Summit Day

“I’m pretty tired, I think I’ll go home now.”

When we first set off on this journey, we weren’t too sure what to expect. We knew we were headed north to Mount Katahdin in Maine, but who we might meet, what we would see, what obstacles we would have to overcome, what lessons would be learned, were all a mystery. After backpacking through 14 states, we have reached the northern terminus of the AT. March 25th – October 4th. We were one of the last batches of hikers to finish but it was always more about the experience than finishing on time. Staying at a beautiful campsite a little longer in the morning, sitting near a river, soaking in a view from atop of one of hundreds of mountains, visiting small town court houses or sampling their few restaurants, we wanted to do it all. We started this journey in freezing temperatures and are ending it in freezing temperatures. For those who aren’t too familiar with the trail, we walked through Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, and then Maine. Summit day was exhilarating but exhausting. In order to avoid rain during the week, finish on time before they close the AT trail to Katahdin (the northern terminus) for the season, and to meet with family in Maine, we hiked over 70 miles in 3 days. Which with the limited sunlight this late in the year and tough terrain, it made for some maddening times. After exiting the 100 Mile Wilderness and resting for the night, we woke up at 5am and quickly got on the trail leading to the base of Katahdin, 10 miles. We needed to summit on Wednesday so it was imperative that we get the 10 miles done quickly but safely. It ended up taking longer than we wanted but after 4 hours we were at the base. We quickly swapped our packs for day packs at the Ranger Station, signed in, and started the climb. 9am is the latest recommended time to start your climb and it was 10:24 am. There was a brief discussion between the both of us if we should even try. But after terrifying encounters with slick rock slabs and bouldering on damp rocks in New Hampshire and Maine, we wanted to avoid hiking after a downpour at all costs. So we pushed forward. It worked out, but we were moving fast the entire time and every minute counted. Once we summited and headed back down, it was almost completely dark. Being on top of Katahdin was a surreal experience. It all happened so quickly, a blur. We had plans to make videos on top, crack jokes on video to friends, record an audio diary about how we felt, etc. but ended up nearly falling onto the sign in exhaustion and just hugging it.

Exhilaration, exhaustion, relief, joy, sadness, pain… it was as if every emotion we felt during the trail was wrapped into one moment touching that sign. The faces of hikers we’ve met, campfires we sat around, stories we listened to from people who gave us hitches, all flew by in an instant like flipping through a picture book. Leaving us there on top of the tallest mountain in Maine. The wind pushed hard as if reminding us to start heading down. We had originally envisioned sitting up there, having lunch, and enjoying the moment. Instead we had to make haste and head back downward. But it is ok. What this trail has taught us is to be happy with what has been given to us. This doesn’t mean to settle but to simply appreciate what is in front of you. We are so lucky. The climb up was at times frightening and difficult. Each time we reached a sketchy moment, we practiced how we would lift our legs and lunge our bodies forward over an exposed rock. Sometimes they gave us a small metal bar to hold onto and other times not. It was a complete trust in our bodies that they would get us to the next spot. Perhaps it would have been an easier climb had we not just hiked 2,000 miles and practically raced to the finish line. Ideally you would like to camp near the base and start fresh early in the morning. But in typical fashion for us, we had to make do and adjust.


This is not the final word on the trail from us as we would still love to share stories, interviews and many, many pictures from our 6 month journey. We have plans to visit the trail next summer to clean up some miles in Maine, do some trail magic, and provide some trail maintenance in appreciation to the trail that gave us so much. If anyone would like to join us and hike a few miles please let us know.

As far as what is next…we will rest for a bit but we have plans to thru hike the recently completed Northeastern Texas Trail. A 130 mile trail traveling through a mixture of established trails, highways, dirt roads, and private lands. Next summer we will revisit the AT then after that we are currently in the planning phase of thru hiking the Camino de Santiago. A 500 mile trail that travels from France to Spain. Many people have asked if we will attempt the PCT or CDT and get our Triple Crown. We do not have any interest in that but Xavier has always had interest in the PCT. If he can figure out his nagging knee issues, he would love to shoot for a 2020 time frame. He is also now more motivated than ever to help lower income children experience the outdoors and will be exploring his options in the coming year. So was it worth it? Without a doubt. Absolutely. Thank you all for the support, letters, texts, and love you have shown us. While this challenge was totally voluntary on our part, the trail was both mentally and physically tough and nearly brought us down in the tougher moments. But knowing we had so many people cheering us on, we headed north. Can’t wait to see you all. We are by no means experts, but if anyone ever needs any advice on gear, clothing, techniques, etc for hiking, camping or backpacking, let us know. We would love to help!

Mama Mal & WiFi (Mal and X)


Interrupting our planned post…

Greetings friends and family! It has been a couple of months since our last update but we are glad to report we are still on the trail. 1,500 miles into it actually! We are moments away from hiking into Massachusetts. When we arrive at camp every night, we are exhausted and mentally not in the right space to be on our phones writing. It’s a difficult thing however because we absolutely want to capture these moments in great detail, recall the minutiae of an interaction with another hiker or town local. But it is a battle between living in the moment and preserving it in some format. With that said we still hope to continue to write. It may continue even until after our journey. But in this way our adventure lives on a little longer for us. Because with only 697 miles left we are beginning to miss it, as crazy as that sounds being that we are still on the trail! But we are down to the last 4 of the 14 states. Very soon it will be the beginning of the end. We have started to slow down (not that we were moving fast to begin with) and enjoy even more of the small towns and their cafés, taverns, and locals. Getting into crazy adventures with other hikers, meeting SoBos (southbound hikers hiking down to Georgia) for just a night, fleeting, creating moments. Sitting at lakes and rivers, staring and soaking in the smells and sounds. Tenting in town pavilions, behind breweries, behind cafés, restaurants, bridges, next to roads, highways, and of course, deep in the woods where the only sound is your breathing. Hiking with a trail family for three months to being alone every night. To hiking with other trail families and solo hikers. Feeling good about helping other hikers with food, water, or even words of encouragement. We are all on the same path, what little it takes of us to give a helping hand when it is needed most. Battling with knowing we have to make it to Mt. Kathadin in Maine before October 15th but wanting to keep this moment in our lives alive a little longer. Needless to say, we are having the time of our lives. The trail is more than just a dirt path. Sure it has sights and sounds like other trails we have been on but it is more of the journey and the people you meet. Each sharing this unique experience at a time in our lives where it made the most sense.

We’ve had a few small injuries… a couple of small falls, a few big falls, bruised knees, hips, cut wrists, bleeding heads, bruised eye sockets, scars, and some hurt egos. But it has made it all the more special. There is a saying on the trail… No Pain, No Rain, No Maine. And as silly as it is, it is all becoming more true. We’ve had our fair share of pain, an abundant supply of rain, we better freaking make it to Maine! We have gained more confidence in our mind and in our bodies. Pushing it forward and discovering it’s capabilites.

We have hiked harder trails with grander views before, but this is different. The rewards feel bigger because we have put so much of ourselves into this. On the day that our friend Mitch drove us up to Amicalola Falls State Park in Georgia, we wanted to throw up. Scared, frightened, nervous, unsure of what the future held. We were taking this huge leap into the unknown. We had left everything we had known and everyone we had known behind. But we can now say unequivocally, it was absolutely without a doubt worth it. America is beautiful, the country and the people are beautiful. We feel so fortunate to have had this chance.

Our time into the Smokies will be uploaded soon and all the adventures soon after that.

We are beginning to have conversations of what our future trail hiking lives will look like, after this trail. A few thru hikes in this country and abroad are especially piquing our interest.

Thank you to everyone who has written to us, sent us late night texts, sent us care packages, or even pictures reminding us of home where our hearts still lie.

-Mal and X (Mamma Mal & WiFi)

#8 Into Franklin, NC (109.5 miles) 

(We apologize for the long delay. As you can imagine, we are getting sucked into the trail. We are currently at mile marker 765 in Virginia, the blog post below is about our time at the 109 mark. There is something fascinating about writing it this way that was not intended. Being able to reflect back and look at things in the rear view mirror adds to the fun we are trying to create. We are doing our best to catch the blog up to where we currently are in real time and have a few more posts lined up once we edit them and add more photos. We also apologize for any grammer errors or headaches we may be causing you. We also realize we are jumping between present tense, past tense, and past progressive. Cultivating this through notes, spreadsheets, audio diaries and videos is producing some funky writing styles. That and we are not the best of writers. We hope you enjoy the content and journey with us regardless)

Many words have been published about the parallels between the trail and “real life”. The ups and downs, the relationships made, the lessons learned. You will meet people for a brief moment, maybe to hike a few miles with or even a few days, they come at the right time to help you get over that tough uphill climb or help sit out that unexpected snowstorm. It serves as a sort of microcosm for real life, life condensed into 6 months. The parallels are uncanny… the first couple of months everything on the trail is new. The first hill you climb, the first shelter you see, the first friends you make, the first hitch you make are all exciting and new. The next couple of months some of that excitement may fade a bit as it becomes the new normal. You are trudging along while still enjoying it but it may not have that same spark it once did. The last couple of months you relearn to appreciate everything. You are more confident in your abilities, you have wisdom, you slow down knowing it is not a race. 

There are not many things to worry about on a journey like this, other than simply staying alive. In and of itself it is a simple chore. You wake up, feed yourself, pack up your home, gather water, hike, find a place to camp, eat, sleep, repeat. But as usual, and as in real life, these routine things can be more much more complicated. 

We once read an interview with an old man that was days away from death. He was asked all sorts of questions about his life. Friendships, love, loss, but he was also asked if there was anything he would have done different. After some thought he said “I wish I would have worked less and spent more time with my family. I wish I would have traveled more”.  He went on to say that instead of collecting things, he wished he would have collected more memories. This stuck with us and after our first few backpacking trips we realized that we were at our happiest, or extremely close to our happiest, when we were living as minimal as possible and on the trail. When everything we had to live with was on our backs. Living very primitively. And constantly on the move. We were creating memories that made us happy. It is a fulfilling thing to discover. Either it is working on a project, creating art, cooking that perfect meal, making music, or any number of things, it is important to discover that happiness. We felt like we had found ours. 

But not everything can stay peachy and hunky dory forever. Routines that we have in regular life transfer to routines on the trail. Just slightly different. Successes and failures show up at every corner even when simply walking for months. There are challenges even in the most primitive ways of living. You come to realize a bunch of these things early on the trail but they continue to show up and have more significance when time goes on. As you walk and learn how your body and mind react, you become better equipped to deal with the everyday struggles. It could be simply moving faster and more comfortably. It could be the order in which you layout your food and items at the end of the day. Or totally reorganizing your pack. Whatever it is you make these small adjustments and in the end they make for a much more pleasurable and enjoyable experience. 

No more than a week into our trip we were met with record thunderstorms, heavy winds, low temperatures and snow. It would slow our progress but luckily not our spirit. 

As we left Hiawassee we had a sense of community and support. As promised a shuttle picked us up and dropped us back off at the trail where we left off, Dick’s Creek Gap. We jumped off the bus, looked over our gear, tightened our bag straps and up the hill we went. Our Neel Gap friends, the ones who raid hiker boxes and are not actually hiking, were camped near the trail head. We guessed they were moving from town to town. 

It was not a particularly difficult day and after a few miles we celebrated what would be our first state crossing. We were officially in North Carolina. 

We look over at each other and smile. The first of 13 state crossings. We do a little celebration dance and watch our new friends, Liz and Bradyon, cross over as well. We are all smiles and hugs. A sense of accomplishment fills the air. Although this would be one of the shorter stretches between state lines, we are excited to celebrate any milestone. After taking pictures and video we continue on to Bly Gap (Mile 78.3) A bit nervous because the word on the trail is that a huge storm will arrive in the morning. As we approach camp there are at least 15 other tents. One of the larger gatherings we’ve seen so far. We scout the area looking for available tent space. None are to be found. We head down a blue blazed path (these are side trails and/or accessible water trails) in hopes to find anything resembling a flat space for a tent. Nada. We make our way back up the trail towards the end of the campsite and see a spot that may work. It is near a large twisted oak tree. 

We quickly make camp and then head out into the woods looking for a branch to bear hang. We notice a lot of campers eating right outside of their tents. There are varying opinions whether or not it is worth being concerned over bears this early on the trail but we figure it is good practice to still eat away from our tents and to bear hang, if only to keep small rodents out. We decide to eat underneath our bear hang in a patchy field away from everyone else. 

With the large crowd of tents surrounding us and a looming storm we call it an early night and hope to wake up early before the first rainfall. 

The first rays of sunlight hit our tent in the morning but then quickly disappear. It is enough to wake us up and get us moving. We waste little time, even skipping breakfast. Our hearts racing a little faster knowing that we would face our first real rainstorm while hiking. You can try to avoid these as much as possible but sooner or later you simply have to face them and walk. We’ve been through enough of them in our past backpacking trips to know that with a combination of weather apps, knowledge of the terrain and elevation, you can get a few miles in. But it is still a very real and very powerful thing that stirs up fear and panic. To know that ultimately you are in mother nature’s hands. We know this day we have an uphill battle as soon as we depart Bly Gap. After that it is somewhat smooth sailing. However our plan for now is to simply get up and over the mountaintop and if need be, we will camp. 

Without warning the rain starts to come down as we are still putting away our tent. It rushes in as if someone hastily turned the shower knob. Our packs are wide open and we are caught deciding which to salvage, the tent or our packs. Events are happening quickly and there is not enough daylight to make much sense of things. Our headlamp’s beam is being overpowered by raindrops and fog, which has suddenly appeared. The fog overtakes the campground and we cannot see further then a few feet. We decide to finish the tent. 

Somewhere in the course of a few months prior to our trip we made some major changes to our tried and true raingear. We have always been fans of Frogg Toggs. An extremely lightweight but complete head to foot rainsuit. We’ve used it on our camping trips all over Texas, New Mexico and Colorado and it has served us well. Keeping us dry while also being breathable and easy to carry. You would think it would be a no brainer to bring it along on this trip. But as it turns out we were still trying to find better ways to keep dry while saving on weight. Looking for that better piece of gear plagues many hikers and we are not immune to it. We began hearing about hikers completing the trail in only ponchos. This immediately drew our attention because it would mean eliminating our rainsuit, saving us half the weight. And hell, if thru hikers were making it in ponchos, so could we! So we ditched the rainsuit and traded it for ponchos. What most of these articles won’t tell you is that while a poncho may be fine during the summer months, when you might actually enjoy being cooled off by rain, in winter-like weather it is inviting pure mayhem. 

Xavier also decided to ditch his pack liner (a plastic bag on the inside of your pack to act as large rainproof barrier between the elements and your items on the inside) a few months before. This was also a tried and true method over the years… overthinking some situations may cause more harm than good. 

When it came time to get out of camp most of our gear was nearing wet. Obviously this makes things uncomfortable but also adds considerable weight to your items. We made our way through the fog and up the trail. The wind picked up. The rain fell harder and beat against our thin ponchos pinching our skin. We knew we didn’t have much time. But it was too late, the storm was directly on top of us and we were far from the top. Visibility was low due to the fog and communication was limited to hand signals. Thunder roared all around us as the wind tried its best to push us off the trail. The temperature dropped into what felt like the low 40’s or high 30’s. We stopped temporarily and looked over at each other. We gave each other a thumbs up, a signal to communicate that we were ok and to keep going. We both knew we had to get up and over quickly. We could turn back but the campsite we were previously at was at a higher elevation than our agreed destination for the day. And if this storm were to turn out worse, we certainly did not want to be on higher ground. 

Minutes into fighting the storm we cursed the makers of the ponchos. Had they added a few more inches on the arms it would have saved our arms from freezing. A small pull string on the hood would have prevented it from flapping into the wind and drenching our faces, eventually soaking our shirts. A bit longer on the bottom would have prevented the wind from lifting the poncho over our packs, wetting our shorts and shirts every few seconds. Curse the articles that raved about the weight savings! Regret sets in and the thought of our full body rain gear sitting at home only frustrates us. 

A brief break in the rainstorm is a welcome sight as we make our way up and over. It doesn’t last long but enough for us to talk about our plans. We decide to cut the day early and stop at the next shelter, Muskrat Creek Shelter. We would only end up hiking around 2.8 miles this day. We are disheartened by this and a bit upset at ourselves. But we are a muddy and wet mess. With the combined freezing weather and our ponchos doing absolutely nothing to keep us dry, the thought of setting up camp, drying up, and snuggling into our tent sounded like the best option. 

We walk into camp and there are at least 8 other hikers standing in the shelter, protecting themselves from the storm which has started again. We take shelter inside as well and plan our next move. It is at this moment that we stopped physically moving that the realization of how cold it actually is sets in. Our hands are frozen stiff. Simply creating a fist is a battle. This causes a bit of internal panic so we make the choice to immediately start building our tents. We help our friends with their tent and they help set ours. The quicker we can setup, the less water can leak inside. Despite having hands that did not work 100 percent, it works as planned. Once in our tents we begin making our beds and get into our dry night clothes. We make mental plans to ship our full body rain gear in our next mail drop. This should help us during these colder months and once summer hits the ponchos should be fine again. The constant rain keeps us in our tents for the day. We luckily have books saved on our phones and they keep us occupied for the remaining hours and throughout the night. 

Morning comes and rays of sunlight are beginning to shine through the campsite. We begin to hang our clothes and gear on tree limbs. The forecast is calling for clear skies so we are excited to get back on track. 

With clearer heads and minds, we come to terms that the storm was not as bad as it could have been. However with the useless rain gear and the cold temperatures, it made for a hellish day. We hike onward with high spirits despite having a wet tent and soaked down-filled jackets hanging from our packs. 

 The weather remains clear throughout the day and we cross over several wonderful streams. We also hike over Standing Indian Mountain. It is beautiful. We end up hiking 12.5 miles and park it at Carter Gap Shelter. We begin to see the same familiar faces and it brings warmth and comfort to our hearts. 

The next morning starts off as clear as the day before. Our plan is to hike another 12 miles and camp near a shelter. All is well for a few hours… 

Then the earth decides to dump all its water in the tank onto us. Once again our ponchos decide to be useless and we are throughly wet. The temperature drops, the sky becomes dark, and we are hiking fast. The ground shakes every few minutes reminding us we are merly visitors on this beautiful piece of land. It was during this time Xavier discovered his pack was much heavier than usual. It turns out the pack liner he decided not to use this trip would have saved him some headache. Instead, all the contents in his pack were wet, save for a few items that were in individual sacks. The extra weight came from his wet down-filled sleeping bag, which was in a dry sack but not fully closed. 

Soon we start to ascend a rock formation that reminds us of Enchanted Rock’s back side. (Enchanted Rock is a State Park in Texas) 

We decide to move slowly. We were getting close to the Albert Mountain Fire Tower, which also meant we were nearing the 100 Mile marker! The fire tower was erected in 1951 in order to guard the Coweeta Basin. It is now recognized as a National Historic Lookout. 

We make our way back down the mountain when suddenly we see what will be the first of many self made mile markers. Our first 100! 

We take a minute to let it soak in. Sometimes in life you are so gleefully happy that “magic”  or “magical” seems to be the only word to describe what you feel. Everything about it was perfect, for the moment at least. Lightining is seen through the trees, as if we need to be reminded. 

We continue up and down mountains for several miles. The 100 mile high wearing off as reality once again sets in and we are cold and wet to the point of almost freezing. Starting to feel a bit defeated and a bit disappointed in ourselves for changing so many rain gear related items at the last minute, it was a complete welcome when Liz and Braydon texted us that they had reserved a room in Franklin for the night and we were welcome to stay with them. We had not planned on staying in a room until the weekend but morale was a bit low and the thought of a nice warm bed, a hot shower, and REAL food was all it took. We agreed to split the room with them. We would still need another 6 miles until Winding Stair Gap, the exit nearest town, but with new motivation we moved with purpose. 

Staying in motels, hostels, or even private campgrounds, are common alternatives to camping on the trail for thru-hikers. Although camping on the trail is preferred by most, there is no definitive or one way to thru hike. It is commonly said… any type of thru hike is better than no thru hike. With that said… for budget reasons, wanting to stay in the woods as long as possible, or even simply challenging one self, many hikers try to stay on the trail for weeks at a time before sleeping off the trail.  However other hikers aim for one “town” day every 7-10 days. 

Hopping from one rock to another, jumping over creeks or sometimes even walking straight through streams since our shoes were already soaked, we were determined to make it in record time. The rain continued, pouring harder as if it was mocking us for leaving. “A little rain has you running to town?!” After being careless for a few miles with where we stepped we started calculating our footsteps, studying where each one would be placed since the ground was now a muddy pit. We slow our pace and make our way down the mountain a bit more cautiously. 

 Finally reaching Winding Stair Gap we walk into a public parking area, reserved for people who day hike.  

We turn our attention to getting into town, which is still 10 miles away by road. We would have to hitch. 

Hitchhiking is commonly used on the AT as a fair amount of towns near the trail can still be miles away from the trail. As time goes on, the process of hitching becomes easier and less intimidating, the first few times however can be nerve racking. Mallory decided to take a stab at it. 

Within the first 5 minutes we had a car pull up. 

As fate would have it, we had the nicest older couple we could possibly encounter on our first hitch. We quickly threw our packs into their trunk and jumped inside. We apologized for getting their seats wet and they replied “We’re sorry we don’t have a bigger vehicle!” They ask us where we are from and if we plan to goto Maine. “Texas. That’s the plan!” We genuinely meant it and we could sense the couple were also genuinely interested in us. They asked us what convinced us to do such a crazy thing. Although we had been asked this before, perhaps it was because of the rain and how grateful we felt for being picked up we replied “We wanted an adventure, we wanted to create memories”. 

The amazing couple then proceeds to show us around Franklin. Weaving in and out of parking lots, giving us a brief history on the town, making sure we know everything it has to offer. We were curious and asked if the town enjoys having so many hikers this time of year or was it more of an annoyance. “Oh goodness, no. We love it. There is such a buzz in the town that isn’t normally here. We love seeing all these new faces and hearing all the stories. We just wish we had a bigger car!” We looked down towards the console and they were holding hands, as if proud of each other, excited for helping us out. They then asked us for our trail names. “We do not have any yet”. Xavier mentioned that a few hikers started calling him Foam Roller, but he was not accepting it. 

Months before leaving for the trail Xavier’s left leg started making a clicking noise. This progressed to full on pain when walking down stair cases. After his first visit his doctor determined his knee cap was shifting out of place when walking downward and a foam roller would have to be used every night until the AT. After 2 weeks of doing this he went on a short backpacking trip to Caprock Canyon State Park with his friend Mark to test it out. A bit nervous but hopeful. His knee was still hurting. Seeing no progress he went back. The doc asked “How much time do we have until you set foot on that trail?” Two weeks Xavier replied.  “Come here, these are the exercises you have to do 3 times a day. Every day. You are getting on that trail.” The doctor sternly replied. He proceeds to show him multiple foam rolling exercises. Xavier would continue to do these exercises, the last one being in Atlanta the night before hitting the trail. It worked. The pain was gone. He kept the foam roller on his pack in case the pain suddenly popped up again. It hadn’t yet but he didn’t want to take the chance. Hikers began to borrow it from him, each night at a shelter some poor limping soul would roll around on their thighs in hopes to fix an array of leg or knee problems. Thus… the name Foam Roller came to be. But he wasn’t accepting it. 

 The couple dropped us off at the Sapphire Inn. A small motel, very similar to the Budget Inn. Because Liz and Braydon had their dogs and the vehicle we flagged down was a small sedan, they had to hitch on their own. We say goodbye to the couple who picked us up and thank them over and over. They said they were headed back out to find more hikers. This makes us pause a moment because it is such a refreshing thing to hear. Back home it is normal to hear things like “Can’t wait for these out of towners to leave… hopefully they don’t stay here… Please look but don’t stay”. Granted Franklin doesn’t suffer from the over population like back home, but again, it is simply refreshing to hear residents welcome visitors with open arms. 

Liz and Braydon show up shortly after and one by one we take showers, which once again feels like heaven. We had been hearing about an all you can eat Chinese buffet so this immediately became our next goal, only problem was that it was a mile and half away. Sure, we had just hiked a hundred miles and you would think a mile and a half would be a walk in the park but we are beat and walking at this point isn’t at the top of our list. Liz had walked outside minutes earlier and she suddenly busted the door open and exclaimed “Get your stuff, I got us a ride!” While we were inside the room plotting how to get to the buffet, Liz talked a pizza delivery driver who was delivering pizza to the room next to us, into dropping us off at the buffet since he was headed that direction. “Hurry, hurry! Buffet! ” she yelled. We grabbed our money, leaving behind our phones and jackets and ran out the room. The delivery driver opened the camper shell on the back of his truck and said it would only be a 5 minute ride. He had an assortment of boxes, tools, and tires in the back. We looked at each other and said… OK! We cram into the back trying our best not to break anything or get stabbed by anything. He pulls away, sending boxes shifting from side to the other. We are all in awkward positions but are laughing at absurdity of the situation. The driver gets us there in record time and we hop out. Although he does not ask for it, we give him $10 for his time. The buffet is everything we hoped it would be and we stuff our faces with calories. With full bellies and no one in sight to offer us a ride we decide to walk back in the drizzling rain. It is a good night. 

Morning comes and we are glued to the TV. Severe thunderstorms, wind, and a snow storm is expected in the area. We quickly decide perhaps it is better to stay indoors for the day. Our first zero. With this knowledge and knowing we can come back to sleep, Braydon and Xavier decide to goto a local church that is offering free all you can eat pancakes for hikers. There is a free shuttle offering rides to the church and the guys make the pick up time within seconds. 

There is a room filled with tables and hikers. Everyone is all smiles as they stack pancakes with butter and syrup. On the walls are banners with signatures of previous AT Hikers listed by the year. They ask us to sign the 2017 banner, if we wish.

The Pancakes are delicious and we are floored by the generosity of the church members. The preacher sits next to Braydon and Xavier and asks how the trail is going. They reply that it is wonderful and are extremely thankful for all the assistance they have been receiving. They exchange stories and talk about family back home. After a cup of coffee the preacher thanks them for attending and invites them again tomorrow if they wish, same time. They tell him they just might! 

The only thing the church asks is for hikers to send a hand written letter home, to inform family or friends that they are doing fine. “As parents, we know someone out there is worried sick about your well being. Tell them you love them.” With that, they each write a letter home. Church members also offer to take a picture and print it. There are envelopes on all the tables and they inform everyone once they are finished writing the letter, they will mail it off. In less than a week, Xavier’s parents receive this…

The renewed faith we spoke about a few posts ago was highly influenced by this moment and this town. A renewed faith in people and even country. Perhaps this is what the church intends. To show strangers that there is still good. Sure the pancakes were delicious, but it was the gesture, the care, the love shown to complete strangers that was remarkable. We make note of this church and plan to send a handwritten letter with pictures once we get back home. 

The rest of the day is spent restocking on food, eating at a Mexican restaurant, and watching Forrest Gump. We send Chelsea, who is now a few days behind us, a picture of Lt. Dan fighting the sea. 

Liz and Braydon decided a few days before to send their dogs home. They had noticed a few temperament issues with them and they speculate it could be the hard miles and harsh weather affecting them. As much as they want to be with them, they feel it is more important for the dogs to go home. Braydon’s sister comes to pick them up. They seem to be having hard time saying goodbye so we leave them alone for a few hours. 

Overall in Franklin we feel we have done good on the trail. Our bodies feel good and spirits are once again high. The Appalachian Trail Roller Coaster, that is the ups and downs of different emotions you feel in a short time, are in full effect. Although we are a disappointed in ourselves for changing our rain gear before the trip, we learned it is ok to be wrong. It is ok to have tried something new and realize it may not work. We have 6 months to get it right. 

Women of the AT: Amanda (aka GI Jane)  

Although there is no concrete way of knowing, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy estimates only 15 to 20% of thru-hikers are female. Knowing this we thought it’d be very cool to highlight and talk to some female hikers. We hope to discuss what they love about the trail along with what made them interested in doing such a crazy thing and if they have any advice for other thru hiker hopefuls. 

Our first interview in this series is with Amanda, aka GI Jane. We first met her at Locust Cove Campsite in our early days on the trail. Since then we have crossed paths multiple times. She was born in Brazil but has lived and traveled all over the globe. She is a freelance journalist. Her last job was in South Africa where she worked at a French radio station. She also did some Brazilian media. 

Mal & X: You were telling us earlier that you only decided to do the trail a few months before you actually started hiking.

A: Yes, I think it was November.

Mal&X: And you had never heard of the AT before that? 

A: No never,  I just saw on the internet a trail in Canada but it’s really, really long. It’s like 10 times bigger than this one.

Mal&X: Whoa! 

A: Yeah, I was thinking about doing sections of that trail for like 3 months but then I thought it was too cold for me. I started looking for other long trails and I found 3 in America. And I chose Appalachian Trail because I thought it would be easier to start. I have never done anything like this before.

Mal&X: So, you have never backpacked before?

A: No, not like this. 

Mal&X: Not for this long… 

A: Yeah and because there are a lot of towns and more people. At the beginning I wanted to do it alone and to be alone. But then I thought it might be dangerous for me. I don’t have any experience so I thought Appalachian Trail would be nice to start.

Mal&X: That’s kinda why we decided on this trail too because we backpack quite a bit but we felt for our first thru-hike it would be a good because of the people and towns and it’s not like the Continental Divide or something where you’re just out there by yourself for a long, long time. So you mentioned you were on a sailboat for awhile?

A: Yea! I have been traveling for awhile now and I have done different things. And that is why I did the Appalachian Trail because it was something completely different but last summer I spent 3 months on a sailing boat in between Turkey & Greece… so the Greek islands mostly. Yeah, it was beautiful. And I didn’t pay anything for it because I exchanged work for accommodation and food and travel.

Mal&X: So have you always been this adventurous?! 

A: Yea, I think so! Yeah, I left home when I was 21 and I went to Australia and I worked at farms there for like 6 months and it was very nice. And then I went to France and stayed there for 7 years.  Then I was mostly there because I got married to a French guy so I stayed there in Paris. And then I left again so I’ve been traveling and last year I was in South Africa for 8 months.

Mal&X: Wow! 

A: Yeah

Mal&X: Are your parents adventurous, too?

A: My dad never took a plane in his life. Yeah, he never left Rio, cause I’m from Rio and he never left Rio. My mom travels a lot but she likes cities, big cities. She doesn’t like the woods, like backpacking. She likes good hotels and stuff like that.

Mal&X: She needs a nice, comfortable bed.

A: Yes and a good shower. 

X: The Fontana Hilton!  (This is a shelter along the AT near the Fontana Dam that is a bit nicer than other shelters and also has a restroom with running water. Hikers have dubbed it the Fontana Hilton) 

A: The Hilton, yeah! 

Mal&X: Were you always this adventurous and curious growing up as a child?

A: Yes, I always wanted to go out and yeah because in Brazil we heard about the states a lot. So I always wanted to take a year, do a high school year in the states but my parents could never afford it so I had to wait until I was 21 to leave. And I’m 34 now.

Mal&X: Were people scared for you or were they like “be careful out there” ?

A: Yes, yes, my parents made me get the Spot (A satellite messenger that can send messages when there is no cell coverage) 

Mal&X: So do you do that every night?

A: Yea, I do it every night. I really like it now because I gave the website to my friends and they can track me online and it’s fun.

X: We did the same thing with my nephew and niece. They have the Appalachian Trail map and we send the notifications to my mom and they put a pen on the map.

A: Nice, nice. Yesterday, I was at Fontana Village and then my mom wrote me ‘ What’s up’ and said I see you are in town. I didn’t even talk to her. She’s like stalking me! 

Mal&X: What has been your favorite part of the Trail so far? 

A: My favorite part so far was when we got out of the Smokys. I feel like we went in during the winter and came out during the spring. It was so beautiful! 

Mal&X: What advice would you give to other young women thinking of doing something like this or wanting to get into backpacking?

A: I know a lot of people will tell them to don’t do it because it’s dangerous but it’s really not, it’s really not and it’s easy and it’s safe. I mean anything could happen anywhere but it’s so much easier than we think it is because we put a lot of obstacles in our way. Just go. Yeah, you’ll just think “I should have done that before” . Just go. Don’t think so much about it. And if you don’t like it, you can always leave.

This is the thing, you realize you can do whatever you want to do. You are free to do whatever you want to do. Sometimes that is a bit scary too because then you realize you have so many options. You have the whole world and suddenly you feel so small and like okay what are you going to do now. Like me here, I’m having trouble with my knee since the beginning and I was so scared and worried because I come here just to do the trail and if I had to quit because of my knee I would be so disappointed so every day I would wake up and get so frustrated because my knee was not good yet. And then I realize I couldn’t leave like that I had to stop thinking about that so I had a back up plan so good I wouldn’t mind doing it. 

Mal&X: What was the backup plan? 

A: I decided if I had to quit the trail because of my knee, I’m going to Hawaii. So the worst thing that could happen to me was going to Hawaii. There is always something else to do.

Mal&X: Ha ha! Awesome. Thank you, Amanda. 

A: Thank you! 

#7 Hiawassee, GA 

(We are currently well over 400 miles but due to logistics and simply being on the trail, we are a few weeks behind on the blog. But we have made it to Tennessee! Woohoo! Please also excuse any grammar or formatting errors) 

Ron Haven is a name that kept coming up as we hiked our first few days. It was said he was a former thru-hiker that now helps out current hikers in the form of transportation and advice. Well that turned out to be true but he is much more than that as we would soon learn.  

As we rode up and down the hills in Nature’s Own’s pick up truck the thought of BBQ sandwiches filled our minds. We were also slowly planning in our heads the order in which our “town time” would play out. We would like to use the restrooms, take showers, wash all our clothes including the ones we were wearing, make sure we have a place to stay, eat, find a place to resupply our food and essentials along with transportation to and from the food resupply. Restrooms and showers are in great need so we all agree to start with those. Nature’s Own hugs the road’s corners tightly and it is there when we see the cop car hidden behind some bushes. Our hearts race for a moment. Is hitch hiking illegal in Hiawassee? Should we not be in the back of the truck? Is Nature’s Own on the run? The car pulls behind us but never turns on his flashers. We pull into the Budget Inn and find a parking spot. There are about a dozen tents out on the front lawn along with a few pop up canopys. There will indeed be a party soon. The motel is a one story building with rooms that wrap along the front, side, and back of the building. The cop pulls in front our truck as we back into a spot and suddenly we get a sickening feeling. What did we do wrong? It turns out the cop just wanted to make sure we had enough room in the back of the truck and didn’t want to see us get hurt. He asked if we were thru hiking and we informed him that indeed we were. He said that was great and he hopes we enjoy the party tonight. What? Was that it?! We were in shock. We definitely felt like we would receive a stern talking to. But in this alternate reality the kind policeman simply wanted to make sure our hitch into town was a comfortable one. Off he went about his business. 

Feeling like we had just won the lottery we offered Nature’s Own $5 to help with the gas. He kindly rejected it and said “I was a hiker once, I know every dollar counts. Keep it.” It turns out not all trail magic can be eaten.  

With that he shows us to his room, still as neatly kept and in order from the moment he checked in and said if we needed anything he would be outside assisting with the food and festivities. We could not believe how well it worked out for us. We were beyond ourselves that we got into town, let alone scored a free shower and hopefully cheap laundry and a place to stay. We quickly grab our phones and batteries and plug them into nearby outlets. Unplugging microwaves and lamps are not out of the question to make more available outlets. 

The Budget Inn can best be described as… a small town motel. It will not win any awards for interior design or rank on some diamond status board, but what it lacks in aesthetics and Trip Advisor support, it makes up in heart and charm. The room is climate controlled, has running water and plumbing. After a week in the woods this is the Ritz Carlton for us. Although we were only showering and not staying in the room overnight, it felt good if not odd, to be back in a normal setting. We work quickly and secure the $10 camping spot out in the front lawn which the kind front desk receptionist informs us that our money would go towards a place to camp, food, drink, beer, snacks, and live music. Washer and dryer would be a $1.50 each. We gladly accept and run back to the room for showers. 

The feeling of re-entry that every backpacker goes through after a multi-day trip in the backcountry is always a feeling of relief and exhaustion, but the thought of being able to regroup yourself renergizes like no other. We have been on week long backpacking trips before but never over 7 days. However in those situations and in this, that first shower is unlike any other. We washed away all the dirt but also washed away were the doubts and fears leading up to the trail. We had done it. We were on the trail and it was happening. Something feels different in the air after that first shower. You come out more confident, more sure of what you’re doing, and even more ready for the adventure. It wasn’t a particularly hard week but it surely wasn’t easy. What we realized early on is that although the physical AT trail isn’t technically difficult (as in it is well marked, defined, and easy to follow) it’s how long and unforgiving it is that can be challenging. It does not care that you just descended off a mountain and your knees are wrecked. You will now climb 2000 feet in a short distance with no water sources. Then descend. Then back up. This sort of back to back, non stop hiking for 8-10 hours a day is what makes it difficult and sometimes frustrating. Coupled with meals that have a ton of calories but not nearly enough as you burn, you naturally end up exhausted by the end of the day. This makes an 8 day stretch beyond being tired and depleted but all the more fulfilling when you reach your destination for that day or week. There are no rewards without hard work. The shower ends and begins a part of that. 

We quickly throw our clothes into the washer then the dryer while we wear our skin tight thermals looking for a place to setup our tent. In any other setting this would look out of place and those viewing would call into question our sanity. But here you immediately know that people running around in towels, wearing full rain gear on a sunny day, or wearing their thermals in 80 degree weather are simply washing their hiking clothes. Many of us do not carry anything extra or “town clothes” because this simply adds more weight for something with very little value or use. So walking around in skin tight thermals and fake crocs it is. 

A man steps to the mic, proceeds to thank everyone for coming and recalls that the first Hiker Bash was thrown 14 years ago and was put together hap hazardly to help thru-hikers get through a historic rain fall that season. They were there to feed the hikers but also to give answers to any questions that current hikers had for former hikers. He also mentions that when we make it to Franklin, GA know that his shuttle will pick up and drop off hikers from and to the trail for free whether or not they were staying at his other motel in Franklin. We finally put together that this was Ron Haven. A former thru hiker but now owner of the Budget Inn in Hiawassee, GA and in Franklin, GA. We would later learn he is also a politician in Franklin. He helps build and keep the connection between new and former hikers. Not only that, but he also provides some of the first genuine help that you will continuously find from businesses and locals in “trail towns”. 

We grab our BBQ sandwiches with baked beans, potato salad, chips and fruit while the bluegrass band turns out the tunes. 

It’s a magnificent time, words and pictures cannot convey the happiness and appreciation we feel. There is a sense of unity and understanding that truly touches us all. We devour our food as soon as we sit to eat it. “Hiker Hunger” is a term that is thrown around in the backpacking community and it is a very real and funny thing. Because we are left to eating things that are mainly easy to rehydrate and weigh very little, we often crave “real” food and things with a lot of sugar and salt. Hiker Hunger usually sets in after a few days and it can affect you physically and mentally. You start to talk and dream of real food. Even food that you wouldn’t normally eat, namely fast food, starts to sound like the greatest thing invented in our lifetimes. The thought of a greasy double burger with cheese and curly fries makes you smile and hike a little faster. 

Throughout the years on other backpacking trips we have experimented with different types of food setups. At first we tried bringing real food and cooking it on our trips. We immediately realized we did not like this method for several reasons. One being that it took way too long to cook after a long day of hiking. It also left us with dirty dishes that somehow had to be cleaned with limited resources and food scraps can not simply be thrown out if you follow “Leave No Trace” principles (rules or suggestions to leave the backcountry the way you found it or better) which we obide by. Cooking with fresh ingredients also weigh a lot more than other methods because most foods naturally contain water. This makes your pack for a multi day trip extremely heavy and with the limited amount of space in your pack, everything needs more thought out and considered. 

However there are some very convincing benefits and some hikers we know love cooking with fresh ingredients. First and foremost, it simply taste better! Some people consider this a very important part of their trip and after a long day they want to sit down and cook a very fulfilling and nutritious meal. There is also an emotional aspect that connects you to home that no amount of dehydrated meals can achieve or reach.  Some people love the challenge that backcountry cooking gives and to them we say more power to you. 

We have found for our purpose and style, dehydrating meals before hand or meals that can simply be rehydrated in a bag with hot water, works best for us. Back at home we cook more than what the two of us need for a dinner then throw the left overs into our dehydrator. After it has run its course we then throw it into a vacuum sealer. We write down the name and date of when it was sealed. This type of preparation of course only works when Mallory’s mom sends us a mail drop with some of this food. We decided early on however that we did not want to live and die by mail drops because this would then trap us into a schedule of being at a post office or place of business that receives mail (most businesses or hostels near the trail accept mail drops) at a certain time or day. Most small town post offices are only open for a few hours a day and are closed on weekends. Part of our trip that we were most excited by is not having to live by a schedule so this method did not line up with that way of thinking. Instead we decided to resupply our food in small towns at their local grocery store or even at small dollar stores since the trail eventually leads to or near a small town once every week or so. They have plenty of ready to eat meals or foods that are cooked by simply adding hot water to them. Think pastas or Ramen or single serving pouches of tuna or chicken. After you are done simply throw the bag that you cooked the food in into your small zip lock trash bag and you’re done! We fell in love with this method and use it on this trail. We left Mallory’s mom a few of these dehydrated meals that we made and even some from an Austin business called Pack It Gourmet and when we feel the time is right, we ask her to send a box with this and other small items that we crave to a location that we know we will be at in the next few days. We of course thank her oh so much! 

So by the end of a week with this type of food, a plate full of hot BBQ is heaven. As soon as we are done with our meal we decide now is the best time to do our food resupply. Google Maps informs us there is a grocery store about a mile and change away. We quickly do the math, around a 30 minute walk. No transportation needed. Sounds good! We leave the party but know it will go deep into the night so we are not worried about missing anything. As we get up to leave, the man himself, Ron Haven, walks up to us and asks if we are having a good time. We tell him we are. He then thanks us for attending. This makes us pause for a moment. This man who is clearly not making much money from this at $10 a tent, or making anything at all, thanked us for attending. We should be thanking him! But that is what happens here. People give to see others happy. We smile and tell him thanks for the good times. 

We quickly make our way through town. The town feels small and we must have walked the length of it in a matter of minutes. It is charming and we tell each other it has a small town movie feel. Picture perfect. 

We quickly grab what we need and the cashier asks if we are thru hikers. We tell them we are. “Going to Maine?” they ask. A question that will be asked a dozen times in the future. “That’s the plan!” we respond. We decided early on to not respond directly with a firm “yes” . Although we are fully committed to seeing this trail to the end, life has many surprises and plans don’t always go exactly as you want them to. We decided to leave room for the unexpected and to be happy with wherever life decides the end of the Trail for us will be. Either that is in Maine or otherwise. We are simply fortunate enough to be here. 

With hands and arms full of grocery bags we scurry back to the party. Our first resupply done! Not as scary as we thought and practicing at home in our local dollar stores saved us a lot of time. 

We forgot to mention earlier that Liz and Braydon have their two dogs with them on the trail. We are ever so happy to have some four legged friends with us because they remind us of Wolfie. Liz and Braydon tell us it is ok to use them as our surrogate furry family members. When we return to the party more tents have filled the lawn. Liz and Braydon take their turn to run down to the grocery store as we watch their dogs. Chelsea and Aaron decide to do theirs the next day as they will be taking a zero. 

We begin to organize our food in the order in which we’ll consume them and pack it into our odor proof bear bags. 

Once everyone has completed their resupply we sit around the campfire as former thru hikers tell their stories of the Trail. It is heart warming to hear some of the struggles they endured because we are experiencing the same ones. Although some completed their trek 20 or even 30 years ago, their eyes and voices recall it as if it was only yesterday. 

We laugh as story after story is told. Later in the evening Ron Haven informs everyone he has to leave as his shuttles start at 8am. Yes, he drives them personally. The crowd moans then excitedly ask and beg for him to tell a story. He is infamous for these.  After much begging he obliges and starts his tale. 

We end the night as the 6 of us huddle around our tents. We have completed our first week. Although a small feat we nonetheless have a sense of accomplishment. The trail is real and the dreams we held of it for years are real. It is everything we hoped for it to be and more. We tell each other that although it has only been a week, we already have a lifetime of memories. If this was it, we would all be completely satisfied. But it is only the beginning and the thought of what the trail has in store for us let’s us sleep through the night like no other. The honeymoon phase is in full effect but in a few days the harsh realities of the trail will rear its ugly head.  

Although we meet Ron Haven again we will soon meet many more “Rons”. They are out there everyday and although we may not agree with everything they have to say, they make this world a much better place. 

Ron Haven (R) – Macon County Commissioner 

#6 To Hiawassee, GA (Mile 69.3) 

(We are currently well over 250 miles but due to logistics and access to the internet, etc. our blog is a few days/weeks behind

News spreads quickly on the trail, whether it is bears at a certain shelter, people getting bit by raccoons, or norovirus spreading throughout the trail like the plague, it’s important to always try to gauge fact from paranoia. We are getting better at it but the first few days everything seemed like real news. 

The hike out of Neel Gap started off easy but quickly became one of the tougher sections so far. The guide book nor tall tales prepared us for what was in store. Wildcat Mountain was a brutal climb, with its continuous false summits and with the sun beaming down, every step we gasped for air and water. We were all certainly drinking more water than normal so naturally we ran out faster. So when the next stream crossing on our guide book was suddenly blocked off, everyone suddenly looked at their remaining water supply and quickly added up the hours and miles until the next water source. 3 hours. Both of us had perhaps half a bottle so we were not in total panic mode but given the climb we had just finished and the sun not letting up, it would be rough. 

We continued on and asked a couple of hikers that we passed up if they knew why the water source down below was blocked off. A fire. Someone got hurt near there. Trail being rerouted. But then we heard it, a word we would hear anytime someone would get sick or people didn’t have a definite answer for… Norovirus. 
Norovirus is a virus that is also known as the “winter vomiting bug” and strikes in places where large communities gather. Vomiting and diarrhea are the main signs. The threat is very real and there have been more than enough cases to justify the concern. Especially on something like the AT where many people will come in contact with each other, haven’t bathed in days and quite frankly are not very sanitary. While we certainly don’t want to make light of it, the times you hear about it you also might have to consider the person just ate something their body didn’t agree with. However in those first few days everything seemed real so when we approached our campsite for the night (Low Gap) after hiking all day with minimal water, a note on the sign read “Do not drink Water, norovirus!” This scared the daylights out of us. This was the last thing we needed to read. Some hikers became extremely concerned. Frantically looking through their guidebooks for the next water source. Was it .3 miles ahead or 2 miles ahead? Could that one be contaminated, too? Almost everyone on the trail uses small filter based water treatment and although it captures an extremely high percentage of the bad stuff, it doesn’t capture all of it. Some nice hikers had a steripen that uses UV to purify the water and kills the virus. They helped out with a few liters. We weren’t convinced that the water in  .3  was contaminated (Mallory and I even had our doubts about the current water source being contaminated but decided to display some caution) so I hiked the short distance up the mountain, filled up on a trinkle that was coming off the side and hauled it back. I signaled to the rest of the hikers it was all clear. They all thanked us and made the small trek. Crisis diverted. The next day one of the hikers called the local rangers… there had been no cases of norovirus. Either at the water source before or at the current one. So don’t always believe little post-it notes on signs but also err on the side of caution. 

Morning comes and we swiftly make breakfast and pack up our tent. There is a storm coming and according to the radar it should hit around 3pm. If we hike nonstop we should hit the next shelter at about 3pm or 4pm. This would hopefully give us enough time to setup and eat. 

We make good time and get to Blue Mountain Shelter. Liz and Braydon are also here and Aaron and Chelsea show up as well. We spend the next few hours getting to know each other, discussing what we do back in real life, why we’re on the trail and simply enjoying good laughs and company. Aaron has brought along a ukulele and hopes to practice every night and learn this new instrument by the time he completes the trail. He plays us a little tune as the storm looms in the background. 

The lightning lights up the night sky, typically you can count for a few seconds before the thunder rolls in but on this night only a second passes as the ground rumbles and wakes everyone up. The tent fiercely pulls in one direction and then the other. The wind makes it prescence known as it howls through the trees and hills. Rain sounds louder than ever as it tries to pierce through the inside of our tent. Mallory and I look over at each other and then at the top of our tent. It’s holding steady. We remind each other that we have been through storms like this before. And in even worse conditions. And in double the elevation. But it feels different this time. Perhaps because we are not with our regular backpacking group that we can confide in and trust and goto when times get tough. Or perhaps because besides our new friends, we are alone. Or perhaps because we know this tent needs to last us 6 months, not just a few days. We reach out towards the netting to make sure it’s still sturdy. It is. Each gust is harder and louder than the last. I feel like the tent is pulling too much to the right. My mind races trying to imagine how they strength test these poles. Do the Big Agnes guys know if these poles can survive these type of winds? Did someone double check their work? I hope so. I reach out again, still sturdy. 

The storm continues throughout the night. There are brief moments when it takes a break but comes back only after a few minutes. Eventually our minds stop racing and we fall asleep. 

Morning comes and our tent for the most part is dry on the inside. Muddy mess on the outside. The tent held up like a champ though. The design team back in Steamboat Springs should be applauded. I think back on how silly it was for me to question them. Unfortunately not everyone was so lucky, our friend Chelsea battled the storm all night. After the first few gusts her tent collapsed on her and she was beaten with wind and rain for hours. We asked why she didn’t ask for help, she said she wanted to figure it out on her own. Luckily she was able to keep most of her gear dry but it was only by a miracle. Her tent is designed to be held up by her trekking poles rather than tent poles. This is a popular design for tents on the AT as they utilize equipment you already have and weigh considerably less. 

(Before the storm) 

(After the storm) 

She is certain had she spent more time learning every nuance of the tent before leaving for the trail, she could have done better. But after this experience she is ready to send it back and go for a more traditional setup. She said she felt like Lieutenant Dan on Forrest Gump battling the seas. She said at one point she even welcomed the rain and asked it “Is that all you got?!” 

After a quick breakfast we are on the trail again. 

There is this awesome thing people do who are not hiking the trail and it is called Trail Magic. It is when a person, a Trail Angel, does something for hikers out of the kindness of their heart. It could be words of wisdom, it could be a bottle of water, or can even be a group of trail angels cooking hamburgers at the bottom of a mountain. 

We are still at the point, and probably always be, that we always get a bit emotional at these. It’s hard to put into words how much it warms your heart and mind to know there are people out there who take time out of their busy lives to simply give “magic”. They ask for nothing in return and simply want to see you happy and at your best. It is similar to people cheering you on at a marathon. They ask how it has been so far, if we’ve seen any wild life, what made us do this, all while chomping on burgers, cokes, chips, fruit, and everything else our food deprived bodies crave. This was our first time having trail magic and it holds a special place in our heart. One of the Trail Angels asks if she can pray for us to hope for good health and safe travels as we make our way to Maine. We tell her absolutely and hold hands. There is something about being away from home, sleeping on the ground every night, experiencing the mountains and lands that has really grounded us like never before. We are ever more appreciative of the good will and nature of people and are more open to accepting it. We have experienced this on more than one occasion and as of this writing, over 250 miles in, you learn that this love is all around. While our country is in what seems to be the most fractured and divided it has been in quite awhile (on the surface at least), being away from the constant news cycle and dirty politics, you learn that there are still good people all around. They do not care about your age, sex, size, or even skin color. They are all on the sidelines cheering you on. Quite frankly, it restores your pride in your country and the people. If even for a moment.  

We strap on our packs and hit the trail again with full bellies and renewed spirits. The miles come easily. 

We make it to Sassafras Gap and setup camp quickly as night fall is approaching. It is significantly colder than it has been over the last few nights. 

After all 6 of us setup camp and do our bear hangs we begin to discuss plans for the next day. Apparently there is a hiker bash in Hiawassee, GA. We hear it has great food, drinks, and live music. There will even be former thru hikers regailing tales of their adventures. We are interested but don’t want to go out of our way to try and make it. We decide not to make any concrete plans and simply go with the flow once we have hiked a few miles the next day. After a quick dinner we say goodnight. 

We wake up bright and early. The thought of maybe having a shower after 8 days gets us all moving with purpose. We hike faster. Along the way Aaron and Chelsea see a campfire that has not been put out completely. They grab their remaining water and put it out. These guys are incredible and pick up every piece of trash they pass up and apparently put out every fire that is unsupervised. They inspire us to be more aware of others shortcomings. 

We hike further and again everyone is hiking with purpose. We joke with Aaron that he looks like the T-1000 coming up the hill. He says although he makes it look easy, it is not. We finally hit the road that will take us off the trail and into town. And what do we find? More trail magic. While not as robust as the first, these college students simply wanted to come out and be “a part of something special”. They had honey buns, cokes, candy, and even beer for those who needed to kick back a few. We are again in awe and ask why they felt compelled to do this. They said it felt awesome to do something for others and they were learning from us as to why people are compelled to hike for months. They also mentioned they were taking college courses on the Appalachian Trail and this could do nothing but further their knowledge. We thanked them and asked to take a picture. 

It was at this time that a gentlemen that goes by his trail name “Nature’s Own” stopped by. Trail names are names that people take on based on something they did or some type of personality trait. While he sectioned hike a few years back (section hikers are hikers who do not complete the trail in one take but rather split up sections over months or years in order to complete their thru hike) he threw on the empty bags that Nature’s Own bread comes in to help with the rainfall, thus, Nature’s Own. He finished dropping off a few hikers who needed a hitch from Hiawassee to the road that leads back to the trail. He asked us if we needed a ride. We all looked at each other and knowing we did need a ride but weren’t sure how to go about this waited for someone to say something. He then added “You all can use my room at the Budget Inn to shower before the party. There is even a laundry nearby. And there is $10 camping in front of the motel but pays for the camping spot, bbq, beer, drinks, snacks and an all around good time at the Hiker Bash”. We immediately say yes and jump into the bed of his truck. But not before stopping at a nearby hostel to pick up some packages. 

It is a bumpy ride as we hold up the tailgate with our arms. The landscape passes by quickly. But we are all laughs and giggles as we ride along in this old truck with thoughts of food and a hot shower. Nature’s Own telling us his tales of the Trail. 

Life is good. 

(And for the record, all 3 rumors were true except for the norovirus)


Update #5 Stover Creek Shelter to Neel Gap (Mile 31.4) 

After making sure our young friend was all good from his midnight hike in the storm on our first night, we start breakfast. Some prepared oatmeal with hot water is on the menu. Most shelters have a trail notebook or register. These notebooks are used to leave light hearted notes about your stay or messages for hikers behind you. You can follow hikers and hope to meet with them later on. We sign our names and leave a note stating how much we enjoyed our first night. 

The trail continues and this early in our journey we are not finding anything too difficult. We talk about how similar it is to the Texas Hill Country with its rolling hills and rocky paths. We cross over a few small creeks, rivers, even a waterfall a few yards from the trail. We knock out 13 miles. Little did we know, it would be our first and last full day with Mitch. 

It turns out Mitch has a family emergency to take care of and decides to leave the trail early. His week long hike will now be cut down to just 3 days. He decides to leave in the morning and hike over Blood Mountain into Mountain Crossing, an outfitters right on the trail at Neel Gap. He will be shuttled to his car in Hiawassee, Ga. We thank him for everything as he has driven us from New Orleans to the trail head. Early in our discussions with him we debated whether he should join us at the end of the Trail or at the beginning. Because we value his friendship and knowledge of all things backpacking, we asked him to join us in the beginning where we knew we might have a few first day jitters. He paid for the rental car, all the gas, buys us meals along the way, and even some last minute gear items. He told us 3 years ago that if we hiked the trail he would join us for a bit… he kept his word. 

We are sad to see him go but we understand and enjoy our last meal with him at Gooch Mountain Shelter. The shelter is packed and there are many tents surrounding it. A volunteer from the Appalachian Trail Conservancy is here, we assume since there are many people starting off they try to provide some order to the chaos. He informs us of a few empty spots. We thank him and setup camp. We are still not certain of the dynamic between all the hikers and we imagine friendships are still being built as everyone feels it out. Everyone is still a bit a timid and keeps close to their gear. 

Soreness is starting to set in, our bodies getting accustom to our new lives. We cook our dinners, chat with a few folks, and then say goodnight. 

The next morning we aim for Lance Creek Campsite which is the last campsite that it is not mandatory to have a bear cannister. There is a 6 mile stretch that requires hikers to have a bear canister if you plan to stay the night in bwtween. Our plan is to hike straight through the campsites that require this. We are now truly by ourselves and although it was a bit earlier than expected, we welcome the challenge and are excited. 

Lance Creek Campsite is full but not nearly as packed as the shelters. We hike up a small trail and find a nice spot. It rains but again, nothing too crazy. 

We start the morning early as we have a big day. Today is the day we hike over Blood Mountain. We’ve heard about it many times and it has taken on a sort of mystical quality to hikers. The first real test of the Trail. 

Surprisingly we make quick work of Blood Mountain. It certainly was challenging but not quite as soul crushing as some people told us it would be. It actually was an enjoyable hike and the views on top are spectacular. Truly beautiful. 

We enjoy a quick lunch and make our way down. We find the descent is much more rugged so we take our time. The trail goes down into Neel Gap straight off the highway, which is home to Mountain Crossings, one of the better outfitters on the trail. 

Although many hikers choose to stay in the hostel they provide or in a cabin nearby, we decide to camp out back for free. 
There is a tree out front that is infamous for the hiking shoes that hang from its branches. It is rumored that around 20% of hikers hang it up and declare defeat at this point. They throw up their shoes in jest.

Mitch stored a food resupply for us in the store before he left so we leave our packs outside along with all the other hikers and retrieve our package. 

We stay out back where we meet Liz and Braydon and their dogs. As mentioned in the post earlier, it would be the start of a new friendship and a trail family. Smores are enjoyed over a fire and the cool brisk night provides much needed rest. 

-Mal &  X

Update#4 Stories and Friends from the Trail

Sunday April 9th, 2017

The flashlight spun around the campground frantically creating dancing shadows. It was hard to make sense of it from the inside of our tents during the storm. It must have been around 2am on our first night. But as quickly as it entered, it was gone.  

Morning came and we emerged from our tents. The ground is wet but nothing too crazy. We make our way to our bear bags (food must be stored in either an odor proof bag or bear canisters) that we stored in the bear boxes the night before. We see a new face in the shelter. It turns out the flashlight we saw in the middle of the night was a young man, probably around 20, who had his tent blown over at Springer Mountain, everything was completely soaked. He figured his best bet was to run to the nearest shelter, where we were camping next to, in hopes to escape the rain. He hiked by himself, completely wet, at 2am, for 2 miles. Not knowing what was in front of him, hoping the whiteblazes would lead him to safety. He had never set up his tent before the AT and it had proven his undoing. For that first night at least. 

But this is what the AT brings together. The young, the old, the experienced, and those that have never set up a tent before but still crave adventure and must get on the trail. Today is Sunday, April 9th and we have been on the trail for 16 days. We have seen and learned a lot since that first day. We have also met the whole gamut of people. There is not one specific type of person that is called to the trail. It could be the 55 year old woman whose dream it was to hike the AT but promised herself she would wait until her daughter started college. So she is now hiking it 15 years later. Or the family of 4 whose oldest daughter wants to hike the John Muir Trail for her high school graduation present so they decided to hike the entire AT Georgia section for Spring Break in preparation. The two field nurse practitioners who “just felt like hiking ” with only 4 months of preparation. And also the recent college graduate who want one last moment to themselves before they get whisked away into real life. 

Whatever the person and reason, all are passionate and have made some level of sacrifice for this adventure of a lifetime. To be able to do something like this, for recreational purposes, is a huge opportunity and everyone we meet is humble and realize what a blessing they have in front of them. 

The AT is one long trail however it weaves in and out of small towns, roads, even buildings. Every 8 to 10 miles they have shelters where hikers can sleep in. These are small cabin-like structures with space for about 4-8 people to lie on the floor with their sleeping bags. It has three walls but the front is exposed. Some have multi levels to fit a few more people. No electricity or running water of course, simply some shelter. 

Some hikers love being in these because you can plop down and not have to build out your tent. They fill up fast. But others, like us, try to avoid staying in them so we camp on the grounds around the shelter. Lots of people cram into them, people are loud (which is fine, just not our scene after a long day) and most importantly, we do not like mice crawling on us. You heard right, mice. Because the AT is filled with all sorts of different experience levels, it is unsurprising that many people do not know how to properly cook and store their food. After many years mice have made these shelters their home. So as long as you don’t mind mice crawling on your face and in your sleeping bag (one hiker’s story of squishing a mouse in his bag is interesting), then shelters are for you. Plus, we enjoy waking up at our leisure and not with the pack. 

However what shelters do provide is community and this is where the AT is amazing. Most hikers aim for shelters because they know other hikers will be here and if weather conditions get really bad they can pile up inside. At night, people gather around a fire and talk about their day. There is a great sense of brotherhood and commaradari. It was in one of these similar situations where we have met our first “trail family”. 

Trail families are a group of hikers that you hike along with for a certain part of the Trail and explore towns with…and party with when you take a break in town! 

You take advantage of these as long as you can because sooner or later, due to speed, weather, zero days (days where you rest and hike zero miles) you will inevitably split up and only hope to see each other again. But for now our little bubble is Liz, Braydon, Chelsea, and Aaron. Liz and Braydon are from North Carolina and are thru hiking, Chelsea and Aaron are from Wisconsin and are also thru hiking. Their ages range from 28 to 32. 

We met Liz and Braydon while camping in Neel’s Gap. While everyone around us decided to rent cabins or stay in a hostel, we decided to camp out back behind the hostel for free. Our thought process is to only pay for accommodations in emergencies (severe weather, injuries, etc.) or when we take zero days (zero mile hiking days). So for this, although we were in a small town with some accommodations, we decide to forego the nice bed and four walls and sleep for free outside. Although our guide books stated that we could pay for a shower and laundry at the hostel even though we were not staying, it turned out to be false. No showers, no clean clothes. It is fine though, we clean ourselves with wet wipes per usual and hang our clothes outside to help get the stench out. 

It was during this campout that we met Liz and Braydon, they too decided not to pay for four walls and we shared a small space on top of a hill with them. We had one other neighbor next to us that both parties knew probably weren’t thru hikers but what is known on the trail as “hiker trash”. While not politically correct, hiker trash can cover an array of stereotypes and styles (We’ve also been told since posting this that “Hiker Trash” can also be a positive thing, even self given, to help distinguish serious hikers from the clean, showered, day hikers. Thanks to people who made us aware of this!) In short, people who abuse the loose system the hiker community has built, to their advantage. 

Because it was our first few nights on the trail and not yet knowing the social dynamic of our bubble (your bubble is the group of hikers that start on or near your start day, this will more or less be the people that surround you whether you make friends with them or not, some people think this bubble is fate, others think it’s at random but it does have some impact on your journey) us 4 hikers felt like we needed to connect since our hikers next door seemed to be under some substances and not of clear mind. They were extremely nice and never did or said anything harmful, but being newbies, we thought itd be best to stick around with people who were hiking and seemed cool. Little did we know that we’d become great friends so quickly and the next few days and weeks would be filled with such laughter and joy. 

Aaron and Chelsea are from Wisconsin and we met them on our first day on the approach trail. It was a simple “hi, how are you?” while they rested on a rock overlooking a valley. We made small talk and told them we’d hope to see them again. We ended up seeing them again on the trail then formally met while camping on top of a mountain. They are friends who work together and had a couple of coworkers who thru hiked and figured if they could do it, they could, too. Although we do not hike every moment together with them, when we see them on the trail or in town, it is like old friends. We catch up and recall all our near death experiences. 

The trail thus far has been amazing and with many stories to tell. Our next blog update, which we will post tonight, will go more into detail about the trail and our experience from Gooch Mountain Shelter to the NOC in Bryson City, North Carolina. From thunderstorms, below freezing temps, summitting 3 mountains in a day, hitching rides into town in the back of a pick up truck, we will hopefully be able to capture it all in this blog. Talk to you soon!

 Mal and X

(We apologize for any grammatical errors)  

Update #3 Springer Mountain/Stover Creek

Sunday  March 26th, 2017

(We had to compress our images to save upload time and size since we have limited connections. We will have fuller resolutions with links once we have stable connections and are able to upload them to the cloud) 

We are on the trail! Our friend Mitch who planned to hike a week with us dropped us off at the approach trail. He drove further down the trail (about 70 miles away) and shuttled back to hike the official AT start. 

Mallory and I registered our thru-hike with the Appalachian Trail Conservancy online and in person. A friendly volunteer gave us the quick spiel about the trail, made sure we understood Leave No Trace and we weighed our packs. Mallory was at 20 and I was at 17. Almost the same. Mallory’s will drop as we eat through the food. 

There is also a nice lady here who completed her thru-hike last year and is offering any advice and will even go through your pack (a shake down) and offer any gear or weight saving tips. We thank her but decide to forego this as we are starting about an hour later than we anticipated. We take a picture at the arches and we are off!

They say the approach trail is one of the more difficult parts of the Trail until Blood Mountain and they are correct. It starts off with a climb that includes around 600 steps as you make your way to the top of the waterfall. 

Many day users abound and ask if we’re really going to Maine… “We’re gonna try our best!” is usually the answer. The views are astounding and it is a great workout. 

Once at the top of the falls the trail wanders up and down through the mountains. A couple of hikers pass us from the opposite direction. They inform us they are SOBO’s (South Bounders, hikers who started at Maine and work their way down to Georgia. We are NOBO’s, Northbounders, hikers starting in Georgia working their way to Maine) and have just completed their thru-hike. They started on August 19th. They ask us if we are thru hikers and we inform them we are. A big smile hits their sun burnt faces. “You are going to have the time of your lives.” they tell us. Their eyes cheerfully reflecting on their 7 month journey and although their body and gear show wear and tear they joyfully state “We are so jealous”. We jokingly ask if the would like to join us and start again, they immediately laugh and say no. It was a moment we needed. The ice breaker, so to speak. We felt like we were officially welcomed. 

We meet Mitch almost 9 miles later at the official start on Springer Mountain. The infamous AT plaque rests on top and we see the first White Blaze. White blazes are white markers left on trees, rocks, or other objects that lead you throughout the 2,200 mile journey. They become your guiding light and friend. 

“A footpath for those whose seek fellowship with the wilderness ” 

Our first night we complete only around 2 miles of the official AT (not including the 8.9 miles from the approach) but after 11 miles we are exhausted and decide to stay at Stover Creek Shelter. There is a campfire already going and at least 10 other hikers have also decided to call this their home for the night. We build our tents quickly as night fall is approaching and we quickly make our food. Afterwards we dump all food and items that smell into the provided bear boxes (a luxury that is provided for only the first few hundred miles). We are tired so we keep the chit chat to a minimum. We meet a solo hiker our age who is a scientist from Los Alamos. This has been a plan of his for quite some time and the stars lined up to make the trek. He wanted his wife to join but due to work conflicts and scheduling, he is by himself.  After a few minutes we say goodnight as we both crash out almost instantly. 

Lightning and rain hits hours later. Sleeping in a tent during a rainstorm is our favorite. The lightning illuminates the dark sky, the temperature drops, and the air smells different. It is calming and familiar as the thunder shakes the ground beneath us. It is a perfect first night. 

Update #2 Here we go… 

Saturday March 25th,2017

(FYI The date above will be the date we wrote the update, WordPress will stamp the date of the upload, which may be days later depending on cell signal or when we have WiFi. We also apologize in advance if we are overly emotional or dramatize some of the mundane but we can’t seem to help it. But if you are here reading this, you probably expected some of that 🙂   We will do our best to keep it to a minimum.) 

It has been a whirlwind of emotions. From leaving our jobs, goodbye parties, dinners, moving out, ensuring our families we will be safe, kissing Wolfie goodbye, midnight bus rides across states, air bnbs, and partying with kind people we met for only one night in Atlanta, there is nothing left to do now…but walk. 

 (March 24 Atlanta, Ga) 

There is a certain rush that hits you when people ask how this all came to be and you tell them the journey thus far in this sort of narrative form. There is anxiety, confusion, uncertainty, but also this pride that comes with condensing it all into a short story. You hope for the best and jump in. 

We’ve had a lot of time to think while on the road and we surely will have tons more time to think on the trail but we are both ready to just get on the trail. To be able to sleep in a different spot every night under the stars is our dream and that starts today. 

We will be dropped off at the approach trail at Amicalola Falls State Park which is an 8.9 mile long trail that is not officially part of the A.T. but a sort of agreed upon part of the Trail amongst Thru-Hikers. That then leads to the official start on Springer Mountain. So although we will only state the official mile marker moving forward, just know we’ve done 8.9 more (ha!). 

One foot in front of the other. Here we go! 

-Mal and X