Virginia

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

Beaker Finishing the Appalachian Trail – Part 2

Beaker 9.7.17

View from Peter’s Mountain

9/7/17 Destination: Rice Field Shelter, VA –  Miles Hiked Today 25.3

Beaker had a long day planned, setting him up for a Nero (near zero) hike into Pearisburg on Friday. Although there were two pretty good climbs on the agenda, the majority of the hike was along ridge lines. The weather was great for hiking – cool and sunny.

The hike was pretty uneventful. Beaker didn’t see anyone on the trail all morning. After lunch, he met three women who were doing a southbound section hike. They had stopped to take a break at the shelter. After visiting awhile, Beaker started the long climb up to the Peter’s Mountain ridge line. He passed through a couple of old farm fields along the ridge, complete with apple trees – he ate his fill of the small tart apples. After a long day of hiking, Beaker finally arrived at the Shelter around 7:00. There were five other hikers at the shelter. They had already finished dinner and were settling in for the evening when he arrived, so Beaker set up his tent close to the shelter for the night.

Tomorrow’s journey hopes to be a short 8 mile hike down off the ridge, across the New River, and into Pearisburg, VA. The plan is for his brother Kenny to pick him up and take him to his house in Lewisburg, WV, for the night.

9/8/17 Destination Miller House, Lewisburg, WV.  Miles Today – 7.8

Beaker Fortune CookieIt was breezy and only 43 degrees when Beaker woke up at 7:00.  Getting out from underneath his warm quilt was tough. Once on the trail, the hike was smooth and gentle all the way down into Pearisburg. Then, Beaker came upon the Lucky Star Chinese Buffet (can you say, “All You Can Eat”?). I laughed when I finished eating and opened my fortune cookie and read: “You will obtain your goal if you maintain your course.” Even the Chinese buffet is rooting for me to finish this journey.

Beaker’s brother Kenny picked him up at the Lucky Star and they drove to Lewisburg, WV for the night.

9/9/17 Destination: Trent’s Grocery, VA  Miles Today 25.8

Today ranks high on my list of Great Trail Days. Beaker started off in the fog but climbed out of it as he ascended into the hills. The rest of the day was spent hiking along the ridge. Although he had to navigate a few rocky sections, the trail, for the most part, was smooth and easy. In addition, the weather was just about hiker perfect – cool but clear skies. 

At one point I heard crashing through the underbrush to my right. I have seen a bunch of deer through this section; but, these sounded bigger. Then I saw it – a bear! A fairly good sized bear ran across the trail about 30 feet ahead of me. It then stopped and stood on its back legs and looked at me…it dropped back down on all fours and loped off into the woods.

Beaker and Hoops

Beaker and Hoops

Trent’s Grocery, today’s destination, has everything a thru-hiker needs: a deli, a full selection of resupply options, and a place for camping next to the store –  Beaker arrived there around 6:00 and got a cheeseburger and onion rings.  

Beaker got a text from Courtney (aka Brie, aka Hoops). She was driving up from NC to meet him. The thing I have missed the most on this last section of the hike is the camaraderie of other thru hikers. In fact, I have been downright lonely. Beaker first met Courtney climbing up Blood Mountain on the second day of the hike, they crossed paths many times throughout the hike, and they climbed up Katahdin on the same day. Beaker was excited when she texted. It was so good to see one of his thru-hiker friends. Once her tent was set up, they went back to Trent’s for some ice cream and a bundle of firewood. They were joined in the camp by two other hikers and the four of them had a special evening around a campfire, listening to distance coyotes howling at the moon and telling tales of the trail. Tomorrow, Courtney is going to slackpack Beaker so he can knock out another 25 mile section of trail.

9/10/17 Stealth Site next to VA Rt 615, VA  Today 25.2 miles

Beaker awoke to fog and a heavy dew at his campsite behind Trent’s Grocery. Courtney was slack-packing Beaker today. She even brought him a daypack, so he didn’t have to carry his heavy backpack. Beaker hit the trail by 7:45.

He climbed up out of the fog into full sun and blue skies – another beautiful hiking day. With the lighter pack, Beaker was able to cover ground pretty quickly. Around the 18 mile mark, he crossed US Rt 52 and came upon Courtney sitting at a picnic table next to the road. Beaker refilled his water bottles, ate some snacks, and headed out to finish the last seven miles of today’s hike.

Beaker Hoops and Dancing Bear

Dancing Bear and Hoops and DQ

While Hoops was waiting for Beaker to arrive, a Flip-Flopper named Dancing Bear had passed by. Beaker had first met Dancing Bear in Maine right after Mahoosuc Notch and had seen him off and on through Maine. Courtney invited Dancing Bear to camp with them and to run into Bastion, VA for pizza that evening. After a pizza dinner at the Pizza Plus, the three friends drove over to a Dairy Queen for dessert. They then returned to their stealth site next to Rt 615.

Tomorrow, Beaker plans to hike another 25 miles to Knot Maul Shelter, setting himself up for a 14 mile hike in the rain on Tuesday to complete the trail.

Categories: Appalachian Trail, Beaker, Pearisburg, Peter's Mountain, Thru-Hike, Trent's Grocery, Uncategorized, Virginia | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Beaker Finishing the Appalachian Trail – Part 1

Beaker is very close to completing his thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail. In the next three days, let me catch you up on his adventures over the past 10 days. He is completing a section of the trail in Virginia that he skipped hiking to Maine. He is now walking SOBO (South Bound) as he completes this final leg of his journey.

Beaker 9.2.179/2/17 Destination: Bobblets Gap Shelter, VA     Miles Today 18.2    Miles to go: 203.0

Another rainy day on the trail. It rained all night and Beaker woke to rain, wind, and fog. He was up and on the trail by 7:20 AM. The trail surface continued to be nice and smooth. He stopped for a break at Bryant Ridge Shelter, one of newer shelters on the trail – double decker structure with room for about 20 people and a big front porch. After a short break, Beaker continued hiking  – the rain lasting most of the day. The trail was pretty quiet today.The rain discouraging most day-hikers.

Beaker took a pretty good fall in the afternoon. He was moving along at a good pace on a level stretch of trail but managed to catch his toe on a trip rock. The momentum from his backpack propelled him forward and, with no time to react, he found himself sprawled out on the trail. He ended up with banged up knuckles on his left hand and scrapes on his left shin.

Beaker arrived at the shelter in the rain around 5:00. The weather is predicted to improve tomorrow and Beaker will be headed into town to spend the night at his cousin’s house, so he fell asleep hoping for better days on the trail.

Beaker 9.3.179/3/2017 Destination: Cousin Bill’s Apartment, Salem, VA   Miles Today:18.5

Beaker headed out around 7:15 AM. The sun broke out of the clouds only a couple of miles after leaving the shelter and by mid-morning, he was hiking under clear blue skies. For the most part, the trail was smooth and gentle, crossing the Blue Ridge Parkway several times.

The bright and beautiful day was dimmed somewhat when I learned via Facebook that a dear friend of mine from my days with the Mountaineer Area Rescue Group had died suddenly and unexpectedly. I spent the rest of the morning hiking with an air of melancholy, thinking of all the times I had spent with Ann on training missions and actual searches.

Beaker arrived in Daleville around 4:00.  Beaker’s cousin, Bill, picked him up around 5:00 in order to spend the night in his apartment in Salem, VA. During the hour wait, Beaker resupplied for his coming hike into Pearisburg. Friends of Bill brought over a wonderful meal of baked spaghetti, corn on the cob, and garlic bread. After dinner, they all settled in to watch the WVU-VT football game on TV. Tomorrow, Bill is going to drop Beaker back off in Daleville and he will slackpack 20 miles via Tinker Cliffs and McAfee’s Knob, where Bill will pick him up and bring me back to his place for another good night’s sleep.

9/4/2017 Destination: Cousin Bill’s Apartment, Salem, VA  Miles Hiked Today: 19.8

Beaker, Shenniguy, Matthew

Beaker and Matt

Today was a beautiful day to be on the trail – both in terms of weather and terrain. Cousin Bill dropped Beaker at the trail around 8:00. Even though most of  the morning involved climbing, trail conditions were very nice, and the pack weight was light. Beaker started listen to audiobooks, which also helped the miles to pass by quickly.

Since it was a holiday with beautiful weather, the trail was filled with day-hikers. Tinker Cliffs were pretty crowded; however, the views were spectacular. Bill’s 15-year-old son, Matthew, met Beaker at McAfee’s Knob, the rock overhang that is the most photographed place along the Appalachian Trail. There was a big crowd at the knob waiting to get their picture while sitting on the edge, dangling their feet over the precipice.

After snapping a few photos of their own, Beaker and Matthew headed for the parking lot and were soon riding back to Bill’s place. After a great shower, they went to an incredible cookout at a friend’s house – hot dogs, hamburgers, mac and cheese, au gratin potatoes, fruit salad, chips, and desserts! Bill will return Beaker to the parking tomorrow, where Beaker will continue heading south.

Beaker Audie Murphy Mem

Audie Murphy Memorial

9/5/17 Destination: Niday Shelter, VA.  Miles Hiked Today: 22.7

Bill got Beaker back to the trail by 8:15. It was a beautiful day, with blue skies and light winds. Most of the day was spent running along ridge lines and scrambling over rock outcropping. Beaker passed two AT landmarks on the hike today. The first one: Dragon’s Tooth is a 50 ft stone monolith at the top of Cove Mountain and the second: the Audie Murphy Memorial marks the spot of the fatal plane crash in 1971 that took the life of Audie Murphy, the most decorated soldier in World War II.

It was getting pretty dark when Beaker arrived at the shelter. He was alone in the camp tonight. The keyword for this portion of the hike has been solitude.

Beaker. Keefer Oak

Keffer Oak

9/6/17 Destination Warspur Shelter, VA.   Miles Hiked Today 18.2

It rained on and off all night, but Beaker was under way by 7:20.  After leaving the shelter, the rain settled in. It was a cold, steady rain that went on most of the morning. After climbing a couple miles, the trail leveled off and ran along the ridge. The trail along the ridge was rocky – wet, slippery slabs.

Beaker had to slide down some of the tilted slabs, but after descending from the ridge, he hiked through pastures and farmland for several miles, passing the Keffer Oak, a huge oak tree that is the second largest tree on the trail. The trail continues to be empty. Beaker only met two hikers today and they were heading north.

Beaker arrived at Warspur Shelter around 5:30. The clouds had actually cleared and the sun was shining brightly. It was nice to get into camp early enough to fix dinner and clean up before dark. Beaker was alone in the shelter again tonight.

Amazingly enough, I have walked almost 2100 miles now. I can remember way back to Georgia in February. The trail seemed impossibly long and daunting. It seemed like the exhausting 8 to 10 mile nibbles I was doing every day would never get me to the end. Now, I get up and walk 20 miles every day without a thought…..I’m not trying to say what I’m doing is amazing. It’s just funny how what once seemed impossible has become so mundane. Sadly, I also know that I am going to quickly lose this level of fitness when I am not walking 20 miles every day. Hopefully, I can keep off the 40 lbs I have lost when I go home.

Categories: Appalachian Trail, Audie Murphy Memorial, Beaker, Keffer Oak, Thru-Hike, Uncategorized, Virginia | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Beaker Under 225 Miles to Go

Beaker AAAAA8/30/17 Destination: Stealth Site north of Punchbowl Shelter, VA   Miles Today: 22.2

Today rated up pretty high on my list of Good Days on the AT.

Beaker got up about 6:00. The sun is rising later each day and it wasn’t fully light until after 7:00. As a result, he didn’t get on the trail until almost 7:30 AM. The rain had passed overnight but fog remained and the trees continued to drip. The trail through this section of Virginia is beautiful – smooth, packed dirt moving gently along the ridgetops. To make conditions even better, the trail ran through old farmland, with lots of apple trees. I couldn’t walk past those trees without sampling an apple. Or two. Or three. Or more…

The mist dissipated around 11:00 making the hike even more enjoyable. Beaker stopped for lunch around 1:00 and by 5:30 he arrived at a lovely campsite. While filling up his water bottles to make a final push ahead he struck up a conversation with a northbound hiker. The other hiker shared that a  youth group that was headed to Punchbowl Shelter [Beaker’s initial destination] for the night. Beaker decided that 22.2 miles was far enough for one day. He took his time setting up his tent, eating dinner, cleaning up, and hanging the bear bag before sunset.

Beaker in Glasglow

Beaker in Glasgow

8/31/17 Destination:Glasgow, VA   Miles today 13.2

Town Day! Beaker had a 13.2 mile hike in to Glasgow. Unfortunately, the first five miles were a climb to the summit of Bluff Mountain. Upon reaching the summit of Bluff Mountain, Beaker was rewarded with spectacular views mountains to the east and west.

Taking advantage of good cell phone service at the top of the mountain, Beaker called a hostel and made arrangements to be picked up at 1:00 PM at the road crossing 8.9 miles away Unfortunately, the rocks appeared, loose and wobbly making the descent rather treacherous. Beaker navigated the downhill and arrived at the pick up point with 14 minutes to spare.

Bob is the caretaker at the Glasgow hostel. Beaker jumped in his old car with peeling paint and started the five mile trip over the winding mountain road to Glasgow. Bob’s driving style was a little on the frightening side, passing on the solid lines around curves so Beaker was glad that the car ride was only 5 miles in length. He completed the usual town chores of showering, laundry, washing his pot and spoon, and figuring out how much food he needed for his next segment.

Prediction of steady rain all day tomorrow, but Beaker plans to hike on assuming I survive the ride back to the trail with Bob.

Beaker.The Guiolltine9/1/17  Destination: Cornelius Creek Shelter,VA.   Miles today 19.9

Today was a nasty day to be out on the trail. The remnants of Harvey reached The Appalachian Trail in Virginia and the weather was wet, blustery, and cold. Bob delivered me back to the trail head by a little bit after 7:00 AM. The ride was calm and not nearly as scary as yesterday. Beaker crossed the 1000 foot long James River Bridge – the longest footbridge on the whole AT. The rest of the day was spent climbing. The rain held off for the first three miles; but, then the wind picked up and the rain settled into a steady, windy downpour. Beaker basically put his head down and cranked out the miles. As long as I kept moving, I didn’t get cold. So, I just kept moving all day. Beaker has also started listening to books on Audible to pass the time, so the miles went by quickly.

Beaker arrived at Thunder Hill Shelter around 1:30 and took a break to eat lunch. Heading back down the trail, he began to realize how cold he had become eating lunch so he began to hustle down the trail finally warmed up enough for my teeth to quit chattering.

Beaker passed by another AT icon along the way today – the Guillotine. It is a rock formation where you pass under a large boulder suspended above your head, trapped by the sides of a narrow passage between two rock faces.

Four people were already in the shelter when I arrived; but, they gladly made room for one more. After changing into dry clothes, eating dinner, and hanging our food bags, we are all settled in our sleeping bags for the night. It is still blustery and rainy and predicted to get down in the 40s tonight; but, I am safe, warm, and dry for the night.

Categories: Appalachian Trail, Beaker, Glasgow, Guillotine Rock, Thru-Hike, Uncategorized, Virginia | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Beaker Traveling the Virginia Trails

8/28/17, Destination: Maupin Field Shelter, VA – Miles today 20.8

Beaker.Adam and Jake.New pack

Stanimal and Jack with the New Pack

Beaker waited until the businesses in town opened up. He had identified a tailor who could probably sew his pack strap; but, Adam, Stanimal, suggested an initial visit to Rockfish Gap Outfitters. RGO is an authorized Osprey Packs dealer. Stanimal thought they might be able to talk to Osprey and see if anything could be done. Jack from RGO got on the phone with Osprey and 15 minutes later Beaker was walking out the front door with a brand new replacement pack. Adam dropped him back off at Rockfish Gap, Beaker was able to hit the trail by 11:00.

The trail was smooth, dry, rockless, and rootless….and filled with switchbacks. Unfortunately, with the summit of Humpback Mt, the gentle re-introduction to the AT ended. Reappearing was the rugged trail with all those loose rocks attempting to twist an ankle or trip the hiker right off his/her feet. As a result, by late afternoon, Beaker’s feet, ankles, and knees were really feeling it.

Due to his late start, he did not arrive at the shelter until 8:15. When I arrived at the shelter, I think I startled a couple of the people when a kilted figure silently materialized out of the dark. Rain was expected overnight, so Beaker chose to sleep in the shelter to keep his equipment dry.

8/29/17, Destination: Seely-Woolworth Shelter, VA – Miles today 20.4 (Miles to complete the AT – 276.7)

Beaker. Raining Day in VA

Rainy Day in Virginia

The rain arrived as promised around 4:00 in the morning which delayed Beaker’s start until 9:15. Two things surprised me today. First, I was surprised to find I had very little phone signal. I had better signal in the 100 Mile Wilderness! Second, the trail was much rockier than I expected. And, of course, the rocks were wet and very slick. In fact, I took a pretty good tumble coming down Three Ridges and banged up my right knee pretty badly.

After lunch, Beaker crossed the Tye River and began the long climb up a mountain called The Priest. The climb was 3100 feet over 4.5 miles. It was long and hard but the terrain calmed down and the rocks went away. The weather was nasty and frustrating. It was just a nasty day to be out in the woods hiking.  Beaker finally reached the summit of The Priest in the fog and rain. He arrived at the Priest Shelter about 4:30 only to find it filled with a Freshman Orientation group from Washington & Lee. He decided to push on another 6.6 miles to the Seely-Woolworth Shelter. The rain had tapered off; but, a fog had settled in and the trees continued to drip water.

Beaker finally arrived at the shelter around 7:30 PM to find five people already in the shelter, so he decided to set up his tent. I am now snug, warm, and dry in my tent. The rain has stopped for now; but, more rain is predicted for tomorrow. I am so tired of hiking in rain.

Categories: Appalachian Trail, Beaker, Rockfish Gap, Stanimal, The Priest, Thru-Hike, Uncategorized, Virginia | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Beaker Back on the Trail

Beaker and Zak

Beaker and his son, Jack

August 27, 2017

Beaker is back on the trail. During the two-week rest after his climb up Mount Katahdin in Maine, he has been busy doing some remodeling his new home in Knoxville, Tennessee; he was able to catch the eclipse with just an hour’s drive to the path of totality – a spectacular event; he had two job interviews for full-time paramedic positions resulting in one offer and the other with high promise; and he finished off his rest-time with a wedding in Columbus, Ohio. He flew out of Columbus and met his son, Zack, in Charlottesville, Virginia. They had dinner together and then Zack dropped his dad off at Rockfish Gap to continue his thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail.

Beaker had walked less than a mile when he felt a pop and felt his backpack fall limp on his shoulders. He quickly stopped and examined the damage. The left shoulder strap had worn through about an inch above where it attaches to the body of the pack. With no way to fix it on the trail, his best option was to call Zack for an emergency pick up.

They drove to Waynesboro, Virginia, and Beaker found a spot at Stanimal’s Hostel. Adam Stanley, Stanimal, is a 2004 thru-hiker of the AT and completed a 2010 hike of the PTC (Pacific Crest Trail from Mexico to Canada). Beaker ended up being the only hiker in his hostel for the night. Stanimal promised Beaker a shuttle ride to a tailor in the morning for a pack strap repair or to an outfitter to get the pack replaced.  

This is a fairly inauspicious beginning to this last segment of my hike; however, at least the strap did not break when I was two days’ hike from a town. Hopefully, I can get it repaired and be on my way late morning tomorrow.

I had a similar problem on my thru-hike of the AT in 2014. I sensed a unevenness in my backpack one day and upon closer inspection, notice that my strap was pulling away from the bag. I was able to order and replace my backpack before permanent damage left me having to carry the pack in my arms for miles. Reading of  Beaker’s experience was a reminded of God’s faithfulness to me during my adventure in what could have been a very difficult situation.

It is good to see the chemist from West Virginia (now the paramedic from Knoxville) back on the trail with only a section of 318 miles in Virginia to complete his 2017 thru-hike of the AT.. More to come.

Categories: Appalachian Trail, Beaker, Maine, Mount Katahdin, Thru-Hike, Uncategorized, Virginia, Waynesboro | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Grateful 2 Still On the Trail

On Easter Sunday (April 16) Grateful 2 was staying at Standing Bear Hostel, just outside of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The hike through the GSMNP is always a highlight for thru-hikers of the Appalachian Trail and making it through this section is a hiker’s badge in and of itself. He had hiked over 240 miles of the AT and was pleased with his progress.

Grateful 2’s last journal entry was on May 21 and he has made it to Pearisburg, VA, about 630 miles into his thru-hike adventure. During this month on the trail two things have changed his approach and his progress: a truck and a fall.

First, the truck. On April 22, Grateful 2 and his hiking buddy, Persistent, came up with the idea of a “key swap” technique of hiking the trail. His journal on the 23rd included their plan,  .

“We are on our way now to Chattanooga for a zero day at my house where we will retrofit the truck bed for a sleeping station for the trail. We are going to try a thing called a “key swap”. Every day one of us starts out on the day’s trail section from the south. The other one drives to the north end of the section, parks the car at the trailhead, and starts walking south. We meet in the middle, “swap keys”, and when the northbound hiker gets to the truck he returns to pick up the other hiker. The beauty of this plan is threefold. First, we don’t have to carry heavy packs (5 pounds versus 30 pounds). Second, we have a truck to use in the evenings to go out to eat or run errands. Finally, we have a dry place to sleep with a comfortable bed.”

Six days of the key swap seemed to provide a more comfortable pace for the two hikers. But then, on April 30, the second change occurred, “At 13 miles in I had a fall. I caught my toe on a root while going downhill and face planted. I lacerated my forehead and nose, and broke my nose. Blood everywhere; on my arms and legs, on my clothes and pack, all over the ground. The first hiker to come by stopped and asked me if I was ok. Haha. Several hikers stopped to help, and we got the bleeding under control. CTscans showed no broken facial bones except for my nose. They glued and taped my forehead back together and sent me back to the Hostel. Michael and Rikki have been so caring; I don’t know what I would have done without them. Don’t know what this injury means to my hike. I know I won’t be hiking tomorrow.” 

Seven days later, Grateful 2 returned to the trail to continue his adventure. He maintained his “key swap” technique but this time with another partner, Chip. The hike progressed well until Thursday, May 18th when the truck began to suffer mechanical problems. “…I realized that my truck has transmission problems. It almost stranded us on the highway, and now we are in a motel in Wytheville near a transmission shop. Looks like I will have to have a new transmission. Big bucks! I won’t know until tomorrow how long it will take either.”  

It took several days to repair his vehicle but his entry on May 21 indicated that the “key swap” will continue on the 22nd with another new partner, Peter Pan. There has been no update since. I am anxiously awaiting word on their progress.

Categories: Adversity, Appalachian Trail, Grateful 2, Key Swap, The Fall, Thru-Hike, Virginia | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Beaker: From Damascus to the Wild Ponies

Bo, Beaker and 1st Sgt in Damascus

In the last few blog posts, I have been providing a quick journal tour of Grateful 2 and his son, Gooseman, from Tennessee as they have begun the thru-hike attempt of the Appalachian Trail beginning in Spring Mountain, GA. Yesterday’s post found him in Gatlinburg, TN. Meanwhile the chemist from West Virginia, Beaker, has been on the move. On April 8, Beaker and his two hiking buddies, 1st Sgt, and Bo, arrived in Damascus, VA, the ending spot for BO’s section hike. Let’s pick up the adventure as they move through Damascus and make their way to the wild ponies of Grayson Highlands.

April 9 Broken Fiddle Hostel, Damascus, VA to Lost Mountain Shelter, VA.  = 15.9 miles

Beaker and 1st Sgt. headed to the Country Cafe for breakfast in Damascus before leaving the iconic trail town. The dynamic duo hiked on or next to the Virginia Creeper Rail Trail most of the day. It was a beautiful sunny day, with temperatures reaching almost 80 degrees. They arrived at the Lost Mountain Shelter around 6:00 pm.

As they were setting up their tents, fellow-hiker Courtney came bouncing into camp with a slack pack. Her parents had come to visit and were bringing her regular pack to the shelter, which was located only a mile from the road. When her parents arrived, along with her pack, they brought pizza, sodas, chips, bananas, and brownies. Dinner was served!

Beaker and the Ponies

April 10 Lost Mountain Shelter to Thomas Knob Shelter, VA.  = 12.3 miles

The hiking buddies began today’s hike by descending 1.5 miles to Rt 58. Then the climb started – 2000 ft climb to the top of White Top Mountain. They continued to climb with steadily rising temperatures, we reached Buzzard Rocks. They experienced a little reprieve by descending to a road crossing at Elk Garden,. Beaker began to realize that the heat and the climbing were beginning to wear on him. He knew that he and 1st Sgt. had to climb back up to Mount Rogers (the highest peak in VA). As they approached Thomas Knob shelter, 1st Sgt agreed that the climb had beaten them up enough that they were ready to stop. When we reached the shelter, we were met by four wild ponies – a stallion and three mares. The ponies were very tame and very much interested in licking the salt off of us and our packs.

April 11 Thomas Knob Shelter to Stealth site 3.0 miles north Hurricane Creek Shelter = 19.1 miles

Beaker awoke this morning to the clip-clop of little hooves as five ponies arrived at the shelter. A couple of the bolder ones even stuck their heads in the shelter to check on the sleeping hikers. 1st Sgt and Beaker headed out into another beautiful morning and saw many more ponies as they hiked across Grayson Highlands. They arrived at Hurricane Creek Shelter around 5:30 pm; but found that it sat on sloping ground and the tenting area was located quite a distance from the shelter. So they ended up hiking another three miles before finding a suitable spot to set up camp.

“We are on a tight timeline because we have to be at mile marker 544.0, where the AT passes under I-81, by 4:00 pm on Thursday. We are getting picked up by Enterprise Rent-a-Car and we are then driving to my mom’s house in Charleston, WV, where Marguerite will meet us. 1st Sgt will then return the rental car on Friday and continue his hike while I go back to Morgantown with Marguerite to pack our house for the move to Knoxville, TN. After much internal debate and weighing of alternatives, I’ve decided that when I return to the trail …. I am going to jump ahead to wherever 1st Sgt is … and complete the hike with him. I will then return and finish the portion in VA that I missed.”

Categories: Appalachian Trail, Damascus, Grayson Highlands, Thru-Hike, Virginia | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Dulcigal Into Pennsylvania

Dulcigal and dulcimer

Dulcigal and dulcimer

Dulcigal, Karla Redman from Jackson. Georgia, is attempting a thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail. Stepping out from the southern terminus, Springer Mountain, Georgia on March 13, Dulcigal made solid progress through Georgia, North Carolina, and Tennessee. As she entered Virginia (the state with the most miles on the AT), she faced 550 miles of trail before reaching West Virginia. She entered the Shenandoah Nation Park and had conquered 469 miles of Virginia and then, it happened…. On June 19 (day 99 of the adventure) at 4:00 in the morning, Dulcigal woke up with intense pain from kidney stones – it was a debilitating case of kidney stones that resulted in an emergency room visit, two days in ICU, and a trip back home for recuperation.

Honestly, I did not think she would return to the trail, but her resolve is more than incredible. Less than a month after the episode, she is back on the path. On July 12, she returned to mile marker 932 and the trail head at Pinnacles Picnic Area with her two sons to continue the quest for Maine, Mount Katahdin, and the brown sign marking the northern terminus of this very long trail.

Dulicgal has posted several times since resuming her trek. The entry dated July 13 records that her hike through the Shenandoah Mountains was complete. She loved this part of the hike (as did I) with the beauty and freshness of the mountain canopy, but she was pretty excited, anticipating her arrival at Harpers Ferry, WV – only 54 miles away. During her time away from the trail, she lost some of the endurance and strength gained from hiking 930 miles, but she posted that each day was bringing more energy.

Dulci at the ATC

Dulci at the ATC

July 18 found Dulci at the Appalachian Trail Conservancy in Harpers Ferry, WV. She got the traditional photograph taken and entered into the historical record of thru-hikers of 2016. When I arrived here in 2014, the date was June 30 and I was hiker number 924 – Dulci’s official number was 1,436. There are definitely lots of hikers on the trail this year.

Her sons (Jeremiah and Isaac) were able to hike with their mom all week to help her get a safe start back on the path. They returned home when the trio arrived at Harpers Ferry, but Dulcigal decided to stay in West Virginia a couple of days to allow a pulled muscle to recover. She had hiked 87 miles in 5 days but it was the 13.5 mile “Roller Coaster” (endless ups and downs), climaxing the end of the hike through Virginia, that tested her trail legs.

Dulci’s journal on July 20 relates a special story of receiving and carrying a dulcimer along the trail. She got the instrument in Waynesboro and began playing it some during her hike in the Shenandoahs. She shared that she played it every day in Harpers Ferry. I just love this part of her entry, “After the boys left, I carried the dulcimer with me when I went into town in case an opportunity arose to play. One of those times I came across an elderly lady sitting at a park picnic table. She was waiting on her son and his wife to finish a day hike. It didn’t take me long to realize she had some dementia and was struggling with general conversation. When I played her music on the dulcimer, her entire countenance changed. It was a blessing to me to see her enjoy such a simple gift.”

Dulcigal at Midway Point

Dulcigal at Midway Point

July 26 is the date of her most current post. She is in Boiling Springs (one of my favorite trail towns along the AT), having passed by the true half-way point of the AT in Pine Grove Furnace State Park and having walked over 1100 trail miles. She continues to gain strength and to make adjustments to the physical demands of the adventure. On the down side, the past week has been quite tough mentally. The hiking community she knew before leaving the trail is now 300 miles ahead of her. She is really missing her children after spending 3 weeks with them during recovery. And the heat, humidity, and bugs have made the recent days rather difficult.

She writes, “Now I understand the mental challenge piece of the hike. Getting to the halfway point sign at 1094 miles was not exciting to me. I’m ONLY HALFWAY!!! I still have 1094 miles to go!!!! That’s what was going through my mind.”

She began to reflect back on her excitement about returning to the trail. She experienced several deep conversations with herself and with God to sort through the distracting mental struggles and frustrations. She found strength in the ordeal with the kidney stones and being convinced that her journey was not over. She concludes her past journal entry with this insight: “We may not always understand the hills and the valleys in our lives, but we must still go on.”

Keep on hiking on, Dulci!

All photos are from Dulcigal’s online journal at http://www.trailjournals.com/entry.cfm?id=523064
Categories: Appalachian Trail, Appalachian Trail Conservancy, Boiling Springs, Class of 2016, Dulcigal, Georgia, Kidney Stones, Pennsylvania, Roller Coaster, Shenandoah National Park, Thru-Hike, Virginia, West Virginia | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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