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 trailjounrnals.com). 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

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

New Local Trails

Rocky and I have discovered some local parks recently that have escaped our past research into nice places to take a hike.

Grant Park SignThe first location is Grant Park in Centerville. Ohio. Grant Park is a 189 acre natural area. The trails we found so far run beside the lovely sound of a babbling creek, around a wonderful meadow filled with wildflowers, and through a cool canopy of trees. The terrain in the park has a few nice climbs but overall it is a fairly easy walk. Parking leading to easy access to the trailheads is available at Normandy Elementary School on Normandy Ridge Road, Hadley Watts Middle School on McEwen Road, and at Kennard Nature Nook on McEwen Road.

Mimi at Grant ParkAn evening walk this week at Grant Park brought some wildlife to the path for us to enjoy. We startled a deer in the woods, heard the eerie call of a hidden owl in the tree branches, and observed a dozen rabbits darting across the trail to the safety of the tall grass. This new-found trail will be part of our routine hikes this summer I am sure.

Bill Yeck Park is a 194 acre natural area including 8 miles of hiking trails. Rocky and I have just taken a short, four-five mile starter hike within the park but it promises to be a very special area. Sugar Creek flows through the park allowing us to cross the stream several times on our journey. We have not visited this part of the park but there is a feature called the Tri-centennial Time Trail. Established 1996, the time trail is a tract of land representing 100 years of natural growth. Each year another unmown section is added, creating a trail that shows how a field turns into a forest. We are anxious to explore this area.

Categories: Bill Yeck Park, Grant Park, Hiking, Local Hikes, Ohio, Rocky, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Class of 2107: January-March


My old fashion journal 2014

When a thru-hiker posts a journal on trailjournals.com, they list their trail name and the projected date for their first day on the trail. I enjoy following a few journals rather closely (like Beaker) to observe their journey along the incredible Appalachian Trail. My 2014 thru-hike floods my mind as places and landmarks are shared in the online diaries.

I also like keeping track of all the journals of the class of 2017 and periodically noting where each pilgrim is along the path. It is sometimes tedious to record the details of my interests but it is also quite interesting to try to see the overall picture of the cohort.

For example, there are 139 online journals reflecting a start date in January, February and March. Of these 139 bloggers, there are only 27 active journals left as of today. What happened to the other 112? Let me share what I can discern.

FullSizeRenderThe largest category, 41 journals, are what I call a “No Show”. A “No Show” is a blogger who posts some pre-hike entries but then posts nothing on or after his/her target start date. The journal is simply empty. Did the individual make it to the AT? I don’t know, but I do know that he/she has abandoned this online journal as a form of communication.

Some journals (34 presently) receive my label, “No Entry,” which means that the journal was being populated and then suddenly, without explanation, the hiker quits recording his/her adventure. After 30-40 days of silence I assume that they are off the trail. Maybe they just got tired of posting to the site, but in either case it is frustrating being left behind without some insight or reason.

701This leaves 37 online reports that ended short of the thru-hiker expectations of completing the 2, 189 mile trek through 14 states in one season of hiking. The number one reason for a hiking-ending experience is injury (20 hikers). This is not a surprise given the difficult terrain and demanding challenge that the trail presents. Five hikers encountered injury during their pre-hikes and postponed their attempts for another year. Fifteen pilgrims attributed on trail injuries to their early departure. The injuries varied – seven knees, three legs, two shoulders, one back, one toe, and one foot – but all them them made the journey impossible to complete.

Fourteen hikers left the trail for emotional reasons. Of those, an even dozen left out of discouragement – hard trails, tired feet, bad weather can lead to depression and homesickness. Two others called it boredom discovering that the AT is not always a glorious view of mountain flowers, wildlife, and overlooks. A thru-hiker must watch his/her feet constantly to avoid the faceplant caused by rocks and roots.

One hiking couple ran out of time and realized after four months on the trail that they could not make it before the responsibilities of home demanded their return. What a difficult decision they had to make. Another hiker needed to leave the trail to attend to a family emergency. And yet another, stated his reason for leaving as “unexpected issues.”

Book Cover 2

Check Out My Book

It is sad to see people leave the trail. However, I almost always read the online comments of the hikers themselves that what they experienced was life-changing, mind-changing, or personally impactful. I believe that every hiker takes part of the trail with them, deep inside, that does not easily fade. The experience of being in God’s creation, whether 30 miles or 2,000 miles stays in the heart and speaks to the mind in powerfully unique ways. I would love for you to read my book, Hike It Forward, and experience the Appalachian Trail through my eyes and spirit (simply click on the book cover and purchase it from Amazon). Then give it a try and see if you don’t agree.   

Categories: Appalachian Trail, Book, Class of 2017, Hike It Forward, Hiking, Injuries, Thru-Hike | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Hike the Good Hike

Having hiked a few miles of trail in several states, I have grown to appreciate the analogy between the path and our lives on this planet. Reflecting on the mountains and valleys, the refreshing waters of a cascading stream and the dryness of a long hike in the energy-sapping heat of the sun, and the highs of reaching the summit in contrast to the pain of a fall on the hardness and unforgiving nature of the trail. The adventure, the victory, the disappointment, the rain, the beauty, the fresh air, the adversity, the canopy, the trip roots of life parallel the experiences of a great hike in the woods.

I recently had my last opportunity to participate in a high school commencement ceremony. As my last year as principal, I shook the hands of 86 students as they walked across the stage to receive their hard-earned diplomas. Looking into the bright ideas and minds of the class of 2017, I thought about the path each one of them has ahead. With parchment in hand, these young lives begin to walk on a new path, one that they have never hiked before. What will the path hold for them? And how will they navigate the experiences around the next bend?

Retirement brings a new trail as well. The familiar path of the last 29 years will be changed to a new one. What will it look like? Will I be ready to walk the walk? I think the graduate and I, the young adolescent and the old man, have a lot more in common than either would want to admit. I think we both share in a mixture of excitement and apprehension, of adventure and anxiety, of faith and fear. God is faithful and His hand has guided us along the path for years and yet it is not always easy to trust in the midst of the unknown.

Recently some of my good friends have been faced with changing paths. Some of chosen to take a different trail, others have seen one path close and must walk down an alternate route. Some paths are enjoyable and filled with beauty and sun, others are difficult and challenging, but God is faithful through it all. “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death… You are with me” (Psalm 23:4).

Graduate or retiree…. teen or adult… student or teacher… may God give us all the strength and grace to walk with integrity and dignity as we hike a hike worthy of the calling that we have received (Ephesians 4:1).

Categories: Adversity, Class of 2017, Dayton Christian, Hiking, Retirement, Students, The Fall, Trail | Tags: , , , , | 3 Comments

Beaker From Erwin to Roan Mountain

3/30/17  Beaker got up early in order to make his 6.2- mile trek to the well-known hiker spot of Uncle Johnny’s Hostel in Erwin, TN. The day was filled with clear skies and moderate temperatures. First Sergeant had reserved a “cabin” at Uncle Johnny’s and offered to share the room if Beaker wanted. The weather forecast, thunderstorms and a high wind advisory overnight, made the decision fairly easy. Beaker and 1st Sgt joined many of the hikers at the hostel on a lunch trip to an AYCE pizza buffet (All You Can Eat). Beaker gathered a resupply at a local IGA.

After lunch Beaker decided to rent a bike ($2) and peddle the 4 ½ mile trip to the laundromat to wash his clothes. After his bike ride, twenty four hikers piled into two vans for a trip to a Mexican restaurant. Satisfied and warm, back at the cabin, Beaker listened to the thunder and wind outside – it was not a good night to be in a tent on top of a mountain.

3/31/17 Destination: Cherry Gap Shelter, TN. Today’s hike = 17.1 miles. It rained most of the night, with a line of thunderstorms moving through around midnight. 1st Sgt and Beaker were up around 7:00, checked out of the hostel in Ewin, TN, and hit the trail before 8:00. The planned destination today was a campsite about 12 miles away. They climbed out of the river valley. They found that their paces and their personalities were quite compatible making walking and talking, even in the pouring rain, to be quite enjoyable. Beaker and 1st Sgt arrived at their planned stopping point at 2:30 pm, so, they pressed on another 5 miles, up and over Unaka Mountain, to the Cherry Gap Shelter. The summit of the mountain was covered with a thick spruce forest. (Photo) The weather had turned quite blustery and chilly, so Beaker didn’t waste time setting up his tent, changing into warmer clothes, and fixing dinner.

4/1/17  Beaker and 1st Sgt ended their day at Roan High Knob Shelter having hiked 17.6 miles today. The two hikers awoke to another misty morning. Today’s hike was one of climbing as they trekked toward Roan High Knob Shelter. They climbed up smooth, well graded trail. Then climbed on rocky trail. Then climbed on rocky, wet, muddy, steep, rooty trail. The sun finally broke out about 4 pm and it turned into a beautiful afternoon. When they arrived at the shelter they discovered that it was a fully enclosed cabin with a loft. They set up in the loft -snug, dry, and warm, safely out of the bitter wind.

Mountain Harbour Hostel

4/2/17 Today’s hike incorporated 16.3 miles ending at Mountain Harbour Hostel, TN.  Beaker has logged just shy of 400 miles on the AT (393.7). Beaker and 1st Sgt got a slow start this morning (9:00) but it was a gorgeous day, full of sun and highs in the 70s. They encountered numerous weekend hikers, including a physical education class from Appalachian State University. One student and Beaker had a friendly disagreement over whether Appy State or WVU are the “true” Mountaineers. Beaker concludes,  “I think we all know the answer to that one!”

The two hikers had two big climbs over Little Hump and Big Hump Mountains, then a five-mile descent to US Rt 19. From US Rt 19 there was a short 0.3 mile walk down the road to the Mountain Harbour B&B and Hiker Hostel. The hostel had already stopped serving dinner, but Beaker and 1st Sgt were able to buy frozen pizza, sodas, and Ben & Jerry’s ice cream in the General Store, so they were set for the evening. The weather forecast: thunderstorms and 1-2 inches of rain tomorrow, so they planned a zero day for Monday.

Categories: Appalachian Trail, Beaker, Erwin, Hiking, Roan Mountain, Tennessee, Thru-Hike | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

High School Hiking Class

Greg Kurtz, Senior English Teacher

Greg, the Senior English teacher at my school, and I decided to offer a two-week hiking class for high school students during January. One of the academic sessions of our school year, J(anuary)-Term, occurs during a 14-day window beginning after Christmas break. J-Term is an intensive setting in which students are involved in local ministries, international mission trips, STEM classes, and other creative offerings designed by the faculty. Greg and I wanted to provide an active course designed to transfer the traditional classroom into the powerful setting of nature.

On the other hand… our concern – who would be crazy enough to hike from 8:15 in the morning to 3:00 in the afternoon in the depth of winter?  The answer… 24 students signed up…. voluntarily…. enthusiastically…. with smiles on their faces. Seven seniors, fifteen juniors, and two sophomores gathered together on January 3rd to begin the adventure of outdoor trails in Ohio in winter.

On day one, we caravanned about 40 minutes from campus to a MetroPark in Englewood, Ohio. We hiked every trail in the park and logged about 11 miles. We ended up at the home of a school family for hot chocolate and donuts. At the end of each hike the victorious hikers received an honorary carabiner for his/her backpack.

High School Hiking Class

I was able to take the students to one of my favorite spots in the area – Caesar Creek State Park. Snow had fallen overnight and turned the forest trail into a beautiful winter path. The slippery changes in terrain added to the adventure causing many to fall on the snowy turf. I led the way with a perfect two-armed flailing, trekking pole throwing, seat drop. With everyone’s pride still intact, the 12-mile loop trail was circumnavigated with a great sense of accomplishment and appreciation for God’s creation.

Greg and I decided to vary the context of our adventures and so one day’s agenda found the hiking class catching the public transit system and entering the downtown metropolis of Dayton, Ohio. With a 2010 census population of 141,527 and a land area (most of it cement) of 56.5 square miles, the group found little problem in walking past some historic areas like the gravesites of Orville and Wilbur Wright and enjoying a 12-mile urban hike around the city.

Another day of J-Term required the class to take a lengthy hike along the Little Miami Scenic Bike Trail. Two dozen of us walked from Xenia to Yellow Springs, ending up at Young’s Dairy for ice cream – a hiker’s favorite no matter what the weather.

The brave students joined Greg and I as we visited the trails of several other MetroParks, hiked in freezing temperatures, got caught in a thunderstorm on a warmer day, and logged over 100 miles in just ten days. Not bad for January… but all the students seemed to come equipped with diligence and determination. I enjoyed every minute of the adventure.

Categories: Caesar Creek, Dayton Christian, Hiking, Local Hikes, MetroPark, Ohio, Students, Trail | Tags: , , , | 4 Comments

Beaker the Chemist


My wonderful mother-in-law is 90 years-old and lives in Wild Wonderful West Virginia. This past weekend Cathy, my bride of almost 45 years, and I piled into our 1999 Toyota Camry and drove from our house in the Buckeye state to the home of the Mountaineers in Morgantown. Our son, Matt, also lives in Morgantown and we enjoyed a weekend of reunion with him as well as a special time with Cat’s mom.

Cathy’s three brothers live close by, so Nana’s house was visited by many during our four-day stay in the Mountain State. One afternoon, my niece and her family including four fantastic, energetic children came for lunch and a time of nice conversation. In the midst of family talk, Bekah shared that a coworker of her husband at the pharmaceutical company was hiking the Appalachian Trail. Any mention of the trail perks my ears to attention and opens my eyes with more than a twinkle of interest.

Bekah shared that the chemist’s name was Rusty Miller and he had the opportunity to take an early retirement with perks allowing him to hike the trail with funds from a severance package and the benefit of health insurance. With a first name like Rusty, I thought his trail name would be an easy decision. To my surprise, I found out his name on the AT is Beaker. What a great name for a chemist!

Two minutes into my chat with Bekah I was hooked into following Beaker’s blog and taking another vicarious hike through 14 states.  Beaker began his adventure on Sunday February 26. He began in Amicalola Falls State Park and traveled the 8.8-mile approach trail to Springer Mountain, the official start of the Appalachian Trail.  This approach trail contains a brutal start with 650 steps leading up to the falls. The approach trail, itself, has been enough to discourage many hikers to the place of throwing in the towel. Beaker, however, arrived in great spirits.

When he reached the summit, he found eight other pioneers – folks from Florida, New Hampshire, New York, Philadelphia, Paris and South Africa. This country and even the world gather at the southern terminus of this granddaddy of long trails. The AT is truly an international pathway to the Appalachian Mountains. The octave of hikers decided to camp together in the shelter or pitch their tents nearby. It was indeed a great day for the chemist from West Virginia. More of his story to follow…..

Categories: Amicalola Falls, Appalachian Trail, Beaker, Georgia, Hiking, Ohio, Springer Mountain, Thru-Hike, West Virginia | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

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