Day 4-7 First Sunset/First Fall

The trail life is a steep learning curve. Seems that my mornings always contain some delay whether that is an equipment issue or simply me forgetting something. Today leaving Angels rest after a nice breakfast in Pearisburg I felt rushed to get on the shuttle and left my trekking poles at the hostel. No Collar left me at the trail head while I waited for the drivers to retrieve my poles. Thankfully they located them and returned in 5 minutes. So I began this hike a little rattled. Proceding up the trail a short way I missed a turn and walked 30 yds. into a interesting and historic cemetary. It seemed a good place to sit down and regroup. I took several pictures Later as I began the climb up my daughter texted me asking me if I was on the trail because my tracking device showed me miles away. This just added to my frustration. In my rush to get started I did not give the device time to fix my location and once hiking it never would. That fixed I caught up  with Safety Chute, a lady doing a section hike. We talked and climbed the hill in close proximity until one or the other would stop for a break. Leap frogging each other until my pack strap came apart. Luckily it wasn’t broke but I had to spend 15 minutes fixing it. I say all this because I’m learning fast that things happen and feeling angry or frustrated doesn’t make things better. I slowed down and started the tough climb to Rice Field shelter in decent time.

  1. This day was the first full day of sunshine and what a grand surprise when I got to the top. A full view of the west side looking down into a valley that I have been told is West Virginia and the promise of a beautiful sunset. Several hikers I knew were there including two guys who were brothers in law Lorax and The Mayor from Florida. We all had dinner and then went to a huge open field to watch natures light show. I can’t explain how the days events, surrounded by friends, and the atmosphere changed my outlook. To cap it off it was almost a full moon and a view of sunrise the next morning.
Sunset Rice Field

Sunrise Rice Field shelter

After eating breakfast I headed toward Piney Branch shelter which began as a short climb through a field followed by a ridge walk with beautiful views of the rolling pastures below. Somewhere along here my foot kicked a root and down I went. The speed with which it all happened startled me though my pack softened the fall. I estimate that you have decent footing only 50 per cent of the trail. The rest is a balancing act. The ridge walk was really several ridges which required a descent and climb to the next ridge. This went on for more than 5 miles . It was a beautiful day and for the first time I didn’t feel like I had to hurry. When the 1500 foot descent to the shelter began the nice trail turned into a rock fest. I try to be extra careful in these areas but it forces me to slow my pace. I have found that my trekking poles also have to be used judiciously because they tend to get caught between rocks and can cause a fall. Eventually I heard the sound of rushing water which is Pine Swamp branch. It would lead me to the shelter. After a few minutes rest I picked great spot a great spot for the tent. It looked like I would be alone for the night but eventually Crockpot arrived and before dark 4 others Including 2 new hikers Nemo and Hemingway.

This is basically the routine each day. I think I’ll begin to shorten these descriptions and tell only the destination, mileage, exceptional happenings or other interesting people I meet. If I have a particularly tough day or a really good day I might go into why that was. I would like to say that up to now the climbs have been really tough. At the end of each day I feel like my legs have done all they can do. To ask for more would risk injury and possibly my hike. Up to this point I have exceeded what my plan called for despite the mistakes. Each day seems more routine if not any easier. I expect in 3 weeks or so my legs will catch up an I can add a couple miles to my daily routine.

Day 5 War Spur Shelter 12.7 miles.

This was to be the warmest day yet. As usual it started with a hard climb and after a few hours a ridge walk but this one was different. It never did quite make the ridge. The trail stayed below the peak about 50 yds. and any breeze on the other side. With no leaves on the trees the heat of the sun made for an awfully harder hike. I kept hoping to feel the wind I knew was just a few steps higher. Eventually I spilled out into the Mountain Lake Wilderness. A big open area and parking lot with access to Wind Rock overlook at 4100 feet elevation. I stopped to eat some cheese crackers and a big drink of needed water. No one was around and I decided to take a longer than usual break. Unknown to me I was about to experience some trail magic. A car pulled up and two women (Laura and Becky) along with 5 children got out and came to the kiosk where I was sitting. We chatted a little and they asked if I would like a turkey sandwich! I don’t thing I’ve ever said yes quite so fast. Not only did I get one but two sandwiches along with an apple, a cucumber, and a coke. It really lifted my spirits which had drained in the heat. They went on to Wind Rock while I ate and I followed which was only a few hundred yards. I stopped took a few pictures and then asked for all of us to be in one together. I wanted to remember my new friends. Thank you all and best of luck to you. Now it was another steep and tricky descent with 2 swift creek crossings. The water was pretty high and very fast. Once negotiated I followed it again down to the shelter. I love hiking along beside a large stream. It’s cool and the water is loud. Magnolia was already setup in the shelter and because I wanted a fast start in the morning plus the threat of storms, I decided to as well. Near dark 3 high mileage hikers showed up and took to the shelter as well. We ate and got into our bags for the night: The morning started with the sound of thunder. Only a few drops fell as we all hustled to beat the storm up the hill. I was last as usual but was out by 7:30, a first for me. Once again these climbs in the morning really challenge me but I do see improvement. The rain came with a flash of light and a rumble just before reaching the top. That was the only lightning I would see. I put on my rain coat and headed to Hwy 42 where I would be picked up by Paul, a childhood friend I hadn’t seen in many years. The rain was steady for awhile until I heard cows mooing in the nearby. A pasture appeared below through some trees. Soon I was walking in green grass and rolling hills. The trail led through several of these with wood planks spiked to the ground in low areas. The cows looked curiously at me as I traversed their home. Timing was perfect and my ride was there in 10 minutes. So gracious for a needed rest after seven days!

Next stop Daleville, the journey continues….

Day 1-3 Pearisburg

It’s late but I won’t be able to post again until Easter weekend. First of all thanks for your interest and support. Many times each day I use that as motivation to keep moving north.

I’m not sure what form these posts will take. I’m still learning how to navigate the days I get to a town. Today for instance, I was a little late getting to Angels Rest hostel and now it’s 8 o’clock. But like life on the trail, this blog is a work in progress. Well get there.

So here’s a capsule of what I experienced.

Day 1 Trents Grocery. Thanks to my daughters for dropping me off. It was hard on all of us and you could tell we were stalling a bit. I because the point of no return had arrived. It was put up or shut up. Those first few steps were full of mixed emotions. The immediate climb didn’t make it easier. It rained on and off but light enough not to need a rain coat. Thankfully the terrain leveled off pretty quickly. I made it to the shelter in good time arriving damp but in good spirits. There were 6 people there. Two married couples. Better Together (they took one trail name), Muffit and Johnny Walker. Hugs, a retired marine, and No Collar who started 3 weeks ago in Damascus Va. All really great people who had good advice and even better friendship. Eventually 5 more people arrived. I stayed in the shelter as a storm was predicted but we only had a shower late that night.

The next night though was going to be worse and was it ever. I had a plan of doing 10 miles to the next shelter and then 7 into Pearisburg. I didn’t want to pitch a tent with the combination of high winds (40 mph),low temps , and hard rain. As late as I would get to the shelter there would be no guarantee I’d have a spot. So I flipped my days and did the seven miles on the 2nd day First making a reservation at Woods Hole hostel. I got the last reservation. What a lucky day. The storm was bad as expected and I had a bunk, shower, and two home cooked meals. There were twenty two people there. Including my friends from the previous night. We all shared stories furthering our friendship. Hopefully I’ll see them later down the trail.

Day 3 Got off to a bad start as I left the hostel with no water. I filtered from a questionable water source just off the road. It was cold and blowing wind, not to mention spitting snow. The climb wasn’t too bad but I was hurrying because No Collar was ahead of me and we planned to meet in Pearisburg. I never did catch him but stopped for a snack at Docks Knob shelter. Hot Cakes a section hiker from Canada was there eating lunch. We chatted a few minutes while eating and then I headed out to Pearisburg. Spring hasn’t really started here yet and the flowers are ready to bloom. I saw massive hillsides of a single flower but only a few had bloomed. It was beautiful! The trail turned into a ridge walk which is very pleasant. The downhill though was quite different except for another huge mass of flowers. The rain from the previous night changed the trail into a 2 mile a river. Nothing to do but walk through mud and water and try not to slip or worse fall down. Finally got to Pearisburg which is .7 miles down a road from the trail but didn’t have No Collars number. I figured I’d just get a motel or call Angels Rest hostel to see if he was there. Before I called a lady stopped her car and asked where I was heading. She told me she owned the hostel and No Collar had paid for my reservation. It was the last available bunk. That is what the Trail is about. We went out for Mexican Food after a needed shower. All in all things have gone well but I’m still learning not to mention getting trail legs!

Notice the branch through the roof.

Wapiti Shelter

Foggy morning before the storm

No view today

Woods Hole hostel/ bunkhouse to left

View from the ridge walk

Looking down

Couldn’t capture the scene. More of these just out of view

Woods Hole hostel

Porch of the Woods Hole Main cabin

Doesn’t show it but it was cold,windy, and at times snowing At least it wasn’t raining..

What am I taking

This is a list of what gear I’ll be taking to start my hike. I didn’t list the brand in most cases. If your curious email me and I will share. Shoes are an exception as they are probably the most important piece. 5 million steps ain’t no joke. It is also a good example of why you must find the gear that works for you. Never just decide on the suggestion of someone else. Many times I feel hikers judge each other by how light weight and or expensive (brand) of each item. Gear is an economic and a personal decision. In the end it’s not your gear but your determination and attitude that make the difference.  Research Grandma Gateway as an example.

I did tons of research and was very lucky that seemingly mostly all of it has worked to this point. Now as I prepare to get this show on the road adjustments will have to be made and it will be interesting to compare what items are still in my pack at the end.

What am I going to sleep in

I have a 2 man tent that is very lightweight. It is waterproof and needs no rain fly.  It uses my trekking poles to set up and requires 6 to 8 stakes.

20 degree rated  down sleeping bag with a silk liner that can be easily washed. It also is very lightweight .

Inflatable pillow

What clothes will I wear

At camp and sleeping:

Lt. wt. puffy down jacket

LS Polyester blend shirt, Wool blend long johns, exofficio underwear, Wool socks, lt. wt. camp shoes

running shorts for doing laundry

Hiking

1 ball cap, wool hat

I have 2 different types of shoes which I plan to use on different places on the trail. I will only bring one of these at any one time. When I change I will have to have the other sent to me. The primary shoe is an Altra trail runner. I have opted for the Olympus model for it’s extra cushioning. Pennsylvania has a large section of real rocky terrain and I might opt for my second choice Oboz sawtooth low-cut hiking shoe

1 pr underwear, 1 pr zip off pants w/belt, For cool mornings 1 Lt. wt. wool hoodie

Rain coat and pants, rain hat,  possibly lt. wt. rubber glove for cold rain

wool hat, 1 pr. gloves and glove liners

Cook system

Bear canister

Small gas stove,  fuel canister, lighter and a few waterproof matches, kitchen towel, spoon/fork

1 titanium pot 900 ml.

2nd 500 ml. pot to be used as a cup as well

(1) 3 liter water bag w/filter and 1 .6 liter bag w/ filter

Misc. freezer bags for rehydrating food

Small knife/multi tool

Toiletries

Trowel for digging holes when necessary, toilet paper, wet wipes allowed to dry out (hydrate as needed). Small piece of foot padding. Cut to desired shape on the trail. Chapstick, Band aids, neosporin comb, toothpaste/brush, floss, Hand sanitizer, sunscreen, nail clipper,  2 bandanas

Electronics

Phone, emergency beacon, headlamp, spare batteries, luci light for tent,  20000 mah battery for recharging, cables for recharging, USB adapter, camera

misc.

short piece of rope, sm. amt. of duct tape, piece of chamois cloth for drying up condensation in tent. 2 moisture resistant journals

The journey begins for real Saturday…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Last preparations

It’s been almost 3 weeks since I retired. It is less than 2 weeks until I take thepexels-photo-906531 first step  on the Appalachian Trail. It was and is quite a mix of emotions. The last 3 weeks felt like 3 months. Thanks to all my work friends for the support and encouragement not just for this journey but the last 22 years. I can sincerely say  that you made my job a joy! The emotional roller coaster has now taken a turn toward the trail. The reality is, despite two years of planning and anticipation I will have to experience separation from family, fear of the unknown, doubt, and anxiety. As the impending first steps approach, these thoughts grow louder. All of us have these same feelings at different times in our lives. Walking the trail is one way I have purposely chosen to face my fears. Yes there will be excitement. There will be untold beauty and all the other things one can dream. But at it’s core the trail provides the perfect environment for a new mindset. Overcoming fears and instilling confidence as a result. It provides the time and place to heal, to grow, and to wonder!  Only three things are needed. Myself, the earth and heaven. Oh yeah maybe a little food

Something calls to me

The trees are drawing me nearpexels-photo-167698

I’ve got to find out why

The gentile voices I hear

Explain it all with a sigh

Moody Blues/ Days of Future Passed

                                                      1967

 

Jack ponders life finally online

My grandson Jack had an idea for a podcast and I wanted to assist him and provide encouragement. (The link is found below.) It sounded like a good way to answer the many questions people have asked of me. I suggested I could be his first guest. So we went into the studio and recorded his questions about my hike. It was a challenge to learn all steps of editing and then getting it out on YouTube. Jack did an awesome job. The thoughtfulness of the questions really caught me by surprise. I stumbled a little bit and have found a few errors in my answers which we didn’t take the time to edit out. For a first effort I think we (he) did a great job. Can’t wait for his second episode. Having said that here are a couple of corrections or clarifications:

Minute 2:10 The comment is confusing. Actually Mike Simmons a friend and fellow hiker loaned me the book and many others about the trail. Frank Harrison was introduced to me as someone who had hiked the Trail previously. We became friends and hiked together from Max Patch to Hot Springs NC. His knowledge and experience have been a big help to my abilities and confidence for making this attempt to thru hike the AT.

Minute 4:50 I attended a class on 10 things to know about hiking the Appalachian Trail given by the Appalachian Trail Conservancy.

Minute 11: A shout out to Zpacks the maker of my tent and backpack. Two of the best gear choices I made!

Jack ponders life link to YouTube

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4jFCV19-IlY&feature=share

 

Music on the Trail

I’ve had some pretty serious blogs about the journey to this point. This time I’d like to have some fun! Often the quiet peace of nature is what I seek. Other times conversation with others can fill the lonely hours in a vast wilderness.  And yes there will be plenty of time to mix in some music to restore lost energy in the middle of a steep climb, encouragement when spirits sag, and to accent an inspiring overlook. Going back to my days playing sports I used music to pump me up, get moving, get in a rhythm. On days I feel good and miles are my goal, I think music can do just that.

Give me 4 or 5 songs you think might help on my hike. I’m a product of the 60’s and 70’s but I’m quite eclectic in my selections. Not sure why some songs stick with me more than others.


  1. A few Beatles naturally.
  2. Definitely U2
  3. The best of Creedence Clearwater Revival
  4. Bob Dylan for sure.
  5. Moody Blues/ Days of Future Passed and several more.
  6. Neil Young and CSNY especially Down by the River
  7. Maybe some Pink Floyd
  8. Canned Heat Going Up the Country and a couple others
  9. Mercy, Mercy Me, What’s Goin On/ Marvin Gaye
  10. Ravi Shankar from A Concert for Bangledesh, if you haven’t heard this it’s awesome!
  11. Tina Turner/ Proud Mary
  12. REM
  13. Santana/ Soul Sacrifice
  14. The Cranberries/Zombie
  15. Creed/ With Arms Wide Open
  16. Behind Blue Eyes/Limp Bizkit
  17. Coldplay/Fix You
  18. Hoobastank/The Reason
  19. AC/DC/Thunderstruck  (probably during my first twenty mile day)
  20. Norman Greenbaum/Spirit in the Sky
  21. The Proclaimers/ I’m Gonna Be (500 miles)
  22. 3 Doors Down/Here Without You
  23. The Original Caste/ One Tin Soldier
  24. The Tokens/ The Lion Sleeps Tonight
  25. Last but not least Hillsong United/Wonder

That’s a few. I have more, let me know your suggestions!

#1 Reason / A Pilgrimage

forest-sunbeams-trees-sunlight-70365  I hesitate to call this journey a pilgrimage. There is the adventure and challenge aspect, along with hopes and expectations of friendship and trail community.  Yet most assuredly there is a spiritual significance to this hike. When I first started planning,  my hopes were to duplicate what what I’d experienced on shorter ventures into the wilderness areas of Tennessee and North Carolina. On those trips I felt a closeness with nature and a sense of my place in creation. The natural world,  revealing itself explained how perfectly everything fit together. There was an order amongst the chaos and I was a part of it. In that I was humbled and peaceful at the same time.

Two years ago my thoughts focused on my expectations, hopes, and ambitions. Today I simply want to open myself to receiving whatever messages and meanings God has planned for me. What I hear and see is what is meant for me.norway-mountain-sky-blue Deliberately walking for days and months in and among creation opens a conversation within oneself, beginning as random thoughts that turn into questions. Questions which require an answer.  Being open to listening develops a pathway for inspiration and growth in faith and spirit. I don’t see myself as much seeking something, more like just being present and accepting of all that transpires. The end result may or may not provide answers or direction, but the effort is not wasted. My spiritual journey will continue far beyond the trail.

Let me explain what this hike is not. It is not true suffering. I am willingly foregoing the daily comforts surrounding me, with the intention to develop a deeper appreciation for each one of them. It is not penance seeking absolution. A hike is not needed for that. It is also not survival. The purpose is not to develop the ability to live off the land with no need for community. Without others there is no need for me.  Because it is deliberate and intentional, it is voluntary. That means I can go home at anytime. So what is it?

I spoke earlier of a conversation. A conversation has two sides. One side has to listen. I am mindfully going  with an open ear. The experience could at times be good or bad. How I respond or change is unknown. Yet I am thankful for the opportunity.  I openly expect to be humbled yet have faith that it will make me stronger. What I hear and see, is what is meant for me. Two people will take the same hike and yet have an entirely different experience. That is why the phrase (“Hike your own hike”) is so relevant. I don’t think I’ll come away a smarter or better person. I simply seek the conversation. I must be open to whatever happens. Listening mindfully, understanding that it is meant for me and me alone. In doing so I have a chance to respond. Become an active part of the conversation. What that conversation looks like is part of the adventure! The journey continues…pexels-photo-1690355