Sunday, June 16, 2019

Appalachian Trail: Woods Hole Hostel To Daleville, VA

It was an unusually hard week for me on the Appalachian Trail (AT).  Despite this, moistness, rain, and difficult rocky trails were countered by incredible views.  Some have described Virginia as a long green tunnel, and there are surely sections that meet that description, but Virginia also has the Dragon's Tooth, McAfee Knob, and Tinker Cliffs.

A brief stop at McAfee Knob to contemplate life.
Day 66 - I left Woods Hole Hostel on a drizzly, misty day after a very rainy night.  The day was an easy one over a short mountain, past a rock formation called Angel's Rest, and down to the town of Pearisburg, VA.  There was no view at Angel's Rest today.  Everything was just white like the world beyond the mountain didn't exist.

The view on most of the rainy bits.
As I came down the hill and took the steps to the road I slipped on the last tread, did a whirling dance to keep from falling, and managed to pull a muscle on my left side, twist my right knee, and reinjure my left foot.  *Sigh*

I arrived at the road at the perfect time since Jug and Phoenix had called for a shuttle to the Angel's Rest Hostel.  The van arrive right after my terrible trail dismount and I got a ride to where I would spend the night.  I resupplied at Walmart, did some laundry, and ate some food while the rain came down.  It rained all afternoon and evening.

Day 67 - The hostel manager, Tramp, dropped us back at where he picked us up the day before.  I'd slept in not leaving the hostel til 9:30am.  The day was overcast, a bit drizzly, and very ... moist.  The climb out of town wasn't too bad but by the time I'd reached my short goal of the first shelter I was soaked through and cold.

The view from the Rice Field Shelter before the fog rolled in.
I only did 7.8 miles (12.6 km).  I wanted to take it easy leaving town and I did just that.  A few more people stopped by the shelter to snack before moving on.  Time passed and I didn't see anyone else walk by.  The rain probably was deterring hikers from leaving town.

At the end of the day I stayed in the shelter alone.  No one was tenting around.  No one joined me in the shelter.  I managed to get the trifecta.  I've camped alone in a campsite, I've stayed in a hostel alone (Hampton, TN), and now I stayed at a shelter alone.  I wonder how many hikers have managed this?  All I can say is it's creepy.

I put on some dry clothes and went to bed.

Day 68 - Another moist day.  I put my wet clothes back on - they didn't dry any over night - and headed out.  I did a long day of 16.5 miles (26.6 km) but my butt was dragging and had to really push myself to finish.

There were no views and the day just drug on.  I didn't even take any pictures this day.

Just a side note on a dull day.  Several rivers and creeks are off limits to drink from.  I assume it's due to pollution in the water.  I've been seeing a lot of these dangerous to drink from streams in Virginia.

Wet clothes came off and dry went on.

Day 69 - The day started off like the last two - moist.  Wet clothes went back on.  We'd actually had been lucky since forecasted hard rain had never materialized.  Today that would change.

Rain came and went most of the day and at times it looked like it was trying to dry up.  The rain we'd had overnight had revived some dead water sources.  It also swelled some streams to the point it was hard to cross without getting wet.  Most stream crossings had stepping stones or logs you could walk across.  At two today I couldn't see a dry way across so I just waded through the mid calf deep waters.  One good thing was the mud was washed off my shoes and feet.

The Keefer Oak:
the largest on the AT in the South.
I passed the Keefer Oak, the largest Oak tree on the southern AT.  Soon after I started climbing up a ridge and the sky opened up and the rain poured.  I put my head down and just kept walking until I reached my target shelter.  I was with one other hiker since this shelter was 0.4 miles off the AT and all downhill.

This was a long day and my butt was dragging after 21.4 miles (34.4 km).  Having said this, this day felt harder than it should have.

The wet clothes came off and dry went back on.

Day 70 - I woke up to actual sunshine!  Wet clothes went on again and I climbed back up the ridge and kept going down the trail.

The trail followed a rocky ridge with sharply angled stones offering gorgeous views of the early sunshine lighting the distant ridges and mountains.  On this ridge I passed the Eastern Continental Divide marked by a sign.

The early morning light on the hills and ridges.
The highlight of my day was a memorial dedicated to Audie Murphy, the most decorated soldier during World War II.  He died in a plane crash near this spot.

I ended the day with my butt dragging again.  Despite the sunshine, views, and cool stuff to see I really had to push myself to finish.

My clothes ... we're rather dry at the end of the day.

I crossed the seven hundred mile mark on the way to the Dragon's Tooth.
It was marked twice a short distance from each other.
Day 71 - Another sunny day.  Soon after leaving the shelter I heard a noise which turned out to be my second bear.  This time I got a good look at its face. I hope the deer I saw earlier stayed safe.

The hike was mostly rocky which slowed me down and stressed muscles that had been slacking most of the past seventy days.  At the top of the mountain was the Dragon's Tooth, a large stone monolith.  They say you can climb to the top but I am very good at getting up things and not being able to get back down.  Since I was alone I refrained from attempting a climb.

The Dragon's Tooth.
The way down the mountain was very difficult.  For the first time I had to put my poles in my pack and climb down rock using my hands.  I was tired by the time I got down.

I left the trail to visit the Catawba Grocery (i.e. a convenience store) where I got some BBQ pork, fries, and a pint of ice cream for dessert.  I also resupplied my snacks for the next two days.

On the way to the shelter I saw my first ripe raspberry.  It was still early but I ate it and it gave me a small preview of what's to come.  I've been waiting for raspberries and blackberries ever since I decided to do the AT.  Can't wait to fill a bag with them while I hike.

I reached the shelter, butt dragging, and spent the night listening to the rain that moved in overnight.

Day 72 - I woke to the sound of rain.  I'm usually up by 6:00am and out by 6:40am but today I waited and didn't leave until 8:30am.  Turns out I was lucky.  Today was McAfee Knob day.

The view from Tinker Cliffs including McAfee Knob.
I hiked along the ridge to the left of the knob.
McAfee Knob is an iconic place on the AT.  Hikers get their pictures taken dangling their feet off a ledge.  I played it a bit more conservatively and sat near the edge with my feet planted on the rock.  Pop Rock  and Trail Diva were nice enough to take my picture.

After Dragon's Tooth and McAfee there was one more iconic place along this section: Tinker Cliffs.  I reached the cliffs at the same time as Fish who I hadn't seen since the ponies over two weeks ago.  He'd been a bit down in the dumps back then but now he was smiling and truly enjoying himself.   The views from the cliffs were spectacular.

Since I still was dragging my butt I made the day a short one stopping at the next shelter.

A view of a reservoir near Daleville, VA.
Day 73 & 74 - I did the short and rather easy hike into Daleville, VA.  I checked into a hotel for a couple nights - zero day here I come.

I don't know why my butt drug so much this section.  I guess the rain and the rocks took a lot out of me.  Also going eight days between zero days may have also contributed.

I hope the extra rest is worthy it.  A lot of the thru-hikers I was hiking with along this section are now ahead of me and once again I have separated from my trail family.  *Sigh* Time to meet new people.

Pictures can be found in my 2019 Appalachian Trail Google Photos album.

Total Distance: 729.7 Miles (1,174.3 km)
Section Distance: 87.4 Miles (140.6 km)
Section Elevation Up: 14,960 ft (4,560 m)
Section Elevation Down: 14,452 ft (4,405 m)

Sunday, June 09, 2019

Appalachian Trail: Food Extra

For those who are wondering what I eat on the Appalachian Trail (AT), here is a typical list for one day's worth of food and a few tidbits of food info:

Food Item
Total Calories
Mountain House Dehydrated Meal
500 - 800
Clif Builder Bars
Clif Bars
Belvita Breakfast Biscuits
1 Pack of Four
Snickers Bars
Honey Bun
360 - 540
Trail Mix + P.B. Bites
Peanut Butter (for the tortillas)
4 Tbsp

3,550 - 4,030

Typical day's worth of hiker fuel.
  • Items change depending on what's available at the store I'm supplying at.
  • The mountain house meal is my dinner.  All other items are eaten during my hiking day or when I arrive at my destination.   The number of calories does vary depending on what I can buy. One thing I may have to experiment with is replacing the mountain house meals with things like mac & cheese, instant mashed potatoes, and knorr pasta/rice sides - basically anything that can be made using only boiling water. These things are more complicated to make and clean up after but they can be cheaper and more compact.
  • Most hikers struggle with getting diversity in their food choices.  I have always been an eat the same stuff every day type of guy so the lack of different foods doesn't bother me much.
  • I take a multivitamin as the food is more calorie oriented than nutritionally oriented.
  • My food bag holds about five days worth.  I may be able to fit more if I replace the mountain house meals.  I really don't want to carry more food since each day weighs over two pounds but some stretches of the AT will require more food.  Of course, the food weight goes down as it is consumed.  So, when you leave resupply towns your pack is heavy and it is much lighter when you go back into town.
  • My favorite thing here is the tortillas and peanut butter.
  • These calories do not make up for the calories burned hiking every day.  The calorie gap is filled when I enter a town and chow down.
P.S.:  Did you know they make Cookie Butter? It looks like peanut butter but tastes like cookies!  How did I not know this?

Friday, June 07, 2019

Appalachian Trail: Marion, VA To Woods Hole Hostel

This section was a week of milestones.  Longest hike, most miles in a day.  Now that I've done three twenty plus mile days in a row, I don't have any reason to do it again.  I just hope the Appalachian Trail (AT) doesn't want me to do it again anytime soon.

A group of alpaca at the Long Neck Lair farm.
Day 60 - Weird day.  The shuttle back to the AT wouldn't arrive earlier than 10:20am so I had a late start.  I woke up early - I never can seem to sleep in when I'm in town - so I had hours of just waiting for my ride.  I hate waiting.

I got back on the AT around 11:00am and headed north.  I was experimenting on my diet a bit.  I added a multivitamin and added a lemonade packet to my water that contained caffeine, B vitamins, and electrolytes for energy and hydration.  It seems to have made a difference.  I felt energetic most of the day and did well on the uphills.  Usually I drag my butt after taking a zero day.  The added B vitamins seemed  to have eliminated the aching from restless leg syndrome. I will continue the experiment.

A one room school house full of trail magic.
I ran into a sign advertising Trail Magic and went to investigate.  The magic was located in an old one room schoolhouse.  There were snacks, fresh fruit, soda and water on ice, and toiletries.  I filled my water bottle and took a banana.

Farther ahead I crossed a bridge over a river and arrived at railroad tracks.  I heard a train whistle and hurriedly crossed over the tracks.  A couple minutes later the train passed.

I arrived at Atkins, VA and stopped at the Barn restaurant (with their 16 oz Hiker Burger) for an early dinner before heading down the road to the Long Neck Lair alpaca farm where I rented a room for the night.  I have to say I have been indulging myself way too much on the AT.  It would have been cheaper to tent here but the room was too tempting.

Soon after arriving we helped one of the owners feed the alpaca.  They are curious and strange looking especially since they had been recently sheared.

This day was a relatively short 11.4 mile (18.3 km) day.  The next few days will be a bit longer and I hope the caffeine helps.

Day 61 - I left the alpacas behind saying goodbye to our hosts and heading back to the trail.  The trail was varied today with forests, rivers, and meadows.

The caffeine didn't help nearly as much as it did the day before.  I did do a longer 14.7 miles (23.7 km) and had more elevation change but I expected more from the stimulant.

Along the way today I say a memorial for the hiker murdered earlier this year.  It was unexpected and moving.

The quarter trail mark.
Today also marked the end of my second month on the AT making my time on trail one third over but I also passed the one quarter distance mark of the trail. This just goes to show that I'll have to start cranking out the miles.  I may also change some zero days into nearo days to speed things up a bit.

Day 62 - A long day with many ups and down and a lot of AT flat i.e. a little up and a little down.  I decided to do a longer stage because my original plan had me stopping at a campsite a half a mile off trail with a questionable water source.  Turns out it was half a mile down hill too so I skipped it and went to the next shelter.  Doing this gave me my first official twenty mile day.

Chestnut Knob Shelter ... Actually has a door.
Near my half way point I stopped at a stone shelter with an actual door.  It looked awesome. It even had cool hiker art.  I ate lunch and used the privy before moving on.

On the last down hill I tripped on a rock and nearly face planted.  At the last second I tucked in my chin and headbutted the AT.  It hardly noticed.  I think I will have a bump on my head.  I was actually lucky.  I could have hit a rock or root when I came down.  Instead I just hit dirt.

Here I met Lucky Strike who was struck by lightning on the trail and returned after only three zero days.

Day 63 - The forecast said rain was coming  in the next few days.  I was supposed to do a thirteen mile day but I decided to do something really crazy and push on to the next shelter to position myself better before the weather turned bad.

A bouncy suspension bridge over a river.
It was a tough day with a lot of AT flat - i.e. lots of little ups and downs - but I arrived at Jenny Knob shelter.    Along the way I  stopped at Brushy Mountain Outpost for a burger, fries, and a muffin.  I also bought water as the next ten miles were dry ones. I was feeling tired but well and I ended up doing a personal best of 23.2 miles (37.3 km).

I was looking at the next day and another hiker, Cory, noted that there was a hostel only 22 miles ahead.  She planted another crazy idea in my head.

Days 64 & 65 - I headed for the hostel.  It was a relatively easy day with a difficult climb at the end.  It was drizzly and foggy most of the hiking day.  I arrived at Woods Hole Hostel in time for a shower and a dinner made with ingredients grown on the farm.

A deconstructed chocolate birthday cake that was delicious.
My feet and legs were toast.  My three day push had knocked a day of my schedule but I took a zero day at the hostel to recover.  In the end, all that pushing resulted in little gain.  But I do know what I am capable of.

Today I will be doing a shorter hike to Pearisburg.  Unfortunately I will be hiking in the rain most of the way.  Bad planning on my part.

Pictures can be found in my 2019 Appalachian Trail Google Photos album.

Total Distance: 625.3 Miles (1,006.3 km)
Section Distance: 92.9 Miles (149.5 km)
Section Elevation Up: 18,616 ft (5,674 m)
Section Elevation Down: 18,514 ft (5,643 m)

Wednesday, June 05, 2019

Appalachian Trail Milestone: Passed My Second Camino Today.

Today I passed my second Camino (615.78 miles - 991 km) making my Appalachian Trail hike my all time high in miles and days hiked.

I broke a few personal records the past few days.  Most miles in a day: 23.2 miles (37.3 km).  Most miles in three consecutive days: 65.5 miles (105.4 km)

I doubt I will ever break this personal record for longest hike.  There are longer trails that could be hiked but I can't imagine any of them will ever be in my future.

Saturday, June 01, 2019

Appalachian Trail: Damascus, VA To Marion, VA

I'm approaching my two month mark on the Appalachian Trail (AT) and I am doing well.  My knees seem fine.  My feet have been aching a little but that could be the new pair of shoes I received from home in Damascus - they will be broken in soon enough.  My left foot has been giving me on and off trouble for the past month or so but it's nothing a little ibubrophen can't remedy.  The biggest health related surprise has been the lack of blisters (knock on wood).  I guess my shoes and my toe socks are doing their job.

Mentally I'm feeling up.  I've given up on a trail family.  I just enjoy the people I encounter until it's time for them to move on.  Now that I've come to accept this fact of the trail, I have been doing much better moodwise.

Another gorgeous day on the AT.
Day 54 - I got up really early so I could take a shower before getting back on trail.  Showers are few and far between so they are precious.

I left the B&B I stayed at in Damascus at 6 :10am and walked out of town.  The AT follows the Virginia Creeper bicycle trail for a while.  At one point you are walking into bicycle traffic which was a bit nerve racking since there were a lot of little ones on bikes who didn't quite know what to do when they were heading for a hiker.

After crossing a long bridge the trails diverged and we hikers were safe once again.  Like most other towns, the trail climbed out of Damascus.  I arrived at my stop, the Lost Mountain Shelter at 15.8 miles (25.4 km).  My plan was for this day to be the longest in this section of the trail but things would change as the often do.

One of the Grayson Highlands ponies.
Day 55 - This would be a relatively short day at 12.3 miles (19.8 km).  The trail continued to climb as I drew closer to the Grayson Highlands.

My stop for the day was Thomas Knob Shelter, not far from Mt. Rogers the tallest point in Virginia, and just outside of Grayson Highlands State Park.  The park is famous for its wild ponies.  As I got closer to the shelter I was passing ponies in the nearby fields and stopped to watch a pony licking the salt off a hiker's arm.

At the shelter a mama horse and a couple yearlings came into camp and proceeded to lick salt off of everything they could get their tongues on.  I kept a large rock between me and the horses.

That night a horse stood outside the shelter and stared in most of the night.

The view in the Grayson Highlands.
Day 56 - Today I entered the Grayson Highlands.  Like the Roan Highlands and Max Patch before, these highlands did not disappoint.  It was a blustery day as I rock hopped and admired the views.  The trail took you through our first squeeze - Fatman Squeeze - where the trail narrowed between rock formations.

The trail left the highlands and the ponies behind and dropped down to my stop of the day, the Old Orchard Shelter.  The day was again fairly short at 11.9 miles (19.2 km) but the rocky trail made it a difficult day.

I met my first shelter log groupie here.  He stopped for a rest and asked our trail names.  He'd been following several people by their shelter log entries.  He found Tarzan who was there and then said he thought he was close to Little Hill.  I raised my hand and I thought he was going to jump for joy.  He was very excited.  My entries are not elaborate and just say what I'm doing.  I do have a logo that I use though which probably attracted his attention.

Day 57 - This was going to be another short day but, after talking over the plan with Tarzan, Cali Butter, Sunshine, Sister, and Vagabundo I decided to push for a longer day.  This would allow for an earlier entry into town.

The day went well.  I stopped at the Trimpi Shelter for a snack, a privy break, and a little nap.

I pushed on heading for a campsite next to a water source.  I reached the site but there was no water.  I climb the hill more looking for water and found none.  I dropped my pack at a campsite and headed a half mile back down the hill to a stream I'd crossed earlier and hauled the water back up.  I did 17.0 miles (27.4 km) today not including the running up and down the mountain for water.

A three to four foot Black Snake on the trail.
As I was trying to get my breath back I heard thunder.  I quickly put up my tent and started eating my evening meal but then I felt drops.  I put my unfinished meal in my food bag and looked for a place to hang it before it really started to rain.  I had a hard time finding a place to hang when the rain got stronger so I got in my tent with my food bag.

There had been a lot of bear activity in the area and having your food bag in your tent was not a wise thing.  As I sat there listening to the rain I swore I heard deer, bears, and other hikers putting up their tents.

It poured for an hour or so then reduced to a drizzle.  When it finally let up I got back out and successful hung my bag.   There was no on there.  No deer.  No bears.  My mind likes to play with my head.

Days 58 & 59 - I woke up to an empty campsite.  All the others who planned to join me stayed at the Trimpi Shelter when it rained and hailed over there.  I was lucky I didn't get hailed on.

I packed up and headed out. Along the way I heard a crack of a breaking branch.  I looked down the ridge and saw my first black bear running away from me.  I wasn't very close and it wasn't very big.  I didn't have time to get a picture.

Despite of only hiking 6.4 miles (10.3 km) I was tired when I got to the Pat Jennings Visitor Center probably because I hadn't eaten my dinner last night.  I called for a 50¢ shuttle ride and went into town with everyone else who arrived in time.

I checked into a hotel, walked over a mile to do my laundry, ate, and started planning my next section.  Resupply would be scarce going forward so I would have to find alternatives to carrying a ton of food.  Some of the alternatives may make for good stories next post.

Pictures can be found in my 2019 Appalachian Trail Google Photos album.

Total Distance: 534.2 Miles (859.7 km)
Section Distance: 64.1 Miles (103.1 km)
Section Elevation Up: 12,578 ft (3,834 m)
Section Elevation Down: 11,379 ft (3,468 m)

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Happy Birthday!!!

Happy Birthday to my Mom!!!  Wish I were there to celebrate.

Every time I pass a fern I think about you and your maidenhair ferns.  One of those strange associations I guess.  The trail is greening and ferns and flowers are everywhere so I am reminded of you often.

I hope you have a great birthday.  For me, the trail is calling.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Appalachian Trail Milestone: Passed My First Camino Today

Today - assuming I am on schedule - I passed the distance I walked on my first Camino (513.61 miles - 826.58 km).

Back in 2011 I walked it in thirty-nine days.  On the Appalachian Trail (AT) it took me fifty-seven - I walked shorter stages and took more rest days on the AT.

This makes my AT the second longest hike I have done miles-wise and the longest time-wise.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Appalachian Trail: Mountain Harbor Hostel To Damascus, VA

I've been doing some long days lately.  I'm not sure why but I guess I'm curious to see how my body reacts.  The answer is my body gets tired.  I think I will stick to my plan and go back to shorter days.

I am crossing hundred mile marks sooner.  The first one hundred miles took twelve days (not including zero days).  The second hundred miles took ten days.  The third hundred miles took nine.  Four hundred took eight days.  Looking ahead five hundred will drop in seven days.  This will not go on forever though.  I don't plan to do five twenty mile days in a row any time soon.  I expect I will top off at six days per one hundred miles eventually or maybe I'll just be satisfied with a hundred miles per week.  Yeah, that sounds about right.

Day 48 - I had a late start this day since the hostel didn't serve breakfast until 8:00am.  The breakfast was magnificent.  Everything from blueberry pancakes (fresh picked blueberries from their garden) to ham to perogies to chocolate cake to so much more.  I left the hostel with an extra three or four pounds in my belly.

Jones Falls.
This full stomach didn't help as I climbed up the next mountain.  I drug my butt up and down those hills until I finally reached my destination for the day.

The trail changed along this section.  Water became more prominent as we passed rivers, waterfalls, and cascades. It was a nice change.  I crossed the four hundred mile mark today.

I'd thought about stopping at a hostel for the night but I decided to push on to a campsite at 16.7 miles (26.9 km).  There were three thru-hikers there - me, Spaceman, and Cali-Butter.  I thought I heard a bear while I was in my tent but I think it was just Spaceman snoring.

Day 49 - More rivers, more waterfalls.  Huge rock formations.  I almost took a wrong turn but ran into Camelback Santa who steered me in the right direction.  The trail passed a large waterfall where I ran into a few thru-hikers I'd thought were miles ahead.

Laural Falls.
The trail skirts a cliff along the river's edge.  The wrong trail I'd been on before Santa corrected me was the high water bypass.  If the river level rose a couple feet the trail would be underwater.

Most of the people I met were heading to a hostel on the other side of Pond Mountain.  I took an alternate route into Hampton, TN.   I stopped there to resupply and planned to stay at the Braemar Castle Hostel.

I bought some food, ate at a small diner, and got a haircut at the local barber shop.  Hampton is kind of like Hot Springs without any of the charm.  Spaceman noted to me later that many of the thru-hikers were better dressed than the town residents.

Stepping out of a grocery store I heard someone call my name twice.  I still have no idea who it was.  I assume it was someone who went to the other hostel driving by in a shuttle but no one has told me it was them.

The hostel was in an old stone building with creaky floors and crooked door frames.  I kept waiting for someone else to check in but no one showed up.  I was alone.  It was a nice hostel but being alone gave me the creeps.  I felt like I was in the movie "The Shining".

Lake Wautaga.
Day 50 - Another long day up and over Pond Mountain, around Lake Wautaga, and up a second long ascent to the shelter I would spend the night.

The lake was a nice change of scenery with its beaches and boats.  The area around the lake does not permit camping due to bear activity.  You are asked to hike through without stopping.

Water was getting harder to find on the trail.  This combined with warmer temperatures and higher humidity made for a miserable hike up the mountain.  I was relieved when I finally arrived at the Vandenventer Shelter.  The shelter had a nice view of the lake and mountains.

Day 51 - I left the shelter and promptly ran into a girl I'd met in day one of my Appalachian Trail (AT) hike.  She was with her Mom  at the next shelter.  She had skipped the Smokies because she had heard how difficult they were.  Strange how the trail brings people back together at random.  A few day before I'd run into The Lady Who Waits No More slack packing (hiking without a pack).  I hadn't seen her in weeks.

One of the few handicapped accessable parts of the AT.
The trail passes a grave marker for Uncle Nick Grindstaff.  You find lots of grave markers along the AT but this one was pre-AT.  He was born in the 1851 and died in 1923.  The sad thing was the line at the bottom of the stone that read: "Lived alone, suffered alone, and died alone." Makes you wonder what his story was.

Spaceman had reminded me the Memorial Day was approaching and if we were getting mail we had to be in Damascus by Friday or have to wait until Tuesday to get any mail.  I had a new pair of shoes waiting in Damascus so I decided to push hard to get to the town.  I passed by the shelter I'd planned to stop at and then passed a campsite too until I finally stopped at the Double Spring Gap Campsite.  I ended up hiking 19.9 miles (32 km).  I was pooped, naturally, but I felt okay.  No extra aches or pains.  Old aches and pains were not any worse.

Spaceman showed up and I said I was pooped so I got in my tent really early.  Iceman, Labamba, and Andrew showed up and put up their tents.

A few hours later I heard someone yell bear. I stayed in my tent since the other guys scared it off before I could have gotten out of my tent.  A little while later the bear came back.  This time the other guys threw rocks at it until it left.  I stayed in my tent.  The third time the bear returned I got out of the tent.  The bear had managed to get its paws on two food bags.  My bag, which was hung in a tree in such a way that it violated multiple food hanging rules, was still there.  Spaceman and Labamba were not so lucky.  Labamba would find his shredded bag the next day along with a bag that didn't belong to any of us - this bear has been hunting food bags for awhile.  Despite this I have still not seen a bear.

Days 52 & 53 - I booked it the thirteen miles or so to Damascus.  On the way down the mountain I crossed into Virginia, my fourth state.  It will be awhile before I see another state since there are more AT miles in Virginia than any other state.

Entering Virginia.
Damascus is one of the few towns the trail passes right through.  I stopped at the post office and picked up my package and walked to the B & B where I'd book a private room with a bathroom.  A shower never felt so good.  I ate a late lunch at a diner and checked out the resupply potential.  Damascus is both hiker and biker friendly due to both the AT and the Virginia Creeper bike trail passing through.

I soaked in the tub a bit before doing my laundry in the same tub.

I have always had trouble sleeping when I get in town.  It took me a while to get to sleep but I really slept hard.  I got up, went to the diner for a hearty breakfast, bought a magnet, and mailed my cold weather clothes (along with a few magnets and a cool stone Buddha I'd bought in Franklin) back home.  I walked to the Food City and did resupply before returning to my room and crashing for another hour and a half.  The afternoon was mostly chilling and eating a light lunch.  Dinner would be in the diner again due to the fact the food was good and it was close by.  There are other places to eat but they are just too far to walk in this heat.

Next stop, Marion, VA.

Pictures can be found in my 2019 Appalachian Trail Google Photos album.

Total Distance: 470.8 Miles (757.7 km)
Section Distance: 79.0 Miles (127.1 km)
Section Elevation Up: 14,230 ft (4,337 m)
Section Elevation Down: 15,509 ft (4,727 m)

Monday, May 20, 2019

Appalachian Trail: Erwin, TN To Mountain Harbor Hostel

During this part of the Appalachian Trail (AT) I finally entered my third state.  I like that I'm seeing progress as I trudge northward.

The dense spruce forest.
Day 44 - I left the hostel early after saying goodbye to another thru-hiker who was shuttling to Damascus for Trail Days.  Many hikers who can't get to Damascus in time shuttle there to participate in the festivities.  I decided I would not partake until I earned it by getting to Katahdin.  I see a trip for me in May of next year.

The climb out of Erwin was difficult but not terrible.  I met a newbie after the first shelter.  She'd started in Erwin and was hoping to meet up of the trail with her thru-hiker nephew.  I don't think she will be on the trail for long.  She needed help putting up her tent.  All of her food was in the form of nutrition shake powder.  No 'real’ food.  Other people who saw her said she was struggling.

At a pass where the AT crossed a road I met Brother Tom handing out Trail Magic.  I had lemonade, banana bread, and a brownie.  He had been doing this for years.  He commented how slow it was due to trail days.  I didn't expect magic this late.  Most 'professional' trail magicians travel with the March/April bubbles.

I arrived at my target campsite.  I sat down and drank some water.  I decided to push on.  The added miles would not shorten my AT but it would allow me to stop at a famous shelter located in a converted barn.

The next four miles were pretty awful.  I climbed up a steep mountain which had a dense spruce forest on the top.  At one campsite partway up I noticed a tree decorated with Christmas ornaments.  A note book explained that it was a memorial for a young man of twenty-two.  At the bottom of the notebook cover was the suicide prevention hotline number.  I left a message in the book but failed to take down the information.

The trail snaked through the dense spruce forest.  The trail was somewhat vague so I walked from one white blaze to the next.
The trail down the mountain was difficult and my cranky left foot was having none of it.  By the time I got to the Cherry Gap Shelter my foot was hurting and I was pooped.  I did 17.1 miles (27.5 km).

I arrived to the shelter after 5:00pm and I was the only one there.  Two others arrived over the next hour or so.  Three people in a shelter area is rare.  I ate, hung my food bag, and went to bed early. I drempt I lost all my stuff while on vacation.  It rained early in the morning and I was glad I'd skipped the campsite and moved on to the shelter.

Another day ... Another view.
Day 45 - After the long day I did a short day to the next shelter.  I only hiked 9.1 miles (14.6 km) but I was ready to stop.  My foot started out cranky but got better as I got closer to the shelter.  I don't really understand what's going on with my left foot.  It seems that tying my shoelaces tighter helps my foot.

Day 46 - This was a long day but satisfying.  The up was tough and the down was welcome.

I passed the site of an old hotel that was dismantled a long time ago.  I took a break at the highest shelter on the AT, Roan High Knob shelter.   The shelter is actually a cabin with a door but it also had some Blair Witch vibes too.  Apparently from the log notes the shelter is really cold at night.

The attic of the Roan High Knob Shelter.  A bit spooky.
I ended the day at Overmountain Shelter, an old barn converted into a shelter, but was disappointed to find it full of boy scouts.  I tented for the fifth time to get away from the ruckus.  The tent area had an incredible view.

Talked to Betty who was thinking about thru-hiking.  I gave her advice and told her how it was on the trail.   I hope she got something from my experience.

The view from my tent site.
Day 47 - I got up early, broke camp, waved goodbye to Betty, and headed up to Little Hump mountain.  The climb was steep but short.  The views were, as usual, awesome.  A group of hikers had camped on the top of Little Hump.

Near the top of Hump mountain.
Next came Hump mountain.  It was taller and covered in grass like little hump.  The place was magical.  The area is know as the Roan Highlands and it reminded me of what I think the Scottish Highlands are like.  As I paused and looked around I realized I was exactly where I belonged.  I wish I'd known about this spot beforehand so I could have tented there and watched the Sunset, Sunrise, and all the stars in between.  Maybe up ahead somewhere.

As I left the highlands I finally crossed into Tennessee.  For a while the AT has bounced between Tennessee and North Carolina.

Another state bites the dust.
Then the downhill started.  It was one of those long descents that seems to never end.  I finally reached the road and followed it to Mountain Harbor Hostel.

I got a bed, took a shower, washed some clothes, and ate a pint of Ben and Jerry's.  I resupplied at their well stocked general store and had a burger, fries, and a salad for dinner.

It will be a late start tomorrow as the all you can eat breakfast starts at 8:00am.

Pictures can be found in my 2019 Appalachian Trail Google Photos album.

Total Distance: 395.2 Miles (571.58 km)
Section Distance: 69.0 Miles (111.0 km)
Section Elevation Up: 14,697 ft (4,480 m)
Section Elevation Down: 16,998 ft (5,181 m)

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Appalachian Trail: Hot Springs, NC To Erwin, TN

The past couple of weeks have been a mental and emotional rollercoaster.  Despite meeting new people everyday, or possibly because of it, I have felt isolated and alone.  Everyone I've met are nice people with many interesting stories but I would have to have the chance to meet people for more than one or two days to really meet them.  Then I push some hard miles and feel a real sense of accomplishment and my mood soars.  What a ride.

Day 37 - I left Hot Springs late because I'd forgotten to buy a gas canister for my stove.  The outfitter opened at 9:00am and they were out of small cannisters so I bought a huge, heavy one.

The French Broad River along the trail.
The trail leaving Hot Springs briefly follows the French Broad River before turning and climbing up the mountain.  It was warm and humid as I hiked out and sweat was dripping off of me.

A bench begging to be sat on next to the serene pond.
The trail passed by a novelty for the trail so far: a pond. The calm waters were serene and a bit stagnant though there were fish in it. I don't think I stop enough to enjoy things like this.

The full pack of food and bigger gas canister didn't help -  by the time I got to the Spring Mountain Shelter I was exhausted. By the the numbers the climb up to this shelter was not as bad as the first day in the Smokies but I was more tired and worn out today.  This was a bit demoralizing.  I felt I was backsliding.  It was supposed to be getting easier.

Day 38 - My plan for the day was to do a short hike to the next shelter some 8.6 miles (13.8 km) away.  When I got there I felt like I'd gone through the wringer.  I was pooped.

I stopped at the shelter and rested.  Drank some water and ate some food.  Then I made an odd decision.  I decided to hike the 7.3 (11.7 km) to the next shelter.

Note the AT blazes going down the rock wall.
I climbed down the wall hand over hand.
Strangely I started off with a second wind.  I climb the next hill and did it with gusto.  Then I hit a part the AT Guide described as rocky and strenuous.  It was a tough rock climb/hop along an exposed ridge.  I handled it without any issues.  I loved having to climb down hand over hand for one section.  At the end of the rock scramble someone had marked the distance in stones: 300 miles.

Passed the three hundred mile mark.
I arrived at the shelter feeling awesome.  I'm not sure where it came from.  I did 15.9 miles (25.6 km) my longest day so far and I felt good.  This actually put me a day ahead of my schedule.

Day 39 - The forecast had rain Saturday and Sunday.  Some people in the shelter were going to hunker down.  This didn't make sense to me so I started out in the drizzle.

Is this Big Butt Mountain's crack?
There was only one hill in my way, Big Butt Mountain (love how things are named in these parts).  It was just a light intermittent drizzle when I crossed the crusty rocky top of big butt. After the summit it started to rain harder.

I started humming songs with the word 'sunshine' in their title.  It worked.  My mood was lifted up and I really made good time down the hill.

At the bottom I made my way to the Laurel Hostel.  This place is tiny and has few amenities but it was dry and warm and the shower was hot. The resupply was non-existent so the owner took me and a few other hikers to Erwin, TN for resupply and McDonald's take out.

This appears to be a bear print on the trail but no bear has been seen yet.
Day 40 - The forecast for today was more rain so a few of us decided to take a zero in the hostel.  We went into town again to eat and get more supplies.  This was the third weather caused zero day and I wonder if I'm being too cautious.  Hiking in the rain can suck but as they say "you must embrace the suck."   This zero day ate up my extra day I'd earned a few days ago.

This day also tied for the longest hike in terms of days hiked I've ever done matching my second Camino.

A meadow is a nice change of scenery along the trail.
 Day 41 - After talking with other hikers over the past couple of days I decided to push hard the next couple of days.  This day would be a long 15.9 miles (25.6 km) predominantly up hill.

It was a very long day and it was overcast and a bit uninspiring but after seeing some interesting but muted views from Big Bald Mountain I arrived at Big Bald Mountain Shelter.

Is that Pi or is a shelter nearby?
Day 42 - Temperatures were in the low 40s this morning and for some reason I was really cold.  I think some of my insulating fat layers have been replaced with non-insulating muscle.  I spent most of the night putting on more layers.

Lots of rain equals lots of
water in the streams.
I left early and hiked hard in an attempt to warm up.  Today I would push hard again, this time predominantly down.  By the end of the day I'd hiked 16.8 miles (27 km) to Uncle Johnny's Nolichucky Hostel and Cabins just outside Erwin, TN.

I rented a cabin that had a set of bunk beds with full size mattresses.  I've never seen that large of a bed.   The hostel has an outfitter and offered three free shuttle trips into Erwin.  I took one of those shuttles into town to resupply and eat an Italian dinner.

The hard hiking days I'd just done had pushed me a day ahead of schedule.

Day 43 - Another zero day to recover from the two hard days I'd just hiked.  A shuttle into town for breakfast and a relaxing afternoon at the hostel to let my body recover.  That was what I needed.

A lot of hikers here were shuttling ahead to Damascus to celebrate Trail Days.  It's a big celebration there with gear vendors, food, and lots of drinking.  I decided to skip it.  Who knows, I may catch up to people who took time off for the festivities.   I expect the trails to be empty between Erwin and Damascus.

Pictures can be found in my 2019 Appalachian Trail Google Photos album.

Total Distance: 355.16 Miles (571.58 km)
Section Distance: 70.35 Miles (113.22 km)
Section Elevation Up: 15,928 ft (4,855 m)
Section Elevation Down: 15,794 ft (4,814 m)

NOTE:. Due to human error, part of the GPS track was not recorded properly.  I drew in the approximate route on the map but the elevation data listed above is an approximation.