I find it difficult to adequately express the beauty we experience every day as we travel north through the mountain ranges. Each day it is a little greener. Each day new flowers are blooming, the leaves on the trees fill in and plants get bigger. We often stop to admire majestic views of bright green valleys with mountain ranges as the backdrop. We have seen brightly colored lizards, a baby mole, snakes, cows (yes, cows), and a turtle, who we affectionately nicknamed Shell Shocked, that we came across one day on the trail after having climbed for several miles and a few thousand feet of elevation. Keith (a/k/a Zen Master) joked that Shell Shocked started the trail about a decade ago. We have enjoyed starting the trail early on some mornings when the day is cool and crisp, the birds are singing, and we feel as if we are the only hikers on the trail. We also love the lazy lunches with other hikers while we rest our legs and soak up some sunshine.
This last leg we were able to enjoy several gorgeous waterfalls and hiked along riversides and Watauga lake in Tennessee.
We have met some amazing people along the way: a 70 year old woman named Vagabond who completed over 700 miles last year and was back out this year to continue on. We also met a 60ish man Quaker, who is spreading a little of his father's ashes in each state as he goes along. We witness this hiker community made up of people of all ages and from all walks of life who become instant friends and watch out for one another. We enjoy the solitude of our hike and being lost in our thoughts just as much as we enjoy the camaraderie with other hikers.
Seeing old friends and making new friends.
Food. Lots and lots of food. Snickers especially on the trail and enormous half pound burgers in town.
Hot showers and clean clothes in town.
Silliness and gossip at the hostels.
Rain. Rain. Rain. Cold and rain. Cold and rain and mud.
The trail when it is made up of what we have dubbed a minefield of rocks. Rocks of all sizes that threaten to overturn and cause twisted ankles.
Sore knees and sore feet. Rocks and roots have a nasty habit of slyly concealing themselves from you until your boot slams into them sending shooting pain up your foot or causing you to stumble forward violently head first toward the ground. Thankfully, we hike with poles which has prevented us from face planting into the dirt.
A crazy guy on the trail who was harassing hikers and scaring some, particularly a young female friend of ours, Rainbow Bright. He was out in the middle of the woods dressed in a button down and khakis and suede dress shoes, with a black duffel bag and a pail in which it appeared he was bleaching clothes. He spoke to some in a Russian accent and to others in a weird mix of Spanish, preaching that they were condemned.
No cell phone service - even in town.
An experience we would rather not repeat. Imagine this: you have just hiked for several hours in the pouring rain. Your boots are so thoroughly soaked that you could literally take them off and pour water from them. It is really cold. You have finally managed to make camp, and get into warm, dry clothes. You are zipped up tight in your mummy sleeping bag, which is snug even around your head. You are getting ready to fall asleep when suddenly your stomach makes threatening gurgling noises. Hmmm. You take some pepto bismal. No relief. The thought occurs that perhaps you might vomit. That thought turns into reality moments later as you struggle to free yourself from your mummified position, unzip yourself and the tent's inside and outside zippers before hurling the contents of your dinner (chicken a la king, which I may never eat again) over your boots and just beyond the rain fly. Twice. Then, about an hour later, your spouse repeats the process, which causes you to once again violently expel any remaining stomach contents. You spend the rest of the night enduring the horrible smell coming from just outside the tent, and the next day moaning in the tent.
Lest you think the bad in any way overshadows the good, it has not. We are in our fourth state approaching the five hundred mile mark and still loving our journey.
As we say out here: see you down the trail!