Day 14 – Fear of Future

There are a lot of things I thought would be challenging on this journey. Steep climbs, having enough food, finding water, blisters, falling down the mountain, bears, snakes and deer ticks were on the list.

I didn’t expect to be scared though, and frankly I have been scared quite a bit. Since we started 14 days ago, there have been predictions of rain followed by very cold temps – in the mid-20s – for many nights. It has been worrying us as we plan our mileage and where we could catch a shuttle to stay in a hostel if the weather turned bad. That assumes there is vacancy, too. One night when we caught a night in a hostel several people were having trouble finding a place to stay and had to camp in the cold windy rain storm.

So far we have done alright. We made it through some pretty cold nights, like 29° with howling wind. We were in a hostel the night of the first bad cold thunderstorm and weathered it out in our tents on the next thunderstorm which had warmer temps. Unfortunately Bluejay (Karen) had over 2 inches of water in the corner of her tent after that storm. My tent was dry inside and very muddy on the outside from the splash of hard rain. It wasn’t cold so we were fine.

By the way, a warm day is when we don’t have on gloves to break down our tents or start hiking. Today was the first day I didn’t have my winter coat on when I left my tent. It’s often 50 to 60° later in the day hiking so that’s perfect hiking weather. It’s just when it goes down to the low 30s at night that it’s kind of miserable getting going in the morning.

So we check the weather with a special AT app whenever we have service and plan for how to get off the trail into a real shelter, like a hostel or hotel, if it’s going to be freezing rain or worse.

It was predicting rain all night tomorrow night turning to snow in the middle of the night and waking up about 25°. We are very scared of becoming soaked through our rain gear and tents and then having it turn very cold. I realized a couple of days ago that I was not focusing on the present moment, because I was worried too hard about the future. Just like life off the trail, when you focus on what might happen to you, you forget to enjoy what is actually happening to you.

On the other hand, we can’t ignore the possibility that we could be in real trouble if we didn’t plan well. So there is that fine line of planning for the future while enjoying the present that I’ve been running into my entire life. I decided I was going to quit fearing the future and just hike the hike I was on that day. Each night we check the weather and make a contingency plan. Then we camp and enjoy the next day. It’s worked for two days so far and as luck would have it the bad weather predicted for tomorrow night has pushed off.

Here’s the catch: just when I thought my new plan was going to work, we hear there’s a blizzard predicted for Saturday and Sunday in the Smoky Mountains. There aren’t any places to get off the trail two days into the Smoky Mountains, which is where we will be if we stay on our course. We are certainly not prepared to camp in a blizzard.

So I have had to renew my resolve to enjoy the day and not fear the future. It is a beautiful day down at Nantahalla Outdoor Center where I am writing this blog waiting for their restaurant open at 11 so I can eat a big meal before we hike 8 miles with a 3300′ elevation gain. It’s supposed to be so nice today, and I will put on sunscreen when I switch to shorts and T-shirt.

Cross your fingers that it does not blizzard on us, like it did for thru hikers in the Smokies three weeks ago. They were holed in camp shelters and visitor center restrooms as the roads closed and there was no way to get out for a day. I hope the hardest part turns out to be focusing on a great day and not making it through a terrible night. We will find out soon enough.

Passed 100 mile mark three days ago. WooHoo!

Day 1 Beautiful Day Hard Night

We started at Amicalola State Park on the approach trail and headed to Stover Creek Shelter. This means we hiked 8.5 miles before we reached the beginning of the Appalachian Trail. We wanted to start there because of the iconic stone archway marking where most hikers start, and because it’s a long hard climb up stairs and the mountain. This year, the AT is 2190.9 miles long. I figured the approach trail was an initiation, and it was indeed.

It was cold, 32 degrees, and snowed on us all day. This was a lucky break, first because it was so pretty and second because we quickly realized the hard little snowflakes did not stay on us and melt. For two days prior to our start, hikers were dealing with freezing rain. One man who started a day ahead of us, woke to find his tent zipper frozen shut. This was after he discovered a mouse had chewed through his tent to eat some nuts he had in a baggie. Two other women whom we met found themselves and every piece of gear and clothing soaked through and through, with temps in the 30’s on the night before they could reach a road and shuttle to a hotel.

So we were delighted to hike all day in the snow. At the top of Springer Mtn is the start of the AT. It was after 3 pm, bitter cold and windy. Karen made the right call by nixing the campsite near the top of the mountain and having us hike 2.8 more miles down to Stover Creek Shelter. The three sided hut was full, so we set up our three tents out of the worst of the wind. It was hard to set up our cookstoves and eat, because it was so cold. After eating, I was shivering and needed to climb into my insulated sleeping bag liner and my bag, which was on top of a pad in the tent. At first I wore my puffy coat and mittens too, but eventually took off the coat and mittens. We couldn’t let our water filters, water, or fuel canisters freeze, so I put those in the bag with me. Surprisingly, they were not uncomfortable to sleep with.

I worried a bit through the night thinking it might become colder, and took consolation knowing there were about twenty five others camping up there too -surely we were not all idiots freezing to death.

I was so excited to open my eyes and see the first bit of light from dawn coming into my tent. It was 29 degrees and the wind was blowing like crazy, but we were fine and would soon be hiking again. We could only work a minute or two on taking down our gear and packing up, before needing to warm our hands so they didn’t hurt so darn bad. It took over 2 hours to eat and break down camp, which is ridiculously long, but then we set off hiking into what became a beautiful day, happy to again be hiking and looking forward to Day 2 on the AT.

Lesson One: snow is better than rain

Lesson Two: buy warmer gloves