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 106 – 109 (6/14/15 – 6/17/15)

Day 106, 6/14/15

Start: Duncannon, PA
Finish: Clarks Ferry Shelter
Miles Hiked: 4.3
Miles To Go: 1038
Overall Miles Hiked: 1151.2

Blade and The Cuts, DG, 50+ and I left the hotel and got a ride back to the Doyle where we waited for Trail Angel Mary to bring the guys to the bus station. I’ve enjoyed hiking with these guys. When we first met way back at the NOC in North Carolina, I had no idea that we would become such great friends. Even though Pie now lives in Finland, he visits the U.S. regularly. The next time he visits he said he will take a few days to “come down to the bayou” for a crawfish boil – I’m looking forward to it! I haven’t told my wife yet, but I plan to reunite with Click and Cheese Beard next year at Trail Days. Click hopes to have his book completed by then and may rent a vendor tent to release it. I don’t know if Blade has any intentions of coming back to the U.S., but if he does, I hope we can find a time to meet up – I’ve really enjoyed hiking with him and beating him in Mau Mau! Mary showed up and we said our goodbyes. They said they will try to catch back up with me, but I honestly don’t see that happening. That’s just the way the A.T. is, but I’m glad I’ve made some great friends out here.

I had some phone calls to make and some things to take care of, so I was not in any rush to get back to the trail. I posted up at a Subway for several hours and took care of my to-do list. I finally made it back to the trail around 3:00 and made my way up a very steep and rocky path until I reached the shelter. There were already about a dozen hikers camping, so I was forced to take a spot in the shelter next to DG. We played some cards and talked about the trail until hiker midnight, 9:00. There were 5 people in the shelter sound asleep until 10:42PM, when a hiker walked up with his bright headlamp on. He kept his light shining on the shelter until a few of us started stirring and then he asked me and DG to move over. Hiker rule of thumb: There is always room for one more in a shelter, so we moved, albeit begrudgingly. He then took about 40 minutes to get settled in, still with his headlamp on!  Now we were getting pissed! Finally, the light went off – 10 minutes later he was snoring louder than I ever thought possible. I only got a few hours of sleep – Got to love shelters!

PA Rocks

PA Rocks

I thought the trail was supposed to be rocky?

I thought the trail was supposed to be rocky?


Day 107, 6/15/15

Start: Clarks Ferry Shelter
Finish: Rausch Gap Shelter
Miles Hiked: 24.7
Miles To Go: 1013.3
Overall Miles Hiked: 1175.9

After not getting much sleep, thanks to our late night visitor, I was a little groggy this morning and started gathering my things around 6:30. Everyone else was up except for the   headlamp guy. When every one else in the shelter saw that I was awake, they started making as much noise as possible, no doubt having hatched a plan of revenge! I laughed and joined in. After a few minutes the guy woke up. He offered an apology, but hardly anyone so much as glanced at him. I don’t have a problem with him coming in late or asking for a spot, but when you wake up an entire shelter and then take nearly an hour to settle in, you get what you deserve!

I was the second out of camp – No spiderwebs! The trail is becoming a little rockier with each passing day, but for now it is not too bad. The A.T. in PA is known for their rocks, so it will only get worse.

After 8 miles, I made it to the next shelter and ate lunch with the section hiker who left camp before me. We chatted a bit and then I moved on. He would be the last person I would see until 8 hours later when I arrived at the Raush Gap Shelter.

Trail view 6/15

Trail view 6/15

Two weeks ago, I would have struggled being alone on the trail, but now I’m fine with it. I am happy again to be out here and look forward to reaching Maine. To everyone reading the blog and to those that took the time to write me – Thank you, thank you, thank you! I use your words as motivation and cannot describe how grateful I am. Now when I walk alone, I use the time to think constructively as to how I can become a better husband, friend, brother, son and employee. If I would have left the trail, it would have been devastating because I realized that in my first three months I didn’t actively try to better myself. I’m out here for several reasons, but this is one of the biggest ones. Now, for several hours a day, I pick a topic and think about it. I will continue this past Katahdin and I see changes within myself already. The A.T. can be pretty damn tough at times, but knowing what you are hiking for makes all the difference!

6/15 Rattler

6/15 Snake


Day 108, 6/16/15

Start: Rausch Gap Shelter
Finish: 501 Shelter
Miles Hiked: 17.5
Miles To Go: 995.8
Overall Miles Hiked: 1193.4

It has been raining just about every day for the last week and last night was no exception. Around 11:00PM, a storm rolled in and woke up the entire camp. We even heard a tree or large branch come down somewhere near the shelter. Dead trees or dead branches are known as widow makers and they are a real threat out here. Earlier this year, a hiker was killed on the A.T. in Maryland when a tree fell on him. Whenever we look for a campsite, the first thing we do is look up, but I guess you just never know.

Trail View 6/16

Trail View 6/16

I ate my breakfast of Snickers with the others and headed out. Just off the trail was an old graveyard dating back to the 1850’s, so I stopped to take a quick picture. The woods were dead still and an eerie haze filled the canopy – It was a spooky setting and I left in a hurry!

1850's Graveyard

1850’s Graveyard

The heat and humidity have been pretty bad lately and I’ve been drenched in sweat within minutes of leaving the shelters in the morning. About once a day, I’ll rinse off in a stream and feel somewhat clean until I start hiking again. About halfway into my hike, I came across an interesting stream crossing. A big tree had at one point or another come down across the stream and is now used as a cross over. The trunk was wide enough, but I suspect one or two people have a close call each year.

Fallen tree over stream

Fallen tree over stream

Since Georgia, I have been determined to photograph the most elusive creature in the woods. Everyday, I see about a dozen of them cross the trail or sit just off the trail in the woods, but as soon as I reach for my camera they disappear. But today I succeeded, behold the mighty chipmunk!

Chipmunk

Chipmunk

Cute little animals, but they must be the most scared things in the woods because they bolt off as soon as they hear or see you.

For the last few miles I hiked with 50+. He has been sectioning the A.T. for the last few years and only has 600 miles left to go. In another year or so he will have it done. I have enjoyed hiking with him and love listening to his hiking stories of everything he has experienced over the years.

6/16 Trail View

6/16 Trail View

We arrived at the 501 Shelter which sits just off PA Hwy 501, making it possible for pizza deliveries! I ate a large sausage and bell pepper pizza and called it a night!


Day 109, 6/17/15

Start: 501 Shelter
Finish: Port Clinton, PA
Miles Hiked: 24.1
Miles To Go: 971.7
Overall Miles Hiked: 1217.5

For the first time in a long time I awoke to clear skies and cool temperatures. Days like today were made for hiking and I was actually excited to hit the woods. I was the first one out of camp, which meant spiderwebs and boy were they thick! Not sure why I haven’t thought of this before, but I started hiking with one pole raised before me in the air and only relied on one pole for support. The raised pole did a great job of breaking the webs and it was smooth sailing!

I had headphones in today, which is not something I usually do, but it made for fast hiking…So fast in fact that I averaged 3 mph over the course of the day, which is flying by my standards! I keep the volume low in case someone comes up behind me, so I can let them pass or in case there is another bear in a tree. Well today I can add another reason to keep the volume on low. I was listening to Hook by Blues Traveler and was puzzled when I heard the faint sound of maracas that seemed to be emanating from my headphones. The problem was that I know there are no maracas in that song – Yep, it was a rattlesnake. He was just off the trail to my left. His back half stuck out on the trail like a small branch. I wasn’t planning on stopping and was just going to walk on, but it wouldn’t move. I got out my phone and used my hiking poles to get him going. He wasn’t happy, but moved nonetheless. Two days ago I had another close encounter when a rattler went off about 2 ft. to my right as I was cruising along. By the time I registered what it was, I was already 6 ft. ahead. Pennsylvania’s rocks definitely bring out the snakes.

A few hours later I ran into this colorful guy:

Box Turtle

Box Turtle

I haven’t seen a box turtle this color before – Pretty cool!

After a rather uneventful day, I reached Port Clinton, PA and checked into the Port Clinton Hotel. I did laundry, showered and ate wings and a burger at the restaurant on the first floor of the hotel. I followed up with Leigh and some others and called it a night.


Days 103 – 105 (6/11/15 – 6/13/15)

Day 103, 6/11/15

Start: Somewhere in the PA woods
Finish: Little Dogwood Run Campsite
Miles Hiked: 14.7
Miles To Go: 1071.9
Overall Miles Hiked: 1117.3

Everyone who participated in the half gallon challenge lived through the night! We broke camp and started hiking. Immediately, we knew it was going to be a hot one as sweat began to pour. Within 30 minutes, we looked like we had just climbed out of a pool; we were absolutely drenched. The air in the woods was stagnant – Not a leaf moved on its limb. I’m not sure how much water I drank today, but it has been the most of any day so far.

Around noon, we were looking for a place to bail out of the heat for a few hours and saw the Green Mountain Store was just up ahead, so we walked .2 miles down a state highway to its front door. Inside, I ordered a hamburger and some gatorade and sat down in front of the A/C vent. Even though the burger patty was cooked in the microwave, it was delicious! After eating our various sandwiches, we relocated outside in the shade and didn’t move for the next two hours. Every so often, one of us would go back inside and emerge with chips, ice cream, a soda, or some other snack. Thruhikers spend a lot of money at small establishments such as these and even though we are smelly, the owners are always pretty nice to us.

Break time

Break time

Just before we left, Pie had the idea to get some hot dogs and buns so we could grill them up around the campfire tonight. We each carried a part of tonight’s meal and headed out. It was about 3:00 and 85°, so hiking was slow on the flat parts and even slower on the ups. The only fun part of our hike today was through the Rock Maze. The Rock Maze is about a half mile section of the trail where the A.T. zigzags in and out and up and over big rock formations. There were several times when our poles had to be put away so we could use our hands to scramble. It reminded me a lot of Albert Mountain back in North Carolina and the descent off Dragon’s Tooth in Virginia.

Rock Maze

Rock Maze

Rock Maze

Rock Maze

We finally made it to our campsite in the woods where I immediately washed off in the nearby stream. It was very cold, but very refreshing! I downed 5 hot dogs and a Snickers and spent the rest of the evening playing cards. Life could be worse!


Day 104, 6/12/15

Start: Little Dogwood Run Campsite
Finish: Darlington Shelter
Miles Hiked: 18.3
Miles To Go: 1052.6
Overall Miles Hiked: 1135.6

We were hiking by 7:00, drenched in sweat by 7:15 and it only got hotter as the day went on. Thankfully though, the trail was very flat. For 13 miles the trail meandered through corn and wheat fields until finally going back uphill into the PA mountains.

Hiking through a corn field

Hiking through a corn field

Boiling Springs, PA sits right in the beginning of the flat section and the trail goes right through the heart of town. Click, Pie and I ate a quick breakfast at Cafe 101. Any chance I get to eat town food I’m jumping on because I’m worried I’m not eating enough on the trail. I can’t really afford to lose much more weight and I’m only halfway through.

Even though the trail was flat, we were forced to take several breaks due to the heat. In conditions like these, low 90s with very high humidity, heat stroke is a real possibility. Every few hours we took a break and downed as much water as we could. A few of our break spots had mulberry trees nearby and I ate as many as I could! A mulberry tastes like a raspberry, but not as sweet. In any condition they are great, in heat like this they are a juicy miracle!

Mulberry Tree

Mulberry Tree

Toward the end of the 13 mile flat section is Scott Farm Trail ATC Crew Headquarters, which serves as a trailhead and work center for A.T. maintenance. We took advantage of their shade and unlimited supply of water and held tight for several hours. No one was in any hurry to get going again!

Scott Farm

Scott Farm

Finally around 6:00, we took the first reluctant steps back onto the trail and slowly hiked up a 900 ft. climb to the shelter. I was so hungry I actually ate two Knorr’s Pasta Sides – That’s a first!

The mountain in the distance is where we hiked from today

The mountain in the distance is where we hiked from today

Just when we were about to get in our tents thunder could be heard in the distance, so I checked my phone for a radar image. Not good. We were in for some serious weather, so we ensured our tents were staked soundly in the ground and our gear would stay dry. Click, Cheese Beard and I rode out the storm for 2 hours in the shelter along with 11 others until it finally passed. A few small branches and a thousand gallons of water came down, but everyone seemed to ride out the storm okay. When I got back in my tent, it was a little wet from splatter under my rain cover, but it wasn’t too bad! Hopefully that is all we get tonight.


Day 105, 6/13/15

Start: Darlington Shelter
Finish: Duncannon, PA
Miles Hiked: 11.3
Miles To Go: 1042.3
Overall Miles Hiked: 1146.9

Thankfully, the weather cleared and the rest of our night passed without incident. I walked over to the shelter with my food bag for some breakfast and was surprised to see 50+ already there eating. The last time I saw him was about a month ago at Wilson Creek Shelter in Virginia. He is getting  close to completing his section hike and we spent some time catching up. After eating our various breakfast bars, Blade, DG and I headed out. Our hiking books made special note of an upcoming section of the trail that was “very rocky” – Yeah! When we got to the pipeline that started the rocky section we were pleasantly surprised. In my opinion, it wasn’t any worse than the miles and miles of A.T. behind us. Pennsylvania is supposed to be extremely rocky. If the trail stays like this section, I would be happy, although I don’t think it will.

Duncannon, PA

Duncannon, PA

A few more miles brought us into downtown Duncannon. Blade and The Cuts will be boarding a bus in the morning headed to New York and will be there for 9 days. I will probably not see them again on the A.T., but hope to meet up again with them at some point down the road. We have talked about a possible reunion next year at Trail Days – We will see! It’s been great hiking with you guys. Enjoy New York and good luck with the rest of your journey.
BBQ Lunch

BBQ Lunch

We intended to stay at the Doyle Hotel in Duncannon, but it was a little too run down for some members of our group, so we made other sleeping arrangements. I would have been happy to stay at the Doyle Hotel and encourage any future thruhiker to at least take a seat at the bar on the first floor. The walls are adorned with hiking photos and memorabilia and you can just feel the history within the walls. DG, 50+, Blade and The Cuts and myself all had one last dinner together at the Ranch House Restaurant and turned in.

Days 100 – 102 (6/8/15 – 6/10/15)

Day 100, 6/8/15

Start: Tumbling Run Shelter
Finish: US 30
Miles Hiked: 9.6
Miles To Go: 1107
Overall Miles Hiked: 1082.2

We left camp around 8:00 and immediately had about a 1,000 ft. climb up a very rocky section of the trail.

Today's view of the trail

Today’s view of the trail

Some pretty nasty weather was supposed to come in just after lunch, so we decided before we left camp this morning that we would go into town and split a room. Blade, Click and I got to the road leading to town first and started thumbing.

Hitching a ride into town

Hitching a ride into town

10 minutes later, we got our hitch and checked into the Scottish Inn and Suites. A few minutes later, Pie and Cheese Beard arrived. We got showered up and walked across the street to the Flamingo Restaurant. The portions were huge and the food was very good at a reasonable price. Blade and I had hamburgers. Click had the veal parmesan and Pie and Cheese Beard elected to go with the breakfast option and had eggs and pancakes. We have all lost a lot of weight, so we look to town food to refuel our bodies with much needed calories. We finished out the evening watching the storm roll in. It did get pretty nasty, but we would have been fine in a shelter in the woods.


Day 101, 6/9/15

Start: US 30
Finish: Quarry Gap Shelter
Miles Hiked: 2.4
Miles To Go: 1104.4
Overall Miles Hiked: 1084.8

We had big miles on our minds, but plans changed just 2 miles into our hike. The day started out great – We ate again at the restaurant and got a quick hitch back to the trail.

Breakfast!

Breakfast!

Even the trail started out great as it was flat, next to a stream with no rocks. Unfortunately though, just before we got to a shelter, Pie began throwing up. We thought it could just be from the beer he had last night, but after several trips into the woods, it was apparent that he wasn’t just hungover. Hopefully it is nothing serious like Noro because by morning we will all be sick. We made it to the shelter and quarantined Pie. The rest of us passed the time with a few card games Blade taught us – Mau Mau and Schnauzer. They both only use the cards from 7 up to Ace and are a lot of fun. We checked on Pie several times, but it doesn’t look like he is getting any better. If worse comes to worst, he will hike back the 2.4 miles and go back to town tomorrow – We shall see!

Playing Mau Mau

Playing Mau Mau

Intense game of Mau Mau!

Intense game of Mau Mau!


Day 102, 6/10/15

Start: Quarry Gap Shelter
Finish: Somewhere in the PA woods
Miles Hiked: 17.8
Miles To Go: 1086.6
Overall Miles Hiked: 1102.6

Last night just before bed, Click asked if I wanted to learn a few things with my camera.  It was a clear night and the stars were out, so I wisely took him up on the offer. He taught me and Cheese Beard some light painting techniques and the results were really cool.

Light Painting

Light Painting

After that, we took some longer exposure shots of the stars and you could actually see some rotation after only 4 minutes – Very cool!

Great shot of the stars - Thanks again, Click!

Great shot of the stars – Thanks again, Click!

I thanked him for the lesson and we all climbed in our bags, but sleep would have to wait. A horrific sound reached out to us from the dark woods. The hair on my neck stood up on end. “What the $#!^ was that?” Cheese Beard cried. God’s honest truth, it sounded like a woman screaming. It was absolutely terrifying. It happened every minute or so, sometimes there would be three or four shrieks back to back. I thought it could be a screech owl, but a quick YouTube search for owl sounds ruled that out. Click and Cheese Beard thought they were going to be murdered by the sound’s owner. I was a little creeped out as well. More searching on YouTube brought me to the sounds of the red fox…Bingo! Perfect match. I was immediately put at ease, but decided not to share the good news with my buddies. It went on sporadically all night and in the morning it was obvious Click and Cheese Beard didn’t get much sleep! Blade had his headphones in and slept through the entire experience, while Pie was still sick and couldn’t care less.  We packed up and headed out.

image2

Blade hiked full speed ahead and left us behind. Pie was struggling and took it slow. After 9 miles of hiking, Cheese Beard, Click and I walked out of the woods into a parking lot and were greeted by two trail angels! Marie and Dennis treated us to an amazing spread of hot dogs, hamburgers, Oreos, chips, fruit, soda and other goodies. It was their first time giving out trail magic for hikers, but it didn’t show – They did a fantastic job! Thanks again!

Hanging out with trail angels Dennis and

Hanging out with trail angels Dennis and Marie

Just one mile after our feast was another amazing sight…The 2015 official halfway point at 1094.6 miles! With just one more step, we would be closer to Katahdin than Springer! It was a great sight. For all thruhikers who have made it this far, great job! It is a hell of an accomplishment! We were very proud of ourselves and high fives were rampant, but the celebration was short lived.

OFFICIAL HALFWAY POINT!!

OFFICIAL HALFWAY POINT!!

The halfway point meant that just ahead on the trail was Pine Grove Furnace State Park, home of the “half gallon challenge.” For years, hikers have sat down at the state park’s general store with a half gallon of ice cream before them, taunting them, daring them to finish. The reward is a small wooden spoon and respect from other ice cream warriors. Blade and Pie sat out, Click, Cheese Beard and I sat down. Click chose Neapolitan, Cheese Beard selected Vanilla, and I disregarded the warnings from the store worker and went with Cookies n’ Cream.

Ready for the half gallon challenge!

Ready for the half gallon challenge!

So far, the fastest time of the day was 70 minutes – We were determined to beat it. We dug in. The first 15 minutes were a breeze, but Click and Cheese Beard started slowing down around the 20 minute mark. PoBoy forged ahead with amazing focus and an iron stomach. At minute 24, I put down my spoon and stood up in celebration; my container was empty. I had prevailed! A few minutes later, Cheese Beard and Click put away their last spoonfuls of ice cream and entered the record books. The 3 of us completed the task in less than 30 minutes. This feat will most assuredly be talked about among hikers for years to come. Our story will enter the vaults of hiker lore! Well done boys!

Challenge Complete!

Challenge Complete!

30 minutes later, Cheese Beard was stretched out in the sun, not exactly feeling 100%. Click and I were sitting at the same table with cheeseburgers in front of us. Sick, I know! After knocking out our burgers, we walked slowly out of the park and into the woods where we found a nice camp spot alongside a stream. Amazingly, the three ice cream eaters feel fine. We will see if our luck holds in the morning.

…Midnight update – All is well!


Days 95 – 99 (6/3/15 – 6/7/15)

Day 95, 6/3/15

Start: Bears Den Hostel
Finish: Appalachian Trail Conservancy
Miles Hiked: 19.9
Miles To Go: 1166.4
Overall Miles Hiked: 1022.8

With another day of rain ahead of us, we took our time leaving the hostel. No sense rushing towards misery! The hostel treats patrons to a pancake breakfast in the morning, so full bellies also added to our sluggishness. After considering stealing the owner’s puppy (a beagle mix) we headed out. DG and I were in deep conversation when all of a sudden we stopped dead in our tracks, speechless. Just in front of us was the most beautiful sight ever – The VA/WV state line. We were finally out of Virginia after 550 miles! Spirits were boosted and the remaining miles of the day practically melted under our steps.

Finally out of VA!

Finally out of VA!

Hiking with DG has been great, I enjoy his company and conversation. Just two years ago DG weighed 420 pounds. After a few lifestyle changes, he worked his ass off, literally, to drop the weight. Now he is 210 pounds and determined to permanently keep the weight off. Hearing his story was inspirational – Way to go DG!

Trail view 6/3

Trail view 6/3

A few more miles brought us to the steps of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC), a non-profit working to protect the A.T. through land rights and organizing the 30 or so hiking clubs maintaining the trail. It is a tradition for hikers to stop in and get their picture taken for the annual catalog. I was hiker number 412 to reach the ATC this year. I was the 121st hiker to register with Amicalola in Georgia back on March 1st. The disparity in numbers is from a few factors, many hikers do not register with Amicalola, while most make it a point to stop in at the ATC. The other reason is that I have no doubt been passed by many others. Just in the last 5 days, 100 hikers have made it to the ATC. I’m at the back of the first wave of hikers to make it this far. Several hundred more are behind me.

Appalachian Trail Conservancy in Harpers Ferry, WV

Appalachian Trail Conservancy in Harpers Ferry, WV

During the last 7 days, I have hiked 150 miles and I’m now in Harpers Ferry, WV. 60% of intended thruhikers will not make it this far and the hard miles are yet to come. I called Click and we made plans to get back on the trail together Friday morning. I now get to enjoy a well deserved zero tomorrow. DG and I got a ride to the Harpers Ferry Hostel and checked in. $20/night includes all the free food you can eat, it is a great deal!

Potomac River

Potomac River


Day 96, 6/4/15

Start: Appalachian Trail Conservancy
Finish: Appalachian Trail Conservancy
Miles Hiked: 0
Miles To Go: 1166.4
Overall Miles Hiked: 1022.8

I awoke to the wonderful aroma of pancakes! Pancakes, fruit, bacon, sausage, eggs and cereal made up our tasty display. After eating my fill, I returned to bed for a nap! Around noon I woke up from my nap and my thoughts immediately turned to food – crazy, I know! I raided the fridge and found some ground meat. Burger time! It felt good to be in the kitchen again. Back home, I really enjoy cooking with Leigh. Most Sundays are spent in the kitchen for what we call Slow Jam Sundays. We will put on some good tunes and cook up a storm! Several hungry hikers gathered around as the burgers were served. It wouldn’t have taken much, but everyone agreed they were super tasty! I spent the rest of the evening relaxing. I will need the rest because the trail ahead is supposed to be pretty demanding. It looks like the feelings I had last week have subsided, I’m now anxious to get back out there and make miles. Thanks for hanging in there with me!

From left to right: Rocky, DG, PoBoy at the Harpers Ferry Hostel

From left to right: Rocky, DG, PoBoy at the Harpers Ferry Hostel


Day 97, 6/5/15

Start: Appalachian Trail Conservancy
Finish: Rocky Run Shelter
Miles Hiked: 16
Miles To Go: 1150.4
Overall Miles Hiked: 1038.8

DG and I were treated to pancakes again and we each ate about a half dozen. When a hiker is given free food, it must be capitalized on! We were then able to get a ride back to the ATC where we met up with Blade and The Cuts – Blade, Pie, Click and Cheese Beard. The trail takes you right through downtown Harpers Ferry. I would have loved spending some time in the museums there and checking out the sights. Harpers Ferry has a lot of Civil War history and if the weather was better yesterday I would have played the part of tourist. Oh well, just another spot Leigh and I will have to come back and visit one day!

The trail out of Harpers Ferry follows along the C&O Canal Towpath for 3 miles. The canal stretches on for a total of 185 miles and was used to transport coal from the Allegheny Mountains for about 100 years. The towpath along the side of the canal is some of the flattest trail an A.T. hiker will travel. Too bad it is only 3 miles! Just about where the A.T. makes a turn away from the towpath is the WV-MD state line. Another state down!
View of the trail

View of the trail

I hiked with Blade and The Cuts all day, it was nice to be back with old friends. We caught up on the last few weeks of hiking and shared a few jokes. There really haven’t been many views lately and the miles of trail behind and before us have picked up the nickname PUDS – Pointless Ups and Downs! Those of us who have made it this far are probably in the best shape of our lives and the ups and downs don’t faze us like they used to. I have been having the urge to run lately. I feel like I have the legs and lungs to run for days and as soon as I get back home I am going to act on this urge. I may even start training for a marathon. I just hope I still feel this healthy in New Hampshire. From what I’ve heard, it doesn’t sound easy!
Break Time!

Break Time!

We made it to our shelter for the evening and set up our tents on the ridgeline above. We have been joined by Dessert Wrap (aka Swahili) who I have known since Georgia. He is one of the funnier hikers I have met and we all enjoy his company. Many jokes and laughs were made around the campfire tonight – We are all happy to be out of Virginia.
Journaling about my day.

Journaling about my day.


Day 98, 6/6/15

Start: Rocky Run Shelter
Finish: Ensign Cowall Shelter
Miles Hiked: 15.7
Miles To Go: 1134.7
Overall Miles Hiked: 1054.5

Around 3:00 this morning a pretty bad thunderstorm moved in and woke up the whole camp. It was pretty nasty, but we all made it through okay. The terrain has been pretty rocky and it is hard to get tent stakes in the ground. One of mine must not have been in the ground all the way because halfway through the storm a part of my tent caved in. It wasn’t too bad and still kept me dry, but had another pulled out then I would have been in trouble. I waited until it was just drizzling before I got out and fixed it. Blade, The Cuts and I headed out of camp around 10:00AM, a really late start, but a wet campsite will do that.
Breaking camp this morning

Breaking camp this morning

After a few miles we arrived at the Washington Monument. No, not the one in D.C. This Washington Monument was the first one dedicated to George Washington. It was built in 1827 by nearby villagers and was even used by the Union Army during the Civil Was as a signal station. We ate a few snacks and enjoyed the beautiful weather before continuing on.
Washington Monument

Washington Monument

Looking down from Washington Monument

Looking down from the Washington Monument

It looks like Blade and I are the fastest hikers of the group and we hiked together and talked most of the day. He was born in Dresden, Germany and this is his first time in the U.S. Blade usually keeps to himself more than the others, I think his accent has something to do with that. When there are more than one or two people talking he has a hard time following along, but today it was mostly just the two of us and we talked a lot about how life in the U.S. is different from Germany. It was a really interesting conversation for both of us! We decided to take a .2 mile side trail to Annapolis Rocks and I’m glad we did. Annapolis Rocks are an outcropping with an amazing view. Blade and I sat down on the rock’s edge and enjoyed the view for nearly an hour. Just to our left, rock climbers were gearing up for a climb – it was fun to watch them set up their gear, but we had to get back to the trail before they started climbing.
Blade and I at Annapolis Rocks

Blade and I at Annapolis Rocks

Annapolis Rocks

Annapolis Rocks

The original plan was to do 20 miles, but it was late afternoon and Blade and I were pretty exhausted from the trail which has been very rocky. At a road crossing just shy of the shelter we made an executive decision on behalf of the group. We ordered 3 large pizzas and had them delivered to the trail! As you can imagine, the others were most appreciative. We ate them right on the trail and walked to the shelter with full bellies!

Day 99, 6/7/15

Start: Ensign Cowall Shelter
Finish: Tumbling Run Shelter
Miles Hiked: 18.1
Miles To Go: 1116.6
Overall Miles Hiked: 1072.6

We woke up much earlier today and hiked 10 miles before noon.We were pretty hungry, as we always are, and stopped at the PenMar Country Park and found a nice shady picnic table. There were 20 or so locals spread out through the park and although we received a few odd looks, they were very nice. Apparently on Sundays during the summer the park turns into a craft show with live music and other festivities. We were there a little early, so we didn’t see too much activity, but we did spot an ice cream vendor near the park’s entrance. Lunch could wait! I ate two scoops of homemade Oreo ice cream and savored every delicious second of it! On a warm day like today, it was exactly what we needed. We only had 8 more miles to do today, so we took our time and enjoyed the park. After my lunch of Ramen, I could have gone for a nap, but instead I took another trip to the ice cream man! This time, I ate the triple caramel! SO GOOD!
Pie negotiating a stream

Pie negotiating a stream

As you can imagine, hiking was a little slow going at first, but it was fine because as soon as we got going again, we had to stop – We had reached the Mason Dixon line and the Maryland/Pennsylvania border! We will be in Pennsylvania for the next 230 miles. We took some pictures, high-fived each other for another state down and continued on.
Maryland/Pennsylvania Border

Maryland/Pennsylvania Border

Today, I walked with Click. Click is a professional photographer and videographer and is shooting pictures for a book he is working on. He is very passionate about photography and even though a lot of what he says about it goes over my head, I find it very interesting. He is shooting all of his pictures on one of two cameras that use something called film – Way before my time! One is black and white, his Pentax shoots color. His equipment and film rolls are pretty heavy, but he says he would rather hike without food than his cameras! When his book is published, I will let you all know, I hear PoBoy will be featured once or twice!
Click taking a picture

Click taking a picture

We got to camp early and made a nice fire as we ate dinner. By 9:00, hiker midnight, everyone was in their tents. As I write, I can hear snores in all directions!