Days 26-32

April 18th-24th

All zeros!

I’ve had a pretty enjoyable week off so far. I got to spend Easter with my family, hang out with friends in Amherst, and get my feet checked out by a podiatrist.

My podiatrist had good and bad news. Bad news- my feet are “horrible for thru hiking” (he said I should do long distance cycling instead.) Basically the way my feet are shaped and they way they rotate when I walk means I have a lot of pressure points and a lot of blister spots. Because of this I will more than likely get blisters until the end of my hike. The blisters might be debilitating, but they might just be an inconvenience. I’ll just have to see. The good news- with the right footwear, socks, and blister treatment I should be able to reduce the number of blisters I get and the severity of the blisters when I do get them. I went to the Greater Boston Running Company, where I’ve worked now for almost 3 years, and bought a solid pair of Asics. I’m hoping that and my 1 lb bag kit of foot care items will help solve the problems I’ve been having.

I talked to Spice this week and hopefully I’ll meet up with him again at Trail Days!

I just updated my gear list and added some photos from the hike. Another post coming tomorrow with my hiking plans for next week.

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Day 25

March 17th

Today I decided to get off the trail. I woke up this morning and discovered a new blister on my left heel and all of the skin on my right pinkie had torn off overnight. I tried hiking the 15 miles to the next shelter but it took the whole morning to get only 5 miles in. When I got to the first big climb just realized I wasn’t going to be able to go uphill. I was just done. I walked a half mile down the closest road to a hostel, where I met up with Yote and Nemo (they had started 2 hours after me and caught up). We hung out by the river for a few hours and then said goodbye. I promised them I’d make it back in time for Trail Days (a hiker festival in Damascus mid May) so we could meet up again. Then I got a ride into Johnson City and am now taking a Greyhound home from there. Coming off the trail early is a huge mix of emotions. I had my heart set on making it to Damascus before coming back home, but the past few days I’ve realized that that wasn’t going to be possible. I’m upset that my feet didn’t hold up until then. Most of all I’m frustrated. I feel like I’ve done everything by the book to protect and fix my feet but nothing has worked. I’m now hoping a couple weeks off from hiking to let them totally heal plus a new pair of shoes (my 4th pair) will solve my problems.
On the bright side I’m confident I’ll return and, provided that my feet are all set, I’m confident I’ll be able to start pushing big miles. My legs are itching to do 20+ a day so I’m looking forward to that.
I hope to get in some miles on the NY/CT section of the trail before I head down south again, but I’m going to play that by ear. I have a podiatrist appt on Monday to figure out how to best heal my right pinkie since there is no longer skin attached to most of it.
Pictures and some actually interesting stories from the past week to come.

Day 24

April 16thHot Springs 273.9 to Spring Mtn Shelter 284.9

11 miles

Woke up at 8 today and met up with Yote, Frosty, Jukebox, Nemo, The Pope and Muriel at 9:30 at a hiker hangout. We hung around for a bit, drank coffee and ate cookies, and then I left alone at 11. The hike wasn’t too strenuous but I was really slow, limped most of the 11 miles. I got into camp around 5 and Yote joined me 20 minutes later (though he had left at 1). Frosty, Jukebox and Nemo rolled in about a half hour later. It was cold, lows tonight expected to be in the 20s and windy in the mountains. We had a quick dinner and I’m in bed at 7:30. Hopefully going to make 15 miles tomorrow, I just have to start really early. My pace has slowed from 2.5-3.5 mph to 1.5-2 mph, which makes a huge difference when you’re doing 6-10 hours a day.
Pope and Muriel are taking a few days off to go to a concert, gonna miss you guys! Really fun couple of hikers.

Days 21-23

April 13th-15th
13th-Painter Branch Campsite 242.9 to Max Patch Summit 254.1 11.2 miles 14th-Max Patch Summit 254.1 to Hot Springs 273.9 19.8 miles 15th- Hot Springs 0 miles

The last few days have been mostly a nightmare. On the 13th we packed up and started off to Max Patch, supposedly an easy 11 mile day. I had done 20.5 the day before so I expected it to be nothing. It was the worst day yet, entirely because of my blisters. I now have 14 blisters, 5 of them hurting enough that I limped half of the day on Sunday and almost all 20 miles on Monday. I’ve come to realize blisters are a combination of individual feet and luck. One guy I’m hiking with wears a pair of $50 running shoes and one pair of wool socks and has had one blister. I am on my third pair of $140 shoes, have 4 sock liners, 5 pairs of socks, an entire medical kit for my feet including moleskin, new skin, tincture of benzoin, athletic tape, 3 types of blister pads, foot powder, and bodyglide, I spend about an hour and a half a day tending to my feet, I change my socks 2-3 times a day, and I have the most blisters out of anyone I’ve met on the trail. Most people look at my feet and are just surprised I’m still hiking. The blister on my right pinkie toe is now about the size of my actual toe and is starting to form over the toenail. I have another blood blister about the size of my thumb on the outside of my right heel. Those two are by far the most painful and make every step feel like I’ve had all the skin on my foot shaved off. The last 30 miles of the hike have been some of the most painful 16 hours of my life.

On the bright side, we camped out on Max Patch Sunday night, which was by far the best night on the trail. Max Patch is a mountain in NC that had been cleared for grazing and is now kept a “bald’, or just a grassy summit. At the top you see nothing but mountains for miles and miles. We got up there late afternoon, laid out our sleeping bags, and just hung out for the night. Yote even got his friends to drive the hour and a half from Knoxville to bring us pizza and beer. We spent the night eating Little Caesars and drinking PBR while watching the sun set over the mountains. Then we just cowboy camped under the stars on top of the bald. It was very windy, but being cool, dry, bug free and without a tent made it ideal camping.
On Max Patch I met one of the most interesting hikers I’ve talked to on the trail, Forester Gump. He works for a private forestry agency in conjunction with the Forest Service in upper Michigan. He’s a former Marine pilot and had some great stories to tell. We spent much of the evening talking everything from military to life in Michigan to forest infestations. He even let me borrow a thick pair of socks to try to relieve some pain in my feet. Overall great night on Max Patch.

Monday was just a 20 mile painful shuffle in the rain to Hot Springs. Mentally I’m done with this whole hiking thing. Hiking 8-10 hours a day sucks. This trip isn’t “fun”. To be fair it hasn’t been “fun” since day 1, you just have to learn to enjoy the moments in between hiking and count the rest as a challenge. Now though my feet are ruined and the hiking is infinitely worse. All I’ve thought about the past 3 days is how much longer until I get to go home, how many more miles until Damascus. I just want to go home for a couple weeks, let my feet heal, get a pair of shoes that won’t cause blisters, and then hike pain free. The rest of my body wants to bang out 20-25 miles a day. The only thing that is holding me back is my feet. And it freaking sucks.

Today I’m zeroing in Hot Springs. I’ve just done laundry, spent an hour at the outfitter trying to get advice on how to stop the blisters, and now I’m at the library updating the blog. Soon I’m going to grab a bite to eat with some of the guys and do a 5 day resupply at the Dollar General. Heading out tomorrow morning. Dreading putting on my boots more that anything. Hoping to make it to Erwin, TN for Easter Sunday.

15 days, 7 hours, and 10 minutes from now I’ll be on a bus and my feet will have a couple weeks to recover. All I need to do is walk another 193 miles to Damascus, where I can shuttle to the bus station. Only 193 more miles.

Day 20

April 12th
Tricorner Knob Shelter 222.4 to Painter Branch Campsite 242.9

20.5 miles

Woke up today at 6:45 and left the shelter just after 8. After a small climb the trail went downhill for almost 16 straight miles, which made my miles fast. I stopped at Cosby Knob Shelter and ran into Superfeet and Barnacle, who hadn’t left yeah. I hung out with them, taping my feet and listening to classical music, for about a half hour. Soon after I caught up with Yote, The Pope, Muriel, Tyler and Frosty and hiked to the bottom of the mountain with them. I was about 17 miles in when we came to a magical sight- a cooler filled with soda, beer and apples, set next to a flowing creek. It was AWESOME. I had a couple PBRs and an apple while relaxing in the water. Yote and I were near tears when we first saw the trail magic, that’s how happy we were. A huge thank you to our trail angels Ed and Sue, that was the best trail magic I’ve had yet. The group spent almost 2 hours hanging out at the creek. Around 5 we packed up and made the 3 mile climb to the campsite. I am exhausted after my longest day so far, bed soon!
A couple big picture things happened today. I got my dad to order a new backpack because my hip belt has become too big. A well fit pack should sit with its weight on the hips, so a hip belt that is too big for your hips puts all the weight on your shoulders (no fun). Secondly, I booked a bus ticket home! Looking at the mileage I realized I wouldn’t be able to make it to Troutville in time for graduation. The next closest Greyhound station is in Marion, VA, 200 miles south, which would mean too many days off the trail. However, I have a plan. I’m going to get to Marion on the 30th, take a bus to Springfield, then hike part of the CT/MA section before Steph’s graduation. I’ll then head back to Marion mid May. This way I can make it home in time for graduation, but I can bang out some mileage instead of taking a whole 2 weeks off the trail.
Next few days should be fun. I was originally going to head into Hot Springs on Monday, but the group I’m with now is going to camp out on Max Patch tomorrow, which I don’t want to miss. Therefore I’m gonna do an easy day tomorrow, stay with the group until Hot Springs on Tuesday, and then start hitting big miles afterwards to make my schedule.
Feet are blistered and hurting but I’m hoping they heal as my shoes break in! 3 week mark tomorrow.

Day 19

April 11th
Newfound Gap 206.8 to Tricorner Knob Shelter 222.4

15.6 miles

I woke up at 6:30 at Steve’s house and left around 7:45. Steve and Debbie let me use a car to drive myself up to Newfound Gap- again, a HUGE thank you to them. I left Newfound Gap at 9:30. The trail was up and down but very well graded, so going was easy. My new shoes were working out pretty well. The hike itself was pretty boring with a few nice views- 7 1/2 hours and I only saw two other groups. Most of the day was spent listening to music. Hiking alone has it’s pros and cons- on the plus side, I don’t have to worry about someone else’s pace, food supply, or preferences. On the down side, I really miss the company. Being by yourself in the middle of the woods for the majority of the day, every day, gets old fast. Towards the end I started having a little trouble with my feet but that’s expected with new shoes. I have two old blisters I’m worried about and one new one. I got to Tricorner Knob Shelter at 4:00. It’s an ok shelter in a great location, a nice stream just out front and a new privy beyond that. I hung out, let my feet soak, fixed up my soles and set up my bag. Had macaroni, cheese, pepperoni and summer sausage and a cherry pie for dinner. There’s about 12 people here, including Onyx and Dragonfly (excited I got to see them!). Going to bed soon- early wake up tomorrow for a 20+ miler if my feet stay intact.

Days 14-18

Fontana Crossings to Newfound Gap

40-ish miles in 3 days, then 2 zero days

Sunday Uncle Steve dropped us off at Fontana Crossings at about 9:00. From there we hiked about a mile to Fontana Dam, where we said goodbye to Spice. He waited there for his parents and we moved on to th entrance of the Smokies. Got new boots in Gatlinburg, so I stated out fresh at Fontana Village with a pair of mid-cut Keens. About three miles into the Smokies my feet started bothering me. It felt like there was a stick under the ball of my right foot. After five miles I was really hurting. If I tied my boots tight, my ankles would hurt. If I loosened them, my blisters would rub. We did 15 uphill to Russell Field Shelter. When I took my boots off there, the bottom of my toes had swollen to twice their normal size. The shelter was full, so I set up my tent just next to it to help block the wind and rain. We woke up to pouring rain on Monday. We did another 15ish as quickly as possible to make it to the next shelter before everyone else. I arrived around 3 and the shelter was already half full. It was at maximum capacity within a half hour and still more people kept coming. Soon we had 15 people in the 12 person shelter, all of us cold, tired, kinda crazy, and glad to be inside. We all agreed to just cook inside the shelter. It attracts mice and bears but it was worth it- the wind and rain outside wouldn’t let up. After dinner a group of high school students from Michigan showed up. They had decided to spend spring break doing their first backpacking trip and were all horribly unprepared. Some were wearing cotton sweatshirts and had 50 degree sleeping bags. It reminded me of my first backpacking trip in high school- no idea what I was getting myself into. We let the group sleep on the floor of the shelter simply because we were already sleeping on top of each other and couldn’t squeeze any more in. We got 20 people to fit in the 12 person shelter. It was an experience, and it was fun being able to share it with a group of other people. The trail can really beat you down, but talking about it with other people who are also getting beat really helps bring you back up. We woke up late on Tuesday knowing we didn’t have to be at Newfound Gap until 4:30. Headbanger and Gazelle left around 10, I left at 10:30. I was feeling good despite my feet and quickly caught up to them at Clingmans Dome, the highest point on the AT. It was cloudy, raining, and everything was covered in ice, so you couldn’t see anything. We quickly moved on.
About 12.5 miles after leaving the shelter we got to Newfound Gap. I arrived about 3:30 and didn’t have any food or water left, but I’ve become good at "hiker begging", which just means stand near tourists and look really sad as you stare at an empty water bottle or food bag. Soon enough a nice lady from Michigan gave me a couple water bottles, an apple and a clementine. I hung out at Newfound Gap until Uncle Steve arrived just before 4:30. Days ago we had planned for him to drop off food to us. After the problems I’d had with my foot I had decided to take a few more days off to find a good pair of shoes and let my feet heal. Steve showed up with the food, I said goodbye to Gazelle and HeadBanger, and Steve and I headed back to Townsend.
The past two days have been AWESOME. If I could I would just spend the next 4 months hanging out at Steve and Debbie’s house. I’ve just relaxed, walked around the beautiful property, enjoyed delicious meals, and driven into town for some new shoes. I once again cannot thank Steve and Debbie enough for their help and hospitality. They’ve really helped save my hike. I’m going back to Newfound Gap tomorrow with new shoes, rested feet and clean clothes. Really excited to see what this weekend brings- good weather is expected through Sunday. Hoping I get to see a bear as well, I haven’t seen any cool wildlife at all on this trip. Goal is Hot Springs on Monday! I’ll try to keep this blog better updated. It’s tough when you fall a few days behind because you start to forget what you did.
Starting at mile 206.8 tomorrow.