Sunday, June 29, 2014



Our spirits were high as we tackled Courthouse Bald.  We left Bly Gap and almost immediately started our uphill climb.  I personally have found Day 2 of any of our hikes to be the hardest because my muscles are completely worn out from Day 1 and I typically get no sleep on the first night out.  While I found that I wasn't afraid, what did happen to me this time was that once I got all settled into my sleeping bag, I was racked with the most intense, biggest shivers I've ever experienced.  You could feel these shivers starting down in your toes and they traveled up the body.  Now, the temps outside my tent were in the mid-50's and the wind was blowing at a hefty rate but I had my 45 degree Big Agnes Bag AND my silk bag liner so my shivers weren't coming from being cold.  In fact, I didn't feel cold.  I finally covered my head completely with my liner and bag, which seemed to calm these tremendous shivers a bit.  But I digress....

The trail stretched out before us, testing our fortitude in every way possible....but we were up for the challenge, tired legs and all!  

Ready for a break, we took and early lunch stop at some random spot along the trail that looked inviting.  During our break, we met up with a young man doing a solitary hike.  He stopped to ask us about a spring that was listed in the guide book, wondering if we'd passed it.  When we asked him how far he was going and where he was stopping that night, all he said was, "I don't know." 

We later caught up with this same young man at Muskrat Creek Shelter.  We didn't stay here, nor did he but it was a nice place to make a quick pit stop to use the facilities...uh, the privy.  Note that these structures, while providing privacy, are usually smelly and not the cleanest but trust me, when nature calls, having a privy close by makes things so much easier.  Something worth mentioning here is that they request that you pee in the woods and save the privy for any other business you may have.  Ladies...always remember to pack out your feminine products.  Please don't drop them into the privy!  Okay...on to more pleasant things...

Muskrat Creek Shelter

One really nice thing about this shelter is that it's located right off the trail itself.  The area was great and water appeared to be plentiful.  Scott took care of making our trail log entry.  While doing so isn't a requirement, the main purpose of this log is for use by rangers should they have to search for you while you're out on the trail.  It's also suggested that you leave an itinerary with someone back at home in case of an emergency.

Hiking in the summer months, the tree canopy and ground foliage is heavy so views are often few and far between but when the trees do open up, what you stumble upon will usually take your breath away and remind you of just why you're out there, doing this in the first place...

There is typically nothing "easy" about the terrain you'll encounter along any part of the A.T. but sometimes the trail is nicer to you than at other times.  Not since our climb of Blood Mountain had we encounter the amount of rocks we had to navigated going over Yellow Mountain into Deep Gap, NC.  On top of that, it was like the climb that never ended, decorated with straight-ups and many switchbacks.  There were many times while traversing this particular mountain that my thoughts drifted towards, "Why the heck am I out here doing this to myself?!"  I have to say that I faced numerous personal and physical challenges on this section hike that I've never had to deal with before, and it was really taking its toll on me.  I was exhausted and my legs were weak.  At one point earlier in the day while climbing Courthouse Bald, I'd attempted to step up a big rock step and my legs gave out.  If my brother hadn't had hold of my hand, I would have fallen backwards. My endurance level seemed lower than ever before but out of sheer determination, I made my miles each day.  I often fell a considerable distance behind my brother and sister, which only served to make me feel bad because they had to stop and wait for me to catch up.  Still, I knew that I was giving it my absolute all and was doing the best I truly could do.  If I was ever grateful for those $20 knee braces, it was on the descent of this formidable mountain. more rocks....add to the mixture water and mud...and did I say rocks?  By the time we reached Deep Gap, NC and stopped for a break, the balls of my feet were barking!  I actually considered calling our shuttle service to come pick us up...even though it was only Day 2.  This was something I'd never had cross my mind on previous hikes, but my body was beaten down and my moral was low.  As I sat on that log, consuming some kind of ultra-nasty blueberry power bar thing, I heard this voice coming from my told me that I COULD continue on and that if I ended my journey at that point, I'd regret missing the lessons that lie ahead for me.

I found it within myself to "suck it up and drive on" as my drill sergeants use to say.  This is where I made my first mistake however,  What I should have done is take time to tend to the hotspot I felt forming on my left heel.  Eager to get to camp, I just gathered my stuff and set off again without doing so.  We didn't have far to go and we were all very ready to call it a day!  Our initial destination that evening was the Standing Indian Shelter but we knew there was a campsite located just before it so we decided to check it out when we came to it.  One look at the site with the water right there was all it took.  This one was a no-brainer.  It's widely known that, while the shelter areas do have water sources nearby, it's usually a very steep, sometimes long climb that you REALLY don't feel like making after do it all day long.  So, when we saw this campsite with its creek right there, we were on it like flies on...well, you know.  It was the most beautiful, peaceful place to spend the night I think I've found in all my section hikes.  Having the water right there was such an added plus!

I have to say that we were all three looking forward to climbing into our tents that evening.  It didn't take long for those body-racking shivers to take over once again but in spite of it all, laying there, listening to that babbling creek right outside of my tent, how accomplished I felt was all I could think about.  It was simply an amazing end to a very tough day.  I know that at some point I finally fell asleep because I woke myself up snoring.  I'm not a back sleeper but on those 22" sleeping pads, there's not much choice.  When all was said and done, I felt quite the sense of accomplishment having not given into my weakness and called it quits.  I would have been so very sorry if I'd done that....the peacefulness we experienced at our campsite that night left me knowing that.  Tomorrow we faced climbing to the summit of Standing Indian Mountain.  In my heart, I was ready.  Bring it on!

Saturday, June 28, 2014



We could hardly wait to get started on our next A.T. adventure!  The ride from where we left our car to Dick's Creek Gap took only a few minutes and before we knew it, we were standing there, ready to embark on Day 1 of our 5 day trek.  The excitement in the air was palpable as we did our final gear check and cheered our departure along with several other hikers who arrived at the Gap to stage their own vehicle.  There was a mutual, "Let's do this," shared between us all!

And our trek began....

We had nine miles to go before reaching our destination for the night, Bly Gap, NC.  I went into this hike completely out of shape, having done very little other than a few knee exercises, so the task I was undertaking loomed larger than life ahead of me.  I chose to bring this fact to light now because I know there are so many people out there who use the excuse, "I'm out of shape so there's no way I could ever go for a hike in the mountains, especially not a multi-day hike." Some probably honestly believe this to be true.  To all of you I say, "Just do it!"  Don't get me wrong...being in good physical condition is definitely a plus when starting out on an undertaking of this nature...but it's not an absolute, do-or-die requirement.  The trail will whip you into shape.  Trust me on that one.  So...I was out of shape from having been relatively sedentary since my section hike last June, but our spirits were high and we managed to keep them that way for the most part.

The terrain that first day didn't let us down.  It was quite the challenge to get those muscles we rarely used back at home into the mode of carrying our own weight plus that of our packs for miles at a time.  We were met several times throughout the day will large trees that had fallen down across the trail, requiring us to climb up and somehow slip over the massive trunks....all without falling over on our faces.  Still, we were met with awe-inspiring natural beauty with every twist and turn of the trail

We've found that it works better for us if we stop for a hot lunch each day.  This not only fuels our bodies but also gives us a much-needed break from carrying our packs.  In hindsight, I think the one thing we don't do often enough is stop, take the packs off and just rest for maybe 10 or 15 minutes.  Most of our snacks are eaten during a quick stop where we take only enough time to consume our tasty treat before continuing on.  Yes, we do have a destination to reach each night, but I think breaks might be the key to reaching our goal while going a little easier on least until we get our "hiker legs" on.  Our lunch stop on Day 1 was at Plum Orchard Gap.

It might sound silly, but I take pictures of all the signs we come to along the trail.  I do this so I can remember exactly where we've tread.  When we came across these next signs, it began to feel a bit different.  We weren't far from the GA/NC state line, the crossing of which I'd been anticipating for a year.  It represented a milestone for me....I would be able to check one state off my list of 14.

We were still 3.1 miles from our stopping point for Day 1 and I'd be lying if I said we weren't feeling all that the mountains had already handed us but knowing that I'd be accomplishing a goal of mine kept that smile on my face.  Every now and then, we'd just stop and stand there, listening to the birds singing all around us.  There really is nothing like the peacefulness that I find all around me when I'm on the's one of the reasons I seek it out as often as I can.

Okay...drum roll please....wait for it.....wait for it.....

(Sorry this one's a little blurry)

The sense of accomplishment I felt as I stood, looking at the rather unremarkable GA/NC state line crossing sign is sort of indescribable for me.  In the scheme of the entire 2185 miles of the A.T., it was very small but for me, it was something I'd worked VERY hard for over my 3 section hikes and my Approach Trail hike.  I'd finally made it out of Georgia!  We joked about how the state of Georgia didn't hesitate to let the door hit us in the butt as we left the state behind.  I'd done Georgia.  Knowing that kept me smiling for a long time.

Once we crossed the state line, our campsite wasn't far.

With plenty of daylight left, Scott set out on the task of starting a fire while Debbie pitched our tents.  My job during all of this is to make us all a hot cup of coffee!

Now, I'm the planner of the group.  Scott and I both keep a close check on the weather in the area before we leave Florida.  So, I had looked at the 10 day forecast and seen the nighttime temps ranging in the mid to upper 50's.  It just didn't register so we were a bit unprepared for the gusty, chilly winds and the 56-59 degree temps each night at camp....

Yes...I know...I look beautiful!  

Again, a little blurry, but you get the idea...we were cold! do what you've got to do to stay warm!

We made use of whatever we had to try to at least block the wind.  We simply didn't think about the fact that we'd be arriving at camp each night, soaked with sweat, only to be met with wind and cooler temps.  Guess that's what happens when Floridians head for the mountains.  We learned a very valuable lesson...we'll never leave home again without some kind of jacket!  When all was said and done, however, we survived the elements on Day 1.  Something else we've learned is that no matter how tired you might feel, climbing into your tent super-early isn't usually the best option.  It doesn't take long for the exertion of the day to set in and that ground starts to feel very hard and uncomfortable.  I've found ways around most of the other issues the trail presents, but for me, no matter how "high-end" I go with my sleeping pad, I've yet to find a way to spend the night comfortably.  On a high note, when I left Dick's Creek Gap earlier that day, I did so figuring that I'd spend 4 sleepless nights in my tent, being terrified of all things that go bump in the night.  Not once did I experience that fear so I'm making progress!

We awoke the next morning and went through our typical morning, breaking camp, and eating our oatmeal.  We knew we were going to be hit right off the bat with a formidable climb.  Standing Indian Mountain loomed ahead, still a day away, taking us up to 5498 feet in elevation, the highest we would reach on this hike. Leaving Bly Gap, we would be hanging in above 4000 feet in elevation for the remainder of our trek once we reached Courthouse Bald (4666 ft, up from 3840 ft) .  The sun was shining bright and the birds were singing loudly as we headed out of camp...almost as if they wanted to cheer us on as we walked head-on into our first climb of the day.  

We set our sights northbound....onward weary hikers!  Standing Indian awaits but we must first conquer Courthouse Bald and Yellow Mountain!

Friday, June 13, 2014


I recently completed a 40.2 mile section hike of the Appalachian Trail, starting at Dick's Creek, GA and finishing up at Winding Stair Gap, NC.  This was actually my third long distance section hike and, while each has provided me with its own unique challenges, this particular one forced me to face and work through one of my deep-seated fears:  my fear of heights, the "edges" that come with heights of any kind, and my own lack of confidence in my physical abilities (very little balance, knee weakness, ect).  As our climb of Albert Mountain began, the fact that we would come across a bypass route stood looming in the back of my mind.  I've never opted for the "easy route" during any of my section hikes, but all the doom and gloom I'd been hearing about what a difficult climb this particular mountain was going to present us with made me start to actually consider using the bypass rather than climbing the direct route.  When the time came, however, up we went.  The trail held true to its mere 18-24 inch width, adding slick rocks, mud, and tree routes to the mixture of obstacles it tossed at us.  Add to this the fact that when the vegetation growing along the right side of the trail offered a glimpse of what lay below, what I saw was nothing.  We were, in fact, skirting the edge of the cliffs.  One wrong move and all could go very, very wrong.  Still, I managed to make my way slowly up that treacherous mountainside by keeping my eyes focused on the trail and what was ahead of me rather than looking off to my right.  There were a couple of places where the dense vegetation gave way to some breath-taking views:

There were also times where we were almost plastered against the side of the mountain as we made our way down the narrow trail:

As we moved ahead, the trail met us with lots of rocks, roots, and stairs that had been placed to assist with the climb, which were challenging enough on my tired legs but the final push to the summit opened up to an almost 90 degree grade that required us to pretty much climb up on our hands and knees, taking great care not to straighten our posture which would have ensured that the weight of our packs would have easily pulled us over backwards.  At one point, my brother moved in behind me because I could feel my uncertainty in my own ability to complete the climb threatening to take over.  With the top in sight, I was suddenly overcome by it all.  I remember saying, "Not only is this hard for me but I'm scared," and panic took over.  I began to do what I now laughingly call my Howler Monkey imitation and could feel myself starting to hyperventilate.  My sister had already reached the top but she later told me that she'd never seen such a look of sheer terror on anyone's face and she knew that I was in trouble so she quickly made her way back down, took my arm, and with the help of my brother behind me, I made it up to a point where I was able to stand securely and just let it all out.  There was nothing I could do to stop this lovely display of emotion.  It just had to run its course...but thanks to all the positive words and encouragement from my sister, brother and our two hiking companions, Mr. Wonderful and Morning Glory, I regained my composure and finally made it to the summit.

Morning Glory and Mr. Wonderful

We all reached the summit of Albert Mountain feeling more energized than we had at any other time during our hike.  I suppose it was more of an adrenaline rush but whatever it was, we all felt it.  We slowly climbed the fire tower, and the panoramic views we were met with made the whole thing worth it:

I'm sure that if you asked many of the hikers who have made this climb before me, they would probably say that it was quite the challenge but for me, it was so much more than that.  It certainly wasn't one of my proudest moments.  I'm not use to putting my emotions on such public display.  But the whole experience taught me a couple of very valuable lessons that I hope to carry with me into the future:  I CAN do so much more than I give myself credit for; I CAN push through my fears and challenge myself like I never thought I could; and there is NOTHING wrong with needing a little help sometimes.  My brother, sister and I often joke about how the Keith's aren't quitters and this mountain helped me prove that to myself.  I was terrified, more so than I can ever remember being, but I didn't freeze up.  I didn't take the "easy route."  I made it to the top, with a little help from my family.  What lessons could be more valuable than those?

Happy hiking everyone!