When the Trail Throws a Curve

It’s been nice to hear from several Appalachian Trail hikers, soon-to-be hikers, and HISOs (hiker in spirit only).  We hope you all enjoy our stories and will share your hiking experiences as well.  Our internet access in eastern Tennessee has been sporadic the past couple weeks and several followers have wondered about a new post.  Thanks for your patience — we never want to disappoint you!

In this post, we wanted to share with you some stories of when the trail has thrown us a curve.  This is an unexpected event, with no prior warning, that may be positive, negative, or just plain weird.

In a prior post, we shared about the other Chief we had met on the trail.  We referred to him as Chief 2 Feathers for clarification purposes and he is section hiking the A.T. over a period of years.  Chief 2F had spent a few days with some friends so we lost track of him for a while.  On Day 29, Chief 2F found us in Hot Springs, N.C.  This was a very nice surprise because we like Chief 2F.  We scheduled to meet for dinner at a local Mexican restaurant where Chief 2F told us that he was leaving the trail for this year.  An unexpected family situation and a tough couple days of hiking had forced him to call it quits.  Chief 2F is one hiker with whom we genuinely bonded on the A.T. and we were sad that he wasn’t continuing.  Over dinner, we reminisced about our days of hiking together and planned to meet again in the future off the trail.  When we parted Chief 2F wouldn’t say goodbye, rather he said, “See you…”.  Funny how a friendship can begin on the A.T.

On Day 30, we slackpacked out of Hot Springs and had prepared ourselves for a long day’s hike.  Let’s pause for…

Hiker Lingo:  Slackpacking — paying someone to deliver your backpack to your next location, leaving the hiker to navigate the trail with only a light-weight daypack.

Some hiking purists don’t believe in slackpacking, but even elite hikers take advantage of slackpacking to conserve energy.  Hiking without an extra 25-35 lbs. on your back allows your legs to move faster and keeps pressure off the feet!  We felt free and easy on the trail until Chief suddenly saw a huge snake actually on the walking path. The snake wouldn’t move so we had to pass it in the brush without creating a disturbance.  From that moment we were reminded how important it is to watch for snakes as many a hiker has stepped or nearly stepped on a rattlesnake.

Days 31 and 32 were spent climbing some of the toughest but most beautiful mountains in Tennessee, Big Butt and Big Bald (ironically this could describe me and Chief — LOL)… Anyhow Big Butt was some of the rockiest terrain we have navigated.  Big Bald is covered with grasses instead of trees and offered a breathtaking 360 degree view of the surrounding majestic mountains — an unexpected but wonderful surprise.

Not so wonderful, Chief has really been struggling with a sore left shoulder.  Not one to complain, he probably needs to see a chiropractor or doctor and needs to reduce weight in his pack.  My problem is a nasty case of poison ivy.  It’s not the little bubble poison ivy like I’ve experienced in Ohio, this is huge welts with monster bubbles.  I picked up some herbal soap at one of the outfitters and it is helping to relieve the itch and remove toxins.  I fear that for the entire hike I will be relegated to wearing long pants and long-sleeved shirts as a proactive measure.

We do hate missing church on the trail, but on Sunday, Day 35 another hiker, Brother Timothy, passed us hiking.  We have seen Brother Timothy on a few occasions.  He is a young man from Chicago who says he is hiking the A.T. to share God’s love and speak His truth to whomever will listen.  On this particular day, Brother Timothy was wearing only a T-shirt and his underwear in addition to his hiking shoes.   As he passed, I could hear the King James Version Bible on tape coming from his pack.  “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.  Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”  Blessed are those that hike only in their underwear, for they shall not chafe.  (Disclaimer — that last sentence isn’t in scripture, just a thought to a weird curve we’ve experienced on the trail…) It reminded us of The Gnome — another hiker with a long white beard who wears brightly-colored purple tights.

On Day 36 we were looking forward to a hike up Roan Mountain in Tennessee.  The A.T. thru-hiker book promised a majestic view atop one of the tallest mountains.  As we began the arduous climb a soft misty rain came down, which was welcome on this warm day.  It quickly turned dark and the mist became a downpour that lasted for more than four hours.  By the time we reached the mountain’s summit, lightening was cracking around us and water was flowing down the trail in currents like the French Broad River.  We felt like salmon trying to swim upstream, navigating rocks and tree roots.  Unfortunately Roan Mountain also boasts some of the coldest temperatures on the Appalachian Trail.  It became apparent that tenting was out of the question and we needed to make it to a shelter before dark to escape the wet cold storm.  The shelter was another mile hike and by the time we arrived there were seven other hikers claiming space in the shelter.   The only place left to roll out a sleeping bag was on the floor.  With no private area, I asked the men in the loft if I could have ten minutes of privacy and quickly changed into dry clothes there.   Both Chief and I promptly got into our sleeping bags and shivered for three hours before we started to warm.  About 11 p.m. I realized that I hadn’t gone to the bathroom.  I woke Chief thinking he would go with me into the woods and watch for bear and snakes in the dark.    He sleepily said, “Don’t go far,” and hunkered back down into his sleeping sack.  So I put on my headlamp and prayed for a safe solo journey to the “ladies room”.  This was only our second night in a shelter and for good reason.  The snoring is awful (and I’m not even talking about Chief).  When I was able to finally fall asleep, I suddenly awoke at 4 a.m. to a mouse crawling on top of my head!!!  It is a moment like that when I think about the perfectly good house with indoor plumbing we have in Ohio and no vermin squeaking and playing pat-a-cake on my head during the night.

Morning couldn’t come soon enough and we hiked down Roan Mountain sixteen  miles and headed straight to the nearest hostel, Mountain Harbor B&B.  We planned to pitch the tent and get a shower for $10.  The owner said they also had a nice room with a king-sized bed and a bath for $125.  I must have been an emotional mess because Chief took one look at me and said, “We’ll take the room.”  The beautiful room in the old farmhouse held a wrought iron bed with a lovely handmade quilt.  The bathroom was immaculate, smelled of jasmine and had plenty of fluffy towels, hot water and soap.  I shampooed four times to make sure there were no remnants of mice.  The bed was amazingly comfortable and Chief and I agreed it was the best night’s sleep we had in the past 37 days.  We awoke in the morning to the fragrance of fresh coffee and Miss Mary’s homemade breakfast of egg croissants, sausage gravy and biscuits, fried potatoes, fresh fruit, French toast with honey pecan topping, and raspberry sweet rolls.  This place was truly an unexpected but magnificent find!

On Day 38 we left the B&B well rested and well fed.  We were told by another hiker, O2, to take a curve that is off the A.T.  The curve led to a magnificent waterfall about 150′ high.  It was a spectacular sight!  We probably would have missed this had we not been open to the curve.

Chief was able to get an appointment with a chiropractor who is also a hiker.  After a spinal adjustment, Chief was feeling better but then fell TWICE on the trail landing both times on that shoulder.  Those incidents, however, didn’t seem to negatively impact his legs.  Over the past week our daily mileage has steadily increased to a high point of hiking 22.7 miles on Day 41.  Today is our 42nd day on the Appalachian Trail and we arrived in Damascus, Virginia– Mile 469.  So three states are completed (Georgia, North Carolina, and Tennessee) and a multitude of curves are yet to experience.

Until next post,  Chief and Toad




12 thoughts on “When the Trail Throws a Curve

  1. I’m still shuddering, thinking about the mouse!! Glad you’re surviving the hike. I really enjoy reading your posts!


  2. Look forward to your post. Have talked about hiking the AT, but pretty sure that will be all that comes of it. The fear of bears would make me so uncomfortable. Terry ‘s cousin completed it several years ago.


  3. It is good to hear from you! It cracks me up that it was Brother Timothy in his underware! Focus on his eyes! A little weird to think about that! Lol! Hopefully as you go further north there will be fewer rattlers! In that sense you can’t get there soon enough! Cold rains further north don’t sound so great though. I admit that I was surprised that even though the rains were cold that since you were hiking that you were that chilled. Mice in you hair …yikes! You may need to shave yours also so that the mice don’t try to play in it! I am still trying to decide when you get back in OH if you will be avid campers or never want to camp again! Praying for your safety, your poison ivy, Mike’s shoulder and more! Love and miss you! Jill

    J M Gurney



  4. You are a brave woman, Toad! Chief, take care of that shoulder! You two continue to amaze me! I absolutely look forward to reading your posts. Even with the scary, uncomfortable events, it has to be truly breathtaking scenery and interesting meeting all these “characters” on the trail. Keep the faith you two!!


  5. Glad nothing has been too serious, but poison ivy is AWFUL!!! praying for both of you and that God prepare the next leg of your trail with healing and safety!!!


  6. GREAT reporting as usual; informative and entertaining!!! I guess that I’m just a slack walker (not even a day pack) and a HIMMO (hiker in my mind only). Keep up the OUTSTANDING adventure!!! You two ROCK!!!


  7. Seems very strange to call you “Toad” but you are one heck of a writer. You must have the love of that like I do……..I’m very proud of you for your writing and also your journey. Take care, hit a couple more of those wonderful B&B’s, you deserve it! Love, Auntie Jo


  8. You guys need to write a book! I love hearing about your adventures and seeing now God is taking care of you along the way.


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