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Us on the AT

Lady, the Tramp, and two furry toddlers take on the Appalachian Trail

Gear Updates and Changes, 800 Miles In

So we’re just going to do this as a nice little listy list. I’ll try to get pictures of the gear I don’t ¬†have photos of, for those of you who are interested. There have been a few major overhauls, and then several weight based switch outs.

  • Water Filter
    • Original: Sawyer
    • Photo from product listing at Sawyer.comImage result for sawyer filter
      • Pros: Small, lightweight, we each carried one so never had to wait on partner for water
      • Cons: Bags kept bursting, Mini cross-threaded easily, long time needed for amount of water we needed, o-ring
    • New: Platypus Gravity Filter
    • ¬†Photo from product listing at REI.comImage result for platypus gravityworks
      • Pros: Hands off system, about same weight as Sawyer system, easily fit with hydration bladders, quick work of water
      • Cons: sometimes slow to start filtering, o-ring gets dry
    • Overall: We are thrilled with our Platypus system. We will probably still use the Sawyer for overnights back home, but this is definitely our go-to filter for any multi day trip from here on out. It is just an all around easier, faster, more efficient system for the amount of water that we need to filter for the two of us. The only change we might make is to get a larger dirty water bag, so we don’t have to fill it as many times when filtering at camp.
  • Tent
    • Original: REI Half Dome 4
      • Pros: Huge amount of space, easy set up, could set up fly without tent body easily, came with footprint
      • Cons: heavy (about 7 pounds!), big and bulky, LEAKY RAIN FLY
    • New: Big Agnes Copper Spur 3
      • Pros: plenty of space for us/dogs/gear, lightweight for size (about 3 pounds), dries quickly, FLY DOESN’T LEAK
      • Cons: HELLA expensive, can’t set up just fly without Big Agnes footprint, footprint not included
    • Overall: We love Aggie, she’s a wonderful part of the gear fam. We are using a piece of Tyvek as our tarp, which works great. It wasn’t a purchase we wanted to make that early into our hike, but it decreased my pack weight by about 3.5 pounds; we had previously split the Half Dome, but the whole BA weighs the same as Dylan’s half so now he just carries the tent. We sent home (with the help of incredible trail angles John and Caroline) the Half Dome, and it will be our go to beach shelter, as well as to give us ample space for car camping during good weather.
  • Sleeping Pad
    • Original: Cheapo Amazon Inflatable
      • Pros: fairly lightweight, easily inflated, had attached pillow
      • Cons: deflated overnight, tedious to deflate
    • New: Klymit Double V
    • Picture from product listing at Klymit.comImage result for klymit double v
      • Pros: double sleeping pad, AWESOME customer service, 1.6 R value, stuff sack acts as pump for easy inflation
      • Cons: can’t split weight, tedious to deflate
    • Overall: Thrilled with our Double V. We zip our bags together, so we can actually sleep like a couple, and now recommend this system to every couple we meet. The DV is about a quarter pound heavier than two single pads, but it also cost us about $50 less than two pads. Our first one seemed to have a manufacturing issue with the seams, and we found ourselves having to re-patch the same leak at least every other town. That being said, the replacement process under warranty from Klymit was about the most painless one yet; and the new one they sent actually seems to be a newer version, with a higher R value and seemingly made from a different (more durable?) material. The deflate process is a little annoying, just because the width of the pad means there always seems to be a little air trapped in the corner opposite the deflate valve. The Double V is essentially two of the traditional Klymit Single V, so I feel comfortable recommending that to any single hikers.
  • Other Switches
    • We’ve switched our rain shells for lighter ones
    • Now carrying dog jackets, for colder nights around camp and such
      • they are so damn cute I can’t even stand it.
      • LOOKIT

    • gave away the dog sleeping bag in Hiawassee, been carrying a therm-a-rest pad, found at Woody Gap, for them since then.
    • Left my headlamp at the Yellow Deli in Lancaster, carrying one found in the Dungeon at the Lakes of the Clouds hut
    • switched our Primus stove for an Etekcity (HIGHLY recommend – $10 on Amazon!)
    • Switched our stainless steel pot for a Toaks titanium
    • Charlie doesn’t wear a pack, and hasn’t since GA; it turns out commercial packs don’t quite fit him right, so he kept ending up with raw underarms
    • Bandit now carries a Ruffwear Palisades pack. We managed to lose his Outward Hound harness (but not the saddlebags?) and Ruffwear was the only option in Damascus, when we went up to Trail Days.
      • We like Ruffwear, I will know how truly after hearing back from their customer service department, as Bandit’s saddlebags have started falling apart.
      • We are still hoping to get the e-mail that it’s our turn at the top of Groundbird Gear’s waitlist to get both dogs custom sized packs

 

I think that’s all the major ones? If there is any piece of gear you are wondering about, please let me know! I’ll try to get hold of the interest, relatively soon, to revisit our full gear lists and update them! Thanks fam!

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Here We Are Again

I keep finding myself here: awake at three in the morning. Charlie is wedged in the crook of one elbow, Dylan to my right, Bandit licking at himself on the floor.

The side of my foot hurts. I trip a lot. Probably stepped on a rock the wrong way. That’s going to be annoying.

I don’t know why this is always where I end up. I guess it’s the Virgo or the Pastry Chef or the Mom in me that can’t stop running through the list of things to accomplish in so very, very little time.

I keep unclenching my jaw, though I don’t recall clenching it to begin with. My dentist would be disappointed.

My stomach hurts. Though that could be from the cake. I just had a birthday. I’m twenty-five now.

We’re heading back out in the morning. 9 am shuttle back to the Flume Gorge Visitor Center, then a mile back up to the actual AT. We have less than 27 miles to the next town of Glencliff, at which point we will be officially done with “The Whites.” They say it gets easier then; but someone is always saying that.

It never really seems to. Just presents different versions of difficult.

I called some recruiters back today. I updated my resume and my LinkedIn and made accounts on a couple job sites, trying to be proactive for Winter jobs, y’know. One said “thanks, no thanks,” because I didn’t want to start right away and couldn’t commit till May; the other two I left voicemails for, but they’re out of state and you don’t really relocate when you plan to quit in the early spring anyway to go finish a Thru Hike.

Anyone hiring for the winter? I learn fast, I’m great with kids and Excel, and I wasn’t coddled so I don’t need a lot of hand holding. Weeee job skills.

Maybe I should look into nannying. Where does one find a gig like that. Preferably in South Florida because I think if we go back to Orlando we might not go back to the trail. It was hard enough to leave the first time.

Charlie makes really cute grumbly noises in his sleep. Like a little old man.

I’m sorry I’ve been really delayed in getting a post up. You guys deserve better than that. I have several in my head, but just haven’t seem to have found the time to really get them down on the ‘ol cell phone. I haven’t forgotten though. That’s why I keep my trail journal.

There’s cookie dough in the fridge. I need to bake that. I bought it to eat, before I knew there was cake.

My adorable mom sent a box of decorations to the hostel we are at and called to pay for our room and one of the incredible staff members paid for a bottle of wine (which I thought I was picking out for her boss). So we came back from the store and there were balloons and pinwheels everywhere, and a photo booth.

Damn, if I knew this was my birthday party, I’d have just gotten Totinos Party Pizzas. Those things are bomb. The pork came out well, though.

I’m sorry this is so stream of consciousness. And that I keep apologizing so much. I don’t like feeling like I’m disappointing someone.

I spend a lot of time on the trail apologizing. It’s dumb. I think it’s just the ingrained hospitality nonsense, at this point. “Sorry for stopping short on that ascent.” “Sorry for not getting off trail in time for you, passerby.” “Sorry for needing so many breaks.” “Sorry for kicking you in the face, Bandit.”

That last one is his fault. He tends to walk right on my heels. Poor dude. If only I could explain the clumsiness in my genes and why I should be given a three foot buffer at all times.

I’m gonna try to sleep again. We might come back into town again, after the Kinsmans, so we don’t have to do a lot of miles tomorrow. They’re full till Sunday night. We could feasibly do the Kinsmans tomorrow, 9-10 Miles including the one back to trail, and then 6-7 in to town on Sunday. We don’t like going in late but our resupply would be done already and then it’s only about a day and a half to Glencliff.

I wish I was asleep right now. I guess I’ll try again, though I’m about ready to give up. My head hurts, and my stomach is still upset. It’s not the cake though. It just gets a certain way when I don’t sleep.

Night kids. Thanks for trying to keep up with my special brand of neurotic.

Much love,

Lady

Life in a bag

For over four months now we’ve been out on the trail. For these months we’ve carried everything we need to survive in the bags we carry on our backs. Before we left I packed everything I owned into 9 boxes and put them in Madison’s mothers garage. Now a days I think to myself. What am I going to do with all that stuff in those boxes? I obviously don’t need any of it to live.

I’m happy out here. Day in and day out all I need is in my bag. Everything from food to shelter, clothes to first aid. As far as I’m concerned if it isn’t in my bag I don’t need it.

This whole trip so far has changed my outlook in life. I’m in love with this simplistic way of being. I realize now that I don’t need all of the junk, the clutter. Its all irrelevant. The only thing I need now is my backpack and the stuff in it.

The terrain in Maine has gotten much harder but we’re pushing ourselves more than ever. In the 3+ months in the southern states we hiked 437 miles. In the ONE month we’ve been in Maine we’ve hiked over 260. Given the intensity of the mountains here I say we’re doing damn good!

As of writing this we will be in New Hampshire in less than a week. Nearly 4 states down, 10 to go. With every mile we hike we get closer to the goal of finishing this trail but I cant help but wonder how I will cope with life out of the woods. I rarely see the news and from what I’ve seen since we’ve reached Andover, I dont think I want to finish. Will my new sunny disposition be tainted in the crossfire of returning to civilization? I for one am in no hurry to find out. Until that day must come I’m going to be glad I’m out here. Happy to be myself and live amongst the the trees. Its much more peaceful here, and its the medicine I never knew I needed. So we will continue to push ourselves and ill keep praying this dream never ends. See y’all out there, in the trees.

Flippidy Floppidy

So it’s 12:10 AM right now. I’m laying awake in a twin bed while Dylan, “Tramp,” is completely knocked out on one side, and the dogs are knocked out on the other. It’s hot in this hostel room. 

In case you wondered, I regret none of that picture. It’s merely payback for all the ones of me that Tramp insists on taking. 

So, anyway, I am laying here thinking about the fact that, the day after tomorrow, we will be picking up a rental car and beginning our two day drive to Bangor, ME to start the SoBo section of our Thru. 

We’re slow. That’s a fact. We have never denied this, rather, we typically make jokes about it; especially when asked the oh-so-fun-and-not-at-all-mildly-embarrassing “so when did you start?” But, on top of being (ridiculously) slow, we are social and very easily sucked into the vortex of many of the towns we’ve hit along the trail. This means that we, after almost four months on trail, have only accomplished 426.9 miles. 

So there is zero chance we are going to finish this season. In order to complete the trail by the largely acknowledged October 15th end to Katahdin access we would have to increase, overnight, our average mileage to 19 a day and not take a single other zero until we’re done. That sounds like, in addition to hell on the pups, actually not even the tiniest bit fun. 

And fun is kind of the entire point of this hike. 

Which brings me to Plan 47: Flip Flop Option D

We had always planned to flip. We knew there was no way we’d be able to go straight through as both flatlanders and, speaking for myself, an avid hater of all things cold winter is a miserable bitch. Originally we said Harpers Ferry (about 675 miles from where we are now), then it changed to “major town nearest us at end of June,” then it was Damascus, now it’s Hampton. 

Maybe I should explain a Flip Flop? There are three categories of Thru Hikes:

  • NoBo: North Bound, straight through from the Approach Trail/Springer Mountain to Mount Katahdin, typically start early spring and end mid/late fall
  • SoBo: South Bound, opposite of NoBo, typically start early/mid summer and end mid/late fall
  • Flip Flop: hike the trail in two pieces, back to back, and often one NoBo one SoBo; most common flip spot is Harpers Ferry

At this point we seem to be inventing a fourth category I will call WoBo – “Wiggidy Wack Bound.”

So this is the newest plan; although, as previously discussed (I think?), planning is mostly a waste of time out here. The new plan is to hop North now, hike South until it’s too cold, find somewhere to hibernate (read: work our asses off through winter), then get back on trail and finish. 

See, there is a kind of leeway in the “traditional” definition of Thru Hike in that you have a rolling twelve months from your start date to finish the trail and still reasonably call it a Thru. So we have until April 17, 2018 to complete 1763.4 miles. If we say that we hike through the end of October and then from March and beginning of April, that means we have 155 days to hike them. With no zero days we would have to average 11.5 miles per day to make that happen. Since we are prone to zeros let’s assume we will take 4 zero days a month, because Vortex. So actually we have 135 hiking days at an average of 13.1 miles per day, which is still not unreasonable for us. 

This is the kind of shit I’ve been running over in my head for three days. 

I’m exhausted. It would be so easy to play the “We’ve Done More Than Most Ever Will” card and return home and jump back into our lives. Or not jump into them, but still get off trail. That seems so appealing. Having daily access to showers and laundry, not having to spend a fortune on expensive ass dehydrated dog food or carry 35 pounds on my back every day, make money instead of just hemorrhageing it. Get my eyebrows waxed. But that would be quitting. We haven’t done absolutely everything possible or exhausted every option yet, so how can we in good conscience go home?

Yes I’m tired. Yes I’m sore. Yes we’re slow. Yes our packs are too heavy. Yes we could just finish it over more time as a section hike. Yes we could probably move faster without the dogs. Yes to probably all of the questions. 

Except no. No, we don’t want to stop hiking. No, we don’t want to do it without the dogs.   No, I don’t need time off to heal. No, I don’t want to skip the views. No, I don’t really care about traditional. 

So I am, though I probably speak for both of us when I say this, coming to terms with the turns our hike has taken. Granted, we aren’t really traditional people, but there is something to be said for the crushing realization that you won’t meet a goal you set out to, at least not in the way you had set out to meet it. 

I don’t even know if I’m making sense. I really should be asleep, but my brain won’t stop moving and I have this crazy friend Samantha who is coming to visit from Australia by way of Illinois and who should be here in about half an hour. 

It is now 4:06 AM

I guess what I’m trying to say is that we’re just going to keep doing this hiking thing until we really and truly can’t anymore. The plan has gotten more than a little wonky, but sometimes you just have to deviate from the path and go a little WoBo. 

Much love,

Lady

Community

When we first set out to do this crazy Journey I often had Daydreams and being out in the middle of nowhere. Alone, with no one around for miles. Let me be clear this is not the case. We have met hundreds of thru-hikers and hundreds of day and section hikers plus the dozens upon dozens of Trail angels and all around great people who truly love the trail. In one day we met over 30 Trail maintainers who volunteer their time and sometimes money just to make our time on the trail suck a little bit less. The Rake the trail down and add steps or stairs using fallen trees or large stones. These encounters make the trail what it is. We’ve met genuinely good people. People with the purest hearts. Who are all just as crazy as us to be out here. A community of smelly, blistered, sunburnt, dirty-headed, mile-hungry crazies that I love to see everyday. We all share a commond bond, so there is no need to break the ice. We are the same kind of crazy. The same wild-willed, ramen fueled kind of crazy. WE ARE HIKERS! I hope to keep in touch with all the wonderful people we’ve been blessed to meet out here.  

 Everyday is a new adventure. We are no longer Madison and Dylan. Instead we are Lady in the Tramp. We’ve spent the last three months together day in and day out. For some couples I could see this being the demise of a good relationship, but for us thankfully, I fall in love more everyday. We are now a well-oiled machine. A team that helps each other get through the hard times. A team that pushes each other when the going gets tough. Hiking as a couple brings many challenges. We accept that we each have chores and responsibilities to complete each day. Gathering water cooking, setting up and breaking down Camp, building fires… Everything! All the way down to the simple things such as who’s carrying the toothpaste? Any couples who are going to set out the hike with your significant other, I offer this bit of advice. Don’t hike angry. Talk it out right then and there. Because all it will do is fester to an obscene amount of unnecessary animosity. There is nothing to do out here besides walking and thinking…. So think about the good things. Live in the moment. I can honestly say there isn’t anyone else I’d rather be out here with. In fact without her I don’t believe I’d be able to keep it all together enough to hike this damned trail.

  Nearly 400 miles under our feet now, and we push on. Our Pace has improved immensely. Our longest day has been 17.1 miles, compared to where we started at 5 to 8 miles a day. We just listen to our bodies and rest when necessary. The dogs are holding up well they still out hike us on the daily. We’re eating well and staying hydrated. Spring Water straight from the hills will do amazing things for your body. I’ve lost 34 pounds and feel like I’m back in high school. I’m the healthiest I’ve been in years I drink less and smoke less, my mind feels fresh and my anxiety levels are more under control than ever in my life. Depression is almost a thing of the past. I’m happy. I’m carrying all I need in a bag and I’m happy with that. As long as it’s still us I’ll have all I need. 

Lady on the Trail

Disclaimer: if you are butt hurt by discussions of feminism or choose to believe that women do not have bodily functions, you should close this blog. 
I mean personally I think you should close it and then go learn how to be a functioning member of society, but I’m biased. In any case, you’ve been warned. 

Let me start with an open letter to many of the men I’ve met and interacted with on this trail, and on behalf of the women who don’t hike with a man and face more of the bullshit we will address shortly:

Dear Misogynists,

Fuck you, and the horse you rode in on. 

Much love,

Lady

Tomorrow, as of this writing, I will have hiked into the town where 50% of ALL attempting Thru Hikers call it quits. Thru Hikers who are, statistically, largely male.

Let me quickly inject here that I have also met a large number of men who do not behave rudely or ignorantly and who are quite in touch with feminism and I have even heard stories of male hikers stepping up to the plate when faced with nonsense. But let’s also be clear that those aren’t the men to which this post is pertaining to. The “not all men” argument is trite. Let it go because #YesAllWomen experience this shit. 

So, what does it mean to be a woman on the trail? It brings a lot of its own, irritating challenges. For example, guess who had to learn how to use tampons without applicators half way through the friggin Smokies because SURPRISE have some spotting to fuck up your day. This chick. I have been on birth control for a decade and, for the majority of that decade, on a pill that makes it so I only have four periods a year. So, of course, I was also completely unprepared. I spent the whole day ignoring pleasantries or politeness and asking every woman we came across if she had tampons or pads or literally anything I am in dire straits. Thanks to Abbie and Trip & Fall, I survived to hike another day; and I will continue to hike with the extra weight of some Ish just in case another lady hiker should be in the same situation. 

As a quick side note, applicators are definitely WAY more sanitary for trail use; you should be packing out your dirties anyway, so what’s the issue. 

Oh yeah, did I mention? Feminine products are not privy friendly. So you also get to carry that shit until you can find a trash can, probably 30-50 miles from wherever you are. 

Running out of TP is also a nightmare. And, unless you carry a She-Wee or Go Girl, pee stops are a complicated situation. You have to find a spot to drop pack, get your TP out, find a spot that isn’t in clear view of the trail, brush dead leaves out of the way (them bitches cause serious splash back), dig a hole, squat, pee, wipe, bury your TP, walk back to the trail, use some kind of hand sanitizer, and put your pack back on. That’s TWELVE STEPS just to PEE. 

ARE YOU STARTING TO UNDERSTAND THE GRAVITY OF THE SITUATION?

So, thems the breaks, right? A couple of the unfortunate ways in which women face difficulty on the trail. That being said, we also have some major biological benefits over male hikers. We naturally have a stronger core, build muscle more easily, and are more equipped to carry heavy weight without upper body strength. Turns out, all of the aspects of female physiology meant to promote and ease childbirth are also largely beneficial to the undertaking of Thru Hiking. Societally, we are also largely taught to internalize and ignore suffering – there are many suggestions as to why this is, feel free to ask your local feminist for her opinion, I believe it’s due to the fact that our maternal natures are meant to extend to the coddling of the men around us as well – making it easier to ignore the hurt and keep pushing beyond the wall, in some cases. 

So that’s the physical Ish. Now we come to the misogyny. Below are some of the things I and/or other women I have met on trail have experienced, just for being women:

  • “Are you sure you know how to bear bag?”
  • “Here, I’ll start that fire for you.”
  • “Wouldn’t want you to get your hands dirty.”
  • Pink Blazing – google it. 
  • Directing questions to Tramp, as if I could not know the answer or have not hiked the same miles he has
  • Saying something slick about how I do all the cooking on trail (which is purely because I’m better at it than Tramp)
  • “So what do you do about shaving?” (In answer to this, I don’t. Are you actually kidding me? Why would I even consider bothering? If Tramp doesn’t know I have body hair after 3 years (or, ya know, his 29 on this planet) we have other, more significant issues to address.)
  • “Wouldn’t want you to break a nail”
  • Any bullshit comments about being the “mean ‘ol lady” (Ol Lady already being a term I hate more than I can explain.)
  • The oh so lovely move of putting your foot up on a bench/log/etc right near me so your penis is “casually” more noticeable (in some cases I wonder if this is subconscious – annoying either way)
  • Talking about “what women like/want/think” (guarantee you’re wrong, at least 83% of the time.)
  • Watching your language purely because I am female, not because it’s the polite thing to do in general company. (Especially since I’ve got a mouth on me and will extra-curse just to spite you, in this instance.)

I could go on, trust. I can’t understand, even on just a regular day-to-day case back home, why some men have so little faith in the ability of women to accomplish the things of which they are themselves capable. Thru hiking has nothing to do with age, race, gender, or any of the other ways in which we label ourselves; it has only to do with that hiker’s personal reasons for hiking, perseverance, determination, and overall enjoyment of the trail. It doesn’t matter how many miles you do a day, whether your NoBo/SoBo/Flip-Flop, what your base weight is (a term I have a whole rant about the stupidity of), or what kind of footwear you have on. We’re all out here to hike. To get some relief from the pressures of the world and the sounds of the city and to handle whatever internal struggles we might be facing. So why does it matter what gender you identify as or what reproductive organ you have? It certainly shouldn’t. 

Hikers hike. That’s just what we do. I just happen to do it with a great set of curves and a vagina. 

So try me, bitches. It’s been a while since I made someone cry. 

Much love,

Lady

How to Difuse a Time Bomb

The days are a blur. I couldn’t tell you what day it is at this point. I am fully engulfed in these hills. The only time we know the days of the week are days we make it to a town. We resupply and if we’re lucky sleep in a bed. Then right back to trail. Its a relentlessly viscious cycle. But all in all our hearts are still in it for the long haul. We’ve had some time off trail for trail days in Damascus, Virginia and spent some time with my brother Shane in Tennessee. We’ve drank to toasts given by trail legends and rubbed elbows with hundreds of people who have actually done what we are trying to do. But above all else and besides all that fun, we still have a couple thousand miles to complete. Because after all we are not thru hikers until we complete this entire trail.
  So therein lies the question. When do we feel the need to give up? When will we hit that wall? And beyond that what can we do to defuse this time-bomb? 
  The routine is life now. Up at 7am Breakfast. Pack up as quickly as possible and walk as long as possible, most days 10+ miles. Dinner at 7pm. Bed ready by 730pm and food hung 8pm. Repeat. We’re in the groove now. We’ve got our towns planned to get the most of a zero day and Madison kills it when it comes to eating out here so I consider myself the luckiest guy on the trail. I just carry what she tells me and we keep hiking on. The last sign we passed a few miles back said 1,914  miles to Katahdin. Seems daunting considering what we’ve gone through just 270 in the first month and a half. We’re still slower than most but we’re still out here. 
 Most people drop out before Hot Springs, NC. We’ll be there tomorrow morning…. AND we’ll continue on the day after that, weather permitting. We still have more miles to catch and smiles to be had! 
PS. We now have trail names. Now, I’m Tramp and Madison is Lady. I think it fits!  
Stay tuned kids! We’re just getting started!       -Tramp

On the Real

This shit sucks. 

Oh, I’m sorry, is that not what you were expecting? Let me rephrase. 

This shit really, really sucks.

Let’s cut through the romanticism of thru hiking, rull quick:

Every day we get up and eat breakfast. We pack up and I put 30-40 pounds on my back – dependent almost entirely on how long it’s been since we left town – and Dylan, “Tramp,” 40-50 pounds. Then we walk, for literal miles. Several hours later we stop walking, set up, eat, bear bag, and go to sleep. Then, get this, we do it again. And again. And again. Every day we do this. Unless the weather is too shitty. Then we sit, miserably, and wait for it to pass, sometimes losing a whole day. 

It rains, often, and the temperature plummets when it does. There are ridiculously steep climbs and, more treacherously, steep descents. There are “stairs” built into the slopes, which always manage to fuck your knee because they’re weird and irregular sizes. There are “PUDs, ” which stands for “pointless ups and downs.” There are endless switchbacks, taking you back and forth the same ten feet at different heights, making a relatively short hill take twelve years to complete. We pop ibuprofen, “Vitamin I,” like it’s fucking candy because, between my shoulders and Tramp’s knee, we hardly even make a fully functional human. 

Ooh. Then there are the trail markings. “The trail is super well marked,” they said. “The blazes are sooooo easy to follow,” they said. Ummmm……disagree. Okay, yes, they are actually. But at least three or four times a day I’m convinced that we’re lost. I start going over every run off and side trail we’ve passed, trying to figure out if I miscalculated mileage or misread the guide or something that might have led us astray. It’s usually about the time I’m starting to become genuinely concerned and considering turning around that I see the next blaze. 

But, all of that being said. It’s also phenomenal. I see new flora, constantly. Flowers, trees, vines, and other foliage. Many I’ve never seen before, and several that look familiar but whose names are just beyond reach. We see chipmunks and squirrels, butterflies and millipedes, strange insects and various birds. There’s a small, all too brave gray one that is just adorable, but whom no one is familiar with; as well as cardinals and robins and more species of finch than we know what to do with. We’ve heard coyotes several nights, their calls to each other interrupted only by Bandit’s deep bark rolling through the hills to warn them against coming too close. And every water crossing harbors salamanders of blue black and vibrant orange, poor things the subject of Tramp’s childlike wonder and fascination. 

And then there are the people. We have met so many; due in large part to how slow we are, as it means we rarely hike with the same people longer than a couple days. Buckmaster and Prince Charming, our first couple days. Garret Fox, Greg, and Kyle and his puppy, Spanky, when we hopped off trail, the first time, during the Soggy Tent Saga. Joel and his gorgeous mutt, Sadie. Tony “Parkour,” Chris from Orlando, Billy, and Pace Car who were with us at Gooch Gap and our first visit to Neels. Davis, the ridge runner, who taught us to PCT bear bag and gave me a ride to and from Suches. Lenny, “Ambassador,” and “Slow and Steady,” who were endlessly kind to us. Caroline and John, who provided us with the greatest trail magic we’ve yet encountered. Phil and Chris, who hiked Blood Mountain with us because they wanted to slow their pace. Amanda, Byron “Bourne,” Lindon, “Toothbrush,” “Tinglewhere,” and Jeremy who we hung out with on top of Blood and on our second stop at Neels. Robert, Ben and his dogs Bruno and Oska, and the Talahassee Brothers who spent a rainy day sitting in the stone breezeway. Will, George, and Jason, the employees of Mountain Crossings who were so helpful and kind to us; and, of course, Will’s dog Rush, the biggest German Shepard I’ve ever seen in my life. Pringles and Poptart, a father and his 9 year old son, who were doing a section to learn science, because home schooling. 

That’s literally just the people who made an impact in our first 30-odd miles. The sheer number of people we’ve met, and the, at least, 20 more who have made an impression in the 80-some since then is just incredible. We have met, I’m sure, well over a hundred people so far. All of them so nice, friendly, helpful, and welcoming. No matter our backgrounds or beliefs, we have this crazy endeavor that instantly breaks the ice and, more often than not, bonds us. 

So, yes, in large part this whole thing sucks ass. But in the best possible way. Even the pain isn’t all bad, because we are constantly becoming stronger; pace increasing, amount of time between necessary breaks lengthening. I wouldn’t change anything about what we are doing. Even the hardships we endured at the start have helped shaped the flow of our hike. 

We’re just shy of four weeks in at the writing of this post. In theory, we have at least 28 more weeks until we finish this ridiculous thing we decided to do. 

Stay tuned, kids. It’s gonna be a wild ride. 

Always,

Madison “Lady”

Return Everything Immediately: a customer service story

So that tent issue we had. It sucked. But, honestly, what was worse was the complete lack of concern we got from every person we spoke to at REI. We went with that tent because of their phenomenal reputation for helping thru hikers in tight spots. 

Not so much. 

Apparently, quietly and without much notice, REI stopped offering a lifetime warranty on most – if not all – of their name brand products. I can absolutely understand that, from a business perspective; I’ve heard an obscene number of stories of people taking advantage, still, of products purchased under lifetime warranty. People tell stories, proudly, of getting a new [insert product here] every year because they claim it has some issue or other. That sucks. Stupid people taking advantage of a situation ruining it for the rest of us, yadda yadda yadda. We’ve all heard that one. 

But that’s not what we were asking for. 

We just wanted a new rainfly. Happy to pay for it even. Tent only retails about $300, and I gladly would have shelled out $100 or more for just a replacement rainfly. While I think it’s a ridiculous missed opportunity, I understand that they don’t actively sell just the rain fly for all of their tent models, because they’d rather you just buy a new tent.

But remember that awesome reputation with thru hikers?

What a chance. A chance to go out of their way to SELL a product they ALREADY PRODUCE, work a little trail magic by shipping it to us in field (which I, again, would have PAID FOR) and create a phenomenal case of brand loyalty and life long customers. 

Nope. 

Instead, we were offered, for seven dollars plus shipping, seam tape. Instead, we were told tough luck, but if you take it in to a store we can sell you a repair process that takes a couple weeks. Instead, we have told every single person we’ve met, which is quite a number – since the wet tent saga cost us half a week of trail time) how terrible the customer service at REI is; we’ve swayed quite a number away from exchanging their gear for REI brand alternatives, unless they plan to return them within the year; and we will never purchase an REI branded product, or even something through them if we can help it, for the foreseeable future. 

Perhaps that sounds petty. Maybe you’re right. But there’s a saying in food service: if you have a good experience, you tell one person; but if you have a bad experience, you’ll tell ten. I can tell you this much, I meet at least ten people every couple of days and, “when did you get on trail,” is always one of the first questions. 

And I sure do love telling a good story. 

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