Wednesday, April 25, 2012

4.24.12 - Back to Back Days of High Miles and Trail Magic

Woke up and had my delicious breakfast drink of Starbucks VIA instant coffee, chocolate protein mix, instant milk, and water while I laid in my sleeping bag. Gave it 10 minutes to let the caffeine start doing its work, then got moving. A brisk, cold morning, but no snow or rain, so much more tolerable. Got warmed up as we got hiking and throughout the day had to keep putting on and taking off a layer with the wind and temp changes.

Came to Trimpi Shelter that was nice, including a nice privy as well. From reading the shelter log, it looks like the fireplace was well used the past few nights to keep the hikers inside warm. Wimps! We slept outside in our tents. Just kidding. The wind can blow in those shelters and be very cold. Flosser actually had snow coming in through the peak at Thomas Knob shelter just below Mt Rogers the other night. Regina Ridgerunner was there and talked to us for a while. Also had a message from my twin, Phoenix, telling me that adding to her list of injuries and gear mishaps, that she had now fallen and bent her trekking pole, and now she has a big hole in her outside pocket of her backpack too. She also asked if I wanted to swap gear with her. Haha. Silly girl. Luckily I haven't matched a lot of her mishaps lately.

After our quick break, we headed out and low and behold, who do we run into on the trail out of the shelter back to the AT??? Houdini! Crazy guy. Still showing up everywhere. He'd stayed at a hostel 2 miles off trail last night where his resupply was. We hiked on a little further and came across a couple who talked to us for a bit, and mentioned they left trail magic at a bridge on the other side of the mountain we were about to climb. Amazing how much faster we move when trail magic is ahead and we know about it! Got to the bridge and found a cooler with Pepsi and root beer, and a huge plastic tub with foods like Ramen, oatmeal, crackers and popcorn, oatmeal cream pies, nutrigrain bars, snack packs pudding, and hard candy. I grabbed a root beer and an oatmeal pie to add to my lunch and devoured them. Trail mix 4 days in a row! Pretty spoiled, and I love it.

After some more (you guessed it)... hiking, we came to Partnership Shelter. A super nice shelter built by the Forest Service, with a shower, sink, and a nearby restroom. This is the shelter hikers get excited about because you can order a pizza and have it delivered just a few hundred yards away at the Mt Rogers welcome center. Houdini showed up a little while after we got there (shocker), and while Flosser, Tarzan and I ate our meals we already had, he and The Mules ordered pizza. Sounded good, but we decided to forego it and moved on about 3 miles from the shelter, knowing that we are going to be eating at a place called The Barn tomorrow, and they have a burger called The Hiker Burger. A one pound burger that I doubt I'll have any problem destroying! We will also hit our resupply tomorrow at the place where we will be staying, and getting showers and doing laundry. What we planned would take 6 days, we should finish in 4.5 days, thanks to some higher mile days. Downside is that my feet are pretty sore and my legs are a little too. All good though. Feeling strong!

All in all, another 18-19 mile day, and looking forward to hitting some good food tomorrow for lunch!

4.23.12 - What Planet Are We On? And the 500th Mile Milestone!

Woke up to about 2 inches of snow on the ground. The wind was howling all last night and caused some drifting too. There was a drift against the door of my tent about a third of the way up. It was a pretty cold night, but I slept alright considering. The temp in my tent at one point showed 20 degrees, which I'm guessing would have made the temp outside 15, maybe lower. Getting my tent packed up without gloves was the hardest part of the morning. Tarzan had some trouble getting out food bags down out of the tree because the rope had frozen to the tree limb. When I put my pack on, I heard sort of a crunching, cracking noise. I had heard a few other hikers who've had the same pack as me say that they cracked the plastic frame sheet. I told Tarzan about the noise and hoped that wasn't it. Sure enough, when I just laid down in my tent, I checked out the sheet and it's got a crack toward the bottom about an inch long or so. Must have been the frigid temps. Gotta figure out what to do. Could get a replacement frames sheet, or maybe go with the Granite Gear Crown that is lighter and uses a different frame type that won't crash.

Once we started hiking, I started warming up. I've winter hiked and camped before, but it's a different story when you plan to go out onto winter conditions with coats, snow pants, gloves, etc., compared being in the middle of it on the AT. Can't carry all the cold weather clothes with, so today I was wearing just about everything I had. Short sleeve shirt, long sleeve shirt, Montbell synthetic jacket, raincoat, pants, socks, shoes, and a pair of socks on my hands. As we hiked up, we were out of the trees and getting hit with what another hiker thought was about 50 mph winds. The wind chill was nasty! Snow was pelting me in the face as the wind blew it across the trail. Then it would switch directions and blow right at us. Not far into our hike we met Chance, a Triple Crowner (meaning he's hiked the Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail, and the Continental Divide Trail). Luckily he was in front of us, because had I turned the corner and came across the wild pony first, I'm not sure what I would have done. It was all mange looking, tiny, snowed on, looked cold and lost, but was friendly and came right up to each of us. Grayson Highlands State Park was coming up soon and there are supposed to be a bunch of wild ponies and horses there. We didn't see any though. I think the nasty wind and snow had something to do with it. It was a bummer because I bet the areas we hiked up across had some great views up at 5,000+ ft. Felt like we were on another planet with the sudden winter weather.

We kept pushing on from one shelter to another, to another where another hiker had come from the road below and said there were people at the road with a tarp set up and a fire. My head went straight to thinking trail magic. We headed down and sure enough, there it was! Chili, lasagna, beer, hot cocoa, strawberries, bananas, donettes, cinnamon swirls, crackers, etc! Amazing! I had some hot cocoa, lasagna, strawberries, a banana, and some donettes, and sat by the fire. The temp had warmed a little as we descended, but all that extra warmth from the food was greatly appreciated. We hiked on and finally made it to a spot about 6 miles or so past the trail magic.

Knocked out 19 miles today. Somewhere during the course of the day, we hit the 500th mile we've hiked! Now that's a milestone! Feels great after knocking out 18-19 yesterday too! We will see how my body feels in the morning. I'm expecting to be a little sore just like every morning, but it usually goes away fairly quickly. A little windy and temp in my tent is currently reading about 35. Should be better than last night.

Tarzan and I are going to experiment with having one day less of food than we currently are planning for each resupply, sent to us so that we will have lighter packs. The theory would be that lighter packs mean we hike longer and possibly faster, which reduces our days between resupplies, come into town with less or no uneaten food, and also causes us to finish sooner. We will see.

4.22.12 - Fog, cold, and SNOW!

Got a great night of sleep last night. Decided to shelter it, and despite ending up right next to a snorer, I think I was out in less than 5 min. No one else showed up to the shelter after we arrived, other than the Boy Scouts looking for the rest of their group, so it was just 4 of us in the shelter and Tarzan in his tent. Rained a good portion of the night, but had stopped when I woke up around 6:45am. Tried something new for breakfast today. Whenever we go into a town, I always get a quart of chocolate milk. 1- because I realize I don't get enough calcium while on the trail, 2- because it has a lot of calories, and 3- because chocolate milk is just plain delicious. So at the grocery store in Damascus, Tarzan and I picked up some powdered milk. This morning I mixed powdered milk, chocolate protein mix, and Starbucks VIA instant coffee. It was amazing! Like an iced coffee to go! I think I'll be continuing this! At least until my Starbucks that my brother in law, Aaron hooked me up with, runs out. Then I'll have to go to some cheaper brand. What can I say, the Starbucks is great, but I'm a hiker on a budget!

Hiked a lot of uphill today, going from around 3,000 ft to about 5,400 ft. Most of the day was consistent uphill that challenged my legs and lungs. A girl hiking told us about some trail magic ahead at a bridge on the Creeper Trail. The Creeper is an old railroad bed that was turned into a long and scenic bike path. Very popular, yet this is the first I've heard of it. Looks really great. I'd like to come back some day to ride it. Got to the trail magic, which looked like some leftover food another hiker had left on a bench. Although, I scored some Coleman Southwest Chili, and Flosser took a giant protein meal replacement bar. We made it to a shelter 6 miles from where we left this morning and had lunch. Some other hikers we know got creative and designed Hiker Monopoly and drew it on the floor of the shelter. Looked awesome! Had lunch and headed back to the trail. Shortly down the trail we came to a road and when crossing a creek to get to the road, found some Modelo beer chilling in the cold water, and a single Coke. We took a break and enjoyed it!

Got back to the trail and hit some serious rocky uphill. Made it up to Buzzard Rocks, but couldn't see anything as we were in a cloud. It was cold and windy too. Pushed on and made it past Whitetop Mountain, then descended to a road before starting more of the climb up to Mt Rogers. There it was foggy, cold, and windy too. We ran into a hiker who had been picking and eating what he and his friend thought were wild onions. Not sure if they were or not, but his friend had been throwing up for a while today, so someone was coming to pick him up. And THAT is why I don't forage for food, thank you. We took advantage of the bathroom there, and even used it to step into to put more clothes on for our next ascent. Cold, foggy, and windy as we climbed over the bald area. The trees offered some nice cover from the wind, but it began sleeting on us a little. Climbed up up and up to Thomas Knob Shelter about 300 vertical feet and half a mile below the summit of Mt Rogers. Tarzan took a nice slip and fall off a rock onto the ground. Luckily he was alright and before he was able to get up I asked him to stay in position so I could get a picture. Tons of horse dung on the trail. There are wild ponies and horses that roam this mountain and the park we came to next called the Grayson Highlands. Flosser took a spot in the nearly full shelter. Tarzan and I went to get water then searched around for camping spots out of the nasty wind. Finally found a decent spot, and it started sleeting as we set up tents. Made the chili I had picked up, and it was amazing, especially considering the temp was now just below 30 degrees. I got out to go hang the food bags in a tree, and it was snowing and accumulating on the ground and our tents already! That is something we haven't seen yet on the trail. Unfortunately we already sent home our warmer sleeping pads when we swapped out for the Big Agnes pads we are field testing for them! Luckily we still have our winter sleeping bags though!

It's gonna be a cold one. My temp is currently reading 25 degrees in my tent and I can hear the snow building up and then sliding off the sides. Looking forward to some more moderate temps, and currently wishing I was in a warm house in front of a fireplace right now!

Brrrrrrrr. Night.

4.21.12 - Oh the Rain

Hard to leave town after having a good time and especially knowing that a nasty storm was supposed to roll in on the day that you and all of your dry, clean gear are rolling out. However, it is a good feeling getting back on the trail. The weight of a fully loaded pack with 6 days of food is pretty heavy, but that weight drops pretty quickly. After having some coffee with Mad Hat, Cheese It, and The Teton boys, I weighed my pack at Sundog Outfitters, and weighed in at 37 pounds fully loaded with gear, food, and a liter and 3/4 of water. Not too bad, but still striving to find the balance between going lightweight, but also having certain comforts on the trail.

Took a while to get the legs going on the trail late morning, and about 8 miles into the day, the rain hit, and hard. Only lasted about 15-20 minutes, but it soaked my shorts, shoes, and socks. As much as I hate hiking in the rain, I'm SLOWLY coming to grips with it. Can't do much about it. My buddy Torrey reminded me the other day of something we'd say about being anxious about things. It was a little twist off of a passage during some Bible study time, that I think helps both of us at times to reduce some anxiety. In the case of rain, it was "don't freak out about the rain. It's already freaking out about itself". Thanks for that reminder Torrey! 2 more miles and we made it to the first shelter (Saunders) after Damascus, VA.

Two boy scouts showed up and asked if we'd seen the rest of their group that was supposed to be coming to the first shelter. They had no plan, neither did the rest of their group (including the adults)! From my days in Boy Scouts, it's easy to recall the motto "Be Prepared". Way to go boys (and parents). And we wonder why so many kids are led astray these days...

Got a fire going with the help of Chef's cotton pads with petroleum jelly between. Started a fire even with wet conditions. The rain had stopped, but gear was still wet. Got a drying rack set up next to the fire and dried out socks, shoes (for the most part), insoles, and clothes. Made some dinner and hung out around the fire with Chef and Firepants for a while. Tarzan hit the sheets early to try and kill whatever is making him congested. Hopefully that passes soon, and the Three Amigos will be at 100% hiking strength and can pound some miles out.

Oh, don't know who left the root beer and PBR along the trail today, but thanks for the trail magic! It's been a while since we had some. Still looking forward to stumbling upon someone making burgers and hotdogs along a road crossing for trail magic!

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Quick Rundown of the Past 3 Days (including a state change!)

4.18.12 - rained ALL night and a lot of the day. It wasn't a heavy rain, but it just came down and didn't stop til about 2:30pm. I hiked ahead of the group, got to a shelter, had lunch, and had to get moving as I was getting colder and colder. Put my head down, and hiked fast, 8 miles to the next shelter, in just under 2 hours! Nothing to see anyway in the and fog, so I busted along. Caught up to Houdini at Double Springs shelter at 2pm and I stayed there to warm up and wait for for the rest of the crew. All in all about 13 miles today.

4.19.12 - much drier and warmer. Hiked 16 miles, crossed the Tenn/Virginia border, and camped 2 miles outside of Damascus. Camped with Coffee-to-go, from Germany. He said something about hiking into town for real food. I thought he was joking. He wasn't. We took nothing with us and made 2 miles into Damascus in 30 min. Went to Quincy's and had a few drinks with a bunch of hikers. Finally saw Phoenix again, and could celebrate her belated birthday. Girl's crazy! 2 sprains on her ankle and still hiking. Went to Food City per Coffee's request at 11:30pm. It was hilarious! He was blown away at going to a grocery store after 9pm, the selection of food, and being there with an American who could tell him what things were. We had to find everything he wanted to get the next day. We left with only a blueberry pie. Hiked back up to the campsite and got in around 1am. Rehung the bear bag with the pie, and went to bed.

4.20.12 - woke up to a 1/4 of a blueberry pie that Coffee left for us. The other guys didn't want it, so I ate it. Great stuff! Hiked 2 miles into town with the rest of the crew, and got town things done. Laundry, food resupply, outfitter, and caught a hitch from Mountain Man to Pizza Plus buffet! Ate A LOT! Needed a new hip belt for my pack since I've lost the weight, and they hooked me up with one at Sundog Outfitters for just $3! When we got into town, we went to the house Big E's mom was renting. Planned to just get showers and head out, but ended up hanging out there all night and crashed there. Kitty showed up, Fatherman, DK, Big E, Bubblefoot, Banana, and a few other hikers came by to play cornhole (bean bag toss) and hang out to great music. Tarzan and I had a heck of a run playing cornhole but ended up losing in a close game. Felt like we were back at Ball State! Tarzan and Flosser slept out on the porch, and I found a little nook that was made under the stairs with some pillows thrown down. Great night in town! Supposed to storm bad tomorrow. Not looking forward to heading back out into that!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

4.17.12 - A Comfort, and Bob People-isms

Last night I slept great! Amy sent my inflatable camping pillow (that I had gotten from my parents as a gift a few years ago) in our last resupply box. It's a little extra weight and bulk to carry in my pack, but I think it's gonna be worth it!

Nothing too out of the ordinary today. Came to Vandeventer Shelter after about 12 miles on the trail. Went to fill up with water from the "nearby" water source. Book said it was 0.3 miles down a steep hill. They weren't kidding about the steep hill! Took a while to get down, started up raining again (it started right after we got to the shelter), then it was a lot of work getting out of that ravine and back to the shelter.

This shelter was the second one after leaving Kinkora, and right on the trail, so well visited by thru hikers. There is usually graffiti on the walls, and this time was no exception. However, some of it was hilarious this time, talking about Bob Peoples (owner of Kinkora Hostel), just how people joke about Chuck Norris as an icon! One Chuck Norris-ism I remember as being my favorite is "Superman has a pair of Chuck Norris pajamas". A few of the Bob People-isms I found great were "When Bob Peoples stays in shelters, the mice bring him food", "When Bob Peoples builds a switchback, an angel gets its wings", and "Bears hang Bob Peoples bags". Great stuff that you may only find as funny as us had you met the man, the myth, and the legend himself.

Dumb point in the day:
Tarzan said something to me either mocking or making fun of me, and as I stood up and walked out of the shelter to go rough him up a little, I whacked my head on the overhang on the shelter. Apparently other people had been hitting their heads too. Tarzan got lucky that time!

The rain has moved in and is falling on my tent. Praying for a dry morning.


Monday, April 16, 2012

How to send a care package to me along the AT

Here are a few options for sending a care package (within the next month or so) while I'm on the trail if you'd like to. I know a few of you who have been following my blog have asked.

Some people have also asked for ideas of things to include. Junk food is usually great! Basically anything out of the norm (our norm is usually trail mix, peanut butter crackers, tuna, mashed potatoes, tortillas with nutella, and other common trail foods), is awesome to receive! One thing that Tarzan and I recently realized would be great in addition to the tasty treats, something that is light in weight (as we carry everything with us on our backs), and insanely delicious (and also usually available) when we get into towns, is McDonalds and Subway cards.

But let's be serious...I'm a hiker on a budget, so if you send it, chances are it will get eaten! Unless of course you're my aunt who thinks it'd be funny to send me a puppy. Puppies will not be eaten ;).

Anyway, below is info on how and where to send something to me within the next month or so if you'd like. I'll post more dates later for further down the trail. We still have about 1,700 miles, so feel free to hold off until later if you want (or if you're feeling really friendly, we won't turn down packages now and later).

Thanks in advance to those who have asked about how they can send some things our way! We really appreciate it!

Option 1 (we arrive around April 27):

Relax Inn
7253 Lee Hwy
Rural Retreat, VA 24368

Also, please write the following on the package: "Hold for thru hiker Ryan Simko. Estimated arrival April 27

Option 2 (we arrive around May 4):

Holiday motor lodge
401 North Main St
Pearisburg, VA 24134

Also, please write the following on the package: "Hold for thru hiker Ryan Simko. Estimated arrival May 4"

Option 3 (we arrive around May 11):

Howard Johnson Express Inn
437 Roanoke Road, Daleville, VA 24083

Also, please write the following on the package: "Hold for thru hiker Ryan Simko. Estimated arrival May 11"

4.16.12 - Rod Arrives, and Waiting for Packages

Tarzan's father-in-law drove down from Michigan and will be hiking with us for a little while. He's got a great plan. If after 5 days he feels content or feels as though he can't go any further, that's when he'll stop. If he decides he wants to go for up to about 2 weeks with us, then he may do just that. Just gonna base it off how things go. I think that's a great plan! Today, he got a little intro to the AT. We went into town and got lunch with Seiko and Nacho while waiting. After waiting for our USPS food resupply packages to show up (which finally showed up around 1:30 or 2:00), we had a great trek next to a river, through some canyons, and to Laurel Falls. After that, it was some serious uphill combined with some afternoon heat. Hopefully Rod is still here in the morning when we wake up. Just kidding! It may have been a bit of a tough intro, but I'm sure he'll do just fine!

6 miles from Kinkora Hostel up to Pond Flat. Don't let the name fool you though. There's no pond, and it's not flat. We should be hitting some uphill and downhill tomorrow then be on a nice rolling ridge as we head toward Virginia.


4.14.12 - Our First Bear Sighting, 400 Mile Mark, and a Big Mile Day

A lot of uphill in the morning and first half of the day, up and over more balds. We did make some killer time and had about 9 miles knocked out by noon! Today was shaping up to be a big mile day. Tarzan's shin is bothering him pretty good, and Flosser's knee isn't doing that well either, but they're still hiking.

Crossed a major road at lunch time, but no trail magic. Bummer! While we were sitting beside the road and some other vehicles, it started to smell bad as the wind blew from behind me. I know it's been about 5 days since I've showered but I thought there was no way I could smell that bad. Could I??? Tarzan looked behind me down the hill and saw a dead bear laying on the side of the hill. Nasty. We could see tons of flys swarming it. Time to move and eat lunch somewhere a little further away.

Hiked a while longer and came to a baptist church where a group of hikers was sitting outside resting. No trail magic, but a spigot with fresh water. I have a huge craving for a beer too, but that will have to wait and water will have to do for now.

Got back to hiking and came across a beautiful waterfall just off the trail.

Back to the trail after that short break, and hiked for what seemed like forever. The uphills were wearing me out and I was getting really hungry. Pushed through and made it to --------- Shelter, reaching the 400 mile mark on our journey! Tons of people stopped in but the pushed on. We did the same, as we wanted to reduce our mileage tomorrow to get into Kinkora where we plan to stay at the hostel and then meet up with Tarzan's father in law, Rod, to hike with us for a few days. Before we pushed on from the shelter I had to eat something. While I was making my ramen, I finished the rest of some jelly beans, ate two pop tarts, then ate the ramen. We hiked 3.6 miles further and decided to hike into a hostel that we didn't even know about, but heard Indiana and Rook talking about. 0.2 miles off the trail and we were greeted by an odd hostel owner and free Cokes. Nice! Tarzan and I didn't feel like spending money to stay when camping is free, so I bought a box of Mac and Cheese for $0.75, and we got back to the trail yet again! We hiked another mile or so and set up camp near Laurel Fork, at a little creek. I spilled a good portion of my noodles when draining water out of a ziplock bag. It's all good though because I was craving something cheesy, and that's exactly what I got. Half the noodles plus whole cheese packet equals excellent!

22 miles hiked today, and boy my feet know it! A blister in each ball of my feet. Not bad, but enough to be annoying. Should be a fairly easy and hopefully quick 12 miles into Kinkora Hostel tomorrow.

4.13.12 - Roan Mountain and THE HUNGER

This morning we hiked the remainder of the vertical to hit the top of Roan Mountain at 6,285 ft. In the late 1800's there was a hotel built at the top. Today only parts of the foundation remain, along with a parking lot, picnic tables, and restrooms. We enjoyed the warmth of the sun and the availability of trash cans for us to discard ours into. Gotta get rid of any extra weight we can. The hike down was pretty chilly. There were even a few spots that had ice covering the trail. Eventually as we went further down, we got warmer, and the trail turned into a really well done and maintained section. It was actually some comfortable, smooth hiking on it. We got to a water source and decided to get some. Go filter decides to be problematic again. Ugh. A brand new (due to replacement from the last one breaking for no good reason) filter should not have this many issues. If it continues, I'm going to be forced to drop money on a new one, because it's something that's necessary. Some people don't filter the water, saying it's clean, but I'm not willing to take a chance and get ghiardia. Not worth the risk. A lot of people have had good luck with the Steripen Adventure Opti. I think that's my backup should this one continue to perform like it is.

Made it down to a road crossing and ran into Houdini (used to be Jersey Steve). He was eating some lunch so we hung out for a while with him. In the meantime, a lady came up and introduced herself as Maine-iac's mom, and offered us soda. Sweet! After that and a trip to the extremely clean public restroom there (thank you US Forest Service), we were on our way up into the Roan Highlands. It was cool being in a different type of environment for a while. One bald to another, not socked in by trees.

Ran into an older couple, Pops and Gweem, who had pre-packed trail magic grab bags with things like hard boiled eggs, crackers, Handi snacks, snickers, a cutie (orange), and a butterscotch candy. Got to the next shelter just up the way and made all that trail magic disappear in a matter of a minutes. If there was any doubt in my mind after our last McDonald's experience that the hiker hunger they talk about had hit me, I was assured of it today. I don't have all that exciting of food in my backpack for the next few days, but I wanted to bust it open and eat it all!!! Dang the hunger. It's getting crazy!

We decided to stay at Overmountain Shelter, named after the Overmountain Men (note to research these guys more). The shelter was an old barn that had been restored for hikers to stay in. Great setting! Houdini and I went out and brought a bunch of firewood back. Ate dinner, crappy ramen, and a chunk of Houdini's Cabot cheese (note to buy some at next town), then we got a mean fire going. Eventually decided to all it a night. Slept in the top part of the barn. Says it can hold 20 people, but I'd say closer to 40.

Lacking with our miles, coming in at only 9 or 10, but worth the cool place to sleep at.

Oh, so supposedly this is one of the most haunted shelters on the AT, where people have heard and seen Confederate soldiers on the grounds (tied into the story of the Overmountain Men), and it's Friday the 13th! Some say scary. I say cool!

4.12.12 - Last Night Was COLD

Wow! Last night was freezing! I take that back...below freezing. I slept well from about 7:30 til midnight. After that was all tossing and turning. Around midnight (or was it 3am?), I woke up and looked at my thermometer inside my tent. 25 degrees! Chances are it was even colder outside my tent. Got out and packed up as quick as my hands would allow me to function, and got to hiking. Tarzan and Flosser weren't quite ready to leave, as they had ice on their tents when they woke up. It was odd. I was a little further down the hill in the apple orchard last night and there was absolutely no frost by me or on my tent. A few feet away up the hill was where the frost started on the ground.

Hiked 3 miles to the Greasy Creek Friendly Hostel by myself. Met CC, the owner, and Brian, another hiker. Tarzan and Flosser showed up shortly after. Those two and Brian ordered a home cooked breakfast, and I wasn't too hungry so I got the beverages I was craving and don't get on the trail...a glass of milk, a glass of OJ, and 2 cups of coffee.

We read in the AT guidebook about an "unfriendly" neighbor and were told more about him from CC. She said he often takes down her signs directing people to the hostel and messes with her and hikers. We witnesses this while we were standing outside the hostel loading up to head out. The old man went riding by on his ATV, Flosser looked at him and nodded with a smile as to say "hello". The neighbor stuck out his arm in a dramatic way, then flipped us the bird! For no reason! We wanted so badly to find a way to get back at this old, mean fart, but didn't want to do anything that would make him want to retaliate against CC or her hostel more. We hiked about 0.6 miles back to Greasy Creek and the AT junction and there were large logs and branches where we had started on the trail from a small campsite earlier that day. The old man took his ATV all the way up here just to rip down her signs, and block the path to her hostel!!! Can you believe that? So... The three of us took all of his "handiwork", broke as many of the branches and logs as we could, chucked some down into ravines and far away, and drug the others a distance away and lodged them between things. We are sure he'll
be back to do it again, but he will have to work to get it this time! Flosser also made some harder to notice notes for hikers pointing them toward the hostel. Maybe the grumpy old man won't see those. We aren't even sure why he is trying to run her business into the ground. She said he has posted numerous of his own signs out on the trail saying that she has had a death in the family or something else had happened and the hostel is closed. What a loser. Best of luck to CC and bless her for keepin on truckin'!

Hiked another 7 miles up a couple thousand feet to Ash Gap (5,350 ft). We have about 600 vertical feet over 1.5 miles to the top of Roan Mountain, which has the highest shelter on the entire AT at 6,275 ft. The mountain is at 6,285 ft. We won't reach anything that high again until we hit the Presidential Range in New Hampshire.

Here's to hoping for a warmer night. Hard to leave this warm fire I built and get into my tent.

Night all!

4.11.12 - Cold Cold Day

Woke up to about a 35-40 degree morning. Tough to get moving when it's that cold. Maybe I shouldn't have sent my gloves up to my friend Hilary in Saratoga Springs, NY yesterday! Even on the cold mornings we've had on the trail so far, it usually warms up as the day goes on. Today wasn't really one of those days. I did sleep all through the night last night without waking up coughing from congestion for the first time in a while. Got a great night of sleep on this new sleeping pad too. My other is rated warmer than this one and I could tell a little last night, but overall, I was happy with my good night of rest!

It was really windy all day, and most of the time, I could see my breath. In the middle of the day I looked at Tarzan's thermometer and it read 50 in the sun. Felt much colder than that, in the sun or not.

Stopped at the next shelter, Cherry Shelter, pumped some water from the stream, ate some snacks, talked to Froot Loop and some other hikers we hadn't met before, including 2 strange guys chopping wood with a hatchet. We decided to move on another 4 miles toward a camping area. Ended up at a place called Apple Orchard. Oddly enough, we set up camp among some apple trees. At 7:30pm, the sun is still up, and the temp I'm showing is already down to 30 degrees. We are in for a cold night tonight, and most likely a bitter morning too. We are about 3 miles out from a hostel where Tarzan gets to pick up his new phone. We are hoping they have coffee and hot cocoa ready for us when we arrive!

Brrrrrrrr! Not going to want to get out of my bag tomorrow.

4.15.12 - A Trail Name, 18 Deep in a Truck, and Kinkora

Today was a tender hiking day. We pulled a 9 mile day and a 10 mile day, followed by a 22 mile day. The 22 mile day really got me this time. No injuries, but sore muscles and feet, and overall just worn out!

Slept next to a creek at Laurel Canyon. We thought it would be a day of downhill heading into Kinkora Hostel, but it was up and down all day. Hiked 12 or 13 miles into the hostel, and met up with a bunch of hikers there, some we had seen before, and a few we hadn't met before (Skunkape, Lee Bob, Flowers, and Daisy). We were in the middle of nowhere and thought this was going to be a boring stay, but we heard it was supposed to be a great place, and that owner Bob Peoples was a trail legend. Got showers and did laundry as more hikers poured in.

We were sitting around the table outside waiting for the 5:30 shuttle into town for food and resupply. Our food packages hadn't shown up as of Sunday, so we wanted to check out our resupply options in addition to grabbing some Arby's. As we were sitting around, I asked two hikers we had seen before what their names were, and they introduced themselves and Sprite and Snag. Sprite found out I didn't have a trail name and asked which of the suggested names I liked the best. I explained that the three of us agreed that we couldn't give each other our trail names, but Tarzan and Flosser broke the rule. I started telling her and Nutterbutter about the names Tarzan and Flosser suggested, starting with Barn Door. I said "back when we started in early March, I weighed 186 pounds and would keep my fly open to try to keep chafing down. I've lost 22 pounds since then and must have had more meat between my legs back then". Immediately I realized that didn't sound right, but before I could correct myself and explain that meant I must have had more meat on my thighs, the table busted out in laughter and Sprite said I just got a trail name! I thought about it for a bit and after a few people called me it, I decide I'd take the name. From here on out for the next 1,768 miles, I will be known as "Meat".

So 5:30 rolled around and we loaded up 18 people into a pickup truck. 11 deep in the back and I got crammed into a back corner with my knees in my chest. About 15 minutes down a windy road into Elizabethton. Chowed down on some delicious Arby's and then ran over to Dollar General and IGA for some resupply. We stopped at McDonalds and I got a small McFlurry. The guy made it with Oreo instead of M&M like I ordered, so I scored 2 for the price of one! Woohoo! Back down the mountain road and finally out of the pickup truck.

We kicked back and had a good time hanging out in the 4 person bunk house with Frenchy. We talked about Flosser forgetting things lately, hikers and other interesting people we've run into, and other random things. Laughed like crazy and finally fell asleep.

Great ending to the day at Kinkora with some great hikers! Loving life!

Over and out!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

4.10.12 - Town activities and such

Not much to post for today.

OH! Before I go any further... If anyone finds the Sweetart - Chicks, Ducks, and Bunnies candy (from Easter and probably on sale pretty cheap), can you buy a few bags and let me know? I'd love to get my hands on more! I have no idea what happened to all of them that used to be in the bag that I bought yesterday...

Anywho...woke up and took our time getting packed up at the lovely Super 8 motel. A hot shower really helped clear my sinuses, plus I think the meds are already helping. Made sure to start drinking a lot more water.

Went to the post office, grabbed a quick bite to eat, and went to the library, before heading back over to Uncle Johnny's to pick up my food resupply, Tarzan's phone battery, and my replacement water filter. About half way through the approx 4 mile walk over, a guy stopped to give us a lift. No thumbs, no nothing. Pure kindness at work. Got to the hostel and outfitter and got our packages. Jerkasaurus was there again, but a little more helpful today. Funny how that works when THE OWNER is sitting right there. The dude jumped at every opportunity to help that he could. What a putz.

Hit the trail around 5pm and hiked 4 miles into the shelter. Saw Froot Loop, Blue, (Maine-iac was catching a flick in town still), Blueberry (who was pretty cool today and not quite as sassy as the first time we met), and met some we hadn't, like Bookworm, Summersault, Pork Steak. We decided to move on a little further and find a flat spot to throw the tents up. We followed our fearless leader Tarzan up a trail, and started to hear laughter. More laughter from the shelter and it got louder. We realized quickly we went the wrong way and weren't even on the trail. Haha, good work Tarzan! We hiked back toward the shelter and sure enough a few of the others were kind enough to show us where we SHOULD have gone. It's all good though, we laughed at ourselves too! Hiked about 2 min away and found a good spot to call home.

First night on the new sleeping pads Big Agnes hooked us up with to try out I'm lying on it now and so far do good. We will see how the night goes.

Later Erwin. Thanks for the KFC buffet :)

Monday, April 9, 2012

4.9.12 - Trail Friday (to Erwin!)

Today was a "trail Friday"! We had a pretty leisurely 4 mile hike up to a ridge then down into Erwin, TN. Looked forward to get into town and eat something other than trail food, get a hot shower, and get to the clinic to get my sinuses/congestion taken care of (hopefully for the last time!).

Stopped right off the trail at Uncle Johnny's Hiker Hostel and Outfitter to pick up our food resupply, my replacement water filter that MSR said would be there, and some Big Agnes sleeping pads to test out that the folks there at Big Agnes (out of Steamboat Springs, CO) sent our way to test out. I've always wondered how the gear testers in Backpacker Magazine and Outside Magazine got the cool job of trying out new products. Maybe this is a start to something!

Chris' food resupply showed up. Mine was nowhere to be found. Sleeping pads showed up, but the guy working there didn't know anything about replacing my filter. And Chris' other package wasn't able to be found. Please keep in mind that the following is not a knock on Uncle Johnny's, as I have nothing against the place and no opinions based off anything there except the guy working while we were there. As Brian would say, that guy was a major "jerkasaurus". Told another hiker that he doesn't like to run credit multiple times, so to figure out right then and there (as she just got there and was checking in), if she needed anything else for the whole time so he could just do one transaction. After taking care of Brian's, Chris', and my package that were there, he was very short and rude about the other packages that didn't appear to be there but should have been, and about my replacement filter. He could have approached it other ways that wouldn't have rubbed us wrong, but instead said "I have to do the breakfast shuttle run, that's why I need you guys to hurry up". He asked if we were staying there and said the guest shuttle is free, but of we aren't staying, it's $2 per person. I told the guys I'd rather walk 4 miles to town than give this guy our business.

We started walking and within about 5 minutes, a guy walking down the street stopped to talk for a minute and wish us luck on our journey. Nice people down south! Then a few minutes later, at the same time, we both saw Frenchy getting a ride and passing by, saying hi, and another man pulled over and offered us a lift to town. Howard took us into town and dropped us off at the post office. Another helpful, friendly person. As we were getting into Howard's car, the jerkasaurus drove by in the shuttle van and just looked over. Haha. Sucker!

We made a b-line for the golden arches down the road. Chris and I had big mac meals, then Chris followed that up with a McChicken and a McDouble, and I followed it up with a McDouble and six piece McNugget! We were hungry boys! A few people could tell we were hikers (was it the backpacks or us eating like we hadn't seen food in a week?), and asked us about our adventure. It's fun talking to people about it. We sometimes get looks like we are from another planet! If any of you are looking to send a care package, Chris and I realized today that McDonalds and Subway cards are lightweight, and WILL NOT go to waste! :)

Checked into a Super 8 motel and I took an amazing hot shower. Then it was off to the clinic. Three locals told me to take a left at the Walgreens and walk down just past Food Lion grocery store. I walked the mile to where the clinic should have been. Nothing. I googled it and called. It was by the hospital, 2.3 miles in the opposite direction. Ugh. This would happen to me on our down day.

2.3 miles later I make it to the clinic. Get in and find out I'm 22 pounds (TWENTY TWO POUNDS!!!) lighter than when we started a month ago. I've heard this can be normal considering diet and the amount of activity. Still kinda crazy to me. I gave the lowdown to the nurse, then Doc comes in and first thing he says is "so what's your trail name?". I told him I don't have one and he replied that after a month I should have one! I agree! Anyway, I felt pretty good being at this clinic. Doc (trail name The Brawny Lad), thru hiked the AT in 1992. I appreciated his professional medical and trail experienced advice and suggestions. Another prescription for 2 more stronger drugs to knock this out. He said it could be moving from the allergens in Cali to the multitude along the trail, and also commented that this year is already worse too because of the tame winter. Another walk to the post office to look for missing packages (nothing again), and to Walgreens to get scripts filled.

Called Uncle Johnny's and talked to someone who was a lot more helpful and patient. Both of the missing packages had shown up. Chris' was actually there, but didn't have his last name. This guy gave it a little effort and figured it out. I talked to Johnny directly, and my filter will be there tomorrow. Looks like MSR pulled through, but still doesn't excuse the comment from the "customer service rep of the year".

Went to the KFC all you can eat buffet, where we talked to another family a pit our hike. Helped out, because on our walk back, the grandfather and grandmother gave us a lift back to the Super 8. Once again... Great people!

And as I'm on the phone with my Mom in the hallway, in walks Jersey Steve (who was at least a day ahead of us)! What the heck!?! After hearing about his crazy adventure and how he got here now, I suggested the trail name Houdini for him. He liked it and may take it. We'll see. The guy always shows up out of nowhere!

4.8.12 - So maybe we won't camp in the wind again

Wow, what a windy night! At the early morning hours, I woke up to the rear of my tent leaning down and the side flapping into me as the wind howled and surged. At 3am, Tarzan woke up, got out of his tent and turned it to face into the wind. I tried to ignore the flapping as much as possible, but around 6:20am, I finally got out and used one of my trekking poles to support the tent from the wind's force. This did the trick. When I got out of my tent to evaluate the situation, I half expected to see a guy line or a strap from the tent snapped or ripped away from the tent material, but all was good. We all thought the wind may have damaged our tents somehow, but were all surprised and happy to see that they were as good as new! Big Agnes fought the gale force winds, and won the battle! Props to lightweight and durable products!

Easter sunrise was a good one from our spot, but it was so dang windy and cold that it was tough to enjoy. Normally our morning routine involves packing things carefully and putting them in their places so our bags are packed right, but today was different. We threw all our gear in our bags carelessly, and got the heck off of Big Bald! Without any breakfast down the hatch, and being cold and tired, the windy walk down out of the blowing was tough. Finally got into a wooded area and out of the wind. About a mile later made it to a shelter where we ate breakfast and repacked.

14 mile day total when all was said and done.

At one of the gaps around noon, we noticed colored eggs hidden in spots along the trail. I hear someone moving and told Tarzan that I thought I heard the Easter bunny ahead on the trail. It really ended up being a hiker from New Zealand named Hurricane who was over by a styrofoam cooler of TRAIL MAGIC!!!!! A bag of fruit hanging over the trail, soda, Yuengling and PBR, large crunch bars, starburst, and a few other candies all on ice! Haaaaaapppppy Easter!

4.7.12 - What is it with Easter Weekends?

Tarzan (Chris) did a great job positioning us for a heck of a sunrise (and moonrise and sunset)! We had a roaring fire and then I slept really well until about 6:00am or so when the sinuses kicked in. However today didn't seem as bad. Made some coffee today for the first time in a while, and boy it was nice!

We got to hiking around 9am, and hiked to the next shelter which was about 3 miles away. Along the way we ran into a guy that claimed to be Big E's uncle. He was hiking southbound to try to meet up and surprise his nephew. How cool! (oh man...I'm starting to use Flosser (Brian) phrases now). Anyway, he mentioned there was some good trail magic ahead after the shelter at Sam Gap. We got to the shelter and saw a sign that said "scrambled eggs, hash browns, muffins, oranges, orange juice, milk, soda, 8:15am to 2:30pm, 2.9 miles north. I'll be there as long as life allows". SWEET! We refilled on water at the shelter, then headed along, sites set on trail magic ahead. We got there around noon, and met "Coach" and Paul. Coach thru hiked in 2002, and Paul in 2007. These two are part of the North Carolina Mountain Club and enjoy helping hikers out when they can. We poured ourselves some orange juice and sat down while Paul whipped us each up a full plate of eggs and hash browns! DELICIOUS! Gone in no time. Then it was on to and orange for me, then a huge muffin, then a Sprite. I was pretty full at that point, but had they offered more eggs and/or hash browns, I would have gladly eaten more. We were told that some of the other hikers in the morning let them know that we would be coming through after them, so they made sure to stick around. We got heading out and hiked for about another 10 miles to the top of Big Bald. 360 degree view of all the mountains around us! There is a shelter about a mile further, but we decided to set ourselves up for another great sunset, and an Easter sunrise. This place has some amazing views. Very windy, but overall and incredible place to be (we will see if that statement holds true by the morning). I'm not sure what it is about Easter weekends, but the past few years have taken me to some cool places. Last year I had a Portuguese Easter in the mountains that ended with my first time shooting a handgun. Two years ago I was in New Hampshire, hiking up in snow in 70 degree weather, getting up to the top of Tuckerman Ravine (birthplace of extreme skiing) only to turn around and snowboard down some of the craziest backcountry terrain I've ever been in. Three years ago I had breakfast at the mansion Quad owns (the Brackett House) in Saratoga Springs, NY with a few fellow trainees and one of their parents who were visiting. We followed that meal up with a great day hike in the Adirondacks. This year, I'm going to sleep on top of a windy mountain around at 5,000+ feet. Currently the temp in my tent reads 35 degrees at 9:15pm. Tomorrow morning will probably be a chilly one, but with my tent opening facing east, hopefully I'll be able to catch a beautiful Easter sunrise from the comfort of my 20 degree sleeping bag! A few other hikers went to camp lower, due to the chilly wind, but plan to hike back up for sunrise. I really wish were going to be in town for Easter service tomorrow, but unfortunately we are still about 15-20 miles out of town.

Here's to hoping the wind doesn't rip our tents down, and that we stay warm enough. Wonder how low the temp will drop...

I'll post results after.

4.6.12 - Comforts

Hiked about 12 miles from Jerry Cabin (after a wet evening followed by a cold night) to a ridge top to set up camp in hopes of a sunset and sunrise. We got both of those and also a moonrise between them! All three were spectacular! Some people shelter hop, but I think the three of us enjoy setting up our tents just about wherever we please even more. The moon coming up was HUGE as it rose above the mountains to the east, while the sunset to the west painted the sky with color.

The hike during the day was rough starting out. Boots were a little soggy and cold from the rain the day before, and I woke up feeling kinda lousy. Not sure what is going on with my body. I thought being out in nature would make me feel better than ever, but lately it's been driving my sinuses crazy. Can't figure out if it's allergies it what it is. Bound and determined to get it figured out and knocked out so I can hike stronger and not constantly feel congested. With a somewhat miserable day between the cold, wet start and not feeling the best, I let my mind wander while we hiked. I've never been one to sit around and do nothing, but the idea of laying on a nice couch with a book or a movie on sounded great. Then I got to thinking about my family and the great times I had growing up as a kid. From bike parades and playing til it was dinner time with the neighborhood kids, to coffee and rolls (donuts) with church friends following mass on Sundays. I'd love to say that every day on the trail is puppies and sunshine, but it's not. Sometimes I feel like I just don't want to be doing what I'm doing at the moment. I think this can be directly related to life at times. I remember times at work that I just really didn't want to be there for one reason or another, but sometimes you just have to keep putting one foot on front of the other, and keep pushing on. The same type of thoughts hit me when climbing Kilimanjaro a little over a year ago. Pushing on was tough to do when altitude was getting the best of me, but remembering the feelings that surged through me when we reached the top at 19,341 feet, reminded me that it was all worth it. A little harder in this situation because unlike Kilimanjaro, this endeavor is a little longer than 6 days, but I have to keep my sites set on Katahdin! Relearning to take one day at a time is helpful, and celebrating small victories is good too. And sometimes, it just takes a little daydreaming. I'm thankful to have a lot of good memories to look back on from my life, which have been able to help me escape from some of the long, tough days on the trail!

Friday, April 6, 2012

4.5.12 - Best Trail Magic Yet, Followed by Worst Rain, plus the 300 mile mark

Woke up a little sore after our 14 miler out of Hot Springs yesterday, as well as congested. Must be these damp nights getting to me. Had some congestion, a sore throat, and a headache. I thought all this fresh air was going to make me feel great, but it's getting the best of me some mornings. Gotta get this figured out.

Only had about a mile hike until we hit a mountain road crossing. Just as we got to the road, there was a sign advertising Belgium waffles, stew, vegetarian chili, desserts, hot and cold drinks to thru hikers and long distance section hikers, Thursday, April 5 and Friday, April 6 from 8:00am to 6:30pm. The sign said to go 350 yards down the street and turn right after the "Welcome to North Carolina" sign. We followed the instructions and ended up at the home of Hercules and FAL, 1999 thru hikers. A beautiful log cabin where we were greeted by a big friendly dog named Heidi, and greeted with a "welcome home" as Hercules (John) answered the door. He and his wife FAL are thru hikers who take hikers in to give them home cooked food and other comforts. They have been doing it for 8 years and have taken over 2,900 thru hikers in during that time. They do it every day that they can, only taking a day every now and then for themselves.

We were given a printed menu of drink options, that had the 10 day forecast on the reverse side, while FAL started us off with Belgium waffles. As soon as each of us had our (large) portion finished, Hercules brought over a big bowl of beef stew for each of us (unless you preferred the vegetarian chili). Just as soon as we could finish those, we were given about 4 options for dessert. This was awesome!!! I had a Belgium waffle with Newman's Own Coffee, a big bowl of beef stew with fresh homemade bread for dipping and some sweet tea, and ended the morning (keep in mind we got there around 9am) meal with a huge banana split! Hikers in the area kept coming in and after a while there were 10 of us all there being given the royal treatment.

Hercules told us a little about "truths" and passed around some Christian books we were encouraged to take if we so chose, as well as a piece of paper talking about Christianity, and also containing their contact info. They asked each of us to email them when we make it to Katahdin (the end in Maine). We were asked if we wanted seconds on anything. I passed, but a few people took seconds on dessert, including Frenchie who we sang happy birthday to.

We thanked them numerous times for the hospitality and were on our way. Amazing thing they do for fellow thru hikers! They said they have been there and done it so they know what it's like and want to help thru hikers out.

FAL told us that about 8 miles from their place along the trail is the best view on the AT. We hiked 5 miles to the first shelter and took cover while it rained. Hiked again once it stopped, or at least stopped for a little. We got rained on a little before we got to the area we believe had the great view, but we got hit with clouds, a break in the rain, then the worst rain I've experienced so far, for the next 2-3 miles until the next shelter. Got soaked and then it started to get cool out. Had dinner in the shelter, then shivered as I set up my tent after it stopped raining. Crawling into my warm sleeping bag felt great and here I lie. Warm and a lot drier. Today marks 4 weeks on the trail, and we hit the 300 mile mark too.

Til tomorrow, feels like a cool night outside these tent walls.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

4.2.12 - The Chase Continues

Woke up at Groundhog shelter in my tent, and got moving fast due to dry rain fly and all. Had some breakfast with Catfish, Kitty, Santa, Gnome, Bootstrap, and a father and son, and hit the trail.

Got a few miles into the morning and as I went down into a roadbed area, I came across a canopy with bottles of water and a cooler with ice cold coca cola! Jackpot! 9:30 or so was a little early to drink that so I threw it in my bag and took off after taking a quick break. A big uphill, and when I got to the top (only about 10 min later), I was ready for the refreshing beverage. Chugged it and went on. It was cold, bubbly, and delicious!

I was still out to catch Tarzan, Flosser, and Justin, who based off a sign I saw by where I camped, they were already 11 or so miles ahead of where I was. I busted down the trail and put on some quick miles. Hauled up to what was supposed to be a great spot called Max Patch that animals used to graze on, which means its open and grassy instead of wooded. I got up there but unfortunately was socked in with clouds and a strong wind. I walked along the top and as I was about to the end, the sky opened up a bit to my right and I was able to get some good views. Checked to see if I had cell service and noticed that Flosser (Brian) had said they camped earlier than planned the night before and had been on Max Patch about an hour before me.

Got down lower and hiked through some other cool areas that had a lot of water and bay trees, and a lot of green vegetation. It reminded me of the rainforest a bit. Stopped at Roaring Fork shelter and had lunch with some youngins from Maryland. Banana, Blueberry, Big E, and Bubblefeet. Blueberry was a sassy, snotty little thing, but the others were alright. I read the trail log in the shelter and saw that the boys were there about an hour an 15 before I was reading that. I booked it out of there and went chasing again. About 40 minutes or so passed, and there I saw Flosser taking pictures of flowers. Caught them!

Eventually we caught up to the old farts, Muddy Water and and Steelhead, and had a fun time hiking and chatting with them. Once we found water, we hiked back up the trail a bit and set up camp on a flat area just off the trail. We ate some dinner, then I said we should get a fire going, so we all pitched in to get that started. When that was burning just about perfectly, and we had all finished eating and hung the food bags, I went to my tent and told the guys "I've got something that's been weighing on me for the past few days that I need to get off my back". Just then, Chris caught sight of the Big River Pilsner (Brewed in Chattanooga) six pack that Rachel and Jason brought me, and that I had schlepped in my pack for the past 2 days and probably 20 or so miles. The smiles on the guys' faces were priceless as we enjoyed the cool, refreshing brew after a tough day of uphills and downhills!

Sharing...the best way to lighten your pack weight :). Too bad Muddy Water and Steelhead went ahead of us after we filled up on water! There were 2 for them.

4.3.12 - To Hot Springs!

I woke up early with the sun and had my tent packed up before anyone else popped their heads out. Don't know what it me out and moving so quickly. Maybe that it was what I call a "Trail Friday", or a day on the trail that we will make it into town. Usually means laundry, shower, a decent meal, and maybe a beverage. Catfish walked by before we headed out on the trail, but we caught up to him and the old farts when they took a break. We were talking about our plans for Hot Springs, and Catfish mentioned chicken fried steak. My mind was set! (ps - if someone can figure out how to send THAT in a care package, we will be best friends forever!). Made it to Deer Park shelter and had lunch.

Somewhere in the course of the day we took a break at a nice open spot by a creek and refilled water. Really thirsty today, as it was pretty hot. Met Cuz, his wife, their husky, lab, scharpei mix dog (see pic), and Cosmic John. Also along the trail at a road crossing, we thought it would be a funny joke (although a few days after April Fools Day) to put the plastic cap/holder back on the empty beers and put it near the trail and road crossing :). Dirty but funny joke for those who would come across it later.

Trekked on in the heat of the day, sweating pretty bad, and finally made the descent into Hot Springs. Right as we entered town, we saw Rambler (who we met back at NOC in Nantahala), and "Chuck Norris", owner of the newly renovated hostel in town.

We went into town and dropped out packs at the Smokey Mountain Diner, then went to a pub to have a round on Justin (thanks again man!). Then we walked across the street to Bluff Mountain Outfitter to pick up our food resupply for the next 5 days, and other various packages, then took them to Smoky Mountain Diner to eat chicken fried steak. It was amazing, along with the corn bread, cole slaw, mashed potatoes, and a huge ice water! I had FOUR packages!!! Crazy! Chris had 2, and Brian had 3. Huge amounts of boxes for the group! One of mine was my new replacement water filter parts from MSR, another the food resupply from Amy, a care package from Candice, Anna, and Matt back at Quad Merced, and a care package from my friend Hilary back in Saratoga Springs! It was like Christmas! Twinkies, hoho's, beef sticks, Snickers, Handi snacks, crackers, peanut butter filled pretzels, fruit snacks, pixie sticks, peanuts, trail mix, Jelly Belly's, Sour Patch Kids, Air Heads! TONS OF GOODIES!!!

Even after our meals, we ate goodies from the care packages, which also included a bunch of Oreos, hoho's, and other cookies sent to Chris, and cake and other sweets sent to Brian, as we did laundry while Justin waited for his pickup to get back to his vehicle.

It rained pretty hard for a while, so we went over to the pub to visit with some other hikers. Tons of them there. Cuz ratted me out for leaving the empty six pack along the trail as a joke! Haha! I'd probably be mad too! But he was a good sport and thought it was funny. We decided to stay the night in a large room above the pub and got showers. Played some pool, chatted with hikers, enjoyed some seltzer water I'd been craving, and called it a night.

Good hiking with you Justin, and thanks to all of you who sent care packages! Our bellies thank you!

4.4.12 - Customer Service Rep of the Year Award

Woke up at a decent time in the room we had stayed in. Lots of loud cars driving in front of the place. Got moving and went to grab some coffee and chocolate milk. After realizing in Gatlinburg that I have not been drinking milk much lately, I started buying chocolate milk whenever we are in town. Loving it more than ever now too! Brian saw Froot Loop, Maine-iac, and Blue getting into town, so we got to see them for a bit (and let them grab some showers at our place's community bathroom) before we headed out. Just before we left, Chris found out he had another care package at the outfitter. (WHAT!?!?!). Baked goods and a few other goodies. Finally left town about 11am or so and hit the trail. It was great walking along the French Broad River before we had some serious climbing back up to higher elevations. Felt great today, and had some good conversations about the time we were having, what we are looking for in future endeavors, and about living healthy lifestyles. A lot of uphill today getting out of town. Kinda typical. Load up the packs with food and water and get back into it. Pack weighed in fully loaded at 35.1 pounds. Not bad. Will have that down lower as soon as I swap out for warmer weather gear.

Hiked about 12 miles or so, climbed up to a fire tower, then finally got to the first shelter outside of Hot Springs. Ran into August, and a guy we haven't seen since Beech Gap probably about a week and a half or two weeks ago. Was pumped to get to use my new water filter! (get the joke? Haha. Pumped to filter. Pumping water to filter it...) Went down to the creek and started pumping. Water flowed nice for a liter or so, then slowed down. I unscrewed the top and put it back together, and made sure the pre-filter wasn't clogged. Started pumping well again, but quickly slowed. I pumped slower to allow the filter to catch up. Almost stopped working, I heard a hissing noise, turned it over to look at it, and the bottom intake hose fell right off, taking the hard plastic nipple from the filter with it! SERIOUSLY?!?!?!?!?! First time using the new thing and it broke!!! How am I supposed to be able to rely on something to safely filter my water for 5 more months?!?! I was so furious.

I went back up and told Chris and Brian what happened. Of course they laughed but were shocked as well. We hiked on to find a camping spot and let me burn some steam off. Finally got to a flat spot about and hour later. I was really hungry but made a call to MSR (maker of my water filter), as I conveniently had service. I got customer service rep Nathan on the phone and explained my issue. He said he wasn't sure what would cause that to happen. I mentioned that I am out on the AT and need a reliable water filtration system. At first Nathan was helpful (although it sounded painful for him to have to help someone with an issue), and he said he would see if the outfitter we would reach in 4 days or so has a new filter they could give me, and MSR would send them another one to sell. If they don't have one, he said he would have to ship it there and it would take about 3 days, mentioning that doesn't include weekends. Being that we may get into town (Erwin) either Saturday or Sunday, the 3 day shipping may show up after we are gone, which would mean I would be another 5 or 6 days without a replacement pump. I told him that would be an issue, as I not only need this soon, but also for the next 5 months or so on the trip. He followed this up by saying that if he had to expedite shipping, that would be more expensive and I would have to cover some of that cost. I told him I understand it isn't his fault personally that the filter broke (again), but that I would not be paying for the shipping to get me a replacement for another faulty piece of equipment that should not have broken after its first use.

This next part blew my mind...

Nathan from MSR - Mountain Safety Research, (just mentioning the name of the person and company I am dealing with in case any of you out there are looking into gear from different companies and need some help choosing who to go or not go with), said "Well it's not my fault you're on the trail in the middle of nowhere".

I had speaker phone on and looked over at Chris who mentioned something about that is not what you say in this situation. I about let go on this guy and told him where he could put this piece of crap water filter, but I took the high road and only responded by asking him to call and or email me letting me know what he finds out when he calls the outfitter in Erwin to try and work something out for me. Had I let him have it on the phone right then, which I wanted to (and still want to), I probably had no shot at seeing a filter there in 4 days and I'll be buying one for sure. We will see if I hear back tomorrow from Nathan or anyone else at MSR tomorrow. If I don't hear back, a manager there will be getting a call soon to try and get this worked out. If they are able to get a replacement to me, I will still be calling (after the filter is in my backpack and I'm out the outfitter's door) to politely speak with a manager there about the "Customer Service Rep of the Year" candidate that I spoke with today. I'm really hoping I can update y'all with a few positive things about MSR when this ordeal is said and done, but the ball is in their court now.

I also may be looking into wanting or needing to buy a new (different brand) filter. If anyone had any suggestions, drop me a line. I've heard good things about the SteriPen Adventurer, but really need to know before making that investment. Hiker on a budget here.

Maybe I should be collecting the rain that's coming down now as I type this.

Here's to hoping for a drier, better day tomorrow. However, it was a great day of hiking today for sure! Gotta be thankful for what works!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

4.1.12 - The Chase and Visits from Friends

Way back on 4/1, I was playing catchup on the trail, chasing Tarzan after he had taken off to meet up with his cousin Justin. Plan was for those two, plus Brian (who was off spending a few days with his wife Ann), to meet around I-40 just before Standing Bear Hostel. I was about 3 miles out of the hostel when I left Davenport shelter that morning, after a night full of mice. I'd heard of mice being a problem in the shelters, but this was my first experience. I woke up at some early hour of the morning when I heard some scurrying, turned on my headlamp, and I kid you not, saw a mouse coming out of a crack in the wall with another mouse in its mouth!!! What the heck??? Glad to wake up and get out of there!

After about 2 miles, Smilin Joe and I came across 2 campers near a creek. Muddy Waters and Steelhead! The old farts from upstate NY! Happy to run into these guys again! They said Tarzan and Brian (trail name Flosser), were only about 20 min ahead. They told me the guys didn't want to won't around for a stinkin, bum hiker. Haha, these guys kill me. They remind me of the two old guys in Grumpy Old Men to an extent.

Caught up to Tarzan, Flosser, and Justin just past the I-40 underpass, on the upward climb. Some good, cold grapes left for hikers at the side of the trail. Mmm. We all hiked together to the Standing Bear Hostel. Kind of a weird place. Showed up and told the owner (Curtis) that we were stopping in to pick up food resupplies that had been sent there. He said they don't allow hikers in for pickups til 11am (it was about 9:30 or so). Quickly we were reminded it was April Fools Day. Ahh hah...ok, give us our boxes.

We were all set to head out when I remembered that I was staying behind. A good friend, Rachel, from Georgia that I met about 7 years ago while we were both doing internships in Indiana, and her husband Jason were going to be driving over from Chattanooga, TN to come visit! I hung out at the hostel and talked to some of the other hikers there.

Rachel and Jason showed up around 1pm and we headed to lunch. Sat at a cool restaurant along the river called Bean Trees. Food and sweet tea tasted great, but the service was terrible. Upside of the meal taking a long time is that we got to spend that time talking and catching up. It was great to see a good friend again and finally meet her husband, and get to catch up with both of them. I took them back up to the hostel to show them what it was like. I think they may have been creeped out by the owner and some of his henchmen. (don't worry, I was too). We waited for a quick rain to pass, then they dropped me off at the trail to send me off. They loaded me up with candy, fruit, and Big River Pilsner beer! Jason knows the guys that brew the beer and they just started putting it in cans (by hand!), so it was cool to have that beer from Chattanooga!

I hit the trail again around 5pm and busted out about 6 or 7 miles, all of which were uphill, but my spirits were high after seeing these friends, and I trucked right along! Passed up Froot Loop, Maine-iac, and Blue who were about 2 miles in along a creek at a great looking camp spot. Not sure if they saw me but I kept going. Passed up Hat and Bogey who were setting up camp. Bogey mentioned there was a shelter about a mile up the trail. After a short break with them, I headed on. Passed over Snowbird Mtn as the sun began to set, then further and further, seeing no shelter. Hiked until about 8pm when I finally came across other people. I hiked 0.2 more down to Groundhog shelter, set up my tent, and called it a night.

What a great day!

Rachel and Jason - thanks again so much for being super flexible with my schedule, making the drive, treating me to lunch, all the goodies, and more than anything, boosting my spirits! It was truly great to see you! I hope to make it to Chattanooga some day in the near future to visit!

Sunday, April 1, 2012

3.31.12 - Another big mile day

Loud snoring going on in the shelter all last night. When I woke up around 6am, I just laid there and couldn't fall back asleep. Finally crawled out of bed at 7am, packed up, and was on the trail at 7:30am. Earliest start so far, and I was the first out of the shelter to hit the trail for the day. If getting first chair at a ski resort is anything like the feeling I had this morning, I've gotta get on that next season!!! Felt amazing!

Knocked out about 5.6 miles from Peck Shelter, and made it to Tricorner Knob Shelter about 9:50am. Hiked another 7.6 miles to Cosby Knob Shelter and got in around 1:30pm. Took off my shoes and socks, relaxed for about an hour, then realized it was too early to stop, and I still had plenty of juice to get to the next shelter. Hiked 2.5 miles to the junction for Mt Cammerer, and decided to take the side trail .6 miles into the lookout. It was a cool 8-sided fire lookout built in 1937/1938 by the Civilian Conservation Corps, enclosed with windows, and had a porch wrapping all the way around it. Saw what looked like storm clouds rolling in after hanging around for about 20 min, so I headed back down the .6 miles of side trails, linked back up with the main trail, and headed 5.2 miles to Davenport Gap Shelter. Put down about a 21 or 22 mile day when all was said and done. The shelter here has a chain link fence across the front, along with a doorway. I imagine this is for bear protection, but I thought I'd heard that all the chain link had been removed a while back. Smilin' Joe and I kept passing each other up on the trail today, and as it's pretty dark right now, looks like we will have the whole shelter to ourselves. Hiking that many miles is one way of getting away from out of control snorers!

About 3 miles or so tomorrow and I'm out of Smoky Mountain National Park. It's been cool being here, but the fact that you can have horses on the trail but not dogs is odd, and not being able to set up a tent anywhere but right next to a shelter (while I understand keeping the land in good "natural" shape), is kind of annoying.

Plan is to leisurely get to Standing Bear Farm Hiker Hostel tomorrow, lounge around (maybe take a shower), pick up my food resupply, and wait anxiously for my good friend Rachel and her husband Jason to get here from Chattanooga and spend some time with them!

3.30.12 - Back to the trail

Woke up early this morning, unfortunately didn't get to go back to Bennett's Buffet or breakfast for 3 days in a row. Got prepped for the day what couldn't be prepped the night before (eventually I will come up with a good system).

First (free) shuttle out of NOC didn't run until 11am, and we didn't want to wait til that late, so we went to the inside of the Smokies park boundary and threw our thumbs up. Froot Loop, Blue, and Maine-iac got a lift after no time at all. Chris and I had to work harder. We smiled, waved, put on puppy dog faces, and were even about ready to walk back to the corner has station to buy a sharpie and grab sole cardboard out of the dumpster to make a sign. We thought "Clean, recently showered hikers to trail" might have done the trick, but just before we resorted to that, Patrick and Steve pulled up and gave us a ride about 15 miles from Gatlinburg to Newfound Gap. Nice guys, and it'd be cool to meet up with them further along the trail or possibly even come back to Tennessee to throw back some Smoky Mountain Brewery suds with them sometime in the future. (porter...Mmm).

Chris and I discussed meetup plans and he took off down the trail. He needed to do 15 or so miles today in order to meet up with his cousin in a few days. Instead of trying to keep up, I took it easier on the shin and did 12 to Peck Shelter. I started to book it when I heard thunder while hiking up on a ridge. Made it to the shelter in just enough time before it started pouring. Only other person there was a ridge runner.

Eventually, Froot Loop, Blue, Maine-iac, the YouTube sensation/phenomenon August, the two Indiana folks (Aimster and Scooter, German couple (Hungry Bear and Amber Cat), Smilin' Joe, and about 5 others or so came in thru the rain to stay the night.

Shin is still a little sore and stiff, but thanks to Ibuprofen (referred to on the trail as Vitamin I, came to the rescue. I'm not big on meds or drugs, but this 800mg Vitamin I did the trick! An attempt by some to give me a trail name based off this incident, is not currently being acknowledged by me.

Since I'm all over the place with my post today, I feel this is probably the best point to throw in that from this point forward, Chris Clemens will also be referred to by his new trail name of TARZAN. He got it because he has a tendency to tear through the woods with ridiculous speed and vigor (in spite of still having the heaviest pack out of the three of us I believe)! I think it's a good fit!

One thing I was thinking about briefly is that today was a big day back at my previous place of emolument, Quad/Graphics in Merced, CA. A big change, rolling out the full Smartools software suite to that plant. It has been up to this point, and I'm sure it will continue to be for a while, a huge effort. I hope that all goes well in that endeavor for all those who I know put in a lot of time and effort, both from Merced and various other locations company wide. It was somewhat of a sobering moment to think about how crazy things had been there for me (and I know others as well) leading up to this big change today, and how much my current life adventures differ from those times. The one thing that crossed my mind and stuck out is that back then, work life was full of SOP's (standard operating procedures) to be followed. Not to rip on them, as I think a lot of them were helpful and maybe even necessary, but now things have been made simpler and there is really only one thing that needs to be followed on a day to day basis. This thing is known as the "white blaze". White blazes are approximately 6" tall by 2" wide strokes of white paint that have been brushed onto trees along the AT and mark the trail all the way from Georgia to Maine. I've included a picture with this post for your viewing pleasure. This is all the direction that is really needed to find your way all 2,184 miles. In addition, I've learned that the following are good items to help along the way: "hike your own hike" (doing it for you and for whatever reasons you may be doing it), and truly enjoying what you are doing and everything around you.

Rain drops on the roof,
Snoring man in the shelter.
Hoping for a restful night,
And a tomorrow with better weather.

3.29.12 - Another down day in Gatlinburg

Gatlinburg. Wow. Jason Aldean must have been talking about another Gatlinburg or different part of the area when he said "I hear it's pretty". Actually, I take that back. It was pretty...pretty freakin weird! Tourist town where apparently the obese smoking community goes on vacation. (I apologize for the mass generalization, but I'm just speaking for what I saw).

Well, the town was a little bizarre but it was nice to stay off the feet and let my shin heal. The Grand Prix Motel was decent, and cheap at $30/night. Was the hiker hangout in town. Great, big NOC mountain outfitter in town, and once again helpful staff just like the NOC in Nantahala.

Had to ride the shuttle across town twice to go to the grocery store. Once for prescription, second time to get food, as our last resupply didn't get forwarded from Fontana Dam. A combo of ours and the USPS' mistakes. Oh well. Learning experience for us.

Zero day, while I'd rather be out hiking, felt good!