Day 7 – March 27, 2020, A Story of Our Appalachian Trail Thru-Hike
Here comes the sun! We awoke to what seemed to be the start of a beautiful day! Every day that we hiked in the rain and cold made us appreciate days of sunshine and warmth as though it had been weeks since we had been graced with the sun’s presence. We began our day with a sense of excitement and motivation. The warm sun and the ability to hike in shorts and a t-shirt for the first time so far on our hike, was something we were certainly not going to take for granted. The terrain did not let up, however, and it was as though mother nature gave us good weather through compromise. Many hikers will say that time operates differently out on the trail. The same seems to apply to physics as we were constantly perplexed at how we could hike uphill for what seemed like hours and hours, hike downhill for a short bit, then turn a corner only to find several more miles of steep uphill hiking. Though it was physically taxing, our spirits were held high even just knowing that we may be able to look forward to hiking in dry shoes come the end of the day. We felt powerful. We hiked with a strong, energetic pace, covering several miles of pristine trail before arriving at our first road crossing of the day–Dicks Creek Gap.
We decided to take a break to rest our blistered feet, our sore knees, and our not-yet-conditioned trail legs. This was a popular trailhead for day hikers and section hikers and on such a beautiful day the gap saw substantial traffic. Several very kind locals offered J Bird and I rides into town, which we very much appreciated but politely declined. We were quite surprised that so many people offered us a ride during this time, showing their kindness and generosity amidst the pandemic. We sat down in a sunny spot just off the trail and rummaged through our food bags as if we were going to find something other than date nutballs. We encountered a kind and generous hiker, who went by “Tin Man”, who offered me a cold beer from his support vehicle. It was a very welcomed treat and he even handed it to me with a cleansing towelette to wipe down the bottle.
Another hiker was sitting nearby, also enjoying a peaceful lunch break. She had a smile that was as sweet as could be and she gave off positive vibes that called for an introduction. Her trail name was “Fine Line”. Our intuition was spot on, as she was indeed a sweetheart. We shared with her some experiences we had thus far on the trail and she had plenty of her own to share with us as well. She was a solo hiker who, at this point, had hiked over 400 miles of trail so far! She started her hike on the Pinhoti trail, about one month before our meeting. We could tell right away that she was an experienced and competent hiker, and we hoped we would see her again along our journey. She shared with us exciting stories of hikes she had been on in the high altitude Andes Mountains. As we chatted for a while with her, she was kind enough to give us a phone charge off of one of her power banks. She also shared with us that we had hiked 13 miles for the day so far. We were shocked that we had hiked so far as it was only around 1:00 pm.
When we decided it was time to get moving again, we proceeded on the trail with a sense of anxiety knowing that we were quickly approaching the border of North Carolina. We had heard rumors from several hikers that there would be forest rangers patrolling the border crossing, poised and ready to fine hikers for crossing state lines, forcing people to end their hike and get off of the trail. As we hiked, we talked about the different scenarios that we may face moving forward, and how to mitigate them. We bounced ideas back and forth between us about hiding our packs and sneaking up to the border crossing to check things out before crossing the state line. Perhaps if we encountered a ranger at the border, we could just say that we were out trail running. We could then turn back, retrieve our packs and wait until nightfall to cross over into NC, assuming that any patrol would likely end their shift before it got dark. We wanted to research the legalities of what was happening in the societal world, but there was inadequate service and not enough battery on the phone. All we could rely on was word of mouth. To be honest, we really had no way of knowing what to expect.
The next ten miles flew by rather quickly and we found ourselves within a mile of the border. We were so focused on the unknown and tensions had become so high that we weren’t thinking much about our feet, legs, and knees at this time. We were carefully following our progress and proximity to the border via a hiking/navigating app called Guthook. We had purchased this app before beginning our A.T. hike as a tool to refer to if we needed some assistance navigating the trail.
Guthook is considered a standard necessity for long-distance hikers as it informs the user of pertinent information such as the locations of water sources, camping locations, shelters, road crossings, resupply locations, nearby towns, and in-depth information regarding the geography of the trail from one end to the other. In the beginning, we didn’t think we would actually use Guthook all too often as our phone was pretty much always dead. The app does work offline via GPS which is a key feature considering when our phone did have enough battery for a bit of brief usage, our service was non-existent.
As we closed in on the border, we kept our eyes peeled for anything that may be cause for concern. We carefully approached the border. Everything looked clear! To our tremendous relief and a bit of surprise, the border was simply a small piece of 2×4 with the letters engraved on it GA/NC. We laughed and our anxiety quickly turned to excitement as we had just hiked into the second state on our cross country journey! There was no patrol, there were no warning signs
for hikers and we had succeeded in hiking a total of 23 miles for the day, our longest day yet. Our spirits were lifted once again, though we knew we may face a different situation at upcoming road and border crossings. Just beyond the border, we stopped at a piped spring to collect some water before finding a spot to set up camp for the night. As we were crouched down with our bottles and our filter, another hiker approached, also heading Northbound, and he said to us, “Welcome to North Carolina.” As we finished gathering water for the night, the temperature began to drop rapidly as the sun was setting behind the mountains. We hiked just a few hundred feet further, about as much as our bodies were going to allow for. We passed a large camping area where at least half a dozen hikers had already claimed as their home for the night. We hiked off trail a bit and found a stealth spot to set up our tent. As we settled in for the evening and rested our aching bodies, we enjoyed a very familiar dinner of date nut balls, this time with a calming sense of relief and accomplishment. As we slipped into our sleeping bags, exhausted physically from a long day of steep uphill hiking and mentally exhausted from anticipating a potentially sketchy border crossing, it became very apparent to us that much-needed shower of some sort was in order. Sleep came quickly to us as we knew we would be embarking on another full day of unknown adventure just as soon as the sun would rise, the birds would begin to chirp, and the forest would come to life as it would a little earlier each day.