Hello from my couch (Redux)

What’s up everybody, and sorry about the delay.  I finally heard from enough people that I needed to finish this up and learned what it feels like to be George R.R. Martin, so I tore myself away from Netflix and focused on this one task to give you one more good post.  I finished, it’s over, I’m home, I’m not stuck somewhere between here and Hot Springs, I lived my dream, walked home from Maine, etc. you get the picture.  And when I got back I found an email inviting me to try Netflix for free for another month, so that timing could not have been any better.  Last week I finally finished Breaking Bad which has been three years in the making for me.  With that, the trail, and college, I am just on a roll of accomplishing long, lonely, arduous journeys that test my mental and emotional strength.  I used my momentum to launch into the Walking Dead.  Wish me luck.  I won’t be blogging that undertaking.

The last stretch of the trail was mixed emotions for me.  I was already basking in the triumph, since I knew without a doubt that I would finish the trail once I made it past Gatlinburg.  I thought back a lot during that last week to the times when Dad and I told people in Maine that we were thru hikers.  I could hardly convince myself that we were legit back then, so I doubt a lot of the hikers really believed in us.   Even halfway through, telling people we were thru hikers just meant we still had a thousand miles to go.  But now I could tell people I had walked from Maine, and they were congratulating me.  And although it was a fact that I would finish, it had been such a long trip, with so many characters entering and exiting, and so many backdrops (it wasn’t all just leaves, ok) and intermissions in towns here and there that I could hardly believe I had walked it all myself.

Furthermore, having already hiked GA, seeing the places along the trail, hearing the names, and meeting people who actually knew where Dacula is was just…. well, I guess I can’t use the phrase “like coming home” to describe it because that is actually what it was.   I almost teared up when I saw the sign at the NC/GA border, except there was this couple sitting in front of it with their dog, so I had to act like it was no big deal or whatever.  I had been dreaming of this spot, and of walking into Mountain Crossings at Neel Gap like a rock star and eating all of their ice cream and stuff.  But those times were just like the rest of the trail: you’re there for a minute or two or however long you want to sit around, but eventually you just have to keep silently walking on.  No rock stardom.

This of course is true up until the point where your friends and family plan to surprise you at the Springer Mountain trail head with a mile left to go.  10 minutes before I had been cruising along, talking out loud about nothing important to nobody in particular as I had been doing for 800 miles, and suddenly I was surrounded by people who I knew by real names that smelled clean and were actually interested in talking to me.  It was really overwhelming, to be honest, to have 30 people suddenly there all asking me stuff.  I was embarrassed about how rough I looked and smelled and how rough my social skills must have been at that point.  But I guess they got over it, because we all walked the last mile and took the party up to Springer’s normally less-than-exciting summit, where Dad was waiting with a banner and some day-old Chick Fil A sandwiches for me (it was Sunday).

What is somewhat frightening to me is how quickly I fell back into my lazy routine that I usually have when I come home from school, which wasn’t helped by that free Netflix.  On the trail I had been thinking about all of the things I wanted to do and try and make when I got back, thinking that I would have the same drive and focus that I had honed out in the woods.  Instead I am just overwhelmed again by how much is going on all the time around us.  I don’t miss walking for 8 to 10 hours a day, but I do long for the simplicity.  In a way, everything was better in my memory, and when I got back was a little underwhelming. I plunked around on the guitar for a few minutes before remembering how boring it is to play by myself, and couldn’t even muster up the motivation to play Xbox like I had been looking forward to.  Instead I built a new alcohol stove out of some Coke cans.  The most noticeable difficulty I’ve had is adjusting to the food situation.  I’m still wanting to eat 5000 calories a day even though I could survive on 2000.  Is it pointless to hope that I just get tired of eating ice cream and bread?

Otherwise I don’t feel too much different.  In fact, a week later, the trail doesn’t really seem like it happened.  I feel like I just woke up or bumped my head and forgot the last 5 months. Now it’s October and I’m living it home and I’m not sure how I got here.  I know that this hike changed my perspective on things because it would be impossible to come away unaffected, but all I can do right now is pray that I was changed for the better.  I’d also like to actually see the changes but, shoot I just got to hike the AT, I guess I should stop asking for more.

Although, I think I’d really like to hike the John Muir Trail one day.

But just to answer what a lot of people have already asked, I’m not planning any thru-hikes in the future.  I hope to make it out for a full week or two when I can, but there are still too many good places to hike that aren’t part of a long trail.  After being out there for long enough, hiking for 8+ hours every day often seemed to me like as much of a grind as doing anything else for 8+ hours every single day.  In fact if you don’t stubbornly have your mind set on doing it all at once, as I did, then you could enjoy the trail itself just as much or maybe even more by section hiking it all.

Anyway, these are all just thoughts and feelings that are hard to explain and even harder to relate to, so let’s talk about the journey itself.  I got to see more of the country than I’ve ever seen, in terms of states and cities and geography, and slept in some weird places along the way, such as a croquet court; some guy’s garage in NH; a Shaker village ruin; the backyard of a trendy clothing boutique; a plant nursery; a Franciscan monastery’s softball field; a church basement; a senior citizen’s resort; a 34 year old murder scene; a barn; and an observation tower, to name a few.  After I got my hammock mailed to me in Pearisburg, I mostly stayed in shelters because I actually don’t like the hammock but just needed a lightweight backup.

I think my favorite parts of the trail were all of New Hampshire for the huge mountains; Shenandoah NP for the easy hiking, cheeseburgers and beer; Mt. Rogers High Country for the wide open space and the “wildlife;” the Great Smoky Mountains from Davenport Gap to Clingman’s Dome, because they were stunningly beautiful and reminded me of Maine even though I was so close to home; and the last 60 miles of NC, from the Nantahala River to the GA border, for some amazing fall foliage.  Of course Georgia goes without saying, but for different reasons.  One of my favorite days on the trail was still my last day in Maine, crawling through the Mahoosuc Notch first thing in the morning before climbing Goose Eye’s three peaks, crossing into New Hampshire and climbing over Mt. Success, and finally camping beside Gentian Pond.  I also found a Snickers bar on the side of the trail for no apparent reason that day.  I’d like to go back and hike that again some time.

Well, that about wraps it up for what I want to write, but as always, feel free to ask questions since I am much more available to answer them now.  Thank you all for reading, praying, commenting, hiking with me, and helping me make it home.  I think this picture of the sunset from Blood Mountain should be a fitting ending.  I’m going to go find some lunch.

blood sunset 1

I was bored, so…

…I decided to upload a few more pictures.

Bench in the cow pasture on Cross Mountain, TN. Also. the half mile of trail from here down to the next road is apparently ADA compliant?

Bench in the cow pasture on Cross Mountain, TN. Also. the half mile of trail from here down to the next road is apparently ADA compliant?

Watauga Lake

Watauga Lake

Laurel Falls

Laurel Falls

Exciting times on the AT

Exciting times on the AT

See you soon.

See you soon.

Coming at you from Hot Springs, NC

Unfortunately right now, this post is the only thing that will be heading your way from Hot Springs, as I am going to be stuck here for at least the rest of the day.  But more on that later.

I believe my last update was from Damascus.  I was excited to have less than 500 miles to go; now I have less than 300 to go, and my feelings are much more mixed.  My desire to be done and home is well beyond excitement, and yet it is sad to think that this adventure is getting close to an end.  I stayed a night in Erwin, TN, about a week ago, but after getting some food and drying off I was actually really looking forward to heading out into the woods and setting up camp at the next shelter.  I’m not sure what the draw to that is now that I’ve been doing it for 4 months straight.  You would think that the magic would have worn off after 1800 miles.  Maybe it was the fun of camping, the peace of being out in the woods, the feeling of being that much closer to Springer, or maybe that I just function better eating ramen and sleeping in a bag in a mouse-infested lean-to than I do in society now.  Regardless, when I am hiking I long for a break, but when I’m sitting in town it doesn’t take long for me to refuel and want to be back out on the trail.

While we were waiting for his ride to Roanoke, before he left, Dad mentioned something about me being able to finish this task.  “Task?!” I said, hoping that was not all that this had become.  He amended his statement using the word journey, probably just to appease me.  But I have reached that point where I’m beginning to see it as a task as well.  The last week didn’t help, either.  The weather was much the same as was back home, I believe – gloomy and foggy and rainy every day. I think 2 of the last 11 or 12 days since Damascus were sunny, which meant I haven’t seen much of anything from the cloud-encircled mountaintops.

The last day of decent weather saw me ascending up into the Roan Highlands, which are one of the highlights of the southern quarter.  Late in the afternoon, with a 360 degree view from the meadow atop Hump Mountain, I thought for a moment that with such beautiful views and trail, the weight of the “task” was gone.  It sounds a little cliche, but with scenery like that, I stop thinking about how long I’ve walked that day, or how far I have left to walk, or how late I’ll get to camp.  Even the steep climbs and heavy pack seem to fade from my mind.  I wish every day could be like that, but unfortunately, it isn’t.

That’s why I’m stuck here in Hot Springs today.  Whatever storms are brewing down in the Gulf and sending all this rain across the Southeast have put a flash flood watch on the area, with feet of rain being predicted over the weekend.  I’m torn between wanting to get home so badly, and not wanting to hike through the Smokies soaking wet, cold, and miserable.  The hostel where I’m staying may have some work-for-stay opportunities, so that at least could keep me occupied, but I may just get bored tonight and decide to make a sprint for Gatlinburg starting tomorrow.  But the Smokies are the last big thing on the trail, and I’d hate to run up to the top of Clingman’s Dome, see nothing but gray, and have to run down to the next shelter to dry off and warm up.  We’ll see what happens.

In any case, I am 275 miles and about 2 weeks from finishing.  I’ll see you all soon, and this time I’ll actually put the pictures up like I said I would (although my camera has been in my pack for most of the past week to keep it dry).  Thanks for reading.

A-Town

Dad and I on the famous McAfee Knob

Dad and I on the famous McAfee Knob

Climbing up through the Mt. Rogers high country (Rogers is the green bump on the left)

Climbing up through the Mt. Rogers high country (Rogers is the green bump on the left)

Buzzard Rocks, on the side of Whitetop Mountain

Buzzard Rocks, on the side of Whitetop Mountain

Roan Mountain from the north

Roan Mountain from the north, and the last day of sunshine

3 States Left (Almost)

Hi everyone, A-Town here.  This time I’m checking in from Damascus, VA.  That means I’ve finally finished my Virginia section hike, as I like to think of it, and am less than 5 miles from starting my Tennessee section hike.  I started thinking of the trail like this back in Massachusetts, when it set in how long I was going to be out for and I needed boosts of encouragement every week or so when we got another state done.  I remember meeting a hiker from St. Simons named Romeo just north of Harper’s Ferry, and he was describing how long and drawn out Virginia would be.  Luckily I had a lot of things getting me through it, like people coming up to visit, some famous trail sections, a zero partway through, and trips to buffets in 3 different towns.  The state was really long, and I’m glad to be finished, but it had a lot of good stuff along the way.  Honestly, Shenandoah NP is renowned for its hiking trails, but I think my favorite part of the state has been the last 70 miles or so.

But I’m getting ahead of myself, because there is other important news, the first piece of which many of you already know.  Two days after my last post from Daleville, Vanilla Thunder, retired from the trail for the rest of the season. Our first day out from Daleville was no less painful for him than the days before his rest and doctor’s visit.  Before taking a few days off, he was upset about the possibility of leaving the trail.  However, after having tried all he could to remedy his feet without significant improvement, he was much more at peace with his decision to leave the trail.  Before he left I remember him saying that he has a lot of other things in life that he still wants to do that involve his feet, and that though he enjoys backpacking, it isn’t his passion as is cycling.  Although it is unfortunate that we didn’t get to complete what we set out to do together, I could tell that it was harder for him to enjoy the trail for the last few hundred miles and it wasn’t fun seeing him in pain like that.  In the end, hiking nearly 1400 miles straight is still a huge accomplishment.  And the trail will be there in the future if he ever wants to return and complete it in sections.

V.T. was joined in his departure by our other hiking partner at the time, the Hiking Dude.  So for the past two weeks I’ve been hiking somewhat alone.  It has been a whole new experience being my own sole motivator and being wholly responsible for every aspect of the hike.  Although I don’t mind hiking by myself, sometimes it is nice to have someone to talk to or just be around at camp.  Other times, I really hope no one else is at a shelter and that I’ll have the whole thing to myself.  I guess it just depends on the day.  Luckily, I had Margaret to hike with for 3 days – she arrived the day after Dad left.  We had a pretty good time, despite getting only one decent view for three days.  Thursday was spent mostly inside a cloud, with the rain soaking us off and on from lunch until we finally trudged shivering into a shelter on the VA/WV border.  Friday was sunnier, although the fog and mist kept our clothes from drying out overnight, but we at least made it to Pearisburg where we caught a shuttle to Woods Hole Hostel.  The hostel, which is only 0.5 off the trail, was where we had planned to end our hike before the rain slowed us down.  The 1880’s log cabin is unbelievably cozy inside, which was augmented by the home-cooked, organic, family style meals that the owner fixed using stuff straight from her own garden. It was an amazing place and one of my top 3 favorite hostels on the trail so far.  Anyway, it was a nice place to end a soggy hike so that Margaret could get cleaned up and get a good meal before hopping on a flight back to Texas.  I wish the weather had been better and that she could’ve seen some prettier trail, but she got to experience the gritty side of backpacking and had a good attitude the entire time – one of the most important things you can have on the trail.

Since then I’ve been trying to finish Virginia as fast as I can, because it has been long.  Near Marion I met a former thru-hiker named Duke who told me that his favorite parts of the trail were the first 500 miles and the last 500 miles, saying that “everything in between is just work.”  Well so far he has been right.  The last few days have been beautiful, partly due to the nice weather (high 60’s and very sunny all day) but largely due to the most beautiful stretch of trail I’ve seen since leaving the Whites: the Mt. Rogers high country.  Yep, this is the place that is home to Grayson Highlands State Park and the legendary wild ponies of the trail.  I’ve never been a huge fan of ponies, but I always welcome the sight of wildlife (I also caught sight of a skunk, a coyote, a couple of bear cubs, and a few cattle that graze with the ponies).  The grassy meadows atop the mountains in this area were once used to graze cattle and now afford huge views of the surrounding area.  I mean HUGE views.  It was refreshing to hike through there, and it reminded me of why I love being out here on the trail.  I don’t have a lot of time left out here either, with only 470 miles left to Springer.  That means less than 400 miles until I’m back home in Georgia.

That being said, I’ll be heading out of Damascus tomorrow and hoping to get to Erwin, TN, in about a week.  I expect to be getting to Great Smoky Mountains NP in the first few days of October (ordered my backcountry permit today), and finishing up in less that 4 weeks.  See you guys soon.  Another post to follow with a few pictures.  Thanks for reading.

P.S. – Just weighed my pack on a seemingly-accurate scale here at the hostel, for the first time since Boiling Springs.  20 lbs, without fuel, food, or water (the last of which I usually don’t carry anyway).  I think when we started it was at least 28 or 29.  Of course, I’ll be gaining a pound or two in a few days when I pick up my cold weather gear from the Hampton P.O.

Photographs and memories, from Boiling Springs to Daleville

Makin' my way downhill, hiking fast, blazes passing, I'm southbound.

Makin’ my way downhill, hiking fast, blazes passing, I’m southbound.


It's like Shenandoah NP trained their bears to stop right in the trail so I could get pictures

It’s like Shenandoah NP trained their bears to stop right in the trail so I could get pictures.

And their deer too. This 8 point better stay in the park.

And their deer too. This 8 point better stay in the park.

Kool Breeze on top of Blackrock Mountain.

Kool Breeze on top of Blackrock Mountain.

Obligatory apple tree pic.

Obligatory apple tree pic.

Hog Camp Gap. Nice spot for camping, or lunch, or really anything. Just a nice place to be.

Hog Camp Gap. Nice spot for camping, or lunch, or really anything. Just a nice place to be.

Climbing Cole Mountain.

Climbing Cole Mountain.

I forgot to mention one thing in the main post. The first thing I did when I got to Daleville today was go to Bojangles and order a chicken biscuit, sweet tea, and sweet potato pie. Man it is good to be back in the South.

A town

Thank you, Johnny Appleseed

Hi everyone! It has been an atrociously long time since I posted anything, I know, and for that I’m sorry.  A lot has happened since Boiling Springs, and not a lot of time to write about it, so let me just run through the story since then and hopefully explain everything.

At some point in Pennsylvania, Dad mentioned taking a break once we got out of the state to rest our feet, but we never really got around to it.  Pennsylvania ended, and Maryland went by in 2 days that I hardly remember, but when we got to the Potomac we limped (literally) along the C&O Canal Towpath into the HI Harper’s Ferry Hostel overlooking the river.  It was a fantastic hostel – mostly because the keeper opened the pantry and told us to help ourselves to all the food people had left, as well as all the ice cream we could eat. Dad could barely put any weight on his left heel that day because it was hurting so bad, so I figured that would be the break we were dreaming of, especially with a 90% of T-storms and 2 in. of rain the next day.  But the next day found us limping (still, literally) into Harper’s Ferry and the ATC headquarters, where we checked in as the 13th and 14th SOBO thru hikers. So I missed that chance for a little blog post.

That night we met the Hiking Dude at the shelter where we were hiding from the rain.  The Dude is a pretty experienced hiker, having hiked the entire Arizona Trail and Ice Age Trail.  He also made his own pack, shelter, and quilt, which is way cool. He plans to hike down to Springer, and for the time being has been hiking with us.  It’s nice to have someone to camp with and talk to, since Dad and I get into a quiet routine every day and it starts to feel like a grind.  He blogs a lot more regularly than I do and has a GPS device that tracks where exactly he is on the trail, so if you want another perspective on the AT, check out his website, HikingDude.com.

Anyway, so at this point we’d hiked about 350 miles without a day off, and Dad’s feet weren’t getting any better, so he finally said we’d take some time off and he’d go see a podiatrist.  But we were 2.5 days from Front Royal, so we kept going at our usual pace. When we got there, he was feeling slightly better, so we grabbed some groceries, hit the KFC (wayyyy better in Virginia than in Vermont), and kept going.  I still didn’t get to post!

That afternoon we made it to Shenandoah National Park, which we were excited about because we’d heard the beer was cheaper than water, which turned out to be sort of true.  About once a day for the next week we were passing camp stores and snack bars where we could pick up some snacks and hiker food, but more importantly, cheeseburgers and ice cream.  And a 16 oz. Bud Light was 95 cents, while a 20 oz. water was 99 cents.  Plus, we were all carrying water filters, so we weren’t about to pay for water.

I had one of my best days of hiking there in Shenandoah – beautiful views from the summit of Stony Man, 70 degrees and sunny all day, a cheeseburger for lunch, saw 3 bears, a bunch of deer, and a couple of turkeys, cooked some hot dogs that we bought at a camp store, and picked a bunch of wild apples.

That’s why I had to give Johnny Appleseed his due; I’ve been seeing apple trees ever since NH but they weren’t ripe enough until now.  We’ve been picking them from Front Royal all the way down to Buena Vista.  They spruce up any trail meal, especially chopped up in oatmeal or on a sandwich with PB.

Also, on our last day in Shenandoah, my mom – aka Kool Breeze – came up to hike with me for a day, and that was a lot of fun.  It was good to catch up for hours on what has been going on at home, and those miles really flew by.  we ended up doing about 15 together, and I have to say I was impressed at how well she did for someone with multiple knee surgeries and a pack so full of food that weighed nearly as much as mine.

After getting out of the park we were driven by a trail angel named DuBose Egleston, Jr., or “Yellow Truck,” to a hostel in Waynesboro, where we finally took a day off.  We hit the Chinese buffet, of course, watched some James Bond, and Dad got new shoes and insoles at an outfitter there.  Sounds like a good time for me to write a blog post, right? Sorry guys, but the last thing I wanted to do after hiking 500 miles straight was sit at a computer and rehash the whole thing.  Turns out, all I wanted to do was lay on the couch with a cold drink.

Of course it went by too quickly, and it was bittersweet.  I hate taking zeroes because it reminds me of evrything I’m missing on the trail, but I crave those things so much too.  But a couple of days later I had forgotten about it, because we were back on top of 4000 footers again for the first time since Vermont.  We met a bunch of college groups from Washington & Lee University who were on week long pre-orientation trips, which is way cool and I wish I’d gotten to do something like that.  But on Tuesday Dad’s feet were really killing him, and he made the decision to get off the trail that afternoon in Buena Vista.

I felt awful for him, because I know it was a hard call to make.  He never gives up at anything, always sees things through, but he just wasn’t enjoying himself at all.  And life is too short to torture yourself for months on end just to say you did.  But of course that’s not the end of the story.  He didn’t actually give up.  Instead he got a ride down to Roanoke, got a couple of shots of cortisone in his heels (which the doctor said have heel spurs and all that other painful junk that happens to feet), and has been laying in a Howard Johnson in Daleville watching Dumb and Dumber for the past 3 days.  The Dude and I hiked on without him and just met him here today. And that’s the story up until now. I could be also lying in the room watching movies and eating cookies, but I have to blog at some point or you guys might think we both quit for good.

Highlights of the last few weeks:  Lots of wildlife in Shenandoah; hiking with Kool Breeze; free apples; Chinese Buffet; tall mountains; more apples; Reeds Gap to Bald Knob; and my longest day of hiking, 27 miles. I finally completed a marathon and it took 11 hours 30 minutes, so I think that’s a good place to start.  Plenty of room for improvement.

Looking ahead, I hae no clue really where we’ll be, but I can tell you that at 1461 miles down, we’re 2/3 of the way done with this trail.  McAfee Knob is coming up this week, and if you don’t know what that is, just look up pictures of the Appalachian Trail and it will probably be 90% of them.  I’ll try to get some pics up from my phone, since this hotel computer is weird.  See you all soon, and thanks for reading.

Checking in from Boiling Springs, PA

Prepare yourselves for a better post, everyone.  I’m sitting at a computer for the first time since Bennington, VT.  This time I mean it.  We’ve been moving pretty fast, and every time we come up with a plan to go into some town it seems like we look again and realize, “hey, if we really hauled, we could skip it altogether and get to the next town a day sooner.”  So we’re perpetually in a rush; I haven’t gotten to charge my phone in a week and a half, which means pictures this past week are a little scant.  Well, that and the 2 days of rain earlier this week.

The result of this, though, is that we’re about three days from the Mason-Dixon line, and only a day and a half from reaching the official halfway point in mileage! Yes, this week has been a big one – it marked 10 weeks on the trail, and we surpassed 1000 miles on Tuesday, stopping here in Boiling Springs at mile 1067 for our first showers and laundry in nearly two weeks.  And let me tell you, this place is awesome.  It’s called the Allenberry Resort Inn and Playhouse, located on what is supposedly a nationally acclaimed fly fishing creek (Yellow Breeches).  They have a special hiker deal: $40 for a two-bed room, and they served both a dinner and breakfast buffet for outrageously reasonable prices, which of course is right up our alley.  We were so busy eating last night that we missed curtain call for South Pacific at the resort’s theater, but for all the prime rib and sticky buns we could eat it was worth it.  This is a must-stay for any thru-hiker, and definitely my best experience yet as far as hotels/hostels.

Since my last post was scant, I’ll talk a little about some of the stuff we’ve been seeing in the last few states.  Massachusetts had a beautiful finale on Mt. Everett and particularly Mt. Race, where we followed a ridge with sweeping panoramas for about a half mile.  Connecticut was almost too short to remember, and we climbed the highest point, Bear Mountain, within an hour of being in the state.  It was still pretty, if a little too ritzy for our hiker taste.  New York was a refreshing new sight, I thought, after southern VT, MA, and CT looked very similar.  My favorite places in this state were from Bear Mountain south over West, Black, and Fingerboard Mountains.  The tops of these little mountains seemed like nothing but tall oak trees and scrubby blueberry bushes as far as the eye could see.  It was so hot in NY too.  We also got the treat of hiking through NY with a friend of ours, “Brown,” a retired Gwinnett County firefighter whom I met at REI just a few days before flying up to Maine.  He grew up over in Stone Mountain and is an avid cyclist (and runner and swimmer, as a triathlete), so he and Dad passed the miles by reminiscing about old times in the park,  old cars, 4-wheeling, cycling, and who knows what else.  Unfortunately we had to part ways when we went into NYC, but we’re hoping to find him somewhere down the trail.

Jim and Margie, since I mentioned the city I’ll go ahead and answer your questions.  Dad wasn’t much of a fan of the city – too loud and dirty and expensive, and he went to three different outfitters without finding the sleeping pad that he wanted to replace his worn out one.  But he rode the subway, visited battery park, and climbed to the top of the Empire State Building, and was satisfied enough to not ever go back again.  I think he was eager to get back on the trail by Saturday night.  I, on the other hand, can’t wait to go back.  Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t ever want to live there, but the crowds and noise and everything just reminded me of an amusement park.  Plus, NYC is just such a huge part of pop culture that it was a lot of fun for me to see all of these things that I’d seen in movies or heard about in the news.  I mean, we walk out of the Port Authority and there’s the NY Times HQ.  We walked right through TImes Square on our way to our hotel.  Plus, as a civil engineer, it is thrilling to me to see this massive system that man has built and endeavors to keep running smoothly and efficiently (although it doesn’t have the best infrastructure, I know, it’s still a thriving city, and perhaps that makes it even more amazing).  I mean just seeing the old architecture side by side with the brand new was exciting to me.

But this is a hiking blog, so I’ll stop talking about the city, although it was hard for me to get back on the trail when we finally did Sunday afternoon.  As to your other questions:

The one thing Dad misses is his bed, although he had a hard time deciding between that and a shower, and everything else in his normal life.  I really miss having real food.  Fresh bread, cheese, fruit are all huge craving for me.  I have a hard time controlling myself anytime I see food that isn’t ramen, rice, or trail mix.

We don’t carry bear spray, and we’ve only encountered one other hiker whom we saw carrying it (and if you don’t have it where we can easily see it and you can easily get to it, then you have to ask yourself why you’re carrying it).  I have seen a few hikers with bear bells, but I don’t think those even make enough noise to make them necessary.  All of the bears we’ve encountered were easily spooked by just us talking to them.

For the mosquitos, we have head nets and DEET.  I carry a little orange spray bottle of Ben’s 100 DEET, but I only use it when we get to camp, as the mosquitos are really only a problem in the evening and I sweat the stuff off in the day anyway.  It seems to work well, and we’re still alive after smearing it on ourselves for 2 and a half months.  More often, if the mosquitos are that bad, we’ll just throw on our head nets and rain jackets, which the can’t bite through, because it’s easier than putting on a thorough coat of DEET.

Usually, when we camp, we just take an established site, which tend to be around 50 feet from the trail.  At least, it’s nice to have that distance.  If there are no good established sites, we’ll try to get a little further off, but at the end of the day sometimes you just take whats easy to get to instead of trying to bushwhack another half mile off the trail.

I’ve had pretty constant cell service since MA, at least when we’re on the mountains – not as much in the gaps.  Dad has Virgin Mobile, so he still has to borrow my phone sometimes.

Thanks so much for all of those questions! they were fun to answer.

As far as the rest of the trail after NY: New Jersey was still easier than anything we’d done before.  Though short, it featured some very pretty, non-mountainous spots, like the Wallkill reservoir/wildlife refuge.  By the end we had ascended onto a rocky ridge line, a topographical feature we’d continue to follow through northern PA.  Sunfish Pond was also particularly pretty; but in three short days, the NJ adventure was no more.

I mentioned that PA gets a lot of complaints from hikers and here’s why.  It’s nothing personal, and I try not to hold it against the entire state but these are just the facts.
1. It’s super rocky.  Everyone says it, and it’s true.  something about the long, flat topped mountains just makes the ground seem like one big pile of rubble.  It’s like a war zone up there.  And the trail gets kind of brushy, sometimes covering the rocks so you can’t even see where you’re stepping
2.  It’s pretty dry.  SInce we’re staying on those long flat ridges for miles and miles, there’s no streams to cross, meaning we half to walk half a mile down the mountain just to get water.  All of those half miles down and then back start to add up when we’re getting water three times a day.
3.  It has the highest number of reported cases of Lyme of any state on the trail.  We haven’t personally experienced this, but it’s probably another symptom of the brush and grass that frequently crowds the trail.  As is the poison ivy I got on my legs this past week.

Dave – hi, thanks for reading! Our health is pretty good overall.  Dad’s feet are the only things that bother him.  His heels really hurt, which affects his gait, eventually making other parts of his feet sore.  MY feet are pretty sore after all of the rocks in PA too, but I also had each of my ankles swell a little bit in the last couple of weeks.  I think they’ve gone down now.  We also get pretty sleepy if we don’t get a good night’s sleep on our ThermaRest pads.

The only other new development is that my SteriPen lasted about a week before it went kaput.  Luckily Dad still had his Sawyer Mini, but when we got to the next town, which happened to have a Wal-Mart, we picked up the full-size Sawyer Squeeze, which works like a dream.  just a little bigger than the Mini, but 10 times faster to get a liter of clean water.  At least, we think it’s clean.  Clear water goes in, clear water comes out… who really knows.

So anyway, I need to get going so we can pick up some groceries and get back on the trail.  I think Dad is going crazy sitting in the lobby over here.  I’l upload some pictures and call it a post.  We’ll pass through Harper’s Ferry next Wednesday or Thursday, I think, and be in Virginia next weekend! That means Shenandoah in a week and a half, maybe, and Buchanan, VA, by Labor Day.  See you all soon, and thanks for reading.

A-Town

About to cross the Hudson and climb Bear Mountain.

About to cross the Hudson and climb Bear Mountain.

Unnamed (but no less pretty) pond in New Jersey

Unnamed (but no less pretty) pond in New Jersey

Overlooking Palmerton PA, from the Superfund rehab site (an old zinc smelting pile).

Overlooking Palmerton PA, from the Superfund rehab site (an old zinc smelting pile).

The famed PA rocks.  The trail does this for miles and miles.

The famed PA rocks. The trail does this for miles and miles.

Lehigh Gap

Lehigh Gap

Beautiful PA farmland seen from the Pinnacle

Beautiful PA farmland seen from the Pinnacle

A typical, flat PA mountain around sunrise.

A typical, flat PA mountain around sunrise.

Sunrise on day 73

Sunrise on day 73

Hawk Rock, with Duncannon and the Susquehanna behind me

Hawk Rock, with Duncannon and the Susquehanna behind me

We made it!! …to Pennsylvania

We’re in the dreaded PA now, subject of more complaints than any other state due to its abundance of pointy rocks.  Sorry I haven’t posted anything recently. We went into NYC last weekend, so we didn’t want to take any other time off. And I wasn’t about to spend my free time in the Big Apple with Margaret on a computer typing a blog post, so here I am paying for that by doing it on my phone again in the basement of a church in Delaware Water Gap.

In my last post I said I’d put good stuff in this one, and I’m keeping that promise. First off is the…

WILDLIFE REPORT

Moose count: 1/2. It was walking away, far off through the trees, so I didn’t even get to see its head. After I spotted it, Dad always made sure to stay in front of me. He claims to have seen 2 more, but I can’t confirm or deny. All sightings were on the side of Spaulding Mt. in ME.

Bear count: 5. The last was at camp last night. As I was hanging our food from a tree Dad said from his tent, “Seth… there’s a bear behind you.” Of course I’m picturing a bear standing right behind me, 7 feet tall and ready to rip me apart and steal my bagels. I turned around and it was more like 10 yards from me, on all fours and looking at me curiously like a dog wondering if its owner is going to throw the ball already. I said “GIT” and it went.

Other than that, we see a lot of little snakes, a lot of noisy chipmunks in Vermont, red squirrels in NH and ME, and gray squirrels in CT and NY way bigger than the ones back home. Today I got within 3 feet of a porcupine before he climbed way up some tree. The creatures we’ve seen more than any other are mosquitos, which are more demon spawn than animal anyway.

Another thing I need to cover since we’ve left New England is the…

OFFICIAL WHOOPIE PIE RANKINGS

You’ve heard me talk about them before, but now I’m going to give you the final verdict on these devilishly good desserts. Or breakfast, lunch, whatever really. This is important trail info, so listen up.

1. Maple whoopie – 2 of the greatest things to come out of New England, maple and whoopie pies. Combining them was kind of a no brainer, as is eating one whenever you get the chance.

2. Double chocolate – second only to the combo of maple and whoopie pies os the combo of chocolate and chocolate. Need I say more?

3. Peanut Butter – Let’s face it, PB is amazing. I’ve eaten more of it than nearly anything else out here and sometimes at the end of the day I’m still craving more.  Enter PB whoopie.

4. Chocolate chip – this guy is basically like a Good Humor cookie ice cream sandwich deal, which is delicious, but it has the added benefit that I can hide it in my pocket indefinitely so Dad doesn’t see I’ve bought yet another whoopie pie.

5. Whoopie pie – the original. This guy is simple but good and deserves mad props for spawning so many delicious derivatives.

6. Mocha – Not bad. Dessert is still my preferred form of coffee consumption, but milkshake remains my favorite form of dessert coffee.

7. Red Velvet – just a whoopie but dyed red.  They didn’t make the filling like red velvet icing, which is what really makes a good red velvet cake.

There you have it folks, the best of the whoopies. Actually those are the only ones I got to try, though I’Ve heard the pumpkin ones are good too. Ahh… almost makes me want to hike back to Maine and get one… almost.

It’s getting late, and I’m super tired. We’re getting some new shoes in the mail in Slatington this weekend, so hopefully I can do another short post there. Maybe I’ll tell you about our weekend in NYC. Who knows? I’ll definitely do pictures then, when I have a better signal.  Later.

A-town

Greetings from Great Barrington

Sorry, yeah that title is a little hokey but I was tired of hello and hi. Might have to switch the format up altogether. Anyway, I’m sitting on a rock about 4 miles outside of Great Barrington MA and just wanted to give a quick update via phone since we’ll be in CT in a couple of days. I don’t have a lot of time, but it’s ok because honestly there hasn’t been that much to MA besides loads of mosquitoes and humidity.  We climbed the highest mountain in the state, Mt.Greylock, but it was so cloudy we couldn’t see anything. So I just took a picture with the plaque.

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Not many views otherwise because of the clouds and rain. Really I’ve just been missing home a lot and thinking how nice it will be to get home in the middle of football season. Because nothing sounds as nice in the middle of a hot day on the trail as sitting on the couch all day with a spread of snacks and cold drinks.

Speaking of food, quick shoutout to my two new heroes:

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These things are both soooo easy and fast. They just take a lil butter (or a lot), maybe some dates and raisins or vegetable chips in the potatoes and sun dtied tomatoes in the cous cous, and you’ve got yourself a hot brick of hiker filling food. Oh yeah, the taters take some powdered milk but that’s no problem for us trail chefs.

That’s all for now! Keep an eye out for a bigger post from NY sometime next week. Til then,

ATown

Hello from Bennington, VT!!!!!

Sneaky little sign.

Sneaky little sign.

Can you tell I’m excited? I’m actually not sure why.  We still have over 1600 miles and 11 states to go.  But we are in Bennington, our last stop in Vermont.  In a couple of days we’ll be in Massachusetts, and we’ll be in Connecticut in a week.  So we’re almost through New England, and that’s exciting in its own way.  Maybe people will be less surprised to see an Atlanta Braves hat once we get to the mid-Atlantic, although it causes a bit of excitement when I do meet other Georgians up here.  Today some hikers pulled over in their car as we were standing by the road just to yell at us that they were from Savannah.  And I met a NOBO a couple of days ago who lives in Grant Park and got his master’s in industrial design at Tech.  Cheers, Lightning! Best of luck and weather as you get to the Whites this next week.

You may notice that we hit Bennington kind of early compared to the scheduled I put in the last post – 3 days early, actually.  Sorry that schedule was trash.  I’m never quite sure whether we’ll be stopping in a town or just picking up a few things or moving on, and Dad isn’t either.  We spent about 2 hours in Killington, still getting a good 16 or 17 miles that day; and we spent the morning in Rutland, just long enough to resupply for the next 70 miles, eat 2 meals, take a bath in the creek, and still get 8 miles in.  But it’s been 136 miles since my post last week, which means, including the short days like today (only 6 or 7 miles), we’re still hitting just at or over 17 miles a day.  On full days, more like 18 to 19.  We really picked up the pace more than I expected since leaving New Hampshire.  Dad said he wanted to get 15 miles a day at least, but there is also a kind of unspoken rule I think that we also don’t quit walking before 5 unless the weather is crud.

Judy, thanks for asking how long it takes to get those 17 miles.  I’ll go ahead and take this chance to outline what a typical day looks like.  We usually get up between 6 and 6:30 and boil a little water for some coffee, eat our breakfast, and break camp by 7:30 or 8.  We’ll walk at least a couple of hours and then start looking for a good place to stop for a snack.  This could be a shelter, a brook where Dad can wash his socks, a nice viewpoint, or a rock on the side of a giant hill when we get tired of a long climb.  After a short snack we’ll walk a couple of hours more, usually looking to stop for lunch around 12:30.  Dad really likes big, sunny rocks where he can dry out his socks while we eat, or else shelters which have good water sources and flat surfaces to sit and eat.

Lunch lasts about 30-45 minutes. A lot of times after breaks or lunch I will sit and write, whittle, or talk to other hikers while Dad heads off; then I’ll go catch him.  I like to bask on the peaks a little bit. It’s also nice to be able to go at my own pace sometimes, and it’s a different experience when you’re on your own as opposed to being right behind someone, so I like to get some of both.  Anyway, we walk until around 4, maybe stop for another break, fill up with camp water around 5:30 and start looking to find a campsite sometime after 5:30 or 6. Dad likes to walk about 8 hours a day aside from breaks.  His pace I think varies between 2 to 2.5 miles an hour, which gives our recent average of around 17 to 18 miles a day.

All that to say, we spend about 10 or 11 hours out on the trail a day, walking 8 or 9 of them.  If everything goes smoothly, we set up camp, cook, and get in our tents in less than an hour and a half.  I’ll write for a bit, be asleep by 8:30 or 9, and do it all again the next day.

Vermont is way different than the other states.  I learned some cool stuff about it the other day – for instance, it used to be 75% pasture, but now it is the opposite – 75% wooded.  Early on, before reaching Killington, we very often came across old stone fences in the woods and would parallel them down old farm roads.  In fact we cut through a number of farms in eastern Vermont, which was my favorite part of the state.

The trail follows road for about 2 miles in West Hartford

The trail follows these roads for about 2 miles in West Hartford

Once we joined the Long Trail and entered Green Mountain National Forest, it just started looking like woods again.  But in the east, we were constantly walking through meadows, cow pastures, down roads, past old mills and houses from the 1800’s, and perhaps best of all, into raspberry patches.  One day we spent our morning break picking raspberries for 20 minutes, which I later put on our PB sandwiches for a DELICIOUS lunch.

Now where do I put these?

Now where do I put these?

After passing the town of Killington, the AT joins the Long Trail, which runs the length of Vermont from Massachusetts to Quebec.  The Long Trail was sort of the original AT, built in the early 1900’s by James Taylor (double take).  Once we were on the LT, we started meeting a lot more section and day-hikers, much like in the Whites.  But the terrain is incomparable.  Vermont is much smoother, with the exception of some sticky mud here and there.  We’ve climbed only a few bald mountains here – Killington, which was crowded with flip-flop-shod tourists fresh off the ski lift, and Bromley, where the trail follows a ski slope for a while.  Vermont is much more relaxing though.  I’d get anxious in New Hampshire from all the giant mountains and people everywhere, and I’d get anxious in Maine from all the giant mountains and being the only soul in the woods for mile and miles.  I think this bench, which as under an apple tree on a mountain in West Hartford, sums up the trail here pretty well.

And I did.  Thanks, Vermont.

And I did. Thanks, Vermont.

Best of all, we only got rained on once during our entire tenure in Vermont.  Sadly, it was going over Stratton Mtn., on top of which Benton MacKaye is said to have been inspired with the idea of the Appalachian Trail.

I know I’m leaving so much out here, let’s see….  Rutland was a pretty town and home of one of the two Wal-Marts in Vermont, according to the woman who gave us a hitch.  In fact, she didn’t even mention it when telling us where to shop because she was upset by its presence.  We honored her by going to the local co-op and the Price Chopper instead.  The only downside I found with Rutland is that the KFC is not as good as the ones down here, but then, what was I expecting?  So we escaped the town without drinking the kool-aid/mate at the Yellow Deli and went for a swim in Clarendon Gorge – our first swim on the trail.  Man, I could have swam there for hours.

Still hoping I get to see a full moose – we camped by some moose signs, if you will, last night.  Once we get out of New England I’ll do a full wildlife report.  Until then, the library is about to close, and as usual, I’m getting hungry.  Thanks for all the prayers and comments! We’ll be passing through Cheshire, MA, Sunday or Monday. To those who have offered to send packages: many many thanks and I am so sorry that my scheduling has been terrible!  The best thing to do would be to mail stuff to the Kent, Connecticut, or Pawling, NY post offices, c/o general delivery, and send me a comment or text message telling me to go pick it up so I know something is there.  Here are some pictures for your viewing pleasure!

Peace up, A-Town down.

(Shout out to Peace Dog, the first person on the trail to say this to me.  Thank you for being culturally informed.)

On top of Bromley Mtn. You know what song was stuck in my head that day.

On top of Bromley Mtn. You know what song was stuck in my head that day.

Camp, day 43, on Little Pond Mtn. in Glastenbury Wilderness.

Camp, day 43, on Little Pond Mtn. in Glastenbury Wilderness.

Awwww shoot! Look who's getting in the selfie game!

Awwww shoot! Look who’s getting in the selfie game! (Everyone on Mt. Killington was doing it)