AT Thru-Hikers: March 11th Update

Here is an update on the 14 thru-hikers of theApplalchain Trail that I am following. All of them started the trail in January or February of 2018.



Rich Miller from Pennsylvania and his sister began their hike on January 14. They did some hiking in PA for a few weeks (from Harpers Ferry, WV up to Caledonia State Park, PA) logging in about 70 miles on the AT. They made their way to Springer Mountain, Georgia and began their NOBO hike on March 1. Coming off Blue Mountain on a very rainy Tuesday (March 8th) both his knees started to hurt, so they decided to drive back to PA to recoup (10-hour drive).  The plan to continue some more hiking on the AT in PA and then drive back to Unicoi Gap over Easter weekend and hike north once again.

Zin Master

Zin, Ken Nieland, decided to get off the trail on February 27 with tendinitis in his lower right leg. No update on his blog since then. I have not taken him off my official list, but silence is not a good sign.

Hard Knocks

Hard Knocks

Patrick Knox, tail name Hard Knocks, started on January 31. He experienced some AT winter weather on the 7th and 8th of March. On Wednesday (8th) he was greeted with cold temperatures and 6 inches on snow.  “… the trail footing was hard to see.  Needless to say, I fell down a couple of times but, thankfully, there are no injuries to report.” The next day the wind took over with major gusts that literally knocked him over. He stopped at a crossroad and got a shuttle to Doe River Hostel in Roam Mountain area. He was hoping to slackpack out of the hostel, but March 8th was his most current post.

Vagabond’s Shelter in GSMNP

Vagabond Jack

Jack Masters, from Kansas City, took his first steps on the famous Appalachian Trail on February 1, His last updated was on March 7th and he was camping at Newfound Gap with Okie, and Camo hoping to get to Gatlinburg but the road is closed because of the snow.


Opa’s Trail on March 8

Opa (Reinhard Gsellmeier), the retired engineer from Rochester, NY, began his thru-hike on February 10. He had been hiking as part of the Four Horsemen (including Jeep, Night Train, and Captain Blackbear). The four have now become the three as Jeep elected to stay in Erwin to heal from shin splints. They hit major weather as well as they spent the night at Roam High Knob Shelter (the highest shelter on the AT). ”Accumulations I’m estimating at 5-6”, with drifts up to a foot. Temperatures dropped steadily during the day as well. It was a difficult day, lots of climbing elevation and cold, windy, snowy…. I also had my first two slips and falls of the hike today. Nothing serious, I bounced back. I should put my microspikes on. Oh yeah, I mailed them back home when I was in Hot Springs.  Of the cohort that I am following, Opa has hiked the farthest at 434.5 miles. One interesting fact I learn about Opa this week: he was born in Munich, Germany,  and immigrated with his parents to the US in 1955 when I was three.


Bamadog at Rocky Top

Marty Dockins hit the trail on February 15th. His last post reflected his stay in Hot Springs, the first trail town along the trail, where the AT goes right down the main street of the community (Bridge Street). He hiked through knee-deep snow as well but enjoyed a nero of 3.2 miles from Deer Park Mountain Shelter to Hot Springs for a day of rest.

Class Act

Class Act

Retired physician, Alan Conlon, took his first steps on the AT on February 18, 2018. He has been doing some slack packing (carrying only what is needed for the day and utilizing the shuttle of a hostel to drop him off and/or pick him up after his day’s hike) for several days. Stationed at Wolf Creek Hostel in Stecoah Gap, Class Act has made good progress for the past three days. He met and had dinner with Chip Tillson on Saturday, March 10th. He has his eye on Fontana Dam as his destination for March 12.


Chip Tillson

Chip has experienced some of the attrition that occurs on the AT. In his journal he shares, “Several people I’ve hiked with have already left the trail. Among them: Georgia and Nick were rained out, Music Man got a bad toothache, Gabriel blew out his knee, Marbles got picked up in Franklin with a possible broken foot, Water Leaf just didn’t like climbing mountains, and today I learned John is headed home with a foot injury.”  A few days later he shared that his feet are bothering him, ”My feet have been sore the past couple of days and around noon I felt a growing pain in one foot.” He is planning two zero days followed by two days of slackpacking before he makes his way into the Smokies.

Sour Kraut Photo near Fontana Dam

Sour Kraut

Tim Pfeiffer, who started on February 21st.  His photo journal makes it difficult to track his mileage but his last photos show him in the Fontana Dam Area ready to enter the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Which Way headed up Albert Mountain

Which Way and Next Step

Darrell (Next Step) and Alicia (Which Way) Brinberry, retired military most recently stationed in Washington, DC, began their adventure on February 24th. I really enjoy reading their journal. They are so optimistic despite some a nagging toe blister and knee problems. They share about trail worship and God’s faithfulness which really pulls me into their adventure. They are staying at the Wayah Bald Shelter on Sunday, March 11.

No New Photos – Abbie

Dave and Abbie

Dave Snow and his dog (trail name Abbie) started the Appalachian Trail on February 26th and Abbie has been enjoying the outdoor environment. Dave seems to express a more pessimistic look at the trail with a little complaining attitude toward the accommodations and the weather. He and Abbie have spent six nights out of fourteen in hotels/hostels, so that are experiencing the inn-environment of the first two states more than some of the other hikers.


RTKs Tent

Return To Katahdin (RTK), Bruce Matson is reporting his adventure in posts summarizing each week. His last post covered his first week of hiking February 23-27. I now that he reached Dick’s Gap on March 3, but that is the latest update I have on my lawyer friend from Virginia.


Pigweed at Ga/NC border

Pigweed, Lee Richards, started with the approach trail from Amicalola Falls on February 26 and started accumulating AT miles on the 27th. As of March 10th, he was a Rock Gap having passed the 100-mile marker at Albert Mountain. He is beginning to have some physical problems. His journal on March 10th reflected some foot pain, “Unfortunately I strained my Achilles heel about halfway through the prior days 16-mile hike. Ibuprofen and general Slow Go hiking got me over Mount Albert and to the first Gap and Road. I decided to call a shuttle and get out at Rock Gap instead of continuing the next 3.7 miles to our destination with the rest of the Gang. I’ll pick that up when I resume the hike. I had planned to do a zero-day in Franklin anyway on Sunday. We’ll see if one zero-day is enough to heal up.”


Hickory – does not post photos

Hickory began the same day as Pigweed but has walked at a much stronger pace. On March 11th, Hickory has covered 179.6 miles of the Appalachian Trail and has entered into the GSMNP (Smokies). He has only taken one nero-day (2 miles) in his first two weeks of hiking. He has thru-hiked the AT in 2011, so he probably knows his pace. I looked at my blog and on day 13 of my thru-hike, I camped at the same shelter, but Hickory is hiking through the winter weather and I was enjoying warmer spring temperatures and sunny skies.

He is the latest update on the hiker’s progress (not some posts are earlier than others).

Up Date Mile Marker Hiker Location Start Date
3/11/18 50.5 Genesis Poplar Stamp Gap 1/14/18
3/2/18 69.2 RTK Dick’s Creek 2/25/18
3/10/18 106 Pigweed Rock Gap 2/27/18
3/11/18 109.8 Dave and Abbie Franklin 2/26/18
3/11/18 120.8 Which Way/ Next Step Wayah Bald Shelter 2/24/18
3/11/18 129.2 Zin Master OFF Trail 1/23/18
3/11/18 150.7 Chip Tillson Stecoah Gap 2/20/18
3/11/18 158.4 Class Act Yellow Creek Road 2/18/18
3/9/18 165.5 Sour Kraut Fontana Dam Area 2/21/18
3/11/18 179.6 Hickory Russel Field (GSMNP) 2/27/18
3/7/18 206.8 Vagabond Jack Newfound Gap 2/1/18
3/11/18 273.9 Bamadog Hot Springs 2/15/18
3/8/18 376 Hard Knocks Roam Mountain Area 1/31/18
3/11/18 434.5 Opa Erwin, TN 2/10/18
Categories: Appalachian Trail, Class of 2018, Fontana Dam, Franklin, North Carolina, Gatlinburg, Georgia, GSMNP, Hiking, Hot Springs, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Roan Mountain, Rocky Top, Slackpack, Tennessee, Thru-Hike | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

AT Hikers: March 5th Update

Here is a quick update on the 14 AT thru-hikers that I am following this season.

Genesis and Sister


Rich Miller from Pennsylvania established the earliest 2018 online journal of an attempted thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail (via He and his sister began their hike on January 14. They did some hiking in PA for a few weeks (from Harpers Ferry, WV up to Caledonia State Park, PA) logging in about 70 miles on the AT. They made their way to Springer Mountain, Georgia and began their NOBO hike on March 1. They have trekked another 45 miles from Springer and are camped at Poplar Stamp Gap.

Zin Master

Zin, Ken Nieland, decided to get off the trail on February 27 with tendinitis in his lower right leg. He is evaluating his future on the trail at his in-laws in Kingsport Tennessee. I have not taken him off my official list, but silence is not a good sign.

Hard Knocks

Hard Knocks

Patrick Knox, tail name Hard Knocks, started on January 31. He has experienced some backpack problems in the last week. His waist belt let loose causing his sternum strap to break. He made some on the trail repairs. He also experienced some muscle pain in his inner thigh running down to his knee. He took a zero-day (on March Saturday, March 3) and gave his body a rest.  The next day, he hiked 24 miles into Erwin, Tennessee, totally 341.5 miles on the AT.

Vagabond Jack

Vagabond Jack

Jack Masters, from Kansas City, took his first steps on the famous Appalachian Trail on February 1. He was in Fontana Dam (mile 165) on March 3rd about to enter the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Cell phone coverage is sometimes non-existent in this area, and he did not post in his journal for several days. He updated on March 6th and is camping in the GSMNP at Derrick Knob Shelter (mile 188.8).


Uncle Johnny’s Hostel

Opa (Reinhard Gsellmeier), the retired engineer from Rochester, NY, began his thru-hike on February 10. He has been recently hiking as part of the Four Horsemen (including Jeep, Night Train, and Captain Blackbear). They arrived at Ervin, Tennessee on March 5 and I am interested to see if Opa meets Hard Knocks at Uncle Johnny’s hostel. Opa shared in his journal some sad trail news. Uncle Johnny passed away suddenly about two weeks ago. His wife, Charlotte plans to continue running the hostel. I met Uncle Johnny on my hike and he will be missed by the hiking community.



Marty Dockins hit the trail on February 15th. His sweetheart met him at Newfound Gap (mile marker 206. 8) on March 4th and they spent a zero-day in Gatlinburg, TN on March 5. He lost cell phone coverage for 5 days but averaged 11.5 miles through the first part of the GSMPN (Smoky Mountains).

Class Act

Class Act

Retired physician, Alan Conlon, took his first steps on the AT on February 18, 2018. He has been very strategic in this first part of his hike. He has attempted to avoid the brutal weather but taking a few zero days (two at the Top of Georgia Hostel) but had begun to increase his distance per day with three 12-mile hikes before coming to Franklin, North Carolina. He is planning another zero-day in Franklin on the 6th of March.

Chip Tillson

Chip Tillson

Chip has not mentioned Class Act in his journal, but I think the road into Franklin together on a shuttle on Monday. Chip is planning on a zero-day on Tuesday as well so maybe they will connect. Chip began the trail on February 20th and this will be his first zero-day of his hike.  His pace has been conservative (7.8 miles per day) and he has taken two nero (near-zero) days of less than 4 miles. His consistent effort will begin to pay off with some trail legs and longer distances.

Sour Kraut

Sour Kraut

Tim Pfeiffer, who started on February 21st, is keeping more of a photo/video journal that a written daily entry. It is a little difficult to know exactly where he is, but his last photos seem to indicate that he summitted Siler Bald on March 3. He is enjoying hammock camping along the way.

Which Way and Next Step

Which Way and Next Step

Darrell (Next Step) and Alicia (Which Way) Brinberry, retired military most recently stationed in Washington, DC, began their adventure on February 24th. Their journal bursts with a great attitude and excitement about the trail. Which Way has recently developed a blister on the little toe that had caused some major discomfort. Isn’t it amazing how even the smallest of body parts can be so essential to a successful hike? They have persevered and have already logged in over 78 AT miles.


Dave and Abbie

Dave Snow and his dog (trail name Abbie) started the Appalachian Trail on February 26th and Abbie was enjoying the outdoor environment. They made it to Dick’s Creek and the Top of Georgia Hostel on March 5th and spent the night in The Wolf Den which is set apart for hikers with dogs. Dave has plans to shuttle to a hotel in Hiawassee on March 6th.



Return To Katahdin (RTK), Bruce Matson was a special trail angel for me during my 2014 thru-hike of the AT. I have been following his preparation for the hike and was excited to follow his adventure. He started on February 24 by conquering the approach trail from Amicalola Falls to Springer Mountain plus the one mile of actual AT to the parking lot off USFS 42. I heard nothing from him since that first day and was concerned about his hike. He commented on this blog that he was indeed alive and well and that his posts were coming soon. On March 2 he was safe and sound at Dick’s Creek (about 70 miles along the trail). It is so good to hear that he is stepping out in a strong and consistent trek.




Pigweed, Lee Richards, also started with the 8.8-mile approach trail from Amicalola Falls. He began on February 26 and started accumulating AT miles on the 27th. As of March 5th, he has walked 52.9 and arrived at Unicoi Gap. He grabbed a ride into Helen, Georgia a Bavarian-style mountain town, where got a hotel room, enjoyed a long shower, washed his clothes and was looking forward to a great dinner with several other thru-hikers.



Hickory began the same day as Pigweed but has walked at a much stronger pace. On March 5th, Hickory has covered 87 miles of the Appalachian Trail and is camped at Standing Indian Mountain. He has taken one nero-day (a two-mile hike and stay at the Top of Georgia Hostel) but other than that short day, he has averaged 14.3 miles per day.

Up Date Mile Marker Hiker Location Start Date
3/5/18 44.6 Genesis Poplar Stamp Gap 1/14/18
3/5/18 52.9 Pigweed Unicoi Gap 2/27/18
3/2/18 69.2 RTK Dick’s Creek 2/25/18
3/5/18 69.2 Dave and Abbie Dick’s Creek 2/26/18
3/5/18 78.6 Which Way/ Next Step Bley Gap 2/24/18
3/5/18 87 Hickory Standing Indian Mt 2/27/18
3/5/18 109.8 Chip Tillson Franklin, NC 2/20/18
3/5/18 109.8 Class Act Franklin, NC 2/18/18
3/4/18 114 Sour Kraut Siler Bald 2/21/18
3/5/18 129.2 Zin Master Tellico Gap 1/23/18
3/5/18 188.8 Vagabond Jack Derrick Knob Shelter 2/1/18
3/5/18 206.8 Bamadog Gatlinburg 2/15/18
3/5/18 341.5 Opa Erwin, TN 2/10/18
3/4/18 341.5 Hard Knocks Erwin, TN 1/31/18


Categories: Amicalola Falls, Appalachian Trail, Erwin, Georgia, Hiking, Thru-Hike, Uncategorized, Uncle Johnny's Hostel | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Last Two AT Hikers join up in February

Lee Richards, Pigweed, at 55-years-old, began his Appalachian Trail adventure on February 27 from Springer Mountain. He started his trek with a long-term hiking partner and work colleague, Greg Grant. They hope to hike the first 40 miles together.  Pigweed’s wife, Cindy, dropped the two hikers off at Amicalola Falls on the 26th and they began their trek on the AT on the 27th.

Pigweed in Rain Gear

Their first day on the trail logged 10.5 miles as they made camp at Horse Gap. It was a beautiful first day, but rain is promised for the next two. The rain did not disappoint. They hiked 6.5 miles to Gooch Gap, called a shuttle service, and caught a ride into Dahlonega. They spent March 1 in Dahlonega avoiding the harsh weather. They were hoping to do a 7.5-mile hike on March 2 (Lance Creek) and then arrive at Neel Gap on Saturday. Greg’s car is waiting at Neel Gap and most likely Pigweed will stay at the hostel there on Saturday night.

What an interesting trail name. Here is the history behind it: Pigweed is a family of weeds (Amaranthus) that are resistant to many herbicides and are an increasing problem for farmers to control.  They are an industry scourge for the Agricultural Business in which I work.  They are terrible in the South and moving up into the Midwest.  When I was jawboning with my buddies about a trail name, an article appeared in a trade magazine “Pigweed Marches North”, and my trail name was born PIGWEED.


Hickory is a mystery hiker and the last of the thru-hikers to start in February. I do not know his real name, or where he is from. There is only one photo posted so far as an I.D. picture. He stepped out on the Appalachian Trail on February 27, but this was not his first visit to the trail. In fact, this is his 5th attempt to hike the AT. He completed a thru-hike in 2011 and is back to experience the trail again in 2018.

He made it to Hawk Mountain Shelter on day one (8.1 miles on the AT) and then to Big Cedar Mountain (another 14 miles northbound) by the end of day two.

RTK on Springer

My friend, Bruce Matson, RTK, left for the AT on February 25th. Attached is a picture of Bruce and his wife, Cheryl, at the summit of Springer Mountain. But I have heard nothing from him since that date. He has a website and no news has been posted. I am not sure what to think, but if he checks in and gives an update, I will include him in my early starters and keep you up-to-date on his progress.

So that concludes my trekking cohort of early hikers (beginning in January or February) on the Appalachian Trail. I am following 14 hikers. If the percentage holds true, only 20-25% of these folks will make it (somewhere between 2.8 and 3.5 people). I am hoping for at least four. Stay tuned and relax as these adventurers take us on their journeys to Maine.

Categories: Amicalola Falls, Appalachian Trail, Georgia, Hawk Mountain, Hickory, Pigweed, RTK, Springer Mountain, Thru-Hike | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

Which Way and Next Step On the AT

Darrell (Next Step) & Alicia (Which Way) Brimberry began their thru-hike on February 24 from Springer Mountain, Georgia. Next Step enjoyed a 36-year career in the US Army and retired at 55 years-old as a Colonel. They have been living in the nation’s capital until his retirement. As they take the next few months to hike the trail their “stuff” is being housed in Which Way’s parent’s home in Kentucky.

Their first day on the trail brought them to Hawk Mountain Shelter (8.1 miles north of Springer Mountain). The day began with a small entourage (nine people) driving from Atlanta to Amicalola Falls State Park. Which Way and Next Step signed in at the Visitor’s Center and registered as hiker number 294 and 295. They also weighed their backpacks at the center and loaded with four days of food and two liters of water, Which Way’s pack weighed in at 28 pounds and Next Step totaled 35 pounds.

Amicalola Falls

After taking a few pictures at Amicalola, all nine of them piled back into their two vehicles and made the 30-mile, 60-minute drive up the gravel, dirt, and mud service road to a parking lot one mile from Springer Mountain. All nine of the group hiked to the summit of Springer, snapped some historic photos, and walked back to the parking lot. Finally, at 12:15 pm the actual hike began. They hiked most of the afternoon on comfortable terrain through some old growth forest and along several beautiful mountain streams. The warm temperatures brought out many day hikers. They passed by a few thru-hikers, including a blind man and his wife—together they are the Dynamic Duo—from Ohio. I have tried to find out a little more about the Dynamic Duo but without success (yet).

Their second day on the trail ended at Hooch Gap Shelter adding another 7.6 miles on the AT. They woke up to rain, waited until 8:00 to start their trek, and endured the rain until it cleared about 10:00. They were almost to the top of Sassafras Mountain when Next Step took a fall, “About that time, as I was working my way over a slab of wet, moss covered rock, my right foot slipped out from under me. I tried to catch myself and my upper leg buckled up under me and I severely torqued my quad…. Of course, Alicia was worried a bone was sticking out. Fortunately, that was not the case. After a few minutes, I was able to get up and limp for a bit and it finally let up enough for me to hike on…. Just wondering what it’s going to be like tomorrow!” I sure pray this fall does not cause this couple from DC any long-term problems.

They made it to the shelter around 3:00. They made camp, took some time to hang out with other hikers, and enjoyed some supper. A ridge runner, staying at the shelter, counted 14 thru-hikers with them at Hooch Gap. This is a nice bubble but the different paces of the hikers will soon bring separation to the group.

Categories: Amicalola Falls, Appalachian Trail, Georgia, Hawk Mountain, Springer Mountain, The Fall, Uncategorized, Which Way and Next Step | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

Where Is Everyone on the Appalachian Trail?

I am tracking nine thru-hikers on the trail right now with at least four more to join them before the month of over. One, Genesis, started in West Virginia and is hiking north through Pennsylvania. He posts sporadically and as of February 18th, he had hiked about 79 miles. To help give you a visual on the journeys of the rest of the gang, I constructed the following table. The first column is an indicator of the first 200 miles of the AT. The second column is the miles hiked by a particular thru-hiker; the third is the name of the hiker; the fourth is the destination of each hiker on February 22; the last column is the date that each hiker began his adventure. (The last post by Hard Knocks was made on February 20 so he is, most likely, pushing his way through the Smoky Mountains where cell phone coverage is scarce.)

Miles Miles Hiked Hiker Destination Start Date
0 12.3 Sour Kraut Cooper Gap 2/21
  15.8 Chip Tillson Gooch Mt. 2/20
  31.7 Class Act Neel Gap 2/18
  69.9 Bamadog Dick’s Creek 2/15
  106 Zin Master Rock Gap 1/23
  114 Vagabond Jack Silar Bald 2/1
  164.7 Opa Fontana Dam 2/10
200 199.1 Hard Knocks Clingman’s Dome 1/31

Four individuals were supposed to begin the hike since my last post. One hiker, Rogue Patriot was delayed waiting on his new tent to arrive in the mail. He hopes to hit the trail this Monday, February 26.  However, three others have officially joined the class of 2018.

Class Act

Class Act (Alan Conlon) began his adventure on February 18 and has hiked about 32 miles on the AT. He is a retired physician but is not a stranger to the trail. He took a leave of absence in 2014 (I did not meet him on the trail) to attempt a thru-hike. He completed 554 miles before an injury ended his hike. He is beginning his 2018 hike by utilizing a timeshare in Helen, GA. His wife is helping him slackpack along the way. He hiked 8.1 miles on day one; 7.6 on day two; and then 4.8 on day three having trekked over both the Sassafras and Justus Mountains and then meeting his wife at Woody Gap. They spent a zero-day together on the 21st in Dahlonega and then he hiked to Neel Gap on Thursday before his wife picked him up about 5:30.

Chip Tillson

On February 20, 2018, Chip Tillson (no trail, yet) hiked the approach trail from Amicalola Falls (8.1 miles to Springer Mountain) Unfortunately this mileage is on an approach trail and does not count as AT miles. Day two lead him 7.6 miles to Hawk Mountain Shelter. Day Three ended a Gooch Mountain after another 7+ mile day. I don’t know much about Chip background (hometown, age, or vocation) He mentions a special girl, Joyce, that I am assuming is his wife and his initial picture has a young man on his shoulders which looks like a son or a maybe a grandson.

Sour Kraut

Sour Kraut (Tim Pfeiffer) is the newest member of the cohort who started this past Wednesday, February 21. Sour Kraut hiked the approach trail as well so day one was only 0.3 miles on the AT. On day two he met a 70-year-old hiker, Dane, aka OG- old guy. He motivated Sour Kraut to hike up and over Sassafras Mountain and log in a 12-mile day. He ran into his first taste of trail blessing provided by “Snap” who offered fresh veggies and hummus. Sour Kraut is well on his way.

Zin Master

To quickly update the adventures of the others let me just give an insight from each. The chart above will tell you where they are. Zin Master, who was off-trail for over 2 weeks with blisters was hiked over 12 miles on two different days in the past week. He shares in his journal, “my feet have remained blister free now for 57 miles since I restarted…. If possible during the day I stop, change into dry socks and make any necessary adjustments to my taping. I’ve noticed the new boots becoming more and more comfortable as time goes on and hope the break in period is about over.”

Hard Knocks (still no photo), who started on January 31, is hiking very strong. He is somewhere in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. It has been several days since a post but on February 20, he was at Clingman’s Dome and the 200-mile mark of the trail.

Vagabond Jack

Vagabond Jack, continues to make progress. He is logging less than 10 miles per day, but he seems to be enjoying his adventure. On Thursday, Jack got a late start (11:30) and only covered 4.6 miles. But he also experienced part of the power of the trail, “As the trail passes near Siler Bald [his destination for the day], it enters what appears to be a pasture. A side trail to the left climbs to the top of the Bald, where camping is allowed. It’s a rather steep climb to the top; similar to walking up a ski slope. But the climb is more than worth it. I’m so glad I decided to make the journey, arriving about 4:00. I was blown away by the views from the top. Finally, I was on a mountain without it being covered in fog!”


Four Horsemen -Opa on far left

Opa is putting in some nice mileage each day. He has found three other hiking buddies (Night Train, Jeep, and Captain Blackbeard) and they are calling themselves the four horsemen. “Each of us (the Four Horsemen) hikes at our own pace so we are scattered during the course of the day while hiking, but we have an agreed upon end of day destination.” They are taking a zero-day at Fontana Dam getting ready for the hike through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.


Bamadog is making good progress although his journal is rather sketchy and short. He seems to enjoy finding stealth (unmarked) campsites so it is not easy to discern where he is along the trail He stayed at a hostel (Top of Georgia) on February 21 just a few miles from Dick’s Creek Gap. He shares, “Took a nero. It was a good chance to dry out wet gear and get a good meal.I will be in North Carolina tomorrow God willing!”

Categories: Appalachian Trail, Fontana Dam, Georgia, Gooch Mountain, GSMNP, Hiking, North Carolina, Thru-Hike, Trail Blessing | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

Early Hikers Continue to Hit the AT

January Start – I have mentioned the first six hikers listed below and thought I would give you an update on their progress.


January 14, 2018 Genesis (Rick Miller) lives in Pennsylvania and has begun his hike at Harpers Ferry West Virginia. He is currently (2/18/18) camped at Caledonia State Park, PA, having trekked about 59 miles of the AT. He shares about his trail name: when I start in 2018 I will have just retired which will be a new beginning of life for me. Also a great name after one of the greatest rock bands of the 70s and 80s.

Zin Master

January 23, 2018 Zin Master (Ken Nieland) from Colorado developed blisters on the trail and ended up taking a 17 days break from the trail to get new boots, new trekking poles, and healing/rest for the sore feet. He is back on the trail and is staying (2/18/18) at Top of Georgia Hostel at Dick’s Creek Gap.


January 23, 2018 Mattman (Matt Dilly) from Lancaster, Pennsylvania quickly decided that the AT adventure was not for him. He found great discouragement in the wintry weather and the loneliness of the trail He decided to leave the trail on January 27, 2018.

January 31, 2018 Hard Knocks (Patrick Knox) is keeping his hometown hidden from his reader so far. He caught a bus from New Orleans on the way to Atlanta, but I am not sure if that is “home” or not.  He has not posted a picture of himself either. I don’t think he is a criminal on the run, but he is hiking at a good pace. He spent the night (2/17/18) in Fontana Dam just south of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

February Start

Vagabond Jack

February 1, 2018: Vagabond Jack (Jack Masters) from Kansas has been hiking slow but steady since his first day on the trail. He is staying at Cater Gap on 2/18/18 which is about 93 miles into his adventure.


February 10, 2018: Opa (Reinhard Gsellmeier) is a retired engineer from Rochester, NY. He has been making big strides during his first week on the trail. He took his first zero-day on February 18th in Franklin, NC about 110 miles along the AT.


February 15, 2108: Bamadog (Marty Dockins), 61-years-old, retired last March. He had the pleasure of hiking with his son, Cory, for the first day of the hike. He has covered 44 miles in his first four days on the trail. He is camping on the 18th of February at a stealth camp 13+ miles north of Neel Gap.

Here is a list of those that plan to start the trail in later in February. I will attempt to track these brave folks and keep you posted on their progress.

Coming Up:

February 18, 2018       Class Act (Alan Conlon). He has not posted his first trail entry yet.

February 19, 2018       Rogue Patriot (Jamie Crowley)

February 20, 2018       Chip Tillson (Chip Tillson)

February 21, 2018       Sour Kraut (Tim Pfeiffer)

February 24, 2018       Which Way and Next Step (Darrell & Alicia Brimberry)

February 25, 2018       RTK (Bruce Matson). RTK is a friend of mine that was a trail angel to me in 2014. I look forward to tracking his progress!

February 26, 2018       Pigweed (Lee Richards)

February 27, 2018       Hickory (real name not shared)


There are several others who have a start date in February but have not posted a blog entry in quite a while. I am doubtful that they are truly going to make the hike, but I will check and let you know for sure.

February 14, 2018       Kwai – No journal entry since October 31, 2017 (Jeffery Ruth)

February 17, 2018       Jamie Wilson – No journal entry since August 24, 2017 (Jamie Wilson)

February 18, 2018       Nomad – No journal entry since September 19, 2017 (Chip Ringo)

February 19, 2018       Dave and Abbie – No journal entry since September 25, 2017 (David Rouner)

February 28, 2018       Muffin No journal entry since January 30, 2017 (David Quinones)


Categories: Appalachian Trail, Fontana Dam, Georgia, GSMNP, Harpers Ferry, Hiking, Thru-Hike | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Zin Master 2/13-2/16

Zin Master (Ken Nieland) – after 17 days off the trail, healing from blisters and waiting on some new equipment, is back on the Appalachian Trail.

His first day back on the path was Tuesday, February 13. He was dropped off at the trailhead at Hogpen Gap and hiked south back to Neel Gap (6.9 miles). The next day he was shuttled back to Hogpen Gap and hiked 4.6 miles north to Low Gap Shelter. His mileage is purposely low as he breaks in some new boots and evaluates potential blisters. The boots are working well, and Zin is using some KT tape ( Kinesiology Therapeutic Tape) and applying foot glide (anti-blister balm) hoping to avoid the painful blisters that can ruin a hike.

Thursday brought a 9.7-mile hike with good results. The trail started with a gradual climb for five miles along an old logging road, then the rocks began to make the path difficult. Zin states that one internet site ranks the North Georgia section as the fifth hardest on the AT. I would not agree with this assessment, although it might feel like it to the thru-hiker just getting started without the strength and power of toned legs and without the experience provided by the challenge the Great Smokey Mountains, by the rocks of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York, and by the trail above-line in New Hampshire and Maine.

Zin Master’s plan for the day was to stay at Blue Mountain Shelter (7.3 miles). He arrived, took off his boots and started getting ready for the evening. Two other thru-hikers arrived (Big Load and Ghost) at the shelter along with two day-hikers. Zin received a text message from his wife and wanted to return the call but the cell phone coverage was not very good at the shelter (a common disappointment along the AT). Zin asked the day-hikers if they could give him a ride to Hiawassee, they agreed, he joined them on a 2.5-mile hike down into Unicoi Gap, and enjoyed finding a spot at the Budget Inn.

In his journal entry for Thursday (2/15/18), Zin Master provides some insight into his hiking strategy:  This first section of my restart was critical. I was hoping to hold it together for 7.3 miles, and I ended up going 9.7 without any problems. Today was the first time I started to feel confident that the bigger miles will come. I’m going to continue to keep my mileage conservative for a while, but I’m planning a 12+ sometime next week if everything continues to go well.

Zin took another zero-day in Hiawassee on Friday with plans to return to the trail on Saturday with a goal of hiking six miles. The weather report is projecting rain (no real surprise there) so he hopes to get an early start (8:00) and make it to the shelter by mid-day to dry off, warm up, and recover physically.



Categories: Appalachian Trail, Georgia, Hiawassee, Thru-Hike, Zin Master | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Who is Pat on the Appalachian Trail?

Pats ID Photo

I really don’t know much. There is not even a good picture of him yet. His name is Patrick Knox and he has been given the trail name Hard Knocks (Knox). He began his adventure on January 30. He began his hike at a modest pace reaching Neel Gap in five days, including the challenging hike over Sassafras Mountain, (approximately 8 miles per day). He took a zero-day on Day Six in Neel Gap to wait out the predicted cold, icy rain. The weight of his backpack was bothering him early in the hike (40 pounds), so he took advantage of a free service at Mountain Crossing to evaluate the contents of one’s backpack called a shakedown. He was able to eliminate 12 pounds!! He removed some un-necessary tools (scissors, Leatherman, small hammer/axe) and some heavy unneeded clothes (blue jeans and cotton shirts).

The Icy Rains on the AT

He increased his distance for the next two days (averaging 10 miles per day) and arrived at Unicoi Gap on February 6. The weather forecast called for two inches of icy rain so Hard Knox, Bob and AJ rented a B&B in Hiawassee and they enjoyed a zero-day on the 7th. Reflecting on his eight days on the trail Pat provided his readers with one warning and one piece of advice: let me add a warning to future hikers. This a serious, strenuous undertaking and not just a walk in the woods. One other bit of advice. Buy quality trekking poles and know how to use them. I would echo this wisdom from the woods.

Hard Knocks increased his output again for the next four hiking days to average 13 miles each day. On February 9th, he conquered Georgia and entered in the state of North Carolina. He experienced two days of constant rain (2/10 & 2/11). He made a statement in his journal after the first day of ten hours of rain walking that so resonates with my philosophy. He wrote: I am not complaining mind you. I find that when people recount their experiences it is always adversity that makes for the best stories. Rocky and I often look at one another on our hikes and sat “No Adversity, No Adventure!”

The rain made his hike and rock scramble over Albert Mountain slick and edgy but he found it to be lots of fun. Then on February 12th, after 4 inches of rain in three days, he and Bob (now Bobcat) walked 3.7 miles to Winding Stair Gap and then hitched a ride into Franklin, North Carolina to dry out, eat and resupply at the Gooder Grove Hostel. Hard Knocks decided to purchase a new backpack in Franklin. His first pack was causing issues for his hipbones.


Tuesday, the 13th brought a no rain day!! Pat and Bob logged in 11 miles of strenuous trail with lots of elevation as they made their camp at Wayah Bald Shelter. Hard Knocks’ new pack seemed to be more comfortable, but the goal of 17 miles on the 14th would provide better insights. The 14th was rain free as well, but the trail maintained their sloppy almost swampy challenge. Pat’s new pack is causing hipbone discomfort like his old one, so his plan was to check at the NOC (Nantahala Outdoor Center) for some advice the next day.

The expert at the NOC made some significant adjustments to Hard Knocks’ pack which made significant improvement to his hike. Because of the late start, Bobcat and Pat only made 6.9 miles, but with the pain-free strides and the trails that are drying up and the beautiful views, Hard Knocks declared the day a good day. He is looking forward to the Smokies, 21 miles further north.

I like the attitude of Hard Knocks that flows from his journal. I firmly believe that emotional balance and spiritual stability are essentials for a successful thru-hike. Distance will increase, legs will get stronger, but within an inner joy and desire to be on the Appalachian Trail the chances of seeing Mount Katahdin greatly decrease. I’ll continue to keep you posted on Pat, Hard Knocks

Categories: Albert Mountain, Appalachian Trail, Georgia, Hard Knocks, Nantahala Outdoor Center, Neel Gap, North Carolina, Thru-Hike, Trekking Poles | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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

Opa’s Thru-hike

Opa, Reinhard Gsellmeier, lives in Rochester, NY.  He is a 66-year-old retired engineer. Opa is happily married to his wife, Kayanne, and they have a wonderful family including two children/spouses and five grandchildren. His grandchildren call him Opa and his wife Oma – thus his trail. Opa has done a fair amount of backpacking/ hiking/ snowshoeing in the northeast. He has most of his experience in the Adirondacks but also has had adventures in New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine.

Opa’s plan for his AT thru-hike will consist of 2-parts.  He began on the 10th of February and part one will run through the beginning of June (he hopes to be somewhere in New Hampshire). He will then get off the trail for family reasons and resume the thru-hike in early September.

In a pre-hike journal entry, Opa listed several reasons for making his hike of the AT. Two of them touched my heart and made me an instant fan:

Opa and one of his grandsons

Reason No. 2:  I want to complete the AT for my wonderful grandkids. Maybe someday, at a time in each of their lives when they are faced with their own challenge, they’ll be inspired by their old Opa.  Maybe they’ll say to themselves that Hey, if Opa can hike the AT, then I can overcome my challenge as well. Who knows, maybe they’ll someday even be inspired to undertake their own AT thru-hike – now wouldn’t that be grand!

Reason No.4: It is my understanding that there are just over 500 people 60 or older that have completed an AT thru-hike. That’s a relatively small number. I’d like to add my name to that list!

The Adventure Begins: February 10, 2018

Opa’s adventure began with an Amtrak ride from Rochester, NY to Gainesville, GA. The bad news was Amtrak was about 2 hours late pulling into Gainesville, but the good news: the shuttle driver, Ron Brown, was ready to go as soon as Opa got off the train. Opa was on the approach trail of the AT in Amicalola Falls State Park at 10:30 in the morning. He registered at Amicalola as hiker number 62. The approach trail is 8.8 miles to the summit. These miles obviously don’t count, so Opa’s total AT mileage was only 0.2 miles. It did rain all afternoon, but it was a vertical rain and not blowing in his face and the temperatures were mild. The trail ended up being wet and muddy, but the rain provided a good shakedown of his rain gear. Opa ratings: “all systems are a go.” He spent the first night in the Springer Mt. Shelter with Greg and Big Load.

Hawk Mountain Shelter

February 11, 2018: 7.9 miles of hiking (total 8.1 miles)

Opa was so glad he spent the night in the shelter because it poured down the rain most of the night. The heavy rain didn’t let up till about 10:00 so Opa got a rather late start. Once he, Big Load and Greg began hiking they found the trail in decent shape despite all the rain. Somewhere along the way, Greg dropped behind. The heavy rain started in again about 3:00 and the radar indicated more rain to come (flash flood warnings), so Opa and Big Load elected to stay at Hawk Mt. Shelter for the night.

February 12, 2018: 19.4 miles!! (total 27.5 miles)

Tent at Woods Hole Shelter

Monday was a long day but a delightful one. Opa and Big Load got a 6 AM start, hiking by headlamps. There was no rain for a change but the weather was misty and foggy all morning. The sun broke through in the afternoon turning the day into a sunny but cool one – it ended up being a perfect afternoon for hiking, enabling Opa to pound out some long mileage. He decided to sleep in his tent, as opposed to the shelter, to avoid the annoying mice. Opa was the only one at Woods Hole Shelter. He was not sure where Big Load was along the trail, although Opa hoped that he will show up at their rendezvous point before nightfall.

What a good start for the retired engineer from New York State.

Categories: Appalachian Trail, Georgia, New York, Opa, Springer Mountain, Thru-Hike | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

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