Appalachian Trail Conservancy

Day Seven of the 14-State Challenge

Grayson Highlands View

The Appalachian Trail Conservancy initiated a 14-State Challenge to anyone who wanted to experience a little bit of the AT in each of the 14 states from Georgia to Maine (Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine). It is done on an honors system with time frame involved. Rocky and I decided we would walk right in and begin our trek this summer. We decided to move NOBO (northbound) by starting in Georgia and touching the first four states along the trail.

A Foggy Beginning

Day Seven (Saturday, June 23) completed our first leg of the challenge as we visited Grayson Highlands State Park in southern Virginia. The state of Virginia comprises some 550 miles of the AT making it the longest state of the 14. It is so long that some thru-hiker get the “Virginia Blues” longing for the next state to arrive. There is so much to see in this wonderful state, that Rocky and I will most likely return to Virginia when we begin part two of our journey. When I thru-hiked the trail in 2014 I divided the state up into three “states” (each comprising about 183 miles) to create smaller hiking goals. I call the first “state” was Southern Virginia, followed by Middle-Earth Virginia, and concluding with Doah Virginia (in honor of the Shenandoah National Park and a great fellow-hiker, Princess Doah). All of our hiking on this first leg was in Southern Virginia, so Rocky and I want to touch Middle Earth and Doah on our next adventure.

Wild Pony Sentry

All of that aside, Grayson Highlands was fantastic! The ponies greeted us, the rocks cried out to us, the rain showered its blessing on us, the wind blew almost blew our hats off, and the clouds almost engulfed us during our incredible hike through the rocky terrain. As Rocky and I drove the 30 minutes from our motel in Marion, Virginia, the rain began to sprinkle on the windshield. By the time we reached the state park, it was raining a constant gentle rain. Pulling into a parking place, Rocky did not hesitate – she was out of the car and wanting to get her trekking poles out of the trunk.

The initial 20-minutes was a little wet and a little cold, but the weather began to cooperate, the rain subsided, and the hike became quite comfortable. The cloud cover and the wind (which was rather intense at times) continued all morning giving us a fantastic cover from the sun’s heat. Most of the highlands is open without tree cover, so the sun can make a hike rather sweltering.

The Game of Tag

We encountered several wild ponies along the way. There were a number of foals that were full of life and had fun with each other testing out their legs with zestful games of tag. Rocky and I watched and laughed as they played totally ignoring the two retired folks with walking sticks. As we moved north, we encountered a few ponies standing right on the path. Rocky used her Mimi skills and “lovingly pushed” the horses off the trail so that we could pass on by.

The elevation change through the highlands is less than 600 feet, but the rocky terrain made the hike a nice challenge for us. Add to the terrain some blustery winds and some wet rocks, and the trail presented some adventure that translated into some special memories for us. Rocky was such a trooper and we laughed, marveled, prayed, and enjoyed the entire trek without one word of complaint or negativity. She is such a special hiking buddy!

Rocky Trail

After completing the trail, we returned to our car and drove to the Virgil J. Cox Visitor Center. Rocky and I got our AT Passports stamped at the center and then enjoyed a drive through the country roads back toward Marion. Sunday is a travel day as we end this portion of the challenge and return to the comfort of home. The adventure was remarkable, but there is no place like home. As we reflected on the last week, Rocky and I also projected the journey ahead of us as we begin to plan for stage two of the challenge. I have heard that the Shenandoah Valley is glorious in the fall.

Categories: 14-State Challenge, Appalachian Trail, Appalachian Trail Conservancy, Grayson Highlands, Hiking, Rocky, Rowdy, Trekking Poles, Virginia, Wild Ponies | Tags: , , , , , , | 3 Comments

AT Challenge Day 3

View from Day 3

Rocky and I spent another perfect day on the Appalachian Trail today (Tuesday, June 19, 2018). We got up early in Franklin, NC, had a quick continental breakfast, and began our drive to Winding Stair Gap. After a 35-mile trip that should have been 10.5 miles (it is very important to know if you are to go east or west on US 64), we arrived at Winding Stair Gap, which is located about 110 miles north of Springer Mountain, GA (the southern terminus of the AT).

Rock Gap Shelter

We planned to hike southbound from the gap and travel to Rock Gap Shelter. The 3.8-mile trek began with a nice assent over an unnamed mountain. The path leveled off for a comfortable ridge hike before making a steeper, rather rocky descent into Wallace Gap. In some places, wooden steps had been constructed to make the hike more manageable.  Another half mile brought us to Rock Gap and a short 1/10 of mile led us to Rock Gap Shelter. We enjoyed a little snack and some rest time (including Rocky’s first trip to the privy – maybe her last as well). This was our destination, so we did an about-face and retraced our steps. It was a beautiful day under the canopy – there not as many views as yesterday, but Rocky and I enjoyed the trail just as much, if not more than Big Cedar Mountain. There were a couple of spots that the trees opened up and provided an outstanding peek of the horizon with rolling hills and tall mountains in the distance.

Rocky’s First Privy

We met Michael at the shelter, a young man from Myrtle Beach, SC. We played leapfrog on the trail coming back and had an easy conversation with him. We stopped at an overlook and I shared a little about my 2014 thru-hike. He loved his rocky climb over Albert Mountain yesterday and wanted to know where he could find similar terrain along the AT. Pennsylvania immediately came to mind (anything north of the Susquehanna River). Rocky and I continued down the trail leaving Michael soaking in the view. Once we got back to town, we stopped at McD’s for a quick burger and who was sitting there? Michael (he had gotten a ride into town from Windy Stair Gap). We offered him a ride to his hostel and had another nice visit.

Rocky and I noted many trees charred from the forest fires of 2017, but the forest as made a great recovery. According to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy “150 miles of the Appalachian Trail (A.T.) were closed at various times this fall — 72 in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, 68 in North Carolina, and ten in Georgia.” http://www.appalachiantrail.org/home/community/blog/

ATFootpath/2017/03/03/more-than-fire-the-effects-of-the-southeast-

wildfires-on-the-appalachian-trail-community

Beautiful Mountain Stream

The trail crosses two mountain streams and Rocky & I were soothed by the sounds of the tumbling water. We took our time, breathing in the mountain air and praying for our family/friends. Rocky is a fantastic hiker and sets a pace that gets the job done. I am so very proud of consistency and diligence. I am not sure who enjoys the path more.

When we got back to Franklin, we wanted to get some stamps for our AT Passport. We drove to an Outfitter (Three Eagles) and the Post Office in town, successfully collecting their unique stamps. Tomorrow we hope to visit the Nantahala Outdoor Center, Clingmans Dome, and Newfound Gap. We have a hotel reservation in Gatlinburg for tomorrow night. I will try to update tomorrow evening. We are living the dream!

Categories: 14-State Challenge, Appalachian Trail, Appalachian Trail Conservancy, Franklin, North Carolina, Rocky, Rowdy, Winding Stair Gap | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The AT Challenge – Day Two

Wildflower near Neels Gap

Rocky and I are in Georgia starting our 14-State Challenge. The Appalachian Trail Conservancy has established a 14-State Challenge to anyone interested in visiting all 14 states that make up the AT. Rocky and I have decided to take a week and hike a couple of hikes in the first four states beginning in Georgia, then North Carolina, followed by Tennessee, and ending our first section in Virginia.

Mountain Crossing at Neels Gap

We started yesterday (Sunday 6/17/18) at Amicalola Falls (the approach trail to the AT). We hiked to the top of the falls and enjoyed the incredible beauty of the cascading water. We then drove to Woody Gap and climbed to the summit of Big Cedar Mountain. With sore legs, we hopped into our car and drove to Dahlonega, GA, for a nice rest in a Quality Inn.

Today’s adventure took us a little further north on the AT to about mile-marker 31.7 and Neels Gap. Located at Neels Gap is Mountain Crossings, a full-service outfitter known for its gear shakedowns as they help thru-hikers eliminate excess weight from the backpacks and send the non-essentials back home. The Appalachian Trail goes right through the property owned by Mountain Crossing and actually travels through a covered porch attached to the outfitter, the only covered portion of the entire Appalachian Trail.

Rowdy at the porch at Neels Gap

We also found out as we entered their parking area that day hikers are not allowed to park there while the hike, so I had to drive almost a half a mile to another parking area. It was a nice warm-up for the 7.2-mile section to follow. Rocky and I started out just before 9:00 and thoroughly enjoyed our section hike over Levelland Mountain, down into Swaim Gap, back up to the summit of Wolf Laurel Top where we turned around and reversed our feet as we marched back to Neels Gap.

Fairy Village

The path was rocky and root-filled, but the adventure blossomed with a lush forest, beautiful skies (when you could see through the canopy), and a cool breeze to refresh our spirits. We drank lots of water as we conquered the challenging hills and dales. We logged 7.2 miles and experienced about 2,218 feet of elevation change. Rocky and I found some beautiful wildflowers, two huge snails, a fairy village created along the path, and several views breath-taking views. We spent some quality time in prayer remembering our friends and family as we worshiped the Creator of it all.

View from Wolf Laurel Top

After our hike, I retrieved that car and we visited the outfitter. We grabbed a refreshing drink and purchased a few bumper stickers for the car (we paid for the drinks, too). Before we left, we got our AT Passports stamped at the outfitters. Sliding into our chariot, we took off for Franklin, North Carolina, our home for the evening. We enjoyed a Wendy’s burger after checking into our motel. When we made reservations for the motel, it did not mention a swimming pool, but we noticed the pool as we pulled into the rest stop. Rocky opted not to take a swim, but I enjoyed to pool a great deal!

Swimming Pool at Franklin, NC

Tomorrow, we will be driving up US 64 to an AT crossing at Winding Stair Gap. We will be hiking SOBO (southbound) for 3.8 miles to Rock Gap Shelter, my camping spot on day seven of my 2014 thru-hike. I shared the shelter with Motown and Archangel, two of my kindred spirits on the trail. I look forward to reminiscing when we arrive.

Categories: 14-State Challenge, Appalachian Trail, Appalachian Trail Conservancy, Georgia, Levelland Mountain, Neels Gap, North Carolina, Rocky, Rowdy, Wolf Laurel Top | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Rocky and Rowdy on an AT Challenge

The Appalachian Trail Conservancy has issued a 14-State Challenge. Anyone brave enough to take the challenge is expected to hike at least a portion of the AT in all 14 states. Rocky and I have decided to begin our quest this summer taking on four states: Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia.

After spending some special time with my son, daughter-in-law, and three grandchildren in Canton, Georgia, Rocky and I are going to spend the next eight days exploring some of the beauty of the AT. Today, Sunday 6/17/18, we drove to the approach trail at Amicalola Falls State Park and hiked the 604 steps to the top of the falls. The cascade is truly amazing. We visited the welcome center and got our first stamp in our official AT Passports; we entered the approach trail via the iconic arch at the welcome center; and we enjoyed meeting three section-hikers hoping to make it North Carolina.

Amicalola Falls

Although Amicalola Falls is not part of the official Appalachian Trial, many thru-hikers begin here and hike the 8.5-mile approach trail to Springer Mountain, Georgia. Rocky and I came down the steps faster than we went up, loaded in our 2018 Maserati (disguised as a 1999 Toyota Camry), and headed down the road to Woody Gap just south of Suches, Georgia. The AT crosses GA. Route 60 at Woody Gap (about mile 21 into the AT) that houses a nice little road-side parking lot and picnic area. Rocky and I parked and headed NOBO (northbound) toward the summit of Big Cedar Mountain. It was beautiful. The forest kept the sun at bay and provided a nice, cool hike. We reached Preaching Rock with an incredible view to the east and finally, the summit of Big Cedar Mountain opened up onto a rocky ledge with another amazing view of the mountain range in the distance. Rocky and I enjoyed a relaxing moment on the summit taking in the glory of God’s creation. We met several section hikers on the way back down the mountain. They were all headed for Franklin, North Carolina. We talked with another hiker from Hawaii who is planning to hike as far as she can. She was carrying a pack that looked like it was over 50 pounds while I would guess that she weighed no more than 110 pounds. She was such a sweet lady and we talked for several minutes and wished her well on her journey.

Rocky on Big Cedar Mountian

From Woody Gap, we drove to Dahlonega, GA, and got a hotel for the night. Rocky went to the outdoor pool and I hit the computer to document the adventure on this blog. Tomorrow we head for Neels Gap, Georgia, at the 31.7-mile marker. I will try to post some photos and some words capturing out adventure.

Categories: 14-State Challenge, Amicalola Falls, Appalachian Trail, Appalachian Trail Conservancy, Georgia, Hiking, Neels Gap, Rocky, Rowdy, Trail, Woody Gap | Tags: , , , , , , | 4 Comments

RTK Updates His Journal

RTK

Returning to Katahdin (RTK), Bruce Matson, a lawyer from Virginia is hiking a strong NOBO (northbound) hike on the Appalachian Trail. Starting on February 24th, RTK reached the halfway point on May 29.  RTK updates his online journal once per week (usually on Thursdays) and communicates a week in arrears. He just posted on June 7th for the week (8days) of May 24 – 31. During those eight days, he hiked just over 99 miles, averaging 12.4 miles per day. However, in those eight days, he took two zero-days and one shay (short-day) of 3.6. On the other days on the trail, he logged 19.6, 18.1, 18.8, 22.8. and 16.2 miles, so you can see that he is trekking at a very high rate of mileage per day.

Let me share a little bit of his adventure during his last eight days of May. On May 24 he woke up at Bears Den Hostel with about 3 miles left of the roller coaster to traverse (the roller coaster is 13.5 miles of tightly packed ups and downs just prior to the Virginia/West Virginia border). After the coaster “ride,” he had a relatively easy hike to the Blackburn AT Center for lunch. Before arriving in Harpers Ferry West Virginia (home of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy – ATC) RTK conquered the challenging rock scramble up and over Buzzard Rocks. It was 7:30 pm when he walked across the Shenandoah River Bridge with a muddy and raging river welcoming him to Harpers Ferry.

Harpers Ferry Shenandoah River

May 25 was a zero-day (a day when no miles are hiked and the hiker resupplies and rests) in West Virginia as RTK got his picture taken at the ATC and visited a local outfitter.

RTK left Harpers Ferry on May 26 loaded down with four days of food and two liters of water. Crossing the Byron Memorial Footbridge, he entered into the state of Maryland. He enjoyed a 3- mile, flat path along the C&O Canal towpath, then climbed to the views atop Weverton Cliffs, looking back on the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers. He arrived at Dahlgren Campground about 4 pm. He hiked a tenth of a mile away from camp to a four-star restaurant, Old South Mountain Inn, for dinner.

May 27 was a Sunday and the AT was filled with Memorial Day weekend hikers, section hikers, Boy Scouts, Ridge Runners, and volunteer trail maintenance workers. RTK began his day with a quick visit to the original Washington Monument which lies right along the trail in Maryland.  He also experienced some thoughtful trail blessings including three ladies from Annapolis, who fed him lunch at Black Rock Cliffs with enough left-overs to provide a delicious dinner at his destination shelter for the evening.

AT Museum. Pine Grove Furnace State Park. PA

RTK longest mileage day (22.8 miles) was May 28. His morning began with an adrenalin producing event – a bear encounter. “While taking down my tent around 6:30 I looked up to see a 400 pound bear lumbering over to me.  It was 20 yards away so I yelled “hey there!”  The bear looked up, saw me and turned around.” After his heart rate returned to normal, RTK experienced a misty, drizzly day along the path and was content to camp at Rocky Mountain Shelters. However, two hiking buddies talked him into extending his trek 3.5 miles and a hitchhike into Fayetteville, PA to enjoy a meal at Timbers and a stay at Trail of Hope Hostel. The Timbers was closed for the holiday weekend, but the hostel was nice.

May 29th brought RTK to the linear halfway point on the trail. He was disappointed that there was no signage on the trail but he did spot two snakes during his 16.2-mile hike (one garter and one black snake). He was very impressed with the beautiful shelters in Pennsylvania so far, including his lodging that night – Toms Run Shelter.

RTK’s hike on May 30th was short (only 3.6 miles) but his day was filled with good times. He passed the (old) “halfway” sign (a large sign with flags) just after the Toms Run Shelter. He arrived at Pine Grove Furnace State Park, home of the half-gallon challenge, at 9:30 in the morning. He waited at the PGF General Store for several of his hiking friends to arrive and then enjoyed a leisurely and successful eating-challenge of a half-gallon of ice cream (Neapolitan was his flavor of choice). He visited the AT Museum located across the street from the general store before catching a ride to Boiling Springs and Allenberry Resort. Once settled, he made an important call home. He placed a “Happy Anniversary” call to his bride, Cheryl, of 37 years. Congratulations both of you for a great example of relational commitment!

May 31st was spent as a zero-day in Boiling Springs as RTK planned his next month on the trail. Boiling Springs is such a peaceful trail town with good food and a lovely public spot around a well-kept pond/park. I hope the next eight days are just as productive and enjoyable for RTK along the trail.

Categories: Appalachian Trail, Appalachian Trail Conservancy, Appalachian Trail Museum, Class of 2018, Half Gallon Challenge, Harpers Ferry, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Roller Coaster, RTK, Thru-Hike, West Virginia | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Lots of Silence on the AT

My View from the Washington Monument in Maryland

Four of my seven thru-hikers of the Appalachian Trail have been silent during the last few days. As you may know, I am following seven online journals of folks that began their AT adventures in either January or February. Let me give you a quick update on each hiker.

The silent ones are

1). Hard Knocks (last posted in his journal on May 25 from High Point Shelter about 30 miles from the NJ/NY border).

2). Sour Kraut (his last photo was at the Mason/Dixon line on May 21).

3). RTK (who posts a week behind his location has been silent since 5/23 when he posted from Bear’s Den Hostel in northern Virginia).

4). Pigweed (posted on May 30 from Pearisburg, VA).

Bamadog, Chip Tillson, and WhichWay/Next Step have faithfully journaled and their last posts were 6/4/2018.

Bamadog – June 2018

Bamadog has been averaging 14.23 miles over the past six days and has traveled almost 100 miles – from Mashipacong Shelter (three-quarters of the way through New Jersey) to a shelter about 25 miles from the New York/Connecticut border. On May 30 he hiked by High Point, NJ on a beautiful, cool day. He logged 19.5 miles that day and enjoyed a beautiful sunset despite the forecast of a raining night. Bamadog awakened to a cloudy May 31 with temperatures in the low 70’s. Then, he hit the mosquitos – there were awful as he crossed into New York and faced the challenging climbs of the Prospect Rock area. June 1 proved to be a short day (9 miles) as he stopped at Greenwood Lake for breakfast and a short, 3-day resupply of food. Bamadog did not make an entry on June 2, but on June 3 he recorded his hike through the Bear Mountain Recreation Area (including the zoo) and across the Hudson River near Fort Montgomery, New York. It rained on the morning of June 4 delaying his start till 8:30 am. It was chilly as he hit the trail and he began his day in a long sleeve shirt, but within an hour of hiking, Bamadog was down to his short sleeves looking forward to finishing up the state of New York by Thursday.

Chip Tillson (he does not post photos!), for the last six days, has been hiking through the Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. He averaged 10.7 miles per day covering just over 61.5 miles. May 30 was a short hiking day logging in 6.2 miles and finding shelter at Loft Mountain Campground just off the Skyline Drive. He took care of some laundry needs and picked up some resupply at the camp store. A downpour of rain overnight left the trail like a river on May 31. He wrote that the path “went from running water to muddy quagmire” and yet he was able to hike his longest day of the week (16.2 miles). He ran into his first bear on the trail and caught eye on his second running away from him later the same day. June 1 brought a little discouragement as he discovered about an hour into his journey that he was hiking the wrong way. He met a Ridge Runner along the path who encouraged him with words of assurance that all good hikers make similar mistakes. He spent the night in another “official” campground: Lewis Mountain Campground. More rain greeted Chip on June 2 bringing slippery mud and prohibiting a clear view of the Shenandoah Valley. More hard rain continued on June 3, and more discouragement occurred during the night. Critters chewed a hole in his food bag and ate some of his instant oatmeal. By 4:00 pm, the rain let up. Chip paused for a hot supper and then continued for two additional miles before making camp four miles south of Luray, Virginia. Chip spent the morning of June 4 getting dried out. He stayed at camp with his gear hanging from a clothesline. It was early afternoon before he began to hike. He observed another black bear along the trail before he reached his destination: Pass Mountain Hut.

Which Way and Next Step in Harpers Ferry

Which Way and Next Step have hit a major hurdle in their thru-hike. Which Way (Alicia) became very uncomfortable with an older back injury that was raising its ugly head. On May 30th she knew she needed to get the back checked out and so she was able to arrange a ride into an Urgent Care in Charles Town, WV, about 7 miles from Harpers Ferry. Next Step (Darrell) continued to hike. He logged 19.6 miles into Harpers Ferry and met Alicia at the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. Which Way was told that she needed rest for the next 5-7 days, so they revised their hiking plans. Next Step would continue to hike north and Which Way would drive a rental car enabling them to meet up each day. Darrell logged 20 miles on May 31 ending his trek in Washington Monument State Park, Maryland. On June 1 he generated 21.5 miles with a final destination at Pen Mar County Park on the Maryland/Pennsylvania border. Another long hike (18.5 miles) on June 2 brought Next Step to Caledonia State Park in PA. Which Way and Next Step then drove 30 min to Chambersburg, PA, where they stayed with good friends from their time in the military. They enjoyed a zero-day in Chambersburg on June 3 before Next Step continued northbound on the AT. Having undergone some physical therapy on her back in Charles Town, Which Way received news from the doctors that she would need to stay away from hiking for four weeks. This sad news was devastating to both of them, but they have decided that Next Step will continue and Which Way will go home to recover. So, Next Step hiked 20 miles on June 4 and met Which Way at the halfway point of the AT at Pine Grove Furnace State Park. Alicia is on her way home and Darrell continues without her. She still hopes to join him in a month and complete the hike together to Katahdin.

Categories: Appalachian Trail, Appalachian Trail Conservancy, Bamadog, Bear Mountain, Black Bear, Chip Tillson, Class of 2018, Harpers Ferry, Maryland, Mosquitoes, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Pine Grove Furnace, Thru-Hike, Which Way and Next Step | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The First 10 Days of May on the AT

Spring Photo from Which Way and Next Step

And then there were seven… I began following 14 Appalachian Trail Thru-hikers that started their adventures in either January or February. I wanted to see how these early starters managed along the trail. In general, the rate of success for thru-hikers is about 25% – only one in four make it from the southern terminus of Springer Mountain, Georgia all the way to Mount Katahdin, Maine. The 14-state challenge of 2,190 miles is a test of endurance both physically and emotionally. At the end of the first week of May, 50% of the original hikers are off the trail while the other half are continuing to check off miles and days toward their goal.

The weather has blossomed as well as the wildflowers. The forest is green as the foliage creates the green umbrella protecting the path and those who hike it from the blazing sun. The challenge of the winter is drawing to a close and the trail is free of snow and ice.

Let me provide a quick update on the seven remaining hikers and their progress on the AT.

Patrick Knox, trail name Hard Knocks, is the only January starter still on the trail. He has made it over halfway and is resting at Darlington Shelter, 14 miles north of Boiling Springs, Pennsylvania, at mile marker 1,131.8. Boiling Springs is such a beautiful small town that embraces the smelly hiker with hospitality. It was one of my favorite trail towns in 2014.

Bamadog in May

Bamadog stayed at the Mountain Home Cabbin (hostel) in Front Royal, Virginia, on May 8th and then hiked 21.7 miles on the 9th to a stealth campsite. He is about to reach the 1000-mile point but must experience The Roller Coaster (13.5 miles of tightly packed ascents and descents) to get there. After the Roller Coaster, there are only 19 miles to Harpers Ferry and the Appalachian Trail Conservancy – a major milestone in the thru-hike adventure. At the Conservancy, hikers get their pictures taken, their names recorded in the official list of hikers, and a number indicating their order of appearance among the class of 2018.

Chip Tillson arrived at Pearisburg, Virginia, on the 6th of May. During the next two days, he hiked 23 miles and finally camped near Bailey Gap Shelter (mile-marker 654.5) on May 8th (the date of his last journal post). He is hoping to hike another 70 miles into Daleville, Virginia, before taking another day off.

Sour Kraut’s Salamander

Sour Kraut posts pictures occasionally so I know he is still on the trail. However, he does not journal with words so I am never sure exactly where he is. The last photo was dated May 6th, but is was of an orange salamander. His last landmark photo was the Guillotine on April 30. I am guessing that he has made it into Shenandoah National Park around 860 miles north of Springer Mountain, GA.

Which Way and Next Step, a retired military couple, are taking on zero-day on May 9th in Daleville, Virginia. Earlier last week (May 4), Which Way experienced some tough hiker discomfort with blisters. The couple decided to shuttle Which Way, Alicia, about 50 miles north to Four Pines Hostel in Catawba, Virginia, while Darrell (Next Step) continued to hike northbound. They rendezvoused in Catawba and continued down the path together. They hiked to McAfee Knob and over Tinker Cliffs before resting in Daleville. One reason for the separation was the need to complete the trail by Labor Day. Next Step shares in their journal, “…it was evident that she [Which Way] needed some time off the trail to clean it [the blister] properly and to let her feet heal. The closest road intersection was VA 235, a gravel road 2.5 miles down the mountain. As she hobbled along we discussed options. I told her that I could take a couple of days off with her, but she did not want to slow our overall progress (we need to complete this journey before Labor Day). In the end, we decided to get her a ride 50 or so miles up the trail while I continued to hike.”

Which Way and Next Step on McAfee Knob

My concern for this wonderful couple is their time constraint. They have great attitudes and seem to be enjoying the adventure with marvelous gusto. But Labor Day is September 3, 2108. They still have time, but they will need to really pick up the pace. At their current rate of 9.65 miles per day, according to my quick calculations, they will be 327 miles short of Mount Katahdin on September 3. It would take them another 34 days to reach their goal. However, they would only need to up their average distance to 12.4 miles per day to reach the brown sign in Maine.

Dragon’s Tooth by RTK

RTK, Bruce Matson, like Which Way and Next Step has arrived at Daleville, Virginia. However, RTK posts in his journal a week late. So he arrived in Daleville on April 29th. He experienced a great week on the trail with friends and family joining him for some of the adventures. He has walked by Keefer Oak (the second largest oak tree on the AT – over 300 years old and 18 feet around), the Audie Murphy Monument (the most decorated American soldier of World War 2), Dragon’s Tooth (a huge stone monolith), and of course McAfee Knob (one of the most photographed spots on the trail). He also enjoyed a great all-you-can-eat meal at Homeplace Restaurant. (This hiker favorite in only open Thursday through Sunday. I sadly hiked by on a Wednesday in 2014).

Pigweed celebrated his birthday on the trail on May 4th.  He posted in his journal:

Pigweed – Birthday on Hump Mountain

“Happy birthday to me. 
A great b-day so far.  I woke on top of Hump Mnt and watched the sunrise out my tent doors.  360 degree view from there had awesome sunset sunrise and stars. I slept half out of my tent to enjoy the stars until the wind whipped up and I scooted into the tent.  The wind gave my tent a workout… I then Nero ed into Roan TN and stumbled into station 19 hostel.  They have… a pig roast tonight with live music. A real bed shower laundry and shuttle to town. I may zero tomorrow with rain in the forecast…” 
This was Pigweed’s most recent post. He has been silent for the five days so I am anticipating an up-date very soon. Roan, Tennessee, is at the 392 mile-marker. Pigweed had many, many more miles to travel on his adventure.

Categories: Appalachian Trail, Appalachian Trail Conservancy, Audie Murphy Memorial, Bamadog, Boiling Springs, Chip Tillson, Class of 2018, Daleville, Dragons Tooth, Harpers Ferry, Keffer Oak, McAfee Knob, Mount Katahdin, Pearisburg, Pennsylvania, Pigweed, RTK, Shenandoah National Park, Sour Kraut, Springer Mountain, Thru-Hike, Tinker Cliffs, Virginia, Which Way and Next Step | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Opa – Who Knew?

Opa at Springer Mountain

Opa was going so well on his thru-hike attempt of the Appalachian Trail. He started on February 10th and was one of the most consistent hikers that I have been following in the class of 2018. Then, suddenly, an illness puts him in the hospital including a decision to abandon his adventure. If I had to choose the most likely to succeed among the 13 that I began to follow, Opa would have ranked number one. He was strong, he was consistent, and he seemed balanced and realistic in his daily goals. He was on target for a five-month trek. He was the first of this cohort to arrive at The Appalachian Trail Conservancy in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia; the first to hike over 1000 miles; the first to cross the Mason-Dixon line; and the first to enter the rocks of Pennsylvania. He hiked over 20 miles on 26 different days and he walked 19+ miles on six additional days.

Opa and Kayanne

Away from the trail Opa goes by Reinhard Gsellmeier, a retired engineer from Rochester, New York. He and his wife, Kayanne, have two children and five grandchildren. Before his adventure on the Appalachian Trail, Opa had done a fair amount of backpacking/ hiking/ snowshoeing in the northeast. He had most of his experience in the Adirondacks but also had adventures in New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine.

Opa doing some laundry along the way

Opa had reached Wind Gap in Pennsylvania (only 15 miles away from Delaware Water Gap and the PA/New Jersey border) on Friday, April 27th. He had arranged a rendezvous with his sister, Heidi, at Wind Gap followed by a ride to Rochester to see his wife and family. Saturday was filled with errands, planning, and special time with his family.

However, Sunday’s post reflected an entirely different story. Opa shared about a very difficult night, “I was in extreme pain last nite whenever I had to urinate – dropped me right to my knees. I spent a good part of the day in a bed in a hallway in the emergency room at Rochester General getting tests taken (blood work, urine analysis, CT scan). Tomorrow I have an appointment with my primary care physician, who will likely refer me to an urologist. I suppose if there’s a silver lining it’s fortunate that I was in Rochester at the time, and not on the trail. I am hopeful that this is just a temporary setback, and that I’ll be back on the trail soon.”

Opa in hospital

Opa’s primary care physician found an enlarged prostate and a hernia that needs surgery once the prostate issues are resolved. Opa has a scheduled appointment to see a urologist for further diagnosis. Reinhard continued to maintain his optimistic outlook in his last post as he has throughout his hiking experience. “These health issues are nothing serious that can’t be dealt with, but it looks like the continuance of my AT thru-hike attempt is going to be put on hold for awhile.  Another option for me is to complete the AT as a section hiker – if not this year, then perhaps next year.  Certainly, I’m disappointed with this recent chain of events, but I remain enthusiastic and optimistic about completing the AT one way or another.  In one respect I consider myself very fortunate that the issue with my prostate manifested itself while I happened to be in Rochester for the weekend.  I can’t imagine having to deal with the very painful urination issue while out on the trail.

I thoroughly enjoyed following Opa along the trail. I will continue to update his condition as he posts new information on his online journal.

Categories: Appalachian Trail, Appalachian Trail Conservancy, Class of 2018, Opa, Pennsylvania, Thru-Hike | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

AT Thru-Hikers Hoping for Spring

RTK – Frosty Field

Snow in the middle of April? Yes. And those who started the Appalachian Trail in January and February are more than ready for some warm winds of spring. The higher temperatures are on their way, but not this week. My admiration for this brave group of hikers grows with each day of their determination and perseverance.

I began following 14 hikers. Now, I am down to nine, as five individuals have decided to change their plans and get off the trail. Let me give you a quick update on those hiking this historic long trail.

Pigweed, who got off trail for 15 days with an injury, is back on the trail and has just completed the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. He hiked about 4 miles on April 17 and is resting at the iconic Standing Bear Farm (mile-marker 241) just outside the GSMNP. On hiking days since his return, he is averaging 9.5 miles. He will really need to pick up his pace to complete his thru-hike. He still has time, but at this rate, the remaining 1,950 miles will take him six and a half months of hiking.

Which Way and Next Step’s tent on April 17

Chip (Tillson) took two days to visit family in Boone, NC (on April 15& 16). On the 17th he hiked passed the Watauga Lake area. Part of the trail is closed to day-hikers because of increased bear activity so he trekked well beyond the danger area and is stealth camping north of the Lake (about 431 miles along the AT).

Which Way and Next Step (the only couple on my radar) are camped at Abingdon Gap Shelter, the last shelter in Tennessee and about 11 miles from Damascus, Virginia. They have not taken a zero-day since Erwin, Tennessee nine days ago, so I anticipate them taking some rest time in Damascus. Over the past nine days, they averaged 12.8 miles per day with two longer hikes of 16 miles during the last two (April 16 &17).

RTK posts his blog a week late, so my most recent update is from April 10. He is maintaining a strong pace and has crossed the 500-mile line having climbed Mount Rodgers and hiked through Grayson Highlands. He stayed at Wise Shelter in Virginia on the 10th. This shelter is memorable to me, although I did not sleep there. After my wonderful hike through Grayson, the weather began to rain. About a dozen of us took refuge at Wise Shelter to wait out the downpour.

Lindamood School

Vagabond Jack continues to make slow progress along the AT. His last zero-day was in Damascus on April 10th. In the week following this rest stop, Vagabond is averaging 10.3 per day. He and a hiking buddy, Curb, spent the night on the 17th at Lindamood School around the 540-mile marker. Lindamood School is an 1894 one-room schoolhouse located at Settler’s Museum, a 67-acre open-air museum. The school is open to the public and a spot that often provides trail magic. It is not designed to be a trail shelter for thru-hikers, but some seek its warmth for the night.

Sour Kraut 1/4 Way

Sour Kraut’s last photo shows him standing next to a trail sign indicating ¼ of the way to Maine and NOBO mile 547. He posted the photo on April 14th. He has not posted a written update since March 12, so I am tracking him via his photographs.

Bamadog is camped about 651 miles along the Appalachian Trail. He camps regularly at stealth sites which makes it difficult to update his progress. I know he stayed at Woods Hole Hostel (mile 620.9) on April 15th, then in the next two days, he passed through Pearisburg, VA (631.3), took a photo of Rice Field (638.1), and is camping close to Stony Creek (651.0).

Hard Knocks has been struggling with a sore ankle for several days. He took a nero-day ad zero-day at Stanimals 328 Hostel in Waynesboro, Virginia on April 13 &14. He has been hiking with two other thru-hikers (Grumpy and Grinder) the last couple of days and they made camp at Cow Camp Gap Shelter about 4 miles north of Buena Vista, Virginia, on April 17th

Opa has hiked over 1000 miles on the AT. He stopped in Harpers Ferry to sign in as NOBO hiker #16 to have checked in at the AT Conservancy (I was hiker #924 when I hiked in 2014, just to give you an idea of how early he has arrived). He has continued on into Maryland and on April 17 he was camped at Raven Rock Shelter, about five miles from the Pennsylvania border.

Here is an updated chart of the hiker’s progress. As the weather improves, so will their miles.

 

Up-Date Mile Marker Hiker Location Start Date
4/17/2018 241 Pigweed Standing Bear Farm, NC 2/27/2018
4/17/2018 431 Chip Tillson Stealth n. Watauga Lake, TN 2/20/2018
4/17/2018 457.2 Which Way and Next Step Abingdon Gap Shelter, TN 2/24/2018
4/10/2018 500.5 RTK Wide Shelter, VA 2/25/2018
4/17/2018 540 Vagabond Jack Lindamood School, VA 2/1/2018
4/14/2018 547 Sour Kraut 1/4 Way Sign, VA 2/21/2018
4/17/2018 651 Bamadog Stealth near Stony Creek, VA 2/15/2018
4/17/2018 804 Hard Knocks Cow Camp Gap Shelter, VA 1/31/2018
4/17/2018 1055.6 Opa Raven Rock Shelter, MD 2/10/2018
         
         
Categories: Appalachian Trail, Appalachian Trail Conservancy, Class of 2018, Damascus, Grayson Highlands, GSMNP, Harpers Ferry, Lindamood School, Thru-Hike, Woods Hole Hostel | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Opa – First to Reach Harpers Ferry, WV

Opa’s Hike on April 11 – Mary’s Rock

Of the fourteen thru-hikers of the Appalachian Trail I began to follow this winter, ten are still on the trail and the first adventurer has reached Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. Harpers Ferry is the psychological half-way point of the trail and the home of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. It is located about 1020 miles north of the southern terminus (Springer Mountain, GA.) and almost 80 miles short of the geographical mid-way point, but it is a great milestone for all thru-hikers. The Conservancy takes a picture of each thru-hiker, provides a check-in number for each hiker, and places the photo in a historical album documenting the class of 2018.

Old Town – Harpers Ferry

Opa (Reinhard Gsellmeier), a retired engineer from Rochester, NY, began his thru-hike on February 10. He has been hiking strong and putting in some long days filled with many miles. On day 66 of his hike (April 15) he reached Harpers Ferry. He is hiker number 16! He has hiked through rain, snow, ice, and wind. He has averaged about 15.5 miles per day. Out of curiosity, I pulled my journal from 2014 and looked at my destination on day 66. I was in….wait for it…..Harpers Ferry! But I had great weather – no snow, no freezing temperatures, no icy winds. I had some rain but by-in-large the trail was in great shape. Opa is amazing and my hat goes out to his determination and grit.

Opa enjoyed his hike thru the Shenandoah National Park and the food available at the waysides along the Skyline Drive (especially the blackberry milkshakes… and cheeseburgers… and French fries)

On April 12, Opa reflected on the difficulties of the hike: Someone asked me a few weeks ago if hiking the trail was more physical or mental. In my humble opinion, after hiking 900 plus miles so far (but still having a long way to go), I think it is more mental. Certainly, there is a physical aspect as well, but if you’re not in good shape when starting out the trail will whip you into shape after a few weeks. The mental challenge however is there every day for the duration. Stuff Happens as they say, and you have to be prepared mentally to deal with the mishaps and adversity that will come along. You will fall, and have to be prepared to pick yourself up and keep on movin. There will be times when you are cold, wet and feeling miserable, and again need to keep movin on. There will be times when a piece of gear fails or doesn’t perform as expected (eg waterproof boots that aren’t waterproof) and need to keep movin on. There will be times where you will really miss your family and loved ones, as well as the comfort of your home, but need to keep movin on. These and countless other mishaps/concerns/issues will test your mental toughness.

1000 Miles!

Opa conquered the roller coaster (a 13.5-miles stretch tightly packed ascents and descents that will challenge your legs and lungs) on Saturday, April 14. Close to the end of the coaster, Opa reached the 1000 mile marker (an actual plaque on a tree): another giant mental/emotional milestone for the thru-hiker. With the warmer weather over the weekend, Opa noticed the trail filling up with day-hikers and section hikers. He comments that he crossed paths “with at least 200 folks” including a couple of boy scout troops. He camped about 10 miles from Harpers Ferry.

On April 15 (instead of driving to the post office with his income tax forms) Opa hiked into Harpers Ferry. He woke up at 2:45 am, couldn’t get back to sleep, packed up, and hit the trail by 3:45. He arrived in Harpers Ferry by 8:00. He is spending the night at a hostel and happy to be out of another cold wave approaching. It was in the 80’s the last two days, but rain/thunderstorms/cold winds were embracing the little West Virginia town.

Opa has a long way to go, but his attitude is one of gratitude. “I am also so thankful to be able to make this hike. The good Lord has blessed me in so many ways, I’m a lucky man.” Opa plans to spend the night in Harpers Ferry and then to continue on, across the bridge and into state number six: Maryland.

Categories: Appalachian Trail, Appalachian Trail Conservancy, Class of 2018, Harpers Ferry, Opa, Roller Coaster, Shenandoah National Park, Springer Mountain, Thru-Hike, West Virginia | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

Blog at WordPress.com.