For a week by week account (plus pictures!), click the week:
Week 1, Week 2, Week 3, Week 4, Week 5, Week 6, Week 7, Week 8,
Week 9, Week 10, Week 11, Week 12, Week 13, Week 14, Week 15, Week 16, Week 17, Week 18, Week 19, Week 20, Week 21, Week 22, Week 23, Week 24, Week 25
"The AT was sometimes benevolent, offering a magnificent view of gently rolling terrain as a reward for its hikers. But more often it was a stern taskmaster who pushed, prodded, tested and always asked for more than I thought I had inside of me." -Unknown
Well, the Trail is done, but before I reflect on this amazing trip I want to touch on another topic. A topic that is near and dear to my heart. My team, the Boston Red Sox, after being down 0-3 in a best of 7 series against the arch-rival NY Yankees, made the biggest comeback in professional sports history! But 4 wins in a row was not enough! Nor 5,6, or 7 consecutive either. The Red Sox competed against the team with the best record in baseball, the St Louis Cardinals, and swept them in 4 straight games and for the first time since 1918, the Sox were World Series CHAMPIONS!
So when I returned to MD in late October I was lucky to spend some time with my friend Amelia on her way back to FL. I showed her Annapolis and introduced her to the local tradition known as the oyster shooter. As I have "hazed" many other non-locals in Annapolis with the aforementioned shooter - Amelia loved them (half a dozen worth) - I was impressed.
So a few days later I got my "official" welcome back to society ... the FLU ... Yea! Unfortunately my immune system wasn't up to par with what the "real world" had to offer - it was use to open spaces and fresh clean air. So for 2 weeks I was a bit incapacitated.
But now I've recovered, I moved in at my father's for a spell while I get financially solvent again and find full-time employment. I've chosen not to return to the park where I worked before I left for the Trail. Right now I am still DJing in Georgetown and also am an assistant coach with an ice hockey team in Baltimore. I'm also continuing to play hockey myself in the league I was in before I left, it is such a great release for stress and tension!
But I miss the AT. I miss the camaraderie of my fellow thru hikers. I feel a void in my day that was such a routine for 5+ months. Although it was the same, every day proved to be filled with new and different sights and sounds that kept me yearning for more each day. Now I continue to pass by my hiking gear in the closet and feel I'm neglecting it. That is when I go out and just WALK.
I feel that everything has changed since being away (like relationships with friends and family). Or maybe nothing has changed - maybe it is me. Yes, I have changed, in ways I don't even know yet. The way I look at it, this journey is something I will reflect on for the rest of my life!
In the meantime I have been sorting thru the hundreds of pictures that Kiwi has forwarded to me from his personal collection of AT photos. As you might remember I lost a large chunk of my pics when a memory card I mailed home got damaged in transit. And speaking of photos please check back in a week or two for new pictures from the Trail, posted on this website. For those of you that live near me I am looking to present a power point presentation for family, friends, sponsors, etc and all those who have supported me. This slide show will incorporate both video and new photos not seen on the website. Stay tuned for places to view this production.
And congratulations to Nik Walton for his guess of 183.5 lbs. He was the closest to my final AT weight of 187.5 and won himself one of my personally designed "got blisters?" AT shirts. Final #s on the available T shirts to buy are 2 each of: S. XL and XXL. Details to buy are still available on the homepage of this site.
So thank you to EVERYONE that I met on the Trail, that followed my progress online, Trail Angels, my family, friends, sponsors, fellow hikers and all the hospitable hosts that did everything and more that they said they would do. I am truly grateful! So it looks like the next "adventure" may be to return to school and pursue my Doctorate in Higher Education. Then I will begin to look into the logistics of thru hiking the 1600 mile trail that runs thru New Zealand ... and the stories will return!
Week 25, End of the Journey
"Thanks for mentally holding my hand, I cannot imagine a time passing without you, thanks for guiding me there. I might have lost the way. I must remember that it is not so much the destination as the journey. For when night begins we must welcome the darkness, to learn to play in evening moon shadows, it is only our friend if we believe it. To stretch the body and the mind and not break. To float in imagination's path and let her wind carry you. To believe that limits are only as you perceive them -- and still go on." -Angela Wong
Lots of NEW pictures are coming ... SOON! Don't forget to send me an email with your guess for my AT ending weight (to the nearest .5 pound) to win one of the few remaining AT shirts that I designed. I will not be opening the email so ONLY put the estimated weight in the subject of the email. Entry deadline is this Saturday November 13th. GOOD LUCK!
So with this last entry I guess my trip has really ended. I think this is why I have put off doing this entry! But before I can begin another adventure, I have to let this one end - so here it goes!
So after a long day on Sunday with a revised plan (due to an approaching rain storm and very high winds left over from Hurricane Whoseyourmomma) we decided to summit the next day and make it into Baxter State Park the night before. Goofy, Kiwi and I were exhausted, but full of nervous energy anticipating our big finish. The Birches campground at Baxter had about 5 other people staying there on this, our last night out in the woods! We had a very late dinner and laughed at our presumption that the Birches campground was free for thru hikers! It is actually only available for thru or distance hikers - I don't know where I "heard" that the campground and shelter were free! So between 3 of we had enough cash for one (me) to pay. Luckily the ranger allowed Kiwi and Goofy to square up at their field office in Millinocket the next day.
We awoke before the sun the next morning, with the temperature hovering around 40 I was looking forward to not having this cold weather impede my morning progress in the future. But I also wanted this day, this final day of a 5 1/2 month journey, to last forever(little did I know)! We had some strong winds blowing the trees around the campsite - probably 40 mph gusts! The air was still cold as we packed up our gear one last time and headed down the dirt road to the ranger station. The sky was spotted with clouds that limited our view of this journey's bookend. The rainbow of foliage was outstanding - bright reds, yellows, golds and brown were on display everywhere you looked. We got to the ranger station a little before 8 am to check our full packs and pick up day packs for the last 5.2 miles of the AT.
Baxter State Park has some (well, many) rules for hiking and camping in the park. After October 15th you are no longer allowed to camp at the Birches. So this makes an AT hiker's final section about 20 miles round trip instead of 10.4 after October 15th. Also they have each day rated as Class I-IV depending on the severity of the weather. Class I - all trails are a go. Class II - not recommended for hiking above treeline. Class III - no hiking above treeline with the following trails closed. Class IV - all trails closed, so don't even think about it! The night before when we arrived at the Birches, the ranger told us that had been a Class II day and that they were anticipating the same for our summit day. He also said that the post the Class rating for the day at 8 am and if you were worried about the weather to head out as early as possible. So at 8:00 that morning, Columbus day we were pleased to see it was a Class II day and none of our trails would be closed. But the NOAA weather band on my radio was still calling for extremely windy conditions later that day.
Our final 5.2 miles would not be called a "walk in the park" (well technically we were in a park BUT, you know what I mean) by any stretch of the imagination. Our elevation starts at about 1100 feet and stays like that for the first mile. Then over the final 4 miles we climb over 4000 feet to top out at Baxter Peak at 5268 feet. And the treeline disappears at about 3500 feet and you are out in the open over the last 2.5 miles (actually 5 miles since it is an up and back route to finish). So the Appalachian Trail likes to give you a swift kick in the gut before it lets you walk away - and you know, I wouldn't want it any other way!
So a little after 8:00 we are under way. We see a few other thru hikers that had stayed in town the night before and drove in to start the final section. It is really nice to be essentially slack packing this final hike that would soon turn into hours of bouldering and rock hopping. The first half hour is relatively flat and we fly through it, trekking poles keeping a quick rhythmic pace. Then we pass Katahdin Stream Falls. It is a gorgeous multi-layer waterfall that is about 60 feet long. Then the terrain starts to get a little steep. Then a lot steep. Now we are looking at about a 45 degree angle - with big rocks and boulders mixed in for fun! At about 9:30, just below treeline, we stop for lunch. Yes lunch, since we had had breakfast at 5:30 that morning (my breakfast of champions - EASY MAC AND TUNA) we were ready for our second meal of the day. Also I didn't want to have to stop and eat a meal being exposed to the high winds above treeline. So I set a new record that day for having 2 big helpings of tuna fish before 9:30 in the morning! Then I reached into my daypack and got out my long wind pants and my wind-stopper fleece, my hat and gloves and the three of us headed back up Katahdin.
About a half hour later we had traversed across a narrow ridge line and we now looking at not as much a trail as it was a large, thin pile of rocks. Suddenly our trekking poles were more of a hurt than help. So we telescoped them down and stashed them in our daypacks - it was rock climbing time! We had recently passed another thru hiker who was hiking this last section with both his mom and dad to summit Katahdin with them. I started to shake my head in disbelief as I saw the technical terrain we were now enveloped in. I mean there were big iron rods sticking out of some of the rocks to give you an extra hand or foothold that otherwise, you would not be able to elevate yourself. For the next 45 minutes we pushed, pulled, hemmed, hawed, and grunted our way towards the top as the wind whipped cloud vapor across the mountain.
Then it opened up to the area of the mountain called Table Lands. This is a relatively flat area as you approach the summit with nothing but small loose rocks and scree and a sub arctic/alpine plant known as diapensia. This small evergreen plants grows only an inch or two off the ground and can withstand temperatures to minus 300 F. Talk about survival skills! We hiked on to what was listed on our map as Thoreau springs (after Henry David Thoreau - who climbed Katahdin - just never got this far). But when I got to the spring ready to refill my water bottle after 4 miles of strenuous hiking, the spring was dried up and just a couple of algae puddles! Oh well, I'll get a drink when I get back down, or borrow some from Goofy or Kiwi - ONWARD!
As we closed in on the summit it was difficult to see due to the heavy cloud cover. The peak actually snuck up on us because of this. Now I'm not gonna tell you that I felt like a finalist on Survivor ... you know, as they hike to their final tribal council and pass all the names of their "fallen" survivors. No, it wasn't quite that contrived! But when I finally saw the big brown Katahdin sign in the near distance I did begin to feel a wave of emotion sweep over me! This was it, this was what I had been working towards for 5.5 months of laboring and a few years of planning and preparing! It was all coming down to these upcoming moments. The winds seemed to die down and there were spots of sunshine punching holes in the clouds and mist as I approached the sign. It was about 11:30 am - 3.5 hours to hike 5.2 miles.
WOW! I reached out and touched the sign. My cold fingers slowing tracing each letter of "KATAHDIN" carved out of the wooden sign. There were several other people milling about the summit and stopping for a quick bite to eat. There seemed to be a large French Canadian contingency in the park this day and they were in full photograph mode as we got ready to begin a similar photo shoot. I reached into my pack, put on my "got blisters" shirt, my Red Sox ball cap and pulled out a handmade sign I had written at the ranger station that simply read "Reverse the Curse". This was my first photo opp!
We continued to take pictures, both separate and together and then we broke out the cigars for our celebratory smoke. Then I went back into my daypack for more celebratory items. Since Goofy's birthday back in May way down south, he had wanted an "Irish Car Bomb" drink which is a half shot of Jamison whiskey and half shot or Bailey's Irish Cream, then that shot glass is dropped in a glass of Guinness. Unfortunately I was unable to get Guinness in a can( and I wasn't carrying glass) at the last few trail towns and stops along the way. I was able to get to airplane bottles of Bailey's Irish Cream back in Monson before we entered the 100 Mile Wilderness. So I had smuggled these bottles the last week and now Goofy and I were able to partially toast his birthday with these Bailey's shots ... Happy Birthday bud!
We took a snack break, took more pictures and chatted with the other thru hikers and tourists that had converged at this, the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail. We had been at Baxter Peak here on Katahdin for about an hour now and although we had a few streaks of sunshine it had remained windy an cold. It was time to start our descent and close the book on this amazing journey. So I gathered a handful of dirt, had a few deep thoughts and silent prayers then shouted at the top of lungs for Pamola (the great spirit that resides at Mt. Katahdin) to "Reverse the Curse". Then Kiwi, Goofy and I turned and headed back down the hunt trail to retrace our tracks back to the ranger station.
In addition to my digital camera I had a disposable panoramic camera that I took many pictures at both the summit and of the great wide open that surrounded this big beautiful rock. When we passed the dried up spring on the way down it reminded me that I was really thirsty (had been a bit distracted up on the top) and I took the last big swig from my water bottle. I had had 1.5 liters of water over the last 5.5 hours - it was about to catch up with me rather quickly.
After we hiked out of the Table Lands section we descended through the technical boulder field. This was quite a bit more challenging as the winds had returned and we were being buffeted quite a bit on this narrow section of the trail, more of a thin ridgeline really than a trail. When we finally got down below treeline again I was, dare I say, rather dehydrated! I misjudged a rock I was attempting to step down on and slipped and fell right on my butt. I sat there for a second, disoriented, then yelled out to Goofy who was about 20 yards up the trail. "Hey, do you have any more water?" "Yeah, you want it?" "Yeah, I don't feel so good." So with that he gave me the remaining .5 liter he had left (I swear he is part camel) and I told him that I was gonna take a break and that I would see them back at the ranger station later on. I took off my extra warm layers I had been wrapped up in, got my trekking poles out of my pack and ate the remaining candy bar I had been saving for a bonk like this. Then after a few minutes I got up and continued down the hill. I had about 2 miles to go, and the hard part was behind me. But still, it took me about 2 hours to make it back down to the bottom. Partly because I was a little dehydrated, partly because I was savoring my last couple miles on the Trail, and partly, actually mostly - I was just drained, emotionally!
When I got back down to the ranger station, I switched back over to my full backpack, then hiked over to the picnic area to have a late lunch with Goofy and Kiwi. A little later another hiker (thru hiker from 96) Blisterfree caught up with us and we discussed the day, Mt Katahdin, lightweight hiking gear, the Pacific Crest Trail and many other extraneous topics that us thru hikers seem to find extremely important! One thing the Trail does is inspire deep thoughts. These seem to always transpose themselves into topics of conversation that are later mulled over by your peers. Today, the last day of hiking on the AT, was no different and we reveled in it.
After we at it was time to head out of the park and get to the town of Millinocket, ME where we planned to stay at a hostel that night. Millinocket is about 16 miles from the entrance of Baxter State Park and we planned to hitch hike this final leg of our journey before we began "operation homeward bound" the following day. The three of us started hiking out the main dirt road of the park (about 8 miles to the entrance) hoping to get picked up by cars leaving the park. We had about an hour before dark and a couple cars that passed us said they didn't have room for 3 hikers and our packs. So we decided to split up and hoped that would increase our chances. The next car that came by was a young couple and we asked if they could just give Goofy a ride out to town, for he had now (for the first time) inherited the dehydration bug. So the couple cleared some space in their back seat and Goofy was off to Millinocket. Kiwi and I hiked on, with him giving me details of the long hiking trail in New Zealand that is slated to officially open next year. It is about 1600 miles long and runs through the entire country both north and south islands. Hello? Next big adventure calling?
It started to get dark and a couple more cars went by - sorry we don't have room. One car said the ranger would be coming by soon and he would give us a ride. A ranger came by shortly there after ... and kept on going! We finally got a ride the last 4 miles down to the entrance station by a couple that was camping in the park. We thanked them and then conversed with the ranger at the front gate about getting a ride to Millinocket. He said he could if we didn't find a ride before he got off at 10pm - it was only 8:00! So we waited - we were cold, tired and hungry. I got out my food bag and cook kit and made up the last of the food I had, good ole Ramen Noodles! We continued to talk with the ranger and got all kinds of info on moose and encounters he had had in his time at the park. Well, needless to say, no rides came for us over the next hour and a half. Finally one of the other rangers who got off earlier came out to visit this guy at the gate and agreed to take us to a gas station about half way. From there Kiwi and I took a cab to Millinocket and caught back up to Goofy, who had caught up with Blisterfree.
We got settled at the hostel, ate some leftover pizza and talked with the group about our long post-AT day at Baxter. The next day we would get a ride to Medway so we could catch 2 busses south from Bangor to Portland where Goofy, Kiwi and I would meet my uncle. We would stay at his house in NH and meet my mom there before heading back south a couple days later. Kiwi had 2 days before he began his marathon journey of flying back home: Boston to LA to Tahiti to New Zealand. In the interim we would explore my uncle's 22 acres and surrounding property and we planned on a lobster dinner, since Kiwi doesn't get the Maine lobsters down in his local waterways.
As I drifted off to sleep at the hostel late that night I reflected on the finality of the journey. Today did almost end up lasting forever! Now with this adventure in the books there was another one that would start the next night. The New York Yankees were hosting my boys from Boston in the ALCS with the winner to play in the World Series. This was a matchup the entire country was hoping for with the biggest rivalry in professional sports! This is reality television at its best. In order to reverse the curse of the Bambino the Sox would need to first beat the Yankees before attempting to win their first World Series in 86 years. The similar nervous energy that I had had the night before returned to me 24 hours later as a pondered ... "Could this be their year?" I had done my part on top of Katahdin, we would just have to see if their really was a date with destiny.
Plants: lots of Diapensia
Animals: Ravens, Turkey Vultures, Red Squirrels
Thank Yous: Blisterfree, Reverend Yukon Jack and friend, Mom, Uncle George & Aunt Sandy, Aunt Delphine; and all the fellow thru hikers and people that kept me on track!
Artist of the Week: "I've got a peaceful, easy feeling" so when you hear songs from the Eagles turn them up, sing along and think of me.
"He exulted in his solitude, in his long days in the wild isolated realm of wind and water. And one night, as time blurred about him, he thought he sensed the wax and wane of his own burning, a rhythm deeper and more inward still than the pulse of blood which filled his heart. This rhythm somehow aligned itself with the blind, mighty risings and declines of tides and winds and seasons, and he felt, as never before, at one with the earth whirling about him." -Peter Matthiessen
Well, this is the last full week's entry. Sorry it's taken a while to get to y'all but there have been obstacles in the process - some real, some perceived - but all the news fit to print is right here! First of all it is time for you all to guess my final weight of the trip. The person closest guessing my weight will win one of my personally designed AT Thru Hiker T shirts! PLEASE, only enter the weight (to the half pound) in the subject section of the email and leave the rest of the email blank! This will make it much easier (and quicker) to determine the winner - thank you!
So I finally leave the last trail town of Monson and the last library, the last resupply store, the last hostel. Yes, the reality of the finality of this trip is starting to set in. I headed into the 100 Mile Wilderness with mixed emotions, and similar to the nervous energy I took into the White Mts. Something else that tapped into this nervous energy - this was the first day of the Boston Red Sox post season run. Would this be different from the previous 86 years of frustration? They began the first series quite well with 2 straight wins against Anaheim with only one more win needed to move to the next round. So at least some things were looking up.
Things on the Trail were going good as well. Although the terrain was up and down at the beginning of the Wilderness the scenery was gorgeous and the weather was dry. But that first night out the NOAA weather channel was warning of a frost with temperatures in the hills going down into the 20s! Needless to say it did and I had my second coldest night on the entire AT here at Cloud Pond Lean-To. I was wrapped in clothes and bedding, head to toe! I had on my underwear, sweat pants, wind pants, T shirt, fleece long sleeve, wind blocker jacket, hat and gloves. All this inside my sleeping bag, bag liner, and stuffed my therma-rest inside my non-assembled tent which is used as an additional shell layer. I still froze my butt off!
Before we retired to our sleeping bags that night we talked it up with a couple of hikers at the shelter who had thru-hiked the AT a few years earlier and were back out to do the 100 Mile section again. They were from NY and NJ and they said this was northern most section was their favorite part. We also caught back up with Kiwi at that shelter and proposed to finish the Trail, with our summit of Katahdin together - Goofy, Kiwi and myself - on October 12th. We also had the possibility of summiting with our hiker buddy from earlier in the trip, Shivers, who had finished the AT a few days earlier but wanted to come back out and meet us at Katahdin.
When we awoke the next morning I really wanted to bound down to the pond (about 1/4 mile) and look for a moose sighting and photo opp - but I was too damn cold! It took us all quite a while to a) get out of our sleeping bags b) start cooking breakfast (the last couple weeks with cold mornings I had reverted to cooking in the morning as to have a hot breakfast and c) get WARM! I went over to the water bag the other hikers were letting us borrow and it was frozen over with a layer of ice! And you could see in different areas of the ground patterns of ice crystals. Yeah, it was kinda like that!
The sun was out that day and helped us warm up. But we were back to the "hiking with layers" game that we had played down in GA in the beginning with long pants and long sleeves and hat and gloves on when you leave camp in the morning ... and then 15 minutes later stopping and stripping down to shorts and T shirt! Although the elevation rarely got up over 2400 feet the first couple days out, there were still plenty of up and downs that kept us working.
The second day we had a river crossing or "fording" to attempt. A few rivers listed in the AT Data Book list "ford" next to the name of the river to let you know that you will not have a bridge at that river (aka you will get wet). I arrived ahead of Kiwi and Goofy at the west branch of Pleasant River, scouted the area and chose to cross downstream from the AT where it was a bit narrower and less of a current. Into my water sandals (aka camp shoes) I went and into the river I went. Fffff freezing! By the time I made it the 60 feet across the river my toes were numb! I clumsily staggered out of the water and took off my sandals and began to vigorously rub my feet. As the sun was setting I knew this would be a bad time to be flirting with a chill. So I quickly put my socks and shoes back on and did some speed walking to warm back up. I had about 4 miles to go before I reached that evenings shelter.
On the way to the shelter I passed a mileage sign for landmarks in the area. One of the markers read "Mt Katahdin - 83 miles". I sat there awestruck for a moment. I had seen many a sign before giving the distance to Katahdin ... but this was the first time it was close - close as in I would be there (and done) in four days! I took a moment, then hiked on.
That night at the shelter, after dinner, I fell asleep with the Red Sox game on the radio. I can't tell you how nice it has been the last month hiking thru New England and being able to catch all the Red Sox games on the local radio stations! I fell asleep with them leading and awoke the next morning to find out they had indeed held on and won.
Today Goofy, Kiwi and I chose to cut the day's hike short and do only 11 miles instead of 16. We made the executive decision at the previous shelter with only 4 miles to go to our overnight quarters. With it only being about 4pm at that time we had plenty of time to walk leisurely and take in the entirety of the Trail. It was magnificent! I actually found a pine tree that had been cut or damaged awhile back and had crystallized sap in this fissure that had taken on an amber quality. I took a picture of the tree and chiseled away a couple chunks from the fissure with my trekking pole.
When I finally arrived out our shelter for the night it was great. Apparently the trail maintainers of this shelter really liked it here as there were many extra benches and things showing that the volunteers enjoyed spending time here. Again we had heard from southbounders (SOBOs) that there were moose sightings at this shelter and adjacent stream so we scouted out the area. No moose, but in scouting out the stream that was a fording in our book, turned out to be a dry shoe rock hop.
So the next day was our hike to our resupply spot, White house Landing, in the 100 Mile Wilderness. It is a hostel that is about a mile off the AT on a lake that you have to be picked up by the hostel owner in a boat from the other side of the lake. Both Goofy and I did mail drops there. They also had food for purchase, shower, and a place to sleep clean and warm. But before we could think about these luxuries we had about 24 miles to hike since we had cut our miles short the day before. Luckily the hills had flattened out and most all the 24 miles were on a very slight downhill grade. The hostel owner will not come out across the lake to pick you up after dark so it was imperative that we get there before dusk. Well after spending lunch at one of the most beautiful shelters in all of New England, with a waterfall flowing within 20 feet of the shelter, we rushed back out onto the Trail - knowing we had a timeline not in our favor! After really busting it we reached the side trail, made it out to the lake and rang the horn and summoned our aqua chariot and enjoyed the off Trail amenities. Also my Red Sox clinched the wild card series in extra innings that night and hopefully await the Yankees in the ALCS.
The next day we hiked on to Rainbow Stream Lean-To. This shelter is the featured "cover shelter" on the 2004 AT Data Book, and a shelter that Kiwi was really looking forward to staying at. That night we stayed there with another NOBO hiker Yukon Jack and a couple of SOBOs, one who is the photographer on the cover of the 2004 Wingfoot AT Guide book! As we hiked this day we had a viewpoint of the great mountain Katahdin from along the Trail. It was a glorious sight and we all took a moment for reflection (and photos).
Our next day we hiked along Rainbow Lake to the calming sounds of loons calling out on the lake. It was a peaceful day of hiking and my thoughts were all over the place from the hikers I had met over the past 5 months to my favorite places along this great footpath. As we passed our last official shelter with a Trail register I took the opportunity to recognize some of the people I had been reflecting on that day a leave a note for them in the register. Then the three of us headed out of the 100 Mile Wilderness and on towards Abol Bridge. But before we leave the Wilderness I must make a quick comment. Don't get me wrong ... it is the most remote section of the AT. But 100 miles of wilderness? Hardly. First of all you have a major resupply 73 miles north of Monson AND there are logging roads about every 20 miles along the way! I'm not sure why this section still carries the mystique of it being barren and desolate ... but it does.
As we came out of the "Wilderness" there were 5 full coolers of trail magic ... I mean massive amounts of trail magic! A cooler full of soda and beer, a cooler full of cookies and brownies, a cooler full of candy bars and more confectionary delights! We gorged ourselves and then moved on before we thought we would be sick to our stomachs. This trail magic had been left by some of the thru hikers parents that had come up to northern ME to meet their offspring as they finished at Katahdin. We came out of the woods and crossed over the Penobscot River at Abol Bridge with a daunting view of Katahdin now only a few miles away. It reminded me of the signs written on side view mirrors on vehicles. Caution: Mt Katahdin is closer than it appears!
At Abol Bridge Campground there is a pay phone ... the only pay phone in the entire Baxter State Park area. And considering my cell phone hadn't had reception since I had it replaced in NH I was relying on the pay phone to catch up with home and also to see if our friend Shivers was still planning to summit with us. We got disappointing news that he had gone to a wedding and we would not be seeing him at Katahdin. We also found out that there were high winds and rain in the forecast in 2 days (our original summit day) and we now had to do some fast and furious rearranging of our schedules. Since Kiwi had a very limited window of opportunity with his first leg of his flight back to New Zealand leaving Boston in 4 days we chose to push our summit bid up by one day.
So we busted out the miles and pushed into Baxter State Park that Sunday evening. We hiked out to the main dirt road that intersects the park and were able to hitch a ride up to the Birches area campground that we would stay at for the evening before heading up Baxter Peak on Columbus Day. Only one problem - staying at the Birches cost money, and we were under the impression that it was free to thru hikers! When we arrived at the campground and checked in at the Ranger Station we were informed of our error. But unfortunately we didn't have enough money to pay for all of us to stay at the campground in the park. An alternative suggested by the ranger was to hike 8 miles back out of the park and then have over 10 miles each way to make it to the summit and back the next day ... NO WAY! He finally broke down and after I paid my portion he allowed Goofy and Kiwi to pay later at the Park HQ office in Millinocket ME when we headed out. This was an option we were happy to have been given!
So after registering at the Ranger Station we hiked the 1/2 mile up the Trail to our final shelter of the AT. We arrived late after yet another day/night of hiking with headlamps. There were a few extra sodas that had been left there for thru hikers and we brought out some beers that we had carried from the trail magic coolers back by Abol Bridge. It was a bittersweet evening that we won't soon forget.
Join me next time for the final Trail entry "Summit Day"! Don't forget to guess my weight.
Plants: A cornucopia of fall foliage
Animals: Loons, Spruce Grouse, Red Squirrels, Tree Frogs
Thank Yous: Trail Dawg's parents, the ranger at the Birches
Artist of the Week: When you hear songs by Third Eye Blind, turn them up, sing along and think of me.
"One can be bored until boredom becomes a mystical experience." -Logan Pearsall Smith
So in all the excitement of the White Mts last week I failed to tell you that I have crossed into the final of 14 states on this journey: The Maine Event! I am also T minus 200 miles from Katahdin!
Now to continue that story from last week. Goofy and I had a pick up at Rt 26 in Maine scheduled by the local hostel owner of The Cabin. We said we'd meet him at the trailhead between 6 and 7pm. Fortunately he ran into some other hikers that delayed the leaving process!
We were planning to take a blue blaze over the last 4 miles to make it to the road with time to spare. But, we never saw the trail sign for this side trail (after EVERY trail had been marked before that on the map!). So we hiked on as dusk approached, and a thunderstorm rumbled in, and my headlamp was unresponsive! So down the steep descent we went, and it was steep and it was DARK! Our pace slowed to about a 1 mph crawl and we continually yelled down the hillside "Bear, we're coming - don't leave!"
About a mile from the trailhead we heard a whistle in the distance. Could it be? We yelled back and heard voices, though the words were garbled. It seems our ride had waited! Actually our friend Kiwi had found bear a couple hours earlier and told him he was waiting for 2 hikers and would give him a ride to the hostel as well. Then a group of 3 brothers came to the trailhead and Bear extended the invite to them as well. Bear had brought us food and drink but unfortunately our late arrival yielded our meal to the other thru hikers. But we did have beds reserved and waiting for us back at his hostel!
But that was the last thing on our mind as we hiked along a cliff's edge and then had to traverse a wet slick rock that had rebar (metal bars for holding on like a railing) on it! Goofy and I were in shock at this development ... did I mention it was dark and WET !?! I took a picture of the rebar traverse so it can be awed at later!
OK, back to the present. When Goofy and I reached Stratton, we decided to map out the rest of our journey and it looks like we will summit Katahdin on Tuesday, Oct 12th. This gives us days of travel between 11 and 17 miles, not too bad. We did a couple food drops from Stratton to Caratunk and Monson ME.
We realized after mapping our final leg of the journey that we would have to hike 14 miles the one morning to reach the ferry river crossing! And the ferrymen only runs from 10am til noon each day, and our mail pickup was on the other side of the river. In 1985 a thru hiker actually drowned trying to ford this section of the river that has dam release a few miles upstream. That meant we'd have to get up around 6 and leave no later than 7 am to pull off this stunt. Well, we left at 7:15 that morning ... and after much hustle and bustle we arrived at the Kennebec River at 11:55am! The ferryman had already put away his canoe but after I signaled to him he grabbed his boat and scooted the 100 yards across the river. Goofy hustled down the hill a couple minutes later and the 3 of us ferried back across the river ... whew!!
Now we have made it to Monson, and on the edge of the 100 Mile Wilderness. It is really the beginning of the end of this amazing journey. And as the quote said above, I don't feel bored out here after over 2000 miles. I am tired - mentally, physically, spiritually, but am trying to soak up each and every last experience this Trail has to offer. What an amazing trip!
Wildlife update: Just when I thought the moose were in cahoots with the bears out here on the Trail ... I had my sighting! It was coming back to the Cabin hostel from picking up a thru hiker. There about 100 feet down the road was a HUGE bull moose methodically crossing this gravel road. Until you see one in person you have no idea the humbling experience it is! I am grateful.
Talk to you next at the foothills of Mt Katahdin when we roll into Baxter State Park!
Plants: White Ash
Animals: Bull Moose, Chickadees, a one eyed Garter Snake, AND the constant shrilling of the red squirrels!
Thank Yous: Steve Longely, Marie at PO at Caratunk, One Braid, The Shaws, Pie Lady
Artist of the Week: when you hear songs from Pearl Jam (the first 3 albums) turn them up, sing along and think of me.
"You cannot stay on the summit forever, you have to come down again. So why bother in the first place? Just this, what is above knows what is below, but what is below does not know what is above. One climbs, one sees. One descends, one sees no longer, but one has seen. There is an art of conducting oneself in the lower regions by the memory of what one saw higher up. What one can no longer see, one can at least still know." -Rene Daumal
I awoke at Mizpah Hut this morning, with anticipation of our big summit day. I hope we don't break the record from 1934 with a wind speed of 231mph! Each morning the hut croos get a radio call from the AMC headquarters with the day's local weather. When the call came in I was elated to hear that the visibility atop Mt Washington was ... 100 miles! Goofy and I ate breakfast, constantly looking out the window, wondering if yet another weatherman was not quite "accurate".
It is interesting that although Mt Washington at 6288 is not a towering peak compared to those out west that peak at over twice that elevation, it is the windiest place on earth. A unique combination of atmospheric and geographic factors converge to create hurricane-force winds about every three days! It is amazing seeing the trees and wood signs up on these exposed ridgelines - they look like driftwood at the beach that has been buffeted by weather 24/7.
So starting at 3800 feet at Mizpah, up, up, up we go. We worked our way up to Lake of the Clouds Hut, at 5000 feet, that is 1.5 miles before the Mt Washington summit. We stopped there for lunch. Although the hut had closed for the season a couple days earlier, construction crews were there and allowed us to use some of the hot water they had inside. Fueled and ready for our summit push (I had just eaten my last meal as I had a mail drop of food waiting for me at the PO up top) we pulled on an extra layer of wind block and went for it!
As we got near the top we started to see ice shards collecting in the shadows below the rocky path that was the "Trail". When we got to the top the temperature was about 37 degrees with winds gusting to 30 mph and a wind chill around 23 degrees!
Note: Mt Washington is a tourist destination. People can either drive their cars to the top (you've seen the bumper stickers) or take a cog rail train that costs about $45 round trip (no height requirements for this ride). So needless to say it is a little surreal to hike up almost 2500 feet and see lots of people - people in jeans, people in high heels, people with designer handbags sipping lattes, and overweight people nearly out of breath walking the 50 feet from the cog rail to the summit observatory building! Goofy and I signed the AT register and he went to the museum while I went to pick up my mail drop.
"Ah, nope! No package here for Bryan Gomes." the PO attendant said.
"What ?!?" I said
"Maybe you sent it to the base of the mountain" he said.
"Why would I do that? The Trail doesn't go ANYWHERE near there!"
"Maybe it is back at Crawford Notch."
"NO, I was just there the other day. I had a tracking number that had confirmation of delivery."
"Well we'll call UPS what is the tracking number?"
"Uhh, I dunno. I threw it away after it was confirmed, you know, shave ounces - lighten my load.
"That wasn't good." he said
SO, to make a long story shorter, my package was delivered to Pinkham Notch which was a few miles OFF the AT if I were to take a direct route a descend off Mt Washington instead of wrapping around the rest of the Presidential Range. So after some photos at the summit and some free pizza from concessions (otherwise they were gonna throw it away) we planned on hiking down 5 miles through Tuckerman's Ravine to Pinkham Notch. Our backup plan was to stop at the Tuckerman Ravine shelter about 1.5 miles down if it got late or a bit dodgy.
Well, when we stepped outside the observatory about 5pm the wind was howling, with gusts approaching 60 mph! Goofy's pack cover was stripped off his pack and went spiraling straight up into the air about 20 feet. "Oh Well!" I said, then it came careening back down and went flying past me into a small windless pocket. We pounced on it, looked at the flags nearly coming apart at the seams from the gale force winds and said "Lets get the hell off this mountain!"
As we went down the Tuckerman's Ravine path, the wind rescinded, but now so was the sun. That 1.5 miles was one of the most technical miles I've hiked (on or off the AT) er, down climbed, since I've been out here. Most all of it was milk jug sized boulders that were occasionally cascading water over them. It was a pretty site but not so much to walk on! And some of the boulders were loose and about a mile down I fell and tweaked my right knee (the one that was shot up with Cortisone down in GA). After a minute of self assessment I continued down the "bowl" section of the ravine and limped into the shelter.
Again in the Whites, both huts and shelters are normally fee areas with the ability for work-for-stay. I stumbled up to the caretaker's cabin and fell as I walked in the door as the floor was about 3 inches below that of the door frame (where was the "watch your step" sign?)! "Watch your step." I heard a voice call from the back. It was a little late. The caretaker came out to me sprawled on the floor and swearing like a sailor. "Where did you all come from?" she asked. "The top" we told her. "Are you thru hikers?" she inquired. "Yup." "Well, what are you doin down here off the AT? she asked.
I then explained my mail drop debacle and my tumble on the ensuing hike down the ravine. "Would you like to ice your knee with some frozen corn?" she asked. "Yeah, that would be great." We inquired about work for stay and she said we could do it in the morning since it was now dark. She also gave us an enclosed shelter with a sliding door that kept the wind at bay. The next morning Amelia came down with paint and paintbrushes and we did some graffiti paint overs in the shelters and the picnic tables.
After that we collected our things and were given an alternate route down the rest of the way to Pinkham Notch that would be easier on my knee. It was funny though, on the way down the hill, a hill much less steep than the evening before, Goofy snapped his trekking pole in half when he randomly planted it in the ground! As we got close to the Notch we saw the prettiest waterfall I've seen on this entire trip!
We ended up hitching into the town of Gorham once we made it into Pinkham notch and I had successfully secured my package! Ironically I had my other mail drop waiting for me at Gorham and I really needed to do laundry and shower after a week in the White Mountains.
When we got back on the Trail to finish a small section in the Whites, we stopped at the last hut there called Carter Notch. And can you believe it, the caretaker from Tuckerman's Ravine was there as well! Apparently she covers for the hut caretaker 2 days during the week and we had a fun reunion there. After a day of side trailing in the Ramparts we eventually made our way back to the good ol Trail and into the FINAL state of the AT - the Maine Event! The light at the end of the tunnel is now visible ... am I ready for it?
After crossing into ME we had the "hardest mile on the AT" do contend with - Mahoosuc Notch. Also known as the Fat Man's Crawl this is a notch or gap between to peaks that over thousands of years have crumbled and dropped truck size boulders into the notch. The Appalachian Trail Thru Hikers Companion says "this scramble under, around, over, and through the boulders the most difficult mile on the Trail. It will not be a 20 minute mile." That's for sure, though not as difficult as I had been told by other hikers in the area (not thru hikers though) it took Goofy and me about an hour. But the killer was the 1600 feet over the next mile that had several "false summits". These are spots when you look up a steep hill you're climbing and see skyline, hence the end of the climb, only to be punked by the mountain because the trail turns or goes up less steep for a spell that is not visible from your steep angle. A real morale sucker!
So in addition to this Mahoosuc Notch crawl and steep climb we were hiking a total of 14 miles that day to meet a ride at Rt 26 for a stay at the Cabin in East Andover. I had called for a pick up time at the road the day before, for between 6-7pm. Since I have written such a lengthy entry this week, I will cut this story short and continue it next time. Just now that we didn't arrive at our pick up point until after 8:30pm ... with one headlamp descending a steep cliff, IN THE RAIN, IN THE DARK! Crazy ... yes, but that is how "Team Night Hike" likes to roll!
Hear the exciting details next week, or whenever I may or may not have internet abilities here in the great north woods.
Plants: More sweet smelling conifers
Animals: Raven, Mink Frog, several Spruce Grouse
Thank Yous: Eggman - AT '01, Amelia who was quite the caretaker, Honey and Bear at the Cabin - thanks for waiting at Grafton Notch!
Artist of the Week: "Celebrate we will, cause life is short but sweet for certain" when you hear songs by the Dave Matthews Band, turn them up, sing along and think of me.
"We cannot escape fear. We can only transform it into a companion that accompanies us on all our exciting adventures. Take a risk a day, one small or bold stroke, that will make you feel great once you have done it." -Susan Jeffers
So, with a little trepidation I went into the White Mountains this week, knowing I was entering a very beautiful but very arduous territory. Goofy and I hiked up Mt Moosilauke at about dusk on our first official day, I mean night in the Whites. We stopped for a few photo opps as the wind whipped across the ridgeline. Being above treeline we were very exposed to the elements! I quickly dug into my pack and not only donned my wind blocker fleece but my wool gloves and hat too ... it was damn cold! We hustled down the ridgeline back into the cover of trees as we hiked to the shelter with our headlamps (yet again) lighting our way.
The next day we hiked to our first "hut". The hut system in the White Mountains is a bunch of lodges that are run by the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) that can house anywhere from 30 to 90 guests with meals and bunks for overnight accommodations. Thru hikers can do work around the huts in exchange for "room and board". Our first hut that we did work for stay at was Lonesome Lake.
The crew, or "croo" as they are dubbed by the AMC, was very nice at Lonesome and Goofy and I did our chores (some scrubbing of stove tops in the kitchen and changing of linens in the bunkhouse) and also enjoyed a post hike swim in the lake ... cold!
The next day we hiked to Greenleaf Hut and stopped in there with notes from the Lonesome croo and to have some hot soup. All the full serve huts have breakfast and dinner included with there guests fees. Some also have self service items like soup, tea, coffee and pastries available for a dollar or two during the day. From there we hiked up to our next above treeline mountain, Mt Lafayette, in a steady rain! Not much of a view this time above treeline as we were engulfed in this rain cloud, but fortunately it was only hovering over the high elevation there and we were able to make it to the next hut before dark.
We arrived at Galehead Hut just as the croo was serving the guests dinner. Where at Lonesome Lake there were only 5 guests here there were over 30! Again we were given the ability to do work for stay and we chose to do some scrubbing of bunks in the morning. Some of the huts were getting ready to close their full service for the season and had plenty of tasks to delegate to thru hikers. For dinner that evening, we ate some delicious wheat bread white pizza and had mattresses in a loft above the kitchen were we slept nice and warm.
After waiting out a full morning of rain the next day at Galehead and completing our chores, we headed onto Zealand Falls Hut for our next pit stop. This time our task was to sift and stir the compost bins that the huts use to recycle their organic materials. At this hut one of the croo members was a previous AT thru hiker and was sympathetic to our cause. As the temperature with wind chill that night dipped into the 30s we were very happy to be able to sleep in a bunkhouse!
The next day we moved on to Mizpah Hut and were given work for stay yet again, as the compost sifters. It was such a great experience meeting and working with the AMC hut croos. We had a very good experience and we were fortunate to be able to do the work for stays.
So tomorrow we are planning to summit Mt Washington - home of the worst weather in the world! If you googled the statistics, the mountaintop observatory has the highest recorded wind speed in the world at 231 Miles Per Hour! Today the visibility on top of Mt Washington was 1/16th of a mile. We are hoping the weather forecast for tomorrow is a little better and the clear conditions they are predicting will be a reality. Rain, rain, go away!
Plants: Spruce, Ash, Indian Pipes
Animals: Spring (now fall) Peepers, Garter Snake
Thank Yous: All the AMC croos - you all ROCK!
Artist of the Week: When you hear songs by Norman Cooke, aka Skinny Jay Fats, aka Fat Boy Slim, turn them up, sing along and think of me.
"I went to the woods because I wanted to live deliberately, to front only the
essential facts of life, and to see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life; living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartanlike as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness out of it and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience." -Henry David Thoreau
Guess what? I didn't finish a state this week! I'm still in VT and having shoe and phone issues! My phone bonked out on me atop Mt Greylock in MA and
I also replaced my sole torn Montrails there. They were fine on the flat, but unfortunately they were a little snug (even after I had them stretched at the cobbler) on the downhills, with 45 pounds on my back! But that was the best I could do after going O for 12 in the shoe try on game! So when we got to Manchester VT I went to work on my 2 issues. Phone issue was not
working out, everyone at Verizon said I had to go to Burlington VT for service. Umm, that's like 150 thousand miles north of were the AT runs
through VT! And the shoes were keeping the O-for streak alive: local outfitter - NO, EMS - NO, Shoe Warehouse - NO!
So the outlet town of Manchester let me down (though I did have a good
paddle on the river - thanks guys) other than my new wicking pair of Jockey
underwear! I did hear from several people in town that Rutland, a few towns up the road, was a place with a large mall and several other retailers. Oh yeah, there was a free shuttle that could bus us there. So Goofy and I
hopped on the bus (Gus) with no need to discuss much ... other than where we were going to stay in Rutland. We had the advantage of some SOBOs telling us about a hostel that had work for stay and was run by a "community" of people.
Now I know what you're thinking, and you're right, communes bring up visions of peace and love and no shoes and long hair. Well, these people wore shoes! They were great and between work-for-stay there and the VT State Fair in town, well we were "delayed" a couple days in Rutland. And not to mention I got the double hook up on my phone and shoe issues.
I went to EMS in the mall there and decided to stop pretending that I fit in
a size 13 right now. I walk in and make it real easy for the salesperson.
"Show me all the trail shoes, non Gortex (they don't breath and are heavy)
that you have in a size 14." And remarkably they had 1 pair of Saucony
shoes that fit! And they were last years model so they were on sale ...
bonus! My feet were happy again, complete.
Then I went to the Radio Shack in the mall to get my phone checked out.
"Yeah, it's definitely broken ... do you have insurance?" I don't know, I
bought the phone almost a year ago and don't remember the bells and whistles I got with it. "Cause if it's insured you can just replace the phone."
Splendid! Lets call Verizon and find out. That's affirmative, the phone
is insured and they can overnight me a replacement model! So I call the
cell-phone-insurance company and file my claim and everything is great ...
except they can't deliver to a Post Office. Well that's not very convenient! So they mailed it to my dad and he then mailed it out to me.
So we finally left Rut-land and got back on the Trail - now we were solely
on the AT as the Long Trail took a turn straight north and we continued on a
northeast slant. And remarkably the Trail was in good shape again. It was
rather ironic that now that we were no longer sharing space with the LT that
we were once again on non-muddy ground! We hiked for a couple of days in
the rain (after missing out on gorgeous hiking days while in town - c'est la
vie) and then hitched a ride into Hanover, NH to dry out and do some
We were told at the local convenience store to check the frat house around
the corner. The lady told us they had coin-op washers and dryers in the
basement and to just ask when we got to the house. Goofy and I knocked on the door, opened it and called out, no answer. We checked downstairs and sure enough 2 washers and 2 dryers. Goofy pointed out that there were all girls names on the "mural" table. That's odd, the lady said it was a
fraternity. We went back upstairs and the house photo on the wall was all
girls... we were in a sorority house!
We decided to come back when someone was home (not to startle anyone) and went across the street to continue our Ivy League education, at Dartmouth! In our guide books it said the Dartmouth Outing Club was good at helping out thru hikers. Amazingly there freshmen orientation hiking groups were just getting back to campus and there was TONS of free food at the DOC office! We went back to the sorority, met the president of the chapter and she allowed us to do our laundry. She even offered us a back room to sleep on some sofas in there TV room.
Now I know what your thinking, this is starting to sound like Animal House
or something. But other than the freshmen and sports team, the Dartmouth
students were not back on campus for another 2 weeks! So we had a quiet
night of TV and clean clothes.
The next day we picked up packages with our winter clothes and food at the
PO. Mailed home some clothes that weren't "cold rated" and did some other
errands in this quaint college town. We camped on the outskirts of town at
the trailhead. And when we awoke the next morning, we realized the athletic fields we had walked through the evening before were Dartmouth's fields. We enjoyed a morning of field hockey and women's soccer before finally heading out of Hanover!
Now we are at Glencliff, NH. I have my new phone (charged, activated, but
waiting for reception) a few cold weather gear items and a final food
resupply before we walk up Mt Moosilauke (4830 ft) and hike for week mostly
above tree line! We will hike past the second highest point on the AT at Mt
Washington, which by the way has the highest wind speed recorded in the
world (google that one)! Look forward to work-for-stay at the huts so I can
stay indoors when possible. They said it was going to dip into the 30s for
an evening low this week ... brrrrr!
Plants: lots of pines and spruces and firs
Animals: skunk, wood frogs
Thank Yous: Kesher and company at the Back Home Again Cafe, Flying Bear and Bigfoot, The team at Radio Shack at the Diamond Run Mall, Paddy-O, Diana Lee at Sigma Delta, Lion King
Artist of the Week: When you hear songs by Sarah McLaughlin, turn them up sing along and think of me
"This place is an estate, a mansion. And we are alone in the wilderness,
unperceived. The solitude and privacy are themselves immense, and we are in a place that has no human boundaries but our own. The horizon, seen so
vaguely and dreamily far away, a layer beyond a layer of hills and valleys
we've never walked, is the reach of our private world. Ourselves in these
big places gets bigger, because it doesn't bump up against anyone else's
sense of space. There are no intrusions." - Sallie Tisdale
Well, guess what? Another week, another state in the books! So long
Massachusetts. This week was a long week, maybe because we had long days. Not long days in the daylight sense, but long days that turned into long nights. Yes, I ran my batteries out in my headlamp!
So I'm hearing from lots of SOBOs that Vermont should be renamed Vermud. I found this amusing until I crossed the state line this week. The first
night we hike into the state, Goofy and I decide to push on another 5 miles,
just as the sun is setting. No big deal, we've night hiked many a time.
Though some have been more "daring" than others. So we hike on and it gets dark and we are relying on our little beams of light to show us the way to the next shelter. We hadn't even hiked 2 miles into the state and we were CONSUMED by this wet dirt that was the look and consistency of chocolate
pudding (but it didn't taste like pudding)! And I'm not talking about an
inch or 2 up the side of your shoe ... like 5 inches and totally engulfing
your shoe. Unfortunately the Green Mountain Club (GMC) local trail
maintainers (I use that work very loosely) don't keep up to well on the
condition of the AT. Yes I understand this part of the country has had some
tremendous rainfall this summer BUT, so have other parts of the AT down
south and the maintainers there manage to allow me to continually know what color my shoes are. I also heard that the GMC's wealth lies in upstate VT where it is only the Long Trail (an older trail and apparently more worthy
of maintenence than the AT! I think the Blues Brothers were on to something in their Stratton Pond Shelter register entry (a shelter that costs $6 to stay at)!
Anyway this is what you would have heard if you were a fly on the tree that
evening. Slop, slop, slop, slop, slop, slop, squelch, slop, slop, "sh#!"
slop, slop, squelch ... slop, slop! Repeat 18 times! So we swore off
night hiking for the rest of Vermud. And then we night hiked the next
night! And again said no more MUD! And did it for a third night in a row!
And finally a fourth night of mud/night hiking! And my batteries said "no
This just in: WARNING - IVY LEAGUE SCHOOLS HAVE DESCENDED ON THE NORTHEAST AT. PROCEED WITH CAUTION AS THESE STUDENTS ARE VERY BOOK SMART BUT ... THEY ARE IN THE WOODS!
We did have some ivy league encounters. First last week at Mt Greylock we
saw some Yale students out on their freshmen orientation trips. Then Goofy
and I ran into 2 girls hiking the VT section of the AT and the one girl was
going to be a freshmen at Harvard. Then this week we hiked for 2 days (on
and off) with a group of students that were attending Princeton this fall.
We had fun conversations and did some goofy games (I am the snarf master)! We would have hike with them longer if we had kept up our low miles. It was a low mileage week come to think of it! But we enjoyed there company and vice versa.
Well NH is right around the corner and the White Mountains beckon! Wish me luck...
Plants: I don't know, it was dark
Animals: Can you believe, I saw a Red Eft. They are still kicking it up
Thank Yous: Princeton GR 46 and the instructors from GR 47. Hope you had a great trip! Karli at Ben & Jerry's in Manchester
Artist of the Week: When you hear songs by John Mayer, turn them up, sing
along and think of me.
"I write because to form a word with your lips and tongue or to think a thing and then dare to write it down so you can never take it back is the most powerful thing I know. I am trying to come alive, to find the distances in my own recessess and bring them forward and give them color and form." - Natalie Goldberg
I know this is starting to sound like a broken record, but, another week - another state gone. So long to CT, only 4 states to go! This week made me realize that the mountains are returning to the AT. We are no longer hanging out under 2000 feet any more. The last peak in CT was 2300 and the first one in MA was 2600. And Mt. Greylock, the highest peak in MA, topped out at 3491 feet!
After leaving CT we were lucky to run across a couple of AMC ridge runners that were very nice and offering trail magic. They agreed to take us in to town to a real good (and cheap) diner for a big fat breakfast. Afterwards we talked about hiking options for the day and they agreed to slackpack a group of about 5 of us south back to where we started the day so we could meet back up with them that evening. That night we camped along a beautiful glacier pond and shared a lot of our AT and outdoor adventure stories around cheesecake that the ridgerunners brought up for our culinary pleasure!
A few days later we hiked into Dalton MA, to stay at a place called the Birdcage. Rob Bird, ex-cop and guitarist in a local band, allows hikers to stay at his house for FREE! We had heard about this place from many south bound (SOBOs) thru hikers and that was the place to stay. We couldn't believe what we were hearing. He gives you clothes to wear while he does your laundry, gives you a shower (with nice shampoo AND conditioner) and has about 10 beds/cots/couches for hikers to sleep on.
It was truly amazing this man was this giving. He even took us to slackpack Mt Greylock (thank you) and to the grocery store for resupply. He also took a special trip to the mall (and then another outfitter) so I could get a new pair of shoes. My Montrails that I bought in NC and had gone over 1000 miles finally ripped around the sole of the right shoe and I had to limp into Dalton with some serious duct tape holding my shoe together! I also replaced the tips of my Leki trekking poles this week, after 1500 miles of the Trail they finally had worn down to a nub. Unfortunately, Leki does not guarantee the tips and I had to buy the replacements (can we do something about that?).
We did supply our own meals while we were there and in addition to our slackpack day we took a zero there to run errands and take advantage of the ability to watch the end of the Olympic coverage. Thanks again Rob for a great stay (loved playing with your dog too). It was nice to feel at home in stranger's house so far from where my family is. Rob makes you feel like you are part of his family, and ya know ... we are!
Plants: Spruce, Hemlock, White Birch
Animals: Red Efts (they are still with us)
Thank Yous: from last week, Troy, who gave Goofy and me a ride into Salisbury, CT; Steve-O and Leprechaun; Rob at the Birdcage
Artist of the Week: when you hear songs from Robert Nester Marley , turn them up, sing along and think of me
"You do not have to be good. You do not have to walk on your knees for a hundred miles through the desert repenting. You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves. Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine. Meanwhile the world goes on. Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain are moving across th landscapes, over the prairies and the deep trees, the mountains and the rivers. Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air, are heading home again. Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, the world offers itself to your imagination, calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting - over and over announcing your place in the family of things." - Wild Geese , Mary Oliver
So another week, another state I've walked through, so long New York! 5 states and about 700 miles to go. I must say I am feeling the chill in the air and will need my warm gear sent back out to me on the trail sooner than later ... brrr! But it does make great hiking weather during the day. This past week I have been hiking with Blackfoot Dan as Goofy hikes with his friend from home, down in New York.
I must confess that I had the most difficult day on the trail north of the Mason Dixon line, and definitely one of the toughest overall. Blackfoot and I were looking to hike out of NY and into CT on a 21 mile day. Didn't seem to be a problem, not close to being the largest miles I've done in one day. But NY wanted to give us a swift kick in the stomach (more like lungs) before we left it's jurisdiction! The first 10 miles of the day were relatively easy, relativvely flat. But then as we neared CT the terrain started to get very up and down. Similar to the "roller coaster" in northern VA but less hills, just BIGGER and ROCKIER! And it was a hot afternoon and I was low on water/dehydrated. I'm not gonna lie to ya, I had a few choice words for the rocky hills that I was attempting to climb, words I shouldn't repeat here :) SO, I finally drag my butt into Kent, CT. and get rained on the last 2 miles. I meet up with Blackfoot and realize the church hostel is CLOSED! Dang, well time to head to the beer store where they said we could get "trail magic" with proper ID. Then off to wash our clothes and find some grub. We ended up sleeping that night under the pavilion at the park, after we took "showers" at the hose next door to the laundry mat!
On a downer note, I found out that one of the memory cards for my digital camera is no longer working, possibly got damaged in the mail when I sent it home. So sadly I have lost over 100 pictures and it will be a while before new ones can get up ... sorry. But I do have friends that have been taking pics along the way and I will get them from them and post them at a later date, stay tuned!
Plants: more of the same
Thank Yous: people of Kent, CT
Artist of the Week: when you hear songs by Bruce Springstien, turn them up, sing along and think of me.
"I shall be telling this with a sigh' Somewhere ages and ages hence; Two roads diverged in a wood, and I - I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference." - Robert Frost
This past week we said hello and goodbye to NJ. Down to 6 states! As I move further north I am noticing the weather cooling off (nights especially) and the sun is setting earlier in the evening. Hours to hike with the sun are no longer seeming limitless. As the miles continue to count down, only 800 and change, I'm beginning to visualize making it to Katahdin.
I would like to take a moment to revisit the term "trail magic". I don't know if I really defined it in detail before, but for those who don't know what it is it is when hikers get little perks and treats along the Trail. Trail Magic can be several things: spring water left at a section of the trail that is lacking water sources, sodas left in a cooler at a road crossing, or even getting a ride into a town for supplies. Sometimes it can be momentous, other times it can seem insignificant. In either case it shouldn't be taken for granted and the hiker should be very thankful.
This past week I had some personal trail magic that I would like to recognize here. On my way to a church hostel in Vernon, NJ I was trying to make an afternoon post office pick up by 5pm. It was 4:40 and I was about a mile away when I came off the trail on to a county road that led to the P.O. I asked a lady I saw working in her garage how far down the road I had to go and if she thought I could make it by 5. She wasn't sure, and I asked if I could leave my pack in her yard and jog down to make it by closing. Instead she offered to drive me down there asking "Can I trust you?" to which I responded "Can I trust leaving my pack in your yard unattended?" We both replied yes, and she was able to get me to the post office just minutes before it closed. Also, she had her son, escort me up a side trail out of their backyard that landed me back on the AT! Thanks Brenda and Chris!
A second incident of trail magic, and one that couldn't have been more timely, was after a long hilly day of climbing after we entered into NY. We had been up and down rock outcroppings all day, including a section called the "Lemon Squeezer". As the name implies we had to twist and contort our bodies to squeeze through a long series of narrow rock formations. I guess it is a warm-up for the "Fat Man's Crawl" up north which is the most difficult mile of the entire AT! So we were hustling to get down to the Concession area of the State Park we were traveling through to get some non-trail food before they closed for the evening. We had all ran our water bottles dry and I was leading the charge down the hill towards the lake area (not knowing they had already closed) when I saw a man standing by his pick up truck. I yelled out "Is there a place down here I can get food or drink?" He responded "Are you a thru hiker?" "Yeah" I called back. "Everything you need I got right down here. This is all the trail magic you want!" I was in disbelief, he had everything! Cold sodas, cookies, delicious ripe peaches, moon pies, mango juice, candy bars ... EVERYTHING! When Blackfoot, Butterfingers and Wide Load (three friends I had been hiking with) made it down to me I let out a big carbonated burp and said "We have been saved!" Our trail angels name was Paddy O and he was a thru hiker a few years ago. He lives in the NY area and does several trail magic deliveries every year. He said he wanted to bring food and drinks to people that he craved on the Trail but never got. Well, he was on the money with his small store he had assembled in the back of his truck. We were so surprised and pleased as punch!
The next day we had trail magic again when we met up with a guy who had started the AT with us down south and had pulled off the Trail and returned to NY. Yogi said he would meet up with us when we got to Bear Mountain. The hike up to the summit of Bear Mt was ... steep! And it was a warm afternoon, and I was definitely feeling it! Little did I know there was a visitor's center with a parking lot at the very top and as we hiked up to the top, there was Yogi with his car in the parking spot that backed up to exactly were the AT came out into the lot! He was sitting in a lawn chair with his girlfriend, Noelle and had all the goodies waiting for us. Again, cold sodas, cookies, bananas (I ate 2) and chips. We hung out for quite some time reminising with him about the Trail and giving him the latest stories. Eventually we figured we best get hiking and Yogi agreed to slack pack us the next 11 miles and drop our pack at the Monastery where we would camp overnight. It was nice not having the heavy packs as we went up and down some more steep hills. We even went right through the middle of a zoo, that parrallels the Trail in Bear Mt! Lucky for thru hikers the zoo is free for us and we enjoyed following the white blazes as they weaved through the exhibits.
Our final run in with trail magic came the next day when we were taking a zero day to go into the next town for R-n-R (rest and resupply). We were looking for a ride from the Monastery (myself and the 3 mentioned above). This older woman was nice enough to not only drive us to the shopping center BUT, told us we could call her when we were done shopping and seeing a movie, that she would come back for us and drop us back at the Monastery! She was a retired school teacher and said "I don't really have much that I have to do today." It was a real pleasure chatting with her in the car and humorous that she thought we had all just graduated from college (when our average age is 31.5). Thanks Ellen!
Thanks to all those who have purchased T shirts. And if you are thinking about ordering one, do it now, supplies are limited!
Plants: Striped Maple, Blue Spruce, White Birch
Animals: Red Efts (we counted 52 in one day!), Painted Turtles, Deer
Thank Yous: Brenda and Chris, Paddy O, Yogi, Ellen
Artist of the Week: When you hear songs by U2 , turn them up, sing along and think of me
"There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening, that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and will be lost." -Martha Graham
So we are moving along nicely considering the rocky terrain. Goofy and I rolled into Delaware Water Gap (PA side) and looked forward to a zero day to rest our tender feet. Also Goofy was taking a break to go home and be part of his cousin's wedding. So the day before he left we took a cab from DWG over to Stroudsburg, PA for lunch and internet action at the library. We ended up spending the entire day in Stroudsburg and had his dad pick us up that evening when he drove into town. The next morning he took us out for breakfast at the town diner before the two of them headed back to Michigan.
I hiked from the hotel back to the hostel to meet up with Butterfingers, Wideload, and Blackfoot. They were planning on hiking out that day and I was going to join them. WELL ... it happened to be that the church hostel was having a HUGE pot-luck dinner for the thru hikers that night. So we decided to stick around for that and then do 28.5 miles the next day to make up for it. It was actually gonna be a slack pack since Blackfoot's friend was going to pick us up in Culver's Gap to return to DWG for rafting the next day on the Delaware River.
So we got up at 5:30 the next day and hiked ... 28.5 miles, my longest slack pack of the trek so far! Amazingly I was not sore after the hike. Granted it was quite flat (it felt like we only hiked 15 miles that day) but we were on the Trail for 12 hours that day. We passede a group a female hikers later that day, and was wondering why they were staring at me, more particularly, my shorts. It seems the Matolly shorts I wear on the Trail got me noticed by, a group of hikers from Matolly's camp! So Reagan, Shelby, Duct tape, and all, the photos will be up in a couple of weeks. At the end of our hike we met Blackfoot's friend Spike and got dinner before returning to DWG. I slept quite well that night.
The next day all of us, including Blackfoot's other friend Joe took a raft trip down the river. It was beautiful day and it was nice to rest the legs. But it was time to get back to hiking. Joe dropped us off at Culver's Gap the next day and it was back to our NJ section of the AT. The terrain is still relatively flat and the rocks are, well somewhat less of an issue than in PA. We had a cold front come through the last few days that gave us 50 degrees at night and only in the 60s during day. What happened to the dog days of summer ?!? I will need warmer clothes sent back out to me sooner than later.
Well, hope everyone is enjoying their summer. Don't forget to purchase the limited supply of remaining AT T shirts. And yes, Nomar is no more a Red Sock but, it was a good trade - GO SOX!
Plants: Blueberries, Red Maples, Shagbark Hickory, White Pines
Animals: Black Snake, Wood Frog, Wild Turkeys, Great Blue Herons
Thank Yous: Karen at the DWG hostel, Spike, Joe, Mr. Kepley
Artist of the Week: when you hear songs by Sheryl Crow, turn them up, sing along and think of me
Week 14 (July 25 - July 31, 2004)
"Dream as if you'll live forever. Live as if you'll die today." -James Dean
CONGRATUALTIONS to Mike O'Rourke, who is the winner of the AT Tshirt for his guess of 193 pounds! I actually weighed in at Harpers Ferry at 194. Thanks for all those who participated ... now PLEASE buy a Tshirt! Thank you also to those who have purchased these coveted collecter's items!
So I passed under 1000 miles to go this past week, down to 3 digits baby! This is motivating me as the PA rocks begin to wear me down. I've actually decided to break my rule of no music on the Trail and start to using my portable radio to get me through these long mile days. I've got the physical part of the AT down, and (knock on wood) my body has been par for the course. But now it is becoming a mental game and I'm calling on my number one vise ... MUSIC!
The rocks are beginning to increase as we move north in PA. Nothing crazy and there is a small section on the Trail in MD that compares to these northern "speed bumps". Goofy and I have days where 15 miles fly by ... and days were 9 miles beats us down. There are SO many variables out here (weather, temperature, terrain, elevation, degree of incline/decline, pack weight, hydration, bug thickness!) that can have an influence on your day. It is important to remember why I came out here and stop and take in my surroundings as often as I can. I have places I want to be up the Trail, but I need to stay focused on my here and now.
But, then you read in the AT guidebook about a shelter the next day where you can order pizza to be delivered to the trailhead parking lot, only 200 yds from the shelter! Occasionally this is the motivation that makes 15, or 18 miles in this case, fly by! Also we had the good fortune of hooking up with Matt Ritter over the weekend to spend a couple days at his folk's house in northeast PA and do some more slackpacking and eat food we can't prepare on the Trail (and soak in a hot tub)!
The slackpacking was alright ... but the food was amazing! Steamed clams, corn on the cob, broiled fish, fresh salads! And the deserts ... WOW! Homemade ice cream cake and a peanutbutter pie to die for, mmmmm! Hard to leave the Ritters house on Sunday (well also Goofy had a little digestive issue from too much of a good thing) but we were back out in a shelter that night, reliving the culinary delights in our minds. What rocks?
Wildlife update. I now know what the P in Pennsylvania stands for ... PREDATORS! I had my second bear encounter of the Trail. We heard a bear cub scale a tree 50 ft off the Trail. As I ran over to take its picture I saw momma bear about 100 ft away standing on her hind legs, taller than me, giving me the evil-eye! I yielded to her non-verbal demands as the cub scampered toward her and her and the other 2 cubs went bounding away over the hill! No photo!
Plants: Virginina Creeper, Blackberries, Rasberries
Animals: Red Eft, Bear and cubs
Thank Yous: Matt, Marybeth and Dean Ritter
Artist of the Week: When you hear songs by Prince, turn them up, sing along and think of me.
Week 13 (July 18 - July 24, 2004)
"The price of self-destiny is never cheap and in certain situations it is unthinkable. But to achieve the marvelous, it is precisely the unthinkable that must be thought." -Tom Robbins
NOTE: Due to my email account being maxed out, the T shirt contest has been extended til Wednesday August 4th. Please refer to week 12 for all the particulars to the contest. Good luck!
So now that I am in PA, I am starting to expeirience the geological makeup of this state. I understand this state is similar to Sylvester Stalone - ROCKY! But the bigger rocks are closer to New Jersey so in the meantime I will enjoy the terrain and focus on my surroundings. As we move north the landscape is definitely changing. The deciduous trees are beginning to yield to evergreens - pines, hemlocks and spruce. And there are new animal sightings (see below) but one critter that has been with me since Georgia - the Eastern Towhee.
Also as we move north the terrain is getting flatter. In the south we saw peaks above 6000 ft, here in the Mid Atlantic we're surprised when we have a hill that is more than 2000 ft. So as the Trail has flattened out the miles have gone up. Instead of 15 mile days I average closer to 20. With the increased mileage there are also more breaks. Thanks to the AT Thru Hiker Companion book, pit stops along the Trail are labeled and this week was a good one - pool. As we hike into Caledonia State Park, you can see the pool right from the AT. And it was only $2.50 admission - YES! We had a little thunderstorm in the afternoon that delayed our entry into the pool. But being that we are in the Mid Atlantic in the summer, we just had to wait 20 minutes and the sun was back out. That gave me just enought time to hand wash my clothes in the sink in the pool's bathhouse and hang them out to dry while I swam!
Later in the week we reached the "official" half way point on the AT at Pine Grove Furnace State Park. Here there is a right of passage for thru hikers to eat a 1/2 gallon of ice cream to celebrate the half way point. The AT Companion states that there is a timed record challenge as well. Being a 3 time hot wing eating champion in college I thought I would take a run at this record. We were pleased to hear the store keeper at the General Store at the park say that the record was not 4 mins and change as the book stated but rather that it was 7 mins and 56 secs. This record had just been set back in April by an early northbound thru hiker. It seemed everyone else was content just leisurely eating their ice cream. I, on the other hand, decided that it was time to compete in this timed challenge!
The store keeper said that you could cut it up and that the time didn't start until you began eating. My strategy was that I would eat with my hands and have hot coffee on hand for the inevitable "brain freezes". Also I chose to eat a plain flavor, vanilla. Right before I began, the group of eight hikers I came in with were gathered around with watches and cameras ready. The last thing I heard before everything went cold and white, was one of the girls in our group say "I don't think he even washed his hands after hiking all day." Did I ... well, game on!
I don't remember everything during my consumption of 16 servings of ice cream. All I know is that my fingers were frostbit as I chewed frozen cream and chugged hot coffee. 6 mins and 4 secs later, I had done it! I had beaten the previous record by nearly 2 mins, and I DID NOT THROW UP! After I was done and could not feel my fingertips (I apparently burned them when I dipped them in hot coffee to "defrost" them) I helped a few other people finish their 1/2 gallons as they stared at me in disbelief! After a couple hours of resting my grumbly stomach, and drinking lots of water, we hiked another 7 miles to our shelter for the evening. And no, I never did puke!
Before we reached Duncannon for the weekend, Goofy and I hiked into the town of Boiling Springs on Thursday evening to see about camping at the Bed & Breakfast. The AT Mid Atlantic office is in Boiling Springs and when we stopped in to check the bulletin board we met a man named Ishmael there. Ishmael hike the AT in 1996 and offered to put us up at his place for the night. We gladly accepted and stopped at the grocery store before we headed to his place for showers, laundry and a big dinner. We had salad, corn on the cob, steamed mussels and spaghetti! After dinner he took us to our sleeping quarters, a full size shelter that he had built in his backyard. In the morning we got a ride back to the AT office, met some other friends and then Ishmael drove all of us to a great diner for breakfast.
We hiked over the 15 flattest miles of the AT so far across the Cumberland Valley on our way to Duncannon, the town where we would take a much needed zero day. We stayed at the Doyle Hotel, a hotel that was 99 years old and catered to thru hikers. We had about 15 fellow thru hikers stay there that weekend, people we hadn't seen in weeks. It was great to see old faces, but equally great to see the Red Sox beat (and beat up) the Yankees 2 days in a row! On Sunday we decided to exercise our arms instead of our legs and Goofy, Lamby and I rented a canoe and went our exploring on the Susquehanna River (yes, we are in the Chesapeake Bay watershed).
Time to hike on ... bring on the ROCKS!
Plants: White Pines, Red Spruce, Eastern Hemlocks
Animals: Krieky! A Timber Rattlesnake (great up close photo - look for it soon), a non-nocturnal Barred Owl
Thank Yous: Pat and Vickey Kelly, Ishmael
Good Byes: Jacob and Lamby, good luck in your future endeavors!
Artist of the Week: When you hear songs by Frank Sinatra, turn them up, sing along, and think of me.
Week 12 (July 11 - July 17, 2004)
"What is life? It is the flash of a firelfly in the night. It is the breath of a buffalo in the winter time; it is the little shadow which runs across the grass and losses itself in the sunset." -Crowfoot (Blackfoot Tribe)
Hey all, before I begin, I want to give you an opportunity for the FREE AT T-shirt. If you remember a while back I said the person who guesses closest to my weight at Harpers Ferry would win a shirt. If there are multiple correct guesses (to the half pound) I will pick a winner at random. So here is what you need to do. By Saturday July 30th , send me an email, BLANK in the message and in the subject write "Weight ???" with your weight guess. Please don't write anything in the email! Leaving it just in the subject will make it much more quick and easy for me when I get to a computer next! Remember my weight at the start was 202 pounds (that was serious hockey weight)! GOOD LUCK!
So I said good bye to VA this week! With about a quarter of the Trail going through this state it was good to move on. Goofy and I met my dad and step mom in Harpers Ferry. We showed them around this historic town and had a nice buffet dinner at the Hill Top. They treated Goofy and me to a hotel room that night, NICE! We also went to the Outfitters and caught up with Laura who fixed Goofy's trekking pole ... AGAIN! Then it was on to MARYLAND!
When we were in the Shenandoahs we met up with a guy called Bonzo who said when we got to Harpers Ferry to give him a call for a slack pack. So we decided to take him up on his offer. To make a long story short (horses and roadkill removed) with his help we finally got to Greenbrier State Park that afternoon to meet up with Tammy McCorkle.
Tammy is the person who took the photo that has made me the "poster boy" for Annapolis Rocks on the AT. I am on the cover of the LNT brochure for Annapolis Rocks and if you look in this years State Forest and Parks brochure under my photo it reads "LEGEND" ... who knew ?!? Tammy took great care of us and brought us tasty food and beverages! Goofy and I camped at the park that night and caught up with Tammy and new things happening in and around South Mt Recreation Area. We stopped at Annapolis Rocks the next day and did a reenactment shot of the famous photo.
We made our way up to Cascade, MD for a mail drop pick up and some pizza. Unfortunately the pizza joint was closed (the one day of the week and NOT listed in our data guides)! But we were able to take a afternoon siesta at a watering hole with cheap beer, pool and a killer jukebox!
Now we get ready to head into PA. Six states down and eight to go! And the official halfway point and the 1/2 gallon ice cream challenge ... can't wait!
Plants: Shagbark Hickory, tons of Poison Ivy, Queen Anne's Lace
Animals: Toads, Bullfrogs, Turkey Vultures, Ravens
Thank Yous: Dad and JoAnn, Tammy McCorkle, Bonzo
Artist of the Week: When you hear songs by Billy Idol , turn them up, sing along and think of me!
Week 11 (July 4 - July 10, 2004)
"Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature's peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves." - John Muir
SO! Back to the Trail. My mom drove me back down to Waynesboro and agreed to slackpack me for a few days through the Shenandoahs. Our adventure began after camping at the Waynesboro YMCA campground, my mom was greeting the next morning by Ms. Janet, yes, Ms. Janet from the hostel in Erwin, TN! She was heading up to a festival in Port Clinton, PA and had spent the night their in her van. She told my mom that during the night she heard a loud crash when a car drove by late at night. Someone had shot out my mom's car back window with a BB gun! My mom returned to the tent to tell me this and that a lady from TN was there. We said hello and then headed out to clean up the glass and look into a replacement and insurance stuff.
When we got into the park I was dropped off and my mom went to secure a campsite up the road. It was great to have her support for a few days as I got back into trail shape after a week off. Unfortunately my feet had swelled and were jamming against the toe box of my shoes. Luckily I had brought another pair of shoes I had at home that were half a size bigger and that worked out just fine.
We did the slack pack thing for a few days working our way north throught the park. Carrying a light day pack (about 5 pounds) I was able to average 20+ miles a day. Along the way I was stopping at the shelters (called huts in the Shenandoahs) and check the shelter registers for the whereabouts of my thru hiker friends. It started out I was about 3 or 4 days behind , but was able to catch up to within a day when we were half way up the park in Big Meadow campground.
Then I found out at the next shelter that Goofy had turned around and gone back to Big Meadows to do laundry. Back we went, lady at the landrymat said "Yeah he was here about 15 minutes ago. Driving all around the capground we finally decided to check the Lodge as a last chance. I doubted he'd be there but when we pulled up front, there was his backpack! I wandered around the building and finally located them in the basement ... in the tap room! And ... our trail angel from Boone, Mr. Bubbles was sitting at the table with Mickey, Mallory, Kiwi and Nate, our Watagua Lake liason. There faces dropped when I bounded up to the table and said "So I hear this is where team aquablaze hangs out"! My mom got to meet the crew and then left shortly after to head back to MD. It was a crazy reunion, and we celebrated that night at the Lodge.
The next day Kiwi, Goofy and I all headed back out on the trail to continue north. The deer at Shenandoah National Park are extremely tame and often startled hikers as often as we startled the because they are so close to the trail and then bound away into the woods when you walk by. So we heard of some rattlesnake and coperhead sightings as well but never got a first hand look. The weather has been nice, not much in the rain department. As we head out of the Shenandoahs we have hiked nearly 900 miles of the AT!
So I look forward to trekking into the Maryland area and seeing familiar land and faces. I must say that when we stopped into Front Royal for a mail pickup I had the best frozen custard EVER! The place is called Spelunkers and it is worth the drive from near or far! Next time we talk I'll be up in historic Harper's Ferry.
Plants: Chestnuts, White and Yellow Poplars
Animals: lots, but ... I SAW MY FIRST BEAR! Little guy from about 100 feet away scurried into the woods.
Thank Yous: Mom, thanks for everything, Bubbles and Nate (again) and Ben
Artist of the Week: When you hear Counting Crows, turn them up, sing along and think of me
Week 10 (June 27 - July 3, 2004)
Congratulations: Mike and Beth
Thank Yous: Mr. & Mrs. O'Rourke, the Richardson Family, Matt and Foti, Brian LeGette and the new sponsorship from 180s
No Thanks What-So-Ever: the fire ants at "Acta Non Verba"
Week 9 (June 20 - June 26, 2004)
"We are of the earth, made of the same stuff; there is no other, no division between us and 'lower' or 'higher' forms of being." -Estella Lauder
I have to quickly revisit week 8 and register a complaint. During our six straight days of rain I left my lighter at a previous shelter. But not to worry, I always carry a pack of WATERPROOF matches as backup. Well, let me tell you how many matches I was able to light from this WATERPROOF pack ... ZERO! Yes, they seemed to have gotten wet and apparently weren't as WATERPROOF as the box stated. What if I was in dire straits and need fire for warmth (maybe I had been stuck in the heavy rain for half an hour)! So I have to tell you all DO NOT buy Coghlan's Waterproof Safety Matches because they are not very safe or WATERPROOF!
Now to tell you what meal turned my frown upside down after a crappy hike into Pearisburg. Two words, Dairy Queen! Yes, a chicken sandwich, waffle fries and a Peanut Buster Parfait were all I needed to bounce back. So in Pearisburg, like most town stops there are many errands to run. Pick up package at post office, go to laundry mat (bought a cute yellow nightgown at the dollar store so I could wash ALL my clothes in town, and yes it was captured on film) and if it is a big town like Pearisburg, resupply at Wally World (Walmart). When I got to the laundry mat I was reunited with both Lamby and Goofy who had been in town for a couple days waiting for me. It was good to catch up and exchange stories with them. Then we got a ride across town to the hostel from this young lady Emily whose family invites the hostel residents over to their own home every Saturday afternoon for a full dinner! We saw a lot of hikers while at the hostel and 1 zero day turned into 2 when Goofy and I were getting a ride to the post office to mail a bunch of extra cold gear home and then we were going to get dropped off at the trail head. To make a long story short, the woman who gave us a ride to the post office, was Emily's mom and she invited us back to her house (even though it wasn't Saturday) to help belay some kids from her son's soccer team on their homemade climbing wall! I was glad to have some interaction with the kids and got to climb on the wall ourselves afterwards! Then she made us a nice dinner on the fly and went with Emily downtown to a festival for some sightseeing. Hands down this is the most generous family I have met along the Trail.
So back out on the AT Goofy and I needed to push some bigger mile days to get back on schedule. We had days of 19, 16 and 21 miles. Also some days turned into night hikes with us using our headlamps (more on that in a minute). The second best sunset I've seen on the Trail was along this section at Wind Rock (great photo opp) second only to Wyah Bald down in NC.
We woke up one morning at a shelter reunited with Mickey and Mallory and they told us of a group of school kids there from Annapolis, MD. I immediately knew it was the Key School, a very outdoor ed oriented school. It was again great talking and interacting with young people. We caught up with them later that day and exchanged brain teasers and turned out I actually knew one of the girls on their trip, I had been her swim coach at Old Severna Park several summers earlier. What a coincidence to be on the same section of trail with a group that goes to school less than a mile from the park where I work in Annapolis! I look forward to seeing them all again this fall when I bring my power point presentation of the AT to the Key School.
So another frightening moment on the Trail. Goofy and I headed out for a 6 mile hike at dusk, arriving at the next shelter after dark. What we didn't expect was a thick fog to roll in, mentions of bear sightings in the area AND hiking along an exposed (well, exposed if it wasn't foggy) cliff ledge that I noticed had about an 80 ft drop at one point! Note to self, less night hiking in the future. So at this point as we pass thru Troutville, VA over 700 miles have been traveled, a third of the way to Maine! Still hoping for my first bear sighting. I know they're out there!
Plants: hard to ID in the dark
Animals: easier to ID in dark, heard Whip-poor-wills, Barred and Great Horned Owls, Spring Peepers
Thank Yous: Ray Smith and his family, you all ROCK, Key School staff and students
Artist of the Week: When you hear songs by Jack Johnson, turn them up, sing along and think of me!
Week 8 (June 13 - June 19, 2004)
Click here for pictures from Weeks 7 and 8
"I have come to believe over and over again, that what is most important to me must be spoken, made verbal and shared, even at the risk of having it bruised or misunderstood. Of course I am afraid, because the transformation of silence into language and action is an act of self-revelation, and that always seems fraught with danger." -Audre Lorde
To tell you briefly about my favorite shelter on the Trail, Partnership, its pretty far from your run-of-the-mill type shelter. First of all, it is rather new, built less than 10 years ago (some have been there since the early 1940s) that carries a lot of weight. Next, it is located next to a Visitor's Center/Ranger Station that has a pay phone were you can ... HAVE PIZZA AND SODA DELIVERED! Now that is pretty razor, but here is the kicker. There is a HOT shower built adjacent to the shelter! The hike that day to Partnership was a salivating one to say the least! I took a long shower (had to wash the poison ivy off me that was encroaching all along the trail that day) feasted on pizza pie (my fave, mushrooms and black olives) then got all hopped up on caffeinated beverages. Pretty close to a perfect night on the Trail, though we felt more like we were in town. Now on with week 8.
We resupplied in Atkins, VA with the help of the Garland 5. This is a husband and wife, hiking the entire Trail with their 3 children aged 10 - 13. What an amazing experience for those kids, and the entire family! The next day with Mickey and Mallory already ahead a day, Lamby and Goofy left the shelter early, Smack stayed behind and Yogi hiked in from town and followed me. The hike that day ended up only being 12 miles since when I got to Knot Maul shelter the sky opened up and that turned into my resting place for rhe day. Goofy and Lamby had moved on but Mickey and Mallory were here with Jacob, Yogi and Atlas coming in later with the heavy rain! So you can see this is typical sequence when "traveling" in a group. The Trail registers (notebooks at each shelter where you can sign in, sketch, or leave notes for friends) are the glue that keeps people connected when they loose track of each other from day to day.
So we had rain most of the night, woke up to light rain, briefly cleared then followed by a severe thunderstorm! Everyone at the shelter left except me and Yogi, who waited out the thunderstorm. Then Yogi headed out and I told him I'd catch up. The circumstances of when we would see each other again were unfortunately weather related. The sky stayed clear most of the day with a late afternoon thunderstorm that slowly materialized. To my dismay the storm reared it's ugly head just as I was reaching an open section of the trail. The thunder and lightening was intense ... and very close! As I came out from the trees and surveyed the scene a huge flash of lightening darted across the open field. The thunder that followed was deafening and I scurried back to the shelter of the trees and weighed my options. I played it safe, waited about 15 minutes and with a lull approached the opening again ... just in time for another ridiculously close lightening strike! This was the most nervous I'd been on the Trail. And with my previous experiences, I now ALWAYS yield to Mother Nature! So after half an hour, and being soaked to the bone and starting to shiver, I approached the open field for a third time. I counted the flash to crash at about 6 seconds, the largest interval thus far. So I slinked across the open section of the trail, dragging my aluminum trekking poles as close to the ground as possible. The storm spun around the ridgeline and the thunder and lightening came back, up close and personal! Now I was stuck under 2 large trees by themselves, not the safe scenario I was looking for. So again I squatted low and moved across the next open field and looked to jump off by a large grove of trees about a half mile up the trail. As I was ducking into cover and another strike lit up the sky, I ran into a wide-eyed Yogi who had been gambling with Mother Nature in an even less secure area. Once he got his wits about him "Dude, am I glad to see you!" were the first words he managed. Once we shook off the goose bumps, we filled our water bottles at the nearby pond (another area that was a lightening rod) we hiked the final 2 miles to our shelter. Unfortunately it was more of a creek bed than a trail. Luckily the shelter we ended up at this night was actually a full blown cabin, fully enclosed with windows and a door! We thought we would have the shelter to ourselves that night and began hanging our wet crap over every square inch of this cabin. A couple hours later Smack, Brother and Hannah converged on the cabin and we exchanged crazy stories of near lightening strikes and waist deep creek crossings!
It would be 2 more days of hiking in the rain without even a sucker hole (brief sunshine in an otherwise rainy, overcast day). Now we were only 2 days away from our next town stop, but due to the perpetual rain we pulled into a hostel the day before Pearisburg, VA. It was actually a nice excursion, Woods Hole hostel is run by a woman named Tille Wood, whose husband moved them to the area in the 1940s to study the since extinct, now reintroduced, elk herds. I took a cold shower there (do what now?) and had an amazing breakfast home made by Ms. Tillie herself!
Next stop, Pearisburg. But unfortunately the 10 mile hike into town turned into over 13! I hiked into town with Jacob and when we arrived at the bridge into town, I followed Jacob to the left over the bridge (when we should have gone left) took the trail back into the woods and hiked up and down small hills that were more steep than not. After about 40 minutes I asked him to show me where he thought we were on the map. At that point I realized we missed our landmark and turned around to find a sidetrail to catch a road back into town. Jacob wasn't sure if we had missed our mark, but was quick to catch up with me and follow me as I bushwhacked towards the sounds of the highway. So instead of being the first of our group into town and being showered and clean and dry and full, we were tired and wet and hungry and ticked off! Stay tuned for what dining experience reversed our bad fortunes.
Plants: Indian Pipe, Trout Lily, a plethora of Poison Ivy
Animals: Red Eft (Eastern Newt)
Thank Yous: The Garland 5, Tillie Wood at Wood's Hole
Artist of the Week: When you hear songs by the Beastie Boys , turn it up, sing along and think of me!
Week 7 (June 6 - June 12, 2004)
Click here for pictures from Weeks 7 and 8
"We must insist on succulence! Our lives are too rich and rare to have less. We will grow more as we practice. Growing can be uncomfortable, loud, unfamiliar, and feel perilous to our underdeveloped personality selves. Growing ... involves breaking out of cages, boxes, stereotypes, categories, and captivity. It involves standing tall, laughing loudly, and being who we really are." -Dame Edith Sitwell
So after a social evening of playing Blackjack using Pringles and assorted candy as chips (more valuable than money to a thru hiker) we decided to spend another night in Damascus, but not a zero day! We chose to slackpack (with the help of vehicle support, the art of hiking with only supplies for the day and returning to your starting point) 17 miles out of town and hike back into Damascus. Since our friend Atlas was going to hike with his father for a couple days they were getting dropped off up the road and offered us a ride. So Goofy, Smack, Lamby and myself enjoyed a light day of hiking (weight wise) and a heavy day of brain teasers and returned to town for ice cream, Italian food, and to celebrate the recent birthdays of Goofy and Smack. That evening back at the hostel, called The Place, we had an up and close version of "Cops" on location ACROSS THE STREET! We had returned from our social evening on the town and I was in the bathroom when I heard these disturbing screams and shreiks. Sidebar: we had a group of about 15 boy scouts camping in the yard of the hostel in their tents getting ready to section hike the AT the next day. So, now at about 2am the hostel is mostly up and awake looking out the windows were this ruckus was coming from, and the boy scouts were awake as well! Apparently, the town criminal (the cops were on a familiar first name basis with him) was at his lady friend's house, under the influence of something and pulled out a knife and threatened to stab her, and her children! She came out of the house yelling "call the police, he's gonna kill somebody!" It was a frightening scene with her young children and infant crying. All 3 of DPD patrol cars arrived a few seconds later and began the standoff/yelling match with the accused. He kept saying over and over "what did I do wrong?" After about 20 minutes they corralled him into the patrol car and took statements from the lady. As comical and surreal as the event seemed, it was rather upsetting and it disturbed me that these young children, and our boy scout group had to witness this. So the next morning we caught up with Atlas and his father and were able to get a ride out of Damascus to where we had started our hike the day before. As we hiked north we were entering a section of the Trail called Grayson Highlands State Park where wild horses (the likes of the equines of Assateague Island) roam free in herds. The day before we saw the horses we stayed at a pretty unique shelter, Thomas Knob. It had a solar powered privy that used solar cells on the roof to generate power to a circulation fan inside the facility. Razor! As we headed out the next morning we ran into our first group of horses. Many of them mares with young foals that were still nursing. I got some good photos and close encounters as well. The next day brought the beginning of the rainy season (eventually having 6 straight days of wet weather) and the difficulty of getting things dry. Hiking in the rain is fine, I actually don't carry raingear (you get just as wet sweating in Gortex) and just change to a long sleeve EMS shirt for a little extra insulation. The problem is when you change out of your wet clothes at night to sleep and you hang wet stuff up to "dry", they don't really dry in the cool, evening air. So when rain came down on us again the next day we chose a diversion and hitchhiked into Troutdale where there was a free church hostel that we read about in our AT guidebook. We were able to have hot showers and wash and DRY our clothes. Avoiding more rain we ran about .5 mile down to the Troutdale Trading Post for dinner and resupply. The same nice couple that gave us a ride into town had come back by to bring us dessert and soda and see if we needed a ride back up to the hostel since it was raining. I couldn't believe their generosity! The next morning, at breakfast we avoided the antics of a thru hiker who was hiking this section with her Bull Mastiff, her 13 year old daughter and a drifter she had brought with her from home. They arrived late at the church hostel the night before and now her daughter wanted to go home and she was having a hard time getting her entire group to hitch a ride back to her car 2 hours away. She asked if one of us could go ... Do what now ?!? Well, we were glad to get back on the Trail and heading to the luxurious Partnership shelter.
Plants: More Yellow and White Poplars, lots of Rhodos
Animals: Cows, Wild Horses, Black Snake, Garter Snake
Thank Yous: Atlas and his Dad, Harold and Mildred Nutter - for food and transport
Artist of the Week: When you hear songs by the Rolling Stones , turn them up, sing along and think of me!
Week 6 (May 30 - June 5, 2004)
Click here for pictures from Weeks 3 through 6
"Never forget the pleasure of the journey." -Chinese Proverb
So, unfortunately our friend Shoe, member of the Ice Cream Social Club, injured himself during a hike the other day and took a day off (as did the rest of us) at Kincora Hostel to rest up and we rode out another wet day. I was surprised to see Smack come strutting through the door that morning (I had met her a week earlier at Ms Janets when we were leaving and had left her messages in the trail registers to catch up) and ask what I was making her for breakfast. Later she was joined by her compadres Lamby, Mickey and Mallory. The hostel was packed with about 16 people but it was fun to be seeing others that you had passed or had been passed by on the trail. That evening, Memorial Day, there was a big picnic shin dig planned up the road at Lake Watauga. Ms Janet was coming up from Erwin to party at the lake with some friends and thru hikers and was coming to pick us up at Kincora. Things didn't go according to plan and when she got there we decided to do our own picnic on the gas grill at Kincora and we would hit Lake Watauga and the rope swing the next day as we hiked by it. The next morning before heading out, Shoe informed us that he would not be continuing on and that he would head home to have a doctor look at him. He found out that he had strained both his knee and groin and would be out of comission for a couple of weeks. Hopefully we will see him up the trail in VA. Get well buddy! So as a group of about 10 of us headed up the trail towards the lake, some arrived earlier and were already hitting the rope swing. It was a "moon shot" from Mickey that enticed a nearby pontoon boat to come closer and check the scene. Just to let you know, this boat was full of testoterone and alcohol! The guys on the boat were from Boone NC, about 45 minutes up the road and students at Appalachian State. They invited any and all of us to go back to Boone to party with them for the night and they would return us to this spot the next day. IT sounded great, though I was a bit leary of the level of intoxication but when I asked for some solid details of the evening's activities I got a straight answer and was willing to take a chance. So with about 8 people on this pontoon boat already, 8 thru-hikers and all our gear made our way onto the boat as the pontoons vanished from sight! We motored ... well puttered across the lake back to the marina to turn in the rental boat and head to Boone. It turns out that the driver of the boat, Buddy, aka Bubbles owned his own catereing company and we were in for a culinary surprise! Bubbles had a gorgeous estate and we ate, drank and became very merry! And not just from the beer and liquor ... we were served shrimp and grits, baked beans, barbeque beef, biscuits. And for breakfast, more grits (I think I like these things after all) more biscuits, eggs and a salmon and cream cheese roll! Oh yeah we all got his hot tub nice and dirty and then slept in real beds! And the next morning, Bubbles and Nate drove us back to the lake ... and Team Aquablaze had been born! Gosh it was hard to get back to the daily life of a thru-hiker after such a random but lavish detour. But we slowly returned to our AT lifefstyle, secretly wondering "when will somehthing like this happen again?" The rest of the week was fairly calm, with a church group/boy scout member hobbling south that I got to practice my WFR skills on, followed by a night spent at a haunted shelter. A couple days later we rolled past the 500 mile mark of the trip and into the town of Damascus. Meet Virginia, 3 states down, 11 to go! This is a very hiker friendly town that hosts the annual Trail Days festival in early May. We did not make it there in time for the activities but may go next year since I hear alumni hikers get to pelt current AT hikers with water balloons as they march down Main St ... that is razor(sweet)!
Plants: Fire Pink, Mt Laurel and Rhododendrons had a short bloom this week
Animals: More snakes and salamanders
Thank Yous: Buddy Fore of Grouse Moor Catering, Nate, Team Aquablaze,
Artist of the Week: When you hear songs from Train, turn them up, sing along and think of me!
Week 5 (May 23 - 29, 2004)
Click here for pictures from Weeks 3 through 6
"Man has created some lovely dwellings, some soul-stirring literature. He has done much to alleviate physical pain. But he has not ... created a substitute for a sunset, a grove of pines, the music of the winds, the dank smell of the deep forest, or the shy beauty of a wildflower." -Harvey Broome
Hey y'all, long time - no update! Sorry about that, I've been busy with both on and off trail activities AND there aren't a lot of internet cafes down here in the "dirty south"! But Let me tell you about week 5. Before Ms Janet's I'd been hiking with Goofy and Shivers (Pat and Chris) now Shivers has moved ahead to meet his brother and to hike with him and Goofy and I have been hiking with to older gentlemen, Yogi, city boy from NYC and Shoe, a pottery artist from northern VA(he is only doing a section hike). Now since Ms. Janets our quartet has been dubbed the Ice Cream Social Club - we like to eat it, and we like to have a good time! As we headed away from another town and back on the trail we had some stints with wet and foggy weather on the trail. One morning at Overmountain shelter we awoke to heavy rain, luckily it was an old big barn they converted to a shelter so we had plenty of room to wait out the rain (10 of us there altogether). After 2 days of hiking in crappy weather (no views from the high ridgelines) we ran into some "trail magic" (items or services done for free for thru hikers at random times along the trail) when Shoe happened to run into an old friend of his when we came to a road crossing to hitch into town. His name is Seiko, dare I say a legend on the trail. He first thru hiked the trail while serving in the Army, since retiring he has done it 12 more times with a total AT mileage over ... I'm not making this up ... 38,000 MILES! Can you say guru?!? We stayed at the hostel that he helps manage in Hampton, TN and went out to an AYCE Chinese buffet and picked his brain while we expanded our stomachs! What a character! So many comical stories, he really likes playing with the "rookies" when he goes back on the AT. You'll have to wait for stories (maybe a book) on the lobster he "found" in a creek and memorizing the AT data book by "speed reading" it! Again, with the shuttle help from Seiko, we had 2 days of slackpacking as we worked our way closer to the VA line. We actually were rather clean for 4 days with consecutive stays in Hostels in Hampton and then up in Kincora, TN. Kincora hostel was run by a sweet couple from Massachusetts, thick Bostonian accents, I felt like I was with my relatives. Bob, the owner said to me "I see ya rootin fa tha right teama" as he acknowledged my Red Sox cap! Well thats all for week 5, look for a wild story for next week!
Plants: Striped Maple, White Poplar, Jack in the Pulpit
Animals: Mostly the domestic variety at the hostels; dogs, cats, horses.
Thank Yous: Seiko, The Browns, Pat and Bob at Kincora Hostel
Artist of the Week: "Bust it!" When you hear a song (or the song) by Young MC, turn it up, sing along and think of me!
Week 4 (May 16 - 22, 2004)
Click here for pictures from Weeks 3 through 6
"The Musk Ox searches all over the world trying to find the source of the scent which comes from itself." -Ramakrishna
Hey all, before I give you the play by play I have a little game for you. I began this trip by tipping the scales at... 202 pounds! So I want people to guess what my weight will be when I get to Harper's Ferry (about half way point) and Mount Katahdin (the finish). Later, as I get closer to H.F. I'll have you all email me and the person closest (to the half pound) will win an AT T shirt.
So leaving Hot Springs was hell. It was hot... my pack was full... it was all uphill... it was hot! This week was good. We had 2 days with long miles. We had two days of 18 miles and a 20 miler day. It is good to be able to put in some big mile days and also be able to know that I can pull one of those days out when needed. After a few days of hiking, we were back in town... Erwin, TN. We started our town visit with a very rude Uncle Johnny who we were trying to get a ride to our AYCE pizza! We finally got our ride and the feasting began. We didn't leave for over 2.5 hours... and the best part, I was able to unload $5 IN THE JUKEBOX... ah! From there we hitched a ride to Ms Janet's Hostel. I also got caught up on some new movie action watching the blockbuster hit "You Got Served"! This week was a "slack" week, in that we slackpacked one day. Slackpacking is when you get vehicle support and leave your full pack at the hostel or motel. So instead of carrying 45 pounds and all my gear I carry a fanny pack and lunch and water, less than 6 pounds! We also got to take Janet's dog Fabion on the first 10 miles that day. We slacked 18 miles that day, then Pat and I chowed down at Erwin Burrito. We also had amazing breakfasts at Janet's. One was bannanna pancakes, topped with fresh bannannas and Maple Walnut ice cream... heaven in my mouth! Another meal in Erwin was my first experience at Sonic. Didn't get a burger, but the food was quite good. We didn't want to leave Erwin but there are many towns to come and many cool people and new places to experience. Annoying incident of the week - heat rash.
Plants: Oxeye Daisy, Flame Azalea, White Pine, False Solomon's Seal
Animals: Red Eft Salamander, Black Snake, Garter Snake
Thank Yous: Ms. Janets, Bluff Mt Outfitters, Mark at Erwin Burrito
No thanks WHATSOEVER: Uncle Johnny at Nolichucky Hostel
Artist of the Week: whenever you hear Indigo Girls, turn them up, sing along and think of me.
Week 3 (May 9 - May 15, 2004)
Click here for pictures from Weeks 3 through 6
"When you get into a tight place and everything goes against you, till it seems as though you could not hold on a minute longer, never give up then, for that is just the place and time that the tide will turn." -Harriet Beecher Stowe
So, this past week was my Smoky Mountain experience, and I'm sad to say, no bear sighting. I guess I'll have to wait til New Jersey where there is apparently about a bear an acre as you go through the AT up there. So I did have some new wildlife sightings (see list below). Some of this weeks highlights included "bagging" my first 6000 + foot peak. It was at Clingman's Dome, the highest point on the Appalachian Trail at 6643 above sea level. Unfortunately I was the one that was bagged, because, well I was in the Smokies and we had rain and low clouds the entire morning as we headed towards the summit. When we got to the top ... FOG, as far as the eye could see! Well, I guess I'll have to take advantage of other summit experiences when I have clear weather, and reminisce about the ones that I have already experienced. I had a short bout with the shivers as it began to rain during our lunch break after Clingman's but I did some serious "power walking" to get my metabolism up and going and after a few miles the uncontroable shakes had gone away and the rain stopped shortly after that. It was sad to see all the hemlocks being killed in the higher elevations from the adelgid, a little bug that is infesting this magnificent trees! But it was nice to smell all the Fraser Fir trees along the highlands in the Smokies. It was like mother nature's own Christmas Tree farm ... so fragrant! When we came out of the Smokies 5 days after leaving Fontana Dam (the largest dam east of the Rocky Mts) we headed to a little place called Mountain Momma's Country Store and Hostel. We were planning a nice big home-cooked breakfast and I was picking up a "bounce box" a package with food and supplies that I had forwarded to myself from Fontana. So six days later when we got to Momma's ... NO PACKAGE! I was bummed, I had to stay behind as Pat and Chris headed on down the trail and I got a room at Momma's. I did have a nice view of a swift moving creek directly behind the property and the company of 3 dogs and a cat named Ugly while I stayed there. The next morning my package arrive around 9:30 ... SWEET! I got another big breakfast packed up all my gear and got back on the trail. I hiked 12 miles to the first shelter. I met up with Yogi, a guy from NYC that is a true city boy, very friendly though, who I met while hiking in the Smokies. He was a former tax accountant that had back surgery and now his physical therapy is ... thru-hiking the AT! When I got to the shelter around 5pm he said he wasn't staying there since it was full and there was a gap about 3 miles up the trail. I said "sounds good" got my dinner out, cooked, ate and was back on the trail around 5:30pm, with 3 hours of daylight still in the bag. This was a good move, because the next day we planned on hiking all the way to Hot Springs ... 23 MILES! Now, before this my biggest day was 17 miles. This would be a challenge, an all day hike. Although it had a long stretch of flat trail that followed a small creek, it was a full day with a full pack. My hiking began around 8:30 am, by noon I had lunch and had hiked over 8 miles. OK 15 more in the afternoon looked atainable. So as I passed by Yogi after lunch I pushed up one of the two big hills of the day. I was making great time. I paced myself betwwen mileage sings at one point and in a 3.4 mile stretch, covered that in 70 minutes! I'm not THAT fast !?! Well after I got to the last shelter before town, mile 20 for the day, I felt great, my knee and blistered feet where starting to not bother me. Then it rained for the second time that day and I began the final 3 mile descent into Hot Springs, a steep descent into Hot Springs! Mother Nature was just reminding me who was in charge and I limped into town a little disheveled. But it was only 5:40 pm ... a little over 9 hours and 23 MILES! I must admit I was a little motivated to have a night of pizza and conversation with the group of people I had been hiking with on and off over the last 3 weeks. And I got to watch a little NBA and NHL playoff action ... nice! The next day ... I still felt OK. After doing some errands and picking up my package at the post office Chris, Pat , Yogi and I went to the hot springs, which is what the town is named after. It is one of the only ones on the East Coast. We hung out in the tub and afterwards I got a massage, much needed after some serious mileage! Also the hiker hostel that I stayed at was called Sunnybank Inn, it came highly recommended. It was a very neat place. Reminded me of a big family vacation house in Cape Cod. Elmer, the owner, was a thru hiker many years ago and stayed there. He liked it so much that a few years later when the owner was selling, he bought it and continues the tradition with delicious vegetarian meals for breakfast and lunch! So today I am getting ready to get outta Hot Springs and back on the trail. 270 miles down, about 1900 to go!
Plants: Fraser Firs, Red Spruce, Eastern Hemlock, Yellow Birch, Beech, Basswood, and Buckeye, Columbine
Animals: Blackbelly, Slimy, Red Backed, Mountain Dusky Salamanders, Chipmunk, Toad, Black Rat Snake, Deer, Red Eye Vireo, Black Throated Blue Warbler, Juncos
Thank Yous: Carolyn at Mountain Momma's, Elmer at Sunnybank Inn, Dad for the filter cartridge
Artist of the Week: When you hear songs by Coldplay, turn them up, sing along, and think of me!
Week 2 (May 2 - May 8, 2004)
Click here for pictures from Weeks 1 and 2
"Now I see the secret of making the best persons, it is to grow in the open air and eat and sleep with the earth." -Walt Whitman
So this week Matt and I moved out of our first state ... see ya Georgia!
Glad to be out of that state, it was either straight up or straight down!
We met and intersted older gentlemen this week whose trail name is
Stumpknocker. He is thru-hiking the trail for the third time and it was odd
cause his pack looked tiny, like a day pack and most thru hikers carry 40-50
lbs. Stumpknocker's pack, full with food and gear ... I'm not making this
up, weighed UNDER 20 POUNDS! So I gleaned some knowledge from this pro and
have made the following adjustments. Replaced my Nalgene water bottle with
a plastic 1 liter soda bottle, replaced my Leatherman multi-tool with a mini
Swiss Army knife, replaced my headlamp with a key chain sized micro nite
lite. Also I mailed home some more clothes and am down to near 40 lbs
(started at over 50) and will continue to wittle away at my pack weight.
This week we started with temps going down to just above freezing at night
... Matt and I slept COLD! Then 2 days later with day temps up about 70 the
nights were proportionately warmer. A highlight of this week was seeing the
second largest Yellow (Tulip) Poplar in the US! It was huge (look for
photos next week in the new photo gallery section)! The story goes that
when they were harvesting timber ... aka clear cutting early last century
they dropped a Poplar similar in size to this one and not even there team of
oxen were able to bring this giant tree up from the valley floor! So this
one was spared! We spend Saturday afternoon at the Nantahala Outdoor Center
(NOC), the place where I did my Outward Bound white-water training 5 years
ago this month. I went into the outfitter store to get some new trail
shoes. My annoying injury of the week is no longer my knee (only a bit of a
bother) it is now big, bull dog BLISTERS! Between compensating for my
ailing knee and have these damn loose boots, my blisters are ripe and
luscious! So I got some new supportive trail shoes and replace the insoles
with "Super Feet" insoles (thanks again to Stumpknocker). My favorite spot
this week was a place called Wyah Bald. At about 5300 feet it was panaromic
views of mountains in every direction for about 30 plus miles! Look for
some AMAZING sunset photos next week! So when we arrived at Fontana Dam on
Saturday, I was picking up my pack by the shoulder and hip belt strap ...
the hip belt strap SNAPPED ... oh S#!T Luckily Matt has the same kind of
pack and he gave me his hip belt strap and I went to the "bike doctor" at
Fontana Village and he assisted me with the right tools to put it back
together. With my 2 rest days here at Fontana I have been soaking my
blisters in Epsom Salt and dosing them with Hydrogen Peroxide to dry those
bad boys out! I have one on my right foor and four on my left! They are
doing better and I am thinking "happy feet" thoughts. So Matt went home
yesterday and I will press on with Pat and Chris to guys that I have hiked
here and there with. We head into the Great Smoky Mountains tomorrow and
during those 70 miles will traverse the highest point on the AT, Clingman's
Dome that stands over 6600 feet above sea level ... can't wait to see the
view! So I have a trail name now, I am going with the name Terrapin, I
thought this to be quite relative. Well, I'm feeling some bear stories for
Plants: Pink Lady Slippers, Azaleas, Yellow Poplar, Dutchmen's Breeches,
Animals: Mouse, heard a Black Bear
Thank yous: Justin from Fontana Village, Jeff the shuttle man, Bill for the
free hitch, Dorothy and the staff at NOC, Dean Matt Ritter for everything!
Artist of the Week: When you hear songs from R.E.M. turn them up, sing along
and think of me!
Week 1 (April 25 - May 1, 2004)
Click here for pictures from Weeks 1 and 2
"Always in big woods when you leave familiar ground and step off alone into a new place there will be, along with the feelings of curiousity and excitement, a little nagging dread. It is the ancient fear of the Unkown , and it is your first bond with the wilderness you are going into. What you are doing is exploring. You are undertaking the first experience , not of the place, but of yourself in that place. It is an experience of our essential loneliness; for nobody can discover the world for anybody else. It is only after we have discovered it for ourselves that it becomes a common ground and a common bond, and we cease to be alone." -Wendell Berry
So it has begun, Matt and I drove to Fontanna Dam on Monday, took a shuttle to Springer Mt on Tuesday and hike 8 miles our first day on the trail. The shelter, to my surprise was full of hikers, both sectional and a few thru-hikers, I was not the last to start! And, yes, I lost the bet and was the first to dig a cathole and "drop the kids at the sandbox"! The weather the first 3 days was great, 2 days of sun and a cloudy but dry day. The second day we did about 9 miles and the third day about 12. On day four we hiked most of the day in the rain, and it was a cold rain! Thank goodness we decided to carry trekking poles, they are lifesavers ... and balance savers! The terrain continues to vary some sections smooth and flat, others rocky and sloping, and others steep uphills followed by steep downhills (they are the mountains we are going over)! Speaking of steep downhills on the 4th day after lunch I noticed a slight twing in my right knee as we went downhill. It persisted and I took a lot of Ibruprofen that night at the shelter. The next morning it was stiff and more Vitamin I was ingested! After a long flat section we started to play the up and down game and my knee was being non-participatory! I told Matt I needed to scoot off the trail when we passed the next road to have a medical opinion on my joint. So we expereinced our first hitch hiking event. We had a nice couple from southern Georgia take us all over to look for a doctor's office or hospital, but to no avail. We stayed that night in the "quaint" town of Alpine Helen , where every building located in the downtown area (and I'm not making this up) is a frickin A frame swiss chalet building! Didn't get any pics but do a web search and experience it for yourself... weird! The night consisted of our first hot shower (after 5 days of mud, sweat and rain) and a delicious Mexican dinner! The next day Matt "slackpacked" the next 17 miles while I shuttled to the town of Hiawassee to go to the hospital. I was relieved to find out from the good Doc that my X rays were negative and that it was a case of overuse (and overweight)! I was given a steriod shot in the knee and a prescription of industrial strenght Aleve and told to pick up a neoprene knee brace at the pharmacy. Today, May 3rd, Matt and I did our laundry, mailed about 13 pounds of unneccessary gear home and restocked our food for this week. After this entry we are heading out of town to Dicks Creek Gap to get back on the trail and stay at a shelter tonight. Talk to you in a week, BKG.
Plants: Trilium, Phlox, Violets, Jack-in-the-Pulpit, May Apples
Animals: American Redstart, Eastern Towhee, Pilated Woodpecker, Scarlett Tanager, Vireo, Several Species of Warblers, Crayfish, Snails, Lunar Moth, Several Species of Salamanders
Thank Yous: Joyce for the shuttle, George and Diane Barrett, Muhomed at Mall Shuttle Transport, Dr. Church and the staff at Hiawassee Hospital , Cordy Jones at Mull Motel, Restless at Neels Gap and Tom
"A footpath for those who seek fellowship with the wilderness."