Monday, April 23, 2012

Changes in store and some soul searching

After the unscheduled stop in Robinsville, I had a pretty strong day - did my first 14 mile day.  It started with a climb up Jacob's Ladder and ended with dinner at the Fontana Dam Village.  That took a while and ended with setting up camp at the 'Fontana Hilton' - the big shelter on the trail south of the Fontana Dam.  The next morning started with a walk across the dam itself and then the climb up Shuckstack Mtn.  It's the same trail my son Jonathan and I had done southbound a coule of years ago.  So up I went and it started to rain.  Then it didn't and then it did.  It was another day of putting the pack cover on and the rainsuit on only to get overheated and take it off.  Stopped at a beautiful campsite at Birch Spring Gap.  Got to know some other hikers and caught up with some others that I thought were way ahead.  It really rained that night as we all packed up to head for the next shelters.  The rain turned to sleet and then snow as the wind howled all day.  Now everything is wet and I am freezing.  I stopped at Mollie's Ridge Shelter at mile marker 176.8 nearly frozen.  I was really concerned about hypothermia.  I immediately got out of my wet clothes, but had no dry ones to put on (big mistake).  So, the next best thing - get into the sleeping bag in the shelter.  That was the second problem of the day:  In the smokies, you have to stay in the shelter instead of camping ouside.  My hammock and sleep system work great when doing what they are supposed to do.  But they suck when used on a hard plank floor in a wooden shelter.  I never could get warm and barely got any sleep at all.  There was a Ridge Runner (employee of the ATC) at the shelter that night.  He advised everyone that the nasty weather would continue for a couple of days - to make sure we all slept warm and had dry clothes for the days ahead.  Two strikes right there.  So I had to do some real soul searching.  Do I stay another night just to try to dry my clothes in a wet cold environment.....or try something else.  The quick way down off the freezing mountain was a side trail to Cades Cove, Tn - and close to where Jonathan lives in Knoxville.  A text, a phone call, and he agreed to pick me up and take me to Gatlinburg for some gear changes and then home for dinner and ice cream.  The trail down was nice once I was off the ridge and out of the wind.  Cades Cove is a beautiful place that I visited only a couple of times before.  I must go back again soon - there's some great trout water in there. 

Jon picked me up at the park entrance.  We stopped at the NOC in Gatlinburg to see about so new gear changes and clothing.  Bill, one of the elder-statesmen in the hiking department had a few gear suggestions but also a big job of counseling a fellow elder-stateman.  He basically told me to act my age - and enjoy the ride - that I am doing just fine - and not to try to compare myself to others.  And there's some stuff I am leaving behind.

So here I am at Jon's house - showered clean again, clothes are in the washer and some new gear is going in the bag.  Tomorrow I catch a hiker shuttle back to the trail.  It will cause me to miss a short section of the trail, but most of which I have already hiked.  I wanted to be a purist and do the whole trail without skipping anything, but this is just the way it's working out.

Now for the changes.

I have spent too much time trying to keep up with hikers that are younger or already more physically fit than I am.  Yesterday that kind of thinking cost me a day of hiking and might have been much more serious.  So, from now on I am really going to simply hike my own hike.  If I lose contact with my trail friends, so be it.  No more trying to keep up and no more comparing my hiking skills and styles and pace to anyone else - that's stinkin' thinkin'.  I have cautioned others against being a slave to the 'mileage monster' and now in my own way I have to follow my own advice.  Besides - if someone else speeds ahead and finished in 125 days and I take 165 days, that only means that I get to spend 40 more days hiking and camping on the trail than those speed demons.  I will no longer worry about the low miles and the huffing and puffing up the hills.  I will hike my own hike and take it as it comes at my own pace and my own time - after all, this is my hike and it belongs to me.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Another down day

After leaving the NOC in the rain, I had a short mileage day of 6 in an all uphill climb to the next shelter.  The rain would stop and start.  The big juggle was whether to wear the rain gear and get soaked from hot sweat, or not and get rain soaked and chilled.  At the end, I was wet no matter.  I was feeling strong after a couple of miles, but faded as the rain got harder.  Set up the tarp first to get the hammock up dry. As I lay there listening to the rain come down, it slowly faded away.  I slept like a baby for 3 hours and then again for another7.  Actually overslept and got a late start.  One hour into the hike today came the highlight of the a Vista overlook into a valley and layers of mtn ranges came a shifting flow of clouds.  I set up the camera for timelapse at 60 seconds and spent the next 45 minutes watching the clouds flow up the side of the hills.  I won't know if it worked like I imagine until I get back home.  With such a late start, a picture delay, and some very slippery conditions, something new happened.....I ran out of energy before my intended stop.  Another two hikers asked if I wanted to join them for a town shuttle and motel stay.  So I cut the day short.  The good news is that I found another AC/USB charger that fits my phone.  So, it was a short but interesting day.  Tomorrow morning it's back on the trail where we left off.  And the first thing is a big climb called Jacobs Ladder.....oh boy!  My one concern is my continued inability to climb without stopping to catch my breath.  I guess that will be the last issue solved over the next month.  There's no other symptoms so at this point it's just what the trail needs to fix as I move further north.  Afterall, I wanted the trail to put me back into good shape, so i have keep going and let it happen on it's own accord. 
Thats it for now at mile 150.7.  Sounds good until you know there's 2,034 to go.   I remember.... one at a time!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Zero day at the NOC

Spending the second nite at the Nantahala Outdoor Center having taken today as a zero mileage rest day.  I couldn't get access to a computer to write a full blog report, so this will have to bear shorter post from my phone.  It's raining steadily, but it should be done be morning as I get back on the trail headed for Fontana Dam and the Smokies next week.  It's been a rugged few days of some tough hiking. I think my legs are getting stronger, but I still have trouble with my breathing.  I am still having to stop too often to catch my breath on the uphill.  At least it seems to me, but it's  probably still a problem for most of us really. 
The number of hikers in our 'bubble' continues to shrink as more and succumb to injury, illness or other reasons to quit.  My little group seems to have heeded the advice to start slow and has a good percentage still going strong.  There's Tantrum, a goofy funloving kid, Nimbus..a retired Marine CO turned ME, Ultimatum, an English Lit major...Comma-Kazii  and NY Woodsy - sisters from NY, Gerber who is a military IT contactor, Windmill, Blue-Sky, Slingblade and Creeper (peace Corp friends), and several more who get ahead or fall behind as we all make our separate but joint journey to Mt Kahtadin. 
Last week the big milestone was crossing the border between Ga and down, thirteen to go.
Two days ago four of us stood on to of the Fire Lookout Tower on Wayah Bald.  I realized there was a dark rain cloud overhead.  Then I realized that not only were we on a mostly metal structure on the highest point for miles, but I was also the highest structure!  We made it a short visit and quickly got down and down the trail.
I'm still enjoying the adventure and have no serious physical problems beyond sore swollen knees and feet as well as sore shoulders and back.  So, it's  all good so far at 137 miles and more than two weeks on the trail.
My next problem to solve is a charger connection that my cell phone works with...hopefully solved when Susan meets me in Hot Springs next week.  Until then i will have to post less and conserve batteries.  I will try to take a few more pix with the phone to share more easily when I am able to post.
Till then,
Six Six on the AT
April 17th

Monday, April 9, 2012

Pictures from the first week on the trail:

The southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail - the plaque on Springer Mountain and the first white blaze that points the way.

The view from atop Springer Mountain.

After four days on the trail, and successfully conquering Blood Mountain, we shared a lodge for the night at  Neel's Gap.  We all took advantage of flush toilets, showers, and real beds.  That oven took good care of the frozen pizzas - tasted like delivery - Dijorno's.

A cold rainy day with occassional thunderstorms....   Even when it wasn't raining, there was no way to avoid the cold cloudy mist that got into everything, protected or not.  Then to navigate the big slippery rocks on the way down the mountain.  Fun stuff!

Zero Day at Hiawassee Ga

After 8 days on the trail, I decided it was time for a rest day - on the trail it's called a 'Zero Day' for zero miles.  It's been quite a week of learning the ways of the AT.

The last few days have been tough, but it's all getting better.  There were several very difficult climbs over Blood Mountain, Tray Mtn, and the worst, Kelly Knob.  Kelly is considered the toughest in Ga, due to the most elevation change in the shortest distance - 900+ feet in less than a mile.

I am feeling fine, but there are lots of sore spots, aches and pains.  My right foot (the one with the nerve problem) seems to hurt on a regular schedule - between 11a and 1p, then fades away.  My left hamstring takes a while to warm up in the morning, and the knees always hurt on the downslopes.  But, I have stopped taking any pain meds to make sure the pain I feel is nothing serious.  I am adapting to the trail pretty well.  The muscles are there, but I am still working on my lung power - the up hill climbs are still pretty tough for me - lots of rest stops - sucking wind along the way.  But, everyone else is having pretty much the same issue - AND I AM STILL KEEPING UP WITH THE 20-YEAR OLDS!

While everyone is pretty much hiking solo (with a couple of exceptions), we are forming little hiking groups that share hiking styles, patterns, or distance goals.  We are learning little trail tricks from each other, as each has different skills and experiences.

So, let's is Monday, April 9th.  If I remember correctly:
Thursday - was spent a Lance Creek. We made Hobo Stew where everyone put in a little something. 'Ultimatum' had brought a small bag of potatoes to cut up. I provided my minestrone soup mix and for an after dinner surprise - Instant Pudding.  I think that was our first double-digit mileage day.
Friday - I was at the Blue Mountain shelter, to a cold and rainy night and morning. The hike out was freezing and over large rocks that beat up my knees. There was no view other than clouds and fog - that in itself was beautiful, but didn't lend itself to photos.  It was a long suffering day.
Saturday - was spent at Tray Mtn Shelter after a short day of 8 miles - but there were two pretty strong climbs in there somewhere.  At the shelter was a Ridge Runner - an employee of the ATC - who travels the trail looking for obstacles and problems that the local maintenance club would need to fix.  He's also a valuable resource for information and advice. 
Sunday - It was another 11 mile day over the Kelly Knob and a downhill that never seemed to end.  Finally reached the road at Dicks Creek Gap where US 76 crosses.  We caught the motel shuttle van for a ride into Hiawassee and a stay here at the Budget Inn - about a dozen hikers sharing three rooms.  After 8 days of traveling at 2 miles per hour, the ride down the hill in the van was like a roller coaster carnival ride - wheeeeeeeeee!.    We reconnected with two hikers who left the trail to nurse knee injuries.  One left this morning for home to nurse her knee and see her own doctor.  The other is going to give it another couple of days and try to get back on the trail.  The whole group gathered in the evening and had a good campfire in the grassy park of the motel property.  For a change we all stayed up past 'Hiker Midnight" (9pm) drinking beer and eating everything several times - ice cream, cake, hamburgers, pizza, more ice cream, more hamburgers.  As you can tell, we starve on the trail and gorge in town.  We hike and dream of food.

While the group is enjoying the camraderie and the sharing of trail experiences, we also talk about how the group is eventually going to break up as some go slow and others speed up.  We have exchanged email addresses to help keep in touch.  We will follow each other's progress in the shelter logs to see who got to where ahead of us.

So today is a quite one - fixated on resting and eating and charging of batteries (literally and figuratively).  This afternoon I will strip all my gear and supplies and decide what I need for the next week - followed my a trip to the grocery store to stock up.

Tomorrow morning I will catch the shuttle to take me back to the trail crossing to continue the adventure.  It's getting to be lunch time (food thoughts again) so let me finish for now.  This afternoon I will try to load up so photos for you.

Happy Trails,
Six-Six on the AT.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Sunrise on Blue Mountain

The full moon is getting chased away by the sunrise at Blue Mtn shelter.  Water is heating for coffee.  I don't want to get out of the hammock.  Yesterday was cold and raining all day, but still did 12 miles.  Lots of thoughts but have to get moving.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Day 4 - Neel's Gap

After the first two nights camping at shelter sites, my new trail friends needed to make a decision...
There was a 5 mile section where the bears had become educated about hanging food sacks.  New regs required bear canisters if you overnighted in that five mile section.  The choice was camp early short of that area, or do a high mileage day that would include a big climb over Blood Mountain.  Most all decided to stay short at Lance Creek and take an extra day to arrive here at Neel's Gap.  It was a smart move as Blood Mtn was tough both up on side and down the other.  My feet hurt now from the rocks.  But here is an outfitter store and a hostel and cabins for rent.  So,three new friends and I are splitting a cabin.  With are Lucky Charm and Pep Talk a young couple from Wisconsin, Bruce LeeRoy from Washington State.  We got showers, flush toilets, real beds, and pizza in the oven.  After just 4 days on the trail, it's a real treat.

To catch you up, yesterday start with sunny skies, cereal and coffee for breakfast but we got caught in our first thunderstorm and got soaked and cooled off.  By the time reached Lance Creek the rain had stopped.  Dinner was instant broccoli soup with a couple of potato pieces donated by 'Ultimatum' another of our group.
Everyone is impressed with my hammock system.  And as the older one in a group of 20 somethings I am pleased that I am keeping up.

We are all enjoying the trail, learning tips and tricks from each other and enjoying the trail.

It's mile 31.7 on day for and it's all good.  We are all sore in the same places.

Happy Trails,

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Day 1 on the AT

Thanks to Susan and John who got me to Springer this morning.  We parked and hiked back down the trail to the summit and the southern terminus of the AT.  After a few pictures and signing the hiker register, we turned around and started back north.  We said our goodbyes at the truck and off I went on the trail.  It's now close to 4:30 and I am setting up camp just yards from the Hawk Mtn Shelter.  That's almost 10 miles for the first half day.  I have to keep reminding myself to slow down for the first few days or the first 100 miles.  

So day one is in the books and I'm still on the trail.  It's hot, I'm tired and sweaty and I love it. 

More later.   Happy trails.