I woke up around daybreak. It was COLD! The sun was just beginning to wake up, spreading a dim glow through the canopy of my tent. I didn’t want to get out of my sleeping quilt. I thought about waiting for the sun to come up over the rise, but with these hills, I didn’t know how long that would be. I knew Bud was concerned, not having received a call from me, and I really wanted to get to a place as quickly as I could to call him.
I pulled my hiking clothes from the foot of my tent, and put them in the quilt with me to warm them up. I dressed underneath the quilt. I started packing up my backpack, which was in the tent with me. I stuffed my quilt in first, then my sleeping bag liner. I deflated my sleeping pad and rolled it up, and put it and my other things into my backpack (Osprey Aura 65).
When I got out of my tent, my hands were stinging. I had thought my gloves were in my pack, but apparently, I did not put them back into my backpack the last time I hiked with them at home. I could have used socks, but I didn’t want to go to the trouble of pulling them out of my pack. My hands were stinging as I took down my tent, and this was my first clue that temps had gotten quite a bit lower than I had anticipated. Stinging hands are the marker I use to describe to Bud how cold it is when I let the chickens out in the mornings.
I opted not to have coffee or breakfast. I was eager to get on the trail and start walking so I could warm up. You can’t wear anything with ‘down’ in it to hike in. If it gets wet with sweat, it won’t keep you warm. Having light clothes is imperative, because every ounce of weight in your backpack counts. I had on my fleece jacket, a short sleeved ‘quick dry’ shirt underneath, and compression shorts with hiking pants over those. I knew it was supposed to warm up into the 70’s.
After I had everything packed up, I headed down the trail with haste. It was about 7:30. I had no idea exactly where I was, except that I was on the trail, and headed toward Pruitt. There was supposed to be a campground down the trail, and I made plans to have my breakfast there.
About a mile down the way, I came to the Buffalo River bridge at Ponca, and a sign that said that Steele Creek Campground was about 1.8 miles down the way. This meant I had gone about 10 miles the day before, with several climbs of about 1700 feet. My legs felt very stiff, and I felt several blisters cropping up. I knew the next leg of my journey would be much tougher than the day before, and I was worried that my legs and feet did not feel as good as they did the day before. I had also forgotten to stretch, which I always do at home.
Shortly, I came upon an old Homestead. I’m very interested in how the pioneers lived, and their simple and self-sustaining way of living, so I wanted to make a quick trip through it. The homestead belonged to ‘Beaver’ Jim Villines and his wife, Sarah Arbaugh. They started living here in 1882. The placard said that Jim lived his whole life within a mile of where he was born. He died in 1948.
(The Root Cellar)
(The Smoke House)
(One O’ them Fancy, City-fied, U.S. Government Outhouses)
There was also a crude hen house, and much more to the farm, but my trip through it was quick. I wanted to find a place where I had cell phone service to call Bud.
In a couple of miles, I came to Steele Creek Campground. All of the campgrounds along the trail are accessible by car. Though they are technically closed during the winter, there were still people camping there. It is permissible to camp there during the winter, but the water is turned off, meaning no flush toilets or water from the spigots. This is because of the possibility of the pipes freezing and bursting during winter. They do have vault toilets at the campgrounds.
It was amazing to me that there was really no easy access to the Buffalo River that I could see. I was concerned about my water supply, but the map showed there was a stream just beyond this campground.
I found a picnic table in the sun, took off my backpack, and ate some Paleo Granola with some dehydrated milk and a little water. This is dehydrated milk from a good source and from grass-fed cows. Dairy doesn’t bother me much. I experimented with dehydrated coconut milk, but it didn’t dissolve well. The recipe for Paleo Granola is a good one, and I hope to post the recipe soon.
I was concerned about my dwindling supply of water, and didn’t drink much in addition to what I used in my cereal to reconstitute my milk. I felt rejuvenated after eating, and ready to conquer the world.
I didn’t stay long. It was starting to warm up, so I took off my fleece jacket, put it in my pack, and headed back toward the trail. It was about 9:30 when I left.
Shortly down the trail, I came upon a creek, and I was able to filter water.
I made note of the fact that I need to get something to scoop water up to pour into my squeeze bottle. Sometimes, the water is not deep enough to submerge the water bottle. A friend suggested using a ziplock to scoop water, and pour into the bottle. Next time, I will try that. She also mentioned cutting down a water bottle to be used as a scoop. I also have the bag that came with the Sawyer Squeeze filter, but I really dislike that thing. It’s hard to fill up, also, because it only has a ‘bottle-sized’ opening at the top.
After I filtered my water, I was on my way. I passed many dry stream beds. When it rains in these hills, the water pours down the crevices quickly. Consequently, there are a lot of dry stream beds during the dry season. Many of the dry stream bed crossings look like this:
I had to cross that to get to the trail on the other side. Some of the dry stream beds were very wide, so it was amazing to think of what it must be like when they are actually flowing with water after a rain! It was one of the reasons I wanted to go on this hike before the rainy season. I didn’t want to contend with dangerous water crossings.
This leg of the journey would have several climbs of 1600 and 1800 feet, and most of it would be snaking along the edges and into the crotches of hills. I didn’t think there would be many water sources, according to the poorly marked map, so I was conserving my water as much as I could. The segment from Ponca to Kyle’s Landing was supposed to be 9.7 miles.
Some of the trail was a worn path.
The smoothness and levelness of the path in the above photo was NOT the norm. There were many places where I was left wondering where the trail actually was, because it was covered in leaves or grown over. Underneath the leaves, there were often grapefruit or honey dew melon sized rocks that made for unsure, slippery footing. Most places were just plain rocky.
There were some interesting rock formations along the trail.
I came upon this cave early in the morning before the first campground. This area is riddled with caves and sinkholes.
There were also some beautiful vistas.
My cell phone pics do not do these vistas justice.
Mostly, the trail was boring. I was not expecting that. I didn’t see any animals at all this day, save one friendly Blue Bird that followed me from branch to branch for a while. It reminded me of that scene in “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” and it cheered me a little.
I was getting tired. My legs did not feel good and were very stiff and getting sore. My blisters were really starting to hurt, and one of them on the inside of my heel was shooting pain up my ankle. My feet felt bruised and were aching. My tongue was sticking to the inside of my mouth, and I had little flakes of dead skin on my lips. Even though I was drinking water every little while, I was trying to be judicious with my water intake since I wasn’t sure when I would be able to find the next water source.
Then, I felt nature starting to call. My original plan was to try to make it Kyle’s Landing where I could use the vault toilet. This segment was 9.7 miles, and I was frustrated that it was taking so long. I’m used to making 3 miles/hour on our gravel road, even on the hills. On the trail, I was making about 2 mph, (when I was really trying to ‘book it’) and on the hard climbs, maybe 1 mph or less. When the trail leveled out, I would try to walk as fast as I could to make up the time, but my feet and legs were aching. I tried to tune it out.
I began to plot where I might answer nature’s call. I had seen NO ONE on the trail. There were no trees to hide behind because the woods looked like a skeleton with no leaves. I was also on the side of a mountain, so it was steep on either side. I was almost ready to ‘drop trau’ right there on the trail, but I had a nagging fear of someone coming down the trail. I hiked on.
I finally came upon a curve in the trail which went around some large boulders. I thought it might afford a little bit of privacy, and the trail was wider there. There was a place where some dirt had collected. Fortuitous! Most of the soil around here is a mix of mostly rocks with a little top soil.
I quickly dug my cat hole with my ‘Deuce of Spaces’ titanium trowel. I’m not sure it was 6-8 inches deep, but it was ‘close enough for jazz’, as they say, and time was of the essence. I was pleased that I actually hit the hole! I had just pulled up my pants, put up my toilet paper, put on my backpack, and was taking a swig of water, when lo and behold, a guy on a mule came around the corner! I nearly jumped out of my skin! I didn’t even hear them coming! If he had rounded the corner just a few minutes earlier…I don’t even want to think about it. That would have been one of the most embarrassing incidences of my life! …second only to walking across a restaurant in a dirndl with a strip of toilet paper stuck to my shoe!
Me and the guy on the mule made polite chitchat, but he was having a hard time holding the mule…he said it was ‘new’. I quickly asked him if I was on the wrong trail. There is a horse trail that crosses the BRT numerous times, but the horse trail also crosses the Buffalo River many times. I didn’t want to contend with that. I became worried that I had somehow gotten onto the horse trail. He reassured me that ‘this was for both,’ but that didn’t sound right to me. I found out later, that sometimes, both trails conjoin for a while.
He went on, and I followed, but he was soon out of sight. My loneliness grew. I had been checking for cell service frequently and on every high point I came upon. Finally, on the highest hill yet, I was able to get cell phone service and call Bud. It was about 12:30. He was very relieved, and I was very relieved. After a short conversation, we finally hung up, and I was sad. Bud was concerned about my cell phone battery, so he didn’t want to keep me on the phone too long. I was worried that I might not have cell phone service again.
Amazingly, a short while later, I met the guy on the mule again, and was able to confirm that he had made it to Kyle’s Landing and was on his way back. He told me I was making GREAT time, which really encouraged me. I confirmed with him, again, that I was on the correct trail. There were places on the trail where I spent about 3 minutes trying to figure out where the trail was. Bud later told me that he had sensed that I was having trouble finding the trail, and had prayed for me during those times!
The guy on the mule told me that just up the way, I needed to take a right to get to Kyles Landing on the People Trail. It was there that the Horse Trail intersected with the People Trail, so I was very grateful that he alerted me to this. When I got there, I saw a post indicating that it was only about 2 more miles to Kyle’s Landing.
I was hobbling along at a decent clip and I finally came upon signs indicating that Kyle’s Landing was near. Every step had me in pain. Still, I pressed on. I had trouble finding the entry off the trail to the campground and had to pull out my map several times, and finally, double back to get there. My plan was to eat something for lunch at Kyle’s Landing. It was 2:00 by the time I got there. They say that hikers who are thu-hiking hate every ‘side mile’ they have to take off the main trail, and I was beginning to understand that.
I painfully made each step into the campground to a picnic table close to the river. I left my backpack there, and went to go filter water. I had to go through a stand of cane, and down a very steep and sandy bank to filter water from the Buffalo River. My feet sank into the sand and got wet while I was filling my bottle. I sat at the picnic table for a few minutes and ate a few handfuls of trail mix. I was so dehydrated that I wasn’t very hungry. I knew I needed to eat something, so choked down that little bit of trail mix, and put some in my pocket for easy access later.
As I sat there, I debated whether or not to go on. My desire to be home was growing, and I just wanted to get on down the trail so that it would take less time to get home. I also contemplated what it would be like, stopping for the day at Kyle’s Landing at 2:00 and twiddling my thumbs for the rest of the day.
At 2:30, I made the decision to hike on. In retrospect, I believe this was my downfall. The hike out of Kyle’s Landing was tough. My feet and legs felt somewhat rejuvenated after my break, but after the first steep climb, they felt as bad as they did before my break. Even though I had refilled my water bottles, I still felt very dehydrated. My lips felt like they were peeling, and my mouth felt like it had sticky goo on the inside of it.
Shortly down the trail, I had my second face-plant of the day. I was going slightly down hill, and I tripped, falling on my knee, first. My backpack is about 30 pounds, and pretty heavy on my back. The momentum downhill, in addition to the weight is what propelled me into the face-plant. My forehead came down on rock that was mostly covered with leaves. This scared me…a lot…but I was okay. My forehead felt bruised, but I didn’t feel any blood. My knee also felt bruised, but I had no trouble walking on it. I had a very hard time getting back to my feet from a full face-plant because of the heavy pack. That, too, was scary.
Not one or two minutes later, I met a guy going the opposite direction. My immediate thought was to wonder if he had seen my face-plant from a distance. We made polite chit-chat, and I noticed he was looking strangely at me, and his eyes kept darting to a spot on my buff on the opposite side to where I’d hit my forehead. After we parted ways, I reached up to feel there and there were several dead leaves sticking to my buff.
I pulled out my map and saw that I had only gone about a mile and half. That was discouraging. I was tired, in pain, dehydrated, lonely and bored. A seed was planted in head ’round about that time, and began to germinate. I was not in a good place mentally, emotionally or physically. My mind began playing with an idea to hike to Erbie, and have Bud pick me up there, even if I had to hike in the dark to get there. I checked my phone. No service.
I wrestled with this thought of quitting my hike and going home, as I hiked on. I kept on telling myself that I would be a ‘quitter’ if I stopped now. If I couldn’t hack this measly little 37 mile trail, how could I manage a 2, 180 mile thru-hike on the Appalachian Trail?
I continued to hike, with more climbs. I was on auto-pilot…a walking, dehydrated, hobbled zombie. All I could think about was that I wanted to be HOME. I was so lonely. This really surprised me, too, because I’ve never been a lonely type of person, nor have I been prone to loneliness. In retrospect, I should have stayed the night at Kyle’s Landing, and I probably would have felt better the next morning on all fronts about continuing on.
This whole hike had felt like a race to me. I was always worried about pressing on and getting there fast. I couldn’t relax. I didn’t even take much time when I filtered water. I just wanted to make the miles.
Finally, I came to Camp Orr Road. I had gone about 2 1/2 miles from Kyle’s Landing. It felt like 5! I looked at the map and saw that I still had a really bad climb to get to Erbie. There was no way I could muster the strength to do that. I thought about the possibility of finding another little camp site like the one I had found the night before. I checked my phone. No cell service. I stood there looking at the trail on the other side of the road. I couldn’t move beyond the road to the trail on the other side. I decided that I wanted to be home so badly that I would do whatever it took to get cell phone service and call Bud, in spite of the looming, monstrous ascent up Camp Orr Road.
I started hobbling up the very steep incline on Camp Orr Road. I kept checking for a signal as I hiked about 6 inches with each step. I was prepared to hike to Highway 74, and hitchhike home if I had to do so. I started planning to camp in the woods on the side of the road if I could not get a signal at the top of the road.
Finally, I got a signal, and I called home. The answering machine picked up. I left a message, anyway, telling Bud where I was and to COME GET ME! I WANT TO COME HOME! I began to worry that I would not be able to get in contact with Bud. A little way up the road, I tried calling again, and Bud picked up. He had been outside giving the chickens some scratch, and ran inside to pick it up when he heard it, thinking it might be me. We worked out the details of where he would pick me up, and he said he would leave in about 5 minutes to come get me. I asked him to bring me some water.
I continued hiking up the road to the fork. When I got there, I took my pack off and sat down on a rock. A guy in an old pickup truck stopped to ask if I was okay, and I thanked him for stopping, but told him I had someone on the way to pick me up.
He puttered on down the road, and shortly, I heard him backing up. He started asking about my hiking experience, and began to tell me about other ‘more interesting’ trails in the area. He said he’d lived in this area all his life, and was an experienced hiker. He said he had hiked the trail from Boxley and said he thought it was boring…that some of the other trails in this area were more interesting. I couldn’t have agreed with him more. When he found out I was training for the Appalachian Trail, he said it was a dream of his to do that trail someday. We said goodbye and he trucked on down the road.
Shortly after he left, I saw Bud’s car coming down the road. I have never been so glad to see a person in my life. I put my backpack in the back seat, and then threw my hiking stick into the back seat. Bud said he was surprised I didn’t throw the stick away. I looked at him with a shocked look, and said, “NO WAY!” After a while, you bond with these things on a hike. Everything you have with you is so important. That stick had saved me from so many falls, and helped me up so many hills, and down so many steep descents. It felt like an integral appendage! I tried to explain to Bud that I now knew how Tom Hanks’ character felt in, “Castaway,” when he lost ‘Wilson’.
The whole ride home, I felt like a failure…a quitter. I pondered it all the next day, too. I wondered what my experience on the BRT meant, as far as my Appalachian Trail hike was concerned. I know the AT will be twice as hard, and twice as uncomfortable.
The thing is, that I’ve learned from my mistakes. I shouldn’t have pushed so hard, nor hiked so fast. A hike is not a race, and I am not a trail runner. On the AT, I will know exactly where the water sources are, and where the shelters are, because I will have a very detailed guidebook with me. I also know that at almost every shelter, there will be people who I can commiserate with, and vent with…people who have just gone through exactly what I have gone through.
Though I know Bud doesn’t consider this hike to be a failure, he told me about a quote he saw that talked about every success being built on a series of failures. The key is to not give up.
So…I’m going to continue on to the Appalachian Tail. A friend asked me if I wanted to go back to the Buffalo River Trail to complete it. The first day after I got back, I did not. Now, on the second day back home, I’m seriously thinking about it.
I feel that I was brave to hike the trail alone. I wasn’t afraid to camp alone at night! I feel like I kept my whits about me, and made a good decision to come home. I was prepared physically, and felt comfortable with most of my gear, and I knew how to use it. I feel good about that. I think I just overdid it and pushed too hard.
Many people start the Appalachian Trail without trying their gear, and with no physical training beforehand. They get their ‘trail legs’ as they hike the trail. I think that though I will be in decent shape, I still need to do more strenuous and longer hikes before I go.
I also need to be more gentle on myself when I start off and not do so many miles in the beginning. Adding it up, I did 10 miles on my first day. On the second day, I did about 13.2 miles, not including the hike up Camp Orr Road.
I’m going to look into inserts for my shoes, and I’m also now considering getting a ‘spot’ device. I want to see how expensive it and the subscription service to it will be before I make a decision on that. I know that there will be far more people on the AT, so if I injure myself on the trail, someone will be along in time.
I’m feeling better about things today, and I am still very much looking forward to my Appalachian Trail Thru-Hike. I’m thankful for lessons learned, and I’m especially glad that I will have a friend to start the Appalachian Trail with me.
The Blister On My Heel: