Going to Mont Blanc

Today we are heading to Switzerland to start a 100 mile hike around a beautiful mountain. I hope to experience all the things I was seeking on the Appalachian Trail plus new experiences I never dreamed were possible in my life. It’s been awhile since I posted and many miles have been hiked since then. I’ll begin to post regularly and talk about my continued Walk in Wilderness. It continues to foster growth spiritually and has brought me closer to God in ways I wouldn’t have, without the stillness and centering of my faith, which is made so evident in Creation. My relationships have been strengthened as I continue down this path with Carolyn. Together seeking to see the love and joy all around, sharing it with others. On the hike I will post a few photos and keep my journal, Writing about my experiences when I get back.

We are both so grateful for this ability to even attempt something this special. Being present to what is around us is something that highlights our trips. Though they may be difficult, we come away energized and fulfilled. Ready and willing to respond to others we meet with love and compassion.

Solo for the last time Part 2

Solo for the last time. It’s been over 6 months since I’d written those words, and even more since I’ve been on the Appalachian Trail. My plan of retiring from work and resetting my life by walking in the woods for six months, fell short by 1750 miles. Not exactly a success by most standards. Yet change within isn’t measured in miles. What I was seeking was a change in the way life was experienced. It has done that! it’s a process that continues to this day. The inner growth actually started way before the walking. Though I still have 1750 miles to walk, I’m starting from a new place. I’ve travelled further down my own spiritual path. Not only have I seen the beauty of our natural world but I recognize that every one has a place within themselves just as beautiful and awesome as any forest or mountain on this earth. Yet there is more to discover.

Though the hike was abruptly halted, it might be better understood as simply rerouted. Each of the five of original goals I started with have become a part of my life.. I have always understood that life is a continuous ongoing journey. Each day is another attempt.. Goals are simply things to work toward. The steps getting there are what matter. When attempting a long hike the experiences of each day are a life of their own, tomorrow starts another.  So what’s new?  As I’ll explain in a minute, the events that rerouted my journey changed my whole life. More than I could possibly have imagined. Once I stopped walking each day my body took a few weeks to recover. I had mixed feelings about the aborted attempt. I looked at what happened positively one day and the next wished. I’d kept going. It took awhile to process all this. Remember I had retired from working and immediately left for the trail. I hadn’t planned to be home for another four months. I spent the time planning my next steps. I’ll admit I was a little disappointed despite having made the correct decision to come home. I took a month to rest my foot. I spent as much time with my grandchildren as I could, worked around the house and made plans to leave for the trail in September.

 What actually happened could not have been predicted and I wouldn’t change it for a dozen successful thru hikes of the Appalachian Trail. I fell in love and got married! My journey led me to my wife. Our paths crossed because we were both seeking the same thing. We both found peace and joy walking in Creation. We were longing for a new purpose and a more profound life experience at the end of each day. The events that actually put us in each others sight took some time but once in motion the path became very clear not to mention very easy. And here is the story about how that happened.

Before planning for my retirement and and going on a 6 month long spiritual journey I began visiting a church which my daughter and grand children had been attending. I purposely didn’t seek to become very involved because I’d be leaving soon for six months on the trail. But being there each week started a refocusing of my faith. The messages of the sermons and the warmth of the members prepared my mind for experiencing more fully the lessons of the Trail. Up to this point I had been thinking the journey would begin with my first steps on the trail. But change happens constantly and we can intentionally be aware and open to the new messages and experiences of the present. In short we can grow from the inside. One of the members Carolyn, introduced herself  as we were leaving services one Sunday. She had been on several big hikes out west and as well as some sections of the Trail. Another member had told her about my upcoming attempt to hike the whole Trail. We talked a few minutes and I gave her a link to my blog. 

Two weeks later I was on my way. About the third week on an especially hard day, on a mountaintop in Virginia I looked at my phone. An email from Carolyn! It was an especially encouraging letter and boosted my spirits tremendously. When we first met I was excited because one of my goals was to meet new hiking friends. Maybe she would be one of them. This email was especially endearing to me because of the positive thoughts she expressed and no matter what decisions I made about the trail she wouldn’t think less of me. On that mountaintop I realized she was someone I wanted to get to know better. I kept walking for 200 or so miles before I made the decision to go home. Though I was terribly disappointed, knowing I could spend time with my family and maybe see more of Carolyn removed some of the sting from getting off trail. And now that I was retired the trail was still in my future.

It was June and Carolyn was training for a five hundred mile hike across Spain. A true historical Pilgrimage. I was in awe to say the least. It was something I had considered and hoped would be next adventure for myself but not until after completion of the AT. She invited me on a couple hikes but it was awhile before I felt well enough. Her life was very full with work and the many hikes she had planned. I assumed with her busy life there might not be any room for me. At that time I was happy for her friendship and meeting more people who enjoyed hiking. Little did I know she was looking for a hiking partner too. We began spending lots of time together hiking and sharing many personal parts of our lives. I really began having feelings for her yet was quite afraid to reveal those and possibly end our now seemingly intimate friendship. Up until now we hadn’t done anything but hiked together. No dates, holding hands, not  any expression of feelings for each other. Unknown to me she had been feeling all the same things as myself. She was waiting for me to make a move. She was about to give up on anything but friendship and even began praying that the answer would soon be revealed. That very day I expressed how deep my feelings went. With that out in the open we began sharing exactly what both of us had been thinking. By the end of the week we told my daughters and they both immediately began to cry. My daughter had known Carolyn for a year before I did.  She then revealed that she had been praying for this to happen for a long time, even before I ever had joined the church. That night around a campfire we looked at each other and new we would get married. We even started planning the wedding. Remember we still hadn’t been on a date.  

There is so much more to this story, like three proposals and three rings, going to tell our Pastor to schedule pre marriage counseling on the night of our first date. He had seen this coming much earlier than either of us. There is so much more but both of us believe that God brought us together and now we need to discern for what reason. Through study and prayer not to mention hiking through and around creation we will grow our faith and understanding.

Though I intended to resume my hike north toward Maine in April, both our journeys had brought us to a crossroads. Our paths led us to each other. We both felt it and realized very quickly that we were more than just hiking partners. Three months later we were married. Carolyn still assumed I might go and I do still plan to finish all 2200 miles. Yet my focus and my reasons for doing so understandably cannot be the same. I am starting from a new place with a new partner. Solo for the last time just means the journey continues but I have a partner to share it with. 

Being out in God’s creation has brought me to a new place spiritually and I want to continue sharing my story and my journey along that path. Our spiritual journeys are continuing as we grow in faith and listen for God’s plan for us. We are excited and hope our sharing will bring others to see their own path toward peace and joy in life. The journey takes a new direction…

A full day of experiences, interactions and decisions

I usually awaken each morning in darkness but remain in my sleeping bag until I sense first light. I could tell the temperatures had dropped significantly overnight. I stayed inside my warm bag for another hour. It was 9:00 o’clock before I had eaten breakfast and packed up. Not a great start but today though quite cold was at least sunny. The goal was 16 miles to Hogback Ridge Shelter. When planning this latest section of my journey, I was pretty optimistic on how many miles I could cover each day. Maybe too optimistic. The terrain was quite formidable in the early going. My legs had not been asked their opinion but always had their say. Reality has a way of rethinking any plan, thank goodness the Trail is understanding. With no set timeline it was good to know I had options. To reach my goal I would have to climb Little Bald Mountain and then a little more to Big Bald at 5500 feet. The climbing began immediately, my legs lost interest just as quickly. I would walk awhile hoping it was just a matter of warming up. I didn’t know it just yet, but by lunch the plan would change. The higher I climbed the colder it got.

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A cold morning near High Rocks

Fortunately there were some nice views along the way which always adds some warmth to the surroundings. The wind speed picked up as well, adding to the already cold temperatures. To make matters worse I hadn’t brought any gloves. I mumbled to myself “at least it wasn’t raining”. At one point I thought it was snowing. There was snow falling yet there was not a cloud in the sky. I learned later that it was soft rime ice. A thick frost that can be hard or soft depending on conditions when it is formed. This was light and fluffy. The winds and sunshine combined to allow it to shake free and fall like snow. It was beautiful and amazing! It also served as a reprieve from my negative thinking. this morning!

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Falling Frost
Soft Rime ice

Just Before Bald Mountain Shelter I met some north bounders who had spent the night on top of the mountain. They were cold, wet and miserable. Their water had frozen and were very eager to get off the mountain. Seeking warmth, I had lunch with another hiker inside the shelter. Like me he was eating mostly trail mix for lunch. Mercury and Every View stopped by for water and a snack but quickly moved on. I took a longer break then usual and downed some cheese and peanut butter hoping the rest and calories would improve my energy and put some spark in my legs. It did not. I knew when I left the shelter another 10 miles wasn’t happening. It was 2:00 o’clock. I started thinking about options.

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Big Bald

Big Bald lay just ahead and I looked forward to seeing it despite the cold. Amazing unobscured views in every direction. Up this high everything had turned brown and with the wind and cold temperatures despite the sunshine there was definitely the feel of winter. I stopped long enough to appreciate humbly, being able to experience the wonder of it all!

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Eventually, my now really cold hands were begging to leave. I happily headed down the mountain. Once away from the wind and at lower elevation things warmed up noticeably. Surprisingly I caught Mercury and Every View who had stopped for another snack and were plotting their next move. We chatted and looked at the available hostels. They were inclined to keep moving and left me to decide my path. With cell signal at this spot I was determined to make a decision. I decided to call Mother Marian’s and see if they picked up at Sam’s Gap five miles away. It was a little after 3 when I called. I was elated when they said I could be picked up at Street Gap only 3 miles away. On the way I caught up with Mercury who has more trouble going downhill then up. She is a very steady hiker who covers long miles each day. I hope that in time I can change my style to be more like hers yet retain my ability to fly downhill. I told her of my plan and when we reached Street Gap Every View was waiting. We had to walk a quarter of a mile down to meet the shuttle driver to Marians. My legs were toast but I felt relieved and looked forward to a warm shower.

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Marian’s Hostel was unlike any I had been to before. It was in the basement of their house and had all the amenities you would expect when staying with relatives. Included with the stay was a wonderful breakfast of fresh eggs from their 8 chickens on the property. I also had dinner with them and Marian is a great cook! She and her husband were wonderful hosts. Indeed it was like visiting family. Mercury even said it was her favorite hostel on the whole trail. The next day my legs still seemed extremely sore. I decided to zero here and forego any hiking to give my legs an additional day of rest. I did go for a 2 mile walk just to stretch my legs without the pack. Gears and Theory showed up that night and I made even stronger friendships with them. I can’t emphasize enough how much this journey continues to teach me. Even though many things don’t turn out as planned, it always turns out just fine. In fact it’s as if everything is just the way it was meant to be. The great people I meet, the wondrous things I come upon, even the thoughts that pass through my mind, have all shaped and pointed me in the direction that I’m suppose to travel. Tomorrow would be no different. The journey as always continues…

Hallelujah, On the Trail again…

I have faced several setbacks on my Appalachian Trail adventure. Nevertheless I haven’t been deterred in the least bit. In fact amazing things have taken place in my life despite the disappointments. My eyes and mind have remained on why I started in the first place. All my goals are still in front of me and this journey keeps moving forward no matter where I find myself. Its brought me new and supportive people to my life. Also, as you will find out later a new way to look at the world and my place within it. I probably will divide this into several posts to keep them shorter but also to allow for some heartfelt explanations of what I’m experiencing.

But first I needed to get back on the Trail. I had made two failed attempts back in September. The first attempt I just backed out because water was so scarce. Maybe I could of found it but I wasn’t comfortable with the situation and called it off. I went with my instincts which I have learned is usually my best move. Two weeks later I tried again. Water availability still proved elusive and I ended up pretty dehydrated. Enough that I recognized some critical signs and decided to cut short my plans. Then a friend and hiker who I met on my first day on the Trail back in April sent me a picture of himself summiting Katahdyn. He was returning to Damascus Virginia and would need to walk 470 miles to Springer Georgia to complete his 2200 mile adventure. We planned to meet in Erwin Tennessee at Uncle Johnny’s Hostel. I wasn’t sure how far I would go but I hoped to at least get to Hot Springs North Carolina. I could use a bit of confidence and hoped meeting up with No Collar would be the cure.

You might say things didn’t get off to a good start. A few weeks earlier I had partially torn my right bicep tendon moving furniture. I was told it was a minor tear but would take six weeks to know if it would heal on it’s own. It was feeling pretty good on the morning my sister was going to drop me off in Erwin. Thanks to her for taking the time and doing the driving! Did I say my arm was feeling pretty good that morning. I guess a little too good. When I went to transfer my 34 pound pack into her trunk, I inadvertently used my right arm and immediately heard and felt a big pop. It hurt bad but I could tell from experience it wasn’t completely torn. I was still going! I popped some Vitamin I and off we went albeit with one arm. Once at the hostel No Collar helped me with my pack after seeing me struggle. I explained the situation and he suggested we spend the night and see what things were like in the morning. Rain was forecast all night and into the morning so we made a plan to eat a late breakfast in town and start hiking around 1 o’clock. I had 24 hours to heal. Had a great time catching up with No Collar and met several other hikers heading south as well. 3 women, Caboose, Mojo, and Mercury and 3 men besides No Collar, Every View, Gears, and Theory. Each had a great story and I would meet them several times during the next week. Once again the Trail was responsible for providing friendships that far exceeded our limited time together. I met numerous others in passing, some going South, others North but all stopped and we exchanged information about the trail ahead, words of kindness, encouragement, and well being. What a supportive community!

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Baptist Church across the bridge from the Uncle Johnny’s Hostel

I went to sleep that night and prayed my arm would

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improve beyond just hanging at my side. Miracles happen! In the morning, it wasn’t completely healed but I could function and without pain. Maybe some soreness andit didn’t really bother me the rest of the trip.

The rain continued through the morning. Finally it slowed to a trickle and two hikers made a decision to leave. I listened to No Collar and Mojo who were watching on radar. They said another 30 minutes and the front would be past. They were correct as in a few minutes the bottom fell out one more time. Mercury said something I will remember from now on. When thru hikers first start their attitude is full speed ahead. When weather is a factor, “we just learned to “embrace the suck. Now 1800 miles later it’s, how can we avoid it”. It makes sense if you delay hiking a few hours and can avoid getting your only hiking clothes wet. Why not. In this case it proved to be a wise decision. Cold would be on the menu for the morrow.

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Entering the Forest

But first I had a hill to climb. Because of the late start I decided to set my sights on Spivey Gap, 11 miles away. It was an immediate climb once I entered the woods. My pack was 34 pounds and I hadn’t hiked with it on my back for 4 months. My legs felt it first. No Collar let me lead but within a half mile I told him to go on. 1800 miles had turned him into a machine. Now all alone I settled into making this hike my own. It felt good to be back! Though the rain had stopped the sun would shine only briefly today. There were several views looking down on Erwin.

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I was surprised how quickly I climbed up and away from the little town. I’ll admit my legs were not in the best of shape but I pushed on, resting when I needed which was too often. No Business Knob Shelter was 6 miles ahead and where I planned to eat lunch. About a half mile from the shelter I was hit by a severe cramp in my right leg. So severe I dropped to the ground. I sat in the middle of the trail both legs straight out. flexing and massaging until the pain subsided. I got up and limped toward the shelter. There was a group of three hikers heading north who had the same idea as myself. A little break get water and a snack. Lunch wasn’t happening because it was almost 4 o’clock and the sun was getting lower. I took a longer break because of my cramps, ate some trail mix and chugged a half liter of water. We talked some while I fixed another issue with my pack’s shoulder strap. I had another climb ahead so I went for water just in case I didn’t make it to Spivey Gap. Plan B was an old dirt road just before the top of a 100 foot climb 5 miles ahead. The water source was a spring just off the trail not far from the shelter. I had trouble finding it and burned precious minutes filling up. Now it was 4:30. The trail started a slow climb at first and about 15 minutes of hiking at a pretty fast pace both my legs cramped up. This had never before happened in all my years of hiking. There I was sitting on the trail again, alone, darkness setting in. I could limp back to the shelter or pray. I couldn’t stay there that was for sure. I prayed, got up and started walking slowly. I felt the fast pace was part of the problem. The climb got steeper and I became more determined. The cramps never returned. Once at the top I felt what I didn’t on the way up. The wind was howling and the temperature dropped significantly. Darkness was now approaching but I felt going downhill I could make better time. Thankful I had made the climb without anymore issues, I decided to rest a minute before flying down the hill. Taking my pack off I ate an energy bar, washing it down with cold spring water. The cold wind was moving the clouds from the sky. Noticing I was shivering I put on my warm hoodie and watched the last of the sunlight. I mostly ran down the hill for about a mile. Slowing down toward the bottom because I couldn’t see the trail. Once I even had to stop because I crossed a creek and couldn’t find it. I heard cars and knew I was close. Crossing Hwy 19 west I reentered the woods and saw No Collar off to my right. He greeted me and I him while pitching my tent. No Collar went to bed. I was too tired to cook so I ate a sandwich, some trail mix, peanut butter and a protein drink, in the dark with my headlamp on. Once in my sleeping bag I felt so warm and secure. It had been a little struggle but I made it and I was happy! The wind was loud among the branches and more than a few fell to the ground but I felt safe and protected. I was where I was suppose to be. On a cold, cold morning the journey would continue….

Smoky Mountain Retreat

Hopefully I’ll be on trail soon. This stopping and starting is not what I had planned. I’ll admit it has shaken my confidence a little. But I’ve got two things in my favor. One is, I don’t give up easy. My old basketball Coach used to say “Winners never quit and quitters never win”. I’m not considering this a win or lose situation but I intend to persevere. To refocus my mental approach (and just to get away} I decided to spend a few days in the Smokies. My new friends in the “900 trail miles of the Smokies” club is in Spain hiking the Camino. They are having an extraordinary time and doing remarkably well. I just needed to get away for a few days in the outdoors.

The first day I just experimented with different ways to setup my tent. I also tried cooking some new meals for the trail. Talked with the Park Rangers about my plan to hike the Old Settlers trail the next day. They had good information for changing my choice. I also received my first Senior discount, half price camping at National Parks! Every now and then being older does have a few benefits.

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Black Snake

But the highlight of the day was when I saw a pretty good size mouse scattering around my camp. At first I thought it was a chipmunk but the gray color tipped me off. Next thing I saw was a black snake chasing it. The mouse had a pretty good head start so the snake retreated.. Then it turned around and headed my way. I thought to myself “surely he doesn’t want a piece of me!”. Turns out he didn’t. I stepped aside and watched what was about to happen. He stuck is head{could of been a her I don’t know} down a one inch hole five feet from my tent. Went in and brought out his dinner. Ate it right in front of me. I felt sorry but that is how nature works. So I started thinking: Is there a nest of mice below my tent or a snakes den. I don’t even know if snakes have a den but in a way I was glad he was controlling the mice population. After that he went back in the hole and stayed for awhile. Every now and then he would stick his head out until I moved, then promptly went back down out of view. We agreed to share the space at least for the night. Thankfully I didn’t see him the next day.

The Park Rangers had told me the Old Settlers Trail was in bad shape and hadn’t been maintained for some time. Blowdowns blocked the trail in spots and over growth made the trail at times almost impassable or at least unrecognizable. So I decided to climb Mt. Cammerer. 4950 feet. There are two ways from camp to climb that Mountain. Both climb up to the Appalachian Trail which is the ridge line through all the Smokies north to south. Where Lower Mt. Cammerer trail (7.6 miles) meets the Appalachian Trail junction, you still have to climb 1500 feet. Or you can take Low Gap Trail and climb to 4200 feet in 2.9 miles and then head North on the AT, a 700 foot climb to the Mt. Cammerer peak. I chose the Low Gap approach. I wanted to do the whole loop but changed my mind after walking up, up,up 2.9 miles, climbing the whole way. Even then it was two miles more climbing to get to the top.

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Sign at top of Low Gap

A few interesting things happened on the way. First of all I started down the wrong trail. Luckily I had only climbed a couple hundred feet before my intuition said turn back . For some reason the signage in the Smokies confuses me. I’m getting used to it but until then I HAVE TO BE CAREFUL! The trail itself is used by horses as well. There are no big rocks but mainly loose gravel. Not sure how the horses like it but I found it kind of slippery. Slippery enough that at one point I hit the ground hard, mostly on my forearm but thankfully it wasn’t broken. Picked the gravel out and kept on hiking. It was again pretty dry so any water source was gone after 30 minutes. What I carried was all I would have for the day.

If I decided to do the loop it might be late before I made it back, it was already 10:30. I carried 4 liters. On the way up I met several hikers usually in pairs. More on that later.

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Headed up there somewhere!

As hard as the climb was I enjoyed it even as my quads screamed. One younger lady passed me as I had a snack on the side of the hill. A few hours later Later I met her again coming down from Low Gap. She told me “Once at the top of Low Gap she just wasn’t up for the 2 extra miles to the peak. “Very disappointing” were her words. She seemed in better shape than myself so I decided to take a longer break. My big plan for the day just got smaller. Eventually I came to the intersection of the AT where a section hiker on his way to Georgia had stopped before his 1100 foot climb southbound to Deer Creek Gap. I decided to snack and he had lunch. We talked a few minutes when up from Low Gap came 3 horses with riders, a mule in tow. I had never seen horses on the Appalachian Trail. They dismounted and rested the horses checking shoes and other equipment. The three of them were locals, two of which were father and son. They were riding this day conditioning the horses for an elk hunt in Colorado.

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Horses on the Appalachian Trail

The father had hiked most of the trails around the area and had some solid information. The son was also vey friendly. I would see them again later in the day. They rode off to the top and I tried to keep up at first but thought better of it. The next two miles were a challenge but not as much as Low Gap.

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Approach to Mt. Cammerer

I knew I was getting close when the trees turned to shrubs. Just before the lookout tower I spotted the four animals tied up just below the observation area. What a grand view it was, a 360 degree view of North Carolina and Tennessee. I’ll post a video on Instagram. David, one of the horseman took the time to show me what I was looking at. The town of Cosby, the post office, and Interstate 40. He even showed me the trail I had originally planned on going back down. Seeing the ups and downs from up there and the thought of 5 extra miles solidified my decision to go back the way I came. It was almost three o’clock and even though I was prepared to cowboy camp if it came to that I chose the easier path. Before leaving, David gave me his phone number and told me to call him If I needed a shuttle off the trail or just to come ride horses. I just keep meeting such kind, giving people on this journey. Every body at the peak continued on, leaving the summit all to myself, for awhile. It was an awesome view and such a rewarding experience having made the climb and meeting more friends along the way. I retraced my steps back to Low Gap and began the steep climb down. This time I was like the horse who knows that the barn and food were at the bottom. I quickly covered the 2.5 miles in less than an hour. Didn’t see a snake or a mouse!

View from Mt Camerer
View from Mt Camerer

How do I think this hike will be different?

I was having lunch with a friend and hiker the other day. A question was proposed as to what I think might be different this time around? Immediately I thought of what gear changes were planned, trail conditions, diet, and weather. All the physical things. I could tell by her expression that I hadn’t understood the question correctly. She was referring to my spiritual approach, the Pilgrimage. Have my goals changed now that I won’t be a thru hiker? At that moment I really didn’t have an answer. I’m so happy she asked the question because I had been off trail close to 12 weeks. I had purposely put on hold, most of the thoughts about returning to the trail. By this time my grandchildren were back in school. I thought about ways to improve my diet and lessen the weight in my pack. In the process I put off revisiting why I was going in the first place. It was time to get my spirit ready.

Before my first hike was interrupted I had a routine of reading, meditating and praying each morning and evening. Most of which was preparation to receive the days gifts with humility and thanksgiving. When I started walking each day I sought to go with a sense of wonder and mystery. I knew every morning that something was going to happen, maybe many things. But what? I tried to be alert and attentive each and every step. A day on the trail without that wonder and mystery is a day lost. A day lived with less excitement and anticipation. Days that are, sad to say forever lost. Without the right mindset I would have had a meaningless hike. Oh I would have witnessed some beautiful sights but there impact would be short lived. Instead I brought them home with me. They are part of me. Truthfully be told that same sense of wonder and mystery can be found any place that you find yourself. I just choose to go to creation with opened eyes and ears, feet on the ground, connected to my maker.

So what will be different this time around? Mostly it will be the same, with one important difference. The difference is me. I am starting from a different place spiritually. Remember there are two journeys going on at the same time. The physical journey and the spiritual journey. My legs and feet are taking me there but my heart and soul are driving. I’m further along the path with more and greater wonders awaiting. Thank be to God the journey continues…

Two quotes from “The Art of Pilgrimage” Phil Cousineau

What matters most on your journey is how deeply you see, how attentive you hear, how richly the encounters are felt in your heart and soul” Huston Smith/Foreword to “The Art Of Pilgrimage”

“For those of you about to embark on your journey, I pass on to you what an old Irish poet once told me on the cliffs of the Aran Islands: We should all be grateful for the beauty of this world, but more, we should take the trouble to get off the bus of life and put the soles of our feet to the soul of the world and see the sacred sites with our own eyes.” Phil Cousineau The Art Of Pilgrimage” Phil Cousineau

It’s time to go hiking again!

I have to be honest. This has been a great summer. The disappointment of leaving the trail was put to rest rather quickly. Thanks to the encouragement I received from all my friends. I also think my focus on mindfulness helped. I left the negative thoughts behind and focused on the experience of living on the trail for 415 miles. There were so many memories to cherish.

I was able to spend all the time I wanted with my family. I contacted and was contacted, by old and new friends. We had lunch talking about not only my experience on the trail but what was going on in their lives. I met new hikers and even did my first hike in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. I continue to grow with my church family. Many of whom I had no idea even knew I was hiking. It’s heartening to know others are praying for your safety and success. My goals I set in retirement are in motion and alive. Despite the early pause in the hike I remained positive. Rest and calories is what I needed and received. Family, friends, and a positive attitude made for a great and memorable summer! But it’s time to go hiking again! The journey continues…

Highlights and health report

My foot is healing and if I have no further issue I plan to be on the trail early September. Due to the season winding down and no chance to make Maine this year, a new option is shaping up going forward. I will star where my daughters dropped me off last April. Heading southbound I will finish Virginia which is 45 miles. From there I will head toward the Smokies a little more than 330 more miles. If successful I’ll stop there for the year. I would still like to end this journey in Georgia 2020. Next April there is a Festival for hikers heading north to Maine from Harpers Ferry which just happens to be where I left the Trail. I plan to be part of that group. This plan has several advantages which I’ll explain in a later post. Now here is my favorite experiences among many more I left out. I’ll post some links for more information if you are interested.

Trents Grocery

From Blogpost Days 1-3 This was where I started. An odd place to start for sure but you know what they say, “You have to start somewhere”. I was super excited but anxious as well.excited. I was also sad to be leaving Stephanie and Anna who have been so supportive. They shared my emotions yet each of us couldn’t help but have mixed feelings. Standing by the the car I took my time getting organized yet at some point it felt like I was stalling, buying time to keep from that moment of separation. I genuinely felt their concerns and knew this moment was a symbol of much more than me simply going on a hike. Eventually one of us had to get this thing started. We took pictures, cried and then I turned around and walked into the trees and out of sight. I climbed maybe fifty feet and turned around. Standing high up over the car I peered through the trees. The car was still there. I thought something might be wrong and wondered if I should go back. Looking at my phone which had no signal I waited for what seemed quite a long time. The taillights came on, the car disappeared. Now alone, I did too. Twenty minutes later after climbing a couple hundred feet the trail flattened out and I was overcome by a rush of excitement. I was really on the Appalachian Trail!

First step

Woods Hole Hostel

From Blogpost Days 1-3 I had mixed feelings about this at first. It was only my second day. I was stopping short of my original planned mileage. Not a confidence builder for sure. The six wonderful hikers I met the first night had plenty of experience. They planned to sit the storm out at Woods Hole because the approaching cold front with possible snow and high winds was suppose to only stick around for a day. I decided that as long as I got to Pearisburg the next day my schedule wouldn’t be compromised. Woods Hole Hostel proved to be a unique place and an excellent chance to talk with my new friends and gain valuable trail knowledge. Here are two links to articles about this amazing place. http://woodsholehostel.com/ https://woodsholehostel.com/about/the-legend/

Hike into Pearisburg

From Blogpost Days 1-3 Leaving Woods Hole Hostel in spitting snow I was very disorganized. It would take a few weeks to get a routine but right now I was making too many mistakes. I was the last to leave that morning, even forgetting to fill my water bottles. A half mile away at the trailhead I located and filtered water from a sketchy source alongside the road. Got my feet wet and was feeling the cold that had settled in last night. Fortunately the weather would improve as the day went on and the exertion from hiking kept me warm. It actually was a pleasant hike with a steep descent into Pearisburg. Along the way down there were more than several switchbacks through an immense hillside of flowers. The biggest nursery I had ever seen! It was too early in spring to see the blooms but I would like to go back one day and witness the many thousands of flowers.

Rice Field Shelter

From Blogpost Days 4-7 I had spent a single night in Pearisburg and the weather definitely changed.It was a hot climb that day to Rice Field. Approaching the top of the mountain I came to a clearing which I saw before I entered. I had no idea the size of this field though and once I left the forest I knew this would be a special place on my trip. The weather was perfect and promised a beautiful sunset overlooking the West Virginia valley below. There were 10 to 15 people there and we all watched in silence as the sun slowly dropped out of sight along with an amazing show of colors from orange to purple.

Pine Branch Shelter

From Blogpost Days 4-7 The highlight of this day was my mileage. I had covered 12.5 miles. It was a confidence builder as the friends I had met were all a day ahead of me and all the decisions to be made were made by me. I had been hiking 5 days now and averaged just under 10 miles a day. That was exactly what I planned for my first few weeks.

Wind Rock

From Blogpost Days 4-7 This was a hard day but also one of the best. My first trail magic! I had been hiking in the heat and conserving water all day. At Mountain Lake Wilderness part of the George Washington and Jefferson National Forest I decided to eat lunch at the trailhead to Wind Rock overlook. After eating a pack of crackers a van pulled up with two ladies and 3 children. They offered to make me a turkey/pepperoni sandwich which I gladly accepted. I was also given a second sandwich for later along with a cucumber, apple and a coke. We talked and met at the Wind Rock overlook for pictures and more conversation. This little act of kindness restored my energy and lifted my spirit. The rest of the days hike was a joy. I also ran into Magnolia here. A thru hiker I first met at Woods Hole Hostel. She received some of their Magic as well. Hiking down to the shelter I felt even more confident and trail life was starting to feel normal.

Spending Easter weekend with my good friend Paul and his wife.

From Blogpost Days 4-7 I had planned for Paul to pick me up on a highway that the trail crossed in the middle of nowhere. There wasn’t good phone reception so I had to trust things would work out and it did! I waited along side the road for maybe 10 minutes and saw a truck which fit the description. We hadn’t seen each other for many years. Paul was my neighbor growing up in Wisconsin. The bonds between us created during those days are still alive despite the many years apart. We had a great time reminiscing and I can’t thank him and his wife enough. Paul would also pick me up at a motel in Daleville the next week where No Collar and I were going to zero. Thanks for the hospitality!

Audie Murphy Monument

From Blogpost Daily Ups and Downs I had noted this landmark while planning my hike. I was looking forward to it for two reasons. The first being the magnitude of his service to this country. He is the most decorated American soldier of World War Two. The monument marks the spot of his death in a plane crash in 1971. The second reason was that I had planned to call a friend from here who was also a veteran and very familiar with Audie’s life. Sadly he passed away before I started my hike. I stayed awhile here on a bench in front of the memorial and thought of each of them, saying a prayer before quietly and humbly continuing up the trail. https://connectingvets.radio.com/articles/5-things-know-about-audie-murphy https://www.ausa.org/audie-leon-murphy

Dragons Tooth

From Blogpost Daily Ups and Downs This could be considered a low light. The hike was going well until I fell three times in twenty minutes. The first two weren’t bad. I even laughed at the first one. I was annoyed at the second and on the third I felt pain. I had aggravated an older injury which at first seemed minor but grew worse as the terrain also got worse. It was the first time I experienced instability and possibly at risk of a serious fall. I slowed my steps due to safety concerns as well as the increasingly sore foot. Looking back at my notes and the guidebook, it would bother me off and on for the next 300 miles. This day however it influenced my decision to not take a short side trail to the actual Dragons Tooth. A decision I regret and will go back another day. Hopefully with a better outcome.

Mcafe Knob and Tinker Cliffs to Lambert Shelter

From Blogpost Daily Ups and Downs Mcafee Knob is the most iconic overlook on the southern portion of the Trail. It was a nice but also hot and hard hike. Unknown to me as I climbed it would be my longest mileage day. Almost 17 miles! The views were everything I imagined and Tinker Cliffs was amazing. I made a decision to leapfrog my original destination and extend hike this day by six miles to Lamberts Shelter. I made it just before dark. Also I was reunited with No Collar who I had met on my first day of this journey. https://www.visitroanokeva.com/things-to-do/outdoor-adventure/hiking-trails/triple-crown/#Tooth

Thunder Hill Shelter

From Blogpost Gains and Pains First time crossing an open field in a thunder storm. Despite the weather and a small head injury I had a great time at the shelter.

Ottie Cline Monument

From Blogpost Gains and Pains A monument to a four year old boy in 1890 who wandered away from school in a snowstorm. He was found dead the next spring on top of Bluff Mountain. I had thoughts of this boy for several days. Still do. I said a prayer and placed a flower on his monument. Weeks later I would mention this to other hikers and all had the same reaction. https://blueridgecountry.com/archive/favorites/ottie-cline-powell/

Cole Moutain

From Blogpost Gains and Pains This was another fabulous view. Maybe my favorite of the whole trip. There were three times I listened to the song Wonder by Hillsong UNITED in 400 miles of the hike and this was one of them. http://www.theoutbound.com/virginia/hiking/hike-cole-mountain

The flood at Priest Shelter/Meeting Sunshine and Spoons/Devils Backbone Brewery

From the Blogpost Trail Magic or coincidence The next two days were a mini representation of how life on the trail changes from hour to hour. Misfortune or what could be disaster is avoided, a desperate need or want suddenly appears as if by magic. Changing of plans and daily goals on the fly. The climb up Priest Mountain at the end of a 14 mile day was hard but not much different from any other day. The rain and darkness started soon after arriving at Priest Shelter. Quickly it turned into a monsoon. The whole campground was in short order, under water. In the outdoors your equipment gets damp even without the rain. The next morning mine would be wet and in need of a lengthy drying period. My intended plan was to do seven miles to the next shelter and do just that. Morning started out foggy and unlikely the sun would show its face soon. However fortunes changed and I was able to accomplish the drying out while I waited on two Trail Angels who offered a better plan. I would also get a great meal and shower at the Devils Backbone Brewery. Thanks to two extraordinary hikers who happened to be out just for a day hike. See my May 14th post Trail Magic or coincidence?https://dbbrewingcompany.com/location/basecamp/

Three Ridges Mountain

From the Blogpost Trail Magic or coincidence I had been warned by Spoons and Sunshine on how difficult this climb would be. Looking in the rearview mirror I feel I handled it well but at the end of the day my feet hurt terribly from the continuous rocky terrain as we seemingly spiraled up this 2200 feet of rocks. I am always amazed by the chaotic nature of strewn boulders along these mountainsides, and yet each seem to be where they belong. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1o0hxmwqLnM Start at 5:17 for a look at what it was like climbing 3 Ridges. This is not my video but gives an accurate look at the trail I posted a screenshot of in my blogpost.

Shenandoah National Forest

From Blogpost Shenandoah Part 1 and 2 There were many highlights here including:

BlackRock overlook, a mass of large dark rocks piled up and spewed down the mountainside.

1st bear sighting. Though I missed the chance to get a really close picture at least it was a positive encounter.

Hiking with Jed Morgansen and Steak n Shake for 3 weeks

Spent more time with these two hikers, both of whom had much more trail experience then myself. Thanks to them for hiking with me for 200 miles. I learned many things about navigating the trail for my next section in September. More importantly I have memories that will go with me no matter where I venture.

Dinner at the Big Meadows Lodge

The Blackberry ice cream pie was outstanding. My calorie intake for the meal was well over two thousand.

First slack pack only 8 miles but very telling about the relationship of my foot injury and the amount of weight on my back.. Made me realize I needed to shed a few pounds more from my pack. All this courtesy of Steak “n” Shake’s friend, Kent Lester. He is an author and was camped in an RV nearby writing his third book. I was inspired after talking to him about writing. Thanks Kent for all your hospitality. https://www.goshenandoah.com/dining/big-meadows-lodge

Tom Floyd Shelter

Met some of the dedicated volunteers maintaining the Trail. They were actively repairing the shelter when a storm quickly and somewhat violently blew in and then out just as fast. That was also my goodbye to Shenandoah.

Trail Magic from Flip Lewis

I intended to bring a sandwich from Front Royal where I resupplied. I needed some lunch and a drink. The day was extremely hot. Flip was setup along the trail with a grill. Fed me 2 hotdogs, 2 Mountain Dews and chips. Great guy to talk with and he provided me with much needed calories. Thanks to Flip. Trail Magic is great! From Blogpost Shenandoah Parts 1 and 2

Bears Den Hostel

From Blogpost 50 miles to Harpers Ferry A great place to stay and real close to the trail. A bed, shower, pizza and a pint of Ben and Jerrys ice cream, not to mention pancakes in the morning for 30 dollars. https://www.bearsdencenter.org/

Harpers Ferry

From Blogpost 50 miles to Harpers Ferry What a cool town. Seemingly every building and house is from the 1850’s. History everywhere you look. Also the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers. Sadly it also was the end of this part of my journey. https://theculturetrip.com/north-america/usa/west-virginia/articles/10-things-you-didnt-know-about-harpers-ferry-in-west-virginia/

Why am I off the Trail and What’s the Plan Now?

Virginia is rocky at times
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That’s where I started that morning

I guess a better question is could I have continued? I probably could have but for how long? Other things besides my feet were also flowing through my thoughts. I had lost 30 lbs. I didn’t feel bad but others had noticed and had said so. It seemed my lack of calories effected my total miles each day. My legs seemed strong enough to continue but I didn’t seem to have any energy at the end of the day. I was trying to eat all I could but it just wasn’t enough. I estimate I was taking in 2000 to 2500 calories a day. I will need to add double that going forward. In the northern half of Shenandoah I was able to supplement my diet with burgers and fries. This seemed to help with my energy in the afternoons. My nutrition needed a reset as much as my foot. I started to take look at some other things as well.

I’d missed some important milestones in my grandchildren’s lives. This affected me more than I anticipated. My retirement had given me the opportunity for the first time to spend all summer with them as well as both of my daughters who work in the school system. As for retiring I now think that I left for this hike a little too hastily. Although there wasn’t any other acceptable option, I could have used more time to settle into my new life as a retiree.

I thought about my decision to start this journey. What was the journey all about? The injuries, weight loss, and these other concerns needed answers. I am the type of person that benefits from time and separation to evaluate things when making difficult decisions. Some experiences in life aren’t fully grasped until after the fact. The trail is one of those. Looking back at my 5 reasons for wanting to do this hike revealed some answers. These are thoughts that began on the trail and continued as I reset my journey.

The trail follows the blaze to the left

#5 Challenge This was harder than I expected. The hikes I had done last year proved to be mostly for testing gear. Nothing I experienced last year prepared me for the daily mental and physical effort required to keep moving forward. The amount of ups and downs is staggering at first. Week three was my hardest and I almost quit right then. The toll on the body, not just the feet is real and persistent. Many of the aches come and go as you walk. But especially at my age you expect some discomfort throughout the day. It’s just a matter of degree and if it warrants special attention. I don’t mean to imply that hiking the AT is only about the pain to get to Maine. Many moments of each day are simply exhilarating. The body will generally recover and adapt to what is being demanded. At the end of each day when the climbs and miles are done there is satisfaction and pride in what was accomplished. The ups and downs are emotional as well. I think that is what makes this endeavor so enticing. A day on the trail can be filled with more life than a month back home. I need to process that thought some more as I reflect on the experience. I travelled 415 miles in 40 days of hiking. I feel the challenges I faced and experience gained sets me up for an even more meaningful journey ahead.

Exploring Harpers Ferry

#4 Adventure My whole time hiking was filled with adventure. Every hour new people were met and even though we might have different goals for the day a comradery was understood and appreciated. The shared experience created a friendship despite few words. The scenery was always changing and new. Trail life though routine required constant evaluation as the conditions changed. Moving forward each day insured that today would be the first for something. What would that be?

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A nice spot for lunch
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Unexpected moments on the trail are the best!

#3 Relationships This is a hard one. I am disappointed because my intention was to be gone for six months and though I knew injury was a possibility, I didn’t entertain that it might actually happen. I had hoped to meet like minded people on the trail and I did. Because of how and where I chose to start this hike, many of the people I met had many more miles and experience then myself. They tended to know each other and hiked twice as many miles each day. I learned from all of them and received kindness and encouragement. Some were hiking a similar hike as myself and these I got to know really well. I also was surprised how small interactions with section hikers influenced my hike. These hikers were only out for a couple of weeks yet just by our conversations over lunch we connected. I appreciated their approach to the trail and came to see their experience as a bridge between my first backpacking trips and this attempted thru hike. Each has it’s benefits. All of these relationships were very special.

I mentioned earlier family relationships. These especially were on my mind. I knew by the end of Shenandoah I needed a break. I knew I had to leave for at least a few weeks and sort out all my physical issues. How could I accomplish all of my goals? I started to look at the positives of changing the journey.

#2 Mindfulness

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The first thing you learn about Mindfulness is that it is intentional. Hiking insures that one stays in the present by focusing on one step at a time. It’s the next step that is most important. Then the next step becomes the present and the last one becomes the past. What is important is always the issue facing you at the moment. When hiking the mind tends to wander and this isn’t bad if there is also a constant coming back to the present. It is in the present that decisions must be made before moving on. If the past or future are littered with worry, doubt, or fear how can one make good decisions. I tried to make the decision to change my hike with these things in mind.

#1 Spirituality I hiked mostly alone with time to open my mind to what the Spirit had to say. It centered around faith and trust. There were many new experiences and possibilities that might go wrong. I worried about my pace, my capabilities, even getting lost. This happened to me several times though thankfully not for long. Water was at times in short supply. The terrain was often unsafe, it seemed a fall was only a step away. Two or three times a day an ankle turned or a foot slipped without incident. Storms presented their own set of worries and concerns. Also being alone at these times left me feeling vulnerable. Like most of life we do not have control of these things. I responded with humility and thankfulness. I leaned heavily on my faith and trust that I wasn’t alone. I felt the presence of the Spirit always with me. Jesus was there beside me reassuring and guiding me. The hours each day spent open to this message fostered a deeper understanding of the nature of God and my relationship to him. It also gave me confidence not only on the trail but direction as to what I should be doing when I go back home.

Approach to the top of Cole Mountain
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The cycle of life
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Morning contemplation

There’s always a sun behind those clouds!

I’m still disappointed about leaving the trail but it was a tremendous experience. It touched on each of my 5 reasons for wanting to make the attempt. In fact by resetting my journey I’ll realize my goals more fully. Spend more time with my family and have an opportunity to reach out in the community and start walking my journey here at home. The trail will be there when I am ready to go again. The new plan for the trail has benefits the first one ignored. I’ll explain these in my next post. I thought of each of you while on the trail and used your encouragement along the way. Wishing you well as continue on your journey!