North Carolina

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

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

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

One Encounter All Day Long

161.JPGDay 24 of my Appalachian Trail thru-hike began at 5:45 am and I was on the trail by 7:00. By the end of the day, I had logged in 21 miles. The thing that made the day rather unusual was my hike of solitude. I had a short resupply in Erwin, Tennessee where I interacted with a few hikers at Uncle Johnny’s Hostel, but the rest of the day, on the trail itself, I only encountered one other hiker until I made camp at Curley Maple Gap Shelter. I enjoy being by myself and I found the peaceful solo-hike in the mountains along the border of  North Carolina and Tennessee refreshing and energizing.

My one encounter on the trail occurred in the morning coming down a hill into Spivey Gap as I was about to cross over US 19. I was gaining on the young hiker in front of me and I did not want to scare her by coming up too fast from behind. I clicked my trekking poles together and started to quietly whistle. She heard my noise, quickly turned around, and smiled. I returned her smile and gave my hiker greeting, “Great day for a hike!” She agreed and we began to walk together until we reached the road.

When we arrived at US 19, I decided I was going to take a break and have a protein bar. I invited her to join me thinking she would most likely decline, but to my surprise, she sat down beside me alongside the road. We began to chat and I learned that she was a section hiker and that she taught English at Anderson University in Indiana. She was quiet and soft spoken and very sweet natured. We talked a little about life and family. I shared about my wife and kids and grand kids. I mentioned that I was an administrator of a Christian School and was hiking to help raise money for student financial aid.

In just a few minutes of conversation, I could tell that we were kindred spirits. She said that she had a page of scriptures that she read everyday and wanted to know if I would like to hear the passage for the day. I immediately said I would love to hear the Bible passage. She read some encouraging words from the book of Psalms. I read for her some lyrics of a contemporary Christian song by Matt Redman, “Standing on this mountain top, looking just how far we’ve come, knowing that for every step, You were with us….Never once did we ever walk alone…You are faithful, God, You are faithful.” By the time the snack was done, I felt I had made a true friend. I gave her my blog information, wished her well, and headed down the trail toward Erwin.

163.JPGAt the end of the day, I reflected on God’s sovereign hand and the meeting of a Christian hiker to encourage me. All day long I saw no one. For 21.1 miles of trail and over 10 hours of hiking, it is amazing to only see one hiker. And then, to discover that the one person I encounter was a Christ-follower was just a special event. Thinking about the meeting, I wondered how many of the encounters I have during a normal day in the real world are really appointments made by God for me to be a source of encouragement to others.   

Steph, my friend from Anderson, commented on my blog several times throughout my adventure to Maine sharing more encouraging words that meant a lot . After returning home to Ohio, we have become Facebook friends. She returns to the Appalachian Trail each year to conquer a section at a time. HIF Cover PublishedI find it amazing to consider how impactful a 20-minute talk can be.


Never Once, Matt Redman, 2011:  Chrysalis Music Ltd. Sixsteps Music, Thankyou Music, songs
Categories: Appalachian Trail, Erwin, North Carolina, Tennessee, Thru-Hike, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Feelings of a Celebrity


Diane and Rowdy in Hot Springs

I had a great stay in Hot Springs, North Carolina, during my thru-hike in 2014. I met my sister, Diane, in the quaint, little trail-town. She and her husband, Tom, and little dachshund drove up from Winston-Salem for a special visit. This was my first opportunity to see anyone in the family for three weeks. She brought lots of great food, including cold cuts so I could create my own fantastic sandwiches, and several dozen homemade cookies.  It was a wonderful visit and brought great energy for the miles ahead.

The first day out of Hot Springs, I was plodding along at my normal pace when I heard some chatting coming from the opposite direction. The chit-chat continued to get louder until I made a bend in the trail and was somewhat surprised by five ladies, all with backpacks, all engaged in trail talk as they walked along.

148I could tell that they were not thru-hikers. They looked too clean; they smelled way too good; and their packs were too small and light. They were definitely section hikers but they seemed to be having the time of their lives. As I saw the group, I smiled, raised my trekking pole and gave a trail greeting, “Good morning ladies.  What a great day for a hike!”

The line leader stopped and asked, “Are you a thru-hiker?”

“Well, I am trying to be. I’ve got a long way to go, but Maine is my goal.”

All the ladies started to talk among themselves. Finally one of them shared, “We’ve been reading about thru-hikers and the Appalachian Trail. We thought we would come out for a few days and see what it was like. Could you answer some questions for us?”

“Sure,” I said, feeling like a celebrity. “Where are you from?”

410They were all the way from California and had the tans to prove it. They asked all the normal questions: “How much food to you have to carry? Do you always sleep in your tent? What do you do for a bathroom? Do you carry a cell phone? How often do you get to shower?  Are you hiking by yourself? Do you always hike in sandals?”

We talked for thirty minutes or so. I really enjoyed the sharing but I was getting a little concerned because I hoped to hike about 20 miles before setting up camp and it was looking a bit like rain. One of the ladies must have felt the same way as she asked, “Before we let you go, could we get a picture with you?” I could not believe the fuss they made over meeting a old, stinky hiker along the trail. After posing for several pictures, I was hiking down the path with a spring in my step basking in my celebrity status like I had just come off the red carpet.

AT MapThen it hit me. I had hiked less than 300 miles of the AT and was only in North Carolina. Although it was very sweet for the ladies to treat me like hero, I knew that I had a long way to go before obtaining the title of thru-hiker. From that day on, I tried to avoid using that word to describe  myself. Coming down off Mount Katahdin, I remember saying to myself, “Dave, you are now a real thru-hiker!”

Shortly after leaving my California fan club, it began to rain, but the sun came out in the afternoon and by the time I made camp about 5:00, I was dry. Soon after arriving at the shelter, the temperature turned cold. I was alone at the camp and had the shelter to myself, so I had some dinner, journaled about my day and crawled into my warm sleeping early. Sleep was easy to find after my 19.6-mile day.

HIF Cover PublishedIf you interested in reading more about my thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail, check out my book, Hike It Forward, sold on Amazon. I have had opportunity to write a few other books so I invite you to check my other offerings as well. I am writing a series of children’s books (two are currently available and a third should be published around Thanksgiving) called The Adventures of Princess Polly and Sir William the Brave and I have just released a book on the spiritual battles of life called, We Are All Warriors. If you are interested, just click on the Hike It Forward cover and it will take you to my author page where you can check out all my books.


Map of the AT found at
Categories: Appalachian Trail, Book, Chaco Sandals, Hot Springs, Mount Katahdin, North Carolina, Thru-Hike, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

The GSMNP – Day One

My hike through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSMNP) was a great adventure. The trek took 5 days and 4 nights (May 8-12, 2014). The path across this grand national park involved 71 miles of rugged terrain. I had beautiful, sunny weather for three days but had to embrace two days of rain. Reflecting on those days on the Appalachian Trail brings back many memories.

087The first day out of Fontana Dam was sunny with blue skies. To arrive at the national park, the hiker actually crosses over the dam and gains a close-up view of the waters of Fontana. Arriving at the park’s trailhead, there is an official box that requires a permit to hike the trails. I purchased the $20 permit in advance at Fontana Lodge.


Shuckstack Fire Tower

Hikers in the GSMNP are required to stay in shelters and no stealth camping is permitted so my hiking agenda was limited to the shelter sites. The first day, for example, I had several options. There were four possible destinations 12.1 miles; 14.9 miles; 17.8 miles; and 24.1 miles from Fontana. The trail was a twenty-mile uphill climb to Thunderhead Mountain, so my hope was to get to the second shelter at 15 miles and then evaluate the weather, the shelter, and my energy (the latter being the most important). Shelter #2 at Russell Field, was where my body told me I should stay. I was tired and did not want to push on and find myself exhausted for the next day.

Today was my first bear sighting on the Appalachian Trail. Just like Goldilocks, I saw three bears, but, unlike her, I did not stop to eat porridge with them or take a nap on their beds. Instead, I quickly passed by them hoping that they were not hungry for backpack food or the backpacker. It was a thrill to see them. Before leaving for my thru-hike, I hoped that I would be able to safely see some bears on the trail. They are such magnificent animals that seem to embody power and agility. I was not sure what to expect. Would they run, would they run toward me, would they charge and attack? I continued walking the trail (as quietly as possible) with the bears on the hillside to my right. To my relief, they just ignored me and kept lounging among the trees.


Fontana Lake from the Fire Tower

I also experienced one of my favorite activities on the AT – climbing a fire tower. The Shuckstack Fire Tower is a 60 ft. tall structure with 78 steps. The top of the tower gave me a fantastic view on this clear day of the surrounding North Carolina mountains. I stood in amazement at the beauty and the waves of mountains that filled my 360 degree perspective. From the tower, there is a special view of Fontana Lake that very few people are able to see.  

Seeing the forest from the fire tower gave me a chance to see the big picture and the incredible expanse of the GSMNP. But under the canopy of the woods, I was fascinated to see the variety and beauty of individual trees. Two very unusual trees caught my eye during this first day in the park. One trunk opened up like a teepee inviting me to sit inside to eat my lunch. The other tree stood about four feet off the ground before it bent completely over headed toward the trail and finally completed an “s” shape as it appeared to readjust itself back toward the sky.

Book Cover 2

Day one in the GSMNP was a glorious day on the Appalachian Trail. If you would like to read more of my adventures please check out my book, Hike It Forward, on Amazon.

Categories: Appalachian Trail, Fire-tower, Fontana Dam, GSMNP, Hike It Forward, North Carolina, Thru-Hike, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Hot Water – What a Luxury!

Hot ShowerI take a hot shower almost every day and sometimes I sneak a little added time under the warm water to enjoy the relaxing spray on my back. I take it for granted. But, there was one shower along the Appalachian Trail in 2014 that will stay in my memory for a long time. The warm water hit my face after hiking twelve days in a row on the trail without a break. I had managed a quick shower seven days before, but I was as ripe as a brown banana and smelled like the skunk nest by the city dump.


Fontana Lodge

I arrived at Fontana Dam Lodge, North Carolina, on May 7, 2014,  just before lunch but could not check into a room until 4:00. Two good hiking buddies, Beast of Burden and Soul Asylum, and I invaded the hotel restaurant for lunch. The food was excellent but the service was not the best. In hindsight, I could not blame the waitress for staying away from the smelly mountain men right off the trail. The three of us had a great visit sharing trail stories and some details about real life back home.

After lunch, I walked to a local grocery with my backpack over my shoulders and purchased all the food I thought I could fit in my pack to last me five more days on the trail. I made it back to the lodge about 2:30 and decided just to sit in the beautiful, air-conditioned lobby until my room became available. I got out my Trail Guide and mapped out a strategy through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. There would be no shower available until I made it through this granddaddy of a national park. I was planning a five day-four night adventure. I grabbed a short nap and before I began to snore too loudly, it was four o’clock and my room was available.

Fontana Lobby

Lobby of the Fontana Lodge

Just taking my sandals off and collapsing on the bed made me feel like a king. At the store, I bought a big bag of potato chips, two bananas and a two-liter of Coke with plans to watch Survivor on TV. In danger of immediately falling asleep, I jumped out of bed and turned on the shower. As the water turned from cold to warm, I realized that I did not remember seeing a laundromat in town. The sounds of the shower offered the best solution. I just walked into the water with my clothes on, including my socks. The water turned the color of chocolate milk before I even started using soap. Doing laundry standing up was pretty fun. After using almost an entire bar of soap on my clothes, I spent another 20 minutes getting my body clean. I never got to sweet smelling but my hair was squeaky and my hands looked like giant prunes.  

Survivor28logoI hung up my wet trail clothes, put on my town clothes (a Dayton Christian t-shirt and shorts), opened my chips, and tuned on the idiot box. I enjoyed the soft pillows until Survivor came on, then I got serious about watching one of my favorite shows. It was a good episode and I had great fun just relaxing. It was time for bed because I needed to hike out of Fontana Dam and into the GSMNP as early as possible. The initial climb out of Fontana was 2,755 feet in 9.3 miles. As I was about to roll over for some good sleep, I knew I had one more thing to do. I threw off the sheets, got ready, and jumped in the shower for one more delightful feeling of being clean, knowing that in 24 hours I would smell as bad as I did when I arrived at the lodge. Ah, the life of the thru-hiker.

If you are interested in reading more about my thru-hike, check out my book, Hike It Forward, on Amazon. Just click the book cover below and it will take you to my page.

HIF Cover Published


Shower Photo found at
Lodge Lobby photo found at
Survivor Logo found at
Categories: Appalachian Trail, Fontana Dam, GSMNP, North Carolina, Rowdy, Thru-Hike, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Snake Encounter on the Trail

black-rat-snake_624I really dislike snakes. I take that back. I am fascinated by snakes. I enjoy watching them when I know where they are and I am confident that I am a safe distance away. But when they surprise me along the trail and begin their quick, sidewinding movements, my heart does flatline for a bit and I gasp the air of  panic. I had the great opportunity to thru-hike the Appalachian trail in 2014 and I remember being quite concerned about encountering snakes. In my mind, I knew that I really only needed to be concerned about two bad boys, the rattlesnake and the copperhead. But I lacked a little confidence that I would be able to make a quick and proper identification in discerning between friend and foe. Instead, my goal was to avoid all snakes and to keep my cool when avoidance was not possible.

I had researched just a little on proper trail etiquette when meeting a snake along the path. One great tidbit of information that I stored in the backpack of my mind was that snakes have very poor hearing, but rather sense the presence of others through the ground vibrations around them. The advice, based on this information, was to be heavy footed and to bang the ground with one’s walking sticks or trekking poles. I immediately went out and bought trekking poles.


Photo of the Appalachian Trail on Day 9 (May 4, 2014)

The first week of walking on the AT was snakeless. They probably saw me, but I was wonderfully oblivious to them. Then day 9 (May 4th) arrived. I was hiking ion North Carolina. And I was introduced to my first rather large snake. It was a black snake and so I felt pretty confident that this slytherin was not going to inject a lethal dose of venom through my Chaco sandals. On the other hand, it had a mouth and I felt sure that it would defend itself if it felt threatened.

I saw the snake several yards away from me right in the middle of the path. It decided not to escape into the underbrush like I anticipated. Instead, it moved directly toward me, right up the center of the narrow walkway. I removed the advice from my mental backpack and began to stomp my feet and pound the path with my trusty hiking poles. The snake stopped, raised its head as if to look at me, then continued to slither on  its collision course with me. I jumped up and down and struck a nearby rock with my poles….no change, just moving forward.

A couple of things went through my head as I observed this strange reaction. One, maybe this was a mutated black-rattlesnake or a some sort of tarnished-copperhead. Two, maybe I have encountered a snake without the ability to “hear” vibrations. Three, maybe this was a depressed, suicidal snake willing to take on an old man in a life and death struggle.

We kept moving toward one another. I scooted to the right side of the path as it stopped dead center. I bravely (well, with great trepidation) and as quietly as possible stepped alongside the legless creature. It did not coil or flee. But we simply passed in quietness. The snake did not greet me and I did not stop to attempt to engage him in conversation.

Safely passed my first encounter with a large black snake, I removed the vibration advice from my mental backpack and left it behind (leaving no trace, or course). I saw many snakes during my five-month adventure, but I never encountered a rattlesnake or a copperhead – Praise the Lord; God is faithful.

Interested in reading more about my fabulous hike through 14 states on the Appalachian Trail? Check out my book, Hike It Forward on (just click the book).

HIF Cover Published


Snake photo from
Categories: Appalachian Trail, North Carolina, Rowdy, Snakes, Thru-Hike, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

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:

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

Grateful 2: A Week of Slackpacking

Grateful 2 is a thru-hiker from Tennessee. He began his thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail on March 18th with his son, Gooseman. With many tears, his son has had to abandon his hike and Grateful 2 will continue alone. My last post left Grateful 2 at Rock Gap Shelter, 106 miles from the southern terminus of the AT in Springer Mountain, Georgia about 30 miles into the great state of North Carolina. Let’s pick up his journal on April 1st.

April 1 Rock Gap to Winding Stair Gap – 3.9 miles

“We all anticipate when we get close to the roads out here. The roads bring change for us. First we notice the trail is descending. Then we hear the cars in the distance. Then we see the road. Anticipation. Sometimes the road is a ride into town. Sometimes it holds a trail angel who has set up a hamburger feed. For me today it is the anticipation that my wife and Gooseman are waiting at the next road crossing. And there they are!” The family will spend the next several days together, Grateful 2 will be slackpacking the trailheads, carrying less, experiencing easier hikes because of the lessened load, sleeping in a real bed at night and eating in restaurants. Best of all, the family will get to spend some time together.

April 2 Winding Stair Gap to Burningtown Gap 14.6 miles

Grateful 2 is up early for his wife to drive him to the trailhead at Winding Stair Gap. “I’m hiking faster today than I have yet on this trip. I only have a small day pack and it makes a huge difference. Almost 15 miles today, and I still get to eat at a restaurant with my wife for supper.” 

April 3 Burningtown Gap to Nantahala Outdoor Center (NOC) 12.9 miles

“Big drop in elevation today. From 5100 to 1770 feet. The climb over the jump-off was very difficult for a guy with a fear of heights. The worst yet. So glad it wasn’t raining. When I got to the NOC we ate an amazing meal called a Sherpa.”

April 4 Zero Day at the NOC

Grateful 2 woke up to a severe weather forecast. He quickly decided that the forecast required a zero day. His family enjoyed a meal at the Sunset Restaurant. They met the owners of the establishment and the food was delicious, especially the pies. After a visit to Walmart, the family just hung out at the room and enjoyed the visit.

April 5 From NOC to Stecoach Gap = 13.4 miles

First thing this morning Grateful 2 visited the NOC and registered for a permit to go through the Smokies. Then, it was the ascent out of the NOC. About an hour into the hike, the rain started to fall… along with thunder and lightning. Fortunately the bad weather had passed by the area before Grateful 2 got to the top of Cheoah Bald. After the summit of Cheoah Bald (2,040 feet) there is a steady 5-mile descent down into Stecoah Gap. The last mile is extremely steep and Grateful 2 described the adventure, “The hike down to Stecoah Gap was the worst 1 mile mud slip-and-slide I’ve ever been on. So glad to see my wife and son in the parking lot to take me back to the motel!” 

April 6 Zero Day at the Stecoah Gap

Snow is predicted for tomorrow morning with winds expected to be forty plus miles an hour. A winter weather advisory is in effect for tomorrow until noon. Tomorrow Grateful 2 has decided to get up early and go to the Nantahala Forestry Ranger station located in Franklin to find out about the weather before he goes up the mountain. This last zero day together as a family included a visit to Walmart again, the Chinese AYCE buffet again, and the outfitter again. They are living the dream.

April 7  From Stecoah Gap to Yellow Creek Mountain = 7.7 miles.

Grateful 2 got up early and we went to First Baptist Church Franklin for a free hiker breakfast of pancakes, orange juice and bacon. Grateful 2 estimated there were seventy hikers in attendance. After breakfast Grateful 2 went over to the forest service to check on the weather and road closures. Everything was open and there was only a dusting of snow in Franklin, so it was time to hike. He hiked a quick 8 miles and then it was back to the car. Grateful 2 has really enjoyed the slack packing approach, “Man, am l going to miss slackpacking. It is the heavy pack that makes hiking the mountains so difficult.” The most notable feature on today’s adventure was Jacob’s Ladder…six hundred feet of elevation change in 0.6 mile, straight up the side of the mountain with no switchbacks. It only took Grateful 2 about twenty minutes to make the ascent, but he described it as “a lung-burner.”

Tomorrow Grateful 2’s family will be headed home and the separation will be about 8 weeks – tough goodbyes in the morning.

Info and photo from Grateful 2’s journal located at
Categories: Appalachian Trail, Georgia, Gooseman, Grateful 2, Nantahala Outdoor Center, North Carolina, Tennessee, Thru-Hike | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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