I hear that train a coming….

Date: April 14th
Day: 34
Miles from Springer: 468.8
Miles to Katahdin: 1717.1
Morale: 5/5

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The has been a wonderful week. Every week is wonderful out on the trail, but this week has probably been the best so far. Shay and I met up with another group of hikers and we have formed a little team. We all hike together because our paces are so similar and fly by other hikers all day. One group of day hikers that we passed remarked that we were like a locomotive charging through the woods. We have since adopted that as our team trail name.

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We have been having a great time together. In addition to meeting some new friends, the terrain has been the most beautiful on the trail so far.

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Not only have we had great days hiking, but also great nights camping. Two nights ago we pitched our tents in a pasture with 360 degree views. It was a great spot and a wonderful night.

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Last night we all stayed in a teepee at Woodchucks hostel. It was a pretty nice teepee, and a cool experience. Woodchuck had it custom made with A.T. logos and white blazes all over it.

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North Carolina and Tennessee were very good to us, however I am looking forward to all that Virginia has to offer.

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I am writing from Damascus where I am taking another zero day. It is a great little trail town that was worth spending some time in. I got some new shoes and socks at the outfitter, and had the best burrito of my life at Hey Joe’s Mexican resturant. It has been getting harder and harder to find good internet, and I hope I can continue doing these posts as often as I like. I actually had to do this post three times because the internet crashed. Until next time, happy trails!

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The Great Snowy Mountains

Date: April 1st
Day: 21
Miles from Springer: 274.8
Miles to Katahdin: 1914.4
Morale: 5/5

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It’s been awhile since I posted last, and a lot has happened since then. As you can see by the stats up above, I now have less than two-thousand miles to go until I reach Katahdin. In addition, I have completed more than ten percent of the trail. Both were great milestones, and were also great reminders of how long a walk it really is.

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My last post was from the glorious little town of Franklin North Carolina. This post is from the even more spectacular town, Hot Springs North Carolina. The state line sign up above is misleading, because for the last week or so the trail has been following the NC/TN border, and it will continue to do so outside of Hot Springs. Which state I’m in really depends on which foot is down, however I like the state line signs and will have a picture with each.

Today I took my first “zero” day, a day where zero miles are hiked. It was a great break, but I am already ready to start walking again. I spent the day eating at the various restaurants, and actually spent an hour soaking in the natural mineral springs which Hot Springs is named for. It was well worth the ten dollars.

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So, down to business. There is a lot of catching up to do. The walk from Franklin to the Nantahala Outdoor Center was rather uneventful, however I did enjoy my peanut butter and honey flatbread from Wayah Bald, and took in some great views. I also met up with some new friends at the shelter that night. Blaze (a Mainer), D.G., Pacemaker, and Sonic. Shay and I have been with these guys (minus Sonic) ever since. (I met Shay on the shuttle to Springer and we have pretty much been together since day one) Sonic is planning to finish the trail in ninety days, so he is many miles ahead at this point, however he was super cool and we wish we could have hung out with him longer.

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The day after leaving the N.O.C., we had some spectacular views from above the clouds. Shay and I stopped for a snack to take it all in. Although we are at the same campsite almost every night, it is rare that two people actually walk together all day, given the different paces and break schedules. I generally walk alone all day, maybe see a few people I know, and then we all meet up at the shelter that night.

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From the NOC we walked to Fontana Village (there are a few nights spent in the woods between all of these locations). I was going to do a post from Fontana, however there was no service there, a common theme found throughout the Smokies. The sunset view from the Fontana Hilton shelter is pictured above (it is know as the Hilton because it sleeps twenty, and has showers and a bathroom). From Fontana we entered Great Smoky Mountain National Park, where all of the real excitement happened.

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My first few nights in the smokies were great, there was great company, and the weather was nice. One day the weather was so nice that we all did an unplanned twenty-three mile day (my longest yet by far). It was so beautiful and sunny out, and the trail was so easy that we just kept walking, even past dark. The picture above is from our sunset hike, and if you look closely you can see rain in the distance.

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The night after the twenty-three miler brought snow. It was only a dusting, just enough to make the trail wet and the mountains look spectacular. The following night however, temps dropped to fifteen degrees at 5555 feet where we were camped. Because the shelters in the smokies are at such high elevation, they are all stone and have fireplaces inside.

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Licer made us all a fire (pictured above) (it was a team effort where we all gathered wood) and I slept warm in my fifteen degree sleeping bag. Others got chilly in their colder bags, but it was not that bad for sleeping. Camping in the cold however is a different story. It pretty much sucks. Numb hands and frozen shoes are just two of the many complications. The good news is that we got about five inches of snow that night.

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The snow made for soft walking and beautiful scenery when it cleared up.

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Unfortunately for them, most of the people I was hiking with got off at Newfound Gap to go to Gatlingburg, TN. I was the only one from my crew who was at elevation when it snowed. I met Licer,  Arch, and Gangrene up there, and had plenty of company, but in my opinion the other guys missed out (all though I also missed out on a great time in Gatlingburg). I slowed my pace down so that when we reached the end of the smokies in a few days they had caught back up.

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We all stayed at Standing Bear Hostel, which is just outside of the Smokies. In the shower was this cool bottle wall with the A.T. logo. The place was very rustic, however it was a great hostel and we had a superb time.

Another thing about the were the bears. Although I didn’t see a bear, Shay did and signs like this were posted all around the shelters:

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It was comforting to sleep with this sign hanging just outside the shelter. I thought a bear sanctuary was bad, but this is a whole other level. This brings us to our QOTP: “Always respect Mother Nature. Especially when she weighs four hundred pounds and is protecting her baby”-James Rollins

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Well this has been a terribly long post, and I’m the future I will update more often. It is very difficult in remote areas like the Smokies to get any blogging done. My next stop is Erwin, TN and I plan to post from there with more. I leave you with a picture of peanut butter pie which I enjoyed at the Smoky Mountain Diner today. It is advertised as the best in North Carolina and possibly the world. Hot Springs sure has been nice, but it’s time to put down some miles. Adiós!

A Little Water Never Hurt Anybody

A Little Water Never Hurt Anybody

Date: March 20th
Day: 9
Miles From Springer: 109.8
Miles To Katahdin: 2079.4
Morale: 5/5
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North Carolina welcomed me with bright sunshine and smooth trails. Well, for the first few minutes at least. As I walked past the famous “gnarled tree” (it didn’t look much different from any other gnarled tree aside from the white blaze on it) I began the steepest climb I had faced yet. It was an unexpected effort, but really wasn’t that difficult. I figured that after I made it up to the ridge it would be a nice easy slide into camp. Unfortunately I was wrong and I had a second, even steeper climb up to the shelter. Although I was camped at 4700 feet, the steepness of the terrain was really nothing compared to Maine. Having two unexpected climbs at the end of a 16+ mile day makes one grateful to be in camp. It didn’t help that during the second climb I got a bloody nose. I was doing the hiker trademarked “air hanky” when I realized my nose was dripping. Fortunately, my real hanky was withing reach and I was able to sop it up no problem.

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The shelter was full so I tented out as usual, even with the threat of rain. The site lacked bear cables to hang my food from, and considering these signs were posted all around the area, I hung my food with my own rope for the first time, and I must say that it came out quite well.

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I decided that the next day I would hike sixteen more miles, so that I would only be a half day’s walk out of Franklin, NC where I am staying now. I awoke at 6:30 to the wonderful sound of rain on my tent. I packed up under the cover of the shelter, and was quite pleased that all of my gear except for the tent was dry. It sure didn’t stay that way.

Walking sixteen miles in the rain, even in full rain gear with a pack cover, guarantees a thorough soaking. By lunch time I was soaked through, so I stopped at Carter Gap Shelter to eat and get warm. Another group of hikers had the same idea, and one of them had a thermometer. It was thirty-eight degrees. I hadn’t noticed the cold because I was moving, but stopping brought on the cold, so I made a quick lunch and headed back out, up over Albert Mountain, a 5200 footer.

I arrived at long branch shelter around four, and there was plenty of room. All of my gear was wet, or at least moist, except for my down jacket and sleeping bag, which I had put in a plastic bag. Shaun was there and we both hung all of our stuff up to dry, but to no avail, as it was all still wet this morning.

Today I made the quick seven miles into Winding Stair Gap and took the free 11 am shuttle into the wonderful town of Franklin, NC. I’m staying at Haven’s Budget Inn, owned and operated by Ron Haven who does free shuttles (whether you stay or not) and gives hikers a discounted price. I got into my room and immediately began airing out all of my gear. I dried my tent with a towel, then set it up to air out.

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The rest of my wet stuff got hung up in the bathroom. I cranked up the electric heater, and turned on the exhaust fan to let out the moisture. It is nice and steamy in there as we speak.

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Starting with dry gear tommorow, it looks like I’ll have clear skies until I hit the smokies. To prevent future soakings, I have acquired a few trash bags to put my gear in inside my pack. I didn’t mind walking in the rain all that much, but camping in the rain can really be an unpleasant experience.

“The best thing one can do when it’s raining is to let it rain”. -Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Southern Hospitality

Date: March 17th
Day: 6
Miles from Springer: 69.6
Miles to Katahdin: 2191.6
Morale: 5/5

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To put it simply, Georgia has been very kind to me. Not only has the weather been beautiful since Saturday, (sunny and 70) but the people around here are just so darn nice. On three of the last four days, I have encountered what is known as “trail magic.” These wonderful people known as “trail angels” set up barbecues or picnics at road crossings for the hikers passing though. Eating a couple hotdogs and a brownie is a lot tastier than a cliff bar a peanut butter/honey tortilla (although I don’t mind those at all.)

Aside from occasionally passing someone, I walk alone all day, but each night I meet all sorts of new and interesting people at the shelters. I typically tent out every night, though I’m in the same camping area as the shelter. I did however stay in a shelter the second night to avoid pitching my tent in the rain. Because I have a faster hiking pace than most people, I usually only stay with them for one night. A few exceptions to that are Ron from New Hampshire, who has been with me since the second night, and Shaun from Massachusetts. I actually met Shaun on the shuttle to the summit of Springer, and caught up to him last night at Tray Mountain shelter. He and Ron are both staying with me tonight as well. Ron’s trail name is Donut, a reference to the emotional experience he had at one of the trail magic stops when a lady gave him a box of krispy kremes.

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The veiw from my top bunk at Gooch shelter. I really liked these folks and am disappointed I won’t be seeing them more.

Tonight I am spending my first night in a real bed at Top of Georgia Hostel. The folks here are just as kind as the rest of Georgia. The owner is Sir-packs-alot, a triple crown hiker (A.T. P.C.T. C.D.T.) who gives advice to novice hikers and helps people lower their pack weights. Hikers walk in the door and the first thing they get is free drinks and pizza made by Buttercup, an amazing woman who also does all of the hikers’ laundry for them (this is a more daunting task than it may seem.) Donut and I took the free shuttle into town to re-supply, and to get some supper at an all you can eat buffet. I had three plates of fried chicken wings, mashed potatoes, cucumbers, and biscuits and gravy. All for $8.99.

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View from my top bunk at T.O.G. Donut is passed out, and Carl is organizing gear (he is a Mainer, from Boothbay)

All in all I’ve had a fantastic time in Georgia. Everything has gone a smoothly as it could have.There have been a few tough climbs, but in reality the hiking has been fairly easy. Tommorow I leave the first state on the trail, and with that, I leave you with today’s QOTP: “From small things, big things one day come” -Springsteen

The Big Day

Date: March 12th
Day: 1
Miles from Springer: 8.1
Miles to Katahdin: 2181.1
Morale: 5/5

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A little throwback Thursday action for my first post from the trail. This picture is from my first steps on the A.T. when I was just four years old. Today I took the first steps of a journey that has been fourteen years in the making.

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Springer Mtn. Summit. Photo: Dad

The flight down went off without a hitch, and my dad and I checked into our hotel in Atlanta at about 6:30 last night. This morning, Survivor Dave’s Trail Shuttle picked us up at 7:15 and took us up the winding U.S. Forest Service road to the trail head. From there we summited Springer, and hiked about five miles to a second parking lot where Dave picked up my dad, and sent me on my way.

Now I could write all about the trail conditions, the terrain, the weather, and other petty details, but the thing that struck me the most about today was the people. I have never met so many kind and interesting strangers in my life. From Shaun in the shuttle, to the 70 year old two-time thru hiker I met at the second parking lot, everyone has been amazing. It is day one, and I feel as if we have all been walking together for a thousand miles. I have met so many interesting people here at Hawk Mountain Shelter where I am tenting (this post was made at Hawk Mountain Shelter but I don’t know when or where it will be published, depends on service.) One gentleman who goes by the name of Gadget, is keeping a log of where everyone is from. It is day two and he has met people from fourteen different states and five different countries. People from all different backgrounds are pulling together and working as a team everywhere you look. In one direction Greg or “Wings” from Texas is helping Maggie from Oregon hang her food bag, and in the other, Ray from Kentucky is lending his stove to Ellena from Germany who lost her fuel. Forgive me for gushing about all of these wonderful people but it is such a refreshing experience that I can’t help but blab about it. I would love to elaborate further and give the background of everyone I’ve met, but typing on this phone is less than enjoyable so I think I’ll keep it short.

I know that it is cliche` and all but today’s QOTP is: “A journey of 1000 miles begins with a single step” -Lazoi

In case you didn’t notice, up at the top I put a little stats section that will be at the top of every post from now on as a quick reference to my progress. Thanks for reading!

Packing Up

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Well there it is. Everything I’ll be carrying with me for the next five months. In the bottom right is my food for the first few days, and in the bottom left are the clothes I will be wearing every day. As the spanish proverb says: “On a long journey even a straw weighs heavy.” From now on I think I’ll include a “quote of the post” or QOTP for short. I like that. A little something that sums up my thoughts and feelings so I don’t have to blab on for pages like my last post. I’d like to thank everyone for their well wishes and happy vibes, as well as your compliments on the blog. Hopefully you don’t see a drop in quality as I transition to posting from my phone. I have a plane to catch tomorrow, so I’m signing off for the night. Stay tuned for more!

FAQ/Info

Hi all!

In a little more than a week I will be going down to Georgia to begin my thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail. As I sit here, creating this blog to keep you folks updated on my progress, I am realizing that not everyone is a trail savvy as myself. So as a service to those who might not know much about the trail or my plans, I have come up with a list of “frequently asked questions.” Nobody has asked (most of) these questions yet but these are the questions I imagine readers of this blog might have floating around in their heads. These questions are specific to me and my hike, for general information about thru-hiking, the trail, and its history I invite you to visit the Appalachian Trail Conservancy website.

Q: Why?

Short Answer: For fun. Long Answer: For as long as I have been aware of the trail, I have had the desire to complete it. Many day hiking and camping conversations have been dominated by dreams of a thru-hike. I know that for as long as the trail remains unhiked, I will have the desire to hike it. It is an itch that needs scratching. The second part of this is that I believe delaying happiness until retirement is a flawed life approach, and that there really is no better time to start a thru-hike than right now, and that goes for everybody. Besides, what better way is there to spend one’s time than walking in nature?  I also needed  a break from the education system. I was beginning to become a bit jaded with the whole college song and dance. Spending some time in the woods will put me in a much better place mentally and enhance my college experience. However, when it comes down to it, I am really just doing it for fun. 🙂

Q: What are you doing after your hike?

A: I am currently enrolled at the University of Maine at Farmington for the fall semester. I am double majoring in secondary education mathematics and mathematics. The plan is to summit the big K in mid to late August in time for school to start in early September.

Q: What are you taking with you?

A: A complete breakdown of my gear is available here (I apologize to any mobile users.) Thats it. Yes only one pair of underwear. Note that some of these items will be. shipped home when the weather warms up (it is winter after all) in favor of lighter summer gear. My 15 degree sleeping bag will be traded for a 33 degree summer bag, saving nearly a pound. Also my down jacket will be mailed home saving over a pound. My base weight (pack weight before consumables like water, food, and fuel) is about 19 pounds, a little heavier than I had originally intended, but again this is before switching to lighter summer gear. I plan for my pack weight to be between 30 and 35 pounds throughout my hike (2-3 pounds of food per day plus 3-5 pounds of water and a half pound of fuel). Gear is a hot topic on the trail and I could write a twenty page dissertation dissecting the reasoning behind every gear choice that I have made, but I will spare you those details in this post. If you are interested in gear talk, bring it up next time you see me and we can have a long and thoughtful chat about polypro vs wool, synthetic vs down, tent vs tarp and all of the other wonderful backpacking subjects.

Q: How long will it take?

A: The trail is 2,185ish miles long, and I am taking my first steps on the trail on March 12th. I want to summit Mt. Katahdin no later than August 22nd, which gives me a little time to decompress (or recompress??) before I start school. That leaves me taking 164 days, or five months and two weeks. According to the ATC, the average time for a thru-hiker to complete the trail is just shy of six months, so I think I will have plenty of time.

Q: How many miles a day will you have to hike to reach that goal?

A: The trusty Ti-84 says that, if I hike 154 of my 164 day schedule, I will need to average about 14.2 miles per day. My average mileage is something that I can really only speculate about. For most of my hike I suspect I will be putting in more than that 14.2 mile daily average, and I have no idea whether I will take more or less days off (zero days as they are known on the trail) than I have accounted for.

Q: How much does it cost?

A: This, like the miles-per-day question is another complicated subject. On the ATC website it says that thru hikers can expect to spend about $1000 dollars a month on food, fuel and hostels. Some spend more, others spend less. I budgeted for $1000 dollars a month and have $5000 dollars to spend. I actually saved more money than that so I do have a bit of a cushion, however I would like to get out having only spent about $4500. Only time will tell. As far as gear goes, I estimate that I spent a little over two-thousand dollars. Could I have spent less? Absolutely. Would my  pack weigh as little as it does? probably not. I also could have spent more, and perhaps gotten an even lighter setup. Again I don’t really want to go into the subject of gear choices in this post (even though I kinda do), but the next question after “how much does it cost?” is very likely to be “why does it cost so much?” so bear with me (feel free to skip this section).

Choosing gear is a constant balancing act between weight, price, durability, capability, and comfort. I’ll use two examples here really quick to show the process of choosing a piece of gear. I’m bringing with me a 15 degree Western Mountaineering Apache MF down sleeping bag that cost 500 dollars. I could be bringing a synthetic Marmot Trestles 15 degree bag that costs $130 dollars. However, the synthetic bag is almost double the weight of the down bag, and is much larger when packed up (also the Western Mountaineering bag is made in the USA and who can put a price on that?). To me, two pounds and pack space is worth the extra money, not to mention the fact that Western Mountaineering bags can be mailed back and re-lofted with more down as they wear out. If you have looked at my gear report, you can see that I am taking a lot of smartwool products (I actually anticipate switching to Darn Tough hiking socks once it warms up or my first two pairs of socks wear out again, lightening the load). The reason my t-shirt, longsleeves, long underwear, and regular underwear are all smartwool is a simple one: Smell. My t-shirt was fifty bucks, (yo, thats like fifty dollars for a t-shirt…) and that is pretty outrageous when pretty m
uch any non-cotton shirt would have worked fine. However, when it comes to smell, those cheap polyester shirts get funky. Natural fibers are much more odor resistant and in my own experience, can be worn for days at a time in a sweaty environment and accrue very little stench at all. I have worn my smartwool shirt twenty or more track practices in a row without a wash and I could barely detect an odor. Because I am putting myself in an environment where showers are few and far between, and I am a know sweat hog, I figure that the extra money is well worth the added cleanliness of wool. In addition to being naturally odor resistant, wool keeps you warm when wet, so the price is even further justified. Sorry for the wall of text, but I felt the need to justify my expensive purchases and give a little insight to the research that goes into gearing up for a thru-hike.

Q: Have you read A Walk in the

A: Yes. Yes I have. This really is one of the most frequently asked questions. So frequent that I can answer it before you even finish the sentence. I have read many Appalachian Trail books including the famous A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson. For anyone interested in reading about the Appalachian Trail I highly recommend AWOL on the Appalachian Trail by David Miller, Rethinking Life on the Appalachian Trail by Gary Bond, and for any prospective thru-hikers, Appalachian Trials: A Psychological and Emotional Guide to Successfully Thru-Hiking The Appalachian Trail by Zach Davis . That last book has proven more than valuable in my trail preparations and I will go as far to say that it is a must read for anyone who is going to hike the A.T. The Author also has a website that includes information about the book and various other hiker resources. The guide book I am taking is The A.T. Guide by David “AWOL” Miller.

 

Well There you have it! My first blog post. I may reference this post in future updates and I see it as a bit of foundation and context for the rest of the posts on this blog. This post will probably be edited or added too at some point or another, so check back if you want to learn more.