While everybody was launching fireworks and celebrating the Fourth of July, soul-mates Amy Fiddler and Chad Hoskinson of Ohio made Elkin their home for two days while hiking the North Carolina Mountains-to-Sea Trail. They started the hike on May 24 in the Great Smoky Mountains and were about halfway through their journey when they stopped by Elkin to spend a night at Byrd’s Branch Campground.
The two were spending time in Elkin because their recent food package landed on the July 4 weekend and the post offices were not open on Sunday and Monday. After receiving their package Tuesday, they started hiking east towards Yadkin River Adventures where they planned to make camp.
One night between the stay at Byrd’s Branch and Yadkin River Adventures, they stayed at Crater Park in Elkin and the police department had an officer check on them.
The two are hiking 1,156 miles across the state, from the breathtaking mountains to the coast at the Atlantic Ocean. The hike not only gives them a chance to experience the trek again, but also explore some of the new sections which have been added to the trail.
“We’re really enjoying it so far,” said Fiddler. “We’ve enjoyed some of the updates. For example, the Smoky Mountains now has two routes you can choose from. The original one we did two years ago goes near Cherokee, but we chose the longer path to stay in the Smokies longer. We spent another two days in the Smokies and it was a good choice. Last time it didn’t feel like we were in them long enough.”
The first time they hiked the trail it took two months and one day to complete the journey. This year they have brought only their tent, split up between their packs to disperse the weight; sleeping bags; one week’s worth of food at a time, which they receive in mail drops every week; hygiene bag; supplies for lake baths; water filter; and their camera.
Fiddler and Hoskinson discovered the trail through a magazine in Ohio. The two decided to attempt the hike in 2014 due to their love for hiking and the state of North Carolina.
“We loved the state and the Outer Banks so we decided to do the trail with the Outer Banks being our destination,” said Fiddler. “Even on the worst days of hiking, we just keep pushing ourselves and thinking we’re 10 steps closer to the Outer Banks. We had done some day hikes and things in Ohio, but the Mountains-to-Sea Trail was our first huge trip. We honestly didn’t know if we could pull it off. A lot of people didn’t believe we’d be able to do it either, but we’re also a bit stubborn. We wanted to prove them wrong. It felt great when we finished it because we didn’t know what to expect. It was an adventure.”
The mountains have provided plenty of views and starting later in the season has had its perks for the two hikers.
“Last time we started a bit earlier and both time frames have their benefits,” said Fiddler. “Starting earlier you don’t have as many bugs, but then there’s still a little snow in the mountains such as up around Mount Mitchell.”
“I think the Smokies were great and we loved seeing the mountain laurel out,” said Hoskinson. “We were a little too early last time to see them. Craggy Gardens was amazing. We came at the peak time to be there.”
Hiking across the state has more to offer than just stunning views and scenery. Both hikers have met lots of friendly people during their trip, especially in the Piedmont.
“You meet a lot of nice people along the trail,” said Fiddler. “We were at Byrd’s Branch Campground last night. We met the owners there and they were amazing. You couldn’t have asked for nicer people. They introduced us to everybody in the town, and even gave us coffee and free ice cream. All of the shops have been closed, but that’s a good thing because it shows that they care about their employees and are letting them spend time with family. We haven’t been doing much this holiday and have just walked along the roads. A lady on her porch just started talking to us and offered us water. Another guy stopped by and saw us at KFC and he pulled in and asked us if we needed anything. We even had people offer us to use their showers.”
Of course hiking alone in the wilderness for two months comes with its share of challenges as the two shared during their meal.
“We don’t get many times to wash up, especially in the mountains. You just have to jump in a stream,” said Fiddler. “The bathing is a challenge, especially this time of year. You just sweat constantly. Last time we had a lot of trouble with blisters. We knew the proper kind of socks to buy which we didn’t buy before. We’ve solved a lot of issues we had last time. I had a lot of blisters last year so I started getting called Tender Foot. We both had our share of nicknames from our misadventures. Chad’s name was Misty Whiskers because once we were on the parkway and it was really foggy out. His beard was just dripping and I kept calling him Misty Whiskers.
“Probably our scariest experience this year was on the second day of the hike. We had a really dry season in the Smokies so on day two the streams were bone dry in the Smokies and we ran out of water in 90-degree weather. It was very scary. There was a period where we went 16 to 17 hours without water. I’ve never been so thirsty in my life. That was definitely our biggest challenge on the trip.”
Fiddler and Hoskinson have enjoyed their experiences on the trail and believe it’s been a lifetime experience for them.
“Even in the mountains you’ll meet friendly people working on the trail,” said Fiddler. “And even if you don’t meet anyone, the peace and solitude itself is just really refreshing. You need time to clear your head. Just go on a hike for two months.”
Troy Brooks may be reached at 336-258-4058.