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Something I’ve Left Out For a Reason – My (stoogy) Siblings

As some of you probably noticed, I failed to mention anything about the going away party at Jay’s in any of my earlier posts. No, I was not being forgetful. I just wanted to give that party, and the reason behind it, it’s proper place.

When I decided to do the Trail, aside from my parents, the only people that I initially told were my siblings, Matt, Paul, and D. My plan was going to be to tell a few people, and then kind of slip away into the foggy mountain dew. I didn’t want to make a big deal about leaving, or attempting the trip – not sure why. But anyway, that was what I thought was going to happen. Much to my surprise, my siblings threw an awesome going away party for me at Jay’s. Not only did they gather friends and family from around town, they got a bunch of UD guys to make the trip (thanks a ton for coming guys, that was awesome). I walked right into their sneaky trap – I had no idea what was going on!

So what I really want to say here is that having people like them around you for your whole life is really something invaluable. It’s really amazing to see the things good brothers and sisters will do for each other. Although they foiled my plan of a sneaky exit into the mountain fog :), I greatly appreciate them getting everyone together for my sending off. It’s difficult to articulate or write what it means to me, but know that it’s truly something special. To have people gather to send me off with a few beers, although a relatively small act, is truly something powerful. And it has stuck with me through this journey, and will continue to be one of my fondest memories no matter where I go from here.

Terrible Tang out here said something to me the other day that really resonated with me. We were talking about brothers and sisters and how growing up there was always a battle about something or other (he has 2 older sisters, and and older brother). He’s now about 35 or so, and like me, his siblings have become his best friends. He said something along the lines of “It takes time to realize what we truly have in siblings. You don’t just have brothers or sisters, you have people that you have literally shared your whole life with, from the very beginning, to the very end.” That is really something that is difficult to comprehend, but it’s something very special as well. So thanks for everything you’ve done, and everything you will do – I appreciate it with all my heart.

The Trail Stooge Has Been Busy

Sir Stooge has had a hectic past two weeks and has not had the chance to blog. He will update us as soon as things settle and he finds a town that knows about the world wide web.

I will also be writing a guest blog sometime soon about my personal experience on the trail with this man.

– Solitaire

Trail Update #12 – Post Harper’s Ferry

Oh my goodness! The Trail Stooge has been the Slacking Stooge lately. So my last blog post was right before I left Harper’s Ferry. Awesome time there. It has been a while since then, so I’ll try to blog what has occurred over a few entries, that may not be chronologically ordered, due to my brain being overburdened with memories.

So as my colleague, Solitaire, has mentioned, I have been quite busy. My business has been primarily due to several visits as well as a health scare (not a major one, so no worries). And thank you Solitaire, your company was much appreciated. And yours as well Scuba Springsteen.

So, let’s start with one of the first major events that followed my departure from Harper’s Ferry. That event occurred soon after, and was the official half-way point. Right around the official half-way was what is called the “Half Gallon Challenge.” So it’s a nice little play on words – half gallon for half way. It’s honestly pretty disgusting, and I felt terrible after I was done, but it’s a necessary thing to do. Here I am displaying my trophy for completing the challenge. It’s a little ice cream stick. Pretty awesome trophy according to me:

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And here’s my buddy Wash struggling through the challenge. He did straight Vanilla – terrible choice. His got all melty and disgusting half way through. I went with the Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough – much better choice.

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One of the more brutal stretches I encountered was the cold nights. Like a fool, I sent my +20 sleeping bag home at Harper’s Ferry. And much to my chagrin, the temperature dropped drastically for three nights or so. One night, I heard it dropped into the high 40’s. Obviously, I could not sleep in those conditions. So for three nights straight, I rose early and began hiking. Early for a hiker was 2 am. So I was a very sleepy hiker, but it was better than being awake and freezing cold in my tent.

All I had was a silk sleeping bag liner. One night I attempted to McGyver a bunch of my random pieces of gear. I filled one trash bag with dead leaves to use as a blanket, and put the other over my feet. It succeeded somewhat at keeping me a little warm, but it definitely didn’t work well. I think I slept ‘til 1:50 that night – the latest I slept during that stretch. Here’s me in the early morning hours of one of those nights:

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The day following my last freezing cold night, my parents came to visit me in Boiling Springs, PA! It was a blast. I got good food and drink, and they got to hang out and meet some of my friends who I’ve been with along the trail. Patches (female Patches), Indy, and Hummingbird were all hanging out. Then Sunday morning, we hiked out of Boiling Springs for eight miles. Mom and Dad did great. The AT was nothing compared to the Camino! Here we are strolling around Pennsylvania. We heard tons of gunshots that day, as I did throughout all of PA. It was certainly an interesting trot through the state:

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And alas, badness had to come eventually to my travels. While my parents were visiting, I noticed a circular rash on my leg that eventually turned into a full-blown bullseye. Luckily, I caught it early and was able to get antibiotics into my system early. It was kind of a crazy two days as I scrambled around town with Dad to get to the ER (it was a Sunday), then get to the pharmacy, then get hiking! The day after I noticed the rash, I felt terrible. Achy, feverish, and generally miserable. Here’s the rash at it’s worst:

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Pretty crazy looking. And it was a major scare. But my mind got the best of me. Just a few days ago I called the hospital to get the results of my blood titer (to see if I had antibodies against the Lyme). And much to my surprise, I tested negative for any Lyme. So who knows what I felt that day when I felt terrible – it was all in my brain I believe. But the good news is, no Lyme, and no further issues. I have a clean bill of health.

So that is not all that has happened since I left Harper’s Ferry. My good friend Solitaire is going to write a post about his travels with me in the coming days. But before he does that, I want to leave you with this image. Keep it in your mind, and dream of it at night. It is me, pretending to ski jump off a mountain:

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Trail Update #13 – Solitaire’s Ugly Face

Solitaire!! Don’t make me come out there and give you a thrashing for not putting your hiking post up! You must share your experience with everyone (I shouldn’t be saying that after only having one post in about three weeks). Get on your horse Solitaire!

So as many of you probably don’t know, Solitaire is a person very close to me. And obviously, Solitaire is his trail name. I also had a few others come out to visit me. Namely The Googan, Scuba Springsteen, and Joe Don the Megaladon. The Googan’s trip has already been rehashed in a previous post (Matt is The Googan). Scuba Springsteen came out with Solitaire, and I will be posting about Joe Don the Megaladon’s trip in due time.

But for those of you who need a clue about who Solitaire really is, here’s a picture of him:

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Solitaire, this is your last warning! If you don’t post your update, I’ll continue to post amazingly weird pictures of you for all to see!

Now that my baseless threats are done with, I’ll move on to some other things that I have been slow on reporting. As you know, the first half of my trip only went through five states (Georgia, N. Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia). Most of it, roughly 500 miles, was through Virginia. It almost gets to the point where if feels like you’re not going anywhere in Virginia. It’s a somewhat tough section due to the psychological aspect of being in a single state for that long. A lot of people wind up slightly losing their minds during this stretch. But once you leave Harper’s Ferry, the states just absolutely fly by! Believe it or not, since leaving the half-way point, I have gone through Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, and I am about halfway through Massachusetts. Hitting all those milestones has made this portion of the trip a bit more easy from that standpoint. Here are some of my border crossing pictures (unfortunately, some borders aren’t signed):

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Crossing into New Jersey was a lot more invigorating than I had thought it would be. Because I was actually closer to home in PA, I thought crossing into NJ would just kind of be moot. But it was a great psychological boost for me. It was really neat to cross the Delaware and get back to NJ. Every milestone along the journey is a great one, but getting back home (although it was way up in north Jersey), was a great feeling. It was something special. Unfortunately, the picture didn’t capture the feeling I was having. Yes, this is the best picture I have of me crossing into NJ.

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But let me get back to my time in Pennsylvania first. So you need to understand a little bit about how much thru hikers hear about the dreaded rocks of Pennsylvania. I mean, literally, I’ve been hearing about these dang rocks since the Smokies. The Rocks of PA, Rocksylvania, etc, etc, etc. Everybody talked about these dang rocks. So I had this conception of crossing into PA from Maryland, and somehow the whole landscape would change. I’d go from nice smooth stuff, to rocks galore. Which obviously didn’t happen. It turns out, I actually enjoyed about 75% of PA – it was nice. However, the last 25% or so was absolutely dreadful. The rocks finally made themselves manifest. It was just walking on completely exposed, completely irregulary shaped rocks. It was absolutely terrible. I probably dropped my miles per hour to the lowest I’ve walked on the whole trail, somewhere around sub two miles per hour. It’s just horrible. You can’t go fast, and your feet hurt. But at least I finally figured out what all those people were talking about.

And, like the genius that I am, I decided to pull my longest day over all the dreadful rocks of PA. Yes I have pulled off a 34 mile day! Let me explain my reasons for doing so first, in an attempt to rationalize my somewhat masochistic actions. But first, here I am midday through my 34. There was this cool painting on the side of an rock after a nice climb:

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So, after leaving Solitaire and Scuba Springsteen, I was twenty or so miles behind a lot of my buddies – namely Indy, Hotshot, and Patches. So obviously, I wanted to catch them up. Unfortunately, my push to catch them up occurred right around where the rockiness began. So I began my day planning on doing about 20+ miles – a solid day. However, as I was texting my friends after leaving Solitaire and Scuba, I realized that they were actually a bit closer than I had originally thought, so I upped my plan to about 25 to 30 miles in order to close the gap a bit more. However, at about mile 28 or so, I was very low on water. I checked my guide book to see where my next source was – only a mile or so, all good, but about a half mile off the trail. Ok, fine, I’ll get my water, and then I’ll camp near the spring. That’s fine. I’m cool with a 29 or 30 mile day – that’s great.

So I trek straight downhill the half mile to the spring. As I approached, I saw the sign for the spring, but something was not right – and it was the sound. I heard no moving water. The spring had run dry, as well as my water bottle – brutal. So after a minute or two of staring at a dry spring, I walked the half mile back up to the trail. The next water source was a shelter, about four or five miles away. And I tell you, I think I would have walked ten more miles for some water at that point. This thirst is one of the most intense sensations I’ve felt on the trail. So I strapped my headlamp on (it was a bit after dark at that point), and began my five mile trek over the rocks to the shelter. Now, as you know, I obviously made it to the shelter and completed my 34 mile day. I drank about three liters once I got to the shelter. It was delicious water.

However, I need to tell you about what happened in the five miles from leaving the dry spring to indulging in the beautiful water of the shelter. Looking back at it now, it is hilarious. But I must say, I got the absolute biggest fright I have had in many years during my night hike to the shelter. I’ll try to explain a little about how I feel when I night hike. I’ve spoken to other hikers about this, and some feel the same way, so I don’t think it’s just my insane brain. I dislike night hiking immensely. And I’m talking about PM night hiking. I love hiking in the dark in the AM. For some reason, they have completely different feels to me. But anyway, talking about PM night hiking here. It is just a very bizarre experience. Honestly, I feel drugged while night hiking. Everything seems to swim in front of your eyes – there is only the single light source from your lamp that bounces around the trees – you are looking down at the path the whole time with no peripheral vision. And then of course, tack on the inherent fear of the dark and the night. With all those aspects, I have this sense of dread that sits in the back on my mind whenever I night hike.

So of course, some guy in a hammock had to scare the life out of me. I was just trucking along the trail, head down, focusing on the rocks, and my footing, and the lighting. And next thing I know, I hear the frantic yelling of a man who sounds like he is dying of fear. It’s this dreadful series of inhalations and muted yells, as though he is coming to slowly realize that something terrible is happening to him – which in fact he was. I looked up to see this:

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Just kidding. I did not see Solitaire out there again. Solitaire is a weirdo, but he doesn’t scream in the middle of the woods for fun at night. What happened was this poor guy, hammocked up only about five feet off the trail, had been having a nightmare when I came by. His yells were one of the most terrifying things I’ve ever experienced. Obvsiouly, I had no idea what was going on. When I heard the yells, I could tell they were amazingly close to me, and when I looked up, all I could really see was something writhing around in a hammock about ten feet from me.

I now understand how people can go into shock from fear. I literally felt like I was in my own nightmare. I remember speaking to him, repeatedly saying “It’s ok, it’s ok, it’s ok.” But my words were choked, and I can’t recall doing anything but repeating those words with one hand outstretched to him, I think primarily in a defensive posture. Horrifying – absolutely horrifying – for both him and me. I got the chills from this poor guy’s yells that stayed with me for a while after leaving him.

Turns out, this poor guy has knee issues, and he takes some meds to help him sleep at night, and which obviously cause him to have some vivid dreams. Once he kind of completely woke up (it took him about five seconds – all the while yelling like a dying man), he was very nice and apologetic. It was just one of the most awkward departures I’ve ever had from anyone. He said sorry, we both regained our composure, and I turned to walk away. As I was leaving, he hilariously said, “Well, maybe I’ll see you tomorrow!” I never saw him again – not sure if that’s a good or bad thing. But anyway, that was by far the most terrifying experience I’ve had on the trail. Horrifying.

So sorry to go on such a long winded story about my most scared moment in years (it doesn’t sound all that scary when I type it up), but I had to share.

Next up, I’ll have a pretty awesome account of my hiking with Joe Don the Megaladon. I’ll also share his account of it that he wrote every night via Facebook. His account is amazing, so tune it.

The Esteemed Stooge, Sir Charles Guilons, signing off.

 

Alone

So a lot of people are kind of baffled, or weirded out when I tell them that I hike alone. They ask me how I do that – how I spend all that time by myself, utterly alone. My standard cookie cutter answer (you tend to have a lot of them in your back pocket when you hike the AT – it’s not a bad thing, you just get a lot of the same questions) is something like, “Well I’m not alone all the time. There’s people that kind of bounce in and out, and you see them here and there. And you hike a little bit with them. But yea, for the most part you are alone.” And that is completely true, even though it is a bit of a boxed answer.

But the deeper truth is something a bit more difficult to articulate in thirty seconds to the questioner. The deeper truth is much more difficult for me even to understand, even though I know it to be true.

I’ve struggled over writing this post for some time now. And I didn’t want to write it too early, because I wanted to make sure what I was thinking and feeling was not of a whim. So bear with me as I try to write this down. It may not come across as eloquently and clearly as I have thought it through in my head. But hopefully some sense, at least, comes through.

The deeper truth is that I am not alone. Yes, there are times when I do feel isolated. Not physical isolation – that I can deal with. I’m talking about platonic isolation. I feel, in effect, isolated and alone in my core. One of the most memorable times this happened was the day after Solitaire and Scuba Springsteen left. I missed home a bit, and I missed my friends and family, and I was a ways behind my trail friends. It was a rough day. So yes, there are definitely tough times at some points. But more importantly, these times are fleeting, and they are few. They are a rut in the mind to be broken out of. They are something to be thought on, understood, and then overcome.

I know there is a deeper knowledge and a deeper truth that I sometimes understand when I am out there. It is not often, and it is as fleeting as my sad times, but it is more true.

Even in physical loneliness, there is sometimes a frame of mind that I see through that shows me that I am never alone. It is difficult to explain in text, or articulate in words, but it is there. When you have a lot of time to think about the world, and the cosmos, and what every thing, every object, every piece of matter, is in the world, you come to see something deeper than these ‘things.’ There is something more, something that resembles more of nothingness, that is part of everything and not part of anything. But it is the one thing the whole of our beings, and the whole of the cosmos share in common. It is not love as we know it today, but it is an energy that we all share. An understanding of empathy that we, along with every other piece of creation, are all part of this experience that we understand as the unfolding universe.

So when I first started my journey, I took my Grandfather’s Yanks hat with me. It was kind of a memento – something to hold on to on tougher days. And it was a way to keep my Grandfather with me who passed a couple of years ago. But as I’ve thought of these things more, and the place of mere matter like a Yankees hat, I’ve come to understand that I don’t need the hat to have my Grandfather.

We always tend to focus on ‘some thing’ nowadays in order to be happy or find a solution. Initially for me, it was my Grandpa’s hat. But what I’ve found is that things are not the answer. There is this amazing ‘no thing’ that binds each and every piece of creation in the cosmos. A nothing that was there before the cosmos came into being, and will be there when it is over. And that great Nothingness is what we all share and what we all somehow experience, in one way or another. It’s an amazing duality that doesn’t make sense – I know it doesn’t make sense. But I love it for what it is. It’s a chance to experience what we have in front of us, to cherish every piece of matter, every object we come to know, but to also realize that all these things somehow sprung forth out of a nothingness. It’s a great feeling when I am able to wrap my mind around it – this connection that all things have. But like I said, I only see it sometimes, in beautifully fleeting moments.

So why do I hike alone? I don’t hike alone – nobody does. Nobody lives alone, nobody dies alone, nobody does anything alone. We’re all part of something amazing, the monumental journey of the universe itself. You can not walk alone in such an extraordinary event – it is impossible.

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An account of Solitaire in Solitude

I apologize in advance for such a long entry…

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About a week before my tip to visit Sir Stooge I was pretty relaxed about everything. He gave me a great list of what I needed to bring, broken out into categories. I’ve never been “hiking” before so I had to scavenge around for all my supplies. The pack from my dad, the tent from a buddy, and underwear from Matt (I was positive his wouldn’t be stretched out, giving me nice support).

My plan was to get a good sleep Thursday night, wake up refreshed, go into work for a few hours, head back to philly, meet up with Scuba Springsteen (Steve Olson) then head to the trail.  Botched! So much for being relaxed. Thursday night I laid everything out on my bed ready to pack it all in the. Put about half my supplies in and it was full. I fit more stuff in my jansport. I started freaking out. Long story short I got about 2 hours of sleep.

Friday afternoon came, I grabbed my bag and me and Scuba were off! Meeting up with someone on the trail takes a bit of planning. What we had to do was drive past chris about 25 miles and park in the town of Port Clinton (more to come on this town). Here we met up with a woman who would taxi us back to where we were meeting the stooge. It was a very interesting ride to say the least.

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As we rounded the corner there was the stooge waiting in ski jump position (imagine hiking polls involved in this picture). Perfect form!We had a quick snack here and then set out on the trail!

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It wasn’t long before I was in shock. Id say it was probably about.. 2 – 3……..steps before I realized this was NOTHING like I expected! I have no idea why, but I pictured a trail? Obviously at different points the trail is wide, thin, rock and dirt but this was sure a shock, but an awesome one.

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The first day we only planned on walking a few miles. Stooges friend who was a little ahead of him told him that there was a sweet campsite not to far away. We got there checked out the campsite then decided we should head to the spring to fill up our bottles. It was only about 1.5 miles away from camp, so we all went to go check it out. About 2 miles in we realized it wasn’t looking so good. The blue blaze kind of ended… we thought maybe it dried out? After a bit more hiking we eventually we found it, Sir Stooge is a navigating machine! To fill the bottles we made some weird leaf waterfall/funnel it was really cool and just such a change from putting your cup against your fridge and having water coming out.

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When we got back to camp we decided to set up our tents before it got dark. While Stooge and Scuba set theirs up in about 2 min flat (Scuba hiked the AT last year and Stooge obviously has a ton of experience now) I was struggling to make mine look anything like a tent. In disappointment I took of sprinting into the woods. They found me about an hour later sitting against a tree. They asked me why I was crying to which I explained it was just water from the trees falling perfectly under my eyes. Stooge looked at me and said… Come back to camp and we will help you, you do not belong in solitude.

We got back to camp and collected a bunch of fire wood. We took turns getting the fire started while the other 2 ate some rice, peanut butter, protein bars, fruit and in Scubas case an entire box of nutty bars. I must say we created a raging fire!, So much that we burned through all the firewood way to quickly and ended up having to use flashlights to see but hey it was awesome while it lasted and kept the bugs away. We all hung out and talked for a while and before we knew it I was pretty late. We decided to turn in for the night.

Like I said these two are pretty experienced. I had a little bit of a weird night in my tent. I fell asleep instantly but I woke up to what I thought was my entire tent collapsed on me and I could barely move! After a minute of struggling and rolling all over the place I realized it was just the sleeping sack I went to bed in.. my tent was fine. I took a breath and shut my eyes. This is the point when I heard little animals running around and then voices. For some reason I thought there were witches outside the tent saying “Were going to get you paul!”. The pollen will get ya!

Morning came with rain. We packed our tents, had a light breakfast of some nuts, and the rest of the food our mom sent with me. At first I was a little bummed it was raining but it was actually awesome. Im glad I got to experience the conditions that Sir Stooge goes through while hes out there.

It was a great day of hiking. We made a few stops to snack and eat lunch throughout the day. One of the stops we actually got a chance to see a shelter. We hung out, all signed the book and got off our feet for a little bit.

We eventually made it to Port Clinton (where we parked ). Port Clinton is a very very small town, Their claim to fame is the barber shops $8 haircuts. We all jumped in the car and headed just up the road to Hamburg. Hamburg is a bigger town so we thought we could grab some food and get our hotel there so we could walk to the bars at night. We got some awesome food at arbys but were unlucky with the hotels. For some reason they were all booked so we found ourselves back in Port Clinton at the towns ALL IN ONE bar/restaurant/hotel. At night we all headed back to Hamburg to a bar. We crushed a ton of food, drank some beers, and played foosball and pool.

The next day was Sunday and Scuba and my last day with the Stooge. We decided we didn’t want to leave just yet so what we did was hike about 5 miles in with him knowing we would have to hike the 5 back to the car. Right when we got on the trail there was some trail magic! A bunch of sodas and a little note from the past AT Hiker. This was by far the hardest few miles I did. We basically walked up and down incredibly steep mountains. I was more tired in these few miles then I was the day before. The terrain was awesome and when we would hit the top of a mountain we sat and just looked out into the sky. We even saw a few hawks flying over us at one stop.

When we hit the end of mile 5 we all just sat down for a while and talked. I could tell none of us wanted the weekend to end.  It really sucked having to give him a hug and say bye but I knew I would make it out to see him again before he finished up and do this all over again.

When me and scuba made it back into town we stopped at the local fire house for a beer, pizza and conversation with the locals. Yes, Port Clinton has an oddly nice firehouse. Sir stooge said that there is only one firefighter and he just carries around a bottle of water ready for the day he needs to pore it on some flames. While there we actually had the chance to meet 2 other hikers that knew chris so that was really cool to hear.

Chris, thanks for an amazing weekend. I can honestly say I will never forget it and we both had such a good time hiking with you.

Just a few thoughts before solitaire signs off. I have no idea how chris does this every day. It was one of the hardest things ive ever done. The hiking, climbing, weather, sleeping and time it took to hike a single mile was something I was never expecting.

That being said, the trail was amazing! We hiked incredible rocky spots, muddy spots, overgrown spots, and steep spots.  We had a few amazing views, great talks, hilarious jokes and a ton of time to think and I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way

Episode 2 of the adventures of solitaire and Stooge have now already happened. I will post a blog about my trip to Maine soon!

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Trail Update #19 – Southern Maine

So after getting out of the Whites, I honestly thought I was in the clear as far as tough stuff. Once again, like many things in my life, I was wrong. The first half of Maine was just about as tough, if not tougher, than the Whites. For some reason, they just don’t get as much coverage as the Whites – maybe because they don’t have names of presidents. That always adds some clout to things. A couple of years ago I actually legally changed my named to George Theodore Lincoln Washington to try to help with my physical and mental inadequacies. Everyone saw right through the ploy though, so I changed my name back.

One of the tougher areas of Maine were the Mahoosucs – the range you run into right after leaving the Whites. The two highlights of that range are the Mahoosuc Notch and the Arm. The Notch is this crazy rock jumble that lasts about a mile. I heard horror stories of this one mile taking people up to three hours. You are literally rock climbing, scrambling, and crawling for a mile straight. I did it in about 1:20 – not too shabby. I ran into an older gentleman in the Notch. I have no idea how he was doing it. He said he already fell twice and he had a pretty good gash on his leg. But he powered through, I give him a lot of credit for making it through. I just saw a picture today of an artist’s interpretation of the Notch. I forgot to take a picture of it, so I recreated it below. I thought it was pretty funny:

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Right after leaving the Notch, you hit straight up the Arm for about a mile and a half, or somewhere around there. It’s a steep rock face that is exhausting. The combination of Notch and Arm is brutal. Needless to say, that was a late day even though I think I only did a sub-15 mile day. But I came away without any falls and no bloody messes. I consider it a success. Because I did see a skeleton stuck in one of the crevasses of the Notch – so I was just glad I wasn’t that guy.

After getting out of that mess, I met Paul. Now I don’t want to steal any of Paul’s thunder by going through our whole trip. There were some really funny parts that I want him to tell. But I’ll give a little teaser. Below is our attempt at taking our first picture of the hike. We literally started hiking across the road to the left, saw this cool AT thingy, and tried to do a timed photo of ourselves next to it. As you can tell, we didn’t do too well. I am nowhere close to being ready for the photo, and Paul hasn’t even make it into the frame yet! He’s off to the left somewhere.

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But Paul did about 2.5 days of hiking and did an awesome job. Solitaire returned to all his hiking glory! We did some really tough stuff and he stuck it out. We also got some really neat views too. Below is a picture of Solitaire. We have some other good pics, but we can post them in Paul’s account of the trip. Be sure to read that one – a rinky dink town, a crazy old man named Bear, and a moldy old camper all played prominent roles in the trip. So you know it will be a good one.

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Paul’s few days he also brought some awesome weather. Unfortunately, when he left, he took the good weather with him. Over the next four or so days, it was wet, rainy, and cold. And in those conditions, going above treeline is quite terrifying. There were a few mountains I had to do so, with miserable results. In those conditions, you feel like you have entered hell. Your brain gets turned off, your body is freezing cold and wet, and you are on the verge of survival mode. Below is a picture I took on the first of three or so peaks that I went over in quick succession above treeline. This is the only picture I have up on those peaks because after this one my hands stopped working well enough to operate my camera. And my camera also started to get soaking wet, so I tucked it away in my bag. You’ll notice that white stuff on the side of that pole – that’s ice frozen sideways. The moisture in the air was freezing when it contacted stuff I guess. It was pretty intense. And I’m also holding back the hood of my rain jacket because the winds were brutal. My hood kept hitting me in the face, so I had to hold it down, resulting in my sweet pose.

Luckily, these few peaks were the last that I would go above treeline in bad weather. I wish I had the dexterity to take some pictures on one of the peaks, Saddleback, because that was even worse than the picture below. I found myself running across the top of the mountain in order to get down as soon as I could. I ran into two friends, Lady and Cannon after getting down from Saddleback. And Lady was bawling her eyes out. All she kept saying was, “No woman should be hiking in these conditions!” It was brutal, but it was also kind of funny. Like a lot of things  on the trail, it was both good and bad, rolled up into one.

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So after surviving the cold and wet, I got back down to a reasonable altitude where I wouldn’t die if I tried to sleep. So that was good. But what I did next wasn’t so good. I attempted to capture a bull moose using only my stupidity and a 50 foot length of paracord – I failed.

Take a look at the below diagram. The series of events leading to my attempted capture are slightly complicated. But I shall explain here. My operation was a nocturnal one. I slept on what the guide book refers to as a ‘woods road.’ Sometimes these are automobile paths, or just thin game paths, or something along those lines. This one happened to look like a wide automobile path that hadn’t been used in a long time. I tried looking for a good spot to pitch my tent off the road, but unfortunately I could not find one and it was getting late. So I pitched on the road itself with the fear of being run over by a drunk Maine man riding an ATV or a truck down the road in the middle of the night. This fear slowly grew, and along with it some ideas to combat those ravaging Mainiacs and their destructive vehicles! So in order to signal any would-be drivers down the road, I strung up my paracord line across the road and hung some slightly reflective items on it – my tent case, my pole case, my white bandana, and my socks (these weren’t reflective, but their smell may be able to reach the driver to warn them that a hiker was ahead).

Brilliant! I crawled into my tent after dinner happy to have my signal cord up and confident that I would not wake up dead. As I settled into my bag, another fear crawled into my head however.

“That road sure didn’t look like any vehicles had been over it in a long time, but it did look like there was a game path down the middle of the wider vehicle path… and I just hung up a rope right about head high on a moose. But whatever, I’ll just take down the moose with my bare hands if he becomes a problem. Sleep now Warrior of the Woodlands.”

I wake up a few hours later in the pitch black to the grunting walk of what sounds like a gorilla walking down the woods road to my tent. The noise this creature was making a dull, low, exhalation that occurred with every earth-moving step he took. Mother of God, there’s a moose right outside my tent. The Warrior of the Woodlands was scared as hell. I tried to stay as quiet as I could so I could track the moose’s movement by sound, but the only thing I could hear was my breathing and my heart. Next thing I know, I hear a tree break, some more moose sounds, and then nothing. Well something weird just happened, but I have no idea what. I don’t hear the moose anymore, so I go back to sleep. A couple hours later, I hear the gorilla breathing again, followed quickly by my heart in my throat. I’m glad to say I survived the night.

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Waking up, I turned to my left to notice my paracord line and my signaling items were gone – completely gone. I went over to the tree I had tied it to and found it wrapped around the trunk. And then I saw the end of the paracord, broken and frayed (this paracord is about 500lb test or so).

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And it began to dawn on me what happened – the moose walked right through my line. I found three of the four items I had hanging on the line. And walking across the woods road, I searched for the other half of the paracord. Couldn’t even find the tree I tied it to, it was gone – literally gone along with my pole case and the other half of paracord.

I found them 80 yards down the woods road. So here’s what I think happened. Monster moose runs into cord, snapping cord in half. Half of the cord got caught in his rack. He keeps walking like Frankenstein, breaking the tree in half and dragging it 80 yards down the road where it eventually fell off his antlers. This all happened about ten feet away from me – horrifying.

So I packed up my stuff and got out of there as soon as possible. I didn’t want this thing to find me and eat me. I hiked about a mile from camp, and I hear some movement to my left. And I see this beast staring at me:

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Now who knows if this was the man I tried to capture. It may not be, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was him. I inaudibly apologized to him for the attempted capture as I clicked a quick photo and then ran away. What animals though! They are huge and pretty scary. But man, what cool creatures! So now I can tell people I almost caught a moose with some string and my bare hands. I think I came pretty close – but I think I also came pretty close to getting trampled and eaten as well.

With my moose hunting adventures behind me, I made it into Stratton to complete the final planning of the last leg of the journey. After calling home, I settled on a date to summit – October 6th. I tried to postpone the planning of the end for quite a while. It was a little depressing to know the end was now set. Luckily I ran into Munchies in town (formerly known as Dry Key). He was the first guy I ever met on the AT. I met him atop Springer Mountain in Georgia, way back on May 7th. It was good to see him again. So the sadness of the impending end was pushed aside for the time. I hiked out the next day, heading for my last town on the trip, Monson.

P.S.: Here are some random pictures from this stretch. The leaves really started to change during this week, as you’ll see from the second photo. Of course, the picture never captures the reality. The oranges and yellows were much more vibrant than what you see there. And the lakes in Maine! They’re beautiful. I swam in a few just to say I did even though they were pretty cold. But I couldn’t pass up the opportunity!

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