Springer Mountain

Update from the AT – 8/17/18

Next Step starting the 100-Mile Wilderness

I identified 14 hikers attempting to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail. All of them began their journeys in either January or February of 2018. And all of them were keeping an online journal via trailjournals.com. Three individuals took to the trail in January while the other eleven waited until February to begin their treks.

Eight of the fourteen are no longer on the trail. Zin Master embarked on January 23 but had to leave the trail after 130 miles because of a nagging injury on February 27. David Snow and his dog Abbie started on February 26 and ended his journal on March 11 in Franklin, NC. He had hiked 110 miles. Class Act, retired physician Alan Conlon, hiked just shy of one month, from February 18 to March 17, logging in 183 miles of the AT. Hickory, another strong hiker on the trail, began his journey on February 27 and then on April 17, he decided to change his approach from a true-hike goal to the completion of a section of the trail instead. He had arrived at Daleville, Virginia, and had hiked 725 miles of the AT. Genesis, Rick Miller from Pennsylvania, started his hike with his sister on January 14. He hiked on the weekends in Pennsylvania and then traveled to Georgia on March 1st. He began hiking NOBO (northbound) but he returned home after some difficult days on the trail. He and his sister returned one more time in April to try to complete the trail but could not make it. Vagabond Jack left Springer Mountain, Georgia on February 1. He hiked 675 miles through Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and over 200 miles into Virginia. He left the trail on May 1 but then returned on July 12th. He continued his attempt until July 22 covering 82 more miles before a painful injury forced him from the trail. Opa, Reinhard Gsellmeier, from Rochester, NY, hiked from February 10 to May 21. He was such a strong hiker and had traveled over 1350 miles before a foot injury made it impossible to continue. Hard Knocks, Patrick Knox, began his hike on January 31. His last post found him power hiking through New England and then he just stopped journaling. On July 4th, he had arrived at Franconia Notch (about 1815 miles along the trail) in New Hampshire about to enter the hut system of the White Mountains.

Bamadog’s Photo at Bald Mountain Pond

Of the six remaining hikers, two are about to complete their journeys, one has been silent for over a month, one has suffered an injury in Vermont, one is hiking in the White Mountain in NH, and one is still over 1000 miles from the finish line.

The two hikers that are drawing wonderfully close to the end of the hike are Next Step, who is within 45 miles of Katahdin, and Bamadog, who has just arrived in Monson, Maine with 115 more miles to the big brown sign. Next Step began his adventure on February 24 and Bamadog stepped out one day later on February 25.

Next Step’s post on August 16th was from Whitehouse Landing. This wonderful hostel was not open in 2014 when I walked the path, but it reopened in 2016. It does provide a welcomed stopping place along the 100-Mile Wilderness for thru-hikers. Next Step’s wife and hiking companion for the first 1000 miles, Which Way, will join her husband on the 19th and they plan to summit Mount Katahdin together on August 20th. When he posts photos from the top, I will share his celebration with you. I am excited to see him finish.

Sour Kraut at Mt Mooilauke

On August 16, Bamadog had arrived at the last community before the 100-Mile Wilderness, Monson, Maine. His knees are sore, but he has the end in sight. The first 40 miles of the 100-Mile Wilderness contains many rivers to ford, steep ascents, root-dominated trails and challenging terrain, but the last 60 are much easier and enjoyable for the hiker. The entire wilderness experience is absolutely beautiful. Bamadog is so close to the end, but perseverance is still critical. He saw a moose along the trail on the 16th as he dodged thunderstorms throughout the day.

Sour Kraut rarely posts in words, but he has been fairly regular in updating his journal with pictures since his first on the trail, February 21. However, it has been 27 days since the last photo. He was on Mount Moosilauke in New Hampshire about 1795 miles into his trek. The number of days between pictures over the last three months has varied between 5 and 14 days. This long period of silence has me concerned. He might post tomorrow from Maine or even atop Katahdin, or he may be off trail without notification.

RTK Above Treeline

Chip Tillson started on February 20 and on August 16th he was in Vermont. He posted from Cooper Lodge close to the summit of Killington Mountain. He has reinjured a shoulder during a fall. He writes, I had a bad fall this morning, slipped on a rock and went down hard re-injuring the same shoulder I hurt back in March. I was able to keep going dispite the pain but it was all uphill; it’s relatively easy to walk uphill with one arm in a sling – downhill not so much. At least I know what to expect: it’ll hurt a lot so use it as little as possible for a few weeks. Taking much time off at this point is definitely not an option. Fortunately, Superfriend Dan is coming up early next week with my fall weather gear so I’ll take a zero with him while kicking back at Ted Griffins cabin, maybe I can get in some slack packing with his help. Chip has some very difficult terrain ahead of him and I hope he will be wise in resting/healing that shoulder.

RTK, Bruce Matson began his hike on February 25. He usually posts on Thursday and reports a week in arrears. I have not heard from him yet this week, so his last entry was August 1. On that date, he was in the White Mountain about eight miles north of Zealand Fall Hut and 15 miles south of Mount Washington. My guess is that he is into Maine and could be as far as Stratton with about 190 miles to go. I will give you an update as soon as he posts this week.

Pigweed into New Hampshire

Pigweed, Lee Richards, took his first step on the AT on February 27th. He hiked a little over 800 miles NOBO (northbound) then traveled to Maine and began walking SOBO (southbound). He has logged in 319 miles heading south and posted from Gorham, NH, on August 14th. He is headed into the heart of the White Mountains with Mount Washington less than 15 miles away. My greatest concern for Pigweed is the number of miles left to travel – he has over 1000 miles yet to hike. I hope that time will not run out before he is able to complete his trek.

Categories: 100 Mile Wilderness, Appalachian Trail, Bamadog, Class of 2018, Maine, Mount Katahdin, Mount Moosilauke, Mount Washington, New Hampshire, Next Step, Pigweed, RTK, Sour Kraut, Springer Mountain, Thru-Hike | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The First 10 Days of May on the AT

Spring Photo from Which Way and Next Step

And then there were seven… I began following 14 Appalachian Trail Thru-hikers that started their adventures in either January or February. I wanted to see how these early starters managed along the trail. In general, the rate of success for thru-hikers is about 25% – only one in four make it from the southern terminus of Springer Mountain, Georgia all the way to Mount Katahdin, Maine. The 14-state challenge of 2,190 miles is a test of endurance both physically and emotionally. At the end of the first week of May, 50% of the original hikers are off the trail while the other half are continuing to check off miles and days toward their goal.

The weather has blossomed as well as the wildflowers. The forest is green as the foliage creates the green umbrella protecting the path and those who hike it from the blazing sun. The challenge of the winter is drawing to a close and the trail is free of snow and ice.

Let me provide a quick update on the seven remaining hikers and their progress on the AT.

Patrick Knox, trail name Hard Knocks, is the only January starter still on the trail. He has made it over halfway and is resting at Darlington Shelter, 14 miles north of Boiling Springs, Pennsylvania, at mile marker 1,131.8. Boiling Springs is such a beautiful small town that embraces the smelly hiker with hospitality. It was one of my favorite trail towns in 2014.

Bamadog in May

Bamadog stayed at the Mountain Home Cabbin (hostel) in Front Royal, Virginia, on May 8th and then hiked 21.7 miles on the 9th to a stealth campsite. He is about to reach the 1000-mile point but must experience The Roller Coaster (13.5 miles of tightly packed ascents and descents) to get there. After the Roller Coaster, there are only 19 miles to Harpers Ferry and the Appalachian Trail Conservancy – a major milestone in the thru-hike adventure. At the Conservancy, hikers get their pictures taken, their names recorded in the official list of hikers, and a number indicating their order of appearance among the class of 2018.

Chip Tillson arrived at Pearisburg, Virginia, on the 6th of May. During the next two days, he hiked 23 miles and finally camped near Bailey Gap Shelter (mile-marker 654.5) on May 8th (the date of his last journal post). He is hoping to hike another 70 miles into Daleville, Virginia, before taking another day off.

Sour Kraut’s Salamander

Sour Kraut posts pictures occasionally so I know he is still on the trail. However, he does not journal with words so I am never sure exactly where he is. The last photo was dated May 6th, but is was of an orange salamander. His last landmark photo was the Guillotine on April 30. I am guessing that he has made it into Shenandoah National Park around 860 miles north of Springer Mountain, GA.

Which Way and Next Step, a retired military couple, are taking on zero-day on May 9th in Daleville, Virginia. Earlier last week (May 4), Which Way experienced some tough hiker discomfort with blisters. The couple decided to shuttle Which Way, Alicia, about 50 miles north to Four Pines Hostel in Catawba, Virginia, while Darrell (Next Step) continued to hike northbound. They rendezvoused in Catawba and continued down the path together. They hiked to McAfee Knob and over Tinker Cliffs before resting in Daleville. One reason for the separation was the need to complete the trail by Labor Day. Next Step shares in their journal, “…it was evident that she [Which Way] needed some time off the trail to clean it [the blister] properly and to let her feet heal. The closest road intersection was VA 235, a gravel road 2.5 miles down the mountain. As she hobbled along we discussed options. I told her that I could take a couple of days off with her, but she did not want to slow our overall progress (we need to complete this journey before Labor Day). In the end, we decided to get her a ride 50 or so miles up the trail while I continued to hike.”

Which Way and Next Step on McAfee Knob

My concern for this wonderful couple is their time constraint. They have great attitudes and seem to be enjoying the adventure with marvelous gusto. But Labor Day is September 3, 2108. They still have time, but they will need to really pick up the pace. At their current rate of 9.65 miles per day, according to my quick calculations, they will be 327 miles short of Mount Katahdin on September 3. It would take them another 34 days to reach their goal. However, they would only need to up their average distance to 12.4 miles per day to reach the brown sign in Maine.

Dragon’s Tooth by RTK

RTK, Bruce Matson, like Which Way and Next Step has arrived at Daleville, Virginia. However, RTK posts in his journal a week late. So he arrived in Daleville on April 29th. He experienced a great week on the trail with friends and family joining him for some of the adventures. He has walked by Keefer Oak (the second largest oak tree on the AT – over 300 years old and 18 feet around), the Audie Murphy Monument (the most decorated American soldier of World War 2), Dragon’s Tooth (a huge stone monolith), and of course McAfee Knob (one of the most photographed spots on the trail). He also enjoyed a great all-you-can-eat meal at Homeplace Restaurant. (This hiker favorite in only open Thursday through Sunday. I sadly hiked by on a Wednesday in 2014).

Pigweed celebrated his birthday on the trail on May 4th.  He posted in his journal:

Pigweed – Birthday on Hump Mountain

“Happy birthday to me. 
A great b-day so far.  I woke on top of Hump Mnt and watched the sunrise out my tent doors.  360 degree view from there had awesome sunset sunrise and stars. I slept half out of my tent to enjoy the stars until the wind whipped up and I scooted into the tent.  The wind gave my tent a workout… I then Nero ed into Roan TN and stumbled into station 19 hostel.  They have… a pig roast tonight with live music. A real bed shower laundry and shuttle to town. I may zero tomorrow with rain in the forecast…” 
This was Pigweed’s most recent post. He has been silent for the five days so I am anticipating an up-date very soon. Roan, Tennessee, is at the 392 mile-marker. Pigweed had many, many more miles to travel on his adventure.

Categories: Appalachian Trail, Appalachian Trail Conservancy, Audie Murphy Memorial, Bamadog, Boiling Springs, Chip Tillson, Class of 2018, Daleville, Dragons Tooth, Harpers Ferry, Keffer Oak, McAfee Knob, Mount Katahdin, Pearisburg, Pennsylvania, Pigweed, RTK, Shenandoah National Park, Sour Kraut, Springer Mountain, Thru-Hike, Tinker Cliffs, Virginia, Which Way and Next Step | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Opa – First to Reach Harpers Ferry, WV

Opa’s Hike on April 11 – Mary’s Rock

Of the fourteen thru-hikers of the Appalachian Trail I began to follow this winter, ten are still on the trail and the first adventurer has reached Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. Harpers Ferry is the psychological half-way point of the trail and the home of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. It is located about 1020 miles north of the southern terminus (Springer Mountain, GA.) and almost 80 miles short of the geographical mid-way point, but it is a great milestone for all thru-hikers. The Conservancy takes a picture of each thru-hiker, provides a check-in number for each hiker, and places the photo in a historical album documenting the class of 2018.

Old Town – Harpers Ferry

Opa (Reinhard Gsellmeier), a retired engineer from Rochester, NY, began his thru-hike on February 10. He has been hiking strong and putting in some long days filled with many miles. On day 66 of his hike (April 15) he reached Harpers Ferry. He is hiker number 16! He has hiked through rain, snow, ice, and wind. He has averaged about 15.5 miles per day. Out of curiosity, I pulled my journal from 2014 and looked at my destination on day 66. I was in….wait for it…..Harpers Ferry! But I had great weather – no snow, no freezing temperatures, no icy winds. I had some rain but by-in-large the trail was in great shape. Opa is amazing and my hat goes out to his determination and grit.

Opa enjoyed his hike thru the Shenandoah National Park and the food available at the waysides along the Skyline Drive (especially the blackberry milkshakes… and cheeseburgers… and French fries)

On April 12, Opa reflected on the difficulties of the hike: Someone asked me a few weeks ago if hiking the trail was more physical or mental. In my humble opinion, after hiking 900 plus miles so far (but still having a long way to go), I think it is more mental. Certainly, there is a physical aspect as well, but if you’re not in good shape when starting out the trail will whip you into shape after a few weeks. The mental challenge however is there every day for the duration. Stuff Happens as they say, and you have to be prepared mentally to deal with the mishaps and adversity that will come along. You will fall, and have to be prepared to pick yourself up and keep on movin. There will be times when you are cold, wet and feeling miserable, and again need to keep movin on. There will be times when a piece of gear fails or doesn’t perform as expected (eg waterproof boots that aren’t waterproof) and need to keep movin on. There will be times where you will really miss your family and loved ones, as well as the comfort of your home, but need to keep movin on. These and countless other mishaps/concerns/issues will test your mental toughness.

1000 Miles!

Opa conquered the roller coaster (a 13.5-miles stretch tightly packed ascents and descents that will challenge your legs and lungs) on Saturday, April 14. Close to the end of the coaster, Opa reached the 1000 mile marker (an actual plaque on a tree): another giant mental/emotional milestone for the thru-hiker. With the warmer weather over the weekend, Opa noticed the trail filling up with day-hikers and section hikers. He comments that he crossed paths “with at least 200 folks” including a couple of boy scout troops. He camped about 10 miles from Harpers Ferry.

On April 15 (instead of driving to the post office with his income tax forms) Opa hiked into Harpers Ferry. He woke up at 2:45 am, couldn’t get back to sleep, packed up, and hit the trail by 3:45. He arrived in Harpers Ferry by 8:00. He is spending the night at a hostel and happy to be out of another cold wave approaching. It was in the 80’s the last two days, but rain/thunderstorms/cold winds were embracing the little West Virginia town.

Opa has a long way to go, but his attitude is one of gratitude. “I am also so thankful to be able to make this hike. The good Lord has blessed me in so many ways, I’m a lucky man.” Opa plans to spend the night in Harpers Ferry and then to continue on, across the bridge and into state number six: Maryland.

Categories: Appalachian Trail, Appalachian Trail Conservancy, Class of 2018, Harpers Ferry, Opa, Roller Coaster, Shenandoah National Park, Springer Mountain, Thru-Hike, West Virginia | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Last Two AT Hikers join up in February

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

Pigweed in Rain Gear

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

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


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

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

RTK on Springer

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

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

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

Which Way and Next Step On the AT

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

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

Amicalola Falls

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

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

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

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

Opa’s Thru-hike

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

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

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

Opa and one of his grandsons

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

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

The Adventure Begins: February 10, 2018

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

Hawk Mountain Shelter

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

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

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

Tent at Woods Hole Shelter

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

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

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

Zin Master Waiting in Tennessee

Zin Master began his thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail on January 23, 2018, in Springer Mountain Georgia. He hiked 7.4 miles on Tuesday the 23rd.  Wednesday’s hike was 8.3 miles; Thursday equaled 8.1 miles; Friday (1/26/18) totaled 7.3 miles including a climb over Blood Mountain into Neel Gap.

Zin had developed some major blisters on his feet and decided to get off the trail to allow for some physical healing. Fortunately, his in-laws live in Kingsport Tennessee, so he traveled by bus to retreat with family.

Zin needed to address a couple of hiking issues in addition to his blisters. He needed to find a more comfortable boot/shoe and he needed to replace a broken trekking pole.

Zin began a daily soak of his feet in warm water and Epsom salt and then moisturizing them with Aquaphor. I used Aquaphor on my feet in 2014 and not only did it keep the skin from cracking but it left them a water resistance almost like a waxy, oily film. It doesn’t sound very good, but it truly helped maintain strong and happy feet.

Zin found some longer and wider shoes (14W) and was able to find someone to modify his inserts to fit his new Keens (which he had to order). He sent his Leki trekking pole to the company who is making repairs and sending them back to him. As of February 7th, he is still waiting for his new/repaired gear.

Top of Blood Mountain

Zin has also checked on transportation back to the trailhead at Neel Gap. The bus ride was long and involved traveling to Tennessee, but it was going to be horrendous on the return trip – 20 hours including a 10-hour layover in Atlanta. So, he has decided to rent a car for a few more dollars than the bus ticket and he will be able to drive with 13 miles of the trailhead in 4 hours. He will then be able to get an inexpensive shuttle to the trailhead itself.

He has been on the trail for four days and resting in Tennessee for twelve days. Once those shoes and trekking poles arrive, he should be healed and ready to move. It must be discouraging to have to wait, but maybe the weather will be warmer as he moves forward. Hopefully, he will be on his way toward Maine by this weekend.

Categories: Appalachian Trail, Blood Mountain, Georgia, Neel Gap, Springer Mountain, Tennessee, Zin Master | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Vagabond Jack Begins

Jack Masters, aka Vagabond Jack, is from Kansas City, Missouri but for the next several months he hopes to be homeless as he travels the Appalachian Trail. He began his thru-hike on February 1, 2018, with the dream of hiking 2,200 through 14 states from Georgia to Maine.

Vagabond Jack retired at the age of 66 as a database engineer. The year of 2017 was a major year of transition for Jack. His wife passed away after a 5-year illness. Since the sadness of her death, Jack sold his house and all his possessions, purchased a truck camper, and traveled around the country. He has longed to hike a long trail for many years but could not decide which trail to choose.

Vagabond Jack heard a podcast by Mighty Blue (a fellow AT Thru-hiker in 2014 that I hiked with for a few days). Mighty Blue was sharing about a Fat Guys Hike that would last a week on the Appalachian Trail from Newfound Gap southbound through the Great Smoky Mountains. He joined the group, was challenged by the trail, but decided to thru-hike the AT anyway.

On January 31, Vagabond Jack drove his truck camper to Georgia and put his rig in storage in Marietta. He arranged a shuttle ride from Marietta to Amicalola Falls State Park, where he officially signed in at the welcome center as a thru-hiker number 29. He entered his starting pack weight at 25 pounds. The shuttle driver then took Vagabond Jack to the parking lot located 1 mile north of Springer Mountain (the southern terminus of the AT). Jack then hiked 0.8 miles to the Springer Mountain Shelter to spend the night.

After a cold and windy night, on February 1, Vagabond Jack Hiked the remaining 0.2 miles to the summit of Springer. It was a foggy hike, but Jack reached the iconic rock summit, took some pictures at the commemorative plaque, then turned around and began his trek of the AT.

The weather improved throughout the day, but Vagabond soon realized that he had taken a wrong turn. He walked for about a quarter mile when he realized his error. He backtracked and successfully found the white blazes once again.

About 3:30 in the afternoon, he came upon Joe, a section hiker that camped along Jack the night before. Joe was ready to call it a day and planned to take a short side trail to Long Creek Falls. Vagabond Jack was hoping to hike on to Hawk Mountain shelter (another 2.9 miles). However, he calculated that it would be close to sundown by the time he got there, so he agreed to go to the falls and find a place for the night. Having hiked 5.2 miles on the AT, they pitched their tents and had an early dinner. Joe built a campfire, but they went to bed early.

Long Creek Falls

Jack woke up around 6:00 am but snoozed another half hour before crawling out of his toasty sleeping bag. His goal was to hike 10 miles to Gooch Mountain Shelter.  By 7:00 he was packing up his tent when Joe rolled out of his tent. During the night, Joe’s tent had leaked soaking his sleeping bag. He was shivering and extremely cold. Jack pulled out his stove and made him a hot cup of coffee. They packed up and headed down the trail, but after a mile, Joe indicated that he needed to get off the trail. They called for a shuttle ride and hiked another 2.4 miles to a road crossing at Hightower Gap.

Because of the time lost with Joe’s struggles, Jack realized that he could not make it to Gooch Mountain. The weather report looked intense for the weekend, so Jack decided to ride with Joe into Dahlonega and find a room until Monday. He has had a slow start, covering only 8.6 miles in two days, the weather report looks better for the coming week.

I will give you an update when Vagabond Jack hits the trail again.

Check out his journal and photos at www.trailjournals.com/journal/22304.

Categories: Appalachian Trail, Georgia, Long Creek Falls, Springer Mountain, Thru-Hike, Vagabond Jack | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Memories from the AT – Lots of emotions

20140924-194204.jpgSeptember 24th was my anniversary, not of my marriage to the best wife in human history, but of my climb to Mount Katahdin and the completion of my thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail. Although that day does not hold a candle to my wedding day or the days of the birth of my four incredible children, it was a significant day, capping a physical, emotional, and spiritual journey that lasted five months. The adventure, up and over fourteen states and through some of the most beautiful land I have even seen, has made a deep and long-lasting impression on my life.

This week, I picked up my journal and began to reminisce on that incredible adventure. On April 26, 2014, I had no real idea of what was ahead of me when I woke up in my son’s home justDr.D.Hiking north of Atlanta, Georgia. I had read close to two dozen books about the Appalachian Trail, including several personal journals of thru-hikers; I had attended a half dozen seminars from how to make a fuel-oil stove to how to make a successful thru-hike of the AT; I had trained physically for fourteen months, hiking 2,200 miles before setting foot on the THE trail. But head knowledge and hiking in Ohio, is a far cry from really living and experiencing, up-close-and-personal, the path from Georgia to Maine.

My wife, Cathy, and I had driven from Springboro to Atlanta on Friday, April 25. My son, Ben, his wife, Vanessa, and their two beautiful little girls greeted us with enthusiasm. They were excited about my crazy idea of hiking 2, 186 miles. I did not sleep too well with the “unknown” bouncing around in my brain. I woke up around 6:00 and before long I could smell the chicken-bacon and eggs breakfast awaiting me in the kitchen.

Three of us (Ben, Cat and I) were pulling out of the driveway and on the road to Springer Mountain by 7:30. Instead of hiking the 8.5-mile approach trail from Amicalola Falls up to Springer Mountain, I talked Ben into driving to a parking lot at Big Stamp Gap, one mile north of the summit of Springer. All three of us hiked the mile up to Springer, took lots of pictures, and made the hike back to the car.

005I remember the mix of emotions that filled the moment of goodbye: feelings of gratitude for my son, driving me to the starting point; feelings of concern for Cathy’s road-trip back to Ohio by herself; feelings of sadness in my heart not knowing when I would see my wife again (I was so fortunate to be able to see her four times during my journey); feelings of excitement for a journey that I had literally dreamed about for over a year; feelings of apprehension knowing that only 25% of thru-hiker wannabes make it to the finish line; and feelings of inspiration having sensed a call to the trail and having received the support of my wife, my kids, my sister, and so many Christian friends; and finally feelings of fear, facing the unknown by myself with very little experience in the back-country.

With last minute hugs and kisses, I turned to face the trail about 9:30. I knew there were several possible hiking goals for the day. There was a shelter 2.8 miles from Springer (Stover Creek Shelter), but I was determined to go further than that. At 8.1 miles, a second shelter, Hawk Mountain Shelter, might be a possibility. Fortunately, I got there around lunch time and enjoyed my first meal sitting in my ultra-light chair at the blue blaze leading to the shelter. The next shelter was at mile marker 15.8, seven more miles down the trail, at Gooch Mountain. I was feeling good and I felt fairly confident that I could do seven more miles in three hours. At mile 10.5, I ran into my first significant mountain, Sassafras Mountain. In one mile of trail, the elevation rose 661 feet. Huffing and puffing, I slowly made it over the mountain, down over the other side and into Copper Gap, only to find Justus Mountain, another nice climb, welcoming me to the AT. The hike was tiring but I was happy when I pitched my tent along the trail about a mile past Gooch Mountain Shelter. It was 5:30 and I had hiked 17 miles (16 miles moving NOBO toward Maine and 1 mile from the parking lot to the top of Springer) – not bad for the first day.

20140426-205857.jpgThere were more emotions at the end of the day. Arriving at camp I was nervous about setting up my tent (I had no major problems, although I got much faster as the hike progressed); concern about my appetite (I was not hungry at all, but my thirst was keen. I had two pop tarts for lunch, some GORMP along the trail, but dinner did not appeal to me); tired but content (it was a good tired – satisfied with the day’s adventure). I remember crawling into my tent so excited about actually being on the AT, feeling so good about the distance traveled; wondering what tomorrow would look like; and ready for some sleep…. it was 7:30.

My hike was filled with extraordinary events and the faithfulness of God. If you’re interested in the full story, check out my book at Amazon.com. https://www.amazon.com/Hike-Forward-Hiking-Appalachian-Strong/dp/152207824X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1506946662&sr=8-1&keywords=hike+it+forward

Categories: Amicalola Falls, Appalachian Trail, Georgia, Rowdy, Sassafras Mountain, Springer Mountain, 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: http://www.trailjournals.com/journal/photos/18636

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

North Carolina brought the Smoky Mountains and cold weather.

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

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

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

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

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

July led Beaker above tree-line in New Hampshire.

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

20. Mount K

Beaker on lower left

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

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

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

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