Monthly Archives: April 2013

Pack recommendations

Quick aside: I may need to buy a new pack in Damascus. My current pack doesn’t seem to be working with my new body type (ie, bones), and I’m having a lot of pain on my shoulders, neck, and upper back, despite having adjusted every possible strap and reorganizing the contents about a dozen different ways. I’m going to talk to the pack guy in Damascus, but I thought I’d get some opinions.

Do you love your pack? What kind is it?

I’m currently carrying a ULA Circuit with the… J strap? The one for women. And I think that’s actually part of the problem.

Anyway, I’m just about out of battery so I won’t be able to respond untol Damascus.

All recommendations appreciated!

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Day 50: Down the rabbit hole

Greasy Creek Hostel, mile something or other

I’m in the Greasy Creek Hostel. I wasn’t actually planning to stay in a hostel. But you know, I was hiking along and starting to get anxious about the resupply in Hampton. I haven’t hitchhiked; it’s one of those things I just can’t get past. Hampton is 4 miles from the trail. So… worry! Then as I was hiking today, I spotted this hostel in the book. A half mile from the trail, and they have a small resupply stock. OK, I thought! Two days’ resupply will get me to Damascus! And the weather report helped; they’re calling for torrential rain and 30 mph winds, according to the HGN. I can carry 7 days’ worth of food. I can’t carry 7 days of food and a wet tent up Roan Mountain.

Anyway. Back to the beginning. Unaka Mountain really was pretty. A carpet of red needles, and tall pines that blocked the sun. It was a shadowed quiet place. The trail wasn’t even visible in places. Luckily, the blazes were.

Then it was back into the bleak brown.

I took a tumble once and my stick went flying off the trail! I had to creep out on a fallen tree like walking the plank. Another hiker, named Preacher, showed up and gave me a hand. That’s the second Preacher! I’ve met two Peanuts. Today I met a second Miami. And here at the hostel is another Dreamer—the hiker gal who got the last bunk at Marian’s last week at Sam’s Gap.

It was a weird day. I fought with my gear all day! Straps, jacket, shoes… it all seemed to grow lumps and tentacles.

Trail magic! A guy named Mr. Byrd (I forget his first name!) was at Iron Gap with sodas! Thank you, Mr. Byrd! Mr. Byrd ran a hostel in Massachusetts for 15 years. He moved here in December and can’t stay away. He was a funny guy–reminded me of a skinny John Goodman. A hiker asked him, “So, have you hiked the trail?” And he laughed and answered, “No. I think you’re all fucking nuts!”

I agree. 🙂

So I’m here at the hostel. One lady runs it out of her house. I’ve got the sofa. No big resupply, but I think I can get to Damascus. The place is crowded with hikers, mostly in their twenties. I know a few—Hey Everybody and Professor. Also, there’s a guy named Bones. We have some things in common, so I’ll be keeping an eye out for him!

Hostels. They’re a crapshoot!

And guess who just walked in? Fifteen!





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Day 49: Summer is coming

Unaka Mountain (which I keep wanting to call Ubaka Hill, after the famous drummer) [mile 355.7]

Got 14.2 miles today. If you count the 1.1 from the hotel back to the trail, I broke the 15-mile barrier! For me, that’s the speed of sound! I can’t take much credit, though. The terrain today was appreciably easier. Dirtwalks, wide trail… it was heaven. Who said it all changes after Erwin? There were plenty of ups, but being fed and rested, I managed them much more easily than has been the case. So, 14.2 miles… and I didn’t get to the trail until after 8. And I took breaks to eat!

Ohmygod. I just noticed. I haven’t even thought about my feet. They don’t hurt!

Erwin was a lot prettier on the way out. Grassy meadows, some horses trying to chew their way through their fence. The Nolichucky River was wide and gorgeous, jade green studded with rapids. After the river the trail crossed the train tracks and began climbing.

It was a summer climb, though. Slow and gradual under a warming morning sun. The trail wound through the rhododendrons next to a cheerful rocky stream, and I realized: I can’t wait for the trail to turn into the ‘green tunnel.’ The views are nice, but I’m here for the forest—for rivers and waterfalls, and green overhead. The brown bleak mountains just aren’t my cup of Gatorade.

I met some new hikers today: Stumbles and Oxy and Bojangles. Oxy is from Harrisburg. Stumbles started on April 4, which is astonishing to me. I miss my Geritol bubble! I wonder how far ahead the Postman is?

The weather was gorgeous: sunny, warm, just enough wind to keep the bugs at bay. Definitely shorts and tee shirt weather. So ironic, given that the nighttime temps for the next two weeks are supposed to be freezing. Also, they’re calling for four days of rain starting Saturday. Oh, and it’s supposed to lightning and thunder tomorrow afternoon. If that’s what you need to do to get it out of your system, trail, then go for it! Bring on the summer! I hike much better when I don’t shiver all night and wake up with frozen shoes.

The afternoon was a long uphill to Beauty Spot Gap, a bald with some magnificent views. It was clear today; I wonder how many hundreds of miles I was seeing?

Part of the climb was through an oddly blighted section of forest. It reminded me of New Jersey: sandy soil and low, starved-looking shrubs. I couldn’t tell if the trees were dead or just not budding yet. Maybe they were some special breed of Tennessee zombie tree; I have no clue. I’ve often wished I could have a complete field guide to plants and trees and birds, but it would have been the first thing to go at Neels.

Guess whom I ran into at a spring? Hikerboy! He was doing a 20-mile SOBO slackpack back to Uncle Johnny’s hostel. He said Unaka Mountain was magical. When I was near the top (the magical part), it was 6 PM—quitting time. So I decided to pitch my tent and tackle the beautiful part in the morning, when I usually have more time for pictures. It’s so quiet up here! The birds have gone to sleep.

Tomorrow looks like more good walking. But tomorrow or the next day, I’ll have to tackle a monster: Roan High Knob, the highest (and allegedly coldest) shelter on the trail. Back up into the 6000s for a while!








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Heading out

Heading back into the mountains! I won’t have a backup battery until Damascus in 120 miles, and I’m not sure I’ll be able to grab a recharge before then. Have to save the juice! Might be largely radio silent for the next two weeks, then post a cluster of updates.

See you on the other side!

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Got one vote for bigger photos and one vote for OK as is.

Testing a bigger photo


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Day 48: Plenty of time

Erwin’s a normal little town. The mountains aren’t huge and the town sprawls—clusters of buildings strung on ropes of gray highway. There’s a train, an old-fashioned freight train that reminds me of my childhood Christmas platform.

Back when Aquaman gave me that trail magic ride to the store, he said there was a local bald that was just as beautiful as Max Patch. Big Bald. Well, I climbed it the other day, and Sir, you are no Max Patch! One reason was that from Big Bald, every vista was corrupted by webs of roadways and machinery scars and tumbled houses and something that looked like a golf course. All of that was Erwin.

There’s not much to say about Erwin. LOL. I think I’ve reached the end of my poetry.

They do have an excellent grocery store.

I’m doing my least favorite thing: Repackaging food. I HATE dealing with the food. If I could get rid of one aspect of hiking, it would be the whole food thing. But that goes for home, too.

I sent my stove home. I’m not cooking, and the bulk and weight are too much. I’ve lost a lot of weight. The pack weight has to come down, too.

I’ll be heading out with six days of food. I’ll have to top off in Hampton, but the next major stop will be Damascus.

A lot of people quit in Damascus, apparently; it’s a psychological milestone.

Smowman, who hiked before, said we’re still just fine for getting to Maine on time.

OK, I got nothin’. Some days just don’t warrant that many words. Which is just what a zero is all about. 🙂

I’m planning to eat breakfast at 6:30 tomorrow, then hoof it back to the trail by 7. Get there by 8, and back on track.

By the way, is the size of the photos OK? I can go a size larger.

OK, back to communing with my gear!




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A word about donations

The kindness of people is a gale force, sweeping and miraculous. It humbles me.

I’ve had a few people ask me how they can contribute financially to the trip. Can I send some money, they’d like to know. Can I send you a few bucks of trail magic?

That gives me a moral dilemma.

This hike, for me, is partly a pilgrimage. I’m walking state by state through the entirety of my life, scouring away old scabs and contemplating future directions. If you want more informatoon about that, we should have coffee and talk. 🙂

But you know, it’s also part vacation. Right now I’m staying in a decent hotel watching NCIS reruns. I’m clean and warm and happy. If it were summer, I might be using the pool.

There are myriad ways I could be doing this more cheaply. Instead of staying in this hotel, I could be bunking with other hikers in the ten-dollar-a-night hostel up the street. I could be living on frozen lima beans like one hiker I met. I could be making use of hiker boxes.

But I’ve found that hostels don’t work for me, not every time. I need a quiet, private place to let my body rest and heal for a day. Even at that, I could be splitting the cost by trying to find a roommate. I’ve chosen not to do that so far. I negotiate at shelters, and the trail itself is a constant negotiation… in town, I just don’t want to have to negotiate for the TV remote or bathroom time. I need to relax and recharge in the way introverts do it best.

You see the dilemma? If I were to take a donation, then somebody else would be paying for my vacation. And I don’t recall a single instance where someone asked me to pay for theirs.

I saved for quite a while for this trip. Am I blowing through my budget at an alarming rate? Yes. Am I alarmed? No. I’ve still got plenty of budget, and contingency plans for later. I’m easing away from the hotel zeroes. As soon as it’s warm, I’m planning to take more of my zeroes in the woods. It’s just been too darn cold thus far. And I like the hostels sometimes, too. Just not every time.

So, to anybody who’s been thinking about that sort of trail magic, thank you. Your compassion overwhelms me and softens the edges of me that lose hope in the days of cold and misery. What models you are! True heroes.

I’m not precluding putting out a ‘trail magic’ jar later in the hike—particularly after the Whites, when I may truly be out of funds. For instance, one glaring hole in my budget is that I forgot to figure in money to get home from Maine (or Connecticut!); I was so concerned with making it past Neels Gap that the end of the journey kind of fell through the cracks.

If anybody still feels compelled to send trail magic, the best way is to email it via PayPal to thumperwalk at gmail. That way you can specify in the notes what it should be used for: food, gear, coming home. The pilgrimage and not the vacation. Semantics, maybe, but I take those very seriously.

For now, honestly, the best trail magic is to comment on the blog. Really. It’s a lonely business out here, and friends vanish as frequently as the weather changes. This space is a rock for me, solid and anchoring.

Thank you so much.

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Day 47: Up to date

And then there was today!

I’m in Erwin, Tennessee—safe, warm, and dry. I’ll be here tonight and tomorrow night. Tomorrow will be insanely busy, since I need to get a shuttle to resupply.

I didn’t sleep well last night. Nightmares! Spivy Gap felt oddly… animally. Not bears, but I kept feeling like mice were going to chew my tent, ot a skunk was going to spray me. Hell, that might have improved the odor. 🙂

The gap was actually a gorgeous place: rhododendrons and tall pines that littered the ground with ruddy needles. Turns out I was really in the gap; I hadn’t thought I’d made it that far.

It wasn’t as cold as yesterday, but I never did make it out of long sleeves. I opted to haul butt and make it all the way into Erwin. And I did.

One enterprising soul paid tribute to the twin themes of plague and dead people by tagging a little rock with… oh, heck. I’ll just let you look at the photo. I laughed. Hard. And I hope it’s true!

The walk into Erwin was grueling. Two big ups, then a massive down. But I’m here!

Saw my first poison ivy. Shape of things to come.

A lot of hikers have been through this hotel lately—some for a week. (Hotel squatters!) I just missed DB, whose trail name has apparently been changed to Clark Kent.

I had a great chat with Snowman, who’s thru-hiked once already and is hiking again with his wife Escargot. I met them in Hot Springs. Snowman does the cooking for them, so I pressed him about what he eats. I’m not eating enough, period. I have to at least double my calories. I dkn’t know how I’m going to do that. Food out here just makes me nauseous, but I’ve come to the conclusion that the uphills are hard because my body has no fuel. Oh, well. I’ll work it out. Adapt!

Heard on the Hiker Gossip Network, I kid you not:
–The virus is now hitting as far north as Damascus.
–Some people have joint aches and think they have the virus.
–‘They’ want to send a hazmat team out to take stool samples from hikers to examine the virus.

If anybody in a hazmat suit walks out of the woods at me with an anal probe, I’m not waiting around to see if it’s some official agency. Just sayin’!

Javelin, who’s left the trail, is going to send me his New Trent phone charger! Outstanding trail magic, and I’m so grateful! Thank you, Javelin! That will be in my Damascus drop box, so I’ll only have to get through two more resupplies on limited battery: here to Hampton, and Hampton to Damascus.

The weather’s supposedly going to take a turn back toward winter: temps in the low thirties down below, so maybe high twenties in the mountains. I might keep that stove for another few weeks.

And that’s that!







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Day 46: Cruising

Near Spivy Gap [mile ~330]

I was hoping to do a 15 today! Didn’t quite make it. There were some fierce uphills including a mile-long rock scramble that utterly spent me. But I did keep hiking until 5:30 (7 AM start), which is progress. And I managed 13 or so—better than yesterday and probably outstanding, given the week’s antics.

Woke up to frozen shoes! Well… frozen stiff rather than frozen solid. It must have gone down to 30 or so overnight. Ice in my water bottles, ice crystals on the tent—just the thing to make you want to jump out of the sleeping bag and put on your wet socks! 🙂

Speaking of socks, let me digress for just a moment. I think something crawled into my feet and died! Into my actual feet! And died! The smell’s so bad, I’m surprised the tent hasn’t melted! Actually, it’s only the socks next to the shoes. I wear two pairs of socks. I has baggies between them for the last two days because of the rain. You slop around in mud-filled trenches and compost-ripe fields and festering swamps and other hikers’ campsites, your shoes are bound to take a beating. Not to mention your nasal passages.

Anyhoo. All that pretty spring vegetation was as flaccid as yesterday’s lettuce. The cold weather killed spring! It also killed my phone battery, which had sucked down to zero overnight. So much for the 8% emergency fund.

Later on, though, I remembered what DB Cooper said about warming up the batteries, so I stuck the phone in my bra for a while, close to my heart. And look! Six percent! So I managed to take some bra-phone photos for you. (Trust me. If you’ve spent any time at all in the back country, you know how desperately unappealing that is.)

Not much excitement on the hiking front. The cold was the worst—a blustery biting wind that never really abated. But the skies were cloudless blue. And another few mountainsful of bare trees and dead leaves are done!

Stopped for lunch at Bald Mountain Shelter and met Miami, taking a zero, and Rainbow Bright. Rainbow Bright was getting sick. She took off to the privy for a while, then vanished into her tent. Sounds like the plague to me. But hey, it wasn’t me that infected her! She was sick when I got there! I bope she feels better soon.

A note on the plague: I was meticulous. I didn’t touch other hikers. I used antiseptic wipes and disinfectant. I didn’t stay in the shelters. But I got it somehow! It’s hard to stay clean out here, despite best efforts. Hell, it’s hard to stay only dirty. Postman said I probably got it in Hot Springs, and that seems reasonable. I’m less careful in towns because I’m showered and the towns feel safe. But I’m still hanging with hikers, going where hikers go. I doubt the guy running the hiker ministry is hosing his doorknobs with bleach. I’ll never know for sure where I got it, but I’ll be a little more vigilant in towns, I think.

Hikerboy passed me today! Fast hiker. Oh, who am I kidding? Hikerboy’s grandmother would make me eat her dust.

So now I have a dilemma. Or… actually, I don’t! I’ll hike tomorrow and camp as close to Erwin as I can, then walk in and look for lodging. I have a LOT of internet and phone issues to resolve.




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Day 45: Old School

Sam’s Gap [mile 317.4]

Here’s a first! I’m writing this Old School, in a little tiny notebook. The phone’s down to about 8% charge, and I need to save that for emergencies. I’m going to order a battery in Erwin and have it shipped in my Damascus box.

So, up and down, eh? I slept all afternoon and woke up feeling normal. Thank gods. I’ve never experienced anything that meteorically awful. If I were home I would have spent today in bed recovering, drinking ginger ale and eating crackers. Alas, I had no crackers. In fact… funny thing. At home I don’t get sick, usually—one of the benefits of working alone. It’s so far off my radar that I never thought to provision with something easy on the stomach. The thought of salmon jerky and whole-seed protein bars makes me nauseous. I did have a couple of pork ramen in the food bag, which was about as close as I could come to chicken noodle soup. I promised myself one of those as a reward if I could get up and moving.

I packed up under extreme wind. That happens a lot out here. Sometimes it grabs my pack and tosses me off balance.

The trail is getting greener from the ground up. Parts of the forest are a lush carpet bursting with tiny flowers—yellow, purple, pink, red, white. Overhead some of the branches are starting to get that radioactive green that comes with the earliest new leaves.

More dead people. These were in a cage, which had me slightly nervous.

Around midmorning a cold drizzle started; it turned torrential by noon and stayed that way all day.

I figured I deserved a break, so I planned on staying at Hogback Ridge Shelter even though it was just 2 PM. Surprise! When I got there, it was already full. People zero in the shelters when the weather turns bad! Who knew? Squatters! I can’t blame them, since I was looking to squat myself.

But guess who was there? The famous Hikerboy from Whiteblaze! I’m a fan. That was cool. 🙂

That was at 315 miles. Having gotten nine miles on an empty stomach, in the rain, shocked me. It’s so random out here.

Not much to do but press on. At Sam’s Gap on a tree was a sign for Mother Marian’s Hostel. Yay! I called; they were full because of the rain! Boo! (Hostel squatters!)

But their shuttle driver showed up at Sam’s Gap to pick up their final lucky guest, and he kindly gave me a ride down to the convenience store two miles away. Trail magic! Guess what I bought? Crackers! I thought about ginger ale, but I didn’t want to carry the trash. Thank you, Bobby/ Aquaman/Wall Street! Bobby hiked from Hot Springs to Vermont three years ago. He ran out of money in Vermont. That’s when his buds changed his name to Wall Street.

So, a rabbit pulled eleven-something miles out of a hat. That’s excellent. And now in Sam’s Gap the rain has stopped, but inside my tent it’s starting to get cold. Time to hunker down. Night!







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