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.

Out of the Hotel and into the Rain

11-10-09 day 161
start: Holiday Inn Express @ Hiawassee, GA
end: Tray Mountain Shelter, GA
daily mileage: 11.0
total mileage: 2121.8

This morning we got to experience the incredible Holiday Inn Express hot breakfast bar. This bar really sets “the bar” for continental breakfasts, hot eggs, bacon, biscuits and gravy, as well as the regular assortment of cereals, pastries, and juices. It was great. Back in the room we packed up the food from our last trail re-supply and loaded our packs. After check out, it was out into the deluge courtesy of Tropical Storm Ida, and over to the library for the last trail blog update session.

Our friend Fiddler also maintains a blog of his trail adventures on the Trail Journals website
( This is where most of the AT bloggers upload their stuff, actually. While at the library we met a gentleman who is a regular hiker with his wife as well as an avid reader of Trail Journals. Simply by coincidence he had been reading Fiddler’s journal, complete with pictures, and then happened into town and hour later, only to run into the real Fiddler! He was a great guy and waited around with Fiddler and Tin Man at the Dairy Queen for them to eat and us to finish blogging then come over and eat. After all that, he drove us all back out to the rainy wet trail head.

The rain wasn't too bad from the start of our 11 miles but as we went along it got worse and worse. By the time we hit the shelter we were all soaking wet and cold. The three walls and a roof were a welcome sight. Not only did we have shelter, but who was there waiting but our long lost friend LB! We lost him back in VA when he had to go back home to OH for a few days. After getting back on trail he evidently turned on the jets and caught up with us. We found out from LB that he was planning on finishing the same day as us, and not only that No Money was right behind us and planning on the 14th as well. It looks like Disney and I will have company from those two as well as Fiddler and Tin Man in the final day.

Last state!

11-9-09 day 160
start: Muskrat Creek Shelter, NC
end: Holiday Inn Express @ Hiawassee, GA
daily mileage: 11.8
total mileage: 2110.8

After a restful night's sleep (only interrupted by the several occaisions in which Fiddler got up in the middle of the night to remove still-struggling mice from the traps and bludgeon them to death with rocks), we were pleased to discover that our worthy friend had set a new record for the number of mice caught at one shelter - 10! Such a prodigious feat required celebration, so we found all 10 mice scattered on the ground in front of the shelter and arranged them artistically near the fire pit. It was a beautiful thing: a bizarre, sort of post-modern cross between a monument to Fiddler's mouse-catching prowess and a morbid warning to the few remaining mice in the area. And a sickening sight for any other hikers coming after us!

We did 12 miles into Dick Creek Gap right quick, with almost no stopping. WE CROSSED INTO GEORGIA - OUR LAST STATE! It was an incredibly fast hitch into town (first car, Sea Monster wasn't even ready!) and hit up a Steakhouse for their $6 lunch buffet! Needless to say, for $6 unlimited steak was not on the menu. But we enjoyed it immensely nonetheless. We could tell it was Georgia immediately by the fact that literally everyone in the room except for us was drinking sweet tea. Awesome! Sea Monster tried some, and found it to his liking as well. Fiddler and Tin-Man met up with us, and we all discussed the fact that we'd heard it was supposed to rain heavily tonight and tommorrow (Tropical Storm Ida, I guess). We were going to "adventure sleep" under a pavillion somewhere or something, but we decided that between the rain, the fact we had 4 people, and the fact that we're almost done we might as well enjoy ourselves and get a room at the Holiday Inn Express! We got a good deal and sat around all afternoon watching movies and TV. I even jumped into their indoor spa for a little while. We got showers, did laundry, and did our last resupply late at night. We planned on updating the blog, but were too lazy... we'll do it tomorrow before heading out.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Short Cut

11-8-09 day 159
start: Rock Gap Shelter, NC
end: Muskrat Creek Shelter, NC
daily mileage: 24.6
total mileage: 2099.0

We had our nice short cut planned today that would cut the "24.6" trail miles down to 11 ( or so we thought, it turned out to be more like 15, but still). We made no hurry getting up and out. Because Fiddler wanted to be a purist, he had a big day planned that went all the way around so he'd be at the same shelter as us tonight. Tin Man came the short way with us. 2 1/2 miles after the shelter we ditched off the AT down a blue blaze that took us down and across the valley, across the Forest Service road, and back up Standing Indian Mountain where it rejoined the AT. The trail up Standing Indian as steep, overgrown, and paved with loose rocks covered with about 6 inches of dry leaves. No a super fun climb. The summit of Standing Indian was the highest we'll be for the rest of the trail, and the last point above 5000.

We made tracks Muskrat Creek Shelter and as we approached we could hear a penny whistle. Now, Fiddler had recently picked up a penny whistle, but there is no way he could have beaten us. Sure enough Fids was there and as we were lauding him for his ludicrously fast time he revealed he had in fact cheated worse than us. He'd realized with the late start his 24 miles was a bit ambitious and instead accepted a series of rides that cut it down to 10!

We built a nice fire and sat around cooking and reading. This is the new highest place we will ever be on the trail. Fiddler set the traps again and up to now we've got 8. One more and the record is broken, fingers crossed. Some coyotes are howling their insane screeching howl, what sounds like really close, its cool. 11 miles into Hiawassee and across the last border tomorrow for our last re-supply...crazy

Delicious food adventure

11-7-09 day 158
start: Wayah Shelter, NC
end: Rock Gap Shelter, NC
daily mileage: 14.8
total mileage: 2074.4

We walked a mile to the Wayah Bald Fire tower in the morning. It's a cool, stone one with a great view. It was Saturday (only 1 more week on the AT!!!) so I thought I'd call dad to make sure he was still picking us up in a week. He was still sleeping, so I called him back at lunch, where we confirmed that we had a ride back to Ohio. Lunch was awesome - we could have gone 0.5 mile off the trail to Siler Bald Shelter, but we had water and Siler Bald itself was a shorter side trail off the other side of the trail. We decided to climb up Siler Bald for lunch, where we ate and enjoyed a spectacular view in all directions. The weather has been glorious this whole past week.

The top of the bald had a little firepit someone had dug out, so we built our first ever afternoon fire to cook lunch on. We enjoyed sitting up in the sun eating lunch by our fire, leisurely reading our books for a while. During lunch, a little prop plane flew by. We waved, and he diverted his course to fly directly over us, and not too far above us at all! We could easily see him lean out the window to wave back. It would be awesome to have a pilot's license and a little plane!

We crossed several nice streams on the way to the shelter and washed out our faces and socks, which was nice. We finally got to the shelter and were sitting around getting ready to cook when we realized that a relatively nice forest service road was right by the shelter, and we weren't far from the town of Franklin! Maybe we could get pizza delivered to the shelter!

There was no signal at the shelter. Fiddler wandered all around for a while looking for some, but found nothing. But the idea of pizza was really in our minds now. I mean, we really wanted pizza. We were going to have our pizza. I pointed out that we had nothing else to do that night... screw it, let's hitch into Franklin!

Thus began our Franklin adventure. We got way out on the forest road and found some signal (and no cars). So we called all the pizza places in town. Noone delivered out that far. We called Google 411 and asked if there were any other delivery places in town, and called Chinese places, Italian places... none of them delivered way out to where we were. But we couldn't give up now, so we made a snap decision when we saw a single car drive down the road. We flagged it down and hitched into Franklin. Bear in mind, by now it was already dark. We knew going into this that we were going to get stuck in town, that noone in that whole town was going way out into the middle of nowhere late at night for us to get a ride with. But we wanted food.

So Fiddler, Sea Monster, Tin Man and I got into town, and ended up eating not pizza but Shoney's delicious sea food dinner buffet. When we finally got done, we called a Trail Angel listed in the book. He wasn't available. We asked around about a taxi, but there was none in town. We even called the police station, but they too were closed for the night. Yes indeed, things seemed dire for our young heroes.

Fortunately, a man who'd overheard our plight approached Sea Monster and said a family had offered to give us a ride. Some super nice people just decided to go way out of their way and drive us to the trailhead. We felt a little bad about imposing ourselves, but we've gotten kind of desensitized to it for better or worse... and made it back safe and sound. They kept saying they were glad to do it, that they were hikers too. So, safe and sound, we made it back to hike another day.

If Watching Moustraps Go Off is a Rousing Evening...You Might be an AT Thru HIker

11-6-09 day 157
start: Nantahala Outdoor Center, NC
end: Wayah Shelter, NC
daily mileage: 16.3
total mileage: 2059.6

We woke up with the sun to find our sleeping bags and gear soaked with melting frost. They don't call it adventure sleeping for nothing! We stuffed our gear in our packs and skedadled without incident. There was an open bathroom across the street, attached to the General Store, so we popped into to find it was heated and there was a bench. Seizing the opportunity we ate breakfast and repacked out stuff in there.

We made some nice early miles and while waiting at a shelter for Disney, Fiddler and Tin Man showed up; they'd been a the NOC in a cabin last night. A map at the shelter of the southern Nantahalas revealed a great short cut opportunity. I copied the map down so we could reference it later when the time came. Just after lunch we came upon one of North Carolina's many fire towers. The view from the top was great, 360 degrees and out in the warm bright sun. All four of us plugged along to the destination shelter and met a new Southbounder named "Statesboro". A while back Fiddler picked up some mouse traps and we had some good sport watching Darwin's forgotten children wander to their doom. "Oh, here comes one...there he goes, 'im" Awesome.

Adventure Sleeping!

11-5-09 day 156
start: Brown Fork Gap Shelter, NC
end: Bridge @ Nantahala Outdoor Center, NC
daily mileage: 16.0
total mileage: 2043.3

We've both begun experiencing some frustration at having to hike with so many leaves on the trail. The trail is often cut into the ground, and acts as a natural leaf-collector. Leaves are frequently up to the tops of our shoes, and the many layers of leaves are very slippery. It makes walking much harder when one's steps result in slipping backwards as much as they result in pushing one forward. Uphill is very much harder, and downhill feels like you're going to die. But it was a pretty uneventful hiking day. The trees are now almost totally bare so you can see much farther in every direction in the woods, but our hiking is so noisy because of the leaves that it's hard to imagine seeing many more bears.

We'd planned on getting to the NOC for a resupply and then hiking the 1 mile out from there to the shelter, and all was going according to plan. We arrived at this little outdoor center around 4:30, and approached the general store. But what is this? Closed for the winter! This is something that really should have been mentioned in the companion.

Fortunately, we run into a kindly guy who says he'd be happy to drive us 15 miles into the nearest town (Bryson City) so we can get some food, and then he'd even drive us back! This guy really saved our butts: it can be quite difficult to get a ride back from a big town to the little middle-of-nowhere places that the trail goes through. This guy's name was Jerry, but he went by Honest Abe. He was incredibly talkative, and about somewhat strange things... by the end of our adventure, he'd mentioned that he was telekinetic and could use a dousing rod. But whatever, he was a great guy. We grabbed some Arby's on the way back to town (it's now 5 for $6.95??? What's happened to the world since we've been gone?!?) and he dropped us off back at the NOC.

It was of course dark by now, but we were still going to walk the 0.9 miles to the shelter when Sea Monster suggested "adventure sleeping" somewhere in the middle of the outdoor center, and then just getting out of there before they opened up the next morning. I agreed, and suggested that if we were going to adventure sleep, we might as well do it in style... right in the middle of the Nantahala River, on the footbridge that is technically the AT. This was one of the more conspicuous places to cowboy camp, but the stars were gorgeous and it was the place with the least tree-cover where we could enjoy them most. And we figured we would probably not get arrested just for sleeping in the middle of a busy footbridge on someone's private property, just kicked off. Most likely.

The stars were really awesome - the Milky Way was crystal clear and we saw several shooting stars. Another lovely night on the AT.

I Missed Naps at Lunch

11-4-09 day 155
start: Fontana "Hilton" Shelter, NC
end: Brown Fork Gap Shelter, NC
daily mileage: 12.7
total mileage: 2027.3

I spent all last night tossing and turning. I don't know why I was so restless but I think the lack of sleep made breakfast that much more appreciated. Ox and Hopeful whipped up a big mess of pancakes, eggs, and bacon. Tons of food put us in a great, warm, full state. We sat around chatting for awhile and got a late start. We hiked half our miles before a late lunch. After lunch we got sucked into reading and both of us passed out into dreamland. Disney in the shelter, and I chose a nice sunny spot out in the dirt. After a 2 1/2- 3 hour lunch we got up and started down the old dusty trail. It was just like old times! The effect of daylight savings did, of course, put us into the shelter at dark. The only real adventure today was scrambling down the embankment to the water source. With a foot deep of slippery dry leaves and a 70 degree incline we would probably have been better off just sitting down and letting gravity take over.

Hiker Feed!!!

11-3-09 day 154
start: Mollies Ridge Shelter, GSMNP
end: Fontana Dam Shelter (Fontana Hilton), NC
daily mileage: 11.3
total mileage: 2014.6

In part because we wanted to make up mileage from our Gatlinburg stay, we were planning on getting to Fontana Dam Shelter by lunch and then power on to Cable Gap Shelter for a respectable 18 mile day or so. We knew about the hiker feed going on at Fontana Dam... we were just hoping that they'd be there for lunch. We had a great morning with the woodland critters, especially Sea Monster. He saw some little black things up on a ridge running away - when he got a good look at them, he realized they were wild boars! Awesome! Later, we both saw a bear that's been hanging around the trail for a while (in fact, he's been a subject of hiker trail buzz recently). Sea Monster snapped off some great pics of him right in the middle of the trail, up close and personal.

We met the guys running the hiker feed (Ox and Hopeful) just north of the dam. They were going into the woods to do some trail maintenance, but talked about all the wonderful food they'd be serving that night and the next morning... it was just something we couldn't pass up! You can't let hiking get in the way of your trail experience, you know. So we decided to stay. Ox gave me the keys to his truck (he was going to be doing maintenance for a few hours) so we could grab soap and shampoo and towels for the showers at the Fontana Dam visitors center. We had a lazy afternoon at the trail shelter there, which is one of the nicest on the trail. It's even nicknamed the "Fontana Hilton." Fiddler and Tin Man joined us later in the day, and Ox and Hopeful got back and cooked up an AMAZING dinner with red potatoes as a base, and sausage, peppers, onion, butter, sour cream, salsa, and some spices for flair. MAN SALAD! Then we built a giant fire with the absurd amounts of firewood they brought in their trucks and stayed up late chatting around the fire. An awesome night.

Disney and Sea Monster, Fresh New 2000 Milers!

11-2-09 day 153
start: Siler's Bald Shelter, GSMNP
end: Mollie's Ridge Shelter, GSMNP
daily mileage: 17.2
total mileage: 2003.3!!!!

Our new pilot friends seemed to be in good spirits this morning although their original plan of 15 miles or whatever turned to a discussion of whether or not it would be too much trouble to walk the 5 miles back to Clingman's Dome to their car...

All and all the morning was fairley uneventful but today was still a red letter day because...we crossed 2000 miles! Now that we are 2000 thousand milers we can get the patch from the ATC and go home, just kidding. We hit the the 2k mark just north of Russel Field Shelter, and for me anyway, the occasion was marked by seeing a huge black bear off in a Rhododendron thicket. I was starting to wonder whether we'd see any bears in the park but there it was.

Later on at Mollie's Ridge we met a lady out for a week with her 9y/o daughter. The girl was...very excitable, to put it mildly. We also met Snail Mail who was out from the Fontana Dam Shelter spreading the word to hikers about the "Feed" going on down there. Two guys are cooking breakfast and dinner for hikers. Unfortunately we aren't going to hit it around dinner time so hopefully they'll be around during lunch...

Crazy airline pilot adventures!

11-1-09 day 152
start: Grand Prix Motel @ Gatlinburg, TN
end: Silers Bald Shelter, GSMNP
daily mileage: 12.5
total mileage: 1986.1

Well, we really felt like we should leave Gatlinburg this morning but had a latish start, and Daylight Savings Time means that it now gets dark around 6:00 (ugh) so we settled on doing just 13 miles. We walked out to the road leading up to Newfound Gap and waited for quite a while to get a hitch (I don't think most of the tourists want to give rides to such scruffy bearded men) but we eventually jumped into the back of some guys pickup truck and started the long ride back to the gap (the traffic was awful out of Gatlinburg on a Sunday). When we finally got there we made the easy climb up Clingman's Dome. Clingman's Dome is the highest point on the Appalachian Trail at 6,643 feet, and though it isn't bald, had an observation tower with a spectacular view. The tower itself was pretty cool, first of all: it is a giant concrete structure that is only accessible by a huge, wide, gently sloping concrete on-ramp for people. There were a lot of people up there, but the view really was cool: to the east all was clear and you could see for dozens of miles, but to the west low clouds blanketed the entire landscape all the way to the horizon, with mountaintops peeking through like islands.

At lunch, we hit the 200-mile-to-go mark (awesome!) and just afterward I impaled my face into a fallen tree branch about a centimeter above my right eye. It punctured the skin just above my eyebrow, which bled freely for a few minutes... I'm very glad it didn't poke my eye out, as it definitely would have destroyed it. Just as we were approaching the shelter we hit a really great sunset, which is now easily visible most nights as the tree cover is thinning considerably with autumn. The whole western horizon was a burning orange color for almost 180 degrees, while there was a full moon rising over the cloud-filled valley in the east. We finally got to the shelter where we met with our friend Nexus and three completely crazy airline pilots.

These guys were awesome, though not necessarily the spitting image of airline pilots. They pulled out entire, giant glass bottles of Scotch, Tequila, and red wine. They shared well, but while we drank in moderation they proceeded to get completely wasted. Falling down, they told stories of their adventures with airline stewardesses and sounded shocked when we mentioned that we didn't know that they spent much of their time in the cockpit sleeping and watching movies. Remind me not to fly Delta in the future! Nexus, Sea Monster and I went to bed a few hours after dark but they stayed up drinking and falling and yelling joyfully at one another until well into the morning...

Halloween in the G-Burg

10-31-09 day 151
start: Grand Prix Motel @ Gatlinburg, TN
end: Grand Prix Motel @ Gatlinburg, TN
daily mileage: 0
total mileage: 1973.6

The fact that our plans are always subject to change was never more evident than in the proceedings in Gatlinburg. Yesterday we were going into town for an hour than back on the trail. Of course vampire movies sucked us into staying. No problem, we'll just get up early and crank out 19 today. Or sleep in 'till checkout and cut it back to 13. OK, 13, solid plan. We packed up and set out into the rain and over to the outfitter to give Steve and Wendy a call in order to get a lift back up to the Gap. We couldn't get a hold of them right away and it was raining pretty bad and it was suppose to clear up tomorrow and we were going to be on the much anticipated Clingman's Dome we found ourselves back at the Grand Prix checking in for another night. 0 in Gatlinburg!

First order of business was to go up to the room and explore Halloween Special opportunities on television. We watched the Munsters, Halloween, and assorted other mindless schlock. Truly it was a lazy day and very little was accomplished. After a certain point we decided to check out exactly what Gatlinburg had to offer. We walked down the strip and perused a number of stores where we could outfit ourselves with ninja equipment, awesome. Back at the motel we had an unexpected surprise, our old friend No Money was checking in! After loafing around all afternoon and evening we picked up some Halloween beer and chilled out while we got sucked into a 3+ hour Nicole Kidman/Hugh Jackman movie called Australia. After the film it was time to suit up and hit the town to see what G-burg Halloween scene had to offer. I say suit up, but Disney hit the sack, and No Money didn't have a costume, so I was alone as the prettiest princess in Gatlinburg. I'd spent the afternoon altering the 8 year old's princess dress I'd picked up.

Me and No Money had a good time at the bar. I spent most of my time scoring 1/2 price and, indeed, free drinks by telling the female waitresses and bartenders, "Baby, I just walked here 2000 miles from Maine to see you and you won't gimme a drink deal?!" Sweet. All in all good night and seriously we are getting out of this town tomorrow...

Gatlinburg sucks us in, Part 1

10-30-09 day 150
start: Ice Water Spring Shelter, GSMNP
end: Grand Prix Motel @ Gatlinburg, TN
daily mileage: 3.0
total mileage: 1973.6

 We got up nice and early this morning with big plans: we were going to hike 3 miles into Gatlinburg, resupply, and then hitch back up and hike 4.5 miles out that day. It's tough to make big miles on a resupply day, but this was a reasonable plan, right?

We made it to Newfound Gap where we met lots of day hikers and tourists. We really impressed one couple who met us just as we were coming out of the woods into the big parking lot there... they took our picture and everything! Then we met up with a nice guy who turned out to be the pastor of a nearby church, and even though he wasn't headed to Gatlinburg he gave us bunches of snacks and gum and fancy flavored water. Cool! It took a little while to find someone to give us a hitch, and when we finally did it was with a great group of people who went a bit out of their way to get us into town (they were really headed to Pigeon Forge).

We explored Gatlinburg for a little while before settling into a Shoneys for lunch (we hit it at just the right time when they had their lunch buffet out but hadn't taken in their breakfast buffet yet, so we got 2 for 1!!). Gatlinburg is very weird. I don't actually think I like it very much - I don't know, it's just pretty bizarre. I guess it became such a tourist town because of the smokies, but it didn't seem like many of the people there were the outdoorsy type. In fact, the town is not at all outdoorsy - it's really just a mega tourist mecca. But if you want Old Timey Photos or ninja gear, this is the place for you. There were about 7 or 8 separate shops for each... not joking. It seems like people now come primarily because of the touristy stuff, which is a bit odd... it's this town tons of people come to visit all the time, but only because there is lots of touristy stuff which is only in that location because people visit it all the time.

Anyway, we enjoyed walking around and finally took the cheap and convenient trolley up to the library, way up on the other end of town. The librarians were dressed up as vampires for Halloween: very startling. After spending several hours there updating the blog (and letting much of the day pass us by), we figured it was really time to get going if we were going to hit the trail. But then, we saw the poster.

Vampire movie night, tonight at the library! Interview with a Vampire, and (more importantly) Dracula! Wow! I had just read Dracula, and Sea Monster was in the process of reading it at the time. We clearly had to stay just one night to attend this cinematic tour de force. The vampire librarians were very helpful at finding us the cheapest hiker motel, and after going to the grocery to resupply we got a ride there from some great trail angels named Steve and Wendy. Soon we were getting our first motel room on the whole trail. The Grand Prix was pretty great, and we enjoyed our showers and laundry. We watched some of the Munsters (which is hilarious) and soon departed for the vampire movie night.

The library was at the complete opposite end of town, and the map of town is NOT to scale, so we spent about an hour walking most of the distance there because we thought it would be faster than riding the trolley. Of course, just as we were getting to the library, the trolley arrived just in time to beat us and rub it in our faces. We watched Interview with a Vampire (good, if pretty weird) and were all excited for Dracula when we realized that the trolley would stop running before the movie was over! We really didn't want to walk all the way back to the motel, so we had to skip out early and make it back to the motel. It was pretty great laying in bed watching movies and TV shows until the wee hours of the morning, though...

Friday, October 30, 2009

King of the Bunion

10-29-09 day 149
start: Cosby Knob Shelter, GSMNP
end: Ice Water Spring Shelter, GSMNP
daily mileage: 20.3
total mileage: 1970.6

Woke up to another gorgeous day in the Smokie's. The elevation change didn't look to bad today. In fact, while the elevation is pretty high the entire trail through the park seems to pretty much stay on a ridge. We did have a bit of a climb up from the shelter first thing. Almost the entire climb was through a "green tunnel" of mountain laurel and rhododendron. For a mile or so we were totally hedged in, right, left, and above. You run through a lot of this stuff in PA and it is depressing. There is nothing to see but redundant green shrubs, and you can't tell how far you've come or where you're heading.

Once a the top the woods opened up to old looking coniferous forest. The treeline would break frequently and offer massive views out over the mountains. As big as the views were you can't help but notice the disease affecting the old hemlock forests, half the trees on the hillside are dead. The immediate surroundings on the ridge were primeval looking gnarled trees and rocks with thick green moss, it was cool. We took lunch at a shelter with 4 day hikers and met the resident Guinea Hen. She has obviously lost all fear of people and came walking in amongst us like she owned the place...I bet she would have tasted good.

After lunch the trees to the west kept opening up to an awesome view of the valley. The deep valley, in stunning contrast to the dying hillsides, was an explosion of amazing fall colors. About a mile before camp we came upon Charlie's Bunion. Its a big rock protrusion from the hillside that hangs out over the valley. Despite the sign warning us that 'Climbing is Dangerous' we scaled the rocks for a better view. Standing out on the rocks 40 feet above the trail and thousands of feet above the valley, makes you feel like the king of nature. It was an incredible view.

We met a bunch of nice people a the shelter. They brought two little girls along with them who really seemed to be enjoying themselves out in the woods, always nice to see. They gave us a bunch of tasty treats, as well as couple of slugs of whiskey. We should sleep well tonight before heading into the tourist Mecca of Gatlinburg, TN!

Finally, the Smokies!

10-28-09 day 148
start: Groundhog Creek Shelter, TN/NC
end: Cosby Knob Shelter, GSMNP
daily mileage: 17.6
total mileage: 1950.3
Today, we enter the Great Smoky Mountain National Park! Awesome!
It rained all night, but by the time we woke up it was sunny and looking like it would be a much better day. We hiked 7 miles in the morning to Standing Bear Hostel, where we had lunch. It's a cool place - composed of at least six or seven separate log-cabin-style buildings for every conceivable purpose. The dining / kitchen building. The bunkroom. The resupply building. The outhouse. The computer building. And so on. It was really pretty charming - everything was decorated very appropriately for the rustic motif he was obviously going for, and there was a neat little stream running through the middle of the property that he'd built a bridge over and everything. The owner, Curtis, was a pretty strange guy. He was cool, but had a very unsettling way of talking (a combination of the way he repeated everything and never broke his gaze, I think). He showed us a neat project he was working on. He's building a wall for his new shower house that is composed of several hundred beer bottles all held in place with some mortar in a perfect grid. The bottles are all facing out, so that the necks stick out of the outside part of the wall about six inches. In this grid, he's used 3 different colors of bottles to create an AT symbol design. A bit hard to accurately describe, but it was a really cool effect, especially in the right lighting.
We met Fiddler back at the trailhead. He's meeting with his dad and his cousin at Davenport Gap (the eastern boundary of the Smokies) to hike a bit with them, so he figured that he'd slow down quite a bit and we might not see him again, though I guess we'll see. We got Davenport Shelter (still 7 miles to go) and dawdled there for quite a while, just reading and relaxing and enjoying our first Smoky Mountain Shelter. It was pretty awesome, actually, as it had a huge chain fence and lockable gate sealing off its unwalled portion, evidently to protect campers from bear attacks! Awesome! By the time we finally left this shelter to get to the shelter we were actually going to spend the night in it was 4:00, and we'd only done 3 miles since lunch at 11:30! But we still managed to pound out the last 7 miles of the day before dark, despite the trail being in pretty bad shape from the horse traffic.
When we got to the shelter, we met a bunch of section hikers who had already started a fire in the in-shelter fireplace (fancy!). We cooked over it to save fuel (and to feel outdoorsy) and enjoyed getting to know the section hikers and regailing them with our adventures. As we went to sleep, I couldn't help but reflect on the fact that we're actually in the smokies now. Just 70 miles or so to the other side of the park, then 80 miles across North Carolina, then a mere 70 miles of Georgia to Springer Mountain. Hard to believe, but we're very close to being done...

Bad Weather Leads to Unique Sights

10-27-09 day 147
start: Walnut Mountain Shelter, TN/NC
end: Groundhog Creek Shelter, TN/NC
daily mileage: 13.1
total mileage: 1932.7

We were hoping for good weather for the next couple of days but it rained all night last night and it looked pretty dreary this morning. We stopped a the first shelter, 5 miles in, and decided to take and early lunch. We met up with Buffalo and Icarus there, and shortly after Root Beer Float came out of nowhere and said he had been camping next to the shelter we were at last night. We had gotten it after dark so who knew? So it looked like we were all hiking together again.

The wind was blowing and the rain dripped off the trees all the way up the next mountain. The top, called Max Patch, it a grassy bald that offered a 360 degree panorama, with views into the Smokie's. Oddly enough, the view was especially good today, in spite of the rain. First of all the hills were bright with the fall colors and the inclement weather caused the valleys to be full of thick white fog. It was awesome. I did my best to shoot all the shots of a panorama without a tripod, so we'll see how that stitches together later.

After Max Patch the weather just got worse and worse. We were originally shooting for a campsite at 18 miles, but with the rain neither of us were keen on tenting. we stopped at the 13 mile shelter and gave up the rest of the day to the sour weather. We spent a lazy afternoon with Icarus reading, in turns, the Miss Pickerel book (which is great by the way).

Farewell, trusty Black N' Red

10-26-09 day 146
start: The Sunnybank Inn @ Hot Springs, NC
end: Walnut Mountain Shelter, TN/NC
daily mileage: 13.1
total mileage: 1919.6

We got our typical slow start from a hostel that we always do, but had big plans of pulling 19 miles. I was all packed up and lacing up my boots when Sea Monster suggested that we cut it down to 13 and update the blog. This seemed reasonable (we don't want to get 25 days behind again) and we went down to the library. After a few hours there getting the blog fully up-to-date, we found a bookshelf with $0.25 books for sale. Despite the fact that I have a Kindle and was already carrying one other book, I picked up Dune (a deal is a deal!). Sea Monster was incredibly excited when he found a copy of a children's book he'd been talking about for a while, "Miss Pickerel and the Geiger Counter." I read it later, and the book is every bit as good as the title.

We stopped by the Post Office afterwards and picked up a care package from Sea Monster's mom (contacts and gloves for him, and delicious Kisses and fudge for both of us!) and Sea Monster finally mailed home his trusty companion, the Black N' Red. This is the journal that he's been writing in every night (more or less) with details about the day that we use as material for this very blog. The Black N' Red served us faithfully for 138 days before getting filled up. Though the green composition notebook he's now using is technically just as good, I know it will never replace the ole BNR in our hearts.

Just before we went off to eat lunch, Sea Monster then found some abandoned trekking poles at the hostel! In fact, they're almost exactly the same as the ones he found in Vermont and lost in D.C., except they're red! We're finally both quadruped again! After lunch at a sandwich shop, we were finally ready to hit the trail at 2:30.

It was a big climbing day - almost the whole day was a steady uphill from the relatively low elevation of Hot Springs. We summited the mighty Bluff Mountain (which we'd basically been climbing the whole day) just before we made it into camp, and slid in just before dark. There was just enough room for us in the relatively dilapidated shelter to squeeze in next to 3 section hikers; Icarus, Buffalo, and Root Beer Float tented outside the shelter with another 2 section hikers.

Elmer's sweet victorian hostel

10-25-09 day 145
start: Little Laurel Shelter, TN/NC
end: The Sunnybank Inn @ Hot Springs, NC
daily mileage: 19.6
total mileage: 1906.5
We're headed into Hot Springs today (woot!) and got up pretty early and made good time in the morning. It was a gorgeous morning, which was really nice after a few days of crummy weather. We had a quick lunch and got done with all 19 miles by 4:00 or so, which was really nice. It was a really nice hiking day, and we had a few great views: Lover's Leap Rock in particular provided a gorgeous view off the side of the mountain over the French Broad River and into town.
Hot Springs is so named for its natural hot springs (which you can bathe in for the low low price of $19.99!), but is basically a tiny trail town. The AT goes straight through "downtown" and the sidewalk that it officially follows is denoted by stone AT symbols embedded in the pavement. Little trail towns like that are always nice... but this one had the very odd feature of TONS of traffic! The reason for this oddity came in the form of a scruffy looking fellow sitting on the bridge drinking some unidentified liquid out of a paper bag, who told us that there had been a huge rockslide on the nearby I-40 just that morning! All the enormous amounts of traffic that I-40 normally accomadates have had to find other routes around the closed highway, and much of it filtered through otherwise quiet Hot Springs. We're told by the residents that it will take as long as 3 months to totally clear this massive slide, as engineers have to start at the top of the nearby mountains and blast layer after layer with dynamite to make sure this won't happen again too soon.

Anyway, we met up with Fiddler and Star Trek in the local outfitter and ended up heading over to Elmer's hostel, the Sunnybank Inn. It's an old victorian house that he converted into a bed and breakfast, but with thru-hiker rates. I stayed in the old servant's quarters for a little less. The house was gorgeous and pretty cool, and we met up with Icarus and Buffalo there as well. We showered and wandered off to the Dollar General to do our grocery shopping (there's not really a real grocery in town) and ended up buying massive numbers of frozen gas station burritos with salsa for dinner. When we got back we met two vacationing couples that were also staying at Elmer's, and we had a good time playing Apples to Apples with them. Finally, we sat back and watched the South Park Movie and the Graduate. A good night, and a wonderfully comfortable, warm bed at the end of it...

Monday, October 26, 2009

Awwwww, Big Booty Big Booty Big Booty, Aw Yeah, Big Booty!

10-24-09 day 144
start: Hogback Ridge Shelter, TN/NC
end: Little Laurel Shelter, TN/NC
daily mileage: 21.5
total mileage: 1886.9

We woke up several times during the night to howling wind and pouring rain, but by the time the morning came it promised to be a nice, sunny day. We hiked in the warm sun for a few miles, but the weather soon turned morbidly overcast again and a dense fog descended for the rest of the day, making it kind of cold and damp.

We met some young guys sitting in the middle of the trail. We asked them what they were doing and apparently, they were out bear hunting. Nice! They had 4 dogs between them, and when I passed, were in the process of buiding a fire in the middle of the trail (not the best place).

We summitted a mighty mountain called "Big Butt" today, which was not only very funny but also marked our official 300-miles-from-Springer-Mountain point! Woo hoo! Getting insanely close... in fact, it's kind of weird. I'm really starting to feel like our time on the trail is limited (before it always seemed like it was OK to miss a view or something if I was feeling lazy, since it felt like we were going to be on the trail forever... now it really seems like we need to savour everything for these last few weeks!). A bizarre feeling. It's exciting, but I'm also feeling more nostalgic than I thought I would at this point... I kind of figured that would come after we got home!

We got to the top of a super misty ridge and it was almost dark (despite being the middle of the afternoon), and the wind and dark puddles of water everywhere made it seem awesomely spooky. Definitely monsters there. Then we met up with some of those bear-hunting dogs with huge tracking collars around their necks, which was reassuring because they seemed super lost. They followed us for about a mile down the trail, but left just as we were starting to worry that we'd aquired pets. We finally got into the shelter earlier than we figured we would... we are actually pretty quick hikers when we don't spend all day dawdling! A quick 19 tomorrow into Hot Springs, where we'll encounter the latest in our series of hostels in our recent hostel-to-hostel hike.

Thank You Momma Nexus!

10-23-09 day 143
start: Bald Mountain Shelter, TN/NC
end: Hogback Ridge Shelter, TN/NC
daily mileage: 10.1
total mileage: 1865.4

We woke up to crazy wind howling past the shelter. We had 'till 2 to go 8 miles and we were nice and snug in our bags, so no hurry. 2 o'clock of course was the time Momma Nexus was meeting us at Sam's Gap with the bounty of Chick-fil-A! We eventually set off into the wind and soon climbed out of the shelter of the trees and onto an open ridge. The wind up there was outrageous! The kind that could blow you over if you weren't careful. Disney had just acquired an big floppy purple hat back in Erwin so he had fun wrangling that out in the gale. We made awesome time to Sam's Gap, around 12:30, so we made lunch number one and then sat around reading until it was Chick-fil-A time.

We sat in the wind and Momma Nexus showed up just in the nick of time to save us from sitting in the rain. We all piled into the van and ate delicious, delicious, Chick-fil-A. After stuffing ourselves and not super eager to step out into the weather we sat and chatted until around 4. Our plan to tackle another 10 miles was scrapped in favor of a nice easy 2, to the shelter. Once we got there we found some trail magic of soda had been left at the spring. We had eaten so much we don't even feel like dinner so we are just hanging out and reading before bed.

The reason we use Denatured...

10-22-09 day 142
start: Uncle Johnny's Nolichucky Hostel, TN/NC
end: Bald Mountain Shelter, TN/NC
daily mileage: 16.9
total mileage: 1855.3

We woke up at the hostel and decided that we could fit in a movie while we were packing up, so we put in Edward Scissorhands and enjoyed a lazy morning. Fiddler passed through and we hit the trail around 11:30, and hiked up and down rolling hills all day long. At lunch, we found a bottle of 92% isopropyl alcohol in the shelter, and decided to save some of our fuel by cooking with it. We've never used isopropyl before, but 92% seemed good enough to use and it was freely available, so we tried it. It burned great, and the food was soon ready... but it blackened the bottom of the pot with TONS of soot, which Sea Monster did not notice before he put it in his lap to eat out of. He got black soot all over his shorts and shirt... he was pretty frustrated, but I found it pretty amusing. In any case, we've learned why we always use denatured!
We got to a beautiful overlook called High Rock (pretty descriptive, a huge rock that juts over the tops of the trees on top of a mountain to provide a gorgeous view of the scenery around us) and considered cowboy camping on it, but decided against it due to impending rain that night and a lack of drinking water in the area. So we hiked the rest of the way into the shelter. We got in after dark because we'd screwed around during the day, and met up with Fiddler, Nexus, and two section hikers. They come out a week a year and are trying to get the whole AT done that way... wow! They had a nice fire going, and as we swapped stories and got to know each other Nexus mentioned that his mom was going to meet him tomorrow at Sam's Gap with Chik-Fil-A and had enough for all of us! AWESOME!!!!

Blogging Marathon in Erwin

10-21-09 day 142
start: Curley Maple Gap Shelter
end: Uncle Johnny's Nolichucky Hostel @ Erwin, TN
daily mileage: 4.2
total mileage: 1838.4

Something got us motivated and moving early this morning and we tore up the 4 miles into town. We had heard a few reports of the Erwin police harassing hikers in the past so we were curious about that prospect as we entered town. Uncle Johnny's Hostel is across the bridge over the Nolichucky River. We stopped in a borrowed some bikes to ride into the town proper. After inflating some tires and minor repair we were off and moving. I had a sweet orange girls beach cruiser, and Disney was sitting astride a barley functional old mountain bike. Sure enough within a quarter of a mile his back tire blew out, and left with not other option he proceeded on the rim while the bike rattled and complained loudly.

The business of the day was primarily to update the blog, which as many of our reader will be aware was in dire need of posts. After an early lunch at Sonic it was to the library for a 4 hour marathon blogging session. We finished most of the blog by around 3, and decide to forego our planned 6 more miles and stay in town to finish our work. Two Sonic trips, and 5+ hours and we had caught up. We took the bikes up to the Family Dollar to re-supply, buy some gloves, and Halloween costumes! I also picked up a couple pairs of ladies pantyhose to keep my legs warm at night. Also I think they make me look sexy.

After shopping we realized we had way too much stuff to ride back with and Disney was afraid his bike would explode so we gave Claire a call over at the hostel and got picked up. We snagged some beer on the way back and stayed up watching Ren and Stimpy, CB$ w/ Chris Rock, and Rainman.

Crazy Bill: Senior Psychopath

10-20-09 day 140
start: Greasy Creek Friendly Hostel, TN/NC
end: Curly Maple Gap Shelter, TN/NC
daily mileage: 20.1
total mileage: 1834.2

To be fair, Connie (the owner of the Greasy Creek Friendly) had warned us that she has a psycho neighbor named Bill. Bill once lived all alone way out here, and apparently hates the fact that Connie has moved onto "his" mountain. He especially hates the fact that she then opened up a hostel, and invites dozens of hikers to spend the night near his once-so-solitary abode. So he's taken upon himself an unhealthy mission - to drive Connie out of business by scaring away all the hikers.

To this end, he acts like a total psychopath. We were awoken this morning to the sound of Bill driving his riding lawnmower all around the perimeter of her property with the muffler off and the hood up (to maximize the amount of noise the engine makes) at the hour of 5:30 AM - apparently a daily occurance. Sea Monster may have noted yesterday that he was playing loud music out of giant speakers on his lawn as we hiked in last evening - sure enough, that remained on and blairing all night long. Connie says that he's almost deaf himself, and so isn't bothered by it. He (illegally) takes down her signs advertising the hostel, and even has the gall to put up his own signs about her hostel - she showed us one that read "Greasy Creek Hostel Closed due to Disease." (!!!) Evidently, there are no noise ordinances way out here so the music and lawnmower are perfectly legal, and as she's never taped him in the act of removing her signs or posting his own, she cannot prosecute. Indeed, when we left she gave us a new sign to post at the gap where the AT crosses in the event that he had removed her old one (she replaces them constantly). Though he hadn't removed it that past night, we left with the firm impression that he was a complete nutcase.

Sea Monster shaved off his mohawk with her clippers in the morning before we left (it was getting "out of control," in his words) and we hiked out. We met up with Icarus, Buffalo, and Root Beer Float in a field throwing rocks at an apple tree trying to get apples out of it. We joined them for 45 minutes or so and had a veritable feast of tasty wild apples. We were all headed to the same place, so we hiked with them until we finally broke up after lunch. We all met up again that afternoon at a place called the "Beauty Spot." It was absolutely gorgeous... a ridge that overlooks a huge valley and is bordered by mountains in all directions. They're all turning beautiful autumn colors, and it was truly beautiful. We met some people who had just come up for the day, and they shared some beer with us (woo hoo!) though Sea Monster lagged behind and missed out. We then hiked the 7 miles to the shelter and built a nice fire to round out the day. Only 4 miles to Erwin!

Competition for the Best View on the Trail

10-19-09 day 139
start: Overmountain Shelter, TN/NC
end: Greasy Creek Freindly, TN/NC
daily mileage: 14.8
total mileage: 1814.1

It was so cold last night even enclosed in the loft. We bundled up in all our clothes and pulled the tarp over our sleeping bags so we managed to stay reasonably comfortable. As I came out of the barn Icarus had already started a fire and you could see the sun just starting to peak out over the hills. Within a few minutes the sun was up and I'm not exaggerating when I say it was nothing short of glorious. It gave the whole valley a glow and warmth that made you want to strech and worship it. Shortly after the sun was up the snow and ice on the roof started to melt and the water started running down, as if to say, "It's alright, the earth hasn't frozen over, there is still life here". We set off on this amazing morning with the intention of doing 22 miles.

Just to clarify for our readers the next 150 miles or so of the AT run along the TN-NC border. The trail dips in and out so much, and indeed, follows exactly, it is impossible to tell what state we are in at any given moment.

The rest of the morning was spent up on Grassy Ridge. I thought this morning was good down in the valley, but that was nothing compared to what we got up on the ridge. The series of balds were frosted with snow and offered 360 degree veiws all the way along. Looking out you could see winter in the snowy peaks but the colorful leaves of autumn still held in the valleys. The sun was bright and clear and there was not a cloud in the sky. Absolutley incredible and easily one of our best veiws on the trail. While it was still cold out, the sun was efficiently melting the snow from the trees and grass. You could hear it constantly slumping off along the trail and somtimes straight onto your head. A neat effect but it made for a muddy trail...After the ridge we climbed down into Carvers Gap where there is a parking lot and stuff for the day hikers on the ridge. The climb out of the gap varied between slick mud and even slicker sheets of ice, it was slow going up the mountain. Once at the top we ate lunch at Roan Mountain Shelter, the highest shelter on the AT. The elevation here is nealry as high as that of Mnt. Washington back on NH. If you will remember back to that post, since Mt. Washington was a tourist nightmare and there was as line for the summit we didn't actually go to the peak. What that means is, that standing here on Roan Mountian is our highest point so far on the AT, by 3 feet.

Looking at the muddy sloppy terrain, and the time after lunch, our original 22 mile plan seemed a bit ambitious. We cut the day short and instead set our sights on the Greast Creek Hostel. Coming into Greasy Creek Gap there is a sign posted on a tree and a hand drawn map in a Zip-Lock bag tack to a tree. After scrutinizing the map for a good ten minutes we set of in the direction we hoped would lead us to a bed. We followed a winding unmarked forest road about a half mile and were relieved to find we had gone the right way. Our enterance was greeted by the crazy neighbor, Bill, blasting music from outdoor speakers. We met Buffalo there, ate dinner, and watched Sky Captian the World of Tomorrow. I have the tarp set up in the bunkhouse around the my bunk to keep in some extra heat. Its gonna be another cold one tonight.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Coldest Day On The Trail. I feel confident of this, even having a month left.

10-18-09 day 138
start: Mountaineer Shelter, TN
end: Overmountain Shelter, TN/NC
daily mileage: 18.0
total mileage: 1799.3

It was a super cold night again... we seriously need to get some gloves, and Sea Monster really wants some tights. Sea Monster used the tarp over his sleeping bag to keep him warm. We're putting in 18 miles today (on the 18th) to get to Overmountain shelter, which is at 1,800 miles! It was cold hiking, but we could see beautiful snowy peaks all day. We had several moments where it seemed like autumn ended and winter began, which was really incredible. Looking around, the leaves were all the beautiful autumn colors but the trees were now totally coated in ice and frost. It was very beautiful.
Sea Monster and I had taken longer than the rest of the group to cook lunch (as before, they're eating only cold lunches) so they waited for us and we all regrouped just below treeline for the epic climb over Hump Mountain. It was freaking cool... windchill must have been 10 degrees or so, it was FREEZING and we were in blizzard-like conditions with the high winds and snowfall. We sang christmas carols as we crossed it and got some really magnificient views. When we got to the top of the mountain, we met a wizard there... seriously, he must have been a kindly wizard. He was just standing up there waiting for us as we climbed, and then chatted with us for a while, told us the state of the shelter a mile further on, and accepted our thanks as we left him atop his icy mountain fortress.
When we got to the shelter we met about a dozen college kids who had (thankfully) already started a fire, and so we thawed out. Fortunately for us, the shelter is one of the best on the AT (it's on the cover of one of the guidebooks). A converted barn, it has an upper loft area that is totally enclosed and kept us out of the wind. We chilled with the college students for a while, and they gave us hot dogs (woot!). They say it will warm up a bit tomorrow, though tonight should be our coldest night yet.

Its Snowing!

10-17-09 day 137
start: Kincora Hostel, TN
end: Mountaineer Shelter, TN
daily mileage: 15.6
total mileage: 1781.3

We still had a bunch of food so we made another big breakfast before heading out. It was still cold out but the rain had stopped and I think we all had the same itch to get moving. Bob told us about a program called Hardcore. Its a trail maintenance trip that takes place the weekend after Trail Days. So after you hiked and got to use the trail and then indulged in all the debauchery of Trail Days you can make penance buy helping to fix trail, sounds like a good program. It uses hikes under the theory that they are the ones with the legs to get back into places other people can't work.

We all left except No Money and Fiddler who were only headed 6 miles, we gotta keep moving so I don't know if we'll see No Money again. It was an awesome brisk day and we moved fast. I think all of us felt great to be back out. When I say brisk, that only lasted down in the valley, by the time we got back up in the mountains it was down right cold, then it started actually snowing! Again we did the quick lunch of snacks and stuff before pressing onto the next shelter. Mountaineer Shelter is nice and big, and better yet way down off the ridge so we could escape some of the cold. It was still freezing down there so with frozen hands we fixed dinner and then bundled up with all we had and jumped in our sleeping bags. We even got the tarp out to lay over top of ourselves a trap in more heat. Its gonna be a cold night...

Unexpected zero at Kincora

10-16-09 day 136
start: Kincora Hostel in Dennis Cove, TN
end: Kincora Hostel in Dennis Cove, TN
daily mileage: 0
total mileage: 1765.7

We woke up to more horrible weather, and cooked up the delicious breakfast that we'd bought yesterday at the grocery in the hostel's kitchen. Supplemented, of course, by all the fantastic foods that the U.T. students had left for us the night before! We ate our delicious breakfast, and spent a good, long time looking out the windows at the cold, nasty rain out there. Neither of us wanted to hike in it... but we had to get to Springer at some point, and we'd just zeroed (several times) recently. I was for hiking on, but it became increasingly clear that Sea Monster didn't want to. But I really do think we would have hiked on except for the fact that the girls (and boys, I guess) of UT were supposedly coming back for a little bit that night. Having had such a good time hanging out with them the night before, we decided not to let hiking get in the way of our trail experience and stay for the day.

We found this zero to be somewhat like our other recent one in Damascus. We had no internet (so no blog updating) and no cell service, so we just hung out and read and chatted, staying out of the bad weather. It was nice. The other guys went into town to get more spaghetti supplies for dinner, and Fiddler showed up as well. So it was now Sea Monster, Buffalo, No Money, Root Beer Float, Icarus, and me. We got some bad news when we found out that the UT students weren't coming back, but made the best of it by launching into a post-dinner game of Risk between me, Sea Monster, Fiddler, and Root Beer Float. It ran pretty late, and we ended up calling it a draw. This happened around 11 pm.

I then launched into one of my admittedly nerdier endeavors. I decided it was high time someone figured out the probability of a victory, given X men on an attacking country and Y on a defending. This turns out to be really hard. You have to account for the 3 dice rolled by the attacker (with the lowest one not counting), then comparing the rolls with the tie going to the defender... anyway, I was up until 3:45 figuring it out, but I'll be damned if I didn't! So I am now a formidable Risk foe, with the power of math at my side! While I was figuring this out, some section hikers called around midnight to get directions into the hostel... Sea Monster guided them in. They were really lucky we were up that late.

And There Were Girls There!

10-15-09 day 135
start: Vandeventer Shelter, TN
end: Kincora Hostel, TN
daily mileage: 17.5
total mileage: 1765.7

We woke up to more cold this morning. I've said before getting up and out when its cold is hard but when the wind is blowing and its wet its even worse. The six of us: Me, Disney, No Money, Buffalo, Icarus, and Root Beer, moved along together pretty much all day on our way into the hostel. Sometime before lunch we crossed the Watauga Dam, it was built in the 30's by the TVA. While the gorge it spanned was nice, being out of the tree cover even for the 5 minutes it took to cross the dam was brutal. We got to the lunch shelter and didn't even cook, we just dug out some snacks and pounded 'em down quickly so we could keep moving. We moved pretty fast so by the time we hit Kincora we were only half-frozen. Kincora is the name of the hostel run by Bob Peoples, a big time organizer of trail maintenance round these parts. In fact he was the lead guy on most of the shelter builds in the area; he's pretty sweet.

When we got there we found Gooch, Bacon and Star Trek at the tail end of a 9 1/2 hour RISK game. Gooch and Bacon left while Star Trek stayed behind. Getting our laundry done and having a hot shower was amaaaazing after being out in the weather. Bob drove us to town where we re-supplied and each got a $5 large pizza from Little Caesars to take back. We also got a bunch of stuff to use for breakfast in the morning. Back at the hostel Bob told that a group of 25 University of Tennessee students would be staying here tonight, because they were on a Fall Break service type trip, with trail maintenance and what not. What that meant for us was new faces to talk to an moreover, female faces to talk to.

Their advisor came early and decided that the place was going to be too small and rustic for the group to be comfortable sleeping but they came anyway to cook their dinner. It was great, we had a huge fresh audience to impress with tales of the trail. Plus, there were girls and we got some mucho beard respect. While they didn't stay the night, we had an awesome evening chatting and embellishing stories, I almost forgot what it was like to be around real people!

Cold Rainy Day 1/3

10-14-09 day 134
start: Double Spring Shelter, TN
end: Vandeventer Shelter, TN
daily mileage: 14.4
total mileage: 1748.2

It was a cold night, and we woke up to some cold, cold rain. We're hiking in a biggish group, and No Money had decided to sleep in his hammock last night - the poor guy really seemed trapped in the elements out there as we were packing up in our shelter. We started hiking in just our T-shirts (as usual), but only made it about 5 minutes down the trail before we stopped and realized that wasn't going to work. We put on our warm layer and our rain gear overtop, and continued hiking in our toasty warm clothes. It's the first time we've ever hiked in warm layers - up to this point the body heat we've generated while hiking has always been enough.

When we got to the lunch shelter, we froze our butts off while we waited for our food to cook. None of the other thru-hikers we're with have warm lunches, so they were all able to scarf down a cold lunch and leave before they got too cold. I'm telling you, sitting still in that freezing cold rainy weather is not a good idea!

We got to Vandeventer and couldn't decide whether or not to hike on and only do 10 miles tomorrow, or to stay and do 17 tomorrow. It was pretty clear that the day couldn't be worse tomorrow, so we decided to stay the night and jump into our sleeping bags. Everyone was tightly packed and cozy in the shelter, and the wind and rain were really howling all around... we were really looking forward to the hostel tomorrow!