Virginia

Mid-May Brings Miles on the Appalachian Trail

As a change of pace, I thought I would provide an update on the seven Appalachian Trail thru-hikers with their own words. Since my last post of May 10, each hiker has been making progress. As of their last posts (most of them on May 16th), here is where they are:

Hard Knocks – Port Clinton, PA.: mile 1,214

Bamadog – ten miles north of Boiling Springs, PA.: mile 1,127

Chip Tillson – 25 miles north of Daleville, VA.: mile 750

Sour Kraut – Luray, VA.: mile 938

Which Way and Next Step – VA 56, Tye River: mile 828

RTK – Big Meadows Campground, VA. (Shenandoah National Park) mile 921

Pigweed – Shady Valley, TN.: mile 452

 

Hard Knocks

5/ 10 It was raining on us after a few hours and the rocks got slick and the dirt got muddy.  I lost the end of one of my trekking poles in the mud and it was lost and gone forever.  With this terrain, functional trekking poles are a necessity…stop in Duncannon….so I could buy new poles.  Since we [Hard Knocks, Roam, and Happy Feet] were there and wet, we decided to call it a day.  We checked in at the Doyle Motel.  If passing this way you should know that this is NOT the Hilton!  

5/13 ‘Rocksylvania’ has truly earned its name among hikers.  Lots of different rock challenges here. We have had mazes to go thru, boulders to climb over, and general walking hazards in uneven and unstable steps.

5/16 [After a zero-day in Port Cilton, PA] Just a quick object lesson I guess.  In addition to staying hydrated you must provide plenty of fuel for the fire, and the calorie fire is huge when you are hiking the AT.  So now I am off to burn more calories!  

Shenandoah River, Harpers Ferry, WV

Bamadog

5/10 The roller coaster was rough. I got overheated. It rained and made everything slick. I turned my foot over again. Very painful….Hope to get into Harpers Ferry tomorrow afternoon. Hope everyone is doing well. Thank you for your prayers

5/13 I have a shin splint on my other leg now. Went into Waynesboro and resupplied. Had wonderful people bring me to town and take me back to the trail head. Very much appreciated. 

5/16 Started walking at 7:20. Walked in rain most of the day. It was a beautiful day in the forest. Climbed boulders in the morning and walked in mud and water in the afternoon. Had to set my tent up in a jungle. The trail is 6 inches wide and on both sides it is grown up with who knows what.

Chip Tillson

Keffer Oak

5/10 The day started nice enough through pasture lands and past the Keffer Oak. At 300 years old it’s “the 2nd largest oak tree along the AT”. Apparently there’s a bigger one in NY, I’ll let you know….I have just enough food to get to Daleville, three days away. There is a small store halfway where I’ll pick up some extra calories to be sure.

5/13 Sunday’s weather was hot. I heard some hikers say it had affected their mileage but I had no problem, maybe I’m not moving fast enough to get overheated. The Rhododendrons were blooming and the Mountain Laurels are getting ready. Late in the day I passed through a long tunnel of Honeysuckle bushes, sweet!

Saw my first rattlesnake. The rattle end was two feet into the trail, the rest hidden in leaves. Hmmm…what to do. I spotted it easily but it wasn’t hard to imagine someone else coming along and stepping on it. I tossed a few sticks to move it along but that only prompted it to lift its head and look at me, flicking its tongue…unnerving.

5/16 It rained nearly all day but was warm enough so that I went without rain gear. It’s just water, it’ll wash off. The big millipedes seem to have been replaced by little orange newts, they’re everywhere! I wonder what they’re thinking as I thunder through their world like Godzilla. The trail paralleled the Blue Ridge Parkway and crossed it several times at pullover viewing spots. Unfortunately it was foggy: no views…

SNP Map

Sour Kraut – No words – only pictures

Which Way & Next Step

5/10 [After a Zero-day in Daleville, VA.] It always seems to be a little more difficult to get going the day after a Zero…. Fortunately the first couple of miles were relatively flat. The trail here paralleled I-81, eventually crossing under the busy interstate, another open pasture, and finally we were back in the forest, where we belong.

5/13 Mother’s Day… our hike started at 0645, because Which Way wanted to get to town so that she would be available to talk to our kids when they called. I usually get flowers for Which Way on Mother’s Day…. As we departed camp I told her that all of the flowers on along the hike today were hers to enjoy for Mother’s Day. Of course, the trail did not disappoint.

Mother’s Day Flowers for Which Way

We had a single significant climb today and it came early in the hike…. At the top of the climb we paused for a break and to worship. It is so easy to count our blessings and give thanks out here. The wildlife was out and about this morning. We ran across a bunny hopping up the trail, two chipmunks playing chase, squirrels, birds and butterflies fluttering about, a deer just off the trail and two snakes. Some of the wildlife actually posed long enough for a pic. 

5/16 We started hiking a little before 7AM with the intent of making it 17 miles to VA Route 56 by 3PM. We wanted to be off the trail on Thursday so that we could be in contact with our daughter who was having surgery.,,,, We emerged soaking wet from the forest at the VA 56 parking area at 2:45PM…. trail angels Dave and Jim…drove me to the Enterprise rental car agency located another mile or so away. We knew that at some point in the hike we would have to make a quick sprint to Washington, DC so that I could get a Retiree ID Card and we could pick up our 90-day refill of meds…. After shuttling a couple of hikers to a local AYCE Chinese Buffet, we hit the I-64, headed to DC. …We arrived at my cousin Bill’s place in Old Town Alexandria a little before 10pm. Bill had brownies and ice cream ready when we walked through the door. Death by chocolate—Perfect! 

RTK – last post 5/8

RTK at Big Meadows

5/8 Wally and I broke the day – which we knew was a tall order: over 18 miles – into thirds.  The first was a six mile stretch that included two, 2-mile climbs.  By focused attention to a steady pace, we conquered the first third.  The morning was brilliant weather but clouded up most of midday. The next six miles rolled through woodland without any views or points of interest except we were able to have lunch at Lewis Mountain campground.  After climbing Bearfence Mountain, Wally waited for a ride at a Skyline Drive parking lot and I finished the last 6 miles by myself.  The afternoon changed back to the brilliant sky with a cool breeze – wonderful conditions for the hike.  The late afternoon light seemed to help illuminate the wildflowers.  I made very good time on an excellent trail….tented at Big Meadows campground. 

Pigweed last post 5/12

Pigweed’s AT Barn

5/12 Today started rainy and the rain actually came intermittently most of the day. However, it never actually broke out into a hard rain, just enough to make me put my umbrella up and down several times in the morning in the afternoon. I was kind of dragging in the morning and came to about a 5-mile mark and at a shelter when the rain was threatening so I stopped and cooked a hot meal and made some coffee. A hot meal at lunch time is a rare thing but… the real pick me up. Rest of the day went quite well and I ended up doing 16 miles stopping at Low gap. A thunderstorm was raging to the north of me and threatening me so I put up my tent and let it pass with barely any effect, just enough to wet my tent. It caused a late dinner as I did not start cooking until close to 8 but I need the calories after 16 miles.
Today’s hike had an interesting pastoral section where I walked through some actual pastures that connected to Mountain sections. The barn had a big AT symbol on it so the farmer is obviously a friend of the trail. 

Categories: Appalachian Trail, Bamadog, Boiling Springs, Chip Tillson, Class of 2018, Daleville, Duncannon, Hard Knocks, Harpers Ferry, Keffer Oak, Pennsylvania, Pigweed, Port Clinton, Roller Coaster, RTK, Sour Kraut, Thru-Hike, Virginia, Waynesboro, West Virginia, Which Way and Next Step | 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

Vagabond Jack Off Trail

Vagabond Jack

Vagabond Jack, Jack Masters, is from Kansas City, Missouri, although his home for the year prior to his thru-hike was his camper truck. Jack is a 66-year-old retired database engineer who began his adventure on the Appalachian Trail on February 1, 2018. Last year (2017) was a difficult one for him. After his wife died after a 5-year battle with illness, he sold his house, purchased a camper, and traveled around the US. He drove his truck to Georgia on the last day of January, put his vehicle in storage in Marietta, grabbed a shuttle to Springer Mountain, and began his trek the next day.

Eighty-eight days later his thru-hike has ended. He walked 677 miles, lost three toenails, fell 13 times, and dropped 16 pounds. He only had one small blister but went through 3 pairs of shoes.

Vagabond Jack’s hike on April 29 was a brisk but sunny one. He encountered a couple of tricky stream crossings but navigated without a fall and kept his feet relatively dry. Once across the water, he found an easy walk through the woods. Two miles into his walk he came to a pasture and then to Virginia Route 42 leading to Newport and Blacksburg (his last chance for an easy access to a town for two or three days).  He decided he needed to go into town and seek some medical advice.

Vagabond Jack at Damascus, VA

He shared in his journal, “For the past few of weeks, I had been having pain from a medical condition. I had this condition before heading to the trail, but walking so many miles with a pack had obviously made it worse. Sometimes the pain had been quite acute so that by the end of the day I had difficulty walking. Every step was misery. Other days, it wasn’t so bad. But something was obviously not right, and I was getting concerned. I knew I couldn’t continue walking with such pain.”

Vagabond Jack caught a ride into Blacksburg and saw a doctor the next day. “I saw a doctor…and…my condition is not life-threatening. There is nothing to do to stop the pain except for an operation, which would lay me up for several weeks. Therefore, I have had to make the difficult decision to end my journey. It has not been easy, and I often second guess myself, but the grownup in me knows it’s the right decision…. So now I’ll rent a car and head down to Atlanta to pick up my truck and camper, my home.”

Vagabond Jack at Grayson Highlands

Sometimes it is not the distance or the number of days on the trail that changes a person’s perspective on life, but the quality of experience makes the difference. I trust and pray that Vagabond Jack found some peace and inspiration and contentment was he spent 88 days in the glory and beauty of God’s creation. I enjoyed hiking with him in a virtual way through four of the fourteen states that make up the Appalachian Trail.

Categories: Appalachian Trail, Class of 2018, Thru-Hike, Vagabond Jack, Virginia | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

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 trailjournals.com) 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 https://www.twelvetribes.com/community/stoneybrook-farm-dc-area. All other photos taken from trailjournals.com.

 

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

AT Hiker Update: Part 2

As a follow-up to yesterday’s post, I wanted to provide a progress report on the other five hikers that I have been tracking as they attempt a thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail.

Sour Kraut at 500 Miles

Chip Tillson (Sorry, he does not post photos to share)

Chip began his AT adventure on February 20, 2018. As of April 9th, he has trekked over 350 miles. He is through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, passed Hot Springs, North Carolina, and ten miles beyond Erwin, Tennessee. Having to take several days to heal from a fall on his shoulder, Which Way and Next Step have caught up with Chip. He mentions meeting them and seeing them several times during the past few days. Chip developed his first blister during his hike into Erwin, TN, so he decided to take a zero-day at Uncle Johnny’s Hostel for some TLC before moving on.

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 at hiker-made the 500-mile marker. That puts him in Virginia just north of Grayson Highlands.

Which Way and Next Step

Which Way and Next Step Sunrise at Max Patch

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. My last post found the couple in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park on March 24th. They took three more days to complete the park and spent the night outside GSMAP at Standing Bear Farm. On the next day, the trail led them to Max Patch on a beautiful day. The Bald provided an outstanding view with a stunning 360-degree look at the surrounding mountains. Which Way and Next Step camped on Max Patch and enjoyed a beautiful sunrise on March 29th. They arrived at Hot Springs on March 30 and enjoyed three days with family in this wonderful trail town. Hitting the trail again on April 2nd, Which Way began to experience some physical discomfort – sore knees and a tender shoulder from carrying a heavy backpack, so they took a shorter day (10miles) and arranged a shuttle into the Hemlock Hollow Inn. The respite was exactly what was needed and Which Way was ready to go the next day with no discomfort. The trail was filled with rain for a few days and the couple was thrilled to arrive at Erwin on April 7. They spent a zero-day in Erwin, attending a church service and taking in a movie (I Can Only Imagine). I have seen this film and it is just an outstanding movie about the transforming power of God in a person’s life. They experienced a rather discouraging Monday, hiking in the wrong direction for a few hours, walking in the mist and fog, and setting up camp in the rain. I still love their attitudes as shared in their last post, “Mundane Monday was finally over. Looking forward to Terrific Tuesday!”

RTK

RTK on March 29

Return To Katahdin (RTK), Bruce Matson is reporting his adventure in posts summarizing each week. He posts a week behind his current location so his last post reflects his journey through April 3.  His strong hike has only included two zero-days in the past sixteen hiking days. He stopped at Hot Springs on the 23rd of March and then again on Easter Sunday in Roan Mountain, Tennessee. He stayed at the Roan Mountain B&B which brought back memories for me, as I enjoyed a day there as well in 2014. His last post finds him camped at mile marker 413.2 at Moreland Gap Shelter about 20 miles north of Roan Mountain.

 

 

 

 

 

Hickory

Hickory who began on February 26. On April 9th, Hickory is staying at one of his favorite hostels on the AT – Woods Hole Hostel, about 11 miles south of Pearisburg, Virginia. He has covered 623 miles of the Appalachian

Woods Hole Hostel

Trail. Hickory has not posted photos in his online journey until April 9th. It was of the hostel. He gives the following insights into his rating of hosels along the trail, “My top-ten hostels on the AT are clean, sanitary, organized, have fabric mattresses (not vinyl “prison pads”), offer meal options or a hiker-kitchen, are walking-distance to the trail, are clean and organized, may have private rooms, respectfully enforce rules, treat hiker-guests like “kin”, and (with redundancy intended) are clean and organized! Succinctly, the best hostels are like B&B’s at hiker rates. Woods Hole tops the list!”

Here is a quick summary of the progress of each nine thru-hikers that I am following.

Update          Miles              Hiker                                           Location                                Start Date

4/7/2018 353.7 Chip Tillson Beauty Spot Gap 2/20/2018
4/9/2018 355.7 Which Way and Next Step Unaka Mountain, TN 2/24/2018
4/3/2018 413.2 RTK Moreland Gap Shelter, TN 2/25/2018
4/3/2018 465.3 Bamadog Campsite just south of Damascus 2/15/2018
4/9/2018 468.5 Vagabond Jack Damascus, VA 2/1/2018
4/9/2018 500 Sour Kraut 500 Mile Marker, VA 2/21/2018
4/9/2018 623 Hickory Woods Hole Hostel, VA 2/27/2018
4/9/2018 729 Hard Knocks Fullhardt Knob Shelter, VA 1/31/2018
4/9/2018 907.3 Opa Near Skyline Drive, VA 2/10/2018
Categories: Appalachian Trail, Backpack, Chip Tillson, Class of 2018, Erwin, Hickory, Max Patch, Roan Mountain, RTK, Sour Kraut, Tennessee, Thru-Hike, Virginia, Which Way and Next Step, Wood Hole Hostel | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

AT Hikers: April 9th Update

I have been on vacation down in North Carolina and West Virginia over the past 10 days, but the nine Appalachian thru-hikers that I am following have been facing some snowy, cold, rainy, windy days. In order to catch you up on their progress and not write a book, I am going to share about four hikers today and the other five tomorrow. The incredible weather of this stubborn spring has made the trail even more challenging as they attempt their 14-state walk.

Hard Knocks with his Parents 2/27/18 (He does not post many photos)

Hard Knocks

Hard Knocks, Patrick Knox Hard Knocks, started on January 31. He just updated his journal that had been spotty since my last update. He did not make a posting from March 22 until March 29. The best that I can tell, he hunkered down at a hostel to avoid the trail storms. He was back on the trail on 3/29 and commented that the trail seemed like a fast-moving creek due to the rain and melted snow. On April 3rd he began having difficulties with his ankle and ended up coming off the trail for three days. He has a niece in Roanoke who picked him up and offered her home for some recovery time. He got a new pair of shoes and replaced his backpack. On April 8th he was back on the trail, passed McAfee Knob and Tinker Cliffs, and ended his ten-mile hike a Lamberts Meadows Shelter. The next day he trekked fifteen miles to Fulhardt Knob Shelter and mile 729 of the Appalachian Trail. He reports that his ankle and new boots are working well as he eases back into longer hikes.

Vagabond Jack at Damascus, VA

Vagabond Jack

Jack Masters, from Kansas City, took his first steps on the famous Appalachian Trail on February 1. Vagabond Jack is consistently moving north. In the past 16 days, he has only taken on zero-day in Roan, Tennessee. On days that he hikes, he is averaging 10.4 miles per day. On April 9th, he arrived at Damascus, Virginia where he plans to zero on the 10th having hiked 468 miles of the AT. In his blog, he mentions that he has met RTK (Bruce Matson) on March 30 and then again on April 5th. They both know Mighty Blue and have been interviewed on Blue’s podcast so they had an enjoyable conversation sharing their adventures thus far. Vagabond Jack, like the other hikers this spring, faced many cold, rain, snowy, windy days. He mentioned the difficult weather on 11 of the past 18 days. His strategy through these challenging conditions has been to gain cover as much as possible. He has only spent the night in his tent three times; he has sought the warmth of a shelter on seven nights; and he has found the comfort of a motel/hostel on eight occasions. His plan seems to be working for him as he stays warmer and well fed along the way.

 

Opa on April 1

Opa

Opa on McAfee Knob

Opa (Reinhard Gsellmeier), the retired engineer from Rochester, NY, began his thru-hike on February 10. Opa is well over 450 miles ahead of Vagabond Jack and has passed Rockfish Gap near Waynesboro, Virginia, trekked 44 miles into Shenandoah National Park and passed the 900- mile marker on the trail. (There are very few actual markers, but guidebooks provide fairly accurate mileage.) But his walk has not been easy. On April 6th, Opa fell four times. He recounts his adversity in his blog, “I fell four times today, one of them hard. Nothing broken, but I have several aches and pains:  my forehead, right hand, left elbow and left knee all ache pretty good as I lay in my tent tonite. My left knee in particular is pretty sore, cut up and a bit swollen. I must have fallen on a rock pretty hard with the knee, as it put a tear in my rainpants – which have a pretty durable fabric…. The funny thing is, I didn’t fall in any of the steeper sections of trail – it was always on a gradual slope. Go figure!” Opa is still hiking in snow and freezing temperatures with water bottles turning into slushies and temperatures in the 20’s overnight.

 

Bamadog

Lotus (in green) and Bamadog (on the right)

Marty Dockins hit the trail on February 15th. His last post in his online journal was April 3rd. He was camped at the Abington Gap Shelter just 6.5 miles from the Tennessee/Virginia border and 11.3 miles from Damascus. He had put in his first 20-mile day and was looking forward to celebrating his 61st birthday in Damascus on the 4th. Bamadog took a week off the trail from March 24-30 to spend some time with his “sweetie,” avoid the weather and rest his tired body. He shares about the hiatus in his journal, I took 7 days off and went home with my sweetheart. Went to the doctor and got my leg checked out. He said my hip belt was pushing in on a nerve that comes out from the front of my hip going to my leg. I adjusted my pack so I am good to go! The first two days back my leg is feeling much better. I did 16 miles yesterday and 14 today. Just climbed 1700 feet to get to this campsite.” It sounds like his time off the trail was refreshing and just what he needed to continue his adventure. I am anticipating an update very soon from Bamadog.

 

Categories: Appalachian Trail, Backpack, Bamadog, Class of 2018, Damascus, Hard Knocks, McAfee Knob, Opa, Shenandoah National Park, Tennessee, Thru-Hike, Tinker Cliffs, Virginia, Waynesboro | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

AT Hikers: March 25th Update

I have been following several earlier starter on the Appalachian Trail. Here is an update on thier progress.

Genesis

Genesis

Rich Miller (Genesis) is a thru-hiker from Pennsylvania that began his hike in Harpers Ferry on January 14th. He hiked from West Virginia back to his home state through February and then headed to Georgia. He trekked in the Peach State for 6 days and then coming off Blue Mountain both his knees started to hurt, so he decided to drive back to PA to recoup (10-hour drive).  He is now back in Atlanta planning his return to the trail.

Zin Master – started January 23 is now OFF TRAIL – leg injury

Hard Knocks

Patrick Knox, tail name Hard Knocks, started on January 31. His journal has been silent since March 22nd when he was camping a Chatfield Shelter about 4 miles south of Atkins, Virginia. On the 22nd he posted,”Tomorrow I will try to make it to a town as it looks like there may be some big rain coming in on Saturday.” I am hoping that his silence means he has been enjoying so dry and warm rest in Atkins.

Hemlock Hollow Inn

Vagabond Jack

Jack Masters, from Kansas City, took his first steps on the famous Appalachian Trail on February 1. Vagabond Jack last post reflected a hostel about 15 miles north of Hot Springs at Allen Gap. He spent four zero-days there avoiding the winter storms and snow at Hemlock Hollow Inn. His last post on March 22nd“I decided to wait one more day before heading back out onto the trail. Besides giving my toe another day of healing, the weather should be a bit better. The sun finally came out today, and the snow is beginning to melt. I’ll be glad to get back out there instead of lazing around the hostel.” I am still waiting for an update from Vagabond. 

Opa

Opa’s Tent 3/25/18

Opa (Reinhard Gsellmeier), the retired engineer from Rochester, NY, began his thru-hike on February 10. Opa continues to hike through the winter weather and on March 25th he was camping at a stealth site 8.7 miles north of Pearisburg, Virginia (around mile-maker 640). He had wisely taken a zero-day in Pearisburg. On the 25th he hikes through a great deal of snow. He reached Rice Field Shelter around 2:30 but decided to push on a couple more miles and stealth camp. His words give insight into the difficulties of the AT in winter and the attitude to continue,  “Let me tell you it was very slow going as at this point I was on the ridgeline and the snow was deep. Staying on trail was also a challenge, and several times I had to rely on the Guthook GPS feature to keep me on trail. I found a good spot to camp, setup camp quickly, made dinner and hung my bear bag. I am now in my sleeping bag for the nite…. will wait for daylight before heading out. Aside from all the snow, it was a pleasant, sunny day today. I hope it continues. I didn’t pound out a lot of miles today, but am OK with that as it was slow going.”

Bamadog’s Igloo

Bamadog

Marty Dockins hit the trail on February 15th. His last post was from a hostel in Roan Mountain, Tennessee. His “sweetie” was meeting him at Roan Mountain and he was planning on a couple of days off trail. Three or four days ago on the trail he had an unwelcomed surprise, “Just made it to my campsite as it started to rain. It poured rain with thunder and lightning. When I woke up I was in an igloo. It had snowed 4 to 6 inches overnight.

Class Act

Class Act

Class Act, a Retired physician, Alan Conlon, took his first steps on the AT on February 18, 2018. Unfortunately, he decided to end his hike on March 14th. He had two days of very difficult hikes in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Both days the temperatures were in the 20s and then at night, they dropped into the single digits. The snowy and slick trails made the elevation challenges even more difficult. His conclusion was that his pace was too slow to complete the journey.

Chip Tillson

Chip began his AT adventure on February 20, 2018. As of March 17, he has trekked over 200 miles and finds himself about half-way through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. On March 16, he slipped on some mud and took a nasty fall, landing on his left elbow and wrenching his shoulder. He has taken six days off the trail at a friend’s home in Raleigh, NC, and is now making his way back to the trail. His elbow and shoulder are still sore but a doctor’s visit confirmed that there is nothing broken. March 25th was his first day back and he sloshed and slid 3.1 miles from Newfound Gap to Ice Water Shelter (appropriate name shelter for this time of year).

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 Hot Springs around March 22nd.

Which Way hiking out of Newfound Gap 3/25/18

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. They took two zero-days in Gatlinburg and then along with Chip Tillson (they do not mention meeting him), they left Newfound Gap on March 25 and hiked 8.5 miles to Peck Corner Shelter. They are sharing the shelter with at least ten other hikers and several mice scampering on the rafters – all trying to stay warm.

Dave and Abbie

Dave Snow and his dog (trail name Abbie) started the Appalachian Trail on February 26th. Dave’s last post was on March 11 when he and Abbie were taking a zero-day in Franklin. I will continue to check his journal but I think he is OFF TRAIL.

RTK’s Photo 3/18/18

RTK

Return To Katahdin (RTK), Bruce Matson is reporting his adventure in posts summarizing each week. He posts a week behind his current location so his last post reflects his journey through March 19.  He took the 16th  and 17th of March as zero-days in Gatlinburg and then returned to the Great Smoky Mountains Nation Park. He completed the park on the 19th and enjoyed a stay at Standing Bear Hostel just outside of the park.

Pigweed

Pigweed, Lee Richards, started with the approach trail from Amicalola Falls on February 26 and started accumulating AT miles on the 27th. Pigweed took four zero-days at Wolf Creek Hostel in hopes of nursing an injured an Achilles heel. He got back on the trail, hiked 8.5 miles but realized that the heel was not going to respond for the long haul. He has decided to get off the trail for now, head back to Delaware and evaluate a possible return as he rehabs the ankle.

Hickory

Hickory who began on February 26. On March 17th, Hickory has covered 255.9 miles of the Appalachian Trail. On March 24th (his last post) he was camping at Clyde Smith Shelter at mile marker 368. He did take his first zero-day in Erwin, TN on March 22nd. The cold weather is tough on all the thru-hikers. Hickory shared in his last post, “I am in another shelter, another winter storm, another cold night. In every journey moments arise which require “in-flight corrections” and reassessments. Extensive winter hiking was not anticipated for this journey. I will see what challenges Roan presents tomorrow, then plan day-by-day

Here is the latest mileage update for each hiker.

 

Last Post Mile Hiker Location Start Date
3/21/18 50.5 Genesis Atlanta 1/14/18
3/11/18 109.8 Dave and Abbie Franklin – OFF TRAIL 2/26/18
2/27/18 129.2 Zin Master OFF TRAIL 1/23/18
3/23/18 159.2 Pigweed Cable Gap -OFF TRAIL 2/27/18
3/16/18 182.5 Class Act OFF TRAIL 2/18/18
3/2518 209.8 Chip Tillson Ice Water Shelter GSMNP 2/29/18
3/25/18 217.2 Which Way/ Next Step Peck’s Corner Shelter GSMNP 2/24/18
3/19/18 240.8 RKT Standing Bear Farm 2/25/18
3/22/18 273.9 Sour Kraut Hot Springs 2/21/18
3/22/18 288.1 Vagabond Jack Allen Gap 2/1/18
3/24/18 368.1 Hickory Clyde Smith Shelter, TN 2/27/18
3/23/18 391.8 Bamadog Roan Mountain, TN 2/15/18
3/22/18 538.2 Hard Knocks Chatfield Shelter, VA 1/31/18
3/25/18 640.0 Opa North of Pearisburg, VA 2/10/18
Categories: Appalachian Trail, Atlanta, Class of 2018, Gatlinburg, Georgia, GSMNP, Hiking, Hot Springs, North Carolina, Pearisburg, Standing Bear Farm, Tennessee, Thru-Hike, Virginia | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Encounter on a Gravel Road

It was day thirty-nine of my thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail in 2014, and I was on my way to Chestnut Knob Shelter, 20 miles north of Atkins, Virginia. The last 4.5 miles to the shelter involved quite a climb (2,100 feet of elevation change) along Chestnut Ridge. Before beginning the last leg of the day, I decided to take off my pack, eat a granola bar, and enjoy a nice swallow of mountain water. I sat beside a gravel road (USFS 222) allowing my feet to rest before demanding they carry me up the hillside.

I heard the truck before I saw it. The driver rolled down the passenger-side window and he stopped the vehicle. He asked me if I was thru-hiking. I told him I was meeting a friend at the top of the ridge, remembering the warning in many thru-hiker books to beware of locals asking if you’re were hiking alone. He then asked me if I had seen any other trucks on this road. I said that I hadn’t but that I had only arrived five minutes before he pulled up.

He went on to tell me that he was out driving around trying to find his son. His son had left the house in a rush and the dad did not where his son was going. The man was greatly concerned because his wife had left the home recently and now his son was having major troubles with his girlfriend. He wished me luck on my hike and I expressed my hope that he would safely find his son. As he drove off, I quickly prayed for both the dad and the son.

Just a few minutes after he left, a truck traveling in the opposite direction came flying up the gravel road. The young driver zoomed right past me without looking to the left or right. Shortly afterward, dad returned in his truck. As he sped by, he gave me a thumbs-up. I loaded up and began my climb, hoping that the son would stop and allow his dad to talk to him. Part of my time climbing the hill involved asking God to intervene and bring peace to the family.

This is one of those stories that doesn’t have a known, final chapter or a written ending of reconciliation. I never saw the man again, but I sure prayed for him and his son. I recorded the encounter in my journal and each time I reflect on this entry, I remember this concerned father and his son trying to escape the stress of his day.  It reminds me of the need to seek reconciliation and the love that surrounds us even in the darkness of anxiety and disappointment. It also reminds me of God’s relentless pursuit of his children even when we are driving as fast as possible in the wrong direction, filled with angst and discouragement. There are times when we all need to stop and allow the Father to comfort us.

 

Photo of truck – simulation found at http://www.fourwheeler.com/project-vehicles/129-1204-want-to-wheel-for-a-living/photo-01.html
Categories: Appalachian Trail, Thru-Hike, Virginia | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

A Day with the Horses

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

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

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

213

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

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

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

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

Beaker Finishing the Appalachian Trail – The Final Days

9/11/17 Destination: Knot Maul Shelter, VA

Miles hiked: 2175.7 Miles Today 24.4 Miles to go: 14.6

Beaker 9.11.17.Chestnut Shelter

Beaker at the Chestnut Knob Shelter

Beaker was up at daylight. The forecast was for rain in the afternoon, so he wanted to get in as many miles as possible before welcoming the liquid sunshine to the trail. He had to bid farewell to Hoops (Courtney) thanking her once again for coming out to the trail. Dancing Bear slept in a little later but was planning on hiking to Knot Maul Shelter today as well.

It was overcast and windy all morning; but, the rain held off. Dancing Bear passed Beaker fairly quickly into the hike which reminded Beaker of the old days with the young guys blowing past him as he trudged up the hill. Beaker then settled into his steady pace, listening to an audiobook as the miles melted away.

About 15 miles into the hike, Beaker stopped for lunch at Chestnut Knob Shelter. He showed up just as Dancing Bear was heading out. The shelter was so nice, located in a meadow on top of a mountain. It was a fully enclosed shelter with windows, bunks for six, and a picnic table in the shelter. Beaker finished his lunch and reluctantly headed back out into the wind and light rain.

Another ten miles of hiking brought him to his destination, Dancing Bear was already there, reading. They had a pleasant dinner at the shelter, both grateful for the company of another thru hiker.

It still hasn’t quite sunk in that tomorrow is my very last day on trail. I have been doing this since February. Although I’m more than ready to be finished, I know that I will miss the simplicity of this lifestyle where all you have to worry about is putting one foot in front of another. I will also miss the easy camaraderie of the thru hiker community.

9/12/17 Destination: The Finish Line – The Barn Restaurant, Atkins, VA. Miles today 14.6

September 12 would be Beaker’s last day on the trail. Instead of summarizing his journal, I decided to quote portions of post in the hopes of better capturing his spirit and excitement of the end.

Beaker.The Barn.The End

The Thru- Hike COMPLETE!

My final day on the trail was quite epic. The wind gusted all night and the rain arrived around 3:00 AM as the tail end of Hurricane Irma descended upon us. Since I only had 14.6 miles to hike, I slept in until 7:15 AM, allowing it to get light before I drug myself out from under my nice, warm down quilt.  

After eating breakfast and packing up, it became apparent that the wind and rain weren’t going to let up any time soon, so I decided it was time to hike. Dancing Bear was still in his sleeping bag and was contemplating taking a zero day at the shelter to ride out the storm. So, I bade him farewell and good luck and headed out.

The wind was gusting and the rain was pelting as I climbed the ridge. There were leaves and branches down everywhere and I had to climb over a couple of downed trees. ….The trail profile was a little steeper than what I had hiked the past couple of days, with three pretty big climbs. Each time I descended from a mountain, I would have to climb over a stile and traverse a pasture.….The pastures were also much more exposed than the woods. At one point, I came around the hill as I was traversing an open pasture right into a strong headwind, with sheets of rain pelting me. The wind was so strong I had to tighten the drawstring on my hat to keep it from blowing off.

I was trudging up a long, steep hill at one point when Dancing Bear came bounding by like it was nothing. It really warmed my heart to be passed just once more by a young Twenty Something like I was standing still.  It was just like the old days.

Eventually, I climbed over my last stile, walked under I-81 and approached the Barn Restaurant. As I walked up, Dancing Bear was on the porch, cheering me on. He said that he didn’t want me to “summit” at the Barn alone, so he decided to hike through the rain to be there for me.

After 2190.3 miles of hiking through rain, sleet, snow, wind, sun, rocks, roots, and mud, my hike was finally at an end. A casual observer probably would have said that the moisture on my cheeks was a result of the pelting rain. Any thru hiker would’ve known the true source and smiled, knowing that I had now well and truly earned the title of Brave & Fierce Thru Hiker.

 

Categories: Adkins, Appalachian Trail, Beaker, Last Day, Thru-Hike, Uncategorized, Virginia | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

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