Tuesday, September 29, 2009

My Wet Cold Birthday

9-26-09 day 116
start: Pickle Branch Shelter, VA
end: Sarver Hollow Shelter, VA
daily mileage: 16.1
total mileage: 1508.2

Its my birthday today, and simply put, being 22 is incredible. Its like my whole life I've be moving along without any direction and when I woke up this morning it was like everything fell squarely into focus. I don't even know how I got along back when I was only 21. Too bad the weather had no sympathy for my special day...

After we woke up we found out Gootch and Bacon rolled into the shelter late last night, seeing as it was full they opted to squeeze underneath the shelter to get out of the rain. Their bags got pretty dirty but at least they stayed dry. It stayed rainy off and on all morning but never got really bad until after lunch. We met up with Cricket at the shelter for lunch and she told us she had read some awful news in the shelter log book. Our friend Sisyphus's dog Icarus had a fatal run in with a truck a few days ago. Really, what a shame. Icarus was a gorgeous husky and she had hiked with Sisyphus all the way from Katahdin only to have it end up like this. Terrible...

Shortly after we got there everyone else showed up for lunch, ate and left. We hung out to see if the rain would stop, and after 1 1/2 hours with no signs of slacking we finally had to press on into the cold, cold rain. We climbed up onto a ridge for the remainder of the afternoon where the weather only got worse. Now almost totally exposed the rain and wind amped up to near torrential levels. Any hope of staying even slightly dry were over. Somehow we both remained in good spirits despite being soaked and freezing, and were really looking forward to a good old fashioned case of hypothermia. Luckily, we made good time to Sarver Hollow Shelter where we quickly changed into dry clothes and climbed into our sleeping bags. Happy Birthday to me!

Dragon in the Rain

9-25-09 day 115
start: Catawba General Store, VA
end: Pickle Branch Shelter, VA
daily mileage: 12.6
total mileage: 1492.1

Got up late and un-motivated due to steady drizzling rain. Looking at the sky you could tell this was the kind of rain that could go on for years...

It was as mile back to the trail so we hit the pavement and after about a 1/2 mile Disney realized he forgot his hiking poles and had to run back and get them. I stood in the rain and waited but lucky for me I have been carrying an umbrella that was finally getting some use. After lunch the trail crossed through a series of cow pastures. Fields and such are notoriously bad for getting lost, and this was no different. There's no forest for the trail to cut through and you can only see it by the tramped down grass, not to mention there's no trees to put blazes on. Plus you gotta watch out for steaming piles of cow plop.

The only noteworthy feature of the day was the Dragon's Tooth. It was a cool craggy series of rocks the trails climbs up the ridge. We haven't experienced anything like it since NH, and it was fun to have some rock scramble again. There were even re bar rungs in the rock. At the shelter we me up with Fiddler and Cricket. We met guy named No Money yesterday and he showed up later.

The Home Place

9-24-09 day 114
start: Lambert Meadow Shelter, VA
end: Catawba General Store, VA
daily mileage: 10.4
total mileage: 1479.5

Started with 23 miles to go, ugg, big day. It didn't help that we got a late start and the miles seemed to drag by slowly. The big landmark of the day was McKaffee Knob. Its an awesome undercut cliff, just like out of Wilee Coyote. Besides Mt. Katahdin its probably the biggest photo op of the entire trail. We'd heard about it for 1000 miles and were not disappointed, it was sweet.

After milling around the knob we re-evaluated our lofty 23 mile ambitions. Only 4 miles away was the small town of Catawba. Everyone had been talking about the amazing AYCE restaurant there and we decided to go after all. 23 miles turned into 10. As we moved along we somehow got off the trail and lost down a 4x4 road. We were loath to turn around so we said, "Screw it, adventure time". We continued down the road with no idea where the hell it was going. After about a 1/2 hour the road magically intersected the AT again and we got back on course, lucky us.

At lunch time we met up with Fiddler and 3 day hikers who gave us a ride into town. The Catawba General Store lets hikers camp out back so we got set up and read awhile before dinner time. The Home Place restaurant isn't your traditional AYCE buffet. It's family style, so your waitress brings you everything and just keeps refilling whatever you run out of. It was amazing country cookin' and lucky for us we went on BBQ night! The Professor, Curse, and Dipper were all in town too and after dinner Fiddler played us all a little bluegrass concert back at the general store. Short day, but the food was worth it.

Clean Sheets and Waffles

9-23-09 day 113
start: Wilson Creek Shelter, VA
end: Lamberts Meadow Shelter, VA
daily mileage: 20.6
total mileage: 1469.1

Just as it should have the alarm went off at midnight. We started stirring around only to notice it was raining pretty solid. Our plan looked doubtful as we ate breakfast, but the rain abated quickly. We ate and packed quietly, and set off into the night. When walking in the woods in the dark with only the dim beam of your headlamp to guide you, your mind starts to wander (even more than normally). As Disney and I chatted the conversation quickly turned to zombies and zombie attacks. After examining our position we decided we'd totally get our brains eaten if zombies came running out of the woods.

The rain from early on wasn't over and it sprinkled off and on throughout the night, stirring up some wicked mist. If you've ever driven through fog with the high beams on, walking with a headlamp is no different. Not to mention Disney was experiencing some chronic glasses fogging. As we approached to the Troutville highway interchange (home of the Waffle House), our hearts soared with the melodic sounds of car engines and semis downshifting, we were close. The trail takes a winding path through crossing highways and we were startled to see our lights glinting of the eyes of a dead deer under one of the overpasses. After poking it with a stick we could tell it had just been hit, and looked like some bad juju as we walked, invisible, next to the screaming traffic.

We made it safely to our destination just before 5 in the morning. Feeling like kings we both downed an All-Star Breakfast and a chicken sandwich. Sitting there digesting, we realized how tired we were and began musing about where we could take a nap. We tossed around going under and overpass, and then Disney suggested we should ask at the hotel next door if we could nap in someones room who'd already checked out before they cleaned it. We laughed but agreed that would be awesome. Well, the hotel was next door after all... so we walked over. We found the Professor, Curse, and Little Dipper had stayed there last night as well as Dipper's aunt. They were checking out and Dipper's aunt said, "sure you can go up and nap"...holy crap! Dream come true! Up in the room we showered, did our laundry in the sink and slept in the fantastic hotel beds. Wow, what incredible luck!

On the way our we hit up the Internet in the lobby and the hiker box in the corner. We got some sweet food out of the box and cut out like 4 meals we didn't have to buy later when we re-supplied. We finally got out of town around 3 and had a nice 9 mile hike up to the next shelter. The weather cleared up nicely, even if it was a little humid. Waffle House and a free hotel nap. Freaking awesome day.

Early to Bed, Early to Rise...

9-22-09 day 112
start: Bryant Ridge Shelter, VA
end: Wilson Creek Shelter, VA
daily mileage: 20.6
total mileage: 1448.5

We had some pretty decent miles to do today and wanted to get in early so we made sure to get up with the sun. Our plan was to go to bed around 6 so we could get up at midnight and night hike to Waffle House. Looking ahead we knew there wasn't much water down the trail so we stopped at Jennings Creek to fill up. The point were the trail crosses is actually along a section of gravel road so we climbed over the guard rail and down under the bridge to fill up. Although it was a cool morning, there was a little pool to nice to pass up, so I jumped in and rinsed of my nasty body and my manky clothes.

Ever since entering the Shenandoah National Park a week ago we've been following what started as Skyline Drive and has since turned into the Blue Ridge Parkway. The trail had kept up with the road and it seems like every day we have several crossings. Today, however, was our last encounter with the BRP. After crossing it this afternoon, we must now bid a final farewell to our constant, noisy, paved companion. Leaving the BRP behind also means we are now about halfway through VA, yay!

At around 5 o'clock we made it to the shelter and made a quick dinner. After chowing the last of our food we hit the sack. At 6 it is still very much light outside but our fellow shelter mates are indulging us and keeping quiet. The alarm is set for 12 so we'll be up and hungry for waffles!

How do we ever get anywhere?

9-21-09 day 111
start: Matt's Creek Shelter, VA
end: Bryant Ridge Shelter, VA
daily mileage: 22.7
total mileage: 1427.9

We committed to waking with the sun, and unlike usual, actually did! We had our biggest / longest climb in a while up High Cock Knob (heh heh), and stopped for lunch shortly after. We've stopped doing Ramen for lunch and are on to more substantial meals, which has been a really good decision... we both look forward to lunch way more now. We stopped at an overlook 2 miles after lunch, then at the shelter a mile after that for a while... it really is incredible that we ever get anywhere!
We climbed Apple Orchard Mountain, which is the tallest point on the AT going north until Moosalauke in NH. There's an awesome looking radar station on top of it, which used to be operated by the Air Force. We stopped again for a break at the next shelter 5 miles down around 5:00, and just accepted that we'd be getting in late tonight. When we finally got in to Bryant Ridge Shelter however, it turned out to be totally worth the long day. It's one of the biggest on the trail, with 2 stories and a beautiful wrap-around porch. It's almost like a cabin, just not totally enclosed. We met up with Fiddler again, and Laid Back and his dad "Stem," who's visiting on the trail for a week or so.

Fried Chicken is NOT a good hiking meal

9-20-09 day 110
start: Johns Hollow Shelter, VA
end: Matt's Creek Shelter, VA
daily mileage: 3.9
total mileage: 1405.2
Got out and walked 1.5 miles to the road into Glasgow, where we got a hitch from a family on their way to church. All the kids had to "double buckle" in the back seat to make room for us! They were super nice, and had hiked most of the trail in VA as a family.
We did our shopping and hung around the deli until it opened at 11 to get Polish sausages and fried chicken. Mmm! Sea Monster then bought some awesome new sunglasses at the dollar general. When we finally got a hitch out of town (mid-afternoon by this point), it was from a gorgeous lady all dressed up for church, and looking her best! She even gave us some food, which further endeared her to us.
We hiked over the James River on the longest footbridge on the AT (the punnily named "James River Foot Bridge," named after Bill Foot, the primary financier). By the time we got to the next shelter 2 miles up, laziness and fried chicken had prevailed... and we called it a day after 4 miles. Awesome! We'll make it up tomorrow, and spent our time that evening planning out an epic Waffle House night-hike in a few days (read on for that, dear readers!)
Sea Monster trapped a cadydid in a little wooden cage for most of the evening, and we were sad to see that it was dead by morning. Aww.

The Ghost of Little Ottie

9-19-09 day 109
start: Brown Mountain Shelter, VA
end: Johns Hollow Shelter, VA
daily mileage: 18.3
total mileage: 1401.3
Tin-man's pad was so loud last night! An inflatable air mattress, every time he moved it sounded like someone was grinding up rice crispies. Ugh.
Everyone left the shelter in a big group, but we stayed behind so we wouldn't be hiking in such a big clump. We caught up with them, and had to hang back for a while again before continuing.
We stopped for lunch at Punchbowl Shelter, a shelter that is rumored to be haunted by a 4 year old that wandered off and died in the area 100 years ago. "Little Ottie." Dum dum DUUMMM!
Met up with Cricket at the shelter just before Glasgow, and enjoyed the super new privy. It was like a palace! Freshly built this year, the wood still smells nice and fresh... and it was actually clean! Awesome!

Crazy fast hikers can't possibly be enjoying selves

9-18-09 day 108
start: Seeley-Woodworth Shelter, VA
end: Brown Mountain Shelter, VA
daily mileage: 15.8
total mileage: 1383.0

Stopped in a cool field for lunch at Hog Camp Gap. There was a tree swing! As we were eating there we saw a guy blow past us without stopping to say hi (a bit unusual on the trail, but not exceptionally so)... Sea Monster thought he recognized him to be a southbounder we met up in Maine. That seemed unlikely (he would have had to been making HUGE miles to catch up with us if we met up there!) but the guy we remembered had claimed he was going to finish his hike in 85 days (for reference, that's almost 1/2 of our estimated hiking time, and is generally agreed upon to be insane).

We got to the shelter and met Cricket, Fiddler, Tin Man, Little Dipper, the Professor and Curse. It was fun having so many southbounders together, and we got to know them a lot better... but the shelter was unpleasantly crowded, for sure. We confirmed that the guy that passed us was the 85 day dude... he must be hiking an AVERAGE of 26 miles a day. That's unbelievable... frankly, there's no way he's having any fun. But whatever, to each his own.

Fiddler got out his violin that he hikes with and played us some tunes before bed time. He's pretty good, and it was really fun to listen to.

The Priest wants to hear your sins...

9-17-09 day 107
start: Harper's Creek Shelter, VA
end: Seely-Woodworth Shelter, VA
daily mileage: 14.4
total mileage: 1367.2
It rained all day, which was kind of unpleasant, though needed. We also climbed "The Priest," a largish mountain that was much-dreaded in the logbooks but not really that hard (again, the switchbacks really helped). The Priest Shelter logbook at lunch was really fun, though -- called people titled it "The Confessional" and hikers "confess their sins" in it, in lieu of more traditional logbook entries... it was a fun read.
It was cold and rainy, so we took a long lunch break and waited until it cleared up a bit before hiking out. We met Curse and Little Dipper coming in just as we were leaving, and made it to our shelter around 7. We met up with Cricket and an older couple out for a week. It was nice getting into our sleeping bags and out of the cold!


9-16-09 day 106
start: Rusty's Hard Time Hollow, VA
end: Harper's Creek Shelter, VA
daily mileage: 12.7
total mileage: 1352.8

Woke up, had some of Rusty's Blueberry pancakes (made with wild blueberries) and spent some of the morning shooting clay pidgeons with his 20 gauge shotgun. He reiterated that we could come back any time we wanted (which is actually really comforting, somehow) and drove us back to the trailhead. We met a group of cyclists on the trail from Ohio who were taking a week to bike the whole Skyline Drive / Blueridge Parkway.

We were told that we had a bit of a tough section today, but barely seemed to notice it... switchbacks, please. These trails are nothing compared to New Hampshire and Maine! If you wanna climb a mountain there, you take it like a man and go straight over the thing! None of this sissy switchback business.

About a mile from the shelter, we stepped on a yellow jacket nest underground of the trail. I was stung. I screamed like a girl. We ran about half a mile. They followed us the whole way. I was stung 5 times total (Sea Monster was miraculously spared). In all, the experience was weird: humans are totally incapable of fighting hive-brain enemies like wasps! But it wasn't really that painful, and we did laugh a lot later about how silly we probably looked, sprinting along the trail screaming "BEEEEEEEES!!!!!"

Sea Monster saw a rattle snake in the trail, and got some great pictures and video. Also, the weather has been awesome for a while... the sunny days are great, but the water sources are all starting to get pretty dry...

Rusty is the coolest dude ever!

9-15-09 day 105

start: YMCA Field in Waynesboro, VA
end: Rusty's Hard Time Hollow, VA
daily mileage: 14.3
total mileage: 1340.1

Raffle Queen drove us back to the trail head the next morning, and we noticed shortly after leaving the Shenandoahs that the trail got rougher. Not hard, but not nearly as graded and smooth as the Shenandoahs were. We didn't know where we were heading that day - we'd heard about "Rusty's Hard Time Hollow" (a trail hostel) but didn't want to pay any money, so planned on skipping it. But then we heard that some friends (Laid Back and Professor) were there, so we thought we'd at least stop by. Boy are we glad we did!

We hitched there on the Blue Ridge Parkway, and found his driveway totally smothered with all kinds of signs. Lots of rules (no pets, no drugs or alcohol, etc) but also a TON of super specific signs about AT hikers, and about Rusty, and jokes, and everything... there must have been 50 signs just on the approach to his house. And then we got to the house itself! The whole thing is plastered in signs. We later found out that he has a friend that has the machinery to print them, and just has bunches made all the time.

The house itself is Rusty's home. It's an appalachian backwoods back-to-basics hillbilly heaven. He built most of the buildings on his property himself - his outhouse, sweat lodge, spring-house, bunk-house, etc. He only got electricity 4 years ago, and seems to vaguely mistrust it: he still refrigerates his drinks in his spring-house with a natural spring on his property, cooks with propane, even uses kerosene lamps. Same with his recently aquired home phone.

Rusty himself is a super nice old guy who loves hikers and just totally opens his home to us. He told us lots of stories about his life, let us shoot his shotguns and pistols and eat his food, let us use his wood-fire heated sweat lodge... it was incredible. He told us that we were always welcome to come and stay with him no matter what else happened to us - our families desert us, friends move away, we've always got Rusty. He says that former hikers sometimes come to stay with him for literally months at a time while they're arranging their lives. It's awesome.

In fact, one of the people who'd stayed with him for a while recently bought him a TV with a built-in DVD player and some movies, so we watched Wayne's World (soooo good). In short, our Rusty experience was really awesome!

Inglorious Basterds may be Tarantino's best

9-14-09 day 104
start: YMCA Field in Waynesboro, VA
end: YMCA Field in Waynesboro, VA
daily mileage: 0
total mileage: 1325.8

We woke up in the middle of the night to Gooch and Bacon returning from Applebees at 1 AM, where they'd been watching the Packer's Game and evidently having some excellent adventures... rowdy cries of "That was the BEST NIGHT EVER" and so on were clearly heard. When we woke up (covered in dew), we heard their story... they'd apparently been drinking pretty heavily, and had been hit on very heavily and explicitly by a forty-some year old woman (it may need to be stated that Gooch and Bacon are our age, just out of college). Though nothing too crazy actually happened, and in stark contrast to their joyful shouts of the night before, "the morning after" found both of them feeling rather ashamed. It was pretty funny though.

We went to Weezies pancakes after waiting awhile to get nice and hungry, where we enjoyed cheap all-you-can-eat pancakes. For some reason, it was the best pancake-eating experience of our lives. We then napped, read, and screwed around on the library computers for the rest of the afternoon.

A northbounder Red Dawn met us, and told us a crazy story about 2 Virginia Tech students recently being murdered near the trail. He was one of the few people in the area, and had been questioned extensively as a witness (despite not having seen anything). A bit scary, though. Fiddler, Curse, and Tin-Man showed up and Raffle Queen agreed to drive all of us to the movie theater to watch Inglorious Basterds. The 6 of us (and Sysaphus's dog Icarus) all squeezed into her sedan, Tin-Man in the trunk! We had dinner at the food court and thoroughly enjoyed the movie. Many of us found it to be our favorite Tarantino film. If you haven't seen it, you should.

We got to bed super late after a 1 AM Kroger run for supplies. Woo hoo!


9-13-09 day 103
start: Blackrock Hut, VA
end: YMCA Field in Waynesboro, VA
daily mileage: 19.9
total mileage: 1325.8

Another nice day. We stopped at Calf Mountain Shelter and met a section hiker who told us all about hiking the in Europe, specifically the Camino Francais and the Camino Del Norte in Spain. It sounds awesome: less wilderness-seclusion, more hiking from little town to little town.

We got out of the Shenandoahs, and met Plugger again! Another flip-flopper, he's been tailing us since mid-Maine... and even though he does very short days every day, he skips huge sections of trail at a time by car ("yellow-blazing") so always manages to stay with us. We met him at this nasty abandoned building where the trail crossed the highway into Waynesboro, and caught a ride into town with him.

Waynesboro has an incredible network of trail angels (people who are always willing to help hikers), and the guy that picked us up to drive us into town was one of them: Mr. Collins. He was awesome - maybe 80 years old, driving a super classy Buick with quiet 30s music playing, speaking softly in a laconic southern drawl. Every bit the quiet, friendly, older southern gentleman.

We washed up in the YMCA and I went for a quick swim, then met up with Gooch and Bacon in the field the YMCA lets hikers camp in. Then we wandered down to Ming's Garden.

Now, I'm aware that this blog probably mentions food a lot - and in truth, it's one of the few things that we're ALWAYS thinking about out here. So I try to avoid totally food-centric entries... but Ming's Garden was freaking incredible. We'd been hearing about it, literally, the whole trail... and without a doubt, it was the best Chinese buffet either of us have ever been to. The restaurant itself was beautiful, and we were served every conceivable chinese dish, crab-legs, desserts... wow. I've never been happier in my whole life.

Needless to say, we left Ming's in a state of considerable pain (the worst Itus we've ever had, perhaps) and met up with Sysaphus in the field and another Waysnesboro trail angel "Raffle Queen." She brought a huge car camping tent for us to sleep in, though Sea Monster and I just cowboy camped out under the stars. What a day...

Monday, September 14, 2009

Jury Still Out on whether Milkshake was "$4 Good"

9-12-09 day 102
start: Hightop Hut, VA
end: Blackrock Hut, VA
daily mileage: 21.4
total mileage: 1305.9

Another exciting day in Shenandoah National Park. The terrain all through this park is rock-free with very gentle grades, so we're doing several big days in a row while it's easy. Hopefully this will give us a bit of wiggle room later on when it gets harder again south of VA. We keep track of our weekly mileages in the Companion, and we're on track to do a 131 mile week - our biggest yet! Go team!

As you may recall, dear reader, each of the shelters contains a logbook for hikers to write in and see how their friends just up the trail are doing. Sea Monster has long been drawing epic pictures in the logbook (sea monsters at first, but now just about anything sweet that comes to mind) but I've generally not been able to think of anything interesting to say, so I don't write much in the books. But no longer - I decided today to start the gimmick of writing random fun science facts in the logbooks. "Did You Know That...?"

We took a 0.6 mile side trail to get to one of the Shenandoah "Waysides," little shops that sell overpriced food. They are famous for their Blackberry milkshakes, however, so we paid $4 for a 16 oz shake. It was tasty. Maybe not $4 tasty, but tasty. Instead of backtracking we took another trail to meet up with the AT a bit further south, and probably either came out even (as if we hadn't taken the side trail) or even a bit ahead. Awesome!

Autumn is Coming

9-11-09 day 101
start: Rock Springs Hut, VA
end: High Top Hut, VA
daily mileage: 23.9
total mileage: 1284.5

We left at a not so early 9 o'clock for a 24 mile day. Its funny, 24 miles used to be a huge endeavor, something we would have thought a lot about and made sure we were up early for. Through the park, however, the trails are so easy and smooth we don't even have to worry about it, I think we're getting cocky. We made really good time all morning and intended to stop at the Big Meadows Wayside for more milkshakes, but after finding out it was .5 off the trail we said forget it.

One thing we are defiantly beginning to notice is the autumn moving in. A fair number of leaves are already changing and the air has that familiar fall smell, dead leaves I guess. Not to mention its chilly! To me anyway, it feels very reminiscent of Boy Scout backpacking trips. We always hiked around this time of year and through areas in Ohio like this.

Literally, we could have kicked this deer in the face

9-10-09 day 100
start: Pass Mountain Hut, VA
end: Rock Springs Hut, VA
daily mileage: 15.3
total mileage: 1260.6

Day 100 on the trail! Woo hoo!

It was a short morning hike to the road into Luray. An easy hitch later, we were at the Post Office picking up Sea Monster's new boots. He shipped them straight home for later use when his current ones really fall apart. We met "Skipper," the husband of a former thru-hiker that told us lots of fun stories and then drove us to Wal-Mart for our resupply. We grabbed lunch at another Taco Bell, and then got a hitch back from this crazy guy who literally drifted off the road several times on the drive back to the trail head.

He regailed us with stories about how his family hates Shenandoah National Park, because they were evicted 80 years ago when the park was established. I'd read about the park formation in the book, and I guess the area housed a lot of people that got "emminent domained" out of there. Unfortunate as that is, it's awesome that only 80 years later, this formerly highly-developed land is now such a lush, wild park.

We stopped in a parking lot to watch some deer and eat snacks, and Sea Monster went to see how close he could get to them. They are incredibly used to humans, and let him get within 10 feet easily. Shortly thereafter, 3 deer came out of the woods right next to where we were snacking and came right up to us! They obviously wanted our food, and were pretty bold about it... one of them got close enough that we easily could have kicked it in the head. People kept pulling off Skyline drive into this parking lot to see us interacting with these crazy deer!

We saw a bunch of wild turkeys as well, and finally got into the shelter where we met up with Plugger and The Professor. Plugger is going quite a bit slower than us, but keeps catching up with us because he "yellow blazes" - hitches up to a new part of the trail, skipping trail miles. Tsk tsk. We're mostly joking in our condescention, though, I guess.

Shenandoah's Wildlife Bonanza!

9-9-09 day 99
start: Tom Floyd Wayside, VA
end: Pass Mountain Hut, VA
daily mileage: 23.6
total mileage: 1245.3

We planned on a long day but the terrain is super easy and all the hills are graded nice and shallow. Early on we heard a loud rustling in the trees, and as I thought "that sounds bigger than a squirrel" I hear Disney yell, "Bear, bear!". Sure enough up in the tree there were two black bears frantically climbing down to run away. It was a mama and a baby and our first southern bear sighting. Later on I got ahead of Disney and saw two more bears of to my right, and when we met back up he reported seeing a couple. They may have been the same ones but we choose to tally up to 6.

While I was up ahead, it had been a a while, so I stopped and waited by the side of the trail. While I was waiting two deer crashed out of the tall grass, literally 5 feet away from me. I jumped about a foot. After waiting for a half an hour I was confused because I knew he wasn't that far behind. I eventually pushed on to find out later he had stopped with our friend Sisyphus at one of the park Wayside centers for milkshakes. Funny story, actually, about Sisyphus. He's a straight southbounder and we met him for the first time just south of Hanover, NH. Just, by chance we happened to pick up the trail again in Harper just as he was coming through.

A sign outside the Pass Mountain Shelter reported problem bear activity in the area. All this means is a bear has learned there are people and thus, food here so we would have to be careful with hanging our food and stuff. Like clockwork, within 15 minutes he showed up. Disney was in the privy and the bear came out of the woods about 20ft away from it. He was standing in some bushes and Sisyphus and I hollered over at Disney not to come out because of a bear. "What? Really?!", well he popped his head out to see, yes really, the bear standing on two legs right there. It was awesome. After a minute or so he ran off into the woods. We hung our food and didn't have any problems with him the rest of the night.

District 9 was awesome

9-8-09 day 98
start: The Robinson's Farm around Front Royal, VA
end: Tom Floyd Wayside, VA
daily mileage: 2.9
total mileage: 1221.7

We woke up considerably earlier than normal with the Robinsons, who are up with the sun to milk the cows. We enjoyed some organic, healthy breakfast and said goodbye to Mr. and Mrs. Robinson as they left for the day. After lounging around for a while we decided to make it back into Front Royal.

We only planned on doing 3 miles into Tom Floyd Wayside today, so we had some time to kill in town (always a good situation!). First we went to the Post Office, where I got my new boots from Merrell! Yes! We spent some time hanging out in the local outfitter, where the super nice owner let us leave our packs for the day as we hung out around town. I got an awesome new green Oragami bowl to replace the pink Walmart one I've been toting around for a while.

We went to KFC for lunch, wandered around a few random stores (Travis got a new knife to replace the little one he lost), and went to the movie theater to check out the matinee options. But what's this? Foiled again - no movies showing before 7:30 at night. You may wish to recall that the sun is setting around 7:30 these days, so this may have discouraged a less tenacious pair of hikers... we, however, decided that we were GOING to see a movie, DARNIT, and 7:30 is NOT too late for US!

So we fooled around in an awesome used bookstore for a while (Travis bought 3 books to carry around and I got one too... and for one, glorious instant we though we'd found the entire Animorph series for just 15 bucks! We probably would have carried around 50 tiny books if it hadn't been incomplete), then went to the library to fool around on the internet for a while. We got our packs back, enjoyed some Taco Bell, and read until the movie started. It was either Inglorious Basterds or District 9 for us, and as Inglorious Basterds is super long we opted for the latter. District 9 was awesome... definitely the best movie we've seen on the trail.

We were worried about getting a hitch at 10 at night, but before we even got to the road we were going to hitch from someone pulled over and asked if he could give us a ride! We made it to the trail head and I realized half a mile down the trail that some kind of battery terminal cleaner from his trunk had gotten lodged in my pack when I threw it in there... so I accidently stole it. Oops! It didn't look too expensive at least... :-/ If it makes it better, I guess I kind of paid pennance by carrying it around in my pack for a few days. The 3 mile night hike was pretty easy though, and a fun change. We got into the shelter around 11 (super late) and tried not to wake everyone up as we went to bed.

The Itis Strikes, and then We Went to a Farm

9-7-09 day 97
start: Manassas Gap Shelter, VA
end: The Robinson's Farm, VA
daily mileage: 10.8
total mileage: 1218.8

We were headed into the town of Front Royal, VA today, and hiked the 11 miles to the road super fast. We were there and hitching by noon, and got picked up by a guy who's tank was on empty. It was a little touch and go but we made it to town. Our first order of business was to head over to the China Jade for lunch. "The Itis" describes the physical condition you find yourself in after an AYCE buffet. It comes with all the normal swollen stomach pain, as well as the desire to slip peacefully into a several hour food coma, and, indeed, an acute sense of self loathing. Feeling the full weight of the Itis we perused the K-Mart next door only to find that after 3 months away, K-Mart still sucks.

Disney's brother's wife's family, the Robinsons, live near Front Royal so we were planning on having their son, James, pick us up around 6 and stay at their farm for the night. For the rest of the day we knew we wanted to see either District 9 or Inglorious Basterds but decided we had better buy groceries before movie time. We went over to the store and who do we run into but Mrs. Robinson! It was crazy! It would have been silly to have James make a separate trip so after we got our food we just went back with Mrs. Robinson and her daughter Joan.

The farm is great. They have a bunch of chickens and a handful of cows. We drank loads of fresh milk right from the cow and had a fantastic dinner. Later that night we played Settlers of Catan: Cities and Knights edition, an awesome board game, and then watched The Delta Force with Chuck Norris. It was awesomely 80's and Chuck was defiantly in his prime.

Everyday Can't Be Exciting

9-6-09 day 96
start: Sam Moore Shelter, VA
end: Manassas Gap Shelter, VA
daily mileage: 19.8
total mileage: 1208.0

We finished the "Roller Coaster" pretty early, and weren't terribly impressed. Honestly, if they hadn't named it we probably wouldn't have even noticed. Oh, well, onward to easy trail!

Not much to tell today I suppose. We stopped in at Dick's Dome Shelter for a break. It was really oddly shaped, small and almost spherical, not super efficient with space. Later on at Manassas Gap there were a bunch of section hikers staying. A couple had some little 1oz Captain
Morgan bottles, and since they are going home tomorrow they gave 'em to us to spice up our lemonade. We also met Tim and Christine who are hiking to the end of VA. Tim is from New Zealand and we talked about rugby and stuff. They are cool people so hopefully we'll see them further down trail.

Ramen and Cars, a Lunch any Hiker Should Expect

9-5-09 day 95
start: Blackburn Trail Center, VA
end: Sam Moore Shelter, VA
daily mileage: 10.9
total mileage: 1188.2

As great as Blackburn was, it was .3 miles off the trail down a pretty steep hill. After climbing back up we got on trail and headed south. Pretty quickly we entered the infamous "Roller Coaster". When the trail was established through this section the park service was only able to buy a narrow corridor. What this means for us is that the trail has no ridge to follow and instead goes straight up and down about ten hills in a row,up, down, up, down. Nothing two seasoned manly hikers can't handle.

For lunch we stopped into the "Bears Den Hostel". It was right off the trail and we'd heard it was awesome so while we didn't plan to stay we went over to eat. In order to get into the hiker area in the we even had to solve a riddle! While not quite as awesome as Monty Python Bridge of Death, we had to refer to our guide book for a mileage to use as the door code, fun! The place did seem pretty great and even had a microwave so we could nuke our Ramen. They also had a TV and DVD player so we watched Cars during lunch.

After our extended movie lunch, we didn't get much further into the roller coaster before deciding it was too hot and gross to keep going and so we stopped early.

First Day Back, Feels Like the First Day

9-4-09 day 94
start: Sandy Beach @ Harpers Ferry, WV
end: Blackburn Trail Center, VA
daily mileage: 11.5
total mileage: 1177.3

As we laid out on the riverbank reading last night there was little doubt in either of our minds that the passengers of the train running over our heads could see our headlamps. No one came down to chases us off so it worked out. Around 8 the sun was up, and in full daylight we figured we'd better pack up before any tourists came around. Since we had food in our packs for breakfast we went over to the hostel to see if we could eat on their porch. The lady let us in and we ate and chatted with some other hikers before heading over to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC).

The office here in Harpers Ferry one of a handful of AT "headquarters" along the trail. We registered ourselves and got our pictures taken as through hikers, now that we'd done he first half We were numbered 59 and 60 of the flip-floppers so far. We were surprised to find out there are only about 25 southbounders ahead of us down south. We knew we'd be at the front of the pack but had no idea we were this early.

We finally got going around 11 and hiked the little bit of trail through town we had already done. We saw our "first blaze" from three months ago and stopped for another picture. Its cool to pick up in the same spot and remember it after so much time. In just a short hike out of town the trail feels so different. Compared to NH and ME its so smooth, with no rocks and roots to climb over, and there's no conifers anywhere! Additionally we are alone again, without any trail friends, and it does feel eerily familiar to when we started back in June.

After lunch we found a huge beehive up in tree and decided to throw rocks at it. They all came out really mad so we ran away. I also got stung by a bee about an hour later. These events are unrelated.

We took a short 11.5 miles to the Blackburn Trail Center, a PATC run lodge. We were just expecting a nice roof over our heads instead of a shelter, but when we got there we were informed that dinner would be ready in 45 minutes! The two of us and a couple other section hikers tucked into a massive amount of spaghetti, followed by brownies, awesome!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Back in Harper's!

9-3-09 day 93
start: Steve's place in Washington D.C.
end: Sandy Beach in Harper's Ferry, WV
daily mileage: lots that don't count
total mileage: 1165.8

This is it - our last day of vacation! Tomorrow, it's back to work hiking! :-)

No trains leave D.C. for Harper's until late afternoon, so we slept in and got a late start again. After eating, we did our grocery shopping for the next few days. We baked (and burnt) some cookies while we waited for the train, but finally headed down to Union Station.

We bought our tickets and mailed the last of our city clothes home, and made our train with about 2 minutes to spare. It was a pretty comfortable ride down to Harper's (I was surprised at all the people in the upper compartment making no secret of drinking booze from open containers, which I'd have thought would be illegal?) and arrived around 6:30. Unfortunately, Sea Monster realized as we were getting off the train that he'd forgotten his hiking poles at the Post Office... oops! At least they were free (since he found them), but the transition back to bipedal will be tough.

Being back in Harper's was a bit weird... it's been a long time, and it kind of feels like we're starting all over. We grabbed some dinner in town and found out that the only hostel options were $30 (too expensive for us!) so we decided to steath camp. We slept on a little beach under a railroad bridge, down by the river, just like hobos. Yes! Excited for our first southbound day of hiking tomorrow.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Smithsonians are awesome!!!

9-2-09 day 92
start: Steve's place in Washington D.C.
end: Steve's place in Washington D.C.
daily mileage: 0
total mileage: 1165.8

We woke up super late and played X-Box for a while before going out and exploring the city. Both Dan and Steve had placed to be during the day, so we went out all day to see the sights. Their appartment is easily within walking distance of the National Mall, so we walked down Independance and found the Capital.  We started by spending some time in the Library of Congress, the National Archives (where the Consitution, Declaration, and Bill of Rights all are... that was awesome!) and checking out the Supreme Court Building. We wanted to go to the new visitor's center underneath the Capital building, but were denied entrance because we'd stupidly forgotten to leave our pocket knives at Steve's. When you carry just one thing in your pocket all the time it's really hard to remember to put it down. Not wanting to walk all the way back to Steve's, we hid our knives in the bushes outside the American Indian Smithsonian (probably very susiciously) and continued on our way.

We spent a long time in my favorite three smithsonians, the Air and Space Museum, the Museum of Natural History, and the American History Museum. We probably spent the most time in Natural History, and I really enjoyed myself. I made a point of memorizing all of the geological eons, eras, periods, and epochs that I considered important and even found myself wanting to learn more about the different minerals, something I've never found particularly interesting before. Sea Monster probably enjoyed American History more than I did but we were both really excited to find a special little room in the corner dedicated entirely to the Appalachian Trail! That's right... the American History Museum has a whole exhibit on the A.T.! Awesome!

By now it was getting rather late, so we bought some Popeyes (really good fast food, by the way) and walked home. We had another late night hanging out with Steve and Dan in their appartment watching movies, playing video games, and generally revelling in the experience of civilization.

Steve and Dan's place in D.C.

9-1-09 day 91
start: New Haven, CT
end: Steve's Appartment in Washington D.C.
daily mileage: lots that don't count
total mileage: 1165.8

We slept in a bit later this morning at the fabulous LaQuinta, and started the drive to D.C. We were going to go to Harper's Ferry (which is where we started, and so, where we starting the southern leg of our adventure) but at just about the very last possible minute, Sea Monster's friend Steve (who we'd been trying to get in touch with for over a week) called and told us we could stay with him in D.C. for a little while! Awesome!

Lots of time in the car was spent updating the blog for you fine folk, and we soon arrived at our lunch destination - a cool, old fashioned lunch diner. We ate some tasty burgers, and were soon back on our way.

Before I detail our arrival, some other exciting news... I ordered new boots from Merrell! My old boots were from them, and they have an awesome policy of being good to thru-hikers (I guess they figure lots of other hikers look to us for our favorite gear companies, so they try to make sure they're our favorite). It was no problem, and my new boots will be waiting for me in Front Royal, VA. That means about another 50 miles of hiking in my quickly deteriorating Crocs, but I can certainly wait for free new boots!!

When we arrived at D.C. we had some trouble figuring out exactly where Steve lived. His roommate (and another friend of Travis's) Dan finally guided us in, and we said goodbye to Mr. Smith and Jackie. It was awesome seeing them, and really awesome that they helped us get down the West Virginia again!

Dan soon left for a grad-school class, and Sea Monster and I hung out for a while waiting for them both to come back. When they did, we went out to eat at a delicious Mexican food place and grabbed some drinks at a local bar. It ended up being a pretty late night, but a good one... it's nice to be taking a break from the trail and just hanging out.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Sorry About the Confusion Folks

In our zeal to post the last months worth of blog entries as expediently as possible, we realize there has been a bit of confusion. While all the posts were displaying as being authored by Disney (Connor) they in fact, weren't. The problem has been addressed however and each and every post is now attributed to the correct author. There may be situations in the future where a string of several posts in a row will be authored by one person, but the confusion we had before should not happen again. You can now, and forevermore, trust the displayed author. Thank You

First day of road trip, woo!!

8-31-09 day 90
start: Augusta, ME
end: New Haven, CT
daily mileage: lots that don't count
total mileage: 1165.8

We woke up nice and early to bust out of Maine on our epic road trip. Sea Monster and I spent some time in the car on our laptops, typing up blog entries from weeks ago. It feels great to have a day off after so much walking, and it's crazy watching the miles fly by ("holy crap, it took us so long to walk through this state and it only took like 2 hours to drive it!"). We went to an REI before lunch for some little gear odds and ends- Sea Monster got socks and I got a lightweight Thermarest on clearance (which I'm really excited about) and a new spoon.

Mr. Smith did lots of work before he flew out here to find all the best places to eat along the highway, and we stopped to eat at a great coney place for lunch. Mr. Smith's GPS "LaFonda" is somewhat schizophrenic and seems to love guiding us through crazy backalleys (we spent a while joking about how it would probably guide us to a drug dealer and tell us what to say to him), but is otherwise pretty useful.

We made it to New Haven around 3 and checked in at a LaQuinta, where we did our laundry and watched a stupid movie on TV. When it was time to go to dinner, we went to the best pizza place in the world. Pepe's Pizzeria. We got a White Clam Pizza (fresh clams!) and a more traditional Bacon and Sausage- they were fabulous. After so much repetitive trail food I felt totally overwhelmed by the deliciousness. We even got a pitcher of Long Trail Ale to wash it down with!

We got back to the hotel pretty late, and Sea Monster and his family went next door to grab some Ice Cream while I made a few phone calls. Soon, we were sleeping on beds (like kings), as visions of pizza pies danced in our heads.


8-30-09 day 89
start: The Birches in Baxter State Park, ME
end: Katahdin Peak, ME, then drove to Augusta ME
daily mileage: 5.3
total mileage: 1165.8

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls- today is K-Day. That's right, the day we've all been waiting for. Today, we climbed Katahdin.

Whisp, Sea Monster and I were in one shelter and Rabbit, Monty and Zoltan were in the other. We set an alarm for 6 in our shelter, but as Whisp had packed up his daypack the previous day he got started much earlier than us. We were in no hurry, so it was probably around 7:30 by the time we'd packed our daypacks and left. Part of the reason it took us so long was that I didn't want to climb Katahdin in my (now breaking) crocs, so I put my boot on my foot and duct-taped / twine wrapped the hell out of it, literally taping it to my foot in the hopes that it would carry me to the top!

We'd known since yesterday that the weather wouldn't be Class IV bad (so we could climb the mountain either way), but we were still worried it would be cold and rainy. Fortunately, the weather was great! Certainly not cloudless, but pretty warm and dry. Even better, as we climbed the sky kept getting clearer, affording us some fantastic views.

The first two of our five miles were really gradual and easy. We stopped around a beautiful waterfall for a few minutes and realized we had cell signal there (we literally have had none for the vast majority of Maine). We called Sea Monster's dad to make sure all was well, and then began our real ascent. It was an amazing climb- over 4,200 feet of vertical climb in 3 miles, most of it in just 2. We started up the tough part, and it was really awesome: hands over feet scrambling up rock faces almost the whole way. There were loads of places that, looking down, it seemed like you'd probably die if you fell. We quickly emerged above treeline, and began getting spectacular views of the surrounding area - far distant mountains, pine forest stretching out in every direction, hundreds of little lakes dotting the ground.

After perhaps an hour or an hour and a half of this scrambling, we emerged onto the "Table Lands," a huge plateau not far from the summit. The climb got much easier from there, and it was there that all my shoe bindings exploded off again. Certainly not the worst place it could have happened- I managed to get all the way to the summit in them!

The summit was unreal. The views were incredible (when it was clear, we could see for miles and when clouds rolled by we were over them, and got a top-down view like one gets from an airplane), but mostly it was the emotional experience of actually summiting the greatest mountain on the AT. Katahdin marks the end of our entire northern leg, over half of our journey, and definitely the hardest half. It's been at the top of our minds for months, and finally we'd conquered it! We cracked open the PBRs we carried up with us, took lots of pictures, dallied for a while, and then turned back to head down.

The trek down was tough, but other than one of Sea Monster's croc straps breaking (I brought up his fresh pair of crocs for when my boots broke), uneventful. We made it back down to base camp around 2:00, ready to hitch into Millinockett. We were just starting to talk about how we were going to do that (and hungrily complaining about how it would take us forever to get there to get lunch) when we unexpectedly ran into Whisp again! Whisp did part of his hike in 2006 with a girl named Fire, and her parents (from Maine) were there to pick him up and had an enormous amount of food laid out on a picnic table- for us! Yay food!

They then offered to drive us to Millinockett, but said that they'd like to drive around the park a bit first looking for Moose. We agreed- and so they drove to a parking lot on the other side of the park and said "come on, lets look for moose!" None of the three of us particularly wanted to hike any more after such a climactic morning, but we humored them by walking with them to a little pond and looking for the moose. Seeing none, we hopped back in and drove to the bustling metropolis of Millinockett, Maine.

We got there just as Sea Monster's dad arrived, and met at a McDonald's after saying goodbye to our buddy Whisp. We got in Mr. Smith's rental car and drove to check out the main attraction for thru-hikers, the A.T. Lodge, where we got showers and changed into our glorious cotton and denim clothes. We met up there with our other good friend Rabbit and said goodbye to her as well, and then began our journey south.

We only drove for 3 hours or so, but my knees were in considerable pain from the stiffness of keeping them bent and unmoving by the time we arrived at our hotel. We stayed in Augusta, where Sea Monster and I thoroughly enjoyed having "all the internet we could eat" on our laptops. It's great seeing Mr. Smith and Jackie, too- all together, a really, really fantastic day.

Abol General Store!

8-29-09 day 88
start: Hurd Brook Lean-To, ME
end: The Birches in Baxter State Park, ME
daily mileage: 13.4
total mileage: 1160.5

It was a rainy, nasty morning when we woke up (and COLD), but we had the end of the 100 mile wilderness and the famous Abol General Store to look forward to! We hit the trail and made really good time to the General Store, where we hung out for a while and bought snacks and food for the rest of the day and tomorrow morning. Sea Monster, Whisp and I talked over the remaining 9 or 10 miles of uninteresting flatness, and whether we should just take the 5 mile side trail to the shelter instead. The nasty rain (the worst we'd get from "Hurricane Danny") made our decision for us, and after just 5 miles of easy hiking we were in Baxter State Park, at the base of Mount Katahdin. We found a beer each in the shelter with congratulations from another hiker on making it there, and enjoyed them with our traditional Raman lunch. After checking in with the park ranger and paying for the shelter, we found ourselves with an entire afternoon and evening ahead of us with cold, rainy weather outside: perfect for getting into the sleeping bag to read and snack. I actually ate just about all the snacks I'd intended for Katahdin the next day (ah well). There was definitely a sense of excitement, almost foreboding, about Katahdin the next day. The mountain has by now developed an almost mystical status in our minds...

Nice, late start

8-28-09 day 87
start: Wadleigh Stream Lean-To, ME
end: Hurd Brook Lean-To, ME
daily mileage: 19.6
total mileage: 1147.1

Even with 6 people in the shelter, somehow noone got up until around 9:15! Possibly because it's been so cool recently (with such cold nights) that noone wanted to get out of their bags. Anyway, this is several hours after we normally wake up naturally from the sun, so that was weird. We were a bit worried about a 10:00 start with 20 miles to do, but the terrain was so flat and easy all day that it flew by.

We moved fast all morning, though both crocs began to tear significantly by lunch (and the strap broke off one of them). We got in for lunch around 1, and I spent the whole time repairing my crocs - duct tape and thread for the rips and string for the strap has got them good as new again! They're not even that much less comfortable than boots!

We got a bad weather forecast for K-day, which disappointed everyone in our growing group (us, Whisp, Rabbit, Monty, and Zoltan). Hurricane Danny. It can rain, I guess, but please don't let it be a Class 4 day! (The Baxter State Park folks close the mountain on super bad weather days, classified as Class 4 days.)

We ran into another southbounder in the shelter - he's only been out for 2 days! Isn't that cute??

Massive Burgers in the Wild Woods

8-27-09 day 86 start: Cooper Brook Lean-To, ME end: Wadleigh Lean-To, ME daily mileage: 21.5 total mileage: 1127.5 We knew we had a long day ahead of us, and planned for a time consuming lunch detour, so we were sure to be up and out by 7. The trail was flatter than flat and we flew the first 13 miles. We were seriously doing upwards of 3 mph, breakneck speed I know. Our destination was White House Landing, a small inn and restaurant in the middle of the 100 Mile Wilderness. Other than it's location it wouldn't be noteworthy except for the fact that it serves 1 pound hamburgers! To get there we had to exit off the AT and walk just over a mile on a blue blaze trail down to the lake. The building is on the other side of the water so to get over, believe it or not, you blow an air horn on the dock and the guy comes over on a motorboat to ferry you across. It was great! It was me, Disney, and Whisp, and we all got burgers. After 13 miles in the morning those babies when down easy. Huge messy dripping goodness and if not for the 11 dollar price tag I could have definitely done another. We only had 8 easy miles left for the day and close to the shelter we met a freshman orientation group from Unity College camping by the lake. We sat and chatted with them for a while and they gave us some tea they made by boiling this fungus that grows off the birch trees. The mushroom looked like a soaking turd in the pot but it tasted pretty good. They were cool guys but we had to head on down the trail. We got to the shelter early and were pleased when Rabbit, Zoltan, and Monty showed up. They'd pushed some big miles and caught up, but it looks like they'll be right on track with us until K-DAY.


8-26-09 day 85
start: Carl A Newhall Lean-To, ME
end: Cooper Brook Falls Lean-To, ME
daily mileage: 18.9
total mileage: 1106.0

WE REACHED HALFWAY THIS MORNING! What a good feeling, to be over halfway done. Awesome.

Up early in the morning, and climbed up our last real hills before Katahdin- the Whitecaps. The little range has 4 hills on it, and at the tallest and northernmost one (White Cap itself), we could see our first view of Katahdin! It's a thrilling sight after so many miles.

We made great time off the mountain and through the rest of the day owing to the flatness of the terrain after White Cap. It's great being able to make such good time (and the scenery remains gorgeous, with conifers and ponds and lakes everywhere) but we are finding the "wilderness" to be kind of a joke- it is wild and natural seeming, but so is the whole trail! We've even crossed several logging roads and such already. We've pretty much decided that the only difference is that it's a slightly greater distance between resupplies here than elsewhere.

Bad news, though- my boot exploded. I was hiking a few minutes behind Sea Monster towards the afternoon when I started noticing that my right foot was getting very loose in my boot. I retied it, but it didn't help. Within minutes it was getting much worse, and I isolated the problem. The soles of my boots were ripping clean off the rest of the boot! A small hole had been there for days, but within half a mile of my noticing it getting worse today, the entire sole had effectively detached from my boot. My foot literally feel out of my boot! It's a hole you could easily pass an orange through. It was immediately unwearable. So, I switched into my imitation Crocs for the remaining few miles and made it to the shelter.

The good news is that the shelter was awesome! A sweet waterfall with the best swimming hole at the bottom I've ever seen. Sea Monster had already gone for a swim (my boot adventure put me quite a ways behind) and was changed into his awesome new cut-off pajama shorts. I jumped in and changed into my new cotton camp shorts I'd recently picked up, and we settled in for the night. I'm a bit worried about hiking in just crocs tomorrow, but with my insoles and socks on it might not be so bad.

Sobos are Weird People

8-25-09 day 84
start: Long Pond Stream Lean-To, ME
end: Carl A Newhal Lean-To, ME
daily mileage: 20.8
total mileage: 1087.1
Since we cut our day short yesterday, and were working on a deadline now, we had to make up the miles today. We were getting toward the last of the mountains until the Big K, and knocked out most of the Chairback Range today. We'll get the rest of them tomorrow and then it should be smooth sailing until the big one. Honestly it was a pretty uneventful day, but Disney had an interesting conversation with a Sobo he met. I had gotten ahead and not stopped to talk to the guy when I passed but Disney stopped and asked him how far up I was. Since I wasn't there I'll try to do it justice, but Disney goes, "So did you see my friend up there? Sometimes he gets up ahead of me." The Sobo responds, "Sometimes he gets ahead of you? Hill-arious!" Uhhh-yeah-what? Ok dude, I'll catch ya later-Sobos are weird people.

My birthday!

8-24-09 day 83
start: Lake Shore House in Monson, ME
end: Long Pond Stream Lean-To, ME
daily mileage: 15.1
total mileage: 1066.3

Today is my birthday, hooray! The big 2-2. After the celebration the night before, we let ourselves sleep in a little bit and got a bit of a late start, but not too bad. We're carrying about 5 days of food through the 100 mile wilderness, which is slightly more than normal but really not too heavy. It's fun entering the 100 miles- feels kind of like we're leaving the last frontier town for the wild west or something.

We got a hitch from a kindly vacationing german family, in the US for the first time. They were very friendly, though it seemed like an unlikely demographic to pick up hitch hikers- I'm not sure I would if vacationing for the first time in a different country! But we made it to the official trail head and started hiking. We soon passed a sign that warned us that we were entering the 100 mile wilderness, and told us that we needed a minimum of 10 days of food to enter! We have 5. Fingers crossed!

We met up with Whisp (who'd gotten an earlier start), and started hiking with him- as we're on the same schedule, we're pretty much hiking together for the rest of the journey. We cut the day a little bit shorter than planned (despite knowing we'd have to make up that mileage the next day) because of our late start. We stopped for lunch at a beautiful waterfall, and celebrated my birthday by having not 1 Jolly Rancher each for our after-lunch dessert, but 2! Same at dinner! It was a great birthday.

A Ruckus in the Night, Preludes an Awesome Day

8-23-09 day 82
start: Lakeshore House @ Monson, ME
end: Lakeshore House @ Monson, ME
daily mileage: 0
total mileage: 1051.2
Our first night at the Lakeshore House was met with some drama. Since the place was packed full I slept on a mattress on the floor in a small room adjoining two others. I was woken up in the middle of the night by someone yelling and as I stirred out of my half awake confusion, it just became more confusing. Someone, assumedly a drunken bar patron, was back, long after the bar closed, tramping around yelling at Rebekah, calling her all sorts of names and swearing a lot. I'm laying there, with no idea what is going on, listening to all this for about 10 minutes. Then I hear him coming up the stairs from the bar and he barges into where I'm sleeping and traps over me and my stuff and out the door to the porch. It was crazy, but no big deal, God knows I've dealt with my share of drunken ruckuses around Miami in the last four years. This morning Rebekah was super upset and sorry about everything but we assured her it was not a big deal, just some idiot.
We were zeroing here in town for the day and started things off right with 7 dollar all you can eat breakfast down the road at the other hiker hostel in town, Shaws. Feeling fat and sassy we went back to Lakeshore and popped in Full Metal Jacket while playing Yahtzee. After getting halfway through Space Jam, awesome, Rebekah came up and asked if anyone needed a ride to the supermarket in the real town up the road. Not wanting to re-supply at the rinky-dink Monson general store we pulled ourselves away from the Michael Jordan/ Bugs Bunny masterpiece and went to town.
We got lucky and Rebekah let us do work for stay for the night, so we spent the rest of the afternoon working on that. We replaced the linens, re-inked the sign outside, cleaned up the kayaks, and cleaned the bathroom and porch. Our work was fueled by periodic breaks to eat a plate of Sunday special 35 cent wings. After work we played around on the floating trampoline in the lake with Bella and Max, Rebekah's kids, and also watched the Disney middle eastern documentary, Aladdin, with Whisp. Later Rabbit, and a bunch of hikers showed up. We were happy to see Rabbit again, and we met "Monty", and this Hungarian guy, Zoltan, for the first time. We hung out in the bar for Disney's birthday tomorrow and talked with "Let it Be", an old timer who is an almost legendary hiker. What's known as the "Triple Crown" includes Americas three popular long trails, The AT, the Pacific Crest Trail, and the Continental Divide Trail, and he's hiked them all, like 5 times, simply incredible.


8-22-09 day 81
start: Moxie Bald Lean-To, ME
end: Lake Shore House in Monson, ME
daily mileage: 17.9
total mileage: 1051.2

We'd planned on taking a super short day (just 9 miles in easy terrain) to waste time, so we were going to sleep in nice and late. Unfortunately the bugs were so bad that it wasn't even pleasant to do so, and we got out of the shelter pretty early. We hit our destination shelter around 11:20 AM and met up with Whisp and Evergreen again there. Both were planning on pushing into Monson, and as Whisp was also planning on summiting with us on the 30th, he was just going to take a zero day there. It seemed like a great plan, so we decided to just eat lunch and push on the last 9 miles to Monson. We had a few real river fords on the way, which is always fun, and then got to a fork in the road. The AT took us several miles out of the way, and then a hitch was required into Monson- the blue blazed side trail cut a mile off and went straight into town. Inevitably, we decided to cheat and take the side trail.

We met up with Whisp and Evergreen again, and ate a delicious dinner at their bar/restaurant. The Lake Shore House is awesome- there's the hostel of course (and a very nice one), but also a bar, restaurant, and laundromat. It's right on the shore of a lake with swimming, kayaks, paddleboats, and a water trampoline (all free to use)! The owner, Rebekah, is really nice and loves hikers. We soon put in a movie up in the hostel area, and then got sucked into watching 3- Canadian Bacon, Blazing Saddles, and the Incredibles. It was great.

Stove Top Stuffing discovery!

8-21-09 day 80
start: Pleasant Pond Lean-To, ME
end: Moxie Bald Lean-To, ME
daily mileage: 13.1
total mileage: 1033.3
The weather report for the day called for thunder storms late in the afternoon, but what that meant for us was a morning choked with oppressive sticky humidity, and man was it hot. There's defiantly a hear wave coming through. The clouds were low and overcast too making you feel like you are just sandwiched between them and the ground in the muggy mess.
One thing we continue to find incredible is that we are still passing southbounders. These guys just started the trail like a week ago and are planning to hit Springer in January I suppose-more power to 'em but man that seems late. We stopped for lunch after 9 miles and Whisp popped in shortly after. We have already described our technique for adding instant potatoes to our food but lately we've been experimenting with a new recipe. Stove Top stuffing is awesome and adds flavor and volume, it's truly the best of both worlds. Whips hung out with us for a while but eventually left as we continued lunching for around 4 hours. Just as we were packing up to leave a girl named "Evergreen" showed up. She's really nice and it's always fun to meet new Northbounders.
Lately the trail has been pretty dry but in the last 4 miles of the day Disney was stepping over some rocks and his foot slipped, landing in the only puddle within 10 feet. About six inches deep and just big enough submerge his entire foot, just bad luck man-
We paid for our 4 hour lunch as it started raining about 20 minute before we hit our shelter. If we hadn't screwed around all afternoon we wouldn't have gotten wet but whatever, rain never hurt anybody.

Crazy Tim

8-20-09 day 79
start: Pierce Pond Lean-To, ME
end: Pleasant Pond Lean-To, ME
daily mileage: 9.7
total mileage: 1011.2

We woke up nice and early to get to Tim's famous pancake breakfast just a few miles from the shelter. Sea Monster lead the "tasty train" of 5 or so people to Tim's lodge, where he served us a huge stack of 12 pancakes or $8. Sea Monster anted up a few extra bucks for bacon and eggs, too! We hung out for about 2 hours, as we were in no big hurry- we had to be at the Kennebec river between 9 and 11 (don't worry, I'll explain this later).

In the mean time though, our host Tim hung out with us and chatted it up. He seemed normal at first, but we soon realized that he was anything but. He started with a tale of woe at how he'd recently been found (for the first time in his adult life) by the US Census bureau. It's important to avoid them, he stated, as those pesky census guys like to plant subcutaneous GPS locator chips in ya (he evidently resisted, and so managed to avoid this treatment). He then started explaining to us about how Obama was part of a global conspiracy (with several other liberal world leaders and the secretary general of the UN) to combine the avian flu, the swine flu, and some other flu into a superflu. This will eliminate most of the world's population, which these world leaders apparently want. Oh, and if the flu doesn't kill you, the mandatory flu vaccine will! This will somehow ensure a new global socialist government over the few survivors, and will all happen this fall. So when your neighbors start dropping off like flies, folks, remember- you heard it here first!

We left and walked down to the Kennebec, the largest unbridged river across the AT. The AT in Maine has lots of unbridged river crossings (you just do a knee-deep ford), but this one was too deep and swift for the AT to consider safe. Their solution was to hire a ferry (a dude in a canoe) for a few hours a day to ferry you across. The guy was hilarious (think hillbilly extraordinaire). Once on the other side, we hitched 16 miles into Bingham for a minor resupply before we got to Monson.

Bingham was a sad little town, reflecting Maine's shattered economy. Everything was boarded up but a few little storefronts. The grocery store was decent, though. When we hitched out again, it was in the flat bed of this guy's truck. We got a bit worried when he stopped halfway through our hitch to pee on the side of the road (he'd been drinking earlier with his buddies, he told us) but we made it back to the trailhead safe and sound. It was an easy few miles to the shelter, where we found a nice beach (more swimming!). For a change, we got in nice and early- it was great lazing about and reading all evening. Dinner was exciting: we're now adding stuffing to our hot meals, which adds loads of flavor! Delicious!

The Return of Whisp!

8-19-09 day 78
start: Little Bigelow Lean-To, ME
end: Pierce Pond Lean-To, ME
daily mileage: 17.3
total mileage: 1010.5
We had a long day ahead of us but the terrain was super easy. The trail followed low lands around the shores of various lakes and was flat as a pancake with one minor exception when we climbed over Roundtop Mountain. We busted out the 7 miles to the first shelter and what started as a short break turned into an hour of reading and being lazy. The walk along the lake shores was fantastic, very relaxing, and the views out over the Maine lakes were fantastic. We met up with our friend Bon-Bon and stopped for lunch along a fantastic sandy beach. It was really nice. We had a great afternoon on the lake trail and got into the Pierce Pond Shelter early. Bon-Bon, Huck Finn, and Oblivious are all here too. The shelter is built right on a lake and we took and invigorating brisk swim. It wasn't all fun and games however as I was the victim of a brief but traumatic leech attack. It latched onto my leg just above the knee and as I thrashed to get my balance and stand up in the water he fell off. I don't know how much blood he got away with but I think I can still make it to Katahdin.
As we all hung out around the camp fire, who shows up but our long lost friend Whisp! We had been ahead of him for a week or so and it was nice to meet back up. The big anticipation for the evening was eating pancakes the next morning at a nearby lodge. Whisp informed us that we couldn't just show up and had to make a reservation. The question then became who was to walk the mile up the road to let the guy know there would be 6 hungry hikers in the morning. To make it fair we drew straws, and of course I got the short one and proceeded to make the arduous 10 minute journey. The owner/caretaker, Tim, is a really nice guy. While I thought I was just putting in a pancake order he wanted a lot more information about everyone meals that I was not prepared to give. "How many will want coffee? How many will want eggs? Bacon? Bacon and eggs?" Whoa, I don't know dude-I can tell there are six of us but that's about it. He also had a half dozen humming bird feeders outside, and the most humming birds I had ever seen in my life. I'm not even exaggerating when I say 25-30 birds all in one place, it was awesome.

Why do a long day when we can do a short day?

8-18-09 day 77
start: Horns Pond Lean-To, ME
end: Little Bigelow Lean-To, ME
daily mileage: 10.2
total mileage: 993.2

We climbed up onto the Bigelow range today- our last big mountains before Katahdin! We're told that it's considerably flatter after today, and our mileages will start picking up. We'd planned a 17 mile day today, but when we reached the top of West Peak we (for some reason) had an impromptu planning session. We planned out the rest of our journey all the way to Katahdin, and we realized that at the rate we've been going we'll get there on the 28th! We're actually ahead of schedule! We want to go quickly through the 100 mile wilderness (to cut down on the amount of food we'll have to carry), so we figured that we should take shorter days before then. Starting today!

So, we took a 3 or 4 hour napping/lunch break once we were off the ridge. When we finally decided to do the 5 miles over Little Bigelow into our lean to, we knew we'd be getting in late again- our plan seems to be to get in late every night, even if we have to take outrageous lunch breaks to do it! On Little Bigelow Mountain Huck Finn caught up with us. He was in a really foul mood from his long day. We got into the shelter, and met Whisp, Bon Bon, and Huck Finn, and were lucky to get in when we did, as a whole mess of loud and annoying section hikers came in just after us. Fortunately, as we'd claimed the shelter space, they had to set up their tents (and not we ours).

Care Packages!!! :-D

8-17-09 day 76
start: Crocker Cirque Campsite, ME
end: Horns Pond Lean-To, ME
daily mileage: 12.4
total mileage: 983.0
The campsite we woke up from was only half-way up Crocker Mountain so we tackled the other half first thing. The climb down the other side was a smooth 5 miles the ended at ME 27. We needed to take the road into Stratton, ME and were lucky enough to find the caretaker of the next shelter, "Night Lion", with his truck parked at the trail head. He gave us a ride into town and even gave us the rest of the denatured alcohol he wasn't using. He dropped us at the post office were we picked up packages from Emily, who hiked with us for the first two weeks, and Disney's dad. They were great care packages and really re-upped us on snacks. Emily even included some multi-vitamins so our nutritional needs are taken care of.
For lunch we headed over to the Wolf Lodge, and ordered the famous Wolf Burger. It's a half pound beef slab with bacon, mushrooms in a creamy cheese sauce, and even sausage. We got all the veggies on it too! We topped off lunch with the super-deluxe-heart-attack-brownie-sundae thing and felt awesome-food rocks. At the grocery store I finally bought a Moxie. It's a Maine soda phenomenon and we had heard all about it. Some people love it while others hate it, but no one could seem to pinpoint exactly what it tastes like. I had to give it a try and in the first sip, the flavor was clearly ginger, or more specifically like the black/grey Necco wafers (incidentally, the worst flavor of Necco wafer). I guess Moxie wasn't bad but I don't think I will buy it again.
After getting our internet fix at the library I went outside and started pulling things out of my pack had decided I didn't want any more. Once it was all collected the bag felt suspiciously heavy so out of curiosity I asked the lady at the pot office the weight before I boxed it up. One pound twelve ounces. Wow, I just stripped nearly 2 pounds of junk I never used out of my pack. Its really amazing what you decide you don't want when you have to carry it every day. We got a fast hitch out of town, as soon as we got to the curb and threw out our thumbs the first truck to pass pulled on over, awesome! The last 5 miles up to the shelter were quick and we met back up with Night Lion. Giant burgers, internet, and new snacks, all in all good day in town!

Sugarloaf Mountain

8-16-09 day 75
start: Reddington Stream Campsite, ME
end: Crocker Cirque Campsite, ME
daily mileage: 16.5
total mileage: 970.6

Another day of fantastic weather! We climbed up over Saddleback Jr. first thing in the morning, and then lost all our elevation as we descended into a valley to cross Orbeton Stream. Straight back up Lone Mt. then along a ridge over Spaulding. We decided to add a little distance to our day by taking the side trail up Sugarloaf Mountain, the second highest mountain in Maine (second only to Katahdin!). We're told that on a clear day we can see Mt. Washington to the south and Mt. Katahdin to the north, but it was too hazy. The top is privately owned by a ski resort (they invite hikers up, though) and there were lots of ski lifts and buildings up at the top. The biggest building was closed due to mold and health concerns- but the door was unlocked, so we went in and explored. It had clearly been up there, "under renovation" but closed to the public, for several years.

We crossed a neat, big, and cool river on the way up to Crocker Cirque Campsite. You could see either direction for hundreds of yards. And, of course, our fly design was the best one to date. We're getting really good at setting up the fly now!

Unplanned grocery stops are fun!

8-15-09 day 74
start: Little Swift River Pond Campsite, ME
end: Redington Stream Campsite, ME
daily mileage: 13.3
total mileage: 954.1
With all the times we change plans, sometimes we don't account for certain things. In this case we were a little worried about our food situation. We figured we had enough to get us to Stratton, ME without starving to death, but we were out of snacks, so once we hiked down to Rt. 4 we hitched into Rangely, ME and hit up the grocery store. We really couldn't help ourselves and bought a huge tin of cinnamon rolls for breakfast tomorrow, it's gonna be great. Perhaps the best part of our trip to Rangely is that we didn't even screw around all day and got back on the trail by 1:30, go team!
Our next big obstacle was climbing over Saddleback Mountain. We'd heard a lot about it and it looked scary on the maps elevation profile but we are hardened hikers and weren't worried. It turned out to be a good climb and there were some fantastic views at the top. We met a mother and daughter out for a couple days up on the summit and sat and chatted while we ate some of our newly bought snacks. We pushed along the ridge and over the next bump called the Horn. In the saddle between the Horn and Little Saddleback we took a side trail to a new campsite that was still being built. You could definitely tell the trail, and really the whole site, was far from finished but we found a nice flat spot and decided to sleep under the stars. It was clear night and being out in the open was nice and cozy.

R.I.P., dear Kindle

8-14-09 day 73
start: Bemis Mountain Lean-To, ME
end: Little Swift River Pond Campsite, ME
daily mileage: 12.9
total mileage: 940.9

We found got a map of the area from a southbounder at our shelter, and started the day off right with a great climb up to ME 17 (the beginning of the map). There was a bench right there by the side of the road, which had a fantastic view south for several miles. It was really awesome! We met Paul Man and his wife (?) there enjoying the overlook, and hung out there for a while while they moved on- only to meet them coming back to the road 15 minutes later. Paul Man, who had been having some serious knee problems, had decided that they were bad enough that he had to get back off the trail permanently. He had hit his knee really bad hiking, and had already taken a week off the trail, but it apparently wasn't enough. We felt really bad for the guy- hiked 2,000 miles to have to quit in Maine- but that's the way it goes sometimes, I guess. Hopefully he'll heal up quick and still finish this season.

We went past a nice sandy beach to the shelter, where we ate lunch. It was here that I made my fateful discovery- that my Kindle was no more. It had been acting up for a while - the screen wasn't working right sometimes, and the screensavers didn't look right - and finally, all at once, it stopped turning on at all. I was really sad. But, we then went back to the beach, and enjoyed a lovely swim at a beautiful little beach. The water in these Maine ponds is super clear, but we found a big old leech floating around the water.

We got to our destination, Little Swift River Pond, where Sea Monster found a new pack cover! He's been frugally not buying one for a long time, despite the fact that his old one is too big and not actually waterproof- so this was a great find. We proceeded to cook dinner, set up our best tarp-shelter ever, and discover a canoe beached right at the edge of the beautiful lake the campsite is adjacent to. Sea Monster wasn't up for canoeing, but I went out and stayed out until well after dark, enjoying the crystal clear starlit night over the lake. The sky over Maine is the clearest, starriest sky I've ever seen out east, and it was awesome.

Old Man Pees in jar, Hikers Unsettled...

8-13-09 day 72
start: Hall Mountain Lean-To, ME
end: Bemis Mountain Lean-To, ME
daily mileage: 12.8
total mileage: 928.0
We had planned on 2 or 3 of Maine's famous river fords today but they all just ended up being rock hops. As we climbed up Moody Mountain we somehow got off the trail and followed some kind of survey trail up. It was marked by blue ribbons and took us over really soft crumby awful trail. Eventually it met back up with the AT and we followed it up over the summit. We found a nice sunny spot at South Arm Road for lunch, followed by naps and reading. Right, after lunch we climbed Old Blue, pretty big, but other than a great name a relatively inconsequential mountain. We got in late again and with only one spot left in the shelter Disney opted to cowboy camp out under the stars to watch the meteor shower that was going on.
As I was squeezing my gear in between the other sleeping hikers, this old guy, "Plugger" got up a scooted to the edge of the platform. He then proceeded slide down his pants and urinate in a jar. Now before we go any further, a "Pee Jar" is not an unheard of thing when camping out in the woods. However, you gotta keep that crap to yourself in the privacy of your own tent, not in a shelter where there are 6 people packed in elbow to elbow. And second of all, why would you? The whole forest is a giant bathroom, you can literally pee anywhere outside a 10 foot radius.


8-12-09 day 71
start: Baldpate Lean-To, ME
end: Hall Mountain Lean-To, ME
daily mileage: 14.0
total mileage: 915.2

Today was Moose Day!! Early in the morning, I was woken up by another guy in the shelter who pointed to a spot right in front of the shelter- I looked up, and a huge bull moose was eating some leaves not 20 feet away! It was really cool. Sea Monster was facing the other way, and we didn't want to move to scare the moose away, so he missed sighting 1- but the moment we began hiking, we both saw him again about a quarter mile down the trail! He was really awesome, and as we've both wanted to see a moose for a long time, we were pretty stoked.

We climbed Bald Pate Mountain, a nice push, and met more French-Canadians out hiking in Maine. We hadn't really realized how close Maine was to Quebec, but there are lots of them out here! We hitched into Andover, which is supposed to be a tough hitch but we got lucky right away- first car that passed (which passed seconds after we got there)! In Andover, we resupplied at the little general store, and ate lunch there. We ran into two other north-bounders, Katz and Karjim. These two guys started immediately after school got out, early May, and had to be done by mid-August to get back to school! This is crazy fast. They were both in pain, and we gave them lots of our Motrin. We played with the idea of staying in Andover, but fortunately, pressed on- but didn't get in until late. Which is becoming a trend...

Mahousic Notch - for badasses only

8-11-09 day 70 start: Full Goose Shelter, ME end: Baldpate Lean-To, ME daily mileage: 12.0 total mileage: 901.2 As we were getting packed up to leave Gromet showed up. She'd gotten up early and was stopping in for a break before we even left. We headed out toward the Mahoosuc Notch, touted as the hardest mile on the trail. The notch is just a tight mile long ravine between the mountains, but it is piled with car sized boulders making the trek through somewhere between rock climbing and a playground jungle gym. We climbed up and over craggy rocks and even underneath through little cave like tunnels. Needless to say our mileage slowed to a crawl, but don't get the wrong idea, The Notch was a blast! The rocks stay at a very constant cool temperature and act like air conditioning for the whole notch, there was even ice under some of the rocks! After a break we had to climb out of the notch up the Mahoosuc Arm. It was super steep and mostly along a smooth rock face, we were really glad it was dry. After lunch we fell into our typical trap of reading and napping and extended lunch for 3+ hours-we suck. The place we stopped for lunch did have a cool spring set up where the water flowed out of the mountain down a carved out log and dribbled into the stream. In the afternoon we hiked down into Grafton Notch. We paused for just a second at a roadside trail parking lot and just about got carried away by mosquitoes. We rolled into Baldpate Lean-To after dark and met some cute Quebecquois chicks. The night was super clear, and we had a rare, fantastic opportunity to see the stars.

Getting back our Vim and Vigor!

8-10-09 day 69
start: Trident Col Tentsite, NH
end: Full Goose Shelter, ME
daily mileage: 14.4
total mileage: 889.2

We felt better waking up, but were still feeling off and really not into hiking. My throat was still pretty sore, and my nose was now super stuffy. I hadn't really talked much about it, but I had been thinking about quitting up north at Katahdin and doing the south half of the trail next spring (which I also have off). I just hadn't been enjoying myself the last few days, and wanted to be done.

We moved pretty slowly over the rough terrain, and we hit Gentian Pond Shelter for lunch. Food (even Ramen) felt good. Finally we hit the state line and entered into Maine, and right about there, we both snapped out of our little funks. In retrospect, I'm not sure what caused them- maybe it was the slow miles we were making all through the Whites, or maybe it was the fabled "Virginia Blues" shifted up (an effect where many hikers start to feel burnt out after 800 miles or so). But either way, getting into Maine gave us both back our vim and vigor, and we set off feeling good once more. We had some good climbs over treeline with some fantastic views. It's pretty muddy, but it's still Maine and we're excited again!