Multiple attempts at the AT????

Having lived on the east coast most of my life, I knew a lot of people who lived near the trail. I stopped to meet up with a fellow graduate student in Hot Springs, NC who had hiked the trail before. I put college on hold and went for it while she was still in classes. In hind site, I should’ve asked for all her papers. Oh well, the beer, food and place to stay was more than enough. I saw my parents in Damascus. When they met me, they came bearing a gift of PIZZA! THANKS!!!! I offered a hiker named Crow some of the pizza and a ride into town.

He was on his second attempt to connect the Florida Trail with the Appalachian Trail. I don’t know if I would have the constitution to start over and try again. I mean I am pretty tenacious, but if I had to quit for some reason I believe I would call it a sunk cost and start from where I quit or move on to the next adventure. But I am not sure because I haven’t had that experience yet. It appeared Crow might be calling this attempt too due to knee pain. Later on during the hike, I would meet a hiker on his third attempt to thru hike the AT! He had Crohn’s disease and failed to finish on two previous tries. On his last attempt, he made it to the New England states before he was forced to quit. He really wanted to complete a thru hike of the AT! Having gotten so far on that last attempt then returning to Georgia the next year had to be mentally difficult. I never saw him again. I really hope he made it this time around!

My parents hiked with me a little before we parted ways due to different hiking speeds and I continued on the trail ahead of them.

Arriving at Mount Rodger Recreational Area, I decided to detour slightly from the AT and hike to the top of Mount Rodgers the highest point in Virginia at 5,729 feet at the summit. After the trail to the summit dwindled down to a barely visible one I wondered around in the fog which limited my visibility looking for some kind of marker or other identifying mark which would lead me to believe I was at the summit. I eventually realized I was on feeder trails where others before me had wandered off the trail. I left feeling disappointed because I never found anything that marked the summit.

Grayson Highland State Park joins the recreation area and it’s balds are inhabited by a herd of ponies that I became quite familiar with. Walking down the trail like any other day, I soon discovered that it wasn’t like any other day! I hear, rather felt, the stamping of hoofs as a bunch of ponies race towards each other without warning and quickly surrounded me and to my astonishment they began licking me. I guess they were interested in the salt that was grimy on my skin from the sweat caused by the exertion of hiking everyday. Once I recovered, I slowly retreated while they stalked me. I am not going to lie I am kind of afraid of horses and ponies are like small slightly less scary horses, but still intimidating in my eyes. I finally made it to safety on the other side of the gate leaving the rest of the hikers to be terrorized by the ponies.

And I Am Side Tracked Again

Side Note

I have been frantically packing for a 21 day Grand Canyon (2019) trip, so the next few posts are typed out on a plane last minute. Hopefully they publish automatically at future dates while I am adventuring down the Grand Canyon.

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Back to the AT hike (2013)

As I mentioned earlier, I was tying to avoid reflection. But the repercussions of too much time to let your mind wonder while hiking and the fact that living on a dirtbags budget is cost prohibitive to buying audio books every day to keep your mind occupied unfortunately leads to reflection, mostly about relationships and selfishness. These questions came to mind: Does doing what you love make you selfish? Does compromise work? If you’re happy because you do what makes you happy are you likable or just an asshole? I had a very wise coworker once who said, “I don’t believe in compromise. My wife goes on vacation where she wants, I go on vacation where I want and some times we go on vacation together.” “It just works out better that way.” I have to agree with that! Doing what made each of them happy individually allowed them to be happy together. I also once heard a good analogy for the outcome of compromise. A man was dressing for a dinner party and put on black shoes. His date wanted him to wear his brown shoes, so he compromised wearing one black and one brown shoe; the worst possible outcome in the scenario.

Back to the trail; focusing on not reflecting.

It’s starting to warm up, I have been hiking for a little over a month now with the exception of full blown winter conditions I encountered in the Smokies . Since I began at the southern end of the trail and am hiking north to where it is colder the same time of year, I have effectively been chasing spring as I walk the trail.

I arrived at a shelter late and set up my tent in proximity to some other tents and went straight to sleep for the combined reasons of being exhausted and not wanting to stumble into the shelter making noise and shining light into people eyes late at night.

When I woke up, I was informed I was in a quarantine zone. A Norovirus had stricken quite a few hikers. Norovirus is a virus usually lasting 1-3 days causing diarrhea, vomiting and stomach pain in affected individuals. The biggest threat to a hiker, in my opinion, is dehydration. If you can’t make it to your next water source you are in trouble! It is generally spread by the fecal-oral route, touching or eating a contaminated source. For hikers this would most likely be from shaking an unsanitary persons hand, which is why the fist bump is the preferred hiker method of greeting if you feel the need for such greetings. The next most likely culprit for the spread of the virus would be sharing of food; especially reaching into a container, like a bag of GORP, by multiple people. It’s best to pour from the bag without touching anyone. Packing my bag I hurriedly left the area, luckily I didn’t get sick!

The Laundry Mat

Prior to this trip my longest hike was around three weeks, so I had no long distance hiking experience and was carrying a little too much weight in the form of my big 3 (pack, sleeping system, and tent) mainly because I already owned it. I was starting to get the feeling that a large number of people hiking were even more underprepared then I was. They weren’t ready for a range of weather conditions and would try and wait it out  in town.

The extra weight was starting to wear on me at this point. I will say the best choice I made was spending money on new light weight stuff. I ordered a new pack that saved me 4lbs. I also went with a down bag that saved a couple more pounds!

The new light weight gear wasn’t as durable and cost more then what I had, but was really worth the extra money. Shaving that weight off my gear took a lot of stress off my body.

I stopped at a privy by a shelter and realized I was now really light weight, I forgot to pack toilet paper! Unfortunately this was not actually on purpose to save weight, but luckily someone else must have forgotten their tp also. I picked up a book and was leafing through it and noticed pages were torn out. I followed suit and put the book to good use. I was sure to pack out the pages, Leave No Trace (LNT).

Hiking down the trail I heard a loud engine roar and gravel spinning as I rounded a bend in the path, before me was an SUV doing what appeared to be donuts on a gravel road. As I approached, a man in a brown hat stopped the SUV and asked if I wanted a beer and soda. I chugged a glass of Mountain Dew, and was opening a beer when one of the guys I had been hiking with comes back down the trail headed south to partake in the beer. Later he said that he heard the noise of the vehicle and was squatting in the bushes to make sure I was not getting murdered, apparently the free beer was worth the risk of murder.

As you can tell since I am writing about the past I wasn’t murdered and you will be glad to know neither was the brave soul that was hiding in the bushes.

Arriving in Damascus, VA I got word that the laundry mat was the place to be. It ended up being true. There was a gas station that sold beer and the laundry mat had wifi. The night was spent socializing and drinking while doing laundry at the only place open past 8 p.m. We discussed coming back to Damascus for Trail Days. I did not end up going back, but later I passed some fellow hikers that had flip flopped (going ahead on the trail by means of transportation other then hiking, switching directions then hiking back to where you were). Glad I never made it back because during the parade at Trail Days a car ran over a number of hikers in the parade.

Should Have Hung the Food

I managed to arrive at the Smokey Mountains the end of March, which also happened to be the most snow I had seen this ski season. I had planned on hiking 9 miles farther down the trail but with a foot of snow already and no sign of it stopping I decided to stay at the first shelter I came across. I usually try to avoid shelters most of the time, because they are breeding grounds for mice and weirdos. I believe the rodents are mainly there because of people eating in the shelter and the weirdos because shelters usually are close to roads. For example; one night I was awakened by a heavy thump on my side followed by a shriek of “food in my bag” with an immediate heavy object landing on my chest then flopping around still shouting, “food in my bag”! Once I had fully gained my wits about me and about 15 head lamps came flashing on in rapid succession lighting the blue sleeping bag with the hood pulled so tight that just a nose and part of a beanie poked through the opening, I realized she was trying to crush the mouse between her and I! Once the girl on top of me managed to get out of her sleeping bag, she calmed down a little and in between exasperated gasps explained that she had slept with her food and a mouse eaten into her sleeping bag and was running around frantically inside.

Examples of a weirdo are open to interpretation. One guy some people referred to as weird, I would label a genius. He carried and set up mouse traps in the shelters normally bagging at least two a night. I personal preferred being woken up to a snap of a trap vs a girl screaming “food in my bag!”

Setting out first from the shelter, breaking trail through drifts sometimes up to my waist was slow going. I actually appreciated the rhododendron, they formed a tunnel where they were sheared back from the the trail allowing for easy navigation. Every step causing an explosion of snow falling on my head as my pack brushed the plants weighted down by snow. I finally made it to the last shelter I would have to stay at for awhile. Unfortunately this was a smaller shelter then the previous one, causing the stragglers to dig out and set up their flimsy shelters for the conditions. One group of 3 was only carrying a small tarp. They had planned on staying at shelters the whole time.

Wakening cold, damp, and stiff from at least a mouse free night in the shelter, we pack our bags and head out. It was too cold for the mice to bother us, but I am so happy to be surrounded by the beauty of the mountains and freedom of adventure on the trail.

The Dreaded Bear Bag Hang

Following the legendary white blazes and a path beat deep into the soil as I leave Neels Gap, I am left to wonder how people lose the trail. This attitude my friends, is exactly how one gets lost! I did lose the trail for a bit at one point on a rocky section months later, but it was easy to spot once I was off the rocks. The ease and flow of the trail, except for that one instance, left a lot of time for thinking and reflecting through this journey to Maine. I am not a fan of reflecting, so I listen to audio books and podcasts a lot of the time.

One evening while listening to 3 Mph The Adventure of One Women’s Walk Around the World, brought about by thoughts of “Where should I hike next?” “What’s longer/harder?” “Oh, I’ll listen to a book about hiking around the world that sounds like the fun thing to do next”, I came across signs warning me that there are bears in the area. These signs all happened to be posted on the left side of the trail, so I thought it prudent to set up camp on the opposite side of the trail to avoid the bears. At this point in time, I was still hanging a bear bag. In fact, I pretty much hung one the whole time I was hiking the AT. When I hiked the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) three years later in 2016, I didn’t hang my food unless it was mandatory. As a matter of fact, I used it as a pillow with the exception of the Yosemite area and a few others where I know bears are used to people. For an example of why you should hang your food see Yosemite to South Lake Tahoe.

Have you ever tried to hang a bear bag? Just finding a tree to hang one from on the west coast is a challenge without actually getting to the hanging part. On the AT, in the east, it’s a bit easier. For starters you can find a tree with a limb that extends far enough from the trunk of the tree so a bear couldn’t just reach over and grab it. Finding a tree fitting the first criteria, one then has to verify that it’s high enough. Next comes throwing the rope over the limb. The easiest way to accomplish this task, that I have found, is to put a rock in a sock, tie the rope to the sock with the rock inside, then throw it over the limb. Once across, the sock with the rope attached then falls to the ground, easy right? Not so much. One time I couldn’t find a rock, really I looked! So I tied a stick shaped like a miniature old war club, bulbous on the end, to the end of the rope. After finally getting it over the limb, the stick wasn’t quite heavy enough for gravity to take it to the ground. Flipping the rope from the opposite end of the war club like stick, it was painstakingly slow to lower it inch by inch until I decided it was easier to just jump up and grab the stick end pulling the rope to the ground. Another time I was walking around with my food and rope looking for one of those perfect tress when I finally found one I came to the realization that I had left a sock in my pack back at camp, looking down with disparity at my sock less feet I decide it would be easier to tie the rope to my rock instead of walking back for the sock. Wrapping the rope around the rock I throw the perfect throw, the rock landing but the rope was still nicely coiled by my feet. Hmmmm, more wraps this time repeated the throw and the rope flys over the limb and then I watch the rock turn end over end like thread being pulled from a spool until the rock comes free and the rope is still not quite on the ground. After finally hanging the bag, I decided it was easier to walk back for a sock next time. I went to sleep dreaming of how to make the perfect throw.

Starting the Appalachian Trail (AT)

It was the worst winter in history! I had just found out my wife emptied my bank account, but that wasn’t it, it wasn’t that she had decided to move out  and later file for a divorce either, it was the fact that this winter had the least snow I had seen in a while. Not being able to ski until half way thru the Mid Atlantic winter, now that makes a for a sad, depressing event!

Now that’s pretty much a standard winter now, in Northern West Virginia, 5 years later. I have since been able to fill the horrible void left behind by the lack of snow by kayaking more often in the winter when I used to ski.

Back to this depressing winter 5 years ago. I decided that with my new found freedom I could do the things I always wanted to do and was under the impression that we were going to do. I dug up an old plan to hike the Appalachian Trail (AT) from Springer Mountain, GA to Mount Katahdin, ME. Lucky for me the old plan only needed a few minor changes. Because it got cold enough for man made snow at the Ski Resort I finally got to ride however, I told my boss at the resort where I worked as a Ski Patroller that I was leaving the job early to hike the AT.

I did not keep any type of journal on this hike so every thing is from a concussion riddled, alcohol soaked brain. The timing of the events are most likely out of order.

I started my hike at Springer Mountain March 12, 2013. Beginning the hike with a good pace to set the tempo for the rest of my trip, even though I had some heavier gear due to a combination of not purchasing new gear and wanting to carry a little extra cold weather gear. My second day in I stopped to stay the night at a shelter. Immediately this asshole, in my opinion, started telling me that the shelter was full and immediately proceeded to give me advice on how to set up and use the bear hang. I set up on the leeward side of the shelter which blocked the strong winds.

That night I heard him talking to the people he was with, it sounded like he had been hired to hike with them and show them how to backpack for a while. Later I was awoken by loud voices. At least one person in his group seemed to be suffering from the cold. I am guessing it was in the -20 to -10 degree range with the windchill. The leader should have been more concerned with setting up his groups camp then my activities.

I awoke before the group packed and headed on my way never to see any of them again.

Arriving later my second day at Neels Gap, I got a room in the hostel and find a bivy exactly like mine in the hiker box. This could be an omen as to how shitty in may be to stay in a bivy, but time will tell! I get the best nights sleep in a bunk bed, from a combination of physical exhaustion and happiness from doing something I have always dreamed about, preparing for the rest of my journey.