Damascus

Grateful 2 – The Key Swapper

Grateful 2’s approach to the thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail is a partner system. They share a truck (sleeper for the night), one drops the other at the trailhead, then drives north to the final destination. The partners hike in opposite directions and pass the truck keys off when they meet along the path. The northbound partner then reaches the truck, drives back to the original trail head and picks up the southbound hiker. He and hiking buddy, Persistent, started this “key swap hike” on April 24 at Erwin, Tennessee. The hike went well for six days with the duo averaging almost 13 miles per day. Then on April 30, Grateful 2 had a bad fall, tripping over a root and finding himself experiencing a face plant that broke his nose and lacerated his forehead.

Grateful 2 was off the trail for seven days healing from his fall. Persistent needed to hike on, so Grateful 2 needed to find a new partner. He drove to Damascus, Virginia, and connected with Chip, a thru-hiker that was needing to rehab a foot. They hiked together for 11 days until the truck developed mechanical problems near Pearisburg, Virginia on May 18th. Chip needed to leave for a conference on May 20th so they needed to say goodbye.

It took several days to repair his vehicle but Grateful 2’s journal entry on May 21 indicated that the “key swap” will continue on the 22nd with another new partner, Peter Pan. In addition to transmission problems the truck needed a repair to the hydraulic lifter delaying the fix until May 26. Peter Pan could not wait for the repairs but Grateful 2 connected with some old trail friends, Bushy and Sparks that agreed to partner in his “key swap” approach.

Dragons Tooth

They hiked 22 miles out of Pearisburg on the first day. The threesome were joined by Grateful 2’s wife and son, Carol and AJ, who planned to help with the slackpacking strategy for a couple of weeks. The hikers were able to see Dragon’s Tooth, an aptly named single massive stone of Tuscarora quartzite. It stands out on its own at the top of Cove Mountain. Bushy and Sparks decided to slow their pace and hike a more traditional hike, so Grateful 2 and his wife and son continued on while looking for yet another partner.

Me on McAfee

During the next three days, the three family members hiked past McAfee Knob, one of the most photographed spots along the AT, along Tinker Cliffs and into Daleville, Virginia for a rest day. The next day (June 2) they met Goalie and Ten, the next partners in the “key swap” adventure. They partnered for seven days, hiking under the Guillotine Rock (which looks a bit like the rolling rock in the first Indiana Jones movie), along the James River, past the 800 mile mark, over Cold Mountain, and to the Tye River – a distance of 100 miles. Goalie and Ten then decided to aquablaze (canoe) down the Shenandoah River, leaving Grateful 2 looking for yet another key swapper.

Guillotine Rock

On June 9th, the day his wife and son returned home to Chattanooga. Tennessee, Grateful 2 connected with a young hiker, Sandals, in Waynesboro, Virginia. Sandals could only commit to a nine-day partnership until he had to leave the trail for a church mission trip, but they started out together through the Shenandoah National Park.

This “key swap” idea has some positive aspects to it – less pack weight to carry every day, a nice, dry place to sleep every night, and easy access to food and town whenever desired – but the down side so far for Grateful 2 are the mechanical difficulties of his truck and needing five hiking partners in 47 days. How hard will it be to continue this process? Only time will tell.

Categories: Appalachian Trail, Daleville, Damascus, Dragons Tooth, Grateful 2, Guillotine Rock, McAfee Knob, Pearisburg, Shenandoah National Park, Thru-Hike, Waynesboro | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Beaker: From Damascus to the Wild Ponies

Bo, Beaker and 1st Sgt in Damascus

In the last few blog posts, I have been providing a quick journal tour of Grateful 2 and his son, Gooseman, from Tennessee as they have begun the thru-hike attempt of the Appalachian Trail beginning in Spring Mountain, GA. Yesterday’s post found him in Gatlinburg, TN. Meanwhile the chemist from West Virginia, Beaker, has been on the move. On April 8, Beaker and his two hiking buddies, 1st Sgt, and Bo, arrived in Damascus, VA, the ending spot for BO’s section hike. Let’s pick up the adventure as they move through Damascus and make their way to the wild ponies of Grayson Highlands.

April 9 Broken Fiddle Hostel, Damascus, VA to Lost Mountain Shelter, VA.  = 15.9 miles

Beaker and 1st Sgt. headed to the Country Cafe for breakfast in Damascus before leaving the iconic trail town. The dynamic duo hiked on or next to the Virginia Creeper Rail Trail most of the day. It was a beautiful sunny day, with temperatures reaching almost 80 degrees. They arrived at the Lost Mountain Shelter around 6:00 pm.

As they were setting up their tents, fellow-hiker Courtney came bouncing into camp with a slack pack. Her parents had come to visit and were bringing her regular pack to the shelter, which was located only a mile from the road. When her parents arrived, along with her pack, they brought pizza, sodas, chips, bananas, and brownies. Dinner was served!

Beaker and the Ponies

April 10 Lost Mountain Shelter to Thomas Knob Shelter, VA.  = 12.3 miles

The hiking buddies began today’s hike by descending 1.5 miles to Rt 58. Then the climb started – 2000 ft climb to the top of White Top Mountain. They continued to climb with steadily rising temperatures, we reached Buzzard Rocks. They experienced a little reprieve by descending to a road crossing at Elk Garden,. Beaker began to realize that the heat and the climbing were beginning to wear on him. He knew that he and 1st Sgt. had to climb back up to Mount Rogers (the highest peak in VA). As they approached Thomas Knob shelter, 1st Sgt agreed that the climb had beaten them up enough that they were ready to stop. When we reached the shelter, we were met by four wild ponies – a stallion and three mares. The ponies were very tame and very much interested in licking the salt off of us and our packs.

April 11 Thomas Knob Shelter to Stealth site 3.0 miles north Hurricane Creek Shelter = 19.1 miles

Beaker awoke this morning to the clip-clop of little hooves as five ponies arrived at the shelter. A couple of the bolder ones even stuck their heads in the shelter to check on the sleeping hikers. 1st Sgt and Beaker headed out into another beautiful morning and saw many more ponies as they hiked across Grayson Highlands. They arrived at Hurricane Creek Shelter around 5:30 pm; but found that it sat on sloping ground and the tenting area was located quite a distance from the shelter. So they ended up hiking another three miles before finding a suitable spot to set up camp.

“We are on a tight timeline because we have to be at mile marker 544.0, where the AT passes under I-81, by 4:00 pm on Thursday. We are getting picked up by Enterprise Rent-a-Car and we are then driving to my mom’s house in Charleston, WV, where Marguerite will meet us. 1st Sgt will then return the rental car on Friday and continue his hike while I go back to Morgantown with Marguerite to pack our house for the move to Knoxville, TN. After much internal debate and weighing of alternatives, I’ve decided that when I return to the trail …. I am going to jump ahead to wherever 1st Sgt is … and complete the hike with him. I will then return and finish the portion in VA that I missed.”

Categories: Appalachian Trail, Damascus, Grayson Highlands, Thru-Hike, Virginia | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Lighterknot – God’s Provision

Book Cover 2I recently received a review on my book, Hike It Forward, that was rather critical of my experiences. The reader noted that I was very quick to see God in the good times – the missed rain storm, the surprise trail blessings, the finding of needed water, etc. – but I was rather silent in sharing God’s presence in the adversities of the hike. I am very disappointed in myself, if this is true. Honestly, I was more aware of God’s faithfulness to me in the midst of difficulties than in the warm, sunny days under the canopy. I thought I would take this post to remember a series of coincidences that revealed God’s sovereignty of provision and protection.

Sons of Encouragement

Archangel, Motown and Rowdy

God’s faithfulness began as I left Damascus, Virginia. I was planning to hike out of town with two great young men that I called my Sons of Encouragement (Motown and Archangel), but Motown got very ill in Damascus and needed to stay to recover before moving on. I hiked out alone. I decided to stop just out of town at Subway for a quick breakfast. I got to the restaurant 5 minutes before opening so I sat outside the place to wait for my anticipated egg delight. Another hiker came along willing to wait, so we began the normal thru-hiker introductions and chit-chat. His trail name was Lighterknot and we enjoyed some kindred-spirit time. We ended up eating breakfast together but hiked out of town at different paces. Soon we were out of sight of one another and I doubted that we would see one another again.

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The Ponies of Grayson Highlands

I hiked 20.2 miles that day without seeing another thru-hiker and pitched my tent at a campsite near Whitetop Mountain Road. The next day I crossed over Mount Rogers and experienced the wild ponies of Grayson Highlands. It was a hard hiking day with lots of hot sun and without lots of tree cover. After making it through the rugged terrain of Grayson, I decided to set up my chair and have a nice snack at Wise Shelter. It began to sprinkle and then came the downpour. I moved my chair into the shelter and was soon joined by eight other hikers seeking shelter from the storm. Among the refugees from the trail was Lighterknot.

As we all sat in the shelter swapping our trail names and our stories of adventure, the rain danced on the metal roof of the shelter. After about an hour, Lighterknot announced that he was meeting his wife the next day at Fox Creek and they were going to zero day in Marion, Virginia. He would have room in the car for two or three others if anyone wanted a ride. I quickly dismissed the announcement as I had just zeroed in Damascus a few days earlier. The rain delay lasted two hours and then God moved the clouds and filled the sky with the sunshine of His grace.

I folded up my tent, flopped my backpack in place, and headed down the trail. A few hours later I found a stealth campsite and nestled in for a good night’s sleep. All was good until dark-thirty am. I woke up to a very distressed stomach. I did not realize what was going on until I knew I had 20 seconds before I was going to throw up all over myself. I barely had time to unzip my tent, bail out of my sleeping bag, and stick my head outside, before my dinner and half my intestines came flying out of my mouth. That first dreadful experience was followed by a second round. I ended up in a dripping sweat and with the taste of warmed over death in my mouth. I had eaten some dried vegetables before going to bed and even the thought of them now makes me ill.

Lighterknot

Lighterknot

As I made my way back to bed and got some control of my thinking, I knew I needed to get off the trail. Lighterknot’s invitation came flying back into my mind and I was hoping that the morning and God’s sovereignty would allow me time to walk the four miles down to Fox Creek before Mrs. Lighterknot (Deb) arrived. The morning brought stomach cramps and dizziness. I was up and packed by 7:30. I arrived at Fox Creek at 9:30 feeling nauseous but elated to see Lighterknot and Gizmo sitting on a log waiting for the limo to arrive. I asked if there was still room. A spot was indeed available. God’s hand was evident and my Father was faithful in the midst of adversity.

I made it to Marion. Mr. and Mrs. Lighterknot dropped Gizmo and me off at a cheap but appropriate hotel. My wife, Cathy, who had come to Damascus to see me, was still in North Carolina visiting our daughter and her family. She drove over to Marion, so I had her counsel and special nursing ability to help me through the 48-hour bug. Cathy drove Gizmo and me back to the trailhead at Fox Creek and I was able to continue on the AT knowing that God was truly in charge of the details of my thru-hike.

Photo of Lighterknot: https://lighterknot.wordpress.com/2014/05/

Categories: Adversity, Appalachian Trail, Archangel, Damascus, Grayson Highlands, Lighterknot, Marion, Motown, Thru-Hike, Virginia | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Dulcigal and Fat Hen/Rooster Talon – Both in Daleville, Virginia

DalevilleDulcigal (Karla from Jackson, Georgia) began her thru-hike on March 13 and on Day 83 (June 3) of her adventure she posted a journal post from Daleville, Virginia.

Fat Hen (Dan) and Rooster Talon (Becky) started their trek on March 19 and on June 3rd (Day 77 of their thru-hike) they arrived at the same trail town of Daleville, Virginia.

Will they meet? Will they show up in each other’s journal? It is kind of like an Appalachian Trail soap opera. If not in Daleville, maybe soon. I will keep you updated.

My last post regarding Dulcigal, found her in Pearisburg, Virginia (mile 631) on May 26. She submitted a journal entry on May 29 from The Captain’s Place, a camping area about 30 yards from the trail. She had just missed a big hiker feed the night before – 200 hikers were there (I would have purposely missed that huge of a gathering). In order to get to the camping area, the hiker must ride a zip line over a creek. Dulcigal commented on the fun zipping into camp. She spent the night at The Captain’s Place before moving on down the trail.

McAfee Knoc

Dulcigal at McAfee Knob

Five days of hiking and 72.2 miles later, Dulcigal posted from Daleville, VA. She commented on reaching McAfee Knob and loving the view. Lots of rain had fallen over the five-day trek and so had many hikers. Rain mixed with the rocks and dirt of the path result in a very slippery trail.  One female hiker had fallen and broken her leg. On another day, a male hiker took a tumble and fractured his wrist. It only takes a slippery step to end your adventure.

Dulcigal has heard that there is a hiker festival being held in Troutville, just a few miles down the road. She is planning on heading that way to enjoy the festivities.

Fat Hen.6.1.16

Fat Hen near Tinker Cliffs

Meanwhile, Fat Hen and Rooster Talon posted a journal entry on June 3 after 19 days of silence. They were in Damascus on May 15, they spent the Memorial Day weekend with Dan’s family (they did not share where Dan’s parents are from but they drove 7 ½ hours one way to pick them up), and then they put things in high gear, hiking over almost 60 miles in 3 days. One day they hiked until early in the morning! Only the young bucks can do stuff like this. Here is part of their post:

“We hiked 56 miles in 2 1/2 days. Two of those days were at 23.5 miles. thats a lot for us and we picked some of the roughest (and prettiest) terrain we’ve seen in a while. One day we hiked until 1:30 am. We don’t recommend it. It was all worth it though and it was fun to see the limits of our abilities. We hope to increase our daily mileage from here on out.”

Dulcigal, Fat Hen and Rooster Talon continue to be in my prayers as they hike northbound toward the incredible state of Maine. They have completed approximately 1/3 of the AT, but still have 1,460+ miles to go. Multiply the days on the trail by three and Dulci will need a total of 249 days to complete her thru-hike and Hen/Rooster will finish after 231 days on the trail. Unfortunately, the trail gets more difficult as the hikers move north. After a zero day in Daleville, I left this restful town on Day 49 of my thru-hike (and I was not a very fast hiker).

Map of Daleville: https://acornhikestheat.wordpress.com/2013/06/03/trail-report-pearisburg-va-to-waynesborova-857-miles/

Dulcigal photo: http://www.trailjournals.com/photos.cfm?id=1034207&back=1

Fat Hen photo: http://www.trailjournals.com/photos.cfm?id=1033423

Categories: Appalachian Trail, Captain's Place, Daleville, Damascus, Dulcigal, Fat Hen, Georgia, McAfee Knob, Pearisburg, Rooster Talon, Thru-Hike, Virginia | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Rooster Lives!

The Pony at Grayson Highlands

The Pony at Grayson Highlands

My last touch with Fat Hen and Rooster Talon was April 26. That journal post left me with grave concerns about this young couple and their Appalachian Trail adventure. Rooster Talon (Becky) was struggling with a chronic problem of ingrown toenails to the point that hiking long miles was become very painful. She and Fat Hen (Dan) opted for some backcountry surgery thru-hiker style, so they literally took the problem into their own hands. Using some mini-scissors, and tweezers their AT surgery went well. The toe, bandaged and lathered in antibiotic ointment (the healing balm of any successful thru-hike), cooperated in carrying the Rooster into Erwin, Tennessee.

With no news for almost a month, I was beginning to assume that the forest operating room resulted in a more sterile OR and a ticket home for the rest of the hiking season. But, no! The Rooster Talon is proving to be one tough bird.

The journal come back to life on May 15, finding the young team in Marion, Virginia. Having traveled through 50 miles of the state of Virginia, Becky and Dan seem to be hiking well. They took several photos along the way including the one posted here with one of the ponies at Grayson Highlands (a highlight for almost every thru-hiker).

Tent City at Trail Days

Tent City at Trail Days

The couple made a decision to delay their NOBO adventure and returned to Damascus, Virginia for Trail Days. Dulcigal made the same choice although neither journal mentions a connection between the hikers. That is not a big surprise because (Fat Hen notes) Damascus, a town whose population is about 850, sees 20,000 to 30,000 visitors to this festival. Most of those visitors are not thru-hiking the trail, so Dan and Becky decided to opt out of tent city (a place with lots of late night celebration and loud parties). They rented a tent site on the yard of a church for $5.00 per night. They were very happy with their choice.

Trails Days was a boat load (maybe that should be a backpack full) of fun. Neither hiker won any free gear, but the AYCE pizza dinner and AYCE pancake breakfast made the journey memorable. The highlight for Dan was some disparate repairs on his backpack. The maker of his backpack was not represented in the Damascus event but he took his sick pack to the Osprey booth. They did a wonder repair and charged him nothing. Dan was overwhelmed with the quality of work and the trail angel spirit of the company. I think Dan’s next pack will have the Osprey decal printed on the back.

It is so good to see this couple alive and well on the trail. They are not making great time but they are on the move. My prayers are with them. The weather should turn in their favor and miles should begin to increase.

Photo of tent city: http://www.appalachianjosh.com/2015/11/days-149-151.html

Categories: Appalachian Trail, Backpack, Damascus, Dulcigal, Fat Hen, Grayson Highlands, Marion, Rooster Talon, Tent City, Thru-Hike, Trail Days, Virginia | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Dulcigal Travels to Trail Days

Dulci on Blood MtDulcigal arrived in Marion, Virginia on May 10 (Day 59 of her thru-hike), having hiked over 530 miles of the Appalachian Trail. The weather, during the first two weeks of May, was rather unpredictable. One night during the trek to Marion, Dulcigal encounted freezing temperatures and 4-6 inches of snow. After warming up in Marion, a group of hikers, including Dulcigal, hatched a plan to rent cars and return to Damascus, Virginia. The plan to go backward had a purpose: Trail Days. Trail Days is the premier hiker festival along the AT and this year it was celebrated on May 13-15.

Dulci had a great time at the festival raving about gear discounts, give-a-ways and the three basic needs of all thru-hikers: food, showers, and laundry. One of the traditions of Trail Days is the Thru-Hiker parade down through Main Street lined on both sides with the locals, who shoot the hikers with water guns. Quite a strange “gauntlet-like” custom but everyone seems to enjoy the event accompanied with grand laughter and cheers. There is a hiker talent show one evening where the hikers are able to demonstrate their gifts that are often hidden by their beards, backpacks, and trekking garb.

Dulcigal gave the festival high marks and felt the trip was well worth the time. She picked up a lighter backpack (this will provide benefits for days ahead) and was able to obtain some repairs on her trail runners.

In her May 19 post, Dulcigal journaled from Adkins, Virginia. She continues to experience foot pain and is resting for a day or two. She is frustrated trying to balance a longing desire to be hiking the trail with the patience needed for the body to heal itself. Her hope is to be back on the trail in a day or two.

I am a bit concerned for Dulcigal. She has averaged about 8 miles per day during her first 68 days on the trail. I did not stay in Adkins but I passed by the community on day 38 of my adventure. At the current pace, her journey will demand 274 days and a projected end date of December 11. She will be forced to do a flip flop (at some point traveling to Maine to climb Katahdin and hike across the Presidential Mountains in New Hampshire before winter) and finish the hike moving south bound to the spot of her flip flop.

My hope is that she will be able to pick up her pace and increase her daily mileage. If she could increase her daily pace to 12 miles per day for the rest of the journey, she could finish on October 3 (very close to the closing down of Katahdin for the winter). This is still very possible. My cheers and prayers are with Dulci as she attempts to reach this major accomplishment in her life.

Dulcigal - Photo approching Pearsiburg

Dulcigal – Photo approaching Pearsiburg

Update: Dulcigal posted just a few days ago and had arrived at Pearisburg, Virginia – about 634 miles on the AT (an average of 8.45 miles per day). The good news – she is feeling stronger physically and seems to be in excellent spirits. Let me share a little of her most recent posting:

“My knee is great…my feet are better… and life has been good. These past days I’ve been able to stop and enjoy the views, take pictures, think, meditate, pray, and still complete the miles I’ve needed to complete. I’m at 634 miles in Pearisburg, VA. More of God’s creatures are being seen as the weather gets warmer. Unfortunately, the annoying bugs are coming out as well. We’ve had LOTS of rain over the past week or two. Even the locals in the trail towns are complaining about the rain. We’ve been slipping and sliding a lot on the trail. I do want to say, that in spite of the rain, I LOVE VIRGINIA!!!!!!! This is such a beautiful state. I really love the contour of the mountains, the trail, etc. It is just beautiful. God’s handiwork is very much present.”

Categories: Appalachian Trail, Backpack, Damascus, Dulcigal, Hiking, Marion, Thru-Hike, Trail, Trail Days, Virginia | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Update from the Trail

Cypress and Moonbeam 1

Two Peas – Big Cypress and Moonbeam

Of the many thru-hikers that I selected to follow this season, only three remain on the trail: Two Peas from Florida, Dulcigal from Georgia, and Fat Hen & Rooster Talon from New York. Let me give you an update on these brave hikers.

I have heard nothing from Fat Hen and Rooster Talon since April 26 when they arrived in Erwin, Tennessee. Rooster Talon (Becky) was experiencing some hiking difficulties with a very sore in-grown toenail. The two of them conducted some backwoods surgery on the toe prior to hiking into Erwin. I am anxiously awaiting a revitalization of their online journal.

Both Dulci and the Two Peas updated their journals on May 10. It was great to hear from both of them. Both are still plowing ahead and making northern progress toward Maine.

The Two Peas took a nero (near zero) day entering the town of Waynesboro, VA. They then remained in Waynesboro for three zero days: resupplying, refreshing, and healing from the demands of the trail. Mrs. Pea (Moonbeam, aka, Kristin) had been fighting a UTI and a few days off trail appeared to be needed. Once they left Waynesboro, they hiked 9 days in a row averaging 11.4 miles per day. The last post (May 10) found them on day 88 of their journey and at the northern end of the Shenandoah National Park – over 960 miles of the AT behind them. They took advantage of the wayside restaurants along the Skyline Drive. I stopped at every one on my thru-hike and enjoyed the food immensely.

Moonbeam continues to struggle a bit physically on the trail. She is walking with painful shin splints. I am amazed that she continues to put in the miles every day. It is obvious that she has very little quit in her spirit. She picked up new boots in Waynesboro and thinks that the sore shins might be related to the boots.

Ducigal and the Wild Ponies

Dulcigal and the Wild Ponies

Dulci also posted on May 10, her 59th day on the Appalachian Trail. She has arrived at Marion, Virginia having hiked five days out of Damascus. She is “hoofing it” at an average pace of 12.5 miles per day. Her journal describes her excitement at Grayson Highlands enjoying the wild ponies. She also shared that she was greeted one morning this past week with 4-6 inches of snow and freezing temperatures. Fortunately she had not sent home her winter clothing yet.

Marion, Virginia is about 530 miles north of Springer Mountain. I remember very clearly having to stay in Marion. I got norovirus just outside of Marion (the only time I got sick during my journey) and ended up taking 2 days off the trail throwing-up and inspecting the bathroom every half hour. My cheap hotel had fairly nice facilities.

To provide a little idea of pace on the trail. The Two Peas arrived at the 530 mile marker on Day 51 of their journey while Dulci arrived on Day 59. After my two days off in Marion I hiked out of the town on Day 38. Everyone hikes at a different pace and the total mileage logged in any given day can vary greatly. Fortunately a thru-hike is not a race against man. It might be a race against the seasons, a race against one’s personal budget, a race against the available days to spend on the hike; but, all things said and done, the finish line only greets winners – 64 days (world record pace) or 200 days doesn’t really matter.

I am rooting and cheering for the Two Peas from Florida and Dulcigal from Jackson, Georgia. Hike your own hike (HYOH) and keep Katahdin in your sights.

Categories: Appalachian Trail, Damascus, Dulcigal, Erwin, Fat Hen, Florida, Georgia, Grayson Highlands, Hiking, Journaling, Maine, Mount Katahdin, New York, Rooster Talon, Shenandoah National Park, Springer Mountain, Thru-Hike, Two Peas, Virginia | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Some 2016 Thru-Hikers to Follow

HikeItForward-Final-MediumI decided to follow several thru-hikers this year in order to trace their journeys from Georgia to Maine. I selected two thru-hikers that started in February, three hikers that had March start dates and I hope to pick up a few more that will leave Springer Mountain in April.

Let me fill in some background information on the hikers that have started their adventure in February. The portrait of these hikers is very limited and sketchy because they typically do not share much online, so I am just pasting together what I can glean.

Two Peas with EmmittMy first selection was a couple hailing from Florida. They call themselves Two Peas. They have separate trail names: Mrs. Pea (I don’t know real last names) is Kristin who goes by the trail name of “Moonbeam.” Mr. Pea is Robert, dubbed “Big Cypress” on the AT. They have a son, Patrick and a daughter-in-law, Amanda. Amanda updates the journal occasionally when cell-phone coverage makes it impossible for the Two Peas to connect. They have one wonderful grandson Emmett, who seems to be a big motivator for the Two Peas. This is the first long distance hike for either of the Floridians. I picked these two for two reasons. One, they are grandparents, like Rocky and me, and two, they sign off each blog post with Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.” I greatly identify with this couple and pray that God will encourage them and teach them like He did this grandfather in 2014.

Two Peas at SpringerThey began their journey on February 13, 2016 from Springer Mountain, GA. It took them five days to reach Neel Gap averaging about 6.3 miles each day. On March 1, day 18 of the adventure, they arrived at the NOC (Nantahala Outdoor Center) completing 137.3 miles of the trail increasing their average to 7.6 miles per day. They hit the streets of Hot Springs, NC, the first trail town moving northbound, on March 14 having logged in 273.9 trail miles of the Appalachian Trail – pulling the average daily hike up to 8.6 miles.

Sixteen days later they walked into Damascus, Virginia. This 48th day of their hike marked a milestone that every thru-hiker remembers. Damascus is a key spot of accomplishment. It is located 476.8 miles into the journey and, more importantly, it resides in the state of Virginia. The Two Peas arrived in this iconic trail town having boosted their average daily hike up to 9.9 miles.

They reached the 600 mile marker on day 57 as they arrived at Trent’s Grocery and a ride to Woods Hole Hostel on April 9, 2016. This wonderful hostel brings great refreshment to the body and the spirit. They arrived having averaged 10.6 miles of hiking per day. They continue to gain strength and boost their daily treks. On the 11th of April they hiked 17.1 miles and the 12th of April yielded 15 miles! Their journal is a delightful read as Moonbeam records the details of their adventure. They are well on their way to a successful thru-hike. My prayers are with them. I will keep you posted.

MarkHolmgren_19877Mark Holmgren and DaughterMy second selection to follow was Mark Holmgren. Mark had a 35+ year career at the Hershey Company in Pennsylvania. I cannot find out much more about him, but I was drawn to him because of his home state (the state where I was born) and his retirement from Hershey (I remember my boyhood visit to this town and loving the giant Hershey Kisses as street lights.

Mark left Springer Mountain on February 21 and spent his first night at Hawk Mountain Shelter (about 8.1 miles from the southern terminus). Mark does not keep a disciplined daily journal like Moonbeam so it is a little more difficult to track his progress. It appears as if he made it to Low Gap (mile 43.2) on day five and Fontana Dam on March 6, day 15 of the journey. Fontana Dam is at the 164.7 mile marker reflecting an daily average of 11-miles of hiking for Mark. His journal on Sunday, the 6th of March, reflects a special meeting that took place along the trail from his daughter, Sarah. She drove four hours after work on Friday to meet him. They hiked eight miles together on Saturday and arrived at Fontana Dam. However, his post on March 10 finds him at home having decided to leave the trail for a family health matter. I hope and pray that all is well with his family and maybe another year will provide his successful thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail.

 

Two Peas Photo: http://www.trailjournals.com/entry.cfm?trailname=19145

Mark Holmgren Photo: http://www.trailjournals.com/entry.cfm?id=522841

 

Categories: Appalachian Trail, Damascus, Georgia, Hot Springs, Journaling, Mark Holmgren, Springer Mountain, Thru-Hike, Two Peas, Virginia | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Bismarck Follow-up

HikeItForward-Final-Medium

A few months ago I shared a blog post about a hiker that I had met in New Hampshire whose trail name was Bismarck. Bismarck was a friendly hiker with a big smile and outgoing personality. To my surprise a national news story broke several months after I had completed my hike and returned to Ohio. Bismarck was not from North Dakota but a resident of Milwaukee.

His real name was James T. Hammes and he had been on the run from the FBI for six years. He was wanted by authorities on suspicion of embezzlement … to the tune of $8 million dollars from a Cincinnati-based Pepsi bottler. A fellow thru-hiker recognized Bismarck as Hammes on a rerun of the TV show American Greed.  Bismarck was arrested in Virginia in May during the annual Trail Days Festival held in the small community of Damascus.

BismarckJames Hammes, 53, pleaded guilty in court to a wire fraud count and agreed to pay back money embezzled in an $8.7 million case. By pleading guilty to the embezzlement the authorities agreed to drop 74 other counts of wire fraud and money laundering against him. Under this agreement Hammes will explain what happened to the millions diverted from his employer in an operation that may have begun17 years ago.

After asking Hammes a series of questions, U.S. District Judge Susan J. Dlott accepted his guilty plea.  She asked him if he was pleading guilty because he is, “in fact, guilty.” James T Hammons replied, “Yes, I am,” Dlott said she would sentence him only after reviewing results of a presentencing investigation which could take several months. The judge warned Hammes that the court could still impose the maximum sentence of twenty years, despite his deal with the government. He said he understood.

James-Hammes-Courtesy-of-CNBC-300x220According to a ABC news story, “Hammes’ hair was long, but his beard was trimmed neatly Friday when he was led into the courtroom, hands and legs shackled and wearing an orange-and-white jail jumpsuit. He told Dlott during questioning that he was taking medication for depression.”

The AT certainly lends itself to disappearing. With a new trail name, a huge bushy beard, new traveling companions all the time, and constantly being on the move, true identity can be repressed for a long time. On the other hand trying to enjoy $8 million while living in a tent and eating trail food is not the best of plans.  I will keep my ears to the ground and my eyes peeled for the final decision of the judge.

http://abcnews.go.com/US/wireStory/appalachian-trail-hiking-embezzlement-suspect-change-plea-34670463

Categories: Appalachian Trail, Bismarck, Damascus, Hiking, James Hammes, New Hampshire, The Whites, Thru-Hike, Uncategorized, Virginia | Tags: , , | 3 Comments

So Who’s Bismarck?

HikeItForward-Final-MediumMy hiking buddy through the White Mountains in New Hampshire and the Hundred-Mile Wilderness in Maine was Racewalker, a gentleman of my age who possessed a great deal of grit and determination to finish the trail. Racewalker and I really enjoyed the trail through the White Mountains and we were able to stay at several of the huts along the Presidential range. We stopped at the last hut headed north, Guyot Hut, for a little soup and a short rest.

BismarckAs we entered the hut, we met a middle-aged couple that were thru-hiking the trail as well. The gentleman had a long salt and pepper beard (more pepper than salt) with a friendly smile and rather gregarious personality. We exchanged the normal thru-hiker conversation regarding weather, mileage goal for the day and possible destination for the night. He introduced himself as Bismarck and his companion (I thought probably his wife) was Hopper. She was quiet and said little but smiled a lot.

Six days later, Racewalker and I were staying at a wonderful hostel called The Cabin outside of Andover, Maine. While we were there Bismarck and Hopper arrived. The owners of The Cabin knew them well and raved about Bismarck’s help last year in fixing up the hostel and helping around the grounds. This was my last encounter with the couple. However, several months after my hike was complete, I saw Bismarck’s photo on the internet as a captured fugitive that had been running from the FBI for some six years.

James-Hammes-Courtesy-of-CNBC-300x220Since 2009, Bismarck, a.k.a James Hammes, has been hunted, not by the black bear of the Smokey’s, but by the FBI for allegedly embezzling over $8 million dollars from a Pepsi bottling plant between 1998 and 2009. He was featured on America’s Most Wanted and American Greed: The Fugitives. On May 16, 2015 Bismarck was arrested by agents at the Montgomery Homestead Bed and Breakfast located in Damascus, Virginia. The small town of Damascus (population 800) overflows with hikers during the annual festival called Trail Days.

I drove to the base of Katahdin for my final day on the Appalachian Trail from Millinocket, Maine, with three fellow thru-hikers. I celebrated with them on the top of the mountain, the  northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail on September 24, 2014. Several months later one of those three hikers was watching a rerun of American Greed and recognized James Hammes as being underneath the beard of “Bismarck.” A communication from the hiker to the FBI and the rest is history. Bismarck pled not guilty and a September trial is scheduled – one that I will watch with great interest. With trail names, long beards, backpack, and tents, one never knows who your fellow hikers are in “real life.”

Bismarck photo: http://www.kentucky.com/2015/05/18/3858239/a-fugitive-since-2009-embezzling.html

James Hammes photo: http://appalachiantrail.com/20150520/fbi-arrests-fugitive-james-hammes-aka-bizmark-at-trail-days/

Categories: 100 Mile Wilderness, Appalachian Trail, Damascus, The Whites, Trail Name | 2 Comments

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