They call me Fuzzy Navel
I can honestly say that the AT has been anything but uneventful! We dived right in and on our first day we hiked in the snow. After a long first-day’s hike we were happy to setup a nice warm camp… too bad we had blizzard conditions and crazy wind to contend with. After three days of hiking I received my official trail name… Fuzzy Navel. It’s a ridiculous name, I admit. It happened when someone suggested I be called Anne of Green Gables, to which, a guy heard “Fuzzy Navel.” Now when this one hiker, Skid, introduces me to other hikers, he refers to me as Fuzzy Navel, the ex-bartender with a hairy stomach. I hate my name! It’s okay though, I got back at the guy who named me by naming him “Raspberry”- oh so manly!
It’s been approximately 271 miles and Lilly and I have already endured so much. People say that we look pretty different (weight wise), but I feel just the same as the day that I left Springer Mountain. What has changed is our pace and routine. Lilly and I fell into a great group of hikers and we are known as the “2 Shelters Down” gang. It is a multi-cultural affair, we are hiking with a Britishman “Shepard,” and Northern Irishman “Malarchy,” and a Chinese guy “Smilin’ Sam.” We also have several other hiker friends; it’s a random assortment of “Crank Daddy,” “Firefly,” “Mr. Stabby,” “Nero,” and “Jukebox.” Lilly and I are called “Tiger Lilly” and “Fuzzy Navel.” We have been a cohesive group for about two-and-a-half weeks.
The trail itself has had it’s ups and downs–literally. They say that one of the most difficult sections of trail is in Georgia/ North Carolina. We started it out at a pretty low pace- typically 11 miles a day. Now we average 15-17 miles a day, depending on the terrain and weather. The hikers swear that by Virginia, we’ll average about 20-24 miles per day. That seems crazy to me, but I’m sure our bodies will have changed again by then. Speed and endurance are constantly evolving on the trail. I find that I have break through days where I can hike faster and harder without resting. I also find that I hit plateaus; these days are long and arduous, making me feel like I have made NO progress. Still, every two weeks or so, we notice that we have improved in one way or another.
This leads me to my interesting/ troublesome predicament. I have been learning alot about professional atheletes, marathoners in particular. Apparently people who run marathons burn off so much energy that their bodies literally shut down when they are finished competing. Similarly, AT hikers burn off so many calories that by the time they reach camp, the body is just done. done. done. For instance, when I hike I wear shorts and a tank-top, even in the snow and rain. I burn red hot when I am trekking, even during cold weather. Unfortunately, when I hit camp, my body is so over-worked that it cannot sustain even mild temperatures and I freeze. Most of my nights on the trail have been spent shivering and miserable–even whilst wearing a down jacket and bundled up in a down sleeping bag. Consequently, my body’s temperature has also dropped to about 96.6 degrees. It’s a strange phenomenon, but I seem to have no energy to keep myself warm enough at night. Nonetheless, I am still here hiking and will continue to endure the cold nights until summer’s heat arrives.
Moreover, Lilly and I have hiked in a variety of weather conditions. We started in snow and then endured some 80 degree days. The weather was not too terrible until the very day we entered into Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Arguably a very strenuous part of the trail, it rained, snowed, and fogged on us every day we were in the park. We trekked through almost insurmountable fog; it was choking and claustrephobic, like walking through a dense, white shroud. Fortunately, Lilly and I have seen the park numerous times, but there were so many waisted photo opportunities as every vista was just a blank white wall. Conditions were no better once we got out of the park. In fact, last night we arrived at our planned shelter to find that it had no roof. A shelter without a roof… is that a shelter at all? We ended up camping in the rain, which is, no bueno!
In other ways the trail has proved challenging. I have learned that everything takes a lot of time. Every time you stop to filter water, or eat lunch, or pack-up camp in the morning, all of these take a lot of time. Each time we stop to get water we have to unload out packs so that we can put a full camelback into the pack. We also have to pump the water through the filter and often that means cleaning the filter. Once you have enough water you have to reload your pack. It is a big ordeal to stop sometimes. I am finding that with everything there is no quick reaction. Everything is planned and must be stored/packed accordingly.
Similarly, the trail is a huge mental challenge. I hate to admit that the trail plays some mean mind games with you. Our gang of hikers are all very experienced and very quick. I am, at best, average at hiking speed. Lilly and I leave early in the mornings only to be passed by most of the other hikers. It can be very discouraging at times. We certainly aren’t slow, but we aren’t fast either. I am happy to say that our 2 mph speed has increased to about 3 mph– this makes a big difference. Nonetheless, the end of the day is always difficult. It seems like the last few miles are the most agonizing because you are almost there. Sometimes the woods close-in on you and make you feel trapped. Sometimes the woods close-in on you and make you think you will never reach the next shelter. You begin to forget about your wristwatch and tracking your time. You begin to think that you will be hiking all night long. I often get scared and think that I missed the sign for the shelter or that there won’t be any room for us to stay. I know this sounds intense– yes, it can be at times. However, a strong spirit and trusting the Lord and His sovereignty have helped me overcome the mental struggles.
Otherwise, the trail is going great! I have met an amazing group of people and am enjoying every minute of it! We are officially, one-eighth through with our journey and aim to finish some time in August. For now, we are camped out in Hot Springs, NC. I was informed that I will be working on a 37 person rafting trip on Monday- I get to drive the bus! hahah. It’s only been 7 months since I have driven a bus and about 3 weeks since I have driven any type of vehicle…. this should be interesting! Take care folks and I hope you enjoy reading about our adventures!
God Bless. I will leave you with a favorite scripture that I have claimed many times on the trail:
“But Jesus looked at them and said, “With men it is impossible, but not with God; for with God all things are possible.” -Mark 10:27