Blood Mountain

Zin and the Vagabond

Zin Master (Ken Nieland) after hiking for three days and developing blisters, has been off the Appalachian Trail for 17 consecutive days. He has been staying with his in-laws in Tennessee. His hope is to return to the trail on Tuesday, February 13. He is planning on leaving Tennessee at 4:00 am in order to drop off his rental car in Blairsville, Georgia when Enterprise opens at 8:00. He has arranged for a shuttle driver (Pretzel) to take him to the trailhead at Tesnatee Gap. From there Zin will hike 6 miles southbound (SOBO) – back to Neel Gap while Pretzel takes most of his supplies with him. (This is called slackpacking – someone takes for heavy stuff like your tent, sleeping bag, etc. and meets you down the trail while you hike with just the needed supplies for the day.) Zin will stay at Blood Mountain Cabins or Mountain Crossing on Tuesday night. Pretzel will pick him up on Wednesday morning and shuttle him again to Tesnatee Gap and Zin will continue his NOBO hike from there.

Sounds complicated? I let you know how it all turns out when he posts in his journal in the next few days.

Vagabond Jack (Jack Masters) began his thru-hike on Appalachian Trail on February 1 with a 5.2-mile hike from Springer Mountain to Long Creek Falls. Day Two found him helping another hiker in distress to find refuge in Hightower for a hike of only 3.4 miles. Vagabond took two zero-days in Dahlonega, Georgia to avoid some winter weather. He returned on February 5th and hiked 7.2 miles from Hightower to Gooch Mountain. His longest trek so far was on February 6th from Gooch Mountain to Woods Hole Shelter (12.1 miles). He took a short day on the 7th with a 3.5-mile hike into Neel Gap and then a ride into Blairsville, followed by a 0 day on February 8.

Vagabond Jack returned to Neel Gap on the 9th and hiked 11.5 miles to Low Gap. The next day he managed 7.3-miles from Low Gap to Blue Mountain Shelter. He then hiked into Unicoi Gap (2.4 miles) and took a shuttle into Hiawassee, Georgia. He zeroed in Hiawassee on the February 12th. Vagabond Jack plans to return to the trail on the 13th and hike from Unicoi Gap to Tray Mountain (about 5.7 miles).

I am hoping that the warmer weather coming in the next few weeks will allow Jack to up his mileage. Less than 4.5 miles per day does not spell a successful thru-hike. I can tell by his journal that he is becoming discouraged and fighting for some determination to continue. He shares in his 2/12/18 post from Hiawassee:

“It’s said that about 25% of all people who start out as thru-hikers quit at Neel Gap, about 32 miles into the 2200-mile trek. I can see why. It’s not easy! It is not a walk in the woods. It is constantly climbing up and going down. In some sections, the trail is nothing but rocks, and each step has the potential to twist an ankle or worse. It’s taking 10 steps up a slope, then stopping for 10 seconds to catch your breath, then repeating that process for an hour. It’s taking even longer going down the other side of that mountain because you have to carefully consider every step. It’s sleeping on a hard platform in a shelter, side by side with strangers who snore, fart, and toss and turn. It’s your nose getting cold in the middle of the night, but knowing you can’t sleep with your head in your sleeping bag or you’ll wake up with a wet bag from the condensation from your breath. It’s eating crappy food, filtering water when your hands are numb from the cold…”

My prayers go out to both these hiker. They have both had a difficult, discouraging start.

Categories: Appalachian Trail, Blood Mountain, Georgia, Hiawassee, Neel Gap, Thru-Hike, Vagabond Jack, Zin Master | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Vagabond Jack Headed North

View from Sassafras Mt.

After hiking on the Appalachian Trail for two days and covering 8.6 miles of the trail, Vagabond Jack took two zero days (rest days – not hiking at all) in Dahlonega, Georgia, avoiding some wintry weather. On Monday, 2/5/18, Jack got back on the trail where he left off at Hightower Gap. The shuttle driver dropped Vagabond Jack about 9:15 on this cold and windy day. He climbed up and over Sassafras Mountain, a nice introduction to the climbs in northern Georgia. He was not surprised by the challenge as Jack has experienced several of the mountains in the Smokies this past summer. Monday’s hike ended at Gooch Mountain Shelter just before 3:00. He completed his 7.2-mile trek in under six hours

Tuesday (2/6/18) brought a 12.1-mile trail to Vagabond Jack’s agenda. The goal was to walk to Wood’s Hole Shelter, only 4 miles from Neel Gap and civilization. He was hoping to be on the trail by 8:00 but his need for some added sleep delayed his start by 45 minutes. He was 5.2 miles down the trail by noon when arrived at Woody Gap and State Route 60. It was here that he experienced his first Trail Magic (what I would prefer to call Trail Blessings). A young man hopped out of a car and asked Jack if he was a thru-hiker. He handed Jack a banana and some words of encouragement.

Preaching Rock

Jack continued down the path and was rewarded when he reached Preaching Rock with beautiful views of some the valleys and mountains of the AT in Georgia. About 3:00, he arrived at Lance Creek campground with another 4 miles to Woods Hole Shelter. Rain was predicted for early evening but had not started at 3:00. He did not want to set up or tear down his tent in the rain, so he decided to continue to the shelter. He arrived about 5:45 and the rain was still just a threat in the evening sky. He made himself comfortable in the shelter realizing that he was the only one there. He went to sleep knowing that he was only four miles to Neel Gap, but also aware that he would need to summit Blood Mountain on the way.

Vagabond Jack woke up to rain on Wednesday morning. Knowing that he had a short hike into Neel Gap, he decided to wait for a while hoping that the rain would calm down. About 10:30 the strength of the rain began to weaken and by 11:00 Vagabond Jack was on the trail. Blood Mountain is the real deal. It is a challenge to climb, but it presents a more dangerous descent. It was foggy and misty as Vagabond Jack made his way up and over the summit. The large, rain-slickened rocks demanded the use of his hands to maneuver down the steep sheets of rock.

He was tired and thirsty when he walked into Mountain Crossing, the outfitters at Neel Gap. It was about 3:30 so he bought some food, grabbed a coke and caught a ride to Blairsville, Georgia, about 14 miles away. He checked into the Season’s Motel and took a long hot shower. He is taking a zero-day in Blairsville on Thursday and should be back on the trail on Friday.

Categories: Appalachian Trail, Blood Mountain, Georgia, Gooch Mountain, Sassafras Mountain, Shelter, Thru-Hike, Trail Blessing, Trail Magic | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Zin Master Waiting in Tennessee

Zin Master began his thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail on January 23, 2018, in Springer Mountain Georgia. He hiked 7.4 miles on Tuesday the 23rd.  Wednesday’s hike was 8.3 miles; Thursday equaled 8.1 miles; Friday (1/26/18) totaled 7.3 miles including a climb over Blood Mountain into Neel Gap.

Zin had developed some major blisters on his feet and decided to get off the trail to allow for some physical healing. Fortunately, his in-laws live in Kingsport Tennessee, so he traveled by bus to retreat with family.

Zin needed to address a couple of hiking issues in addition to his blisters. He needed to find a more comfortable boot/shoe and he needed to replace a broken trekking pole.

Zin began a daily soak of his feet in warm water and Epsom salt and then moisturizing them with Aquaphor. I used Aquaphor on my feet in 2014 and not only did it keep the skin from cracking but it left them a water resistance almost like a waxy, oily film. It doesn’t sound very good, but it truly helped maintain strong and happy feet.

Zin found some longer and wider shoes (14W) and was able to find someone to modify his inserts to fit his new Keens (which he had to order). He sent his Leki trekking pole to the company who is making repairs and sending them back to him. As of February 7th, he is still waiting for his new/repaired gear.

Top of Blood Mountain

Zin has also checked on transportation back to the trailhead at Neel Gap. The bus ride was long and involved traveling to Tennessee, but it was going to be horrendous on the return trip – 20 hours including a 10-hour layover in Atlanta. So, he has decided to rent a car for a few more dollars than the bus ticket and he will be able to drive with 13 miles of the trailhead in 4 hours. He will then be able to get an inexpensive shuttle to the trailhead itself.

He has been on the trail for four days and resting in Tennessee for twelve days. Once those shoes and trekking poles arrive, he should be healed and ready to move. It must be discouraging to have to wait, but maybe the weather will be warmer as he moves forward. Hopefully, he will be on his way toward Maine by this weekend.

Categories: Appalachian Trail, Blood Mountain, Georgia, Neel Gap, Springer Mountain, Tennessee, Zin Master | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Grateful 2’s Climb Over Blood Mountain

Grateful 2, a thru-hiker from Chattanooga, and his son, Gooseman, Have begun their attempt at hiking 2,186 miles through 14 states on the Appalachian Trail. They began their journey on March 18 and have trekked 15.8 miles. Their second night on the AT was spent at the Gooch Mountain Shelter. This post finds the father/son team on day three of the trek.

March 20 was a beautiful day for a hike on the AT and Graetful 2 and Gooseman covered 8.4 miles. The hike is not an easy one and the challenge is real. Grateful 2 writes in his journal on day three, “Up-and-down the mountains seeing the splendor of God’s creation. It is awe-inspiring to imagine the one who created all that we see and enjoy…. Walking in the outdoors is enjoyable. Walking in the outdoors up and down 1000 foot elevation gains and losses can be hard. Walking in the outdoors up and down 1000 foot elevation gains and losses with a 35 pound pack can be downright difficult sometimes…. My legs ache, my knees hurt, my back kept cramping, my feet burned, but still we kept walking. I was so glad to finally get to the campsite for the evening.”

March 21 Today was a day for big adventure (7.2.miles). An anticipated climb over Blood Mountain with the reward of real food at the end of the descent. The descent down to Neel Gap was a brutal rock scramble. Grateful 2 and Gooseman rented a cabin at Blood Mountain Cabins. A few hours after their arrival a horrific storm enveloped the area – heavy rains, marble sized hail, fierce winds, lightning and thunder.

March 22 Today hike was a tough 6.9 miles for the men from Chattanooga. ”As we started down the trail this morning, Gooseman said to me, ‘My knees are hurting bad.’ Not good. He never complains about his body hurting so i knew it must be bad. I asked him when they started hurting. ‘After we finished the rock scramble down Blood Mountain yesterday.’ We had planned to hike 11 miles today. The first mile took us over an hour. Usually Gooseman is bounding down the trail; his six foot three, two hundred thirty pound frame leaving me in his dust at 2-3 miles an hour. Not today…. I hope he can walk on them tomorrow. He’s really loving the hike so far, and then this. Tomorrow will be a better day, and I’m Grateful 2.”

March 23 Father and son hiked 8.2 miles today in an attempt to get back to civilization. They should be at Unicoi Gap tomorrow. Gooseman’s knees are still not doing well so they are planning to meet Grateful 2’s wife and take a couple of days off for them to recuperate.

March 24  The hike up and over Blue Mountain today was quite difficult. The 6.1 miles trek involved 40 degree temperatures with 30-40 mph winds with rain and fog. Gooseman’s knees were still bothering him significantly, so the men eventually decided to hitch a ride into Hiawassee, Georgia. They ended the day warm and dry.

March 25  “Zero Day- I cried. And I’m not a crier. I got up from the bed and went to the bathroom of this two-bit motel room where my wife, son, and I are staying and I cried some more so they wouldn’t hear me. I cried hard. Gooseman has decided he’s going home. His knees are hurting, he has a sinus infection, and he’s decided to go home.
I’ll miss him so much but that’s not why I’m crying. We’ve had a great week and shared a lot of laughs. It will be hard without him but that’s not why I’m crying.
I’m crying because I hurt for Gooseman. What many of you don’t know about Gooseman is that he has autism. I’ve watched him his whole life not be accepted. I’ve watched him try so hard to be successful in life, and he struggles. He’s doesn’t have a job and he still lives at home. He’s a good man with a great sense of humor, but he struggles. He’s generous and loves giving to others. He always stands up for the underdog.
On the trail, if he can walk, he’s normal. I’ve watched him being accepted this week. I so wanted him to finish- to be accepted as a hiker. Not for me but for him.”

All information and photos come from Grateful 2’s online journal at http://www.trailjournals.com/entry.cfm?id=559189

Categories: Appalachian Trail, Blood Mountain, Georgia, Gooseman, Grateful 2, Hiawassee, Thru-Hike | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

The AT Class of 2017

The class of 2017 thru-hikers is off and climbing over the hills of Appalachia. The excited adventurers all hope that they have what it takes to hike 2,186 miles and the fortitude to travel through 14 states in order to complete the journey. There is a small percentage of thru-hikers that post their journals online through a website, trailjournals.com. I enjoy reading their stories as I retrace my journey in 2014. Several brave men and women have answered the challenge of the mountains and have set out on the path as early as January.

Vagabond on a snowy path

Only one journal began in January – an older hiking team of Vagabond and Wiesbaden started at Dennis Cove, TN on January 18, 2107. Sickness demanded that they spend several days off trail, but they have returned and their journal on 3/30/17 located them about 7.5 miles north of Pearisburg, VA. They are making slow progress but they have also encountered some difficult weather. They have logged in 234.8 total miles during their 70-day trek.

Nineteen active hikers began their attempts in February and I am tracking 71 hikers that jumped on the AT during the month of March for a total of 91 current pilgrims on the trail. But wait…. there will be a bulging bubble of hikers that start during April and a few late bloomers hitting the AT in May. I will continue to add to my statistics as others join the travelers.

There are also a large number of excited bloggers that anticipate being part of the class of 2017, but for one reason or another simply do not follow-through on their journal. Typically, they just drop off the website with no journal entries after some pre-hike posts. If there is no entry, then I take them off my watch list and turn my eyes to those who are active. From January through March there are 47 hikers with blank pages

Bacon on the AT

from the trail. They might be on the AT somewhere or they might have reason for staying home – either way, they are not included in my numbers.

Of the 91 hiker-diaries active online, six of those journals record the hiker’s need to leave the trail. Physical, emotional, and unknown reasons tell the tale. Let me let their journals share the stories.

Trail name: Bacon“Due to some unexpected issues that have popped up over the last several days, I am forced to leave the trail this year”

Giggles: “Giggles tried to hike another day with his bad knees but decided BEFORE going over Bull Gap to call the hike! He and Chitz rented a car and headed home. He was in good spirits and looking forward to shower and clean clothes! We are sure that giggles will section hike in the future but for now he will just enjoy his new status of ‘retired’.”

Poncho Gorilla and Idgie2/23/17 “The MRI showed a complex tear of meniscus. The doctor said that he would like to do surgery next Wednesday. He said full recovery would be around 30 days. We now plan to do a flip flop hike.” 3/3/17 “I had surgery on March 1. It was a partial meniscectomy. I am icing frequently and have been walking in the house. Some swelling is still present. I can feel daily improvement and caution

Pokeymom

myself not to over do it. I am still cautiously optimistic for a start this month on the trail. We will do a flip flop if able to get on trail”

Pokeymom: “I am a wimpy slow fair-weather hiker. I’m friendly and cheerful and cautious of my foot placement to the point of extreme low mileage. I had no aches or pains or blisters or falls….although I did start with bronchitis which is still lingering around the edges. I carried too much food and too much weight but used everything I brought and was comfortable.”

Icy Blood Mountain

Mattman: “Coming down off Blood Mt. on the way to Neel Gap I slipped on ice and injured my shoulder. It’s bad. I cannot lift my arm. The attempt is over. I am so disappointed. I suppose I am lucky–it could have been worse.”

Stay in touch and I will attempt to update the class of 2017 on a weekly basis.

Photos captured from the journals

Vagabond – http://www.trailjournals.com/photos.cfm?id=1090036

Bacon – http://www.trailjournals.com/photos.cfm?id=1087472

Pokeymom http://www.trailjournals.com/about.cfm?trailname=21129

Mattman’s Blood Mountain http://www.trailjournals.com/photos.cfm?id=1091779

Categories: Appalachian Trail, Blood Mountain, Class of 2017, Pearisburg, Thru-Hike, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

The Journey is the Reward

Mount Katahdin fogI remember lying in bed before I began my thru-hike adventure of the Appalachian Trail trying to image the journey and what I would see, the experiences that I might encounter, the people that I would meet, and the animals that would cross my path. I remember my mind going to the topic of sleep as I felt so comfortable in my own bed. Would I be able to get to sleep, would I get enough sound sleep to feel rested in the morning, would I find good spots for my tent or would I be sleeping on rocks and roots that would prohibit a peaceful slumber in the woods? I tried to think of climbing Mount Katahdin (a mountain that I had never seen before) and arriving at the famous brown sign that graces the northern terminus of the AT. My mind’s eye could never focus in on that picture – I just could not see myself on the summit.

When I arrived at the Tableland, the gateway to the summit, with a distance of just 1.6 miles to the iconic sign, the reality began to set in that I was going to make it. With one mile to go I walked past Thoreau Spring (just a trickle on September 24, 2014) and began the final climb to the summit. Then I saw the sign in the distance and realized that many hikers were at the top celebrating their victory and the climax of months of hiking.

The Celebration

During this last mile of the hike, a principle that I had incorporated in my life during my doctoral studies came crashing into my mind. Katahdin was not the reward. The fantastic sign at the summit filled with celebration, high-fives, hugs, and voices of congratulations was not the reward. The journey was the reward. The sign marked the end of the journal, the last page of the recorded adventure, the final entry documenting the walk of 2,186 miles. It was the period after the title, Thru-hiker. It was a crowning experience to stand atop the sign and shout a victory cry of joy.

But the real reward was the journey. The 5 million steps counted one at a time. The sunny days and the rain storms, the sweltering hot July days in Pennsylvania and the cold nights in September in the wilderness of Maine provided the weather that defined the journey. The special friends and bonds of brotherhood that were crafted along the path formed the relationships of the reward. 20140603-185040.jpg 20140524-141412.jpg 20140505-084828.jpg Each campsite, shelter, hostel, and hotel brings a memory of the reward of the hobo lifestyle and independent uniqueness of the thru-hike. No two thru-hikes are the same and part of the reward is working through the personal struggles, victories, joys, and tears that make up the walk.

On the last day of the hike, the brown sign was a great reward. But reflecting back on the journey and this life-changing experience, the sign plays a pretty small part. Mount Katahdin was amazing, but so was Blood Mountain in Georgia, Mount Albert in North Carolina, Thunderhead Mountain in Tennessee, McAfee Knob in Virginia, Mount Lafayette in New Hampshire, and about twenty other absolutely incredible vistas experienced along the trail.

The reward is reading my journal and reflecting on the faithfulness of God – everyday, in every state, every night, and in every need – always protecting, always guiding, always providing. The journey was the reward.

 

Photo – Dream of Katahdin –  https://www.tripadvisor.ie/LocationPhotoDirectLink-g40744-d145958-i122917743-Mount_Katahdin-Millinocket_Maine.html

All Other Photos from my Thru-hike 2014

Categories: Albert Mountain, Appalachian Trail, Blood Mountain, Maine, McAfee Knob, Mount Katahdin, Mount Lafayette, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Tableland, Tennessee, Thoreau Spring, Thru-Hike, Thunderhead Mountain, Virginia | Tags: , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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