Monthly Archives: June 2013



This is completely overwhelming, yet again. More later. In brief: This is not my beautiful house, this is not my beautiful wife, and all my rituals and habits have fled. I almost cried in the grocery store, but I realize that’s just exhaustion. I forget how to type on a keyboard. I seem to be able to drive, still (although my car is making a horrible noise and needs service this week).

I forgot how to turn on my computer. I can’t remember where things are or where they go. When I left this strange place, it was set up for winter… and it still is. I can’t find any clothes that fit me.

But eff it. There are four potatoes baking in the oven, and I have 2 pints of sour cream, 10 Greek yogurts, and a pound of Starbucks. I renewed my Netflix for a week. I have a fan somewhere to take the edge off the heat.

Like Gloria Gaynor said, I will survive. And I’ll enjoy it whether I like it or not! ;D

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Day 115: Miscellanea

Harpers Ferry

Last daily post before Maine!

Random miscellanea from a lazy day:
Ordering a new AT Guide, SOBO edition. I could make do with my NOBO, but it’s beat to death—the equivalent of a pair of boots held together with prayers and duct tape. And reading the book backward would be slightly inconvenient anyway.

Do I want to take my stove? Do I want to mess with a whole new meal system when I’m already facing another shot of culture shock? I’d have to force myself to use it. I didn’t before, which was why I finally dumped it as useless weight. But among the learning-curve mistakes I made early were two big ones: not enough calories, and not enough humans. Connections are made around the shelter picnic table. If you pound a Cliff bar and jump into your tent (which, admittedly, was appropriate when it was 10 degrees), you end up with a lonely hike. On the other hand, most shelter people will be NOBO anyway. (But some of them won’t!) And then there’s the weight issue. I got rid of all my food at the Bears Den, so I basically strolled into Harpers Ferry with a daypack. It was glorious. And I’m already having to add back some clothing weight. Not to mention bulk.

I headed out of the hotel at around 7:30 and strolled all the way up the ginormous Harpers Ferry hill (like the Manayunk wall, for Philly peeps and anybody who watches bike races) to the Coffee Mill, only to find that even on a Saturday you can’t get a cup of coffee until 10 AM. I’m definitely an impatient Yankee in a relaxed southern town.

The historic district is cute but not overwhelming. Then again, being from Philly, I’m jaded about that sort of stuff. Also, I confess, I’ve never been that fascinated by American history. Give me Saxons and Normans and Celts, oh my! And Romans. And maybe a little Pompei. With a side of Egypt. The Civil War? I’ll leave it to the people who are so passionate about it, and they can give infidel me the Cliff Notes version. 🙂 Although I do like the Ken Burns documentary, and maybe I’ll watch it during the intermission.

I’m going to need a better music player. Something that can hold a metric boatload of music in an easy-to-find catalogue, and with as much battery life as I can get. I was thinking iPod Touch, since I won’t be wasting battery on games or video. I’ve never owned an iPod, though, so I don’t know if that’s my best bet. I currently have a crappy little mp3 player that runs on regular batteries, but it only holds a gig or two, and you can’t really find stuff very easily.

For the record: I was hiker 159, I believe, out of Neels. 259? I’m hiker 834 at Harpers Ferry. Six-hundred something hikers have passed me. Bless their hearts! Now I’ll be passing them! 😉 [And oops! Laurie gave me a new number: 46! They number the hikers by direction. Note: There are 119 more hikers in the book today than there were on this date last year. As Laurie said, “That’s huge!”]

There’s a scale at the ATC. For the record, I’ve lost a whopping 35 pounds! I confess, that’s more than I thought.

My new shoes feel like entirely new feet. I had no idea how much the old pair had degraded. Odd to think that if I’d replaced my shoes at 300 miles rather than 500, I still might be going NOBO. But that might be more serendipity; I think flipping’s the best way for me to go. A thru-hike is like a survey course of the AT anyway, and this way I get a taste of both NOBO and SOBO. And I get to do the hardest parts when I’m in the best shape, before parts of me start falling off or wearing out entirely.

One of the workers manning the ATC used to be a ridgerunner at Baxter (where Katahdin is). I picked his brain! Thanks for the info, my friend!

I’ve spoken with a few other early March starters who are persisting NOBO. I have a feeling the majority of them will be flipping. I’m also starting to meet fellow flippers. They’ll all be passing me farther north. 😉

Spent an outstanding afternoon with Sisu and got caught up on a lot of things. Thank you so much for lunch and for driving all the way out here, Sisu. Trail magic! I can’t wait for your hike next year. I’m already in your fan club, and looking forward to reading your journal!

And that was the day. Lazy, hazy, crazy day of summer, before the breather and the big chill.








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Day 114: Power outage

Harpers Ferry

I didn’t expect to be so overwhelmed here. When I walked up to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy headquarters, when I saw that famous wall where thousands of hikers have had their pictures taken… it gave me shivers. Overpowering. I know we’re a hundred miles short of the technical midpoint, but I can see why they call this the psychological halfway point.

The town’s full of Civil War history. Stately homes and legendary landmarks. Also, the best bug protection on the planet: a cannon. Take that, you freaking mosquitoes!

If the cannon goes missing, it wasn’t me. Just sayin’.

Harpers Ferry is also recovering from a three-hour power shortage this morning that has all the restaurants and businesses in an uproar. People are slightly grouchy. But I walked around and got fed, and now I’m clean and drinking gallons of Sprite.

This last morning was fun hiking. Easy trail, beautiful river. It kept threatening rain again, but so far it’s still dry.

I hiked fast this morning. Now that the plan is in motion, I just wanted to get my northbound leg finished!

Guess who was in the lobby when I got here? Fifteen! He hiked the last few weeks with Springbock and Kitty and Codger and Trashbag, so it was great to get news about them. We compared notes about various people. Fifteen might flip, but if he does it won’t be until later. He doesn’t have the ‘hiking home’ factor that I have. (Right now, Fifteen’s pack is in my room. He left it here until his wife picks him up later.)

After I checked in, I slackpacked up to the ATC and met the famous Laurie P. Laurie said two interesting things. First, she said that some people will tell me that a flipflop isn’t a true thru-hike. She assured me that as far as the ATC is concerned, it is. (I’m not too worried about that anyway. Anybody who starts denigrating my hike isn’t going to be somebody I’m interested in talking to.) Second, she said the ATC likes it when people flipflop and hike in other ways that are outside the bubble; it reduces the impact. So, look! I have organizational approval, which always makes me happy. 😉

I’ll be ending my hike (if I survive the toughest sections, which are where I’m headed in a couple of weeks) right there at the ATC. Right here in Harpers Ferry, when its getting near Halloween.

Unless I die.

This feels exactly like the first beginning, when I was afraid I wouldn’t get past Neels. Only instead of Blood Mountain, this is Katahdin. Oh, shit. I just scared myself a little.

Back to one day at a time!

So anyway, up in the hiker room at the ATC, Clinker was there. I met her at the Bears Den and we were the only two people at the shelter last night, and we sat on the porch swing there and had a great conversation. She’s ultralight (cuben fiber ultralight) and does big miles. Clinker said she’s not at all excited about reaching the ATC. It feels like just another little town stop to her because it’s not the mathematical halfway point.

Don’t worry, Clinker. I got choked up and excited enough for both of us!

I’m so beat. Guess what I did? I lost my poles for about 3 hours. I just left them downstairs when I checked in. Of course, that’s the problem with using them sometimes but not other times. I don’t automatically reach for them. But I’m worn out to the point where I’m doing stupid things more often than usual.

I have a lot of decisions to make next week. I need to research gear, buy some things, bug spray everything. I’m thinking about taking my stove again.

I have to figure out the resupply issue. I think I go right from Katahdin into the Hundred-Mile Wilderness, where there’s no resupply. (I’ve been going 100 miles between resupplies anyway, but usually with a potential location to top off.)

I managed to get a spot at the AT Lodge in Millinocket for the night of the 13th. It’s the SOBO special—kind of a reverse Hiker Hostel deal. It’s excellent that they had a bunk. That’s two big issues handled. All that’s left is to work out the various buses I’ll need to take. I hope they all run on weekends.

I hiked today, and tomorrow would have been a regular zero, so I’ll update then, too. During the intermission week, I’ll probably just do a couple of updates on the status of things. Then I’ll crank up the updates again when the journey resumes on the 13th. Oh, and heh; from what I’ve been told, the connectivity in Maine makes Virginia look like New York. I hope I don’t vanish for a month then post 30 updates!

Edited to add: Fifteen spent a couple of hours here in my room waiting for his wife. Talk about serendipity! When I arrived at the Hiker Hostel on March 7, Fifteen was there waiting to start his hike. I was starting the next morning. He was nervous and excited, I was nervous and excited… and tonight, there we were again. We talked about all the people, all the hostels, all the situations that happened in March, April, May. It felt like a retrospective—a whole summary of the trail this far. Like that recap episode halfway through a season of a reality show.

So this leg of my hike has been perfectly, magically framed by conversations with a retired gentleman whose trail name happens to be the date of my new beginning.









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Day 113: Almost heaven

David Lesser Memorial Shelter [mile 1009.7]

So many milestones fo pack into one tiny day!

I slept hardly at all at the beautiful Bears Den hostel; too many Cokes, bad mattress, too many hamsters going round and round in my head. Dates, times, numbers, probablities. Around 1 AM I drifted off for a couple of hours, then dozed again until 5:30. And when I woke up, I knew what i had to do: Get on the internet and reserve the first available two-night slot at Katahdin Streams. If it doesn’t work out, I’ll have made a $60 donation to Baxter State Park.

Allowing time to get to Harpers Ferry and manage the travel to Maine, the first available slot was a shelter spot on July 14 and 15. So there it is. I jumped off the cliff.

I had to figure out where to kill time until July 14. A no-brainer. I live 2 hours from Harpers Ferry. So I’ll go home for a week. My sister graciously offered to drive down and get me on Sunday. Thanks, sis!

There’s still a lot of ducks that have to be lined up if this is going to work out. But the worst duck was that campground issue. I’ll fiddle with the rest next week. One day at a time!

So here I am in my tent. If all goes well, the next time I sleep in this tent will be a day after I’ve summitted Katahdin. (Just saying that makes me all nervous and shaky and excited!) Or… a day after I wasn’t able to summit Katahdin!

On to the hiking day! The first milestone: Mile 1000, baby! A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step! And let me tell you, every single step has a thousand miles of history behind it.

A thousand miles. A thousand freaking miles! Doesn’t seem quite possible, does it?

Next milestone: End of the roller coaster! I was glad to see the back of that. I seem to be having some knee issues. The days of rest will fix that, I hope.

Then the biggest milestone of all, bigger even than 1000 miles: I crossed the border into West Virginia. I finished Virginia! Twenty-five percent of the trail, home of the Virginia blues, and it’s done! Done! I may not have finished it quickly, but I’m still hiking when a lot of my cohort have called it quits. West Virginia, I think I love you!

All day long, rain threatened. Strong winds blowing fog in from the
east; spitting; overcast skies. The weather reports looked dire, but the strong thunderstorms haven’t come yet. Maybe they won’t.

West Virginia is woodier, flatter, and much more stealth-friendly than. Virginia was. And much less poison ivy. What’s up with that? Maybe in Virginia the trail goes over land that people just can’t find any other use for!

Tomorrow: Harpers Ferry, hopefully in the early afternoon. No need to resupply or visit an outfitter. This will be strictly tourist time, with a visit to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy headquarters to do some research and get my picture taken for the archives.

By the way… PATC? Excellent organization. I’ve loved your shelters and everything you do for the trail. Thank you!








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New plan!

Plans are now in motion!

I’m leaving Harpers Ferry on Sunday and spending a week at home.

I reserved shelter space at Katahdin on July 15. I’ll spend next week working out the rest of the logistics.

Heading southbound, baby! Watch this space!

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Day 112: Mourning!

Bear’s Den Hostel [mile 998.6]

I lost my P-style. 😦

It’s a critical piece of gear. I’ve ordered yet another one. The maildrop arrangements will be tricky. And now I don’t have a FrankenPee to tide me over. In Harper’s Ferry, I’ll try to pick up something I can modify to do the trick. Gah. This is terrible.

I’m at the Bear’s Den, which is great. I’m clean, and the ridgerunner from last night (Bear) is doing laundry for us, mine included. I’m just waiting for it to dry.

Where to start? Hrm. Got up, got out. Walked. It was hot, very hot. The roller coaster’s ups and downs were manageable, but the rocks were a surprise. The terrain was challenging—near Pennsylvanian in spots. After a few hours, my bad knee was throbbing, which was unexpected. So far the knee’s been doing well. By noon it hurt every time I lifted my leg up to climb over a root. (All that extra squatting’s not going to do it any favors.)

I was really out of it by the time I climbed that last hill to the hostel. I actually think I know where the P-style fell out of my pocket. Two miles back, when I sat on a rock to rest. But it could have been any one of a dozen breaks I took this afternoon (or at any point climbing up any of the steeper hills). If I were sure it was two miles back, I might even consider walking back for it. But I can’t be sure. And I can’t be sure I’d find it. It’s green. The new one will be bright flaming orange.


On the other hand, this might help settle a logistical issue I’m wrestling with.

Anyhoo… yeah. After I hiked maybe two, three hours, I crossed paths with a couple from Bucks County, Pennsylvania! Right up the street! They were sectioning from Pennsylvania to Georgia, and they were a little overwhelmed, I think. They thought there would be more convenience stores. And they were just about out of food. Luckily, I had five pounds extra! Maybe I carried that food all the way through Shenandoah just so I’d have something to give those hikers.

Saw a toad. Oh, and right before I got to the hostel I saw a doe with two fawns. Amazing stuff; she was herding them across the trail right in front of me.

I’m too tired to be erudite. And losing that piece of gear has taken a bite out of me.

I was thinking about flipping right from Harpers Ferry. The logistics for getting up there are just planes, trains, and automobiles. But there’s a huge problem up top, in Maine—namely that Katahdin Stream campground is almost full. I’m going to call the Baxter park people from Harper’s Ferry… maybe. Or, crap. I might not be able to talk to them until Monday.

Has anybody stayed in a lean-to while they summited Katahdin? The tent sites are booked, although there’s one place on the chart that has two separate sites open on consecutive days.

I’d just go ahead and reserve from here, but that’s a nonrefundable $60. A very expensive error if I don’t get the dates exactly right.

I might be looking at a forced week or two at home. Where, by the way, I have a spare P-style. It’s blue.

Oh, also by the way… totally depressing here. They all started in late April. They’re astonished that I can only get 12 to 15 miles usually. They’re out there saying, “Tomorrow we’ll be in Harper’s Ferry!” [Two days for me.] “In two weeks we’ll be in New York!”] [At least a month for me.] “Remember when we were in the Smokies two weeks ago?” I feel a bit like a NOBO ghost.

And the karaoke guitar player is here.

If I started southbound in mid-July, would there be other people? Fat, out-of-shape people who wouldn’t mind waiting for me? Is there a spot at the campground in mid-July?

Sometimes I need a day to recover after I spend time in a hostel. It’s exhausting. 🙂

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Oh, freaking NO

Just got to the Bear’s Den hostel.

And guess what’s not in my pocket?


It is to weep.

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Day 111: Hot hot heat

Rod Hollow Shelter [mile 988.7]

Today was another day where the AT Guide and the Virginia signage (not to mention the trail itself) were at odds. Landmarks not mentioned in the book, different mileages, landmarks mentioned but in different places… it all got a little confusing. I wonder if the Companion is better in Virginia? I do have the Companion in pdf on my phone, but it didn’t seem worth the battery to open it, since I was coming here one way or the other. If I were doing the hike over (hah!), I think I’d bring the Virginia pages from the Companion. Actually, I might bite the bullet and bring both books, cut into quarters; the Companion is better reading, and the information in both books sometimes differs. I’ve run into at least one situation where the Guide wasn’t clear, and I had to open the Companion to figure something out.

I was not carried off my chipmunks in my sleep. (I hate it when that happens.) It wasn’t even oppressively hot when I woke up—but boy, did that change. Do you know how hot it has to be to melt Mentos? Today, that’s how hot!

The hiking was typical for most of the morning: tall weeds, dense forest, rocks, and poison ivy. Oh, and bugs! The amount of bugs flying around even at 7:00 this morning was insane. Note that I said amount, not number. There were so many bugs that they moved beyond discrete entities and into some level of sheer tonnage. Bugs flying in all directions at all times! A whirring, buzzing, biting frenzy of bugs! The bug activity didn’t die down until the day got hot enough to boil them in the air; then only the stupid ones stayed out.

Around midday the trail passed through a little state park. Pretty meadows, open spaces… it was nice to see a change of scenery. Oh! That reminds me. Something I’ve been meaning to say. I’m in awe of the trail maintainers. People go through with weed wackers and chainsaws and keep the trail open. Seeing how high the grass and weeds are, I imagine the trail would be overgrown and gone in a single summer if the maintainers weren’t out there hewing and wacking and clearing. That’s some excellent service there. Thank you so much! I might have to do some of that when I get home.

I saw two toads and a turtle. I see a toad most days, but that was only my second turtle (not counting that one empty shell). I love the turtles!

Aaaaannddd… is that it? Oh, no—one more thing! There’s a nice tent pad here on the side trail up to the shelter itself, and I decided to grab it. While I was setting up, another hiker wandered in. Super nice guy. We chatted for a few minutes, and I mentioned that the trail seemed so dead today. (And it did. I saw only one other hiker, and he was going southbound. I figured I had to be the last person on the trail, or else everybody had pushed into Harpers Ferry or Bear’s Den Hostel to beat the heat.) And the guy said, “No, I saw like twenty people. You’re just going in the same direction.” So I asked if he was SOBO, and it turns out he’s the ridgerunner. D’oh! I didn’t even notice the uniform.

He said there are at least fifteen people right ahead of me at the next shelter. “You’re just in the bubble,” he said… meaning that there may be fifteen ahead and fifteen behind, but if we’re all moving at the same general speed, nobody sees anybody else. I know that, but I keep forgetting. I know Rerun is in that group; they were trying for the Bear’s Den tonight, I think.

Tomorrow: 92 degrees, and I tackle the first part of the infamous Roller Coaster—“13.5 miles of densely packed ascents and descents.” Not the whole thing, though. My tentative plan is to do ten miles then stop overnight at the Bear’s Den. I know HF is close, and I have plenty of food, but I want a shower and a bed and some humans. Not to mention pizza and some ice cold sodas. Ice cold.

Tonight, a glorious evening of toenail cutting and ten more pages of The Two Towers. If memory serves, tonight Wormtongue makes his appearance. At some point I’m going to have to get hold of a disposable copy of Return of the King.

Edited to add: Ohmygods, somebody up at the shelter is practicing guitar and singing. Badly. Ohgod, ohgod, ohgod. It’s like karaoke torture! Where are those earplugs? Argh!

Edited to add: Ohgod, I can hear him through the earplugs! That poor ridgerunner!







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Day 110: Side trip

Manassas Gap Shelter [mile 975.8]

After yesterday’s 17-mile deathmarch, I knew there’d be a price to pay. And the price came this morning when I simply couldn’t wake up. I lay there for a while, a long while, listening to the distant train whistle and chug. And I suddenly had the thought That’s Amtrak. That’s Amtrak out of Harpers Ferry. You can be done with all this. You can go home, where there’s a shower and food and a refrigerator and a computer and friends and family and a bed. And just like that, I was done. I’ll go home, I thought. I was so certain I was done that I texted my brother when I got a burst of service and told him I thought I was coming home from Harper’s Ferry. But then, as usual, as the day wore on, and especially once I had internet and could read the comments here, and once I got out of the brutal heat and ate most of a half-pound burger, I was back on the fence.

In short: I have no idea what I’m going to do or when I’m going to do it. I’m so filled with indecision that I’m making Hamlet look like General Patton. I could get off the trail at the psychological halfway point, Harpers Ferry, 1000 miles. I could get off the trail at the physical halfway point a week or so later. Or I could flipflop at either point. Or I could just keep going north from sheer momentum (and be about 200 miles short of Katahdin when the park closes).

Whatever I do, it’ll look impulsive. When I’m tired of the trail, I’m in the woods and there’s no train. When there’s a train, I’m in town so the hiking doesn’t seem so painful. See what happens? One of these days, I think, I’ll be tired of the trail and actually in a place with a train. Then boom!

But I don’t know.

Any way it goes I’ll be proud to have made it to HF. And, by the way, to not have been one of the people who quit in Virginia. So take that, you rotten stinking Virginia blues!

Anyway, I’d pretty much decided I was done. I got packed up and spotted a bear 50 yards from my tent, running away. I guess he didn’t see the memo that bears earn a stipend for staying in Shenandoah and being cute for the tourists. They’re Park Service employees, you know.

I hiked the two or three miles to the supershelter. It was nice! But honestly? It was just a shelter with some porch chairs. The privy stank worse than most, and apparently the solar shower wasn’t working. Even at 10 AM it was full of mullets. They were discussing bass riffs, man, and listening to music. I think they may have been zeroing there. (And nothing against the mullets; they’ll probably all make it to Katahdin after my busted-up body has stopped being willing to endure.)

While I was at the supershelter, I decided that if I was going home at Harpers Ferry, I might as well slow down for the last few days and not kill myself in the heat. Go shelter to shelter (ie, 8-mile days), with cheeseburgers where I could get them. There was a restaurant listed at 1.2 miles from a road crossing. In the old days (ie, yesterday), I never would have wasted 2.4 miles! But I did it today. Only it turned out to be closer to 2.5 miles from the trail, so 5 miles overall; it took over an hour, a broiling roadwalk, to get there. (The trail guide has been pretty quirky in Virginia; feels like it desperately needs an update. Even I wouldn’t have wasted 5 miles for a burger!) But the burger was excellent! And being out of the sun, eating protein, drinking some icy cold Cokes, texting with Blackbird and other people and updating the blog… well, suddenly I didn’t feel the strong desire to leave at Harpers Ferry. I was back to wanting to flip, lol!

It’s the heat and the feet. And new shoes are coming to HF.

Affer that I schlepped another hour and a half back to the trail and hiked uphill almost to the shelter. It thundered and lightninged and rained a little. Some hikers passed me in full rain gear and asked if the shelter was far. Section hikers, I thought. Most thru hikers don’t bother with rain gear anymore unless it’s cold—and it was hardly even raining. My shorts weren’t even wet.

I pitched my tent at a site right at the side trail to the shelter. There’s water here, it was flat; why walk all the way down? No bears, I hope. I did see one chipmunk.

And here I am! It’s supposed to be something like 90, 91, 92 for the next three days (today was 87) with a chance of thunderstorms. How far will I get? I have no freaking idea! Things change minute to minute… if not second to second.








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More stealthy stealth

I just stealth uploaded more updates from a burger joint, and now it’s back into the woods and the land of no service whatsoever. Harpers Ferry on Thursday, maybe Friday morning. Unless it’s not. 😉

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