United States of America · 88 Days · 87 Moments · March 2016

Tres Brackens (Beast)

Tres' Thru-hike on the A.T. (2016)

12 June 2016

WARNING - if pics of open wounds or feet gross you out, don't look at this blog's pictures. Long story short, the pain from my torn up heels was so distracting that i found it difficult to drink water as frequently as I needed to. I tried dressing the wounds every 5 miles with moleskin/duct tape/etc and dry socks but my sweat was too much for it to handle and stay in place. As a result, I hiked around 11 miles, got a ride into town and got dropped off at the ER for treatment of dehydration. The test showed it was less severe this time but still affected my organs and required an IV to keep me functioning. ANYWAYS, the bigger problem are my heels and the proper bandaging method i should use to "heal" them during rest and protect them during my hike. Ever tried to rest on your back with raw heels? It's impossible and annoying when trying to sleep at night. I'm smarter than this and shouldn't have let this happen. Got to be smarter a Beast.

11 June 2016

Today's forecast was 95 with 1,000% humidity. i had 15 miles planned. Ugh, I knocked it out but it was VERY slow and not fun. I consumed 7 liters of water before arriving at camp. And have added 2.5 liters to that total in the evening so far. I'm staying in a shelter that is being replaced by a new one built a little further down the trail. I arrived just seeing the old, hot bug-filled one and setup. A couple arrived later and said they would look for the new one and tell me if found. Their parents were with them who carried in coolers of food and set it all on the picnic table next to me. I'm told nothing, I go to the privy after setting up camp, and come out to find all their stuff is missing. Not until later in the evening does the gf tell me they're sleeping in the new one tonight and having dinner over there..and no invite. My father will be appalled to read this because both of my parents go out of their way to provide trail magic to others. Then again no one measures up to them

10 June 2016

Happy to say the day went as planned again. Turned out to only be 13 miles to town (which is fine by me) where I was immediately offered a ride from the trailhead to the motel. The evening was relatively uneventful except that LS and i figured out that it was impractical for me to get up to Harper's Ferry this weekend so I could meet his family and friends. We were both bummed about it, however he understood that i need to be focusing on my hike right now and I'll catch up to him later when my trail legs are back. Pictures - a fearless deer / PATC volunteer weed whacking the trail / trees killed in forest fire with new growth all around / dead tree / Unidentified snake / East Coast Compton representin / leaving SNP / a hare reminding me I'm the tortoise.

9 June 2016

Finally, here is a boring, standard blog post with no frills or dramatic events. Got a ride from town to the trail around 10am, and crunched out 14 miles. I did my best to keep drinking fluids frequently and stay ahead of my body's needs but I won't know if i was successful for another few days. I'm thinking I'll go another 14 miles tomorrow, which puts me in the town of Front Royal, VA. I don't have the desire to go back into town so soon but it's the most logical destination available and it'll help me stay on pace with the group that I'm at the shelter with tonight. It feels really great being back out here and with everyone. Now I just need to catch LS.....

8 June 2016

This is a picture of Lea, her boyfriend Brent and me at the motel before they returned to Richmond. We must have some great genes to be middle-aged and still look this damn good ;)
-- SNAFU - Part 6 -- I'm told that it is safe to say that I would not have made it without a hospital. I still haven't fully processed that thought. The hospital discharged me at 11:30pm, into the care of my loving and dedicated sister Lea and her amazing boyfriend Brent. They drove up for the night, took off part of work the next day so they could stay the night and make sure I was ok before leaving the next day. Per the doctor's advice, i have spent two days rest in town to rehydrate (which is actually not easy to do) and I will return to the trail tomorrow. My own body is clearly my biggest challenge to overcome during this thru-hike. To quote the immortal words of Sir Edmund Hillary - "It is not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves."
-- SNAFU - Part 5 -- Upon the ambulance's arrival, my body was rejecting all fluids I tried to sip down, my arms had gone numb, I couldn't speak clearly and I just wanted to go to sleep. I'll be honest, I went from being embarrassed and feeling pathetic to being filled with fear and helplessness about the time I threw up red Gatorade on the floor, my hand slipped in it, and I was now laying cheek-down in it with no ability or even desire to move. Rescue squad arrived and focused on getting an IV in me and keeping me awake. After laying in the hospital for a couple of hours, I felt better from the intravenous hydration. In the end, my blood work showed everything was at normal levels (electrolytes, etc) except i was so low on water that it was "beginning to affect my kidneys and liver" as a result of the early stages of organ failure. By the time I finished hiking, my body was no longer accepting fluid intake, yet didn't have sufficient H2O to continue functioning anymore.
-- SNAFU - Part 4 -- While the elevation profile was easy, the rocky terrain was taxing and technical. Although I had plenty of water with me, I was already dehydrated before the Bears and now with my adrenaline pumping, water intake was difficult and no where near sufficient. I made it to the parking lot feeling quite delirious, immediately found a couple that gave me a ride to Luray, VA. In the backseat I felt nauseous, thirsty, and started falling in and out of consciousness. I insisted they dropped me off at a hotel where I promptly vomited outside, experienced full-body muscle cramping and laid on the lobby floor while "John" at the front desk of Best Western looked after me. My father researched dehydration and quickly suggested i ask for a rescue squad, I delayed about 30 minutes thinking it was overkill but when my conditioned worsened, John called 911.
-- SNAFU - Part 3 -- I spoke to my father on speaker phone while standing on the rock overlook and keeping my eyes on the Bears. Minutes later, the cubs went away downhill while momma remained keeping an eye on me. Please note that she NEVER ONCE huffed, growled, approached me or stood up on two legs. There were never any signs of aggression. After milling around for a few minutes she too went downhill towards her Cubs. My dad stayed on the phone for a bit longer as i continued hiking north on the trail until i felt any other bears ahead would have heard me approaching and had a chance to retreat into the brush before I saw them. I found a place to take a break, but now knew I had to hike an add'l 4 miles to get to a parking lot and hopefully find a ride into town since there was no place to camp anywhere beforehand now (and i wouldn't be able to make the intended shelter destination just past the lot).
-- SNAFU - Part 2 -- I hiked another .3miles through curvy trail bordered by very dense brush and groups of boulders, as I climbed to the mountain's ridge line. I suddenly came upon a momma bear on the trail ~20 feet in front. I turned around to discover two (different) cubs on the trail behind me. (Later I surmised they heard me approaching and came down the hill to get to momma but i crossed in front of their path first). My attempts to make loud noises and appear "large and Beastly" without appearing threatening to the cubs, were ineffective. While I continued to look around for a sideways exit to reduce my apparent threat level, i quickly called my father to tell him where I was in case this went south and seek advice on my predicament. As he picked up, I noticed the trail does a switchback after momma (north bound) and continues to my left (up to the ridge) where I found a short 6 foot side trail to a rock cropping overlook.

7 June 2016

-- SNAFU - Part 1 -- The day started off well - I was walking to some new tunes on my phone, meeting up with LS every 5 miles, keeping my feet dry, getting sufficient electrolytes, etc. As I approached a shelter around the 14 mile mark (a planned resting spot) I recognized that while I felt strong, I was clearly behind on my water intake and probably would have to stop there for the night in order to stop the sweating (fluid loss) and relax while concentrating on re-hydration methodically but not urgently. It's important to note that at this point I was clear-headed, rational, not tired but knew I should stop for the day. Then I arrived at the shelter to find two bear cubs occupying a tent site. I was surprised but not alarmed as it was easy to make loud noises to scare them off into the thick brush. However, i could not locate momma bear so I had to push on down the trail without resting (it's been ~5 miles at this point since last rest).

5 June 2016

My first day back on the trail was a late start so we decided to only go about 7-8 miles and tent at a campground. It was a good way to ease back into full-weight backpacking and it was great to be hiking with LS again. We ate dinner at a nearby lodge and went to bed early so we could start hiking the next day before 7:30am, since we had 18 miles planned for Monday. It didn't go as planned.....

4 June 2016

After my slack pack day, i stayed in town through Saturday to support my good friend Aaron who's mother passed away sadly earlier that week. The eulogy he gave was beautiful and moving, while his actions later that weekend were inspiring (he crushed his first Ironman Triathalon). Come Saturday my amazing sister graciously drove me back to the mountains in Shenandoah National Park to resume my hike with LS. She was supposed to drive back home the same day but her vertigo and an approaching storm convinced her to stay a night with us. She insisted on paying for a cabin we could all share. Amazingly generous. She spent the whole evening helping us do various chores and lending the use of her car to run errands. The next day she dropped us off at a trailhead that was out of her way before heading back home to her beloved "man piece" that she was missing. Thank you Lear, I love you so much!!

1 June 2016

Forgot to explain this guy.... He was getting water from the shelter on top of "The Priest" mountain. Naturally that means this is holy water which must be consumed in a kneeling stance. Something else unique to this shelter - rather than containing typical updates from hikers passing through, this log book contains everyone's "confessions" so that their sins may be absolved ;)
After spending a couple of days in Richmond, we determined that I may have been suffering from dehydration (causing the lethargic feelings) and the doc ran some tests that showed my body was fighting an infection related to the dehydration. Today - feeling much stronger and more optimistic - my mother drove out to the trail with me from Richmond, dropped me off for a 17 mile slack pack going from Salt Log* gap to the bottom of the Priest Mountain. It was a successful day and it's all thanks to my loving mother....who I suspect is keeping track of these favors in the form of an ever-growing honey-do list with my name on it, upon my completion of the thru-hike.

26 May 2016

I'm sitting here at the James River footbridge, waiting for LS, after another day of yellow blazing, remembering the last time I was here, was for my first hike with my ex-gf Siri, who helped instigate my recent tailspin. I can't help but wonder what I'm still doing out here on this hike. I've missed so many miles, everyday is a frustrating exercise in solving a new problem my sweat creates, it's only going to get worse in the coming months, and one of my best friends is in Richmond dealing with one of the toughest times of anyone's life, and I'm not there to help. Usually the idea of quitting at least comes with the joy of going back to your family and friends and the place that makes you happy. Although I do have those people I miss dearly, I'm not the same person back home as I am here. I don't have anyone or anything that is beckoning me home that I would be able to continue on with my life with, happy and content. I'm alone and frustrated on the trail, and worse off the trail.

21 May 2016

In short, the 22 mile hike was a success! I was a little bummed that the clouds were ruining the view on McAfee knob but they actually helped us take some great pictures up there. Later in the day, the sun came out to reveal the beautiful views at Tinker cliffs which we appreciated. Additionally we came across what looked like a place for bears to have a town hall meeting and then crap in a circle, all around an old fire pit and campsite. No sign of any bears nearby as we passed through, though they would've been tough to spot with all the thick VA vegetation and persistent fog found at most peaks that day. Fun fact - the first time i hiked this section of the A.T. was with my father (and Dusty our beagle), when I was a bratty 13 year-old and we planned to do the distance over 3 days, actually finished in two days, and I just covered it in one day at the age of 33 (also with a MUCH lighter slack pack on). I'm grateful for those memories, as well as the new ones I'm making now.

20 May 2016

LS and i have slacked 2 days In a row to determine how his leg was feeling and how my new shoes were performing. First day was just 8 miles over easy terrain. So far so good on both accounts. Second day was 14 miles over very rocky terrain that included "Dragon's Tooth" mountain (see the rock pics). Towards the end, LS's leg acted up a little but my new shoes performed perfectly. Tomorrow is going to be a real test for both however - 22 miles which includes McAfee Knob and Tinker mountain on a day forecasted to be raining the entire time. Ironically water sources are almost none-existent after 10 miles and the only shelter available to take a break in the afternoon is closed due significant recent bear activity. Oh did I mention we don't cross any roads or other trails? So if something goes wrong tmrw - we have no bailout options or ability to get off the mountain without finishing the hike. Fingers crossed this goes well! ;)
My father had to return to Richmond while my mother, LS and I were fortunate enough to spend the next several days as guests in Cynthia and Philip Rhodes' beautiful home. We've been spoiled by Cynthia's elaborate and delicious dinner and breakfast spreads, Philip's easy-going nature and willingness to make multiple shuttle runs all while they both seemingly carry on as if all this is just another ordinary day, and not an imposition on them. But that's just their nature - caring, generous easy-to-love people. I'm very thankful to have them and their kids (Rachel & Doug) in my life.

18 May 2016

We carefully made our way down the trail 1.5 miles to a road crossing where a car just so happened to be and with its owners inside who offered to give us a ride to town. Lucky perfect timing. They dropped us off in Salem/Roanoke area where we regained cell reception and I learned that both my parents were almost in town (a pleasant surprise) and they were going to help us slack pack the next few days! I was overwhelmed by their endless generosity and support. Despite my father's pinched nerve in his back, he helped me pick up my shoes from an outfitter, go to visit my grandmother, as well as sat at a trailhead offering trail magic to others while LS and I finished a day of slack packing before driving us to a relatives house nearby.....

17 May 2016

I only have one picture from today because it was pouring, muddy and included approximately 2.5 miles of large smooth rocks slanted at a 45 degree angle. Between the slipperiness of the rocks and the briar bushes on either side, I was lucky to get through there frustrated but unscathed. LS however was not so lucky. I was waiting for him at a shelter, 12 miles from our start, and a bunch of people showed up before him and told me he'd fallen several times and was movin slow. Upon his arrival, I learned that his IT-band was hurt again during one of the falls and needed to stop for the day. Now we need to figure out how to get a ride at the next road crossing, with no cell reception, no casual traffic on the MTN road, and no town anywhere close by. The risk of hiking up the next MTN tmrw and encountering more rocks with his injury, then getting stuck, is just too great.

16 May 2016

We left the Mountain Lake lodge around 10:30 because a shuttle wasn't available until then. The late start forced us to stop after just 11 miles at a shelter because rain was coming early the next morning and we were planning on doing 22 miles that day. Didn't want to carry a wet tent.

15 May 2016

We mostly succeeded in our goal of 20 miles yesterday. We made it 19 miles before yogi-ing a ride down to Mountain Lake Lodge (where the movie "Dirty Dancing" was filmed). We weren't planning to stay originally, but my summer sleeping bag is rated a good 15 degrees higher than the forecasted temps that night. We quickly learned the expensive lodging did not include a tv in the room (no big deal) and there was no laundry detergent anywhere on the premises (they outsource the linens laundry) for the coin laundry. The solution - a maintenance guy and i took a golf cart to a house down the road, snuck into their downstairs laundry room, filled up a coffee mug with their detergent, and quickly drove off as someone was coming out the front door. It was a hilariously slow getaway. The most useful amenity our room offered was a window that opens, and a ledge on the outside where I could keep my boots, without stinking up the room.

14 May 2016

I'm not dead. Just been sidelined with a slew of one-time, ailments, gear failures, etc. Rather than recount them all, I'd rather just mention the one still outstanding and then focus on the hike ahead of me. My biggest obstacle presently, is finding a new boot that provides both superior rigidity and protection on the sole to allow the many VA miles on rocky ridge-tops, go by without incident this year. My current "Oboz" boots have this, however the boot must also be non-waterproof and able to vent out the air and sweat from my foot all day during the summer months. I'm currently waiting on two different sizes of Vasque Breeze 2.0 (non-GTX) being shipped to Roanoke, where I'll be in about 4 days. Today LS and i left Pearisburg, VA hiked just 8 miles in the rain and decided to tent because LS is worn out from his past week of high-mileage days. Tmrw's goal is either 15 or 20 miles - bringing us right up close to my Alma Mater (VA Tech) and Blacksburg, VA. So tempting to stop by.....
Pictures - Easy walk through a field / lovely views of the chemical plant we passed by / a contaminated water supply that surely was unrelated to the chemical plant and nearby landfill / tonight's campsite / my attempt to use tonight's freezing non-stop winds as a clothes dryer. They'll likely freeze.

6 May 2016

Pictures - a cat at a distillery in Marion, Va that realized I was warm / an old school house / LS allegedly breaking the door knob on old school house / pretty pasture / 25% of the way there marker / broken toe on busted foot / trail bridge / Chestnut Bluff shelter / Lear's rainbow / a worthy bumper sticker.

5 May 2016

The next day's slack section was to include the point I came off the trail last year due to a broken foot. However, after going just 10 miles in with little weight on my back, my right foot became extremely sore and painful to walk on. The pain was underneath a large wide blister on the ball of my foot, but the soreness was deeper than usually felt from just a surface blister (I have several of those too, no big deal). I decided to take the better safe than sorry route this year and left the trail again. A visit to the doctor revealed no definite explanation for the intensity of the pain, but was certain nothing was broken. A possible infection may be the cause so i was told to take 2 zero days and 10 days of antibiotics. We picked up Long Stride from the trail and I had to add a giant 28.5 mile section of the trail to do after i reach Katahdin. Grateful for my family's support. Grateful I'll be able to continue hiking, and with LS. Struggling to keep my anxiety at bay.
Difficult to sum up (and frustrating to think about) the last few days but here goes.... Upon leaving Lost mountain shelter, the fact that the pack I was sold in Gatlinburg was too big, had come to a tilt. Between rain, humidity and my sweating, my pack was sliding off my waist and tearing at the skin of my hips and crushing my sides as i tried desperately to make it tight enough to stay up. Useless, I determined I couldn't make it by foot to Marion, VA where the store sent my (medium sized) replacement pack. So I came off the trail, Long Stride continued on, and i got a ride down to Abingdon, VA for the night to plan my next move. My mother was generous enough to cut short her visit with some friends a few hours up the road and come down to help me do 2 days of slack packing to get in the miles, but not tear up my body anymore with an ill-fitting heavy pack. I owe her big for this. Then the next dilemma arose....

4 May 2016

Ok, my best friend always told me to end a b*#ching session with something positive or funny. So before the problems (noted above) occurred, I was hiking through the Grayson-Highlands state park where I crossed the 500 mile marker and hiked amongst the area's wild ponies :) Pictures - trail passing through "Fat man's squeeze" / Highlands / Pony / another pony / 500 mile marker / pony / ponies / consuming a manly margarita on Cinco de Mayo / Bonnie & Bill hanging with Short Stride

2 May 2016

If you are having trouble seeing an entire picture I've posted and are viewing it on your phone - try tapping on the picture and it should bring up the full frame image and allow you to swipe back and forth between the other pictures.
Decided for some unknown reason, to stay in a Teepee that the Woodchuck hostel offered. As a thunderstorm approached town, I chose the only form of lodging that deliberately had a hole in the roof. Left Damascus via the AT / The Creeper Trail where the two were overlapped (Google the creeper trail, it's fun). Hiked 15 miles to the Lost Mountain shelter, which took a while because i was dealing with (in my sisters words.....) The Green Apple Squirts and having to run off the trail every hour and a half. We were also racing a storm and mostly beat it. Pictures - Main St Damascus / the Teepee / hiker "Good Talk" with a 3 plate dinner / a fugly house / excellent breakfast quesadilla from Mojos / the trail's evil exit from town / The Creeper trail

30 April 2016

We left the hostel and were shuttled out to TN91 where we began our most ambitious day yet, and succeeded in hiking 22 miles. Long Stride's IT-band gave him hell all day and my feet pads were displeased with this decision but we stayed together and still managed to arrive before a thunder storm. This trek included the exciting milestone of crossing the border into VA, where we stayed 2 nights in the town of Damascus. The only other town (besides Hot Springs, NC) where the AT runs right down Main Street. Pictures - our one room cabin at Black Bear hostel / our very helpful emergency exit plan from said cabin / hiker breakfast / fire circle / pretty pasture / another way to cross barbed wire / a welcome sign at border / border sign / entrance to Damascus, VA

29 April 2016

Slack packed ~21 miles today and stayed a second night at the hostel. We had a good time today and it helped my mood. Tomorrow we're going for a big 22 mile day to get to Damascus, VA. David Porter - thank you for your offer to send me Mac & cheese but I'll have to take you up on that offer in the near future (too close now). Looking forward to having cell reception tmrw and the day after (taking a zero) to call everyone I can, that I've been missing.

28 April 2016

Oh yeah, the pictures are of an area in the forest that had to be deliberately burned in order to stop the spread of a several-thousand-acre forest fire in the area just days before that was believed to be the work of an arsonist. Of all the innocent places and forms of life to attack, why does someone pick a forest?? My guess - they're a coward and know the forest can't fight back. I sure hope Karma does.
Rough day. Hiked just 7 miles down to Black Bear hostel. Left foot starting giving me all kinds of problems. Put me in a terrible negative mood. Have to yellow-blaze a 7 mile section tmrw and do it after I reach Katahdin. The hostel lost power around 6:30pm today. Still not back on at 9:30pm. They're on well water so no faucets or toilets work at all. Wondering why this is a problem? Sure I'm used to living in the woods.... Where do you poop in a camp ground full of people and cabins neighboring private residences on both sides. I'm also thirsty for water. This Completely defeats the purpose of paying $45 a night for a cabin split between the four of us. This didn't help my day.

27 April 2016

Today we left the hostel and apparently entered a Bigfoot sanctuary with the plan to knock out 18 miles and arrive at Moreland Gap shelter. We succeeded, and ended up crossing the 400 mile marker today too! Woohoo! I arrived at an already full shelter so I setup my tent, which was my intention anyways because a storm was rolling in and I read that this shelter doesn't stop NW storms. Guess where this one came from.... I rode out the T-storm dry and happy, while the shelter occupants affixed a hammock fly to the shelter's open side, to stay dry while the rain was blowing in. I just ate two bags of peanut M&Ms and need to go to sleep but keep thinking about my friend Aaron who I desperately need to talk to.

26 April 2016

On Tuesday, we hiked the remaining 7.5 miles that contained "balds" and we left N.C. for the last time. Now it's it's just TN for a few days until VA :) We spent the day/evening at "Mountain Harbor" hostel. Excellent place. The bunk rooms are above the barn that sadly doesn't have horses in it anymore (bad accident this past year). However this place boasts the best $12 breakfast you'll eat on the trail. Served as a buffet, i was happily stuffed. Though despite all the eating, my weight is falling off too fast (scale reads 190). For the record, I began the trail at 225 pounds just 41 days ago. I need to figure out a way to consume closer to 6,000 calories a day. I know it sounds like a good problem to have but it's going to become a real problem if i don't start to plateau soon.

25 April 2016

Long day. Started at 8:15am and didn't finish until after 6:30pm. Usually we knock out 15 mi by 2:30 but today we were blessed with running into multiple trail magic offerings - starting with some from "Kansas" who thru-hiked last year and wanted to "give back." Awesome lady. That food got us up Roan Mountain which boasts the highest elevation shelter on the A.T. (6,257 ft). We then proceeded to one of my favorite parts of the trail where we hiked over several "balds", which were beautiful. We also stopped by the "Overmountain" shelter, aka The Barn, because it's pretty unique. I'd say something more interesting but I'm tired so i included more pictures for you to look at instead. Enjoy :)

24 April 2016

Not much to report today - we went 14 miles today and stopped early because I lost steam while refilling my water at a shelter. One cool thing that happened - while taking a break early in the day, i discovered that I was talking to the CEO of Z-packs! "Buzz" and the company founder were out on the AT for a few days testing some of their new gear. Very nice guy. Wish I could afford some of their gear. Other pictures include - the right way to leave a fire pit for the next people / a beautiful pine area of the forest / a possible woodpecker sighting far up a tree

23 April 2016

The hike out of town was a late, slow one. The weather wasn't cooperating so we had very humid, overcast and all around dreary day. We managed to squeeze out 12 mi and tent on a very windy gap. Along the way we received some trail magic, but unfortunately a real horse's ass showed up. Tonight's food was prepared half-in our tents because the wind is so freakin strong here. It pulled up two of Long Stride's stakes and his tent made a great kite. My mac & cheese dinner was awesome except for when it was interrupted by a shadow on my tent that greatly resembled my hanging water filter outside on a branch that had apparently come loose and was pouring filtered water all over the ground out there. I helplessly watched the outline of my water drain as I scraped the bottom of my dinner pot, full and currently warm.

21 April 2016

We earned our short day (6 mi) into Erwin where we stayed a night "Uncle Johney's" hostel. The place has a good vibe with friendly people running it. Apparently cats love it too, including one (Ghost) that decided to sleep in our cabin for the night by darting in the door when we closed it. Ghost took turns sleeping on my bunk, then Long Stride's until 4:30am when he wanted to play and kept walking over my neck and face until i woke up. The kitty was evicted.
Happy to report we succeeded in our 20 mile quest! Our bodies held up pretty well too except for some muscle cramps in my quad and calf. I should take Peter's advice and look into salt tablets. Anyway, the real exciting part of the day is when I thought i found the remnants of an old dwelling supposedly no longer visible on Big Bald mountain (read the story in the pic). The wooden table looks too new but the fireplace could def be from the 1800s right!? I'd love to know if this is the site. It's just a random story that the ATC included in the guide book. All in all a good day. The next day, we headed to Erwin, TN

20 April 2016

I should also mention that the split rock picture from my last post can be found on "Big Butt mountain." See the connection?......
Hiked 15 miles from Jerry's cabin shelter to Hogback Ridge shelter. Tmrw's ambitious plan is 20 miles to "No Business Knob" shelter, with a bailout plan at Spivey gap (15 mi). Long Stride is on the mend, feeling stronger, almost 100%. Pictures - a cool split rock / a memorial for one of the earlier thru-hikers (1968) / one way the trail crosses bard wire fencing / an inviting head-soaking waterfall / a tan or dirt line on my ankle / a 3 ounce device used to fill up someone's sleep pad / a popular privy style where the seat is moved periodically to keep the "cone" from getting too high at any point.

19 April 2016

Too tired to write much. The day started off good but Long Stride had a scratchy throat. It turns out he's caught a cold and it's sucking the energy out of him. He's being a trooper but as a result, we shortened our day from 18 miles planned to just 11 miles which included blue blazing a 1.5 mile section because it's riddled with lots of boulders and not conducive to someone who's short on energy. Not to mention i hated that section last year. So we vowed to hike it later this year together after Katahdin. Tonight was the first time I ate Velveeta Mac & cheese with bacon bits on the trail and it was magical. Please mail me some if you have the means :) Tonight is also the first time I was given "Moonshine Cherries" from a glass jar on the trail. A delightful night cap. The last picture is of a fellow CPA "iWalk" who fell asleep while reading.

18 April 2016

The woman Angie, who was waiting on her family member, found him. His dog couldn't handle the hike so they were waiting back at the other trailhead. But to thank us for our earlier offer to go looking for "Abe", she showed up to tell us he was alright and brought some real spring water from their house along with MORE fruit and a giant dark chocolate bar =) I swear, these amazing and positive experiences of human nature at its best, are healing my outlook on people in the best way possible.
As we hung our bear bags, a man I've dubbed "Gentleman Jack", walked up with his white dog named "Blaze." He lives up the road and asked if we needed any water! We enthusiastically accepted the offer. At the same time, a woman walked up from the other side of the road asking if we've seen anyone come Southbound off the trail. She was waiting to pick up a family member on a day hike that had not shown up yet. He was late, she was concerned. We offered to walk up the trail and look for him if it gets dark and he's still missing. She thanked us and decided to drive and check the other end of the trail in the meantime. Fast-forward an hour to just after 9pm. Jack (an ATC member) brought us a gallon of water (we told the other hiker across the street so we could share with him), as well as grapes and other snacks! Very generous gentleman. We eat, drink, and reflect on how amazing this experience is. We retire to our tents, I start writing this blog entry and then.....
Wow, where do I begin?... We left Hot Springs this morning, headed to the first shelter (11 mi) but ended up doing 15ish to a tent site by semi-major road. Saw a sign and evidence of some very recent prescribed burn activity. Surprised they did that during peak thru-hike season. I guess the world doesn't revolve around us after all ;) Tonight's tent site is a 1/4 mile down from "Mom's" country store where we indulged in microwaveable sandwiches and candy. Fortunately for Long Stride and me, they sold bottled water too. Our tent site was labeled in the guide book as having "reliable" water but despite warnings from my old man, we risked it (I didn't think to tell him but i knew about the store and had it as a backup plan). Turns out it was dry/disgusting runoff from the road that wasn't potable. We bought some water, the store closed and we realized it wasn't enough. Another hiker tenting nearby just showed up looking for water too. We were all stuck. Then some magic happened.....

17 April 2016

As a Hokie, I have to acknowledge this day 9 years ago when the worst tragedy to ever occur at VA Tech, cost the lives of 33 people. Today, we are all Hokies. We are VA Tech.
On Saturday we Hiked 8ish miles into Hot Springs, NC where I got to see my folks one last time for a while. Coincidentally we all arrived in town when a "Hiker Festival" was going on :) This town embraces thru-hikers as it is one of two towns where the A.T. actually runs right through Main Street and is marked with the official AT logo in the sidewalk where the trail runs. It was a good town for a zero before a long-ish haul to Erwin, TN. Pictures - AT in sidewalk / hikers bathing in the river / an awesome dog passing by on a skateboard / a monument to Dixie / me having fun on a hammock while talking to my perfect sister on the phone :)

15 April 2016

Today we hiked over the beautiful Max Patch bald mountain which was supposed to be part of a 16 mile day but thanks to receiving so much trail magic in various places we were running late and tired and stopped short 1.3 miles. Pictures - max patch / view / bridge over a creek / little girl & pet rat / dinner with 2 jelly types AND Parmesan cheese with bacon bits added / a tree that just wants a hug. (Long Stride spotted it)
Just met a man doing trail maintenance, he is 93 years old!! Upon hearing that he's an inspiration to the rest of us and how much we appreciate all his efforts, his response - "Thank you but I don't think I do anymore than the next person." This guy is a true outdoorsMAN.

14 April 2016

In the Smokies, a thru-hiker is required to purchase a special permit for their duration in the park. One of the conditions we agree to is - we must stay at shelters each night, and each day we hike forward to at least the next one. This moving forward aspect helps to minimize the bottle-necking of hikers all wanting to stay at the same shelter each night. 2 days ago, I hiked hard and fast 12 miles to get to a particular shelter, ahead of everyone else so i would have a spot inside (rather than having to tent another night in mine that leaks). To my surprise, it's almost full!! I get the last spot luckily. But how could this happen? A group that stayed there the night before, saw the rain in the morning and just didn't move. Screwing every single one of the estimated 35 people that arrived there cold and wet, looking for their well-deserved reprieve. When i asked one the guys why he did it... "Because I'm a bad person." These people really couldn't see the forest for the trees.

13 April 2016

Since last year, I have been hoping to avoid the "Standing Bear Farm" hostel this time around. Fortunately my folks came to the rescue again picking us up to stay at a hotel instead and brought a new tent that worked in rain. The main reason for the hotel stay was due to laundry needs and the fact the hostel's facilities were.....ineffective. However, we had a wonderful stay at the Best Western and hiked an enjoyable 10 miles the next day. Long Stride be-friended a dog, I added raspberry jam to my dinner and we topped off the evening with some cups of my new addiction - Swiss miss with marshmallows :)

12 April 2016

Ok, fair warning - I'm climbing up on my soapbox here - There are rules to be followed while hiking in the Smokies, and each one is important for a different reason. Please know, that the MAJORITY of Thru-hikers respect and obey these rules. The other night, a couple of groups did not. From the pics you can clearly see a sign that says "Restoration Area, Please Stay Out." (I had to move a t-shirt from the sign for the pic). This is an area of the forest that has been damaged from too much human traffic, and requires our absence to heal. After a solid day of rain, everyone decided to walk all over the area and dry out their tents, boots, etc in the sun. One 70 year old woman didn't see what was wrong with eating her dinner there "its just so nice to sit here in the sun." Unbelievable. And I'm not done......

11 April 2016

While waiting for our shuttle back to the trail, I ran into my friend Limey* (he's British), who fell while hiking up to Clibgman's Dome and broke 3 of his fingers. Another friend named Chicken Feet, had to set all three of them on the spot. Later Chicken Feet acknowledged he'd never done that before but saw it on YouTube once! lol. It's easy to fall on this section of the trail - the second pic is of pure ice on a downhill section that lasted a couple of miles. It. Was. Slow. The next pic was a subtle reminder that Mount Katahdin was not close. Last picture is of the largest food bag I have ever seen. Or maybe it's just a torpedo.

9 April 2016

So what can I say about Gatlinburg? It's a guilty pleasure of Americana ridiculousness. Lots of places to buy cheap thrills and deep-fried Oreos (I lust for those suckers). My father came through with a very generous gift for us to stay at the Doubletree hotel that among other amenities, had a freakin indoor water slide that was open until midnight. Being the adults we are, we indulged (video coming soon to FB). An aquarium was visited as well because how many times on a mountain do you get to see sea life? Unfortunately, I also had to visit an outfitters and replace my backpack because an important strap on my hip belt had snapped off and was not able to be repaired. I mailed it home, hopefully a call to Osprey will get me a replacement or free repair after telling them I'm a thru-hiker. They don't want to get a bad name on the trail so I'll keep you posted with their response. The last picture was taken because the fish were watching me as I was eating a fish sandwich.
On the morning I reached Clingman's Dome (highest point on the AT ~ 6,600 ft) I was hiking in a t-shirt and shorts with gloves in sub-freezing temperatures with 30mph winds - not because I'm an idiot, and not because i think I'm tough - because being cold is better than wet and cold. My body sweats because it's in motion, not because of the environment. Once i get closer to my finishing point of the day, I wear more protective layers if I need to and just sweat it out since I know I can change clothes into something dry soon. As I reached the Dome, everything was par for the course and I couldn't wait to hitch-hike into Gatlinburg with some friends and take a planned zero day. To my surprise, my exceptional parents were there to shuttle us into town :) We enjoyed a warm ride, with snacks and drinks that made the transition into Gatlinburg, TN an easy one.

8 April 2016

The next couple of days hiking were a blur for two reasons: freezing temps and excessive winds. The first morning we woke up to a beautiful snow on the ground. Then it started to hail on us. No big deal, I have the proper winter hiking gear. Except, I'm Beast. I spent the next two days trying to hike hard and fast enough to stay ahead of the crowd on the trail, but slow enough so that my sweating doesn't soak my clothes. Once I'm wet, the threat of hypothermia is real. Stopping during the day for a break is not really possible because I'll get cold. To give you an example how cold and windy it is out here, note the picture of my water drinking tube - it's frozen. That happened after just 3 miles. The rest of the time we were carrying dead weight in our packs in the form of inaccessible water.

7 April 2016

During my zero day at Fontana Dam lodge, a sudden pain/tight muscle feeling started in the arch of my left foot. Since this is a very similar ache that preceded the breaking of my right foot last year, I was more than worried all night. Never slept. However, the decision was to try hiking as planned the next morning (Entering The Great Smoky Mountains National Park) and if my foot got worse, my parents wouldn't be too far to come back and shuttle me to an x-ray machine. Turns out, my foot is tender from my 18 miles the other day, and i just need to go real slow the next few days, especially downhill. I was lucky enough to knock out 11 miles to the first shelter in the park before EVERYONE else arrived and filled up the place above capacity (16 people vs 12 allowed). It's in the 20s tonight with 40mph winds. Luckily, all the shelters here have a fireplace. Sadly, no privy.

5 April 2016

Today was supposed to be just 11 miles but I was feeling strong and ambitious so Long Stride and I pushed 18 miles and made it to Fontana dam. Here we are residing at the "Hilton" shelter. It earned its name because it's maintained by the authority that builds and runs the dam system in the area (exact name TBD). Therefore the shelter includes a working bathhouse with flushing toilets and a SHOWER! There's also a water spigot, a solar cell phone charging station and a ridiculously beautiful view of the lake. The current outside temperature is cool and comfortable, I'm clean and stuffed with food. The other guys found a frisbee and are playing a game with the only rule being, if you drop the frisbee, you are instantly infected with Noro (virus). Life is good.

4 April 2016

Just had an autocorrect issue pointed out to me. I'll be meeting the sisters at Fontana "Dam" in a couple of days. Not "Damn." Apparently i use curse words too often when typing on my phone.
The 10 miles went relatively well today. The sisters (Allegra & Anna) wanted to push a bit further today (13 miles) but the arches of my feet started feeling sore, so that was my cue to stop. Last year my broken foot was preceded by a small sharp "ache" in the bottom of my foot. So I decided to stay here at tent city apparently, for the night. Long Stride and I will likely meet up with the sisters at Fontana Damn in a day or two where I also get to see my parents!! So excited for their visit, i can't describe it =) On a random note, I'm also really looking forward to getting some single-serving packets of jelly. Apparently that stuff tastes great when mixed in with just about any meal. Aaron - try it, trust me. Lea - new twist on a meal idea for Brent. Brent - don't knock it until you try it!
Here's today's little 10 mile exercise in hiking ability.

3 April 2016

Hiked an easy-ish 5 miles downhill to the N.O.C. (Nantahala Outdoor Center). A fun little compound that is built around white water rafting but has learned to accommodate thru-hikers since the AT runs right through it. Stayed the night here with Long Stride and threw our clothes together in one load of laundry. However, much to our surprise, we discovered that we both have the same size, brand name and color underwear. Sorting that out was a hilarious act of educated guessing.

2 April 2016

Well we WERE happy and warm until we noticed that some people tenting up the hill left the fire pit next to the shelter ALONE smoldering, and gone to bed. Well the 40mph gusts picked those embers right up and started new large flames in the now abandoned fire pit. You see, the water source here is back up the trail about 2/10s a mile up a steep hill, so getting some to douse the fire was apparently not an option anyone went for. Jerks. So, the shelter people (my group) decided to prevent catastrophe - I got out of a very warm bed, and used water donated by everyone in the shelter (so I didn't have to donate mine) and completely put out the flames and prevented any remaining embers from flaring up again. Grateful the woods are safe tonight. Thankful I'm sharing the shelter with other awesome responsible hikers and disappointed with the folks up the hill.
Happy and warm in the shelter :)
After 4 miles of hiking this morning we came upon more trail magic!! Thank you Burningtown Baptist church for the excellent Biscuits and gravy and cookies :) I was so stuffed that i was literally running to the next shelter's privy. I barely made it. Saw one of the best 360-degree views today from Wesser watch tower. Tonight however it's supposed to get down into the 20s and I'm so happy to be in a shelter that's blocking the current 20 mph wind with 40mph gusts. I'm sleeping with my water filter inside my bag because if it freezes, it's broken. Thawing it doesn't help.

31 March 2016

After another breakfast at the Baptist church, we left Franklin and went 11 miles to Wayah Bald shelter. The picture showing the catastrophe of a hotel room was the "party room" at our hotel. We always have one in every town. Pic of the cat is "Nancy" in a bookstore. She felt the beastly warmth of my lap and decided to make me into a bed.

30 March 2016

Taking a well deserved zero day in Franklin, NC. Splitting the cost of a room with Anna & Allegra at the Budget Inn. A local Baptist Church offers a free breakfast (and shuttle) in the morning so we all gathered outside in anticipation of the feast. The people were great, the food was appreciated and all with only a few brief minutes of scripture quoting. Later in the day, we visited "Main street coffee & yogurt" where a hiker can grab a "pay it forward" tag with a type of drink written on it that was already paid for by a previous patron. Very cool idea :)
Had another hard-push day yesterday, hiking 12 miles into Winding Stair Gap where we caught a shuttle into Franklin, NC. The most difficult part of the day's hike was going (straight) up Albert Mtn. and reaching the 100 mile mark. The climb was definitely a rock scramble where trekking poles are useless but the views atop from a watch tower were worth it. The pics of the sign and beers are basically saying that a hiker lost those poles and were left there for them to be retrieved. As a thank you for not taking the poles, the beers are free to any hiker passing by. There was also a group of trail angels about 3 miles earlier at a road crossing offering beers to thru-hikers. Many indulged, sadly i couldn't :-/

29 March 2016

Today was an unplanned 16 mile adventure! The day started off rough - very cold (34 degrees) with lots of rocks on the trail. But after about 4 miles, the ups & down hills turned real gradual with mainly soft dirt on the trail, which felt like carpet :) Today was supposed to be just 12/13 miles but I was inspired to push a little further by two sisters (Anna & Allegra) and a guy I met the day before (Long Stride). Together we made it to Betty's creek Gap where we're tenting for the night. The picture I posted of my boot covered in what looks like white powder - is actually SALT. That's right, so much sweat drips off me during the day that my boots are covered in the Beastly amounts of my salty sweat. Never doubt the justification behind my trail name.

28 March 2016

So I made a run for the border today and got it (and then some). I'm officially back in NC! Knocked out 12 miles today after leaving the hostel feeling refreshed and receiving some great trail magic to start the day - a very nice woman at the hostel agreed to give me a ride the half mile uphill back to the trail and gave me an "Easter Basket" of sweets too :) I unfortunately didn't get her name but hope she finds my blog so I can thank her for the generosity. On a different note - i had to take a picture of this shelter's (Muskrat creek) privy because that wired-in section below the structure is where everything "drops" and it's completely visible from the shelter's picnic table down the hill. At least you know when it's occupied or free.....

27 March 2016

Just received a few pictures from one of my best friends Aaron, who is apparently enjoying the company of some of the friendly residents jn Savannah. Apparently there are more available women there, than on the trail so I sent him back the last picture :) However, maybe if I was a tri-athlete like him, I'd be a chick magnet too. Little jealous, but not worried about that kind of thing right now. Live it up Aaron!
Happy Easter! I celebrated the holiday by hiking 11 miles in a light drizzle but with a soaking....everything as a constant breeze chills me without mercy. Fortunately my destination today was a hostel (Top of Georgia hostel) that my father called ahead for me and reserved a tent spot because the place was packed with hikers looking to dry out their gear (Thanks Old man). The biggest struggle with today's hike was going down hill. When it's this wet, everything is muddy and covered in slick wet leafs that significantly kill your pace if you're being smart and careful. I found that my pace uphill was actually slightly faster at times (~ 2 mph) compared to the descents. I was told you should always have both trekking poles and one foot planted at all times before taking your next step, to avoid falling. Good advice, tough to consistently execute.

26 March 2016

Feeling somewhat recovered but still concerned about my feet, I had to return to the trail and put in at least a few miles. So Yesterday I just did 5.5 miles into the "Tray Mountain Wilderness." Despite me telling them that it's mis-spelled last year, they still haven't corrected it. Oh well, i was able to grab the last spot in the shelter before it rained. But that apparently didn't matter because the mountain was sitting right in the middle of a cloud that soaked everything, wether it was covered or not. Sleeping bags, clothes, food, shoes - all soaked in the morning.

25 March 2016

Forgot to mention, the picture of the toiletry bag and the glass bottle of Armani cologne - was found in a shelter on the trail. Someone was actually hiking with those things and justifying the weight, up until that point apparently. They left it there for someone else to carry out and throw away. Fortunately a ridge runner from the ATC was there and agreed to pack it out (despite this NOT being the job of a ridge runner). Trail etiquette is critical, and the "leave no trace" principle is as important to practice as it is difficult to enforce on AT.

24 March 2016

The second half of my hike yesterday was slowed down by a section of trail that greatly resembled the rocks & roots terrain residing in Maine. Footpath my ass. That cluster-f*ck section gave birth to a whole new set of blisters and hot spots on my feet. So I'm trying to be smart and take ANOTHER zero day in Helen, GA (aka Germany 2.0). Festive looking town that was re-born by a force of change to encourage tourism after it lost its main industrial lifeblood in the first half of the 20th century. There is a trout tournament this weekend and this Germanic / fairy tale-themed town is flooded with Dixie flag-flying pickup trucks and Harley Davidson biker groups. Fun, but quite the cultural clash. Anxious to get back to the mountains.

23 March 2016

Apparently a day of walking along the ridge with a few short up hills is more challenging than a 9 mile climb the day before. Granted it was warmer today too so that may have sucked some energy from me. The last few downhills were actually more challenging than an uphill a because it was mostly loose rocks which are rough on the feet and easy to roll an ankle on. However today's slow progress was broken up by yet some more much appreciated trail magic from a guy who "is just doing the Christian thing for hikers." --Thank you friend. - after loading up on Rice Krispies, peanut butter nabs and letting my feet dry out in the sun.....I checked on the latest weather. T-storms tmrw 85% chance around 6pm. I'm headed to The town Helen, GA (10ish miles hiking then hitch hike to town) where I have a mail drop waiting for me with a re-supply. Hopefully i can get down there before the storm gets here.

22 March 2016

Success! Blood Mountain completed. 11 miles, no problem. Took my time though, about 6 hours with longggg breaks at view points. Blood MTN shelter is all stone and would be cool to stay in except it's freezing inside and a bear canister is required for the area. Spending the night at Neels Gap instead which has a famous outfitter/hostel where lots of people decide to dropout of their hike (~20%) as well as help people shakedown their packs to get their weight down to a minimum. Lots of gear is either dumped or traded here, see pictures. However I'm lucky enough to be staying in a cabin down the road with this couple (Amber & Andy) that we're happy to split the cost with any other thru-hiker looking for a nicer place to crash than a hostel basement. Tmrw - 11 miles to Low Gap.
A combination of the bruised ankles needing rest and reports of black ice all over the ridge tops, forced me to take "a zero" yesterday. Very boring and frustrating but I used the time to figure out a different way to lace my shoes so that it takes pressure off my ankle but still holds the foot from sliding. Today's plan is the same as yesterday's. The picture I posted is a screen shot of today's hike, in a profile view (hiking north, reads left to right).

20 March 2016

One additional note - the wind outside is howling so hard that the occasional extra-strength gust will rattle the windows, as snow flurries zoom past like white bullets fired from a gun. Going to bed thinking warm thoughts and appreciating my shelter from the 20 degree wind chill.

19 March 2016

Well, the day started off great- 1.5 down the trail at a road crossing we all received some trail magic breakfast from Benchmark ministries. I eagerly consumed some oatmeal with raspberries, bacon and whatever else I could reach. After about 5 miles, 2 dilemmas developed - my Beastly sweating had soaked my only pair of gloves with me, and there is snow/freezing rain in the forecast with my destination being a tent site. Wet and cold with an approaching storm is just asking for it. Additionally the tops of my ankles have developed bruises on them, and it's painful to step uphill. I assume I just tied my boots too tight, too high and they need a short break. The decision was obviously. I hitched a ride from a church volunteer to a hostel down the road. It's basically a bunk room and bathroom above a gas station. But for $20 including laundry, it's a solid deal. Tomorrow's goal - Summit Blood Mtn. Stay the night in Neel's Gap, 10 miles.
Correction to last entry - last night I was at Hawk mountain shelter, Gooch shelter is my home tonight. Unfortunately I limited my miles today because of rain that never came (~8 miles). Apparently a hiker at this shelter last night had a heart attack and had to be air-lifted after 6 hikers carried the man down to a clearing 1.4 miles away. The pictures are of a friendly couple I met before starting the trail at Amicalola lodge. They caught up with me at the shelter a did a little stretching. Their father Wayne is here as well and acknowledges he's using the couple as his Sherpas to lighten his pack's weight.

18 March 2016

Made it to Gooch shelter with no problem. About 4 hours of hiking with a very nice couple who continued on to the next shelter. With lots of time to kill this afternoon, and totally ok with taking it easy, I spent the next few hours talking to the other thru-hikers and enjoying the comfortable familiarity of being back among the trail family. Plan on taking on tomorrow's miles with two very cool guys named Jared (from NY) and Jeremy (Arkansas). Minimum distance is 8+ miles. Btw - completely shocked to find only ONE OTHER PERSON setup in the shelter when I arrived. Everyone had setup their tents! I couldn't believe it! where is everyone?? No complaints here though. Guess everyone's hungover from yesterday. it's 8:30 now, almost hiker midnight, happily passing out now before the mice come out and run all over me.

17 March 2016

Driving down to Georgia where I'll stay the night with my awesome parents at the Amicalola Lodge, just below Springer mountain. Tomorrow I start my trek early in the morning, hopefully getting a head start on the 60-70 other people expected to be starting the same day. Since I'm heading out a month earlier this year, in the middle of "busy season", this is double the number of people compared to last year. First day's goal: 8 miles to Hawk Mountain shelter. And have a S.O.S.-free evening. (Read last year's blog). Happy St. Patrick's Day everyone!!