Day 73: Thanksgiving in June

Rod Hollow Shelter to Blackburn AT Center

Miles Hiked: 17.9

AT Milage: 1013.0

This morning I was really lazy about leaving camp because I slept so little late night. I also talked a little bit to all the new people that I had never met before. In this new group of people was about 4-6 girl thru hikers who I had never met before. It was reassuring to know I’m still not the only woman out on this trail! Two of the girls were best friends who started the trail together named Trip and Mixy. I really liked them and spent the rest of the day talking to them a decent amount when I saw them. They hike a lot slower than me and take even more breaks it seemed like so I only got to see them when they caught up to me on my long breaks.

Today I would do an infamous section of the trail called “the roller coaster”. This is a 13.5 mile section with very steep up and downs. There was one big ascent and descent for each mile I would cover will elevation gains and losses from 250-450 feet. While I have covered the same elevation gain and loss in one day, if not significantly more, multiple times before, today was such a challenge because I knew that I would have to be constantly going up and down for miles. Sometimes hikers call these PUDs which stands for pointless ups and downs because there is no view in this section. I was already sweating so much over the first three hills on the roller coaster. I hiked without my shirt on pretty much all day the heat was so bad. I stopped to get water as much as possible and constantly chugged a liter at a time. This whole day I think I only went pee once because I was losing so much sweat. After the fourth hill I crossed the 1000 mile marker which felt so great. I took some pictures but lost them when my phone broke later in the day. I stopped at a hostel that was 0.2 miles off the trail called Bear’s Den. I bought a soda and sat down for two hours to escape the heat of the mid afternoon. Mixy and Trip caught up to me so I talked to them for a while. Fancy Feast texted me to let me know that there was going to be a free Thanksgiving in June dinner put on for hiker at the Blackburn Appalachian Trail Center which was about seven miles from Bear’s Dean. The dinner started at 6:30 so I left Bear’s Den close to 3:30 pm to make it in time. Before I left my break I dumped a few bottles of cold water on my head which felt good. We all left at the same time but they quickly fell behind me.

When I finished the roller coaster I was so happy. The rest of the trail was fairly flat to my dinner destination. Right as I passed the northern end of the rolled coaster the sky got really dark and the wind was blowing strong. I picked up my pace even though I would have stopped to break for my feet if the weather was nice. All of a sudden it started down pouring and flashing lightning and thunder. I was worried I was going to get a tree blown over on me because there were giant clumps of leaves blowing through the air like crazy. The trail turned into a small river with the water above my ankles. All I could do was keep walking, there wasn’t a safe place to stop. At one point I saw a turtle swimming straight down the middle of the trail with all four arms and legs. I went to check my phone to see how much father I had to go, but when I pulled it out of my pocket I realized it was sitting in a puddle of collected water. Normally that pocket has kept my phone dry in all the rain I’ve walked through so far but not this time. I was frustrated I didn’t stop to put it in a waterproof bag inside my pack, but it didn’t seem like there was a good place to stop and I thought I was a lot closer to my destination than I was in reality. This rain storm was the most amount of water I’ve had dumped on me in such a short amount of time on the trail. I had to slow my pace down significantly the closer I got to my destination because my feet just started aching so bad. Sometimes the cold water from rain will help my feet feel a little numb, but I was stepping on a lot of sharp rocks that I couldn’t see in the muddy water and they were causing me a lot of pain.

I arrived at the Blackburn ATC just in time for dinner. I changed out of my sopping wet clothes and laid out my belongings to dry on the porch. I was really upset about my phone because for the first time in a long time I got to charge it to 100% at Bears Den, and I wanted to call my boyfriend tonight because it was his birthday. I was also really homesick yet again and wanted to talk to my mom. The thanksgiving dinner was amazing. It was cooked by “Trail Boss” and his wife who is the chair of the board of directors for the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (a big deal). Trail Boss is the man who is responsible for the building of the roller coaster. He explained to us that the reason the trail had to be built that way was because the land that was acquired for the section was on a rocky ridge line which the local famers and land managers had no use for. As a result it served as a perfect corridor for the trail to be built on. Trail Boss’s wife explained to us a lot of the history behind the land acquisition and protection for the Appalachian Trail. It was cool to hear the story first hand from someone who was so involved in the process. I am so thankful for all of the work that has been done to secure the trail and its character for future generations. Although I do not know all the details, there are still many threats of development that this protected corridor faces today, often in the name of a large corporation who would benefit a lot of money for disrupting the wilderness corridor for one reason or another. Every time I learn about an area being subject to development, my heart aches for the irreplaceable and precious wilderness areas we are losing a little bit at a time each day.

On a lighter note, the dinner I ate consisted of some sort of casserole, turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, green beans, and honey buns for desert. I was very thankful for the prepared dinner after my long day in the heat and rain. The Blackburn ATC runs a small cabin (basically a glorified shelter) that holds six hikers in it. There were way more than six people at dinner, so they let all the extra people sleep on the enclosed porch of the house. It was so nice to have a dry place to sleep! Before going to bed I talked to lots of the other hikers and learned that I am not alone in getting my phone destroyed by an unexpected rain on the trail. I tried not to feel so bad about it, but I just wanted to call my family. My only saving grace was that I’ve had the same phone for almost four years. I like to use things until they break, so I am thankful I never spent money to buy the newest phone, only to have it subject to the conditions I put it through on the AT. I made a two minute call to my mom on someone else’s phone to let her know that mine broke and I wouldn’t be able to talk to them for a while. Disappointingly, I slept less than three hours tonight because my feet and worrying about my phone kept me awake. The sleep loss, along with extreme exhaustion from hiking has been really building up over the pst week. Each day feels harder than the next.

Happy Trails!

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