Tuesday, May 29, 2012

To The Mason-Dixon Line

May 27.  After spending a few hours at the AT Conservancy I packed my gear and headed for the historic downtown of Harpers Ferry.  One new item I picked up in the mail is a SteriPEN, sent from Kilimanjaro (Brian Sarvis) as a half way, you made it gift!  The SteriPEN uses UV light to steralize water for drinking and it only takes about a minute to do one Gatorade bottle, pretty handy tool!  Thanks Kilimanjaro!  (P.S. Sarvis, I talked to Frenchy and he said you always be Flosser-AT to him).  As I entered downtown it was packed with people.  It was a very hot afternoon and there were tourists everywhere.  I walked around a bit looking for the outfitters, found it, then promptly found a place to get a burger and a beer.  I made sure to sit outside and away from the other customers, I had showered and cleaned my clothes only 2 days ago but in those two days I really worked up a sweat.  After a great lunch I talked with a few tourists about the trail, took one last look around, and headed out over the bridge and into Maryland.  I was in Harpers Ferry from about 9:30 to 3:00 and was ready to hit the trail.  The hot day and loads of tourists made me want to get back on the trail as fast as possible.  I didn't even look in my food bag, I just figured I had enough food to get me two-ish days north and I would figure out a resupply after that.  The first few miles of the trail there were nice, flat and smooth, all along the river.  There were loads of people out in tubes on the hot afternoon, floating down the river, having a great time.  The trail took a left up into the mountains and I started hiking the ridge line of Maryland.  I passed by the first shelter around 5 PM and made it to the second shelter closer to 7.  I set up camp, ate my dinner, and relaxed.  The weather was nice, warm, not much of a breeze, but a calm, lazy summer night.  The other tenters were all sitting on nice benches around the tent pads.  My only complaint was that it was a little too warm...maybe I would have to leave the vestibule open on my tent to increase the airflow.  I finished dinner and went up the hill to hang my bear bag.  My first throw of the rock and rope missed and the rock flew off.  I'd have to re-tie it and try it again.  As I went looking for the rock it suddenly grew erriely dark.  The light faded almost instantly and I looked up to the trees as a freight train of wind blew through them.  Uh oh...  I grabbed the rock, fumbled to re-tie it and threw it again.  Missed...and the rock fell out.  I was getting frantic, a storm was moving in quick, very quick.  I tied it one more time and got the rope over the branch and in place.  When I went to tie my food bag to the line it was almost too dark to even see it.  I tied off the line and hurried back to my tent.  I had a few minutes as the lightening approached but soon the rain started and the storm moved directly over us.  It poured for a long while and I fell asleep to the sound of a raging rainstorm.

May 28.  I woke up to no rain and a warm morning.  The rain must have stopped early and my tent was almost dry.  The tent was muddy though from sitting in a tent pad with no leaf litter or grass to buffer the rain drops from splashing mud onto the tent sides.  I packed up and hit the trail by a little after 7.  I hiked hard, I wanted to reach PA today.  I was the first one on the trail and was on spider web patrol.  I must have been caked with webs in the first few miles.  At the first road crossing I hastily crossed and continued on the trail.  It didn't feel right but I kept going, thinking I would find another white blaze soon.  I made it a little further and crossed a side trail, no blue or white blazes anywhere, something was wrong.  I dropped my pack and ran back to the road, there I saw the white blaze trail I should have been on.  I ran back and picked up my pack and walked it back to the road.  By now I was frustrated, I must have added a good 2 miles to my day by taking the wrong trail.  I passed a backpackers campground operated by the state of Maryland that offered free showers, but with no soap and my smelly clothes (no laundry) I figured a shower would be pointless.  The trail crossed a few more roads and entered the Washington Monument State Park.  I took some time in the visitors center, filled up on water, answered some questions from people who couldn't understand that yes, I walked here from Georgia and yes, all I have to live on is in my backpack.  Lots of day hikers and families were on this section of trails and luckily the trail was wide and flat.  We (thru-hikers) can tell when we are near day hikers.  There is a distinct smell that day hikers have...it is called clean.  When they pass we can smell detergent...soap...shampoo!  It just isn't natural for us.  I wonder what the day hikers smell when they pass me?  When we reached the Washington Monument I was very aware of my oder and I waited for an older couple to come back down from the lookout tower before I made my way up.  While I was at the top taking in the views a young couple came up and I carefully worked my way around the platorm and when I had the chance I made a break for the stairs.  I am used to my smell, but I don't think other people want to be.  I ran into another thru-hiker around 2 in the afternoon and I pressed on while he relaxed to wait out the mid-afternoon heat.  I hit the last shelter in Maryland around 6 PM and no one was there!  The shelter was huge and had lots of tent sites but I was the only person around.  I think it really showed that it was the last night of a holiday weekend, everyone was off the trails and heading back to real life except the thru-hikers.  I think the other hiker I passed in the afternoon was going to stay there but I decided to push on and try to reach PA.  I hiked up to the High Rock lookout and found a road with tons of cars and people everywhere drinking beer, smoking, writing stuff on the rocks.  It was an interesting mix of people, not the best looking crowd, you might say a little redneck and having a good time.  I kept my distance because I smell so bad and was happy to hit the trail again.  The trail down crossed a big boulder field and made the hiking really tough.  I guess these rocks may give NoBo's some insight into the trail in Pennsylvania, aka Rocksylvania.  I passed a section hiker, a lady from TN and she said she planned to camp on the other side of the state line as well.  This was her 3rd day on the trail this year and it was a tough day!  Before entering Pen Mar County Park in Maryland, a mere 0.2 miles from the state line, I found a flat spot for a few tents and decided that was it.  I covered 30 miles on the AT, 32 miles of total hiking, and I could cross the Mason-Dixon line tomorrow.  The section hiker came in right behind me and agreed.  We took up residence of the flat spots, talked about the trail, hung the bear bags, and got in our tents just before dark.  Up near the last shelter I had seen mountain bike tire tracks on the trail and around the shelter.  We typically don't see that since bikes are not permitted on the AT.  The section hiker said she had been up at the shelter by herself when two guys rode in on mountain bikes and circled the area.  She said they didn't talk to her very much and made her very uneasy about spending the night there alone.  She must have left right before I arrived.  It worked out well that we caught each other coming down the hill, I think we both felt better about stealth camping together near so many road crossings and the county park.  Not that it is all that dangerous, but at least we feel like there is safety in numbers.  Plus then at least you have someone to talk with!  I didn't make it to PA today, but I will tomorrow!

From 3 Amigos, to 2, to 1

When Meat left Waynesboro for his sister's graduation I hiked on ahead for a few days.  The plan was to get back together when he returned to the trail and when he did we exchanged a few messages and both decided that it was a good time to split up and hike our own hikes.  Not that we didn't enjoy hiking together, but hiking by yourself offers freedoms to do what you want, when you want as well as a feeling of ownership of your own thru-hike.  Personally, I am ready to hike fast and hard, and for long hours.  I am currently enjoying the trail and pushing myself a little further and testing my body's limits each day.  The trail is different for everyone.  If you ask everyone "What makes you get up everyday and get back on the trail?" you will get lots of different answers, none of them right or wrong, but all personal.  For me the answer to that question is to push myself to see what I can do that day, how far I much I can physically and mentally handle.  It is like when I run marathons or other distance races, I am not always comfortable, but I really enjoy pushing my body and seeing what I can physically and mentally do. 

A quote I have been thinking about recently on my big mileage days or when the trail is really getting to me is from Steve Prefontaine:  "A lot of people run a race to see who is fastest.  I run to see who has the most guts, who can punish himself into exhausting pace, and then at the end, punish himself even more."  I am not treating the AT like a race, but I do like the idea of pushing myself harder than I thought I could and expanding my limits.  I am enjoying the towns, local restaurants, the people, and the hostels, and I would not pass those up just to go fast.  But the long miles between those fun times is when I like to push hard to get to the next town, pub, viewpoint, or hostel.  I am also looking forward to putting down some good miles and making it home sooner rather than later to get back to my wife, my dog, and my life.  I really do enjoy being on the trail but being out here for almost 3 months has served well to remind me that I have a great life back home, and a fantastic wife, and I really miss her!  But the only way for me to get home is through Maine, so I'm pretty deadset on getting there sooner rather than later!

Meat and I had a ton of fun times on the trail and I look forward to hanging out with him either later on down the trail or once we get back home to California.  For now we are taking the advice of many thru-hikers and people associated with the trail, "Hike your own hike".

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Harpers Ferry

May 26.  Woke up in my tent on the tent pad at the shelter.  It was going to be an interesting ride for the day.  We took off early and hit the first hill of the "Roller Coaster" and it was going to be tough...  At one point I was coming down the trail and must have spooked a squirrel and he jumped from a tree to a dead branch and it snapped.  There was a lot of noise and then he hit the ground. I felt bad but he sat up, looked at me, and then ran off...at least he was ok!  We took a break for lunch by a stream and I took my shoes off, the roller coaster was killing my feet!  We continued on and crossed out of the coaster, 13 miles of hiking, at 2 in the afternoon.  The hills really slowed us down!  We must have passed 80 or more people today between full troops of boy scouts, groups of weekend hikers (it was a holiday weekend), and day hikers.  It is always a nice change to have a busy trail and people to talk with rather than being alone on the trail.  In the afternoon we crossed the Virginia/West Virginia border, another state down!  More importantly, we crossed mile 1,000 on the trail!  1,000 miles done, one pair of shoes, under 3 months!  It was a fun afternoon!  We hiked on and took a break at the last shelter before Harper's Ferry.  It was a very nice shelter but the water was .25 miles down a side trail and we wanted to get closer to town for the next day.  The good news was there was a restaurant and convenience store only .3 miles off the trail at a road 3 miles north.  I skipped the water trail and high tailed it to the road, called to make sure the stores were open, then Biscuits and I headed down to split a large pizza to celebrate 1,000 miles.  After pizza we picked up a 6 pack of beer and headed back to the trail and hiked in about a mile and found a flat place to camp.  We set up the tents and split up the beer.  It was a hot muggy night and the bugs were biting so we climbed into Biscuits' one man tent...2 hot and sweaty guys crammed into a stuffy mesh tent, drinking beer.  I was pouring sweat.  We finished our celebratory beers, hung the food bags, and climbed into our own tents just before the rain started to sprinkle.  I had to zip my rain fly closed and fell asleep in a really hot and stuffy tent...but it was a good day, good miles, and good times!

May 27.  We woke up and broke camp and headed into Harpers Ferry.  Only a few miles and mostly downhill to the AT Conservancy headquarters.  We crossed a bridge over the Potomac River to get to town.  It was an amazing morning, beautiful weather, and I really enjoyed being out and heading to town!  Walking across the bridge was one of the best moments on the trail for me...one of those times when I really feel alive and happy to be on the trail!  I hiked up the hill and made it to the ATC and had my picture taken and added to the AT Class of 2012 photo book.  My hiker number at the ATC is 240...that means there are 239 thru-hikers ahead of me on the trail this year.  When we left Georgia we signed in and I was number 210 to sign in at the start of the trail.  I pulled out the Class of 2009 and found my buddy SpAcE from Carpinteria!  I relaxed in the hiker lounge, had coffee, and talked with interested tourists and told them what it is like to live full time on the trail.  It was nice to take a break, but Amy is coming to visit me in just under 2 weeks and I'm hoping to cover as many miles as possible before she arrives...time to get back on the trail!

Leaving Shenandoah

May 22.  My first day back on the trail on my own at my own pace.  After 4 nights staying in town and 3 relaxing hiking days I was worried that my trail legs had suffered.  I spent the night in my tent despite the forecast of rain, but in the morning I was mostly dry.  I was up shortly after 6 and on the trail before 7 AM.  I hiked 8 miles to the next shelter by 9:30 and spent some time talking with a nice couple doing a day hike.  I pushed on and had lunch in a picnic area and changed out of my wet socks.  I made it to the Lewis Campground Store by early afternoon and bought food to resupply for a few days.  While I shopped I laid my tent out in the grass to dry.  I also picked up a great IPA and enjoyed it with my second lunch, a honey bun.  The next shelter was within a mile, and the following shelter was 11.5 miles further.  I wasn't worried about the distance, but the weather report called for nasty storms in the afternoon and all night...could I make it there in time?  I decided to try and started pushing hard.  I heard the thunder rolling in as I passed Big Meadows Lodge and considered getting a room for the night but I pressed on.  The last 3 miles I walked/ran to get to the shelter before the rain and I made it by 7:30 PM, a total of 32+ miles for the day!  With the threat of a storm I slept in the shelter and as the sun went down I could see a fire red sunset from the upper bunk of the hut along with the flashing lightening above.  I was happy to be dry!

May 23.  Woke up dry in the shelter, and the mice didn't even bother me.  As I packed my bag one mouse did run behind it.  I planned to hike 29 miles today but a few miles in I joined a group of hikers at the Skyland Resort for a big pancake breakfast.  The thunderstorms were rolling in and I readjusted my schedule so I stayed for awhile and filled out post cards and made phone calls before I got back on the trail.  Just as the rain started pouring down another hiker came running in for shelter and lunch so I stayed for lunch as well.  When it was all said and done and I was ready to hit the trail it was 2 PM.  A nice long break!  Now the plan was to hike another 10 miles before the rain started back up.  I took off and started pounding out the miles.  At one point I caught up with a few other hikers standing very quietly beside the trail.  There was a tiny fawn just a foot or so off the trail, frozen in place.  They said they had rounded to corner to see the mother and baby deer and the doe tried to get her new Bambi to follow her but it stayed still, frozen in the "you can't see me" pose.  I was the 3rd hiker to arrive and it still didn't move.  We all walked on after taking pictures to let the mother come back to it. 

From there we had a tough rocky downhill to conquer before hiking back up out of the gap to make it to the shelter before it started raining.  I pushed hard and even did some trail running to make a faster pace.  It was a tough stretch and as I ran uphill to the shelter the rain sprinkles started falling.  For the second day in a row I was lucky and made into the shelter before the rain really started falling! 

On a side note; I smell bad.  I mean really bad.  Several days of tough hiking, humid air, rain, and sweat...it is really bad.  I think my backpack is the worst...the straps and back pad are on me all day, everyday and never get washed.  I take that back, my socks are worse...but they at least get washed.  I am looking forward to a shower and laundry!

Another side note:  I will find more toilet paper soon...I have been going to the bathroom a lot lately.  I'm not sure if it is because I stopped treating my water or because I am pushing harder and hiking bigger miles, but the last thing I want to do is run out of toilet paper!

May 24.  Woke up dry in the shelter, success!  I did see one mouse scurry around the roof line of the shelter as I packed my gear.  I was on the trail shortly after 7 AM and hiked hard to the next wayside.  I arrived at 9 AM, just as they opened.  I got a great egg sandwich and coffee and planned my food resupply.  I did my grocery shopping and packed my bag.  It was almost 2 hours at the wayside and before leaving I made sure to "borrow" a little more toilet paper from the wayside bathroom.  I hiked on with another hiker, Biscuits, we needed to do 15 miles to make it to the Front Royal Terrapin Hostel.  We made it there around 4 PM, and for the 3rd day in a row my luck got me inside just before it started raining!  I got a shower, threw my clothes in the washer, and opened my mail drops.  I got my 3 ounce wind pants, a silk long sleeve shirt and long pants for sleeping, and a package of food from my mom.  We headed into Front Royal for dinner at a pub and our team won the weekly trivia competition!  A couple of section hikers even picked up my meal tab for me!  I enjoyed hanging out with everyone and had a fun evening.

May 25.  We all woke up at the hostel around 6 AM.  Once people start moving around there it is hard to sleep any longer!  I packed my bag and hit the trail with Biscuits, we had plans to hike 28 miles today, 25 tomorrow, and then 4 miles into Harpers Ferry on Sunday.  As we hit the trail I realized how much food my mom had shipped me.  I had already purchased a full supply of food the day before to get me 3 days into town.  I took what my mom sent and added it to the food bag, and my pack felt pretty heavy!  Before leaving the hostel we checked our weights...my backpack with 3 or so days of food and some water weighed 30 pounds!  Yes!  Sort of...  This was a great weight compared to my 48 pound pack back in Georgia, but in the Shenandoah Park I had been keeping my food weight so low that 30 pounds felt like a ton!  We started out and as the clouds cleared the day turned into a hot muggy mess.  It rained so hard the night before that the trail was a mud puddle making forward progress very difficult.  The heat was close to unbearable when added to the hill climbs.  I was having a tough day!  Early on I came across some trail magic, sweet tea and cookies!  Later I hiked with a guy who was out on a day hike testing gear for a thru-hike next year.  I also started seeing a lot of weekend hikers...holiday weekend coming up!   Around lunch I caught back up with Biscuits and realized I was making great time!  I tried Ramen Noodles in my water bottle for the first time and that didn't work so well.  Yesterday I did the Cup Of Noodles and it was perfect so my next resupply will be back to those,  and couscous of course!  In a state park we hit some grassy areas on the top of the mountain.  They looked like they had been mowed and I was thinking "I wonder who gets the mowing job at the top of the mountain" when I rounded a corner to see a bright orange tractor mowing the grass.  The commotion must have shook up the wildlife and right in front of me on the trail I watched a 5 foot long black snake make its way to the tall grass.  Later I approached a 4 lane highway and before I crossed the road, Frogger style so I didn't get hit, I crossed an old stone wall that looked like it had been there for ages.  It was an interesting mix of the new and the old American eras.  The forest today was the most dense and think I have seen it.  I cannot even imagine what it would have been like to forge through it with no trails.  Around 6 PM I finally rolled into camp, set up my tent for the first time in several days, had dinner, and hit the sack.  It was a tough day...the heat, the hills, my pack weight and body, I was happy to be done and looking for a better day tomorrow!  Only thing is...we kick off the day tomorrow with the "Roller Coaster".  14 miles of all ups and downs...

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Hiking With Seatbelt & Aunt Karen

May 19.  As I sat having coffee and researching lightweight sleeping bags in the lobby of the hotel the news show on TV did a spotlight on a new way of getting around inside buildings.  The Uni-Cub is supposed to be like the Segway, but for indoors...so you can go to a building and sit and ride around instead of walking...Hmmm...The "news" "reporter" said that as Americans are getting older, and some are getting "heavier", this moving chair may make it easier for all of us to get around.  You sit on the chair and when you lean on your rump one way or the other the chair will move and take you in that direction.  Gezz...Really?  We are too overweight to walk ourselves around the shopping mall?  I think I'll have my breakfast and get back on the Appalachian Trail and start WALKING from here to Maine.  One thing I won't miss on the trail is the TV.

We finished our breakfast at the hotel and packed up and headed to the trail.  We stopped at the grocery store and Karen and Jim picked up a deli sandwich for lunch on the trail.  I picked up 2 doughnuts and a Mountain Dew for second breakfast before the trail.  We also picked up a hiker on the way and drove him back to the trail.  It is fun being part of a Trail Angel team and helping other hikers!

We had a great day for hiking.  Perfect temperatures and good trails.  We hiked 9.25 miles and stopped for the day on a smaller mountain.  We had dinner and Uncle Jim and I hiked up to the top to see the views.  As I went to bed I worried that the sticks poking up under my tent footprint or the extreme downsloping angle I was laying on would keep me awake all night.  Little did I know that a large four legged animal would be the cause of my sleepless night.

Uncle Jim took a few minutes before bed to use the restroom in the woods.  He came back to camp and said as he sat doing his business a doe approached him and walked around him, interested and not very scared.  Around the time it was getting dark I was almost asleep when I heard steps in the leaves outside my tent.  They were getting closer.  I pulled out my headlamp and quickly jumped out of my tent and spotted the doe as she ran away down the hill.  Success!  I frightened the intruder!  A few minutes later the crunching of the leaves got louder.  The deer was back and slowly making its way towards the side of my tent.  When she got too close for my comfort I rattled the leaves beside my tent and I heard he run away.  Of course, she came back again in a few minutes.  This game continued on for a good hour or more.  Karen said she had read that people in the Shenandoah Park can actually get close enough to the deer to feed them by hand.  Well, for me the novalty of deer being unafraid of humans was quickly wearing off.  Finally around 10 PM she walked away for the last time and I drifted off to sleep.  She came back though at midnight along with another deer.  For another hour or so we played the approach and wait game...they would get close to me, I would make noise, they would run off just to come back again.  They weren't really causing a problem and I wasn't in danger, they were just being loud and rustling through the leaves near my tent and I really wanted to sleep!  I guess though, I was probably the real intruder and I was in the spot where they typically bed down!  They both finally left and I wrestled with the downward slope and sticks poking me for the rest of a sleepless night.

May 20.  First thing in the morning Karen and Jim were up making breakfast and they treated me to a nice hot coffee which I don't have very often on the trail!  We packed up camp and headed out down the trail.  We had perfect weather for most of the day and had several nice breaks for snacks and lunch in the shade with a cool breeze.  We hiked on to the Blackrock Hut and arrived in the afternoon.  We had not crossed any water sources since the afternoon yesterday and I was very happy to see a spring gushing out of a pipe.  Shortly after Daleville I decided to phase out treating my water and I have been drinking straight from many of the mountain springs with no problems.  I filled my bottle with cold mountain water, drank the whole thing, and filled it up again.  We talked with a few thru-hikers and some section hikers and found a few tent spots and set up camp.  We had a relaxing evening around camp, ate dinner and drank tea, and hung the bear bags.  Karen relaxed in the tent while Jim and I caught up on notes and journals and then we called it a night.

May 21.  We woke up this morning after a night of rain but at least it had stopped before morning.  We packed up and had a relaxing breakfast and headed on towards Loft Mountain.  We made great time hiking in the fog and mist and found a sign near the Loft Mountain Campground that said "Legendary Trail Magic", so we had to check it out.  We arrived to find a trail angel in his 45 foot 5th wheel trailer and he invited us in for hot dogs cooked in bacon grease and sodas.  He and his wife had camped there all weekend and cooked for all of the hikers that came through.  Seatbelt (Jim's trail name), Chris' Aunt Karen (Karen's trail name), and I were the last group he served.  Jim worked on a project in the 80's and invented the seatbelt that is used in most airlines today.  Karen is my aunt, so that's how she got her name.  The trail angel mentioned that when we were done he would be leaving and heading south to go home.  Funny thing, Seatbelt and Aunt Karen were going to be attempting to hitch a ride south within the next few miles to get back to their car.  It was perfect timing and the trail angel offered to give them a ride.  We snapped some photos, they gave me the rest of their trail food (the stuff that doesn't need a cook stove), and they climbed in the truck and were on their way.  We had a great 3 days of hiking, covering close to 30 miles of the AT, and were able to see some wildlife, camp at a shelter, and hike in the rain, an all around great experience of the AT!  Oh, and I'm sure Seatbelt and Chris' Aunt Karen won't forget about the several thousand feet of ups and downs that we traversed!  It was fun to have Karen and Jim hike with me because if it hadn't been for them and the trips they took me on in the Grand Canyon and Yosemite I wouldn't have been as interested in hiking and backpacking and may not have attempted the AT.  So I guess if there is anyone to blame we should start with them!  They took me on several of their trips and I enjoyed having them join me on mine!

After they left I made a stop by another hiker's support base.  Our friend Frenchy has his dad along for the trek...Frenchy hikes and Frenchy's dad drives his RV from place to place and is Frenchy's support team.  I had heard that his dad was in the campgound and I hadn't seen either of them since Damascus so I stopped by and sat and talked with Frenchy's dad for a long time.  He didn't expect Frency to arrive before dinner so I was getting ready to hit the trail when Frenchy arrived early.  I stayed around and we caught up and I left the RV as Frenchy was loading up on home made chili.  As I stepped out of the RV it started raining...Frenchy said I could wait it out there, but no pain, no rain, no Maine.  It sounded good to stay but I wanted to hit the first shelter out and needed to make some miles.  It rained on me for about a half an hour then let up and I had a good few hours of hiking.  I arrived at the shelter, had dinner, and hopped in the tent.  I wanted to get some rest, I hoped to hike a big day the next day!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

City Camping

May 17.  I spent the rest of a lazy day yesterday enjoying the town of Waynesboro.  I sat at the library a little longer, relaxed in the shade on a tree in the front lawn, and then took off walking to see the old downtown.  I walked up and down Main Street and checked out the shops.  I headed over to the Kroger grocery store and called Amy to talk about my food options.  The last 2 resupplies I did on my own and I did a horrible job buying good food with big calories that I'd eat on the trail.  I walked through the isles in Kroger and asked Amy about different foods, where to find them, and what to do with them.  I think I have a better idea now of what I want to eat on the trail!  After the grocery store I went to the local Chinese Buffet and had a big dinner.  After that I headed over to the YMCA and checked in at the desk for the free camping.  I sat at the library a little longer and made my way down the river walk to a side trail that led to a big open lawn for tent camping.  By the time I got there 6 other people were already set up for the night.  A few of them headed to the grocery store and came back with some food and beer and we all sat out in the grass enjoying the warm evening.  It was a great night, fantastic weather, and the field we camped in was on the outskirts of the town, quiet enough to camp, but not as quiet as the woods.  I woke up in the morning with a soaking wet tent...the morning dew and the condensation on the inside made it feel like it had rained overnight, even though it hadn't.  We all sat around for a little while at the picnic table waiting for our tents to dry and then we decided as a group to leave them up and walk over to Weasie's Kitchen for a great pancake breakfast.  I took my backpack with me but left the tent to dry with the others and on the way out the city maintenance truck pulled up with lawn mowers and we asked if they needed us to move our tents...they said no, we could keep them up to dry.  We all had a huge breakfast at Weasie's, one of the best on the trail!  They have all you can eat pancakes but I opted for a pancake, bacon, and egg meal.  After breakfast we all waddled back to the tents to find the city crew mowing around them!  As we took our dry tents down there were patches of uncut tall grass where we had slept, but the crew didn't seem to mind.  I walked back to the library to start another lazy day, laying low around town.

An interesting fact:  Waynesboro and Fort Wayne, Indiana (near where I grew up) are both named after the same person, General Anthony Wayne.

Even more interesting:  Wikipedia makes reference to this fact in the Fort Wayne page by listing "General 'Mad' Anthony Wayne" while Waynesboro only uses "General Anthony Wayne".  Is one town "Mad" and the other is not?

Meat arrived in town mid day and spent some time getting a shower and doing laundry.  I made my way back to Weasie's for lunch and it was worth it!  Meat was having lunch at the China Buffet and while I waited for him outside I met a couple of hikers, a father and daughter, and realized I had heard about them from a friend in Santa Barbara and was supposed to say hello to them on the trail!  The father and daughter had hiked the PCT last year when she was 11 years old...this year the AT, and next year the CDT, and she will be the youngest person to hike the Triple Crown of trails!  Meat and I got a ride to the hotel and met my Aunt Karen and Uncle Jim when they arrived from the airport.  We had a great dinner downtown and relaxed the rest of the night

May 18.  We packed up from the hotel and headed out for some tourist events for the day!  We visited Thomas Jefferson's house and had a great time touring the house and gardens.  We stopped by the University as well while everyone was preparing for graduation this weekend.  We dropped Meat off at the airport so he could fly home to his sister's graduation this weekend and Karen, Jim, and I headed back to a hotel in Waynesboro.  We resupplied our food bags and got the packs ready for hiking tomorrow.  This was my fourth night off the trail.  I had fun and enjoyed the time off but I was very ready to get back to the trail!  Happy hiking!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

36 Miles To Waynesboro

May 12.  Cold!  Woke up cold but my preventative measures helped keep me decently warm last night.  We packed our bags and started the 15 mile downhill to the James River and the road into Glasgow.  We crossed the longest footbridge on the AT and after a few minutes of trying to hitch a ride a trail angel picked us up and took us into town.  The 6 mile ride into Glasgow was great for me.  It was sunny and warm and the wind in the bed of the pickup was refreshing.  We were dropped off downtown near the Dollar General, the grocery store, the restaurant, and the gas station.  That is just about the whole town!  We got there around 2 in the afternoon and started out with a big soda from the gas station and sat relaxing at a picnic table in the park.  For me this felt like a lazy summer afternoon back home in Berne, although I think Berne may be bigger than Glasgow!  There was a drag race taking place just outside of town so all kinds of cars and motorcycles and trailers were going by.  We went grocery shopping at the Dollar General and headed over to the restaurant.  We were the only people there and someone from the family that owns the place was sitting in the back corner watching some cops murder mystery show on TV.  It was pretty depressing, but my BLT sandwich and hot dog hit the spot!  On the way out of town I stopped and had my picture taken with the 20 foot tall dinosaur with a cave woman riding it...weird, but the picture looks great!  We got a ride with a guy heading up the river to kayak and walked a few miles to the shelter...a good 16 plus mile day with 4 hours in town.  We were a few thousand feet lower as well and it felt like the temps were going to be a lot warmer during the night!

May 13.  A great day for hiking.  The weather was nice and we crossed a few big mountains with great views.  I took a break on the top of one mountain and sat out in the sun for about half an hour, working on my tan!  At the Punchbowl shelter we saw several snakes laying out on a log in the middle of the pond, sunning themselves as well.  We hiked on to Brown Mountain Creek shelter and stayed the night.  I set up my tent by the creek and during the night the rain rolled in and it poured.

May 14.  I stayed dry, but my tent was very wet.  We started out at 8 AM with a 4 mile, 3,000 foot climb.  Who needs coffee when you have that for breakfast!  On the way up the hill we crossed mile 800!  The rain was still coming down so I just kept pushing on.  I stopped for a quick break at another shelter but the chill set in so I started walking again to get myself warmer.  I stopped at one point and took my shoes and socks off and wrung out the socks like a dish cloth.  My feet were taking a beating from being wet all day.  I made it to the Priest shelter a little before 6 PM, a 22.5 mile day in the rain.  Meat had been walking with another hiker today and I figured they must have stopped back at the last shelter to get out of the rain and I'd be on my own tonight.  I got my tent set up just before the rain picked up and dove in for warmth and cover.  I had wanted to continue walking until I found some sunshine to dry my gear, but that didn't happen today.  The only thing I could hope for is that we get the rain out of the way at night and we get sunshine tomorrow!  I took cover in the tent at 6:30 and around 8:30 I got out quickly to go to the bathroom before going to bed.  I couldn't believe the puddles forming around me!  I had set up on some grass, luckily, but in the areas where my tent stakes were placed the puddles had formed and covered about half of the stakes!  I got in my tent and tried to fall asleep, a little worried about how the night would go, if my tent would flood, or if I'd have to get up and start walking.  I fell asleep listening to the rain pounding down on top of the tent...

May 15.  I woke up to the sound of a woodpecker, a good sign, birds were out!  I didn't sleep well, but I did sleep dry.  I had used my trash bag under my torso sleeping pad to keep my upper body dry.  I used a small piece of Tyvek on top of my soaked backpack to keep the moisture away from the bottom portion of my sleeping bag.  I woke up with a little water on my sleeping pad, but that was it!  The entire inner side of the tent though was soaked from 2 rainy nights and I wouldn't be able to use it again unless I could dry it today.  I broke camp quickly and got on the trail around 6:45 AM.  No one else was ahead of me so I walked most of the day without seeing anyone.  I crossed The Priest mountain top first and on the way down I saw a break in the clouds and some sunshine!  All I could think about was Jack Johnson's song 'Rainbow' and kept singing that to myself all day.  It seemed like the clouds would clear and I'd be able to dry out!  From The Priest I hiked down from 4,000 feet to 1,000 feet, and then back up to 4,000 feet!  I had to cross a swollen creek in the morning and both of my feet went completely underwater so it was back to soaked feet.  I stopped for lunch about 14 miles into the day and decided that if the sun didn't come out soon to dry my gear I'd just hike on in to Waynesboro.  In the afternoon some dark clouds rolled in and started dumping rain, really pouring.  As they did the sun actually came out and it was one of those times when it was storming in broad daylight, very confusing!  I had already put my dry socks on and withing minutes my shoes were full of water and I was soaked to the bone.  I hiked on up and down and over several other mountains and even did a bit of trail running with my 30ish pound backpack.  I finally came to the last shelter outside of Waynesboro and I could have stayed there in the shelter but tomorrow I would have to put on all of my wet clothes and hike 5 miles to town...or I could go to town tonight and get a hotel room, a shower, and sleep dry.  Decision made...I walked on and made it to Rockfish Gap at 7 PM...35 miles in just a little over 12 hours!  I couldn't hitch a ride and the road sign said town was 2 miles away.  I started walking, then running, down the highway to town.  I must have looked pretty pathetic because a young guy passed me going into town and had turned around and stopped traffic on the highway to pick me up.  I'm glad he did!  It would have been a long haul, more than 2 miles, to get to the hotel.  I got about a mile down the highway, so all in all a 36 mile day!  He dropped me off at the hotel, I checked in and made my way to McDonald's for a Big Mac meal and an extra Big Mac.  I tried to do laundry but at 8:30 they were closed so I settled for 2 Budweiser tall boys and laid on my bed in the hotel room and let my feet rest.  They looked pretty tore up from being in wet socks and shoes for 12 hours and covering 36 miles, but they felt ok!  I slept well that night for sure!

May 16.  Woke up at the hotel, had breakfast, and headed down to do laundry.  While I was cleaning my clothes I set out my wet tent, backpack, and gear in the sun to dry.  Before noon I was clean and dry and ready to go!  I had Subway for lunch and walked to the public library.  As I write this I am laying out in the shade under a tree in the front lawn of the library.  My shoes are in the sun drying, there is a warm breeze and people milling around...it is pretty nice being here, no complaints!  My feet feel amazing considering the beating they went through yesterday, a few more relaxing days and they'll be ready to put down the miles!  Meat sent me a text and said he will be in town sometime tomorrow, so until then I'm relaxing, hanging out at the library and the grocery store, enjoying life!

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Drinking My Dinner

May 11.  Frozen!  We tried our new 45 degree sleeping bags last night and it got cold!  I woke up in the middle of the night and put on just about every layer of clothing I have in order to stay warm.  I didn't get much sleep, the interesting news is that tonight may even be colder!

We hiked on for the day and I took the lead.  I was on spider web patrol.  When we hike early in the morning and no one else has been down the trail yet to clear away the spider webs from the night before it becomes our job.  You get pretty used to hiking on with the feeling of spider webs all over your face, in your eyelashes, on your arms, and in your hair.  You only stop to clean them off when you hit a big one, if you stopped everytime you hit any webs you'd never make it to Maine!

Along the way I noticed a small green inch worm hanging off the side of my shorts.  I stopped to take him off and put him on a tree and when I pulled his body his legs hung on really tight and I broke him in half!  I know...I felt bad too, but he shouldn't have tried to hold on so hard!

We found some trail magic left at a road crossing from a group of school kids.  We eventually caught up with more than 30 sixth graders out for a day hike.  We hiked along in their line until their teacher noticed us and had all the kids stand off to the side and let us pass.  We had lunch with the group at Bryant Ridge Shelter, one of the biggest and nicest shelters we have seen on the AT so far.  As we ate our Slim Jims, trail mix, and protein bars the kids were pulling out apples, sandwiches, and snacks.  Meat said "I wonder if any of them would want to trade lunches".  After lunch we heard one of the girls tell her teacher "We talked to the thru-hikers" and he said "And they talked back?"  We had fun being around the group, they had a lot of energy and were enjoying the hike!  One of the kids in the group had fallen and cut his knee pretty bad.  They had him bandaged up and two teachers took turns carrying him, and he was a big kid!  He didn't look in that bad of shape to me and I think I would have just told him to walk it off...good thing I'm not a teacher!  On a side note at one point during lunch the teacher told the kids to all put away their cell phones...since when does a 6th grader need a cell phone!?

For lunch today I tried the Kilimanjaro (Flosser) method to eating couscous, more like drinking my dinner.  I poured it all in a water bottle and let it soak as I walked for an hour.  When I stopped to take a break I tipped the bottle back and let gravity bring the couscous to me.  Yum-Oh!  It actually worked pretty well and may be in my meal plans in the future!

Random Trail Thought:  If a rabbit's foot is good luck for a human, what kind of foot is good luck for the rabbit?

We stopped at the next shelter for a break and I took a moment to use the privy.  The privys on the trail are very diverse.  Some are just a raised wooden platform with a white plastic toilet out in the open, very open.  Others are actual outhouses, completely closed in with little airflow or light.  I prefer them right in the middle...privacy but light and airy.  The privy today was closed in but did have a lot of light due to a roof made of one big plastic skylight.  The only problem was the swarm of flies the size of dimes and nickels.  I was doing my business when a fly the size of a Canadian quarter flew straight up out of the hole and pelted me on the left side of my behind.  It scared me so much that I jumped up, wondering what was down there!  The fly must have been a little surprised too, it did a few circles and flew off and I sat back down, a little more cautious.  One thing is for sure, everything is an experience on the trail, even using a privy.

It will probably be another cold night so I have my tent set up with the rain fly very close down to the ground to keep the breeze out.  I have my emergency blanket under me and ready to pull over me like a blanket.  Since I have a torso sleeping pad now my feet go on my backpack, but tonight I have it positioned so my feet can go in my backpack and I even put the rain cover on the pack for extra warmth.  I am wearing all of my clothes except for my hiking shirt, a few pairs of socks, and my second pair of underwear.  If it gets too cold I think I'll just wake up and start hiking, but it should't be that bad!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Moving To Ultralight

May 10.  Woke up in a hotel in Daleville for the 3rd day in a row...time to get back on the trail!  Although I wished we had left town a day earlier it was raining pretty hard yesterday and my Grandpa Clemens put it in perspective with an email that said "school kids have snow days and hikers have rain days".  Makes sense to me!  We had breakfast with Flossermanjaro and around 9 AM Meat and I said bye to Sarvis and hit the trail.  We started out strong...we had 3 days of food and we had both downsized our gear quite a bit.  On the way out of town we passed some other hikers and one guy said "Tarzan!  How did you get your pack so small?"  Now that's what I like to hear!  At the first shelter we came to we met an older Asian guy hiking and soon learned that at 70 years old, the retired doctor took off to hike the Appalachian Trail.  A few miles back coming down Dragon's Tooth trail he fell and broke his knee.  That was 6 years ago.  Now he is 76 years old and back on the AT to finish his hike.  He was small in stature but big in a personality and his positive attitude and his story was pretty inspiring!  We hiked on and stopped at another shelter for dinner and sat at the table with a hiker from Ohio.  Today was his first day back on the trail for a section hike and we shared trail stories and talked for a long time.  Both gentlemen we met on the trail today were a lot of fun to talk with and it was a great reminder of why we are on this trek!  After dinner Meat and I decided to push on for a few more miles.  When we finally found a flat place to camp we had hiked a total of 23 miles.  Earlier in the afternoon Meat made the comment that today could be our biggest mileage hike on a day leaving town.  It turned out to be one of our biggest mileage days so far, even with a food resupply in town!  It was really due to our decision to only carry 3 days of food, that keeps the pack light, and because we both dropped our total pack weight.

My pack felt amazing today and it really got me thinking more about going ultralight.  I reduced my gear and volume so much that the roll top on my backpack goes down a few inches below the top of my frame sheet.  My ULA Catalyst pack can hold up to something like 65 or 70 liters and I am sure I will be looking for a lighter pack with less capacity soon.  Below is a photo of my gear laid out on the bed in Daleville.  Starting in the top left is my emergency blanket, my guide book, camp shoes, food bag (green), and sleeping bag and clothes (gray and yellow).  In the next row my journal and electronic chargers, my blue pack rain cover, red bandana and red hat, gray and yellow sleeping pad, and tent.  On the bottom row is water bottles, rope, water treatment and hand sanitizer, camera and tripod, medical kit, rain coat, and the all important toilet paper.  And that's it!  I am still trying to get rid of more items I can live without...we will see!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Flosser's Firsts

Meat and I really enjoyed hiking 700 miles with Brian Sarvis, aka Flosser, aka Kilimanjaro.  I won't mention his age, but if Abe Lincoln was talking about Flossermanjaro-AT he would say "6 score" and something years ago...  What I mean is Flosser has been around the block a time or two and he has had a lot of adventures in his life but during our 2 months of hiking together Meat and I were able to share a few "firsts" with Flosser...

Flosser's Firsts: Ho-Ho's
Oatmeal Cream Cookies
Pretty much anything from Hostess or Little Debbie's, which is surprising to me. After being around kids as the Superintendent of the school system one would think that he may have tried more "kids" snacks. When I was a kid that's all I wanted, Little Debbies snacks. When I was an older kid in college that's all I ever ate (just kidding Mom, I had a well balanced diet all 4 years of college!)
Snack Pack Pudding
Blowing Snot Rockets (he got really good at the Simko technique!) Breakfast at the Huddle House
An all you can eat KFC (Kentucky Fried Chicken)
The Cracker Barrel
Shin Splints (not something he wanted to try, but just a product of hiking 700 miles in 2 months)
Sugar Sodas (Well, he had those before, but that was probably 30 years ago...and for me 30 years is a lifetime!)

What I learned from Flosser

How to tie a Bowline Knot (which I call the rabbit hole and the tree knot)
How to tie a Half Hitch Knot (which I call the "in case I messed up the rabbit and tree knot our food bags won't fall" knot)
How to drink half of everything in the first swig
How to drink your dinners on the trail, going without a cook stove and eating all of our food cold
How to meet someone at KFC and then completely forget who they are 15 minutes later when they give us a ride to our hotel
How to use iodine to treat our drinking water

There were a lot of fun times with Flossermanjaro-AT in the past two months and we are sad to see him go! Also, I know in the last week of hiking Flosser got a new trail name, Kilimanjaro, but I had already started the "Flosser's Firsts" blog, and Flosser's Firsts sounds better than Kilimanjaro's Firsts. Kilimanjaro is headed back to Santa Barbara for a summer full of adventures, a shower every day, and a comfortable bed to sleep in. I wonder if he will miss walking everyday, not showering for a week at a time, and sleeping on the ground.

We'll be looking forward to seeing Kilimanjaro when he comes back to hike with us in a few months!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

2 Months and 722 Miles

May 7.  We woke up after it had rained all night and luckily it stopped raining so we could pack our wet gear...but we were heading into town today so life was good!  We hiked across ridges and downhill for a few hours.  Yesterday the trek up to McAfee Knob was nice and I enjoyed the views from the top but later in the day as we wound around the ridge we came to the Tinker Cliffs and we walked along huge rock cliffs for about a mile and I really liked that part of the day best. Today we crossed a few sections of trails with TONS of cicadas hanging in the trees.  I mean swarms.  The trail was full of holes in the ground where the bugs had crawled out and up the plants and trees.  The trees were better decorated with cicadas and shells than most Christmas trees in December.  It was pretty crazy!  Coming into Daleville, VA we are officially 722 miles into our hike, making progress!  We hit town around 11 AM and stopped to pick up some packages and headed to McDonald's for first lunch.  One package was from our buddy Chaos who gave us a hitch up to Newfound Gap in the Smoky Mountains.  He sent us some snacks as well as McDonald's and Subway gift cards!  We both had a Big Mac meal and sat and used the wireless internet on our phones until 1 PM when we had second lunch, a 20 piece McNugget each.  After the lunches we walked back to the hotel and checked in.  We walked down to the local outfitter store and I bought the Klymit X-Lite sleeping pad, a 6.1 ounce torso air pad, one of the lightest sleep systems on the market.  This will replace the 20-plus ounce Big Agnes Air Core pad I have been carrying.  My new sleeping bag for warm weather arrived as well.  I traded out my Marmot Sawtooth down 15 degree sleeping bag (3 lbs) for the Big Agnes Pitchpine down 45 degree sleeping bag, 1 pound 2 ounces.  I shipped the heavier gear home along with my hiking long pants, long shirt, gloves, and a few dry bags and other random items.  All together I sent home around 6 or 7 pounds of gear and replaced it with about a pound and a half, getting lighter!  We stopped by the grocery store and headed back to the hotel.  Meat went with a big group of hikers to get BBQ but I bought a salad and fruit from the grocery store and ate that at the hotel. 

May 8.  Today is 2 months from the first day on the trail!  A lot has changed in my hiking style, my backpack and gear, and my comfort on the trail.  Things are moving along and in 2 months of walking we have covered over 700 miles!  Flosser, now going by the trail name KILIMANJARO, made it to town shortly before 11 AM and we headed over to the Cracker Barrell for lunch.  We had a geat meal and spent some time relaxing in the rocking chairs on the front patio and headed back to the hotel.  Yesterday Meat and another hiker bought Lafuma Extreme 600 sleeping bags from the outfitter store, 20 percent off...$65!  This is a 45 degree sleeping bag like the Pitchpine I just got the day before...but it is synthetic material, has a full length zipper and the mummy bag hood, all for only 2 ounces more than the Big Agnes, and the Lafuma compresses down quite a bit smaller!  Although the Pitchpine down sleeping bag is probably more robust and would last longer and keep me a bit warmer, this economical bag was too good to pass up.  I bought myself a new sleeping bag and for the second day in a row walked to the post office to mail home a sleeping bag.  On the way there a guy named Richard stopped and picked me up and took me to the post office and waited for me and drove me a mile back to the hotel.  We got to talking and he said he got interested in the AT last year through Trail Journals and blogs and this year decided to see what he could do to help out hikers.  Throughout the rest of the day Richard was driving back and forth from the hotel to the post office to the grocery store and all over town hauling hikers and gear.  A real trail angel, thanks Richard! For dinner we walked over to Three Little Pigs BBQ and had some great food and drinks! We highly recommend this spot if you are ever near Daleville! It was a fun last dinner with Flossermanjaro-AT and tomorrow Meat and I will hit the trail and he will head home to Santa Barbara.

May 9. Woke up in the hotel...and what a hotel! It is another one of those trail hotels that most people would just pass by and never consider stopping for the night...but it does the job for us! We had breakfast and got packed...I sure am ready to get back on the trail and get in my tent! After a night or two in a hotel my tent seems comfortable, safe, and normal. We tried filling our water bottles at the hotel but the water there tasted so bad. It's funny that I can't wait to get back in the mountains and drink water from the springs and streams rather than the city treated water. But then again, in every day life people pay a dollar a bottle for "mountain spring" water and on the trail we get it for free on a daily basis with the water coming right out of the rocks on the sides of mountains.

On a side note...the straw hat with the visor in the brim I picked up a few days ago is already in a hiker box...it wasn't as "cool" as I thought it would be.  It ended up holding the heat on my head and blocking the breeze from my face, which was a bad combination.  I liked the hat, but maybe it would have been better off the trail. 

Monday, May 7, 2012

What's In My Backpack...

Just thought I should post an update about my pack and what I am carrying...I attached a photo of my pack, and here is what is in it!
Inside - a trash compactor bag...I use this as added rain protection.  In rain we use a pack cover, but the water also runs down the back of my raincoat next to the back of my pack so the trash bag helps keep my stuff dry even if the water soaks my backpack.
From the bottom up:  The Big Agnes Air Core sleeping pad is folded and is laid flat on the bottom of the pack.  Next is my sleeping bag, inside a compression dry bag to make sure my down sleeping bag does not get wet.  Next is my clothes dry bag, laying in a flat layer.  This has my 2nd pair of socks (unless they stink, then they hang on the outside of the pack), my sleeping tights and shirt, my long zip off pants, long sleeve shirt, Montbell jacket, hat and gloves, and my 2nd pair of underwear.  My headlamp is often packed in my clothes dry bag.  Then I have my maps and journal and electronic gear for my camera and phone in a plastic aLOKSAK inside a dry bag to make sure it nothing gets wet.  That lays flat on the clothes.  Next is a layer of tent gear.  I got rid of the stuff sacks so my tent body, rain fly, and footprint are all folded in a layer as long as they are not wet.  Last is my food bag and rain coat...they are placed at the top because I've found that my pack feels better with the heavier stuff up higher.  The top of the pack is then rolled down and strapped shut.
Outside back mesh pocket:  The large mesh pocket on the back holds important things like my emergency medical kit, my mesh top camp shoes, the all important toilet paper, 40 feet of rope, the rain cover for the backpack, and typically the 2 snacks and my lunch for the day and my toothbrush. 
Outside side pockets:  Each pocket has a water bottle, I am currently carrying one Gatorade and one Poweraid bottle.  My maps also slip in the pocket along with my bandana, snacks, my hat, or other items I may need easy access to while walking.  My tent poles are also attached to the outside of the back pocket.
Hipbelt pockets:  One side has my camera and Joby tripod for the camera.  That pocket also has my thermometer attached to the zipper.  The other side has my Leatherman knife, water treatment (used to be iodine, now Aquamira), sunsceen, hand sanitizer, and cell phone in another aLOKSAK to keep it dry.
That is pretty much it!  Things are changing though...I got my new sleeping bag today which is 2 lbs lighter and much smaller than my winter bag.  I also sent home lots of clothes I didn't need and picked up a much smaller sleeping pad.  It will take a few days but I will soon have a new structure to my backpack, much lighter!

Friday, May 4, 2012

From 3 Amigos To 2...

May 2.  After spending all day yesterday in town for a zero day we were ready to get back on the trail.  Meat needed to do a few more things in town and Flosser was ready to hit the trail.  Flosser was going to reduce his mileage and speed to help let his leg heal so from here on Meat and I were going to push ahead and Flosser was going to enjoy the last 90 miles of his hike.  Flosser thanked us for letting him tag along and we thanked him for joining us.  Hugs all around and he took off.  Meat and I left shortly before noon and after a very tough climb up a mountain with the temp in the 80's we came across Flosser taking a break.  We talked for a bit and then he thanked us for letting him tag along and we thanked him for joining us.  Hugs all around and we took off.  We hiked a few miles on and Meat and I stopped for a break in a shelter to get out of the afternoon heat.  Not long after Flosser made his way in and we all sat and talked for a bit.  Then Flosser thanked us for letting him tag along and we thanked him for joining us.  Hugs all around and we took off.  a few miles later Meat and I stopped by a campsite to get water from the creek.  Before we packed up and left Flosser came in and filled water as well.  Then Flosser thanked us for letting him tag along and we thanked him for joining us.  Hugs all around and we took off.  This was the last meetup of a long day of goodbye because Flosser ended up stopping for the day and Meat and I pushed on several more miles.  We had a big problem with ticks today as Meat and I both found 3 or 4 of them crawling on our legs during the hike.  All in all a good day, left town right before lunch and hiked 13.5 miles.  We are going to miss Flosser for sure, we had a lot of fun with him the last 600 miles and we won't be the complete "3 Amigos" until he comes back to hike with us later this summer.  Thanks for the fun times Flosser!  Thanks for letting him come hike with us Ann!

May 3.  Last night was warm!  I slept on top of my 15 degree sleeping bag most of the night.  I am looking forward to my 45 degree sleeping bag that is being delivered to the next town!  The night was pretty quiet, no wind, but Meat and I both thought we heard things moving around outside of our tents.  I thought I heard something big crack or crash and then roll down the hill behind us...I laid there wide awake and listened to something I thought was breathing, first close to my tent, then further away.  I figured at least it was leaving and fell back asleep.  Meat and I woke up around 6:15 and left camp a little after 7 so we could get an early start for a hot day.  This was supposed to be the hottest day of the week so we intended to take and afternoon break to get out of the heat.  We hiked and put down some really good miles even in the heat and some tough hill climbs.  By about 4 PM we had already hiked 18 miles and stopped to take a break at the shelter.  There we found some of our hiking friends and spent a few hours talking about the PCT, the Florida Trail, and other trails in California and out west.  We waited out a few rain clouds and some sprinkles and around 6:30 Meat and I moved on to camp by a stream about a mile down the trail.  It was a 19 mile day in some intense heat and we were pretty happy with it!

May 4.  We woke up early today and hit the trail by a little after 7.  By 8 we were already completely drenched in sweat...it was going to be another hot day.  We hiked up over a hill and through several pastures and farms and then back up another mountain.  It was a hot afternoon and we were hiking along a ridge line with large rocks and I stopped to check out a long line of ants marching off somewhere.  I followed the line across a few sticks, over the trail, and up a big flat rock.  The path of ants lead right up to a dark corner of a rock ledge and then right under something with stripes and scales...our first rattle snake.  We weren't sure at first, but as we got more interested in it the snake shifted a bit and brought out its rattle and gave us the warning.  We watched it for awhile along with several other hikers behind us.  Soon the snake seemed to get tired of the attention and pictures and it started moving around, that's when I decided it was probably time to move on.  I heard rattle snakes can shoot out and strike at quite a distance and I didn't want to be there for that.  About 5 minutes up the trail we passed an area that smelled like a dead animal and saw a rattle snake dead under a rock beside the trail.  Although this one was dead that was two of them in close proximity...Meat kindly offered to let me lead the way, just in case there were more.  What a nice guy!  We stopped for an hour or 2 to have dinner and rest at a shelter and then with some friends at a campsite by the river and then Meat and I pushed on up the next mountain and made it to the top just before dark, a little after 8 PM.  On the way up we spooked several deer and they took off running down the side of the mountain and it sounded like a few nights ago when I heard something rolling down the mountain behind my tent.  It was probably deer the other night too, but something else must have been out there to spook them.  It was a long day, 21.5 miles, and we were ready to get to bed!

May 5. We woke up a little later, still tired from the tough uphill the night before, but also glad that was out of the way! It was so warm that Meat left his rain fly half way off his tent and I left my tent door open for more airflow. During the night I heard some rain falling on my tent and quickly closed my door. A few seconds later I heard Meat get up quickly and pop out of his tent and pull the fly back over it. Luckily we camped on the top of a ridge and even though it rained on through the night the morning breeze helped dry the gear a bit before we packed it away. We walked on towards the Dragon's Tooth, a stone monolith, but by the time we got there clouds were pulling in fast and we passed by quickly to get down the mountain before the rain. The trail down was the toughest we've had yet and a section of the AT that I really don't like, especially when it is wet. It was a rock scramble with sections of rock faces that I pretty much had to slide down and try not to fall forward. I did slip and fall back a few times on the slick rocks. The plan we had for the day was to hike some big miles and get to The Home Place for dinner, a very well know all you can eat family style restaurant just off the trail. The rocks had taken us some time to get over and as we sat on a log and ate our lunch in the rain Meat and I quickly changed our plans to hiking an hour more to the 4 Pines Hostel since we could get out of the rain, take a shower, and get a free ride up the road to The Home Place...perfect! We came off the trail and onto the road in the drizzling rain and had to walk 0.3 miles to the hostel. The owner of the hostel passed us in his truck but couldn't pick us up because it was full and in the short time it took to walk the rest of the way the skies opened and we showed up dripping wet. We took showers and joined the first group of hikers for dinner. The Home Place was happening and very busy being a Saturday evening, and the local Prom night. Our clothes didn't smell the best but we had at least showered, which I am sure everyone else appreciated. We all enjoyed the 3 meat family style dining...beef, chicken, ham, potatoes, veggies, dessert, tea, lemonade, and more! Easily one of the best meals on the trail for sure! We went back to the hostel, which is really just a 3 bay garage with old couches, cots, and lawn chairs to sleep on. We stopped and picked up some bottles of Corona to celebrate Cinco de Mayo and enjoyed hanging out with a great group of about 15 hikers. May 6. We woke up in the garage, packed our bags and hit the trail. Before climbing back up into the mountains we had to cross a pasture with cows in it. They were standing right on the trail and they were big! A few of them were big and had horns, which really made Meat nervous. They all chomped grass and eyed us as we passed and I have a great video of Meat freaking out and running through them to get by! We survived and made our way up to McAfees Knob for lunch. It was a little overcast but at least not too hot and Meat and I relaxed for a bit. After a pretty long lunch we moved on. Somewhere in the woods we came to an area with lots of locust. It sounded like summertime in Indiana. We hiked until about 8 PM and got within a few miles of town. The rain started as soon as we got in our tents...but no worries, town tomorrow, a Trail Friday!

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Torrential Downpours and Flash Floods

April 26.  We left the hotel around 9 AM but made sure to stick around to get the latest local weather forecast first.  The TV anchor said "Severe thunderstorms, torrential downpours, and high winds expected this morning..."  Click, time to go hiking!  Not even a mile in the storms started.  Lightening, rolling crashes of thunder, and torrential downpours.  The rain was really coming down and we were soaked!  Pretty quickly the trails turned into water ways and rushing streams.  Most of the time there was no way to avoid the rushing water.  We found a washed out stream crossing that was so flooded that when we crossed the water covered our ankles and flooded our shoes.  Gore-Tex is decently good at keeping the water out of my shoes...it is fantastic at keeping the water in my shoes!  For most of the day I walked with so much water in my shoes that it sloshed up over the top of my foot with every step.  The storms stopped by noon and the rest of the hike was still soggy, but more comfortable.  We came to a river crossing where the trail uses a automobile bridge to cross but so much rain had come down that the river had risen to almost a foot over the road.  The water rushed over the bridge and made white caps on the other side.  None of us really wanted to cross it but the AT was on the other side.  Luckily a nice older lady came out from her farm house and let us know how to get around the river.  We had to walk a mile or so around on some roads but we caught back up with the trail on the other side.  Some other hikers said they waded in to check it when they passed but most turned back when it got thigh or waist deep.  We all decided that following the white blazes may not be worth risking your life in flood waters.  As we walked around the bulging river we heard some loud cracks and crashes and looked in the water to see a whole tree floating down river and breaking things off the river banks on either side.  Had we tried to cross and seen that coming towards us it would have been over!  We made the 12 mile hike to the shelter to find several other hikers setting up for the night and drying out.  I dried my socks by the fire and got them a bit too toasty and that night my tent smelled like burnt hiker socks...not a good smell.  I doubt that we will see this scent in the Yankee Candle lineup anytime soon.

April 27.  It poured rain last night!  I woke up and remember thinking it was the hardest rain I've heard in the tent so far.  I woke up warm and dry in the morning...another successful night for the Big Agnes Fly Creek UL1 tent!  We hiked out from the shelter and through a valley and crossed a few flooded streams and successfully kept our feet dry.  We hiked 2,000 feet up to a mountain ridge line and started hiking the ridge trail.  We had been looking forward to some ridge line trails, nice and flat...we thought.  It turned out to be rocky and a little bit of up, then a little down...a little up, then a little down.  It didn't take long to realize that a lot of a little is still A LOT!  We felt pretty worn out really fast.  At one point two hawks were soaring overhead for a mile or so and Ryan commented that the hawks must be thinking "They smell like they are dead, but they keep on moving, I don't get it!"  I thought maybe they were stalking us as prey thinking "They keep moving slower and slower.  Eventually they will fall over and die!"  We crossed a huge section of an old rock slide.  While crossing the rocks we could hear the sound of a rushing mountain stream but we could see no water because it was all flying down the slopes under the rocks, a pretty incredible experience.  When we are hiking near the 4,000 foot level there is still very little action going on.  Some grass and smaller plants are starting to grow, but there are very few leaves on the trees.  Once we get closer to the 3,000 foot level and below spring is in full swing and flowers are starting to bloom and the leaves are coming out.  It is interesting to see the difference in elevation vegetation every day on our hikes.  We started hiking today around 8 AM and pulled into camp around 7 PM, a great day and a good 19 miles behind us!

April 28.  Woke up a little later today and got on the trail.  Flosser's legs were hurting him quite a bit yesterday and 5 miles into the hike today he thought he better find a way into town to visit a clinic.  Just then a white pickup truck came up the mountain road and we waved it down and Flosser hitched a ride to town.  He said he'd get his legs checked out and lay low for a few days and meet us at our next resupply stop.  After that Meat and I pumped out 19 more miles in just under 7 hours.  The last 10 miles we did in 3 hours flat.  The trail was a ridge line and a little better than the previous day's trail, but still, 24 miles was a tough day and our longest hike yet!  We made it to the shelter to find a bunch of our hiking buddies and one SOBO,  a southbound hiker.  He was a weird one.  At first I thought he was just awkward, but as the night went on he talked about the Nazi Party, North Korean soldiers, ninjas on the AT, and he spent a good 20 minutes showing Meat how to channel his "inner rage" to be a more productive fighter or something.  By the time I went to bed I told Meat that I wished I could lock my tent...interesting night and interesting stories!

April 29.  Woke up early and got moving.  We stopped a few miles in and hiked a half a mile along a country road to a grocery store.  It turned out to be a gas station but that was quite alright and we each bought a soda, a chili dog, and a tall beer.  I also finally found a straw hat with a green tinted visor in the brim like the one my Great Grandpa Watson used to wear and I bought it!  I told the guys I was looking for it since we started the hike and now just over 600 miles in Meat spotted it in the store for me.  The hot dogs took and extraordinarily long time for some pretty ordinary tasting dogs, but we can't find them on the trail very often and it hit the spot.  We sat outside at a picnic table and ate our food and had our drinks.  The weather was amazing and it felt like any old lazy Sunday in the country.  It would have been a great place to take a nap but we had to get back to work and back to the trail.  We hiked on through some flat trails for awhile then we shot up a steep 1,500 feet in 90 degree sunshine.  It turned into a really hot day on the trail and Meat and I were both exhausted.  We finally pulled into the shelter just after 7 PM and made it in the sleeping bags as the sun went down.  We were the only 2 people there!  The day was 22.5 miles on the trail, 23.5 miles counting the store.  The day before that was 24 miles and before that 19 miles.  Needless to say, after 65 plus miles in 3 days Meat and I are looking forward to town tomorrow, a shower, clean clothes, relaxing, and the Pizza Hut All You Can Eat lunch buffet!  Tomorrow is a "Trail Friday"!  HAPPY FRIDAY!  

April 30.  We woke up before 6 AM and packed our bags and started hiking.  We were on a mission...Pizza Hut buffet for lunch!  We hiked a fast 8.5 miles in under 3 hours and made it to town and the hotel to take much needed showers.  We put on our least smelly clothes and headed down to the buffet.  After totally filling ourselves with pizza we stopped and did our laundry and headed back to the hotel.  We relaxed all afternoon and had some good Mexican food for dinner.  The hotel we were staying in was like most of the others we've been in...economical.  these hotels are perfect for hikers, but most other people would probably not stay there.  And, like most of the other hotels we have stayed in, this one seemed to have a high number of rooms that are long term occupancy...like people live here like living in an apartment complex.  It is hard to explain, but these small mountain towns are interesting places to visit!  We are planning to take one zero day, a day with no hiking, and then get back on the trail on Wednesday.