Wednesday, March 28, 2012

3.28.12 - The Clinic. Round 2.

Had a good night's rest at the Grand Prix hotel in Gatlinburg. Went to breakfast with Brian, Ann, and Chris at Bennett's BBQ Pit, then they took me to the clinic on the outskirts of town. Show up there and find Froot Loop, Maine-iac, and Blue sitting in the waiting room. They asked me what I was there for and I told them I wanted to get my shin checked out to make sure it wasn't anything too serious. They laughed and told me Phoenix, my Twin, had hurt her ankle badly and may have broken it. Not nearly as good of a similarity as gear! Started filling out the pages of paperwork (wonder how many trees they killed to create those things!), and out comes Phoenix wearing a boot and a smile! What the heck?! She was not happy to be hurt but happy that she didn't break her ankle. Looks like 3-5 down days for her. Could be worse! Got skipped over and watches as about 5-7 other people got called in before me. I just played it cool and didn't say anything. I moved seats hoping they would notice me. Eventually the lady that checked me in asked if I'd been seen yet. NOPE! Some section hikers we saw a few nights ago came in too, and the ladies working there asked if I knew anyone else coming in. Haha.

Finally got called in and checked out by the doc. Said I probably bruised down to the bone. Just doing that on the log wouldn't have got it to his point, but about 40 miles or so of hiking on top of that didn't help. Oh well. Said the nurse would give me a steroid shot, some oral steroids, and and some 800mg ibuprofen.

I had my Croc off my right foot still, the nurse came in and said with a smile on her face "this one goes in the bottom". I asked "the bottom of my foot?". Nurse said "no hun, yer bottom" and laughed. Oh man. I told her that hasn't happened probably since I was a kid and laughed myself. I told her " well, I guess I don't need to have my Croc off then". She agreed, and I just sat there, not knowing what to do. She said "well...". I asked what the best way to do it was, an she said, "you can stand, lean over, or lay down. You're not gunna pass out on me, are ya?" as she laughed. I laid down and said, "alright, let's do this". She prepped it and said "ok you're going to feel a little (me= yikes!)... prick. And we have a jumper! Ok, yer all done!". We both left the room cracking up. Good times!

Started walking down to the grocery store to get my meds at the pharmacy, when the section hikers (after eating brunch and coming back my way) hollered at me and told me to hop in their car. They gave me a lift the rest if the way to the store.

Out of the ibuprofen so I have to make a return trip.

Got a trolley part of the way back, didn't want to wait on the other one to take me the rest of the way so I walked back. Beat it by about 7 min, and gimping along!

Chris and I went to the NOC outfitter, still no package received yet! Went to Mellow Mushroom for some grub, tried a little moonshine tasting, and went back to the hotel (good song by the way). Met up with some hikers and chilled for a few hours til it was way past my new normal bedtime of 8pm ish, and crashed for the night.

Back to the Pharm, and maybe trail soon! Shin already feeling better. Ahh, zero days!

3.27.12 - Highest point on the trail

Woke up to a sore shin again, but was up early and had plenty of time to get ready and stretch.

First 6-8 miles felt fairly good, until just before reaching the highest point on the trail, Clingman's Dome at 6,643 ft. Tourists who had driven up and parked at a lot just down the way huffed and puffed to get up the paved walkway to the top of the tower.

The rest of the day was a lot of downhill, with a little uphill thrown in for fun. A lot of evergreen trees with the roots ripped out of the ground. May have something to do with a lot of water on the trail or possibly infestation by bugs. Ran into some trail maintenance folks who offered us some apples and candy. Apples were so good, as we don't have fresh produce often!

Met up with Brian's wife Ann (who had sent us some delicious chocolate covered strawberries at Nantahala :) ) at Newfound Gap, who drove us all into Gatlinburg. A lot easier covering 13 miles in a car than on foot! Ran into Jersey Steve at the Smoky Mountain Brewery, then called it a night at the Grand Prix motel.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

3.26.12 - Mmm Skittles

Very slow going for me today. 12-14 mile day today from Spence Field Shelter to Silers Bald Shelter, but after about 6 or 8, shin began hurting again where I'd slammed it into a log about 3-4 days ago. Feels mostly like muscle was affected, hurting when I flex my foot up and down. Frequent breaks throughout the day to stretch and get back to hobbling. Ibuprofen seems not to do much for the shin.

Had no warm meals for the week, so I heated up some water and threw instant coffee and chocolate protein mix in. Big mistake. Apparently protein mix in hot water creates curdled mess. Boiled over my stove and made a mess all over everything. Lesson learned. Sleeping in the shelter again, as it's easier not having to tear down my tent and put wet stuff in my backpack with dry stuff. Hoping to get more sleep than last night. Windy and a lot of people moving around.

Should be going up Clingman's Dome tomorrow. The highest point on the trail. Wonder if it will have the same feel as reaching the summit on Mount Washington, having to avoid the cars driving up the road, and numerous annoying tourists.

A sore shin did not make for an enjoyable day of hiking today. Here's to hoping for a more comfortable day tomorrow. Stretching tonight before going to bed. 7:00pm and already in the bag. Odd how things change on the trail. Highlight of the day... Sour Skittles I'd bought a few days ago :)

Thanks for reading!

3.24.12 - The Sorta Lazy Day

So I know this happened last night, but it was after my blog posting, and I have to add it to this one. After dinner, Brian decided he would go back to the room and shower first, so Chris and I stayed at the restaurant/lounge to finish our beer and watch whatever was on tv. Met another guy from Indiana there, somewhere near Louisville, and you could tell. So about 20 minutes passes by, I'm about to fall asleep on the leather sofa, when Brian comes by and says something about having just been sending emails out. I looked up and could not believe that we had been waiting, and he hadn't even been back to the room yet. Apparently the look I gave Brian was great because Chris lost it laughing, which made me start cracking up, then the three of us were there all just laughing our heads off. Hilarious stuff!

Woke up on a comfy bed, yet tossed and turned off and on thru the night. Loved hearing the sounds of the thunderstorm going on. Probably enjoyed it more because I knew I wasn't going to get wet!

Took a step out of bed, and HELLO! Definitely felt the results of a 22 mile day! My body isn't quite up to being able to comfortably handle that kind of beating, but in due time it will be :). I'm sure there's plenty more big mile days ahead of us. Just need to get my "trail legs". Had a good warm breakfast of eggs, bacon, toast, and coffee to start the day, then went to take care of laundry and getting our resupply packages. Too much food, as our plans had changed from what our initial plan was. Instead of doing 7-8 days off a resupply through the Smokies, we are stopping about half way through and getting picked up by Brian's wife Ann, and heading to Gatlinburg. I'm lookin forward to checking it out for a day, cause as Jason Aldean says, "up ahead there's a turn, takes me right through Gatlinburg, I hear it's pretty".

So to take care of the overpacking of food, Chris and I split one resupply, and sent the unopened box ahead to Gatlinburg. Cool thing I learned is that with these flat rate boxes the USPS does, if you get the box and don't open it when you have it sent to wherever you pick it up, you can "bounce" it to somewhere else for no additional cost. Pretty sweet if you ask me!

Anyway, got packed up with clean clothes, bought some Skittles and Pringles (weird cravings like a pregnant woman are starting), saw Phoenix (aka my twin, since we seem to have a ton of the same gear), Froot Loop, Tom, Steve from Jersey, some other people we had seen the night before, and met Santa and Gnome (from NY near Rochester). Hit the trail about 1:30pm and only made it about a half mile before we ran into a group of guys who were sitting just outside the gate for the national park boundary, trying to finish the beer they had that the park doesn't allow you to take in. Being the nice, helpful gentlemen we are, we helped them out. Tom was there, and we met Midnight (something), Go To, and Shipwreck. We finally left there after a while and went about a couple hundred yards down the trail to check out the shelter known as the Hiker Hilton. It was a big shelter that could hold about 24, but I'm not sure you'd get much sleep there. We put down around 7 miles total, which included crossing Fontana Dam. We have now officially entered the Great Smoky Mountain National Park! I've been looking forward to this!!! The temp dropped enough to notice as we hiked in. We got to a high point where there was a lookout tower. Climbed up top and got some great views of the dam below and the surrounding mountains. Hiked about a mile more until we hit what the sign called Campground 113. The thunder started just as we were setting up our tents. Luckily we got them up right before it started raining.

Nice cool night, and as I finish this up at 9:45pm, my thermometer in my tent reads 48 or so, but it's much cooler outside. Wonder if we will see snow. That'd actually be pretty sweet :).

Simko out.

3.25.12 - 184 Down, 2000 Left to go, and a new state.

A beautiful chilly, crisp night sleeping in the Smokies last night for the first time. a bunch of owls making noise is the last thing I remember before falling asleep.

Rained a few times through the night, but for the most part, slept really well. Hiked out in the clouds for about 5 miles or so. Reached the first shelter and met Morgan (from San Jose) and Esther (from Watertown, WI). Hiked most of the day with Jersey Steve. Passed 2 shelters and after a muddy 12 miles, made it to Spence Field Shelter. A few people there already, and a lot more pulled in. Decided to sleep in the shelter and avoid a possible wet tent in the morning. Those I remember staying here are Morgan, Esther, DJ, Jersey Steve, You Again, Spider, Midnight, Go To, Shipwreck, and about 7 other people.

We are right about at 184 miles into the trail, which means we have 2,000 left to go. Kinda hard to believe, but it's been some great times already! Clingman's Dome (highest point on trail), is about 16 miles away. Should make it close tomorrow, do it, then head into Gatlinburg. Left foot and knee are feeling good, but my right shin that I whacked straight on the end of a log about 3 days ago was swollen and slowing me down today. Water filter is giving me problems, so thinking of new options for that.

Still no trail name after 2+ weeks, however the three of us have been going by The Three Amigos to some other thru hikers.

Oh, and we entered a new state today... Tennessee! We will float between TN and NC for a little while before we bid farewell to NC.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Big mile day!

22 miles today. 'nuf said!!! (hiked from Sassafras shelter to Fontana Dam, met hiker Phoenix, got rained on, had the Dam Burger at Fontana Dam Village Resort)

Recovery mode

After going to the clinic on the 20th, we still put in about 8 miles in a half day. I was exhausted after that.

Camped up top of a ridge with a couple from Tennessee, and Shanti. I set up part of my tent and just laid there, trying to work up some energy to do more. Made dinner and Shanti gave me some tea to help. Woke up that night in a coughing fit but felt better by morning.

Got an early jump on the day and knocked out 15 miles, and got to spot just after Jump Up Lookout that was flat enough to set up tents. Had a great, warm, dry night and woke up to dry everything! Woohoo! Now that's a great feeling being able to pack everything up nice and dry!

Then on the 22, we only had 3 miles or so to Nantahala Outdoor Center. Great area right along the Nantahala River, and a very helpful staff at the outfitter. Picked up our 2 day food resupply from the wonderful Amy back in Cali, and also picked up my package from My new Snow Peak titanium stove (weighing in at only 1.9 ounces!), and a new dry bag for clothes and food. Chris got a new backpack, and then we had lunch along the river. As we were leaving, our waiter told us that a man wanted to buy us a round. Well, we postponed hitting the trail and enjoyed a beer with Gary. He had hiked a good part of the trail about 25 years ago, until he caught something from the water and couldn't go on. He told us a few stories and gave us some great encouragement to keep going on and wished us the best in completing our goal of reaching Maine. Gary, if you're reading this, Chris and I thank you for the cold beer again, and since you didn't have a trail name 25 years ago, we'd like to give you the honorary trail name Beer Man! Thanks again and cheers!

We finally got back back on the trail with full stomachs and some new gear, and hiked 7 miles (uphill the ENTIRE way) to Sassafras Shelter. Got rained on pretty good somewhere going uphill but dried out after a while. Good night of sleep in the shelter with Froot Loop, Tom, Steve, Tommy, and Buddy!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Rides on the short bus and clinics.

I don't go to doctors often. I usually don't get feeling to a point where I need to go. After last night, and seeing as I wasn't improving much, I decided to head to the clinic today. Hopped on the 9am shuttle from the Budget Inn in Franklin. I'm not sure exactly what Ron Haven's work title is, but the best way to describe him is the guy who seems to own everything in Franklin, NC, know everyone in Franklin, know just about everything there is to know about Franklin (and everywhere else he's been), short bus driver with a redneck twang to his voice. So I hoppe on the shuttle and after about an hour of dropping other hikers off at various spots, I get dropped off at Angel Urgent Care. A short wait and the doc comes in. Ironic that his name is Dr. Golightly? Haha, I thought it was funny. Well, turns out double ear infection. That may explain the possible fever, chills, crackling in my ears when I swallow, and overall just feeling like crap. Din, I feel for you now more than ever. I don't know how you can handle getting these things as often as you do. Maybe you should be on an Amoxicillin drip! I knew something wasn't feeling right, so I made the decision to go. Wish I would have made the call last night when Brian went and I wouldn't have held those guys up today. Didn't help that I missed the shuttle coming back to get me because I was at the pharmacy. So after waiting around for some time over an hour and a half, Ron, Chris, Broan, and other random hiker show up in a van to get me and get us back to the trail. Meds kicked in and I was feeling better but still not good enough to tackle these mountains. Had to kick it down a notch and take my time. By the time we got to a place to set up camp, I was exhausted. Not a high mile day, but still knocked out 8 miles or so. We had an option to camp near water about 2 miles further, but I requested a stop. The guys were cool with it so we set up camp and they made sure I got some food in me. Thanks guys! And a little help from Shanti, giving me some of her tea. I found a flat spot, but didn't get such a warm welcome from the neighbor so I moved away to my own little area away from the others. (just kidding Chris, it's all good buddy!). Probably a good idea I stay a little further away from everyone just in case these decongestant meds don't last all night and I'm blowing my fog horn.

Here's to meds and hoping for a better feeling day tomorrow!

Oh, almost forgot... hilarious quote of the day from none other than Ron Haven when talking about a bear encounter... "I was shakin like a two doller ladder!" (spelling purposely changed to emphasize the redneck draw).

Some tough days, and the time we lost Brian

The 17th. St. Patty's Day. Unfortunately still 2 days out of town, so while there is green all around with Spring in bloom, there will be no green beer. Actually that was one of the last things on my mind. It's hard to think of anything else when every other step causes a little pain. The swelling in my left foot had gone down, but it was still very tender, and my left knee (which has typically been my only problem when hiking) decided to start causing trouble too. When we got to the top of Bly Gap, I was able to put a cold water bottle on it to take the swelling down. We met three brothers at Bly who are doing the trail together. Huge tent with snorkels they call the "Yellow Submarine". Just as I was getting ready to call it a day, a quick rain storm blew in, which hurried me along into my tent for the night.

On the 17th, woke up and took a picture of the crazy looking tree I slept near that sits right in the middle of the trail. Apparently it's a famous tree, or so "Shanti" (means peace) told us. Today was going to be a big uphill day, as we would reach the highest point on the trail thus far. It was a heck of a climbing day! Chris and I were hiking together after we reached a shelter to take a short break. We thought Brian was in front of us and kept expecting to see him sitting down on the side of the trail. We finally got to a low gap and saw another hiker, Trail Mix. We asked if he had seen anyone the looked like Brian pass in the past half hour or so, and he said no. Chris and I sat around for a while, turned on our phones, and started eating. About 10-15 minutes after we got there, here comes Brian trotting down the trail. Apparently when we left the shelter, he thought we weren't quite ready to leave, so he went on up a side trail to check something out. That's how he got behind us, and he found this out when he came across Shanti who he asked if we had already passed, and she said we had a while ago. We ate lunch as Steve came along, then started the high climb when we had finished. It took us up higher and higher until we hit the highest point on the trail so far, at 5,200ft. We made our way down, winding around on an old logging road, then decided to camp at Beech Gap. Ate some dinner and went to bed after chatting with Steve for a while. Sometime in the middle of the night I woke up to a loud crack and crash of what sounded like a huge tree falling in the distance. That was the first time I've heard that, and man was it loud!

The 18th was a rough morning. Woke up and felt terrible. I had apparently been breathing through my mouth all night, so my throat was dry and scratchy, my sinuses were stuffed, and my foot and knee were still reminding me they were there. I went to finally get out of my tent, but as I knocked my Crocs around to clean out the leaves and such, a salamander fell out and lay right in front of my tent. So there I was...trapped in my tent by a dragon. The thing wouldn't even move until I tapped his tail, then he went waddling away. Finally pulled myself together and made it out of camp for another day of climbing. We hit a steep and somewhat technical section that was very rocky. We kept pushing on (with the help of oranges that someone placed along the trail) until we reached a fire tower on Mt Albert. A 74 year old guy came trucking up the other side of the mountain and began talking to us. He said the section we just did leading up to the fire tower is the steepest section in the southeast along the AT. It was one of the most sturdy fire towers I had climbed up. A little larger than all those in The Adirondacks too. Great view and I was feeling alright, just worn out from the climbs of the day. The next downhill section was long and winding and my knee and foot took a toll. This was one of the toughest times on the trail for me so far (primarily based on the pain) and this marked the first time I wanted to quit the trail. I lagged far behind the others and had to take breaks every now and then. I was so frustrated with the struggle this early on. We got into camp at Glassmine Gap, where I set up camp, said forget it with dinner, and went straight to bed. I lay there at 6:30pm, head hot, but the rest of my body cold. Then I went into some series of sweats before I crawled into my bag and was able to go to sleep. I woke up somewhere around midnight or 1am and had to keep clearing my sinuses. I went into a series of short naps for the rest of the morning, and actually felt a quite a bit better when I woke up compared to the previous day.

The 19th (a "Trail Friday" as I like to call the days we are going into town). We had roughly 6 miles until we came to the road crossing that would allow us to pick up a shuttle to the town of Franklin, NC. Foot feeling TONS better today. Still a little tender, but hardly painful. My knee is still a little problematic at times, and now my left calf muscle is sore due to compensating for my sore foot and knee. At least I know that can be stretched out and will get better quickly. Didn't expect it, but today ended up having a serious climb to the top of a ridge. I had to stop at the top to catch my breath and relax for a bit. My sinus issue was really slowing me down today. We passed Standing Indian Gap, then made it to the road crossing for Franklin. We called for a shuttle and Ron Haven (apparently famous along the trail) came to pick us up. Got a hilarious rundown of Franklin and some history on the area. As we were in the bus headed down the mountains to town, my ears got plugged and my hearing diminished. We finally got to the Budget Inn, and after taking a hot shower, both ears were clogged and it was hard to hear people next to me. Too late for a clinic run now. Walked down to McDonalds to grab us guys a snack to hold us over while we did laundry. 3 Big Macs please :). 81 degrees read the bank sign. Nice and toasty. Went to have a good meal at the Motor Car Grille. Sirloin tips, Caesar salad, fries. Then time for some nice sleep in a bed.

Friday, March 16, 2012

First state crossing: Georgia - North Carolina

I guess I got a little caught up in things the past few days. Here's a recap bringin' y'all up to speed.

After the rain on the 12th (I think), it didn't rain the next day (13th?). Slept with my damp coat in my sleeping bag. The trick worked and it was dry when I woke up. Ran into Headin Out and Taggin Along once again. Always a cheery couple! We packed up wet tents and headed out. Stopped for lunch when it got sunny and pretty hot and dried things out really well. Repacked and headed back on the trail til we got to the top of Tray Mtn by the shelter. Met Doc, Seth, Seth's trail friend (not sure we got her name), and Peyton. Good elevation and view out over a valley. While cooking dinner on my homemade alcohol burning stove, I pulled a good one. After boiling water for mashed potatoes (delicious by the way, garlic flavor currently being my favorite trail food), I had a little too much alcohol left in the stove. I tried putting the flame out but in the process knocked it over, spilling (and igniting) a rock outcropping I was sitting on. When I moved something out of the way so it wouldn't catch on fire, the wore mesh pot stand flipped over and rolled off te cliff. Awesome, right? I looked briefly for it but gave up and had to laugh at the stupidity of cooking on a slanted rock cliff. Oh, forgot to mention that right as I sat down to start cooking, my alcohol fuel bottle tipped over and rolled toward the cliff, luckily being caught on a small ledge. Chris and another guy saw it happen, but none of us could do anything but laugh. Hey, at least the mashed potatoes tasted great!

On the 14th, we hiked about 9 miles or so and were picked up just outside Hiawassee, GA by our friend Jim who we had met the night before we started the hike. We drove into town to pick up our food resupply boxes at the Blueberry Patch Hiker Hostel, which even though they were technically closed due to family reasons, the owner was still taking in hiker boxes. Jim took us to the laundromat, which was unfortunately closed so we had to go just up the road to North Carolina to do laundry. My first time there. We finished that up then went to dinner at the Bear Diner where the Habitat for Humanity group that Jim works with, had an event going on. If you ate there, 10% of your bill went to Habitat. Always feels good to contribute, however this one was easy, plus we were hungry for a real meal! Had a burger, fries, and a Guiness then we got a tour of Hiawassee (cool little mountain town with a beautiful lake) and headed over to Jim and Maggie's house. We enjoyed some great pie and milk as we sat out on their screened in porch overlooking the lake at night. Heard and shared some great stories that night, and got to check out Jim's hobby of building remote control airplanes. He's got some serious talent and a passion for planes and building them! After a great night of sleep, woke up and had a great breakfast that Jim and Maggie made, then it was off to the post office to ship some of Brian and Chris' items home. Maggie then took us over to the Blueberry Patch Hostel and dropped us off to wait for Brian's new (hopefully drier) tent to arrive via UPS. It was hard saying bye to Jim and Maggie. They set the Trail Angel bar extremely high. If you two are reading this, THANK YOU, and I hope to see you two again soon! You are great people!

This brings us to the 15th. AKA the day of sitting around doing nothing, and waiting for a stinkin package. Just kidding Brian! The day was anything but "doing nothing". Gary, the owner of the B-Patch was kind enough to let us stay at the hostel and wait for the box to show up. We sat around for a while, fed the donkeys, fed the goats, then Gary took us up on our offer to give him a hand if he needed with things. We were put to work loading up chopped wood from a neighbor's (about a mile down the road) property and unloading and stacking it at the B-Patch. Three truckloads later and Gary decided to call lunch time. We headed into town for Daniel's buffet. Once again ran into Headin Out and Taggin Along. Had a huge meal and headed back to the B-Patch as rain started slowly coming down. Right then we realized we left our stuff out to dry. Fortunately it had only drizzled when we got back and our things weren't wet. Back to it for the fourth and final truckload of firewood. The package arrived shortly after 7:30pm, and Gary had said we could stay at the hostel that night if the package got there too late for us to hit the trail. We took him up on it. The place hadn't even opened for the season yet, but Gary was very thankful for our help and wanted to help us out by letting us stay. It was both interesting and exciting to meet and spend some time with someone who is so devoted to doing everything "fer the Lord". We became the first 2012 season's hikers to stay at the Blueberry Patch Hostel, which is also the 20th year of it being in service! After these past few days of unbelievable hospitality toward complete strangers (us), it's clear to see that there are still great people in this world who truly love helping others. A good friend recently told me "actions are powerful and necessary, but the intentions of your heart matter most". I hope I can take these people's examples and incorporate more of this into my life.

And now to today. Got a good nights sleep at the B-Patch, and it was back to the trail today. Gary drove us back up to the trail and as we approached the trailhead, some trail magic caught my eye. On a table lay 2 beers, chips, and salsa from a trail name "Hat". Too early for chips and salsa, but beer?! Jackpot! Old No.38 Stout by Mendocino Brewing Company. Delicious, and kinda ironic that that's the beer we got, because Mendocino is located both in Saratoga Springs, NY where I lived, and not too far away from where I lived in Cali. I practiced some self control too. As badly as I wanted to take the other beer along for later, I felt thankful for what we got, and left the other for some other hikers to enjoy. Later on down the trail, Some of that good karma must have found me quickly as I ran into Craftsman (who we had met on Blood Mtn and seen with Medicine Man a few days back), who asked if I wanted a beer. He said I would be helping him lower his pack weight. I took one for the team and helped him out :). We hiked along with Craftsman to a point where we ate lunch. While we were sitting there, Hat came along and we thanked him for our 10am beer treat. A good ole boy from Texas. 10 miles later we reached a sign and also milestone. We had reached out next state...North Carolina! Pulled into Bly Gap and decided to set up camp. Brian's throat is bothering him, we are all a little worn out (not sure how, considering we had a zero day: a day without putting on any miles), and my foot I had surgery on about 4 years ago was swollen and bothering me. Luckily I was able to use my stove without the pot stand to heat some water up for Brian's soup dinner and my mashed potatoes. I think it will be nice switching out to the Snow Peak Litemax Titanium stove in a few days when I meet up with my package en route. A little rain that blew in out of nowhere, but was quickly over. Hoping and praying for a dry night and a less painful day for all of us tomorrow.

Monday, March 12, 2012

How bout that for a Monday?!

Spirits were high after laundry, shower, and repacking to a lower weight. Today was a little lower. Rained a little at night, rained in the morning, rained at lunch, rained in the afternoon, rained in the evening...heck, rained all day and still hadn't stopped. Raincoat waterproof, or so they claim. Pants muddy and soaked. Boots muddy but overall dry. Third time using this new tent, and Chris and I both have some leaking. Hopefully Big Agnes tent company will respond to urgent email and help soon!

Hoping for some dry days ahead!

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Re-learning to Hike - First 5 days recap

3/7 Got into ATL, picked up by Rob and went to run last minute errands before grabbing a bite to eat at Chilis. Headed up to Amicalola Falls State Park where the start of the Approach Trail is or the AT. Met up with Amy's parents and two sisters who were staying at the lodge. We stayed at the shelter there. Why not? It was free! Rob, thanks again for the lift to the trailhead! You were a huge help!

3/8 Breakfast with Amy's parents at Amicolola Lodge. Took a while to get packed up and organized for the first day's trek. Hiked 11:30 to about 16:30/17:00, 7.5 miles or so. Only hiked about a mile or so on the actual AT. Officially reached the Southern Terminus at Springer Mountain. 1st time cooking with Rockstar stove. Slept in the shelter loft at Springer Mtn.

3/9 Rained like crazy last night. When we got to Hawk Mtn, Will said there were about 30 ppl there last night all headed for Gooch shelter. We were going to stay at Hawk, but decided to go ahead to find water and camp there. Hiked 14 miles, shockingly and thankfully no rain at all, 2500 ft camping elev at Justice Creek. Met Headin Out and his wife Just Taggin Along from Michigan, second time doing AT. Broke Gatorade cap today. Hot spots on feet and sore hips.

3/10 first trail magic, styrofoam container with packed bags. Orange, ding dong, chips, coke. Jim Dog and Suzanne, first trail angels at Woody's Gap, had more goodies for hikers and said son White Fang, and friend Dr. Bundy ahead. 10 miles to Lance creek. Another hiker said they saw a bear, but we didn't see it.

3/11 Blisters and hot spots not too bad today. Cut blisters open last night before bed to drain. Hiked 7 miles to Neels Gap where there was a mountain shop. $3 shower, $3 laundry. Weighed in at 30 pounds with a little water left. Got resupply box for the next 3-4 days out on trail. Had 2 dinners, 1 breakfast, and 4 1000 calorie packs left. Set off with 3 dinners, 3 lunches, 3 breakfasts, 6 1000 calorie packs, protein mix, and an extra bag of misc food. I've realized I'm currently carrying more food than I need to and almost forcing some food down to make sure I'm packing in calories. My body needs to figure this out. However, we have heard that after about 3 weeks, eating will get more intense. Sent home sunglasses, thermal top, fleece top. Had a $5 hiker special: hotdog, soda, and candy bar. Filled up water and weighed out at 35 pounds. Pumped! Now to get down to 30! Chris isn't too happy after weighing out at 47 pounds, which is two pounds heavier than when we started 4 days ago! We're supposed to get lighter Chris! The guy eats like an animal and hikes like one too. Go figure, the lightest guy has the heaviest pack. I'm determined he'll be I've of the lightest in the end. Hiked an additional 1.5 miles or so and set up camp. $5 special not so special. End up camping right next to 3 guys. Dr. Bundy says his name and I realize that his buddy must be White Fang! Stoked not only to have run into these guys, but to camp right next to them too! We chatted about gear and experiences around a fire. Good times and spirits high! Temps on the other hand looking to be a little low tonight. 31 degrees we were told. Oh well, no rain, so I'm alright with that.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012


A long, but thankfully distracted, train and bus ride brought me to Santa Barbara, California. Agenda for the two days to follow consisted of gear and food preparation. I had a good base of gear that had been purchased via stores online and the "local", yet unfortunately 1 hour away, REI. I say unfortunately, but after hearing that Chris was going to the REI in town just about every day and returning just shy of everything he purchased, maybe it's a good thing! It definitely caused me to do a lot of research into products before buying them. I do have to comment on the power of opinions an reviews from the hiking community that are found scattered around the Internet. Having a lot of options when it comes to gear is good, but at the same time, can become confusing. Outdoor gear companies could probably drum up some serious business if they found a way to sponsor hikers and other outdoor enthusiasts. True, there are sponsored athletes out there, but I think the better gear opinion suggestions came from your average Joe Hiker.

I did reach out to a handful of companies regarding sponsorships, even partial, but with no luck. It was good to hear back from those who did reply, and great to hear that some were focusing on supporting non-profits. Kudos to those who are in it for more than just the money! Hopefully more of us can follow your example.

So two days were spend going through already purchased gear, buying additional items, packing, unpacking, and repacking. When I got to the point where I thought I had all my gear packed pretty well, I couldn't fit the two rolls of toilet paper. Problem quickly solved as I realized I wouldn't need toilet paper if I didn't bring food to eat. Oh no. How the heck was all this stuff going to fit in this one pack??? For those of you with pack or volume knowledge, we are talking about a 60 liter pack. To me, that's fairly large. First panic moment...maybe. After unpacking again, reorganizing, and repacking, everything but water and fuel were accounted for (those can go on the outside of the pack). This was one moment I was waiting for. How much weight would I be schlepping on my back day in and day out? 33 pounds. Water and fuel should come in around another 5 to 5.5 pounds, bringing my total pack weight to about 38.5 pounds. Not bad considering I aimed for 30, hoped to hit 40, and realized that it may go as high as 50. There will be a pack scale to weigh in at the start of the trail, also known as the "southern terminus".

Special thanks to Chris' wife Amy, and his brother Tyler for spending hours and a great effort figuring out and preparing high calorie meals for us to eat. Also, thank you in advance for keeping us fed in the future too. Normally people who are at all concerned about their nutrition aim for low calorie foods. We won't quite be taking the Michael Phelps approach, but we will be aiming for about 5,000-6,000 calories a day. Some of these items include tuna packets, Ramen, sausage, cheese, crackers, tortillas, peanut m&m's, snickers bars, trail mix, fruit and nut medleys, pine nuts, Mac & cheese, instant potatoes, protein bars, granola bars, peanut butter filled pretzels, and some sour patch kids thrown in for fun.

Sounds like some healthy meals, right? Haha. Even with the high calorie and fat content, I'm told there's a good chance I'll lose some weight. As a benchmark, I weighed in yesterday just shy of my average, at 185 pounds. Will be interesting to see how my body reacts to this chance from desk jockey to hiking machine. I also decided to cut my hair and clean shave. The plan is to let it go during the hike. We will see if that doesn't become annoying!

Just getting to Atlanta now where my buddy Rob will pick us up and we will head north toward Amicalola Falls State Park where we will meet up with Amy's family. We will stay in our first, but certainly not last, trailside shelter.

For those of you who expressed interest in sending care packages along the way for nourishment, enjoyment, encouragement, and motivation, the best upcoming place to send a package/letter is listed below. We expect to be there around March 28. This place (along with numerous others along the trail that I will mention) will hold packages for about a month.

Ryan Simko - AT Hiker
C/o Bluff Mountain Outfitters
152 Bridge St
P.O. Box 114
Hot Springs, NC 28743

As I'm not sure if I'll be able to post anything tomorrow after we pound out some miles, I'll leave you with words from Alexander Supertramp (aka Christopher McCandless)...

"No longer to be poisoned by civilization he flees, and walks alone upon the land to become LOST IN THE WILD"

Sunday, March 4, 2012

One way ticket on a southbound train

Countdown: 4 days to hike start

Friday was anything but normal or relaxing. Moved out of my (weirdest living situation) apartment in the morning, got into work a little late, ate a hotdog at 10am (breakfast of champions), went to a meeting to hear our CEO talk about the company's financial situation and plans, left for lunch to move my motorcycle to a friend's garage, ate leftovers back at work, rushed to final leadership/manager meeting, wrapped up things at work (unfortunately not getting to say "later" to all I wanted to), then headed back to odd apartment to meet with landlord and to move couch out, then off to the gym for a final "normal" workout.

A weekend of very little trail planning has been great. Enjoyed spending it with friends and some very special people to me. As I sit here typing this, I'm on a southbound train from Merced to Santa Barbara via Bakersfield to meet up with the man, myth, and legend Chris Clemens, and new friend Brian Sarvis.

After a little over a year in Merced, I can't say I have a strong connection to it. Not really my kind of town. BUT, the past few days and weeks have made me realize that I do have connections with some people, places, and things in the area. Going to miss the good people at work, my fellow gym rats, and great training from trainer, mentor, motorcycle riding buddy, and good friend Harry. Also very blessed to have been introduced to a new church and the family that makes it what it is. Thanks to Harry once again for inviting me to check it out, to all those who accepted me, and to an inspiring, passionate, and hilarious Pastor Rick. A special thank you to The Moe's for taking me into your lives, home, and kitchen :). You are great people! And to all those to whom I call friend, thanks for the good times!

Just over 2 hours on the train, with another 5 or so left. It's dark outside, but I think we are going through cow pastures. I hope numerous days on the trail without a shower doesn't make me smell anything like this! So what's in store for the next two days? Pulling all my gear together, including a choice of three potential backpacks that I haven't tried out yet, and brainstorming with Chris and Brian to double check what we need and don't need. Overall, I'm aiming for a total pack weight of 40 pounds. Broken down, this will consist of 20 pounds of dry weight (everything else except food and water), plus 20 (possibly 25) pounds of food and water. The next two days are going to be the time to really evaluate what I have been planning to bring, and what I will actually bring, with the aim of getting my pack to the lightest weight possible. We will be breaking weight down to pounds and even ounces. I agree with Chris...we will be working with pints during this time too. Mmm... beer. How I will miss thee. Luckily, there are breweries (oh, and an REI) in town to help us out!

As promised, some facts about the trail:
-At almost 2200 miles, the Appalachian Trail is the longest marked trail in the United States

-The A.T. is marked by more than 160,000 "blazes" 6 inches by 2 inches in size. Primarily found on trees,
one can follow the trail of blazes all the way from Georgia to Maine

-Of the thousands of hikers who attempt to thru-hike (from Georgia to Maine in one shot), only 1 in 4 make it

-The A.T. passes through 14 states: Georgia, Tennessee, North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York,
Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine

-More than 250 shelters can be found along the trail. Sometimes called a "lean-to", the shelters are generally a three-walled structure with a wooden floor and roof

-It is estimated that 5 million steps are required to complete the trail

-Vigorous backpackers can complete the A.T. in four months, but most hikers require 5 to7 months

-The highest point on the A.T. is 6625 feet at Clingman's Dome in The Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Friday, March 2, 2012

Every ending is a new beginning

Happy Friday! And that it is!

It's still hard to believe the change that will be happening today. After just over 5 1/2 years working at Quad/Graphics, today is my last day with the company.

I was given the great opportunity to join such a great company, and one that has truly felt like a family to me. I've worked hard to prove myself as more than just "some punk college kid", and have been rewarded time and time again.

Having moved to 4 different states with Quad, I've had the opportunity to see many new places, experience new things, and form new relationships. No amount of thanks can explain how much I appreciate what people have done for me over the years. Taking me under their wing, taking me into their home, keeping me fed :), teaching me new things, and overall going above and beyond just accepting me. Thanks to all who have touched my life in some way! I hope I have somehow returned that favor.

When I relocated to Saratoga Springs, NY, my love for everything outdoors exploded! I decided to go on a hike in the Adirondack Mountains near Lake Placid one weekend by myself. That was only the beginning. From there I kept hiking more and more, and eventually found a few great groups of friends who enjoyed getting out and exploring with me. From long hikes and camping trips, to snowboarding and snowshoeing, and getting lost in caves for hours, we had a blast getting out there and enjoying Mother Nature!

This brings me to the next chapter in my life. Through these experiences, I found a true passion for the outdoors, and at the same time, realized that I'm probably better suited for a career that is in line with my passions in life, and hopefully something that keeps me active. Being a desk jockey just doesn't stimulate me enough these days! As the title of this post states, "every ending has a new beginning", today marks the end of working at Quad, but the beginning of a new adventure! In an effort to get away from the crazy hustle and bustle of everyday life, and to be able to think about things and focus on what is important to me, I will be leaving California to head back to the East Coast to hike the Appalachian Trail. If you're not familiar with it, it's a marked trail that runs from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine. That's roughly 2,184 miles, which should take about 5-6 months to complete.

On March 7, I will be flying from Los Angeles to Atlanta. I'll begin the hike with Chris Clemens (a college roommate and friend), and Brian Sarvis (a friend of Chris' through Rotary Club). The plan is that Chris and I will be thru hikers, going the entire distance in one shot. Brian will be hiking for about 6 weeks with us, then will go back home for a while, only to meet up with us down the trail in the Northeast to hike again and to celebrate our completion. We are three different guys with various backgrounds and interests, and I'm pumped to be going on this adventure with these gentlemen!

I'll post more over the next few days as I spend time in Santa Barbara with the other guys, finishing up preparations for the trail (which includes beer and good food!). I'll review gear, post some facts about the trail, and post information on how you can send some goodies (ie- twinkies, slim jims, words of wisdom, clean socks and underwear, etc) to me for motivation, if you so choose.

While I'm by no means leaving my job because of anything negative the company has done to me, nor will I be flipping off any of my bosses, I love these lyrics, and you can be sure this song will be pumping through my earbuds at some point today!

"Quit my job flipped off the boss took my name of the payroll" - Jason Aldean

Thursday, March 1, 2012


Welcome to my Appalachian Trail blog, and my first blog posting ever! The plan is to use this as a channel to keep y’all (practicing for The South) up to date during the Georgia to Maine ADVENTURE OF A LIFETIME!

Enjoy the adventure!