Days 125 – 128 (7/3/15 – 7/6/15)

Day 125, 7/3/15

Start: Kent, CT
Finish: Kent, CT
Miles Hiked: 0
Miles To Go: 722.1
Overall Miles Hiked: 1467.1

We woke up with every intention to hike, but…we didn’t. The weather was beautiful and Kent is an awesome town. We went to the grocery store and purchased our resupply items and then spent the rest of the day throwing frisbees and footballs. Oh, and we ate. A lot.

I wanted to take some videos on things that a few people have had questions about, but I am having issues with them. I will try to get these uploaded at a later time.

Taking advantage of power

Taking advantage of power

Charging up!

Charging up!


Day 126, 7/4/15

Start: Kent, CT
Finish: US 7
Miles Hiked: 22.6
Miles To Go: 699.5
Overall Miles Hiked: 1489.7

I awoke at 5:00AM to the sound of a car alarm going off. I peered out of my tent to see if anyone was stirring in camp. It was all quiet, so I went back to sleep. When I woke up and checked again an hour later, I was one of the last hikers remaining! Hikers move quick! I powered down a pop-tart and a protein bar my brother had sent me and moved on.

The trail followed the Housatonic River for several miles and it made for a very enjoyable hike. Apparently, the Housatonic has some good white water rafting and some hikers choose to aquablaze this section of the trail. Aquablazing is when you skip hiking certain sections of the trail that are close to rivers in favor of floating down them in a raft or canoe. While I don’t consider this hiking, who am I to judge?

Since it was July 4th, Miles, Rock Boat, Jeopardy, Roker and I had our eyes on Belters Campsite. The trail book said it had a view and we just hoped it faced Falls Village, CT in the valley below. We were told the town puts on an amazing fireworks show and we wanted to watch it from the mountain.

We arrived at the campsite only to find the view facing the wrong way. We now had a decision to make. We were exhausted from a long day of hiking, but fireworks usually means food and we really like food…and fireworks! We moved on in hopes of finding out where the show would be.

When we got to a road at the bottom of the mountain, we saw a sign promising trail magic to hikers. It was about a mile ahead and we went for it without hesitation. When we arrived at the house, we were excited to see about a dozen hikers we knew already there! Burgers were on the grill and there was snack food everywhere!

July 4th Trail Magic Feast

July 4th Trail Magic Feast

The homeowner, Lisa, had won a grant from the Awesome Foundation and was using the funds to put on this party plus several others in the weeks ahead. We joined Peacedog, Turbo, Kaptain K, Lightning, Pork Chop, Don Vito, Pig Pen, Feed Bag, Wye Knot, Black Bear, Bud, Bud Light and a few others and celebrated the 4th hiker style!

The icing on the cake was that the fireworks show was right down the street. The whole group of us tried to get in around dark, but we were told it was $5 per person. That’s about 10 Snickers bars each, so no one wanted to pay the fee! We went across the street in hopes of scoring a free view, but about 10 minutes later, the guys at the gate waved us over and said we could go for free! We thanked them as we ran to find good seats on a hill with about 2,000 others and anxiously awaited the show. It lasted 30 minutes and we said many Oohhss and Ahhhs, not long after we made many Zzzzs!

Fireworks

Fireworks

July 4th Fireworks

July 4th Fireworks


Day 127, 7/5/15

Start: US 7
Finish: Race Brook Falls Campsite
Miles Hiked: 21.5
Miles To Go: 678
Overall Miles Hiked: 1511.2

We left Lisa’s house early and walked the mile back to the trail. The A.T. went through a neighborhood for a few miles before finally returning to the woods, just after a massive waterfall.

Overcast waterfall

Overcast waterfall

We had stayed up late, about 11:00PM and were pretty tired. In a unanimous decision, Roker, Miles, Rock Boat, Jeopardy, Lightning, Pork Chop and I agreed we should walk about a half mile off trail to a deli and treat ourselves! I ate a 12 inch meatball sub and some fresh fruit and took a power nap in some shade. The pit stop did the trick as the next several miles melted away.

Swimming in a cold river

Swimming in a cold river

The trail gained elevation all afternoon and atop Bear Mountain, we finally got a view. We haven’t had many decent views since Virginia, but now that we are back in the mountains we can expect great views regularly. We took a long break and chatted with several day hikers before moving on.

Hanging out with Pork Chop, Lightning, Rock Boat

Hanging out with Pork Chop, Lightning, Rock Boat

Just before the campsite sits Mt Rare. The last half mile of our climb up was on an exposed cliff. It was very similar to Tinker Cliffs and gave us 180° view. When you are climbing uphill for hours, views like this make it all worth it. We sat for several hours and took it all in before pressing on to our campsite for the night.

Mt. Race - Jeopardy, Rock Boat, Pork Chop, PoBoy Lightning

Mt. Race – Jeopardy, Rock Boat, Pork Chop, PoBoy Lightning

Oh yeah, we made it into Massachusetts today, so another state down! Only 4 more to go! From what we have heard, they get progressively harder.

CT- MA border

CT- MA border


Day 128, 7/6/15

Start: Race Brook Falls Campsite
Finish: US 7
Miles Hiked: 9.8
Miles To Go: 668.2
Overall Miles Hiked: 1521

I was the last one out of camp this morning after having slept in to the late hour of 7:00AM. We had camped at the base of Mt. Everett and it was not going to be a fun climb. It only went up 650 ft., but it was one of the steepest and rockiest hikes I have made. When I reached the top I was huffing and puffing, but the view made it all worth it. I was on the peak of the highest mountain around; clouds blanketed the valley below. Views like this make tough hikes worth it.

Mt Everett view

Mt Everett view

I took off my pack and sat down and was just finishing an orange when Rock Boat walked up. We hiked the next several miles together and passed the time swapping stories. We have similar interests and I really enjoy hiking with him. The A.T. crosses many roads and as we were walking across MA 41, a car pulled up and asked us if we knew Jeopardy. We said we did and asked her if he was okay. He was more than okay and was currently waiting for us at a diner up the road. Penny said she would be more than happy to drive us as she had with Jeopardy to the diner. We instantly accepted and within minutes the three of us were stuffing our faces with omelets. We won’t have as many opportunities to take these side trips to calorie-up in the future, so we have been taking advantage of them as often as possible. We got a quick hitch back to the trail and sluggishly started walking. It was hot and nobody was looking forward to hiking the next 12 miles we had scheduled today. We crossed US 7 and entered the woods.That’s when our day took an unexpected turn…

Rock Boat thought he saw a Hertz Car Rental at the road crossing and jokingly suggested we do something fun for a change. I instantly turned around and said, “Let’s do it!” We checked our phones and unfortunately there were no Hertz locations around. There was, however, an AA Car Sales and Rentals just 1 mile down the highway. We looked at each other and it was painfully obvious there would be no more hiking today. Jeopardy asked, “Are we really doing this?” as we were walking down the highway. “HELL YES!” was our reply! Now that we were all onboard, we had to decide what to do. Rock Boat said he thought there was a Six Flags in Massachusetts and as luck would have it, there indeed was and it was only an hour drive away! We crammed all of our gear in the back of a blue Dodge Neon and started navigating our way to Six Flags New England.
Driving to six flags

Driving to six flags

We arrived an hour later and we all high fived our spontaneity. Side trips like this is a big part of what the trail is all about. Jeopardy, Rock Boat, and I spent the next 5 hours riding roller coasters and frolicking in the water park. It was awesome to feel human again! For once, we weren’t looked upon as homeless, smelly hikers. We were just 3 friends having and great time and fit in with everyone else. We closed down the park at 9:00PM and checked into a Holiday Inn – sleep came upon us instantly!
Bizzaro roller coaster

Bizzaro roller coaster

Days 121 – 124 (6/29/15 – 7/2/15)

Day 121, 6/29/15

Start: William Brien Memorial Shelter
Finish: Fort Montgomery, NY
Miles Hiked: 10.2
Miles To Go: 785.6
Overall Miles Hiked: 1403.6

The rain finally stopped around 3:00AM. I may have been dry, but I did not sleep well. The good news is that I will be hiking with a very light pack today since I am completely out of food. Town wasn’t very far away, so at least I didn’t have to hike hungry for long. Just before town is Bear Mountain and as we reached the top, we had an incredible view. About 35 miles away stood New York City! I stood there and named some of the notable buildings including the Freedom Tower and Empire State Building. Very cool!

NYC Skyline

NYC Skyline

On the way down, Jeopardy and I ran into a large group of trail volunteers who were busy installing huge steps into the trail to make it a little easier to navigate. From the base of the mountain to the top is about 1,100 ft. and it has taken them 3 years to get to where they are now, 1 more year and the entire trail up the mountain to the viewing point will have steps. A lot of work goes into the process and it is all done by volunteers, absolutely amazing!

Trail club installing steps

Trail club installing steps

We finally made it down the mountain and into the Bear Mountain Recreational Area and Zoo. The trail goes right through the zoo and it is free for hikers to enter. At the center of the zoo is the bear cage, which has the honor of being the lowest point on the A.T. at 124 ft. above sea level.

Bear cage, lowest point on AT

Bear cage, lowest point on AT

Jeopardy, Roker and I walked around the zoo and eventually met up with Rock Boat and Miles. Most of us needed to resupply and we all needed to do laundry, so we got a room at the Holiday Inn Express and called it a day. They had a pool and a sauna – It was an easy decision!

Pool at the Holiday Inn Express

Pool at the Holiday Inn Express


Day 122, 6/30/15

Start: Fort Montgomery, NY
Finish: RPH Shelter
Miles Hiked: 25.2
Miles To Go: 760.4
Overall Miles Hiked: 1428.8

We left town early and crossed over the Hudson River before heading back into the woods. Our goal for the day was 20 miles and free camping at the Clarence Fahnestock State Park. Since we were “only” doing 20 miles, we hiked slower than normal and enjoyed our day. When we reached the park at 6:00PM, we were instantly disappointed. The grill was closed and the one vending machine was out of order. Oh well, no big deal. We decided we will just setup our tents and cook Ramen. We asked a park employee where the campground was and he said it wasn’t far up a service road. We got moving.

View from trail on 6/30

View from trail on 6/30

About a mile later we reached the campground and were told by a park ranger that A.T. hikers are welcome to camp at zones 1-3 for free. If we wanted to stay in any of the other 20 unoccupied zones, we would have to pay. Well, zone 3 was taken up by non-A.T. hikers, zone 2 was extremely small and on a slope and zone 1 had low power lines directly overhead and there was severe weather forecasted for later this evening. Geez, thanks a lot!

We were all a little pissed and made the hard decision to hike on. The next shelter was 5 trail miles away, but first we had to hike the 1 mile back to the trail, which doesn’t count towards A.T. mileage since it was a side trail. The A.T. is 2189.2 miles long this year and any hiker that makes it all the way can add several hundred more miles onto their trip total due to side trails.

Hardly anyone spoke as we marched on to the shelter. By the time we got there, we had just enough time to set up our tents before nightfall. Ramen never tasted so good!


Day 123, 7/1/15

Start: RPH Shelter
Finish: NY 22
Miles Hiked: 19.9
Miles To Go: 740.5
Overall Miles Hiked: 1448.7

Around midnight the storms moved in and dropped buckets. The lightning was so bad at times the whole campsite was awake. I’m not sure how much sleep I got, but I know it wasn’t enough.

The rain finally stopped around 9:00AM, so I forced myself to get out and pack up my soggy tent. Right off the bat, I had 2 steep climbs and I definitely felt the extra pounds of water weight from my wet tent. For much of the morning, the trail followed open ridge lines and forced me to hike on the slippery backbone of the mountain. There was one 60 ft. section that was sloped toward the edge of the mountain. I had already fallen twice and had I slipped on this section and went over the edge, this PoBoy would have met its expiration date!

I had my headphones in and had my playlist on shuffle. I was trying to concentrate on every step, but all I could think about was how embarrassing it would be if I died while listening to Miley Cyrus!

It’s a good thing I prevailed because a few short miles later I was walking around Nuclear Lake. Weird name, but definitely beautiful! Sights like this make up for the endless miles of nothing but trees and shrubs that give the A.T. its nickname of “The Green Tunnel.” I sat down on a boulder and appreciated just how beautiful mother nature could be.

Nuclear Lake

Nuclear Lake

Nuclear Lake

Nuclear Lake

I was still thinking of the lake when I reached my goal for the day and arrived at NY 22. Just off the highway is Native Landscapes Garden Center where hikers are allowed to camp for free. The only drawback is that the tenting area is between the highway and railroad! Oh well, looks like it may be another night of little sleep.


Day 124, 7/2/15

Start: NY 22
Finish: Kent, CT
Miles Hiked: 18.4
Miles To Go: 722.1
Overall Miles Hiked: 1467.1

The trains passed by every 45 minutes until 2:00AM; it was another night of little sleep.

Jeopardy, Miles, Rock Boat, Roker and I slowly made it out of camp and didn’t really speak much until a magical sight perked us up. We had just crossed the NY-CT border! Another state down, just 5 more to go! We took a few pictures and continued trekking.

Connecticut State Line

Connecticut State Line

CT border

CT border

Several miles later, we reached the wealthy town of Kent, CT. Miles and I each had packages waiting for us at the Outfitters and everyone else was low on food. We made our way down to Country Clothes which is an upscale women’s clothing store, but the owners love hikers and let us camp for free behind their home. There is even an outdoor shower and port-o-potty. Even better is that there are no train tracks or busy roads in sight.

Lunchtime tomfoolery

Lunchtime tomfoolery

After I setup my tent, I went over to the Outfitters to get my packages. I had 2 waiting for me, one from my brother, Zack, and another from my great friend, Gary. Zack sent me some energy chews, Oreos and a really nice card. Gary sent me some candy bars, an assortment of drink mixes, an inspirational handwritten note and an Ebony magazine! Thanks guys, your encouragement and care packages are just what I needed to get to the next state! Thanks a lot, love y’all and can’t wait to see you again.

We all bought bandanas! Roker, Rock Boat, Jeopardy, PoBoy, Miles

We all bought bandanas! Roker, Rock Boat, Jeopardy, PoBoy, Miles

We still had a little time before bed, so we made our way over to a local pizza place and ordered 5 large pizzas – Rock Boat was the only to finish. They also had a trivia game that started just as we arrived. Our team, Team Stroganoff (named for the Knorr’s Pasta Side we loathed the most) took 1st place of course!

Trivia Winners!

Trivia Winners!

Days 114 – 117 (6/22/15 – 6/25/15)

Day 114, 6/22/15

Start: Wind Gap, PA
Finish: Delaware Water Gap, PA
Miles Hiked: 15.6
Miles To Go: 895.8
Overall Miles Hiked: 1293.4

It is a 2.6 mile hike from the trailhead to the Travel Inn and yesterday we were lucky enough to get a quick hitch. Our luck did not continue this morning. We walked the full length back to the trail. Miles and Oliver are faster hikers than me, but I can keep up with them if the terrain is relatively flat. Leaving Wind Gap, the trail goes up for about 600 ft. and they pulled ahead.

The trail continues to fight us with every step as rocks litter the ground. For miles, hikers must carefully step from one pointy rock to another. Ankle and knee injuries are especially common on the PA section of the trail, so most hikers are forced to slow down their pace and reduce their daily miles. Over the last few days, I have rolled my left ankle several times. It is swollen and a little sore, but not bad enough to keep me from moving.

More PA Rocks

More PA Rocks

I stopped at the Kirkridge Shelter for lunch and joined Miles and Oliver in our daily gluttonous ritual. Just a few days ago we were all capable of hiking 20-25 mile days, but are now happy making 10-15; the rocks do not discriminate and we are all hurting. We finished eating and headed out together.

Just a few miles before Delaware Water Gap, our day turned much more interesting. Standing in the middle of the trail was a bear! He didn’t seem to care about us hikers and slowly walked into the woods. We watched him for about 5 minutes and were able to get some pictures – Very cool!

Bear sighting!

Bear sighting!

Bear in PA

Bear in PA

This was the second bear I have seen, but the first I really got to watch for more than a second or two and the experience was one I will remember for the rest of my life. We were still talking about the bear when we spotted another great sight. An ice chest sat just off the trail with a note congratulating us on making it this far. It was loaded with soft drinks and Gatorade! I took a lemon-lime Gatorade and guzzled it down, the other two grabbed cokes.

We walked the remaining miles to Church of the Mountain Hostel for a free night’s stay. I was surprised to see several hikers I knew already there and it was great being able to catch up with them. Just before bed, I noticed a scale in the corner of the room. I’ve lost exactly 40 lbs. I now weight 187 and haven’t been under 190 in close to 10 years!

Cards with Swahili, Scout and PeaceDog

Cards with Swahili, Scout and PeaceDog


Day 115, 6/23/15

Start: Delaware Water Gap, PA
Finish: Delaware Water Gap, PA
Miles Hiked: 0
Miles To Go: 895.8
Overall Miles Hiked: 1293.4

Sooooo…I was totally planning on hiking today, but quickly lost motivation when a fellow hiker read the weather report. A storm system that had already dumped inches of rain and spawned a few tornadoes would be bearing down on us around lunchtime. It was 25 miles to the next shelter and 0 miles to my warm, dry bed – No brainer!

Loading up on calories!

Loading up on calories!

Of the 20 hikers here, more than half rolled over and went back to sleep. Today was my first zero in about a month and I spent the time resting, eating town food and playing cards. Oh, and when the storm finally arrived, several trees came down along with a power pole and that was just on our block. I think we definitely made the right call. Hopefully everyone out on the trail was able to find shelter because that was one nasty storm. I’m pushing for 25 miles tomorrow and hope to leave pretty early. Night night!

Rainy Day at the hostel

Rainy Day at the hostel


Day 116, 6/24/15

Start: Delaware Water Gap, PA
Finish: Brink Shelter
Miles Hiked: 24.8
Miles To Go: 871
Overall Miles Hiked: 1318.2

Miles, Jeopardy, Rock Boat and I left the hostel early and after only .3 miles we stopped and took off our packs, we had just hiked out of PA! Pennsylvania has the third most miles of the A.T. and in just over two weeks I was out!

I was now in New Jersey, home of the highest population of black bears along the A.T. After walking across the Delaware River, the trail enters the woods and immediately goes up. Due to all the rain we’ve been having, the path looked like a river and it was nearly impossible to keep our feet dry.

Watery Trail

The trail finally dried up once we climbed the Kittatinny Ridge and arrived at Sunfish Pond. This body of water is the first glacial pond along the A.T. and is one of the 7 natural wonders of New Jersey. We stopped for a quick snack and moved on.

Sunfish Pond

Sunfish Pond

Kittatinny Mountain

Kittatinny Mountain

Just before a steep uphill climb, the trail crossed a road and we were delighted to find a former thruhiker named Irish hosting a trail magic feast of soda, cookies, fruit, beer, water and several other wonderful items. Irish is actually a triple crowner, meaning he has completed the A.T., P.C.T. (Pacific Crest Trail) and C.D.T. (Continental Divide Trail.) Only about 200 hikers share this designation of Triple Crowner. Irish said the A.T. is the most physically demanding and hardest of the three trails even though it is the shortest! We thanked him for his hospitality and got busy hiking.

Trail Magic

Trail Magic

All day, we crossed endless blueberry patches. At first we stopped at nearly every one, but we knew we would never make it to the shelter if we continued on like this. So, we instituted a rule: One blueberry stop per 30 minutes. All told, probably a few thousand berries were consumed among the hungry lot of us! Soooo good!

Blueberry pickin'

Blueberry pickin’

Blueberries

Blueberries

Just before we reached the shelter, we ran into a group of kids out for a 3 day camping trip. They were part of an Outward Bound program based out of New Jersey and they all seemed to be having a great time. It’s good to see younger kids out here enjoying themselves in the outdoors.

We made it to camp and called it quits on a long day.


Day 117, 6/25/15

Start: Brink Shelter
Finish: High Point Shelter
Miles Hiked: 19.6
Miles To Go: 851.4
Overall Miles Hiked: 1337.8

Miles, Rock Boat, Jeopardy, Roker (formally Oliver – I’ll get back to that in a minute!) and I headed out early and set our sights on Culvers Gap where a quick side hike would bring us to Jumboland Diner. We gorged ourselves on three-egg omelets and ice cream and returned to the trail feeling quite satisfied!

Two nights ago, the night the bad weather came through, Oliver had his eyes on the weather all day. He would keep us updated, but every time he would say it was about to get bad, the skies would clear up. It got to the point where several of the hikers would just assume the weather would be the opposite of what Oliver relayed to us. It wasn’t long until Rock Boat began calling him Al Roker – Now, it’s just Roker. It took him 1300 miles, but he finally got his trail name!

High Point, NJ - Highest point in the state

High Point, NJ – Highest point in the state

We may be out of PA, but we are not out of the rocks! They are still scattered about the trail and continue to wreak havoc on my feet. Just when I decided I couldn’t go any further, we noticed a side trail on our maps leading to a beach with a concession stand. The best part was it was only a mile up the trail. I sucked it up and hiked on. The lake is in High Point State Park and offers a full concession stand, free showers and a beach with lifeguards. I hadn’t eaten since breakfast and that was 15 miles ago. I ordered a chili cheese dog, double cheeseburger, mozzarella sticks, chili cheese nachos, two sodas, Gatorade and ice cream. I ate everything except for the nachos. I didn’t go swimming for fear that I would sink, but I did take a shower as it was much needed!

It was only another mile to the shelter, so I managed to stay relatively clean. When we arrived at the shelter we met Hunterdon County Parks and Rec campers out for a 2 day hike. Rock Boat and Jeopardy were both former camp counselors and told the campers some corny jokes, it made for a fun time before bed.

Happy campers

Happy campers

Days 110 – 113 (6/18/15 – 6/21/15)

Day 110, 6/18/15

Start: Port Clinton, PA
Finish: Eckville Shelter
Miles Hiked: 14.8
Miles To Go: 956.9
Overall Miles Hiked: 1232.3

I checked out of the hotel and hitched a quick ride over to Wal-Mart to resupply. Usually for lunch I will eat Ramen or candy bars, but I’ve been wanting to mix it up lately, so I bought tortillas, pepperjack cheese, pepperoni and Doritos. I crush up the Doritos and put them in my wrap to add a little flavor and texture. The cheese lasts about 4-5 days and then starts to get kinda nasty, so I try to eat it fast.

I was back on the trail for 10:00AM and started hiking. It rained all night and now a thick mist filled the woods.

6/18 Mist

6/18 Mist

In conditions like this, I put my rain cover over my pack, but I don’t hike with my rain gear on because of the heat it traps in. It’s been raining almost everyday for the last week and now the trail has turned to mush; it doesn’t make for fast hiking.

Wet Trail 6/18

Wet Trail 6/18

Today I hiked mostly with Miles and Oliver. We passed the time swapping trail stories and before we knew it, we had arrived at the road we thought led to the shelter. We didn’t see a shelter sign, so we kept walking. After going a mile the wrong way, we checked the book again and realized we passed it up! We turned around, hiked one more mile back and finally found the shelter.

Salamander

Salamander


Day 111, 6/19/15

Start: Eckville Shelter
Finish: George W. Outerbridge Shelter
Miles Hiked: 24.2
Miles To Go: 937.7
Overall Miles Hiked: 1256.5

Miles, Oliver and I left the shelter just after 7:00AM and just had the most wonderful time hiking the same mile of trail for the third time! So nice, we hiked it thrice! Oh well, we made sure to check our trail books more thoroughly today!

Rocky terrain 6/19

Rocky terrain 6/19

Water is starting to get harder to find. Even with all the rain, many springs are dry and you have to walk several tenths of a mile down steep side trails in hopes of finding it. When you have to walk miles and miles everyday, any extra walking that doesn’t count towards A.T. miles just sucks!

Just missed a bad storm

Just missed a bad storm

The trail is getting worse every mile. If you aren’t sinking inches into the mud, then you are balancing yourself on pointy rocks. The rocks are taking their toll on both my feet and my gear. One of my hiking poles broke today. The bottom half of it got stuck between two rocks and it broke at its joint. I’ll try to superglue it tonight. Hopefully, it works because I definitely need it on these rocks.

Knife Edge Rock Formation

Knife Edge Rock Formation

My feet are also in rough shape. I’ve had wet feet for a few days and blisters are beginning to form. With weather like this, you can’t get anything to dry. My boots, socks and other gear have been wet for a solid week…and it’s only going to get worse. I usually strap my wet socks to the outside of my pack. It’s smelly, but it usually works when I am trying to dry them out. Unfortunately, with the consistently wet weather like we have had recently, everything stays damp no matter what we do.

Wet feet

Wet feet

It was a long day battling rocks and wet weather and I arrived at the shelter completely exhausted. I was so tired I almost skipped dinner…keyword: Almost! After shoveling a chicken flavored pasta side down my throat, I passed out.


Day 112, 6/20/15

Start: George W. Outerbridge Shelter
Finish: Leroy A. Smith Shelter
Miles Hiked: 16.7
Miles To Go: 916
Overall Miles Hiked: 1273.2

It rained most of the night, but cleared up just before we started hiking. A mile after the shelter lies the town of Palmerton, PA and home to the Palmerton Zinc Superfund site. That’s right, the A.T. takes hikers right through one of the most polluted areas in the state! The hike through the Superfund starts with the slope of Blue Mountain and boy is it steep! I had to put my hiking poles away and climb up nearly vertical rock face for several hundred yards.

What I have left to climb, straight up

What I have left to climb, straight up

Several times I looked down behind me and thought how crazy it was to be scaling this mountain. One wrong step and a thruhike could easily end in a very tragic way.

Ascent up from Palmerton

Ascent up from Palmerton

After slowly negotiating the rock face, I sat down and drank from the 5 liters of water I was carrying. Over the course of my hike today, water would only be crossed once and it was .6 miles off trail and I had no intention of adding over a mile to my day. This has been the most water I’ve carried thus far as I usually only have about a liter on hand. The extra water added around 10 lbs. of weight to my pack, but there weren’t many alternatives.

After the steep ascent, the trail flattened out a bit and I was surprised to see several blueberry bushes loaded with ripe fruit. I haven’t seen any ripe fruit bushes other than the mulberries and now, on one of the most polluted landscapes in the country, they were all over. Needless to say, I didn’t pick any!

Superfund selfie!

Superfund selfie!

After a few miles the hike through the Superfund ended, but the rocks did not. By the time I reached the shelter I was pretty wrecked. My back is the most sore it had been this entire hike, most likely due to carrying extra weight and I have two nasty blisters on my feet. What’s worse is that in just a few hours the remnants of Tropical Storm Bill will be rolling right over us. I’m hunkered down in a shelter with Miles and 5 others while we await the storm. At least my hiking pole survived the day!


Day 113, 6/21/15

Start: Leroy A. Smith Shelter
Finish: Wind Gap, PA
Miles Hiked: 4.6
Miles To Go: 911.4
Overall Miles Hiked: 1277.8

The rain came down all night, but at least we avoided the wind and lightning that was forecasted. Miles, Oliver, Samaritan and I made the easy decision to head into town. We were all sore and running low on food and dry clothes. Plus, Wind Gap, PA has a movie theater and we all wanted to see Jurassic World!

We made the four and a half mile trek into town in record time and checked into the Travel Inn. Rooms were $80, but thankfully we split it between the 4 of us. We cleaned up, washed clothes and resupplied. After that, our attention turned to food! Right across the street is the Gap Diner. We took a seat and ordered a late breakfast. After several plates of omelets and french toast were cleared, we headed back to the room and relaxed in the A/C.

Resupply time! With Miles (left) and Oliver (right)

Resupply time! With Miles (left) and Oliver (right)

The movie started at 7:00PM and only cost us $5 a ticket, gotta love small town USA! Jurassic World was much better than the second and third installments, but failed to surpass the patriarch of the franchise. Overall I give it a B+! We walked back to the room and surrendered to the end of a long, wet and rocky week.


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.

Days 6 – 8 (3/6/15 – 3/8/15)

Day 6, 3/6/15

Start: Wolfpen Gap Country Store
Finish: Whitley Gap Shelter
Miles Hiked: 11.7
Miles To Go: 2150.8
Overall Miles Hiked: 38.4

Dan and I arranged for a 7:00 AM shuttle from the Country Store to Jarrard Gap, the base of Blood Mountain. Sam Duke, a local shuttle driver, dropped us off and wished us luck. From the base of Jarrard Gap, the summit of Blood Mountain is 1,211 ft. up a steep trail. After several breaks we finally reached the top. It was our highest peak yet and the view was amazing. The sun had just broken through the relentless fog. It was the first sunlight we had seen and more importantly felt in over a week. At the top of Blood Mountain sits the Blood Mountain Shelter. Built in 1934, the shelter is two stories and made of stone. Dan and I took a few pictures and headed down the trail.

The Freeman Trail skirts the summit of Blood Mountain, saving the hiker 700 ft up and down. We did not take it.

The Freeman Trail skirts the summit of Blood Mountain, saving the hiker 700 ft up and down. We did not take it.

Blood Mountain Shelter - Built in 1934

Blood Mountain Shelter – Built in 1934

View from Blood Mountain

View from Blood Mountain

 Top of Blood Mountain

Top of Blood Mountain

We were having a very intriguing conversation about the existence of Bigfoot when we realized we were off trail. We had been carefully navigating a very slick slab of granite and Dan was about 30 ft. ahead of me. While Dan was testing the theory of gravity, I slowly backtracked and found the trail. I thought it would take him half the day to get back up, but surprisingly within a few minutes he had made it back up to meet me. He was making a horrible wheezing, guttural sound as he gulped his water. Due to the way he got back up the mountain, how he sounded after and for other reasons unknown, I said he reminded me of a billy goat. A trail name was born and for hereafter, Dan will now be called Billy Goat. We were pretty beat by the time we made it down from Blood Mountain (especially with our unplanned detour) but soon realized we were staring at the “Tree of Lost Souls” which could only mean one thing…We had made it to Neel Gap, the spot where 20% of all thru-hikers call it quits. When a hiker has decided that he/she has had enough time on the A.T. and decides to surrender, they will traditionally throw their boots in the trees outside of Mountain Crossings, a hiker outfitter situated neatly in the Gap.

The Tree of Lost Souls

The Tree of Lost Souls – Do you see the boots?

Mountain Crossing at Neel Gap

Mountain Crossings at Neel Gap

After grabbing a quick lunch of ramen noodles, snickers and coke, we traveled on, but not before mailing ahead unneeded gear and food. I just saved myself from carrying  an extra 11 lbs! With lighter packs, we hiked the remaining 8 miles in short order. All we had left was a 400 ft. climb up a steep cliff riddled with loose rocks to the shelter. Well, about half way up we hit the wall. Every step was agonizing and the temperature was now around 25 degrees. To say we were miserable would be an understatement. I made it to the marker on the trail signifying the shelter first. I was shocked at what I saw. The trail marker said the shelter was another 1.2 miles off the trail… OFF. THE. TRAIL. After several expletives were exchanged, we made the walk of shame to the shelter, setup our tents and promptly went to sleep.

Snowing on our hike to Whitley Gap Shelter

Snowing on our hike to Whitley Gap Shelter


Day 7, 3/7/15

Start: Whitley Gap Shelter
Finish: Blue Mountain Shelter
Miles Hiked: 12.1
Miles To Go: 2138.7
Overall Miles Hiked: 50.5

We reached the 50 mile point in under a week upon reaching the shelter. So far, my only battle wound is a small blister on my right big toe. We are sore all over, but that was expected; our spirits are high. Today was pretty uneventful other than the awesome trail magic we received. By this time, Billy Goat and I had paired up with John and Hannah, a father/daughter duo from Maine. We were almost to the shelter when we literally heard music to our ears! There, in the middle of the woods, was a guy playing a pink ukulele handing out Dr. Pepper and donuts to all hikers! His name was Hermes and he had successfully thru-hiked the A.T. in 2013. He said he just wanted to see the white blazes again before leaving for the Army. The donuts were beyond stale, but nonetheless, tasted amazing and was just what we needed before that last push into camp. I setup my tent, ate dinner and was in bed by 9:00 PM, “hiker’s midnight.”


Day 8, 3/8/15

Start: Blue Mountain Shelter
Finish: Unicoi Gap
Miles Hiked: 2.5
Miles To Go: 2136.3
Overall Miles Hiked: 52.9

With going into town on our mind, Billy Goat, John, Hannah and I broke camp early and made the 1,000 ft. descent in about an hour and a half. Descending a mountain is faster than climbing it, but it is much harder on your body. Your toes, knees and calves are constantly being pushed to the max, so going slow is your best bet. We were really starting to feel it toward the end, so I decided to tell a little story to raise spirits:

The Legend of Unicoi Gap

Long ago, somewhere in these woods was a hidden pond. In that pond lived a single and most lonely koi fish. For thousands of years, the koi had no one to talk to…until one day, out of the fog, a beautiful unicorn appeared. The unicorn had become lost and desperately needed water. As the unicorn quenched his thirst, he was startled to see the koi just beneath the surface. After taming his inclination to run, the unicorn thanked the koi for letting him drink. After hours and hours of talking, the unicorn had to go, but promised to visit the pond once a week. And so, for the next 47 years, the unicorn and koi forged a beautiful friendship that would one day turn to love! Upon realizing their love for one another, they instantly became saddened because, as you know, a unicorn and koi fish could never be together. The prayed every week to the God of Blue Mountain until one day, their prayer was heard. The God of Blue Mountain granted them one night of union, but after that night, they would both perish. Without hesitation, the two lovers took the deal and spent a magical night together. In the morning, they were no more. The God of Blue Mountain was so moved by their love for one another that he decided to create a lasting symbol of their affection. And so, the Unicoi was born. To this day, the Unicoi (a koi fish with a unicorn) swims in the hidden pond, longing for the day a thirsty traveler finds its shore.

The End

The story was a hit and we talked about it the rest of the day. We managed to hitch a ride into Hiawassee, GA, where we resupplied our food, washed our clothes and booked a cheap room for the night.