Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Hello from Hot Springs, NC!

Hey friends - Betsy here! I'm at a public library in Hot Springs and finally got the chance to login. Thank you so much for all the comments - it's so fun to check and see who is following. Guess what - we've hiked 271.7 miles so far!

I saw that several of you were asking about sending mail. Our next stop will be Erwin, TN. Send to:
Betsy (or Dustan) Balkcom
Post Office
Erwin, TN 37650
Please hold for AT thru-hiker

Things are going good for us. I got sick a few days ago (Thurs night) feeling queasy and just unwell. I don't know what it was but now I'm feeling better. All I know is that it was pretty brutal and if someone gave me an easy button, I would be hitting that thing and sending myself home. I cried going up a hill (plus it was freeeezing) and Dust said "Wifey when we get to Hot Springs, you're getting a massage." So I have an appointment in an hour and a half. :)

We are definitely getting stronger and more fit. I bought a belt, Dustan keeps buying more and more candy bars and refusing to share them with me. No but honestly, I'm getting a little sick of camp food. If I see another pot of ramen I might hurl. I think that might be part of my queasiness. Dustan on the other hand is the all-consuming machine. Every day for lunch he eats 2 peanut butter and honey tortillas (ugh). Today we went to the Smoky Mountain Diner for breakfast. He ordered 2 eggs, bacon, gravy, biscuits, fried apples, ate it all and then told our waitress "I'd like to do that all over again." So she brought him another breakfast.

We are staying in a little creekside cottage here in Hot Springs, and it is heaven on earth. There is no satisfaction in this life like hiking for literally days in grimy hiking clothes, in sweat and wind and rain, and suddenly walking into a town with a hot shower and a king-sized bed and a diner that serves everything from hashbrowns to cheeseburgers. I still have what I call hobbit feet - meaning my feet and toes are swollen and have an unbudgeable dirt around the toenails no matter how much soaking - but other than that our bodies are holding up well. We ended up mailing our boots home before the Smokies and getting shoes. The boots just weren't necessary and comfort is what matters when you're hiking 15 miles a day.

Sunday (seems like forever ago) we crossed Max Patch and had an amazing surprise. Dustan looked up and saw a guy with a glider and he goes "Bets, that's Mike Lantz!" We were staring, stumbling in disbelief and then - there was my sister! They came to see us and brought us fruit. We sat in their warm car and talked, and it totally got us thru the day. I had been feeling pretty bad, and that was just a huge cheer-up. They took a bunch of pics so I'll let sis insert the pics from that day.

I just want to say a big thanks to her for keeping this website updated. I know you guys are loving having current info and we sure love the feedback.

Here are some pics of us in the Smokies and beyond:

First day in Smokies, gathered firewood:

The "cage" you see is a chain-link fence to keep bears out. Yeah, real comforting.

Second day in the Smokies the snow hit. A ridgerunner (a person from the ATC that monitors a chain of shelters) came and told us to stay at our shelter, even though we were just stopping in for lunch. The storm was coming, the temp was dropping so we all stayed there.

And we were glad we did. As people rolled up, the shelter filled and tents were pitched outside the shelter. We probably had 30 sets of chattering teeth there that night.

We built a roaring fire (so cool that the ATC included a fireplace in the design of all the shelters in the Smokies) and dried out our clothes. This saved us from going into Gatlinburg and getting stuck there for 3 days like many of our friends! Apparently they closed the road due to weather.

The next day was glorious. The sun came out, and we were overjoyed.

But I did burn the logos off my new shoes - guess they got a little too close to the fire!

The snow made the view in the Smokies that much better. I'll spare you a million boring landscapes, but here are a few amazing vistas (much better in person).

Me on the Clingman's Dome lookout. Clingman's is the highest point on the AT, at an elevation of 6,643 feet. We have this saying "It's all downhill to Maine." What a joke.

I was kinda obsessed with the fallen trees and massive root systems exposed as a result. Here's me in front of one.

When we came out of the Smokies, we literally walked into spring. Before I could snap the picture, a fairy landed on my shoulder. I swear!

Standing Bear Farm was a nice respite for weary hikers in the Smokies.

Except for the fact that I had to wash my clothes by hand like a pioneer woman. They basically marinated in sock juice. I don't recommend this antiquated style of doing laundry! But it was a cool photo opp.

Lastly, just before we arrived at Hot Springs we passed a few shelters (and camped at one) where a mother bear and 2 cubs have been stealing some serious amounts of food. Seen here are our "bear bags." At the end of every day before you retire to your tent, you gather all food, trash and food-smelling items, consolidate them into a few bags and hang them from a tree branch at least 10 feet up, 4 feet out and 4 feet down. It's a chore, but it's worth it!

The warming trend has caused bears to come out of hibernation earlier, and the berries aren't ready yet. So we have a lot of hungry bears wandering around that have gotten hooked on Snickers, oatmel, pasta and granola. Our friends Pixie, Holler, Muffin Paste, Happy Tracker, Blaze, and Hiker Dave all had their food stolen the night before last. The bear also dragged Hiker Dave's tent into the woods about 30 feet and ripped his rainfly. (Fortunately he wasn't in the tent!) Since bears are primarily vegetarians and all they're after is the food, we're really not afraid of them. But all of this to say to the laidback hikers who use their food bag as a pillow: it pays to hang your food!

Ok, I better scram (like I said, I'm getting a massage - because it's a hard life on the AT!). Thanks again to sis for updating and for all of you for checking in.


Anonymous said...

Hey “The Hikers”
Thanks for the letter! After working 12+ hours with the PUBLIC that little surprise in my usually vacant mailbox really made my day. You guys are still touching people in distant states even though you live with bears in the woods. About the weather… I know it has been snowing and cold for you thus far, but have no fear. Today is earth day and I am told that global warming is making everything hotter (we all know/have heard this from Al Gore). I just wanted to say enjoy the cool mornings, comfortable afternoons, and warm fires at night you will be having the next few weeks. Soon it will be really hot! And you will be mailing back more gear! Keep up the crazy pace; I am cheering/praying for you two.

PS - I’m going to make an AT progress map on my fridge (I’m sure everyone else already has one, I’m never on top of things).

kevin and elizabeth said...

hey, you guys are hardcore...just like us!

Joey and Nikki said...

Hi Bets, checking up on your steps... think of your life frequently..
Hoping to meet up somewhere along the way...

Anonymous said...

i was so pumped when you called me the other night, i just realized that the last summer before my marriage two of like my main dudes are going to be walking up the sweet earth. i wish you guys were here for selfish reasons, but for the most epic reasons i am cheering you guys on, hoping Jesus will hold off a couple more months. some people have told me that you guys are going to hate coming back to the "real" world but i am here to say that you guys are defining it. this adventure will be with you forever, long after your kicked off social security and retirement has gone dry. haha

-The Circle

Anonymous said...

Hey Bull and SweetPotato,
You guys are just kickin butt on that trail! Why am I not the least bit surprized. Here on Manor Court we live vicariously through you. Clingman's Dome is the site where I took the Great Smoky Mountains photo that hangs in mom & dad's house. The view is incredible. You both look wonderfully healthy and happy. There are so many prayers going up for you. MUCH LOVE FROM..... JJ&Don
BTW - We loved the postcard!

Anonymous said...

Hey Dustan and Betsy! We have so enjoyed keeping up with your journey along the AT!!! What an amazing adventure for you to share together! Stay safe and keep the updates coming! Pamie and Greg Hurley

Anonymous said...

andrea's phone # 801-550-2782

-The Circle

The Schweickert's said...

Dustin & Betsy,
Davey baby is obsessed with your blog. He called me yesterday while I was "pulling hair" and said "Have you checked the blog?". I said "whose blog?". He said "Dustan & Betsy's". I said "No Dave, I working on a client!" Just want you to know you are loved and missed in the Burg!
Dave & Kath

Anonymous said...

Hey, Bets & Dustan! What a great update - from the hands of the Hiker herself. I can't imagine all that you all are experiencing - the weather, the monotony of similar meals and great places to take shelter in the Trail Towns (when I was typing that I wrote "trial" instead of "trail" - I guess it's my job interferring with my leisurely thoughts...). Anyway, I'm glad I can experience this through you guys. I'm like a proud momma sharing about my friends who are hiking the AT. I agree with Rachel that it seems like you all are flying! Know that we love you, miss you but are so thankful you get to have this experience! Love, Zac and Martha

Bethany said...

Just checking in and LOVING these updates! I'm so glad you got a massage! =) Hopefully we'll see you in Shenandoah. . . please let us know!

Anonymous said...

Hey guys! We got the postcard early this week! ...and I heard the story..."That works." hehe...I think Justin is going to use that...We love you guys and hope to hear from you again soon! :)