Posts

Trail Update #5 – Erwin to Damascus

I have made it to Virginia! This is my unofficial quarter way point on the trail. It’s a big morale booster to make it into Virginia, where they say you can pick up the miles quickly. Honestly, I’m starting to feel like I can do this journey – it’s a good feeling. When I got back on the trail, I discovered that a bunch of my buddies came down with the dreaded neurovirus. Several of them got layed up in Erwin for a few days. Bad news for them – but the good news for me is that I’ll be able to catch them a bit sooner.

__2

The past week or so has been great. I went through the Roan Mountain area and saw some nice views. I had one pretty hectic and fun day that stands out most. In the morning, I took my first dip waters of nature! I passed by the Elk River and went for a dip for about 15 minutes. It was pleasant until some kids came up and started laughing at me – the water was cold. Just kidding. It was a nice little bath, especially after not having a shower for five days or so. Unfortunately, I don’t have a picture of me as I was alone, but I don’t think you’d want to see it anyway.

After hiking a few more miles, I came across Isaac’s Cemetery. I dropped my pack and spent a bit of time walking around and checking out the headstones. It was a neat experience. There are only a few different families in the cemetery, but their lineage stretched back to the mid 1800’s. There were Potters, Jones, Isaacs, and Johnsons among others. There were also several ‘unkowns’. It was a neat place – I’m glad I spent the time there.

After leaving the cemetery and hiking some more, I saw a storm rolling in. I got obliterated by this thunderstorm – it was the first one I got caught in real badly. I was so close to the center that I would see a lightning strike and not hear the thunder for about three or four seconds. It was amazing. My pockets were literally filling with water as I hiked the last five miles to a shelter. It felt like I was in a waterpark, just sloshing around in ankle deep water. It was tough, but fun. That night was pretty rough though as I didn’t have much that was dry. But I survived. It was a trying, but exhilarating experience.

The week as a whole was great though. For all you MTL’ers, I hung out at Laurel Falls!!!

Laurel Falls golf

Wait, wrong Laurel Falls. Here we go. This is me at Laurel Falls near Damascus:

Laurel Falls

I walked through a field with a bunch of cows too. I stopped and had a five minute conversation with these three:

calves

They weren’t overly talkative. The conversation went like this:

Me: Hey, how’re you doing? Nice, you guys are looking good. So what are the plans for today? Hanging out… yea, me too. Walking around… yea, me too. Eating grass… yea, me too.

I didn’t want to tell them they were very boring because all the big cows were standing right behind me. They wouldn’t have liked me insulting their strange children.

cows

I also took my second swim, the second being more recreational. I chilled on Lake Watuga for a few hours with some locals, and my friends Party, Jason, and Pete. We just went swimming and hung out. Some people gave us some pizza and hot dogs. Then we camped on the shore of the lake. Below is a picture of me and Party, and below that is a view from our camp site that night.

Lake_Watuga_2

Lake_Watuga

But that was just one of the many great times I’ve had out here. As I said, the past week has been great. But there is one super awesome thing that I did that I’d like to mention. As some of you know, I’m carrying a little tomahawk. So far, it’s been a glorified hammer that I nail my tent stakes in with. I’ve also make a couple walking stick with it for fun. Most people laugh at me when they see I’m carrying one. However, the other day, I finally used it in a truly sensible, and may I say, manly way. I was hiking up a mountain, and boom – right smack in the middle of the trail was a fallen tree (from that nasty thunderstorm the day before). I started to climb through/around it, but then a lightbulb went off – I have a tomahawk! I must clear this way for others! So I busted out the ‘hawk and started hacking away. I don’t have a before picture since my camera was dead. However, my buddy passed by the tree sometime later and was so impressed by the clearing that he took a picture of it (he didn’t know I did it). I didn’t cut through the main trunk, but I hacked away all the limbs around it. In short, I literally blazed a trail. Boom, roasted.

Tree_Clear

Below is an image of what I may have looked like while carrying out my work:

man axe

So that’s that – I’ve made it to a huge milestone with my entrance to Virginia. In about ten days, I hop off the trail to go to my parent’s anniversary party back home!!! Can’t wait to see everyone!! 🙂

PS. I am going to add a new page to the site in a few days. It’s called “The Beard Chronicles.” I’ll take pictures every few days of my facial hair growth so you can see the progression. All beards are welcome, so if you have a beard, send me a picture and I’ll put it up there. Beards are for cool weirdos (Paul has a beard and he’s a cool weirdo).

Trail Update #7 – Pearisburg to Dalesville (almost)

I’ll give you a quick update while I’m hanging out here in Dalesville. Technically, I haven’t reached Dalesville yet. But I hopped into town (got chauffered into town) by my brother Matt who is going to hike a couple of days with me! We’ll head back to where he picked me up today and begin our hike in the morning.

It’s a big morale booster to have Matt here after having a rough past few days. I got back on the trail on Monday the first and hiked about 20 miles in the latter part of the day. Perfectly fine, nice day. I ran into Party, it was nice. I hung out with Party’s dog (Easy), I camped in the Captain’s backyard (some random dude who lets hikers camp at his house – you take this cool zipline type thing across the creek), I played with the Captain’s dogs (I was playing with tons of dogs on Monday).

DSCN0930[1]

DSCN0931

And then came Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. And they all shared one thing in common – rain. I was either wet, or drenched for the past three days. From a morale standpoint, it starts to take a toll. You just can’t get dry, it’s impossible. There isn’t much to do except grin and bear it, and know that hiking in the cold and wet is a part of this challenge I expected, and will accept with a smile.

DSCN1014[1]

At least today I got some clean clothes and a hot shower at the hotel we’re staying at. Tonight we will celebrate the 4th with a few beers, recite the constitution to eachother, and know that moral individuals are the foundation of freedom (can I get a ‘here here’).  So have fun tonight. Raise a beer to the land we want to live in, and tell the freedom haters to get out of here, because they’re weirdos.

 

Trail Update #9 – An Unexpected Stop

So right now I am at my aunt and uncle’s house on the computer. A very unexpected stop, but a very welcome one. My Uncle Mark and cousin Taylor met me near Rockfish Gap yesterday and we went to a beautiful campground and did some bbq’ing. We had talked about meeting up somewhere along the trail, so it was a nice little break from the trail.

Unfortunately, the weather was again pretty terrible. So we were in the cold and rain for most of the day. Then Uncle Mark proposed returning to the Richmond area for the night. After some thought, I figured why not? I could get a good sleep, get out of the rain, and visit some family. So here I sit, getting some blog updating in (I updated plants and animals, Beard Chronicles, and added some pics to some earlier posts – check them out). And it appears the weather may actually be turning for the good. I’ll get back on the trail later this afternoon and pull a later hike into the night.

On the way to the house last night, we stopped at REI. A very necessary stop. Just in the past week or so, some of my gear has started to feel the wear and tear. My tent seams are leaking a little bit, so I got some sealant, and then there are my trekking poles. Sadly, I no longer have the same poles I began my journey with. About three days ago, I realized I lost one of the metal tips on a pole, resulting in much slipping and sliding. Not a huge deal, but something I would need to remedy. Then yesterday morning, I awoke only to find what I first thought was foliage on the handles of my trekking poles. However, after closer scrutiny, I realized the “foliage” was the remnants of the wrist straps. Some creature (likely mice) had devoured both wrist straps, nearly in entirety, throughout the night. Might not sound like a big deal, but a lot of your weight is transferred into the straps, so they are very necessary when hiking. So anyway, my trekking poles, in a matter of about 3 days, became a liability.

I went into REI and asked a guy if I could get some replacement straps and metal tips. To my surprise, he said no, and told me to instead just return them for a new pair. Honestly, I didn’t really want to do that – I feel like that’s taking advantage of their awesome policy. But he told me no, go ahead and do it – so I did it. It was kind of crazy, I gave them two delapadated, old trekking poles, and they gave me a pair of perfectly new ones. After being an “owner” of REI for about three or four years, that was the first item I ever returned. So good work REI – you guys did well. The only bad thing is I lost the sentimental value of my old trekking poles. But oh well, I still have over 1,000 miles to put some wear and tear into these new ones!

DSCN1046

Hoping for better weather in the week or so ahead! Next stop is Luray, Virginia!

Trail Update #17 – New Hampshire and the Whites

The Whites! Since Harper’s Ferry, my eyes have been set upon the Whites. They were my next big goal and my next big challenge. I heard a lot about them – how different and how much tougher they are than the rest of the trail. And you expect them to be tough, but there is no way to truly prepare for them. Simply put, they have been both beautiful and brutal. They are both the best and the worst of the trail. The past week though has felt more like a month. They truly are something amazing on the trail, both in the grandest sense and the darkest sense.

So after leaving Hanover, I had a day or so of pretty easy hiking before I reached the base of Mount Moosilake, the first of the mountains in the Whites. The weather has most certainly taken a turn toward the cold. It feels like it’s the middle of fall up here. Gloves have been purchased, a hat has been taken from a hiker box, and cold weather gear is headed for Gorham, NH. I have entered the coldness, and along with that, I entered the Whites.

The elevation profile of the Whites is pretty drastic. The ascents and descents are steep and long. The elevations are as high as the Smokies, and many of the mountain tops are barren, open ridges. It is honestly a pretty dangerous place – much more so than I had originally thought they’d be.

My ascent up Moosilake was good. Nothing too tough, but definitely tiring and long. I summited to beautiful weather, and so began my trudge through the Whites:

DSCN1682

Over the next week or so, I experienced some breathtaking days, and some terribly harsh days. I probably saw the most impressive view of my trip so far when I walked the range consisting of Little Haystack, Lafayette, and Garfield. The pictures below do these views no justice at all. I was in complete awe of these mountains – it was beautiful.

Here’s Lafayette:

DSCN1701

And then here’s an image from off the top of Lafayette:

DSCN1707

These images unfortunately don’t capture any of those things. It truly is one of the most amazing things I’ve seen. The views rival anything I’ve seen on the trail so far. I wish there was a better way to describe or show you these mountains, but this is the best I have!

So after leaving those magnificent views, the darker side of the Whites began to show itself. That night I got some pretty severe thunderstorms, as well as the night following. And then, the following day, I had my roughest stretch of the trail so far. From Mizpah Hut, I summited Mount Washington (second highest point on the AT) around noon. After being disappointed in the view because of some heavy cloud cover, I went in to the cafeteria up there to grab some lunch. Upon finishing lunch, I looked outside to see rain, much to my dismay. Up on Mount Washington, it is cold and it is windy. And there is nowhere to spend the night up there. My only options were to take a $40 train ride down the mountain, or to hike down to Madison Hut, about six miles away. Needless to say, I was not getting off the trail by taking a $40 train ride. So I donned my rain coat, packed up, and headed out into the storm. It was terrible. In about ten minutes I was soaked through. It was windy and cold, and I was completely exposed. Luckily it was only six miles. If it were more, I don’t know how I could have gotten there. By the time I reached the hut, I was freezing cold, soaking wet, and completely miserable. I had originally planned to hike about four more miles beyond the hut, but that was not going to happen in that weather. It took me about four hours to do those six miles. That just goes to show how treacherous the terrain and the weather was. I took a pretty good spill, as did most people out hiking that day. I am so glad that other hikers were out that day though. If they weren’t, I would have felt as though I were walking through a never ending loop of fog, mist, and rain. Honestly, it was dreadful – and a little bit scary. I have no pictures from that day. I couldn’t even take my camera out because of the rain, and because I was too cold to stop moving. I was afraid if I stopped moving I’d have too hard of a time getting going again. So just imagine the top of Washington in your mind, or just look it up. J

I was so glad once I got to Madison Hut though. I was lucky enough to get a work for stay opportunity there. The AMC, who runs the huts, lets thru-hikers do work for stays at the huts. In return for some menial labor, you get to feast on the leftover food that the real guests can’t finish. And you also get to sleep in the common room of the hut. Can’t beat that! Otherwise you drop about $100 on a bunk!  My chore that night was just to talk to all the other guests about thru-hiking. Me and Coon got this job – by far the easiest. It pretty much started as Coon trying to run a class on thru-hiking (he’s a history teacher), but it quickly devolved into a Q&A session, which I enjoyed much more. The level of interest from the thirty or so other guest was pretty awesome. They asked a lot of good questions, and seemed genuinely interested in this insane feat that we’re trying to accomplish. So what started as a pretty rough day, turned out to be a nice night.

The next morning, after crushing some pancakes and sweeping the hut, I headed out into more rain. Putting on cold, wet clothes and shoes is never fun. But this morning proved to be one of the toughest. All the thru-hikers there (about six of us), were pretty down due to the weather. And the forecast for the day wasn’t looking good. So with dread, we trudged out into the cold and wet again to summit Madison, then descent down to Pinkham Notch. Again, there was more rain and cold and rock scrambling. The descent took quite a long time due to the level of difficulty. But alas! About a mile into the descent, the skies began to clear, and the weather finally was on our side! So in clear, cold air, I reached the notch around 3PM.

With all the dreadful hiking over the previous couple of days, I happily accepted the chance to stay in the camper of one of my former co-workers, Cindy and her fiancé Rick. Although my mileage through the Whites was not what I was hoping for, I couldn’t pass up a break. So from Pinkham, Rick and Cindy scooped me up, and we headed to Dolly Copp campground. It was a great night – whiskey, burgers, and lots of conversation. It was good to see a familiar face again, and they leisure time was exactly what I needed.

Trail Trio

From there, I headed into Gorham for a day off. I now sit at the Gorham public library, doing my civic duty to update you all on the progress of my trip. I still have a day or two in the Whites, but most of the really severe stuff is done with. I will honestly be thrilled to reach Maine in the next few days. The Whites were just such a different experience than anywhere else on the trail. It was both beautiful and dreadful, inspiring and demoralizing. I’ll always remember this stretch of the trail. With the Whites nearly done, I now look forward to the end of my trip as my final goal. Katahdin is only about 300 miles away! Paul comes out for a visit in about five days as well. Looking forward to that! I’ll be offline for a bit of time as I enter Maine. Wish me luck!

Oh, and I checked off the last big animal on my list! I finally saw a moose! Not the best picture, but here it is:

DSCN1728

And I also saw Bud at the hostel in Gorham:

The Barn (3)

PS: I met one of the scariest people of my trip so far at the hostel in Gorham. I’d rather not recall that story here, but when you see me, ask about it. This guy rivals The Pilgrim in his bizarre level, but in a much scarier way. I had a tough time sleeping last night!