Friday, March 30, 2012

Gatlinburg, I Hear It's Pretty

March 25. Cold morning! It felt like crossing into the Smoky Mountains dropped the temperature a good 15 or 20 degrees! I sent a lot of my warm clothes home so the solution now is to just wake up and start hiking to get the furnace going. A few days ago I sliced my thumb open trying to push in my tent stake into hard ground. As my thumb was gushing blood I stuck it in my mouth and I used the other hand to find my medical kit. After opening a few different bags with one hand I realized my first aid kit is too hard to find in an emergency! A few days ago I also bruised a rib leaning on my trekking poles to push them into hard ground. I leaned, and pushed, and ouch! So now my thumb hurts when I open and close zip lock baggies, like when I eat or use the privy. My rib hurts when I sit, stand, move, stop, pretty much all the time! Still have not taken any vitamin-I and I hope not to!

With the rain rolling through Brian has been trying to perfect the changing clothes with a backpack on technique, it sort of works. He is getting good at taking his rain jacket off under his pack. One time he tried to take off a pair of tights with his pack on. He ended up laying on the side of the trail in only his briefs, that did not work as well!

March 26. Today while hiking I had a random trail thought, what if Wrigley Field's ivy wall in Chicago was all poison ivy? I think you know what Ryan said, I thought it was funny...

Today a blanket of white flowers started coming out on the forest floor, it was really pretty! The trail through the Smokies has been really nice so far. Ryan hit his shin on a log a few days ago and it is really hurting him. We think he'll be visiting the urgent care clinic in Gatlinburg to get that checked out.
Every time we hit a tough uphill Brian and Ryan both say "pole, pole", pronounced like poley. I guess it is a native word they used when hiking up Mount Kilimanjaro and it means slowly, slowly. When they started saying it a few weeks back I envisioned them saying "pulley, pulley" and a pulley system to pull us up the hill. Then I started singing "Pole, Pole" to the tune of "Wolly, Bully"...I know, I thought I was crazy too, until Ryan informed me today that everyone in his group sang the same song. Good, I'm not weird! I guess it is just another way that American Pop Culture has infected the rest of the world. (Sorry if that song is stuck in your head now, welcome to my world every time we are hiking up a hill!)

I decided today that I hate trail mix.

March 27. We hiked up to Clingman's Dome today, that was interesting! It is the tallest point on the AT, and it is also a tourist trap. There is a parking lot a half a mile from the top and we knew we were there when we started seeing overweight, out of breath, and out of shape people in their flip flops, sun visors, and brightly colored Gatlinburg t-shirts huffing and puffing up the gradual incline. I know, maybe a little mean, but true! It was funny to see everyone take a break from their half mile trek for a breather while we had just climbed to the top with 30 plus pound packs! It was a good view from the top but after a short while I was happy to get back to the trail and back in nature. We hiked a few miles down and in the afternoon Brian's wife Ann picked us up and drove us to town. We got a hotel room, got cleaned up, and hit the Gatlinburg strip for dinner.

Today at the "Split Fork Trail" sign I exclaimed "No spoons allowed!". Ryan didn't think it was funny, but I did!

March 28. We had breakfast at a local buffet and after breakfast Ryan went to the clinic. He found out it is probably a bad bruise and got some meds for it. I got my new phone and spent the day setting it up. I ate my trail lunch in the hotel, Slim Jims, cheese sticks, and tortillas...not so good when you are in town near real food! I may save those trail meals in the future for the trail only. We went to pick up the food from the outfitters that we had shipped on from Fontana Dam but it didn't arrive today so we stayed at the hotel again and had pizza at the Mellow Mushroom.

March 29. We are laying low letting Ryan's foot heal. Breakfast buffet again this morning! We will miss that! Spent most of the day waiting at the outfitters for the food to arrive. I'm ready to get out of town and back on the trail but without my food at is hard! The only problem is that our food box is still back in Fontana Dam due to a mix up at the post office. Ryan and I spent the afternoon at the grocery store and got subs for dinner and checked back into our hotel again for a third night. Luckily they had a room available with two beds so we don't have to share a king bed again and divide the bed with pillows down the middle! I have 32 miles to cover by Sunday morning to meet up with my cousin Justin to hike with him for a few days, I'm looking forward to it! Up early tomorrow to try to hitch a ride up to the trail! Three nights in Gatlinburg is probably enough for me (for the rest of my life)! I think the entire town is owned by Ripley's Believe It Or Not...very interesting...

On another note, trail names. I did get a trail name recently. As we were hiking and hitting some tough hills I would take off ahead of the guys and Brian commented a few times that when I was really flying I looked like Tarzan swinging through the trees. After a few days it felt like Tarzan would be a good trail name so that is how I'm signing the trail logs. Ryan and Brian still don't have solid trail names, but we are still The 3 Amigos!

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Trail to the Smokies

March 20.  It was nice to be back on the trail.  After some rest and relaxation in Franklin we were able to pound out a good 8 mile afternoon hike and we camped at Wine Spring.  Unfortunately there was no wine there.

I am sure the three of us are a funny sight when we walk into camp.  We keep our heavy packs on and walk around in circles trying to find the flattest spot on the forest floor to set up a tent.  We probably look like a pack of dogs walking in circles when we are ready to lay down.  Someone said that we are going to double our miles to Maine if we keep walking around like this looking for flat ground!

The long hours on the trail allow me to really think, and often I find myself thinking about useless information, but I think it is really funny!  Today while walking through the woods with a thick cover of dead leaves on the ground I said to Ryan and Brian "I wonder when they send someone up here to rake all these leaves up!". Ha, I thought it was hilarious, Ryan replied that he wanted to record all of the dumb things I say on the trail but he doesn't have enough storage space on his phone!  Ha!

March 21.  Foggy morning.  We got to our first lookout tower with plaques in the tower showing the mountains and landmarks you could see from there.  The rest of the towers we have been in had nothing and we had to guess what we were looking at in the distance.  Of course, the plaques showing the landmarks don't help when you can barely see your hand in front of your own face because of the fog!  But the pictures on the plaques looked great!

Today we passed a guy named ANIMAL on the trail.  He had been hiking for almost a month, we were just shy of 2 weeks.  He carries all of his food in a 5 gallon bucket and stops along the way at streams to pan for emeralds and rubies and sent several pounds of stones home already.  He was a fun and interesting guy!  As we left him at lunch he was preparing the fire to cook beans which he said would take around 3 hours!  Later we passed a young guy at a stream and learned that he was panning for gold in the hills and planned to make $30,000 by the end of the year...maybe we should slow down a bit and do the same!  Sounds profitable!

Later in the day we were discussing the life span of a fly and I wondered aloud if Noah had only brought 2 flies on board the ark, and if so, he was probably more comfortable than we were on the trail trying to avoid a few hundred flies!  Ryan again said he didn't have enough space on his phone to document all of my educational thoughts.

March 22.  Today we hiked into NOC to a big outfitter store.  On the way we scared up a big owl sitting on the trail.  It flew up in a tree above us  and it watched us watch it for about 10 minutes, pretty cool. We arrived around 10 AM and by a little after noon I had a new backpack.  The REI Flash 65 just would not sinch down tight enough on my hips and I was carrying too much weight on my shoulders.  I ended up with a ULA Catalyst pack.  Jimmy, ALPINE, at NOC really helped and it was nice because he was part of the design team for this model of pack.  He has over 8,000 miles of hiking under his boots and he gave me a lot of valuable advice!  After that we got our food supply boxes and had lunch and beer at the restaurant.  We dined on amazing chocolate covered strawberries from Santa Barbara...thanks Ann!  We were ready to leave and a guy offered to buy us a round of beers.  Turned out he had attempted a thru-hike 25 years ago but got sick along ther way and had to get off the trail.  We asked if he had a trail name, he said no, so Ryan and I gave him an honorary name, BEER MAN!  Thanks for the drinks!

That afternoon with a new pack and a slight beer buzz we headed out of NOC.  I think the beer really helped because we had a relentless 7 mile hike up, up, and up out of the valley.  It was tough but having a pack that fits really helps!

March 23.  Brian and Ryan stayed in a shelter last night and I stayed in my tent.  I feel like I get a better night's sleep in my tent and I haven't slept in a shelter since Springer Mountain.  Today we scared another bird, this time a big wild turkey.  It took off from below us and really soared down the mountain.  It flew so far that we weren't sure it was actually a turkey.  Later we asked a local, he said "Whal, them thar wiald turkey's can really fliah!" so we are pretty sure it was a wild turkey!

Today we found some trail magic at Stecoah Gap in the form of Pepsi and oatmeal cream pies, wow!  We each had our fair share, well Ryan and I did.  Brian had two sodas and 3 cookies!  He said he had never had those oatmeal snacks before, I Iived off of them in college!  As we finished the trail magic the rain came pouring down and we headed back to the trail in the rain and up one of the toughest climbs yet!

I'm starting to think that we go up in order to go back down.  Then we go down just to go back up.  It is a vicious cycle, only 5 months to go!

As we were hiking in the afternoon I stopped to look at a purple flower, a few seconds later and about 50 feet in front of us we heard a noise and suddenly a large tree fell off its base, leaned a bit, and came crashing down right over the trail!  It was crazy, and luckily we had stopped to enjoy a little of the plant life along the trail!

We all decided it would be nice to get into Fontana Dam that night, get dinner, beer, a shower, and a bed.  We pushed on and finished a big 22 mile day with a one hour hike through the dark to get to the Fontana Dam Village Resort.  The hotel was nice and it was worth all the hard hiking!

March 24.  We woke up in the hotel, good thing too because at 4 AM a huge thunderstorm rolled through and it was nice to be in a building rather than a one person tent!  We did our laundry and picked up packages.  I got a special delivery of home made cookies from Grandma Clemens in Arizona and we all enjoyed them!  We headed back to the trail and stopped to enjoy a few beers with some other hikers before crossing the Fontana Dam in the rain.  The three of us were acting like a bunch of kids on the dam watching owl pellets and pebbles roll down the concrete wall.  One of us even wanted to pee off the side of the dam but decided it might be better not too.  I won't say who it was, it could damage his retirement career!  We entered the Smoky Mountain Park and hiked in a few miles to a camp spot and a few minutes after setting up the tents the rain came pouring down.  We all had dinner in our tents, hung the bear bags and went to bed, our first night in the Smokies!

Southern North Carolina

I am connected again!  I received a new-old (used) phone from home today, special delivery from Brian's wife Ann, thanks Amy and Ann!  Now it is time to update the blog from the last 11 days, I will try to keep it brief, as I am sure your daily responsibilities consist of more than just waking up, walking north, and going to sleep.  That's my life on the trail!

March 17.  The day we lost we took a break at the Muskrat Creek Shelter and after our snack Brian had his pack on and said he would meander on down the trail and we'd catch him.  Ryan and I got our stuff together and headed out a few minutes later.  After an hour we still hadn't caught him but we kept pushing on.  After 2 hours we were a little worried, maybe we missed him somewhere or maybe he was feeling good and going strong.  In any event, Ryan and I sat down for lunch and started planning...should we hike faster to catch him?  Should we go back to see if he had fallen off a steep side of the trail somewhere?  All of a sudden Brian headed down the trail from behind us laughing.  He said he left the shelter and checked out a side trail.  While he was doing that we had left the shelter at a brisk pace to catch up with him.  Brian strolled along slowly to let us catch up and he even sat for a long break at the trail head for the "Chunky Gal Trail" because he knew we would want to take our pictures with the sign, and we did, but we had been there before him!  Brian was sure that he was still ahead of us until he passed a few hikers who told him that we were in front, way in front, so he booked it and caught up with us at lunch.  After that we had one heck of a tough climb up Standing Indian Mountain, a lot of up!  That night we camped at a small camp site in a gap and in the middle of the night, with no rain or wind, we all woke up to a creaking sound and then a huge crash.  A tree near our tents had decided to give up and lay down.  It was an intense experience and I began to wonder about the stability of the trees that I camped under!  In any event, we all survived the night!

March 18.  Rough start to the day, Ryan and Brian are both about down for the count.  They have both been fighting a cold, last night was surround sound coughing and hacking as their tents were on either side of me.  This morning Brian's eye is pretty swollen and he said last night he couldn't see out of it.  Ryan's foot is hurting pretty bad, he has blisters, and his cough is really nasty.  From the looks of things both of them may be paying a visit to the doctor's office in Franklin.

Albert Mountain was a very tough climb...part staircase, part rock scramble, and all burn!  There was some much needed trail magic tough in the form of fresh oranges wedged in several of the trees on the way up.  The view off the fire tower at the top also made the climb worth it.

I've been testing some of Brian's iodine tablets to treat my drinking water in hopes that I might be able to send home my 11 ounce water filter soon.  It seems to work, the water comes out a little cloudy with some floaties in it, but still tastes like water and should be safe to drink!

March 19.  We hiked a short 6 mile day and made it into Franklin.  Before heading into town we took a side trail to see the second largest poplar tree in the United States.  Unfortunately the tree died several years ago, but most if it is still standing and it is still big!  The trail took us directly into a fenced in section of the forest with the poplar in the middle.  We walked around, looked up, and took some pictures.  Eventually we noticed some signs posted on trees outside the perimeter of the fence.  The signs were from the forest service warning visitors that being near the tree can be dangerous as some of the dead limbs, as big as normal sized trees, can fall at any time.  Hmmm, maybe our trail should have lead us to a path around the fenced in section rather than directly to the base of the tree...but I could be wrong!

When we got to the highway to Franklin we called Ron Haven to get a ride into town.  Ron himself came up the mountain in a bus to pick us up, and he is a character!  Great guy and he really does a lot for hikers.  We drove to one of his hotels and he dropped us off.  I reserved a room for myself and Ryan and Brian split a room since they were both sick.  We did our laundry and showered and Brian headed over to urgent care.  The synopsis for Brian ended up being an eye infection and with a prescription he'd be over it soon.  Ryan did not go to the doctor but he took a nap to try feel better.  I headed down to the grocery store to pick up some food and then it happened...while balancing the all important Pop Tarts, Slim Jim's, instant potatoes, and more I dropped my phone and it broke.  We had dinner at a 50's diner and since the other guys were still under the weather we headed back to the hotel and I picked up a 22 ounce brown bag and spent the night with a bottle, my broken phone, and annoying infomercials on a fuzzy TV.

March 20.  Let me tell you about Ron Haven's Budget Inn.  It's not a dump, and it's not 5 stars.  Let's just say that most of you reading this would not stay there, but for a bunch of dirty, smelly, tired hikers it looks like a Hilton!  For breakfast we dined at McD's and I had an $8 breakfast!  A sandwich, fruit parfait, oatmeal with fruit, OJ, and coffee...a good start to the day!

After breakfast Ryan decided it was time to go to the Urgent Care doctor to get a check up.  Brian and I went to the post office and I mailed home another pound of stuff including my water filter, running tights, and the Tiffany & Co. calendar from Amy.  The pack is getting lighter!  So now I have no cooking stove, no pot, no fuel, no water filter, and about half of the clothes I started with.  Brian mentioned that he has sent so many clothes home that his pillow is getting too small, mine too!  I did keep the second pair of underwear with me, for now!

The doctor told Ryan that he had a double ear infection and gave him some meds.  Between Brian and Ryan I think we have half a pharmacy. Ryan missed the shuttle from the doctor twice and we didn't get back on the trail until mid afternoon.  In the meantime our frinds from Michigan, Headin' Out and Taggin' Along, made it into town and Taggin' Along gave us our first trail name when she called us "The Three Amigos" so that's how we are signing the trail logs now.

Being in town is tough on me.  When I'm on the trail I am in my own little world where my goal is to get to Maine, one step at a time.  When we hit town it is nice to get some rest and get cleaned up, but pretty soon I start thinking about life back in California with Amy and Pre and I start wondering what I'm doing out here.  Down days in town are hard because they are like normal days at home, I'm just not at home.  When I'm on the trail I'm on the way to Maine, but off the trail I'm standing still.  I know it is good for me though to get some rest along the way and to really experience the people, the places, and the towns along the trail, but when Ron Haven dropped us off on the side of a highway in the middle of nowhere with nothing but a white blaze on the north and south side of the road I started to feel comfortable, ready to get back on the trail, ready to make my way towards Maine and then back home!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Cell Phone Blues….

Well, yesterday while I was at the store buying some supplies, trying to hold 2 boxes of Slim Jims, a box of Pop Tarts, cheese cloth, a small deodorant, baby powder, tooth paste, vitamins, and instant potatoes, I somehow managed to drop my phone on the supermarket floor.  It wasn’t that bad of a tumble, but it was enough to knock it out of commission.  After a long night of trying everything to turn it back on, including reenacting the fall, and throwing it across the hotel room out of frustration, it still doesn’t work.

We are getting ready to head out of Franklin, NC shortly and we’ll be on the trail for the next few days.  Hopefully in the meantime my pit crew (Amy) can figure out what to do about my cell phone blues…
Until then I’m out of service, out of connection, and out of cell range…which is what most other people go to the woods to achieve!  We’ll see how long I can last, I’m sure I’ll be fine, but I’ll be happy to have a new piece of technology to stay a little connected to the real world and keep everyone updated on our progress!
The weather is nice, in the upper 70’s, makes for some hot hiking!  There is a chance of thunderstorms the next few days, but right now it’s warm and sunny, so we can’t complain!

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Welcome to North Carolina!

March 13. Stopped raining! We still had to pack up wet tents and gear, but at least the rain had stopped! We hiked until about 1 PM and the sun had come out enough to stop for lunch and spread the tents out in the trees just off the trail. We hiked some tough hills today and stopped at 3 to set up camp and dry our gear on top of Tray Mountain. Someone said that the way Ryan and I had our stuff all hanging around we were starting to look like an "Occupy" protest. In a few hours we were all dry. Dinner was nice, I had cold mashed potatoes since I am trying to go without a stove for the rest of the trip. Ryan was cooking with his alcohol burning stove on the cliff when the bottle of alcohol, his fuel, started rolling towards the ledge. Fortunately, it stopped before disappearing. Unfortunately, a little later Ryan's pot holder in his stove setup also made the same escape attempt and succeed in disappearing off the rock. Ryan may also be going stoveless for awhile until we find a new pot holder... There was a nice sunset and as I write this I have the vestibule open on my tent and I am looking down at the city lights below. A great 9 mile day!

March 14. What a sunrise! The guide book said that Tray Mountain had a great view of the sunrise and it sure did! We packed up camp and had breakfast on the rock looking out over the mountains and the valleys full of the morning fog, pretty amazing start to a day! The day turned out to be a hot one, up to 80 degrees while we were trudging up some pretty steep mountains. We made an 11 mile hike to the highway that leads to Hiawassee, GA and gave a call to our friends Jim and Maggie, we met them at the state park a few days ago before we started hiking. Jim made his way over to pick us up. He drove us to the local laundry facility, which happens to be closed on Sunday's and Wednesday's, random, I know, very unfortunate for 3 sweaty hikers, and maybe even worse for Jim! We then headed to a town just over the North Carolina state border to a coin operated laundry facility. Funny, it only took us a few minutes to get to North Carolina by car, but when we are back on the trail the same trek will take us most of a day! First thing at the coin laundry we all visited the rest room and changed out of our sweaty clothes and into running shorts and our rain jackets, the rest of the clothes were going in the wash. As the clothes were relieved of their stench we went through our resupply food boxes and set up our meals for the next 6 days. Two hours later Jim was still waiting patiently and when we finished we headed back to town for dinner at a Habitat for Humanity fund raiser. We had great burgers and a beer, it was fantastic! We headed back to Jim and Maggie's house on the lake for showers, sitting out on the back patio, some great pie for dessert, and a few hours of great conversation. We all got to sleep on something much softer than a sleeping pad and it was much appreciated! Jim and Maggie really are Trail Angels!

March 15. Woke up in a warm, comfortable house, a nice change! Jim and Maggie made us a great home made breakfast, much better than trail food! Maggie took us to the post office and I shipped a 5 pound package home. I sent home my Croc's, they weigh almost 1 pound and Brian and I have a new idea for 1 ounce camp shoes. I sent home a fleece, my second t-shirt, my sleeping socks, all clothes I don't think I'll need. I also sent home my cooking stove and pot set, I'm going to try to go cookless for the rest of the trip. I cut the Trail Companion guide book in thirds and sent the future sections home to be mailed in a food drop later. I dropped more weight by cutting my camp towel in half, it used to weigh 2 ounces, it now only weighs 1! I even cut out all the unnecessary pages in the Tiffany & Co. yearly planner that Amy gave me for the hike! My dry weight on the pack went down a bit, but with a 6 day food supply I'm still way over 40 lbs and not happy about it, but we'll keep working on dropping weight!

After the post office Maggie dropped us off at the Blueberry Patch Hiker Hostel. Brian's new tent was to be delivered via UPS here so we just needed to wait. The hostel was not open yet for the year but Gary, the owner, said we were more than welcome to stay and hang around for the day with the donkeys and goats. We mentioned that if Gary needed any help around the place to let us know and in no time we were all helping Gary haul fire wood from a farm house down the road to his place. We moved 3 huge truck loads and headed into town for the local hiker favorite, Daniel's Buffet. When we walked in we saw our hiking friends from Michigan, Heading Out and Tagging Along, in a booth enjoying the buffet! We sat down and visited the buffet line several times and left completely stuffed! As we finished lunch the clouds started sprinkling rain, which was a slight problem because we had all left all of our belongings out on the patio at the hostel to dry in the sun. We raced back just in time to get them inside before they got too wet. When the rain passed by we headed back to get the final load of wood and stacked it at the hostel. Brian's tent was delivered to the hostel at 7:30 PM making it too late to get back on the trail and Gary graciously offered to let us be the first hikers of the season to stay at the Blueberry Hostel! We had the whole place to ourselves and it was nice to be sleeping on beds again!

March 16. We woke up nice, dry, and comfortable at the Blueberry Patch and I actually questioned my sanity today. After spending two nights in civilization why in the world would I want to head back out on the trail. Around 9:30 we had Gary drive us back to the trail head and drop us off. We really appreciated everything Gary did for us and we know it is just another day in life for this man who lives to give help to others, thanks Gary! As we made our way to the trail we stumbled upon some "trail magic" in the form of chips, salsa, and a beer. Sure it was 10 AM, but we opened the beer, split it in three cups, said cheers to a good day of hiking and gulped it down, fantastic! We started out climbing and by 1 PM we were ready for a break and lunch. We sat down with several other hikers and had a nice relaxing break before getting back on the trail. I'm not sure if it was the day off that we took, or the 15 pounds of food we picked up in town but by the afternoon I was beat. We were dead tired trudging along until around mile 9 we found the Georgia/North Carolina state line! Finally! One state down, 13 to go! We walked another tenth of a mile and set up camp, mission accomplished for the day! After eating dinner I was hanging the bear bags for the night when I could hear the winds howling over the mountains across the valley. It sounded like a freight train. Sitting there I could see the rows of trees below us start shaking violently and soon enough we were hit with a blast of cold air. A few seconds later sprinkles started and then I poured down rain. We all grabbed our gear and ran for the shelter of our tents. It poured for maybe 5 minutes and then it was calm. It was an incredible experience and it gave way to a spectacular fire red sunset that covered the entire sky. When the last of the sun finally faded we were looking down on the city lights in the valley below. It was a tough day and I was exhausted, but at least I remembered again why I'm out on the trail, and I wouldn't trade it for the world!

Monday, March 12, 2012

Getting my trail legs, and shoulders, and hips, and back, and feet...

March 8th. Slept in our first shelter last night...kinda slept! Had a big breakfast with Amy's family this morning, time to go check in as a thru- hiker and hit the trail!

After breakfast and checking in, I am thru-hiker 210 for this year, we hit the trail. We hiked from 11:30 to 5 PM and made it all of 7 miles to the actual AT trail head. We then walked .2 miles more and set up camp at the Springer Mountain Shelter. Good day, only 2,183.8 miles to go!

A big thank you to Ryan's friend Rob how drove to the airport and picked us up, took us to REI, and drove us to the State Park. He dropped us off and left late to drive home. Thanks Rob! Also, thanks to Amy's family for a great send off!

March 9th. Slept in our second shelter last night and boy I'm glad we did. We went to bed around 8 PM and at 9 PM the rain rolled in... It poured rain for at least 4 hours but we stayed pretty much dry in the shelter. At 7 am we got up and moving and by 8:45 we were on the trail. I need to get more efficient in my morning schedule, we will practice. We hiked all morning and stopped at a shelter for lunch, a 7 mile hike so far. It was 12:30 and we contemplated staying there for the night or pushing on to the next water source. We decided it would be boring to sit around all afternoon and took off for a 7 mile afternoon hike. The trail ended up being tough and by the time we made it to the creek campground we had put down 14 miles on day two!

My feet hurt, my legs hurt, my backside hurts, my hips really hurt, my back, my shoulders, but all in all I'm having fun! In the tents now and heading to bed at 8 PM.

March 10. Woke up at 8 and took our time with breakfast and breaking camp. Only 10 miles planned for the day so no hurry. We got our first taste of "trail magic" at Woody Gap where someone left a cooler packed with soda, oranges, chips, and chocolate cake treats, it was great! We relaxed for quite a while there in the warm sunshine. Ryan found some pieces of foam padding for me in the trash can. My backpack is good but the hip belt won't get tight enough around my waist so I've been stuffing my rain coat, camp towel, sleeping pad and more inside the waist belt to make it snug, but now these foam pieces fit better, and smell like trash. We got to Lance Creek and set up camp. Ryan went to hang a bear line for our food and got the rope stuck and I spent twenty minutes up there helping him. After that we went to the creek to filter water and we both thought something smelled really really bad. We both also thought it was us that smelled so bad until we got back to camp and I realized that somehow while I was up helping Ryan in the woods I had stepped in a big pile of human waste...note to everyone, whenever going into the woods to do number 2, take a trowel, bury it 6 inches deep, and don't do it very close to a camp site. What a day!

March 11. With the time change we woke up at 8 instead of 7 and had a later start. We hiked up to the top of Blood Mountain, tough trail, and had lunch. After that we made our way to Neel's Gap for a food resupply, much needed showers, and even more needed laundry! At the end of the day we left there full from the hot dog special, and ready for the trail. We went about a mile more and set up camp next to a few guys who hiked the trail last year. Turns out we met one of the guy's parents yesterday when they brought trail magic to hikers at Woody Gap!

March 12. Rain. It rained all night, not hard, but consistent. We packed up camp in the rain and headed out. We hiked until early afternoon in the rain to Low Gap Shelter but at 2:30 it was already full of hikers hiding out from the rain. We decided to hike on in the rain to find another campsite. Around 6 we finally found a flat campsite and set up our tents in the rain. We ate in the rain, hung the bear bags in the rain, then got in the tents to get out of the rain. Brian's tent is leaking in and getting him wet. Ryan's rain coat is doing a better job getting him wet than keeping him dry. My gear is working pretty well, only problem I had today was I peed on my pants while going number two in the woods in the rain, had to be something. It wasn't that bad, plus at least it happened on a rainy day! All in all it was a very wet day, but we did hike a big 17 miles through the Georgia mountains! Hopefully tomorrow will bring warm sunshine to dry us out!

Don't forget to check the link to Ryan's hiking blog, he is posting information as well!  The link should be in the upper right side of the screen.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Here We Go...

All the hours I spent the past few months watching videos, reading blogs, and not packing my gear…it all adds up the week before you leave!  We finished assembling our backpacks and food drops tonight at 8 PM…roughly 8 hours before we depart from Santa Barbara for Georgia.  The days, weeks, and months we had to get everything ready all meet here, with one 39 pound backpack and two 10 pound USPS resupply boxes.  That should get us through the first week or so…

Below is a rough list of the gear in my pack.  I plan on starting with roughly 24 lbs dry weight, 11 lbs of food, and 4 lbs of water…for a total weight of 39 lbs.  Doesn’t sound like much, but try that on for an afternoon in a backpack, it makes a big difference.

Backpack:  REI Flash 65
Pack Cover: Sea to Summit Large
Headlamp:  Petzel Tikka XP
Sleeping Bag:  Marmot Sawtooth 15 Degree Down in Dry Compression Sack
Sleep Pad:  Exped SynMat UL7
Shoes:  Merrell Chameleon 4 GoreTex with SuperFeet insoles
Hiking Clothes:  Smartwool socks (2), Ininji toe socks (2), Under Armour compression tights, REI zip ff pants, running t-shirt, REI Sahara button up shirt, The North Face fleece, The North Face rain jacket
Camp Clothes:  Smartwool sleep socks, tights, Brooks running shorts, running t-shirt, REI thermal long sleeve shirt, MontBell Thermawrap
Camp Shoes:  Crocs
Cold Weather:  OR Gloves, The North Face Fleece Hat
Running Hat and (2) bandanas
Tent:  Big Agnes Fly Creek UL 1
Stove:  MSR Pocket Rocket
Fuel:  Snow Peak
Pot Set: Snow Peak Solo Set (2 pots), with REI Spork, REI camp towel, and a Fosters Beer Koozie…you never know…
Electronics:  Panasonic Lumix waterproof camera, phone (Blackberry Torch)
Water:  Katadyn Hiker Pro Pump Filter
Water Bottles:  Camelbak 2 L, (2) Gatorade bottles
50 feet of paracord / paracord bracelet made personally by my friend Doug
Toiletries/First Aid:  Toothbrush (cut in half), toothpaste, floss, deodorant, gold bond powder, Aquaphore, Neosporin, sun block, nail clippers, hand soap, chapstick, ear plugs, Ibuprofin (vitamin “I”), moleskin, Band-Aids, emergency blanket, Kleenex, body wipes, and 2 rolls of TP (I know it’s only 3 days, but you never know…), and probably more stuff than I need!
Maps:  Maps to Virginia with the guide book
Reading:  Notes, the U.S. Constitution, the AT Companion, and my favorite quotes
Writing:  Notebook for my thoughts, Tiffany & Co. daily calendar (thanks Amy!)

Breakfast: Pop Tarts, Nature Valley Protein Bar, (2) Oatmeal Packs, Flax Seed Powder, Coffee (I’m going to try to drop this habit, but we’ll see how that goes…)
Snack:  1,000 Calories
Lunch:  Tortillas, 5 oz of salami, (2) string cheese
Snack:  1,000 Calories
Dinner Option 1:  Pack of tuna and oil, dried snap peas, 1 cup mashed potatoes, Snickers, cup of mocha
Dinner Option 2:  Beef jerky, Ramen Noodles, Snickers, 4 crackers, cup of mocha
Dinner Option 3:  Crackers, snap peas, tuna, Snickers, mocha
Dinner when we are in town: Any ALL YOU CAN EAT BUFFET we can find!!!
   Snack Options:  Trail mix, fruit mix, pine nuts, honey roasted nuts, peanut M&M’s…All 1,000 calories

Special thanks to Amy, she planned ALL of the food menus for Ryan and I…we could not have done it without her, and we can’t make it without her!  She will be shipping food to us along the way, so if there is anything you want to send our way…a note, a post card, fresh baked cookies, cold hard cash…just let her know, she’ll tell you where to send it! ;)

That pretty much covers it.  We finished everything late this evening…we leave tomorrow at 4 AM to head to the airport.  From LAX we land in Atlanta tomorrow afternoon, pick up a few supplies, and head up to the trail head.  Amy’s family is planning to meet us there tomorrow night, hang out with us, see us at breakfast on Thursday, and send us off on the trail Thursday morning…only a few months until we are done!

The only thing that comes to mind now is a quote from Hunter S. Thompson…
“Buy the ticket, take the ride.”

Here we go…

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Ounces, Pounds, and Pints

With our start date fast approaching (4 days away!) I’ve been spending copious amounts of time getting my gear in order.  Everything has been weighed down to the ounce, put into a spreadsheet, and carefully considered in relation to advice from friends, blogs I’ve read, and countless hours of YouTube videos I’ve watched.  Next I take the gear weighed in ounces and pack it all in my backpack, then I weigh the entire set to see what I have in pounds.  What!?  24 pounds dry weight!  My goal was 18 pounds!  (Dry Weight:  The weight of my backpack and everything that will go in it every day, not including my food and water)  After looking at the scale, then at my pack, then watching another YouTube video of a guy doing the same thing that I am, I take everything back out, look it all over again, reconsider a few items, put them aside, and start re-packing.  As I re-pack I reassess the items I decided to leave out…that fleece sweater is only 8 ounces, and it’s really warm…I should probably take it just in case.  You know, those Crocs are 15 ounces, they are goofy but they would be great camp shoes…I better take them too.  And so it goes on and 30 minutes later I have the bag packed and ready to weigh.  24.5 pounds!  How did it get heavier!?

You can see how the ounces and pounds are running my life…so what am I measuring in pints?  Well, after doing this hopeless routine for a few hours I finally stop caring about ounces and pounds and instead focus intensely on a pint of beer.  Success!
My gear list…be on the lookout, in the next day or so I will post my gear list of everything I’ll be taking on the trail with me.  I’m waiting because as mentioned above, that list seems to be changing more often than the front runner in this year’s Republican Primary.

Logistically what do the next few days look like?  Ryan Simko is arriving in Santa Barbara late tonight.  Monday and Tuesday will probably be an exact mirror of the story above, except that we’ll have two of everything.  We might even throw a third set into the rotation and get Brian Sarvis in on the action, but he seems a lot more secure in his gear selections.  Wednesday morning, March 7th, Amy will drive the three of us to Los Angeles.  We are taking a 7:30 AM direct flight from LA to Atlanta.  After landing in Atlanta around 2:30 PM, Ryan’s friend Rob will be there to pick us up and drive us to the trail.  We may take a quick detour through downtown Atlanta for one more look at a big city and some creature comforts like a burger and a beer, but then we’re off to the woods.  The plan is to arrive at the Amicalola Falls State Park before dark to set up camp.
Side Note:  Did you know that the Amicalola waterfalls are considered to be one of the Seven Natural Wonders of Georgia?  Better question, did you even know that Georgia has Seven Natural Wonders?

Anyways, back to the plan.  The morning of March 8th we will wake up, eat breakfast, break camp, and start on the Appalachian Trail!  Well, not actually.  From the camp ground in the state park there is an eight-mile trail that will lead us up Springer Mountain to the actual start of the Appalachian Trail, called the southern terminus.  Since we are only planning to hike 10 miles a day for the first few days to let our bodies adjust to the trail we may be camping that night at the Springer Mountain Shelter, or more likely at the Stover Creek Shelter, a mere 2.8 miles down the trail.  When all is said and done we’ll have a good day’s hike under our belts, and only 2,181 miles left on 2,184 mile trek.  Not bad!
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Friday, March 2, 2012

Tomorrow I'll Be Unemployed

Today is my last day of work at FoodTools.  Six years of good times, lots of traveling, and many lessons learned.  I wouldn't trade it for anything!  Tomorrow I'll be officially unemployed and next week I'll be a full time Appalachian Trail thru-hiker. 

Today we published the 50th issue of A Slice Of.., FoodTools' internal company newsletter.  I've been writing the newsletter since November of 2007 and in my final issue I took the liberty to write one last personal message to my friends at FoodTools.  The article is below:

From The Editor...
The FoodTools newsletter hits a big milestone as this is the 50th issue of A Slice Of…  I have enjoyed writing the newsletter and this 50th issue is also my last.  The past 6 years have been a flash for me...multiple trade shows, countless days traveling to bakeries, over 100,000 miles on my car, dozens of advertisements, and 50 company newsletters.  I think life is well lived when nothing is regretted and I look back on FoodTools with great memories!  I have learned a lot during my time look behind the truck before I back up, not everyone likes the color orange as much as I do, make sure to remove Divider Insert trays before hauling a machine down the 101, and even though orange still is not everyone’s favorite, it can be tolerable.  I hope that in the past 49 issues of A Slice Of… I’ve been able to bring good information, good humor, and good reading to everyone at FoodTools.  I also hope that in the past 4 years I’ve become a better writer, but it always helps to have a great proof reader!

My first interview with FoodTools was in April of 2006 in South Haven.  During the meeting Doug Petrovich asked me if I’d be interested in a sales job based in Santa Barbara, that even an option for a kid from Indiana!?  Yes!  My first interview with Marty in Santa Barbara (my first visit to California) was on Mother’s Day in 2006, and the rest is history.

FoodTools has been a great experience for me.  This company offers a wide range of opportunities that cannot be found in most other organizations.  The commitment and belief in the company is unmatched in the industry.  I have learned more in my time here than I could have ever anticipated.  The opportunities here are endless and with vision and focus FoodTools will someday be in every kitchen in America, and around the world.  We can all be proud to be part of such a great company. 

So what is next for me?  Some people leave for a new job, some people leave because they are moving away, I’m leaving because I want to go hike more than 2,000 miles for 5 or 6 months.  I’ll be hiking the Appalachian Trail with my roommate from college.  The two of us will begin on Springer Mountain, just a few hours north of Atlanta, Georgia.  We will spend the better part of the next 6 months walking every day, enduring snow, rain, heat, humidity, water crossings, black flies, mosquitoes, snakes, bears, and probably a lot of things that I don’t even expect yet.  In the end, after 2,184 miles, we’ll summit Mount Katahdin in Maine.  Once we reach the peak we will have completed our northbound thru-hike, probably sometime around August or September.  Each year roughly 2,000 people attempt to thru-hike the AT, but typically less than 1 in 4 finish.  It is estimated that only a few hundred succeed each year.

So then what?  What happens after the trail is done?  I’m really not sure.  I look at this adventure as an opportunity to find my purpose in life.  I’m leaving with no obligations and no commitments once I return (not counting my commitment to my wife Amy, that is non-negotiable!).  I believe that 2,000+ miles and hours, days, and weeks in the woods will give me ample time to think and plan my next move in life.  Until then, I’m making no promises or plans and letting go!  I will be blogging along the trail each time I get a chance to get online and if you are interested you can follow my progress at:

I’ll leave you with a quote that I think sums up this crazy plan I have...I wish you all the best and I look forward to seeing you again when I return!

“The mountains are calling and I must go.”  - John Muir

Don't forget to have fun!
- Chris Clemens, March 2012