Days 129 – 132 (7/7/15 – 7/10/15)

Day 129, 7/7/15

Start: US 7
Finish: Tom Leonard Shelter
Miles Hiked: 6.4
Miles To Go: 661.8
Overall Miles Hiked: 1527.4

By the time we checked in, did laundry and ate it was after 1:00AM. We requested a late checkout and used every bit of our extra time, finally leaving the hotel around noon. We drove back to the small town of Sheffield, MA where we rented the car. We ate and resupplied before returning the car which officially brought our off-trail adventure to a close.

Just as we were about to get going back on the trail, we heard thunder in the distance. According to the radar, it looked like we were about to get nailed, so we waited out the storm in a nearby garden center. Well, the storm skirted just north of us and waiting for it to pass cost us 2 hours. We finally started hiking around 5:00PM!

The first mile of today’s hike was one of the hardest on the trail so far. It wasn’t due to the rocks or a steep incline, it was because of the biggest swarm of mosquitoes I’ve ever had the displeasure of encountering. At one point, I slapped and killed four on my right forearm alone. It was misery. We were getting bit left and right. We were practically running to avoid them! Once we started going uphill, the mosquitoes lessened, but we weren’t completely free from them until we were in our tents. I even had to eat dinner in my tent, which was a first. Misery!


Day 130, 7/8/15

Start: Tom Leonard Shelter
Finish: US 20
Miles Hiked: 22.7
Miles To Go: 639.1
Overall Miles Hiked: 1550.1

The mosquitoes were still really bad in the morning, so I broke camp pretty quickly and got moving. It had rained overnight, so the trail was pretty sloppy. In fact, I slipped twice right off the bat, but thankfully landed on my butt both times. Trying to avoid the worst of the mud pits that now dominate the trail takes a lot more time and energy to successfully navigate, but it keeps my feet dry which is very important. I try to walk along the edges of the trail or on top of roots and rocks to keep my feet out of the thick mud, but sometimes there isn’t any option other than to trudge on through.  By the end of the day, my legs are caked in mud and my boots weigh a ton. Vermont is supposed to be much worse. It’s nickname among hikers is “Vermud” and June 2015 was the wettest month on record in the last 150 years. Lovely! Maybe the mosquitoes will be so thick they will just carry me over the mud!

As I was nearing the end of my day, I came to a small bridge. As I was crossing it, I was stung by 2 yellow jackets – one on each leg. They burned pretty intensely for a minute or two and then the pain subsided. I had already been bitten by 20-30 mosquitoes over the last 2 days and now the yellow jackets want a PoBoy too!

A mile before my intended shelter, I fell a third time, only this time I didn’t fall on my butt. I was navigating over a small stream when I lost my footing and started going down. Trying to avoid falling in the middle of the stream, I pushed hard with my right leg to try to at least hit dryer land. The only thing I succeeded in doing was covering the left half of my body in nasty, rancid mud and straining my right quad. I cursed myself and the A.T. as I tried to wash myself off. Another mile past my intended shelter was a road crossing and motel. I really needed a shower and booked a room with Rock Boat and Jeopardy. As I write this, I am not a happy hiker.


Day 131, 7/9/15

Start: US 20
Finish: Dalton, MA
Miles Hiked: 19
Miles To Go: 620.1
Overall Miles Hiked: 1569.1

I’ve been hiking with Rock Boat and Jeopardy for several days now. Most of the time we go at our own pace and meet up around lunch and again at camp each night. Sometimes we hike together and crack jokes at each other’s expense! Today, I hiked with Jeopardy in the morning and Rock Boat in the afternoon. After yesterday’s events, I needed the company!

7/9 Trail

7/9 Trail


Right around lunch, I came to a road crossing and was surprised to see some awesome trail magic. Pooh Bear thruhiked the A.T. last year and was spending a week doing trail magic. He handed me a cheeseburger and soda and told me and the four other hikers gathered there a brief recount of his A.T. experience. He was such a nice guy! We bid him farewell and moved on.

Pooh Bear's Trail Magic

Pooh Bear’s Trail Magic

Rock Boat and I arrived in Dalton, MA just before the rain and set up our tents in the backyard of Thomas Levardi, a local trail angel. He’s allowed hikers to camp behind his home for 36 years. It rained heavily all night, so I was stuck in my tent for about 13 hours. My tent is a single wall tent as opposed to a double wall. It is much lighter than a double wall, but is prone to condensation buildup on the inside walls, especially while it’s raining. I had to use my camp towel every few hours to dry the walls down so I wouldn’t get soaked. At least it doesn’t rain often – yeah right!


Day 132, 7/10/15

Start: US 20
Finish: Mt. Greylock, Bascom Lodge
Miles Hiked: 17.2
Miles To Go: 602.9
Overall Miles Hiked: 1586.3

The rain finally let up around 3:00AM. I packed up a wet tent and headed out of camp around 8:00AM. The trail is progressively getting worse. It’s extremely muddy, which makes it easy to slip and fall and hikers must exert more energy to try and stay on the trail. There have been sections over the last few days where I am walking through mud for several miles – I have forgotten what color my boots are! 

Jeopardy

Jeopardy

Today was my first day hiking back in some real mountains since Virginia and it felt good to know that I would be rewarded with great views after making the climb up. For too long I’ve made hard hikes uphill hoping for a view, only to descend without much of a glimpse of anything other than trees…The green tunnel indeed. The mountain today was Mt. Greylock, which is the highest peak in MA at 3,491 ft. and was the first mountain over 3,000 ft. in a very long time.

Mt. Greylock Cabin

Mt. Greylock Cabin

Frog at Mt. Greylock

Frog at Mt. Greylock

The climb up wasn’t too bad. Actually, after 4 hours of steady climbing, I finally reached the summit. The view from the top was beautiful and Rock Boat, Jeopardy and I sat for a while and enjoyed it.

Mt. Greylock View

Mt. Greylock view, Highest peak in MA

At the top of Mt. Greylock is the Bascom Lodge built in the 1930s. Hikers can stay in a bunk room there and that sounded just fine after our 2,500 ft. climb up! At this altitude, it was actually a little cold. Just ahead lay the White Mountains of New Hampshire where snow can fall on several of its peaks year round. I’ll be needing my winter gear back soon.


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 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 91 – 94 (5/30/15 – 6/2/15)

Day 91, 5/30/15

Start: Bearfence Mountain Hut
Finish: Pass Mountain Hut
Miles Hiked: 26.8
Miles To Go: 1246.3
Overall Miles Hiked: 942.9

Well, since I’m a pro at 12×12’s now, this will be the last one I write about! I’ve been doing pretty well physically since I got the new boots and it definitely shows in my mileage. Right after camp was a quick climb up Bearfence Mountain and the view was great. To get to the summit, you have to take a short side trail, but it was well worth it. I soaked in the view, as well as the sun and allowed it to set my mood for the rest of the day. Well, it worked because I didn’t think of quitting once today! Seriously though, today was better than the last few have been – One day at a time.

Poboy at Bearfence Mountain Overlook

Poboy at Bearfence Mountain Overlook

Today is Saturday and the trail is packed with day hikers.  Some are familiar with the A.T., some aren’t and it never gets old telling someone you are hiking from GA to ME. As I was climbing up the trail, I noticed 2 people hunched over in the woods picking up logs and rocks. I thought the situation was odd and casually asked them what was going on. They were researching salamanders. Whenever they find one, they would measure its length as well as the temperature of its environment – Pretty cool!

Salamander Researchers

Salamander Researchers

A short while later, I reached the top of a mountain and took a seat next to some day hikers to enjoy a cold pepsi. I apologized for being stinky and they said that they didn’t mind. They do a lot of hiking and are familiar with the A.T. We talked for several minutes until it was time for me to leave. As I was walking away, one of them asked if I needed good luck. “All I can get,” I said. She put a plastic band on my right wrist. The band was in memory of her daughter, Sydney, who passed away a few years ago from Leukemia. I will wear the band proudly and I will think of Syndey every time I see a ladybug – They were her favorite.

Sydney band

Sydney band

A few hours later I arrived at Stony Man Cliffs. It reminded me a lot of Tinker Cliffs, except these had people climbing up them in their full climbing apparel. I sat down and watched a few of them negotiate the step cliffs, thinking no way would I ever try something that crazy! The Stony Man Cliffs are a short hike from a visitor parking lot below and I strongly recommend it if any of you make it to the Shenandoah Park. I made it to the shelter just before dark and pitched my tent – Snoring could be heard from it moments later!

Stony Man Cliffs

Stony Man Cliffs


Day 92, 5/31/15
Start: Pass Mountain Hut
Finish: US 522
Miles Hiked: 26.5
Miles To Go: 1219.8
Overall Miles Hiked: 969.4

Deer

Deer

A few miles from the shelter way the last wayside I would have the opportunity to visit and having passed up several already I decided to make the short hike from the A.T. to it. I was not disappointed! I treated myself to two ham, cheese and egg biscuits and powerade and took a seat next to some other hikers. One of them was named Tic Toc and she is averaging 27 miles a day out here – That is booking it! She actually hiked the Pacific Crest Trail last year and hopes to hike the mother of them all, the Continental Divide Trail, next year. If all goes as planned, she will earn the Triple Crown of Hiking by the end of next year, a title she will share with fewer than 200 other hardcore hikers. Good Luck Tic Toc!

AT

AT

Another hiker I met there, Woodchuck, would become my hiking buddy the rest of the day. He is a 51 year old retired Marine and our pace is the same. Being able to talk to someone while hiking really helps to pass the time! Oh, and this happened today. I’ll let the sound speak for itself:

Hitting these big miles has been great, but they have certainly taken a toll on my feet. The new boots are great, but there is only so much comfort they can provide. There is no pain free way to hike over 20 miles day after day. What’s worse is that I’ve developed rashes on my ankles and toes. I think it is because they are wet a lot of the time, so I need to do a better job switching out wet socks when I stop for lunch. Hopefully it helps because the rash is quite painful.

I am out of food and dry clothes, so I will be heading into Front Royal, VA tonight. It’s just a few miles off trail and there is a $20/night hostel where I can stay. WIth town food on our minds, Woodchuck and I cruised through the last few miles. We got a ride over to the hostel and got cleaned up. Next we headed further into town to resupply and grab a burger and shake – hiker diet staples. Mountain Home Cabbin, where we are staying tonight, is owned by Anything and Possible. Anything thruhiked in 2012 and together they operate  one of the nicest hostels I have stayed in so far – highly recommended! A good night’s sleep will do this body good, so I am turning in early, night night!


Day 93, 6/1/15

Start: US 522
Finish: Dicks Dome Shelter
Miles Hiked: 15.2
Miles To Go: 1204.6
Overall Miles Hiked: 984.6

Possible woke us up around 7:00AM for a home cooked breakfast of eggs. sausage, toast,  fresh fruit….and pancakes!

I wish I was in need of a zero because this place would be an awesome layover! Possible dropped me off at the laundromat where I spent the next few hours trying to wash and dry clothes. The washing went as expected, but drying my clothes tested my patience. What had happened was, I put my clothes in the machine, added my quarters and hit start. The clothes started tumbling and I walked away.  20 minutes later, I opened the dryer and my clothes were still soaked. I told the attendant that I thought the machine was broken and she said, “They are old machines and go out a lot, try a different one.” There was no mention of reimbursing me my $2.00, so I asked. After a 5 minute conversation, she finally gave me 8 quarters. I was a little perturbed, but said thanks nonetheless. I repeated the steps as before, except for hitting start. I walked back 20 minutes later and my clothes were still just as wet with 20 minutes on the timer. This time I was the dummy! I tried for the third time and was finally successful.

I was hoping to get back on the trail early, but now it was almost noon. I grabbed a quick bite at a local eatery (yes, I got a burger again!) and finally made it back to the trailhead. Thunderstorms were in the forecast so I hiked fast. In fact, I averaged over 3 mph for my 15 mile hike today! For me, that is flying. Of course, that average does include the last 4 miles of my day where I literally ran. I made it through the first 10 miles dry, but thunder could be heard in the distance for most of the day. I was at a shelter and had a decision – do I stay here after only 10 miles, or do I press on to the next shelter 5 miles away? The radar looked okay and the lightning had stopped, so I decided to go for it. Well, 1 mile in the skies became very dark. I started running. The closer I got to the shelter, the worse the weather got. I did the last 4 miles in about 48 minutes as the wind gusted and lightning popped. I walked up to the shelter and scared the hell out of the 3 guys in there – They weren’t expecting to see anyone in this weather! Unfortunately, you can’t always hike in good weather. I don’t like hiking in lightning, but I didn’t have a choice. Now, if lightning is in the area and you know you are about to go over a bald or over a ridge, it is best to stay down in lower elevation. Fortunately, I was on the way down the mountain when the worst of it came in.

I stripped down, got into some dry clothes and got into my bag. The temperature dropped about 20° and I was cold and wet – not a good combination, but I was able to warm up pretty quickly. One of the guys in the shelter is a thruhiker I’ve met a few times named DG. The first time I met him was in Hot Springs, NC and he gave me and BIlly Goat some homemade cookies he got from home. There were no such cookies tonight.


Day 94, 6/2/15

Start: Dicks Dome Shelter
Finish: Bears Den Hostel
Miles Hiked: 18.3
Miles To Go: 1186.3
Overall Miles Hiked: 1002.9

It rained all night, but I stayed dry in the shelter. A heavy mist descended upon us all day and by the time we reached our destination for the evening, we were completely soaked. For much of the day, I hiked with DG. He is a slightly faster hiker than me, so I had to kick up my pace to keep up. The trail meanders through Sky Meadows State Park for a few miles. On a sunny day I am sure the park would be a beautiful hike, but because of the mist, not much could be seen past 50 yards.

Sky Meadow State Park

Sky Meadow State Park

After a few hours, we arrived at a section of the trail known as the Roller Coaster. For 13 miles, the trail consisted of tightly grouped ups and downs. This section of trail gets a bad name because you don’t have a chance to rest, it is just one after another. Instead of the Roller Coaster, I think it should be renamed Georgia!

Rocky trail on 6/2

Rocky trail on 6/2

About halfway through sits the Bears Den Hostel. We were soaked to the bone and cold, it was a no brainer. For $30 a hiker gets a bunk, shower, laundry, soda, pizza and pint of Ben & Jerry’s! For all of you who are planning a thruhike, it is a don’t miss hostel! We checked in and immediately ate our pizza. After that, my attention turned to getting cleaned up and warm. Sleep followed shortly after.

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 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 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 18 – 20 (3/18/15 – 3/20/15)

Day 18, 3/18/15

Start: Nantahala Outdoor Center (NOC)
Finish: Nantahala Outdoor Center (NOC)
Miles Hiked: 0
Miles To Go: 2051.9
Overall Miles Hiked: 137.3

When I woke up I could barely walk. My knees were in a lot of pain after the hike into the NOC, so I decided to take a zero today. I had breakfast with my group and made plans to meet back up with them in three days in Fontana Village, NC, they hiked on. With an entire day and no plans, I decided to take advantage of what the NOC had to offer. For $40, I  was able to secure a spot on a whitewater rafting trip and geared up in a wetsuit. It was a great experience as I was able to get a different view of the mountain I climbed down the day before. The Nantahala River is fed by a giant flume that turns 6 miles up into the mountains leading up to Lake Nantahala. Every night, the supply of water is cut off and the river slows down to a trickle. During this time, river rafting guides will sometimes add piles of large rocks to the riverbed to alter the course and rush of the rapids. (Apparently, this practice is not exactly legal, but adds some thrills to once tame sections of the river.) After 3 hours of rafting, we arrived back at the NOC. I definitely recommend checking this place out! There is so much to do in such a beautiful setting.

Whitewater Rafting at the NOC

Whitewater Rafting at the NOC

Rafting the Nantahala

Rafting the Nantahala


Day 19, 3/19/15

Start: Nantahala Outdoor Center (NOC)
Finish: Stecoah Gap
Miles Hiked: 13.4
Miles To Go: 2038.5
Overall Miles Hiked: 150.7

The climb out of the NOC was 3,200 ft. up, up and up. It kicked my ass the entire morning. I reached the first shelter of the day and had a big decision to make – set up camp and call it a day or hike on? I had hiked about 7 miles and needed to make up some ground to catch up with my group, so I pressed on. In hindsight, I probably should have stayed put. The weather was deteriorating with dense fog, stiff winds and pestering light rain. After hiking another 6 miles, I made it to a highway crossing around 5:30PM. The fog was so thick I could barely make out the A.T. marker just 50 feet away. I crossed the highway and started walking up a steep trail. I was moving slow, each foot barely clearing the toes of the other. At this rate, it would have taken me another couple of hours to reach the next shelter and I was starting to shiver from being cold and wet all day. After lunch, I had made a mistake. In an effort to get warm, I put my down jacket on underneath my rain gear, Down is extremely warm when dry, but unlike wool, when wet it is absolutely worthless. By the time I reached Stecoah Gap, my jacket had become saturated with sweat, rendering my warmest article of clothing useless…and the temperature was starting to drop. I decided to turn around and go back to the highway to hitch a ride, but the fog was so thick that the cars couldn’t see me. I grabbed my A.T. guidebook and dialed away. On the third attempt, I was able to reach Donna, who owns a nearby hostel. They were booked solid due to the weather, but she said for an additional $10 I could rent a private cabin, DONE AND DONE! I was picked up within 15 minutes and driven to my luxurious quarters for the night. I was now shivering uncontrollably and took the longest hot shower of my life. Lesson learned!

Hiking up away from the NOC

Hiking up away from the NOC


 

Day 20, 3/20/15

Start: Stecoah Gap
Finish: Fontana Dam Shelter
Miles Hiked: 15.2
Miles To Go: 2023.3
Overall Miles Hiked: 165.9

I was back on the trail early. For most of the day the weather was okay. There was light fog with no rain (hooray!) and I was enjoying hiking alone. About 6 miles from my intended shelter/stopping point for the day, I decided to stop and eat lunch. It started to drizzle just as I was finishing up. I had already done 10 miles over some pretty sloppy and slippery trail. Normally, I would have just called it a day, but I was trying to meet back up with my group ahead of schedule. I continued on, but would later come to regret this decision. Just like the day before, the weather began to deteriorate quickly. This time, I left the down jacket in my pack. With 4 miles to go, my knees began to give me a lot of trouble when going up or down stairs. The A.T. is not always a flat trail. Due to the steep inclines and declines, steps made of wood or boulders have been put in by trail maintainers. It takes more energy and places a greater strain on your body for every flight of stairs you have to take. Today, the downhill ones are the WORST! I have used hiking poles since day 1 and they have already proved to be a crucial piece of equipment for my thruhike. Without them, I know for a fact that I would have fallen countless times and placed even more strain on my sore knees. If I didn’t have my hiking poles today, I would have been forced to  literally crawl up and down the stairs, my knees were hurting that bad! I popped a couple I-vitamins and continued on, very slowly. (I-vitamins are what we call Ibuprofen.) With 2.5 miles to go, I seriously contemplated stopping to make camp. I was in pain and couldn’t see 50 ft. in front of me due to the fog and rain. I cursed myself and trail aloud, threatening to kick its ass. At this moment, I sat down and asked myself this question, “OK, dumbass… Having fun yet?” I thought to myself, “If you could leave the trail right this second and be dry and warm at home with the flip of a switch, would you do it?” I responded “no” out loud and stumbled on. The scary part was that I actually believed myself. I’ve heard that every thruhiker has similar conversations with themselves – we are all sick, crazy and addicted to pain, but we keep moving. Finally, I made it to the shelter. I was told my clan was at the hiker lodge. You could opt for a shuttle to pick you up from the shelter or you could walk an additional 3 miles to arrive by foot. No one had a cell service and the shelter was already full. I decided I would head to the lodge and thought I could easily get a ride there, I was so wrong. I walked an additional mile or so off trail before I was able to catch a ride. I met up with some of my group and hit the bed completely and utterly exhausted. Hiking 29 miles in two days in this weather will do that.

The A.T. crosses several highways like this. Also, I hate stairs!

The A.T. crosses several highways like this. Also, I hate stairs!

Cable Gap Shelter. Typical A.T. shelter.

Cable Gap Shelter. Typical A.T. shelter.