Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Last post from Connor

I've got all the pictures uploaded as well, at
If you'd like to email us about our adventures, my email address is and Travis's is Last post - signing out.

Saturday, December 5, 2009


Here is the link to the new and improved web album. More pictures to come.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Final Thoughts

Sea Monster already wrote an entry on Springer Mountain, so there's no real reason that I should as well, except that I feel like expounding a little bit on what the trail has meant to me. So this isn't a Springer entry, its just a trail entry generally.

Over the course of these last 165 days, the trail has had a lot of different effects on me. There was the initial, total elation: the inability not to smile when looking around, knowing I was on a cool adventure and further knowing that there was literally nowhere I'd rather be. I would burst into spontaneous singing, I'd run sections of the trail just because it seemed like it would be fun. But predictably, my passionate flame for such an outdoorsy lifestyle eventually cooled to a more temperate enjoyment. I'd still have moments where I was overcome by a view, or the fresh smells, or whatever... but I also got used to the reality that I was walking for 8 or 10 hours a day, and got really good at zoning out and daydreaming through the boring parts. The trail and I had our fights: there were certainly days where I felt like leaving altogether, days where the intensely close companionship with Sea Monster or the multiple days in a row of wetness or simply missing the companionship of my friends made me miserable. I specifically remember a period of about 3 days in northern New Hampshire where I was really considering quitting halfway, at Katahdin.

But fortunately I treated it as what it was - a spat, not a complete falling out. Maine was, in my opinion, the most beautiful and rewarding part of the trail. It was remote, and beautiful, and contemplative. The stars were unbelievable, the lakes were crystal clear (if somewhat leech infested, haha). And I fell in love again, and it was (if you'll excuse the cheesiness) a much deeper, less emotional, but more serious sort of love. We soon were hiking through super-long (and sometimes monotonous) Virginia. Here too, there were times that I was sure that as the summit date grew nearer I'd be nothing but thrilled to get home to material comforts and the people I love. But as it did get nearer, my emotional responses were not nearly so clear. When the end was still a full month away, I already found myself growing nostalgic. By the end, while I was (of course) very happy to come home, I also really missed the trail that I hadn't even left yet!

My favorite thing about the trail as a whole was the people: the hikers we met, and the trail angels from whom we always benefited so much. I've been so impressed, so often, at how kind some of these people are. Further, something about the trail seems to bring out the best in people. Maybe it's that people are naturally more contemplative in nature, or that they're more honest with the people they meet on the trail about themselves (after all, it's hard to feel judged by someone named Bacon). But it's hard to come off the trail without a general conviction that people are generally very good, and kind, and helpful once you get them to take an interest in something other than themselves. Maybe the folks on the trail have already taken that step, and that's why I feel like they're almost always so cool.

The trail was also really good for me in a whole bunch of ways. It's impossible not to think about more or less everything while you're hiking, and you can only think about movies and computers for so long. I really think its very healthy to spend some serious time thinking about the "important stuff," which is something that is easy to avoid in real life. I also am now totally convinced that most people, myself included pre-trail, spend WAY too little time outside. Screw skin cancer, there's something obviously very healthy about getting sun. That's my official pre-medical opinion, and I'm sticking to it. It's probably something very scientific, like the Vitamin D and a well-documented psychological effect, but I like it and am sure that everyone else would too if they spent more time outside. Though I am definitely getting skin cancer some day.

The other huge lesson we both learned was that we're living life NOW and if you want to do something, you should just make it happen. The trail wasn't even very physically challenging.  I mean, we burned a lot of calories, but I'm convinced that almost anyone could do it. The training is the first few weeks of taking it slow and easy, and then you realize that hiking is secretly just walking in disguise. And almost all of us are pretty good at walking! But that's a digression from the point, which is that we all find ourselves in a situation in which there's a "path" that everyone seems to follow, but that there isn't any terribly pressing reason that we all do so. I mean, we all go straight from high school to college to post-college/jobs to retirement. And there isn't anything wrong with that at all, of course, if its what you want to do. But we met some people (for example) that were taking a year between HS and college. Generally, they were discouraged from straying from the path, but I'm convinced that they'll know much more about themselves and what they want to do when they do enter the university. Again, not that taking a year off is better than going straight to school, but just that it's not necessarily better to go straight to college if, for example, you don't know what you want to go for yet. Take a little time, figure it out. We met plenty of middle-aged people who didn't seem to have a whole lot of cash, but lived the way they wanted to. A great example was a northbound friend of ours that lived in a van, but loved it: he got to drive around the world (he's from Holland, actually) and rock-climb all the time, finding odd jobs here and there to support the cheap but fun lifestyle that he loved. And for a final time, I'm not saying that this is better than the american dream... just that it's a valid alternative for a happy life, and if you want to live that way, more power to you. And generally, if you want to do something, whether its mainstream or not, you should 
do it.

I was never good at ending papers or essays or anything, but I guess that in conclusion, the trail was awesome. I'm glad I did it. The end.

The Best Thing I've Ever Done

start: Gooch Mountain Shelter, GA
daily mileage: 15.1
total mileage: 2178.3

Waking up this morning was like no other day on the trail. The feeling of anticipation about finally finishing this thing was unreal. I felt like I was conscious of all the parts of the morning routine. This was the last time I'd be packing my sleeping bag, last time I'd be eating pop tarts, Nutty bars, and a fruit pie for breakfast. I felt like I was doing everything deliberately this morning, somehow that made it all have more gravity. Reading through the log book,the entries were all longer than usual, everyone leaving their final sentiments to the hikers behind them. After breakfast the only food I was carrying was some drink mix, 3 Jolly Ranchers and a little bit of instant potatoes. Both me and Disney marveled at how small and light our packs were, like the display pack filled with foam they have at outfitters.

Stepping out I felt like I couldn't walk fast enough to get to the end. Not that I didn't want to savor the last bit of trail but was like waking up on Christmas morning and then having to walk 15 miles to get to the presents. The mountains up to lunch were no big deal, easy rolling hills. At lunch we were again hoping No Money might catch us. Our lunch break saw the last water run, the last of the stove fuel, and the last use of and Appalachian Trail privy. Disney called his Dad, "You're still coming right?". Both our dads are coming to get us and we each got a chance to chat before we took off on the final stretch.

There were 8 miles to go after lunch. The first 5 were flat as can be, leaving a 3 mile climb to the top of Springer. Both of us were somewhat surprised at the number of tourists and day hikers we came across. Not that we aren't used to seeing other hikers but because it's Saturday and gorgeous out (oh, did I forget to mention we have marvelous weather for our summit) there are more people than average about. I think my perception was even more skewed because my frame of mind was so drastically different from all those that I passed. I was hiking along feeling epic, I was about to complete the most amazing journey of my life, and all these goofers are just out pokin' around in the woods for the afternoon. In my head I was almost thinking, "What is wrong with you people?! Don't you know what today is!?" We passed a number of trail signs informing us that the mileage to Springer was in the single digits.

.9 miles from the summit is a parking lot. This was the place our dads met us and with champagne in hand, all four of us set out to stand on top of the mountain together.

The phrase, "This cannot be happening" I think may be overused, or used in situations that might not require such dramatic phrasing. About 100 yards after the parking lot I whipped out my camera to get a shot of all of us climbing the mountain. I pushed the power button 6 times with no response; this cannot be happening. We traveled 2177 miles only to have the camera break 1 mile before the summit!? REALLY?! I had an extra battery in my pack, back in the car, and Disney's dad also had another camera back in the car. Disney and I ran back to the bottom of the mountain while our dads plugged on. The spare battery didn't help, and after scouring the entire car Disney's dad had clearly not pack his camera after all. Left with no other option we set out for the summit and hoped for the best.

The climb up Springer was no big deal and with our return trip to the car our dads easily beat us to the top. If you remember Disney's description of Mount Katahdin back in August, Springer is nothing like that. There is no rocky crag, no 360 degree view, and no sign quite so iconic as the one on Katahdin. For all the things Springer lacks, it was never the less the end of our 5 1/2 month journey and the best experience of my life. As soon as we got to the top a guy up there started to ask me a question about trail conditions or something. I hated to be rude but I had to cut him off, "I dunno dude, but I just got up here and I'm done with the APPALACHIAN TRAIL!" There were several people camping on the top and they all came around to congratulate us. The camera situation was solved by one of the guys letting us use his with my memory card. We broke open the bubbly and had a great celebration on top. After a bit we met some people who turned out to be No Money's family. We waited for a while to see if he was coming up but eventually had to head back to the car. By lucky coincidence, however, we ran into our friend at the bottom just as he was leaving the parking lot and heading up the mountain.

Driving off the mountain we needed two things, showers and food. We were headed to Cleveland, TN for a hotel and Outback Steakhouse. Unfortunately, a rock slide re-routed us way out of the way, and we settled for lodging in a town called Madison. We all wanted a nice steak dinner so we asked the lady at the desk for advice. She suggested a place just down the road. She warned us the it didn't have much for ambiance but the steaks are good. Well, we got down there and the freaking place was adjoining a gas station, oh, and also closed. From where we were it was a half hour drive in the wrong direction to get to Outback but we felt like a bit of an adventure so we went for it, woohoo!

We all got steaks which were delicious but a problem came during the drink order. Disney left his ID back at the hotel assuming he wouldn't need anything and no mater how many pleading stories we told about how we had just finished the trail, not to mention three of us are Eagle Scouts, they would not serve him. Dude, vision denied. After eating I think we all were pretty tired so we went back to the room for some well deserved sleep.

I guess this concludes the story of me and Disney's incredible adventure. Now that I'm home people ask me things like, "did you have a good time?" and I can never quite come up with an answer that demonstrated how much a question like that understates the point. Absolutely I had a great time, but there was so much. I mean the trail was not just a trip I was on, it was my life for 5 months. I lived in the woods just like anybody else lives in a town. Instead of being away at school or whatever, I moved (with admittedly few belongings) into the mountains.

Hiking the Appalachian Trail is nearly always a transformative experience for anyone who hikes it. We heard a story about a man who walked out on the trail with a .38 and the intention to kill himself and was saved by his experience in nature and with people. I certainly cannot claim to have had the course of my life altered quite so drastically, but something is different. Even together with Disney as a constant companion, I found plenty of time to be alone in the woods, alone with my thoughts. I submit that it is impossible to have that much time for introspection and not discover something about yourself. Admittedly I only got off the trail two days ago and am defiantly still misty with romantic feelings for the whole thing, but I really feel like the decisions I will make concerning the course my life will take from here are going to be altered by my experience.

The last five months have been incredible, and I think fully half of the wealth of my experience comes from the people I have met. I've met hikers, with whom I dearly hope to stay in contact (TRAIL DAYS '10!), and seen a truly beautiful side of humanity. Incredible trail people, from those who are gracious enough to open up their homes to dirty, bearded vagrants, to the people who stop on the road and let you and your gear into their car (sometimes fresh out of the rain), are what make the AT great. And lets not forget the volunteers that do the necessary trail maintenance to make the way passable for the rest of us, you guys rock! Thank everyone for taking the time to read out blog, its been laborious at times to compile and we hope everyone has enjoyed our work. I love the Appalachian Trail, and thank God for it.

One more dawn; one more day: one day more!

11-13-09 day 164
start: Blood Mountain Shelter, GA
end: Gooch Mountain Shelter, GA
daily mileage: 13.2
total mileage: 2163.2

We awoke to find our gear pretty saturated with dew (as expected), though somehow Sea Monster's sleeping bag still seemed dry. All five of us got moving at about the same time, though LB, Fiddler, and Tin Man are going 20 miles so they only have to go 8 tomorrow. Our dads won't arrive until later in the day, so there's no reason for us to  match them - we're just doing 13.

We all met up at the shelter 13 miles down the trail, us to stay there and everyone else to eat lunch. It was really nice to get in nice and early on the second to last day - gives us plenty of time to relax and enjoy the last of this nature experience. We said our goodbyes to each of them after lunch, as we probably won't see them again. So weird! We did hope that No Money would show up that night though (we'd heard he was summiting on tomorrow as well, and probably wouldn't want to go much more than the 15 that we were planning) but he ended up camping a few miles north. We ended up meeting up with him the next day, fortunately, but it was just Sea Monster and yours truly on our last night of the A.T. There was an enormous amount of nice, dry, dead wood all over (including several 2x4s and other pieces of scrapwood from who knows what), and we constructed a HUGE bonfire. There was a teepee inside a log cabin inside a teepee inside a log cabin. It was awesome, though we couldn't really sit by it because it was so scalding hot.

There was a lot of discussion about lasts. It was the last time we ate dinner on the trail, the last time we had a campfire, the last time we looked at the stars on the trail, the last time we fell asleep in our sleeping bags, even the last time we used our headlamps. It really is crazy.

Neel's Gap and Blood Mountain

11-12-09 day 163
start: Low Gap Shelter, GA
end: Blood Mountain Shelter, GA
daily mileage: 13.2
total mileage: 2150.0

The five of us (Me, Disney, LB, Fiddler, and Tin Man) all set out this morning heading 11 miles straight onto Neel’s Gap for lunch. Neel’s Gap, 30 miles from Springer, is the first big way point for northbound hikers. The fall out rate at Neel’s is big, and is typically the point where people who get on the trail with no knowledge of what they are in for decide that hiking isn't their think after all. The hike over to the Gap was fairly uneventful except for the conspicuous lack of blazing throughout. You would think that considering the high amount of traffic this portion of trail receives every year, the blazing would be impeccable, but what’r’ya gonna do? There where almost no white blazes anywhere and at one point there was a blue blaze, used to denote side trails, right in the middle of the AT. After walking for 30-45 minutes and seeing no white blazes you begin to question whether or not you slid of the AT somehow. Then seeing a blue your doubt kicks up more than a little. Never the less we found Neel’s Gap.

Neel’s Gap’s other claim to fame is that the trail runs “through the store”, the outfitter building that’s down there. While the trail actually runs through an outdoor breezeway thing, its still cool that it goes through a building. The outfitter is a great one and the guy who runs it has a deal for NOBOs where he will shakedown your pack for you, and let you know what you need, what you don’t need, and what you should be smacked in the head for even packing in the first place. This service is free but naturally if you seem to be lacking anything he has a fully stocked store to help you out.

After lunch we dawdled around the patio for several hours reading and what not. The factory laces on one of my boots finally broke and I used the down time to replace them with parachute cord. I want to digress for a minute to impress upon our readers how incredible these shoes are. I have a pair of Merrell Moab Ventilators, just cheap day-hiker shoes really. They are low cut, and not waterproof; just imagine beefed up running shoes. Honestly, I can’t imagine they designed to live much past 400 miles but I bought these things in Kent, CT, hiked to Katahdin, flipped back and have hiked the entire South on the same pair. That’s 1700 miles people! Admittedly there is no tread left and I can see my bare foot through the gaping holes in the side (my socks aren’t in great shape either), but never the less my “magic shoes” persevere. I think I’m gonna get these things bronzed, how’s that for a testimonial Merrell!

Four o’clock rolled around and we decided we should crank out the last 2.5 miles. Climbing Blood Mountain was a breeze, 1500 feet was like nothing. Blood Mountain Shelter, one of the oldest on the trail, is a neat old stone cabin with two rooms. As neat as the shelter is there is a mass of huge boulders right next to it and with the great weather we decided to cowboy camp on top. All 5 of us camped and the stars overhead are fantastic.

Bacon for lunch

11-11-09 day 162
start: Tray Mountain Shelter, GA
end: Low Gap Shelter, GA
daily mileage: 15.0
total mileage: 2136.8

Still cold and raining in the morning, so we weren't in much of a hurry to get going. Fortunately, the rain slacked before too long, and we got packed up and headed out. It was hilly terrain in the morning, and relatively flat in the afternoon. The trail was super wet all day long - it reminded me of parts of Maine where it could just be a swamp. We heard that 3-5 inches of rain fell overnight last night. At our lunch shelter, we found a whole bunch of food that some section hiker had left - drink mix, veggie sides (the expensive kind!) and even precooked bacon!

Otherwise, it was actually a pretty average day. Except for the fact, of course, that we're now only 3 days from Springer. Our proximity is feeling more and more surreal. I don't even know how I feel about it anymore... mostly a kind of disbelief. I'm really starting to look forward to seeing friends and family again.