180 Days

4 Nov

Well, Jen and I have sad news. On Thursday we set out to hike and were hit with a brutal reality. Hurricane Sandy brought winter to Appalachia. Even though it required an AWD to get through the snow to our drop off point, and parts of the Blue Ridge Parkway were closed, that did not stop these two women. We put on our warmest gear, leaving only one layer for something dry at night. We put on socks, then zip lock bags, then socks, and then tennis shoes, in hopes to keep our feet “dry”. We knew they would be cold, we were just hoping that we could keep them from being cold and wet. We grabbed our trekking poles and our packs and set off to hike the mile up the fire road and onto the trail.

The road was relatively easy hiking. We were learning our bodies in our new environment and testing out our foot placement on the ice and snow. It is amazing how much your stride changes when your footing becomes uncertain! In an acceptable amount of time we found the trail. Jen stopped, turned around and looked at me, and without words we gave each other our “Well here we go” looks. At first it didn’t seem too bad. The snow was about 6 inches and it was still a novel feeling. However, that changed in about 20 minutes.

The trail was covered in snow. It looked no different than the rest of the woods. We were finding our way by searching for white blazes on trees in snow covered woods. We realized after it taking us more than 3 minutes to find a blaze that this may not be a good idea. But, we forged on. 45 minutes passed and we only covered one mile of trail. We had repeated epic, slightly panicked blaze searches, and our feet were dangerously cold. We decided we had to talk. We had weighed our options and were relatively certain that this early snow had postponed the progress on our hike. (As we talked, I found a place under a tree that allowed me to take my shoes off one at a time and hand warm my toes.)

We talked about waiting a week or two and then trying again. Unfortunately while we wait for Virginia to thaw the Smokies have more opportunity to accumulate more snow. We talked about short days, but if it takes an hour to hike a mile then a day would only put us eight miles down the trail. That is 100 more days hiking. We talked about our gear and the fact that we really don’t enjoy hiking in the snow. We talked about finances. We honestly don’t have the funds to go another three months without working. We cried. Sobbed really. There seemed to be only one right answer, and it was not the answer we wanted.

We turned around. We followed our steps, still knee deep in snow, and hiked back to the car. (Slacker was here to help us out for a bit, and we were lucky for that.) As we hiked the wind picked up and the temperature dropped. My tears were very cold on my cheeks. We hiked in silence.

I have lived in Virginia a long time. Never, would I have expected there to be a foot of snow in the mountains in October. Honestly, I am always surprised if we get a dusting in November. I know, I know… I feel petty that I am mourning the postponement of my hike when there are people out there who lost everything due to the same storm. In reality it is just a “walk in the woods”. But we have put everything into this hike. We have hiked on sprained ankles, hurt knees, bad stomachs, and no food. We have given it our all physically and mentally everyday. We walked when we didn’t want to walk through lightning, rain, and hail. We have slept side by side every night for four months. Basically, the trail is our home. We are both very sad to be forced to leave it for a while.

With this said, we have decided to take 180 zero hiking days. We are returning to the same spot to pick up where we left off in May of 2013 and will finish within a year of our start date. We will still hike every step of this trail. We will finish what we started, and we will be happier than ever to be back in the woods. We will also continue to blog. We have to stay in shape, because when we do come back we will be in a time crunch to finish. I am also going to experiment with dehydrating our meals for the rest of our hike. I feel certain that will make for some interesting stories. Plus as we finish the AT in 2013 we will be preparing for the 2014 attempt of the PCT. We are still moving forward, moving towards our goal. This is just a chapter in the story that is uniquely ours. It is part of our adventure. It is part of our Thru-Hike.


10 Responses to “180 Days”

  1. Dorothea November 4, 2012 at 5:18 pm #

    That must have been a really tough call to make, but it’s the right thing to do. I would bet everyone would agree…you all are made of, and hike with, heart, soul AND mind.

  2. Sarah November 4, 2012 at 9:45 pm #

    My dearest AT Girls. I have thought of you a lot since you left Waynesboro. I know this is disappointing but I’m sure proud of you for making a smart decision, I’m relieved you are safe. I’ll look forward to seeing you soon in your continuing adventures.

  3. Gail Gibson November 5, 2012 at 9:13 am #

    We know that you’re terribly disappointed but losing life or limb is much worse than finishing next spring. I’ve hiked in the snow quite a bit here in Maine and it is nothing to fool around with. Conditions can go from bad to worse in no time and then you’d be stuck out in the middle of nowhere without any chance of help.
    So, good for you – you two are as smart as we thought you were!
    Keep in touch ,
    Gail and Jack

  4. Jim Wentzel November 5, 2012 at 10:26 am #

    This post is a great bookend. But then it’s not the end, just a chapter. I think you made the right decision. Thanks for keeping us all so well informed, and making us feel like part of an incredible moment in your lives. Can’t wait for May. ~Jim

  5. Yellowshirt November 5, 2012 at 12:57 pm #

    I am glad you are safe! It was a hard decision for me to leave the trail as well but I still have the excitement of getting ready to hike in the spring. You have already accomplished alot and that can never be taken away from you.

  6. Kim Walsh November 5, 2012 at 8:09 pm #

    Tough decision but the right one – but now you’ve got motivation through the winter months & a great goal to look forward to in the spring!! Congrats on what you’ve already accomplished…

  7. Ron Beatty (Shakedown Cruise) November 19, 2012 at 7:47 pm #

    Hi Girls, Hiker Chicks are a rough breed. Congratulations on the maturity to accept a disappointing reality. The reality is that this is just another zero. Life is full of them, some worse than others. Here is my advice to hit the trail running in May: walk an hour a day WITH a backpack on, weight optional. It worked for me in 2008.

    • emily November 21, 2012 at 2:25 pm #

      We are indeed a rough and rare breed! Thank you for your kind words. We view it as a zero…and we are both dreaming of being back on the trail. Thank you for the advice! I am headed out tomorrow for a thanksgiving hike since I am away from both my real family and my trail family. I will put a pack on.

  8. GreenThumb November 21, 2012 at 12:16 pm #

    That’s so sad to hear. I just found y’alls contact and blog info at the ATC center in Harpers Ferry, just the other day (I know, I know.) After seeing your guys’ picture in the book, I started to concoct some delusions of grandeur that I may be able to bust-ass and possibly catch you guys (this would not have, in all likelihood, been possible.)
    As for me, I am still on trail, pretty much alone back here at the back of the pack. However, it is interesting to note, that there are still some sobos back here, so I am not entirely alone. Tush, AO, and Hopper have all dropped off.
    It is sad to see that you guys wont be on trail anymore, but if you guys ever feel a hankering to do some hiking, hopefully I will be passing through one of these days, and would sure enjoy the company. I noted (upon reading some of these blogposts) that at least Lucky (is that you’re name now?) lives in VA. I’m not sure how far off-trail that is, but if its not too far, maybe we can all get together and get a drink (hot or cold, and yes, that includes you Bear.)

    Heres my email: koltun.5@osu.edu OR alexkoltun.5@gmail.com



    • emily November 21, 2012 at 2:22 pm #

      Greenthumb! So excited to hear from you. I am sorry that you are hiking alone…what happened to Tush?
      We are indeed off for a bit, but we are getting back on to finish in April. We just needed a few zero’s to get our finances in order and allow for the weather to become more friendly to our gear. We were not ready for freezing temperatures or for snow. We view this as a zero, nothing more. There are few of us meeting back in the spring to finish this thing.
      Keep plugging away friend! If you need anything, ANYTHING, to help you get to springer let me know. We are both working in different places now…Carrot and Bear are in NH and I am in TX. BUT I can ship you anything you may need.
      Please stay in touch!! Hike safe, and happy trails.

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