April on the AT – Thru-hikers Trek On

AT on April 15, 2018

April 2018 was a cold month with some snow, ice, and slippery trails for those attempting a thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail. It has only been in the last week of April that the temperatures have been comfortable and the conditions reflect the change of seasons. The last week of April find my nine hikers (those brave souls that I have been following on spread out over almost 1000 miles of the trail. All of them began their journeys between January 31 and February 27 and all of them have been diligent in their goal of conquering this iconic long-trail covering 2,190 miles through 14 states from Georgia to Maine.

Let me give you a quick update on each hiker in order of their start dates.

The Clan at Stonybrook Organic Farm and Hostel

Hard Knocks, Patrick Knox, started on January 31. As of his last post (4/30/2018) he has been hiking for 90 days and has covered 1,010 miles. He is camped at Stonybrook Organic Farm and Hostel, a religious commune run by the Twelve Tribes Network. Hard Knox shares, “…it is a religiously based commune.  It is a beautiful place and all of the people seem very nice all for the low price of Zero Dollars.  All they ask is that you work a little (I mopped a floor tonight) or consider a donation before you leave.  It is certainly nice enough for me to consider a zero-day tomorrow before I make the hike to Harpers Ferry.  If so, I will give more of a report on the hostel/commune.  So, maybe arrest day tomorrow before I continue walking.” Hard Knocks is averaging 11.2 miles per day and at this rate, it will take him 196 days to complete the trail.

Vagabond Jack, Jack Masters, began his hike on February 1st. His last post was made on April 28th and Vagabond was about 40 trail-miles north of Pearisburg, Virginia, at Laurel Creek Shelter and 670 miles from Springer Mountain Georgia. Jack is only averaging 7.7 miles per day, although he walked 16.5 miles on April 27th and 14.6 miles on April 28th. At the overall rate of 7.7 miles per day, it will take Vagabond Jack 285 day to complete the Appalachian Trail.

Opa in hospital

Opa is Reinhard Gsellmeier from Rochester, NY. He began his thru-hike on February 10th but has covered more miles than any hiker in this group. On April 27th he was at the 1,275-mile mark and experiencing the rocks of Pennsylvania. He met family in Wind Gap, PA, and drove home to Rochester for a few days of relaxing. After a day of resupply, Opa took ill and found himself in a New York hospital.He shared on April 30th, I basically have an enlarged prostate, a condition that is not uncommon for men my age.  I will also be scheduled to see an urologist, who will further evaluate my condition and advise as to treatment options.  My doctor also re-examined my hernia, which I’ve had since last fall, and he advised that my hernia now needs to be surgically repaired once my prostate issue is resolved and before I have any notion of continuing on with my AT hike…. These health issues are nothing serious that can’t be dealt with, but it looks like the continuance of my AT thru hike attempt is going to be put on hold for awhile…  In one respect I consider myself very fortunate that the issue with my prostate manifested itself while I happened to be in Rochester for the weekend….This will be my last journal entry for at least awhile.” I will keep you posted on Opa when he updates his journal.

Bamadog on Tinker Cliffs

Bamadog, Marty Dockins, took his first step on the AT on February 15th. He is averaging 11.1 miles per day and at this current rate, his trip to Mount Katahdin will take 197 days. He has just crossed over the suspension bridge at Tye River, climbed about 3000 feet to Three Ridges Mountain, and is about 25 trail-miles from Waynesboro, Virginia.

Chip Tillson started his hike on February 20, seventy days before his last post on April 30. He is camped close to Walker Gap about half way between Atkins and Bland, Virginia. He is only averaging 8.1 miles per day with an estimated total of 271 days needed to complete his thru-hike. Hopefully, the spring weather will enable him to increase his daily mileage.

The Guillotine

Tim Pfeiffer, Sour Kraut, took to the trail on February 21. He has not posted a written journal entry since March 11, but he submits photos to mark his progress. He posted a picture on April 30 (day 69 of his trek) of The Guillotine, a round rock balanced on rock-outcropping, under which the path leads the hiker. It reminds me of the Indiana Jones movie where Indy has to run away from the rock rolling over his head. The Guillotine is 765 miles into the hike. Sour Kraut is averaging 11.4 miles and at this rate will need 197 days to fulfill the dream.

600 miles for Which Way and Next Step

Which Way and Next Step, the couple from Washington, DC, crossed the 600-mile marker after spending 65 days on the trail. The couple is about two or three days away from Pearisburg, Virginia. They left on February 25 and, so far, are averaging 9.2 miles per day. At this pace, their thru-hike will take 238 days. However, they are making much better mileage in recent days and the weather should help their pace as well.

RTK, Bruce Matson, records his journal a week late so it is difficult to compare his trek with the others. However, on day 58 of his hike (April 23), which began on February 25, he is about 663 miles into his northbound (NOBO) adventure. His pace is 11.4 miles per day with an estimated trip of 192 days.

Spring makes such a difference!

Pigweed started his hike on February 27, had to take two weeks off for an injury, and is now back on the trail. He is several hundred miles behind the others who started in February and is only averaging 5.5 miles per day. He is in Erwin, Tennessee and has hiked about 341 miles. This rate will make his trek last more than a year (398 days). During the past six days, he has increased his mileage to 11.5 miles per day. I think to be successful he will need to continue to increase his daily distance if he hopes to complete this challenge.

My hopes and prayers for these thru-hikers is that the good weather ahead will encourage and refresh them. Their legs should be strong and now, more than ever, the emotional aspects of the trail are critical. Injury is only a fall away, sickness can strike any day, and discouragement can creep up on a hiker without too much warning. But, the warmth and color of spring can propel the hiker with zeal and excitement. May the winds of May fill their lungs, hearts, and minds with strength and a renewed commitment to the journey.

Photo of Commune from All other photos taken from


Categories: Appalachian Trail, Bamadog, Chip Tillson, Class of 2018, Erwin, Guillotine Rock, Hard Knocks, Hiking, Hostel, Opa, Pearisburg, Pennsylvania, Pigweed, RTK, Sour Kraut, Thru-Hike, Tinker Cliffs, Vagabond Jack, Virginia, Which Way and Next Step | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Hike It Forward In Paperback

Book Promo

Paperback Copies

Hike It Forward, the book recounting my experience on the Appalachian Trail, is now available in paperback. Several of you have inquired into the possibility of making my ebook into a real copy to be held in your hand, so you could turn the pages, and feel its weight and place it on your bedside table.I am thrilled to pass the word that it is now available through Amazon. Just click on the picture of the books and it will take you to the correct Amazon page.  

In April of 2014 I had the incredible opportunity to hike the 14 states of the Appalachian Trail. I kept a journal every day and was able to capture some of my adventure in this daily record. Hike It Forward includes an abbreviated journal of my trek, but I tried to make the book more than just a diary. It is formatted by topics and each chapter focuses on one of the various aspects of the thru-hike from hostels, to trail jargon, from wildlife to trail names, from adversity to thrills, and from valleys to summits.  

Please pass the word along your network to those you who might have an interest in reading about the adventure of the trail. I consider myself a spiritual man who loves to see God in all things, so my book is subtitled  “Hiking the Appalachian Trail: Strong, Safe and in the Spirit” and it includes some of my insights into the faithfulness of God along my 152 days in the woods.  I am always available for comment and would love to hear your reactions to my story.  

Categories: Appalachian Trail, Hike It Forward, Hostel, Rowdy, Thru-Hike, Trail Name, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | 9 Comments

Beaker Burning Up the Miles

Beaker, the chemist from Morgantown West Virginia, jumped off trail on April 13 close to the Partnership Shelter near Marion, Virginia, in order to return to the hills of West Virginia, pack up his entire house, and move to Knoxville, Tennessee. He spent about two weeks in “Almost Heaven” getting packed up and then another 8 days in Knoxville getting unpacked and semi-situated in Tennessee before returning to the trail.

Instead of picking the trail up where he left it, he selected to reconnect with his hiking buddy, 1st Sergeant, at Rockfish Gap close to Waynesboro, Virginia. This is about 326 miles farther north which Beaker plans to hike after they make it to Mount Katahdin, Maine. He and 1st Sergeant hit the trail on May 8th and began to put some huge miles on their legs. The two adventurers hiked 17 days straight covering 283 miles, including one 29

Beaker and First Sergeant Half Way

.5 mile day!

Beaker and 1st Sergeant arrived at Harpers Ferry on May 15 (the home of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy and the psychological half-way point of the trail). They stormed ahead and arrived at Pine Grove Furnace, PA (the actual half-way point) on May 21. The traditional half-gallon challenge (eating a half gallon of ice-cream to celebrate the half-way point) was turned into just a bowl of ice cream while observing a few other hikers engulfing the tasty treat.

The Doyle Hotel in Duncannon, PA was reached on May 24. The Doyle Hotel is another AT icon. It was built in the early 1900s and has received no maintenance or cleaning since. It is, without a doubt, the rattiest hotel I have ever stayed in. It also has a bar on the first floor that makes great burgers and other assorted bar food.  We all gathered in the bar at the Doyle and had lunch. 

1st Sgt and I are getting off trail this weekend to visit our wives. His wife is flying in and meeting up with us to drive to Asheville. They will drop me off with Marguerite in Kingsport, TN, to spend the weekend in Knoxville. As a result, we’ve decided to stay at the Doyle to facilitate the process.” 


Beaker spent the next four days in Knoxville with his wife before meeting up with 1st Sergeant at the Doyle and continuing down the path on May 29. Sixteen miles later, the duo made camp at a stealth camp along the trail. The next two days were strong ones as the dynamic duo logged in 26.4 miles on the 30th and 19.2 miles on the last day of May. They find themselves with only a 9 miles trek into Port Clinton, PA – a town I know quite well, having spent 5 days there recuperating from cellulitis during my thru-hike in 2014.

Categories: Appalachian Trail, Beaker, Doyle Hotel, Half Gallon Challenge, Harpers Ferry, Hostel, Knoxville, PA, Pine Grove Furnace | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Beaker, 1st Sgt., and now Bo

My last post about thru-hiker, Beaker, and his hiking buddy, 1st Sgt., placed them at Mountain Harbour Hostel, TN after a 16.3 mile hike including two big climbs over Little Hump and Big Hump Mountains. They had missed the serving of dinner at the hostel, but purchased some pizza, sodas, and Ben & Jerry’s ice cream at the General Store. The weather forecast was for thunderstorms and 1-2 inches of rain tomorrow, so they were looking forward to a zero day at the hostel on Monday. Let’s continue Beaker’s adventure ….

Mountain Harbour Hostel

4/3/17 Zero Day at Mountain Harbour Hostel, TN.

The rain came as predicted and the dry stay at hostel was enjoyed and appreciated.

4/4/17 From Mountain Harbour Hostel to Moreland Gap Shelter, TN – distance: 18.4 miles.

Beaker and 1st Sgt. left the Mountain Harbour Hostel after another huge breakfast, walked the 0.3 miles along US Rt. 19 to the trailhead, and started hiking north on the Appalachian Trail. The hike was quite productive (18.4 miles) filled with beautiful waterfalls and manageable terrain leading to the Moreland Gap Shelter. The two hikers were joined by a third, Bo. Bo is a professor of anthropology at Duke University. His actual trail name is Bard Owl because he enthusiastically explained the virtues of the Bard Owl one night around the camp fire. As happens with many trail names, Bard Owl got shortened to B.O. He didn’t particularly care for the connotations of that name, considering the bad smell of all thru-hikers. So, it eventually became Bo.

The three have made plans to stay at the Boots Off Hostel tomorrow. Due to aggressive bear activity, the next shelter on the AT has been closed to hikers. The hostel is located a comfortable 15-mile distance from Moreland Gap and the weather forecast is predicting yet more thunderstorms tomorrow evening, so a hostel seemed like a good part of their discerning plan.

4/5/17 From Moreland Gap Shelter to Boots Off Hostel in Hampton, TN, today’s hike logged 14.9 miles.

Bo continues to hike with Beaker and 1st Sgt. making a friendly trio of thru-hikers. The three seem to get along well. Their trail conversations today ranged from Native cultures, to AT culture, to Doolittle’s raid on Japan, to hiking the Camino trail in Spain. In addition to these good talks, the best visual part of the hike today was the Laurel Fork Gorge. The Laurel Fork roared through the gorge and the trail ran right next to the creek. Then came the climb up Pond Mountain. Not a particularly difficult climb, it is a long climb. The three amigos gained 2000 ft over 2.5 miles, then descended off the ridge for two and a half miles leading them to the fairly new Boots Off Hostel located near the base of the descent.

“After showering, 10 of us piled into the hostel’s Suburban and got a shuttle to town for food. Most of us ended up at McDonald’s where I learned about a brilliant culinary masterpiece from Hummingbird – you pull apart a McDouble and put a McChicken Sandwich between the two patties and smash it all together.” Now that is hiker hunger at its best!

From the Boots Off Hostel to Iron Mountain Shelter, TN for 15.9 miles.

Winter is back! The three adventurers headed out from the hostel in a light rain. The rain settled into a cold drizzle that went on all morning. The first couple hours of the day’s hike led along the shores of Watauga Lake. After crossing over the dam, the rest of the day was spent climbing. As the men climbed, the wind started intensifying and continued to blow fiercely with gusts up to 30-40 mph. And then the temperatures started to drop.

The rain turned to ice pellets and sleet. The high winds made the ice pellets feel like miniature darts as they stung the faces of the men. Finally, the sleet turned to snow. The afternoon found the ground slowly turning white. Somewhere along the trail, the fellowship of three decided they didn’t want to have to set up tents in the snow. So, they planned to sleep in the Iron Mountain Shelter. They arrived around 4:00 pm finding only three other hikers at the shelter that sleeps six – room for all.

Categories: Appalachian Trail, Beaker, Hostel, Laurel Fork, Tennessee, Thru-Hike, Trail Name | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Rambunny – Part Three – Hostel Owner

RambunnyRambunny and fellow thru-hiker “Aqua” purchased a hostel in Akins, Virginia. The Happy Hiker Hollow Hostel quickly became know as a great place to stay. Having hiked the trail several times Rambunny knew what thru-hikers needed in a hostel. She provided a great experience for those passing by.

In a thru-hiker forum ( there are a couple of interesting reviews of Rambunny’s hotel. Bessiebreeze posted,

“The ‘Happy Hiker Hollow’, in Atkins, Va., is fairly new, and a fantastic place to stay. The owners, Rambunny and Aqua, are very accomodating, they both have hiked the AT more than once, and their place is about 1 mile from exit 54, interstate 81, in Southern Va. They include breakfast and supper in their price, and have shared and private rooms. I stayed there just recently, and plan to go back. Their house is an old farm house, in a beautiful setting very near the trail.I give the “Happy Hiker Hollow” a five star rating for hiker stays near the AT.

Mango joined in the praise by sharing, “I can’t imagine a better hostess than Rambunny. She even cuts hair (for a reasonable price).”

On the Loose 2Several online trail journals mention the hostel. Thru-hiker, “On the Loose” shared her 2010 AT adventure on Her post on Wednesday, April 28, 2010 is a good example of a stay in Rambunny’s hostel in Virginia.

“When you come through Atkins, VA, you MUST stay at the Happy Hiker Hollow! This place is amazing! We got to the Shell station at VA11 and I-81 early in the afternoon. I called Rambunny at the hostel, and Aqua was there to pick us up in less than 5 minutes. We settled into our room at the hostel, and it immediately felt like home. There are real beds, books and movies galore, tons of toiletries for our use, games, foot baths, internet, and a phone with free long distance. There was a closet of clean clothes for us to put on after our showers while Rambunny did our laundry. In the afternoon, Aqua took us to a grocery store in Marion. Around 6, Rambunny called us down to an absolutely incredible homecooked dinner…. There were dishes galore of chicken, mashed potatoes, scalloped potatoes, green bean casserole, baked beans, candied carrots, rolls, and corn pudding. There was delicious lemonade and incredible pineapple upsidedown cake. Two hours later, I am still stuffed! I understand that we have a similarly amazing breakfast ahead of us tomorrow. At $40 per person, the rate sounded steep before we took into consideration all that included. Here’s the take-home message: it is absolutely, 100% worth it! Postscript, April 28, 2011: There are a lot of great hostels out there, but I think Happy Hiker Hollow officially gets my vote for Best Hostel on the Trail.”

However, not all was well at the Happy Hiker Hollow Hostel. I have not been able to discover the details of its closing but by September of 2010 the hostel was temporarily shut down, Rambunny posted this announcement on a hiker discussion board:

Happy Hiker Hollow Hostel

Happy Hiker Hollow Hostel

“We are sorry to announce that we are closed for renovations until 2012-Please send your boxes to The Barn restaurant (see guide books for info). Also good place to park. As soon as we were able to move into this 1842 farm house we were helping hikers-and our list of things we need to do got longer & longer. And YES bad hiker behavior did play into this decision. We hope to re-open with new guidelines that will both please the hiker & us. Our shuttle driver is still going strong from as far as Johnson City to Pearisburg & beyond- home-276-7833604 cell- 276-2438149 His name is Skip-wife’s name Linda. Have a great hike!!!!!”

It is so sad to hear that hiker misbehavior was part of the reason for the closing.  So many of the hikers that I met along the way were kind and considerate and took their adventure seriously. But it only takes a few to spoil the name of thru-hikers, to turn the taste to bitter among trail towns and to cause merchants to redirect their energies.

Runbunny posted a second announcement in October two years later (2012), “Sorry this took so long, Aqua is in stage 5 kidney failure, since April our world has been turned upside down. He is handling it way better than I sometimes but we are fighting the good fight-it’s not cancer, it could be worse. We trust God things will work out. We hope to be helping hikers in the future still. Happy Trails.”

HikeItForward-Final-MediumThe most recent update on Carole came seven months ago via this posting on regarding Rambunny posted by a friend, Frank Armstrong: “Last week she [Carole] fell from a ladder and shattered her tibia at the knee. It has been surgically repaired and she is home and doing well. Her companion ‘Aqua 2002’ has been on dialysis for the last 4 years. He goes in 3 times a week and is on a long waiting list for a kidney. This accident has put her out of work (1 full-time and 2 part-time jobs), for at least 12 weeks.”

A follow-up to this posting by Frank came a month later, “Bunny is doing well but getting antsy. She wouldn’t be her if she wasn’t 🙂 Aqua is amazing ! He is un-relenting in caring for her. This strong pair are inspiring.”

Carole has a Facebook page and I have requested to be her friend on this social media spot. I have received no response but I would love to make connection with this amazing lady of the trail. I will keep you posted if I am able to add a little more “present tense” to this story of Rambunny.

Hostel Photo:

“On the Loose”s Journal and photo:  http://www.trailjournals.comp/entry.cfm?id=309548 

Categories: Appalachian Trail, Hostel, Rambunny, Thru-Hike, Virginia | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

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