Posts Tagged With: GSMNP

AT Thru-Hikers: March 11th Update

Here is an update on the 14 thru-hikers of theApplalchain Trail that I am following. All of them started the trail in January or February of 2018.



Rich Miller from Pennsylvania and his sister began their hike on January 14. They did some hiking in PA for a few weeks (from Harpers Ferry, WV up to Caledonia State Park, PA) logging in about 70 miles on the AT. They made their way to Springer Mountain, Georgia and began their NOBO hike on March 1. Coming off Blue Mountain on a very rainy Tuesday (March 8th) both his knees started to hurt, so they decided to drive back to PA to recoup (10-hour drive).  The plan to continue some more hiking on the AT in PA and then drive back to Unicoi Gap over Easter weekend and hike north once again.

Zin Master

Zin, Ken Nieland, decided to get off the trail on February 27 with tendinitis in his lower right leg. No update on his blog since then. I have not taken him off my official list, but silence is not a good sign.

Hard Knocks

Hard Knocks

Patrick Knox, tail name Hard Knocks, started on January 31. He experienced some AT winter weather on the 7th and 8th of March. On Wednesday (8th) he was greeted with cold temperatures and 6 inches on snow.  “… the trail footing was hard to see.  Needless to say, I fell down a couple of times but, thankfully, there are no injuries to report.” The next day the wind took over with major gusts that literally knocked him over. He stopped at a crossroad and got a shuttle to Doe River Hostel in Roam Mountain area. He was hoping to slackpack out of the hostel, but March 8th was his most current post.

Vagabond’s Shelter in GSMNP

Vagabond Jack

Jack Masters, from Kansas City, took his first steps on the famous Appalachian Trail on February 1, His last updated was on March 7th and he was camping at Newfound Gap with Okie, and Camo hoping to get to Gatlinburg but the road is closed because of the snow.


Opa’s Trail on March 8

Opa (Reinhard Gsellmeier), the retired engineer from Rochester, NY, began his thru-hike on February 10. He had been hiking as part of the Four Horsemen (including Jeep, Night Train, and Captain Blackbear). The four have now become the three as Jeep elected to stay in Erwin to heal from shin splints. They hit major weather as well as they spent the night at Roam High Knob Shelter (the highest shelter on the AT). ”Accumulations I’m estimating at 5-6”, with drifts up to a foot. Temperatures dropped steadily during the day as well. It was a difficult day, lots of climbing elevation and cold, windy, snowy…. I also had my first two slips and falls of the hike today. Nothing serious, I bounced back. I should put my microspikes on. Oh yeah, I mailed them back home when I was in Hot Springs.  Of the cohort that I am following, Opa has hiked the farthest at 434.5 miles. One interesting fact I learn about Opa this week: he was born in Munich, Germany,  and immigrated with his parents to the US in 1955 when I was three.


Bamadog at Rocky Top

Marty Dockins hit the trail on February 15th. His last post reflected his stay in Hot Springs, the first trail town along the trail, where the AT goes right down the main street of the community (Bridge Street). He hiked through knee-deep snow as well but enjoyed a nero of 3.2 miles from Deer Park Mountain Shelter to Hot Springs for a day of rest.

Class Act

Class Act

Retired physician, Alan Conlon, took his first steps on the AT on February 18, 2018. He has been doing some slack packing (carrying only what is needed for the day and utilizing the shuttle of a hostel to drop him off and/or pick him up after his day’s hike) for several days. Stationed at Wolf Creek Hostel in Stecoah Gap, Class Act has made good progress for the past three days. He met and had dinner with Chip Tillson on Saturday, March 10th. He has his eye on Fontana Dam as his destination for March 12.


Chip Tillson

Chip has experienced some of the attrition that occurs on the AT. In his journal he shares, “Several people I’ve hiked with have already left the trail. Among them: Georgia and Nick were rained out, Music Man got a bad toothache, Gabriel blew out his knee, Marbles got picked up in Franklin with a possible broken foot, Water Leaf just didn’t like climbing mountains, and today I learned John is headed home with a foot injury.”  A few days later he shared that his feet are bothering him, ”My feet have been sore the past couple of days and around noon I felt a growing pain in one foot.” He is planning two zero days followed by two days of slackpacking before he makes his way into the Smokies.

Sour Kraut Photo near Fontana Dam

Sour Kraut

Tim Pfeiffer, who started on February 21st.  His photo journal makes it difficult to track his mileage but his last photos show him in the Fontana Dam Area ready to enter the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Which Way headed up Albert Mountain

Which Way and Next Step

Darrell (Next Step) and Alicia (Which Way) Brinberry, retired military most recently stationed in Washington, DC, began their adventure on February 24th. I really enjoy reading their journal. They are so optimistic despite some a nagging toe blister and knee problems. They share about trail worship and God’s faithfulness which really pulls me into their adventure. They are staying at the Wayah Bald Shelter on Sunday, March 11.

No New Photos – Abbie

Dave and Abbie

Dave Snow and his dog (trail name Abbie) started the Appalachian Trail on February 26th and Abbie has been enjoying the outdoor environment. Dave seems to express a more pessimistic look at the trail with a little complaining attitude toward the accommodations and the weather. He and Abbie have spent six nights out of fourteen in hotels/hostels, so that are experiencing the inn-environment of the first two states more than some of the other hikers.


RTKs Tent

Return To Katahdin (RTK), Bruce Matson is reporting his adventure in posts summarizing each week. His last post covered his first week of hiking February 23-27. I now that he reached Dick’s Gap on March 3, but that is the latest update I have on my lawyer friend from Virginia.


Pigweed at Ga/NC border

Pigweed, Lee Richards, started with the approach trail from Amicalola Falls on February 26 and started accumulating AT miles on the 27th. As of March 10th, he was a Rock Gap having passed the 100-mile marker at Albert Mountain. He is beginning to have some physical problems. His journal on March 10th reflected some foot pain, “Unfortunately I strained my Achilles heel about halfway through the prior days 16-mile hike. Ibuprofen and general Slow Go hiking got me over Mount Albert and to the first Gap and Road. I decided to call a shuttle and get out at Rock Gap instead of continuing the next 3.7 miles to our destination with the rest of the Gang. I’ll pick that up when I resume the hike. I had planned to do a zero-day in Franklin anyway on Sunday. We’ll see if one zero-day is enough to heal up.”


Hickory – does not post photos

Hickory began the same day as Pigweed but has walked at a much stronger pace. On March 11th, Hickory has covered 179.6 miles of the Appalachian Trail and has entered into the GSMNP (Smokies). He has only taken one nero-day (2 miles) in his first two weeks of hiking. He has thru-hiked the AT in 2011, so he probably knows his pace. I looked at my blog and on day 13 of my thru-hike, I camped at the same shelter, but Hickory is hiking through the winter weather and I was enjoying warmer spring temperatures and sunny skies.

He is the latest update on the hiker’s progress (not some posts are earlier than others).

Up Date Mile Marker Hiker Location Start Date
3/11/18 50.5 Genesis Poplar Stamp Gap 1/14/18
3/2/18 69.2 RTK Dick’s Creek 2/25/18
3/10/18 106 Pigweed Rock Gap 2/27/18
3/11/18 109.8 Dave and Abbie Franklin 2/26/18
3/11/18 120.8 Which Way/ Next Step Wayah Bald Shelter 2/24/18
3/11/18 129.2 Zin Master OFF Trail 1/23/18
3/11/18 150.7 Chip Tillson Stecoah Gap 2/20/18
3/11/18 158.4 Class Act Yellow Creek Road 2/18/18
3/9/18 165.5 Sour Kraut Fontana Dam Area 2/21/18
3/11/18 179.6 Hickory Russel Field (GSMNP) 2/27/18
3/7/18 206.8 Vagabond Jack Newfound Gap 2/1/18
3/11/18 273.9 Bamadog Hot Springs 2/15/18
3/8/18 376 Hard Knocks Roam Mountain Area 1/31/18
3/11/18 434.5 Opa Erwin, TN 2/10/18
Categories: Appalachian Trail, Class of 2018, Fontana Dam, Franklin, North Carolina, Gatlinburg, Georgia, GSMNP, Hiking, Hot Springs, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Roan Mountain, Rocky Top, Slackpack, Tennessee, Thru-Hike | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Early Hikers Continue to Hit the AT

January Start – I have mentioned the first six hikers listed below and thought I would give you an update on their progress.


January 14, 2018 Genesis (Rick Miller) lives in Pennsylvania and has begun his hike at Harpers Ferry West Virginia. He is currently (2/18/18) camped at Caledonia State Park, PA, having trekked about 59 miles of the AT. He shares about his trail name: when I start in 2018 I will have just retired which will be a new beginning of life for me. Also a great name after one of the greatest rock bands of the 70s and 80s.

Zin Master

January 23, 2018 Zin Master (Ken Nieland) from Colorado developed blisters on the trail and ended up taking a 17 days break from the trail to get new boots, new trekking poles, and healing/rest for the sore feet. He is back on the trail and is staying (2/18/18) at Top of Georgia Hostel at Dick’s Creek Gap.


January 23, 2018 Mattman (Matt Dilly) from Lancaster, Pennsylvania quickly decided that the AT adventure was not for him. He found great discouragement in the wintry weather and the loneliness of the trail He decided to leave the trail on January 27, 2018.

January 31, 2018 Hard Knocks (Patrick Knox) is keeping his hometown hidden from his reader so far. He caught a bus from New Orleans on the way to Atlanta, but I am not sure if that is “home” or not.  He has not posted a picture of himself either. I don’t think he is a criminal on the run, but he is hiking at a good pace. He spent the night (2/17/18) in Fontana Dam just south of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

February Start

Vagabond Jack

February 1, 2018: Vagabond Jack (Jack Masters) from Kansas has been hiking slow but steady since his first day on the trail. He is staying at Cater Gap on 2/18/18 which is about 93 miles into his adventure.


February 10, 2018: Opa (Reinhard Gsellmeier) is a retired engineer from Rochester, NY. He has been making big strides during his first week on the trail. He took his first zero-day on February 18th in Franklin, NC about 110 miles along the AT.


February 15, 2108: Bamadog (Marty Dockins), 61-years-old, retired last March. He had the pleasure of hiking with his son, Cory, for the first day of the hike. He has covered 44 miles in his first four days on the trail. He is camping on the 18th of February at a stealth camp 13+ miles north of Neel Gap.

Here is a list of those that plan to start the trail in later in February. I will attempt to track these brave folks and keep you posted on their progress.

Coming Up:

February 18, 2018       Class Act (Alan Conlon). He has not posted his first trail entry yet.

February 19, 2018       Rogue Patriot (Jamie Crowley)

February 20, 2018       Chip Tillson (Chip Tillson)

February 21, 2018       Sour Kraut (Tim Pfeiffer)

February 24, 2018       Which Way and Next Step (Darrell & Alicia Brimberry)

February 25, 2018       RTK (Bruce Matson). RTK is a friend of mine that was a trail angel to me in 2014. I look forward to tracking his progress!

February 26, 2018       Pigweed (Lee Richards)

February 27, 2018       Hickory (real name not shared)


There are several others who have a start date in February but have not posted a blog entry in quite a while. I am doubtful that they are truly going to make the hike, but I will check and let you know for sure.

February 14, 2018       Kwai – No journal entry since October 31, 2017 (Jeffery Ruth)

February 17, 2018       Jamie Wilson – No journal entry since August 24, 2017 (Jamie Wilson)

February 18, 2018       Nomad – No journal entry since September 19, 2017 (Chip Ringo)

February 19, 2018       Dave and Abbie – No journal entry since September 25, 2017 (David Rouner)

February 28, 2018       Muffin No journal entry since January 30, 2017 (David Quinones)


Categories: Appalachian Trail, Fontana Dam, Georgia, GSMNP, Harpers Ferry, Hiking, Thru-Hike | 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.


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
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.  


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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Check Out my Book

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!


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
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.


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.


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

Hot Water – What a Luxury!

Hot ShowerI take a hot shower almost every day and sometimes I sneak a little added time under the warm water to enjoy the relaxing spray on my back. I take it for granted. But, there was one shower along the Appalachian Trail in 2014 that will stay in my memory for a long time. The warm water hit my face after hiking twelve days in a row on the trail without a break. I had managed a quick shower seven days before, but I was as ripe as a brown banana and smelled like the skunk nest by the city dump.


Fontana Lodge

I arrived at Fontana Dam Lodge, North Carolina, on May 7, 2014,  just before lunch but could not check into a room until 4:00. Two good hiking buddies, Beast of Burden and Soul Asylum, and I invaded the hotel restaurant for lunch. The food was excellent but the service was not the best. In hindsight, I could not blame the waitress for staying away from the smelly mountain men right off the trail. The three of us had a great visit sharing trail stories and some details about real life back home.

After lunch, I walked to a local grocery with my backpack over my shoulders and purchased all the food I thought I could fit in my pack to last me five more days on the trail. I made it back to the lodge about 2:30 and decided just to sit in the beautiful, air-conditioned lobby until my room became available. I got out my Trail Guide and mapped out a strategy through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. There would be no shower available until I made it through this granddaddy of a national park. I was planning a five day-four night adventure. I grabbed a short nap and before I began to snore too loudly, it was four o’clock and my room was available.

Fontana Lobby

Lobby of the Fontana Lodge

Just taking my sandals off and collapsing on the bed made me feel like a king. At the store, I bought a big bag of potato chips, two bananas and a two-liter of Coke with plans to watch Survivor on TV. In danger of immediately falling asleep, I jumped out of bed and turned on the shower. As the water turned from cold to warm, I realized that I did not remember seeing a laundromat in town. The sounds of the shower offered the best solution. I just walked into the water with my clothes on, including my socks. The water turned the color of chocolate milk before I even started using soap. Doing laundry standing up was pretty fun. After using almost an entire bar of soap on my clothes, I spent another 20 minutes getting my body clean. I never got to sweet smelling but my hair was squeaky and my hands looked like giant prunes.  

Survivor28logoI hung up my wet trail clothes, put on my town clothes (a Dayton Christian t-shirt and shorts), opened my chips, and tuned on the idiot box. I enjoyed the soft pillows until Survivor came on, then I got serious about watching one of my favorite shows. It was a good episode and I had great fun just relaxing. It was time for bed because I needed to hike out of Fontana Dam and into the GSMNP as early as possible. The initial climb out of Fontana was 2,755 feet in 9.3 miles. As I was about to roll over for some good sleep, I knew I had one more thing to do. I threw off the sheets, got ready, and jumped in the shower for one more delightful feeling of being clean, knowing that in 24 hours I would smell as bad as I did when I arrived at the lodge. Ah, the life of the thru-hiker.

If you are interested in reading more about my thru-hike, check out my book, Hike It Forward, on Amazon. Just click the book cover below and it will take you to my page.

HIF Cover Published


Shower Photo found at
Lodge Lobby photo found at
Survivor Logo found at
Categories: Appalachian Trail, Fontana Dam, GSMNP, North Carolina, Rowdy, Thru-Hike, Uncategorized | 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 Thru The Great Smoky Mountains National Park

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

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

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

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

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

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


If you get a chance, check out Beaker’s expanded journal online:

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

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

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