We ended our first section hike at Dick’s Creek Gap, just 8 miles shy of the GA/NC border. Passing fun signage along the way back to our car!
70 Miles down, only 2,120 more to go! We knew we’d be back on, but first we had one very important thing to do… GRADUATE from College!
We had gotten used to the routine of studying and always seeming to have another exam ahead of us. “College student” became a part of each of our identities. For awhile, it felt like the day we actually graduate would never come. It did eventually come causing us to ask, “Now what?”.
Zach and I didn’t meet each other until about midway of our college careers, but we still were able to make plenty of our college memories together. We both worked at the university’s recreation center, but in different areas. It was in fact, that job which began my love for venturing into the outdoors. I worked in the Adventure Education program there, and to be honest if I hadn’t gotten that job I wouldn’t have a reason for this blog’s existence. Any knowledge I’ve picked up about backpacking, paddling, etc. I owe to that job. Plus, Zach and I would have never met each other if not for that job.
So, I guess I have to say thanks, LSU UREC.
We began hiking together shortly after we started dating back in October 2015. That December, I took off for Trip Leader Training with my two bosses and a few other future trip leaders from Adventure Ed. I like to think of that week as the point of no return because for me; that’s where I got my full taste of the outdoors as well as learned quite a few things about myself. Our hikes were simply day hikes, mostly at the closest area called Tunica Hills. It borders Mississippi and consists of a few waterfalls and creeks alongside a hiking trail.
Spring semester of 2016, I was given the amazing opportunity to lead Adventure Ed’s Spring Break trip in the Ozark Mountains. Zach ended up coming along as a participant. A week chock-full of backpacking, rock climbing, horseback riding, and paddle-boarding wasn’t your typical college spring break and we were ok with that.
That summer we spent the majority of it outdoors. I guess you could say we were discovering that being somewhere in nature was becoming “our thing”. We took a canoe out one weekend to paddle around Lake Fausse, storing it in the living room of my apartment. Let’s just say thank goodness I was living on the first floor at that time.
We spent afternoons (and sometimes mornings) paddling the Lakes of LSU on paddle boards. I also led two summer trips with my Adventure Ed crew; Canoe: Black Creek and Paddleboarding in the Gulf. Zach came along for the fun!
The end of that summer was the test to see what our relationship could really handle. We survived a big trip with a group of people, now it was time to see if we could handle one on our own. We found a 35 mile loop trail in Tennessee/North Carolina. Part of it happened to join the Appalachian Trail. We got our first taste of the AT shelters. We hiked 13 miles instead of 9 on day 1 due to wrong mileage on trail information, ran out of water… causing me to break down into tears, somehow missed all the rain, and had a ton of fun!
It was planned as a 4 day hike, but we ended up completing all 35 miles in 3 days. We enjoyed our “rest day” in Pigeon Forge, TN before heading into Bryson City, NC to zip-line and go whitewater rafting at the Nantahala Outdoor Center.
That trip brought us closer and made it clear that even with the stress and exhaustion backpacking does to our bodies and psyche; we were able to make it back stronger than before… and with an insatiable hunger for life in the outdoors.
Zach & Heather