Friday, November 30, 2012

Follow-up from the Dr visit

Hi -
Here's the latest after my visit with the Dr yesterday.  He was extremely pleased with how my surgery site has healed and a little miffed that I am having to deal with the blood clots.  He said I am healing so quickly that it wouldn't have been a problem to schedule the second surgery for next week.  Oh well.....

I got my blood drawn first thing, but once again (3rd time) I wasn't on the schedule.  Not real happy with the nurse manager from the Vein Clinic that was supposed to put me on the list.  And then I get a call saying the testing machine is offline and they will just call with the results.  Okay, fine.  That was at 9:00 AM.  At 4:30 PM she finally calls with the current INR levels - I get to back off the blood thinners as the number is a little higher than desired. 

Good - I can eat a little more of the healthy stuff again.  Apparently, leafy greens (especially spinach and kale) are super high in Vitamin K which can negatively affect the blood thinner.  Trouble is, I love spinach and leafy greens.  Now I guess I can eat a little bit more than none at all.

Got my flu shot too, just as the news is carrying the story of two deaths in the triad area due to the flu.  If you haven't gotten yours yet it's not too late.  Get one - especially if you're young, older than 60, or have other health issues that bring down your resistance.  Do it for me.

My doctor also gave me my exercise list - actually it's just a series of stretching motions that are much more basic than what I have already been doing.  So now it's to the gym again to get serious about rebuilding my leg strength.

I am reading a book on the Camino de Santiago:  "I'm Off Then," by German TV comedian Hape Kerkeling. (Hans-Peter = HaPe).  It's starts slow, but gets better and is turning out to be a pretty good read.  I am amused at his description of the difficulty of the camino, especially with my knowledge of the difficulty of the AT.  There's no comparison.  To make sure, I am looking for an elevation chart for the camino to compare to the chart I have for the AT.  It should be interesting to compare the two, side by side.

I am getting messages and photos from my trail friends that have summited Katahdin.  I am so envious and happy for them.  I am also working on my 4th video, combing through all the videos and photos I took on the trail.  I hope you are enjoying that effort.

Thanks and Happy Trails -


Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Surgery and Rehab update

Hello Friends -

I wanted to give you an update on my surgery and rehab.  It's been a bumpier road than I ever expected.  I am at the 6 week point following surgery and have followed the recovery plan pretty well: three weeks in a cast immobile, two weeks in a soft boot immobile, and another week in the soft boot beginning to shuffle around.  Of course, being me, I pushed the schedule a little bit as long as I felt good.  While the surgery went well and the heel seems to have healed properly, it was the blood clots that really threw me for a loop.  As fit as I am/was, blood clots were not on my radar screen.  But apparently, the thinking now is that I had them prior to the surgery.  They might have initially formed when I came home to let my Plantar Fasciitis heal - that change from high activity to low activity may have been what started the clotting in my right leg.  If that's the case, I hiked two hundred more miles on it before ending my hike at Harper's Ferry.

So tomorrow I have a morning full of doctor appointments.  I will get my blood drawn first thing, then go see my foot doctor and find out how the heel surgery has progressed, then I'll go to the vein clinic where I'll have the results of the blood test and see how my blood thinning level is for this month.  I will find out what the plan is to allow the blood clots to dissolve and keep my blood thinned to keep new blood clots from forming. Finally tomorrow I'll go ahead and get my flu shot. I was supposed to get it a month ago but put it off.

What I really want to get out of the day is an exercise schedule that is agreed upon by both my surgeon and my vein clinic.  I want know what I can do safely do to allow my leg to recover and still get back into some decent shape.  While the surgery was on my heel and my ankle is still swollen, the only place that has some discomfort are my knees.  They are very weak and as I shuffle around the house I feel like I'm constantly in danger of the knee folding and collapsing.  So once I find out from the doctor what my limits are in regards to exercise it will be my knees I will focus on.  I am really looking forward to it.  Sitting around the house, eating and sitting and eating and sitting has caused me to put almost all the weight back on that I lost during the hike.  I am not too thrilled about that and look forward to some real exercise and getting my weight down again. 

I just wanted to fill you in and let you know my plan is still to return to the trail next spring.

Now the question is whether to start over again at Springer or go back to Harper's Ferry and continue north onto Mount Katahdin.  More on that decision process another day.

I hope you are enjoying the videos I have been building.  There are so many photos to choose from, it's difficult to leave any out.

Happy trails,

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Six-Six on the AT 2012 - Video Segment 3

Six-Six on the AT - video segment 3.  I think I'm getting the hang of this video production software.  I hope you like this.  By the way, I have switched from YouTube to Vimeo for my video hosting services.

Happy Trails,

Bob Ziegler

Six-Six on the Appalachian Trail 2012 - Segment 3 from Robert Ziegler on Vimeo.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Six-Six on the AT 2012 - Segment 2

Going through some more photos and videos.  Here's the second segment for your viewing pleasure.

Happy Trails,
Bob Ziegler
(Six-Six on the AT)

Friday, November 16, 2012

Six-Six on the AT 2012 - Segment 1

I am making progress on editing and selecting from my hundreds of photographs taken while I hiked the Appalachian Trail.  This is just the first installment.  There will be several more to come.  Segment 1 begins with my planning and preparation for the trail and runs through the first two major milestones on the trail: Blood Mountain and Neel's Gap.  Enjoy.  There's more to come, soon.

Happy Trails

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Post-Operative Recovery and then there were Clots

November 13, 2012

It's been a while since my last blog post.  I have some pictures to show you, so I thought it might be time for an update on my recovery process.  As you remember, I developed severe blisters on my heels during the final 200 miles of my AT hike.  I made the decision to have the bone spurs removed by surgery, one at a time.  I did the first one - the right heel - last month.  The surgery went well.  The bone was chiseled down and ground smooth.  The Achilles tendon only had to be retracted by about 15%.  Recovery was going well until we discovered I had developed blood clots - deep vein thrombosis (DVT) from my ankle to the back of my knee.  It was a real complication that threw me for a loop.

Now I am on blood thinners to reduce the chance of the clots increasing or additional clots forming.  I have to wait 3 months to make sure no more clots form and the current clots dissolve on their own.  Needless to say, the second surgery is out of the question for now, if not permanently.  At least I got the worst one done.  I think I can deal with the left heel, as small as the protrusion is for now.

As of today, my heel has almost completely recovered from the surgery.  I have two more weeks before I can really put pressure on the leg and begin the physical therapy required to regain my strength and walking/hiking capabilities.  The ankle and foot are swollen from the effects of the clot(s), but that will fade with time I am told.  In the meantime the swelling will just have to come along for the ride.

It was a real shock learning about these clots.  But looking back, they may have formed initially when I got off the trail to recover from the Plantar Fasciitis.  Apparently one of the causes of blood clots is a dramatic change from activity to inactivity and that's exactly what I did while waiting for the PF to heal.  As pissed off as I am for this turn of events - after all, this was an ELECTIVE surgery that I chose for convenience sake - family and friends keep reminding me that were it not for the surgery I might not have learned of the clots before they became more of a threat.  Oh well, the search for a silver lining is always ongoing.

So here I am, trying to enjoy the boring rest and recovery while I wait for my body to heal.  Still, I am visiting the gym every other day to work on my upper body and that uses up some pent-up energy.

Here's the updated plan of action, assuming my recovery goes as expected:
  • In May of 2013 I will go to Damascus, Va. to attend the Appalachian Trail 'Trail Days' festival.  From there I will get a shuttle ride up-trail to Harper's Ferry where I left off.  I will then hike north-bound the remaining 1,184 miles to Mt. Katahdin and complete my AT adventure.
  • In the Spring of 2014 I am making plans to travel to Europe to hike an extended version of the Camino de Santiago (The Way of Saint James).  It is a set of pilgrimage trails, beginning wherever you want, and ending in the town of Compostello de Santiago in Spain.  The typical camino is about 750 kilometers long, starting in St Jean Pied de Port in France.  But I plan to start in Germany, travel through Belgium and France before connecting to the traditional camino trail in St Jean.
  • I have not yet picked a journey for 2015.  Any ideas?
Here are some photos from my surgical journey for your 'Ick-factor' and pleasure.......

Happy Trails.

Two weeks in a cast - time to be free
The vibrating saw actually tickles...
 All the padding has to be cut away...
 7 or 8 stitches, but the wound looks good, healing properly...
 Getting rid of the stitches, one at a time - first a good cleaning...
 Then snip snip snip...looks good.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Surgery over the winter

Hi friends -
Here's the latest:

I visited with my GP last week with good results.  My doctor is so pleased with my physical condition and lab results that he has taken me off all regular meds.  My numbers are all normal and my weight loss is stable at minus 25 pounds.  He says I have the physical shape of a 45 year old.  Not bad for 60, right?  Except for my feet that is.

I met with my podiatrist yesterday and he agrees that surgery is the final solution to the bone protrusions on the backs of my heels.  But, he won't do them both on the same day.  First the right foot, followed by 3 weeks immobile and 3 weeks in a boot, followed by physical therapy.  Once the 6 weeks have past, we will do the left foot, followed by the same 3/3/PT pattern.  This will get it all done by the end of the year and let me have 5 full months to get back into shape for the second 1,000 miles of the AT starting in May.

We haven't set the date yet but it will be in two or three weeks.  In the meantime I have a short window to do some more traveling and visiting family and friends before I am down for a while.  The good news with being laid up is the chance to do some photo editing and posting my pictures and videos of the trail on the blog. That will keep me busy for a while.  Then there's my book - a civil war ghost story - that I have started a dozen times before.  Maybe I can get it out of my head and onto the computer.

Have you seen the movie "The Way" with Martin Sheen?  It's about the Camino de Santiago that goes from France to near the coast of northern Spain.  It's on my list of things to do in 2014.  Anybody want to join me?  It's easier and shorter than the AT and an inexpensive way to see Europe.  Check it out - I would welcome the company if anyone is seriously interested.

That's it for now - time to hit the road for Knoxville.

Happy trails,

Bob Ziegler
(Six-Six on the AT)

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Decision Time

Hi friends -
It's time to decide what to do about continuing my adventure on the Appalachian Trail.

I really have two choices:
  1. Grab my winter gear now and hurry up to Mt Katahdin in Maine and hike southbound to finish my thru-hike where I left off at Harper's Ferry, WVa.
  2. Call it a year for now, recoup my strength and heal my feet, and return to the trail next year at Harper's Ferry and finish the last 1000 miles northbound to Mt Katahdin.
I have decided to halt my hike and finish next year.  Here are some other considerations that helped me make my decision, both physical and psychological:

  • While my Plantar Fasciitis did not return during my second stint on the trail, other foot issues arose that make hiking painful and may be causing damage.  I have two bone spurs or calcium deposits on the back of each heel that for some reason created huge open blisters this time, as opposed to the first 700 miles.  It got so bad that I took a knife and cut two holes in the back of my shoes to give these protrusions room without rubbing.  I also have developed some nerve damage in my toes, both from the Morton's Neuroma in each foot, but also some nerve degeneration causing numbness in my toes.  Needless to say, my feet are a mess right now and hiking isn't helping them get better.  I want to discuss surgical options with my doctors and see if we can fix these problems during the winter months.
  • I have planned for this hike for more than 5 years, all with idea of starting in Georgia and ending on top of that mountain in Maine, clutching the sign and signifies the end of the trail.  I just cannot seem to come to grips with touching that sign in the middle of the hike and turning south to finish at a stone building in the middle of the trail.  I want to finish at that sign and know that I am at the trail's end.  I can't do that by flip-flopping my hike just to finish it all in one season.  The trail will always be there and whether I finish it all in one season or it takes portions of two or more, I am still committed to finishing the entire trail.
So, I am still very proud of the fact that I have hiked 1,000 miles of the Appalachian Trail so far.  And I am happy to pause my adventure on my terms and not because of an injury.  When I got off the trail, all I wanted to do was quicken my recovery and get back on.  But as I was nearing Harper's Ferry, all I could think of was all the other things I needed to do or wanted to do after I stopped hiking.  That in itself was a strong signal that I should give the hike a rest for a while.  I still like hiking and backpacking and camping.  I want to do some more during my off months if my foot issues permit. 

I have still lost about 35 pounds and feel very fit.  I am also committed to not overeat now while my physical exertion winds down, causing me to regain the lost weight.  I do like seeing my toes instead of my gut first again.  I like this weight loss and don't want to revert to my old ways.

Well, there it is - my decision - mine alone, after all, it's my hike.  Stay tuned.  I will keep you up to date on my foot issues as options are explored and plans are made for my return to the Appalachian Trail next spring.  When I do, I will have made some gear changes that will lighten my hiking load by several pounds.  More on that later in some future posts.

As I get access to my main computer I will put together a photo montage of all the pictures from Springer Mtn to Harper's Ferry.  Look forward to that - there are some great shots you have yet to see.

Happy trails, y'all.  More later.

Six-Six on the AT
Bob Ziegler

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Bear's Den Hostel

Hi y'all -
No signal, low batteries, slow computers and all have contributed to not posting regularly lately.  This will be short as the bandwidth on this puter will not allow the upload of photos.  So,

I am at the Bear's Den Hostel, just 20 miles south of Harper's Ferry, WVa.  It's in the middle of what's known as the 'Roller Coaster' section of the mountains - it's a constant change from uphill to downhill and back again over 15 or so miles.  I did the first 10 miles of it to get to this hostel and it kicked my behind.  But the reward has been worth it - the hostel special includes a bunk, shower, soda, pizza, Ben and Jerry's ice cream, and a wonderful old stone building to stay in.  Now, considering that there's a storm coming in and I didn't get much sleep at all last night, I am going to stay another night and let the weather pass. Besides, this is the best hostel on the trail - owned and operated by the ATC itself.  You will have to wait for pictures, but trust me - it's really neat.  And, you don't have to be an AT hiker to visit or stay.

For the past 7 days I have been hiking in the Shenandoahs.  For all but one or two days it has rained all or part of the day or night - when it wasn't raining it was clouded or fogged in and the trees were dripping as much as the rain itself.  Everything is wet and remains wet - I smell, my clothes smell, my pack smells, and even my food smells of mildew and such.  So, to be here at the hostel and have a chance to wash and dry everything is a real treat.  I don't smell anymore.

My feet are swollen from the roller coaster hiking, the blisters are healing, and there's no sign of the Plantar Fasciitis returning.  I will have to post pictures of my solution to the blister problem - cutting two big holes in the back of my new hiking shoes.  Hey - it's a custom shoe!

So - two days to Harper's Ferry and arrival on my birthday.  I plan on taking the train to DC, then Amtrak to High Point.  At that point I must decide - on to Maine to flip-flop my thru-hike, or call it a year and finish the trail next year.  I change my mind every mile it seems.

That's it for now - more pictures to come when I get to a faster computer.

Happy trails!


Saturday, August 25, 2012

First week back after PF

Saturday, August 25 - in Waynesboro, Va - at mile marker 856 on the AT.

After about two months of rehab and recovery from my bout with Plantar Fasciitis, I returned to the trail last Friday where I dropped off - Glasgow, Va.  Kevin drove me to the trailhead and dropped me off where the James River footbridge met US 501.  Thanks to Kevin, Crystal, and the kids Robert and Jez for putting up with me while I nursed my foot.

After almost two months layoff, I found out quickly just how out of trail shape I had become in that short period of time.  The first 3 miles were a pretty steep steady climb that had my thighs burning and my lungs panting for air.  After the first climb, there were two more peaks to get over before reaching the next shelter at mile marker 789 - Punchbowl Shelter.  I had seen several day-hikers during the day, but I spent the night alone as there were no other hikers staying there.  Needless to say, I was pretty much spent and slept soundly the night through.

The next day was another 10 miler, but mostly ridge-running ups and downs to the next shelter, Brown Mountain Creek Shelter, at mile 799.  Somewhere along the way, I past the equivalent of climbing Mount Everest for the 7th time on the AT.

Just these two 10 mile days seemed to wipe me out and I had little energy the next morning.  So, for the first time during my trip, I simply stayed put at a shelter and spent the day doing gear adjustments, resting, and reading a book that was left there by a previous hiker.

Now fully rested, I did a big day on Monday, - a full 16 miles on to Seeley-Woodworth Shelter.  Blisters!  Blisters on both heels.  BUT, there's still no sign of a return of the Plantar Fasciitis.  So, I can deal with the blisters.

On Tuesday, I did another big day, 15 miles, and climbed one of the steeper peaks on the trail - over the "Priest Mtn" up to 4000 feet.  It's a good thing I was going north, because the southbound trail over the Priest was even steeper.  Water was scarce along the way and I got a little dehydrated, nursing my water bottles till I got to the Paul Wolfe Shelter.

This was one of the best shelters and campsites I have seen - enough for dozens of campers, boy scouts/discovery groups and such.  I met three girls from UVA who were out for a weekend hike - and a retired aerospace engineer who proceeded to clean everyone's stove burners.  He liked to fix things.

Finally it was a short day into the wonderful little town of Waynesboro, Va where I have spent the past two days.  It's a great town that I want to return someday for sure.

As I type this, I am waiting for my new hiking companion, Castaway, to wake up after a night of partying with the two Belgian boys that came in yesterday.  We are headed back to the trail to get through the Shenandoahs.  I am looking forward to the next 120 miles.  Maybe I can get some good pictures of some bears along the way.

So, back on the trail - all is well.  My blisters still hurt, but I can deal with that.  Thanks for keeping up with my adventure - more later when I get to another computer at a town up the trail.

Happy Trails!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

On the trail again....tomorrow.

Well, yesterday and today have been devoted to packing up the clothes and stuff that I have been using for the past two months.  I will finish this afternoon, taking stuff back to the storage unit where I have all my household goods.  Spare hiking gear and other essentials will stay with Susan in case I need them shipped to me. 

I have taken care of a lot of little things - car inspection, registration renewal, driver's license renewal, voter registration change of address, etc.  It's all gone pretty smoothly, but it does take time.

Early in the morning, Kevin (my son) and I will head for Glasgow to drop me off at the trail crossing and then off I go.

It's been a strange two months -

  • being forced off the trail by injury was depressing - I missed the trail very much in those first couple of weeks.  It's eased off, but I still remember how much fun I had out there and am looking forward to returning.
  • The Plantar Fasciitis was a new medical term for me.  Just something else to learn about.  I did aggressively treat the injury - more so than others might have been able to - stretching, icing, massage.  Then there was the cortizone shot and the prescription NSAIDS, the therapeutic massage, followed by the SAIDs.  It seems to have worked, causing me to recover faster than others with the same injury.
  • I appreciate the support of family and friends during my stay - Kevin and Crystal, Robert and Jez have been wonderful to let me stay with them.  Others have been so encouraging while I push through this setback.  I am grateful for all.
  • I was saddened to hear of the loss of a couple of friends while I was here - Van and Jack, both long-time Red Cross volunteers.  And a good radio friend lost his wife quite suddenly.  All reminders that there is life, love, and loss everyday even while I am isolated away on the trail (mentally and physically).
And now it's time to get back out there and try again.  I've explained the plan already, so there's no reason to repeat myself - again.

It will be a week or more before I can update this blog, but when I do a lot of questions will be answered.  I will be in touch as soon as I can.

Happy trails,

Monday, August 13, 2012

On the trail again......Thursday - no, Friday

Here we go again - I am headed for the trail on Thursday to give it another try.

I have accomplished what might be considered a minor miracle - in two months of aggressive treatment, my plantar fasciitis is pretty much gone or under control.  After the horror stories I heard about it taking others 6 months or 2 years to recover from a bout of PF, to take only 8 weeks is pretty fantastic.  That's not to say it won't come back, but I won't know till I get out there.

Here's the plan:  I will travel to Glasgow, Va. on Thursday, August 16th, and get back on the trail at mile marker 779.  From there I will hike north to Harper's Ferry.  That's a distance of 238 miles.  Assuming I don't have a relapse of the PF, then I will travel north to Maine, climb Mt Katahdin and hike southbound back to Harper's Ferry.

It's doable - there's still time for decent weather all the way - so let's give it a go.  If this works, I can still accomplish my dream of hiking the Appalachian Trail in one season.

Now to repack and get ready.

Thanks for all the good wishes and positive thoughts - keep them coming.

Happy trails!

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Better day

Went hiking again today - at the Eno River State Park north of Durham. Did a little more than 4 miles - feet felt a lot better today, it's the rest of me that is sore from yesterday - a good sore. I am going to keep working the kinks out and see how it goes - I AM NOT DONE YET!

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The word for the day is......&#$%

Second day - the word for today is frustrating .....or pissed-off ....or unsure .....or OUCH  - okay so that's several words of the day.

After yesterday's easy hike without too much discomfort, I kicked it up a big notch by going to Hanging Rock State Park.  There's a 4.2 mile loop trail that goes to the top of the ridge and an old fire tower.  The trail starts off easy for the first mile or so, then starts up the mountain to the ridge line.  There's lots of rocks, gravel, and tree roots.  Once the climb starts the elevation change is probably 800 feet over the last 1.5 miles.  At some sections it's fairly steep climbing. 

I wasn't really surprised that I had lost my hiking trim so quickly after coasting for the past 6 weeks.  The legs were sore and the knees got to aching, but what I was there for was to test the feet.  Ouch!  It took only an hour for the pain in my left foot (heel) to start up.  That was the Plantar Fasciitis resurfacing.  Then the right foot started acting up - that was the Morton's Neuroma starting to burn.  I made it through to the end, but all I can think is if it starts to hurt like this after only a couple of miles, what would it be like after a 15 mile day?  Or several days? 

I iced it down when I got back to the house and will stretch and massage it again before bed, but in the vernacular - WTH???

I am going to give it one more day, a long one, and see for sure.  If it starts hurting to where I start to limp, I will have to consider myself done for the season. 

So there it is, straight up.  I'm going to go have some MM-46 the same way.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

First test of 4 miles - only a little discomfort

There's a nice trail around Hagen-Stone State Park south of Greensboro.  It's pretty level, with just a couple of mild climbs and descents.  I put on my backpack (loaded with about 30 pounds) and took off on the longest trail available (only about 4 miles).  An hour and a half later, I had worked up a good sweat and got my breathing up.  I had a little discomfort in my feet (both of them actually) but nothing major.  So far, so good.  When I got back to the truck I immediately took off the shoes and socks and stretched/massaged both feet.

Now an hour later the left heel is a little tender and the right foot is sore where the old neuroma is acting up.  I am going to soak them both in ice water first, then massage them again.  But, at this point, I don't feel anything that would keep me from returning to the AT.

Tomorrow I will drive to Stone Mountain State Park where there are some steep climbs and descents on the trail to the back country campsites - that will be a good test for sure.

Monday, July 30, 2012

The doctor says hike when you feel ready!

Here we go -
I have the go-ahead to get back on the trail whenever I feel ready.

My foot doctor is pleased with my recovery.  I have been relatively pain-free for the last week and walking without a limp.  He says there is still some tension there, but his recommendation is to continue my stretching exercises in the morning before I start hiking, and again at the end of the day before bed.  There's no guarantee that the Plantar Fasciitis won't return, but if it does the response is rest, NSAIDs and stretching.  I won't do any permanent damage and can walk/run/hike as much as I want and deal with as much discomfort as I can stand before stopping, if it does return.

So - here's the plan:
  1. Tomorrow is July 31st (Tuesday).  I will throw on my backpack and hike around Hagen-Stone Park a few times to put some miles on my feet.  If there's no pain, then it's on to step 
  2. Wednesday I will increase the difficulty with a hike in Stone Mtn. State Park up to the ridge along the Blue Ridge Parkway.  If there's still no pain, then it's on to step
  3. Making firm plans to get to Glasgow, Va and get back on the trail where I left off.
There's 238 miles between Glasgow and Harper's Ferry,  It will be a good test to see if I can hike without aggravating and re-injuring my foot.  If I can make it through those 200+ miles, then the next step will be to travel to Maine, climb Mt. Katahdin, and then hike south-bound back to Harper's Ferry to complete the whole trail within this year.

I will let you know how it goes tomorrow.

Monday, July 23, 2012

It's time for an update and some optimism!

It's time for an update - and some optimism!!!

It's been five weeks and a few days since I stumbled and injured my left foot on the trail.  A week later I visited my Dr to confirm that the problem was in fact Plantar Fasciitis.  I left the office with a Cortisone shot, a prescription for high-powered NSAIDs and an instruction sheet of stretching/massage exercises for the bottom of my foot.

I was hoping for a quick recovery to get back on the trail and continue my journey north.  There were days that I felt like I was getting better and would make it sooner rather than later.  And then there were the other days.  Once people found out my condition, I was swamped with stories of who else had the same problem and how terribly long it took to recover.  The horror stories of lingering pain ranged from months to years.  It was all quite depressing. 

A second visit to the doctor brought a change of meds - a full-fledged steroid treatment to speed up the reduction of the inflammation.  I also threw in three hour-long deep-tissue massages to help get the kinks out and loosen all those tight muscles in my calf muscles, tendons and foot.

There were still days of foot pain, but there were days when it seemed like I was actually improving.  Feeling a little better, last week I returned to the gym for a little exercise.  I concentrated on upper body workouts and to avoid stress on my feet, I took to swimming as my cardio workout.  Finally I took advantage of the whirlpool to soak my feet and let the hot water jets do their thing on my sore foot.

It all seems to be working.  The last few days have been better and better.  Today I am actually pain free and have been really walking without a limp for the first time.  I have a final doctor's appointment for one week from today.  I hope I can tell him that the pain has been gone for a several days.  If he agrees that I won't have an immediate relapse or do any long-term damage, I am now hoping to return to the AT next week! 

Everyone needs to know how great Crystal, Kevin, Robert and Jess have been to let me stay at their house while I recover.  I really appreciate their hospitality, Robert's room and Crystal's cooking!

There's still time to get the rest of the trail finished this season.  I will let you know how things go.  Keep your fingers crossed.

Monday, July 9, 2012

I promised an update after my Dr's appointment...

Well, there's good news and not so good news.  And I'm pretty bummed out at the moment.

I've been taking my NSAIDs and doing my stretching exercises and icing my foot for the last two weeks.  The pain in my heel and plantar fascia has been decreasing, but is not gone.  I continue to limp a little, not so much from the pain of walking, but in more of a 'protective' move to avoid the pain of walking.  I still can't raise up on the balls of my feet on the left foot without a stabbing pain in the heel. 

But, it's a LOT better that it was two weeks ago.

Last Friday I had a massage therapist work it over and for a few hours afterwards I walked with no pain and no limp.  I have another session scheduled for Wednesday.  She said she can have me hiking in two weeks.

Today I had my follow-up visit with my Podiatrist.  He was pleased with my progress, but doesn't want me hiking just yet.  Since it's too soon following my cortisone shot for another one, he prescribed a series of Prednizone (steroid anti-inflammatory) and now he wants to see me in ANOTHER THREE WEEKS!  If I am not limping then, he said he will sign off on my getting back on the trail.  I must continue to stretch the PF, Achilles Tendon, and Calf muscle to get all that tightness out of there.

I know I like my Massage Therapist's optimism a little more.

In the meantime, all I can do is dream of getting back on the trail and continuing my AT adventure.  And I follow the reports from my hiking friends with great envy as they continue to hike north and get further and further away.

Assuming I get the okay to return to the trail in three+ weeks, my current thinking is to go back to where I left the trail in Glasgow, Va.  That's mile 777 northbound.  I would then hike to Harper's Ferry, a stretch of a little more than 200 miles.  IF I can do that without a PF relapse, then I will fly up to Maine, hike up to Mt. Katahdin and then follow the AT southbound to get to Harper's Ferry.  It's called a Flip-Flop - and while not the typical way to do a thru-hike, it is well known as a viable alternative to a more normal south-to-north or north-to-south hike.

Time will tell whether I can pull this off or not.  If not, there's always next year!

Monday, July 2, 2012

I was interviewed by our local Fox Channel for their 'Inspired Living' feature. 

I know from experience that interviews can turn out well or just as easily not so.  Fox 8's Julie Luck did a really good job piecing this together. Thanks, Julie.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

2012 Appalachian Trail into Mountain Lake Wilderness

"I went to the woods to live life deliberately..."  Henry David Thoreau

On June 3rd, I spent the night in a hollow down the hill from the Bailey Gap Shelter (mile 653).  The next morning began with a short climb to the top of the mountain and then several miles of ridge running along the top.  At mid-morning I stopped for a break and a snack to rest and recharge.  I crossed Va 613, Mountain Lake Road at 656.7 and came across the entrance to the Mountain Lake Wilderness area.  It is an area left undeveloped to preserve the natural existence of the plants and animals - no houses, no roads, no convenience stores, no civilization - just the natural wilderness as it has always been.  I stopped at the sign marking the boundary and took this video:

Mountain Lake Wilderness on the AT

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Monday, June 25, 2012

And the Doctor says........

Well, at the doctor's office today, he reconfirmed that the problem is indeed Plantar Fashiitis - an inflammation of the connecting band(s) between the front of the heel to the toes. I got a prescription for a stronger NSAID, a shot of cortisone, and a more specific set of stretching exercises. Now I wait for a two-week checkup to see if it's healing properly.  
Assuming it is, I MIGHT be able to get back on the trail by mid to late July.  At first he hinted at the Fall, but backpedaled fast on that when he saw my horrified reaction.
The later it gets the more impossible it will be to reach Katahdin by Oct 14th.  The alternate plan is to travel to Maine and Katahdin first and hike South Bound (SoBo) back to Virginia where I left the trail. The concern there is after getting restarted in Maine, having a relapse much further away from home and help. At the moment, all I can do is contemplate all the different possibilities. I really can't make any firm decision until after my follow-up exam on July 9th. Such a quandary. And I do miss the trail - A LOT!
In the meantime, I am still working on the photos and videos that I took during the first 2.5 months and 700+ miles of the Appalachian Trail.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

I am still uploading some still shots taken with my GoPro - Here's the first of several albums.  Enjoy.

2012 Appalachian Trail Album 1

Friday, June 22, 2012

On April 4th, just a few days into my AT hike, I stopped at a grassy meadow atop a mountain ridge.  I saw the clouds start to climb the hillside and decided to try my new GoPro and its time-lapse picture capabilities.  Here is 45 minutes condensed to about 11 seconds as the mountain top was being claimed by the gathering clouds.  Enjoy.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

I was hiking the trail when I pulled up short - spotting something moving between two logs, directly on the trail.  This little fellow was just sunning himself until I began to bother him.  Eventually he showed his displeasure and made a hasty departure.

As I headed toward the Mt Rogers park, I hiked through a beautiful meadow and a field of tall grasses.  I got the idea to put the GoPro down near knee level to see what kind of images I could get.  I think it created an interesting little video shot.  I hope you agree.

Hanging out with the wild ponies of Grayson Highlands.  Unexpectedly, this herd was not afraid of people.  In fact, what they wanted most was salt - from our arms, our pack straps, and our hiking pole handles.  They were all around us, licking and pushing their way to us.  The two other herds that I encountered were not nearly as comfortable around people.

I had my GoPro on my hiking pole mount already, so I jammed the pole in the ground and started the video.  That left me free to take more pictures with my Olympus.  Here's what my GoPro caught while I was busy elsewhere:

Blogspot has been fighting me as I try to upload videos.  My work-around is to upload to YouTube and to post a link here.  Enjoy - there will be lots more videos soon.

Hanging out with the Wild Ponies of Grayson Highlands
I was walking the trail through the Grayson Highlands park when something caught my eye through the trees ahead.  I didn't know how the horses would react, so I approached slowly.  I quickly found out that wasn't really necessary with this particular herd of ponies.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Well I confirmed at both the gym and my doctor's office that I have lost about 35 or 36 pounds since beginning my Appalachian Trail adventure.

I am still nursing my sore foot, but I think it's getting better.  I am stretching the Plantar Fascia regularly and have rolled my foot over the frozen water bottle so much my foot is numb and the ice has melted.  I think it does help.

I am starting to work on the photos and videos.  Here's just a sample slide show to wet your appetite for the good stuff to come later.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Hi everyone -
Sorry it has been so long since my last blog post, but I have been facing a few issues.  I am off the trail again, this time due to an injury to my left foot.  I have developed Plantar Fasciitis.  It's been coming on for a while but I thought it was just a bruise on my heel.  On Thursday, June 14th, I was hiking well, picking wild blueberries and hurrying to Glasgow to pick up my next mail drop box of food and supplies.  Things were going just fine when I tripped over a rock with my right foot.  I reached out my left foot to catch myself and stepped on a sharp rock, exactly where the pain from the 'bruise' was.  It all brought tears to my eyes and I jumped and hobbled and limped to catch my balance.  This was at 11:00 AM.  I still had 6 miles to go to get down the mountain and to the road to Glasgow, Va.  Those six miles were full of pain and disappointment as I contemplated the end of my AT hiking adventure.  I imagined everything including a broken heel bone.  I managed to limp down the mountain, get to the road, and hitchhike to town.  There was a hometown doctor there and I made plans to visit the next day if the pain and swelling were no better.  I settled into the town shelter for hikers ( a free service including a hot shower and porta-potty).  The local Baptist Church had scheduled a 'hiker feed' for that evening, so I ate pretty well - hamburgers, hot dogs, potato salad, slaw, corn on the cob, cake and pie and sodas.  One of the ladies from the church played Mother Hen and insisted that I sit and soak my foot in icy water while she hovered over me.  The next morning started well as I limped to the nearby restaurant for breakfast.  My foot felt better until I went to visit the restroom.  The floor had a raised lip at the door that I didn't see.  Of course I caught it with the toes of my left foot, stretching the arch, and the pain shot up my leg all the way to my eyes again.  It was then that I decided this was more serious than expected and I made plans to visit the local MD to confirm what I was now thinking - I had Plantar Fasciitis.  I spoke with the doctor briefly to confirm my suspicions.  Being a doctor in a hiking town, he had seen this many many times and didn't even charge me for the visit.  He advised me to give my foot plenty of rest and if I was headed home suggested that I visit my personal physician.  So here I am, back in the Triad, resting my sore foot and hoping that I caught it in time for a quick healing process.  I have a series of exercises to do as well as regular ice packs and NSAIDs.  I check with my orthotics store and got a heel insert to keep me from overcompensating and causing additional problems.  If I can get this problem healed quickly, I can return to the trail and continue my journey north.  If it takes longer then I can possibly travel to Maine and hike southbound to where I dropped off.  If the healing takes too long then my attempt at a single-season thru-hike will be over.

There you have it - it's now a waiting and hoping game until I either return or time runs out for any option.

On a positive note, I now have time to work on all the fantastic videos I have collected from my 2.5 months of hiking more than 700 miles of the trail. 

Oh - I visited the Rush Gym today to compare my before and after weight loss on a scale that I could depend on.  As I left for the trail I weighed 254 pounds.  Today on the same scales I weighed 219 - a loss of 35 pounds in 75 days!  That's the weight of my backpack!  So I did accomplish the goal of getting in better shape and losing some unneeded pounds.

Look for a lot of video updates in the next few days.  One in particular includes a Copperhead Snake making a closeup strike at the camera lens.  It's pretty exciting to watch.

I promise to keep you informed of my healing progress and my plans to return to the trail. 

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Daleville - 6/10

Sunday, June 10, resting in Daleville.

After a week of hiking more miles per day than I was used to, I made it to Daleville by Friday to meet Susan.  An added surprise - Jenna, John and little Max were able to come along and visit for the weekend too.  I sure needed the visit and my body did need the rest too.

Let me catch you up.

Last week I left Pearisburg - at least I tried to.  Bill and Joy let me off where the trail left town, but I made a wrong turn and accidentally made a one-mile circle back to where we had turned into the parking lot.  So, an extra mile and a little bit of time later and I was headed in the right direction again.  Smooth move!  Over the river bridge, across the highway, and up the wooded hill out of town - ahhh - back home in the forest again. 

I did about 10 miles, passing the Rice Field Shelter in order to camp in the woods where it was quieter and cooler.  It was quieter until just after 9p when a couple of late arrivals decided to camp right next to me.  It took them until 10:30 to finish setup and cook their dinner.  Oh well, so much for an early bedtime. 

The next day was pretty straight forward - about 10 miles of PUDS (pointless ups and downs) before one decent climb from Dickenson Gap.  I passed the Pine Swamp Branch Shelter and visited "The Captain's" place.  It's a well-known hiker friendly house that allows hikers to sleep on the porch, camp in the yard, play games, rest, eat, drink and relax.  No charge - just likes hikers around.  And, to get there, you need to sit on the zip-line seat and get pulled across the small river.  I have video but that has to wait to get posted.  I didn't stay long - just about an hour - and hiked on to Bailey Gap Shelter where I hammocked in a quiet hollow down the hill from the shelter.  I've learned how far I need to be NOT to have to hear the snoring in the shelter itself.

I know I need to do some more daily miles in order to meet Susan by Friday - I need to average 14 per day - instead of my usual 10-12.  And to make sure, I am pushing to 15 whenever possible. 

On Monday the 4th it rained all night.  I do love my hammock and oversized tarp.  I stayed warm and dry, but the humidity still gets my gear damp.  I am about to begin the section that I hiked 7 years ago that convinced me that I like the AT and can actually do this sort of hiking.  50+ miles to go to Daleville!

I passed Keifer Oak - the largest oak tree on the AT in the southern section - over 300 years old and more than 18 feet around.  10 more miles to the Niday shelter.  Hiked on for another couple of miles and camped in a cove just before a climb up the hill.  It rained again all night and then again just after I started hiking - it's all part of the adventure I guess.

I made it to a little hostel by the end of the day - mile 696 - the Four Pines Hostell - I got to hammock in the barn - dry, warm and noisy with snoring and crackling on sleeping pads. 

Then came one of the longest and worst days on the trail - a hard hike over several peaks and a place called the Dragon's Tooth.  The trail wound around thru and over dozens of large rocks and the hiking was difficult and more dangerous than anywhere else so far.  There were parts where i had to slide down the rock face and hope my feet caught the next ledge.  But it went okay - and others had done it before - so I got it done too.  It just wasn't the most enjoyable ride of the month.

Then next day was one of the best - a return to McAfee Knob - it's the flat rock that allows you to sit on the edge and dangle over the valley below.  I love that place.  Several of us hikers enjoyed the view and took each other's pictures for more than an hour.

One more day to Daleville and a Zero day - Just a 9 mile hike over the last few ridges and down hill into town.  I got there just an hour before Susan arrived.   I got registered, cleaned up, and was finishing lunch at the local mexican restaurant (and my second Dos XX Dark) when John called to say they had arrived.

This weekend has been wonderful, visiting, resting and doing town chores.  And, I got my new Gregory Pack.  It's the same model, but the newer version - I like the upgrades.  More on that next week after i hike a while in it.

So, today is Sunday and I am about to get back on the trail, while Susan, John, Jenna and Max get ready to head for home.  I am getting further and further away from family and friends, so I might be a while before I get another visit like this. 

Here are some photos from the last week.  Got to hit the trail!

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Pearisburg and Daleville

Friday, June 1st - two months on the trail and I am at mile marker 627 near Pearisburg, Va. 

Before I left for the trail, a good friend from my days in the Red Cross invited me to call as I passed near him.  On Wednesday as I went over Hwy 52, I gave him a call.  As luck would have it, I was about as close to his new home in Va as I would get.  We made arrangements to meet as I got near Pearisburg.  Bill and Joy Stewart are playing hiker-host tonight.  As luck would have it, a bad storm front is moving through the mountains today and tonight.  I am snug and warm in the Stewart residence in Fancy Gap enjoying a good meal, shower, clean clothes, comfy bed and a real bathroom (not a privy!).  Thank you Bill and Joy for your hospitality.

Last time I posted I was in Marion and ready to head further into the mountains of western Virginia.  The more I see of Va, the more I like it.  The terrain was fairly stable for a change and I made it to mile 545 where there is a campsite and a privy, but no official shelter.  Somewhere along the way I passed the point of climbing Mt Everest for the 5th time.

I developed shin splints on first my right leg and then my left.  It was probably caused by the two 16 mile days I mentioned in the previous post.  There was a lot of downhill walking, causing pretty rough heel-to-toe slapping as I used the downhill to make miles and speed - big mistake.  Contrary to popular belief, Shin Splints are a muscle issue, not a bone issue.  It's a usage strain of the muscle that controls that heel-to-toe slap as you walk downhill.  It may also be confused with stress fractures of the shin bone, but that's a separate problem.  A hiker (who happens to be a general surgeon) was at a shelter when I was complaining about my leg pain.  He explained the muscle and cause and the confusion over the term Shin Splints.  As he advised RICE - knowing there's no good way to Rest, I have been slowing my pace on the downhills, soaking my legs in cold stream water when possible, apply compression by way of ace bandages, and my feet are elevated in my hammock at night.  It's taking longer to get better because I keep hiking, but they are starting to get better.  As a matter of fact, I did a 19 mile day the other day without severe pain or increased swelling.  I will continue to take it easier on the downhills until they are fully recovered.  If they don't improve I will seek further medical attention.

Now to the happier stuff - highlights of this past week:

On the 28th I passed a shelter on the top of a ridge - Chestnut Knob - for lunch.  It was a fully enclosed shelter, made of stone.  There was no one there as I arrived.  I jotted a note in the shelter journal to say Hi to friends behind me.  After lunch and a stop at the privy, I spoke with several other hikers that arrived.  I picked up my pack and pulled on the straps when one of the should strap connections to the waistbelt broke!  This was a catastrophic failure that would make hiking nearly impossible.  (here's another example of Trail Magic happening just when you need it the most.)  Mad Mike offered to repair my pack.  Apparently he had made his own gear for the trail and had a repair kit with hime - a large needle and super strong thread.  He sewed the pieces together but wasn't satisfied that it would hold.  So he heated his titanium tent stake in the flame of my cook stove and made four holes in the strap overlap - into which he used two zip ties to firmly lock the two parts together again.  Success (and a week later it's still holding strong).  Thanks, Mad Mike!!!  Trail Magic works!

The repair delay caused me to have to camp by myself instead of being near a shelter.  I set up at someone's previous campsite on top of a ridge near Garden Mountain and mile 568 or so.  It was really windy up on the ridge, but there was no rain and the wind kept the bugs away for a while.  Actually it was also nice to be away from a shelter and snoring hikers for a change.

On the 29th I zoomed past the next shelter and camped near Laurel Creek and Va 615.  Laurel Creek was more like a nice sized river with a large wooden bridge to walk over.  On the other side were several other hikers resting and enjoying the sound of the water and view.  The discussion was whether to hitch to town or camp nearby.  I joined in the discussion.  We decided to camp.  But we found out there was a guy parked nearby who was to shuttle other hikers to town (but they had not shown up yet).  It was getting near dinner time so we hatched an idea - ask the driver to shuttle one of us into town to buy PIZZA and bring us back dinner.  We were prepared to offer him as much as $30 round trip, but he only wanted $10.  We at pizza near the river as a soft rain began to fall.  Other hikers showed up and helped us finish what we couldn't of the pizzas.  It was a good evening and a cool night with rain off and on.

The next day I must have been feeling the affects of the pizza that made me get off to such a strong start.  During the day, the breeze was strong, keeping the temperature lower and the persperation at a minimum.  That's was key because there was a 10 mile stretch without a good water source.  Each one of us had to make a decision:  carry enough water to last till the next morning, or hike a 19 mile day to get to the final water source.  Mid-way through, I made up my mind to go for the 19 miles.  It took me till 6:30 but I made it and didn't feel the worse for it.  Ta-Da!  My first 19 mile day!  Additional motivation came from the need to be in Damascus by next Friday to meet Susan as well as to be near Pearisburg today to meet Bill.  Doing the 19 gave me more flexibility to meet those two appointments.  I still have some strong hiking to do before Damascus, but I know I can do it.  Besides, coming up is a section I know well - the one I first did 5 years ago - remember that 'dangle' photo of McAfee Knob in my avatar?  I will be there again next week.  I hope the sun shines for another shot of me on the ledge!

Yesterday, Thursday May 31st was a great day.  After leaving Jenny Knob Shelter (mile 599) and crossing the 600 mile marker!!!!!!! I had lunch at a little convenience store called Trent's Grocery on Va 606.  It took a half mile to get to and a half mile back to the trail, but it was worth it.  The burger was delicious and I picked up two danish pastries for breakfast the next morning.  Six miles later was another opportunity for some fun - a side trail to the Dismal Falls.  It was nicer than it sounds (pictures below).  I soaked my shins an ankles, then I soaked my knees.  I finally decided that the icy cold water would feel good all over, so I went in all the way.  It was a real shock at first, but did feel oh so good once I had gotten soaked.  Besides - it helped rinse off my sweaty-stinky clothes.

Today it was a short 6 mile hike to the Wood's Hole Hostel.  I had to pick up my mail drop of supplies and had originally intended to stay, but the offer from Bill and Joy was too wonderful to pass up.  even though the Wood's Hole Hostel is a great hiker place in a building built in 1880. 

Tonight as I write this, I am showered and clean for the first time in over a week, fed at an all you can eat buffett - Bill got his money's worth watching me return again and again for more.  And tomorrow we return to Pearisburg to top off my food supplies and I hit the trail once again.

I need to average a little better that 13 miles per day to reach Dalesville by Friday evening where I will meet up with Susan - word has it that Max is going to be there with his mom and dad too.  It's going to be a fun time in Dalesville next weekend!

So, let me get some sleep.  Tomorrow is another big day on the trail and a hiker needs his rest.

Next time some stories of some of the characters I have met on the trail.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Trail magic

Two days ago I received wonderful trail magic from the Troutdale Baptist Church -- shuttle ride to free dinner and shelter.  Yesterday the zipper on my Gregory backpack broke.  I called Gregory today to ask for a replacement top.  They said it was too old a model and their policy was just to send me a NEW pack.  It will be in Daleville when I get there in 200 miles.  Today I get a bus ride back to the trail for .50.  Trail works!
Here's a picture of Sanchez  and River Rat waiting for the bus too.
Oh, and the ladies at the Eye Care Center in Marion adjusted my new sunglasses for free.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

First time in a week I've had a good signal, so here comes a lengthy update.
Trail Days in Damascus was great.  There was a lot of love and young people partying going on, but I was happy to spend the three days with Susan and my trail friends in the friendliest hiker town - Damascus.

I got two pieces of gear repaired free at the vendor booths, picked up my mail drop, bought a couple of things and it was time to get back on the trail. The hike Sunday afternoon was easy and enjoyable.  If you ever get the chance, bike or hike or fish the Virginia Creeper Trail. It's a Must Do!  I got to the first shelter early, ate a snack and pressed on.
Each day out of Damascus has felt better and better.  Am eating more and hiking more miles.   Virginia is beautiful and the terrain is settling down. At the same time I am feeling more energetic.  My pace is now at 2+ miles per hour. With that I did 16 miles yesterday and again today.  I think things have taken a positive turn again.
As a matter of fact, yesterday as I reached Dickies Gap, mile 516, a truck pulled up and two guys offered me a ride to the Troutdale Baptist Church for a hiker feed and hostel stay.  The food was wonderful and I hammocked out of the weather for the first time in three days.  Speaking of the weather, it's rained some on each of the last three days. 

The highlight of the week, besides the hiker feed had to be Grayson Highlands Park.  I finally got to see the wild ponies there.  And the lightning storm as i crossed the ridge was very much an adventure.
So now I am in Marion, VA ,at a motel for the night.  Tomorrow I have to restock, wash clothes, and get back on the trail.
Here are some photos from the cell phone camera.  Theres no hotel computer so I cant upload photos from the GoPro or the Olympus.   I cant wait to share those with you later.
So, life on the trail keeps getting better and better.  And i am still loving it.
Enjoy these photos for now...

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Attacking the Ice Cream Special

When we finally arrived at Neel's Gap and the Walasi-Yi Outdoor Center, we gorged on food, beer, and of course, ICE CREAM.  My trail friend Gerber took this picture and allowed me to download a copy from his website.  I thought you would enjoy it too. 

Hikers starve themselves on the trail - not on purpose, but simply because food is heavy and there's not enough time to eat the number of calories we burn each day.  So lots of time on the trail is spent dreaming of food and what we would eat at the next town.  I expect these thoughts and cravings to increase the further up the trail we go.

R&R in Blowing Rock

Hi Y'all -
I am taking a couple of days of R&R in Blowing Rock, courtesy of my friends Lynn Norwood and her husband Chip.  I want to be in Damascus by Thursday for Trail Days.  It was going to be too far to hike in on time (5 days of 20 miles each), so my only road crossing opportunities were going to be NC19 near Elk Park, or at Hwy 321 near Watauga Dam.  I was all set to get to 321, but it's hard to make miles and time when the weather stinks and the trail is sloppy.  I decided to bail at 19 while I had the chance.  Thanks to Hugh and Rebecca for getting thru to Chip Norwood who graciously picked me up at the trail head and offered their guest bedroom for a couple of days.  Lynn is on the road till tomorrow.  We will decide how best to get to Damascus from there.  Trail magic happens when you need it the most and these folks came through for me in a pinch.  I am very fortunate and very thankful to all.

I had a NERO day in Irwin.  It rained on the way into town and the hostel was filled with hikers trying to escape the weather.  So I got a ride to a motel, checked in and started to dry out myself.  Nice town, but very spread out without transportation.  But there was a McDonalds, a Huddle House, a Walgreens, a laundry, and a Food Lion within a few minutes walk to take care of everything I needed.

The next day I had breakfast at the motel, did my laundry, packed up and caught the shuttle ride back to the trail head near the hostel.  The climb up from town was beautiful as the trail overlooked the Nolichucky River most of the time.  I heard a train on the other side and learned later that many hikers were stuck for an hour or more waiting for it to pass.  I beat it across the tracks by only a few minutes myself.  There were several overlooks (called Lover's Leap for obvious reasons) with wonderful views of the valley, town, and river below.  (see the photo gallery)  I was making pretty good time and got to the first shelter by 3PM and I was still too fresh at that point, so I hiked on and camped alone at a campsite at mile marker 350 near Indian Grave Gap and Tn 395.

The best part of the next day was a hike up to Unaka Mountain.  There is a dense Spruce Forest on the twin peaks and immediately made me remember my younger camping days in California's Redwood State Parks - the woods were dense, the ground was needle covered and soft to walk on - and the air was still and quiet.  It was beautiful and a very special morning.  I made pretty good mileage and stayed at the Cherry Gap Shelter.  A short day and then the Clyde Smith Shelter.

Looking at my guidebook before going to sleep, I kept staring at the climb ahead going over Roan Mtn.  It went from 4,000 feet to over 6,000 feet in couple of miles.  Not the worst climb so far, but a tough one I expected and it was supposed to rain.  So, despite a restless night, I tried to get an early start to get over the mountain and beat the rain.  The climb was not as tough as I expected and I got over the top before noon.  I think I am getting stronger.  Then the rain cut loose.  The wind speed increased and the rain started to go sideways.  It had to be at least 45-50 mph as I crossed Round Bald and Jane Bald.  I was worried about the climb - now I was concerned over the exposed areas and winds that were knocking hikers down.  It was something I will not forget - and at some point I started laughing.  I was getting soaked and the wind was knocking me off stride, but it was actually kind of fun and certainly a memory to keep.  By the time I got to Stan Murray Shelter though, my thinking was changing - cold again, wet again, tired and hungry, and my pack cover had failed to keep my clothes and hammock dry AGAIN.  The shelter wasn't the best and was actually facing open to the wind and rain.  But the thought of another couple of miles was too much.  A section hiker named Spiderman and I hunkered down and tried to stay a little dry and out of the spray.  Several hikers paused, saw what we were facing, and pressed on.  One however came in differently - freezing cold, soaked to the skin, What May Come was in trouble.  He was shivering so much that his fingers couldn't unzip his coat nor could he untie his shoe laces.  Spiderman and I helped him out of his wet clothes and he managed to get into something dry and into a wet sleeping bag.  Luckily, his bag was synthetic which still provided some warmth even though wet.  Some hot tea and he began to warm up and settle in.  It was a disconcerting situation to say the least.  I saw him again as I waited at Hwy19 for Chip - he made it down the mountain and was headed for the hostel to dry out and rest up.  We both agreed that if there had not been anyone at the shelter when he arrived, he could have been in some serious danger.  Trail magic happens again.

That night I knew my gear, though damp, would work better as a hammock instead of in the shelter, so I set up just outside between two trees.  I was warm and dry, even though it stormed all night long - I was only concerned that the wind would pull my tarp stakes out and blow the tarp loose.  If that happened I would be the one who was wet, shivering and in trouble.  Thankfully, my hammock and tarp did their job and I got through the night. 

That morning is when I decided to ask for some help getting a few days off the trail.  So, here I am at the Norwood house.  My gear is hanging in the bedroom, drying.  Chip has given me the keys to his suburban, so I am going to drive to Boone to get another pair of pants and figure out a way to keep my stuff dry inside my pack.

Now that I have time and access to a computer, let's see if I can upload a photo gallery to show you what all I have been seeing on the trail.

Next stop:  Damascus - for Trail Days!  And then I am BACK ON THE TRAIL!

I am learning many things along the way about hiking and hiking logistics.  For instance, my water.  I still huff and puff going up the hills, sweating a lot and drinking water frequently to stay hydrated.  At the same time, water weighs about 2 pounds for every liter that I carry.  So, it's important to carry only what I need and get more water at the appropriate springs for streams along the way.  I am getting better at finishing at at water source with only a few swallows left.  BUT - there was one day ......  I was getting ready to leave the shelter when someone pointed to a puddle of water near my bag.  It looked like only a few ounces, and I knew I had a liter or more in the bladder, so I wasn't concered.  An hour later I discovered that the pack must have leaned on the bite valve and more water must have leaked through the shelter floor - because my water bladder was EMPTY!  I was helped along the way by Windmill and Samurai who gave me enough to get me to the next source.  Have to learn that lesson and remember - hiking without water is not smart nor safe.  Lesson learned!