Grayson Highlands

AT Thru-Hikers Hoping for Spring

RTK – Frosty Field

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

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

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

Which Way and Next Step’s tent on April 17

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

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

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

Lindamood School

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

Sour Kraut 1/4 Way

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

A Day with the Horses

215Grayson Highlands State Park (GHSP), located in Virginia along the Appalachian Trail about 30 miles north of Damascus, Virginia, is the home of the wild ponies. I looked forward to hiking through this park from the first moment I heard about it. Every book I read about the AT made mention of an encounter with the horses as the thru-hiker made the journey through the highlands.

In my mind’s eye, it was a place of gentle meadows with tall grasses and an occasional apple tree. The highlands should have revealed rolling hills boasting of lush green moors and the distant call of bagpipes and Scottish tenor drums played with soft mallets. I imagined a cool breeze blowing across my face as I followed the narrow path through the fields of wild ponies, stopping to stroke the neck of colt or filly, or gazing at mare with her foal close by her side.

216In reality, my thru-hike of 2014 through the GHSP was significantly different. There was no gentle meadow but rather a rocky trail over rugged terrain. There was no cool breeze but rather a blazing sun that made me glad for my long-brimmed hat. The canopy of trees had opened to reveal not lush green foliage but a strenuous path with lots of elevation change to add to the adventure. I experienced some rock scrambles and some trails richly populated with trip roots and loose rocks. It was not what I was expecting but it was still breathtaking and beautiful in its own way.

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The horses were there! I came upon ten beautiful ponies as I hiked down from Tom Knob Shelter. They greeted me warmly and welcomed me to the highlands. One pony, in particular, walked right up me and put his nose against my chest. I quickly realized that he wanted to eat me or at least lick the salt off my sweat-filled hiking shirt. He took a nibble of my shirt in his mouth, and I rubbed the blaze on his nose, talking is calm tones to quiet his advances and my pounding heart. He decided that salt produced by a 64-year-old thru-hiker was not worth his effort. We parted friends with my shirt in one piece including just a little horse slobber as a free souvenir.

222I did not see too many ponies through the highlands themselves, but close to the end, I took a short side trail and found six or seven ponies – one new born sleeping close to mom. When I arrived at Massie Gap, just south of the park’s northern boundary, I heard a bazaar noise to my left. The trail was a narrow path with tall, five-foot high brushes on either side. Suddenly, a horse trotted by right in front of me, followed by a foal, followed by another adult horse. They did not pause, look at me, or slow down. They reminded me or a snooty church going family arriving late for Sunday school.

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As I made my way through the stiles at the north end of the highlands, I thought I could hear the faint sounds of bagpipes and drums. I continued to walk the trail with hopes of returning to visit the ponies on another day.

Categories: Appalachian Trail, Grayson Highlands, Rowdy, Thru-Hike, Uncategorized, Virginia, Wild Ponies | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Congratulations Beaker!

Today’s post is a tribute to Rusty Miller, a chemist from West Virginia, and his thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail. He began his journey on February 26, 2017 and crossed his finish line on September 12, 2017 for a total of 189 days.  Many of you have followed my blog and his adventures over the past seven months. This post will be a photo diary of this man’s trip across 14 states and his 5 million steps to the finish line. All of these pictures come from Beaker’s online journal found at: http://www.trailjournals.com/journal/photos/18636

He began at Springer Mountain, Georgia with red shirt and kilt.

North Carolina brought the Smoky Mountains and cold weather.

Tennessee included a bike ride in Erwin to do some laundry and a lovely waterfall with hiking buddy, 1st Sgt.

There’s always a possibility of snow in April in Virginia, but the wild ponies of Grayson Highlands are always a highlight of a thru-hike.

Becker actually sold his home in WV and bought a new one in Knoxville while on the trail. He took three weeks off trail to move his home from West Virginia to Tennessee. This gave him an opportunity to change his trail persona.

Harpers Ferry, WV is the home of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy and the emotional half-way point of the trail. The true, linear, half way point is in Pine Grove Furnace State Park in Pennsylvania.

The month of June brought the rocky trails of PA, NJ, and NY.

July led Beaker above tree-line in New Hampshire.

August 12 was the day for Mount Katahdin, Maine, the northern terminus of the AT.

20. Mount K

Beaker on lower left

After Katahdin, Beaker went home to Tennessee for two weeks before completing a section of Virginia that he skipped on his NOBO journey to Maine. He returned to the trail on August 27 to complete his 2,200 mile trek of the Appalachian Trail. Moving SOBO, he was dropped off in Waynesboro, VA. by his son, Zack, hiked 315 miles in 19 days, and finished his adventure in Adkins, Virginia at The Barn Restaurant.

What a great journey! I give Beaker a standing ovation and two thumbs up.

Categories: Adkins, Appalachian Trail, Appalachian Trail Conservancy, Beaker, Dover Oak, Erwin, Georgia, Grayson Highlands, Harpers Ferry, Maine, McAfee Knob, Mount Katahdin, Mount Moosilauke, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina, Palmerton, Pine Grove Furnace, Springer Mountain, Tennessee, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 1 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

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

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

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