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!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

May 9th, Erwin, Tennessee
Mile 341.5

It's hard to believe I have been hiking the AT for 5 weeks now and have logged over 300 miles.  Still have a lot of miles to go, but I feel good about my chances of making it to Katahdin.  So many have already left the trail from the thousands that started.  I remember that first shelter, Hawk Mountain, on April 1st, had 60 or 70 people in and around it.  Last night at 'No Business Knob' Shelter there were about a dozen hikers doing a thru-hike and another 3 or 4 section hikers.  So here I am at the Super 8 Motel in Erwin, Tn.  Let me catch you up on the week since Hot Springs.

I only took a half-day off at HS, coming in the morning of one day and leaving the next morning.  Mostly, the day was full of food.  I had breakfast at the Smokie Mountain Diner, famous for its hiker special breakfast - I forget the name of the menu item, but it was about 2,000 calories and you could order a double.  I saw three singles get ordered and only one was finished.  As for me, I got a ham and cheese omlet - and finished every bite, plus three coffees and an orange juice.  I am craving orange juice....must need Vitamin C.  After that, I checked into the Alpine Motel (a real dump, but all I needed) for the night.  I collected my mail drop of supplies, bought an extra pair of socks, unloaded at the motel.  By that time it was time for lunch - a banana split at a local ice cream parlor - soooooo good.  A shower and laundry and it was time to eat again - a burger and a beer at the Harvest Moon pub overlooking a tributary of the French Broad River ( a delayed harvest trout stream ).  Back to collect my clothes, make a stop at the library for the use of their computer, and it was back to the Harvest Moon for dinner and another couple of beers.  It seemed all the hikers in town were there as we put about six tables together and all sat around introducing ourselves and swapping stories.  The next morning was a quick stop back at the Smokie Mtn Diner for another omlet and back to the motel to check out.  I put on my pack and headed for the trailhead right on schedule at 8:00 AM.

Here is where we all learn that going down into town always means a big climb up out of town.  The trailhead was back on the edge of town along the main channel of the French Broad River and up the side of the mountain, switchback after switchback, past Lover's Leap (several actually) with great views of the river, valley, and disappering town below.  There was a side trail to an old Fire Lookout Tower, but I was too tired to bother and pressed on. I did a good 11 miles that day and made it to Spring Mountain Shelter for the night.

The next day was a short one of only 8.5 miles to the Little Laurel Shelter.  The 11 miles of mostly climbing the day before had taken a lot of energy out of me and it was good to take it easy.  Besides, there was a report of Trail Magic taking place just a couple of miles further at Jones Meadow.  I knew most of the faster hikers would go straight for the meadow and party on into the night.  Not being much for late night partying anymore, I elected to hit the Trail Magic the next morning for brunch.  It was quite a spread put on by the Greenville Tenn Hiking Club.  Members had hike some or all of the AT and several were on trail mainenance teams.  They just wanted to stay close to the trail and hikers and to help them out with lots of food.  I ate a lot for brunch (4 pancakes, 3 strips of bacon, a skillet full of eggs, two oranges, 3 cups of coffee, some strawberries and a piece of banana nut bread) and settled down to wait for lunch to start.  I chatted with the club members about their support of the trail and their own experiences.  The grill got going at noon and I downed a cheeseburger, a hot dog, a coke and another orange before I finally hit the trail again.

After such a slow start I only did another 8 miles more, passing Jerry Cabin Shelter in order to camp along a gravel road on the trail by myself.  Along the way I passed the 300 mile marker

The next day was easier hiking, even in the rain, as the trail followed the ridgeline for several miles before heading downhill - but in between were lots of PUDS (pointless ups and downs).  I stayed at Hogback Shelter at mile 315.  Somewhere in there was another milestone - the equivalent of the 3rd Mt Everest in elevation climbing since Springer Mountain.

More ups and downs from Hogback and a confusing set of directions passing powerlines and springs that I thought were at one mile mark only to find another set of powerlines and springs further on.  The trail seemed to go on long past when I thought I would be at the next shelter.  It finally appeared in the distance about the time I was running out of energy for one more climb.  That night was spent at Bald Mountain Shelter - mile 325.

The rain comes and goes now, sometimes at night, soaking gear for a wet start, and sometimes during the day for wet, muddy, and slippery hiking.  It sure is difficult to keep shoes and socks dry - at some point it's impossible to avoid - so I don't.  The next morning of couse I have to put on the wet socks and shoes and start hiking again.  It's part of hiking in the clouds on the AT.  And, even if it's not really raining, the clouds soak the trees with so much dew that any little breeze brings drops of 'tree-rain' down.

I reconnected with some of my original group of trail friends - Ultimatum, Tantrum, and Slingblade.  Slingblade's friend Creeper had stepped off the trail to attend a job interview.  So, U-T-S and I hiked together for a while.  Tantrum set a brisk pace and I kept up during the flats and downs, but fell behind during the climbs.  For a change I didn't worry about it at all.  I just arrived at the shelter 15  minutes later than they did.  See, the mental adjustment seems to be working.  I called it a day at the No Business Knob Shelter at mile 335, while U-T-S pushed on for a few more miles to get closer to Erwin. 

This morning I woke after the first night of no rain in several nights.  The gear wasn't soaked for a change.  All I had was 5 miles of mostly downhill hiking to get to Erwin.  The first hour went by smoothly before the sprinkles started.  My pack cover was still on, so I hiked on.  Then it started to rain harder and harder.  By the time I stopped to put on my rainsuit it was too late - I was soaked to the skin.  I took off my shirt and put on the rain jacket anyway and sloshed for the next 3 or 4 miles, hiking through misty glasses and slippery mud puddles on the trail.  At one point there was so much water coming down the trail that I stepped first one side and then the other all the way up the hill, never really stepping in the river of water that was the trail.

Erwin it is for the night.  Tomorrow morning it's breakfast, the rest of the laundry, and a shuttle back to the trail to begin another week of hiking.  Next stop?  Damascus - and TRAIL DAYS:  the annual AT hiking festival at the friendliest trail town on the AT.  It's a week of partying for some.  For others it's a welcome rest stop.  I will be somewhere in between I think.

So.  I am doing better I think - feeling stronger physically as well as in a better mental position regarding my hiking pace and condition.  All is well - and I am still loving the life of an AT Thru Hiker.

More as phone batteries and signal strength permit in the days ahead.

Six Six on the AT!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Mile 273 Hot Springs

What a week.

I was without phone signal for most of the last week, so there's a lot to catch you up on.

It's May 2nd and I have been on the trail for over a month and I still love the life of an AT Hiker.

After returning to the trail at Newfound Gap and a decent day of hiking, I faced two days of heavy rain and more.  The shower of the night before turned into a pretty intense lightning storm with hail and high winds.  Those that left early got hammered with golf ball sized hail.  I and most of the rest at the shelter delayed our start.  It was the second day when I got caught with dime sized hail.

It took one more day of hiking to finally leave the Smokies...finally!.  Now I can camp anywhere instead of only at a designated shelter.

During this week I have seen a Perigrine Falcon and he let me video him for couple of minutes before taking his leave of this hiker.  It was a special moment.

Climbing is getting a little easier very slowly, but I do feel some improvement.  I definitely have a better handle on my hiking pace and style.  I am still out here moving northward and that's what counts.  As a matter of fact, I had to give the same advice to a fellow 50-something last night.

I topped Snowbird Mtn a couple of days ago and lunched next to an FAA beacon tower.  The next day I was on Max Patch Bald - a beautiful view forever in all directions.

I did my first 15 mile day trying to get to a place where I could meet Susan, but phone connections weren't possible until it was too late.  I wish I could have a town stop and a weekend coincide before I get out of reach further north.

Most of my original group have finally caught up with me here in Hot Springs.  I am taking the day to do chores, pick up my mail drop, and eat:  I've had breakfast, lunch, mid-afternoon sandwich and finished with dinner.  I shared experiences and wild tales with the other new trail friends over some pretty good local porter.  Batteries are charged, laundry done, I am showered and ready to get back on the trail in the morning.  I am now supplied for 5 more days till the next town: Erwin, Tenn.

Feeling good - hiking my own hike!