The first time we hiked a section of the Appalachian Trail was back in 2004. We ordered guide books and gear online, and for three days and nights we trekked across the Smokies section of the AT. It was grueling.
Then in 2007, when I was six months pregnant with Lee, we did an overnight section hike of the AT between Max Patch and Hot Springs, NC. It was uncomfortable.
It makes (no?) sense that we'd spend our first week-long vacation alone, our 10th Anniversary trip, hiking the AT. It's in our blood. We're hooked.
Physically it required the endurance of running a marathon and the focus of birthing a baby. Emotionally it demanded the patience of teaching a three year old and the strength of standing up to a bully. Romantically it involved the passion of courting; the euphoria of the honeymoon; the negotiations of newlyweds; and the intricate, interwoven dance of those who've been married a decade. Spiritually it felt like a week-long tent revival where the Holy Spirit slapped me across the face, then held my hand, and then engulfed me in a tight embrace.
That's the closest I can get to putting the experience into words, and it doesn't come close.
We hiked 10-12 hours a day. Most of that time we were silent. After the first day or so the world's static cleared, and I found myself thinking in one-liners. That's how I chose to document the trip -- in (faux)Tweets.
Sunday -- Day One -- start at VA 42 -- 9 miles (including detour)
Ryan said five miles, then 12 miles today. I'm a little confused, but excited to get started! Bye, Dad! Wooooooohooo!
10 feet in and we've crossed two snakes, one a rattler. NOT a good sign.
We're lost. Less than 30 minutes on the trail and we're lost.
"I'd give a dollar for a blaze." -- Ryan
It's always good to get directions from a woman wearing a "It ain't home if it's not Ceres, VA" t-shirt.
"Next time, bring electricity," says the local.
What's the difference between a meadow and a pasture?
Ryan forgot the camera.
What's the point of hiking the AT if we're going to get lost, take detours, and end up on county roads?
Blazes! White blazes! We're back on federal land now, Hallelujah.
On to Davis Shelter a.k.a Davis Campground!
Lots of downed trees on the trail from the past two nights' storms.
The detour cost us time, so we'll camp here underneath the rhododendrons. They're cavernous and blooming.
I'd bet I'm the only woman on the AT toting a breast pump.
Mountain House meals beat Ramen Noodles. Chicken and Rice soup was delicious.
"Here it comes!" -- Ryan (at midnight)
"It's right over us." -- Ryan (at 1am)
It's not as scary if we leave the headlamp on. Then we can't see the lightning.
"It's passing. Good." -- Ryan (at 2am)
"Maybe I shouldn't have had the caffeinated drink." -- Ryan (at 2:30am)
Monday -- Day Two -- start at Crawfish Valley campsite -- 18 miles
More downed trees. One is across the trail at a switchback in a ravine, which means we had to take off our packs and climb over it. That was tough.
It's a good thing we didn't try to push through last night.
A tree was uprooted a few feet from the floor of the Davis camp area. Anyone sleeping there last night would have been crushed. Another couple we met was delayed and didn't make it there either. Praise God.
More downed trees across the trail. Feet, shoulders, and hips are starting to hurt.
Civilization! We bought cameras at a convenience store in Atkins. Now Ryan's forgiven.
The phenomenon of hikers listening to blaring Ipods is new to us.
Finding water is tougher this trip.
Trail runners are flying by us! That's amazing.
We've met a boy who's going to Montreat in the fall to study Outdoor Education. We've met thru-hikers Bear Bait and Rain Catcher. Ryan says my trail name would be "Snot."
All my hydration is going to producing snot and breast milk.
There's a rumor that our next shelter -- Partnership -- has a shower and pizza delivery.
We're hiking a mile an hour slower than we planned for. That could be a problem.
There must be 14 Brushy Mountains in the Appalachian range.
The last two miles are always the longest, whether it's a five or twenty-mile day.
The rumors about Partnership are true. The outdoor shower is primitive, but it's there. The pizza is cold and leftover, but the thru-hikers are generous. This is the nicest shelter we've seen.
"Why would anyone want to sleep in a hotel when they've got a shelter like this?" -- Thru-hiker
I'm sleeping two feet from a stranger. There are gnats buzzing in my ear. My second experience sleeping in a shelter is as bad as I remember. Never again.