Monthly Archives: November 2019

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….