West 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

Opa – First to Reach Harpers Ferry, WV

Opa’s Hike on April 11 – Mary’s Rock

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

Old Town – Harpers Ferry

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

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

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

1000 Miles!

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

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

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

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

Heather and Eddie

Mama Duck and EddieHeather Bolint began her thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail in June of 2017. She decided to make a SOBO (southbound) journey beginning in Maine in order to complete the trail in the southern state of Georgia in the early winter months. Twelve weeks into her hike, she had reached the border of Pennsylvania and Maryland and literally bumped into friend that would bring her hiking story into national attention. I read this story on line (thedodo.com/on-the-farm/appalachian-trail-hiker-rooster-rescue) and thought it was rather unique so I wanted to post some of the details.

Heather is an animal lover and a self-proclaimed “chicken whisperer,” so when she saw a Polish-crested rooster out in the middle of nowhere, on the trail, miles from houses or roads, she naturally stopped and made a friend who would soon to be her hiking buddy. Bolint knew that the possible survival for the rooster was slim to done with the wilderness predators always looking for a chicken dinner, so she decided to swoop up the rooster in her arms and continue down the trail.

Eddie.MasonHeather named her rooster Eddie (not exactly a creative trail name), but her new buddy seemed to enjoy the journey. The first day, the two hiked 15 mile together past the Mason/Dixon line and into Maryland. The rest of the AT hiking community greeted the bird with interest and many desired a photo shoot with the very unusual, feathery section-hiker. Eddie enjoyed a diet of oatmeal, nuts and apple cores.

Heather (trail name, Mama Duck) needed to get some rest, so she sent up her tent and went to sleep. Eddie joined her in her tent and they slept for two hours. Then the two pilgrims got up at midnight and continued their journey to Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. Mama Duck was hoping to make it to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy before a predicted rain became a reality making the journey more difficult. Hiking at night would also provide cooler temperatures for the long journey.

Mama Duck and Eddie hiked the 27 miles together to reach the ATC headquarters arriving in the late morning. In two days, they had traveled through three different states (PA, MD, WV) covering over 40 miles together. The headquarters’ staff had never encountered the likes of these two hiking buddies. It is believed that Eddie is the first rooster-section-hiker of the Appalachian Trail.

Eddie at New Home

Mason at his new home

But it was time to find a home for Eddie. Mama Duck discovered an animal shelter in Poolesville, Maryland who was extremely excited to add to their family. One problem: they already had a peacock named Eddie (who would have seen that coming?), so they had to changed the rooster’s name to Mason because he was found very close to the Mason/Dixon line on the trail (I think that is a much better trail name, anyway). Mama Duck drove with Mason to his new home to be sure that her trail friend would fit well into his new community. Once happily settled in his new home, Mason and Heather said their good-byes and Heather returned to Harpers Ferry.

Mama Duck changed her trail name to Mama Cluck and continued down the trail hoping to complete her thru-hike by Christmas.  

Details and Photos found at: https://www.thedodo.com/on-the-farm/appalachian-trail-hiker-rooster-rescue
https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2017/10/23/hiker-appalchian-trail-carries-lost-rooster-for-miles-safety/Y6Zu8j7sZMYfgdlkQu8WRL/story.html
Categories: Appalachian Trail, Appalachian Trail Conservancy, Maryland, Mason-Dixon Line, Pennsylvania, Rooster, Uncategorized, West Virginia | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Stacey Kozel Update-

Kozel.Harpers FerryIn July of 2016, I posted a blog about Stacey Kozel, a 41-year-old hiker from Medina, Ohio, who was in the midst of a thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail. When she was 19, Stacey was diagnosed with lupus, a chronic autoimmune disease that can damage many parts of the body. Lupus often times aggressively attacks an individual during flare-up episodes. Stacey became paralyzed in her legs after one particular flare-up in March 2014.

After this traumatic flare, Stacey recovered most of the control of her arms and upper body, but her legs never responded. She found herself restricted to an electric wheelchair until she discovered a brace that actually functions like a mechanical exoskeleton. It allows someone with paralyzed legs to walk again because, in essence, it does the walking for you. My post of July 2016  found Stacey at Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, the site of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy Headquarters. She later claimed to have completed her thru-hike of the trail.

This past hiking season (2017), Stacey reported thru-hiking the Pacific Crest Trail (from the border of Mexico to the border of Canada – 2,650 miles). She began her hike on March 30 and completed the journey the last week of August – a journey of 5 months. However, her thru-hike has come under some question. Many are scratching their heads when trying to validate her journey. As with the Appalachian Trail, the PCT goes on an honor system regarding thru-hikes. There are no mandatory sign-ins, or photographic proof, or tangible evidence to be submitted with a claim of hiking the entire trail.

Stacey recently received national coverage when ABC reported her recent completion of the PCT. The story found its way to many sources of the news around the world, and she indicated that she was hoping to write a book about her adventures. Shortly after the ABC story was released, the hiking community began to examine her claims.

Most thru-hikers of the PTC plan on around five months to complete the journey, assuming good conditions. This year however, there were not good conditions: the Sierra Nevada mountains were snow packed far longer than usual. In early July, the streams were nearly impassable and very dangerous while then the mountains were still snowed covered. Several people have died trying to finish the PCT this year. For the hikers who made it out of the Sierras, they were faced with numerous wildfires through Oregon and Washington lasting into the later part of the summer. Stacey claims to have hiked up to 30 miles per day to stay ahead of the fires.  

Concern was drawn to Stacey’s hike from the lack of testimony. Nobody has been able to verify that they saw Kozel on the trail. Patrick Redford, in his blog at https://deadspin.com/  comments, ”PCT hikers are, like the hiking community in general, inherently collaborative and cooperative, since completing such a demanding athletic feat essentially requires help from other hikers and trail angels, who house and feed hikers as they make their way up the trail. Nobody makes it to Canada alone.”

Redford personally spoke with many trail angels and 2017 PCT thru-hikers. He read the posts of dozens of PCT’ers via their Facebook pages. He concludes “The PCT is a long, desolate road, but it’s not without a well-developed network of people keeping an eye on the trail. None of them ever saw her.”

Clay (Bonnyman) Evans in his blog found at http://claybonnymanevans.com/  concurs with the lack of evidence of a successful thru-hike and doubts that Kozel thru-hiked the PTC or the AT.  “All this is really, truly a shame. Stacey Kozel would be inspiring simply doing sections of the trail, but in her exaggerations, she has diminished anything she has done on the trail. It’s very clear that she did virtually none of the PCT, and only limited portions of the AT.”

Stacey still stands behind her claims of thru-hiking both long trails. However, her Facebook page has been removed and no positive evidence has been forthcoming. I hope she can, and will, defend her claims or at least tell her true story.

Categories: Appalachian Trail, Appalachian Trail Conservancy, Harpers Ferry, Pacific Crest Trail, Stacey Kozel, Uncategorized, West Virginia | Tags: , , , , , | 7 Comments

Easter on the Trail

Beaker left the Appalachian Trail on April 13th in order to return to Morgantown, WV, pack up all his belongings, and move to Knoxville, TN. He and his wife sold their West Virginia home while Beaker was on the trail; they met in Knoxville (hometown of their son) and bought a house within three days; now they are packing up and making the move. Beaker will be off the trail for a couple of weeks. When he returns I will continue his story.

Meanwhile, on April 12th, Grateful 2 made it to Newfound Gap, TN. – close to the half-way point through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. He quickly hitched a ride from Newfound Gap into Gatlinburg and planned to take it easy on Thursday.

April 13 (Thursday)

Grateful 2 rested in Gatlinburg today. The “zero” day was filled with sleeping, eating, watching TV, eating, planning for the trail ahead, and eating.

April 14 (Friday)

From Gatlinburg (Newfound Gap) to Pecks Corner Shelter (GSMNP) = 11.0 miles

Grateful 2 commented on the beauty of the trail today. The incredible views were mixed with some apprehension because the trail included a narrow ridge walk. Grateful found himself on top of the ridge walking a path about three feet wide with drop offs on each side.  At some points the drop offs were 80 or 85 degrees on both sides. Grateful 2 is afraid of heights which filled the adventure with added anxiety. Grateful’s solution, “I just look at the trail and put one foot in front of the other.” 
April 15 (Saturday) From Pecks Corner Shelter to Cosby Knob Shelter (GSMNP) = 12.9 miles

Grateful 2 reported a pretty uneventful day. His trek through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSMNP) is progressing well as he logged in over a dozen miles. He hiked most of the day with a 61-year-old hiker from St. Louis, trail name: Persistent.  Grateful 2’s feet bothered him a little during today’s hike, but his progress kept him positive. A strong hike tomorrow promises an exit from the GSMNP – a major milestone on any thru-hike.

April 16 (Easter Sunday) Crosby Know Shelter to Standing Bear Hostel = 10.7 miles

Grateful 2 made it out of the Smokies! His Easter hike is best described in his own words,

As I climbed down from 5000 feet to 1500 feet I noticed a distinct change. Life on the trees and ground in the form of leaves! I had not seen leaves on trees on the trail since I began the journey. It was so good to see this sign of life. It almost felt like I walked from winter to spring in a few hours. Gone were the bare tree trunks and solid brown floor covering. In its place were millions of little fluorescent green tree flags and wildflowers everywhere. There was mayapple, dwarf iris, bluets, trillium, and rue anemone ..… From death to life in such a short time. Kind of appropriate for this Easter Day, don’t you think?”

Categories: Appalachian Trail, Beaker, Gatlinburg, Grateful 2, GSMNP, Knoxville, Tennessee, Thru-Hike, Trail Name, West Virginia | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Beaker to Hot Springs, NC

On March 22nd, Beaker, the Mountaineer chemist from Morgantown WV, was camped at Groundhog Creek Shelter just north of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSMNP). His spirits were high as he hoped for a two-day journey into the first trail on the AT headed north, Hot Springs, NC.

Beaker’s Day on Max Patch

3/23/17 Destination: Walnut Mountain Shelter, NC. Hiking miles today – 13.1 miles.

March 23 was a beautiful day on the AT – clear skies and full sunshine. Beaker’s hike today was to include another AT highlight – Max Patch. Max Patch, large grassy bald, was originally cleared several years ago for cattle grazing. The bald has become a special spot for hikers because of its incredible 360 degree views of the mountains. Finally, Beaker got to enjoy the view with clouds and rain robbing the panoramic.

Beaker arrived at Walnut Mountain Shelter and was greeted by about 20 other hikers. From his tent he writes, “The wind is roaring up the mountain, my tent is shaking and the guy lines are buzzing in the wind. It will be a brisk night. That’s alright because tomorrow we reach Hot Springs, NC and a much-needed zero day,,,It’s been a week since I’ve showered. I stink!

Beaker and others enjoy the Hot Springs

3/24/17 Beaker stays at the Sunnybank Inn, in the trail town of Hot Springs, NC. 13.1 miles today.

“We all come out here for our own reasons; but, a part of it for all of us is to get away, on some level, from current society. However, we are all drawn in by the towns. After seven days in the woods, a town visit was long overdue. In town, you don’t have to filter water, sleep on the ground, or poop in a hole. Life in town is a brief respite from the rigors of the trail.”

Beaker wasted no time taking advantage of the town of Hot Springs, NC. The first order of business was a long, hot shower; then a trip to the laundromat; and finally food – lunch at the Smoky Mountain Diner. Beaker and several hikers visited the hot springs of Hot Springs, NC

3/25/17 Hot Springs, NC. Zero day in Hot Springs.

Beaker took advantage of the day of rest to refuel, resupply, and rejuvenate those tired legs. After breakfast he did some planning and estimated how many days it would take to make it to Erwin, TN and how much food he’d need for the journey. He sorted through his pack and sent home a few items, such as micro spikes.  He also made some longer term plans including some off-the-trail days at Adkins, VA around Easter to make his move to Knoxville, with a strategy to return to the trail in early May.

Tenting along service road

3/26/17 Back on the trail. 14.8 mile hike today ending at a stealth camp near Allen Gap, NC.

Beaker experienced a restless night at Elmer’s awaking with aches all over. He did not want to get out of bed but eventually he got his hiking stuff organized and packed. He started his day in the rain, but it didn’t last long and the sun broke out turning gray to blue.

By the time Beaker reached Allen Gap, he was feverish and dizzy. Being one of the last to arrive most of the flat spots were occupied, but he found a site on an old forest service road that ran close to the campsite. Soon, two other hikers joined him (see photo).

Categories: Appalachian Trail, Beaker, Hot Springs, Max Patch, North Carolina, Thru-Hike, West Virginia | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Beaker Thru The Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Beaker, Rusty Miller, from Morgantown, WV is a thru-hiker on the Appalachian Trail. He began his adventure during the last week of February and found himself snowbound in Knoxville for a few days. This post picks up his story as he leaves Knoxville and his lovely visit with his wife and heads up the trail toward the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSMNP).

3/18/17 ends at Russell Field Shelter in the GSMNP after hiking 15.7 miles. After a rainstorm during the night at Knoxville, the morning dawned gray and overcast; Beaker’s son, Chris and his wife, Marguerite accompanied him back to Fontana Village. The chemist from WV had a last goodbye and then headed up into the Great Smoky Mountains.

Beaker planned to push straight through the Smokies in five days. The climb up the mountain proved to be pretty tough, but he arrived at the Russell Field shelter and found it filled with a Boy Scout troop and other thru hikers. So, he happily pitched his tent close by and went to sleep listening to coyotes howling in the distance.

3/19/17 Today’s hike totaled another 14.7 miles and ended at Siler’s Bald Shelter, NC. The hike was quite difficult as Beaker encountered snow, ice, mud, rocks, roots, steep ascents, and steep descents. On the northern slopes there was a great deal of ice and snow. Beaker even broke out his microspikes today. His evaluation of the spikes, “They were incredible! It made a huge difference on the icy sections.”

3/20/17 Another day in the GSMNP concluded at Icewater Spring Shelter for a total mileage for the day of 15.1. Two highlights awaiting this day’s journey: arriving at the highest point of the AT, Clingman’s Dome, and crossing the North Carolina/Tennessee border. His reflection of the first highlight, “It was a fairly long and steep climb up Clingman’s Dome; but, the sun was hanging in there. As I was nearing the summit, I saw the clouds moving in. Alas, by the time I reached the weird tower on top with the curving walkway, the clouds had settled in. No views. Bummer.” The ice was bad throughout the day and Beaker hiked all day in his microspikes but he remained optimistic and celebrated the crossing into Tennessee at Newfound Gap.

3/21/17 Today was Beaker’s longest day yet on the AT – 19.8 miles. Because of the locations of the shelters and the requirement to camp at the shelters, Beaker had to decide between a 12-mile day to the first shelter or a19-mile day to the second, Cosby Knob Shelter. He pushed on and proved that he is developing some strong trail legs. The weather continued to send foggy conditions, “I couldn’t see 30 feet ahead of me.”

 

If you get a chance, check out Beaker’s expanded journal online: http://www.trailjournals.com/entry.cfm?trailname=18636.

If you like my blog, check out my ebook, Hike It Forward, at Amazon.com Just click the photo of the book.

Check Out My Book

 

Categories: Appalachian Trail, Clingmans Dome, Fontana Dam, GSMNP, North Carolina, Shelter, Thru-Hike, West Virginia | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

Beaker – Part 3

Beaker on the Trail

Let me continue the story of the thru-hike of “Beaker” the chemist from West Virginia. We last left him in a hotel in Hiawassee, Georgia, warming up after a very cold night on the trail without an ample sleeping bag. Let’s follow his adventure for a few more days.

Saturday, March 4. Beaker had a fortuitous late start out of Hiawassee because when the shuttle dropped him off at the trailhead at Unicoi Gap, a church group from the Raleigh area was putting on a hiker feed, complete with grilled hamburgers and all the fixings – trail blessing at its best.. Beaker’s post has the sound of a happy and dry and contented hiker, “The hiking weather was perfect – high 50s, sunny, and only a light breeze. And the views of the North Georgia mountains were incredible. To top it all off, the Tray Mt Shelter is the prettiest shelter I’ve seen so far. It sits on top of Tray Mt and looks out over a sea of mountains. The sunset was gorgeous! There are probably another 30-40 people here – mostly new faces. The Trail is getting pretty busy.”

Sunday, March 5. Beaker made a fairly easy hike to Dick’s Creek Gap and the Top of Georgia hostel. He reached the hostel by 1 pm and was able to pick up his emergency mail drop from home including a warmer sleeping bag. He decided to press on to the next shelter even though he had already paid a non-refundable fee for the bed, so “ I ‘paid it forward’ and let the next guy who arrived have my spot for free. He was so excited – my own little bit of trail magic.” I don’t know Beaker personally, but I am beginning to appreciate his character and perspective on his adventure.

Border GA/NC

Monday (16.6 miles; 90.4 total miles so far). Beaker awoke to rain on his tent at 4:30 am. He slept much better during the night with the warmer sleeping bag. It was another blustery day with rain on and off until about 2:00 pm. The highlight of the day was crossing the NC/GA border. The AT experienced several major forest fires last year and Beaker came upon one such area. He shares in his journal, “I climbed Standing Indian Mt moved into the area that was so devastated by forest fires last Fall. The standing trees appear to be OK, with scorch marks on the lower 12 – 18 inches of their trunks. However, the undergrowth is completely gone. It looks like some kind of strange war zone.”

Fire Tower on Albert Mountain

Tuesday, March 7. “It was the most miserable day on the trail so far. And the most epic!” Beaker started the day with rain, he walked in a tunnel all day with fog so thick he could only see about 20 ft ahead. The day’s hike included the climb up and over Albert Mountain (5250 ft). The last 0.3 miles is the steepest grade up to this point of the AT. Unfortunately, the climb to the summit changed from a gentle rain to a deluge. There is a fire tower at the top, but again the fantastic views were missed because of the weather. However, the fire tower stands at the 100 mile marker and the sense of accomplishment is amazing. Beaker hiked another five miles past the summit and stayed in a dry hotel in Franklin for the night.

Wednesday, March 8.  Beaker was greeted with beautiful blue morning skies and no rain! He got a late start because of the need to resupply to replace his water filter. His 8.3-mile day was filled with a climb up Siler Bald (5001 ft) during the late afternoon. The climb was well worth it. The reward was an incredible 360 degree view of the beautiful mountains.

More of Beaker’s hike coming up soon. Stay connected.

Categories: Albert Mountain, Appalachian Trail, Fire-tower, Georgia, Hiawassee, Thru-Hike, Trail Blessing, West Virginia | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Beaker Continues

Beaker and Friends dry in a cabin

Rusty Miller (trail name – Beaker) from Morgantown, West Virginia, began his thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail on February 26th by conquering the approach trail of 8.5 miles. This is no small task due to the rigor of the ascent and the challenging terrain beginning at Amicalola Falls, Georgia. Beaker made it to the top of Springer Mountain, the actual southern terminus of the AT, on day one and camped with seven other excited hikers ready to dream of Maine and 2,200 miles ahead.

Let me give you a quick fast forward and share some of Beaker’s adventures during the first week of his pilgrimage. Day two, he hiked 7.2 miles with a philosophy of keeping his mileage low until his trail legs begin to strengthen. He took his time breaking camp in the morning and hit the trail around 10:00.  Before the day was over Beaker experienced a common phenomenon on the AT – RAIN.

Day three – his journal begins, “Rain. Again. Lots of rain. Everything is damp.” Despite the moisture, Beaker managed to walk 13.2 miles and ended up at Woody Gap. The rain let up for most of the day but around 2:00 pm the rain arrived accompanied by several claps of thunder. Beaker shares, “I slogged on and finally arrived at Woody Gap in the pouring rain.

Wednesday, March 1 brought a new month to the trail but the rain continued. It had poured all night and Beaker woke up to rain in the morning. To add insult to his dampened spirits, his air mattress sprung a leak during the night. On the up side, the day’s adventure took him up and over his first 4,000 foot mountain: Blood Mountain (4457 ft). The summit displays some wonderful views, but not for Beaker, “Didn’t see ’em! At the top – nothing but clouds.” The climb up Blood Mountain was strenuous but the descent on the other side revealed a rather unnerving, slippery slope of bear rock, “the wet rocks were slick. I had a couple scary slips, but managed not to fall.” The day ended at Neel Gap and a nice warm cabin just before a downpour with thunder, lightning, high winds and pelting rain.

Beaker on the Trail

Thursday, March 2 started with glorious sunshine, although the temperature only reached into the 30’s, and ended at a campsite at Low Gap Shelter. When Beaker arrived he found a tent city involving about 30-40 backpackers. Temperatures dropped in the middle of the night and Beaker discovered that his hiking quilt wasn’t going to be adequate. He recorded, “Even wearing all my clothes, I was very cold. I lay there shivering all night.”

Friday, March 3. After a 9.8 mile hike Beaker opted for a restful and warm bed in a room at the Budget Inn in Hiawassee, GA. He called his wife and made arrangements for an express delivery of a sleeping bag to replace his quilt to be sent to the Top of Georgia hostel in Dick’s Creek Gap.

I love how Beaker describes himself: “As you can see, it’s just me in a kilt with a ponytail, bushy white beard, and a funny red hat, carrying a hiking staff.” (He forget to mention the mobster shades).

End of day five = 52.6 miles. More of Beaker’s story to come.

Categories: Amicalola Falls, Appalachian Trail, Beaker, Georgia, Hiawassee, Tent City, Thru-Hike, West Virginia | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

Beaker the Chemist

 

My wonderful mother-in-law is 90 years-old and lives in Wild Wonderful West Virginia. This past weekend Cathy, my bride of almost 45 years, and I piled into our 1999 Toyota Camry and drove from our house in the Buckeye state to the home of the Mountaineers in Morgantown. Our son, Matt, also lives in Morgantown and we enjoyed a weekend of reunion with him as well as a special time with Cat’s mom.

Cathy’s three brothers live close by, so Nana’s house was visited by many during our four-day stay in the Mountain State. One afternoon, my niece and her family including four fantastic, energetic children came for lunch and a time of nice conversation. In the midst of family talk, Bekah shared that a coworker of her husband at the pharmaceutical company was hiking the Appalachian Trail. Any mention of the trail perks my ears to attention and opens my eyes with more than a twinkle of interest.

Bekah shared that the chemist’s name was Rusty Miller and he had the opportunity to take an early retirement with perks allowing him to hike the trail with funds from a severance package and the benefit of health insurance. With a first name like Rusty, I thought his trail name would be an easy decision. To my surprise, I found out his name on the AT is Beaker. What a great name for a chemist!

Two minutes into my chat with Bekah I was hooked into following Beaker’s blog and taking another vicarious hike through 14 states.  Beaker began his adventure on Sunday February 26. He began in Amicalola Falls State Park and traveled the 8.8-mile approach trail to Springer Mountain, the official start of the Appalachian Trail.  This approach trail contains a brutal start with 650 steps leading up to the falls. The approach trail, itself, has been enough to discourage many hikers to the place of throwing in the towel. Beaker, however, arrived in great spirits.

When he reached the summit, he found eight other pioneers – folks from Florida, New Hampshire, New York, Philadelphia, Paris and South Africa. This country and even the world gather at the southern terminus of this granddaddy of long trails. The AT is truly an international pathway to the Appalachian Mountains. The octave of hikers decided to camp together in the shelter or pitch their tents nearby. It was indeed a great day for the chemist from West Virginia. More of his story to follow…..

Categories: Amicalola Falls, Appalachian Trail, Beaker, Georgia, Hiking, Ohio, Springer Mountain, Thru-Hike, West Virginia | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

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