaking point. I had to take breaks every 100 feet. I had multiple “five minute pity parties” but had to keep on trucking. You know the saying, “pack in, pack out.” Well, you packed yourself in and you have to pack yourself out. You put yourself on that mountain and no one is going to get you off, you have to walk. It is truly the only time I feel like I am in the backcountry, when you are in pain and there is no short cut available.
As soon as I got off the mountain, I collapsed at Laughing Heart Hostel and my two days of rest started. It is funny how quickly you forget how miserable you were five minutes ago when you see fellow hikers and the instant fellowship and socializing takes over. I can honestly say that it is the people around me that renew me for another day. Hiking would be so much harder without them. I look forward to next week and to see what activities unfold on my 26th birthday. Losing my health insurance is all too much fun. We currently are on track to walk into Damascus for Trail Days and when we enter Virginia, that means closer to seeing family! I have lots to look forward to! Happy Trails!!