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.