I am proud to write "I survived". These past few days have been the most challenging experience I have ever encountered. As most of you know I have always exercised on a regular basis and Amy is extremely fit (biking, running, weight lifting, etc. 5 days each week). We had no idea how tough this week would be. Amy said if she had known she would not have agreed to be a part of it. lol I was already very proud of Michael and Branden but after spending 6 days on the Appalachian Trail with them it is hard to imagine an almost 6 month commitment. I must also say it was probably the most rewarding experience I have ever encountered. Amy and I hiked a total of 79 miles!!!! HARD MILES! At least the 68 miles from Hot Springs, NC to Erwin, TN were hard.
I will try to not to make this too long but there is a lot to tell...
I arrived in Hot Springs, NC on Friday the 13th around 6PM. A detour on 25E caused me to lose an hour and John and Chandra had already found Michael in the outdoors store. Branden was asleep in his room at the Iron Horse Station. Hot Springs is a hiker's town, very small and friendly. Michael and Branden had made it to Hot Springs a day earlier than expected. They had met several more thru hikers in town. They had drank a lot of beer and played wiffle ball. A guy named "Wiffle" is carrying a wiffle ball and bat all the way on his thru hike. Michael said he made some spectacular catches in the game and was calling himself the "Ninja". Branden backed him up on his athleticism. They had sat in the Hot Springs hot tubs after their game and drank more beer. Did I mention there is not much to do in Hot Springs except eat and drink? We were all going to learn this very soon. Amy didn't arrive until midnight due to the detour and by then we were all feeling pretty good. We had planned a night of fun and a late start for a day hike on Saturday. We did not plan to hike the 68 miles from Hot Springs, NC to Erwin, TN conventionally. Having 3 cars to position strategically and 2 "trail angels" helped us do the miles and still have our evenings back in town for fun, food and drink.
Saturday morning we ate our breakfast and then all six of us hiked the six miles down to Hot Springs from Tanyard Gap, elevation 2270 ft. The weather was beautiful, in the 70's and sunny. The views were spectacular as we sat out on Lovers Leap Rock and looked down at the French Broad River 1820 feet below. We all thoroughly enjoyed our hike.
Michael and Branden especially liked "slackpacking" which is leaving your pack behind and still hiking the trail.
John and Chandra were our trail angels starting Sunday morning. They dropped the four of us off at Devil's Fork Gap which was a 40 minute drive from Hot Springs. Michael and Branden had met "Gumpy" and "Peeper" on the trail and had made plans to meet them at this gap so they could slackpack also. Gumpy and Peeper are a father/daughter team from New Hampshire. We spent the next 3 days with them. They are great. As it turns out we drove up as Gumpy and Peeper were walking out of the woods. They had camped just a couple miles up the trail and had expected to have to wait a couple hours on us. Very good timing. They eagerly passed their heavy packs off to John and Chandra so the six of us could start our 9 mile slackpack hike to Sam's Gap where John and Chandra would pick us up in 4 hours. If you are not a mountain hiker it is hard to imagine how much longer it takes to move one mile. On a walking track 4-6 miles per hour is usually the goal. Backpacking miles are 1-3 miles per hour depending on the terrain and the weather conditions. Our elevation changes were incredible. We started at 3100 feet and climbed to 4579 feet in 3.3 miles. We had a couple of steep climbs. The temperature reached 86 degrees and we were all certainly glad we were not carrying packs. John and Chandra walked in the other direction about a mile and met us that afternoon. It was a great day.
John and Chandra had spread trail magic to every thru hiker they had met while waiting on us. Chandra had made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. They had fruit, cheese, sugary snacks and drinks for us to enjoy. We were tired, hungry, thirsty and appreciative.
Monday morning was Amy's first real "backpacking" day. I have backpacked with Michael several times. When I left Kentucky I thought I was prepared. That morning I was questioning myself. After our strenuous 9 mile hike the previous day without packs and now knowing I had to cover 25 miles in the next two days with a full pack and spend the night outside I think I had reasons to be concerned. We left John and Chandra at Sam's Gap passing out more of their trail magic. Chandra would love to live near the trail so she could spread trail magic more often. I think they both really enjoyed their trip. They waved and took pictures of us until we hiked up the mountain out of sight. Gumpy and Peeper were hiking with us the next two days. We really enjoyed their company. Amy and I were carrying 20-25 lbs. each. The men were carrying lots more. They carried all the food and extra water which is always the heaviest items. Their packs weighed 35-40 lbs. each. It was a beautiful sunny day. The temperature was around 80 degrees. We had to climb to the top of Big Bald mountain which was the highest point of our entire trip, elevation 5516 ft. (FYI-the mountains around here are 1300 feet). Elevation change of 1666 feet in 6.5 miles. WOW! We had another very steep climb and lots of "bumps" as Gumpy called them.
Those bumps were hard. That day we hiked a total of 13.4 miles in about 8 hours and then camped near a creek in Spivey Gap. It was warm all night so we slept well.
Tuesday morning we broke down camp and the six of us headed out for Erwin, TN. which was about 11.2 miles away. John and Chandra had parked my car in Erwin before returning home to Georgia. Amy and I had survived Monday so we were certain we could survive Tuesday since there were not as many "bumps". It was a still a tough hike. When we arrived in Erwin we all went to eat at KFC. You can not believe the appetite you have after 8-10 hours of hiking up and down mountains. I ate 4 pieces of chicken plus 2 plates of food! We were sad to have to drop our good friends, Gumpy and Peeper, off at the Holiday Inn and tell them Good-Bye. They had already hiked the 29.1 miles from Tanyard Gap to Devil's Fork Gap the two days Michael and Branden played in the wiffle ball game and waited on us to arrive in Hot Springs. They had hiked instead of playing in Hot Springs so they were ready to head on down the trail. Michael and Branden hope to catch up with them soon. I had a message from Gumpy yesterday saying he also hoped they would catch up.
Peeper and Branden are the same age and so are Michael and Gumpy.
Peeper says Michael and Gumpy are kindred spirits and calls them Bert and Ernie. We met lots of interesting people this past week but Gumpy and Peeper were my favorites. Of course we did spend a lot more time with them than others. As we left our friends it started to rain so we went back to Hot Springs and stayed in a cottage so we could prepare for the next two days of hiking and camping in rainy, cold conditions. I listened to the rain all night and again questioned my ability to hike up the next mountain. I knew we would have extreme elevation changes and lots of "bumps". I didn't like the idea of hiking in the rain either. I knew it had to be done.
It was pouring rain Wednesday morning. We stopped for breakfast and then headed to Devil's Fork Gap to leave Amy's car and back to Tanyard Gap to head out on the final leg of mine and Amy's journey. The temperature was in the 50's. We hiked the next 5.1 miles in pouring rain, high wind and temperatures dropping into the 40's. It was miserable. The elevation change was 1350 feet. We reached a shelter after 4 hours. There were about 6 or 8 people already in the shelter in their sleeping bags. They had hiked 3 miles and decided to call it a day. Most of them were college age and obviously a lot smarter than us.
lol We took off all of our wet clothes and put on dry clothes we had in our packs in dry bags. I even wrapped my sleeping bag around me.
Michael made us some hot chocolate. He knew we could suffer from hypothermia if we didn't get warm. After an hour in the shelter the rain slowed down to a steady drizzle. We removed our warm clothes, put our cold, wet clothes back on and hiked another 10 miles. Our clothes dried a little from our body temperature as we hiked up and over more mountains. The air temperature rose into the 50's so the last few miles were enjoyable. We arrived at Little Laurel shelter around 6PM. We did not stay in the shelter but we did use the picnic table to prepare our meal. Amy and Branden had grit stew with tuna. Michael and I had refried beans and Spam (yes, Spam). Most all of the "cook" meals are dehydrated and they add tuna or chicken or Spam to add protein. Some of the other meals we cooked during our adventure were noodles and chicken, macaroni/cheese and tuna with instant potatoes and taco soup with beef jerky and tuna (my idea to add tuna to this meal-not a good idea). When you do this intense exercise you burn so many calories you have to eat a lot, lots more than normal. Peeper weighs about 100 lbs. and she was constantly snacking. She said she is like a goldfish that eats to the size of its tank. There is always a water source near the shelters and a privy. Amy and I always pumped the water from the creek with the water filter. We camped near the shelter that night. It was cold.
Branden always sleeps in a hammock so he bought Amy a hammock. She was very comfortable. Michael doesn't sleep in a hammock until warmer weather. He just sleeps in a sleeping bag under a tarp which is how I slept. He made sure I was warm and comfortable though.
It was hard for me to crawl out of my warm sleeping bag Thursday morning. I could have slept way past 7AM but everyone else was up and ready to head on down the trail. It had stopped raining late Wednesday night but the visibility was limited. It was very foggy and misty in the mountains. It was a little cool but we warmed up as we started hiking up another mountain. Even in the mist the scenery was beautiful.
The sun was trying hard to burn off some of the haze. The flora was bright and alive from all the rain the day before. I have to tell you about all the wildflowers we saw on our hikes...different colors of trillium, pink lady-slippers, dutch-man's britches, trout lilies, iris, etc., etc. We saw fields covered with these and others that I can't remember their names. We saw a couple flame azaleas plus some white azaleas. They were all spectacular. We had to climb another 1130 feet to Big Butt (no kidding), elevation 4750. These balds are huge meadows with the most outstanding views you can imagine. Lucky for us the haze had lifted so we could see forever. We also hiked the "hardest mile in the southern Appalachian Trail" according to the other thru hikers. It was one mile of boulders. We had to crawl and climb across and around them. It took us 4 hours to hike 4 miles that morning due to the rocky terrain. We had to cover 15.4 miles to get back to Amy's car. After the rocks we could move faster and made better time. After Big Butt the elevation dropped 1650 feet in 6.7 miles. Going downhill was the hardest part for me. It hurt my feet and toes. I had a blister on my big toe from the day before. Amy liked downhill better. We made it back to Devil's Fork Gap about 5:30PM. Michael said he experienced his best and worst parts of the trail that day. He loved the one mile of boulders and hated the mile or more of a downhill hike on an old forest service road.
We spent the night at the Holiday Inn in Erwin. We spent $75.00 on pizza and pasta at Rocky's Pizza Place. I told you backpackers have huge appetites.
We dropped Michael and Branden off at the trail in Erwin Friday afternoon. They headed across the bridge planning to stay out for five days. Their packs were way too heavy. Branden weighed his at 47 lbs.
Michael wouldn't weigh his but I know it was over 40. They need to eat their food fast to take down their pack weight. I hope they have good weather but storms were moving in.
I received a SPOT about 7PM. They are alive. They have hiked 366 miles so far.
Amy and I hiked 68 miles on the AT!!!! We survived!!!! We feel pretty proud of ourselves and we are looking forward to our next adventure in May in Virginia-107 miles.
Sorry this is so long but I am still sure I forgot some things I wanted to share. Maybe later.
Many of these posts are by Shelia Campbell, Michael's wife <3
Bath County, Kentucky resident, Michael Campbell, is hiking the entire Appalachian Trail to raise funds for the not-for-profit group dedicated to protecting Kentucky’s native forests, Kentucky Heartwood. Michael, a long-time member of Kentucky Heartwood, began his hike on March 22 at Springer Mountain, Georgia. By the first of September, after covering 2,181 miles of trail by foot, Michael will reach Katadhin Mountain in Maine and complete the entire trail.