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 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 100 – 102 (6/8/15 – 6/10/15)

Day 100, 6/8/15

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

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

Today's view of the trail

Today’s view of the trail

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

Hitching a ride into town

Hitching a ride into town

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


Day 101, 6/9/15

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

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

Breakfast!

Breakfast!

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

Playing Mau Mau

Playing Mau Mau

Intense game of Mau Mau!

Intense game of Mau Mau!


Day 102, 6/10/15

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

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

Light Painting

Light Painting

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

Great shot of the stars - Thanks again, Click!

Great shot of the stars – Thanks again, Click!

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

image2

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

Hanging out with trail angels Dennis and

Hanging out with trail angels Dennis and Marie

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

OFFICIAL HALFWAY POINT!!

OFFICIAL HALFWAY POINT!!

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

Ready for the half gallon challenge!

Ready for the half gallon challenge!

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

Challenge Complete!

Challenge Complete!

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

…Midnight update – All is well!


Days 72 – 75 (5/11/15 – 5/14/15)

Day 72, 5/11/15

Start: Daleville, VA
Finish: Wilson Creek Shelter
Miles Hiked: 11.2
Miles To Go: 1450.2
Overall Miles Hiked: 739

I enjoyed a late sleep for once! My king bed was comfy and it was hard to leave. At 10:00AM I called the outfitter in Daleville to see about replacing my shoes, but they didn’t have my model in stock. I called the manufacturer, Salomon, directly and explained the situation. After answering a few questions, Salomon agreed to replace my boots! Sweet! I’ll pick up my new boots in Waynesboro in 10 days. I finally hit the trail just before noon and boy was it hot and humid. I decided to hike shirtless to try and save a shirt, my apologies to any hikers I saw… I’m a work in progress!

Leaving Daleville

Leaving Daleville

It was slow going today. I just didn’t have much energy, it was hot and my feet hurt. I reached my first shelter after only 6 miles. I seriously considered staying, but I forced myself to at least make it to the next shelter. The only highlight of my day came at a stream crossing. The water source was loaded with tiny fish, so I stuck my GoPro in the water and took a video – I hope it comes out! Seeing these fish turned my mind to fishing back home. I fish a lot during the year and miss the time I get to spend with my dad, brother, father-in-law and other family and friends. Maybe if I’m lucky, I’ll make it home in time for one final summer trip! As I was filling up my clean water bag, my dirty water bag busted from the pressure I was exerting on the filter. Damn! If I pressed as hard as I could where the leak was, I could just barely filter my water without contaminating it. This would work for now,  but I better come up with a better solution soon – I hear dysentery isn’t much fun!

Cattle Stile

Cattle Stile

I arrived at Wilson Creek Shelter late in the afternoon and decided not to go on any farther. Already there were 3 section hikers at the shelter – none of them knew each other before today and they were all on their first day of hiking. 50+ has spent most of his adult life section hiking different parts of the A.T. In a few more years, he will have it completed. Bonsai is from Tampa and this is her first experience on the A.T. and camping in general. She said Day 1 was tough on her, but she hopes to make it 350 miles to Harpers Ferry, WV. Rewrite is 62 and thruhiked the A.T. in 2008. He loves telling stories about his hike and is quick to offer advice, but he is nice enough, so I listen. Who knows, maybe I’ll learn a thing or two. I hit the tent around 7:00PM. I’m tired and salty and plan on waking up early to beat the heat – We shall see!


Day 73, 5/12/15

Start: Wilson Creek Shelter
Finish: Bryant Ridge Shelter
Miles Hiked: 20.8
Miles To Go: 1429.4
Overall Miles Hiked: 759.8

Two thunderstorms came in overnight and boy was the lightning popping! This was the worst weather I’ve had so far, but thankfully the lightning missed the camp area!

Beautiful section of the trail

Beautiful section of the trail

After a few hours of hiking, I came to the first Blue Ridge Parkway (BRP) crossing. The A.T. intersects the BRP about 15 times over a 120 mile stretch of the trail. The road that makes up the BRP along with Skyline Dr. actually used to be the original route of the A.T. Most of the trail has been rerouted over the years, but every so often, a hiker will be walking the original A.T. path. I hiked about a half mile stretch of the original A.T. today!

Hiking on the original AT

Hiking on the original AT path

Just around lunch, I came to a road crossing and discovered I was in luck. Apple Butter and her friend, Gwynne, were at the crossing with ice cold drinks, fruit, sandwiches and other goodies! I joined fellow thruhiker Wolverine and pigged out! Apple Butter thruhiked in 2013 and wanted to repay the favor others had given her – thanks again!

Trail Magic!

Trail Magic!

I had set my goal at 14 miles, but there are some serious climbs tomorrow, so I decided to press on and take out a 1,000 ft. hill so I wouldn’t have to in the morning. Since my feet have been really hurting lately, I have been taking a lot of long breaks. Today is proof that these breaks help because without them I would not have been able to hit 20 miles. Hopefully, the new boots will help. Bryant Ridge Shelter is one of the nicest shelters I have seen so far. It has a full covered deck, a table, plenty of sleeping space and quick access to water – highly recommended!


Day 74, 5/13/15

Start: Bryant Ridge Shelter
Finish: Matts Creek Shelter
Miles Hiked: 22.6
Miles To Go: 1406.8
Overall Miles Hiked: 782.4

I was feeling lazy last night and didn’t want to set up my tent, so I slept in the shelter. I usually don’t sleep in the shelters unless it’s raining. Well, my exception to the rule cost me. The bugs were relentless and bit me and the other two guys staying in the shelter all night long. I had just enough length on my sleeping bag liner to wrap it over my face. Every so often, my head would pop out of the liner and become promptly attacked. Even with the gentle buzzing of a million insects to lull us into slumber, sleep was short lived!

Bryant Ridge Shelter

Bryant Ridge Shelter

In the morning, the bugs were still “bugging us” as Crawdad would say, so I got out of camp quickly. Over a series of 700 ft. and 1,000 ft. climbs, I would ultimately ascend and then descend 5,500 ft all day. My legs were strong enough and my cardio allowed me to hike without the need for many breaks, but my feet wore down about half way through my day. If I could just get these feet right, I feel like I could hit 30 miles everyday. Hopefully, these new boots will be the ticket!

Just as I was about to cross a gravel road, I looked over my left should and saw a big doe. She was only 15 ft. away and she was just staring me down. I slowly reached for my camera, but she wasn’t going to hang out long enough for me to use it. I expected her to bolt, but she moved away from me no faster than I was hiking. I thought that was odd, until I saw her little fawn struggling to keep up. The fawn must have been born within the last few days because it looked small enough to fit in my pack. I decided it would be best for me to move on out, so I said, “It’s okay, I’m leaving. You just hang out and enjoy this nice weather.” As I moved on, the doe stopped and watched me, just underneath her was her fawn.

For the next few hours, I thought about that encounter. Had the doe bolted like I expected her to, the fawn would not have been able to keep up. The doe knew this which is why she walked away slowly. I just thought it was a really neat experience! About 2 hours from camp, I ran into Pop’O and Den Mother. Pop’O thruhiked a few years ago, now he and Den Mother make smaller day hikes. They were very nice and have visited New Orleans several times and always eat at Antoine’s when they do. We talked trail and street performers for a few minutes before getting back to our hikes. It is so refreshing talking to strangers who know what you are going through.

The guillotine

The guillotine

About a mile from the shelter was another road crossing and instead of deer, I saw trail magic! In an ice chest tucked off on the side of the trail was cold Dr. Pepper and some apples. I took one of each to complement my dinner of Easy Mac tonight! I don’t know who left it, but thanks! I arrived at the camp and talked to Foxtrot who was halfway through a two month section hike. He lives in the area and said I have some pretty hard days in front of me, but in 4-5 days the trail will “ease up.” I am raising my Dr. Pepper to cheers the “eases up” part! Salud and good night!


Day 75, 5/14/15

Start: Matts Creek Shelter
Finish: U.S. 60
Miles Hiked: 24
Miles To Go: 1382.8
Overall Miles Hiked: 806.4

After just a few miles, I came to the James River footbridge. It is the longest foot-use-only bridge on the A.T. and one of the trail traditions is to jump off of it into the river. While I didn’t honor this tradition, I know a few who did and said the experience was exhilarating – maybe next time!

James River Footbridge

James River Footbridge

James River

James River

I passed several hikers I knew today and most asked me if I would be going to Trail Days. Trail Days is held every year in Damascus, VA and is a huge festival for the townspeople and hikers alike. Many of the companies that make our bags, packs, poles and other gear show up and help fix or even swap out broken gear. They also hold a bunch of raffles, giving away anything from t-shirts and hats to expensive backpacks and sleeping bags. There are also several vendors from the surrounding areas selling artwork and other wares. The organizers of Trail Days do a great job keeping everyone of all ages entertained from rock walls, great musical acts, hiker talent shows and even a hiker prom. The party culminates Saturday afternoon when hikers from past and present line up in year order and hike down Main St. for the hiker parade. It sounded like a great time, the only problem was that at the moment, I wasn’t going.

I had never really intended on going to Trail Days because I was intent on making miles before I need to get off the trail next week to meet my wife, Leigh, in D.C. Now that Trail Days was less than 24 hours and a full 300 miles away, I gave up any idea on attending…until I met back up with Mile Marker, Scooby, Murphy’s Law, Cookie Monster and Skipper. I’ve been hiking on again, off again with this group since the Smokies and they are a lot of fun. They gave me a hard time about not going and said they would even kidnap me if they had room for me in the ride they arranged a few weeks ago. I agreed to split a room with them in town for the night and I will try to hitch out in the morning. It was a long shot, but now that I kinda want to go, I think it will be worth it.

Days 62 – 65 (5/1/15 – 5/4/15)

Day 62, 5/1/15

Start: Pearisburg, VA
Finish: Somewhere in the VA woods
Miles Hiked: 14.2
Miles To Go: 1540.5
Overall Miles Hiked: 648.7

Crawdad was ready and excited about getting back on the trail, PoBoy wanted to sleep in. I lost! We arranged for a shuttle to bring us back to the trail and began packing up. Over the last 2 months, I’ve hiked with Billy Goat nearly everyday. It will be strange hiking without him, but I’m really glad we met and I wish him well. We said our goodbyes and Crawdad and I were on our way. My plan was to hike 7 miles to a shelter. It’s not many miles but would allow Crawdad to rest his knee. After 4 hours of hiking uphill about 1,700 ft., we arrived at the shelter. To my surprise, Crawdad did great! We only had to take a few breaks and his pace was perfect. He said he was feeling good and wanted to push on. I tried to talk him out of it, but the A.T. was calling. We walked on.

Crawdad navigating rocky trail

Crawdad navigating rocky trail

Mile after mile passed under our boots as we talked and walked. I’ve enjoyed spending time with my dad out here, when all you do is walk for hours a day, you have a lot of time to talk – It’s been great hiking with him!

Our plan was just to do another 5 miles, but we did 7 because the campsite we originally had planned on wasn’t there. We were on a very rocky ridge and there was no place to put a tent, so we had to keep moving. Finally, we found a spot big enough and flat enough with no rocks, so we made camp. I wanted to eat but had to make a phone call first. Luckily, I had a signal and called my buddy, Gary – He is getting married tomorrow! I was not able to attend because of my hike, but I wanted to wish him and his soon-to-be wife, Michelle, well. After catching up with Gary for a few minutes my attention turned to dinner. My hiker appetite is in full swing now as I am hungry just about all the time. My process for deciding what to eat out of my food bag is very simple – whatever weighs the most gets eaten! Tonight, was a pastalaya pack Gene & Nicole sent me. Very delicious! Which reminds me… I’d like to give a shout out to Gene & Nicole, Scott & David and Ellie for sending me care packages. The A.T. would be a lot harder on me if I didn’t have the support of awesome people like them. Thanks again!

At our campsite for the night

At our campsite for the night

I know Crawdad is tired because he turned in early and has been snoring loudly for the last 15 minutes. I hope he isn’t too sore in the morning – we have trail to travel!


Day 63, 5/2/15

Start: Somewhere in the VA woods
Finish: Bailey Gap Shelter
Miles Hiked: 9.6
Miles To Go: 1530.9
Overall Miles Hiked: 658.3

The temperature dropped down overnight into the low 40s – Crawdad was cold. I had given him some of my cold weather clothes to wear last night, but I guess it wasn’t enough. I definitely didn’t plan on temps this low at night in early May. The good news is that right off the bat we had a really steep climb that warmed us right up! Crawdad needed a break or two during the climb, but overall did great and soon enough we reached the top of Peters Mountain. To our left was West Virginia and to our right, Virginia. On the top of the mountain was the beginning/end of the Allegheny Trail, which runs 330 miles all the way through West Virginia and terminating at the Pennsylvania state line. Maybe I’ll hike that trail next year – NOT! After the A.T. I am retiring from long distance hiking.

Crawdad at a white blaze and stream

Crawdad at a white blaze and stream

On the way down the mountain we were passed by two hikers. We said hello and waved. They waved back but didn’t utter a sound. Crawdad and I thought this was really odd and wondered if they were mute, rude or had taken a vow of silence. We found out the answer at lunch. We both thought they were mute and when the 4 of us were all eating lunch at a nearby shelter, no attempts at conversation were made. Another hiker walked up and immediately started talking to the two non-talkers about how their hike had been going since he had last seen them a few days ago. No response. Instead, one of them took out a piece of paper which said, “We are taking a Ghandi today and aren’t speaking so we can hear the woods. You should try it as well.” When the other hiker finished reading the message on the paper aloud, he could only respond with a, “Oh, cool.” He was fighting back a smile. After the two “vow of silencers” left camp, I told Crawdad that I would also be taking a Ghandi – We both laughed. I don’t think I could go more than 20 minutes without speaking! Good for them, I hope they hear the woods and as long as they don’t hike with me, they should be able to.

Crawdad & PoBoy hiking

Crawdad & PoBoy 

Crawdad testing gravity

Crawdad testing gravity

After lunch, we just had another 4 miles to walk for the day, 3 of which would be the hardest miles Crawdad has done yet. Just before our big 3 mile uphill, a man stepped out of his car parked on the side of a nearby road and offered us Little Debbies and Capri Suns! As we drank and ate, the man said his dad was thruhiking and would be reaching the road shortly. While he waited, he wanted to give out some trail magic! Thanks, Dave! I’d like to say that the brownies and sugary drink were just what Crawdad needed and powered him up the mountain without so much as a sweat…but I can’t. Crawdad got his ass kicked. It was just over 1,000 ft. and it was steep. Needless to say, there were several breaks taken. After several attempts offering to carry some of his gear, he finally allowed me to lighten his load by a few pounds. I tried to tell him he was doing great and that I would be struggling too if I didn’t already have 650 miles under my belt. He appreciated the encouragement and said for the hundredth time, “I get it now…I didn’t then, but I get it now.” Earlier in the day we had been talking about how hard the A.T. is and how most people just don’t understand until they knock out a few miles. It is still hard for me to describe the trail. I continually say it is up and down all the time, no flat hiking. Crawdad said its just like walking up the levees back home…except 25x higher, loaded with rocks, roots, fallen trees and the trail you have to take is straight up and down. You have to do this for 10 hours a day, everyday, for 6 months! He likened the hikers left out here to machines – eat, walk, eat, sleep, repeat. To say he is impressed with us thruhikers is an understatement. I think he finally gets it!


Day 64, 5/3/15

Start: Bailey Gap Shelter
Finish: Sarver Hollow Shelter
Miles Hiked: 21
Miles To Go: 1509.9
Overall Miles Hiked: 679.3

The plan was to hike 3.8 miles to a road crossing and hope one of us had a cell signal so Crawdad could get into town and rest for a day or so. It was an extremely rocky ridge we were hiking and the going was slow. What’s worse was that neither one of us was getting anything close to a signal. Just as I was wondering how Crawdad was going to be able to make the 2,000 ft. descent 2 miles ahead, heading towards the trail was Dave, the guy with the trail magic yesterday. He was hiking southbound to meet his dad and wife and then they all would walk northbound together until they reached Dave’s car at the road up ahead. Dave gave me another brownie and went on his way.

Snake in a tree

Snake in a tree

The trail was getting harder and harder and Crawdad was really struggling. I thought if we could make it to the road then maybe we could wait and see if Dave and his family could get Crawdad off this mountain. About a half mile out, they caught up to us, so I decided to ask them if they could do us a huge favor and give Crawdad a ride. Without hesitation, Dave and his wife, Ashley, said yes. Thank God for people like them, we really needed the help today.

We all made it to their car and Crawdad loaded his things.  I was given another Capri Sun and slurped it down as Dave and his dad, PA Ridge Runner, hiked on. Ashley and the family dog, Riesling, would take Crawdad down the road so he could get a signal and call a shuttle for a ride into town. The plan if Crawdad could not get a signal would be for him to wait for me at the next road crossing 6 miles away. Ashley was heading there anyway to pick up Dave and say goodbye to PA Ridge Runner who would continue his thruhike. Just like that, I was alone. I hiked the 6 miles in record time because I was anxious to see what happened with Crawdad – I was praying he called a shuttle so he could get some much deserved and much needed rest. When I got to the road, I saw Ashley, Dave, PA Ridge Runner and Riesling, but no Crawdad. He was able to get a ride! To top off their amazingness, the group invited me to sit with them for lunch. It is really hard for me to turn down a Capri Sun, so I did, but not before thanking them again and again! I ate quickly so they could enjoy their last few minutes with PA Ridge Runner and moved on. One more time – Thank you so much!

The trail

The VA trail

After only a few hundred feet of hiking I was treated, or should I say mistreated, to another surprise. Standing next to a stream was a naked man and two clothed others, one holding a camera. I casually asked Birthday Suit if he was enjoying the weather. I think he said yes, but I was moving too fast to hear! When I stopped at the next shelter, Birthday Suit was the hot topic of discussion, we could only wonder what was going on back there!

I was feeling pretty good, so I decided to hike another 6.4 miles to the next shelter. As I was walking over a marshy area with a stream running through, I spotted a beaver building his dam – Too cool! I took a couple pictures and moved on.

Beaver building the dam

Beaver building the dam

Another few miles brought me beneath the Keffer Oak, the second largest oak tree along the A.T. It measures 18 ft. around and is over 300 years old. It’s amazing to see an oak that big and I could only imagine how many acorns it could produce. I sure would love to put my bow stand somewhere close!

PoBoy under Keffer Oak

PoBoy under Keffer Oak

The next mile was some of the steepest trail that I have hiked so far on the A.T. I must have stopped 10 times to catch my breath as my heart raced and sweat poured. After I finally reached the top, I walked the remaining miles in zombie mode and didn’t stop until I reached the shelter where I immediately ate and setup my tent. PoBoy is extra tired tonight!


Day 65, 5/4/15

Start: Sarver Hollow Shelter
Finish: Trout Creek
Miles Hiked: 14.8
Miles To Go: 1495.1
Overall Miles Hiked: 694.1

Sarver Hollow Shelter is .4 miles off the A.T. This morning, I needed to walk a side trail straight up to get back on the A.T. It woke me up fast, that’s for sure! There were a few sections of trail, each 100 yards or so, that you had to hike on the open face of the mountain. They were pretty steep and hard to walk on even with my poles. I took it very slow. One misstep and your hike could be over. There have been some sections of the trail that I have actually been surprised we are expected to hike because of how dangerous they are. But, surprised or not, when you see a white blaze in front of you, you follow it regardless of the terrain. Thruhikers are crazy!

Steep Trail

Steep Trail

Another few miles brought me to the Eastern Continental Divide. In simple terms, water on one side of the divide drains into the Atlantic while water on the other side will eventually reach the Gulf of Mexico. I pressed on a few more miles and stopped for lunch. While eating a protein bar, I looked at my guidebook and hatched an idea. If I could get to the next road, I may be able to get a shuttle back into Pearisburg and reconnect with Crawdad. In the morning, we could get back to that road and continue hiking together. I got out my phone, no signal. Oh well, I would just have to meet him at the next shelter tomorrow morning as we discussed.

Eastern Continental Divide

Eastern Continental Divide

On the top of the next mountain was a memorial dedicated to Audie Murphy who was America’s most decorated solider of WWII. His plane crashed near this spot in 1971.

Audie Murphy Monument

Audie Murphy Monument

I took a seat on a nearby bench and checked my phone again. I was in luck! I called a local shuttle driver and arranged a ride. I had 4 miles to go to reach the driver, all downhill, and hit the blacktop 61 minutes later. Although I was feeling good, I really shouldn’t hike this fast because that is how injuries develop – Slower is better! I met Crawdad about an hour later and we made our plan for the rest of the week. We have some good views coming up, so I want to make sure he is rested enough to see them. Fingers crossed again!

Crawdad & PoBoy in Pearisburg, VA

Crawdad & PoBoy in Pearisburg, VA

Days 55 – 58 (4/24/15 – 4/27/15)

Day 55, 4/24/15

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

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

I've completed 25% of the trail!

I’ve completed 25% of the trail!

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

Hiking through a cow pasture

Hiking through a cow pasture

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


Day 56, 4/25/15

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

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

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

Waiting on Crawdad to arrive!

Waiting on Crawdad to arrive!

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


Day 57, 4/26/15

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

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

Crawdad's first white blaze

Crawdad’s first white blaze

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

Crawdad after the uphill

Crawdad after the uphill

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


Day 58, 4/27/15

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

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

Hiker breakfast feast

Hiker breakfast feast

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

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

Days 40 – 43 (4/9/15 – 4/12/15)

Day 40, 4/9/15

Start: Erwin, TN
Finish: Curley Maple Gap Shelter
Miles Hiked: 4.3
Miles To Go: 1842
Overall Miles Hiked: 347.2

I awoke to blue skies and took Mike up on his work-for-stay offer. In between his house and chicken coop is a section of woods much lower than the surrounding land. He has a small tractor that has a hard time going up and down the steep trail leading into and out of the bowl and wanted me to construct a crude ramp made out of old firewood and mulch. I put one layer of wood down and then would cover it in a layer of mulch. After a few layers, the ramp was complete and turned out pretty good considering what I was using for building materials. It took me three hours, but I was able to pay off my stay!

Back at the trailhead, I got word that Billy Goat left the trail for a few days to find beer, pizza and girls; probably in that order too! He was going to try and meet back up with the group in a few days. I left Erwin with Click, Pie, Just Matt, No Hat and Blade. Just Matt and No Hat are section hiking and will be leaving the trail in one week to go back home.

I’ve met several hikers on the A.T. from other countries, all here on 6 month travel visas and are spending their time “seeing America” on the A.T. Big Bear is from Australia and loves American Whiskey. Blade is from Germany and really loves knives, seriously – American knives, German knives, whatever. If it is sharp, he wants it. Earth is also from Germany and says the A.T. is boring and filled with too many trees! Salty and Chanty are a married couple from Switzerland and are having  a great time. They say the best part of the trail is just talking to other hikers. Pie is from England, he has been to the U.S. a few times and even spent a week in New Orleans. Amazingly, he is one of the only hikers to know what a PoBoy is! We got on the trail around 4:00PM and walked to the next shelter, Curley Maple Gap, setup camp and awaited the rain.

Curley Maple Gap Shelter

Curley Maple Gap Shelter


Day 41, 4/10/15

Start: Curley Maple Gap Shelter
Finish: Greasy Creek Hostel
Miles Hiked: 20
Miles To Go: 1822
Overall Miles Hiked: 367.2

We awoke to light rain and took our time getting ready. There are many different thoughts on rain gear among hikers. Some wear just the top and others, just the bottom. A lot of hikers refuse to wear any rain gear at all. The biggest complaint is that many hikers sweat heavily while hiking in rain gear and end up soaked whether they wear it or not. Unfortunately, I’ve have this problem as well, but my rain gear comes with a lot of venting zippers. Although I still sweat while wearing my gear, I don’t have it as bad as some hikers.

Just 4 miles in, we were treated to some trail magic from Brother Tom. Everyday from March 1st to sometime in May, Brother Tom comes to Indian Grave Gap and offers fresh fruit, juice, soda, cheese and crackers and sweet treats to passing hikers. Thanks, Brother Tom!

Lunch at Beauty Spot Gap

Lunch at Beauty Spot Gap

Our hike for the day would be taking us over Unaka Mountain and its dense spruce forest. It was an eerie hike in the spruce because it was extremely thick in the canopy, but pretty open underneath making it quiet and dark. It was also harder to follow the trail because there was no discernible path due to all the spruce needles on the ground. For hikers up there during foggy weather, special attention needs to be given in locating the white blazes or one could be easily become lost.

Unaka Mountain spruce forest

Unaka Mountain spruce forest

Today was Click’s birthday, so we decided to hike to a hostel close to the A.T. to celebrate. After walking 20 miles the idea of going another .6 along a steep and rocky downhill was not the easiest sell, but real food, showers and beer for the birthday boy seemed worth it. Well, it was worth it as I was treated to the most amazing $5 double bacon cheeseburger on the planet. I also ordered chicken fingers with fries and an Oreo shake. Connie at the Greasy Creek Friendly is an amazing host and will do anything she can for her hiking guests. I definitely recommend staying here to any future thruhikers. Pie, Blade, Just Matt, No Hat, Connie and myself sang “Happy Birthday” to Click, had a few drinks and then turned in.


Day 42, 4/11/15

Start: Greasy Creek Hostel
Finish: Overmountain Shelter
Miles Hiked: 17.4
Miles To Go: 1804.6
Overall Miles Hiked: 384.6

We thanked Connie once more and then hiked the .6 miles back to the A.T. The rainy weather from the day before had given way to clear skies and cooler temps. Hiking was much easier in these conditions and before long we stood at the base of Roan Mountain. Roan’s elevation is 6,212 ft. making it the second highest peak on the A.T. All we had to do was ascend 2,200 ft. I was the slowest in the group as it took me nearly 3 hours of constant climbing to reach the top of the mountain and Roan High Knob Shelter. This shelter is the highest on the A.T. and was currently being occupied by my cohorts as they ate lunch.

Roan High Knob Shelter

Roan High Knob Shelter

View from Roan Mtn

View from Roan Mtn

We still had another 7 miles to hike and it was getting late. I really wanted to press on so I wouldn’t have to hike in the dark, but I forced myself to eat a quick lunch. We left the shelter and headed down into Carvers Gap. The parking lot in the Gap was nearly full as day hikers climbed up and down the balds there to take in the 360º views. If I ever make it back this way, I will make a point to stop at Carvers Gap as if offered some of the best views on the A.T. so far.

After stopping several times to soak it all in, I got back in hiker mode and crushed the remaining miles to arrive at Overmountain Shelter just before dark. This shelter is the most popular on the entire trail. The shelter is actually an old barn and was even featured in the movie The Patriot. The barn is huge and could probably fit 40 hikers. Tonight, there are about 20 hikers in the barn and another 20, including myself, camped outside. The fire was inviting so I sat down with several hikers and traded war stories and dumb jokes. After laughing for a few hours, it was time for bed.

Overmountain Shelter

Overmountain Shelter


Day 43, 4/12/15

Start: Overmountain Shelter
Finish: Roan Mountain, TN
Miles Hiked: 9.2
Miles To Go: 1795.9
Overall Miles Hiked: 393.8

The temperature dropped several degrees overnight and after two days of 80º hiking, I looked forward to the change. What I didn’t know was that the wind on the top of the two balds I had to cross was blowing even harder than it was at Max Patch a few weeks ago. Hikers were literally being blown a step or two off trail as they tried to negotiate the steep path. The two balds were Little Hump Mountain and Hump Mountain and both were void of all trees allowing hikers to see everyone in front and behind them for several hundred yards. On the top of the second bald were some big boulders that allowed a reprieve from the wind. I stopped there to take a few pictures and eat a granola bar of the chewy and chocolate variety.

About halfway down the second bald was the last border between North Carolina and Tennessee, we had been crisscrossing between these two states a dozen times or so and now only had 75 miles left in Tennessee before reaching Virginia. The farther down from the top of Hump Mountain we hiked, the less wind we had to contend with. By the time we reached the highway to Roan Mountain, TN, the weather was absolutely amazing and we decided to get a hitch into town to celebrate our near 400 mile achievement and to resupply. It was my first attempt at hitchhiking, but only minutes after sticking up my thumb at passing cars, a truck pulled over and offered us a ride. The first stop was Bob’s Dairyland where I ordered a double bacon cheeseburger and a chocolate shake – this seems to be my order of choice when arriving in town! After inhaling our food, we walked over to Dollar General to resupply. I was getting really sick of Pasta Sides and Ramen so I decided to try a few new items. I purchased a block of Pepper Jack cheese, tortillas, and salami in hopes of making some kind of cheesy burrito thing. I was told the cheese would keep for a week or so – we will see! Our next and final spot was Mountain Harbour Hiker Hostel where I got a cheap bunk for the night.

It was still early so we decided to make a fire. As the hours passed, hiker after hiker trickled in, including Car Bomb, Made It, Blazer and Hula, and they all joined in the circle. The weather was forecasted to deteriorate overnight and rain for the next 5 days so we took advantage of our last good night and went to bed around 11:00, which is super late as far as hikers are concerned.

Days 36 – 39 (4/5/15 – 4/8/15)

Day 36, 4/5/15

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

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

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

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

Rocky View from Big Butt Mountain

Rocky View from Big Butt Mountain

PoBoy: Pondering or Perplexed?

PoBoy: Pondering or Perplexed?


Day 37, 4/6/15

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

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

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

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

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

Hikers camped on a Bald

Hikers camped on a Bald

There are several grave sites along the AT

There are several grave sites along the AT

Cool view of where the trail crosses a street

Cool view of where the trail crosses a street


Day 38, 4/7/15

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

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

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

Lunch time stop at High Rocks

Lunch time stop at High Rocks

PoBoy at High Rocks

PoBoy at High Rocks


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

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

Did I say I hate stairs yet?

Did I say I hate stairs yet?

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

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

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

View of Erwin, TN

View of Erwin, TN

Days 32 – 35 (4/1/15 – 4/4/15)

Day 32, 4/1/15

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

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

Snake crossing the A.T.

Snake crossing the A.T.

Elmer Hall, Elmers Sunnyside Inn

Elmer Hall, Elmers Sunnyside Inn

Elmers Sunnyside Inn

Elmers Sunnyside Inn


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

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

My view from Spring Creek Tavern

My view from Spring Creek Tavern


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

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


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

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

Coolest camp site yet along French Broad River

Coolest camp site yet along French Broad River

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

Days 25 – 27 (3/25/2015 – 3/27/2015)

Day 25, 3/25/15

Start: Mt Collins Shelter
Finish: Newfound Gap
Miles Hiked: 4.5
Miles To Go: 1981.9
Overall Miles Hiked: 207.3

With town on our minds, the hiking was extremely fast. We hiked the 4.5 miles to Newfound Gap in an hour and forty five minutes. There were 30-40 cars in the parking lot with tourists moving all over the place and it wasn’t long before we were offered some trail magic and a free ride into Gatlinburg by Firecracker and Don’t Stop. They hiked the A.T. in 2012, but a blown out knee left them 800 miles short of Katahdin. They were as nice as they could be and were actually on their way to Florida to visit their daughter. They decided to detour into the Smokies just to help out hikers! The generosity I have experienced on the A.T. is nothing short of amazing. We checked into the Grand Prix Motel in Gatlinburg and did laundry, resupplied and ate some good town food – Life is good!


Day 26, 3/26/15

Start: Newfound Gap
Finish: Newfound Gap
Miles Hiked: 0
Miles To Go: 1981.9
Overall Miles Hiked: 207.3

Sleeping in is so nice! Sleep in the shelters has not been easy. Snorers and crowded quarters make it very difficult to stay asleep for long. We were warned by another hiker a few miles back that we should get out of the Smokies as soon as possible, so we did. Due to the altitude, the weather is often unpredictable and heavy snowfalls are common, even in late March. During dinner at a restaurant in Gatlinburg, our server also warned us about the incoming weather. Snow was in the forecast with temperatures stuck in the 20s and 30s and that was just in town. Gatlinburg’s elevation is 1,289 ft. – The A.T. in the Smokies averages about 5,500 ft. For each 1,000 ft. increase in elevation, temperatures drop about 3.5 degrees, which means temps on the A.T. could be in the low teens or possibly even reach single digits. We only have 2 more full days of hiking in the Smokies. Had we kept going, we would be out and in lower elevation by the time the weather hit. We went to bed and hoped for a more favorable forecast in the morning.


Day 27, 3/27/15

Start: Newfound Gap
Finish: Newfound Gap
Miles Hiked: 0
Miles To Go: 1981.9
Overall Miles Hiked: 207.3

We woke up and immediately checked the weather. No change. We made the decision to take another zero, hurting both our wallets and hearts as the A.T. was calling…frozen or not! All day, hikers trickled in, abandoning the Smokies in droves trying to avoid the worst of the snowfall, even though it had already begun. With another full, free day at my disposal, I decided to play the part of tourist and fell victim to many of Gatlinburg’s tourist traps. I played indoor 3-D golf, ate overpriced food (and yes, that does include a funnel cake!) and I even played ring toss! I need to get out of here! After surrendering and retreating back to my room, I pulled out my A.T. guide book to check out what awaited me on the A.T. over the next few weeks. A lot of up and downs – I should have seen that coming! I also found an ad for a special hiker rate for an hour long massage from Roger Bailey, a local licensed massage therapist. I quickly booked an appointment with him and within a few hours he arrived at the hotel. OMG!! Roger did an amazing job and had me feeling great and ready to tackle the A.T. in the morning. With the weather forecasted to dry up, we leave at first light tomorrow!