Trail trials, trail magic
Editor’s note: Former Elizabethton Star reporter Kayla Carter and her boyfriend, Noah Naseri, began their quest to complete the Appalachian Trail three weeks ago. The Star will be publishing occasional columns from Carter detailing her journey, preparations and the sights she and Naseri are seeing.
Homesickness – along with other conditions like tendonitis in my knees – has certainly set in after being on the Appalachian Trail for three weeks.
I know, I know. This update is long overdue and I apologize.
In my defense, this expedition has demanded quite a bit of readjustment.
It’s a whole new way of life. I’ve been taken out of every possible comfort zone and routine I’ve built up over the past 24 years of my life.
There was really no way a girl like me who had only previously spent three days overnight in the woods could prepare. It wasn’t until actually getting out here in the thick of it that I realized what it takes to make it to Maine from Georgia on foot.
I must give credit to my father, because he is the reason I even had one iota of interest and any wit about me worthy of attempting this feat.
Still, I put every ounce of energy and time that I could into preparing for this adventure.
With regard to ounces, I learned that every pound in my Osprey backpack, which is on loan to me from Elizabethton Police Department Officer Sarah Ellison, can create unnecessary pain. Without Ellison’s generosity, I would be hiking with a 5-pound external frame backpack.
“The saying goes, ‘Ounces equal pounds and pounds equal pain,’” Ellison said when I visited her shortly before I departed on my trek.
As an avid hiker and AT section hiker set to finish her more than 2,000 miles of Appalachian hiking within the next few years, Ellison gave me some great ideas on how to eliminate weight. I absorbed as much of her advice as possible.
Some of the items I chose to bring with me have proven themselves very useful while others were quick to label as “send home ASAP.”
I must also add here that having a hiking partner eases weight issues. Noah and I decided before we left who carried what, but with the onset of my knee pain he chivalrously picked up a few pounds until I strengthened up.
Currently, our kitchen is condensed to a titanium pot, spork and a small Snow Peak stove and canister of fuel. The positive side is that there are not that many dishes to take care of after each meal.
My wardrobe is comprised of leggings, shorts, pants, two tops, two pairs of socks, two sports bras and two pairs of underwear. This is actually nice because I used to walk into my closet and feel overwhelmed with choices.
As for shelter, we are not as happy with the tent we brought.
It is very comfy, but we are thinking when summer rolls around we will use a couple tarps, Tyvek, a hammock for me and a bivy sack for him to sleep underneath me. I envision it to be sort of like bunk beds, but weighs a fragment of that and of the tent we currently have.
My Kelty sleeping bag should keep me warm in 20-degree temperatures and my NeoAir sleeping pad adds warmth as well as comfortability.
I have essential toiletries with me, which includes the must-have hand sanitizer.
I also have my iPhone and iPad mini. These items are really necessary for me to write and contact loved ones. I’m just having a tough time keeping them charged. I bought a solar charger only to find out that the trail is called the Green Tunnel. This correlates to mean that there is generally not enough sun to keep the solar battery juiced up.
I originally thought it would be much easier to stay in contact with people in this technologically advanced era, but that requires power outlets.
Regardless, I’m writing this from Noah’s friend and Sullivan County native Alex Cox’s home near the Nantahala River. He works for the Nantahala Outdoor Center, to which we descended nearly 3,000 feet in elevation from Wesser Bald on Wednesday, April 23. The AT intersects the Nantahala River at the NOC and traverses a bridge across the river to the next climb up Cheoah Mountain.
Cox kindly welcomed us into his home, let us take showers and do laundry for free – which I surely took for granted before this trek.
I was oblivious to just how much I would miss all of those amenities on the first day – April 5.
Noah’s parents and Greeneville residents Ginger and Mousa Naseri dropped us off where U.S. Forest Service Route 42 crosses the AT in Georgia.
We hiked a mile southbound to the AT’s southern terminus and then we finally headed north after we snapped a few photos.
When we got back to the forestry road, I met an Elizabethton resident who is an active member of WhiteBlaze.net, an online forum dedicated to the AT, known as “Mountain Squid.”
The first major juncture we came to was Neel Gap, where the AT runs right through Mountain Crossings in Blairsville, Ga. We hiked 16 miles that day over Blood Mountain, which was a breathtaking view. We stayed at the hostel at Mountain Crossings.
That is where we received our first round of trail magic: A local church brought hikers some casserole, salad and barbecue chicken.
It wasn’t much longer when we crossed the Georgia and North Carolina border. We are currently at 137.3 miles into the more than 2,000-mile trek. I’m excited to keep pushing forward, even though I was slightly discouraged with the pain in my knees. However, it’s amazing what a little determination can heal.
We also took about four “zero” days, which means we didn’t hike at all, at Enota Mountain Retreat. I’m convinced that I would have had to go home without making this side trip to see the owner Dr. Suan Freed. She let us work-for-stay at the Enota organic farm. We shoveled manure, bundled wood and made community meals for the farm hands. It was a great learning opportunity and I’m convinced I would have had to come home if we had not visited and rested up.
Noah and I appreciate all the positive vibes, prayers and support from everyone back home and from all the great people we’ve met so far.
I’m beyond thankful for the opportunity to explore the mountains I’ve lived so closely to my whole life. I’m also looking forward to writing more in-depth about this journey now that I’m becoming more acclimated to this lifestyle change.
I know there are some questions that perhaps I left unanswered, but I’m learning how to keep up with my writing out here on the limited amount of power sources. Expect more in the future, and I hope you all look forward to following us to Maine.
If there are any questions you would like to ask me, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’m also planning to keep a more up-to-date presence on Twitter @mileagemayvary.