Posts Tagged With: Appalachian Trail

A Day with the Horses

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lee Barry at 81

20140522-131602.jpgThe Appalachian Trail was completed and became a continuous footpath in 1937. One year later, a 15-year-old Boy Scout from New Jersey, Lee Barry, took his first steps on the trail. He, along with other scouts, embarked on a 100-mile hike on the AT.   Lee fashioned his own backpack from ash, hickory and old army web belts. He also made the troop’s waterproof tent from white muslin dipped alum and paraffin.

Sixty-six years later (2004), Barry, now living in Shelby, NC, returned for his last long hike on the Appalachian Trail. With shuttles provided by his wife, Lois, he started his thru-hike on Jan. 2 at the trail’s southern terminus at Springer Mountain, Georgia. He would hike for three weeks and then return home for monthly church council meetings. He completed his hike on November 20 at the age of 81, then the oldest thru-hiker, based on the records kept by the Appalachian Trail Conservancy in Harpers Ferry, W.Va.

Earl-Shaffer-at-Katahdin-5

Earl Shaffer

Lee Barry’s trail name was “Easy One.” The late Earl Shaffer, the first person (1948) to make a thru-hike, completed his third and final thru-hike in 1998, finishing just before his 80th birthday. Easy One said he was unaware of the age record until partway through the trek.

Easy One (I could not find a photo of him anywhere) finished his first thru-hike in 1996 and completed the distance a second time – section by section from the late 1980s to 2000. Easy One spent much of his first four and half years of retirement climbing mountains and fording rivers on the AT.

Lee served in the Navy during World War II, then worked as an engineer in New York. He continued to hike and climb. He conquered  the 46 highest peaks in the Adirondack Mountains. In 1974, he moved to North Carolina to become the general manager of a local industrial plant. The Blue Ridge Mountains were nearby so he joined the Carolina Mountain Club in Asheville. He climbed the forty mountains in North Carolina and Tennessee that are 6,000 feet and higher,

In 2004, Easy One averaged 10 miles a day during his 220140925-100106.jpg20 day thru-hike on the Appalachian Trail. He reached the summit of Mount Katahdin, Maine, the northern terminus, on Aug. 10th, while ending his flip-flop hike in Sugar Grove, Va, on November 20th.

Easy One only carried the essentials. He took no books, no radio, not even a cell phone. He ate typical trail food prepared with boiling water but he ate no snacks, no cookies, no Snickers (what a boring diet). He didn’t get sick and only suffered a sprain to his right wrist during his entire time on the trail.

What an amazing journey for a man his age. But there is always someone out there ready to break any record. Thirteen years after Easy One’s amazing hike, came Dale, Grey Beard, Sanders from Tennessee. His story is the subject of my next blog.

Details for this blog were found online. For more information regarding Lee Barry’s hike see my source:  http://www.spokesman.com/stories/2005/apr/03/nc-man-81-now-oldest-thru-hiker-to-traverse/
Photo of Earl Shaffer found at http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/tales-from-the-appalachian-trail-34902244/
Categories: Appalachian Trail, Appalachian Trail Conservancy, Earl Shaffer, Harpers Ferry, Lee Barry, Mount Katahdin, Thru-Hike, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

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

One Encounter All Day Long

161.JPGDay 24 of my Appalachian Trail thru-hike began at 5:45 am and I was on the trail by 7:00. By the end of the day, I had logged in 21 miles. The thing that made the day rather unusual was my hike of solitude. I had a short resupply in Erwin, Tennessee where I interacted with a few hikers at Uncle Johnny’s Hostel, but the rest of the day, on the trail itself, I only encountered one other hiker until I made camp at Curley Maple Gap Shelter. I enjoy being by myself and I found the peaceful solo-hike in the mountains along the border of  North Carolina and Tennessee refreshing and energizing.

My one encounter on the trail occurred in the morning coming down a hill into Spivey Gap as I was about to cross over US 19. I was gaining on the young hiker in front of me and I did not want to scare her by coming up too fast from behind. I clicked my trekking poles together and started to quietly whistle. She heard my noise, quickly turned around, and smiled. I returned her smile and gave my hiker greeting, “Great day for a hike!” She agreed and we began to walk together until we reached the road.

When we arrived at US 19, I decided I was going to take a break and have a protein bar. I invited her to join me thinking she would most likely decline, but to my surprise, she sat down beside me alongside the road. We began to chat and I learned that she was a section hiker and that she taught English at Anderson University in Indiana. She was quiet and soft spoken and very sweet natured. We talked a little about life and family. I shared about my wife and kids and grand kids. I mentioned that I was an administrator of a Christian School and was hiking to help raise money for student financial aid.

In just a few minutes of conversation, I could tell that we were kindred spirits. She said that she had a page of scriptures that she read everyday and wanted to know if I would like to hear the passage for the day. I immediately said I would love to hear the Bible passage. She read some encouraging words from the book of Psalms. I read for her some lyrics of a contemporary Christian song by Matt Redman, “Standing on this mountain top, looking just how far we’ve come, knowing that for every step, You were with us….Never once did we ever walk alone…You are faithful, God, You are faithful.” By the time the snack was done, I felt I had made a true friend. I gave her my blog information, wished her well, and headed down the trail toward Erwin.

163.JPGAt the end of the day, I reflected on God’s sovereign hand and the meeting of a Christian hiker to encourage me. All day long I saw no one. For 21.1 miles of trail and over 10 hours of hiking, it is amazing to only see one hiker. And then, to discover that the one person I encounter was a Christ-follower was just a special event. Thinking about the meeting, I wondered how many of the encounters I have during a normal day in the real world are really appointments made by God for me to be a source of encouragement to others.   

Steph, my friend from Anderson, commented on my blog several times throughout my adventure to Maine sharing more encouraging words that meant a lot . After returning home to Ohio, we have become Facebook friends. She returns to the Appalachian Trail each year to conquer a section at a time. HIF Cover PublishedI find it amazing to consider how impactful a 20-minute talk can be.

 

Never Once, Matt Redman, 2011:  Chrysalis Music Ltd. Sixsteps Music, Thankyou Music, worshiptogether.com songs
Categories: Appalachian Trail, Erwin, North Carolina, Tennessee, Thru-Hike, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Feelings of a Celebrity

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Diane and Rowdy in Hot Springs

I had a great stay in Hot Springs, North Carolina, during my thru-hike in 2014. I met my sister, Diane, in the quaint, little trail-town. She and her husband, Tom, and little dachshund drove up from Winston-Salem for a special visit. This was my first opportunity to see anyone in the family for three weeks. She brought lots of great food, including cold cuts so I could create my own fantastic sandwiches, and several dozen homemade cookies.  It was a wonderful visit and brought great energy for the miles ahead.

The first day out of Hot Springs, I was plodding along at my normal pace when I heard some chatting coming from the opposite direction. The chit-chat continued to get louder until I made a bend in the trail and was somewhat surprised by five ladies, all with backpacks, all engaged in trail talk as they walked along.

148I could tell that they were not thru-hikers. They looked too clean; they smelled way too good; and their packs were too small and light. They were definitely section hikers but they seemed to be having the time of their lives. As I saw the group, I smiled, raised my trekking pole and gave a trail greeting, “Good morning ladies.  What a great day for a hike!”

The line leader stopped and asked, “Are you a thru-hiker?”

“Well, I am trying to be. I’ve got a long way to go, but Maine is my goal.”

All the ladies started to talk among themselves. Finally one of them shared, “We’ve been reading about thru-hikers and the Appalachian Trail. We thought we would come out for a few days and see what it was like. Could you answer some questions for us?”

“Sure,” I said, feeling like a celebrity. “Where are you from?”

410They were all the way from California and had the tans to prove it. They asked all the normal questions: “How much food to you have to carry? Do you always sleep in your tent? What do you do for a bathroom? Do you carry a cell phone? How often do you get to shower?  Are you hiking by yourself? Do you always hike in sandals?”

We talked for thirty minutes or so. I really enjoyed the sharing but I was getting a little concerned because I hoped to hike about 20 miles before setting up camp and it was looking a bit like rain. One of the ladies must have felt the same way as she asked, “Before we let you go, could we get a picture with you?” I could not believe the fuss they made over meeting a old, stinky hiker along the trail. After posing for several pictures, I was hiking down the path with a spring in my step basking in my celebrity status like I had just come off the red carpet.

AT MapThen it hit me. I had hiked less than 300 miles of the AT and was only in North Carolina. Although it was very sweet for the ladies to treat me like hero, I knew that I had a long way to go before obtaining the title of thru-hiker. From that day on, I tried to avoid using that word to describe  myself. Coming down off Mount Katahdin, I remember saying to myself, “Dave, you are now a real thru-hiker!”

Shortly after leaving my California fan club, it began to rain, but the sun came out in the afternoon and by the time I made camp about 5:00, I was dry. Soon after arriving at the shelter, the temperature turned cold. I was alone at the camp and had the shelter to myself, so I had some dinner, journaled about my day and crawled into my warm sleeping early. Sleep was easy to find after my 19.6-mile day.

HIF Cover PublishedIf you interested in reading more about my thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail, check out my book, Hike It Forward, sold on Amazon. I have had opportunity to write a few other books so I invite you to check my other offerings as well. I am writing a series of children’s books (two are currently available and a third should be published around Thanksgiving) called The Adventures of Princess Polly and Sir William the Brave and I have just released a book on the spiritual battles of life called, We Are All Warriors. If you are interested, just click on the Hike It Forward cover and it will take you to my author page where you can check out all my books.

 

Map of the AT found at http://www.hikinginthesmokys.com/appalachiantrail.htm
Categories: Appalachian Trail, Book, Chaco Sandals, Hot Springs, Mount Katahdin, North Carolina, Thru-Hike, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

The GSMNP Day Five

120Beast of Burden and I hiked at different paces and enjoyed being alone on the trail, so we did not hike side by side, but we planned to stop at Davenport Gap Shelter for the night. Beast of Burden was a section hiker from Iowa and his wife was going to pick him up after completing the GSMNP so this would be our last day together on the trail.  

I got a nice early start and found the trail to be mostly downhill. Although the knees take a beating, the miles tend to go by much faster. It was another beautiful day on the Appalachian Trail and I arrived at the Davenport Gap Shelter at 3:00. I was rather disappointed at what I saw. The shelter was a dark structure with a chain front wall. The chain was to deter bears from bothering the campers at night.

 

Davenport Shelter

Davenport Shelter

I understand that most of the shelters in the GSMNP had been equipped the same chain protection in the past. It reminded me of a jail (although I have never spent time behind bars) and I was thankful that the chain had been removed from the other shelters along the way. It was only 3:00, so I decided to continue on a few miles to a hostel. I felt badly about not being able to say good-bye to my friend from Iowa, so I wrote him a note and left it at the shelter.

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Standing Bear Farm

I hiked on to the Standing Bear Farm. There was plenty of room in the bunkhouse for $15, and the price included a hot a shower (which a desperately needed) and electric outlets to charge my phone. The hostel was actually outside of the GSMNP, but it was a great ending to my adventures in this famous section of the AT. I was alone in the bunkhouse for a while when I quiet young man, Isaac (no trail name),  showed up. We exchanged the normal thru-hiker greetings and then he went off to get some food at the hostel’s store.

I was relaxing on my bunk when I heard someone else approach the hostel. It was a young lady that I had met at the shelter last evening, Glow Worm, and right behind her walked in Beast of Burden. I was happy and surprised to see him. He got my note and said his wife was picking him up tomorrow at the I-40 interchange (just 0.8-mile from the hostel), so he decided to hike on. He treated me to a microwave pizza from the hostel and we had a great talk about our final day in the Smokies. As we said our goodbyes the next morning, Beast of Burden gave me his bear spray for my protection on the adventure ahead. I carried it with me all the way to Mount Katahdin in Maine.

121My hike through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park was filled with beauty, friendship and a little adversity that translated into a great adventure. Bears, rain, a spectacular sunrise, a few falls, a kindred spirit, and a view from a fire tower dotted the trail with lots of great memories.

Check out my book, Hike It Forward, if you are interested in reading about more of my time on the Appalachian Trail.

Book Cover 2

Davenport Shelter Photo found at http://www.trailjournals.com/journal/entry/117472
Categories: Appalachian Trail, Beast of Burden, Davenport Shelter, GSMNP, Rowdy, Standing Bear Farm, Thru-Hike, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

The GSMNP – Day Four

114I had a difficult night sleep in the shelter. I am sure that others were not happy with me. I tossed and turned which means I most likely disturbed others in the process. From the activities last evening,  it seemed like most of the people in the shelter were part of a larger group of section hikers. Most were calling each other by real first names (not trail names typically used by thru-hikers) and Beast of Burden and I were not brought into any conversations or asked any introductory questions. There was lots of cigarettes and alcohol shared among the cliques. I was very content to hide in my sleeping bag and look forward to the miles ahead.

Day four in the GSMNP broke forth with an incredible sunrise. The brilliant colors painted the end of rain and the glory of the morning skies. I managed to hit the trail by 8:00 with a shorter hike (13 miles) on the agenda. I had 28 miles left in the GSMNP and I did not think I could hike that far in one day, so I decided to stop at Tri-Corner Knob Shelter tonight, leaving a reasonable hike of 15 miles the next day to the last shelter in the park located less than one mile from the boundary.  

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Charlies Bunion

It was a perfect day for hiking. Clear skies but not too hot. There were lots of ups and downs (what hikers call Muds and Puds – Mindless-ups-&-downs and Pointless-ups-&-downs) along the trail. I realized that the Appalachian Trail is steep. It is steep going up and it is steep going down. There is very little flat. Going up is exhausting causing many huffs and puffs in my lungs. Going down is tough in the knees and rather dangerous. Each step must be carefully made watching for stumble rocks and trip roots desiring to take you down to their level.

117What I missed at Clingman’s Dome was soon forgotten as I encountered numerous (at least ten) vistas with panoramic views that took my breath away. I would be walking through the green tunnel of the forest canopy when suddenly the trail would open up to reveal this amazing view of the valley below. Charlies Bunion began the day. It was a side trail but well worth the small diversion. It was a huge rock with a huge view. There was also a huge dropoff that made me hugely nervous to take a closer look…but I did. It was a long way down, but getting a glimpse of the intimidating cliff was worth the danger.  I stopped many times throughout the day to attempt to capture the sights on my iPhone’s camera.

My fall happened so fast that I am still not sure how it happened. I had fallen several times over the past 200 miles, but this time I hit my head on the ground and had a difficult time bouncing up. I ended up heading downhill and my backpack had shifted up in such a way that it’s weight pinned my shoulders to the ground. Instead of trying to stand straight up, I just needed to roll on my side, shift the weight a bit and then I was free to stand and hike again. After a quick examination to find no blood, no dislocated joints, no blurred vision, and no need for the first aid kit, I was thanking God for His faithfulness and singing down the trail.

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Beast of Burden and I met at the shelter and enjoyed meeting a more friendly crowd at Tri-corner Knob. A ridgerunner (park ranger) showed up for a while, shared some interesting insights about the trail, and checked our permits. There were 17-20 people at the site designed to sleep 12. The ridgerunner gave permission to several volunteers to tent. I did not make the shortlist so I remained in the shelter. It was a good day.

Categories: Appalachian Trail, Beast of Burden, Charlies Bunion, GSMNP, Rowdy, Thru-Hike, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

The GSMNP – Day Three

098Day three of my 71-mile trek through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park via the Appalachian Trail began at daybreak as I exited out of the shelter trying my best not to disturb my new found shelter-friends from South Carolina or my hiking buddy, Beast of Burden. As quietly as possible, I packed up my sleeping bag and loaded my food sack into my backpack. I walked toward the trail and was greeted with such a beautiful sight. I left the shelter at 7:15 and only ten yards from the three-sided structure I saw two deer standing at the edge of the path half hidden by the foggy mist that accompanied the dawn.

The DomeI had anticipated this day for months. It was my day to summit Clingmans Dome, the highest point on the Appalachian Trail (6,643ft). The man-made observation tower provides an incredible view that boasts a reach of 100 miles. The tower is just off the AT and the hiker must walk up a paved, half-mile, circular, walkway to the top.

The Dome was about five miles from the shelter. I did not know exactly what to expect, although I had seen many pictures of the observation platform and the panoramic views offered on top of the structure. It continued to be a misty morning until about 9:00 when the rain began to come with sheets of heaviness. As I approached the summit of Mount Buckley, I was getting pelted with cold rain. It poured until 1:00 in the afternoon.

Even though I knew visibility would be terrible, I climbed the observation tower anyway. It was pretty amazing to be the only person standing on the platform. (This might say something about my intelligence, but I wanted to stand at the highest point no matter the weather). My view from Clingmans Dome might have reached 100 feet. It was my youngest son’s birthday and with no one else around, I sang happy birthday to him twice, while standing at the highest point during my 2,186 mile journey. Happy Birthday, Dan!

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Clingmans Dome 2014

I had a great laugh at Clingsman Dome, took a picture of the white non-view, and within a mile from the dome completed 200 miles of the AT. Unfortunately, the rain was not only relentless but it was very cold. Coming down off the mountain I could not get warm. I began to shiver and my hands became very uncomfortable, almost numb. I decided to take a side trail to a shelter with hopes of getting out of the rain and drying off. The Mt Collins Shelter was 0.5 miles off the trail but I knew I needed stop. This turned out to be a good thing. The shelter was indeed dry. I took off my shirt and put on my dry, down jacket. I got some food and drank lots of water. Once the chill was gone and I felt rested and refueled, I continued back to the AT and toward Newfound Gap

The rain tapered down and had finally stopped by the time I reached US 441 and Newfound Gap. Many hikers were sticking out their thumbs and heading toward Gatlinburg, about 15 miles from the trail. But the sun was out, I was feeling so much better, and warmth had returned to my body so I chose to continue on another 3 miles to Icewater Spring Shelter. It was packed, but Beast of Burden had arrived much earlier and had saved a spot for me. My heart was so blessed and I thanked my hiking buddy several times for looking after me.

HIF Cover PublishedI fell once during the wet descent off of Clingmans Dome, but my trekking poles saved my body several times. The day was filled with adversity and my motto was tested and remained true: No Adversity, No Adventure! Day three was not a disappointment at all but a day filled with God’s faithfulness and protection.

If you are interested in learning more about my 2014 thru-hike, check out my book, Hike It Forward on Amazon.

 

 

Photo of observation Tower found at https://rootsrated.com/stories/6-ways-to-hike-to-clingmans-dome-tennessee-s-highest-mountain
Categories: Appalachian Trail, Clingmans Dome, GSMNP, Hike It Forward, Rowdy, Thru-Hike, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

The GSMNP – Day Two

099After the first night in the GSMNP, I realized that I did not like sleeping in shelters. It is, however, a requirement in the park. Tent camping is not permitted unless the shelters are full. It might have been fun if I knew all of the hikers, but sleeping with 14 smelly strangers in a spot designed for 12 was a bit overwhelming for an introvert like me. I woke sometime during the night to hear the shelter resound with the sounds of a dissonant choir of snorers all “singing” out of different hymnbooks. Shelter life was just not my cuppa tea. I was up early on day two, welcomed by a very windy and cold day. There was a threat rain with sprinkles most of the day. I remained fairly dry until I was half an hour away from my designated shelter. Then the rain came in full force. I arrived at Siler’s Bald Shelter totally drenched but only four strangers inhabited the shelter designed to sleep 12.

In addition to the four unknowns, there was the face of a friend. I had last seen Beast of Burden at Fontana Lodge two days before. He was such a gentle, soft-spoken man and we had enjoyed many conversations since our initial meeting close to Franklin, NC. Beast of Burden had arrived just before the rain began. It was 5:30 and the rain appeared to be ready for a long visit, so Beast of Burden and I decided to stay put instead of moving down the trail 1.7 miles to the next shelter, which might have been packed with soaked hikers. The four unknown faces from South Carolina soon became friends as we laughed and told stories about the trail and life back home.

102I quickly discovered that I was not the fastest hiker on the trail. I was passed by several hikers on Day Two through the park. Consistency was the key for me. Slow but sure. I tried to only take a short break in the morning, then a longer sit-down lunch time, a 10-minute afternoon breather, and then push until I found camp. Slow but sure seemed to work for me. I tried not to put pressure on myself to keep up with others or to compare my progress with the miles of the young.

May 9 was filled with some good spiritual time. I liked to sing in the woods, so I belted out “Shout to the Lord,” and the lyrics “Mountains bow down and the seas will roar at the sound of Your name.” brought chills up my back realizing just how powerful God really is. I began to reflect on God’s omniscience and the reality that He knows all of my thoughts, attitudes and feelings. He knows me to the intimate detail and yet He loves me anyway. His vast knowledge ranges from the universal to the microscopic. And in the center of all that, He is faithful to me.

103I also found myself focusing on ways to conform my life to please my Father. I began to think about transforming my eyes so that I could see people like Jesus sees them. I frequently view people as numbers or irritations or awkward moments demanding forced conversations. I wanted to see them more as divine appointments, as personal opportunities to encourage and help, as hearts that needed my words of support and friendship. If I could only see differently, I would live differently. I wanted to “Turn my eyes upon Jesus” so that I could take my eyes off myself and see others through the lenses of the Savior. I’m still working on that every day, but sometimes I can actual see.

HIF Cover PublishedDay Two on the Appalachian Trail through the GSMNP was a little wet but was also a day of spiritual growth in the life of Rowdy from Springboro, Ohio. If you would like to read more about this incredible five-month journey, please check out my book, Hike It Forward, available on Amazon – Click the cover for a link.

Categories: Appalachian Trail, GSMNP, Hike It Forward, Rowdy, Shelter, Thru-Hike, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

The GSMNP – Day One

My hike through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSMNP) was a great adventure. The trek took 5 days and 4 nights (May 8-12, 2014). The path across this grand national park involved 71 miles of rugged terrain. I had beautiful, sunny weather for three days but had to embrace two days of rain. Reflecting on those days on the Appalachian Trail brings back many memories.

087The first day out of Fontana Dam was sunny with blue skies. To arrive at the national park, the hiker actually crosses over the dam and gains a close-up view of the waters of Fontana. Arriving at the park’s trailhead, there is an official box that requires a permit to hike the trails. I purchased the $20 permit in advance at Fontana Lodge.

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Shuckstack Fire Tower

Hikers in the GSMNP are required to stay in shelters and no stealth camping is permitted so my hiking agenda was limited to the shelter sites. The first day, for example, I had several options. There were four possible destinations 12.1 miles; 14.9 miles; 17.8 miles; and 24.1 miles from Fontana. The trail was a twenty-mile uphill climb to Thunderhead Mountain, so my hope was to get to the second shelter at 15 miles and then evaluate the weather, the shelter, and my energy (the latter being the most important). Shelter #2 at Russell Field, was where my body told me I should stay. I was tired and did not want to push on and find myself exhausted for the next day.

Today was my first bear sighting on the Appalachian Trail. Just like Goldilocks, I saw three bears, but, unlike her, I did not stop to eat porridge with them or take a nap on their beds. Instead, I quickly passed by them hoping that they were not hungry for backpack food or the backpacker. It was a thrill to see them. Before leaving for my thru-hike, I hoped that I would be able to safely see some bears on the trail. They are such magnificent animals that seem to embody power and agility. I was not sure what to expect. Would they run, would they run toward me, would they charge and attack? I continued walking the trail (as quietly as possible) with the bears on the hillside to my right. To my relief, they just ignored me and kept lounging among the trees.

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Fontana Lake from the Fire Tower

I also experienced one of my favorite activities on the AT – climbing a fire tower. The Shuckstack Fire Tower is a 60 ft. tall structure with 78 steps. The top of the tower gave me a fantastic view on this clear day of the surrounding North Carolina mountains. I stood in amazement at the beauty and the waves of mountains that filled my 360 degree perspective. From the tower, there is a special view of Fontana Lake that very few people are able to see.  

Seeing the forest from the fire tower gave me a chance to see the big picture and the incredible expanse of the GSMNP. But under the canopy of the woods, I was fascinated to see the variety and beauty of individual trees. Two very unusual trees caught my eye during this first day in the park. One trunk opened up like a teepee inviting me to sit inside to eat my lunch. The other tree stood about four feet off the ground before it bent completely over headed toward the trail and finally completed an “s” shape as it appeared to readjust itself back toward the sky.

Book Cover 2

Day one in the GSMNP was a glorious day on the Appalachian Trail. If you would like to read more of my adventures please check out my book, Hike It Forward, on Amazon.

Categories: Appalachian Trail, Fire-tower, Fontana Dam, GSMNP, Hike It Forward, North Carolina, Thru-Hike, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

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