We got into a town the next day and decided to take a zero to hide out from the weather. We hiked out and found an old abandoned house on a pond that we explored before getting to a shelter and playing some cards. That night we met a couple southbound hikers who had just had to carry out a pack for a hiker we knew that fell ill on trail and hit his rescue device to be carried out by first responders. One of the southbounders had gotten lyme disease early on the trail and had been hospitalized for two weeks. He had let it go for too long and ended up with meningitis and permanent brain damage that left him unable to work. So basically he scared the crap out of all of us who had gotten lyme. We got out early the next day and it was really tough. Southern Maine has been no joke so far, very difficult climbs and boulder hopping is what we do mostly. We got into town for a resupply and some dinner but were stopped by a torrential downpour. We decided to hang out until the rain stopped but it wasn't letting up so we went around the restaurant making small talk and hoping for a place to stay. We ran into a girl named Megan who said the six of us could stay at her place if we bought her a beer. To our surprise she had fully made bunk beds for all of us and had run a hostel the year before. That night we met her roommate who told us we needed to take another zero and he would show us around town. We agreed and the next day we spent at a swimming hole, cliff jumping, then we went and played nine holes of golf and capped the night off with a game of poker which I lost miserably. The next day we hit the trail but I was struggling to breathe. I decided to turn around and hike back into town but not before being startled by a frog and passing out on trail. I made it down and am taking it easy until I can breathe a little easier. Already starting to feel better. Mile 2001. 188.2 miles left!
We woke up the next day and got into a town to resupply and fill up on yummy Mexican food. We headed back to the trail that night and had a good fire with good friends. The next day we started our climb up to the presidentials. It was exceedingly tough and the few margaritas we had the night before were not helping. We climbed all day long but saw some of the most amazing views all trail. In the distance we could see Mt. Washington, the tallest mountain in the Whites. It got closer and closer all day until we were at the base of the mountain at the last hut before the summit. We got to do a work for stay at the hut and had to go to sleep late after the paying customers went to bed. We also were woken up early to get off the floor before waiting 4 hours for food and then having to change all the sheets on the bunks. I left feeling like a dog and ran up to the top of washington. As we got there, hundreds of tourists started to pop up in sandals and dresses. I heard a baby cry in the distance and knew immediately this was not the place to hang out. We headed down the ridge to one of the best day on trail so far. Open views, a great breeze, and the serene feeling that the only people around had actually hiked there. We got to a hut and played some cards before heading down the rest of the presidentials. As we climbed down mt. Madison, which is just a ton of boulders down a steep slope, the skies darkened and the clouds rolled in. I could see tree line about half a mile from where I was at but it was going to take me a while to get down there. As the rain hit, all I could think of was making it under cover of trees. It let up for about ten minutes and I was able to get down to tree line before the downpour hit us. After about five minutes, we were completely soaked to the bone and running through the river which had taken the place of the trail. The wind picked up and we could see the trees blowing almost over. The lightning was so close it lit the sky red and the clang of thunder was constant. After two hours, we got to a visitors center and called a hostel to pick us up for the night. The next day we did a 21 mile slack pack over the last few mountains in the whites and man did it hurt. I broke a toe in the first four miles and took another fall soon after where all my weight came down on my elbow and caused and excruciating pain in my shoulder. We kept moving to make it before the afternoon storm rolled in but our bodies were hurting. Luckily the storm lasted about ten minutes and blew over revealing the sun again. The last four miles flattened out a bit and we were able to run until I rolled my ankle and felt the crunch of the bones on the top of my foot. I let out an involuntary scream but kept moving. Tears streamed down my face as I thought for sure I had just broken my foot and ended my trip less than 300 miles from the end. We got back to the hostel and immediately iced my foot and decided to zero the next day to rest it. I didn't sleep that night because of the pain. We took a leisurely day and got lots of much needed rest and calories from the all you can eat Chinese buffet. We decided to zero again the next day to wait for a package and heal up some more. We left late the next day and the terrain was still very difficult. It took us much longer than expected and our plans had to change a bit. That day we were planning to hike through the toughest mile on trail, named Mahoosuc notch, which they describe as a deranged jumble of boulders. Followed up by the steepest climb on the trail. We got to the beginning of the notch around 5 pm as it started to rain so we set up camp and decided to hit it the next morning. The first mile took us an hour and a half and the second just under an hour. We were rock climbing more than hiking but it was a total blast. By the end of the day our bodies were tired but our spirits full. We were in Maine, finally. Mile 1932
We didn't get too far the next day when we left Hanover. After 4 miles we ran into the Ice Cream Man or Bill Ackerly. He lives just off the trail and offers hikers free ice cream, drinking water, and a rousing game of croquet. We stayed for 4 hours before heading back to the trail and catching a great sunset. We woke up early the next morning in anticipation of an amazing sunrise but were slightly disappointed when the sun rose behind the mountain we had to climb that morning. We found a great camp spot after a long 20 mile day and didn't sit by the fire too long before calling it a night and drifting back to our tents. The next day we got into Lincoln and were warned about the weather coming in that afternoon. We decided to wait it out and try to slack pack the next day over the first mountain in the Whites. True to form the weather never came in but we met a nice guy who said we could use the pool and hot tub at his condo complex so we weren't too discouraged. He then offered us a nights sleep on his tempur pedic bunk beds. Well rested we hit Mt. Moosilauke. The first part of the climb was crawling up a waterfall but soon turned to rock slabs that we were meant to climb. We made it to the summit as clouds rolled in and out giving us peeks at the view. We got back down and went to Chet's place in Lincoln. Chet was a fireman and search and rescue volunteer as well as an extremely avid hiker before a canister of fuel for a backcountry stove blew up on him, knocking him unconscious and burning down his home around him. Luckily he survived but is now in a wheelchair and is partially blind. Speaking to him for five minutes will tell you what an amazing person he is. He opens up his home to hikers and has built some bunk space in the garage for us. All he asks is that we help with keeping it clean, and sign our names somewhere. Every surface of the garage is covered with trail names from at least the last decade. All people who Chet has touched in some way. We sadly left the next day, after catching a movie at the local theater, and Chet invited us back for the winter to ski if we were around. He also let us know of a great camp spot next to a pond just out of town so we made it there and went for an evening swim before drying by the fire and hitting the hay. It felt good to fall asleep in the Whites, which is by far the most scenic and the most difficult of the entire trail. Since Georgia I've been hearing "just wait for the Whites" and here we were finally. The next day proved some hard miles. We were either rock hopping over all of the mud or rock climbing up steep exposed rock. The Whites were already no joke. Before climbing our second mountain of the day we got to a small water hole that can only be described as a pot of gold. We ripped off our sweaty clothes and jumped into the chilly mountain water. After thoroughly cooled down we hit the climb. We also got to check out our first hut in the Whites. The huts are placed so people can spend hundreds of dollars to hike up to it and sleep in a tiny bunk with 30 other strangers. They also have good food and often let hikers work for the leftovers. The first hut we got to was the most popular and the crowd of people could be heard from half a mile away. Overwhelmed, we hiked on without food to get away from the crowd. The next day we got to climb over Franconia ridge and Mt. Lafayette, one of the most gorgeous areas of the Whites. The climb was extremely grueling and the humidity was causing us to drip sweat out if every pore but when we reached the top it was all worth it. Some of the most incredible views I've ever seen hit us as we walked along the ridge to the top. Finally we were above tree line. A cloud came over as we hit the summit of Lafayette and it began to sprinkle down on us. Knowing we were going to get some bad weather that afternoon, we found a camp spot and hunkered down for the night. Soon it began to pour and I started collecting rain water for the next mornings hike. I got about two liters before it cleared up for a nice sunset. We woke up the next morning and played some cards before hitting the trail. We got to a really nice, secluded hut and were able to do some dishes for some hot soup and freshly baked bread. The next few miles were difficult and rocky and the Whites were weighing on my muscles. We got to do some more work at the next hut for some dinner leftovers and moved on to camp a bit further. We are now halfway through the Whites and enjoying it immensely. Mile 1844. Only 345 to go!
We left our make shift campsite the next morning on our way to meet Skippers dad at a road for lunch. On the way I came upon Cookie Monster who was holding a small kangaroo mouse. The mouse had clearly been attacked and it's back legs were broken. On the verge of death, Cookie didn't want the mouse to sit and get eaten alive by ants so he carried it for a few miles before it passed and he left it under a fern. We met Skippers dad for some amazing BLT's before heading up to the top of Stratton Mountain. We went up the fire tower and saw the most amazing 360 degree view of Vermont. Later we passed a gorgeous lake and sat silently, taking it all in. The next day we got in and out of a town for resupply and headed up to a Ski patrol warming hut that they leave open in the summer for hikers. The summit of Bromley was covered in a cloud and we waited till the morning to catch the view. The next day we ran into town to meet my friend, Lemon, who had to get off trail for a foot injury but came out to do some magic. We got to camp together that night and then the next day we slack packed over the top of Mt. Killington. Not before seeing a bear that morning that I miraculously missed. We got lunch before begrudgingly saying goodbye to Lemon. We hiked out of town after a couple zero days and my antibiotics were really effecting me. I was sick to my stomach and throwing up along trail every mile or so. We got to another gorgeous pond with a dock and decided to jump in. I immediately felt better as the cold water washed away the heat of the day. We ran into a ton of South bounders and got to meet some new people later that night at a shelter. We got up and hiked the next day and were praying the weather would hold up. Around mid afternoon a crack of thunder was heard in the distance and I new we were in for something bad. On top of a ridge, there was nothing we could do but keep walking when the sky opened up and poured on us. Usually the storms pass quickly but this one would not quit. It didn't even let up a bit. Then the wind came and we started to get cold. Traveling downhill, we knew things were going to get dangerous if we couldn't warm up soon. The nail in the coffin was when I realized my sleeping bag had gotten wet, rendering it useless. We looked for a place to set up the tent but the ground was flooding everywhere. We got to a road and decided the safest thing to do was to hitch a ride into town to dry out. The rain was still coming down hard and we were wet and muddy but a car came through and said we could get in the back with the dog. So thankful, he got us to a restaurant where we dried out and filled up on calories. We got back to the trail but were thoroughly soaked again the next morning when another storm hit. It was short lived and the sun came out to help dry us off. We also entered our thirteenth state, New Hampshire! We walked into the town of Hanover and onto the campus of Dartmouth. They were having a farmers market which we enjoyed until a friend's uncle, who lives in town, came to pick us up and bought us pizza. That night a trail angel in town offered us a free room so we went and soaked in their hot tub before drifting off to sleep. The next day, not wanting to leave our amazing trail angels, we decided to slack pack out of Hanover and hitch back to their house that night. We made dinner for them and watched a movie before heading back out to the trail the next day. Mile 1751!
During my trailcation I got to see some amazing friends get married and I got to celebrate my cousins engagement, I also spent some quality time with my cat. Unfortunately I also dropped my phone in a pool, had a parked car run into the side of mine, and pulled a tick out from under my skin and was subsequently diagnosed with lyme disease. I flew back into Boston where I met up with my PCT friend, Juneau, and we walked the freedom trail for the fourth of July. The freedom trail is two and a half miles long through downtown boston, stopping at 16 historical sites. We like to say we thru hiked it. He took us back to the trail and we started back on our hike. On my first day out I pulled 19 miles in new shoes, with lyme disease, after being off trail for 20 days. I was pretty happy with myself until I woke up the next morning. I was terribly sore and exhausted. We slept in and got going later in the day. I was having a rough time and had been in a bit of a funk since getting back on trail. Suddenly the rain began to come down and no matter what you did, you were completely soaked to the bone in seconds. I began to laugh. I couldn't help it. Skipper caught my laughter and as we tramped through the mud in the pouring down rain, I realized why I was out here. The worst thing in the world wasn't standing there muddy and soaking wet, in fact it was enjoyable. I was having a good time and it just felt comfortable to be exactly where I was at that moment. It rained on us off and on all day till we got to the cookie lady's house. She offered us fresh baked cookies and said we could crash in the garage to try to stay dry. After stripping off our wet clothes and getting comfortable again, we got a call from our good friend and amazing trail angel, Rob Bird. He picks us up, buys us pizza and takes us back to a hotel for showers and a bed. The next day he bought us breakfast and then took us back to the trail and slack packed us back to the hotel for a second night. He's around town for a while and will be helping us and many other hikers along the trail out for the next month. The next few days we got to slack pack all the way into Vermont and got the tour of all the best restaurants in town from Rob. We even treated ourselves to a zero day before hitting the trail again. That night there was no room at the shelter or tent area so we had to push on to another spot. We have been blessed with really great weather for Vermont and have managed to stay out of the mud. At the moment we are trying to outrun a thunderstorm that has been threatening us for the past couple days. Only a few more days until we hit New Hampshire and the dreaded whites! Mile 1651, 538 left to go!
Before leaving Boiling Springs, my friend Skipper and I decided to grab some lunch at the local pub before heading out of town. There we met Russ, a very friendly guy who flips houses for a living after retiring from flying helicopters. He even took us for a ride in his 1920 Model A. After talking for a bit, he invites us to camp in his large backyard instead of the campsite for hikers that's ten feet from the railroad tracks. We thanked him and piled back into his car to head over. As we arrived our eyes bugged out of our heads as we pulled up to a mansion. One of the biggest houses I had seen in a while. He's shows us around and says we can sleep in the basement if we wanted to so we went and checked it out. The only thing that describes it is a total man cave complete with pool table, DJ set up, beer pong table, and disco lights. We said it would work. Russ called over some friends and told them to grab some brews so we called some hiker friends, the rest of team vortex. Russ let us drive his truck to go pick up out friends and the six of us headed back to the mansion. Beer pong was already set up outside and the night began. By the next morning we had played countless games of pool and pong, danced under the lights, and burned a Christmas tree. The next day we headed back to the trail after stopping at the art fair and stocking up on three massive bags of kettle corn (all purchased, carried, and mostly eaten by the women in the group). We hiked eight miles to a dunkin donuts which was extremely unnecessary. Which made us have to night hike into the shelter where a couple friends of Mile Markers friends were coming to. We got there safe and sound and had a nice fire as we heard embarrassing old stories about MM. Unfortunately we had to say goodbye to them the next day and we headed into our next town, Duncannon Pa. We got some food and visited the very interesting Doyle hotel (an extremely old and dilapidated hotel in which the top three floors will never lose the stench of dirty hikers). We decided to move on when we saw a sign in front of someone's lawn that said "Hikers welcome to camp in backyard. Cooler by the door and you cam use the grill". When we got there we met Mr. and Mrs. 219, two Penn state alumni and super fans. They offered us beer and said to set up anywhere. We talked all night with them about how they started this and how our hikes were going. Unfortunately this will be their last year on trail. The next morning they made us lots of coffee and let us heat up our pop tarts (a real treat) before we begrudgingly started to pack up our bags. To prolong our stay we played a couple rounds of cards. While playing, Mrs. 219 came out and told us about a huge storm and tornado warning for the afternoon and evening. She said it was probably better to just stay the night in their garage. We debated but as we saw the massive dark clouds roll in and the wind start to pick up, we decided she was right. Mrs. 219 then told us she was fixing us dinner and not to argue because she had already started making it. We enjoyed a nice family dinner at 219 that night. Later that evening the 219s treated us to a scotch tasting of all of his favorites, needless to say we stayed very warm that night. The next day we had to go and left duncannon and Mr. and Mrs. 219 behind. We hiked a few rocky and muddy days before getting to a road and trying to hitch in for a resupply. If took a while to get a hitch and we were thinking about giving up until a car finally pulled up and let Skipper, Mile Marker, and I pile into their car. They were Abby and Pastor Bob, a couple in their early 20 who were just discussing picking up hitch hikers when they came upon us. They had recently gotten married and Bob had gotten the job in town as the pastor while Abby led the church choir and band. During the car ride they asked if we would like showers, being the only girl in the group, I jumped at the offer. They took us to their perfect little house and gave us the softest towels and nicest shampoos I had seen on trail. As we were taking turns showering, Abby offered to do our laundry while we went to lunch. I warned her not to touch anything but I was incredibly thankful to have clean socks. We went and grabbed lunch and headed back to their house, where the pastor offered us a beer and we had a deep conversation about life and how we all ended up where we are. Also our laundry had been folded and she had tried to separate it for us. Stunned by their hospitality we made a plan to get back to the trail. It began to rain outside so Bob said we should stay the night in their family room. Before we could answer, he was setting up the TV for a movie. He then made us coffee and tea before bed. We woke up the next morning and they asked if they could take us to breakfast. They had already done so much for us already but they insisted. After a huge breakfast he brought us back to the trail and we started off again. Soon after we ran into Scooby-Doo and Murphys Law and hiked with them for the next few days into Port Clinton. We were pulled into the barber shop where we got the low down on you town, had a little jam session, and stocked up on cookies and coffee. There we were told about a members only bar that would allow hikers to come in on occasion. We found the secret door and rang the bell. A loud clock unlocked the door and we walked into a tiny bar with darts and a pool table. We watched women's soccer and chatted with the locals all evening. The next day we got to go to the biggest Cabellas in the work, filled with probably 500 taxidermy animals and an aquarium. When I woke up the next morning, I felt terrible. I could barely lift my head up and I felt like throwing up. Instead of getting back on trail, we decided to visit a nudist resort. I started to feel better and we got to soak our sore muscles in a hot tub before taking in the nudist experience. It's weird. We got back on trail the next day and had some really difficult days. The rocks were everywhere and thunderstorms were hitting us off and on. Nobody could keep their feet dry which caused terrible raw skin all over their feet. Luckily my friend Banjo from the PCT came out to see us and bring us soda and pizza on a very wet day. We finally made it to Deleware water gap and out of Pennsylvania. They had a free hostel in the basement of a church that hikers were able to stay at for a day or two. The next day I had a to fly back to California for a few weddings and a bit of a trailcation. I hopped a bunch of busses and got to the airport were I sat for the longest amount of time I had in the past three months. Mile 1293
I left Harpers Ferry after a quick stop to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy office where I checked in as the 182nd thru-hiker to pass through thus year. As I hiked out I took another bad fall on to my hip and ended up back in Harper's Ferry with a dilemna. Stay in a very expensive hotel for a week to rest or rent a car and travel back along the trail. I rented the car, got upgraded to a huge truck, picked up a cheap cooler full of sodas and beers, and headed south. I met up with my friends, the vortex, in the Shenandoahs and slack packed them for a week all while keeping them stocked with food and beverages. During that time I recieved a trail karma necklace from my friend, Micro. These necklaces are passed around along the trail to those who put love and effort into making the trail a better place. I felt extremely honored and wore it with pride until, I too, found another deserving person. After a long week, I was ready to get back on trail and I headed back out of Harpers Ferry. This time I got food poisoning and realized that trying to escape the vortex is dangerous. I fought through it and stayed on trail and after a day I started to feel better. We hiked through West Virginia, Maryland, and into Pennsylvania before a friend, Skipper, had his family pick us up and take us to his house for a zero day full of amazing food, family, and friends. I'll never forget my time there. I got back on the soggy trail the next day and made it to the halfway marker. Sitting there, alone, in the rain, I realized how much of this experience is changed by the people you share it with. I needed to wait for the vortex. The next day we got to a small general store and snack bar that is famous for the half gallon challenge, or eating a half gallon of ice cream in an hour to celebrate 1094.6 miles. At 10 in the morning on an overcast day, a large amount of cold dairy sounded like the worst thing. I moved on to the museum where I met a section hiker who recently lost his wife, Katie, with whom he had hiked 1300 miles of trail. He wasn't sure if he'd ever be able to finish without her and my whole body pained for him. Back on the trail, I realized how important and special it is that we get this time to live our lives simply before the complication of responsibility. I felt very lucky as I crawled into my damp sleeping bag and layed my head on to a smelly clothes bag. I ran into Boiling Springs the next day and was met quickly by a part of the vortex. We got some good food and a chance to shower when my worst fear was realized. There was a tick clinging to my ass. After a very uncomfortable tweezer situation, he was dead. Keeping an eye out for Lyme disease! Hanging around town until the vortex can be together again. Mile 1121
We took two zeros coming out of Woods Hole Hostel as the thru-hiker laziness set in a little earlier than expected. When we finally left the small town of Perrisburg Va. an extreme cold had set in. We made sure to keep moving in order to stay warm. We got to a shelter and found it was exploding with other hikers so we hiked on into the evening. We got to a place called the Captains where we zip lined across the river and set up camp in his backyard. Lemon had still not shown up and after 45 minutes had passed I began to panic. We sent a few hikers to cross the river and look for her. We found her pack and all of her gear waiting on the other side. Now realizing that wherever she was, she had nothing. A but later we saw a light and she came running up to the camp, flustered. She hadn't seen us across the river so she had ran back to the last shelter trying to find us. As we all calmed our nerves around the fire, I reveled in how amazing it is to care about people who were complete strangers a few months ago. The laziness set in again the next day in the form of a four hour lunch break and only twelve miles of trail. We got to a shelter and did a stretching circle with everyone before crawling into bed under the stars. The next night, after a rough day of rocky uphills, we got to a shelter that was being occupied by not only about 20 thru hikers but another 17 Canadian students who were out on a short trip. I've never seen so many tents in one place. We all got super slanted spots but I fell asleep quickly. I woke up on the wrong side of the sleeping bag the next morning to the 17 Canadians making the most noise I had ever heard in the woods. Frustrated, I packed up quick and got out of there so I wouldn't have to deal with them again. We got to a rock outcropping called dragons tooth were we spent some time bouldering before the cold set in and sprinkles began to rain down on us. The decent from dragons tooth was a rock scramble on slightly damp rocks that took us way longer than expected. We got down to a road where a sign for a hostel sucked us all in as the rain and thunder grew. We packed hikers in and had a mini dance party before eating at the best restaurant on trail. A family style all you can eat place, perfect for thru hikers. The next morning had not changed the weather so we decided to zero then slack pack 25 miles the next day when it would clear up. We had a great day with some really great hikers before heading out early the next morning. The next day was wonderful! We experienced the famous McAfee knob and the equally gorgeous tinker cliffs area. As we sped down from there, I felt great. As I passed day hikers without packs, my confidence started to boost and I started to move faster. I came over a small foot and before I knew it, my feet were flying up over my head and I came down hard on to my bad hip. I wanted to crawl into the fetal position and cry but I knew everyone behind me had seen my fall. I jumped up fast and hobbled away as fast as I could, trying to scrape up whatever dignity I had left. We finished the day but I was hurting bad. Luckily the next day we were leaving to canoe down the Shenandoah river in what people call an aquablaze. We got a ride almost immediately and made it to our meeting place where a bunch of my former PCT friends were waiting. We jumped on the river the next day and had the best few days, sans a thunderstorm that filled our boats with water, a cracked hull in one boat, and a sick lemon who had to get off the river early. After the river, we had to get back to the trail. Little did I know, not many people pick up hitchhikers when you're not near a trail town. After five different rides we made it back and jumped on trail. We were in a new group of people after the aquablaze and the locomotives were officially derailed. I created a new group called Team Vortex with some pretty incredible people and we decided to stick together until the trail days event back in damascus. We got to a swimming hole and decided it would be great to stop and swim in the heat of the day. A ranger came along and informed us of some milkshakes and burgers just up the road and we couldn't resist. We set up camp by the swimming hole and then went in. They said they'd pick us up for breakfast again the next day and again we couldn't resist. As we ate, the founding member of Team Vortex, Mile Marker, found out about a full ride scholarship he had recieved to go to grad school in the fall. We knew we needed to celebrate so we bought an exorbitant amount of beer and started playing cornhole. We only made it four miles to a shelter where we tried to hand out beers to other hikers. The next day was rough. The heat hit us early and after only three miles we decided to siesta until we all felt better. Eight hours later we left and hiked into the night another eleven miles. A heat thunderstorm was blowing up around us and every few moments the entire sky would light up but it was warm and dry. One of the greatest night hiking experiences of my life. I cowboy camped that night till about three when rain started to hit and we frantically moved to get our stuff out of the rain. That day we got to the james river bridge and spent quite a bit of time swimming before hitching into town to resupply. The next day out of town, I caught the most gorgeous sunset on top of a bald before night hiking a bit more to get into camp. The next day was the beginning of trail days so we got down to a road and met our ride. Three former thru hikers who drove us all the way for free. Trail days is a festival held every year for current and former thru hikers. We had a complete blast, meeting new people, seeing a bunch of old friends, and dancing around a bonfire all night. It was very bittersweet to head back to the trail on Sunday. The heat and humidity is getting worse but we are finding ways around it. The people on trail have been by far the best thing about this whole experience. Mile 1022
I woke up the next morning to pouring down rain and decided I would wait it out and zero again. Unfortunately, the rest of the locomotives pushed on and we made a plan to meet in a couple days when I could catch up. I slept the rest of the day and got some much needed natural sleep energy. I woke up late that night and decided to grab some dinner and a few beers with a couple other hikers. We ran into a character named Redneck who was clearly homeless and not a hiker and he joined us uncomfortably. The whole time he was making hints that he wanted us to buy him a beer. I was extremely uncomfortable as he talked about hiking out with us the next day. When he asked me if I was also on food stamps, I had had enough and I left quickly with my friend Oyster. I missed my friends. I left quickly the next morning to try to catch them that day instead of taking a few days to catch up. As I walked out of town, Oyster caught up and we headed down the Virginia Creeper trail that the AT meets up with. As we walked, we talked about how thankful we were that we made it out of town without Redneck. Not 20 minutes later, he comes walking down the trail towards us. My whole body froze as he walked up saying he had been looking for us. He asked if we could come back to his camp and help him pack up his stuff. I looked around, there was a seldomly used road but it was across a raging river. There was no way out so we kept moving down the trail towards his campsite. I got my phone out and took a picture of him before loudly exclaiming that I couldn't believe I had service out there even though we were SOL in getting a call out. My other hand was gripped firmly around the knife in my pocket, not knowing what was going to happen when we told him we would not be hiking with him anywhere. The most uncomfortable hour of my life finally ended when we got to a campsite with many tents. I let out a sigh, relieved that there were others in the area. As he veered off towards his massive tent we quickly said we were going to do our own thing and kept moving down trail. I didn't stop the rest of the day in fear he would come up behind. After 20+ miles I decided he probably couldn't walk that far with a school backpack and a duffel bag strapped to his chest. Unfortunately, I hadn't caught up to my friends yet and I spent a terrible night alone in the forest. I got up the next day and moved quickly trying to get to them. We entered the most gorgeous part of the trail so far, the Grayson highlands, which still has wild ponies roaming around. I got to a road where some hikers were congregating. They were headed back to damascus for a hiker open mic night and I decided to join. It was incredible to see so many people I hadn't seen in a long time and there were so many talented hikers. After getting back to town, I got a text from my friends and realized I had only been two miles behind them when I got to the road. I kicked myself but vowed to catch them early the next day. We finally were reunited at the partnership shelter, which is close enough to a road to order pizza. I had finally made it back to the locomotives and I vowed to never let them leave without me again. It poured on us the entire next day until we got into a town to resupply and decided to dry out in a hotel for the night. We got out early the next morning because it was our first marathon day. Lemon and Shay are from Boston and knew a few people running the Boston marathon that same day. Lemon was also at mile 20 of the race when the bombing occurred. As she described the chaos and pain that the entire city felt that day, I knew I wanted to hike the marathon too. We moved fast and kept our spirits high, though the trail was muddy and soggy from all of the rain the day before. Nearing the end of the day, we got to a river where the bridge was now submerged at least two feet and had rushing water flowing over it. We knew we would be swept away if we tried to cross here alone. I went into outdoor ed mode and yelled over the loud river for everyone to unbuckle their packs and get in a line behind each other. As one large group we moved slowly across the massive waves, Shay directing us. We made it across safely and felt elated that our team work had worked! We hiked on, soaking wet but in great moods. We got to our destination and made dinner together before crawling into the shelter just as the rain and thunder hit that night.
We did a few more big mile days and it was definitely beginning to wear on us. We went to Woods Hole hostel and had an amazing organic dinner that they grew on the property. The next day we got up early and slack packed back into Wood hole hostel where they were going to a concert in Radford. They invited us to go and we jumped at the chance to do something normal. We saw Rising Appalachia who were wonderful! We danced all night and even got to meet the band and get their autographs. We crawled into the hostel bunks late that night and fell asleep immediately. We had an amazing breakfast the next morning before hitting the trail and resupplying in a town not far. The weather has been cold and rainy and I'm pretty sick of being soggy all of the time. Sometimes it even rains when the sun is out which does not compute in my west coast brain. Hoping things turn around and we get some nice weather soon. Mile 635! More than a quarter of the way done and having a great time with great people.
We left Mike and Peggys the next morning but were reluctant to actually start hiking again. After hanging at the trailhead and a second trip to the Hawg and Dawg, we decided to zero instead and made our way back to the cabin. The next day we finally made it out of town. About 12 miles, in a torrential downpour and freezing temperatures, we were miserable and decided to bail. Back to Mike and Peggys we went. That evening we went to a movie and got to walk through a drive thru for milkshakes! Not kidding ourselves the next day, we decided to slack pack southbound so we could spend yet another night with Mike and Peggy. We finally got out of Erwin TN for good the next day and ran into some good friends along the way. We got down to yet another hostel and decided to escape the thunderstorm that had rolled in out of no where. We found ourselves at a place called the beer wash, a drive thru beer shop/bar. I won a free beer by sinking a quarter into a special glass! That night we got a special treat and were lucky enough to watch Ha Ha do her stand up routine. She killed it, our abs hurt as we walked back to our beds. We got the most amazing breakfast before hitting the trail just as it began to rain the next day. Luckily it cleared up in the afternoon so we sat with our feet in the river and foraged for wild ramps to use in our dinners later. We tried unsuccessfully to make a fire before giving up and crawling into our tents. The next day we all hiked together and had a blast sharing stories and making inside jokes. Our group became known as the locomotives and the five of us reveled in the fact that we had found such great people. The next morning, we moved quickly through an active bear zone but then slowed down and took many breaks for the rest of the day. Later, we came upon some sodas and granola bars left out for us by a church group and took one last break before making camp. We set up in a gorgeous meadow and battled the wind all night long. We got moving fast the next morning, knowing we would hit damascus that evening. I dreamed of milkshakes and burgers as I hiked 6.5 miles in an hour and a half before hitting the TN/VA border and crushing three states. We got to town sore but happy and hit up the dollar general for some ice cream right away. After running a few errands we checked into our hostel and were lucky enough to get put in a huge teepee he had in the backyard. Overnight it rained and the teepee was a little leaky so we moved inside for the next night after a well deserved zero day. We are now making dinner for each other and planning our next section. Heading out of Damascus tomorrow! Mile 470 and three states down!
We left Hot Springs late in the day after some coffee and pastries. It may just be my mindset but it was an incredibly perfect day. We had perfect weather, I was surrounded by perfect company, and the hiking was great! We got to a secluded camp and set up for the night before sitting around the fire way passed hiker midnight (9pm). The next morning I woke up early to the most beautiful sunrise but still ended up being the last one ready. We planned to stop for some instant coffee at our next water stop but missed it by a mile. We were out of water so when we saw a sign that said Milkshakes 0.6 of a mile down the road, we went. We enjoyed coffee, milkshakes, and fudge before heading back out to the trail. That day we were on an exposed ridge line for a while and the views were incredible! Some of the best we've seen all trip. We kept going and found a campsite covered in garbage and very exposed to the wind. Tired we all looked at each other and knew we could do better so we trudged on. Off the trail we saw what looked like a campfire ring and some flat area so we went to check it out. Upon further inspection, we found two gravesites belonging to the Sheltons, a couple of union soldiers who were ambushed and killed in the forest by the confederacy while traveling home for the holidays. We decided camping there might be disrespectful, and incredibly eery, so we set up a 100 yards away where it was still flat. It began to rain as we made dinner together and we were subjected to communicate from tent to tent. I fell asleep that night toasty warm listening to the rain hit my tarp. Around midnight, I woke up with one of the most frustrating sensations a hiker can feel in the middle of the night, I had to pee. I begrudgingly crawled out of my tarp. Immediately I felt a very eery feeling. I saw the graves in the distance, blanketed by creepy fog. I decided to make this quick and took off running. Heart pumping I found a good tree. Off in the distance a quiet cough echoed. My heart stopped as all of the scary things that could happen to me ran through my mind. I've never moved faster than when I ran back to my tarp and dove in. Cozy in my sleeping bag again, I imagined the ghost of an old soldier spooning me in the night. I did not sleep very well from then on. We got another amazing sunrise that next morning and started moving. Somewhere in the day we heard about some weather that was coming in. Not planning to sleep at a shelter that night, we had to adjust our plans and ended up getting to a shelter at 3pm. The rain came in hard for about half an hour then stopped and turned into a lovely evening. We were kicking ourselves for stopping so early but it was nice to relax. We even had the added bonus of staying in the shelter with Loner Boner, a man somewhere in his seventies who has thru hiked the AT on three separate occasions. In and out of his slumber he would throw out one liners of advice like he had been a part of the whole conversation. The best we heard was "it's okay to lose toenails! It's when you start losing toes that you've got to worry! Then you have diabetes or leprosy!" (Yes, the exclamation points are necessary). We fell asleep around 7:30 as the sun went down and soon realized how grateful we were to be in a shelter. A torrential downpour began and raged for most of the night. There was intermittent thunder and lightning and a thick fog that made visibility less than 20 ft. in front of you. Halfway through the night the clouds cleared up and the freezing cold set in that lasted until the sun came up. We were told of some trail magic that might be happening in a few miles so we had a bit of motivation to stuff our gear into our packs with frozen fingers. We spoke of the pancakes and hot coffee that might be awaiting us the whole wag down. As we came to the street we looked around frantically for signs of pancakes but there was nothing there. Defeated, we sank into the concrete and whined about our lack of pancakes. The temperature was getting colder and colder and the wind was whipping us but the pavement was warm and our day was derailed. I checked the local weather and got an alert about a freeze warning that was in effect that night. With no hopes of making it to the shelter in 18 miles, we reevaluated our options. We decided to hitch into Erwin TN to escape the freeze and then slack pack the 25 miles we missed the next day. Upon getting into town, we met Lou, the owner of the Hawg and Dawg who fed us and helped us find somewhere to stay for the night. He put us in touch with Mike and Peggy who gave us directions to their place. As we walked up we noticed the brightly colored beehives in the yard followed by a huge chicken coup and a grand garden. We all got more and more excited as we walked up closer to find their incredible friendly dogs, Jessie and Roc. Mike told us to go inside all did grab a beer, so we did and enjoyed it while listening to the sounds of the Nolichucky river and the many beautiful wind chimes in the area. This place had everything, and outdoorsy persons dream home! We got to take over a small cabin in their yard where Peggys parents had stayed before the house was built. We had a wonderful evening sharing stories with Mike and Peggy before drifting off to sleep in the nice, warm cabin. The next morning, we prepared for our slack pack and Cara and Todd prepared to go home. We heard a small knock at the door and I opened it to Peggy with five easter baskets full of candy and peeps (she knows hikers well). We were all so touched by her kindness and had tge best start to the day ever! We got on our shuttle and a deep feeling of dread hit my stomach. My friends were leaving us today. As we hugged goodbye it didn't seem like enough, I wanted to squeeze them to death or carry them in my backpack. But life is inevitable and they drove away with hopes of winning the lottery in order to return to the trail. Blaze runner, Lemon, and I headed up trail and had the most amazing day. We made it the gorgeous 25 miles before five and returned to Mike and Peggys where we were greeted by Peggys sister and mom who were visiting for Easter. Her sister offered us some amazing coconut cake and we sat by the fire with her mom chatting about our hiking stories. Mike brought us a Yingaling and we tried to keep our eyes open long enough to finish it. We returned to our cabin and fell asleep watching Airplane. Today we head out, a little sore and not wanting to leave the oasis Mike and Peggy have made for us here. Mile 342.9
We left Fontana Dam on a frigid morning but seven uphill miles warmed us up really quick. We got to the shelter early (in the Smokeys you must stay in shelters) and hung around with some day walkers (non thru hiking folk). The next day started out very cold but turned into a really nice day by mid afternoon. We got to the highest point on the Appalachian trail that day and were thankful we could see something. Clingmans Dome stands around 6650 ft. and has a huge tower to get the 360 degree view. As we hung out I watched the other hikers come and go, all headed to the next shelter. It was then that we were warned of the weather coming in that evening. Realizing I needed to get a spot in the shelter, I ran down the trail, passing seven of my fellow hikers. I made it to the shelter to grab the last spot and felt the eyes of the other hikers on me as I set up. Little did I know, I was in for a very long night. As I wrote in my journal, I had to listen to two redneck gentlemen going back and forth with different stories of how they've snuck into bars in their hometown. I tried to tune them out and snuck further into my sleeping bag. Shortly later, I was awoken abruptly to what I thought was the earth splitting in two. I looked around, confused and realized this blow horn of a noise was erupting from the sleeping bag next to me. When he wasn't snoring he would let out the longest seepy farts I've ever heard in my life. In between bouts of insanity, I thought back to those last four miles when I passed my fellow hikers. Karma was a bitch that day and the man next to me will forever be known as Snorelufugus Longfarts(in my head). We made it halfway through the Smokeys the next day so I decided to jump down into Gatlinburg TN for the night. There's nothing I can say that could accurately describe Gatlinburg. Shortly after getting into town and grabbing a shower, I found my self in a moonshine tasting room. Resupplying was difficult afterwards. We then ran into a man named Walt who owned a condo and offered to let us stay the night. He made us a huge dinner and breakfast before sending us on our way. It snowed that morning and the temperature was dropping drastically. That night I got to a trail hostel where my good friends, Cara and Todd from the PCT, met me to hike for a few days. We stayed up late reminiscing about the good times on the PCT. We woke up to another snowy morning but hiked out anyways. It was a beautiful day until the afternoon when the wind started whipping and a cold front came in. We were freezing. The snow was blowing at us sideways and sticking to anything wet. We made it down to a shelter that had already stuffed as many people as possible into it and begrudgingly set up our tents. The next morning, I awoke to the sound of frozen boots being banged everywhere and the grumbles of their owners. Everything had frozen overnight, including my baby wipes and chapstick. We built a small fire with what dry wood we could find and started to thaw out our shoes. We had a nice leisurely day once the sun came out and we even got to dry all of our wet tents and sleeping bags. Cara and Todd have been giving us lessons on the local flora and fauna and even foraged for wild onions or ramps. I put them in my dinner that evening. We got to camp and had a long campfire with our good friend, Lemon before retreating to our tents and falling asleep. The next day we made it into a little town called Hot Springs NC where we took a zero day and took full advantage of their hot mineral baths and homemade ice cream milkshakes. Cara, Todd, Lemon, and I will head out today on our way to Erwin TN.
At mile 275 and still loving it!!!
We stayed in Franklin one last night to avoid the weather and got to buddy up with some hikers. The next day as I was getting on the hotel shuttle to the trail, Neon ran away and asked me to hold the shuttle. In all of the chaos, I got pushed to the back of the bus and was unable to communicate with the driver before he took off up the road. I shrugged my shoulders, knowing it would all work out. I hiked out alone that day and caught the sights from Silar and Wayah bald. Unfortunately, it was cloudy, and you could only see about 30 ft. I made it to a shelter that night that luckily had one spot open so I jumped in. A few of the other hikers brought their guitars and banjos and we had a make shift 'open mic night'. It included poetry readings, personal songs, and an amazing opera by a couple from Switzerland. Luckily that night, no one snored or tried to kill the scurrying mice so it was pleasant. Neon showed up that night and told me stories of his equally wonderful day before we drifted off into sleep. We got up early and busted out the first few miles before getting to Wesser bald, where we actually got some views! Then we got down to the Nantahala Outdoor Center and immediately jumped into the river. Little did we know how cold that water was! We dried off and I sat outside their restaurant, waiting for Neon to buy shoes, when a woman came up and asked if I was an AT thru hiker. When I replied "yes" she slipped a $20 into my hand and said to get a beer and a burger. Which is exactly what I did! As we chowed down on food, the waitress came up and asked us what we'd like to drink because a woman inside wanted to buy us a round. It was incredible to feel such support. We ended the evening sitting around a fire, getting to know more hikers. We grabbed a quick breakfast before hitting the trail again. A word of advice, don't eat a huge helping of biscuits and gravy before hike seven miles uphill in the heat... Luckily I had Neon behind me, being my own personal DJ and motivational speaker. As the day went on, the rain started to fall harder and harder. I got to a shelter and was only the 4th person in an 8 person shelter so we got to dry out our wet gear in the extra space. The rain was a torrential downpour for most of the night, which made the scurrying of the mice almost non existent. Unfortunately for me, they made themselves known in a different way that evening. As I slept soundly to the pitter patter of rain outside, I felt the cold, tiny, claws of a small four legged creature, perched on my upper left cheek. Realizing what was happening, I swatted it in the direction of Neon and could not stop squirming around until I ran out of energy. The rest of that night I could feel the disgusting tingle of norovirus lightly sitting on my face. Halfway through the night, the storm let up and the forest fell silent again. We woke up to a great sunrise and had a beautiful day into Fontana Dam, forgetting about our previous mistake and jumping into the freezing water once more. Tomorrow, we walk into the Smokey mountain range and are trying to avoid the snow storm coming in Thursday and Friday. We are at mile 167
We checked out the weather report and decided the 90% chance of rain and a high of 40 degrees was not ideal. Thankfully, Marya offered to let us stay another night to get out of the weather! We decided to check out Asheville for the night and had a blast! We checked out everything in town and met a ton of interesting and friendly people. We walked into one of the outdoor stores to a 2009 hiker who immediately recognized us as hikers and asked if we wanted to stay for their employees only seminar on some gear they carry. We got great food, checked out the local library, signed the 'what to do before I die' wall, and toured the Basilica of St. Lawrence. We were also probably asked about a million times why we were both wearing shorts in the middle of March. We are reveling in the nice quiet oasis of Maryas house before we head back out tomorrow! Here's some pictures from Asheville and more from the last section.
We left Neels Gap after some sage advice and a picture with our buddy Baltimore Jack. It sprinkled on us as we left but the temperature was warm. I really hit my stride that day and felt I was slowly getting my trail legs back. We got to stay in our first shelter that night. It was nice to wake up to dry gear but sleeping in the shelters is near impossible. I was up all night listening to the mice scurry around our heads or the guy in the corner stomping and thrashing about. There was also a hiker who was either snoring or flailing about in the noisiest sleeping bag I've ever heard. Needless to say, it was a long night. We left the next morning and Micro began complaining about some knee pain he was having. He was moving extra slow on the downhills and looked like he was in a lot of pain. When we got down to Unicoi gap, we decided it would be best for him to rest up so we hitched into Haiwasee where we spent to night in the hot tub, relaxing our sore muscles. The next day, Neon and I had prepared to slack pack (carry only the essentials for day hiking while someone brings the rest of your gear forward). Unfortunately, friday the 13th was in full force and I caught some hot ash in my eye while standing near the fire. My eye swelled up and it was very difficult to see so we decided to take a zero and let Micro rest up some more. That Saturday we got a hitch up to the trail and realized Neon left his speaker in the back of the truck we rode in. With little information about the guy, we asked everyone if they knew him but with no luck. We started to hike in but Micro was moving slow still with his knee. Two and a half miles in, we decided he wouldn't be able to make the 16 mile section before dark. He turned around and went back in to town. Neon and I kicked butt and finished 16 miles in just under 6 hours. We got to the road, ragged from the day, and hitched back in to Haiwasee to meet up with Micro. That's when we got the terrible news. Micro had a torn meniscus and was going home to Minnesota. We thought of all the other possibilities but it was inevitable, he had to go get better. We had one night left to camp together so we hitched back up to the trail. When we got to the trail head parking lot, we spotted the car with Neons speaker, still sitting in the truck bed where he left it. We waited for the guy to finish his day hike before retrieving it and heading out. We stayed near a shelter four miles in and stayed up late reminiscing about the past week around the fire. I woke up the next morning to Neon trying to rouse Micro from his sleep but was getting no reply. Other hikers informed us that they had found micro around four am huddled and shivering in the shelter. Panic washed over me as there was still no response from Micros tent. Finally a groggy "what" came out and we could all breathe again. When he woke up he told us the whole story. Apparently in the middle of the night, he woke up thirsty but without any water. He decided to go down a side trail he hadn't been down before to get to the spring for water. After he filled up, he turned back but had lost the trail. After countless tries to find the trail and his warm tent, he gave up and tried to huddle in the shelter close by for warmth. When he realized it was way too cold to be out there, he roused a sleeping hiker and asked for help. Even that hiker got lost a few times before finding the trail and sending Micro on his way. After have a very good, long laugh at Micros expense, we dilly dallyed around the fire, not wanting Micro to hike out and leave us. We said our finally goodbyes and slowly parted ways. We miss him every day. I hiked for a bit until I found a nice spot to sit and read for a bit. Then I met Neon on the summit of a bald and easily had the most amazing view of the trip so far. We watched as the sun dropped below the distant ridges. As the pure joy of the moment hit me, tears began streaming down my face. The incredible happiness and fullness I felt at that moment was overwhelming. We sat there in silence. It was a windy night on top of the mountain but totally worth it for the sunrise I caught the next morning. After taking it all in, we packed up and headed off quick. We hiked together for a while, which made the miles fly by and before we new it, we were crossing mile 100 on top of Mt. Albert. It was at this point that we realized it was st. Patrick's day and decided it would be a shame not to get down to town and grab a beer. We flew the next six miles to the road, completing our longest day yet and got a ride into Franklin, NC. It's an awesome little town that was having a celebration where we got free corn beef sandwiches and met with the locals. We met an incredibly nice couple there. The husband is starting up a brewery in town called the Lazy hiker and his wife teaches yoga and has classes for hikers! It's called Beyond Bending Yoga and is new in town. We then stopped by the outfitter in town where they served us beer and didn't mind the smell as we browsed around. The guys there are incredibly knowledgeable and even let us stay there after closing hanging and trail talking. Then my favorite trail angel by far came to pick us up. My Aunt Marya lives out here and was nice enough to come pick us up and take us back to her amazing home for fresh meals and showers! Her home is in the most wonderful and serene area, we've loved every minute of being here and visiting. We begrudgingly head back out to the trail tonight for some very cold and rainy weather. Mile 109 and feeling great!!
We got up to Springer that night and saw our first white blaze (trail marker). Then we set up camp at the shelter close by and sat around the fire anticipating our first day on trail again. The night brought sprinkles of rain but we woke up to the sun and caught one last glance from Springer before heading out. There were people everywhere on trail. Some section hiking and a bunch of through hikers. We made it a whopping 16 miles on our first day, which on the AT is pretty big. The terrain is much different than the PCT and the wet weather has made things incredibly muddy. The trail is also a lot steeper than anything on the PCT. We got to a shelter that night but my friends Neon and Micro(matt) kept moving to another campsite. The rain hit us hard that night but I stayed dry and warm under my tarp. I woke up to spouts of rain and got moving fast. I met up with my friends but they weren't packed up yet so I kept moving. When I got to Woody Gap, I met Rescue 1 who gave me an orange and a snickers. Then across the road was Tick Tock who was cooking up egg muffins and hot dogs with coffee and homemade goodies. We left them and got to Neels gap where there was a hiker hostel and gear store. We met Baltimore Jack there who gave us the low down on the area and invited us to a dinner that a church group was bringing for us. We got showered up and headed to the dining area where we had the most amazing lasagna and salad with tons of homemade goods. The people from the church were wonderful and offered to pray for us, I asked for no injurues! I'm nursing a couple blisters and we're expecting rain until Saturday but this trail has been amazing so far. And only 2 days in we're at mile 31.7!
I've been in Georgia now for a few days and things have already been incredible. I got to the airport early on Friday with my stomach in knots. Once I got on the plane, my nerves started to calm down and the trail became a reality. I touched down in atlanta with an immediate text from my PCT buddy Neon, telling me where to meet him. An hour later, once I had navigated my way through the massive Atlanta airport and gotten the rest of my gear, I was back with hiker trash. Neon brought his friend Matt who will be joining us for six weeks and they had ran into another through hiker named Dakota. Dakota had started four days earlier with a friend and had planned to hike the whole way. His friend bailed on the first day while still on the approach trail and Dakota had gotten sick and stayed in a trail hostel for a few days. We intercepted him at the perfect time. He had booked a flight home and was giving up on his hike. We convinced him to head back out to the trail with us and stick with it. Sometimes all you need is a positive person to calm your fears. Our shuttle driver arrived where we met our first AT characters, Ron and the frightening Dr. Nightmare (a GPS with a demonic voice, and a mind of his own). Ron has been shuttling hikers since 2006 and had some great stories to share with us as well as invaluable info about the trail in Georgia. We had an absolute blast on the 80 mile drive to Amicalola State Park. We got there in the dark and set up our shelters in tent city, where we spent the rest of the 24 degree night sitting around the fire with other previous and future hikers. The next day we woke up and headed into kick off where we met a plethora of amazing people. IncludingEveryone was so friendly and was willing to help in any way possible. We even got a ride to a local greasy spoon that had the best burgers! We spent another night huddled around the fire and woke up to beautiful weather. We are headed up to Springer mountain to start the trail right now!!!
After being back from my Pacific Crest Trail through hike for a little over four months, I have to decided to hit the trail again and head out to the Appalachian Trail. I'll be flying to the east coast on March 6th and heading north from Atlanta, Georgia. I do plan to take an intermission around late June, And then starting again in Maine and head south. The trail term is "flip-flopping," I'm gearing up, and dehydrating food like crazy for my start in 24 short days!!! It'll be good to be back!