AT Challenge Day 3

View from Day 3

Rocky and I spent another perfect day on the Appalachian Trail today (Tuesday, June 19, 2018). We got up early in Franklin, NC, had a quick continental breakfast, and began our drive to Winding Stair Gap. After a 35-mile trip that should have been 10.5 miles (it is very important to know if you are to go east or west on US 64), we arrived at Winding Stair Gap, which is located about 110 miles north of Springer Mountain, GA (the southern terminus of the AT).

Rock Gap Shelter

We planned to hike southbound from the gap and travel to Rock Gap Shelter. The 3.8-mile trek began with a nice assent over an unnamed mountain. The path leveled off for a comfortable ridge hike before making a steeper, rather rocky descent into Wallace Gap. In some places, wooden steps had been constructed to make the hike more manageable.  Another half mile brought us to Rock Gap and a short 1/10 of mile led us to Rock Gap Shelter. We enjoyed a little snack and some rest time (including Rocky’s first trip to the privy – maybe her last as well). This was our destination, so we did an about-face and retraced our steps. It was a beautiful day under the canopy – there not as many views as yesterday, but Rocky and I enjoyed the trail just as much, if not more than Big Cedar Mountain. There were a couple of spots that the trees opened up and provided an outstanding peek of the horizon with rolling hills and tall mountains in the distance.

Rocky’s First Privy

We met Michael at the shelter, a young man from Myrtle Beach, SC. We played leapfrog on the trail coming back and had an easy conversation with him. We stopped at an overlook and I shared a little about my 2014 thru-hike. He loved his rocky climb over Albert Mountain yesterday and wanted to know where he could find similar terrain along the AT. Pennsylvania immediately came to mind (anything north of the Susquehanna River). Rocky and I continued down the trail leaving Michael soaking in the view. Once we got back to town, we stopped at McD’s for a quick burger and who was sitting there? Michael (he had gotten a ride into town from Windy Stair Gap). We offered him a ride to his hostel and had another nice visit.

Rocky and I noted many trees charred from the forest fires of 2017, but the forest as made a great recovery. According to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy “150 miles of the Appalachian Trail (A.T.) were closed at various times this fall — 72 in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, 68 in North Carolina, and ten in Georgia.” http://www.appalachiantrail.org/home/community/blog/

ATFootpath/2017/03/03/more-than-fire-the-effects-of-the-southeast-

wildfires-on-the-appalachian-trail-community

Beautiful Mountain Stream

The trail crosses two mountain streams and Rocky & I were soothed by the sounds of the tumbling water. We took our time, breathing in the mountain air and praying for our family/friends. Rocky is a fantastic hiker and sets a pace that gets the job done. I am so very proud of consistency and diligence. I am not sure who enjoys the path more.

When we got back to Franklin, we wanted to get some stamps for our AT Passport. We drove to an Outfitter (Three Eagles) and the Post Office in town, successfully collecting their unique stamps. Tomorrow we hope to visit the Nantahala Outdoor Center, Clingmans Dome, and Newfound Gap. We have a hotel reservation in Gatlinburg for tomorrow night. I will try to update tomorrow evening. We are living the dream!

Categories: 14-State Challenge, Appalachian Trail, Appalachian Trail Conservancy, Franklin, North Carolina, Rocky, Rowdy, Winding Stair Gap | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The AT Challenge – Day Two

Wildflower near Neels Gap

Rocky and I are in Georgia starting our 14-State Challenge. The Appalachian Trail Conservancy has established a 14-State Challenge to anyone interested in visiting all 14 states that make up the AT. Rocky and I have decided to take a week and hike a couple of hikes in the first four states beginning in Georgia, then North Carolina, followed by Tennessee, and ending our first section in Virginia.

Mountain Crossing at Neels Gap

We started yesterday (Sunday 6/17/18) at Amicalola Falls (the approach trail to the AT). We hiked to the top of the falls and enjoyed the incredible beauty of the cascading water. We then drove to Woody Gap and climbed to the summit of Big Cedar Mountain. With sore legs, we hopped into our car and drove to Dahlonega, GA, for a nice rest in a Quality Inn.

Today’s adventure took us a little further north on the AT to about mile-marker 31.7 and Neels Gap. Located at Neels Gap is Mountain Crossings, a full-service outfitter known for its gear shakedowns as they help thru-hikers eliminate excess weight from the backpacks and send the non-essentials back home. The Appalachian Trail goes right through the property owned by Mountain Crossing and actually travels through a covered porch attached to the outfitter, the only covered portion of the entire Appalachian Trail.

Rowdy at the porch at Neels Gap

We also found out as we entered their parking area that day hikers are not allowed to park there while the hike, so I had to drive almost a half a mile to another parking area. It was a nice warm-up for the 7.2-mile section to follow. Rocky and I started out just before 9:00 and thoroughly enjoyed our section hike over Levelland Mountain, down into Swaim Gap, back up to the summit of Wolf Laurel Top where we turned around and reversed our feet as we marched back to Neels Gap.

Fairy Village

The path was rocky and root-filled, but the adventure blossomed with a lush forest, beautiful skies (when you could see through the canopy), and a cool breeze to refresh our spirits. We drank lots of water as we conquered the challenging hills and dales. We logged 7.2 miles and experienced about 2,218 feet of elevation change. Rocky and I found some beautiful wildflowers, two huge snails, a fairy village created along the path, and several views breath-taking views. We spent some quality time in prayer remembering our friends and family as we worshiped the Creator of it all.

View from Wolf Laurel Top

After our hike, I retrieved that car and we visited the outfitter. We grabbed a refreshing drink and purchased a few bumper stickers for the car (we paid for the drinks, too). Before we left, we got our AT Passports stamped at the outfitters. Sliding into our chariot, we took off for Franklin, North Carolina, our home for the evening. We enjoyed a Wendy’s burger after checking into our motel. When we made reservations for the motel, it did not mention a swimming pool, but we noticed the pool as we pulled into the rest stop. Rocky opted not to take a swim, but I enjoyed to pool a great deal!

Swimming Pool at Franklin, NC

Tomorrow, we will be driving up US 64 to an AT crossing at Winding Stair Gap. We will be hiking SOBO (southbound) for 3.8 miles to Rock Gap Shelter, my camping spot on day seven of my 2014 thru-hike. I shared the shelter with Motown and Archangel, two of my kindred spirits on the trail. I look forward to reminiscing when we arrive.

Categories: 14-State Challenge, Appalachian Trail, Appalachian Trail Conservancy, Georgia, Levelland Mountain, Neels Gap, North Carolina, Rocky, Rowdy, Wolf Laurel Top | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Rocky and Rowdy on an AT Challenge

The Appalachian Trail Conservancy has issued a 14-State Challenge. Anyone brave enough to take the challenge is expected to hike at least a portion of the AT in all 14 states. Rocky and I have decided to begin our quest this summer taking on four states: Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia.

After spending some special time with my son, daughter-in-law, and three grandchildren in Canton, Georgia, Rocky and I are going to spend the next eight days exploring some of the beauty of the AT. Today, Sunday 6/17/18, we drove to the approach trail at Amicalola Falls State Park and hiked the 604 steps to the top of the falls. The cascade is truly amazing. We visited the welcome center and got our first stamp in our official AT Passports; we entered the approach trail via the iconic arch at the welcome center; and we enjoyed meeting three section-hikers hoping to make it North Carolina.

Amicalola Falls

Although Amicalola Falls is not part of the official Appalachian Trial, many thru-hikers begin here and hike the 8.5-mile approach trail to Springer Mountain, Georgia. Rocky and I came down the steps faster than we went up, loaded in our 2018 Maserati (disguised as a 1999 Toyota Camry), and headed down the road to Woody Gap just south of Suches, Georgia. The AT crosses GA. Route 60 at Woody Gap (about mile 21 into the AT) that houses a nice little road-side parking lot and picnic area. Rocky and I parked and headed NOBO (northbound) toward the summit of Big Cedar Mountain. It was beautiful. The forest kept the sun at bay and provided a nice, cool hike. We reached Preaching Rock with an incredible view to the east and finally, the summit of Big Cedar Mountain opened up onto a rocky ledge with another amazing view of the mountain range in the distance. Rocky and I enjoyed a relaxing moment on the summit taking in the glory of God’s creation. We met several section hikers on the way back down the mountain. They were all headed for Franklin, North Carolina. We talked with another hiker from Hawaii who is planning to hike as far as she can. She was carrying a pack that looked like it was over 50 pounds while I would guess that she weighed no more than 110 pounds. She was such a sweet lady and we talked for several minutes and wished her well on her journey.

Rocky on Big Cedar Mountian

From Woody Gap, we drove to Dahlonega, GA, and got a hotel for the night. Rocky went to the outdoor pool and I hit the computer to document the adventure on this blog. Tomorrow we head for Neels Gap, Georgia, at the 31.7-mile marker. I will try to post some photos and some words capturing out adventure.

Categories: 14-State Challenge, Amicalola Falls, Appalachian Trail, Appalachian Trail Conservancy, Georgia, Hiking, Neels Gap, Rocky, Rowdy, Trail, Woody Gap | Tags: , , , , , , | 4 Comments

The Caesars Creek Loop

Caesers Creek

Rocky and I took advantage of a beautiful Friday, June 8, to enjoy the trail that encircles part of Caesars Creek Lake. The 12.7-mile loop trail has some elevation change and some road walking, but the terrain is beautiful and peaceful. We began our trek at 8:40, took our time, enjoyed a couple of rest breaks and completed the trail about 2:10 for a 5 ½-hour hike. The temperatures were moderate to high but hydration was our biggest challenge. Rocky tried out a new camelbak-style water bladder and I went old school with two water bottles. She loved her easy access to refreshment and I had a few sips left at the end of the loop.

Birds serenaded our walk throughout the day and the lush green forest shaded our heads from the heat of the sun. The treeless, 0.7-mile walk over the bridge and along Route 73 treated us to the power of the sun and the traffic of the four-lane road, but 50 Springs Picnic Area welcomed us with a covered pavilion and a restful spot to grab some trail food and take a load off our feet.

After rock-hopping one of the many little streams that crisscross the trail and heading up a hill on the other side, Rocky told me to stop and look at the fawn. I had walked right by Bambi without noticing his camouflaged spot among the underbrush. I stopped and was able to get a photo of the little guy. No mom in sight, but hopefully nearby.

We saw numerous tiny frogs (just right for a snake’s dinner), chipmunks, squirrels, a groundhog, a garter snake, and several fellow hikers, including Theresa, our friendly librarian from the Miami Township Library.

Rocky recently purchased some new trekking pole at REI and this was the break-in walk for this new equipment. The poles saved her from a faceplant when a trip root snuck up on her. She twisted her knee a little but the trekking poles prevented a fall – money well spent! We have found it hard to walk comfortably in the woods without our “sticks.”

About half-way through our loop, we came to a large parking lot and a ramp to launch boats into the lake. As we were walking through the parking area to reach the trailhead, we noticed a sign that I have never seen before… anywhere! The sign read Warning Vultures May Cause Damage to Vehicles. When I got home, I researched this phenomenon. Here is an interesting quote from Indiana State Parks:

The black vulture, the gray-headed cousin of the turkey vulture, is causing damage to vehicles–often trucks and SUVs –parked at boat ramps. Windshield wipers, sunroof seals, and rubber or vinyl parts are at particular risk. Most of the time, perching black vultures do little or no damage. However, in some cases, the destruction can be extensive. The vultures can tear out rubber seals, peck pieces out of truck bed liners, and scratch paint with their claws. Why are they “attacking” vehicles? The quick answer is that no one knows for sure. https://www.in.gov/dnr/parklake/files/sp-black_vulture_vehicle_damage_brochure.pdf

Rocky’s New Trekking Poles

We were tired at the end of the loop, but it was a good tired, filled with accomplishment, and serotonin, and Vitamin D. Getting out of the car after the 25-minute drive home might have been the most difficult part of the day. It is amazing how fast those muscles tighten up. Dinner tasted especially good and sleep came easy that night. I am Rowdy and my wife is Rocky and we had a great day together in God’s creations. I would recommend a hike to release some stress, to clear the mind, and to breath the air of beauty and health.

Categories: Caesar Creek, Hiking, Local Hikes, Ohio, Rocky, Rowdy, Trail, Vultures | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

Current Progress on the AT

Several of my seven Appalachian Trail thru-hikers have updated their online journals and I am happy to share that all of them are still hiking strong.

Bearded Woods Bunk and Dine, CT

After 13 days of silence, Hard Knocks updates his journal. He has traveled 175 miles in thirteen days (averaging 13.5 miles per day). Two weeks ago, he was in New Jersey. Since then, he crossed over into New York on May 27, entered Connecticut on June 1, and has camped for his first night in Massachusetts on Thursday, June 7. Hard Knocks sounds tired and weary.

June 3, 2018: Cornwall Bridge, Connecticut I made it to the Bearded Woods Bunk and Dine.  It is a very nice place and one where I hope to take a bit of a breather.  it seems I have lost another ten pounds and that is not necessarily a good thing.  I pack is not fitting correctly now and I am getting some blisters from it. I hope to do another shakedown of my pack to see if I can’t lighten it up some more.  Also, I am getting word that some of my former hiking buddies are off the trail.  It is understandable that people develop injuries over such a long trek.  As I am well into my second half I am constantly aware of little aches and pains and I try to not do too

Pigweed on McAfee Knob

much too fast to improve my chances of finishing. He zeroed in Cornwall on June 4. 

June 6, 2018: Salisbury, Connecticut I Zeroed at a house (name?) where they rent out bunks as I was in need of some recuperation.

Hard Knocks is about 680 miles from Mount Katahdin but the most physically challenging aspects of the trail still await. The Green Mountains of Vermont are 80 miles ahead and then the White Mountains of New Hampshire loom 150 miles farther north. Hopefully, he will take some time to find quality rest and strength before taking on these challenges.

Pigweed last post was May 30 until his update on June 7. He has hiked 93.6 miles in eight days, averaging about 11.7 miles per day. On May 30th he was in Pearisburg, Virginia. During the first week of June, Pigweed has hiked passed the second largest oak tree on the AT (Keefer Oak) just north of Newport, VA, the Audie Murphy Monument to the most decorated American soldier of World War 2, the great stone monolith, Dragons Tooth, the one of the most photographed spots along the trail, McAfee Knob. After traversing Tinker Cliffs (a half-mile cliff walk), Pigweed arrived at Daleville, Virginia on June 6th and took a rest day in this hiker friend town on June 7th.

Sour Kraut at Lehigh Gap

Sour Kraut pasted a photo after two weeks of silence. On June 5th, the photo shows him climbing out of Lehigh Gap in Palmerton, Pennsylvania, approximately 1,255 miles into his NOBO trek to Maine. This ascent out of Lehigh Gap is one of the most difficult on the entire AT. The 2.5-mile, rocky, steep, treacherous climb was exhilarating and frightening at the same time. I was glad to safely reach the top and enjoy some solid ground.

To catch all the hikers up to their current postings here is a summary chart:

Name Date Location Miles
Hard Knocks 6/7/18 Hemlock Shelter, MA 1510
Bamadog 6/7/18 Stewart Hollow Brook Shelter CT 1471
Sour Kraut 6/5/18 Palmerton, PA 1255
Next Step 6/7/18 Susquehanna Trail, PA 1145
RTK 5/31/18 Pine Grove Furnace State Park, PA 1098
Chip Tillson 6/7/18 Front Royal, VA 966
Pigweed 6/7/18 Daleville, VA 725

Bearded Wood B/D From Zigzag’s 2014 journal http://www.trailjournals.com/journal/entry/466167

Categories: Appalachian Trail, Audie Murphy Memorial, Bearded Woods Bunk and Dine, Class of 2018, Connecticut, Dragons Tooth, Hard Knocks, Keffer Oak, McAfee Knob, Palmerton, Pennsylvania, Pigweed, Sour Kraut, Thru-Hike, Tinker Cliffs, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

RTK Updates His Journal

RTK

Returning to Katahdin (RTK), Bruce Matson, a lawyer from Virginia is hiking a strong NOBO (northbound) hike on the Appalachian Trail. Starting on February 24th, RTK reached the halfway point on May 29.  RTK updates his online journal once per week (usually on Thursdays) and communicates a week in arrears. He just posted on June 7th for the week (8days) of May 24 – 31. During those eight days, he hiked just over 99 miles, averaging 12.4 miles per day. However, in those eight days, he took two zero-days and one shay (short-day) of 3.6. On the other days on the trail, he logged 19.6, 18.1, 18.8, 22.8. and 16.2 miles, so you can see that he is trekking at a very high rate of mileage per day.

Let me share a little bit of his adventure during his last eight days of May. On May 24 he woke up at Bears Den Hostel with about 3 miles left of the roller coaster to traverse (the roller coaster is 13.5 miles of tightly packed ups and downs just prior to the Virginia/West Virginia border). After the coaster “ride,” he had a relatively easy hike to the Blackburn AT Center for lunch. Before arriving in Harpers Ferry West Virginia (home of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy – ATC) RTK conquered the challenging rock scramble up and over Buzzard Rocks. It was 7:30 pm when he walked across the Shenandoah River Bridge with a muddy and raging river welcoming him to Harpers Ferry.

Harpers Ferry Shenandoah River

May 25 was a zero-day (a day when no miles are hiked and the hiker resupplies and rests) in West Virginia as RTK got his picture taken at the ATC and visited a local outfitter.

RTK left Harpers Ferry on May 26 loaded down with four days of food and two liters of water. Crossing the Byron Memorial Footbridge, he entered into the state of Maryland. He enjoyed a 3- mile, flat path along the C&O Canal towpath, then climbed to the views atop Weverton Cliffs, looking back on the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers. He arrived at Dahlgren Campground about 4 pm. He hiked a tenth of a mile away from camp to a four-star restaurant, Old South Mountain Inn, for dinner.

May 27 was a Sunday and the AT was filled with Memorial Day weekend hikers, section hikers, Boy Scouts, Ridge Runners, and volunteer trail maintenance workers. RTK began his day with a quick visit to the original Washington Monument which lies right along the trail in Maryland.  He also experienced some thoughtful trail blessings including three ladies from Annapolis, who fed him lunch at Black Rock Cliffs with enough left-overs to provide a delicious dinner at his destination shelter for the evening.

AT Museum. Pine Grove Furnace State Park. PA

RTK longest mileage day (22.8 miles) was May 28. His morning began with an adrenalin producing event – a bear encounter. “While taking down my tent around 6:30 I looked up to see a 400 pound bear lumbering over to me.  It was 20 yards away so I yelled “hey there!”  The bear looked up, saw me and turned around.” After his heart rate returned to normal, RTK experienced a misty, drizzly day along the path and was content to camp at Rocky Mountain Shelters. However, two hiking buddies talked him into extending his trek 3.5 miles and a hitchhike into Fayetteville, PA to enjoy a meal at Timbers and a stay at Trail of Hope Hostel. The Timbers was closed for the holiday weekend, but the hostel was nice.

May 29th brought RTK to the linear halfway point on the trail. He was disappointed that there was no signage on the trail but he did spot two snakes during his 16.2-mile hike (one garter and one black snake). He was very impressed with the beautiful shelters in Pennsylvania so far, including his lodging that night – Toms Run Shelter.

RTK’s hike on May 30th was short (only 3.6 miles) but his day was filled with good times. He passed the (old) “halfway” sign (a large sign with flags) just after the Toms Run Shelter. He arrived at Pine Grove Furnace State Park, home of the half-gallon challenge, at 9:30 in the morning. He waited at the PGF General Store for several of his hiking friends to arrive and then enjoyed a leisurely and successful eating-challenge of a half-gallon of ice cream (Neapolitan was his flavor of choice). He visited the AT Museum located across the street from the general store before catching a ride to Boiling Springs and Allenberry Resort. Once settled, he made an important call home. He placed a “Happy Anniversary” call to his bride, Cheryl, of 37 years. Congratulations both of you for a great example of relational commitment!

May 31st was spent as a zero-day in Boiling Springs as RTK planned his next month on the trail. Boiling Springs is such a peaceful trail town with good food and a lovely public spot around a well-kept pond/park. I hope the next eight days are just as productive and enjoyable for RTK along the trail.

Categories: Appalachian Trail, Appalachian Trail Conservancy, Appalachian Trail Museum, Class of 2018, Half Gallon Challenge, Harpers Ferry, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Roller Coaster, RTK, Thru-Hike, West Virginia | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Lots of Silence on the AT

My View from the Washington Monument in Maryland

Four of my seven thru-hikers of the Appalachian Trail have been silent during the last few days. As you may know, I am following seven online journals of folks that began their AT adventures in either January or February. Let me give you a quick update on each hiker.

The silent ones are

1). Hard Knocks (last posted in his journal on May 25 from High Point Shelter about 30 miles from the NJ/NY border).

2). Sour Kraut (his last photo was at the Mason/Dixon line on May 21).

3). RTK (who posts a week behind his location has been silent since 5/23 when he posted from Bear’s Den Hostel in northern Virginia).

4). Pigweed (posted on May 30 from Pearisburg, VA).

Bamadog, Chip Tillson, and WhichWay/Next Step have faithfully journaled and their last posts were 6/4/2018.

Bamadog – June 2018

Bamadog has been averaging 14.23 miles over the past six days and has traveled almost 100 miles – from Mashipacong Shelter (three-quarters of the way through New Jersey) to a shelter about 25 miles from the New York/Connecticut border. On May 30 he hiked by High Point, NJ on a beautiful, cool day. He logged 19.5 miles that day and enjoyed a beautiful sunset despite the forecast of a raining night. Bamadog awakened to a cloudy May 31 with temperatures in the low 70’s. Then, he hit the mosquitos – there were awful as he crossed into New York and faced the challenging climbs of the Prospect Rock area. June 1 proved to be a short day (9 miles) as he stopped at Greenwood Lake for breakfast and a short, 3-day resupply of food. Bamadog did not make an entry on June 2, but on June 3 he recorded his hike through the Bear Mountain Recreation Area (including the zoo) and across the Hudson River near Fort Montgomery, New York. It rained on the morning of June 4 delaying his start till 8:30 am. It was chilly as he hit the trail and he began his day in a long sleeve shirt, but within an hour of hiking, Bamadog was down to his short sleeves looking forward to finishing up the state of New York by Thursday.

Chip Tillson (he does not post photos!), for the last six days, has been hiking through the Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. He averaged 10.7 miles per day covering just over 61.5 miles. May 30 was a short hiking day logging in 6.2 miles and finding shelter at Loft Mountain Campground just off the Skyline Drive. He took care of some laundry needs and picked up some resupply at the camp store. A downpour of rain overnight left the trail like a river on May 31. He wrote that the path “went from running water to muddy quagmire” and yet he was able to hike his longest day of the week (16.2 miles). He ran into his first bear on the trail and caught eye on his second running away from him later the same day. June 1 brought a little discouragement as he discovered about an hour into his journey that he was hiking the wrong way. He met a Ridge Runner along the path who encouraged him with words of assurance that all good hikers make similar mistakes. He spent the night in another “official” campground: Lewis Mountain Campground. More rain greeted Chip on June 2 bringing slippery mud and prohibiting a clear view of the Shenandoah Valley. More hard rain continued on June 3, and more discouragement occurred during the night. Critters chewed a hole in his food bag and ate some of his instant oatmeal. By 4:00 pm, the rain let up. Chip paused for a hot supper and then continued for two additional miles before making camp four miles south of Luray, Virginia. Chip spent the morning of June 4 getting dried out. He stayed at camp with his gear hanging from a clothesline. It was early afternoon before he began to hike. He observed another black bear along the trail before he reached his destination: Pass Mountain Hut.

Which Way and Next Step in Harpers Ferry

Which Way and Next Step have hit a major hurdle in their thru-hike. Which Way (Alicia) became very uncomfortable with an older back injury that was raising its ugly head. On May 30th she knew she needed to get the back checked out and so she was able to arrange a ride into an Urgent Care in Charles Town, WV, about 7 miles from Harpers Ferry. Next Step (Darrell) continued to hike. He logged 19.6 miles into Harpers Ferry and met Alicia at the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. Which Way was told that she needed rest for the next 5-7 days, so they revised their hiking plans. Next Step would continue to hike north and Which Way would drive a rental car enabling them to meet up each day. Darrell logged 20 miles on May 31 ending his trek in Washington Monument State Park, Maryland. On June 1 he generated 21.5 miles with a final destination at Pen Mar County Park on the Maryland/Pennsylvania border. Another long hike (18.5 miles) on June 2 brought Next Step to Caledonia State Park in PA. Which Way and Next Step then drove 30 min to Chambersburg, PA, where they stayed with good friends from their time in the military. They enjoyed a zero-day in Chambersburg on June 3 before Next Step continued northbound on the AT. Having undergone some physical therapy on her back in Charles Town, Which Way received news from the doctors that she would need to stay away from hiking for four weeks. This sad news was devastating to both of them, but they have decided that Next Step will continue and Which Way will go home to recover. So, Next Step hiked 20 miles on June 4 and met Which Way at the halfway point of the AT at Pine Grove Furnace State Park. Alicia is on her way home and Darrell continues without her. She still hopes to join him in a month and complete the hike together to Katahdin.

Categories: Appalachian Trail, Appalachian Trail Conservancy, Bamadog, Bear Mountain, Black Bear, Chip Tillson, Class of 2018, Harpers Ferry, Maryland, Mosquitoes, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Pine Grove Furnace, Thru-Hike, Which Way and Next Step | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

AT Update May 29, 2018

I have been following a number of Appalachian Trail thru-hikers this season. I began reading 14 trail online-journals. I am now down to seven hikers still on the trail. One of the journals is a husband and wife team, so technically there are eight brave souls still making miles while embracing the weather and the challenges of the path. All seven thru-hikes began in January or February of 2018, but each adventure is going at its own pace with the most aggressive doubling the distance of the slowest hiker’s journey. Speed is not a major requirement, but in order to complete the challenge, one needs to reach Mount Katahdin, Maine before the snow makes a summit impossible. The general rule of thumb is that winter is in danger of closing the mountain about the middle of October.

My magnificent seven are all plugging away. Let me share a quick update on each I wish every hiker would journal every day so I could provide a comparative progress report, but there are a few that are behind in their posts.

Pigweed at Kimberling Creek

Pigweed reported in on May 29 and he is in Pearisburg, Virginia, around 631 miles into his adventure. He began his hike on February 26 and has logged in 92 days so far. Pigweed did get off the trail for 15 days in late March and early April because of an injury so he has really only been putting in miles for 77 days averaging about 8.2 per day. Recently, he has encountered rain along the AT. He shares that one day the trail was a muddy ankle-deep river. Rain also ushered him down into Pearisburg and the mud provided a slippery fall to end his day – fortunately, no injury was involved.  Pigweed’s plan to stay dry includes a zero-day in Pearisburg on the 30th.

Chip Tillson posted on May 29th as well, his 99th day on the trail. He is in the Shenandoah Nation Park at Blackrock Hut, about 40 miles north of Waynesboro, Virginia. Chip spent a relaxing zero-day on May 26th with his sister, Carol, her husband and two children in Bayse, Virginia. He encountered heavy rain on the day he returned to the trail and took a tumble. He shares, “Heavy rain fell a few times during the afternoon making everything slick. I slipped while walking over a large rock slab and fell hard landing on my left side. I lay there for a few minutes cursing myself for the moment of inattention then wriggled free of my pack and assessed the damage: a badly bruised outer thigh seems to be the extent of. It’ll hurt for a week or so but only when I walk.” Chip seems to be okay as he logged 11.7 miles on May 28th  and 14 miles on May 29th.

RTK Boardwalk in Virginia

RTK (Return to Katahdin) last posted on May 23rd from Bears Den Hostel just across the 1000-mile marker. He found the roller coaster a real challenge and welcomed the rest at the hostel. The roller coaster is a 13.5 mile stretch of continual ups and downs that test the hiker’s endurance. A few days earlier RTK arrived at Front Royal, Virginia. This is where he and I connected during my 2014 hike. He took me out to dinner and treated me to a delicious steak meal. He was one of my trail angels that me with such kindness. He left trail magic during our visit for other hikers. It was only right that trail magic was waiting for him along the trail as he entered the town.

1000 miles for Which Way and Next Step

Which Way and Next Step (the married couple) were also at Bears Den Hostel when they posted on May 29th. So they reached the 1000-mile mark, six days after RTK’s visit. The couple has been on the trail for 95 days. They maintain an excellent journal with lots of insights into their adventure. Their words about the roller coaster were so descriptive that I thought I would let them speak to you:  “About seven miles into our hike we entered into the part of the trail known as the Virginia Roller Coaster, the first part of which we had never hiked. We had kind of envisioned an easy path just going up and down moderate size hills. Unfortunately, it was nothing like that! It ended up being 10 climbs and descents over 10 miles averaging about 400 feet each. However, the path was either filled with rocks or mud. Throw in a stream crossing at every gap with 80 degree temperatures and it made for a grueling hike. Up, rocks, down, rocks, mud, stream crossing, mud, up, rocks, down, rocks…you get the picture.”

Bamadog at Sunfish Pond in NJ.

Sour Kraut has not checked in for the past 8 days (5/21) so I am not sure where he is. The last photo showed him at the Mason Dixon Line (mile 1,060).

Bamadog has been on the AT for 104 days, he is averaging 12.8 miles per day (the most aggressive of the seven) and finds himself in New Jersey (mile marker 1,327) about 40 miles south of the New York border. He is camped at the Mashipacong Shelter. I love the name but the derivation is unclear. One source indicated it might mean “big pond” in the Lenape Native Indian language. Bamadog enjoyed a zero-day recently in Delaware Water Gap on the Pennsylvania/New Jersey border. He spent the day with fellow thru-hikers and attended church. He is camping in his tent at the shelter and plans for a resupply on May 30th.

Hard Knocks is the only thru-hiker (that I am following) that started on the trail in January (January 31). His last post was submitted on May 24th, Day 114 of his adventure. On that date, he was camped at High Point Shelter in New Jersey at about mile marker 1,334. He hiked 19.6 miles that day and was quite tired. His journal reflected his fatigue but his determination as well: “Walked a little farther again today and again today I felt like I ‘hit the wall’.  This time I think it had more to do with the fact that I was walking on, thru and around rocks all day.  I know that Pennsylvania has the reputation for rocks but I find that New Jersey is no slouch when it comes to rocky trails.  Probably a little shorter of a day tomorrow…..”

Name of Hiker Number of Days on the AT Total Miles to Date Ave Miles Per Day Additional days to finish at current rate
Pigweed 92 631 6.9 225
Chip Tillson 99 878 8.9 147
Which Way and Next Step 95 1004 10.6 112
RTK 88 1004 11.4 104
Sour Kraut 90 1060 11.8 96
Bamadog 104 1327 12.8 67
Hard Knocks 114 1334 11.7 73

 

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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

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