Beaker Churns the Miles Part 2

1st Sgt. Climbing Rocks in NY

June 12, 2017 –  Five miles of New Jersey trail brought Beaker and 1st Sgt. into a new state, New York, but the continued rocks and the 90+ degree temperatures made the hike difficult. June 13th brought the same terrain and heat. Part of Beaker’s journal reveals the dangers of the Appalachian Trail, “Today was one of the toughest I’ve experienced out here in quite awhile. We are into our third day of heat in the 90+ degree range. That kind of heat just seems to sap all the energy right out of you. As soon as we started hiking, 1st Sgt and I were drenched in sweat…. We spent our second day scrambling up and down over big rocks, sometimes slowing down to a crawl as we negotiated climbs or steep descents. …..these ascents made for dangerous hiking. A young college aged hiker we know named Snooze took a nasty tumble off a particularly tricky climb. His backpack took the brunt of the impact; however, he still ended up with scrapes and a fairly ugly puncture wound on his right calf. Passing hikers helped his sister Sauce patch him up, so by the time we saw them he was doing pretty well. I did insist on examining and cleaning the wound when we got to the shelter tonight. Everyone in the shelter gathered around to watch the show. They were all pretty amazed when I pulled out a set of nitrile gloves. I also told him he needs to get the wound checked when we get to town tomorrow.

The third day of hiking the NY path led the hikers over Bear Mountain and down the other side to the Trailside Zoo, the lowest point on the AT. The next day, June 15, Beaker and 1st Sgt. hiked across the Hudson River via the Bear Mountain Bridge as part of their 20-mile hike ending at Clarence Farhnestock State Park, where thru-hikers get one free night of camping. June 16th was a cooler day in the 60s with a soft breeze that ended with a rain shower about ½ mile from the shelter. Beaker and 1st Sgt. arrived at Morgan Stewart Shelter without being too wet.

Dover Oak

June 17 was the last full day in New York and the path directed Beaker and 1st Sgt. past three great landmarks on the AT: Nuclear Lake (there was a plutonium research facility located here from the 1950s to the 1970s. They experienced an explosion that contaminated the lake and surrounding shoreline. It was remediated years ago and the facility is long gone. What’s left is a beautiful lake, teeming with fish, geese, and beaver.), Dover Oak (the tallest oak on the Appalachian Trail – 114 feet tall, 20 feet think, and about 300 years old), and the train station at Pawling, New York (this functioning train station is designed for NYC folks to catch a ride to the woods and enjoy the beauty of the canopy).

By the end of the day on June 18th, New York was in the books and Connecticut was under foot. Beaker hiked two 19+ mile days followed by a Nero-day of 4 miles to arrive at Salisbury, CT. His feet were extremely tender and even though he is an EMT, he needed to see a doctor for proper diagnosis. Parts of his journal record it best, June 20 – I believe that days of wet feet and staying at less than reputable hotels may have led to vesicular athlete’s foot. It’s not quite like the common athlete’s foot between your toes. It tends to occur under the thick skin on the soles of your feet. I also think the constant moisture and sweaty socks may have led a secondary bacterial infection. As a result, my feet are very sore and swollen…. The doctor…. did a thorough history and exam and most of all confirmed my diagnosis. He suggested I take several days off to rest my feet. However, having treated thru hikers in the past, he knew that wasn’t happening. He then gave me antibiotics and antifungals and suggested I change out my socks as often as possible.

The Ledges of Mount Race

Beaker and 1st Sgt. took a much needed zero-day in Salisbury to give some rest and healing time for their feet. They hiked a modest 12.7 miles on June 22, but left Connecticut and entered the marvelous state of Massachusetts. They hiked over Bear Mountain (in Connecticut), Mount Race with its incredible view from the ledges, and Mount Everett, which only seems like Mount Everest. The feet felt 1000 times better according to Beaker, who demonstrates such a positive attitude.

June 23 involved a 19.6 mile hike and a real test for the feet. Beaker records at the end of the day, “We are tired and our feet are also tired; but, our feet are actually doing better. Talking to other thru hikers, it appears that all our bodies are beginning to break down. Luckily, only 650 miles to Katahdin and I hear it’s all downhill!” I appreciate his attitude and sense of humor, two keys to completing a thru-hikes.

Categories: Appalachian Trail, Beaker, Connecticut, Dover Oak, Mount Everett, Mount Race, Nuclear Lake, NY, Thru-Hike, Zoo | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Beaker Churning the Miles, Part 1

My last update on Beaker was the last day of May. While I have been finishing up the school year as principal and making as many baton hand-offs as possible before my retirement, Beaker has hiked 315 miles. During the first three weeks of June, Beaker has only taken two zero days: one in Delaware Water Gap after conquering the rocks of Pennsylvania and one two weeks later in Salisbury, Connecticut to rest some very sore feet. Beaker is still hiking with 1st Sergeant and the two of them are putting in consistent miles while having a great time experiencing the trail. After finishing off the long walk through Pennsylvania, the men hiked through New Jersey in four days (79 miles), New York in six days (90 miles), Connecticut in four days (43 miles) and are now trekking through Massachusetts (90 miles).

Instead of summarizing three weeks of hiking into one post, I will give you half today and catch you up-to-date tomorrow.

Beaker and 1st Sgt. made it to Port Clinton, PA on May 1 after a 9.3 mile hike. They spent the rest of the day in the area resupplying. Beaker was hoping to find some new boots at Cabala’s in nearby Hamburg, but they did not have any hiking boot in size 14. Size 14?! Yes, Beaker is one big guy.  He called his wife who called REI who promised size 14 Keen Targhee II mid-height boots to be delivered in Wind Gap by the time Beaker arrived there.

Climb up Lehigh Gap

The rocks of Pennsylvania presented difficult terrain for the next two days, but the climb out of Palmerton and Lehigh Gap is an iconic experience for every thru-hiker on the Appalachian Trail. Beaker writes in his journal on June 4, “The climb was everything it was advertised to be. Many times we had to put down our hiking poles to be able to use our hands to pull ourselves up the rock face. If you were to lose your balance – easy to do with a 35 pound backpack on your back – you would get seriously hurt. To add to the experience, we were all carrying extra weight because the upcoming ridgeline has no water, so we had to fill up all our containers with water before starting our climb, adding an additional 5 pounds to our packs… [We] took our time on the ascent and made it safely to the top.”. 

They made it to Wind Gap on the 5th of June and the boots were waiting for Beaker as REI had promised. They conquered the rocks of PA upon arrival at Delaware Water Gap on June 6. Marguerite met the tired hikers at this border town and they spent a zero day on June 7 resting up and planning the next leg of the adventure.

The hike through New Jersey began the next day with a 16.7 mile trek. Beaker and 1st Sgt. stopped for lunch at the Mohican Outdoor Center, a nice respite with good food. The following day was a 20.5 mile hike over Sunrise Mountain where they met a guitarist in the open pavilion on top of the mountain. June 10 brought great blessing –  two friends of 1st Sgt. (both named Sue, so they called themselves The Sooz) were out geocaching and provided some great trail magic food and a ride to a nice hotel in Ramsey, NJ.

Pochuck Boardwalk

Jun 11 was the last full-day day in New Jersey. The AT makes its way through the Wallkill Natural Wildlife Reserve. Within the reserve, the hikers observed something very special. “As we traversed the wetlands, we came upon an incredible sight – a turtle laying eggs! It was so cool! She had dug a hole and, as she laid each egg, she would cover it with dirt using her back legs. We must have watched for 20 minutes. It was amazing that such a small creature could have so many eggs in her.”  Beaker and 1st Sgt. continued on and were able to walk along the Pochuck Boardwalk, a mile-long boardwalk that ends with a 110 ft. suspension bridge across Pochuck Creek before concluding their 17-mile day.

Categories: Appalachian Trail, Connecticut, CT, Delaware Water Gap, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Palmerton, Pennsylvania, Port Clinton, REI, Thru-Hike | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Grateful 2 Ends Journey

Grateful 2 is off the trail. I knew he was in emotional trouble as I read his journal.

June 7

Why do people hike the Appalachian Trail? People give a lot of different answers to that question. Some say they are running from something in their everyday life. Maybe so. Some say they are out here for the beauty. If so, then it would be easier to find it in their own town or see it here from a car. You can drive to most of the best spots on the AT. Some say they are out here for the solitude. There’s entirely too many people on the trail for that to be legitimate. Some say they are out here to accomplish something unique or special. Tens of thousands of hikers have already finished the trail, so finishing will not be unique. Some say they are out here for the fun. What’s fun about walking all day in the cold and rain, walking on infected blisters, or climbing for miles when there is no water?

I think most people hike the AT for the challenge of overcoming adversity. It’s hard to get out of your sleeping bag when it’s 20 degrees or pouring rain. It’s hard to climb another mountain when your legs are cramping. It’s hard to carry your pack when you are coming out of town with a full food resupply and your pack is at its heaviest. It’s hard when you get hurt but you decide to keep on walking. Why do you do it? 

There is something In the human spirit that is satisfied when you conquer an obstacle that is difficult to overcome…..

His thoughts were going dark. If you see the trail as only adversity and something to conquer, I think your chances of finishing greatly diminish. Is there adversity? Absolutely – but there is great adventure in the midst of that adversity. There is such beauty that eclipses the discomfort of the climbs. Running from something is not as powerful as running toward something – the freedom, the peace, the spiritual vitality provided by the quiet of the trail. I found great solitude on the trail hiking for hours without seeing anyone. There is a sense of calling, an inner joy, and an urgency to continue to the end that seems absent in Grateful 2’s journal entry.

Sandals at KFC feast

June 10 I was nauseous most of the night. Got up, ate breakfast, and went back to the trail where we walked 16 miles to Waynesboro. Had absolutely no energy today…. We decided to take a zero. Went to church and then to a hotel where I slept all afternoon. Still not feeling well. I did manage to visit the KFC buffet. They lost money on me.

Nauseous and not feeling well and yet packed it away at KFC. I feared that the mental was impacting the physical at this point.

June 12 The radio said tonight it was 94° today, And I’m a believer. Every stitch of clothing was soaking wet all day. The bugs were buzzing everywhere. They were up my nose, in my ears, and three committed suicide flying into my eyes. I swallowed two…. I managed 17 miles today but the miles came with great difficulty because I still don’t feel well. They were no good views today from the trail, only from the roadway. I’m not really enjoying the green tunnel of the Shanendoah national park.

The Shenandoah National Park was one of the easiest stretches of the hike for me. Fairly easy terrain, good food available, good water supply. I knew Grateful 2 was fading fast.

June 13 I carried Sandals to the trailhead and took a zero today. I slept most of the day and then did some trail magic. I’m thinking about going home… I’d think I’d rather be home with my family. We love each other and I miss them. I like living in Chattanooga in our new home. I miss riding my motorcycle and fishing in a bass boat. I like being able to hike the Cumberland Trail in our backyard, and then being able to take a shower before I go to bed in our king-sized bed.

With the decision made, Grateful 2 continued to help Sandals slackpack through the Shenandoahs until Monday, the 19th. He set up some trail magic each day to encourage other hikers along the way. He hiked 900 miles in three months. What a great journey! The memories and the lessons he will take home with him will remain for a lifetime. Katahdin was not attained, but the journey was the reward. My applause goes out to this determined, creative hiker who hiked his own hike and experienced some amazing adventures.

Categories: Adversity, Appalachian Trail, Grateful 2, Shenandoah National Park, Thru-Hike, Trail Magic, Waynesboro | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Grateful 2 – The Key Swapper

Grateful 2’s approach to the thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail is a partner system. They share a truck (sleeper for the night), one drops the other at the trailhead, then drives north to the final destination. The partners hike in opposite directions and pass the truck keys off when they meet along the path. The northbound partner then reaches the truck, drives back to the original trail head and picks up the southbound hiker. He and hiking buddy, Persistent, started this “key swap hike” on April 24 at Erwin, Tennessee. The hike went well for six days with the duo averaging almost 13 miles per day. Then on April 30, Grateful 2 had a bad fall, tripping over a root and finding himself experiencing a face plant that broke his nose and lacerated his forehead.

Grateful 2 was off the trail for seven days healing from his fall. Persistent needed to hike on, so Grateful 2 needed to find a new partner. He drove to Damascus, Virginia, and connected with Chip, a thru-hiker that was needing to rehab a foot. They hiked together for 11 days until the truck developed mechanical problems near Pearisburg, Virginia on May 18th. Chip needed to leave for a conference on May 20th so they needed to say goodbye.

It took several days to repair his vehicle but Grateful 2’s journal entry on May 21 indicated that the “key swap” will continue on the 22nd with another new partner, Peter Pan. In addition to transmission problems the truck needed a repair to the hydraulic lifter delaying the fix until May 26. Peter Pan could not wait for the repairs but Grateful 2 connected with some old trail friends, Bushy and Sparks that agreed to partner in his “key swap” approach.

Dragons Tooth

They hiked 22 miles out of Pearisburg on the first day. The threesome were joined by Grateful 2’s wife and son, Carol and AJ, who planned to help with the slackpacking strategy for a couple of weeks. The hikers were able to see Dragon’s Tooth, an aptly named single massive stone of Tuscarora quartzite. It stands out on its own at the top of Cove Mountain. Bushy and Sparks decided to slow their pace and hike a more traditional hike, so Grateful 2 and his wife and son continued on while looking for yet another partner.

Me on McAfee

During the next three days, the three family members hiked past McAfee Knob, one of the most photographed spots along the AT, along Tinker Cliffs and into Daleville, Virginia for a rest day. The next day (June 2) they met Goalie and Ten, the next partners in the “key swap” adventure. They partnered for seven days, hiking under the Guillotine Rock (which looks a bit like the rolling rock in the first Indiana Jones movie), along the James River, past the 800 mile mark, over Cold Mountain, and to the Tye River – a distance of 100 miles. Goalie and Ten then decided to aquablaze (canoe) down the Shenandoah River, leaving Grateful 2 looking for yet another key swapper.

Guillotine Rock

On June 9th, the day his wife and son returned home to Chattanooga. Tennessee, Grateful 2 connected with a young hiker, Sandals, in Waynesboro, Virginia. Sandals could only commit to a nine-day partnership until he had to leave the trail for a church mission trip, but they started out together through the Shenandoah National Park.

This “key swap” idea has some positive aspects to it – less pack weight to carry every day, a nice, dry place to sleep every night, and easy access to food and town whenever desired – but the down side so far for Grateful 2 are the mechanical difficulties of his truck and needing five hiking partners in 47 days. How hard will it be to continue this process? Only time will tell.

Categories: Appalachian Trail, Daleville, Damascus, Dragons Tooth, Grateful 2, Guillotine Rock, McAfee Knob, Pearisburg, Shenandoah National Park, Thru-Hike, Waynesboro | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Hike the Good Hike

Having hiked a few miles of trail in several states, I have grown to appreciate the analogy between the path and our lives on this planet. Reflecting on the mountains and valleys, the refreshing waters of a cascading stream and the dryness of a long hike in the energy-sapping heat of the sun, and the highs of reaching the summit in contrast to the pain of a fall on the hardness and unforgiving nature of the trail. The adventure, the victory, the disappointment, the rain, the beauty, the fresh air, the adversity, the canopy, the trip roots of life parallel the experiences of a great hike in the woods.

I recently had my last opportunity to participate in a high school commencement ceremony. As my last year as principal, I shook the hands of 86 students as they walked across the stage to receive their hard-earned diplomas. Looking into the bright ideas and minds of the class of 2017, I thought about the path each one of them has ahead. With parchment in hand, these young lives begin to walk on a new path, one that they have never hiked before. What will the path hold for them? And how will they navigate the experiences around the next bend?

Retirement brings a new trail as well. The familiar path of the last 29 years will be changed to a new one. What will it look like? Will I be ready to walk the walk? I think the graduate and I, the young adolescent and the old man, have a lot more in common than either would want to admit. I think we both share in a mixture of excitement and apprehension, of adventure and anxiety, of faith and fear. God is faithful and His hand has guided us along the path for years and yet it is not always easy to trust in the midst of the unknown.

Recently some of my good friends have been faced with changing paths. Some of chosen to take a different trail, others have seen one path close and must walk down an alternate route. Some paths are enjoyable and filled with beauty and sun, others are difficult and challenging, but God is faithful through it all. “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death… You are with me” (Psalm 23:4).

Graduate or retiree…. teen or adult… student or teacher… may God give us all the strength and grace to walk with integrity and dignity as we hike a hike worthy of the calling that we have received (Ephesians 4:1).

Categories: Adversity, Class of 2017, Dayton Christian, Hiking, Retirement, Students, The Fall, Trail | Tags: , , , , | 3 Comments

Beaker Burning Up the Miles

Beaker, the chemist from Morgantown West Virginia, jumped off trail on April 13 close to the Partnership Shelter near Marion, Virginia, in order to return to the hills of West Virginia, pack up his entire house, and move to Knoxville, Tennessee. He spent about two weeks in “Almost Heaven” getting packed up and then another 8 days in Knoxville getting unpacked and semi-situated in Tennessee before returning to the trail.

Instead of picking the trail up where he left it, he selected to reconnect with his hiking buddy, 1st Sergeant, at Rockfish Gap close to Waynesboro, Virginia. This is about 326 miles farther north which Beaker plans to hike after they make it to Mount Katahdin, Maine. He and 1st Sergeant hit the trail on May 8th and began to put some huge miles on their legs. The two adventurers hiked 17 days straight covering 283 miles, including one 29

Beaker and First Sergeant Half Way

.5 mile day!

Beaker and 1st Sergeant arrived at Harpers Ferry on May 15 (the home of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy and the psychological half-way point of the trail). They stormed ahead and arrived at Pine Grove Furnace, PA (the actual half-way point) on May 21. The traditional half-gallon challenge (eating a half gallon of ice-cream to celebrate the half-way point) was turned into just a bowl of ice cream while observing a few other hikers engulfing the tasty treat.

The Doyle Hotel in Duncannon, PA was reached on May 24. The Doyle Hotel is another AT icon. It was built in the early 1900s and has received no maintenance or cleaning since. It is, without a doubt, the rattiest hotel I have ever stayed in. It also has a bar on the first floor that makes great burgers and other assorted bar food.  We all gathered in the bar at the Doyle and had lunch. 

1st Sgt and I are getting off trail this weekend to visit our wives. His wife is flying in and meeting up with us to drive to Asheville. They will drop me off with Marguerite in Kingsport, TN, to spend the weekend in Knoxville. As a result, we’ve decided to stay at the Doyle to facilitate the process.” 


Beaker spent the next four days in Knoxville with his wife before meeting up with 1st Sergeant at the Doyle and continuing down the path on May 29. Sixteen miles later, the duo made camp at a stealth camp along the trail. The next two days were strong ones as the dynamic duo logged in 26.4 miles on the 30th and 19.2 miles on the last day of May. They find themselves with only a 9 miles trek into Port Clinton, PA – a town I know quite well, having spent 5 days there recuperating from cellulitis during my thru-hike in 2014.

Categories: Appalachian Trail, Beaker, Doyle Hotel, Half Gallon Challenge, Harpers Ferry, Hostel, Knoxville, PA, Pine Grove Furnace | 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

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: 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

Grateful 2 Into Gatlinburg


April 8th marks the 22nd day of Grateful 2’s adventure on the Appalachian Trail. He has spent the last six days with his wife and son, Gooseman. Gooseman has made the difficult decision to get off the trail and return home. Grateful 2’s wife has been supporting her husband’s hike: driving him to the trail head, allowing him to slackpack (taking the just the essentials for the day) and then meeting him at the day’s destination. Their time together had come to an end and Grateful 2 must continue on the trek alone in search of his AT thru-hike.

April 8 From Yellow Creek Mountain to the Fontana Hilton Shelter = 7.9 miles

It was a sad goodbye this morning with the family, as Grateful 2’s wife and son dropped him off at the trail head. It will be months before another planned reunion. However, today was an incredible day to hike. The sky was clear and one of the few days on the trail so far without strong winds. Grateful 2 could see the destination, Fontana Lake, almost all day long. “There are no leaves on the trees at altitude yet, so I can see a long way away. The lake was a beautiful deep Mediterranean blue for miles as I drew closer and closer.” Tonight’s stay was at the Fontana Dam Shelter also known as the “Fontana Hilton” There is a separate restroom building with flush toilets and a single shower stall making this shelter more than a cut above the average shelter on the AT. Located close to the entrance to the Smokies, this shelter will allow Grateful 2 to drop off his permit in the am and begin his adventure in GSMNP.

April 9 (SUNDAY) Fontana Hilton to Mollies Ridge Shelter = 11.4 Miles

“Today is the day we celebrate in Christianity when Christ makes his triumphant entry into Jerusalem. The crowds cheered for their new king, even though Jesus knew that less than a week later he would be crucified…Today was a triumphant day for me in my hike. I have been expecting/dreading this day since I finalized plans for the hike. You see, I have hiked the Smokies before. I managed to make it through the last time, but today’s section gave me problems. [Today’s section] mandates you hike 12 miles up almost 3000 feet to the first shelter. The last time I …gave out of gas, about half way up. I had to emergency bivouack in an abandoned campground for the night. I just couldn’t go any more….Today confirmed that last time I was just having a bad day. I made it all the way up the mountain to the shelter this time! Triumphant Reentry! (I just hope the trail doesn’t crucify me in less than a week. Lol)”

April 10 From Mollies Ridge Shelter to  Derrick Knob Shelter = 12.0 miles

Grateful 2 experienced some wonderful ridge walks today including the incredible views of Rocky Top, Tennessee. The summits are indeed fantastic but Grateful 2 reflected on the reality of hiking the Appalachian Trail, “I have noticed that when I hike that I tend to focus my eyes three to six feet in front of where I am walking. This is almost of necessity. There are lots of things that can trip me up. Uneven ground, jumbled rocks, deep mud, and spiderwebs of massive tree roots…. I don’t want to fall. (I’ve only fallen once so far. It was a face plant on the trail when I twisted my ankle.)”

April 11 From Derrick Knob Shelter to Mt Collins shelter = 13.5 miles

At the end of the trail yesterday, Grateful 2 was thinking about calling off his thru-hike. He was concerned about his fatigue and his lack of ability to put longer hikes together back-to-back-to-back.

Today was a much better day. He shares in his online journal, “I walked through spectacular ecosystem after ecosystem.…. In 14 miles I walked through a grassland, an abandoned fruit tree orchard, a mountaintop bald, and into a spruce tree moss covered fairyland. The sky was neon Carolina blue with wisps of cotton clouds. The temperature rose to 75 degrees during midday with a light cool breeze… And I made it – 12, 12, 14 miles on three straight days…. I walked across the top of the sky and I am Grateful 2.”

April 12 Mt Collins Shelter to Newfound Gap, and into Gatlinburg = 4.3 miles

A quick hike in the morning, found Grateful 2 at Newfound Gap. A ten-minute effort of hitch-hiking resulted in a ride down to Gatlinburg. After checking in at the motel and taking a shower, Grateful 2 took a big nap; then clothes had to be washed; then the priority of good food – Five Guys. Tonight Grateful 2 was grateful to sleep clean in a real bed.

Categories: Appalachian Trail, Fontana Dam, Gatlinburg, Grateful 2, GSMNP, Rocky Top, Tennessee | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

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