Monthly Archives: March 2013

Day 15: This and that

Franklin: Two things they love here: hikers and Jesus! I think this must be the Christian bookstore capitol of the world! And there are hiker discounts, free shuttles, hiker deals all over the place. Around the trail, hiking is big business.

Gear: Bought heavier gloves at the excellent outfitter here. They also drove me back to the hotel. Thank you! I also picked up a few other things: new water treatment, socks, toilet paper. For resupply, I wish I’d started at Big K-mart instead of Ingles. I probably would have saved ten bucks.

Injury report: I’m happy to report that I’ve been lucky. No injuries. One tiny blister on day 3 that went away. I have a little tightness in one Achilles on the uphills, but I’ll stretch it. Other people haven’t been as lucky. I was talking to a hiker today who had to have medical attention to her knee yesterday: fluid drained, shots, pain relievers. She’s still hiking, though!

Heading out tomorrow! Looks cold tomorrow night, then a little warmer but rainy. The next few weeks will be weird, in terms of connectivity. I’m not sure where I’ll be able to get a phone charge. I’ll probably have to save up the updates and post them in a bunch again.

Happy spring, y’all! 🙂 And happy trails.

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Day 14: Nero in Franklin, North Carolina

So, I think I was up to the hypothermia, right? Yes, I was! And yes, I said hypothermia!

Actually, the resolution is less interesting. As soon as I realized I was near hypothermic, I went into default algorithm mode. What’s first? Calories. So I sat down and ate some trail bars and slim jims. Second? Warmth. As soon as the rain died down to just a steady downpour. I went and put up the tent. It was soaked. I used all my dry clothes to mop the floor. Then I realized my broken water bottle had just dumped pretty much my last 8 ounces of water into the tent.

I think I cried then, but the only thing I remember clearly is saying, “You have GOT to be shitting me.”

So, short story long, I inflated my air mattress and did the best I could to keep my quilt from going over the edges into the pool.

And it worked! I slept warm im the downpour. Sometime that night, everything froze. The bandannas I used to mop the floor were hanging like sheets of tin. It was windy and well below 30. I got up, rewarded myself with coffee (although I couldn’t wash the cup because even though it started with boiling water, the coffee at the bottom of the cup froze).

I did hear through the hiker grapevine that two hikers were rescued off the mountain with hypothermia that night.

Then yesterday turned out to be one of the best hiking days yet. The moods and changes out here are as steep and variable as the mountains. Whole eternities pass in the space of a winter afternoon. Yesterday I climbed a mountain.

Albert Mountain, 5250 feet—and a lot of the climbing was hand over hand, up rocky faces with a sheer emptiness behind. And it was fun as hell! The views were spectacular. I experimented with a little video. Bumped into Hobo up there, and we took each other’s pictures.

I passed a hiker on the way down, a day hiker in jeans. Then when I was a half mile down the other side, I realized I’d left my camera on the summit.

Panic.

I set off at a run back ip the hill. Please, please, please let that day hiker be one of the honest ones. Then… trail magic!

Running down the trail toward me was the day hiker, carrying my camera. He recognized me from the photo Hobo took! His name was Matt Parrish, and he’s a wilderness firefighter. Than you so much, Matt!

This trail is like that. Indescribable. Every intention becomes expressed, or its opposite does. The only other place I’ve seen that is one particular square mile in Michigan.

Tented last night at Long Branch Shelter [mile 102.5—broke the 100-mile mark!]. In the shelter were Hobo, Peanut Butter, Turtle, and Preacher. Preacher’s hike ended this morning. Knee injury. I left him back at Rock Gap, waiting for his ride out of the magic and back into the world.

Nothing more to be said! I’m in Franklin tonight and tomorrow. A good night to be off the trail, since it’s going down to 20 in town tonight, and probably 10 up on the mountain.

Also, my nose has been pouring snot since we got off the mountain. I may have a cold.

Oh, I almost forgot! Trail magic! At Winding Stair Gap, I and a few fellow hikers were looking at an hour wait in frigid temperatures, when a van pulled into the parking lot: 2011 thru-hiker Tinman, just stopping by to look at the trail. He asked if we wanted a ride into Franklin. Thanks, Tinman!

This trail is like that. Random miracles and the generosity of strangers.

Matt Parish:

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Tinman:

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A 65-cent soda machine! That’s crazy!

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Days 12 and 13: Keep calm and carry on

It’s been two whole days since I updated! You probably didn’t realize this. Last night I came face to face with the first real physical danger of the hike, and updating was not an option.

(Note: When I say something ominous like that, rest assured that the danger’s passed. Everything I post is basically yesterday’s news.)

So anyway. It rained. It poured. All day. It actually started in the middle of the night at Muskrat Creek Shelter. I got up early and packed away my drenched tent, then set off at around 8—before the rest of the shelter dwellers.

I had such a good morning that I almost deleted yesterday’s entry as being too negative. But this is a journal for me, too, and I want to remember the snot and the pain and the grueling relentlessness of it all.

I climbed a 5000-foot mountain with no hesitation, and finally realized the obvious: my breathlessness uphill isn’t a result of my conditioning, it isn’t the food… it’s the altitude! I’ve spent a half-century at sea level, and my body is adjusting to life at 4000 feet. Even the young guys from Florida are having trouble!

Had lunch on top of Indian Gap Mountain with Apple Pie. She’s a triple crowner (AT, CDT, PCT) on her second AT thru. She said her fellow triple crowners call the AT the root canal you have to finish if you want the triple crown. Lol. Also, she gave this advice: When it stops being fun, do short days and hang out with good people.

And on that note, the sun’s gone down and dragged the temperature wih it. In my mesh tent, my fingers are stone. I’ll have to finish this tomorrow from glorious Franklin, NC.

(The guy down below is my friend Hobo in the rain. Potentially the nicest guy on the planet. From Maine.)

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Day 11: Good news and bad news

Muskrat Creek Shelter [mile 81.4]

What first, the good or the bad? Let’s start with the bad: Today was the first time I actually questioned my ability to do this, physically. Not to do it at all, but to finish in time. I only made it 7 miles today. And all the other people at this shelter started 4 or 5 days after I did, including the retired couple.

That’s the bad news. Today was tough, tough, tough. Out of the old shelter and immediately up. And up. And up. Every time I thought it couldn’t possibly go any higher or steeper, I turned a corner and the trail angled up for another half mile. I mean 45, sometime 50 degrees of pitch. All day.

Bly Gap, I hate you forever! You are NOT our preciouss!

The good news is that I think I know part of the problem. I’m simply not eating enough, and especially not enough protein. I don’t have enough energy to do 15 mile days. I worked on that tonight—ate a big dinner. I’ll get into Franklin in a couple of days, and I’ll change up my meal plan again.

The best news: Today I finished Georgia! YAY! No matter what happens, I’ve done the entire AT in Georgia.

And as I lie here typing, I hear some familiar hikers roll in: Peanut, who camped next to me at Lance Creek, and Hobo who started 3 days before me. Look, the day’s turning up already, just as I’m about to turn in.

Rain tomorrow.

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Day 10: Shut up and eat your mountain

Tenting at Plumorchard Gap Shelter [mile 74.1]

Nothing happened overnight at the creepy-weird campsite. So yay! Got up after the sun was safely rising and climbed up out of that dell then right on up Kelly Knob (elevation 4171). These mountains continue to kick my ass, and I’m not sure how to get better at them, cardiovascularly speaking. Sometimes I stop every 4 steps for a breath. I play a game: 4 steps, stop, 5 steps, stop, 6 steps, stop, and so on. I have to assume I’m improving. But I’m usually covering 1 mile per hour on the uphills, and that won’t get me to Maine!

On the other hand, don’t they have great names? Everything’s a knob or a gap or a creek. If I were naming a shelter, I think I’d name it Knob Gap Creek Shelter.

Ahem. So anyway, the hiking was good today. Lots of ups and downs (shock!). Another sunny spring day. The bugs came out a bit, and I saw my first wildlife: two squirrels.

On the way dow to Dick’s Creek Gap… trail magic! Two hikers named Doctor Pepper and Trailwalker gave me a baggie of treats. Trailwalker is 70 and did the whole trail; Doctor Pepper is a spry 67, still biking after a quadruple bypass. He did the whole Georgia section. Both of them put me to shame!

After that, another long, hard climb up Buzzard Knob (3750 feet) then down to the shelter. For the first time, I’m in a shelter that’s nearly empty! Daddy Two Sticks from White Blaze is here, and one or two thru hikers. The shelter’s in an odd spot. Most of today’s hikers would have gotten off trail 5 miles ago to go into Hiawassee to resupply, and anybody who came back from Hiawassee this morning would have hiked mmore than 5 miles.

A very nice shelter, though. Three floors inside and plenty of flat places to tent. The water source is close and free-flowing.

Tomorrow, if all goes well, Doctor Pepper and I will have something in common.

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Day 9

Tenting at Addis Gap [mile 64.2]
Miles today: 11.3

So, here I am, cowboy camping again. It’s a beautiful spot near a creek, down in a dell with a big firepit and some smaller ones. I have the place all to myself. It’s kind of creepy, camping alone—but this time I didn’t have much of a choice. There’s a shelter 2 miles down the trail, where I imagine there are 30 people. But those 2 miles are up a steep incline, and my feet are really sore tonight. They feel like raw meat. And I was also nearly out of water. Sometimes you have to choose from several situations that are less than ideal.

Got a slightly flustered start this morning. When I checked in at Hiawassee, I asked what time I should come out for the shuttle. The guy said ‘five of nine.’ So at 8:55 I was saddling up when somebody knocked on the door. The shuttle driver. Everybody else (eight or nine of them, including Jon and Inchworm from Trail Journals, whom I hadn’t met yet) was already in the van and waiting! In the rush I lost one of my glove liners. Out here every action has repercussions, more than at home. Anyway, I dont’t think it’ll be a problem. They were wispy little things and not much use. I still have my mittens and rain mittens.

The day was stupendous. It warmed up from about 30 to the sixties. You could really feel the spring in the air! From Unicoi the trail climbed Rocky Mountain. After fhe descent into Indian Grave Gap… trail magic!

Two guys named Fishhook and Panda, who thru-hiked a couple of years ago, had a ton of snacks and food and water! They also had some great advice. (I ask everybody for advice.) All I took was some water and some little Snickers bars, because right across the street was Tray Mountain, which I’d been nervous about for days.

Tray was beautiful. The views were spectacular, as always, and it felt close to the sun. A great warm morning.

After that, it was up and down all day. I was hoping to get more than 11 miles, but the pack was heavy with the fresh resupply of food.

I do miss my old bubble of hikers. The faces I’m seeing now are new to me. But that’s how it is. We’re like a thousand salmon swimming upstream. The people around you are always changing. The trail is the only constant.

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Day 8: Zero in Hiawassee

Hiawassee is full of hikers! We’re standing around in twos and threes and fours, in parking lots and in the diner and the giant grocery store. Even now, a week or so in, we have almost a uniform: fleece, puffy jackets, red faces, a sort of happy scruffiness. We wave to one another and call out names. ‘How’s your hike going? What about that storm? Hey, is that knee better?’

I saw Jon from Germany in the market. I told him his trail name ought to be Yonder. 🙂 A play on his name (pronounced Yon), and a comment on the fact that he’s covering distance. Don’t know if it’ll stick! I also saw Rob from the HH.

All those guys are 2 days ahead of me. You can get to Hiawassee from Unicoi Gap or Dick’s Creek. Most people go to Helen from Unicoi, but I’m so glad I did it this way. I heard Helen is a bit of a tourist trap.

People have injuries! Rob’s feet are cut up and chewed up. Jon’s having knee issues. I’m happy to report that I’m injury free. I’ve been doing 8 to 12 miles per day. Slow, but it’s keeping me healthy. Fingers crossed that it stays that way.

So. Week 1 postmortem. The stupidest ultralight tip I followed was to take my dental floss out of the little box. That just turned into a sticky, trashy nightmare. Best gear decision: Puffy pants! I lost my backup Aqua Mira. Duct tape doesn’t really stick to anything. Tissues of some sort are a necessity for me; with the wind and the cold and the effort, snot just pours. This is a filthy adventure wherein you immediately become intimately acquainted with all sorts of unspeakable fluids and grime, and the best way to ease the transition is to surrender to it as quickly as possible.

Adapt, adapt, adapt. 🙂

I’m here through the rest of today, then catching a 9 AM Shuttle back to Unicoi and those two mountains. My next respply should be in Franklin, North Carolina. I might not post updates until then. Or might. Who knows? This whole journey is minute to minute.

I’m carrying a pebble from Springer to… well. To Maine, I hope! But for today, just to Hiawassee.

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Day 7: Nero in Hiawassee

So here I am in beautiful Hiawassee. I came in entirely on impulse. As I was lying in my tent this morning (it was frigid), I pulled out my trail guide to see how far I wanted to go today. The elevation profile showed two monster mountains—Tray Mountain is 4500 feet in elevation (with a shelter on top, and dear gods I am SO not staying there). I was filled with ‘ugh,’ when I saw that the Budget Inn also shuttles from Unicoi Gap, just a mile from where I was tenting. The problem was that it was already past 7, and the shuttle was coming at 9. I flew, packing up my stuff in random order, then dashed down the mountain. Fastest downhill yet, I think! Although who puts uphills in the middle of their downhills? The AT, that’s who!

It all worked out. I’m going to take a full zero day tomorrow (that’s a day with no mileage; a nero is a day with low mileage). I wasn’t planning on zeroes this early, and truth be told I feel pretty good. But you know? I’m 52 years old with a few pounds to lose, coming right off the couch. I decided to give my body a day just to make sure there aren’t any injuries I’ve been ignoring. I need a gear regroup, too, plus all the usual nero things—food, laundry, showers.

So today I’ll sew my rain pants. Tomorrow Is all about resupplying and tweaking the way things are arranged. I’ll be back on the trail Friday morning to tackle those two mountains.

Speaking of injuries, I only have one and I wasn’t expecting it: chafing! My inseam areas from groin to knee look like hamburger. That didn’t happen on any of my training hikes! I think it’s from the seams of my pants. Anyway, If I were starting tomorrow I’d add some sort of lotion or lubricant to my first aid kit. The White Blaze people recommend Body Glide. I got some lotion at the drug store, and I’ll take that with me.

Does anybody know a trick for reducing typos while typing on a phone?

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Hiawassee

I’m at the Budget something in Hiawassee. I know the posts are wonky. The phone is charging. In the next two days I’ll be fixing and catching up…

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Day 6: Brutal lite, then better

Tenting at Blue Mountain Shelter [mile 50.5]

Last night was a disaster. The wind blew furiously, then the rain finally came. It poured in torrents for 3 or 4 hours… Then the wond started again. Around ) am I realized fhat the wind and freezing rain were coming so hard that they were crushing my tent. My down seemed dry, but everything else in my tent was soaked. “Can it get worse?” I asked. And yes, it could. The down could get wet. So I paked up. It was a rout. Everything was frozen solid, including my tent poles and bear bag.

The frozen fog persisted, along with the outragious wind. All the brambles and twigs were bandaged in ice. Once I got down below 3000 feet elevation, though, it warmed up and the sun was bright. Treated myself to a big cup of coffee at Low Gap Shelter, then went on to surprise myself with my first 12-mile day!

I cant’t take redit, though. I was lured by the siren song of the privy. Look, I’ve spent 50 years perfecting the art of pooping sitting down. If you want to do the trail, forget the practice hikes and stairmaster. Do yourselfp a favor and practice crapping in your tub.

Anyway. Connectivity is still a problem. I managed to see WordPress comments but can’t get enough signal to respond.

Hiawassee soon.

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