North Star is slowly recovering from shingles. The first four days after she began taking medications were rough. The painful lesions grew and she felt terrible. On the fifth day her symptoms finally lessened slightly. She is still low on energy, but we are happy to report that she is now improving a little each day.
Our family, friends, and this online community have been amazing throughout this tough time. Thank you so very much for your supportive comments, suggestions, and good wishes. We’ve read your notes many times. They lifted our spirits and put smiles on our faces. Thank you.
While North Star was out of commission, the Annual Day Zero PCT Kick-Off (ADZPCTKO) event occurred. This Southern California gathering marks the beginning of many thru hikers’ journeys. It’s also a reunion of past PCT hikers. We obviously couldn’t make it, but Gossamer Gear kindly shared our PCT photography book in their booth. Hopefully some of you got to flip through the pages. We wish all the 2013 PCT hikers a wonderful and exciting adventure. Have fun and remember to HYOH (hike your own hike).
North Star probably won’t regain her full health for a while so our plan remains to keep things low key. We’ll be writing essays for two magazines(!), acquainting ourselves with Fort Collins, Colorado, and researching backpacking options in the Rockies. The dramatic mountains here are already beckoning us to come out and adventure…when we’re healthy.
Good memories from Rocky Mountain National Park, February 2011
Day 36: Birch Spring Gap (Mile 171.5)-Spence Field Shelter (Mile 182.5); 11 miles
The crazy hail storm had passed and a variety of birds were greeting the new day. Take a listen to a minute of what we heard:
Unfortunately North Star’s painful headache still hounded her. The dizziness she’d been experiencing for the past week intruded as well. Bending over to pack gear made her head spin, forcing her to take several sitting breaks. We were dismayed that her symptoms were not improving.
The trail followed the border between Tennessee and North Carolina, taking us past beautiful old trees. All the recent rainfall nourished the wildflowers, known as “spring beauties,” which carpeted the ground. Shutterbug enjoyed the views, but North Star’s mold headache was so powerful that it made walking very difficult for her. The pain meant she couldn’t enjoy any of the beauty around her.
We kept walking. Fog blew in, at times condensing into rain.
We reached the Spence Field shelter where we cooked up a hearty dinner of couscous and pinto bean flakes. From our tent we heard rumbles of distant thunder. Though North Star was tuckered out she had trouble sleeping because of her headache.
Day 32: Nantahala Outdoor Center (Mile 137.5)-North of Simp Gap (Mile 149); 11.5 miles
The Nantahala River flows through the bottom of a deep gorge. In the morning we began a 3000 foot climb up and out of that gorge.
We passed lizards sunning themselves beside the trail.
Much of the climb was forested, but a break in the trees allowed us see the river and Nantahala Outdoor Center below. We had already gained some serious altitude.
Day 29: Near Wayah Bald (Mile 120)-Wesser Bald (Mile 130.5); 10.5 miles
Our alarm rang extra early so we could beat the sunrise. We climbed the nearby stone tower at the top of Wayah Bald and watched the first light fall on distant peaks.
From the tower we could see Standing Indian and Deep Gap where we had been days ago. It’s always very satisfying to look back on our progress like this.
We enjoyed a relaxed morning, then began walking down off the bald. We encountered some trail workers from Natahala Hiking Club and chatted with them. Thanks for all your excellent trail work!
Farther down the trail, Boot Scoot and his friend David Bradford Donovan were providing trail magic. We had been planning to stop for lunch anyway and hungrily devoured their tasty snack packets. In addition, to North Star’s delight, they had portioned a variety of spices into small plastic bags. We looked forward to the extra kick these would add to some of our meals. David and Boot Scoot have just launched Yeti Food Outfitters which provides food and resupply logistics for hikers. They’re good guys with a cool small business.
Continuing uphill, the bright sun and temperatures in the upper 70s made for hot, sweaty climbing. We couldn’t complain, though – the warmth was most welcome!
The climb ended at the top of Wesser Bald where we found another fire tower. This tower rose above even the tallest trees.
Day 26: Near Beech Gap (Mile 91)-Big Butt (Mile 98.5); 7.5 miles
We started the day off with a full set of stretches. This is a new addition for us and we hope it will ward off any future injuries. We also walked more slowly and took more frequent breaks than usual to gradually transition Shutterbug’s knee back into thru hiking shape.
The morning was chilly, but not nearly as frigid as our first morning on the trail in March. As we walked, we saw lovely details in the forest.
Day 16-24: Zero Days in Concord, NC
North Star’s aunt Cindy was an awesome trail angel for us as we waited for Shutterbug’s knee to heal. Her daughter Caryn helped out too.
Cindy housed us, fed us well, loaned us clothing, and let us borrow a laptop. Shutterbug’s favorite spot this past week was the couch, with a laptop on his belly and his knee elevated on pillows.
Day 12: South of Powell Mountain on Blue-blaze Trail (Mile 67)-Dicks Creek Gap (Mile 69.5); 2.5 miles
It rained cats and dogs overnight. The rain was so violent that raindrops splashed mud a few inches up the tent walls. We stayed cuddled in our sleeping bags longer than usual and eventually the rain began to slow. While packing up we managed to stay mostly dry.
The trail didn’t fare so well. The downpour overnight had turned the trail into a sloppy and slippery muddy mess.
Day 9: Swaim Gap (Mile 34.5)-North of Low Gap (Mile 44); 9.5 miles
The temperature plummeted well below freezing and a cold wind blew intensely all night. We tossed and turned in our sleeping bags. Sleep was fleeting. When sunlight reached our tent, we peeped out to find that the ground was covered in snow!
Though the sun shone brightly, the entire day proved very cold. Frigid wind stung our hands and faces. Our water bottle remained a solid brick of ice. (We had prevented our water bladders from freezing by keeping them inside our sleeping bags overnight.) At least the white carpet of snow covering every surface was beautiful to see.
Day 5-7: Zero Days in Blairsville, GA
Shutterbug’s left knee was painful and swollen when we reached Neels Gap on Day 4 so we had decided to take a few rest days in Blairsville to let it heal. The four components of RICE (rest, ice, compression, and elevation) have been our main priorities these past three days. The local $3.99 pizza buffet was also important to us. We got our money’s worth.
Shutterbug felt significant improvement after the first rest day but then the healing plateaued. We sought medical advice from places around town, but people were either on vacation or not experienced enough with knee issues to give us any definitive answers. Though we didn’t learn anything new about Shutterbug’s knee pain, we did meet a ton of friendly folks trying their best to help. Thank you.
While we were in Blairsville we also chatted with our friend Jen who is fulfilling book orders for us from Oregon. Since we started hiking there has been a noticeable drop in sales. Jen wants to assure everyone that books are still being shipped even when we’re out hiking. Please help Jen regain space in her living room! You can order here:
Day 2: Long Creek (Mile 4.7)-East of Justus Creek (Mile 15); 10.3 Miles
Our first night on the Appalachian Trail brought bitter cold and powerful wind. We had planned for cold weather but 9 degrees (with wind chill) chilled us to the bone. Neither of us slept much.
In the morning when we pulled the tarp stakes out, clumps of dirt were frozen so solidly to the stakes that we couldn’t remove the dirt. We finished packing up quickly and started hiking to get our blood flowing. Gradually our fingers and toes began to defrost.
As we warmed up, Shutterbug began to notice that his left knee was sore. The pain was slight but it was bothersome to swing his leg forward, especially on downhill sections.