Day #129-Preview zero; Miles hiked: 0.0

Today was a lovely day to relax at my house, the Otter Inn. My mother might as well have opened a hiker hostel with 5 thru hikers on the property. We called it a preview zero, as it’s a look ahead to being done hiking-every day will be a zero!We had a great time relaxing, sleeping, drying out gear and regrouping for our last 200 miles.

Thank you to my parents for keeping the food coming!This was our last real rest day before the end of the trail. Hard to believe we can officially call ourselves thru hikers in just 11 days!

Day #128-Charlie’s Bunion, Gatlinburg, and further adventures; Miles hiked: 10.4

There was no delay when the alarms went off this morning. Why? Time to get out of the woods!

On the way up the ridge, we were blessed with a wonderful sunrise as we walked my personal favorite stretch of trail in the park. Next was a freezing cold trip to Charlie’s Bunion, a popular overlook on the AT. We didn’t stay for long though-that windchill was unbelievable! The real attraction for the day was a trip to Gatlinburg and then my house. Thank you to my grandfather for treating us to pancakes and to my dad for hauling us all home.Zero day tomorrow!

Day #127-Almost like I’ve been here before; Miles hiked: 20.0

The sun did indeed come out this morning!

It was still windy and cold, but you wouldn’t believe what a difference in both mood and comfort that big ball of fire makes.

For all of the years I’ve been backpacking, the Smokies have been home base and I hardly even need a trail guide. So good to be home!We decided to push a few extra miles today and consequently got to catch one of the classic purple/coral Smokies sunsets from a high mountain ridge. Even though the temps are comparatively warm, sleeping near 6000 ft of elevation still makes the air a bit nippy.

Last night out before a lovely trip to Knoxville!

Day #126-Welcome home Blueberry!; Miles hiked: 18.8

Today was a day I’ve been looking forward to since I started hiking in June: entering the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

It was also another day of hypothermic conditions with wind and 38 degree rain falling all day.

Before we got into the park, we crossed over what is usually an absolutely stunning panoramic view of the mountains: Max Patch. Today, all I wanted to do was get the heck out of there as the wind whipped by and pelted rain so hard it went right through my rain jacket. Picnic weather!By day’s end, we crossed I-40 and entered my home sweet Smokies. Rumor has it the sun is coming out tomorrow and I simply can’t wait. Goodnight from a trail shelter that feels more like a cage with a chain link fence across the front for bears…one per square mile in the park!

Day #125-New rain adventures aboundeth; Miles hiked: 17.6

It has rained for almost half of my thru hike, but today marked a new adventure: cold rain. This was the first time it’s been both raining, windy, AND 40 degrees. Needless to say, it was pretty difficult to leave the hostel and start hauling up a mountain in that weather.

It was too messy to take pictures, but we climbed a few sizable mountains and ended up in a campsite with a large church group.

Based in a nearby town, this church’s youth group goes backpacking once a month. What a way to teach kiddos about Creation! I enjoyed joining them for worship and Bible study.

Goodnight from a damp trail shelter!

Day #124-Hot Springs stole my heart; Miles hiked: 8.4

Today was a much-needed trip into town. But first, proof that my tramily experienced some great trail magic from Dr. Mary last night! Mary is the ATOM circuit chaplain and has been up and down the trail all season caring for a thru hiker’s most valuable body part: feet.She was so gracious to massage ours for us…even if she had to turn off her headlamp to hide the filth, hehe.Once in Hot Springs, it was time to celebrate Spork’s birthday. We started out by destroying multiple plates each at the local diner.After doing some laundry and resupply, we continued the fun with a trip to the locally famous attraction: natural hot springs!Dinner was another trip to the local eateries where Spork’s dad joined us. I really enjoyed getting to meet him!

The rain has started for four more days of wet. Bring it on!

Day #123-Getting close and starting to break down; Miles hiked: 22.2

We started today with a nice climb up Big Butt (that’s really what it’s called!) Mountain. Up next was a rocky ridge up to Firescald Knob where we enjoyed great views of the quickly changing fall colors. The temps have dropped from 90 to 40 like they saw a state trooper, so the leaves are just now catching up.

This afternoon brought another one of those reminders that the trail won’t last forever-1900 miles.I know I’m going to miss this place like crazy, but my body is definitely starting to show signs of cumulative fatigue that comes with walking almost 2000 miles. For that reason, I’m grateful that the end is in sight.

Here’s to less than 300 miles to go!

Day #122-Did I forget how to hike?; Miles hiked: 21.9

We decided to take advantage of our close proximity to a spot called Big Bald and catch a sunrise this morning. It was freezing cold on the Bald with the wind, but also beautiful!I didn’t get any pictures for the rest of the day because I’ve decided that I’m losing my ability to hike efficiently. We both started and finished in the dark today with only 22 miles! Oops…

More importantly than miles though are the individuals I get to hike with. We have a new addition to the group: Cheesy. He’s a fire fighter in his real life and a wonderful friend to talk to. I look forward to spending these last few hundred miles learning more about his story and journey on the trail.

Day #121-Present and future collide; Miles hiked: 16.8

Today I woke up to Corrina making us a lovely breakfast. Thank you for the protein and the caffeine!

Soon after, I got to follow through on a visit I’ve been looking forward to for many months. As much as I love hiking, my life’s dream of medicine awaits after the trail at ETSU Quillen College of Medicine. Since I’m in the area, my friends and I decided to pay them a visit!I’m excited to get right to work on my MD come July.

After a resupply, it was back to the trail. We got a late start and still had miles to go before we slept. Thankfully a sunset was included in our late day of walking. The terrain was much more difficult than we had anticipated with an all-day climb, but we made it safely right at dark.

Day #118-Parental involvement in the Roan Highlands; Miles hiked: 9.2

I got to have some very special guests on the AT today-not one, but both of my parents! I knew my mom was coming, but my dad was a total surprise.Papa Blueberry and the Warden (David and Tamra) were excellent sports as I drug them onward and upward into the Roan Highlands.The fruit of our labor? Crossing into North Carolina and catching some amazing views on the balds.I truly enjoyed getting to share this way of life with my parents. It’s one thing to tell them about the trail, but another to show them my world and introduce them to the hiking community.

We spent the night in Overmountain Shelter, also known as he big red barn. It has great views and plenty of space in the hay loft. Gearing up for some cold rain come tomorrow-my favorite!