Appalachian Trail Conservancy

Snapshot Sad to Go Home

Carolyn, trail name Snapshot, has decided to come off the Appalachian Trail and postpone her attempt to thru-hike the trail from Georgia to Maine. It was a hard and sad, heartfelt decision. I have modified her online journal but tried to use her own words to explain her heart.


Tuesday, March 24, 2020

“I’m still trying to process all my feelings. The reality of remaining on trail was just not possible. Despite the enormous hurt in my heart, my head knows it was the right and responsible thing to do….. “

“The Covid-19 crisis has currently changed the world. Every single person has been affected by this pandemic. This is not just about me.  It’s a scary time for all of us, as these waters are uncharted and so unpredictable.” 

“My thoughts go to all of the health care workers putting their lives in danger. I think of all the small business that were forced to close, whose livelihood depends on customers and clients. I feel for all of the kids whose school year has been cut short and those once- in-a -lifetime events: proms, graduations, class trips have all been canceled. I’m sad for of all the couples who won’t be able to hold their dream weddings. I’m sad for all the elderly who live alone and are now evermore isolated.  And I cry for all who have died and those who have lost loved ones due to this horrible virus.  So much sadness, hurt and disappointment.”   

“Though, I realize not being able to continue my journey of walking through the woods, is minor and insignificant with all that humanity is dealing with, truth is, I can’t help feeling sorry for myself.”

“….for the first few days, the biggest concern was the availability of resupplies and support on trail. Slowly, we started getting word that stores, restaurants, hostels and shuttles were beginning to close. Support that hikers rely on was becoming limited and yet, I still wanted to push on, not wanting, or ready, to believe that my thru-hike could realistically be over.” 

“Word continued to come in with more and more closures and cancellations. The NOC closed, the ATC Headquarters closed, Fontana Damn Lodge closed. At first, they closed the Smokey Mt National Park to everything but foot traffic but within days, it was shut down to that also, leaving no way to hike that section of the trail. Maryland and New Jersey closed all shelters and privies on the AT indefinitely. Trail Days in Damascus was cancelled….”

“The ATC was asking us to comply with their request to leave the trail.  For them to ask this of us was huge. The trail is what they are all about. Promoting the trail is what they do so this was not something to take lightly. We as hikers need to come into the small towns along the trail to resupply, regroup and recharge by getting a hot shower, washing our clothes, eating a hot and hearty meal, etc.  Possibly exposing those we come in contact within town, or town folk unknowingly exposing us, would potentially spread the virus.”

“For now, I’ll take one day at a time and find gratitude in knowing my family members are all healthy. I will continue to hold on to hope that I will, when this is all over, return to the trail that has, for a long time, held a huge part of my heart.”

Snapshot ~

I hope that Snapshot and the rest of the thru-hikers will be able to get back on the trail before the hiking season passes them by – maybe a flip-flop or a SOBO (southbound) adventure would still be possible. The most important thing right now is to be safe and if necessary, plan for another day/year.

Categories: 2020 Hikers, Appalachian Trail, Appalachian Trail Conservancy, COVID-19, Fontana Dam, Nantahala Outdoor Center, Snapshot, Thru-Hike, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

SNAPSHOT Decides to Stay on the AT

It’s been over a week since getting an up-date from Snapshot. On Day 9  (March 14) she had arrived in Hiawassee, Georgia anticipating a rest day (zero=day) on Sunday before continuing her thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail. A great deal has happened, so let me catch you up on Carolyn’s adventure.

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Today’s Miles = 0

Snapshot and her group took a zero in Hiawassee, although she walked a bit. She hiked to the corner store for her morning cup of coffee; then to the Dollar Store to resupply for the next 4 days; then to McDonald’s for a small lunch: a Big Mac, fish sandwich, large fry, and a large coke!

Snapshot’s afternoon was filled with some good rest and updating her journal The group got together for pizza and story-telling in the hotel lobby after which Snapshot returned to her room to repack for her return to the trail on Wednesday.

Monday, March 16, 2020

Today’s Miles = 11.8

Snapshot got a 7:30 am. shuttle ride back to the trailhead. It was raining and the trail was very muddy, but she was excited because she was hoping to cross the state line into North Carolina. Coming off a zero-day, Snapshot felt strong and rested. The first 8 miles went by quickly as she reached the Georgia/North Carolina border.

However, the state of North Carolina greets the thru-hiker with a challenging uphill climb to Courthouse Bald and their destination of Muskrat Shelter. The 11.8-mile rainy day ended at a full shelter, but Snapshot found a spot and was happy to spend a dry night without having to pack up a wet tent in the morning.  

Muskrat Shelter

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Today’s Miles = 12

Snapshot slept well during the night but good night’s sleep was still greeted with more rain. Despite the trail which looked more like a mountain stream, the group managed to complete their hiking goal of 12 miles and Carter Gap Shelter.

Today’s hike took Snapshot over Standing Indian Mountain and just as she reached the top, the rain stopped and the fog lifted, offering up a beautiful view. As the evening arrived and the rain abated, Snapshot pitched her tent with the forecast of clear skies until 9 am.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Today’s Miles = 8.7

Snapshot began the hike today at 9:00 with rain an obvious part of the day. She planned an 8.7-mile day making Long Branch Shelter the destination for the evening.

Word reached the group that the ATC (Appalachian Trail Conservancy) was strongly advising thru-hikers to leave the trail in response to COVID-19.  Snapshot records her thoughts, No one in my Tramily including myself, want to leave the trail. We are all happy and healthy out here.  One might think being out here in nature would be the best possible place to be. However, if we choose to stay on trail, we will be faced with limited support and supplies. Already, some of the hostels have temporarily shut down, the NOC is closed and so is the… Conservancy in Harpers Ferry. The other concern is being able to resupply. We are hearing essentials like fuel for our stoves, hand sanitizers, toilet paper and certain foods are becoming scarce. We will be in town tomorrow and will regroup and reassess.  

The group passed the 100-mile marker as they conquered their biggest challenge yet – Albert Mountain.  They arrived early to camp. Long Branch Shelter sleeps 16 and is quite spacious for AT Shelters. Snapshot shared the loft with Salt, Stoneman, Aura, and Rou. Having a roof over our heads and the security of three walls is making all of us very happy. It’s amazing how little time it takes out here to make you appreciate the very simplest of things.

Long Branch Shelter

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Today’s Miles = 7.2

Salt and I were packed up and were on trail by 6:30am. We hiked in the dark until morning broke. At first light we stopped trail side to have breakfast and a cup of coffee. 

Today’s short 7.2-mile trek was designed to end at Winding Stair Gap, and from there, a shuttle ride to Baltimore Jacks Hostel in Franklin N.C. After getting the notice from the ATC, the group decided to spend a couple of days off the trail to discuss the virus and how to best move forward.

In Franklin, the grocery stores and outfitters have remained open. Supplies are plentiful, but all restaurants are closed except for takeout orders. The group was able to eat well and resupply for the trail ahead. 

For now, we have decided to stay on trail for as long as it’s feasible

Friday, March 20, 2020

Today’s Miles = 0    

Snapshot spent the morning putting together my resupply for the next 3 days. The stress of the virus and the whole new sets of logistics in moving forward on the trail took it tole of Snapshot today, Thru-hiking itself is hard,  now we have the added layer of planning days ahead. It’s a minor thing to be worried about with all that’s going on in the world and I recognize how lucky I am even to be out here. Nevertheless, I couldn’t control the tears today. 

Three members of the group decided to stay in town for a few days. Turtle and Snapshot made the decision to go back to the trail and arranged a shuttle for 7:30 am on Saturday. Their six-day plan is: to get to the NOC in three days where I will pick up my resupply box. The NOC is closed, remaining open for package pick up only.  From there we have another three days to Fontana Damn Lodge. The plan is to zero there for a day or two before heading into the Smokies.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Today’s Miles: 11

Turtle and Snapshot left Franklin and were back on the trail by 8:30 am. Her decision to continue on resulted in a peaceful start, Minutes after being on the trail, I could feel the stress releasing. Calm crept back and reclaimed my being. The sun was shining and all was right once again. 

The 11-mile trek was her best day on the trail. She and Turtle hiked at a comfortable pace and talked and laughed as they basked in the sunshine. The view from Wayah Bald was fantastic, Wayah Bald has a vantage point of 5,342 ft. in elevation, located in the Nantahala National Forest. Although the climb was arduous, the payoff left me speechless. We are camping tonight at Wayah Bald Shelter. It’s one of the nicest shelters, with a wonderful view. I look forward [to] waking in the morning and watching the sun rise.

Photo: Muskrat Shelter

Photo: Long Branch Shelter

Categories: 2020 Hikers, Appalachian Trail, Appalachian Trail Conservancy, COVID-19, Franklin, North Carolina, Georgia, Hiawassee, Snapshot, Thru-Hike, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Ronald Sanchez, Jr: Victim of Tragedy on the Appalachian Trail

Ronald Sanchez, Jr.

The tragic slaying on the Appalachian Trail in May 2019 involved many victims. Two people were physically attacked in the early morning hours of May 11. Ronald Sanchez Jr. died on the trail and is the focus of this post. Kirby Morrill was viciously attacked but escaped. Her story will be told in my next blog. But there were others who were victims as well. Two additional hikers escaped physically unharmed but terrorized by the experience. Two more hikers assisted Kirby to safety, many along the trail had encountered the intimidation of the hiker, James Jordan (trail name “Sovereign”), the Appalachian Trail Conservancy expressed great sorrow concerning the violent events, and the entire hiking community was sobered and saddened.

Part of the senselessness of this murder is that, as far as any reports reveal, the accused killer had never met the victim. The accused is from the Cape Cod area in Massachusetts. Ronald Sanchez Jr was born and raised in Garden Grove, California, about 25 miles southeast of downtown Los Angeles.

Mr. Sanchez had three brothers and a sister. He was a 1994 graduate of Santiago High School and entered the United States Army in 1995. He served as a combat engineer from April 1995 to December 2011 including three deployments to Iraq: from February 2003 to March 2004, March 2005 to January 2006, and January 2007 to April 2008. In an interview with the Daily Mail, his sister Brenda Sanchez Loera, shared: ‘To survive those deployments in Iraq and to die like this is just devastating.’ 

Sanchez at Spring Mountain, Georgia

Specialist Ronald Sanchez Jr.’s military career took a toll on his physical and emotional health. He had suffered knee and back injuries. But it took the 43-year-old veteran years to emerge from a fog of depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. He found himself unable to leave his home in Missouri. Sanchez would spend most of his days in his room watching television and playing video games, rarely going outside. When he had to shop for food, he would do it late at night to avoid being around other people.

The Department of Veterans Affairs suggested he move to Oklahoma City, where VA administers many recreation programs for recovering vets. It was there that Ronald rediscovered his love for the outdoors and soon became involved in biking, boat racing, and horseback riding. In an interview with The Oklahoman, Sanchez praised the VA, “These programs at the VA just kind of opened it up for me. Before the VA, my health was just going downhill. I sat around and ate junk food all the time. The VA was welcoming, and it’s been a good program for me. I tell everybody about it.”

Sanchez training for the AT in Oklahoma

Kellie Robinson and her husband Steve were hiking the AT as well in 2019. They met Ron in January as they began their hikes about the same time. Kellie described Sanchez as a kind and gentle soul. According to an online article in the Herald Courier, Kellie shared that Ron was “the type of guy you immediately liked upon meeting him,” She said, “He radiated an inner strength. He talked to us about why he was out here. He talked about the adversity he overcame and the inner demons he held at bay. It’s why we named him Stronghold. It just fit.”

After an early start on the trail, Sanchez began developing problems with his knees and shoulders, which had been operated on several times while he was in the Army. These chronic injuries forced him off the trail for several weeks. Sanchez stopped at the Gooder Grove Hostel in Franklin, North Carolina where he met the manager, Colin Gooder. Colin persuaded “Stronghold” to take a break from the trail. He offered Ron a place to stay in exchange for helping run the hostel. This needed time off the demands of the trail gave Sanchez the rest and strength he needed to continue his thru-hike.

Gooder Grove Hostel in Franklin, NC.

Stronghold was back on the trail and by mid-April, he arrived in Damascus, Virginia (467 miles along the AT). Discouraged and tied, he decided to call his girlfriend, Brenda Kelley. He had met Kelley in Oklahoma in 2018 where they both were members of a local hiking club. He told her he was ready to go home. Kelley made a round trip to Virginia to take Sanchez back home. Only a few days later, he was ready to return to the trail to continue his journey, so Kelley then returned Sanchez to Damascus

Brenda Kelley and Ron hiking in Oklahoma

In early May, Sanchez had hiked to Southwest Virginia, about 545 miles into his journey. He and three other hikers decided to set up camp on the trail in Wythe County, Va., close to Crawfish Trail on the night of May 10. The campsite is located in the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests.

James Jordan arrived at the campsite talking to himself. He sat by the campfire until after dark singing songs and playing his guitar. After nightfall, he began to threaten the four hikers in their tents. He shared that he was going to set their tents on fire. Around midnight, Jordan retreated into the woods and the four hikers decided to break camp and move on. They were in the process of gathering their belongings when Jordan returned.

Two hikers managed to escape the volatile situation and hiked north on the trail. Jordan turned on the two remaining hikers and allegedly stabbed Sanchez in the chest. His attack shifted to Kirby Morrill, who suffered multiple stab wounds before playing dead and eventually escaping further violence.

At 2:21 a.m., the International Emergency Response Coordination Center contacted Wythe County 911 and informed dispatchers they had received an S.O.S. from a hiker. Local authorities said Sanchez had managed to send an SOS from his phone. It was 6:14 on Saturday morning before the tactical team was able to arrive at the campsite where the attack occurred. The team found Sanchez’s dead body with a 20-inch knife near the body along with a dog who then led the team to the suspect. The deputies found blood on Jordan’s clothes and arrested him.

My prayers go out to the friends and family of Ronald Sanchez Jr. His life was ended as it was beginning to unfold in a newness of peace and release. I pray that his time of the Appalachian Trail was exactly what he needed to find true freedom and reconciliation in his spirit

Ronald Sanchez on the ApplalchianTrail

Resources: Information and Photos

Categories: Appalachian Trail, Appalachian Trail Conservancy, Gooder Grove Hostel, James Jordan, Murder, Ronald Sanchez, Jr, Thru-Hike, Uncategorized, Virginia | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Tragic Death on the Appalachian Trail – May, 2019

The tragic stabbing that occurred on the Appalachian Trail on May 11 left one man dead and one woman critically injured. Since the trail’s completion in 1937, there have been remarkably few (less than 10) murders on the Appalachian Trail. Its long 80+ year history has proven that the AT is a safe environment to enjoy God’s creation. When a murder does occur, it brings sadness and sobriety to the entire hiking community. The next three posts on this blog will attempt to share the facts of the situation and not to sensationalize this tragic situation. This post will focus on the accused murderer, the next on the victim who died, and the last on the victim who escaped and survived.

James Louis Jordan, trail name “Sovereign,” has been charged by federal authorities with one count of murder and one count of assault with intent to commit murder following an attack on the early morning of May 11 near the Smyth-Wythe county line on the Appalachian Trail.

James L. Jordan

Jordan is last known to have lived in West Yarmouth, Massachusetts, a community of about 6,000 in Cape Cod, where he accumulated an extensive criminal record. On June 1, 2013, Jordan was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct, resisting arrest, and trespassing. Another incident of bizarre behavior took place later in 2013 in Barnstable at Cape Cod Hospital when Jordan was delirious and was yelling, screaming and claiming that the staff was trying to give him a lethal injection. On June 9, 2016, Jordan found himself facing yet another criminal complaint. The Lawrence Police Department in Massachusetts (about 1 ¾ hour drive north of West Yarmouth) charged Jordan with possession of a stolen car.  

Yarmouth, Mass.

This murder case on the Appalachian Trail is rather unique from previous violent deaths – it was preceded by six weeks of complaints about Jordan’s behavior and the hiking community was well aware of this man’s strange behavior. Brian King, the publisher at the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (a nonprofit dedicated to the preservation and management of the trail), shared that the ATC was well aware of the recurring complaints about Jordan and had been urging hikers to contact local authorities or call 911 if he was a disruption on the trail. The organization had also asked its ridge runners (employees located along the trail to assist hikers and answer questions) to alert hikers to possible encounters with Jordan.

Brain King

Jordan’s strange behavior was noted on the Appalachian Trail as early as April 2019. On April 22, authorities were called to a location along U.S. Highway 23 in Unicoi County, Tennessee, on the report of a suspicious person. Jordan appeared at a road crossing where trail angels (volunteer good Samaritans) were handing out food to thru-hikers. Jordan initiated a verbal argument with some of the backpackers, who then alerted authorities.  Jordan was slurring his words and had trouble standing. He gave authorities a false name and birthday along with a fake ID.  He appeared to be under the influence of intoxicants. Jordan was arrested by Deputy Ricky Dean Jr. after a search revealed marijuana and a 17-inch survival knife. That knife is being held in the evidence room at the Unicoi Sheriff’s Office. It’s unclear when or where Jordan purchased the knife used in the attack in May.

According to Unicoi County Sheriff Mike Hensley, none of the hikers who had been assaulted by Jordan in the April incident were willing to press charges or testify in court, so Jordan was arrested only for the fake ID and drug charges. Jordan was booked into the Unicoi County jail and was later found guilty of criminal impersonation, public intoxication, and possession of Schedule VI drugs. He was released on probation on April 25 and ordered to stay off the trail.

Sheriff Mike Hensley

After this Tennessee arrest in April, the word began to grow in the hiking community, through word of mouth and on social media that “Sovereign” was a strange character known for threatening hikers and aggressive behavior.

Odie Norman is the publisher of the Hiker Yearbook. Norman said he met Jordan, along with his dog in Roan Mountain, Tennessee, on May 3. Norman offered to buy him lunch and noticed right away that Sovereign was not in his right mind. According to the Washington Post, Sovereign told Norman that he was “on a mission to protect the mountain people from the infiltrators trying to steal their insurance.”

Odie Norman

Early morning on May 5, Sovereign was seen in Bristol, Tennessee. He apparently stopped at the University C Mart around 1 a.m. The store’s owner, Mike Brown, told the Bristol Herald Courier that he was outside the store when he heard the sound of a can being kicked. He turned around and saw a dog wearing a service vest and then the dog’s owner – Jordan dressed in camouflage carrying a military backpack, a fishing pole, and a guitar. Brown thought Jordan was a veteran due to a tattoo on his arm. After Jordan said he was searching the dumpster for something to eat, Brown gave him a sandwich and a bottle of water.

Store Owner, Mike Brown

The actual events leading to the deadly attack began on Friday, May 10 when Tigerlilly, a thru-hiker from Ohio, encountered Sovereign and his dog on the trail. She had just set up her tent off the trail and was hiking alone within the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests in Smyth County, Virginia. Tigerlilly immediately felt uncomfortable in his presence and quickly but carefully retreated to her tent. After a short time, Sovereign continued hiking north along the trail. He then approached four hikers on the trail.  

According to those hikers, he was acting disturbed and unstable. He was playing his guitar and singing to himself around the campfire. After nightfall, Jordan began randomly approaching the hikers’ tents, making noises and threatening the hikers. He spoke to the hikers through their tents and threatened to pour gasoline on their tents and burn them to death. At that point, all four hikers decided to break camp and move on to a safer location. Sovereign confronted them with a knife. Two of the hikers ran north on the trail and successfully escaped. They called 911 at 2:30 am, reporting that they were being chased with a man with a knife. 

The other two hikers were attacked by Sovereign. Both were stabbed. One managed to escape and one was killed on the trail (their stories will be shared in future posts).

According to online news sources, at about 6:14 a.m., the Wythe County Sheriff’s Office tactical team entered the campsite where the attack occurred. The team initially located Jordan’s dog. Officers took Jordan into custody observing bloodstains on his clothing. The tactical team discovered the body of the fallen hiker along with a large knife, believed to be the murder weapon, in close proximity to the victim’s body. Jordan’s dog was taken to the animal shelter in Wythe County.

Both the female stabbing victim and the two hikers who fled from Jordan identified him as the attacker. The sheriff’s department, working in concert with the Virginia State Police, closed approximately 16 miles of trail to complete a crime-scene investigation. That section of the trail was reopened on Sunday, May 12.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Pamela Meade Sargent ordered a psychiatric evaluation of Jordan and he was found incompetent to stand trial “at this time.” The judge ordered James L. Jordan back into a mental health facility for further treatment, and she requested another report within four months

U.S. Magistrate Judge Pamela Meade Sargent

On July 8, based on the subsequent psychiatric report, Judge Sargent found Jordan “mentally incompetent for the charges against him to proceed at this time.” The Judge ordered him to be returned to a federal mental health facility for treatment and “to determine whether there is a substantial probability that in the foreseeable future the defendant will attain the capacity to permit the charges against him to proceed.”


Categories: Appalachian Trail, Appalachian Trail Conservancy, James Jordan, Murder, Thru-Hike, Uncategorized, Virginia | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Next Step on Katahdin

The Destination!

One Day 176 of his adventure (August 20), Next Step was joined by his wife, Which Way and they both hiked to the top of Mount Katahdin in Maine, the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail. Coming down off the summit Next Step joined the class of 2018 as a Thru-hiker. I offer my applause and greatest congratulations.

Darrell (Next Step) & Alicia (Which Way) Brimberry began their trek on February 24 from Springer Mountain, Georgia. Next Step had just retired from the military as an Army Colonel with 30 years of active duty service. They began their hike right after retirement and had not relocated out of Washington, DC, so technically they hiked the trail as part of the homeless in the US.

Not an Easy Climb

They hiked together for the first 1,000 miles. They were about 20 miles from Harpers Ferry, WV, the home of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, when Alicia’s previous back injury flared up to the point of needing some medical attention. She got a ride to Harpers Ferry where she reunited with Next Step and the next day traveled to Charles Town, WV for some therapy. The therapy was not effective enough for her to continue the trek so she ended up making her way to her parent’s home in Kentucky while Next Step continued on without her.

Not Easy at All

Next Step really increased his mileage as a solo hiker. It took Next Step and Which Way 95 days to hike the first 1,000 miles (an average of 10.52 miles per day). Next Step then walked the next 1,000 miles in 69 days (an average of 14.49 miles per day) and finished his last 190 miles in Maine in 12 days (Averaging 15.83 miles per day). He hiked the last 26 days without a true zero-day for rest.

Next Step and Which Way are delightful people who made many friends along the path. They seemed to have an exciting time together and a supportive time apart wishing they could be together. They were determined to summit Katahdin together and it was exciting to see the photos of them climbing the mountain and standing atop the big brown sign together. Hooray! Success!

Categories: Appalachian Trail, Appalachian Trail Conservancy, Class of 2018, Maine, Mount Katahdin, Thru-Hike, Which Way and Next Step | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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.”



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


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

Blog at

%d bloggers like this: