Day 174 (10/1/15)

Day 174 (10/1/15)

Start:  Mt. Katahdin Campground

Finish: Mt. Katahdin Summit

Miles Hiked: 5.2

To Go: 0

Overall: 2189.2

Jeopardy, RockBoat and I woke up early and were on the road for 6:00am. It was cold and windy but fortunately the rain had stopped. Between the hotel and Katahdin Stream Campground were some instances of street flooding and downed tree limbs but it would take much more than that to keep us from reaching Baxter State Park, the home of Mt. Katahdin. After an hour of carefully negotiating dark and wet roads we arrived at the campground. Hikers are expected to sign in at a check station on the trail just after leaving the campground – it looked like we were the first hikers of the morning. I was in high spirits and couldn’t wait to climb 4,000ft to touch the sign on the summit. I have waited nearly 11 years for today and now that it was here it was oddly business as usual. Hiking with Jeopardy and RockBoat today was just like it was before, we made jokes at each others expense, cursed the trail where it was deserved and appreciated the views when given. Due to yesterday’s heavy rainfall, portions of the trail were flowing like a stream and there where even a few small waterfalls created by the normally dry boulders we needed to climb up. Dry feet would be impossible to maintain so we walked freely ignoring the flowing water and puddles. After nearly 2,000ft of climbing, we finally made it above treeline. We took a short break and relished our view of the surrounding mountain peaks below enveloped in clouds. It was truly spectacular.

Halfway up

Halfway up

Although we had been climbing steadily, the real work was about to begin. Mt. Katahdin is one of the hardest climbs on the A.T. and hikers must use every muscle in their bodies to pull themselves up and over steep rocks and boulders. I likened it to Mahoosucs Notch but vertical. If today wasn’t my last day then the climb up Katahdin would have been excruciating. Instead, I was having a great time. The three of us inched our way up the mountain, oftentimes clinging to rebar secured directly to the rock. It was exhausting but we eventually made it to an area known as The Tablelands. The trail here is rocky but relatively flat. It was here that I sent my comrades ahead. I wanted to walk this last mile alone. This hike has been my dream for a long time and within the next hour it would be over.

First white blaze - Springer Mt. Georgia, 3/2/15

First white blaze – Springer Mt. Georgia, 3/2/15

I thought back to my first few days of hiking exactly 7 months ago. I was 40 pounds heavier and had never spent a night in a tent in the woods. I had no clue what I was in store for and I did not think I would make it more than a week or two. Georgia was cold and icy and it kicked my ass every day, it contained only 70 miles of trail but it took me 11 days to get out of it. Now, it would only take me three. It was in Georgia that I met my first hiking group of Billygoat, Hula, Blazer, Made-It and Carbomb. I would eventually hike over 500 miles with these amazing people and I will never forget the times we spent together on the trail – especially the karaoke night in Gatlinburg and hiker-trash open mic nights with the Bad Ass Bubble in Hot Springs, NC and Damascus, VA.

Blazer, Hula, Poboy, Made-It, Carbomb and Billygoat - Silers Bald, Smoky Mountains

Blazer, Hula, Poboy, Made-It, Carbomb and Billygoat – Silers Bald, Smoky Mountains

By Daleville, VA I was the last one left and had just completed a two week hiking session with my dad, Crawdad. Although the trail may have been a little harder than he anticipated, he hiked his ass off and I think he had a great time. The time I was able to spend with my dad on the A.T. is two weeks of my life I will never forget; I will also never forget how terrified Crawdad was of contracting Noro at 4 Pines Hostel in Catawba, VA!

Poboy and Crawdad

Poboy and Crawdad

It wasn’t long after Crawdad left that I hooked up with Team Vortex members Scooby, Murphy’s Law, Mile Marker, Cookie Monster, Skipper and Goosebumps and then a little later Blade and The Cuts members Click, Pie, Blade and Cheesebeard. I would hike on and off with these fabulous people for the next several hundred miles.

Team Vortex - Skipper, Scooby, Mile Marker, Murphy's Law, Poboy and Cookie Monster

Team Vortex – Skipper, Scooby, Mile Marker, Murphy’s Law, Poboy and Cookie Monster

After my weeklong trip to D.C. with my wife I became woefully homesick and contemplated quitting on an hourly basis. I hiked with tears in my eyes for most of my time through the Shenandoahs. Had it not been for my reunion with Click, Pie, Blade and Cheesebeard and D.G., I honestly don’t think I would have been able to keep going. You guys raised my spirits and kept me in the game – Thank You! After Blade and The Cuts left the trail for a weeklong trip to New York, I hiked on alone but with a new confidence.

Blade and the Cuts - Blade, Pie, Click and Cheesebeard

Blade and the Cuts – Blade, Pie, Click and Cheesebeard

Eventually, I reached Deleware Water Gap and met Miles, Roker, RockBoat and Jeopardy. By this time I had transformed from a novice, pudgy hiker that liked low mile days and being clean into a badass hiking robot capable of knocking out consistent 20 miles days, relishing the funk a week of hiking without a shower creates. I felt unstoppable and able to walk the remaining miles on my own but with such company as these guys along with Lightning and Porkchop who the hell would want to? In the same breath we cursed the trail and laughed at each other; the miles passed faster than ever.

Roker, RockBoat, Jeopardy, Poboy and Miles

Roker, RockBoat, Jeopardy, Poboy and Miles

By the time I finished the dreaded White Mountains of NH I felt like I might actually finish this hike. Fate would throw a curveball however and I had to leave my friends and the trail behind. I had come so far and tried, unsuccessfully, to reason with myself that the miles hiked was good enough. While I was home, I thought about the trail several times an hour and my absence made me sick. Luckily, I was able to get back after several weeks. I was now alone for good, everyone I knew had either dropped off or summited. I didn’t care though, I had only Maine left to hike and come hell or high water, I would touch that damned sign on the top of Mt. Katahdin.

Maine was not easy but I hiked hard for 19 days and now found myself just a few feet away from reaching my goal. I stood next to the sign and stared at it for several seconds before extending a shaking hand. The moment my palm made contact with the worn sign my thru-hike was over. RockBoat and Jeopardy congratulated me as we took some summit photos. Eventually we would have to hike back down but for now, we were more than content to sit on the summit, our thru-hikes complete, and laugh.

I write this last post from the safe and warm confines of my home in Louisiana. I feel blessed to have been given the opportunity to follow my dream. Now that it’s over, I can’t wait to get back to the normal day to day of work, cutting my lawn and having a two-day weekend. My feet are a full size larger than when I started, my body is sore from head to toe and I can’t walk without pain in my knees. Over the last seven months I have not slept uninterrupted for more than 4 hours. I wake up several times a night, even since I’ve been home, for no reason. During a thru-hike, hikers commonly experience periods of near starvation only to be followed by absolute indulgence. A thru-hike cannot be healthy to the body but, to the soul, it is a healthy and beautiful thing.

Finally!

Finally!

Finally!

Finally!

Finally

Finally

A happy Poboy

A happy Poboy

Jeopardy, Poboy and RockBoat on the summit.

Jeopardy, Poboy and RockBoat on the summit.

Jeopardy, Poboy and RockBoat on the summit.

Jeopardy, Poboy and RockBoat on the summit.

I would like to send everyone reading this a small token of my appreciation for following this journal. If you would be kind enough to email me your mailing address at nfishr5@yahoo.com I would like to send you something in the mail. I promise not to sell your information to Apple or some crazy guy in Russia!

Although the hiking is over, my updates on this blog are not. Over the next few weeks I plan on uploading some video and more pictures. Feel free to remove yourself from the automatic email updates A very special thanks to everyone one of you for reading along and following this crazy adventure. Your comments were an inspiration and knowing I had such a big support team  kept me moving. I also want to thank all of the amazing people I met on the trail with an extra big shout out to RockBoat and Jeopardy – thanks guys, you are awesome. To my family and friends that sent me care packages – when I knew I had a care package waiting for me in a town, I hiked with a smile just knowing you cared enough to actually send me something. Just because I’m back home doesn’t mean you have to stop sending me food though! To my wife, Leigh – we did it. You were with me every step of the way and I know this wasn’t easy on you but you supported me every step of the way and believed in my dream. I love you so much it hurts sometimes but if you get sick of me being home please don’t make me hike again! I love you all, thanks again!

Days 59 – 61 (4/28/15 – 4/30/15)

Day 59, 4/28/15

Start: Virginia State Rd 611
Finish: Somewhere in the Virginia woods
Miles Hiked: 22.5
Miles To Go: 1567.7
Overall Miles Hiked: 621.5

Billy Goat and I got started around 9:00AM, which is early by our standards. We were planning on putting in big miles today – rain was forecasted for tomorrow and we were planning on getting into Pearisburg, VA before it hit. I hiked the first 3.5 miles in one hour. I was feeling great even though the temperature last night was in the mid 30’s. Usually I am slow to start when the temperature is that low, but there was no wind and that helped! After a quick break for breakfast (a protein bar and two starbursts) we hiked up a gradual 800 ft. hill and then continued hiking the along ridge lines for the next several miles. Hiking on ridge lines gives you good views from either side, but can be rocky so the hiking can be slow at times.

Suspension Bridge

Suspension Bridge

Around 1:00PM, Billy Goat had our first decision to make…Should we continue hiking or take a half mile detour to Trent’s Grocery and eat hamburgers? By this point, I am sure you guessed it – Hamburgers it is! For a gas station, the burgers were okay. After our 1 hour break and another half mile walk, we were back on the trail.  Unfortunately, the trail went up, steeply at times, for a few hundred feet. With full bellies, hiking was slow and I’m sad to say there may have been a curse word or two uttered from beneath our pickled and onioned breath. Eventually, I’ll learn not to eat a big meal just before an incline!

Tree canopy over the trail

Tree canopy over the trail

Great shot of the trail

Great shot of the trail

The trail finally leveled off and started going downhill. We soon were faced with our next decision of the day…Should we hike an extra .3 miles to Dismal Falls? Yes, we sure did and am very happy about this decision! The falls were beautiful and gave us an opportunity to catch some sun on the warm rocks and refresh our aching feet in the cool river. We didn’t want to leave, but there were miles left to hike. After eating a quick snack and relaxing for 30 minutes, we made the .3 miles back to the A.T. and resumed hiking. With the two stops (hamburgers and waterfall) we hiked an additional 1.6 miles that we didn’t have to and do not count towards total A.T. miles hiked. I’d love to know how many additional miles I’ve hiked so far and how many more I will hike in the future! When it comes to food and especially great views, the extra miles are well worth it in my opinion.

PoBoy at Dismal Falls

PoBoy at Dismal Falls

PoBoy taking a nap at Dismal Falls

PoBoy taking a nap at Dismal Falls

After Dismal Falls, we had 6 miles of some of the flattest trail yet. It still went up and down, but not to any degree that caused difficulty and before long, we arrived at Wapiti Shelter around 7:00PM. Decision time #3…should we call it a day at 17 miles or keep going? We had 18 miles before we reached Pearisburg and wanted to get that number lower. We still had about an hour of daylight left so we made the steep 1,300 ft. hike up and watched an amazing sunset. The plan was to watch the sunset then hike with our headlamps until we found a decent campsite. Well, at 9:15PM we were still hiking so we found some fairly level ground and pitched our tents. This was my first time night hiking and I enjoyed it! I definitely plan on doing it more, especially with a summer full moon. I’m not exactly sure where we are, but I think we only have 13 short miles to Pearisburg. Should be there right in time for lunch!

Hiking at sunset

Hiking at sunset

Sunset selfie!

Sunset selfie!

Another picture of the beautiful sunset

Another picture of the beautiful sunset


Day 60, 4/29/15

Start: Somewhere in the Virginia woods
Finish: Pearisburg, VA
Miles Hiked: 13
Miles To Go: 1554.7
Overall Miles Hiked: 634.5

We woke up early and were out of camp by 7:30. It was a nice hike today. Since we climbed up the mountain yesterday evening, we were walking ridge lines and had good views on both sides. The weather was much better than we anticipated and the hiking went fast.

On the ridge line looking back at where we camped the night before

On the ridge line looking back at where we camped the night before

Just before the descent into Pearisburg is a rock outcropping called Angels Rest. From atop Angels Rest, you can see the valley below with Pearisburg right in the middle. Billy Goat and I sat down and enjoyed the view.

Enjoying the view at Angels Rest

Angels Rest

Billy Goat at Angels Rest

Billy Goat at Angels Rest

Pearisburg from Angels Rest

Pearisburg from Angels Rest

We only had one hour of hiking left so I called Crawdad and asked him where we would be staying. He said the motel was right across from a big strip mall. From our view, we thought we could see the strip mall he was talking about. I zoomed in with my camera and sure enough we could make out the motel. I asked Crawdad to walk across the street into the strip mall parking lot. Within a minute or so, we could see a figure walking, so I told Crawdad to stop walking, the figure stopped. I said, “Start walking again”…the figure walked… “Go back the other way,” the figure obeyed – It was Crawdad! I took a picture of him from 2,000 ft. up!

Where's Crawdad? (Hint: He is next to a light post in center of pic!)

Where’s Crawdad? (Hint: He is next to a light post in the parking lot in center of pic!)

We met him at the motel and showered. Right across the street was  La Barranca Mexican Grill. The food was good and they had a pool table and jukebox. We stayed there the rest of the evening as other hikers trickled in.


Day 61, 4/30/15

Start: Pearisburg, VA
Finish: Pearisburg, VA
Miles Hiked: 0
Miles To Go: 1554.7
Overall Miles Hiked: 634.5

We took a zero today. I know Crawdad was itching to get back on the trail, but I needed some rest. I went over my plan on how Crawdad should resume hiking. He seemed to agree that low mileage was the way to go. I feel confident that he will be able to stay on the trail and make some good miles. Today is Billy Goat’s last day with me. He is heading home for Mother’s Day soon and is moving up 50 miles on the trail to see some great views before he leaves the A.T. I’ve really enjoyed hiking with him and hope to see him again. Maybe we can hike the John Muir trail in California together…just kidding! After the A.T. I don’t think either one of us will be doing any long distance hiking ever again! A bunch of hikers we know came in town today so we are all going back to La Barranca for more pool, the NFL draft and to send Bill Goat off in style. Adios, Buddy and Happy Trails!

Days 55 – 58 (4/24/15 – 4/27/15)

Day 55, 4/24/15

Start: Atkins, VA
Finish: Knot Maul Branch Shelter
Miles Hiked: 14.4
Miles To Go: 1632.1
Overall Miles Hiked: 557.1

I checked out of the hotel around 10:00AM and got back on the A.T. The weather was absolutely perfect today and the hiking was phenomenal. These last 2 days have been my favorite so far. After a few miles of hiking, I came to mile 547.3 and sat down on a log with a big smile on my face. I had just completed 25% of the A.T. I know I have a long way to go, but I never thought I would make it this far. After patting myself on the back, I got to work on the next 25%.

I've completed 25% of the trail!

I’ve completed 25% of the trail!

I came down from the mountain and hit a road. There was a car parked off to the side and as soon as I approached, the two occupants got out and offered me a coke! Their son, Hard Tac, had hiked in 2013 and they were just paying it forward to other hikers. The generosity of complete strangers out here never ceases to amaze me! I hiked along a series of streams for the next few miles and wished I had a fishing pole. I’ve heard that in Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine there are several opportunities for hikers to do some fishing along the trail, as long as they have the proper license of course. I think I may have to look into that!

Hiking through a cow pasture

Hiking through a cow pasture

I made it to the shelter and debated on where to sleep. I could either pitch my tent or sleep in the shelter with several other smelly hikers. Usually the tent is a no brainer, but with rain forecasted tonight, I chose the shelter. It’s hard for me to sleep in a shelter because of all the moving around and snoring, but at least I would stay dry tonight.


Day 56, 4/25/15

Start: Knot Maul Branch Shelter
Finish: Virginia Hwy 623
Miles Hiked: 15.5
Miles To Go: 1616.6
Overall Miles Hiked: 572.6

It was an overall nasty day. Right off the bat, Billy Goat and I had a pretty tough 2,000 ft. climb up Chestnut Ridge in rainy and foggy weather. At the top of the ridge is Chestnut Knob Shelter. We ducked inside and ate a quick Ramen lunch. After 2 months, I am pretty sick of Ramen, but when the food bag is running low there is usually plenty of it left!

Although the hiking today was pretty tough, the time passed rather quickly. My mind was occupied with the fact that I would be hiking with my dad for the next 2 weeks. We had previously agreed to meet at the Big Walker Motel in Bland, VA, but today I had been in touch with the shuttle driver picking him up from the Roanoke airport and also arranged a ride for me and Billy Goat.

Waiting on Crawdad to arrive!

Waiting on Crawdad to arrive!

We met in the woods where the A.T. crosses Virginia Hwy 623. It was great seeing a familiar face! I hugged my dad and introduced him to Billy Goat. Over the course of a 30 minute ride to the motel, I filled him in on our last 2 months. He seemed fascinated by our stories and was extremely excited to get going in the morning. I also gave him the trail name I’d been thinking of…Crawdad! I figured it was perfect, he’s from New Orleans, would be so slow hiking the A.T. it would almost be a crawl, and obviously, he is my dad. I think he liked it, but I didn’t give him much of a choice! Crawdad, Billy Goat and I checked in to the motel and got ready for our hike tomorrow. With any luck, we will all be alive and well this time tomorrow!


Day 57, 4/26/15

Start: Virginia Hwy 623
Finish: Laurel Creek
Miles Hiked: 9.7
Miles To Go: 1606.9
Overall Miles Hiked: 582.3

Duke, I mean Crawdad, woke early with excitement. The weather was rainy again so we held off on our departure until it somewhat cleared. We finally hit the trail around 10:30AM. Before we left town, we bought a case of coke and some beer and left it at the trail crossing for any hikers coming through. It was nice to be on the other end of trail magic for a change. All day, hikers that passed us thanked us wholeheartedly for what we left behind! The three of us hit the trail. It is hard to describe the A.T. to my friends and family back home. It’s one thing to say, “It’s up and down all day,” but it’s another thing to actually see and hike it. Crawdad learned this quickly. Our 10 mile stretch of trail today was extremely easy for thruhikers who have made it this far, it was not for Crawdad. He said he had looked over this section in his book and it looked pretty flat and easy. On the A.T., flat does not exist. The first 2 miles had us going over 3 or 4 hills with about 100 ft. elevation gain each. Crawdad handled this pretty well. Next was a 1,700 ft. descent. We took it slow, but all descents wreak havoc on the knees and this one was no exception. We were all in a little pain by the time we hit the bottom. In the gap was Jenkins Shelter, where we stopped for lunch.

Crawdad's first white blaze

Crawdad’s first white blaze

Crawdad seemed to be holding together okay, but the real test was just ahead. After lunch was a 700 ft. uphill. My first few weeks on the trail I would have dreaded every step of it, but now, anything under 1,000 ft. isn’t too big of a deal. I have about 600 miles under my belt, Crawdad had 4.5 and rightfully so, it kicked his ass. Billy Goat and I walked behind him and took breaks when he needed it. We remembered how we felt at first and we are half his age. He was doing great but it was not easy on him by any means, especially with a full pack strapped to his back. Once we reached the top, the trail flattened out a bit and allowed Crawdad to speak again. As soon as he caught his breath, he praised every hiker still hiking for making it this far. Day 1 and the trail was already exponentially harder than he had thought.

Crawdad after the uphill

Crawdad after the uphill

We finally made it to camp and set up our tents among the dozen or so already pitched. Laurel Creek is right next to a road that we had been told to make sure we get to tomorrow morning. We were told several townspeople would shuttle hikers into town for a free breakfast bonanza! We were all very excited and willing to accept. Crawdad doesn’t have his hiker diet just yet, so he ate a few dried foods for dinner while Billy Goat, all the other hikers and myself gorged ourselves! Again, he praised us for the miles under our belt and said we were all crazy for doing this to ourselves everyday. Regarding the crazy, I can’t disagree!


Day 58, 4/27/15

Start: Laurel Creek
Finish: Virginia State Rd 611
Miles Hiked: 16.7
Miles To Go: 1590.2
Overall Miles Hiked: 599

Man it got cold last night. I feel bad for Crawdad because I know he got cold and it’s probably my fault. I told him to expect lows in the upper 40’s, not lower 30’s. All of the hikers took their time getting ready since we weren’t getting picked up until 9:00AM. Even though I was about to eat a free breakfast, I ate a quick snack. Last night I woke up in the middle of the night craving food. It looks like my hiker diet is kicking in big time! Just before   nine, the first car pulled up and took away 4 hikers. There were 16 still waiting and a few more on the way. Another minute later a van pulled up and took Crawdad, Bill Goat, me and 4 others to the church.  There was one big table downstairs with a dozen or so hungry hikers around it and two smaller tables upstairs seating about 8 each. Crawdad and I ate upstairs – we were offered coffee, orange juice, chocolate milk, yogurt, pudding, fruit cups, pancakes, eggs, grits, sausage, biscuits and gravy and a few different casseroles. On the way out they offered us bags of candy and hand knitted scarves. This church has been helping hikers for the past 14 years, so amazing! To all of you who have helped me and other hikers along the way, THANK YOU so very much! A little goes a long way for a thruhiker! After expressing thanks, thanks and more thanks, Billy Goat, Crawdad and I were dropped off back at the trailhead.

Hiker breakfast feast

Hiker breakfast feast

Before we got going for the day, I took my dad’s food bag, tent poles and some clothes and put them in my pack. It was probably around 15 pounds or so, I know the lighter pack would help his hike today so I was glad to do so. I would have taken even more if I could have fit it. To start the day, we had a 700 ft. climb. It was a little more gradual than the climb yesterday and Crawdad did great! His pace quickened a little and we were rewarded with a few great views of the valley below. A pain in his knee was becoming an issue on the downhills so we agreed it would be best if he went back into town to rest up while Billy Goat and I pressed on and made up some miles. We would meet back up with Crawdad in 2 days in Pearisburg, VA.

It was hard leaving my dad behind, but it was the best plan of action for everyone. For the next 10 miles, I thought about how to best handle Crawdad and my remaining time with him. I think I have a few good ideas and will tell him as soon as I see him again. Sparing the details, my plan would allow us to hike together, allow him some recovery time every few days and also allow me to hike solo and put in some big miles…Fingers crossed! Billy Goat and I found a nice area on the side of the trail for two tents, so we set up camp around 7:00PM and called it quits on a long day.

Days 52 – 54 (4/21/15 – 4/23/15)

Day 52, 4/21/15

Start: Whitetop Mountain Rd
Finish: Fox Creek, VA
Miles Hiked: 19.5
Miles To Go: 1679
Overall Miles Hiked: 510.2

Man did it come down overnight. It was by far the most rain I’ve dealt with so far, but the tent held up well and kept me dry. At times the rain was pounding so hard against my tent I couldn’t sleep. It quit for good around 6:00AM. A few hours later, Billy Goat and I were on the move. Just before lunch, we summited Mt. Rogers. At 5,729 ft., it is Virginia’s highest peak. Unfortunately, the view from the top was ruined by a dense forest of trees, but it didn’t matter. Today, Billy Goat and I had only one thing on our minds…

Grayson Highlands

Grayson Highlands

…I’ve read about them, I’ve heard other thruhikers speak of them, hell, I’ve even dreamt of them! Today is the day I’ve been waiting on for 9 long years! Yep, the Grayson Highlands State Park was straight ahead and would carry on for several miles. And what, you may ask, is so special about the Grayson Highlands? One word: PONIES! Lots and lots of ponies! During the 1960’s, the park service began using ponies to help keep the balds of the Mt. Rogers Recreational Area clear from briars, shrubs and new growth. Every year, the ponies are rounded up and given a checkup. Hikers are lucky enough to hike alongside these majestic beasts and can even sleep in one of the two shelters enclosed within their space. Over the next few hours, Billy Goat and I encountered several different herds until sadly, we came to a sign signifying the last of the pony lands. With tears in our eyes, we moved on an additional 5 miles and setup camp in a campsite just before a steep climb. We will save that for tomorrow.

PoBoy selfie with the ponies

PoBoy selfie with the ponies

A Billy Goat and some ponies

A Billy Goat and some ponies

Today was one of my longer days, but I felt fine for most of it. The last few miles were very rocky and really took a toll on my feet, but again, after a night of rest I am good to go. Just before bed, I met and spoke with another thruhiker named Beowulf. He is dynamite on the harmonica and hails from Tucson, Arizona. He had been hiking with his younger brother, but is alone now. Baby brother decided the A.T. wasn’t for him and went home 2 weeks ago.

Fatman's Squeeze in Grayson Highlands

Fatman’s Squeeze in Grayson Highlands


Day 53, 4/22/15

Start: Fox Creek, VA
Finish: Partnership Shelter
Miles Hiked: 21.3
Miles To Go: 1657.7
Overall Miles Hiked: 531.5

The temperature dropped overnight and the lows were in the mid 40’s – perfect hiking temperature unless the wind is blowing, which it was all day. No matter what direction I hiked, the wind always seemed to be hitting me right in the face. In these situations, I wrap the green buff you’ve seen in some of my pictures over my face to protect against the wind. I may look goofy, but it works really well! Oh, and a special thanks goes out to Sean O’Brien for letting me permanently borrow the buff!

After a few miles, Billy Goat and I arrived at Comers Creek Cascades. It was as nice a spot as any for a photo shoot, so we dropped our packs and snapped away. It was a really beautiful morning and I would have loved to sit and listen to the water all day, but we still had many more miles left to foot.

Comers Creek Casacades

Comers Creek Cascades

PoBOy almost taking a dip!

PoBoy almost taking a dip!

At 3:00PM, we arrived at our predetermined stopping point for the day, Trimpi Shelter. As we were walking into camp, another hiker was walking out saying that he was walking to the next shelter because he heard you could have pizza and sodas delivered there. The next shelter was located just next to the Mt. Rogers Visitors Center, so you could use their phone to order pizza. The only problem was that this shelter was another 10 miles up the trail. We debated a few minutes then hauled ass to Partnership Shelter! We hiked the remaining miles at a 3 mph pace – it’s amazing what the promise of town food can do to a hiker! Well, luckily the rumor was true. As soon as we arrived, there were already 12 empty pizza boxes stacked on the picnic table. Ours made it 14!


Day 54, 4/23/15

Start: Partnership Shelter
Finish: Atkins, VA
Miles Hiked: 11.1
Miles To Go: 1646.5
Overall Miles Hiked: 542.7

Man did it get cold overnight! According to the weather bulletin at the Welcome Center, it got down to 34 degrees and tonight it would get even colder with the added awesomeness  of a freeze warning. It is late April, right? Man, I thought we had left the cold behind us. It’s commonly said to not send your cold weather gear home until you get past Mt. Rogers. That was only a few days ago, so the saying was pretty spot on. Billy Goat unfortunately did not heed the warning and headed into town to warm up and get real food. I’ll meet back up with him tomorrow evening. My goal for today was to make it to Atkins, VA for a room and a resupply. I haven’t washed clothes or showered in about a week – I desperately need to do both.

The hike into Atkins was probably the most enjoyable miles I’ve traveled on the A.T. yet. The trail was relatively flat and guided me through several farms and just past the Lindamood School, which was built in 1894. It still stands today and is now part of the Settlers Museum of Southwest Virginia. Hikers are welcome to step inside the one room school and treat themselves to some trail magic courtesy of the museum and a local Baptist Church. I grabbed a coke, banana and some toothpaste and took a few pictures.

Lindamood Schoolhouse

Lindamood Schoolhouse

Lindamood School

Lindamood School

Just as I was leaving, another hiker named Huckleberry Finn (Finn for short) walked in. Finn hosted our last open mic night and is one of the A.T.’s biggest characters. At times, it is hard to tell if he is crazy or brilliant – after all, there is a fine line between the two.

Finn and the trail magic at Lindamood School

Finn and the trail magic at Lindamood School

As we were leaving the school, Finn told me his story. Finn is a “tree climber and general agriculturalist” and works just long enough to have enough saved up to hike. He actually completed the A.T. last year, hiking from GA to ME and then, as soon as he finished, decided to walk back to Virginia instead of flying back. I believe every word he says and am fascinated by his story. He said the area we were walking up to is infested with snakes and he promises to catch one. Originally from Kentucky, the woods around Atkins are now his “home.” Sure enough, we walked upon a run down barn and Finn immediately starts rummaging under sheets of tin. Before I can comprehend what is happening, Finn holds up a 4 ft. rat snake. “See, what I tell ya?,” he says. I am now leaning on the crazy side of brilliant and take his picture.

Finn and the rat snake

Finn and the rat snake

Another group of hikers walk up and I make my escape as Finn promises to catch them another snake. I look behind me to see them reaching for their cameras and hear Finn say, “Oh wow, a rattler! They usually don’t hang out with rat snakes.” I practically ran the last few miles into town! I checked into the Relax Inn and took a MUCH needed shower. Feeling human again, I walked across the street to a diner and was happy to see Finn alive and well, eating a hamburger. I pulled up a seat beside him and some other hikers and praised the A.T. for the stories it produces.

Days 49 – 51 (4/18/15 – 4/20/15)

Day 49, 4/18/15

Start: Damascus, VA
Finish: Damascus, VA
Miles Hiked: 0
Miles To Go: 1719
Overall Miles Hiked: 470.2

Took a zero today and moved from a bunk at Crazy Larry’s to his backyard and a cheaper tent spot. The A.T goes right through the heart of Damascus for about 2 miles before heading back into the woods. Every year thousands of former and current thruhikers will assemble in this sleepy town for Trail Days. Trail Days (held this year May 15-17) is a giant party celebrating time spent hiking on the A.T. Hikers, past and present, parade down Main Street and swap stories. From what I am told, it is not a party you want to miss and shuttles to and from Damascus are readily available up and down the trail. As of right now, I don’t intend on making it back here for Trail Days this year, but who knows what is in store for me – Stay tuned!

Of all the zeros I have taken so far, I have probably needed this one the most. I used my time off today resting up and eating healthy. I have been craving fresh fruit for the past week and was able to walk over to a grocery store and purchased watermelon, pineapple and bananas. It was delicious! For dinner, I continued my healthy trend and ate a salad. Just kidding, I had a greasy hamburger and chocolate shake…also very delicious!

Once again, it looks like we are in store for some nasty weather over the next few days. Before starting this A.T. adventure, I knew I would have some unfavorable weather to contend with, but I was certainly not thinking it would be so much! Since the start, I can only remember a handful of days where the weather has been really nice. Oh well, I’d rather be hiking in bad weather than not hiking at all. It was nice hooking back up with Billy Goat. It looks like he will be leaving the trail in a few weeks, so we made plans to continue to hike together as long as possible. Rain or shine, we leave Damascus tomorrow.


Day 50, 4/19/15

Start: Damascus, VA
Finish: Saunders Shelter
Miles Hiked: 8.4
Miles To Go: 1704.3
Overall Miles Hiked: 478.6

It started raining at 6:00AM. I am writing these words now at 7:15PM and it is still raining. It hasn’t let up all day and it doesn’t look like it will anytime soon. We were very tempted to stay in Damascus one more day, but decided to try to save some money and just deal with the rain. We had about 2,300 ft. of climbing to do, so I decided to only wear rain gear on my upper half and just shorts on my lower half. Again, it didn’t matter because after an hour or so I was soaked everywhere from either rain or sweat. By the time I reached the shelter I might as well just have jumped into the river nearby. Speaking of rivers, a lot of the trail today flowed like one. We had no choice but to walk in it and probably accumulated a full cup of water in our boots by the time we reached camp. Absolutely miserable.

The shelter was already full when we got there so we were forced to pitch our tents in a downpour. Not fun. It took me about an hour to dry off the inside of my tent with my small camp towel – I must have rung it out 100 times and removed a gallon of water from inside my tent. “Isn’t this fun?” I asked myself. I’ve heard that it isn’t crazy to talk to yourself, just as long as you don’t answer. Well if that saying is true, then I am definitely crazy! I had a 2 minute conversation with myself about my decision to hike the A.T. What’s even crazier is that I came to the realization that should I ever really come to hate the A.T. and want nothing more than to wave the white flag and come home – I won’t. I don’t care how miserable I may become out here, as long as I can walk, I will see Katahdin in Maine.

Thankfully, I don’t hate the A.T. just yet. I just tell myself that tomorrow will be better or easier than today and move on, whether it is the truth or not. I have overheard several hikers say “Never quit on a bad day.” Well, if everyday is a bad day then I guess you will make it all the way! Now, am I really having a bad time out here? No, I’m just venting because I am cold, wet AND tired. Here is to tomorrow and a better day! Goodnight.


Day 51, 4/20/15

Start: Saunders Shelter
Finish: Whitetop Mountain Rd
Miles Hiked: 12.1
Miles To Go: 1698.5
Overall Miles Hiked: 490.7

It rained all night and finally stopped at 9:00 this morning. Packing up wet gear is the worst, but at least the rain looked like it may be gone for a while. Hikers have the option of either taking the A.T. out of Damascus or the Virginia Creeper Trail. The A.T. is up, down, up, down and repeat, while the Creeper Trail follows a beautiful trout stocked river and is relatively flat. If you were to take the Creeper Trail you could avoid 13 miles of the A.T. and have amazing views the whole way. While I never really considered taking the Creeper Trail, several hikers do. Again, hike your own hike! The A.T. and Creeper Trail meet three times and each time they did, I would take a break and sit down by the river. The Creeper Trail was an old railroad, but is now a 34 mile bike path. I’d love to come back one day and travel it.

Creeper Trail Bridge

Creeper Trail Bridge

Just before lunch, I left the last Creeper Trail/A.T. intersection for good, but not before taking a few pictures. When I arrived at the Lost Mountain Shelter for lunch, Billy Goat and several other hikers were taking advantage of the sun and were attempting to dry out their tents, clothes and other gear. I did the same. After about an hour, most of my gear was dry, so I packed up and moved on.

Walking through someone's farm

Walking through someone’s farm

I had another 2,000 ft. climb in front of me and wanted to get to camp ASAP because the weather was not looking like it was going to hold up much longer. After climbing and climbing, I finally reached the summit of Whitetop Mountain and was rewarded with 30 seconds of sunshine and some great views. I sat down and ate a snack while I soaked it all in. The sound of thunder in the distance got me moving again and I just had enough time to eat dinner and set camp before the rain started. For the second night in a row, I write in my journal to the sound of rain against my tent, only this time I’m in much better spirits. Being dry and warm has 99% to do with that!

The bad weather approaching

The bad weather approaching

Days 44 – 48 (4/13/15 – 4/17/15)

Day 44, 4/13/15

Start: Roan Mountain, TN
Finish: Mountaineer Shelter
Miles Hiked: 8.8
Miles To Go: 1786.6
Overall Miles Hiked: 402.6

We awoke to light rain and tried desperately to delay our inevitable departure. Since Hot Springs, all anyone can talk about is reaching Damascus, VA by the 17th for the second Hiker-Trash open mic night. The first one was a big hit and now hikers who aren’t even in our bubble are making plans to attend the festivities.

A “bubble” is a group of hikers who after miles of hiking side by side have formed close bonds and try to stick together while hiking. Generally, although not always the case, hikers that form these bubbles start the A.T. around the same time. Our bubble is comprised of Billy Goat, Blazer, Hula, Car Bomb, Made It, Pie, Blade, Click, No Hat, Just Matt, Luna, Taser, T-Square, Thunder God, Genesee, Turtle, 45, Peck, Rocky Mountain High, Lonestar, Far Out, Q-Tip, Small Fly, a few others and myself. All of these hikers are spaced out within about 25 miles of one another on the A.T. There are many more hikers out there, but either by choice or some other reason, are not members of our bubble. When we get to town, we all get there around the same time, generally stay at the same places and eat in the same restaurants. We have basically formed a really stinky hiking gang! We have been told that our bubble is the second one to have formed by this point on the A.T., the first one is about 2 weeks ahead and smaller than our crew. I imagine there are several more behind us. Safety in numbers!

We took a quick side trail to Jones Falls. Outside of Amicalola Falls on day 1, this was by far the biggest waterfall we have come across. We stopped there for lunch then moved on. We walked through intermittent rain until we finally arrived at our shelter for the night.

Jones Falls

Jones Falls


Day 45, 4/14/15

Start: Mountaineer Shelter
Finish: Dennis Cove Road
Miles Hiked: 15.9
Miles To Go: 1770.7
Overall Miles Hiked: 418.5

It rained all night. Hikers are slow to leave camp when it is raining and this morning is no exception. The only difference today is that I was one of the first ones out of camp – A rare phenomenon! I looked at my map and it seemed today would be the easiest day of hiking since I started. Although the terrain was relatively flat, the sporadic rain and high temps led to high humidity. You would have thought it was raining, I was completely soaked after a few hours.

Big Hump Mountain - Can you spot the hikers?

Big Hump Mountain – Can you spot the hikers?

Throughout the day I was passed by every single hiker I left behind this morning at the shelter. Oh well, some days you have it and some days you don’t. Today, I definitely didn’t have it and was the last one into camp. Just when you think you have an easy day in front of you, the trail has a way of humbling you. The fact is, there are no easy days. What’s worse is I’ve noticed a weird feeling in my right knee. It is not painful, but I feel pressure behind my kneecap on the downhills. Knee injuries are the most common reason for hikers to leave the trail. I will take it slow on the downhills and plan on buying a knee brace as soon as I reach Damascus, VA. When I reached camp, I learned that Click and Turtle were also dealing with knee injuries of their own. We have all hiked over 400 miles on the A.T. and it looks like the miles are showing in places other than our waist bands. A good night’s sleep does an amazing job on a tired and sore body. Hopefully we will all be in a better condition in the morning.


Day 46, 4/15/15

Start: Dennis Cove Road
Finish: Shook Branch Recreation Area
Miles Hiked: 8.6
Miles To Go: 1762.1
Overall Miles Hiked: 427.1

Again, we awoke to rain. We didn’t have any dry clothes left since nothing could dry overnight due to fog and humidity. There was a hostel not too far off the trail, so we walked over and paid to have our clothes dried. The owner of the hostel approached us with the opportunity to do a slackpack. For a few bucks he would drop us off at the trailhead and then pick us up a few hours later. We all took him up on his offer and hit the trail a few pounds lighter. Before today, I didn’t think I would have been interested in slackpacking, but because of the rain and pain in my knee as well as the 1,800 ft climb awaiting me today, I decided to go for it. Click, Pie, Made It, Car Bomb and I were dropped off and we hiked in constant rain, hating every single minute of it. I can only imagine how much worse it would have been with our packs on. The only, and I mean only, highlight of the day was Laurel Falls. Laurel Falls put the Jones Falls waterfall to shame. The only positive of all this rain is that the waterfall was quite powerful. I didn’t bring my camera today because of the rain, but I did take a GoPro video. If I learn how to upload it, I will.

We made it back to the hostel and dried out. A few other hikers we knew were about to be shuttled into town to grab steaks, veggies and other goodies. All would be prepared tonight by our resident chef, Peck. We got in on the action and had one of our best meals yet on the trail. Sorry for the lack of pictures, as soon as the rain lets up I’ll be sure to snap a few extra!


Day 47, 4/16/15

Start: Shook Branch Recreation Area
Finish: Iron Mountain Shelter
Miles Hiked: 15.9
Miles To Go: 1746.2
Overall Miles Hiked: 443

For most of the day we walked around Watauga Lake. The first 4 miles were in lower elevation and every half mile or so there would be a sign warning hikers of recent bear activity and advising them to move on as fast as possible. In fact, the only shelter in the area has remained closed for 2 years due to aggressive bears. Camping in this 4 mile stretch is strictly forbidden, so I moved out of there fast!

Watauga Lake

Watauga Lake

Watauga shelter closed

Watauga shelter closed

After crossing the Watauga Dam, the trail starts gaining elevation and the posted notices stopped. It looked like it was going to rain all day, but it never did. About half way through our hike we were surprised to see Blazer, Hula, Peck, Thunder God, Taser and a few others coming towards us. For a second, we thought we had been walking in the wrong direction, but as it turns out, they were slackpacking southbound to avoid the steep climb we were in the middle of. They were planning on walking 13 miles southbound and then getting a ride tomorrow to get dropped off where they started today and continue northbound. To call yourself a thruhiker you just have to get from Georgia to Maine. It doesn’t matter how long it takes or what direction you hike. There are many different ways to hike the A.T. and because of the trail’s rising popularity, more and more hikers are choosing to hike the A.T. in a non-traditional style. Although most hikers, such as myself, hike the whole trail northbound, there are some who are called flip-floppers because they start somewhere in the middle, walk to either Springer Mountain in Georgia or Mt. Katahdin in Maine and then go back to do the other half of the trail from either direction. This helps alleviate possible overcrowding on the trail and in the shelters. Again, hike your own hike! After saying our goodbyes, (which in hiker lingo is “Have a good hike!”) we moved on.

Another view of Watauga Lake

Another view of Watauga Lake

Something else to note is that many hikers, myself included, do not shake hands with anyone and instead opt for a fist bump. This helps prevent the transmittal of germs in a very germy environment. When showers can be a week apart, hand sanitizer is our only defense against the spread of germs. But, since not all hikers use it, shaking hands is not very common for us. Enough about germs!

We continued our hike and made camp for the evening around 7:00PM. I pitched my tent and spent about 30 minutes rubbing my aching feet. My knee held up a little better today, but my feet are incredibly sore. If it’s not one thing, it’s another. At the end of a long hiking day, my average pain level from 1 to 10 (10 being I‘m on the way to the hospital!!) is somewhere between a 5 or 6 on average, but again we are all pretty sore all the time. The only remedy is a good night’s sleep – Good night!

Appalachian Trail Sign

Appalachian Trail Sign


Day 48, 4/17/15

Start: Iron Mountain Shelter
Finish: Damascus, VA
Miles Hiked: 27.2
Miles To Go: 1719
Overall Miles Hiked: 470.2

The only way for us to reach open mic night on time would be to put in an epic day. The worst part is that we were already in front of the bubble. I’m not really sure how everyone else is planning to get into town on time, but our only option was to put in a marathon day.

We left camp early at 7:00AM and headed north. Thankfully, the weather was amazing and the trail was relatively easy. We were making really good time and cracking jokes all day to take our minds off the miles. The section of trail we were hiking is part of a hiker challenge where some hikers elect to hike 40 miles in one day to get to Damascus. We were only doing 27 miles and I’m damn thankful it was not a mile more. Mile after mile passed under our feet until we finally reached the Tennessee/Virginia state line. We would now be in VA for more miles than we have hiked since starting the trail on Springer Mountain. The Virginia section of the  trail is a little easier than Georgia, Tennessee and North Carolina, but still kicks your butt.

TN/VA state line

TN/VA state line

Made It, Car Bomb, Pie, Click and I took some pictures and slowly walked the remaining 5 miles into town. I met back up with Billy Goat and checked into Crazy Larry’s Hostel. After showering and eating, we walked over to the mic night location and I was surprised to see most of our bubble already there. Hardly anyone had hiked in as we had, most had arranged shuttles to pick them up and bring them here. Now, they would either have to get a ride back to where they left the trail or just skip that section completely. This is the problem walking with a time goal – you can’t hike your our hike. The good news is that mic night was a big success! I was asked to revive my story about Unicoi Gap – I was happy to do so and received a round of applause.  In total, I would say that there were about 50 hikers at mic night, most with a song, story or joke to perform. It was a great time!

Damascus, VA

Damascus, VA

Days 36 – 39 (4/5/15 – 4/8/15)

Day 36, 4/5/15

Start: Allen Gap
Finish: Flint Mountain Shelter
Miles Hiked: 18
Miles To Go: 1882
Overall Miles Hiked: 307.2

I was a little late getting out of camp and hadn’t gone very far when up from behind me came Bill Goat. He left Car Bomb and Made It in Hot Springs because they were taking too long. He had hiked most of yesterday by himself and had already done 4 miles and planned on another 17 today. I fell in line behind him and we BS’ed back and forth until lunch. We had just descended from an extremely rocky area that I’m sure has taken several hikers off the trail over the years. The two rocky miles of trail is known as Black Stack Cliffs and Big Firescald Knob and although rocky and dangerous, they provided amazing views of the valley outstretched below.

The weather was perfect and if we could have made lunch up there we would have. We climbed down and found a flatter area several hundred feet below and stopped for lunch. About halfway through our lunch two day hikers named Caveman and Rocky T walked past us and said, “Happy Easter! Would you like some candy?” Now, I know my mother said never to take candy from strangers, but they had chocolate…and lots of it! We each grabbed a handful from their bag of goodies and thanked them 100 times. As they were leaving, they handed us each a 6 inch chocolate bunny – Happy Easter indeed! I’m sorry to say that none of the candy, including the bunny, made it to our campsite for the evening.

Believe it or not, I’ve lost several pounds already out here. My hiking pants do not fit without being supported by a cinched belt. I also have a T-shirt that I never thought I’d fit into that is now a regular on my back. I’m not entirely sure how much weight I’ve lost, but in Hot Springs I weighed myself on the only two scales I could find. One said I lost 10 pounds and the other said 18 pounds, I guess I am somewhere in the middle! We arrived at the shelter to a round of applause. Several hikers had already arrived to the shelter and had been congratulating each other on reaching 300 miles today. Apparently, about 44% of hopeful thruhikers won’t make it this far. Feeling pretty proud of myself, I setup my tent, ate dinner and went to bed.

Rocky View from Big Butt Mountain

Rocky View from Big Butt Mountain

PoBoy: Pondering or Perplexed?

PoBoy: Pondering or Perplexed?


Day 37, 4/6/15

Start: Flint Mountain Shelter
Finish: Low Gap
Miles Hiked: 14.9
Miles To Go: 1867.1
Overall Miles Hiked: 322.1

When I painfully crawled and cracked out of my tent, as I do every morning, I was surprised to see Car Bomb and Made It eating breakfast. They had hiked 25 miles yesterday, the last 8 in the dark and had stumbled into camp around midnight. Oh to be 18 again! If I were to pull 25 miles in these mountains, my knees would detach themselves from my body and slap me in the face!  Congrats on an epic day boys, I’m sure you will be feeling it today!

Billy Goat and I left camp together and talked for a good bit. I found out that just before he started the trail, he passed the CPA exam and has a job lined up in San Francisco later this year. After becoming a CPA and realizing he had a few months to kill before starting work, he decided to hike the A.T. In only 2 months he planned his trip. I’ve wanted to do this for 10 years and it took me nearly a year to plan! He told me he never really had any intention of hiking all the way to Maine and plans on getting off the trail around the halfway point so he can look for a place to live in San Francisco. Whenever he decides to get off, I’m sure it won’t be the last time we see each other. We both agreed to look each other up if we are near the other’s city.

Around lunch, a hiker coming Southbound informed us of some trail magic up ahead. He was a thruhiker hiking south from Mt. Katahdin for several months, battling freezing temps and up to 5 ft. of snow. Some days he would only make a few miles and had to even abandon the trail on a few occasions due to severe weather and snow. Hats off buddy, only a few hundred miles to go! He is only the second Southbounder I have met or even heard of thus far. I left Billy Goat in search of the trail magic. When I arrived at the Gap, I was informed by 3 hikers I knew that I was 15 minutes too late. One of them, Turtle, felt sorry for me and gave me a soda he was planning on saving. Thanks, Turtle!

I pressed on, trying to beat the forecasted rain and within a few hours I arrived at Low Gap. The weather was deteriorating, so I quickly setup my tent and prepared myself for my first night completely alone in the middle of the woods. I filtered some water from a source nearby and prepared dinner – Knorr’s Pasta Sides. It was still a little early and was only drizzling, so I decided I would make my first fire out here. The wood I gathered was pretty dry and it lit up fast. I had an endless supply of wood and kept it going as I made my journal entry. Just before dark, I heard, “Thank God for PoBoy!” as Made It, Lonestar, his wife, Amber, and dog, Bear, walked into the campsite. The fire was a very welcoming sight for these soaked hikers. Lonestar will now be hiking to Maine with his wife and dog, good luck buddy!

Hikers camped on a Bald

Hikers camped on a Bald

There are several grave sites along the AT

There are several grave sites along the AT

Cool view of where the trail crosses a street

Cool view of where the trail crosses a street


Day 38, 4/7/15

Start: Low Gap
Finish: No Business Knob Shelter
Miles Hiked: 14.6
Miles To Go: 1852.5
Overall Miles Hiked: 336.7

It stormed all night, but the inside of my tent remained pretty dry. The only moisture I had to deal with inside the tent is from my breath. When it is dry outside, I sleep with the flap open which does a great job of ventilating my tent, but when it is raining I have to keep it closed. This created condensation which I had to wipe off a few times during the night. I was packing up my gear when I heard a peculiar sound emanating from the foggy woods. I wasn’t sure at first, but the closer it got, the more sure I was. From out of the fog marched Remedy, Scooby, Mile Marker, Loon, T-Bone, Tiny Elf, Puffin and Big Bear singing in near unison Otis Redding’s “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay.” They were already 10 miles in to a 27 mile hike and were all slackpacking. Slackpacking is when you hike without your pack. For a small fee, in this case $5 cash, you could pay someone from a nearby town to drive your pack to your destination, while you hike without the added weight. Eliminating the weight allows you to pull some pretty serious and easy miles. I have not had the opportunity to slackpack yet and am honestly not sure I would even do it if had the chance. Hike your own hike!

It had stopped raining for the moment, so I hiked fast while I could. 5 miles in, the skies opened up. I had just finished hiking over Big Bald when the lightning started. A Bald (no trees and you are the tallest thing around for miles) is not an ideal place with lightning around. I hurried another 2 miles to Bald Mountain Shelter and ducked in with 5 others during the worst of the storm. Two hours later the lightning was gone, but the rain was not. It was 2:00PM and I had 10 miles to go before my intended shelter for the day. Although every ounce of me wanted to stay put and camp there, I put on my rain gear and headed out. There is a saying on the trail – No Rain, No Pain, No Maine! Within a few miles the rain turned to a drizzle and then stopped completely. I stopped at High Rocks, a giant rock outcropping, to take a selfie and eat lunch and then continued on. I was tested again at Spivey Gap where a shuttle driver was just about to leave to take some wet hikers to a warm, dry night in Erwin, TN. I was close to accepting the ride as I still had 5 miles to go and it was now 6:00PM, but I kept on and arrived at the shelter around 8:00PM. It was a long, wet day and I was lights out within the hour.

Lunch time stop at High Rocks

Lunch time stop at High Rocks

PoBoy at High Rocks

PoBoy at High Rocks


Day 39, 4/8/15
Start: No Business Knob Shelter
Finish: Erwin, TN
Miles Hiked: 6.2
Miles To Go: 1846.3
Overall Miles Hiked: 342.9

At 4:00AM this morning, the whole camp was awakened to the sound of 4 owls screeching and hooting for 30 minutes. It was awesome to hear! When we all started moving around the camp, I told everyone that I am fluent in owl and it turns out Owl 4 owes Owl 1 some mice, but Owl 4 said that she gave the mice to Owl 3 to give to Owl 1. Owl 3 has no recollection of this transaction and called Owl 4 a liar. Owl 2 was just there to egg on the confrontation. Major drama. The argument ended when a deaf mouse wandered too close; the chase was on! After a few laughs we slowly trickled out of camp.

Did I say I hate stairs yet?

Did I say I hate stairs yet?

I made it to where the A.T. intersects with Erwin, TN around 10:00AM and called Mike and Peggy with the Cantarroso Farm and arranged a one night stay and ride into Erwin to resupply. After resupplying my food items, I turned my attention to lunch and quickly zeroed in on a KFC all you can eat buffet! In 2 hours I literally quadrupled the amount of fried chicken I’ve eaten in the last 2 years. After three full plates, I wasn’t quite full, but was tired of eating fried chicken and mashed potatoes, so I called Mike to pick me up. On the way back to the farm I asked him to stop at a local milkshake place and ordered a LARGE chocolate shake! It was heavenly.I know my diet seems very unhealthy, and you’re right it is, but hikers need the calories and you aren’t going to get them from eating salad!

When we got back to the farm, I showered and noticed a digital scale in the bathroom, I weighed myself and the scale showed I was 22 pounds lighter than when I left home almost 6 weeks ago. I asked Mike and Peggy if the scale was accurate and they assured me it was. I trust it more than the two rinky dink ones in Hot Springs, at least. At any rate, when it comes to calories, I need them and in large quantities.

Mike approached me about a possible work-for-stay opportunity tomorrow morning. If the weather holds up, I will be building a ramp for his tractor in exchange for tonight’s stay. Stay tuned!

View of Erwin, TN

View of Erwin, TN

Days 32 – 35 (4/1/15 – 4/4/15)

Day 32, 4/1/15

Start: Roaring Fork Shelter
Finish: Hot Springs, NC
Miles Hiked: 18.4
Miles To Go: 1914.4
Overall Miles Hiked: 274.8

After pulling 18+ miles yesterday, I woke up pretty sore and although the trail was mostly downhill, it was hard to get going. After yawning my way down 6 miles of trail, I stopped to eat lunch at Walnut Mountain Shelter. There were a few hikers already there who I camped with the night before and one of them was Lonestar. Apparently, 3 miles back he had seen a bear and as soon as the bear saw him it bolted. Although it is April Fools Day, we believed him. The weather has warmed up quite a bit and we expect that the bears will finally start moving after a cold winter. I hiked with Lonestar most of the day. He got out of the military after 5 years of service in February and started the A.T. a month later to try to figure out what’s next. We exchanged stories, which helped pass the time and before we knew it we were looking down the mountain at Hot Springs, North Carolina. The trail literally goes down Spring Creek St., the heart of town, for about a mile. It will be one of the only true flat walks we will have. Hot Springs’ unofficial motto is “Where Mayberry meets the Twilight Zone.” Hippies, river guides and mountain millionaires rub elbows at either of the two taverns while little old ladies offer fresh baked cookies to starving hikers. Famous for its natural spring waters and the healing properties they offer, Hot Springs draws hikers and tourists alike. In fact, many hikers leave the trail here to find work and become part of this community. While I share no such aspirations, I certainly see the attraction. Billy Goat, Lonestar and I checked into Elmers Sunnybank Inn. This hostel opened in 1947 and housed the famous Earl Shaffer in 1948 and again, 50 years later in 1998. Shaffer was the first documented A.T. thruhiker, he hiked the A.T. 3 times and from both directions. He was 79 on his last trip. The hostel is now run by Elmer Hall, who for over three decades has housed thousands of hikers and has cooked breakfast or dinner for nearly all of them. Hikers are free to come and go as they please…as long as they leave their boots outside! After two very long days, we turned in.

Snake crossing the A.T.

Snake crossing the A.T.

Elmer Hall, Elmers Sunnyside Inn

Elmer Hall, Elmers Sunnyside Inn

Elmers Sunnyside Inn

Elmers Sunnyside Inn


Day 33, 4/2/15
Start: Hot Springs, NC
Finish: Hot Springs, NC
Miles Hiked: 0
Miles To Go: 1914.4
Overall Miles Hiked: 274.8

We took a zero today. I walked over to Laughing Heart Hostel just down the street and retrieved two packages I had waiting for me. The first was from my brother and sister-in-law. The package contained a few high energy bars and a box of Nerds. I’m saving the bars for another day, but could have used them theses past few days for sure. The Nerds…well, I think I’ll have to pass those along to another hiker. (Don’t worry, this is an inside joke.) Along with the snacks was a typed letter, which brought tears to my eyes and gave me a few laughs. Thanks, Zack & Krista! The other package was from Leigh and contained several food items I needed to resupply. There were also two envelopes, one from my parents and another from Leigh. My parents gave me some much needed cash and praise, thanks Mom & Dad! The envelope from Leigh only strengthen the reason I married her and again brought tears to my eyes. In my defense, it was pretty windy this morning and it could have just been sand in my eye! After packing up my resupply items, I walked over to the Spring Creek Tavern and ate a hamburger while watching two guys fly fish in the creek below. Several rainbow trout were caught and quickly released; it was extremely relaxing and I didn’t move from my spot in the tavern for most of the day. Before bed, we were treated to an open mic night at the hostel as several hikers played their music and read poetry. I sat this one out!

My view from Spring Creek Tavern

My view from Spring Creek Tavern


Day 34, 4/3/15
Start: Hot Springs, NC
Finish: Lovers Leap Rock
Miles Hiked: 0.9
Miles To Go: 1913.5
Overall Miles Hiked: 275.7

Due to a miscommunication between my wife and I, which was 100% all my fault, I wasn’t able to leave town until 3:00PM. I needed to speak to her and my parents to organize my next mail drop and Duke’s (my dad) trip to see me. I was finally able to get in touch with them and setup all the plans this afternoon. I would be meeting Duke somewhere between Atkins, VA and Pearisburg, VA in 3 weeks. The next time I will be able to speak with him won’t be but a few days before he departs. By the time I got off the phone, it was raining hard and the lightning was closing in. Car Bomb, Made It, Billy Goat and I decided to get out of Hot Springs and hike about a mile away to camp along the French Broad River. We had camp setup and just enough time to eat before the weather turned bad. The lightning was popping and the rain was relentless. We were in our tents from 6:00PM to 8:00AM the next morning, by far the longest time spent in our tents yet.


Day 35, 4/4/15
Start: Lovers Leap Rock
Finish: Allen Gap
Miles Hiked: 13.5
Miles To Go: 1900
Overall Miles Hiked: 289.2

When we woke up in the morning, we realized how close we were to making a mistake. During the night, the river had risen several feet and was only about 3 ft. below our tents, close call! After spending way too much time in my bag, I was the first one ready and headed out.

Coolest camp site yet along French Broad River

Coolest camp site yet along French Broad River

After a few miles, a woman without a pack passed me and said there would be trail magic at Allen Gap. I thanked her as she sped past me. I didn’t check my map because I thought I remembered seeing a sign saying it was only a couple miles away. A few hours passed and 3 bearded guys came up from behind me on the trail. Again, no packs and they said there would be trail magic at Allen Gap. I said thanks and asked if they were thruhikers. They responded, “no, just passing through. Say, do you carry a gun?” I was a little caught off guard, but managed to say, “no, I haven’t needed one yet.” They seemed harmless enough and got a kick out of my answer and they moved on. I thought that maybe a church had gathered a few of their members to pass along word that there would be trail magic ahead and thought nothing of it. After another mile I was descending into a gap and noticed a parking lot. My pace quickened as I could taste the goodies awaiting me. To my horror, there was no trail magic to be seen. I was in pouting mode when I checked my book and realized I was in the wrong gap. Allen Gap was another 8 miles ahead. Dang it! I fixed a quick lunch of Ramen Noodles and moved on. By the time I reached Allen Gap I was exhausted and could have eaten just about anything, but thanks to a fellow thruhiker’s parents, I was in store for a real meal! It turns out the 3 bearded guys that had passed me earlier were in fact thruhikers by the names of T-Bone, Remedy and Scooby. Scooby’s parents were now treating about 15 other hikers to burgers, hotdogs, sodas, beer and baked goods. The guys said they messed with every hiker they passed… just to see their reactions when they handed them a beer at the trail magic feast. Judging by some of the other stories hikers told of these three, I got off easy! After saying goodbye to Scooby’s parents, me, T-Bone, Remedy and two other thruhikers, Loon and Mile Marker, walked into the woods and set camp with full bellies!

Days 28 – 31 (3/28/15 – 3/31/15)

Day 28, 3/28/15

Start: Newfound Gap
Finish: Icewater Spring Shelter
Miles Hiked: 3
Miles To Go: 1978.9
Overall Miles Hiked: 210.3

Well so much for getting an early start. The roads into the Smokies were closed until noon due to ice and snow. Down in Gatlinburg, only a few inches of snow covered the ground. We waited and waited until the park service finally gave the go ahead to enter the park. We snagged a cold ride back to Newfound Gap in the bed of a truck. The higher we got up, the heavier the snow was and and the more the temperature dropped. When we arrived at the trailhead, the temperature was down around 17 degrees and it was only 1:00PM. We were in store for the coldest night yet, just lovely. Fresh snow covered the trail, it was a really enjoyable hike. Due to the late start, we would only be going a few miles to the shelter. Turns out, a lot of hikers had the same idea as we did, but thankfully we arrived at the shelter before them and were able to claim some spots in the shelter. As soon as we were done eating, we got into our sleeping bags and awaited darkness…and the cold it would bring.

Newfound Gap…Are we there yet?

Newfound Gap…Are we there yet?

Snow covered trail

Snow covered trail

A cold PoBoy!

A cold PoBoy!


Day 29, 3/29/15

Start: Icewater Spring Shelter
Finish: Tri-Corner Knob Shelter
Miles Hiked: 12.6
Miles To Go: 1966.3
Overall Miles Hiked: 222.9

BRRRRRR…It was a miserably cold night. No one in the shelter was was able to  grab more than an hour or so of sleep at a time. Two hikers traveling with thermometers said it got down to 11 degrees. I was never really in danger, but I was on the chilly side all night and I was wearing all of my clothes with the exception of my rain gear. When I woke up this morning, my water was frozen solid and my filter was frozen as well, forcing me to drink unfiltered water for the first time. I was not too happy with the thought of it, but luckily it was a natural spring coming out from the ground, which most people don’t filter anyway. Oh well, read on tomorrow to find out if PoBoy gets Giardia!

Ice water Spring Shelter lived up to its name!

Ice water Spring Shelter lived up to its name!

Even though the sun was coming up, no one was getting out of their sleeping bags due to the cold and thus a new hiker term was born – Bag Time! Bag Time is simply any time you spend in your sleeping bag and it is the most amazing time a hiker will spend while on the A.T. With temperatures this low, Bag Time can last almost until lunch and it has for more than one occasion for Car Bomb and Made It. One by one, we hesitantly climbed out of our sleeping bags and started hiking. The temperature did not leave the low 30’s all day. Snow was covering the trail and was up to a foot in some places. A southern boy, such as myself, is usually thrilled at the sight of snow, but when hiking through it all day it just sucks!

Fog and snow on the trail

Fog and snow on the trail

We took a 1/2 mile side trail just after the shelter and arrived at Charlies Bunion. From this overlook, views are amazing and it is one of the more popular overlooks on the A.T.

Charlies Bunion

Charlies Bunion

Other than the ice and snow, the trail was awesome today. As I’ve said before, hiking in the Smokies has you walking ridges most of the time. On these ridges, you are literally hiking the tip tops of mountains giving you views on both sides, just don’t slip! I was one of the first ones to arrive at the shelter and got in my bag for some Bag Time at 5:30PM. With these temperatures, crawling into your bag is the only way to get warm.


Day 30, 3/30/15

Start: Tri-Corner Knob Shelter
Finish: Davenport Gap Shelter
Miles Hiked: 14.8
Miles To Go: 1951.5
Overall Miles Hiked: 237.7

It rained and sleeted most of the night finally letting up sometime around day break. The temperatures only got down around the mid 20’s. Usually this would be horrible, but after last night, mid 20’s was downright warm! Snow was still covering most of the trail, but with the rain some sections had turned to slick ice. I only fell twice. The trail was downhill most of the day and got easier and warmer the lower I got. I descended about  3,500 ft. to the next shelter. Bed time for hikers is usually around 8:30PM, sometimes even earlier depending on how rough the day was. So far, I have not been to a shelter or campsite where anyone was still stirring after 9:00PM. We are all exhausted, all the time.

Davenport Gap Shelter is the last shelter in the Smokies with a bear cage surrounding its perimeter. Apparently, Rangers have removed the bear cages from the other shelters in the Smokies because hikers were feeding bears from behind the chain links. Tonight, we are all caged animals.

Davenport Gap Shelter and the last of the bear cages

Davenport Gap Shelter and the last of the bear cages


Day 31, 3/31/15

Start: Davenport Gap Shelter
Finish: Roaring Fork Shelter
Miles Hiked: 18.7
Miles To Go: 1932.8
Overall Miles Hiked: 256.4

One mile past the shelter is the official Northern Terminus of the Smoky Mountains. This point signifies that we have successfully hiked through the highest mountain range on the A.T.! Just another few miles down the trail is the Standing Bear Hostel. Promising pizza, soft drinks, resupply items and being that it was only 200 yards off the trail, it was a no brainer. The hostel just lost a major part of their family, Curtis Owen, due to cancer. Curtis loved hikers and ran the hostel with his wife, Maria. She said she is keeping the hostel open, despite losing her husband and said the support she has received from the hiking community has been such a blessing to her. We loaded our bellies with three meat DiGiorno pizza, gave our thanks to Maria and got moving.

After leaving the shelter, hikers ascend 2,500 ft. in 4.5 miles. With half a pizza in my belly, my movement was slooow! I finally got to the top of Snowbird Mountain where I was able to get a view of my intended destination for the day, Max Patch Bald, which was about 10 miles away. I would have to hike fast if I was going to make it to the Bald by dark. A few hikers we met earlier in the day said the Bald is an awesome spot to camp because you have a 360° view and you are on acres and acres of cleared land. Max Patch used to be used for cattle grazing, but now it is kept clear for tourists and hikers. Two miles short of the Bald and looking up at a steep uphill climb, I hit the wall. I seriously contemplated just pitching my tent in the woods, but ultimately decided to press on and meet up with Lonestar, Click, Rabbit and Luna, a group Billy Goat and I had met earlier. Several miles back, I had lost Billy Goat and was hiking alone most of the day. As soon as I reached the Bald, I knew my day was going to be a little longer than anticipated. The wind on the Bald was literally blowing me off my path. I was forced to put away my hat for fear that it may blow away. At the shelter, the group estimated the wind to be around 40-50 mph. Although no one here is a meteorologist, I believe these estimates to be pretty close. From the top of the Bald, the next shelter is 2 miles away and I had about 30 minutes of light left. I put a move on and got there in 15 minutes. Lonestar was already there and had a fire going, 10 minutes behind me came Click, Rabbit, Hula and Blazer. We were all wondering what happened to the rest of the group when out of the darkness (around 9:15PM) Luna walked up. Billy Goat and Taser never showed, hopefully they found a nice camping spot. 18.7 miles has been my longest day yet. Sleep is coming…and soon!

PoBoy at Max Patch

PoBoy at Max Patch


Days 12 – 14 (3/12/15 – 3/14/15)

Day 12, 3/12/15

Start: Muskrat Creek Shelter
Finish: Betty Creek Gap
Miles Hiked: 16.2
Miles To Go: 2091.6
Overall Miles Hiked: 97.6

We awoke to light rain again and packed our gear with damp spirits. For now, our little foursome has doubled. We seem to be hiking within a bubble with some other hikers and we tend to cross paths every night or so. Along with my quartet, we now have Hawkeye and his dog, Lucy, Happy Warrior and two younger guys from New Hampshire. We all mesh pretty well and the company is welcome. The eight of us, plus the dog, all left camp within 10 minutes of each other and crossed paths all the way to Standing Indian Mountain. At 5,500 ft. it was our highest peak yet, but once again the weather robbed us of a great view. All day and the overwhelming majority of the last week and a half, we could not see more than 50 yards ahead of us. The weather has definitely been tough to deal with. Everything is wet, muddy and an endless damp cold has crept into our bodies. The only cure is sunlight, which I have only seen twice and for no more than an hour total. The rest of the time so far we have been blanketed in thick fog, rain or snow. My advice to any future thruhikers is to hike in April! I heard a few trail updates from Happy Warrior and Hawkeye today. It seems a few more guys I started with are now gone. Apparently, one of them had been hiking with a girl he met on the trail. The girl had already hiked the A.T. two years ago and was in great shape too, but was still struggling with the trail. Anyway, the two had become inseparable and had been discussing how great it will be to hike together for the next 5 months. About 200 yards from their intended campsite, he took a bad step and blew out his knee, ripping a tendon. He had been pushing himself hard to keep pace with her. As quickly as it began, their A.T. romance was over. The girl hiked on, our Romeo did not. One bad step is all it could take out here and your hike is over. It is impossible to spot every rock or branch in your way, so there is a certain amount of luck needed to successfully complete a thruhike. We walked into our expected shelter for the evening around 4:00PM. On one of the three walls was a hand written note:

TRAIL MAGIC FEAST

Rock Gap

Friday, March 13th

Late morning to early afternoon

PIZZA! FRIED CHICKEN! FRUIT! SODA!

This sounded incredible, but there was just one problem – Rock Gap was over 12 miles away. If we made camp here, we would not make it in time the next day. It was decision time. Do we let the promise of free food push us another 4 miles despite our aching bodies? Or do we set camp and take a much deserved rest? Exactly, free pizza it was! We hiked the additional 4 miles like zombies to Betty Creek Gap where we would be in a much better position to reach the feast in the morning.

Hawkeye and Lucy

Hawkeye and Lucy

Rocky descent of Standing Indian Mountain

Rocky descent of Standing Indian Mountain

Trail Magic Feast sign!

Trail Magic Feast sign!


Day 13, 3/13/15

Start: Betty Creek Gap
Finish: Rock Gap
Miles Hiked: 8.5
Miles To Go: 2083.1
Overall Miles Hiked: 106.1

We woke up early and traveled in darkness for the first hour with only our headlamps showing the way. Free pizza is one hell of a motivator! A few miles into our hike had us standing at the base of Albert Mountain. The last 50 yards of the mountain are some of the steepest steps a hiker will have to endure on the A.T. Some hikers are even forced to put away their hiking poles and use their hands to scale the jagged rocks. After scaling the nearly vertical trail and reaching the summit, hikers are welcome to climb the Albert Mountain Fire Tower for an even better view. Because of the wind and cold on top of the mountain, the steps to the top of the fire tower were covered in a thin coat of ice. My movement up the tower was slow and deliberate, but well worth the risk. I snapped a few pictures and moved on.

Albert Mountain Fire Tower

Albert Mountain Fire Tower

Rainy view from Albert Mountain Fire Tower

Rainy view from Albert Mountain Fire Tower

Selfie on Albert Mountain Fire Tower

Selfie on Albert Mountain Fire Tower

We reached Rock Gap around 11:15AM – No one was there! We were in panic mode as our great day had suddenly been turned upside down. Most of us had skipped breakfast in hopes of satisfying our hunger with greasy pizza and other goodies. After 30 minutes, a few hikers moved on, disheartened. My group of 8 (Billy Goat, Hannah, Blazer, two guys from New Hampshire, Happy Warrior and Hawkeye) gave up hope as well, but decided to call for a ride into Franklin, North Carolina instead of walking an additional 4 miles off trail to get there on foot. While we were waiting for our ride, a big white van pulled up. The doors opened and eight teenagers and one adult spilled out of the van and charged towards us. What they were carrying almost brought us to tears. Dominos pizza, donuts, sodas, fruit, fried chicken, candy bars and many more tasty treats were being presented to us. The group was on Spring Break from Ohio and wanted to “pay it forward.” More hikers showed up as we shook hands and offered thanks to our benefactors; our words barely audible through our stuffed mouths. Fat and happy, we piled into our shuttle and rode into Franklin. We found a cheap motel and checked in. We performed our hiker chores of laundry, resupplying and checking our gear and turned in for the night.

Rock Gap Feast Trail Angels

Rock Gap Feast Trail Angels


Day 14, 3/14/15

Start: Rock Gap
Finish: Rock Gap
Miles Hiked: 0
Miles To Go: 2083.1
Overall Miles Hiked: 106.1

We took a well deserved and much needed zero today. After hiking 40 miles in 3 days we were sore and needed to rest our legs. The best way to go home early is to push yourself this early in the game. Many successful thruhikers advise taking one or two “zeros” a week until you get into Virginia. By then, your body is accustomed to the miles and the trail gets a little easier. I spent most of the day holed up at McDonalds to use their free WiFi. It is  still raining, so there isn’t much else to do. For dinner, we decided on a Chinese Buffet restaurant. All you can eat (AYCE) places are always first on a hikers eat list. We called on a local shuttle driver for a ride. Beverly Carini arrived to bring us to dinner. She was a sweet older lady who loves shuttling hikers all over Franklin. Her deceased husband was a hiker, so she knows how much it means for us to have support. When we arrived at the restaurant, we invited Beverly to join us. We were not surprised when she gladly accepted our offer. Beverly seemed to take a liking to Billy Goat despite the 50 year age difference. We made sure she had a seat right next to him so they could talk undisturbed. Billy Goat was not amused. After dinner, we all had sleep on our minds, but Beverly tried to recruit Billy Goat to attend a local watering hole with her. Unfortunately, she was not successful – Oh, what could have been! The weather is supposed to clear up tomorrow as we hit the trail again…it better.