Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Appalachian Trail Blog - June 2007

This is a repost of a blog I did for The News-Press while Scott and I hiked the Appalachian Trail in Tennessee in June 2007.

A Week on the Appalachian Trail
Wednesday, June 6th, 2007


If anyone had told me a year ago that I’d be planning to hike for five days in the mountains of Tennessee, I would have said they were crazy. Last year for vacation my boyfriend, Scott Whittamore, and I spent several days in Blowing Rock and Asheville, NC, hiking various short trails that led to waterfalls or panoramic views. We were always grateful to retreat to our hotel at the end of each day to sleep in a comfortable, warm and dry bed.

After four consecutive days of hiking and exploring our legs were tired, and we decided to kayak down the Nolichucky River. In our quest to rent kayaks we were pointed to Uncle Johnny’s in Erwin, Tenn. Upon arrival, we realized it was a hiker hostel with a little camp resupply store and that the Appalachian Trail was just through the woods. As I was using their restroom, I encountered a woman who told me she was hiking the trail and hadn‘t showered and washed her hair with real shampoo in a week. I thought, “There is no way I could do that.”

Fast-forward a few months. Scott began reading Bill Bryson’s “A Walk in the Woods.” He’d laugh out loud at Bryson’s misadventures with his hiking buddy, Stephen Katz. After I read the book, we decided to try a section of the trail for our next vacation. I thought that if a middle-aged slightly overweight man could attempt to hike the whole trail, then we cold make it for a week. Part of me really wanted to do a thru-hike of the entire 2,175-mile trail from Georgia to Maine, but with limited time and money we decided to do a section of the trail in Tennessee. We’d have to take six to eight months off of our jobs and find a wealthy benefactor to pay the mortgage in order to hike the whole trail.

Around Christmas I ordered the guidebooks for the North Carolina-Tennessee section and the Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. We were going to be in North Carolina for my best friend’s wedding June 9, and planned to hike for a week after the wedding. We couldn’t decide which would be the best section Shenandoah National Park is great because you’re never too far from civilization, i.e. supplies and real food. It crosses the Skyline Drive many times along the section. The N.C.-Tennessee section is also great because it give hikers the opportunity to see some great scenery (waterfalls, Watauga Lake Dam), gives beginners a good feel for the trail without being too strenuous and the opportunity to stay at a hiker hostel.

We invited our friend and freelance photographer Jack Hardman to come along. He’s going to be photographing my best friend’s wedding in N.C. Plus we thought his boy scouting experience would serve us well, and we’ve been trying to plan a camping trip together for quite some time.

After much thought and consideration, we decided on a 30- to 40-mile hike in Tennessee from just south of Damascus, Va., to the Laurel Fork Lodge near Hampton, Tenn. We felt this section would offer the most scenery for the amount of time we could be gone. The only thing we wanted and couldn’t get from this section was a stop at a trail town such as Damascus, Va., or Hot Springs, N.C. The Appalachian Trail goes right through these towns, and thru-hikers use them to rest and stock up on food for the next leg of the trail. On other parts of the trail you have to hike or hitchhike into a nearby town or rely on a shuttle service at a hostel.

We realized that no matter how long we hiked, this would be a major investment. We had to get backpacks, sleeping backs and pads, a lightweight stove, a water filter, tents light enough for backpacking, food, hiker-appropriate clothing, hiking boots, special socks to prevent blisters, lightweight plates and utensils, a first-aid kit, rain gear, headlamps, water bottles, a fishing rod that would break down small enough to strap onto our packs, and plenty of other little things. We got a little stressed. This was supposed to be a chance to escape the hustle and bustle and heat of everyday life, and we were about to spend the equivalent of a Hawaii vacation to rough it in the woods.

When I expressed my concern to my Dad, he said he would ask his friend, Chal, for advice on how we could save money on the equipment. Luckily Chal is an experienced hiker and guide and was more than happy to lend us some of his equipment, a tent, sleeping bags, backpacks, and a water filter.

With that settled, and in order to stop myself from going crazy with planning (I tend to go a little overboard), I had to try to forget about the trip for a few months or risk information overload. I’m obsessed with avoiding bear attacks and hypothermia, yes, even in the summer.

Two months ago, I resumed planning. We finalized our route and began to purchase the little things we needed for the trip. I bought a food dehydrator to make beef jerky, dried fruit and dehydrated meals that can be warmed quickly on the trail. Our house is filled with the constant hum of the dehydrator. I’ve made venison jerky (thanks to one of Scott’s students), a dehydrated breakfast of hashbrowns, eggs and sausage, potato soup, and seafood stew. I ve also dehydrated bananas and strawberries for snacks.

A few weeks ago Jack came over with the camp stove he borrowed from his sister so we could make sure it still worked. We sat on the back patio and watched intently as the water began to boil over the dehydrated potato soup. It took a little longer to rehydrate than I expected, but it was quite tasty.

We plan to hike June 11 through June 15th, and stay at the Laurel Fork Lodge the night of June 10 and June 15. If cell phone service permits, I’ll post daily with our adventures.

Posted in Gulf Coasting Live

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