Not my best days on the Appalachian Trail (April 30-May 2, 2003)

Erwin Tennessee

I had hiked most of the preceding 338.8 miles from Georgia with Cuba and Slaughter. Tank had more recently joined us. They were all planning to take a zero day in Erwin. I had just broken up  with my boyfriend of five years.  All of my belongings were stored in an old house on his grandparent’s property in Boone, NC. I needed to retrieve them. My sister had agreed to meet me 47 miles north of Erwin, at the intersection of  US 19E in three days and drive me to Boone so I could move it all into a storage space.

The plan was for me to hike on alone for the next three days, meet up with my sister, spend the day moving my stuff, then have my sister drop me back on the trail. Hopefully, this would put me right back with my crew later in the week.

I liked to get an early start in the morning, but the earliest ride I could get back to the trail was at 10. I had been doing some hitchhiking during my thru hike, but never by myself.

Slaughter, me, Cuba and Tank somewhere south of Erwin, Tennessee

April 30, 2003 (16.4 miles Erwin to Cherry Gap)

“The climb from Erwin to Curly Maple shelter was hot but it felt good to be hiking. Just before I got to the shelter, it started raining. It rained hard, then hailed. I stayed at the shelter, waiting it out. Eventually, it eased up and I moved on. I spent about two hours trying to outrun a second storm. It caught up with me just as I was going over the (very BALD) Beauty Spot. Terrified on the exposed bald, I went off the side of the trail into some briers, which quickly turned my legs into a bloody mess. I made my way further off the trail and down the side of the mountain. I sat there for a while listening to thunder crash around me. I debated going back up to the trail and making a run for it across the bald, but decided instead to bushwhack all the way around the mountain until  I found the trail again on the other side. The storm was quickly closing in on me as I slipped and slid frantically trying to decide which trees were the shortest. I ducked and slid and cried as lightning crashed all around. the rain was pounding and all of sudden turned to hail so fierce it stung my hands and legs. I crouched down and watched the hail pile up. The ground was white. I swore and screamed and thought I was going to die. The thunder was louder than anything I’d ever heard and lightning flashed  simultaneously. I thought I was going to die. As the hail subsided, I looked down and realized that my hands were a darker shade of purple than my coat. It was so cold. Now I was worried about hypothermia. Aware that I needed to get moving to warm up, I looked around for the trail. It was nowhere in sight. I panicked for a few seconds, but eventually saw a white blaze. I start walking. It was windy. I was completely soaked and freezing. I walked in the direction of the storm that had just passed.

Why am I doing this? I’m hungry, thirsty, scared, cold, tired and suddenly feeling very alone.”

Later, in my tent, my sleeping bag is damp, wet in places. I’m no longer worried about hypothermia, but I’m far from comfortable. I’m exhausted. Emotionally and physically drained. A couple of hours after I fall asleep, I wake up feeling very nauseated. I try to convince myself I’m not sick, but then I’m out in the wet woods throwing up. I spend several hours alternating between lying in my tent feeling sick and getting out to throw up. This is the first time I’ve ever been sick while backpacking. It sucks. Everything is muddy and wet and I have to keep getting in and out of my tent.

May 1, 2003 (8.7 miles Cherry Gap to Clyde Smith Shelter)

The next morning I woke up with that weak, dehydrated, depleted feeling you get after a stomach bug. My head throbbed. Everything hurt. I had a day and a half to make it 30.2 miles to the road crossing where I was supposed to meet my sister. This was years before I got my first cell phone. The handful of people on the trail who had cell phones could rarely get them to find a signal. I thought about asking a fellow thru-hiker (non of whom I knew all that well, as I’d left my crew back in Erwin) if they would try to meet my sister and explain to her that I was sick. Instead, I slowly got myself packed up and set out on the trail.

“I could only take a few steps up each mountain before having to stop and catch my breath. It took me six hours to walk 8.7 miles. At one point, after passing me, Pat turned around to check on me. He said he was worried about me and offered to carry my pack. Red Beard gave me some ginger to suck on. I fell asleep as soon as I got to the next shelter at 1:30 and slept until 4:30. Blaze and Face come in.  Later Stinger and Stir Crazy come in and played cards with me. They all eventually headed back out, but then Steama, Elizabeth, Amanda and Boat showed up. So I didn’t have to sleep alone.”

May 2, 2003 (Clyde Smith shelter to Hwy 19E)

The next morning I was feeling like myself. I banged out 21.5 miles and made it to 19E in time to meet my sister.

“Felt much better. Hiked Alone. Fog on Roan (mountain). Pretty on Humps (Little Hump and Hump mountains). Thunderstorm just after descending.”

The next day, my sister and I moved all of my stuff into a storage space, then she drove me back to the trail. She and her husband Jason hiked with me (back south) half a mile to Apple House shelter where Cuba, Slaughter, Tank, Potato Head and the Montana Family were all spending the night. Jen and Jason shared some trail magic with everyone before hiking back to their car.