Posts Tagged With: Tennessee

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

AT Hikers: March 5th Update

Here is a quick update on the 14 AT thru-hikers that I am following this season.

Genesis and Sister


Rich Miller from Pennsylvania established the earliest 2018 online journal of an attempted thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail (via He 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. They have trekked another 45 miles from Springer and are camped at Poplar Stamp Gap.

Zin Master

Zin, Ken Nieland, decided to get off the trail on February 27 with tendinitis in his lower right leg. He is evaluating his future on the trail at his in-laws in Kingsport Tennessee. 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 has experienced some backpack problems in the last week. His waist belt let loose causing his sternum strap to break. He made some on the trail repairs. He also experienced some muscle pain in his inner thigh running down to his knee. He took a zero-day (on March Saturday, March 3) and gave his body a rest.  The next day, he hiked 24 miles into Erwin, Tennessee, totally 341.5 miles on the AT.

Vagabond Jack

Vagabond Jack

Jack Masters, from Kansas City, took his first steps on the famous Appalachian Trail on February 1. He was in Fontana Dam (mile 165) on March 3rd about to enter the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Cell phone coverage is sometimes non-existent in this area, and he did not post in his journal for several days. He updated on March 6th and is camping in the GSMNP at Derrick Knob Shelter (mile 188.8).


Uncle Johnny’s Hostel

Opa (Reinhard Gsellmeier), the retired engineer from Rochester, NY, began his thru-hike on February 10. He has been recently hiking as part of the Four Horsemen (including Jeep, Night Train, and Captain Blackbear). They arrived at Ervin, Tennessee on March 5 and I am interested to see if Opa meets Hard Knocks at Uncle Johnny’s hostel. Opa shared in his journal some sad trail news. Uncle Johnny passed away suddenly about two weeks ago. His wife, Charlotte plans to continue running the hostel. I met Uncle Johnny on my hike and he will be missed by the hiking community.



Marty Dockins hit the trail on February 15th. His sweetheart met him at Newfound Gap (mile marker 206. 8) on March 4th and they spent a zero-day in Gatlinburg, TN on March 5. He lost cell phone coverage for 5 days but averaged 11.5 miles through the first part of the GSMPN (Smoky Mountains).

Class Act

Class Act

Retired physician, Alan Conlon, took his first steps on the AT on February 18, 2018. He has been very strategic in this first part of his hike. He has attempted to avoid the brutal weather but taking a few zero days (two at the Top of Georgia Hostel) but had begun to increase his distance per day with three 12-mile hikes before coming to Franklin, North Carolina. He is planning another zero-day in Franklin on the 6th of March.

Chip Tillson

Chip Tillson

Chip has not mentioned Class Act in his journal, but I think the road into Franklin together on a shuttle on Monday. Chip is planning on a zero-day on Tuesday as well so maybe they will connect. Chip began the trail on February 20th and this will be his first zero-day of his hike.  His pace has been conservative (7.8 miles per day) and he has taken two nero (near-zero) days of less than 4 miles. His consistent effort will begin to pay off with some trail legs and longer distances.

Sour Kraut

Sour Kraut

Tim Pfeiffer, who started on February 21st, is keeping more of a photo/video journal that a written daily entry. It is a little difficult to know exactly where he is, but his last photos seem to indicate that he summitted Siler Bald on March 3. He is enjoying hammock camping along the way.

Which Way and Next Step

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. Their journal bursts with a great attitude and excitement about the trail. Which Way has recently developed a blister on the little toe that had caused some major discomfort. Isn’t it amazing how even the smallest of body parts can be so essential to a successful hike? They have persevered and have already logged in over 78 AT miles.


Dave and Abbie

Dave Snow and his dog (trail name Abbie) started the Appalachian Trail on February 26th and Abbie was enjoying the outdoor environment. They made it to Dick’s Creek and the Top of Georgia Hostel on March 5th and spent the night in The Wolf Den which is set apart for hikers with dogs. Dave has plans to shuttle to a hotel in Hiawassee on March 6th.



Return To Katahdin (RTK), Bruce Matson was a special trail angel for me during my 2014 thru-hike of the AT. I have been following his preparation for the hike and was excited to follow his adventure. He started on February 24 by conquering the approach trail from Amicalola Falls to Springer Mountain plus the one mile of actual AT to the parking lot off USFS 42. I heard nothing from him since that first day and was concerned about his hike. He commented on this blog that he was indeed alive and well and that his posts were coming soon. On March 2 he was safe and sound at Dick’s Creek (about 70 miles along the trail). It is so good to hear that he is stepping out in a strong and consistent trek.




Pigweed, Lee Richards, also started with the 8.8-mile approach trail from Amicalola Falls. He began on February 26 and started accumulating AT miles on the 27th. As of March 5th, he has walked 52.9 and arrived at Unicoi Gap. He grabbed a ride into Helen, Georgia a Bavarian-style mountain town, where got a hotel room, enjoyed a long shower, washed his clothes and was looking forward to a great dinner with several other thru-hikers.



Hickory began the same day as Pigweed but has walked at a much stronger pace. On March 5th, Hickory has covered 87 miles of the Appalachian Trail and is camped at Standing Indian Mountain. He has taken one nero-day (a two-mile hike and stay at the Top of Georgia Hostel) but other than that short day, he has averaged 14.3 miles per day.

Up Date Mile Marker Hiker Location Start Date
3/5/18 44.6 Genesis Poplar Stamp Gap 1/14/18
3/5/18 52.9 Pigweed Unicoi Gap 2/27/18
3/2/18 69.2 RTK Dick’s Creek 2/25/18
3/5/18 69.2 Dave and Abbie Dick’s Creek 2/26/18
3/5/18 78.6 Which Way/ Next Step Bley Gap 2/24/18
3/5/18 87 Hickory Standing Indian Mt 2/27/18
3/5/18 109.8 Chip Tillson Franklin, NC 2/20/18
3/5/18 109.8 Class Act Franklin, NC 2/18/18
3/4/18 114 Sour Kraut Siler Bald 2/21/18
3/5/18 129.2 Zin Master Tellico Gap 1/23/18
3/5/18 188.8 Vagabond Jack Derrick Knob Shelter 2/1/18
3/5/18 206.8 Bamadog Gatlinburg 2/15/18
3/5/18 341.5 Opa Erwin, TN 2/10/18
3/4/18 341.5 Hard Knocks Erwin, TN 1/31/18


Categories: Amicalola Falls, Appalachian Trail, Erwin, Georgia, Hiking, Thru-Hike, Uncategorized, Uncle Johnny's Hostel | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Zin Master Waiting in Tennessee

Zin Master began his thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail on January 23, 2018, in Springer Mountain Georgia. He hiked 7.4 miles on Tuesday the 23rd.  Wednesday’s hike was 8.3 miles; Thursday equaled 8.1 miles; Friday (1/26/18) totaled 7.3 miles including a climb over Blood Mountain into Neel Gap.

Zin had developed some major blisters on his feet and decided to get off the trail to allow for some physical healing. Fortunately, his in-laws live in Kingsport Tennessee, so he traveled by bus to retreat with family.

Zin needed to address a couple of hiking issues in addition to his blisters. He needed to find a more comfortable boot/shoe and he needed to replace a broken trekking pole.

Zin began a daily soak of his feet in warm water and Epsom salt and then moisturizing them with Aquaphor. I used Aquaphor on my feet in 2014 and not only did it keep the skin from cracking but it left them a water resistance almost like a waxy, oily film. It doesn’t sound very good, but it truly helped maintain strong and happy feet.

Zin found some longer and wider shoes (14W) and was able to find someone to modify his inserts to fit his new Keens (which he had to order). He sent his Leki trekking pole to the company who is making repairs and sending them back to him. As of February 7th, he is still waiting for his new/repaired gear.

Top of Blood Mountain

Zin has also checked on transportation back to the trailhead at Neel Gap. The bus ride was long and involved traveling to Tennessee, but it was going to be horrendous on the return trip – 20 hours including a 10-hour layover in Atlanta. So, he has decided to rent a car for a few more dollars than the bus ticket and he will be able to drive with 13 miles of the trailhead in 4 hours. He will then be able to get an inexpensive shuttle to the trailhead itself.

He has been on the trail for four days and resting in Tennessee for twelve days. Once those shoes and trekking poles arrive, he should be healed and ready to move. It must be discouraging to have to wait, but maybe the weather will be warmer as he moves forward. Hopefully, he will be on his way toward Maine by this weekend.

Categories: Appalachian Trail, Blood Mountain, Georgia, Neel Gap, Springer Mountain, Tennessee, Zin Master | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

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, songs
Categories: Appalachian Trail, Erwin, North Carolina, Tennessee, Thru-Hike, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

Easter on the Trail

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

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

April 13 (Thursday)

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

April 14 (Friday)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grateful 2: A Week of Slackpacking

Grateful 2 is a thru-hiker from Tennessee. He began his thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail on March 18th with his son, Gooseman. With many tears, his son has had to abandon his hike and Grateful 2 will continue alone. My last post left Grateful 2 at Rock Gap Shelter, 106 miles from the southern terminus of the AT in Springer Mountain, Georgia about 30 miles into the great state of North Carolina. Let’s pick up his journal on April 1st.

April 1 Rock Gap to Winding Stair Gap – 3.9 miles

“We all anticipate when we get close to the roads out here. The roads bring change for us. First we notice the trail is descending. Then we hear the cars in the distance. Then we see the road. Anticipation. Sometimes the road is a ride into town. Sometimes it holds a trail angel who has set up a hamburger feed. For me today it is the anticipation that my wife and Gooseman are waiting at the next road crossing. And there they are!” The family will spend the next several days together, Grateful 2 will be slackpacking the trailheads, carrying less, experiencing easier hikes because of the lessened load, sleeping in a real bed at night and eating in restaurants. Best of all, the family will get to spend some time together.

April 2 Winding Stair Gap to Burningtown Gap 14.6 miles

Grateful 2 is up early for his wife to drive him to the trailhead at Winding Stair Gap. “I’m hiking faster today than I have yet on this trip. I only have a small day pack and it makes a huge difference. Almost 15 miles today, and I still get to eat at a restaurant with my wife for supper.” 

April 3 Burningtown Gap to Nantahala Outdoor Center (NOC) 12.9 miles

“Big drop in elevation today. From 5100 to 1770 feet. The climb over the jump-off was very difficult for a guy with a fear of heights. The worst yet. So glad it wasn’t raining. When I got to the NOC we ate an amazing meal called a Sherpa.”

April 4 Zero Day at the NOC

Grateful 2 woke up to a severe weather forecast. He quickly decided that the forecast required a zero day. His family enjoyed a meal at the Sunset Restaurant. They met the owners of the establishment and the food was delicious, especially the pies. After a visit to Walmart, the family just hung out at the room and enjoyed the visit.

April 5 From NOC to Stecoach Gap = 13.4 miles

First thing this morning Grateful 2 visited the NOC and registered for a permit to go through the Smokies. Then, it was the ascent out of the NOC. About an hour into the hike, the rain started to fall… along with thunder and lightning. Fortunately the bad weather had passed by the area before Grateful 2 got to the top of Cheoah Bald. After the summit of Cheoah Bald (2,040 feet) there is a steady 5-mile descent down into Stecoah Gap. The last mile is extremely steep and Grateful 2 described the adventure, “The hike down to Stecoah Gap was the worst 1 mile mud slip-and-slide I’ve ever been on. So glad to see my wife and son in the parking lot to take me back to the motel!” 

April 6 Zero Day at the Stecoah Gap

Snow is predicted for tomorrow morning with winds expected to be forty plus miles an hour. A winter weather advisory is in effect for tomorrow until noon. Tomorrow Grateful 2 has decided to get up early and go to the Nantahala Forestry Ranger station located in Franklin to find out about the weather before he goes up the mountain. This last zero day together as a family included a visit to Walmart again, the Chinese AYCE buffet again, and the outfitter again. They are living the dream.

April 7  From Stecoah Gap to Yellow Creek Mountain = 7.7 miles.

Grateful 2 got up early and we went to First Baptist Church Franklin for a free hiker breakfast of pancakes, orange juice and bacon. Grateful 2 estimated there were seventy hikers in attendance. After breakfast Grateful 2 went over to the forest service to check on the weather and road closures. Everything was open and there was only a dusting of snow in Franklin, so it was time to hike. He hiked a quick 8 miles and then it was back to the car. Grateful 2 has really enjoyed the slack packing approach, “Man, am l going to miss slackpacking. It is the heavy pack that makes hiking the mountains so difficult.” The most notable feature on today’s adventure was Jacob’s Ladder…six hundred feet of elevation change in 0.6 mile, straight up the side of the mountain with no switchbacks. It only took Grateful 2 about twenty minutes to make the ascent, but he described it as “a lung-burner.”

Tomorrow Grateful 2’s family will be headed home and the separation will be about 8 weeks – tough goodbyes in the morning.

Info and photo from Grateful 2’s journal located at
Categories: Appalachian Trail, Georgia, Gooseman, Grateful 2, Nantahala Outdoor Center, North Carolina, Tennessee, Thru-Hike | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Introducing Grateful 2

Before and After –
prepping for the AT

I enjoy following a few thru-hikers on the Appalachian Trail closely each season through their online journals ( I have already posted several articles on Beaker, the retired chemist from Morgantown, West Virginia. My niece’s husband was a co-worker with Beaker in WV. so I felt I already had some connection to the mountaineer.

I like to follow at least one hiker per month. Some of the brave explorers do not make it to the end, so I track several with the hopes that many will trek the necessary 5 million steps through all 14 states. I love to read some of the back stories of the hikers and discover some individuals with whom I can identify and find interesting.

Beaker left the end of February so I began to explore those who stepped out in March. It wasn’t long before I found Grateful 2 and his son Gooseman, natives of Chattanooga, Tennessee who plan to thru-hike together from Georgia to Maine. Grateful 2, real name David Hunter, has had this incredible journey on his bucket list for more than 30 years and an added bonus is the reality that his 24-year-old son is joining the trek.

David will face some challenges. He shares in one of his pre-hike posts, “I’ve had lingering foot issues. My right foot has undergone 5 major surgeries with plates, screws, and fusions. My left foot has developed plantar faciitis in the last year that required a cortisone shot and extensive rehab. Both of my shoulders have been replaced. Besides that, I’m getting older and can’t do what I used to do.” I began to identify with Grateful 2 when he wrote, “I’m sitting on the back porch of our home in Chattanooga overlooking the Cumberland Valley. It’s a beautiful view. God has created an incredible world. I can’t wait to explore it on foot.” The spiritual part of the thru hike was so important to me and one of the major factors of my successful journey. Another journal entry written before he started his hike resonated with my spirit, “Why am I going? I’m not sure I can answer that myself either. It’s almost like the mountains are calling to me. It’s something I must do. I love being outside. I love the endorphin release I get when I hike long distances. It’s something I’ve known I must do … Now this is my chance. I don’t want to waste it.” This is the same drive that dominated my thinking for 14 months before I stepped out on my thru-hike in 2014.

Over the next few posts, I would like to catch you up on Grateful 2’s adventure. Right now, let’s look at their first two days.

March 18 Grateful 2 and Gooseman started from Springer Mountain, Georgia, the southern terminus of the AT. Day one resulted in 7.4 miles and concluded at the Hawk Mountain campsite.

March 19 Dad and son hiked from Hawk Mountain to Gooch Mountain Shelter – 8.4 miles.

Grateful 2 recorded, “When we got up this am it was colder than I expected. My thermometer said 25 degrees. It warmed up during the day to maybe 65, which made for a beautiful day of hiking. So warm, in fact, that both Gooseman and I got sunburned. From 25 freezing degrees to sunburn, and we were outside for all of it!”


All information and photos come from Grateful 2’s online journal at


Categories: Appalachian Trail, Beaker, Georgia, Gooseman, Grateful 2, Hawk Mountain, Springer Mountain, Tennessee, Thru-Hike | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Beaker, 1st Sgt., and now Bo

My last post about thru-hiker, Beaker, and his hiking buddy, 1st Sgt., placed them at Mountain Harbour Hostel, TN after a 16.3 mile hike including two big climbs over Little Hump and Big Hump Mountains. They had missed the serving of dinner at the hostel, but purchased some pizza, sodas, and Ben & Jerry’s ice cream at the General Store. The weather forecast was for thunderstorms and 1-2 inches of rain tomorrow, so they were looking forward to a zero day at the hostel on Monday. Let’s continue Beaker’s adventure ….

Mountain Harbour Hostel

4/3/17 Zero Day at Mountain Harbour Hostel, TN.

The rain came as predicted and the dry stay at hostel was enjoyed and appreciated.

4/4/17 From Mountain Harbour Hostel to Moreland Gap Shelter, TN – distance: 18.4 miles.

Beaker and 1st Sgt. left the Mountain Harbour Hostel after another huge breakfast, walked the 0.3 miles along US Rt. 19 to the trailhead, and started hiking north on the Appalachian Trail. The hike was quite productive (18.4 miles) filled with beautiful waterfalls and manageable terrain leading to the Moreland Gap Shelter. The two hikers were joined by a third, Bo. Bo is a professor of anthropology at Duke University. His actual trail name is Bard Owl because he enthusiastically explained the virtues of the Bard Owl one night around the camp fire. As happens with many trail names, Bard Owl got shortened to B.O. He didn’t particularly care for the connotations of that name, considering the bad smell of all thru-hikers. So, it eventually became Bo.

The three have made plans to stay at the Boots Off Hostel tomorrow. Due to aggressive bear activity, the next shelter on the AT has been closed to hikers. The hostel is located a comfortable 15-mile distance from Moreland Gap and the weather forecast is predicting yet more thunderstorms tomorrow evening, so a hostel seemed like a good part of their discerning plan.

4/5/17 From Moreland Gap Shelter to Boots Off Hostel in Hampton, TN, today’s hike logged 14.9 miles.

Bo continues to hike with Beaker and 1st Sgt. making a friendly trio of thru-hikers. The three seem to get along well. Their trail conversations today ranged from Native cultures, to AT culture, to Doolittle’s raid on Japan, to hiking the Camino trail in Spain. In addition to these good talks, the best visual part of the hike today was the Laurel Fork Gorge. The Laurel Fork roared through the gorge and the trail ran right next to the creek. Then came the climb up Pond Mountain. Not a particularly difficult climb, it is a long climb. The three amigos gained 2000 ft over 2.5 miles, then descended off the ridge for two and a half miles leading them to the fairly new Boots Off Hostel located near the base of the descent.

“After showering, 10 of us piled into the hostel’s Suburban and got a shuttle to town for food. Most of us ended up at McDonald’s where I learned about a brilliant culinary masterpiece from Hummingbird – you pull apart a McDouble and put a McChicken Sandwich between the two patties and smash it all together.” Now that is hiker hunger at its best!

From the Boots Off Hostel to Iron Mountain Shelter, TN for 15.9 miles.

Winter is back! The three adventurers headed out from the hostel in a light rain. The rain settled into a cold drizzle that went on all morning. The first couple hours of the day’s hike led along the shores of Watauga Lake. After crossing over the dam, the rest of the day was spent climbing. As the men climbed, the wind started intensifying and continued to blow fiercely with gusts up to 30-40 mph. And then the temperatures started to drop.

The rain turned to ice pellets and sleet. The high winds made the ice pellets feel like miniature darts as they stung the faces of the men. Finally, the sleet turned to snow. The afternoon found the ground slowly turning white. Somewhere along the trail, the fellowship of three decided they didn’t want to have to set up tents in the snow. So, they planned to sleep in the Iron Mountain Shelter. They arrived around 4:00 pm finding only three other hikers at the shelter that sleeps six – room for all.

Categories: Appalachian Trail, Beaker, Hostel, Laurel Fork, Tennessee, Thru-Hike, Trail Name | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Beaker From Erwin to Roan Mountain

3/30/17  Beaker got up early in order to make his 6.2- mile trek to the well-known hiker spot of Uncle Johnny’s Hostel in Erwin, TN. The day was filled with clear skies and moderate temperatures. First Sergeant had reserved a “cabin” at Uncle Johnny’s and offered to share the room if Beaker wanted. The weather forecast, thunderstorms and a high wind advisory overnight, made the decision fairly easy. Beaker and 1st Sgt joined many of the hikers at the hostel on a lunch trip to an AYCE pizza buffet (All You Can Eat). Beaker gathered a resupply at a local IGA.

After lunch Beaker decided to rent a bike ($2) and peddle the 4 ½ mile trip to the laundromat to wash his clothes. After his bike ride, twenty four hikers piled into two vans for a trip to a Mexican restaurant. Satisfied and warm, back at the cabin, Beaker listened to the thunder and wind outside – it was not a good night to be in a tent on top of a mountain.

3/31/17 Destination: Cherry Gap Shelter, TN. Today’s hike = 17.1 miles. It rained most of the night, with a line of thunderstorms moving through around midnight. 1st Sgt and Beaker were up around 7:00, checked out of the hostel in Ewin, TN, and hit the trail before 8:00. The planned destination today was a campsite about 12 miles away. They climbed out of the river valley. They found that their paces and their personalities were quite compatible making walking and talking, even in the pouring rain, to be quite enjoyable. Beaker and 1st Sgt arrived at their planned stopping point at 2:30 pm, so, they pressed on another 5 miles, up and over Unaka Mountain, to the Cherry Gap Shelter. The summit of the mountain was covered with a thick spruce forest. (Photo) The weather had turned quite blustery and chilly, so Beaker didn’t waste time setting up his tent, changing into warmer clothes, and fixing dinner.

4/1/17  Beaker and 1st Sgt ended their day at Roan High Knob Shelter having hiked 17.6 miles today. The two hikers awoke to another misty morning. Today’s hike was one of climbing as they trekked toward Roan High Knob Shelter. They climbed up smooth, well graded trail. Then climbed on rocky trail. Then climbed on rocky, wet, muddy, steep, rooty trail. The sun finally broke out about 4 pm and it turned into a beautiful afternoon. When they arrived at the shelter they discovered that it was a fully enclosed cabin with a loft. They set up in the loft -snug, dry, and warm, safely out of the bitter wind.

Mountain Harbour Hostel

4/2/17 Today’s hike incorporated 16.3 miles ending at Mountain Harbour Hostel, TN.  Beaker has logged just shy of 400 miles on the AT (393.7). Beaker and 1st Sgt got a slow start this morning (9:00) but it was a gorgeous day, full of sun and highs in the 70s. They encountered numerous weekend hikers, including a physical education class from Appalachian State University. One student and Beaker had a friendly disagreement over whether Appy State or WVU are the “true” Mountaineers. Beaker concludes,  “I think we all know the answer to that one!”

The two hikers had two big climbs over Little Hump and Big Hump Mountains, then a five-mile descent to US Rt 19. From US Rt 19 there was a short 0.3 mile walk down the road to the Mountain Harbour B&B and Hiker Hostel. The hostel had already stopped serving dinner, but Beaker and 1st Sgt were able to buy frozen pizza, sodas, and Ben & Jerry’s ice cream in the General Store, so they were set for the evening. The weather forecast: thunderstorms and 1-2 inches of rain tomorrow, so they planned a zero day for Monday.

Categories: Appalachian Trail, Beaker, Erwin, Hiking, Roan Mountain, Tennessee, Thru-Hike | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

Blog at