Thursday, May 31, 2012

5.29.12 - Finding Direction

One of the reasons the trail appealed to me before beginning is the ability to take time away from all the hustle and bustle of everyday life and to think and focus on things. Lately thinking has caused the trail to be mentally challenging, but I'm working toward turning that thinking time into something more positive and focussing on finding direction. The direction most people I walk among are focused on is North. Keep walking north until we reach Mt Katahdin in Maine. The direction I'm in search of even more, is that of which my life should go.

I've been blessed with many opportunities throughout my life to try out new things, especially within the past 10 years. I've gotten to experience living in different areas, getting to know different people and cultures, and trying out different jobs within a company. Often times thoughts can be unnerving when they involve trying to figure out where I want to live and what I want to do after the trail. Even being on the trail this long with as much time to think as I've had so far, I still can't say I know.

Now, I was born and raised Catholic, but while living in Merced, my trainer at the gym invited me to come check out the church he went to, no pressure. I went a few times and after a while, really started to enjoy it. I left many times feeling as though I got a lot out of the pastor's sermon and that I could change my life (and hopefully others' lives) for the better with this knowledge. I found myself getting a lot out of the messages, examples, teachings, and application discussions with the group at Faith Bible Church.

Between pastor Rick who is a down to earth, energetic, comical, and caring guy, to all of the caring members and especially some of those I've become closer with, it was great to feel like I belonged there and to feel like I was getting more out of it than most of my previous experiences in and out of church/service. Over the past 6 months or so, and especially over the past almost 3 months I've been on the trail, some of the people of Faith Bible have helped me along the way, aiding me in finding direction, but not just north this time. Finding direction through and with Christ.

I spend time each day praying for friends, family, and those I know specifically who are in need of some prayers, as well as praying that I remain strong and healthy both physically and mentally, enabling me to complete this journey.

I'm still in search of where I might find myself after this adventure and what I might do, and I really appreciate all of the love and prayers that many are sending my way, especially those who have been in contact with me from Faith Bible. For all of those helping me find my life compass, THANK YOU!

Oh, and a short trail update. Got out of town and back to the trail somewhat late (around 10:30am) after a southbound thru hiker from last year picked us up and gave us a lift. Hiked 15 miles in some high heat and humidity, and ended up camping at Dick's Dome Shelter. Rained a little on and off throughout the day, then more when we got to camp and were making dinner, and now as I lay here, there's a steady rain falling. In reviewing my book, it looks like if we do a 21 mile day, we can say goodbye to Virginia! Looking forward to that!

5.28.12 - Unplanned Stay in Front Royal

Hiked remaining 13 miles to Front Royal, VA from Gravel Springs Hut in the morning. Met up with a hiker out doing Shenandoah for a few days who had done the PCT last year. Believe his name was Malto. At the stream we were filling water up at, Froto showed up and said there was a big rattlesnake on the trail a little ways back.

Just before getting to the road to go into Front Royal, we came across some cold sweet tea trail magic. Perfect, as it was a really hot day. Coffee was already there and said he secured a ride into FR with the section hiker.

Coffee, Froto, Pancake, and I got the ride into town and got dropped off at a shopping center. We saw a sign for $4.99 Chinese buffet and couldn't pass it up! From there, Coffee and I planned to do laundry and find somewhere to get showers. The laundromat there was closed, and while waiting in the heat we got the idea to find a cheap motel and call it a day. We stayed at the Scottish Inn for $50. Not bad when split 4 ways. Wasn't the best place I've been to, but certainly not the worst. Did my food resupply at Martin's Grocery and headed to the motel. Grabbed a shower, then Coffee and I headed out to do laundry. Had a chance to talk to my grandma and grandpa, which is always great! Walked down to Subway to grab dinner (compliments of a care package from a few towns back; thanks!), only to find that due to Memorial Day, it was already closed for the day. Took a seat outside a closed barber shop and talked to my mom for a bit, then headed across town to grab a quick bite at McDonalds (also compliments of a care package; thanks!) and cool off in the AC, went back to the motel room and enjoyed the AC and watched some tv with the guys. Glad we decided to lay low for the afternoon and evening, as it was about 90 degrees with a heat index between 95 and 100.

Was also great being able to catch up with some friends too. Unfortunately only via text, but was still nice to catch up a bit.

5.27.12 - Hot Day but Good Mileage, Bug Bites / Poison Ivy

Last night, heard something that sounded fairly large walking around where Coffee, Dame Quixote, and myself had camped.

The morning started off cool, but quickly got humid, then the heat came. About 3 miles in was a picnic area that had running water. Took advantage of that and had a hillbilly shower in the sink. Felt good to get the dirt off at least and to smell somewhat like soap. Have been bitten a lot lately by black flies and no-see-ums which leaves lot I itching red spots. Also, some of the itchy areas are starting to form in lines, which from plenty of previous experiences, looks like I may have poison ivy. Lovely. I can hear my Mom now... "do you have Technu to put on it to clear it up?". Sure don't. Extra weight I'd rather not carry. Well, seeing as I think I've got poison ivy now and I don't think the likelihood is going to lessen based off how overgrown some of these sections of trail are, I think it's time to start carrying some. Luckily, I'll be resupplying tomorrow and can pick some up.

Made sure to drink a lot of water today with the heat especially. My rule for myself is that whenever I pull over to water a tree, I take a drink, and any other time I feel I need it.

Talked to a section hiking couple from Ohio. The lady told me that the wayside ahead has all kinds of good food like burgers, fries, etc. I told her that I had quit my job in order to do the trail so I have to watch how much I spend and spend it carefully. Besides I was carrying a lunch already. She old me to hold on while she reached in her bag and offered me money to buy lunch on her as a form of trail magic. I turned down her offer, but thanked her for her kindness.

Stopped by the last wayside in Shenandoah to get the last possible blackberry shake in the park. Nice and refreshing in the heat of the afternoon after doing 16 miles. Sitting around watching a bunch of tourists come through, especially those on motorcycles was hard. Made me wish I was back on mine in California, riding with the guys I used to ride with.

After our break we did another 6 miles to cap off the day at 22 miles. Much better than what we had done the past few days. Easier without other things getting in the way and taking up hiking time.

Stayed at Gravel Springs Hut, tented. Lime Green, Dakota Dan, Dame Quixote, Coffee, 4 other Germans, some boy scouts, 3 other people I didn't know, and Pancake and Froto (who I hadn't met before) were there as well.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

5.26.12 - Good Intentions, but Plans Changed

Had good intentions of doing a higher mileage day today. Woke up and hit the trail by 7am. Cleared the first few miles easily and quickly. Made it to a wayside because Coffee wanted to grab some breakfast, and I needed to look into info on how to get home for my other sister's (Kristin) graduation from grad school in about 2 weeks, in Chicago. I got stressed out last night as I researched from my tent only to find out flights are really expensive, so I looked into other options. Best I could find is a bus taking about 17 hours each way, but I gotta do what I gotta do. Confirmed dates with my parents before booking, then attempted to book online. Denied. Couldn't be booked online for that trip. I called Greyhound, only to find out that for this trip, it also couldn't be booked over the phone (enter stress). Only way to book is from an Amtrak station, whether in advance or day of travel. I was concerned that the price would skyrocket if I purchased day of. The lady said it would be a few bucks cheaper than the online advance purchase price (figure that one out), would not increase, and if they are sold out, they'll send another bus (I want to call again to make sure of that). So far I have a ride from the trail to the bus station about 20 miles away (thanks to the uber helpful section hiking friend Zion), most likely the bus ride home and return bus ride back (provided everything works out purchasing day of), and as of now, no ride from the bus station back to the trail. Definitely not easy to coordinate, but I really want to be there to see my sister graduate, so I gotta do what I gotta do to make that happen! I guess if anything, I have flexibility if a flight drops considerably in price between now and then, and I catch it.

So now that I had eaten up hours of time working on this, the goal of a high mile day was out of reach. When you hike day in and day out, not making planned mileage can kill you mentally. At least it does for me. That's when it can get bad on the trail, because it's letting the trail get in the way of the hike. I'm out here to experience and enjoy this, but sometimes these roadblocks make it tough. More mentally than physically usually too. At least the blackberry shake I had for breakfast was really delicious!

Ate lunch while we were still at the wayside, then got back to what we should have been doin. Hiking. But not before I picked off a tiny tick from my thigh. First one I've found attached. Annoying and scary. Call it odd, but ticks worry me more than bears.

Later through the day came across Dame Quixote who I met earlier in the week. She mentioned stopping at the Skyland Restaurant to grab a bite to eat since the next shelter was too far to reach at that point. At first Coffee and I decided against it. Later down the trail we gave in and decided we needed the boost. Before we made it to Skyland, we were hiking pretty quickly and when I looked down at one point, happened to see a small rattlesnake in front of me. Stopped a few feet shy, yet no rattling. It was about 2 feet long and moved back and forth across the trail. We waited for Dame to catch up to warn her. Then the three of us waited for it to move enough off the trail before we passed. At Skyland, had a burger that reminded me of how the burgers Mom and Dad make back home. Good stuff!

Hit the trail for about 2 more miles and found a spot to camp just past Stony Man Mountain, which had some nice cliffs littered with tourists.

If I thought the stress was done for the day, I was wrong. Checked my phone only to find out that through some miscommunication I may not receive a food resupply package in time a few weeks up the trail. After looking into options, finally came up with a game plan. Hopefully it works or I'll be to plan B.

Before anything else can find a way to add to the stressful day, I'm calling it a night.


5.25.12 - Bear and Beer

I think the heat has made my memory go a bit, so this one is short too.

Stopped to talk with a few people on the trail just before a campground. They were out for the long weekend in Shenandoah, and actually had lived in Indiana before. Coffee and I went to the camp store and stopped in to use the restrooms (a luxury on the trail). When heading back to the trail, we saw the same folks we talked to earlier. They invited us to have a tuna salad sandwich, chips, potato salad, and a beer! They wouldn't accept the title at first, but Debbie and Dave (see photo), you are trail angels, and that was some great trail magic! It really boosted our day! If you're reading this, thank you again, had a great time relaxing with you, and hope you enjoyed your weekend of camping.

We hiked on with happy stomachs and about a half mile or so before coming to a great spot to camp with a view of the sunset on Hazelnut Mountain, saw a bear. That makes two days in a row!

Planned for a bigger mile day the next day. (see 5.26.12 blog for actual events)

5.24.12 - First (live) Bear Sighting and A Change to the Hiking Situation

Hiked 21 miles today to Hightop Hut. Just before getting to the Loft Mountain Wayside, which has food, drinks, gifts, etc, we saw a bear on the trail. As soon as it heard and saw us, it darted across the trail and we heard it go crashing into the woods. Got to the wayside and enjoyed a soda and are my lunch. Hard to pass up hamburgers and other warm foods, but I already have food I'm carrying, and my pack won't get any lighter if I don't eat from my stash. A guy passing through by truck stopped and talked to us, and gave us some peanut butter cookies his wife made. Nice trail magic.

Rain came in quickly and hit hard for about 5-10 minutes. Enough to get us wet, then it stopped. Not sure whether it's my new shoes, socks, a combo, or maybe that my feet got a little soft from not hiking for about 6 days, but the balls of my feet started getting hot spots again and I ended up developing a small blister under the callus. Pretty sore feet as we pulled into the Hightop Hut shelter, the shelter was pretty full, and the campsites were mostly taken. Coffee and I cooked as quietly as we could and ate dinner, as most people were already in their sleeping bags a little after 7:30pm. Coffee found a spot to throw his tent up, and I decided to climb up on the top level of the shelter.

Before leaving the trail to go to Wisconsin for my sister's graduation, the plan was for me to speed up to catch up with Tarzan, and he would be hiking less miles with his aunt and uncle, then take a day or so break to allow me to catch up. Found out today that the plan changed and Tarzan wants to do higher mile days and keep going, so I think that may have been the last days of hiking before Waynesboro. It'll be a little different now, not hiking with my buddy, as we had some good times. Hike your own hike is a common motto on the trail, and I think this will allow us both to do that, as we have a little different hiking styles and goals. While I won't necessarily be hiking alone, as there are a lot of people on the trail, it's gonna be a little different. For now, I'm hangin with Coffee which is allowing me to brush up on my German skills.

5.23.12 - Shenandoah

Slept in a little later due to the late night.

Getting tired as I type this, so here's the bullet itemized noteworthy points:

-rained on us for about 5 min
-really nice and fairly easy rolling terrain
-saw and talked to a guy who hitched up about 3 miles on Skyline Drive, and skateboarded down (was about a 15 min ride down!)
-felt sluggish hiking, but did 17 miles to Blackrock Shelter
-talked to multiple people who saw bears today; one guy saw 8
-rained hard while eating; going to have wet tents to pack up tomorrow, but thankfully I'm dry
-non Vibram soles on shoes are much less trustworthy on wet rocks

5.22.12 - Back to the Trail

Had a great time back in Milwaukee for my sister's graduation from dental school. I'm so happy for her and proud of what she has accomplished. It's awesome to think about the fact that my sister is now a doctor! The entire time back in Milwaukee was filled with so many good things.

My college buddy, former fellow Quad employee, and all around good friend, Kenny, picked me up from the airport late Friday night when I got in. When we got to his house, we enjoyed some new Lakefront (my favorite) beer, called Wisconinite, while getting a tour of his place. Can't believe he's been a homeowner for a year now. That's some serious grownup stuff there! We caught up for a bit then hit the sack. Woke up the next day and went to breakfast at a good local joint. After that we went back to his place to take care of a few things, then headed to REI to pick up some new gear for the trail. Picked up new shoes, as mine were giving me problems in the toes, new socks because 850+ miles have taken their toll on mine, a cheap carabiner for hanging my food bag PCT style, and a Steripen water purifier. Trying out Wrightsocks for the first time after a recommendation from a friend, trying Brooks Cascadia trail runners that I had read good reviews on before starting the trail, and bought the Steripen because it was on sale for a good price. Mom and Dad are holding onto the Streripen should my current water filter give me any more major problems. If not, I may return it to REI. Love their policy!

Went to sort through my clothes that had been sent from Amy in Cali, and I noticed a lot were missing. Kenny came from around the corner with all of my dress clothes on hangers. He had taken them to the cleaners and had them all ready for me! What a guy! This far off the trail, and running into some great trail magic! Thanks again Kenny, you're a great friend!

Soon after the REI trip, I was dropped off at my sister (Carolyn) and brother in law's (Aaron) apartment, and the rest of my family showed up soon after. Aaron's family was there soon too. We hung out for a bit then went to a restaurant to get some great pizzas. After that we headed to church, then went back to the apartment to have cheese balls, crackers, fruit, and ice cream. I was in heaven with all this good food! After that, went to Carolyn's hooding ceremony, which was followed by yet more food at a reception. All really good times spent with both my family, Aaron's family, and a few other of Carolyn's friends. Crashed at a hotel that night, then the next day was the graduation ceremony, which was actually the best one I've been to. Hank Aaron was the guest speaker and gave a really good speech. After that there was a luncheon with some good food and a slideshow. At this, my sister officially became a doctor! Just crazy, but in such a good way!

Later that evening after Mom, Dad, and Kristin headed back home, Carolyn, Aaron, Kenny, and my friend Chelsea from Quad met up at Wicked Hop (a really cool restaurant in the 3rd Ward in Milwaukee) for a drink. Tried a Lakefront beer I haven't had before called Poison Arrow. That night I crashed at Care and Aaron's apartment on the old couch cushions (couch had been taken to dumpster area). Only slept for a few hours before catching a bus at 1:30am to get to the airport for my 4:55pm flight. It was my only option other than a cab or Kenny coming to pick me up really early. Wasn't too bad, but I was really tired. Found a darker area at the airport behind a sign and slept on the floor from about 2:30 to 4:45am, then boarded and headed to Charlotte. Had a few hour layover so I sat at a restaurant area and ate my fruit and read my AT guidebook. At one point I happened to look up and right in the walkway was a couple that goes to the church my family goes to back home. By the time I could respond, they'd started walking away. I jumped up and tapped her on the shoulder (probably scaring her). I called her my her name, and at first she didn't recognize me with my beard, but then she knew who I was. How crazy running into someone I knew!

Got back to Charlottesville and the section hiker I'd hiked with the precious week, and Coffee picked me up and we went to Washington DC. Somewhat a last minute trip, but my shin wasn't quite as good as I'd hoped so I figured another day might help. Got to have lunch with my friend Cara and finally meet someone I worked with quite a bit on the phone, but had never met. We had some great pizza and beer, and Kayla and her husband Josh picked up the tab. Totally unexpected, and we were all very thankful. I'm gonna say that's some more trail magic, just a little off trail ;) After dinner, Coffee, Zion, and I went to the National Mall and walked all around to look at the monuments. I'd been here in 8th grade, but enjoyed it and appreciated it a lot more this time.

Crashed in DC area for the night, then went to Target to resupply the next morning, and surprised Coffee with his first visit to REI! Good times!

Got back to the trail and started hiking a little later than planned, around 9:20pm. A little nervous going into Shenandoah at night knowing that this will be one of the most likely places for us to see bears. Made it about 3 miles in and called it a night. Both of us were tired.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Next Mail Drop - Harpers Ferry

For those of you who've recently asked where to send a care package along the trail, here's the next option:

If sent USPS:
Ryan Simko
c/o Appalachian Trail Conservancy
P.O. Box 807 Washington St.
Harpers Ferry, WV 25425
Please hold for thru-hiker
Estimated arrival Friday, June 1


If sent FedEx or UPS:
Ryan Simko
c/o Appalachian Trail Conservancy
P.O. Box 799 Washington St.
Harpers Ferry, WV 25425
Please hold for thru-hiker
Estimated arrival Friday, June 1

I'll take a look soon and figure out where the next few locations after that would be. I realize June 1 isn't that far out, which might be too soon to have to try and get it out in time.

Thanks!

Friday, May 18, 2012

5.17.12 - Trail Friday Into Waynesboro, and Some Real Fun Days

Great night last night up on top of Humpback Mountain after a pizza party with Mamaw B, Coffee To Go, and LOL (and of course Swayze dog).

Slept really well with a full belly and got a good night of sleep. Woke up early at 5am to get an early jump on the trail since we were 12 miles out of town.

After 7 miles we made it to the last shelter outside of Waynesboro and took a short break. Balls and Sunshine showed up a few minutes later. We had seen them the night before when we were waiting for pizza. A pretty impressive father/daughter team. They had hiked the PCT already, and were already this far into the AT after having just started on April 2! We started almost a whole month earlier. They are quick hikers, and Sunshine is on track to be the youngest person to triple crown at only 12 years old. Pretty impressive!

Got into town and did laundry, free showers at the local YMCA (pretty sweet deal), and ate (I mean stuffed myself) at the delicious Chinese buffet. Met up with Tarzan and we all headed to the outfitter so Coffee could get new boots. After talking with the guys working at the outfitter, found out one of them went to Ball State and until 6 years ago, owned a restaurant in Kokomo, IN. Small world! Just before we left and they closed, I thought to leave my gear that I couldn't travel with, at the outfitter. They were cool with it and boxed my stuff up with my name on it and put it in the stockroom for me to pick up when I get back.

LOL drove us over to the hotel we would be staying at with Tarzan's aunt and uncle who are in town to hike Shenandoah with him for a few days, but not before going to Starbucks and using her employee benefit to score me a free packet of VIA instant packets! So maybe section hikers aren't all that bad after all ;). Kinda jealous of those two heading off to Trail Days (a huge hiker bash) in Damascus for the weekend. Soon enough Jim and Karen showed up and we headed to dinner in downtown Waynesboro at The Green Leaf Grill. Great food and beer, and a really nice treat from Jim and Karen! Stopped at Walmart on the way back to the hotel to get some beer, chocolate milk, and other goodies.

What a great past few days with some fun folks! Turns out days that start and sometimes linger on as being kinda crappy, can turn out to be really good times in the end, and days I'll remember for a long time! Thanks to all those who made it a great time!

Heading off the trail for 5 days to head to Wisconsin for my sister's graduation from dental school. It's a little tough and odd to get off the trail for a few days, but definitely something I want to do and am looking forward to! Get to see the family and some friends, which is going to be great. Will also be interesting to see who I end up seeing on the trail when I hop back on next Monday or Tuesday.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

5.16.12 - Sometimes You Just Have to Create Your Own Trail Magic

Woke up to a dry, slightly cool morning at 6am. Slept pretty well last night but should have gone to bed earlier. Definitely felt two late nights in a row catching up. Had intentions of leaving around 7, but got out around 8 instead. Had to do 2,000 vertical feet of climbing over the Three Ridges area. Felt strong for a lot of it, but the lack of sleep slowed me down a little later on. Following the big morning climb, we had some rolling up and down, but it was full of rocks to walk over and around. Really slows you down and makes my feet sore by the end of the day. Hiked with Caveman, Coffee To Go, and LOL and Swayze (LOL's dog) for most of the day. After a while of hiking and taking some breaks, it seemed we were all getting really worn out and not really making good enough time to hit the shelter that we were originally aiming for. When we realized our initial plan wasn't really going to work, we decided to plan for a campsite 12 miles out of Waynesboro. Knowing we only had about 4 miles to get there from where we currently were, we took some time and enjoyed some lookouts and good views. Soaked up some sun, and had some fun relaxing and enjoying the day. We ended up going only a couple miles further and came to a crossing on the Blue Ridge Parkway. At that point we once again lost motivation to get further in good time, so we took a break again. At first we joked about ordering a pizza for delivery. Then we were on the fence. Then Mammaw B caught up to us and pushed us over the fence so we ordered pizza from a place called Giovanni's Pizza. The delivered a large cheese pizza and a large sausage and green pepper pizza, and 2 cold liters of Coke to us on the side of the road, on the AT! We were all smiles as we destroyed the pizza and soda! Sometimes you just have to create your own trail magic to make it a better day. We hadn't felt like we had accomplished much as far as mileage goes, but at the end of the day, it wasn't so much about that, but what happened because of it, and the people it was spent with.

All in all, I felt like we hadn't accomplished much for the day compared to what we had our sites set on, but we still did 14 miles on fairly tough terrain 2 of which was 800 feet of uphill after eating all the pizza), had a lot of fun with the people, enjoyed a pizza party at Dripping Creek Parking Lot, and got to watch a beautiful sunset nearby where we set up camp for the night. Also enjoyed learning the PCT method of hanging bear bags from Coffee To Go, and will probably use that as my method of choice from here on out.

Oh, and Coffee To Go (from Germany) speaks English really well, but some of the things he says come out in the funniest ways. The thing is, what he says isn't necessarily wrong, but it's just that he puts things ways that most people wouldn't, which makes it hilarious. Hopefully I can remember some of these and include them in posts. As for now, I'm tired and satisfied with how the day went. Bedtime, and a trail Friday tomorrow.

5.15.12 - There is Such a Thing as a Free Lunch

Woke up to rain sometime in the early morning. It had rained for at least 24 hours! It was all good though because a handful of us at the shelter had no intentions of getting up early. We laid around and took our time getting ready, then headed out about 9:45am. Coffee To Go made me 2 cups of great coffee with cappuccino and espresso! This guy knows how to eat and drink well on the trail! We hiked about 2 miles out of the shelter, then took a side trail that would eventually put us in a parking lot where there should be a shuttle at 11am to go to the Dutch Haus. This is a bed and breakfast that serves lunch to hikers for free! Who says there's no such thing as a free lunch!?! Yeah, we had to walk a few additional miles, but it was worth it! Earl picked us up in his truck and drove from the parking lot near the AT, to Dutch Haus. Earl's wife left soon after we got there, but their niece served me, Coffee To Go, Caveman, LOL and Zion chili, baked potato, homemade macaroni and cheese, pecan cake, cupcakes, coffee, and lemonade/iced tea blend. No problem wiping all that out! Not only did we get a great meal, but Coffee To Go snagged a full fuel bottle for my stove from the hiker box.

Zion got a shuttle back to her car at the James River Foot Bridge due to some hurting from previous injuries. The rest of us got a ride back to the parking lot and had to hike back up the gravel road / side trail we had come down, to meet back up with the AT. We had to go up a ways, then some down, then back up to The Priest Shelter. From there it was a long, steep downhill, down 3,000 ft of elevation. We had heard it was pretty rough, but it went well and didn't seem as bad as some others made it sound. Hiking down The Priest was steep and a little tough, but we eventually got to where it levels out, then went up 1,000 ft of elevation. Filled up water at the river and had 0.2 miles to the shelter. Made some great food with Coffee To Go. Stuffing, mashed potatoes, oil, cayenne pepper, Parmesan cheese, and chicken wrapped up in multiple tortillas! It was amazing! Had intentions of playing Phase 10 again tonight, but tried starting a fire which LOL was able to maintain even with wet wood, but then we all decided it was a late night again already, so we called it a night.

5.14.12 - No Pain, No Rain, No Maine

Still raining from last night.

Rained consistently all day.

Finally got to Seely/Woodworth shelter after 15.5 wet miles. Had a great time with Coffee To Go, Caveman, Mamaw B, BYG E, Squidword, and section hikers Zion and LOL. Played Phase 10 while it kept raining, way past hiker midnight (9pm), until 11:30pm!

Good times!

5.13.12 - Oh Shin Splints

Tough day walking around with shin splints in my left leg. Two schools of thought among hikers: walk it out and take it somewhat easy, or take some downtime to let it recover. I've heard that shin splints are the result of overuse, so I would think taking downtime would be the best, but I decided to take it easy. Ended up doing 18 miles to Brown Mountain Creek Shelter. Got there around 5 and decided to call it quits for the day. Met the section hiker Uncle Knoll and had fun chatting with him. Caveman, Leebob, and Skunkape came in later.

Slept in the shelter when it started to rain. No wet tent for this guy! Rained all night!

5.12.12 - Our First Full Resupply on Our Own, and Shin Splints

Set my alarm for 6am and started moving around 6:10am. Ate breakfast leisurely instead of in the typical rush to head out of camp. I'm going to have to do that more often. It was nice to get up earlier and have a little more time to get ready for the day. Balls of feet have been feeling good. Wondering if it's really the Body Glide doing the trick, or if my feet just happen to not be getting the normal hot spots for some reason. Regardless, I think I'm going to keep using Body Glide as long as it seems to be working.

Hiked 15 miles to the James River, and crossed the longest foot bridge on the AT to get to the other side. Came to a parking lot, then had to hitch a ride 6 miles into Glasgow. After a few minutes of failed attempts, someone in the parking lot offered us a ride in the back of his pickup truck. We stopped at the gas station for some fountain soda (craving the bubbles), and I also grabbed some candy. Sat outside at the nearby park at a picnic table and relaxed. Tons of crotch rockets coming into town and the gas station. Talked to some of the guys about their bikes. It was fun but really makes me wish I could hop on mine and go cruisin! Especially on nice days like today. Oh how much easier it is to pull the throttle back and go 20 miles, than it is to put one foot in front of the other to do so.

Next stop in this tiny town was Dollar General to resupply our food for the next 4 days into Waynesboro. I'll admit, it was a little tougher than I thought it'd be. Tarzan's wife Amy has been doing our resupplies (all but my dinners), and that has made it very easy on us! Hopefully what I chose will get me through 4 days. The only other place to resupply was at the gas station or a small "grocery" store. I think it would have been easier to resupply at a full grocery store like the Kroger that was in Daleville. Oh well. Grocery shopping and meal selection will be SOOOO much different and better when I'm back to the so called real world. I'm not really a fan of having to calculate food to see how I can get the most calories, with the lowest weight, for the cheapest price, and still try to maintain some healthy guidelines as well (while Zebra Cakes have about 350 calories per cake, a heart attack doesn't really sound worth it).

Before heading out of town, we stopped at the little family diner. Four Spoke said not to get the burger, so I ordered a BLT, fries, and a coke. It was an alright meal (typically just about anything beats a trail meal). It was kinda weird being there. Not much going on. One guy sitting around just watching a tv show about some murder story. You know, to each his own and maybe that's how he enjoys his Saturdays, but it's not my choice of a way to blow a weekend. Somewhat made me depressed just being there seeing the guy. At that point, knew we needed to get out of town. I talked to a guy who pulled into the gas station with a kayak in the back of his truck and asked him how the paddling was today. We chatted for a few then Tarzan and I were back to the side of the road to hitch back to the trail. Unsuccessful at first until my kayak buddy swung around and gave us a lift. Score!

Some point in the day on the way to town, I overdid it coming down the mountain and ended up causing myself to have what I believe is a nasty shin splint. Very painful, just like after I ran my other shin into the log a while back. Considering the similarities of pain, I think that's what happened the last time too. Maybe that one was spurred by the log collision. I picked up Icy Hot at the store and hopefully this helps. We got to John's Hollow Shelter after 2 miles from the road, and I took some time to soak my feet and ankle/shin in the cold water. We wil see how tomorrow feels. May have to take some time off it and let it heal. About 75 miles to get to Waynesboro, and I just need to be there by the 18th by midday at the latest, so I have some time if need be.

Two miles was not enough to get away from the hum of the bikes cruising down the (excitingly) curvy road. Maybe that'll cause some good dreams of riding!

The cross in the pictures was carved into a table today. I thought it looked really cool. As for the cave woman riding the dinosaur with a wreath around its neck...no idea. Glasgow was an odd town.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

5.11.12 - I'll Trade You Trailmix for Your Doritos and Apple

Temp dropped to about 45 or 50 last night, and while I was excited to try out the new sleeping bag, it was a pretty chilly night of sleep! It's hard to time when to change out items that you're basing on the weather. Anyway, threw all my clothes on that I have at about 12:45am, and made it through the night without frostbite. I guess we can call that a win. ;)

Was a chilly morning, but once we were hiking and about 2 miles in to the first shelter, it was warm enough to shed down to shorts and tshirt. Had some serious uphill to do today. Thousands of feet of elevation gain at a time. While it has gotten easier lately, it's still rough, especially after a 23 mile day, and aiming for 20 today. Got to a noted swimming hole and road crossing. There was a bus and a lot of kids down by the water. We continued on and on the other side of the road found a cooler that had a trail magic sign on it. Nice cold Coca Cola inside! A nice refreshing treat on a Friday! Hiked on, more and more uphill. Eventually we came up to a group of more kids hiking. They told us they were a class of sixth graders and this was their second time this school year out on the AT. How cool is that?! Jokingly I asked a few of the boys if they were heading to Maine too. They laughed and one said that he wished. We also came across two teachers who were helping one boy along who had fallen and gashed his knee open pretty bad. They said they'd be taking him to the ER, possibly for stitches.

We got to Shelter that was probably the nicest of all the shelters in my opinion. After a few minutes, we were surrounded by about 25-30 sixth graders, and another teacher who couldn't seem to keep her cool regarding the gashed knee kid, and the other 25 or so who were there. Good example she was setting. Anyway, as we ate our lunches and so did the kids, I told Tarzan I was going to see if any of the kids wanted to trade any food. Nah, I didn't really do it. However, those apples and Doritos looked pretty good.

Hiked on and caught up with Mamaw B and Four Spoke. Got ------- miles out to Thunder Ridge Shelter and called it a day. Huff and Puff were already there, and I met Squidword for the first time. Planning to wake up early and knock out 15 miles to a road where we will need to hitch 6 miles into town to do a food resupply. As long as we get a hitch in and out without too much trouble, it'll be way better than the alternative of carrying 7 days worth of food.

Balls of feet feel pretty good today. I've been using Body Glide, as recommended by a few friends, and this may just be working. If it does, this could be great. Only issue now other than normal soreness, is a crease in my hiking shoe as it is breaking in, that hits my big toe. Trying to fix that.

Hoping for a slightly warmer night!

Oh, and check out the picture of what I call the "127 Hours rock"!

Friday, May 11, 2012

5.10.12 - A Good Day on the Trail

Hit the trail this morning around 9:00am after the three of us had breakfast. Had a super lazy day yesterday, and even took a nap, but didn't sleep that well last night. Tossed and turned a lot. Glad to be back on the trail!

Passed Leebob and Skunk Ape pretty early on, just before going through another cow pasture. This time wasn't as bad as the last. We did walk past two that were a mere 5-7 feet away, and even though they were pretty big, they stopped only briefly to look at us as we passed, and kept eating. It's somewhat crazy to me that an animal as big as a cow is a herbivore, but times like these, I'm pretty happy about that!

Knocked out miles pretty quickly during the first half of the day. Had lunch at Wilson Creek shelter where we met a 76 year old man who is hiking. That's pretty impressive! We have been hiking along the trail with a lady who is 71 named Mamaw B. She's a hilarious lady, and can move on the trail too!

Hiked on to the next shelter, Bobblet's Gap Shelter where we met Hay Seed, a section hiker. It was great meeting him and chatting with him while we had dinner. We also saw two other hikers there who we had seen a little while ago. One of them mentioned that his buddy who was hiking with them, woke up today and said he was going home. Apparently he'd gotten what he wanted out of the experience and was ready to go home to take care of other things and move on with his life. After eating, we headed out to get a little further down the trail. Due to our Extra time in town, we now have to make sure to get enough miles in per day to make sure we get to Waynesboro by the 18th.

The terrain and weather today were great. Sunny and breezy, and rolling hills that skirted along the Blue Ridge Parkway. I've heard of it before and have heard it is a great drive. As for me, for now, I'll be hiking near and alongside it. If we have to be this close to a road, there might as well be a lot of cars on it, full of people who are just ready and looking forward to feeding hikers! (hey, a boy can dream, right?). Sections of the trail were also lined with beautiful pink rotodendron and mountain laurel.

When all was said and done, we not only had our most productive day heading out of town (which is usually tough), but we may have had our second or third best mileage day on the trail so far too! 23 miles, and we are camped out on Cove Mountain. Not too shabby if I don't say so myself. Feet are a little sore after wearing the new shoes that Merrell replaced for me. Hopefully the break in period is quick and mostly painless.

Flosser should be home now, which makes me kinda bummed, but I'm sure makes his wife Ann very happy. Thanks for letting him come out and play Ann!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

5.9.12 - Double Zero

Planned on taking one zero day in Daleville, then getting out today around midday. Was raining just about all day from late morning until evening, so we zeroed again. It's one thing if you're already out in it. It's another if you and all your gear are dry and still in town. Lazy lazy day of laying around and not doing much. Even took a nap. Kinda restless and looking forward to getting back to the trail. Now have 8 days to get 140 miles in order to fly out of Charlottesville, to Milwaukee for my sister's dental school graduation. Gonna be some challenging hiking days ahead I have a feeling!

Another farewell dinner with Flosser! And at Three Lil Pigs. Third night in a row there.

When we got in town, there was a package waiting from "Chaos", our generous new friend who gave us a lift back to the trail from Gatlinburg. Was pumped to get in and get my hands on this! Opened it up to find a box of Slim Jims, trail mix, McDonalds and Subway gift cards! Saweeeet! Tarzan and I went to McDonalds, spent 3 hours, and ate two lunches. We took care of things using wifi and planning out our next section of hike to Waynesboro, VA. Thanks Chaos! You're the man!

Also received a card from a very close family friend, someone I really enjoy, and someone who has always been like a second mother to me. Mrs Huber sent a great letter and a McD's gift card from her and Mr H! Really happy to also hear that you are following my blog Mom #2! Thank you thank you!

Tarzan got his new warm weather sleeping bag, hooked up nicely from Big Agnes. Also inside the box, a surprise we didn't expect. An envelope with Honey Stinger (BA's sister company) energy bars and supplements! A little gift from the warehouse manager Diego.

Went to the outfitter in town and scored a great deal on a warm weather sleeping bag. Didn't really want to buy any more equipment, but already the 30 degree bag I switched to is far too warm and doesn't unzip all the way. Bought last year's model Lafuma Extreme 600. 45 degree bag, 1 pound 5 ounces, and full zip. Three factors leading me to purchase. Plus, it was almost a steal at $64. Time to put it to the test!

Also, dropped some weight by sending a few more not absolutely necessary items up to NY, and switched out to a different backpack. Had the Granite Gear Blaze AC 60, which I liked, but swapped out to the Granite Gear Crown VC 60. Lighter, no frame sheet to crack, and a few other small different features. Other great thing is that this smells new and not like dirty sweat! Replacement hiking shoes came in from Merrell too. Hopefully will break in easily and comfortably.

Back to the trail tomorrow! Hoping for sunny, dry, but not hot days ahead.

5.7.12 - 700 Mile Mark and into Daleville, VA

Woke up early and headed out to hike 8 miles into town. Cicadas all over the place, in and out of their shells, all over trees and bushes. I learned something new today. I wasn't aware that they live and grow underground, then dig and come out of the ground leaving holes. Some areas were covered with cicadas and you could hear them buzzing. Sounds kinda like a spaceship. I remember these guys from home when I was a kid.

In the past day or so, we hit the 700 mile mark. Miles are going faster and more consistently now. Hopefully our bodies can keep up!

Fairly easy hike into town, and taking a zero tomorrow. Going to wait for Flosser to get in town and have "The Last Supper" with him, and send him off back to California.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

5.6.12 - A Better Mood, and Better View

Woke up feeling mentally recharged after last night's good times. Feet felt a lot better today too.

One of the scarier points on the trail today as we had to go through a cow pasture where the cows were right next to the trail eating. Not to mention, there was also a bull next to the trail too. Got a little nervous when they all stopped eating to look up at us as we walked right past. What do you even do in the situation they charge??? I'm sure the 30 pound packs on our backs will help.

Nice trail leading up to McAfee Knob. Lots of day hikers, but that meant treats one of them had left in shelters going up (oranges, mango, kiwi, chocolate creme pies), and one hiker that we had talked to on the way up, coming over to find us away from the large crowd to chat and give us apples! Now that's some trail magic, and delivered!

It was somewhat fun interacting with the day hikers. They smell good :). What can I say? We thru hikers are somewhat of a different breed!

Had good service up on the cliffs, so I got a chance to talk to my Grandma and Grandpa Rettig, and my Dad. Even though my Dad was finishing cleaning up from pancake breakfast at church, I told him he should have lied to me, because that sounded really good! I guess I can't complain too much. Last night's dinner was fantastic!

Got some good pictures up on McAfee Knob, then carried on and ended the day after 18 miles. Should be an easy 7 mile hike into Daleville, VA where I'm eagerly waiting to pick up my new pack, new shoes, a package from our buddy Chaos (and maybe from Dentoman too), and some more of my sister's puppy chow she made us that is in a box we sent forward from the last town we were in, to ourselves.

5.5.12 - Mentally Challenging, and Recovery With a Great Meal and Great People

Woke up to sore legs after that climb later last night right before bed. Took a few steps and remembered the hot spots on the balls of my feet were still there. Very uncomfortable. Sometime in the early morning, I woke up all of a sudden from my sleep and realized it was starting to rain. Had to react quickly to pull my rain fly back over the front part of my tent and get it staked down. Being woken abruptly and then not being able to fall asleep for a while is a terrible feeling. It was a familiar feeling and a reminder of what used to happen with my old job a lot. When people at the plant needed information, help making a decision based off the schedule, or just didn't want to take responsibility for their own actions, most people had no hesitations picking up the phone no matter what hour of the night or morning, and calling to wake me up. Now this wasn't everyone's approach, but it happened a lot. Sometimes up to three or four times a night when I was on call. Now I was told that all the time spent during non-business hours, working on work things, was figured into the pay. If it was, it still didn't help the mental or physical hurting that tat puts on you. As I recalled that, I was glad to think about that part of my life being left behind when I left.

So we got to hiking and it started raining. Hardly even bothered me this time and didn't bother putting a rain coat on, as it was warm already. Didn't last long, but the pain of my feet hurting was still there. Got to our first shelter of the day and stopped in to use the privy. Today wasn't a day of many words, just like yesterday. While Tarzan and I hike with eachother, sometimes one or the other get ahead of the other, or sometimes we are right by eachother and just go for miles without saying a word. It's not that we don't get along, sometimes, there just isn't much to say. Sometimes it's the tough terrain and focusing on breathing that's enough of a challenge alone. While we were hiking lately, I've had plenty of time to think about things. Lots of things. With time to think about things, little issues like foot problems, can turn into major things in my head that make me wonder if I can handle another 4 months of this! Hiking has been something I've really enjoyed over the past 3-4 years, but honestly, hiking day in and day out, can turn out to be not so exciting. The thrill of a hiking trip is one thing, but this is proving to be a little different. Thinking this way is not only tough on the mind, but proving to be tough to my mind and body. The mental challenges have been taxing this week.

We had a tough climb up and over tons of boulders and rocks as we hit what they call The Dragon's Tooth. Probably would have been neat, but once again we got snuffed out with the rain. No view. Hiked down toward the parking lot and sat down to have lunch. In the rain. There was a family style restaurant that tons of hikers rant and rave about called The Homeplace. This was coming up and we didn't want to miss it. They're only open Thursday through Sunday, certain hours. We decided to change our plan of hiking there today, because with the tough terrain, we weren't covering a lot of ground quickly. We decided to hike to the nearby hostel and get a lift there. We stayed at Four Pines Hostel which is a 3 car garage with cots, couches, and pool lounge chairs. Classy, I know. As we walked down the road towards it, the rain really started coming down. We got into the hostel and met Huff and Puff, 2 southbound section hikers, and the owner Joe. We did a shuttle run to the store (gas station), then got back and took showers. Gunrunner, Off My Meds, Slim, and Snorting Ox showed up. We then went bet to The Homeplace for the family style dinner. Another group of hikers showed up (No Trace, Unbreakable, Rainbow, Nutterbutter, Four Spoke, Dora, and another guy showed up too. We ate TONS OF FOOD! Mashed potatoes, biscuits, gravy, corn, green beans, cole slaw, ham, roast beef, fried chicken, beans, sweet tea, lemonade. Rounds and rounds of it, followed by coffee and peach cobbler for dessert! Great meal, and a great group to spend time with! Got back to the hostel and everyone was joking, talking, and having a good time! Found out Gunrunner has been to Eagle Caves up in NY where I've been, and where a whole lot of people don't even know about. That was cool! A great pick-me-up after a few downer days. Hopefully that's all I needed!

5.4.12 - Our First (and second) Rattlesnake, and Painful Steps

Been a while since I've had blister/hot spot issues. Had a start of a few hot spots from the high mileage days leading up to Pearisburg, and from going a little faster than normal. For the most part, those healed up when we took our zero day plus a little more downtime in town. Today we were on the trail by 7am, and hiked 21.5 miles with only a few short breaks. Along a rocky ridge, Tarzan noticed a long line of ants leading up the rocks in one spot. He followed their path up to a little den in the rock where he spotted a snake. We were pretty sure it was a rattlesnake, and had that confirmed when it started rattling at us. It was coiled up under a shelf of rock, with its rattle under its body, and its head above its body, watching us. We kept our distance and showed No Trace and his crew behind us. Based on how thick it's body looked, we guessed it was probably at least 4 feet long. About 5 minutes later, Tarzan and I smelled something like a dead animal. I looked over to the left side of the trail, and there was a rattle snake under a large rock, with flies swarming around it. Looks like someone may have killed it with the rock. From then on for the rest of the day I was paranoid. I guess you can't constantly be scared of them, but you just have to be aware of your surroundings. The longest was about 45 min to an hour when we stopped to eat dinner at a shelter. Just before the shelter, we hit an area that reminded me so much of California hiking. There are Ponderosa Pines here which look just like what I've seen in Cali (I believe that's what's in Yosemite too). The smell of them is just like many of the smells you get while hiking in and around Yosemite and the Sierras. It was great to get those memories of times spent outdoors there! Then we hiked on, even though maybe I should have stayed there, because the hot spots on the balls of my feet were painful while hiking. Went on anyway and thought we'd do a few more miles. Crossed a road and stream and saw No Trace, Unbreakable, Nutterbutter, and Rainbow down by a river. They had a sweet camping spot set up and couldn't even be seen from the trail. They whistles at us to let us know they were there, so we stopped by for a little visit. Also washed my face, arms, and legs off in the river, and washes a pair of socks too. Felt great. I knew if we were going to hike to where we wanted on top of the ridge, we would need to leave soon, so I didn't soak my feet. Wish I would have to make them feel better. There's a family style all you can eat restaurant up ahead that we heard great things about. We are somewhat pushing out extra miles each day to get there in time to eat. It's only open certain days and times. If it wasn't for that, I think I'd be throwing out the "why don't we just stop here and call it a day instead of pushing on when we aren't feeling overly strong". Would have been nice today to stop and hang out with that crew, and in a great spot too.

Now we don't have to do the crazy uphill tomorrow morning, as we knocked it out tonight, but my feet are feeling it now and I'm sure will be pretty sore tomorrow.

Gotta figure out how to eliminate these hot spots and blisters on the balls of my feet.

5.3.12 - A Hot One, and First Day Without Flosser

Today was a hot one. Woke up on the ridge and got hiking around 7am. It was nice and cool in the morning, which helped make a climb more comfortable.

Today was also our first day without Flosser. He was too old and slow for us young pups, so we said see ya later. Just kidding. He's great and we didn't want to leave him behind, but he's getting off the trail to head back home at the next town to go spend time with his family in Yosemite and such, and his hurting legs have forced him to have to slow down. So... we bid adieu to one of our fellow Amigos yesterday, in hopes that we will see him again in New Hampshire and/or Maine to finish out the trail with Tarzan and me.

We made it to Pine Swamp shelter, 5 miles away by 9:30am and took a quick break. Moved on to the next shelter about 5 miles later and had lunch around noon. Took a good break there and let the feet air out. Met 2 southbound hikers from Florida who started in August, took a few months off during the winter, and got back to the trail 2 days ago. When asked if they missed the trail while they were off it, they both said yes, and were glad to be back. We hiked another 8 miles to War Shelter and hung out with No Trace, Unbreakable, Rainbow, and Nutterbutter for a few hours. Put our feet in the ice cold creek which felt great! Ate dinner and talked about Indiana and California (both of where No Trace and Unbreakable have lived), and about other trails and great hiking trips. Eventually Tarzan and I decided to hike on. About 20 minutes later ER came across a campsite and creek we had planned to camp at, but thought it'd be a little further. Probably should have stayed up at the shelter area and hung out with those guys longer and shared stories. Oh well.

Trying out sleeping with my rain fly pulled back. It's ready to reattach the front in case it starts raining, but hopefully this works out for a cool, dry night.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

5.2.12 - Already May???, Ticks, and a Little Homesick

Wow! Is it really already May? We started this journey back in early March, and it's hard to believe it's already March kinda crept by as we transitioned into our new lifestyle. April seemed to have flown by! I told Tarzan, before we know it, we are going to be saying "remember when we hiked the AT?".

Yesterday was spent in town in Pearisburg, VA as a zero day for us. No hiking on the trail. The motel we stayed at was odd, but it was nice to have a shower to use and a bed to kick back in and relax. Took care of mailing a few items up north to my friend Hilary, who will hold some of the colder weather items until we hit the White Mountains of New Hampshire, or hold onto some items I'm not going to use, until we are done. Also did the normal town activities of buying dinners for food resupply, and mowed down on the food friends and family had sent. Good stuff! We rented a car really cheap (special hiker discount), and Flosser drove us and Sit-a-Bit over to Blacksburg to go to an outfitter so those two could get new shoes. We were right in Hokie territory, near Virginia Tech's campus. A lot of the towns we go into (with the exception of Gatlinburg so far) have been pretty small with not much going on. The VIrginia Tech area had a lot of nice looking areas, and you could tell we were in a college town. It was a different feeling than we've had for a while. On one hand it felt good, but on the other, it made me feel somewhat out of place. Even though we were showered and clean, I'm sure they could tell we were scuzzy hikers. :)

Today was a sluggish day for me. Leaving town with 5 days worth of food is pretty heavy. Plus after more than a day spent in town, getting back into trail mode can sometimes be rough. As much as we wanted to get out of the lonely and somewhat odd town setting, it was still rough getting back into it today. On top of the heavy backpacks, it was also hot today. We sweat quite a bit, and really had to look at the guidebook and maps to see where we could refill from streams along the trail. Staying hydrated is going to be even more important with the incoming heat of summer. Tomorrow is supposed to be a high of 91. We went through an area that had a lot of tall grass, and between Tarzan, me, another hiker we met today named Doc Holiday, and his dog Wyatt, we picked about 10 ticks off of us. Before leaving to start the AT, a lot of people asked me if I was scared of bears. Now I haven't had a bear encounter yet, but I am pretty sure I'm more afraid of things like ticks, spiders, an snakes than bears. Especially since some ticks are very small and hard to see. And so begins the daily (multiple) tick checks.

Got a chance to talk to one of my Grandpas yesterday, who informed me his grandparents are buried in West Virginia and he wondered if I'd be anywhere near it on the trail. It will be cool to learn more about the history d my family, even if not done on the trail. Also got a chance to catch up with some people I haven't talked to in a while. It was great catching up! There's a lot more I'd really like to chat with soon, and plan to make more time to do so.

There's a lot of different emotions and feelings that I've already experienced on the trail so far. This afternoon and evening, I started to get one that I haven't had yet. I'm not really sure where it's coming from either, but it's a homesick feeling. I'm not the type of person to sit around much, as I usually like being out and active, but for some reason today, something has made me want nothing more than to be at home with my family. As I was working hard and sweating to get up some of these mountains, I was almost in a trance, thinking back to the days of soccer practice as a kid, and being outside playing all the time, even in the heat of those Midwest summers. Then, coming inside to cool off with iced tea and those Popsicles in the long plastic packages. And as we hiked into the evening and the sun was just starting to get lower in the sky, memories of smelling food on the grill as Mom got dinner ready and we waited for Dad to get home to sit down and eat. Maybe that's what spurred all this. Maybe not, I'm really not sure. I love being outdoors, and it's typically where I'd prefer to be at any given time, but for some reason tonight, I'm just not feeling it. Would rather be at home with the family, even just sitting around watching tv with the ceiling fan on and the sliding back door open. Like when I was growing up as a kid. One thing I do know for sure is that I'm looking forward to flying to Wisconsin in 16 days to be there for my sister's graduation from dental school, and I'm so ready to see my family then.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

4.29.12 - Another (painful and taxing) Big Mile Day

Woke up around 6:30am, got packing quickly, and got the heck out of camp as early as we could so we didn't have to deal with the wacko southbounder! As it was, when I woke up, he was awake talking loudly and asking Mamaw B about where her ancestors came from. She just kept saying he didn't know, every time he asked. Finally he stopped.

So we hiked about 6 miles to a road (found a few trail magic meals someone left), went 1/2 a mile to Trent's Grocery, which was a little hillbilly gas station with a decent food and random camouflage and hunting/fishing assorted gear. Tarzan and I got chili dogs, 24oz beers, sodas and I got a bag of chili cheese Fritos, and made all of it disappear quickly outside. Oh, and Tarzan got a ridiculous looking straw hat too.

Hiked back out to the trail, and when all was said and done, we ended up putting down a 23 mile day. Lots of uphill, and lots of rocks to navigate around. It was a painful day.

Tomorrow we have a 8 mile hike into Pearisburg, VA. We will meet up with Flosser, destroy Pizza Hut lunch buffet (can't wait!), shower, do laundry, resupply with some food and do some gear swapping (my sleeping bag), probably hit another buffet (maybe Chinese) for dinner, and hopefully get some relaxing and let our bodies recover.

We are at Doc's Knob shelter for the night and the only ones here. Tarzan decided to pitch his tent. I'm in the shelter alone. Hoping no tent tear down will help me get out earlier tomorrow morning.

4.28.12 - 24 Mile Day, the 600 Mile Mark, and an Odd SoBo

After a challenging day of a rocky ridge and hiking 20 miles, we threw down our highest mile day yet at 24 miles. I got up pretty early and was ready to roll, but the other guys slept in a little longer, so I sat and ate my breakfast at the shelter and waited for them. We hiked about 5 miles of nice, hardly even rolling terrain to a really nice bridge over a river, getting rained on a little. Tarzan and I waited about 30 minutes, and Flosser showed up. He mentioned earlier that morning that his knee, shin, ankle, and pretty much whole leg was bothering him. Not fun hiking what we did (or anything for that matter) when you're in pain. I give him big props though. He still knocked out a 20 mile day the previous day. So when he met up with us, he said he wasn't feeling great with the pain, so we came up with a plan to meet up with him in Pearisburg. He would get a shuttle ride there and Tarzan and I would hike. We flagged down a passing truck and they offered to take him to Bland, VA.

At this point, it was around 11am and we were about 5 miles in. From there, Tarzan and I took off hiking and knocked out a total of 24 miles for the day, getting into Jenny's Knob Shelter by 6:30pm. That's some big miles and in good time too! Sore after that! We did come across 2 separate spots that had trail magic at one point, but the drinks were all gone.

When we got in, we started setting up our tents behind the shelter, when a long, crazy haired guy in all black came around and started asking how we like our tents, and talking to us awkwardly. We found out he's a southbounder, hiking from Maine to Georgia. We've heard that they are alone on the trail for a long time, so they love interaction when they get it. Maybe so, but this dude was just weird. To sum up some of the odd activities: talking about the most random things like his ancestors having shallow eye sockets, and that's why he does better in the cold and prefers to hike at night (even though he decided to stay the night), doing funny exercises in the shelter while we all ate and hung out around it, talking about saboteurs in the world including on the AT, ninjas, showing how he harnesses and focuses his energy inside him, etc. at one point before I went to bed, he walked up and asked if he could have my attention. I was nice and gave it to him. As he demonstrated (by yelling and waving his arms) how he harnessed and focused his energy and rage inside him, I stood there and tried not to laugh, while I could also hear the others around the fire saying that I took a bullet, took one for the team. They owe me!

Big day. Hoping Flosser can get back on the trail with us soon!

4.27.12 - Challenging Day

Some hard rain last night but woke up to fairly dry tents considering. Slept in a little later than normal, but it was nice after the slogging wet day yesterday. Once we started hiking, some areas were still real wet from all the rain, and some of the creeks and streams were still more active than normal. We could tell where additional streams had formed from the excessive water that the streams couldn't hold. One spot, we couldn't cross at the normal crossing, so we had to walk around in the woods and find a less wet spot to cross. And at another steam crossing, I found an empty turtle shell. I carried it up to the next shelter and left it there with "Welcome to the SHELL-TER" sharpied on it.

Hiked up and across a bald area on the mountain. Of all the balds we've crossed so far (maybe 4 or 5), I think this is the only one that we had a beautiful, clear day and could see the surrounding mountains. It was beautiful weather all day today. The sun was shining, there was no rain, and the temp was about perfect. Made it into the first shelter up on the bald. Took us a decently long time to get to that point. We were kinda dragging a little for the first part of today too. The second half was a ridge. In the book, it looked like a rolling ridge the remaining 10 or so miles to the next shelter, but it was a lot of jagged rock filled with ups and downs that put a hurting on my body. Made my feet ache and the muscles in my legs felt fatigued all. Came across a rocky lookout on the ridge that looked down onto the valley that had farms and farmland all over. The top of the rock where we were also had some tie offs for rock climbing. Tarzan and I took a rest there and let Flosser catch up. It was a really rough section, especially for anyone with any foot or leg pain/issues. I had good cell service, so I called Merrell up to see what they thought about the inside heel area of my hiking shoes falling apart. It happened about a week or so and started wearing down my hiking socks, as well as rubbing on my heel uncomfortably. I have last year's model of the Merrell Chameleons (the 3's), and Tarzan has this year's. He hasn't had the same issue I've had. I wanted to see what the company thought about this wear and tear, because I already bought 2 pairs of the Chameleon 3's, and I wanted to get an idea of how many pairs I may end up going through to complete the trail. Without any hesitation, they told me they would send a new pair (of the Chameleon 4's to me on the trail in one of the upcoming towns we will be arriving in. Pretty sweet customer service! I got the 2 pairs of Cham 3's for the price of one pair of Cham 4's due to them being last year's model. Now it's kinda like I got 3 pairs for the price of one! Also had a chance to send Granite Gear an email asking what I should do about the frame sheet in my backpack that cracked when we had the snow and 15-20 degree weather the other day. I've heard from 2 other people who have the same pack that they had this happen, but in ways other than frigid temps.

We left the lookout and came to a forest road crossing. Found some trail magic just part the road. Jugs and bottles of water, and empty egg crate that at one point had hard boiled eggs, and some baby carrots. Perfect, as I was craving some fresh veggies. The fresh fruits will have to come later. From that point and the next four miles, the terrain got a little more manageable but still rocky. I threw my earbuds in and rocked out to some country music as I sped ahead on the trail toward the shelter. Special thanks to my friend Cara for helping me out and finding a used iPod for sale, getting it, loading it up with some music, and sending it to me on the trail. It really helped out when I needed that extra motivation today!!! Also, thanks for all the candy, funny note, and Men's Health magazines you sent. The whole magazines were too much weight to carry, so I ripped out the pages I wanted to read and pitched the rest.

Got into camp near the shelter, made dinner, and hit the sack. Gonna be sore tomorrow. I can feel it already. I guess that's what 20 rough miles in a day will do to you :)

4.26.12 - Rain, rain, a somewhat pathetic day, and more rain

Started off today with cappuccino, milk, breakfast, and a shower at the motel, and had big plans of jumping back on the trail and hitting big miles again. We watched the weather this morning, and knew we were going to be walking into some nasty weather. As much as we didn't want to leave the little rundown motel and head out into the elements, we always end up thinking of it another way. If we were out on the trail, we wouldn't have an option. If things got bad enough, we could hunker down in a shelter or in our tents, but we are out to hike!

So we started hiking around 9:30am to a slight rain. This slight rain turned into some downpour, which remained pretty consistent for a few hours. Pants are always the first annoying part to get wet. Rain jackets are good at keeping my core fairly dry, but it transfers the water to my pants. Pants were getting soaked quickly. Reminds me why kids cry when they have accidents. The wetness is a miserable feeling. Then the shoes start taking on water (Goretex only does so much good keeping water out, but once it's in, it holds it in pretty well). When that happened, I stopped avoiding puddles and running water on the trail.

A lot of uphill as we chugged through the rain. I have this gear (a hiking mode if you will) that kicks in when it's raining. I tend to speed up, because there's not much to see, and frankly it's not that enjoyable being wet and hiking. So this speed puts me a little ahead of the guys. Before I know it, the trail becomes a river with water rushing down it. Steam crossings are hopping over their barriers and taking over the trail. There's streams all around now, and they're running like crazy with all of this rain water! I just kept trudging through it, and at one point I realized that I was about as wet as I could possibly get, so it didn't bother me as much any more. I started stomping through standing water and watching it splash aside as I did. It was kinda like being a kid again! Then I got to what normally probably would have been a simple rock hop through a stream, but now the water was raging. I assessed the situation the best I could, then got out my camera and made a video of me going up to upper shin deep through this stream to get to the other side. Cold water just filled into my shoes, but it wasn't a problem, cause they were already soaked. Walking the ridge line was windy and cold, but as I descended, it got a little warmer and the rain stopped, but the trails were still a mess.

Waited near a pasture for Tarzan and Flosser to catch up. We hiked on from there through other pastures and next to some private properties. We came down one side of a mountain and came to a raging river that was brown from all the mud stirring up, and had debris being carried down it. There was whitewater where I imagine there usually isn't. We found the white blaze that pointed where to go, which was over a wooden stile, into an eddy of the rushing river, then a walk right next to the flow. Haha, yeah right! We looked at options for doing it packless then having packs handed back over after the eddy, but decided on the safer route of going on the private property. We could see up ahead that there was a double blaze, this one indicating a turn in the trail. We went ahead to check it out and sure enough, we were supposed to end up on the other side of this flowing beast! Normally there's a bridge on the country road that we would use to cross, but the bridge was under at least a foot of fast flowing water. We scoped it out, and concluded it wouldn't be a safe idea to cross, even a little further upstream, because the current was just too strong. (I thought it'd make a cool video of us crossing it using our inflatable Big Agnes sleeping pads!). A lady came out of her house and called us up to her. She said we would need to hike down the road about a mile and a half to two miles to meet back up with the trail due to the crossing not being an option. She said it usually doesn't get this bad and that it probably wouldn't be down to a normal level until about 2 days from now.

So we hiked the road, came across some trail magic of soda and crackers (I wasn't feeling it, so I passed), then shot up some more ascents. We had big plans of doing 20 miles today, but we did only 11. Felt kinda pathetic falling that short of our goal. Got to the shelter and it sounds like just about everyone else had the same ambition, but it just didn't happen. Maybe it was the rain, or the reroute, or the heavy packs leaving town. Who knows. Felt so strong hiking the other days, but just felt like a turd today. Oh well. Here's to hoping for drier weather ahead!

4.25.12 - 16oz Burger :)

We hiked like crazy for a few days in a row so we would be in position for a shorter day into town (well, more of a truck stop sort of area). We hiked 10 miles into Atkins, VA which is right along interstate 81. I recall having taken 81 from New York down to West Virginia on a few occasions if I'm remembering correctly. Along the way we came to an old farm which is now a historical museum. We decided to check it out (Flosser was really excited about it. Tarzan and I had our minds on food, but I'll admit, it was kinda neat). After a little while there, we went further down the trail and came across an old schoolhouse. I got the idea to do a Bart Simpson-esque chalkboard writing (something like "I will not skateboard in the hallways" repeated all up and down the board as punishment), but hiking related. Numerous times on the board I wrote, "I will not hike less than 15 miles per day", and signed it at the end. Hopefully some people pick up on this who come in after and see it!

Got into Atkins, VA area, not actually the town, to a motel called The Relax Inn, where our food resupply was sent. Other hikers poured in, as I don't think there were any other options of places to stay there. We got our room, then quickly made our way to The Barn restaurant up the road. We had was about the 16oz Hiker Burger in the guidebook, and my sites were set on it. We each got one and I knocked mine out no problem! Good burger! Put some Heinz 57 on it too which I hadn't had in a while. Oh man, the cravings I'm having for another as I type this a day later! Took showers, did laundry, and hung out in our room until bedtime.

Love trail Fridays!

4.30.12 - Early Morning into Pearisburg, and "Christmas"!

Slept alright in the shelter by myself last night. At one point I woke up and thought I heard something moving outside the shelter. May have been Tarzan moving in his tent, but at the time I wasn't sure.

Woke up around 6am and got moving. Had breakfast and hit the trail before 7am. Sore legs and feet made for a rough morning. We had about 8 miles of up and down until we ended up in Pearisburg, VA. Met up with Flosser at the Holiday Motor Lodge and got showered. Helped Phoenix fix her once again broken bag, then we headed to the Pizza Hut buffet and ate a lot of food! On the way back, we stopped into the motel office and got our resupply packages and my other sleeping bag. Also ended up with 3 care packages! It was like Christmas going back to the room and opening the boxes!

Thanks to my sisters Care (Carolyn) and Din (Kristin), brother-in-law Aaron, and Din's boyfriend Jeff for the puppy chow (now that's something I haven't had in a while!), Subway gift card, and card!

Thanks to The Brackett House Ladies (Donna, Jean, and Mary) back in Saratoga Springs for the blueberry muffins, hoho's, Pop Tarts, and the card and pamphlet! Reminded me of multiple great memories of living at the lovely Brackett House.

Thanks to Paul Cerone for the huge box of the most random, great assortment of hiker friendly snacks, from dried prunes and real fruit strips, to Pringles and Cheetos and Damn Good Jerky from upstate NY! Also, the bandana from The Mountaineer is cool and will go to great use as we sweat through some serious miles, and the emergency/fix-it kit was a very good idea! Also, I think getting you out on the trail to do some miles with us would be great! I'll keep you posted!

Really enjoying all the love and support that family and friends are sending our way along the trail! Thank you again! Also, because we're unable to eat absolutely everything that's sent at times, you've also made some other hiking friends we've made happy, and they wanted to say thank you too!

This place we are staying at is kinda odd, but it's nice to be off the feet an legs and getting some recuperating time in.

Cheers!