2013 Appalachian Trip: Extras (video/pics) and…Now what?

2 Comments

First off, thank you for reading the posts of trail life over this section hike from the GA/NC border to Hot Springs, NC. I meant a lot to me to know I can share a bit of the adventure through the daily journaling, pictures, videos and paintings. I didn’t have much time for making the posts and uploading them, so here’s some extra pics/video’s I wanted to add:

6-8: 

20130703-140246.jpg

the Cold Springs Shelter

6-9: 

20130703-141642.jpg

20130703-141710.jpg

We stopped at the Nanthala Outdoor Center (NOC) in the morning.

6-12: At Fontana Dam, here’s a quick clip of the lake for a painting session.

http://youtu.be/AtDvP9c1Ax4
6-13:

20130703-143647.jpg

Hiking across the Fontana Dam, Littlefoot sets his pack for the priorities, dry the plaid boxers and house the leftover Pringles for quick snacking.

20130703-150006.jpg

The “rock throne” others mentioned just passed the Dam:

20130703-145351.jpg

Later, at the shelter just after the storm calmed down, I painted a scene of the thick, foggy forest.

6-19:

The laundering facilities were right in line with the old timely feel of the Standing Bear Hostel. Here’s Berg washing and squeezing his socks: http://youtu.be/bfvcJGgXK5g

The view from Cammerer Fire Tower: http://youtu.be/FaI7pcF4kUk

6-20: video clip from an air control tower just shy of reaching Max Patch Bald. http://youtu.be/rhHWxXMeKZ4

So, What Now?
Now, I go back over my notes and color sketches to do larger paintings. After the trail, I went directly to Asheville to visit family, and Montreat, NC where I have sweet memories of summers as a kid. I hope to produce an entire series of paintings to present in a show and possibly begin a short journal-book about the “AT Experience”. A show needs about 20-50 paintings, which may be biting off a bit more than a can chew, but I’ll try! As noted in the posts this hike, the people are a vital part of the experience, so I’ll learn portraiture and then continue the trail where I left off at Hot Springs in the future. Can’t wait!

I’ll provide a post later on this blog with pictures of the paintings, or if you’d like to see them as I go, it’ll be posted on the “En Plein Air” blog.

Until the next time, bye for now and thanks again for reading these posts!!

6-21-13

Leave a comment

Condition: Sunny

B & L: Power bar, trail mix, Albacore steak D: Catfish Tacos in Hot Springs! (plus Caramel Bugels and almost a quart of chocolate milk)

There’s two senses that changed after the brain surgery, I can smell like a hound and any peep in the night wakes me up, no matter how asleep I am (I think). At Roaring Fork Shelter last night, I heard what sounded like hound dogs all over the mountain side along with owls and mice in every direction. Interestingly, we met Mica in Hot Springs later and she said a man hunting bears lost a lot of his dogs a few days ago. Sir, you have a ton of dogs.

It’s National Hike Naked Day today and as I prepare to leave the shelter, there stands Berg and Littlefoot with their pack on, trek pole in hand and nothing else but underwear, socks and shoes. Awesome. At first I was a bit uneasy, but about ten minutes later hiking down the trail, I find myself shirtless, with an arrangement of huge leaves resembling the biblical Adam hiding his twigs and berries.(video: http://youtu.be/NFUYUjmBr20 ). The first person we pass in our 3man parade was an elderly gentleman (60’s). Rounding the corner feeling a bit uneasy, I said “How’s it going?”. He glanced at me and the poof of leaves, and replied w a bewildered look, “Okay?”. He then passed Berg and by the time got to Litlefoot, he asked,”Is this hike naked day?”. About 4 mi later after hiking over “Buff Mountain” (ironic), Berg and I pass a wife & husband in their 60’s and their daughter (30’s)?) admiring the flowers in the field. As they looked up, the father daughter laughed, and the mother stared in disbelief. She said,”I don’t even want to know what’s under those leaves!”. As I write this it so happens that we pass a group of 30 in a young scout troop. “HIKERS COMING THROUGH!”, the scout leader at the tail end shouts. All 30 file the side Ike a crowd viewing our parade. As I pass, I say,” Did you know it’s Hike Naked Day?” They cheered on Berg, in only his athletic briefs, as he passed. Looking back,Ii see a slightly embarrased and dismayed look on his face. He says in his Carolina accent “Figures. todau would be the day we see 30 people.”. I now hear the fading cadence troop songs going into the distance as we charge stead with renewed vigor. I can only image the reception Littlefoot will get in only his plaid boxers. Good times. About 6mi left till Hot Speinfs. I can taste the catfish taco from Clear Springs Tavern already. Update: Correction, it’s the new place NEXT to the tavern! It has the tan/red wood with a large outdoor area to eat.

In Hot Springs now. Showered at the campgrounds, Berg and Littlefoot did some laundry, and we’re devouring the catfish tacos. So good!

The only place in town left to stay was “Elmer’s place”, the Sunnybank Inn. Turns out its an outstanding two story historical house that caters to hikers $20 per person and includes a healthy organic breakfast ($6 extra, worth it). The antique smell of the wooden house lined with books in shelves fills the air with an old-time feeling; a stark contrast to a modern digital world where a computer or TV is the center of attention.

I got a call from my cousin, Ellen, through Littlefoot’s phone at dinner and will stay with them tomorrow night. This will let me buy supplies for several big paintings and head up to Montreat on Sunday. I do want to return home, but feel this is a great chance to paint sweet, memorable spots from Montreat as well as revisit a couple of places along the AT that are within 2-3 miles from a trailhead.

Good day and a great way to finish the hike.

20130623-033100.jpg

20130623-033117.jpg

6-20-13

Leave a comment

Conditions: sunny

B: Power bar & PayDay L: trail mix and raw ramen noodles crunched into “chips” w the roasted chicken seasoning plus some butter-cheese Idahoan instant mash potato powder. No lie, it’s good! D: Ramen x 2 with a dash of Idahoan instant potato powder and two SPAM singles.

Great rest at Standing Bear and I’m ready to tackle the last big hill towards Hot Springs.

10:30, late start. First 4miles was straight up 3500 ft up, then we have been going on a roller coaster of up/downs. I wouldn’t be surprised if we walked a total of 5000+ ft up all together. We found a weird structure at the top of one mountain that was a white cone-shaped building that made me think of Area 51. Turned out it was an airline beacon and we couldn’t use our cell phones in the area! Fat chance AT&T would work there anyways. About 3 miles later (or 6?) we reached Max Patch Summit. I was thinking, “Can’t we skip this one?”, but this was awesome! We all took off our packs to take time to look. 360 view video:
 . I’ll probably be painting that later since three is a parking area that’d give me access to this spot later.

20130623-024615.jpg

6-19-13

1 Comment

Conditions: 70’s-80’s, sunny

B & L: power bar, trail mix D: Albacore Salmon Steak in 2 Ramens (very good, but pour out the water and rinse the “steak” to reduce “fishiness”)

Despite a symphony of snores, farts and waves of rusting on sleeping pads among the twelve others in the Crosby Shelter last night, we slept hard and late. Much deserved. Around 3am I woke up realizing just how much of the “AT Experience” was about people; not the place. I came thinking I could capture the landscapes in paintings and provide a sense of the trail for others, but its actually the people that give the purpose and sense of community of the trail. The midlife art framer/drifter figuring out a new job, the young MIT theoretical physicist from Budapest, Hungary searching for a way to apply his thoughts and be happy, those awaiting deployment into the military in anticipation … they have one thing in common, they’re in some transition in life. They have a question; going deep into nature has an answer. Together in nature (and of nature), the trail is a living story of commonality and community truly making this “The People Trail”. So, if I really want to capture the essence of the trail, I need to able to capture the portraits of individuals and their story along with the landscape to make it complete. Especially Dee, who looked like a thin Gandolf from Lord of the Rings with his white beard and walking stick, but with an Indiana Jones hat, the epitome of a mountain man.

It was a short day (11mi) today leaving the Smokey Mountain’s northern edge and stopping at Standing Bear Hostel. That being said, we descended from 5000+ ft to 1900 ft, so we can feel our knees. We passed Charlie’s Bunion and Littlefoot posed for what I hope will be a great painting (pic).
Green Corner Road is a very beautiful area with rolling brooks alongside the road very much like Montreat, NC and the Standing Bear Hostel is a great hiker hostel. The people who own and manage it are right out of the “Duck Dynasty” show. The man who showed us around was shirtless, long haired and had a cigarette hanging out of his mouth, but he’s honest and treats us with respect as if we are welcomed into his home. I think there’s two “owners” and a lady that keeps the place up. The lady is likewise a very free spirit, announcing that she’s lost everything because she failed the last three drug tests (it could be the “bowls” she smokes). But she’s hilarious and not ashamed to be herself one bit, working a minimum wage job and enjoying being part of this little Standing Bear community. Rocket Man says,”If she gets too many beers in her, we’re likely to see her streaking acrost the place.”. Less beer, please. Seriously, a TV show producer could just record their conversations and they’d be an instant hit. It would be easy to write off these people as “weird” or label them as “hillbillies”, but the fact is they are just different (not a lesser part of society), and they aren’t labeling or judging us. We “AT Hikers” are definitely “weird” as well, often attracting clouds of flies, unshaven, and walking the roads to town hoping to hitch a ride. It’s easy to see those who looks down at us, dismissing us as repulsive as well as those with gentler eyes who show compassion and acceptance. They don’t judge, and that says something about their true character. Funny thing, Rocket Man walked by yawning in the morning while we were eating some breakfast and said,”I shore was surprised to see you left the doors open to the bunkhouse (where we stayed). Two big bears and a cub show up almost every night and I have to scare them off the porch.”. We had our food bags right next our beds. He then told us about the bear cub trying to get in his window one night and his lady friend insisted on him closing the window even though he was just trying to get the cat food. Gotta love how much character he has. I’d go back there easily just for the amusement even if I’m not hiking. I left one of my paintings tacked to the kitchen wall as a form of gratitude. Rocket Man, if you read this, thanks man!

We’ll take off tomorrow heading toward Hot Springs, making it there in a couple of days. “Once you get over the hill, it’s not bad”, says another hiker here at the hostel. It’ll be hard to leave Littlefoot and Berg, my trail family this year. I hope we can stay I touch. No doubt I’ll always wonder how they are, as I do with my trail family from 2011 (Lala, Tall Tmbers and Firewalker).

This year’s adventure had impacted me with a fresh perspective and appreciation of what is necessary for me to be happy. There are those things you need (shelter, food, water …), and things you can live without (luxuries). It’s amazing how many luxuries we have in our normal lives, how much energy we spend maintaining them and how much fear we have in losing them. We need so little to be happy, however, I’ve learned that walking “alone” in life is not an option for me. I need the companionship to have meaning and purpose. I’m not as independent as I thought. I need a trail family like Berg and Littlefoot. Without them, the trail seems empty. I also need to surround myself with others who aren’t judgmental, so I can feel free to become myself. Until now, I’d mistaken them for luxuries. Welding should be a great field to enter, as they aren’t the judging type. Priceless wisdom from the AT experience.

20130623-012149.jpg

20130623-033211.jpg

6-17,18-13

Leave a comment

Conditions: rainy in the morning, drizzling in the afternoon

B: probar L: Flapjacks (Gatlinburg) D: Ramen? (probably)

We’re slowly working our way out of Gatlinburg, sort of dragging our feet. It’s hard to leave the luxuries of cell phone reception and everything we need right there on Main Street (especially the outfitters). Eric, you and Lynnea would love this place for a quick, quaint get-away spot! It’s about 6 days until we get to Hot Springs, and I doubt we’ll stop until then. Groceries, laundry and a ridiculously overpriced taxi (15mi for $50) is the “to do list”, then we’re trail bound.

After going to the outfitters and leaving our bags there for the day while out, we went to Flapjacks (like a local IHOP). I reached into my pocket … the credit card/money/ID/truck key packet was gone. Panic. I backtracked to the outfitters trying to conceive of how I’d possibly find it when the money was exposed on the heavy foot traffic Main Street. No luck. I had left it in my bag at the outfitters. Phew. That was a mega-dose of adrenaline! We trolley’d to finish stuff up in town, and decided we’d have to cough up $50 to a taxi. Just after I called them, a woman and her father showed up to the outfitters and offered us a ride! Sorry taxi, thank you Mica & her Dad!!). We hit the first shelter 3 miles in ~7pm and the rain started.

18
This was a wet, wet day. It rained and drizzled all day leaving the trails so muddy in places that the shoes made a sucking sound as they lifted out. In other places, the water ran down the rocky paths like a creek. Water everywhere, including us and our packs. Besides a few windy areas, the umbrella again rocked because the canopy kept the winds down and reduced the rain to the occasional huge drops.
We walked 20 miles and finally got to Cosby Knob Shelter. Going to my bag to get out the food for dinner, I realized I left my entire cook system at the last shelter! The titanium cup, DIY alchohol stove … everything. Aaarg!! I got out my sleeping bag and realized I left my silk liner! Ouch! I can only blame it on being so tired. It stinks, but it happens. All I know is I’m in warm, dry clothes in a dry sleeping bag, and these eyes are closing fast! Tomorrow we’ll exit the Smokey Mountains and stay at a hostel near Davenport. It’s hard to believe I’ll be getting back to Hot Springs in three days.

6-16-13

3 Comments

Overcast, chilly w cloud cover, hot w/out

B: Protein Bar L: someplace in Gatlinburg?

Today was a day that happens without explanation. This is living:
We woke up at Collins Shelter and hiked 4 miles to Newfound Gap. This stretch has fir and pines with damp soil yielding huge ferns and mossy logs. it looked like something from an animated film. Occasionally, the fallen trees exposed huge root system, often lifting up entire boulders with it that it grew around (pic).
All plan went awry from the point of getting to Gatlinburg. We went down to the bathroom to “clean up” and hitch a ride or catch the scheduled shuttle from Gatlinburg. With reception at one ten ft area (AT&T hates the AT here), I called and reserved a Motel 6, but found that all the shuttles were either broken down or not answering. Hitching a ride to town is “a sure thing” according to the guide book, the Parks and Wildlife worker, and the shuttle person from Gatlinburg. 2 hours later w easily a hundred people at Newfound Gap, nobody picked us up, even w a “AT Hikers, to Gatlinburg $20” sign. So, we set out to walk 15 miles into town. Not more a quarter mile later, a Volkwagon station wagon passed us, pulled off, looped around and picked us up. Five guys and a girl, all in their 20’s, piled out in an awkward disarray of tie-die shirts and long hair and beards. It was hard to tell what to think, but hey, it’s a ride. Everyone seemed to be in a great mood. So, two guys contort themselves behind the back seat, we cram four people and me and Berg’s two packs in the back seat, and Littlefoot and his pack in the front seat. 8 people and a low riding suspension. The driver said they were river raging guides from Wild Water out of South Carolina with free passes to “DollyWood”, a theme park owned by Dolly Parton. “Hey, want to go to DollyWood? We can get you in as ‘plus ones'”, Keith, the driver said. Trying to assess if this was a good choice, I hear myself say, “Sure!”. As the road sign point to Gatlinburg one way, we go the other. So we’re coasting down the road to DollyWood through Pigeon Forge and a random pigeon flies down from the hillside right in the middle of the road under the car. Smack! There was absolutely no time to even think. The guys contorted facing the back widow shout, “Oooh, DUDE! Feathers just flew up covering the entire lane!”. Keith, Littlefoot, Chloe and I were caught between feeling bad for the bird and laughing so hard we couldn’t speak. By the time we got to DollyWood, we were a group in every sense of the word. Keith said, “I’m a guide, so I tend to make sure everyone is safe and together”. That reassured me a lot that we were not going to get stranded there. These guys were leaders by trade. Opening the door and hatchback, we sort of exploded outward a like a coiled spring released. They got us into this theme park (normally $57 per adult) and we spent the day, from 2pm to 7pm riding every ride we could. Free. Around 4 we piled into an all-you-can-eat buffet at the park. It was amazing. We stuffed our stomached until they were so full it hurt to stand up. By 7, we re-crammed into the car, tired, satisfied and we stunk. Cooper, a kid with long hair, fishnet hat and dark rimmed glasses, said, “Oh, man it’s my socks.” and hung them out of the window as we drove. The faces of people as they passed us by were hilarious. After some time, we arrived in Gatlinburg at the Motel 6, and asked the desk clerk lady to take a pic to prove that a day like this actually happened. We parted ways still bewildered how this was possible. It follows the theme of the trail, take a step and follow your feet. You know you’re living when life happens to you.
Now in a bed, making plans for tomorrow to resupply at the grocery store, outfitters, and possibly launder clothes, I await another day. Another adventure to get back to the AT.
Berg, Littlefoot and I all agree, this day will never be forgotten.

20130617-003740.jpg

20130617-003801.jpg

20130617-003909.jpg

20130617-003926.jpg
(From left to right: Cody, Littlefoot, Michael, Chloe, Keith, me, Berg, and Cooper). This group was from Wild Water Outdoor Adventures.

6-15-13

4 Comments

B+L: Power Bar,trail mix, jelly beans, Spam single, D: 2 Ramens + 2 Spam singles.

Sunny, north breeze 60’s

Derrick knob – (clingmon dome) – mt Collins shelter

Cold last night, w silk liner and drive- clime windshirt.

9am: We took off from Derrick Knob Shelter towards the famous Clingman’s Dome, the highest point on the AT, planning to stop just past that at Collin’s Shelter.

10am: Berg and I saw wild turkey on the trail. I used my iBird app’s turkey call to try and draw it in for a photo shot. No soap.

Silmple pleasures, peeing while traversing the mountain ridge, no aim, just free pee with a breeze, view of mountains, sound of mountain stream below. Yes, I really do text while I’m walking. At some point, face down in the mud or sliding off the trail side, I’ll regret this.

3pm: Berg and I are walking along the ridge line, one side NC the other TN, and Clingman’s Dome is near. You can see the dying trees from pollution, especially on the TN side. Sad. Despite this, it’s a spectacular view. I did a quick video noting colors for the view, took a reference pic and sketched it later at Collin’s Gap Shelter.

Met ranger just down from Clingman’s Dome. He checked park passes, talked gear, then we headed up to the tower. There were people everywhere following a paved trail up to the tower! Strange. I’ve experienced the feel of going to a city park and getting “lost in the woods”, but never being at home in the woods, then colliding with civilization so drastically. It was amazing how much I could smell the perfumes, colognes, even deodorants from all the line of people. I felt very aware of my excessive trail funk, so I walked up the spiral, round the circle and down in one swift, lingering move. Berg and I stopped to eat and wait for Littlefoot at base of tower. Unlnowingly, we sat right by “Active bears in area” sign. That was a mistake. “Oh my, active bears”, seeing us “Did you see any bears??”, or “…I’m safe as long as I’m faster than you (the overused joke)..”. I think I heard that joke in three different languages.

5pm: We’re at Collin’s Shelter, 4 miles from Newfound Gap. We’re going to catch a shuttle to Gatlinburg from there and split the cost of a Motel for tomorrow night. Shower, laundry … gonna be nice.

It’s hard to believe we’re half way through the Smokey Mountains already! I wish had phone reception! I’ll look forward to updating the blog tomorrow.

20130617-002641.jpg

20130617-003210.jpg

20130617-003259.jpg

6-14-13

Leave a comment

6-14
Cold last night. The “32 Ultralamina” is cold in the high 40’s, but it was damp with a strong, cold north wind. Not much sleep. Everyone cringed at the thought of putting on their wet hiking clothes in the cool morning air. I heard a huge “boom” like a cannon last night that shook the ground. In the morning, there were limbs over the trail and about a 20″ diameter tree snapped in half about thirty feet up exposing fresh green wood. It was an easier 12 mile hike than yesterday’s 11 and with no rain forecasted, Berg, Littlefoot and I are tent camping at Derrick Knob shelter that with a fireplace. While several young kids gathered firewood, I talked to young couple from Hungary on vacation. They describe their country as transitioning to capitalism, but still holding onto traditions, so it makes for a slower paced life than the US. Sounds nice. The AT is a popular place attracting people worldwide.
Easy day.

6-12,13-13

1 Comment

Last night was a comedy. Berg, I and two others were the only people in the Fontana Dam shelter, so sounds amplified at night. All guys to their own corners (of course). The guy to my right was potentially the loudest sleeper I’ve ever witnessed. When he shifted sides (a side sleeper), it sounded like he was battling a hundred plastic trash bags (or Tyvec if you know what that is) in a wind storm. Loud. Then, once settled, he commenced the most random snore pattern I’ve ever heard. If I didn’t know better, I’d think it was two people. Caddy-corner to Tyvec man was a guy who giggled in his sleep. Must of been a funny night. Creepy. Luckily Berg was out. That good, since he’s phobic of mice getting into his stuff. I distinctly heard a mouse chomp his way into a plastic bag and get lost. Crinkle, crinkle. I was no better. Yesterday, I ate a full lunch, large milk shake, a quart of chocolate milk, a packet of Ramen (raw), a snickers, power bar, two servings of hamburger helper topped off with some chips and two sodas. By 3am, my intestines were dealing with the onslaught rebelling with gurgles, burps and a sound like Drano in a pipe. Lastly, I intently listened to a mouse squeak very near me, sitting up in the dark, for about five minutes until I realized my nose had a whistle in one nostril. It was me. Stupid nose.
This morning I woke up at 7am, to Tyvec man packing up to leave. I was up. I went up to the overlook of Fontana Lake and the morning scene of stillness and distant mountains called for a painting. It was a perfect time to learn how paint the mountains quickly before the light changes the feel of the view. (For artists: I’ll put a link to En Plein Air Blog article here). While painting, I met Brent and his wife, the couple who tent was in a precious painting, Jesus (“hey-zus”) and Chief Loco before walking into the Smokey Mountains and another fellow hiker who turned out to be an art framer. Without knowing it, I’m coming to know the loose network of hikers traveling alongside that forms a “family”. It’s a comfort to know we’re forming into a community.

This is a day of new foods and drinks: Lunch at Bojangles! “All You Can Eat” sign posted up led the way for us, Littlefoot erupting into a small cheer. Two plates later, we sat absolutely stuffed. Next, Cheerwine and Nehi (“knee-high”) sodas. Mmm. Real Cane Sugar. My pancreas is working overtime now. Nearest movie theater with a decent movie? One hour away? We all pitch in for gas and we’re off! Where did we go? Hiawassee, the place where I started this trip. Ha. Ironic. In one hour we can now reach a point without much thought. In a single day on the trail, so much happens its hard to remember all the events. It’s been 12 days. One hour / 12 days, which route would you prefer? Obviously, one is easier; one is fulfilling.

6-13-13
About ten people sat around the campfire at the shelter last nighr swapping stories and laughing. I met a retired english teacher from Pennsylvania and talked about some pretty deep life thoughts. Although he hikes alone most times (20-24 mi/day), he agrees that hiking with another changes the entire experience for the better. We aren’t meant to be alone. We had so much in common that if I could imagine an older me, it would be very much like him: nerdy, happy, independent, and connected with family and friends who he loves and who loves him.

Last in-town check for packages and we’re off to the Smokies. It seems a bit much to have two zero days, but it was great! We plan to do 11 miles up a steep grade today w possible storms in the afternoon.

Fontana Dam scene was impressive being the largest on the east coast, but the rhinoceros beetle Littlefoot found on the dam the highlight for me.  I can now say with scientific certainty, they don’t fly.  I was waiting for the wings to deploy as it headed down a 40 ft drop to soft pillowy grasses below.  I’m sure in bug languages it expresses everything from curses to “MAYDAY-MAYDAY, GOING DOWN!”. We  had a huge thunderstorm (umbrella is perfect) – except for the lightening part.  I ran across a young German couple drenched and tired.  The lady looked like she was in despair, no hope.  Turns out they stopped 100 ft from the shelter, not knowing it was just around the bend tucked away in the trees. I dropped my pack off at the shelter and headed back to help, but they were already on their way, hand up and cheering as I motioned that they were so close. They got to shelter just in time.  The storm turned really ugly with high winds, sideways rain and branches cracking. Littlefoot and Berg annailated, showed up in the middle of it. After getting into dry clothes and eating, I set out to paint the dense, foggy scene outside the shelter. We are IN a cloud –> painting with quick dry acrylics (look half way down the page) .. Won’t dry! It’s around 9pm and everyone’s getting ready for bed.

20130616-222500.jpg

20130616-222529.jpg

20130616-222543.jpg

20130616-222606.jpg

20130616-222707.jpg

20130616-222723.jpg

6-11-13

Leave a comment

Rained last night, sunny 80+ today

ZERO DAY

About 10 people stayed at the “Hilton”, which basically has four 8′ x 16′ platforms similar to huge bunk beds on opposite sides of the shelter. Outside is a huge gravel “deck” area with picnic tables and a fire pit. people coming off the trail share stories and get aquatinted in front of a spectacular view of the lake and mountains. (pic of painting). Up the hill about 300 yard is a shower with hot water and bathroom. This is also a makeshift camp soap washateria for fly-ridden, dirty socks. The “deck” banisters are perfect drying racks. It looks “dirty”, somewhat like a homeless shelter, but is an outstanding service from our perspective.
Tiffany and Littlefoot drove in and we went to town, laundered, restocked our food, ate and were as lazy as possible. Just what was needed. Berg and I stayed at the shelter again. Quick day that went by in a haze of tiredness.

20130616-221507.jpg

20130616-221700.jpg

6-10-13

1 Comment

Conditions: rain in the am, a freak cold spell at 11ish, sun in the afternoon

B: Power bar L: trail mix, SPAM single, snickers D: WENDY’S!!

I’m catching up after yesterday. What a day. I took off early thinking I’ll part ways w Littlefoot’s and Berg. It’s disappointing, but my feet/knees feel like lead on the hills. I set out to reach Cable Gap Shelter in 10 miles as they make a sprint to Fontana Dam (an 18+ mile day). Reaching another point of asking if this trip has a point or is worth it, I passed through Stecoah Gap and found a group collecting bananas from a “trail angel”, someone who contributes to the AT hikers in the hopes that they will continue the pay it forward tradition. Always so impressive to witness (and a delicious banana). After 4 more miles of steep hills and sweating like a pig, I turned off the trail at Brownfork Gap for water and a snack. By chance, I look up and Littlefoot’s and Berg are walking down as well! We enjoy good conversation about completely random topics and see a mouse skitter across the beam. It’s Berg’s arch enemy. No matter where, mice find his stuff and chew through his gear. That was enough to make me rethink Cable Gap Shelter.
We hiked on together for the rest of the day, even in the clouds.
20130612-183042.jpg
Keeping a steady pace with others makes the miles so much easier. Stopping at Cable Gap for another snack, Berg found a 8′ x 6′ tarp someone left behind, duck taped and patched. Perfect. It now is nested under the bungee cords outside my pack. It probably leaks like crazy, but it the thought that counts, right?
After listing every favorite restaurant over the last three miles, we hit pavement at a Fontana Dam Marina with a coke machine. Berg immediately hovered around the coke machine blessing it for its kindness and concentrated sugars.
20130612-182920.jpg
Around 6, we arrived at the Fontana Dam Shelter, showered and got ready for real food.
Tiffany, Littlefoot’s girlfriend, drove in and we rode to town for Wendy’s. The massive piles of food were ridiculous. Littlefoot’s triple-patty Baconator alone could have fed a small family. Chocolate Frosty ice cream is all I could think about. Size large. Don’t be stingy…to the brim, thanks. Plump & happy, we drove back and stayed at the shelter.

6-9-13

1 Comment

Conditions: overcast and looks like possible rain (maybe from tropical storm Adrea?). 65s/80s

B: Power Bar L: Trail Mix

No rain last night! It’s great to wake up and have a dry area to organize. I’m really considering getting a 10’x10′ tarp to have a dry area. I’m thinking the trail shelter will be full with the upcoming rains.

9:00am : We hike into the NOC and it’s an impressive display of wooden buildings spanning both sides of the river.  We hit the outfitters from some resupply (I got some much needed DEET), they pick up their “drop boxes” (food that they ship ahead to the next town, or packages sent to them from parents).  We decided on a camp site and I’m hoping to get a head start knowing they catch up.
10:30am: 10 miles today w 4000′ gain to the highest point (~6000 total). Here we go.

5pm: Wow. My legs feel like jelly. Luckily I made it to the campsite before it started raining so I can set up my tent. Littlefoot and Berg made it in and it was already raining. They hope to go 18 miles tomorrow to Fontana Dam. I think this is where I’ll bid them farewell and make it to a shelter for a dry night sleep. No doubt everything will be soaked with two days of rain coming. It’s absolutely pouring right now.

At times I forget why I’m here; but I’ve already learned something about myself. I yearn for companionship. It’s great to walk alone some during the day as most do, but to sit and share what happens during the day before it’s over seems to give it a purpose. Almost everyone does this type of hike with a partner. Now I understand this is a need in my life as well. Friends, family … that’s what important to make the days have meaning.
Tough, soggy day.

6-7,8-13: Back on the Trail

2 Comments

Conditions: overcast w/ some thunderstorms later. 80’s/60’s.

B: almonds L: power bar D: Ramen w/ Spam single (& banana moon pie thanks Littlefoot)

I forgot to add the video clip of what 4-day old hiking sock look like (its not pretty): http://youtu.be/peQsGOrbarc

Stayed in Fraklin 2 days. It’s 11 mi away, so I hitched in, shuttled out($20). Got an “ultralamina 32” sleeping bag, Chacos, deodorant, “Henderson Youth Basketball League (Goodwill)” jersey – swampy armpit freedom (very nice!), $4 mini umbrella (~8″x3″, ~4oz?). Ditched the undersized quilt and silk thermals in an overstuffed flat-rate USPS box hoping the tape job hold its seams. We had moderate rain in the late afternoon, umbrella worked perfect (thanks, Dollar General)! There’s a big deal over having treking poles OR umbrella, but for the hikers reading this, collapse one pole and hold it and the umbrella and just use one. You will love the ventilation rather than perspiring under the rain jacket so much you’re sopping wet anyways. Chacos are awesome. Blisters are healed and heel feels better. Every creek delivers a cool dip for the piggies. Feels great. Getting used to the straps and my heels get cracks from drying, so I’ll probably switch out with my shoes every so often until they adapt. Chacos are definitely the way to go for the shorter wet areas (Thanks Josh!).
I didn’t have time to paint at Wayah Bald (rain), so I sketched, took down color notes & pic as reference for later. Those distant mountains are so mesmerizing. I hope i can find a way to capture that!!

Littlefoot, Berg caught up to me and slept up on the observatory gazebo in the thunderstorm! Crazy. I hike down to the shelter – full. With no other options, I set up tent in rain. It worked out well keeping me dry and sleeping bag was perfect. I wish I had my tarp so I’d have some way to be out of the rain while I pull out my gear to get the tent set up.

6-8: Hiking with Littlefoot and Berg today. It’s so nice to have the company! Didn’t know their agenda, just went with it to hang out. Littlefoot, about ~6′, 210lb. does not resemble his name as he’s the biggest of us. He eats for two, alone. His easygoing nature is inviting to anyone. His companion, Berg, is ~5’11”, 150lb (as skinny as me) and is quiet, but not shy. They both attended Appalachian State in Boone and are awaiting officer training for the Army.
As the day goes, we start together, Berg flies ahead, Littlefoot lags behind and I stop and go putting bandaids on toes and arches. When I think they’ve lost me at their speed, all the sudden they are there and we stop for lunch. It’s a mystery how we keep together, but somehow it works. We had lunch at Cold Springs Shelter, that lives up to its name. The mountain stream alongside chills the air like an AC unit on full blast in just that little nook. Donning out jackets and warm gear, we held vitally important conversations like “What does SPAM tastes like?”, “Can you make two day hiking on only gummi bears?”, and their plans to hike the entire way, flip flop style, continuing north to Damascus (W. Virginia), then taking an Amtrak from Damascus to Maine and heading south riding good weather all the way.
It was a tough decent in the last part of he day, dropping about 2000+ ft miles between miles 10-15. We’re now just outside of the Nantahala Ourdoor Center (NOC), so we’ll pass through there tomorrow. All our knees were hurting and we ate twice as much for dinner. Starving. At the days end, I caught a glimpse of evening sun shining through the forest over a blue tarp tent and painted until the last of the light. I may have inspired a few other campers around us to bring their art gear on the next outing!
It seems that the tropical storm heading our way will make for a lot of rain in the next 7-10 days. I may slow down tucking into shelters, losing my friends as they forge ahead, but it all the reason to savor the sweet moments, and good laughs while they last.
Not much time for editing. This is writing on-the-go. I think it, write it and walk on.

20130611-150852.jpg

20130611-150925.jpg

20130611-150943.jpg

6-4,5-13 (days 4,5 on the AT)

12 Comments

Conditions: Cold last night (I’m above 4000 and 1 mile from “the wettest place on the eastern US w/ 93″ annually”. High 40’s now (8am). Sunny skies. Looks like it’ll be a great day!

Meals 4th: B: Power Bar, L: Snickers, almonds and Greenbriar shoots (along the trail) D: spam single, Idahoan mash potatoes, oyster crackers, Snickers

Daily Events:
4th: Last night was cold. I had on everything I could wear, but the problem was the quilt. Due to my expert sewing skills I made both too short and narrow. I hike it up to my neck, my feet stick out. I shift on my side and bend a bit and my butt is hanging out. The one and only position I can be warm in is flopped on my stomach, arms down to my sided and face dug into the air mattress. I believe it’s time to ace my beloved quilt and get to the outfitters in Franklin for a synthetic-filled sleeping bag. Despite the drafty night, it was a new day with sun-lit skies. The trailside views were spectacular looking down onto the clouds like waves rocking against the mountain range.

20130606-014308.jpg
The climb up Albert Mountain was about a 30-45 degree angle for 500 feet up log steps and rock like a Stair Master machine on steroids. Quads and calves pumped, I made it into the rocky clearing on top and found a water research tower on top with 360 views. I hope this video clip captures even a part of how impressive it was.

Plus, I had a hint of cell reception.
The rest of the day was a wet decent. I picked up two nice size blisters on the piggy toes and a tweaked tendon in my right heel. It’s impossible to keep dry feet in shoes here, so I switched out to my Walmart camp sandles. Man! What a difference! I now have happy feet. No heel pain, my piggies are free to air out, … this is so much better. I’ll look for hiking sandles in town.
I called to town and they don’t shuttle. Hmm. It’s 11 miles away. Now what? It’s 28 miles to the next town down the trail, or walk the highway tomorrow. This sure puts a damper on things. I made camp just passed Winding Stairs Gap and fought my quilt in indecision.
5th: I started down the trail, but it hit me that I’m not here to rush. I want to chill and savor the moment rather than race the day hikers. I u-turn and hit the highway. A man picked me up and took me into town despite my “earthy smells”. I hit the ATM down the road to pay the motel fee with cash (cheaper), and ran into a Jehovah’s Witness on the way. He stopped to talk, got a whiff of me down wind (the expression was priceless), and quickly moved on. Poor guy. Now I’m here for two nights at The Sapphire Inn showered, with clean clothes and feasting in the luxury of a king-size bed. So nice.

Gear: hiking sandals, and a 30 or 40 degree sleeping bag needed. Walmart sandals rock!

6-3-13

2 Comments

6-3-13

Conditions: Chilly last night, upper 40’s & damp (4700 ft), today sunny perfect weather (mostly below 4000ft)

Meals: B: banana chips, oatmeal
L: snickers, banana chips
D: spam single, idahoan mash taters w/ oyster crackers (flavored saltines), snickers

Daily Events: Heard some Barred Owls last night and with my iPhone iBird South. I put the speakers on loud and did a bird call with it. They all answered and one got really close to the shelter. I did the second bird call on the list for them, and they fell silent. Awkward? Another sound last night, there was a rodent hidden in the walls and sleeping. When I or Dee rustled around, it’d let out a sound like a frog but in the tone of a duck as if annoyed. It was hard not to laugh out loud when it started getting in sync with Dee’s quiet snores.
I said goodbye to Dee and went up Standing Indian Mnt.

20130605-234316.jpg
Aha, cell phone reception! Despite a dozen biting flies around me, it was great to call have some contact. Emails didn’t seem to work. I can get em, but not send them. Oh well. The view was awesome.
From there it was a gentle decent about 10 miles past Carter Gap Shelter to Betty Crook Gap campsite. There was an outstanding overlook I tried to paint for about 2 hours, but eventually the biting flies won. They even got stuck to the mixed paint on my pallet, so I noted reference colors, took a pic high-tailed it. About a quarter mile down the trail, a football sized turkey suddenly jumped out of the brush on the side and tried to attack my foot! It fluffed, squawked and charged. It was furious! I laughed and it stopped, looked up and saw that there was more to me than my foot, then ran fast as it could. Oh I wish I had my camera ready to video it.

I’m starting to find a routine at camp. I set up the tent, eat, wash my spoon (dishes), take a refreshing mountain stream “bath” and do laundry (biodegradable soap), clothes line to dry clothes, hang food in bear bag, organize stuff in the tent and its just getting dark by then. Works great (and I feel clean). I feel little need for a town other than to get food and more soap. I’m now lying on my air mattress smelling the sweet scent of the mountains. Soft rushing sounds of a creek about 20 feet away and the distant sounds of Barred Owls fill my tent. I could live here so easily. What a fantastic day.

Gear Notes: I brought a cotton t-shirt for camp, but it got wet and its impossible to dry. Need a quick dry shirt, odor control shirt.

6-2-13

3 Comments

6-2-13
Temp: 70’s, but misty. Walked in the clouds today (peed into a cloud)

B: banana chips, L: banana chips and almonds, snickers S: pre-cooked beef crumples (like spam singled) & cheddar-broccoli rice (add water)

It was still raining this morning and thick w fog. I waited inside the tent to get up because the rain drops were pounding on the tent, but condensation inside “spit” on me until I couldn’t grit my teeth any longer. 8:30, I’m up. Went out and saw it was hardly raining a bit! It was the tin-roof effect: a sprinkle is like a hailstorm. Everything was either damp or wet, but not cold. I walked 3 miles and hit the GA/NC border and sketched the famous oak (couldn’t paint – about to rain).
(Video clip at the tree) http://youtu.be/z6NdYsGBYeI

20130605-223624.jpg
I packed up the easel and sketch pad and walked to Muscrat Creek Shelter. On the way, I passed the places where I had my freak brain tumor twitch-symptoms in 2011. It’s amazing how clearly you remember everything when the adrenaline is pumping. There were supposed to be “tornadic winds” that day. The wet rocks, cold chill of March air and seeing the exact place where I tried to talk to Indy, but heard strange vocals rather than speech come from my mouth coupled with facial spasms. I’ll never forget it, but it felt great to just pass them by as if they were just another turn in the woods. After surgery, chemo and viewing a favorable MRI in 2012, the neurologist said, “Now go live your life”. Good advice, one step at a time. I forged ahead to Standing Indian Shelter and as I passed a corner in the trail, just shy of the shelter sign, a small bear shot off into the woods. It was the size of a Labrador, but really fluffy. That’s what I was afraid of last night? Hmm.
This was 10 miles for the day, and it was now about 5ish. At Standing Indian Shelter, I met a really cool guy “Dee” who epitomizes the “not all who wander are lost” quote. He is a tall thin man with a grey/white moustach and beard about in his late 50’s and is a “drifter” living in different places, working different building jobs. What he is, is a storehouse of wisdom/knowledge. In chatting, I found out the monkey bird is a screech owl. Thanks Dee! I got in a painting by the stream and chatted w Dee about life in general.

20130605-231227.jpg
We called it a night around 9:30 making sure most of the gear was “mouse proofed”. We set what couldn’t be hung near our heads. When we hear em, BAM! One last squeak.
Good day. I can hear the little mice skittering across the roof now.

6-1-13

1 Comment

6-1-13
Conditions: Warm w occasional cool breeze (80’s/60’s); wore a t-shirt w shorts.

Meals: B: power bar, L: almonds, power bar, D: cheddar broccoli rice w/ greenbriar tips

Daily Events: Slept by river last night and figured out how to adjusting the amount of air in the NeoAir pad, Cacoon pillow right. The DIY quilt and silk liner was plenty (no shirt, sprawled out hoping 4 breeze)

10am: I packed up the gear, got $260 for the shuttle ride with Caroline. Lost $40 from a hole in the pocket my worn shorts (I refuse to get rid of) and backtracked to no avail. Arrg. Dug into my travel $ (thanks Mom & Dad!). She’s a pretty (late 20’s?) woman that’s lived in Hot Springs for 12 years. I asked her about the cell service and she said she hikes up into the mountains to get service and text. Wow. AT&T, hello? Great conversation on the drive (Thanks Caroline)! I was thinking of moving to the area when Patty and I were talking earlier, but I found out it’s almost impossible to get jobs here. Everyone’s just looking for work and signing up for unemployment benefits.

1pm. Arriving at Dick Creek Gap (just south of GA border), I met Jason & his dog Duke. He out of a job, so he here to figure out what to do next. Hard times. I walked ahead to Plum Orchard Gap Shelter, a wooden platform with three-walled and a roof. There was a scout troop there. Loud, whiney kids everywhere. No way. It’s only 2:30pm, so I continued to a “Campsite” marked on the hiker’s guidebook and passed up several day hiker groups until about mile 8. I ate, dug a cat-hole (you’ll figure out), showered, brushed teeth, laundered shirts,… bored. Where’s all the long-hikers? I miss being w the trail family in 2011. I also realize just how much I rely on Internet, phone service and any other connection. Phone “no service”. Feels weird to be alone for real. No contact; just the sounds of nature. At night it’s really dark. Twig snap – Bear? No, ok. Twig snap, squint. Bear? Nope. 10:30pm, there’s thunder and in no time its a downpour. I lower and re-stake the the tent for rain, but the rain drops kick up mud splatter through the bug mesh under the tarp. Seriously? Long night. I’ll adapt to it, and soak in the experience, loving both good and bad. And for the animal in the tree right over my tent that sounded like a Amazonian monkey (all night), thanks for breaking me in.

Gear notes:
LokSak – is great! Use it for iPhone to keep waterproof.
Need:
lightweight hammock? – relax at camp
Book – fend off boredom
Platypus w hose – to shower/launder

June 2013 AT Trip: Schedule of Trail Days

3 Comments

Here’s a basic, flexible “plan” for my section hike in June along the Appalachian Trail from the GA/NC border at Dick’s Creek Gap (near Haiwassi) to Hot Springs through the Smokey Mountains. I’m using the Thru Hiker’s Companion Trail Guide.

To get into the AT mindset of the hiker using a “schedule”, you have to get to a town for food in “x” number of days, so that’s firm, but where to camp between town varies a lot. You meet new people, adjust to weather and try to baby your knees/feet at first. This is all a logistical nightmare for a planner; but to a hiker, it’s freedom. Set due dates aside. Find our own pace and listen to your body. Enjoy and take in each moment. Take one step, then follow your feet. That’s it. Simple.

Schedule Flexible Schedule:

Getting to the AT (half the battle)

May 30-31 – Drive from Texas to Hot Springs, NC and park the truck (This town is on the AT and caters to hikers)

31st – get to Hot Springs by noon, eat and go hike the Lover’s Leap lookout with Patty. Find a place to tent camp that night nearby.

June 1, 10am – Bluff Mountain Outfitters will shuttle me to Dick’s Creek Gap (just south of GA/NC border where I left off)

On the Trail:

Dicks Creek to Franklin, NC (40.2 mi, 5 days?): June 1-5

June 6 ((Thursday): ZERO DAY in Franklin (laundry, eat a ton, and rest)

Franklin to Nantahala Outdoor Center in Bryson City, NC (27mi., 4 days?): June 7-10

June 11 (Tuesday): ZERO DAY (or “NEARO DAY” – in town for the day, back on trail before dark)

Bryson City, NC to Fontana Dam, NC (27.6 mi., 3 days?): June 12-14

June 15 (Saturday): ZERO DAY

Fontana Dam, NC to Newfound Gap near Gatlinburg, TN (42.1 mi., 5 days?): June 16-20

June 21 (Friday): ZERO DAY *I may take an extra day for a hike to Mount Le Conte (Saturday)

Newfound Gap, TN to Green Corner Rd, somewhere, NC (34,2mi., 4 days?): June 22-25

June 26 (Wednesday): ZERO DAY

Green Corner Rd to Hot Springs, NC (32.9mi., 4 days?): June 27-30

July 1: Burn clothes, go find a sterilization shower in a biohazard station, re-enter society.

I’ll be journaling and painting along the way and will post updates when there’s reception. I noted times in towns in case you might join me! (Ehem.. Andy? Michael?) I hope you do.

June 2013: Back to the AT as an Artist.

3 Comments

Time to get back to the AT!!  It’s taken a while to get my life back on track since I left the section AT hike planned from GA-West VA in 2011. For those new to this blog, here’s the highlights: I had weird facial twitches and speech loss that forced me off the trail in week 1 of the 2011 trip only to find it was a brain tumor.  I had a awake-craniotomy, subsequent chemo and am now monitoring any new growth with a routine MRI schedule. So far, so good with MRI’s showing “no change” for the past two years. My speech is about 80-95% recovered (unless I’m tired) and although the Navy career, and other communication-dependent careers, is gone, I’m now half way through a Welding Certification program and love it. I started painting enough to sell art during the chemo year and continue to blog about that artist journey in my other blog, En Plein Air.

It’s always been my goal to get back on the trail at the GA/NC junction where I left off and continue my march toward Maine, even if it means hiking it in sections.  Now it seems my artist journey and this trek have collided into a revised goal.  I want to hike the AT and record the experience by not only writing about it, but painting scenes on location to fill in the surreal experiences of trail life.  I have so many mental images from my last AT trip that were beyond description.  If I can even paint a few of those moments this trip, it will be invaluable and hopefully inspiring.  Plus, in my artistic journey over the past couple of years, I’ve met a “art angel” (exactly like a “trail angel”), who has not only helped me with art jobs and displays in art festivals, but found benefactors to help me fund this trip!!  Thank you, Amanda!!

It’s one thing to daydream about a vision or goal, and another to do it. As I put my goals down on paper, I try to contemplate “How in the @!$& could I possibly carry art gear with my backpack??”. Just my backpack weight alone gave me a raging case of PT (knee problems) last time, even with the trekking poles!  To those of you new to big distance hiking, every gram/ounce counts. You’ll see sawed off toothbrushes, towels the size of napkins (or bandanas), and hear constant talk of how its worth big $$ to get new gear that shaves off a few ounces! The other concern is space. Take your house, food, clothes … everything needed to get by and imagine that carried on your back. My previous backpack was stuffed so tightly it had visible tension lines resembling Tommy Boy doing his “Fat Guy in a Little Coat” dance.  Now stick an easel, paints, canvases and a pallet on there.  Yes, it’s an image of the Clampetts with an over-sized truckload squeezed onto a single-track trail.

In any case, it will happen, it will be fun and I have no idea what to expect (as it should be).

From Then to Now: Plans for the next AT Trip

4 Comments

From Then:

A lot has happened since February, so much that this blog needed a new name “The Appalachian Trail: in the footsteps of an artist”.  Here’s a one-paragraph highlight: I have continued to paint and am gradually beginning to come into a place that my art is selling.  The inspiration is the same: communicate a moment or scene outdoors to get others out to experience nature.  I dare to say I’ve become an artist, but can’t describe myself now without mentioning “what I do”.  I feels good.  I now sell much of my work through http://www.theartbooth.com, auctioning the paintings in DailyPaintWorks.com as well as to family and friends. Also, I found a great friend, and fellow artist from Columbus, TX that is helping to support my future as an artist (thanks Amanda!!).  In the AT world, this is called a trail angle, a person giving without expectations. She has raised awareness of my art, and found funding for workshops as well as part of the AT trip.  Secondly, I’m now enrolled in a welding certificate program to become both a pipe welder for the oil industry and try my hand at welding-art!

Plans for the next AT trip:

I’ll return to the AT, but as an artist.  I plan on documenting the experiences of the trail with plein air (outdoor) paintings along with the journal writing. To my knowledge this hasn’t been done.  In the week I was on the trail, I found words were so inadequate to capture the moments now pasted in my memory.  Drawing or painting would fill in the gaps to more fully tell the story of the trail.  It’s my way of giving back to the AT Trail community.  The volunteers who maintain the trail, the trail angels who live on a “pay it forward” system and those who’ve experience the deep life-changing quality in their own AT journey.

As for the brain tumor, I’ve now completed a full year of “chemo” and the latest MRI (last Wednesday) showed absolutely no signs of growth since surgery. Whew! Now, I’m living back in Harker Heights with my parents (near the welding school) and fully intend to convert them to neighborhood biking – techno-nerd gardeners.

The Blog from Here:

This blog will morph into getting ready for the AT as an artist. As I prepare, I’ll mostly be posting on backpacking-painting adventures and the ever changing gear improvement.

S’More Update: 6 Month Chemo Report

1 Comment

S’More News (The void, formerly known as S’More)

It’s been 6 months since the last update, and despite small town Sleepyville life, I’ve been busy! So, this update will be like Cliff Notes, no, like highlights from Cliff Notes for friends and family.

Medical Stuff: To summarize, the past surgery was a success, and in the last post I met my neuro-oncologist, Dr. Loghin to start chemo.  Since then I’ve had three MRI’s to chart the visual progress of reducing the last remnant of S’More (day 1, 3 month, and 6 month MRI).  The last post shows an MRI with a slight visible white line around the margins of the tumor void (link).  This is what we’re hoping to see disappear. This last weekend Loghin and I reviewed the 6-month MRI and there’s almost no change from day 1.  So, there’s no way to know if the chemo is helping.  As an action kind of guy, this new is rather deflating, but positive.  Well, 6 months more of chemo to go…keep the finger crossed for me, will ya?

Experience of chemo: It’s hard to really call this “chemo”.  The sound of “chemo” splashes images of thin, bald patients slumped over holding onto an IV pole, weakly passing down a hospital hallway and hoping this won’t be a day for bone pain or violent nausea.  In my case with the pill Temodar, it’s like deciding to go wild and take the “extra strength” Tylenol rather than just regular.  In fact, I ran 5 miles the first day taking chemo, and rode the 130 mile MS Bike event on the second or third round.  Aside of feeling a bit of tiredness and very slight nausea around month 4 or 5, and a long bout with that bug that had everyone congested around Christmas/New Years, it’s been easy.  The benefit of taking chemo far outweighs the possible risks.

Speech Therapy: Right after surgery, I started speech therapy to help with apraxia (the words are there in my head, the motor movement of my mouth short circuits). Cool speech therapist!  She’s overqualified and happens to love kayaking and mountain biking. Dig it. I had about two and a half months of therapy and reached the point where just talking helps the most.  That, and “ukelele therapy” – learning to sing/play “over the rainbow” on the ukelele. Ha. Shortly after beginning to learn the uke, someone sent me an article reporting that singing is a phenomenal way to solve apraxia.  Who knew.  I’m pumped and ready for “Brown Eyed Girl”.

Work: I now burn calories and practice speech at the MG Feed Mill Distribution Plant about 25 hrs/wk.. sounds like it is. I Hoist 50lb feed bags into 18-wheelers and build mega-massive pectorals (and get paid for it, well sort of). Hello, pectorals? Are you in there?

Ranch Work: There is absolutely squat for mountain biking trails here, so I’m currently building several trail-loops through my uncles forsested property.  I head out with a bow saw and bush loppers to beat back dense brush making tunnels on the weekends.  Seems both the herd of longhorn cattle (trail mates) and the neighbor’s 4-wheeler are now doing a great job of keeping the trail packed down! Very cool, except for the cow patty speed bumps. 1 mile done, about 2-3 to go.

Adventures with Jess: Through friends of family, I met my friend Jessica from Austin.  She happens to have the almost exact tumor type (mixed w/ deletion) in almost the same location and had her first surgery in 2004.  As a fun-fact on the side, the odds of this are somewhat staggering.  As I understand it, this “very rare” tumor happens in less then 1 person per 100,000 (even less for women).  So, imagine two people in a crowd of well over 200,000 meeting each other.  She happens to also like running marathons, cycling, camping trips, and even enjoys climbing. Statistics? So far, our adventures have included Pedernales State Park, rock climbing at Reimers Ranch, Lake Austin kayaking… good times. What an amazing friend!  There are usually paintings from these adventures.

Painting: I’m still in love with acrylics. In fact, it’s quickly becoming a life-style.  I’ve had several requests for painting, I’ve joined the Brenham Fine Arts League and will be hanging art in the Gallery there by May!  I never would have imagined I actually money from something I love so much!   I already established a Facebook page called StephenWilliamsonArt and started a painters blog FunWithAcrylics.  I’m working on a site that will be called TheArtBooth.com.  Eventually, it will be a place for a small community of artist to display their work free of charge.  It’ll be a place to direct people they meet to their artwork and blogs.  On the side, each artist will be encouraged to donate a small portion of their commission to a charity or foundation they are passionate about.  Painting continues to reveal life how I never expected it, almost exactly like backpacking on the Appalachian Trail. It’s a beautiful journey.

Web Design: On the side, I’m taking Ben Hunt’s Pro Web Design: awesome course!  Six months of intense training in everything it takes to get an online business or clientele established.  I definitely see a connection between art and web design in my future!

Well, that was alot, even through it was a “highlight”.  Your continued support for my and my family in all this medical fiasco has been amazing. Thank you!!

7/27/11: S’More Got “Judy Chopped”!

7 Comments

Although this is a short entry, it’s good news worth sharing. On the 7th I had an “after surgery” MRI so that Dr. Stovall (neurosurgeon) could compare this with the “before surgery” MRI. He placed pre and post surgical MRI slides side by side on the light-box and said these show “fantastic results”! He expected to see about 85-90% of the tumor was extracted with a little remaining tumor along the margins near the motor strip area, but the slides showed about 98-99% was extracted because there wasn’t ANY visible tumor left! He said the last patient with these results still sees him 8 years later in yearly routine check-ups! Plus he reminded me this tumor has the “1p/19q deletion” (genetic marker) showing it’s sensitive to chemotherapy. I’ll have MRIs taken every 3 months during chemo to check for any recurrence, but this is definitely a good starting point and fantastic news!! In light of these results and my recent favorite YouTube video, it only seems fair to say S’More got “Judy Chopped” as seen on the following video: (click on the video)

( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x2U-ZQMf56I ).

8/5/11 Update: In the photo the MRI on the right (from 3/7/11) shows there is practically no visible tumor.  On the left (from 8/4/11) the tumor area has shrunk, and there is no increase of any tumor. We’ll watch for disappearing tumor on the margins (the rim around the dark area) as the chemo progresses. 20110805-060618.jpg
News from MD Anderson today is that the chemo pills are a joke compared to “normal chemo”. The doctor said “you’ll fly through this.”. It’s good news.

7/18/11: Diagnosis, Prognosis & Treatment

8 Comments

7/18/11: Just got out of the doctor’s office, so I want to write down news to my family and friends before I forget.  I had seen an oncologist on 6/24 who wasn’t clear how to treat my case since is it so specialized.  He referred me to MD Anderson Cancer Center.   Today I went there to see Dr. Monica Loghin, a neuro-oncologist who immediately impressed me as smart, to the point and personal.  After reviewing the pathology report prepared at MD Anderson, she gave a slightly different view of S’More.

She explained I have a mixed tumor type “oligodendroglioma and astrocytoma” (which I knew from Austin) and it is high grade, or aggressive (that I didn’t know). There are three levels (grades) for the oligo, three being the worst. “You have a three.” The astrocyoma has four levels, fourth being the worst. “You have a three.” That means if I did nothing the tumor would regrow in 6 months to a year.  That’s pretty fast.   With treatment, there’s a life expectancy of five years.  She then immediately corrected any misconception that I’m the “typical person”.  In fact, they found I have genetic markers indicating the tumor should be responsive to radiation/chemothery and after treatment I should live longer than the “typical” type of patient.  So… now I’ll go to see a radiation specialist to find out if I need radiation, chemotherapy or both (and for how long).  That’s the facts.

As this information sinks into my new reality I don’t feel any different.  I keep waiting for an unknown case of denial to come crashing down. Perhaps after the first wave of chemo/radiation hits me?  Hmm.  That’s another day.  All I know is, today I’m one step farther with knowledge, one step closer to the treatment and my garden just produced a mega-ton of okra.  On top of that I have vacation in Cali with my cuz Andy!  Too much good to be sad.

Just got a call from Dr. Loghin as I type… no radiation because the tumor is too close to important areas.  I’m to have chemo, for probably a year.  ….. waiting…..nope, no crashing denial.   All I can think of is fried okra and California in two days … yes, today was definitely a good day.

6-10-11: Seven Days Post-Op

8 Comments

For those who follow the blog, this is a quick recap of surgery and post-op news.  It takes about twice as many backspaces for some reason typing, so it’ll be quick.

Night before operation, family was gathered and “Team Steve” assembled at hotel.  Hung out with my bro and shaved head in war style “side-mowak” to get my game face on.  Had a good night sleep and up on Thursday, 8:55 to hospital.  First I met an “EEG” guy to help monitor brainwaves (and who also, coincidentally,  finished the Appalachian Trail not long ago!).  I then met anesthesiologist who assured me once more my foley catheter would be put in after I go to sleep.  I remember I crawled onto the surgery bed;  somewhere they gave me Propofal, and there was  little else until they woke me.  Supposedly I was out for about four hours, I only remember about 30-40 minutes.  I think I remember they said most of the tumor was removed and we were working the margins around where the speech fibers were as well as of the functional motor strip for physical movement of the right side of my body.  There are no nerves in the brain for pain, but I definitely felt pressure as they poked around.   I read aloud from a flip up chart,  “I walked the dog.  It rained at night. …”  about once or twice, which I’m sure assessed the full range of motor speech.  The rest of the time the EEG guy and I talked trail talk, remembering different shelters such as the absolutely frigid “Trey Mountain Shelter”.   He spoke about what it was like in the Smokies and the 100 Mile Wilderness, and I wished I were there at that very moment.  Some day.   Dr. Stovall then asked for a multi-syllable word, and out of nowhere I blurted out, “supercalafragalisticexpealadoches”.  Honestly, I don’t know where that came from.   Kristina, maybe???  Then Dr. Stovall told me a short time later, an area of the margins had speech fibers and we’d simply let part of the tumor stay put.  Wholeheartedly agreed.  I think they hit me with Versed, and I was out.

I stayed in the NICU Thursday through half of Saturday with family staying in shifts as I mostly slept.  The physical therapist and Occupational Therapist said I was clear next day, though I had difficulty with Speech Therapy (as expected).  Dr. Stovall checked in on me the second day, pulled my Jackson Pratt drain (for any drainage) on Saturday, and told me the CT scan post-op looked like they got 85-95% of the tumor, but they can’t be sure until an MRI six weeks out.  There was surprisingly little pain, but I’m glad for the Norco (narcotic) to keep the pain at bay… at first.   It takes a couple of days for the gut to wake up after surgery and on top of that, Norco is the ultimate in constipation.  I transferred to the Neuro Floor Unit Saturday afternoon, and on Sunday night it definitely became an issue.  “OH, you gonna move it.  Be sure of it,”  my nurse said.  Prune Juice, Milk of Magnesia (anti-constipation) and Colace (stool softener) … not budging.  Problem is I can’t put pressure on my brain; it takes brain pressure to “move”.  Not to mention I’d feel and hear an audible squish in my head.  Avoid that.  I’d had it, and resolved to a “grand finale” of “movement”.  Two Milk of Magnesia, two Colace, a Duoculax suppository (it sounds like it is),  two Duoculax pills and 200ml of Magnesium Citrate (used for bowel preps) … I was up from 7:30 pm to 5:30am often not making to my bed before turning around.  My Uncle said around that exact time of “the blowout,” a 100 mile/hr twister hit the ranch an hour East of Austin moving  a solid cedar porch post about 8″, smashing wooden chairs and nearly blowing in the big picture window.  Yes, it was quite an event.  All clear now.

I left the Neuro Unit Tuesday morning happy to be going to my parent’s house.  My swelling is going down, but I still am dealing with  “apraxia” and a little “aphasia” … not to mention about an hour an a half trying to type this.  It weird.  I can see the words in my head mostly, I can type them out somewhat, but the motor movement actually making the mouth move is like a first grade child with a lisp, stuttering and slurring occasionally, simply refusing me.  I’m slowly seeing improvements now 7 days post-op.  Patience.  That being said, this is absolutely nothing to complain about! I am going home to Weimar, TX tomorrow.  I hope to see a garden with the first buds of ripening fruits and veggies, and I look forward to moving forward in my acrylic paintings.

Thank you all for supporting  me, and much more my parents and bro.  A testament to community.  As a side note, thanks Mom for making this actually legible.

A couple more acrylics:

5/16: Less of S’More; Surgery in Sight

19 Comments

Thanks for the support you’ve given me and my family! I’m doing fine with almost no symptoms, except sometimes having a bit of trouble getting my words out.

5/16: I finally have some news about S’More after today’s appointment with Dr. Stovall. After our first meeting in March, he pulled some serious strings with the CEO of the hosptial to request a trial run with a multimillion dollar MRI software package from GE. This package produces a very accurate rendering of the tumor. In addition he had three types of MRIs ordered and merged into a single “active” 3D map that can be rotated to look at exactly where the tumor is in relation to important brain areas surrounding it. Two years ago this technology didn’t exist and today less than a dozen institutions can afford to use it, so kudo’s to Stovall for making this happen. Just to give an example of how amazing this technology is, in one MRIs they asked me to think of words and it located what part of my brain was doing the thinking; I wiggled my toes, it located another part. In another MRI, it somehow found the fiber tracts that act like information highways connecting two parts of my brain used to understand words and for speech. So, the images above are a result of a LOT of work. The two images show the same thing from two vantage points, one as if you were looking at my face and the other as if you were looking up at my brain from under my chin. In the face-on view, S’More is highlighted in purple, the other view its a dark round void. The fibers that allow me to talk and understand words are highlighted in yellow. The motor strip that lets me move the right side of my body is highlighted in blue. The good news is that neither the motor strip, or the speech fibers are mixed inside the tumor. The bad news is that the speech fibers are wrapped tightly around the outside like a small hand cupping an egg. This means during surgery, it’ll be impossible to remove all of the tumor unless I want to risk losing my ability to communicate. Not gonna happen. So, Stovall thinks he can remove about 80% of tumor leaving a small amount near the fibers. From what I understand he’ll insert the microsuction into the brain and actively see where it is in relation to the 3D brain map. Also, I’ll be awake and constantly talking to keep them alert to any decline in my ability to speak. Sometime during the surgery, they will remove and send out a section of the tumor for lab analysis. Several weeks after the surgery I’ll know what type of tumor I have and how fast it’s growing. This will tell me how aggressive they predict the tumor will be. A grade 1 tumor is slow growing, doesn’t need radiation or chemo; a Grade 5 tumor is, well, not good. From my past lack of symptoms, I’m almost positive mine is a very low grade tumor and hopefully a type that doesn’t advance from Grade 1 to 5 quickly. The tumor will eventually expand, increase in grade and require further treatments to attempt to slow it down. So the harsh truth is, there’s no cure; then the reality is there never any promise of how long any of us will live. Life’s about quality, something I’ve come to more fully appreciate since S’More came into the picture. Ironic.

The confirmed date of the surgery is June 2nd at St. David’s North Austin Medical Center. I expect about 3 to 4 days in the hospital before heading home. The surgery should last from about mid-morning to mid-afternoon.

As I eluded to in my last posting, I’ve now become a more “Western-small town” Steve. The garden now lines my backyard with the fully automated drip irrigation system. The morning routine is to go to the garden half shaven and in house slippers to curse leaf eating slugs and snails. Apparently this is what gardeners do, although I can’t say I’m a “normal” gardener. When I explain I’m growing the world largest variety of 198lb watermelon, pumpkins the size of small children and 12 foot sunflowers among other things (with pride), my fellow gardening neighbor said, “wow” with a look of “why?”. I suppose, as my neighbor waters his garden watching me tend mine (20 feet away), he wonders why I take a photo of a sunflower sprout as often as possible from exactly the same spot. I’d tell him I’m making a video slideshow that will make two months of growth pass by in a minute, but I think that would again evoke that “why?” look, so I just smile, give a country finger wave and shoot. Also seven blueberry plants are planted and in a couple years should be ready for picking, so if you come by for a visit, mid May would be smart. My acrylic painting has really taken off as well. Here’s the last three I’ve done, each one teaching me TONS about nature and how to express it on canvas. My hope of inspiring others to get outdoors through painting is well underway. As it might be sometime before heading back to the Appalachian trial, I may morph this blog temporarily into a journey of acrylic painting and the discovery of nature, or maybe a gardening blog with pictures of dead slugs and giant pumpkins. Maybe both. I could rename it: “It is what it is” and by the power of Google someone will read it, and of those, someone will like it, and of those someone might even remember it. Goal achieved.

3/13 – 3/22: Meeting “S’More”

15 Comments

Just a quick update per a few requests for the latest in the crazy events.  Seems some have found this adventure extending beyond the trail is worth the read.

3/13 – 3/21:
I guess I’ve been “on the trail” now for about ten days in the new medical/patient oriented journey. It’s weirdly similar in working toward a “goal” like trail life, only with a goal of surgery. My head is still in a cloud (anti-epileptics) and every three to five days I wander into an doctor’s office appointment to restock on information supplies, receipts and insurance policies before heading back out with a 30lb pack paper-weight. Its not always easy, but I’ve met people on the way who definitely deserve a trail name. Dr. Stovall is about as good and genuine a surgeon I could hope for. Down to earth, hopeful and as the word goes extremely skilled. We had a good face to face visit the other day and we clearly feel the same way about what we hope for from surgery.  Glad he’s taking the lead position. Perhaps even more deservedly, my insurance broker has proven an invaluable “counselor” to sometimes desperate ears.

3/21:
Back in Austin today and met the assisting neurosurgeon and neurologist for the surgery. This neurosurgeon is one of most technically advanced, at least in knowledge, in the nation.  Wicked smart. I definitely want him there when they have the micro suction on my brain helping to decipher what’s “good” and “bad”. He said “when I’m looking at the brain, nothing looks different, so I’m going to fix a do-nut like magnet to your forehead that connects to an MRI image and the computer screen highlights “tumor/no tumor”.  He’ll also have an MRI that shows a road map of active fibers around the tumor like white streaks.  Please sir, take the MRI. Take two.  Its on me. It’s a very real judgment call as they literally suck out tissue wanting to take out as much as possible, but knowing it’s also removing my ability to speak, move my limbs and my hope for a quality lifestyle. I explained I’d rather have five “good” years than ten bad. They agree.

It’s been kind of funny in a sick way how the doctor sessions have started.  It’s kind of a trend I see. Right before seeing me they go view the MRI, then come talk to me about it. First they lay their eyes on me with the assessing “how much does he know?” — a two-second expression of slight unease type of stare followed by a shift to just say it … ,”well, yeah it’s a complicated one and that’s bad.”.  Another said, “It’s fairly large and it’s just in a bad spot”.  The best one though.. He holds his hands in a bear claw like fashion as if holding the very tumor in thin air before me about to expound in medical unfamiliarity, a pause, then the searching for words,” it’s just bad.”. At the last visit today, I battled between respectful maturity and snickering before he started. In the last doctor’s defense, he was surprising positive from the get go. I did get to SEE this infamous MRI image finally today. I’m just gonna say I have a “man-tumor”. Couldn’t get an iPhone pic of it because the doc was talking, but if you can imagine a top view brain scan image like on “Scrubs” or “Grey’s Anatomy”, it would look like somebody stuck a large, wrinkled white marshmallow just inside and in front of the left ear skull bone extending almost all the way to the center line of the brain where it meets a dark gray “normal” band and then the thin light center line. Nothing pushed around or distorted, just there, and it looked like a perfect prepared s’more: grahams, chocolate and mallow. It’s sick, I know, but that’s what you get from a backpacker/hiker. Thus “S’More” is named.

3/22:
Life now is going to take some creative ingenuity. Driving is out since the tumor rests right next to the foot-pedal muscle nerve. One bad vibe from “S’more” and I could cream a pedestrian. So in the spirit of the trail life, tomorrow is a new day and I’ve now concocting a new “Western, small-town” version of me and my cranial companion (or what is left of em in a month or so). I’m moving to Weimar, TX, a small, lazy town almost smack in the middle of Houston and Austin on the map. Everything is accessible by bike and I could possibly help out as an RN at the local hospital. Hey Andy, looks like you won’t be the only one “gone green” biking to work! No doubt I’ll also be doing a lot of ranch work helping my uncle nearby with longhorns, horses and a small vineyard. In the spirit of all this, I went to Goodwill today and bought a bunch of “ranch clothes” to blend a bit and try and be smart about all the sun.  I’d rather not become a leatherneck, just mimic one. Close enough. In the spirit of “going green” and remembering conversations with LaLa on the trail, I’m planning a garden complete with a squash and maybe a turnip (although I have no idea what to do with a turnip). I might even attempt growing chickpeas and making humus. Hey LaLa, that’s your prompt to advise..?? I’ll be ordering four huge Tiftblue Rabbiteye Blueberry plants and pulling on a rototiller within a couple weeks across the front yard. Oh, and a rutabaga. I’ll need to Google that one too, but that sounds really country. Of course I’ll have to irrigate the garden with a solar-powered irrigating automated drip system, but as that borders on techno-nerd, I’ll tuck it away behind a rusted country looking hand pump. On weekends, I’m outfitting myself with a DIY artist/camping pack to take up cycling-acrylic painting.  Head 30-50 miles out, camp/paint somewhere, then cycle back. Yes, it will be YouTubed and FaceBooked.

–Trance

From simple to complex: hoping to get back to the Appalachian Trail

2 Comments

3/10
As I try to recap the last three days within a cloud of medicine head, I apologize for any redundancy or floating disconnected thoughts … I’m at the ER in Asheville Mission Hospital and after an MRI w contrast the neurosurgeon explains this is a “low grade” possible glioma that is fairly large (holding his fingers in a ring shape about twice the diameter of a quarter). It also is in a “bad” spot in the frontal lobe so the drugs will reduce swelling until surgery. Hmm. The neurologist later said we don’t know exactly what we’re dealing with until a further consultation and possibly a biopsy to see just what kind of tumor it is. So, REALLY there’s nothing to fret about yet. In a positive side, I got to chat with the charge nurse on the neuro floor who offered me a job when I get done with this! Maybe a good way to get back to NC and close to the trail later? AND, on the extreme positive side, I got to keep the most comfortable pair of ankle high, warm non-skid hospital socks ever.

3/11/11
Ironically, my hospital window has a clear view of the mountains while an IV secures me to a pump and electrodes show all the vitals in an impressive display of animated beeping charts. I see the clouds hugging the mountaintops and my thoughts travel to my trail family. My friend Renee keeps me updated and i got a pic of snow on the trail and tents! Please follow her blog @ http://BearBaitNayNay.blogspot.com/! Family and staff keep me surrounded here on the opposite extreme of being independent on the trail. The docs’ discharged me today with a slew of steroids, anti-epileptics and stomach protectants. After faxing the pathology review to an Austin neurosurgeon he quickly bumped me in schedule to this Wednesday, so hopefully there will be more clarification of what it is, what to do about it and what risks to expect.
3/12
Late night flight back to Austin TX and rode an hour north to the parents house. Today 3/13, my bro happened to fly in from VA to the SXSW conference in Austin!! A nationally renowned digital social gadgetry nerd-fest. So, heading back to Austin now and I’m on an all time nerd high. Uncanny how perfectly the timing is in all this. Life is full if twists. Just go with it. I must admit, its hard ti shift back from the trail. After a week of stillness, its been three days of being rushed through a constant complex network of ambulances, hospitals, hotels, airports ect … I miss the simplicity of the trail. One way, a white blaze and a promise of a good conversation. I drift back in the midst of this semi-blurred fast paced life to the trailside with the wind in the trees and timeless peace and listen with closed eyes. It encourages me to know I may return. For now, time to savor the family reunions, have a blast and wait. In my next entry I may do a quick video review of gear, what works what can be left behind and maybe a wish list having experienced the cold & wet challenges. Hopefully this will help you who read this getting ready for the trail yourself. If you’re ready, you’ll love it. Beyond this, I expect there won’t be much to post up till I get back to the mountains.

Brain Tumor and Bad Knees: Stumblimg Blocks To trail Life

7 Comments

3/7

Trey Mountain Shelter is a cold place to stay down to 30ish with cold, wet clouds gusting from the North by the shelter face. It’s hard to keep warm with freezing winds under the floorboards. My pad was just barely ok, but Eric got pretty cold. I’d look over and he’s mummified in his bag with barely a nose tip sticking out and doing something like sit-ups to get warmth. His down bag is still damp from two nights ago. With some tinkering, wrapping Eric’s one-man tent shell with a mylar safety blanket, we managed him a thermal groundcloth. Still, plenty of solid sleep. Guess that comes from just being physically tired. This morning everything was frosted over looking like a winter wonderland in areas. Water bottles were half frozen and yesterday’s wet socks frozen stiff.

To our surprise, the clouds lifted and we woke to amazing views of the mountains (panorama pic). We got off to an early start and my right knee was really hurting behind the kneecap. In guessing Patellar tendinitis. I’ve starting drinking a ton of water, popped 600mg Ibuprofren, and tied a twisted bandana below the knee. With heavy use of the trekking poles my knee has started to feel better throughout the day. A zero or maybe “near-o” mile day tomorrow will help. We hit Dick’s Creek (11 miles from Trey Mtn) around 2pm and with no cell service to call the shuttle, hitched a ride to Hiawassee. The guy had a red pick up truck with a bed “fence” made large quartered branches and said “give ya a lift for $10?”. We shook our heads and explained a shuttle will be along to get us. “$5?”. We replied, “Nah, thanks though.”. “How bout a joint? I’d take that.”. “Nope”. He pulls ahead ten feet and stops. “Get in, your killing my conscience.”. We piled in the truck bed next to a huge, friendly Chow dog and gave the man $3 after we got there. As we left he said,”don’t tell the authorities, but I know where it’s at if you need some.”. Not exactly a pillar of society, but I was grateful for the ride. The Hiawassee Inn is pretty much a rat hole, and by the sounds from next door I’m stripping off the sheets and sleeping with my sleeping bag over me. It has hot water, laundry and quick access to Ingles and Ace Hardware. Good enough. Tonights supper: Pint of Blue Bell Cookies and Cream, Deli cheese pasta casserole, huge cup of fried okra, two yogurts, pint of chocolate milk, and an crisp, healthy Fuji Apple. Perfect. I was hoping to update the blog tonight with pics from my phone, but AT&T has no service here. Oh, I forgot to mention after deep conversations on the trail a couple days ago, the miles seemed to just go by in a trance. Thus I’m now “Trance” on the trail.

Gear of the day: leki trekking poles. Absolutely needed on downhills. Everyone is dealing with knee problems!

3/8

Headed out of Hiawassee by shuttle and headed to Plum Orchard Gap Shelter. Eric stayed behind in town to get his bivy sack by mail. Walking alone today, I really started to connect with everything around me. I’m sitting on the edge of a hillside level with all the tree tops swaying in unison with the wind. Sounds like ocean waves all around me. Mesmerizing. I stopped every 15 minutes to stretch the knees and relax and “listen” to my body. I think connecting the body and nature is inescapable on the trail. 2pm I reached the shelter where two others were. Both said their knees hurt before I mentioned mine. The shelter is the best I’ve seen. Triple decks to sleep in so I immediately picked the top for the warmth tonight. Other hiker’s trickled in and it was great to see Eric (La-La) came too. Now it’s 6:30 and about 16 people are here. Everyone is saying rain, a tornado watch, and maybe even snow tomorrow! I’ll probably take a zero day and watch the weather from the sweet spot I’ve claimed here. Oh in case I forgot to mention it, Jake if you’re reading the blog, your old trekking poles were paid forward to Firewalker. He loves them and before we parted ways, said he could not have done Blood Mountain trail without them. Thanks! And to La-La who shared the top level with three others, appreciate the broccoli/garlic farts man.

3/9

What a day. Most hiking parties split based on judgement of whether hiking in the rain is worth it. Although I think “possible tornadic” wind is overkill, it is definitely cold and very wet. Hikes in the 4000-5000 ft range make hypothermia a real battle. Not a problem hiking, but when stopped… I made a late decision to hike for Muscrat or Standing Indian Shelter today based on food. I need to get to the Nantahala Outdoors Center sooner than later. Hiking alone entering about 3800-4000 ft range, I got a sudden massive facial spasm on my right side including the the neck and all the face. I thought I was cold and starting laughing at how it must look. I got the picture of the scene in Dumb & Dumber when the cop reacted to “Sipping on some of Grandpa’s cough-medicine”. I laughed until 5 minutes later it happened again without warning and was violent enough to twist my head to the side. The shock of it scared me and I immediately thought hypothermia. I noticed a tingling feeling in my head and my balance was slight askew, but not so much to hinder quickening the pace. As I hurried, breathing harder, I noticed I was having trouble taking in breathes. The muscles used in breathing from the nose to the larynx were having spasms closer to the windpipe. I started realizing I might be in a REAL situation, alone and far from civilization. Thoughts of important people in life and the impact suffocation definitely came sharply into focus. I slowed down and the breathing was easier. I passed “Indy” on the trail and when I tried to explain the situation, I was almost continually having muscle spasms and couldn’t form words at all. I realized at that moment it’s either severe hypothermia and/or possibly even Bell Palsy or Stroke. I shot passed toward the next shelter, adrenaline pumping, trekking poles kicking up mud. My mind kept repeating, “This is real” over and over without mental control, like I was hearing it rather than saying it…it was almost disorienting. By the time I made to the shelter I was warm, but my face was still twitching, speech impossible. La-La and the others were huddled together in the back of the shelter out of the rain and said “Trance!” in surprise to meet me. I could not answer and there was that moment of award silence. I found a paper and pencil and wrote down “I’ve had a stroke, I need to get to a hospital.”. Everyone snapped to a serious, shocked mode and figured to call Forest Service and get me down. La-La took over almost exactly as a big brother would taking leading the situation. Impressive. I chose to hike with my pack down the trail using my trekking poles. I was lead by a fast hiker hurrying up to meet Rangers at trail-head and followed by “La-La” and another person who had a phone and was in contact with the Rangers. At trailhead I met my transport to the main road. Everything from Fire & Rescue to half the local forest service was waiting. Since I couldn’t talk, I was texting in my iPhone Notes app furiously trying to communicate with them. All thumbs. My previous knowledge through ICU Nursing held some clout and they more asked what I want to do than told me. That was really nice. The local hospital ran CT scans with contrast and found a “grey non-growing mass 4.5cm on the left side” and said they’re immediately shipping me to Asheville Mission Hospital for the best neurologists. After an MRI with contrast and X-ray, the prognosis is a “low grade glioma or astrocytoma tumor in the area of my brain where the sensory-motor strip is (allows the right side of my body to move). It’s hard to distinguish normal from tumor so they will do an awake surgery to have me talk while tinkering around in my brain (which is actually pretty cool).

So, hopefully there’s not too much, or “Profound” sensory-motor loss after the surgery and I’m in good spirits. It’s an obstacle and will be eternally optimistic by choice. No reason to see otherwise. These bodies are “rentals” after all is said and done and everyone knows you can’t expect too much from a rental.:) I hope to someday complete the Appalachian Trail and will cheer my new found “trail family” on!! Thanks Renee, Firewalker, Grace, and La-La!!

–Trance

Extrordinary Extremes: 3/4-3/6 on the AT

Leave a comment

3/4

Camped on the trailside last night.  Windy & down to the 30 degrees.  Tylenol PM & snoozing by 1am.  Firewalker, Renee, Grace and I start @ 8.  Met Easy Hiker and Ole Grey Wolf @ next mountain top to chat & rest (pic).  Easy hiker has base pk Wt 12, 20 w everything!  Cool guy.  Drizzling all morning.  Fairly wet all day.  Blood Mtn shelter (4450ft) seemed like it would be a great place to hike to in better weather, but as we were in a cloud there was about fifty feet of visibility.  The boulders just outside the shelter harbor some excellent bouldering routes! In talking to other hikers it sounded like the hostel would be full at Neals Gap and Blood Mnt shelter was dark & dank… not a place to stay.  I hurried to the hostel…full.  Found a cabin was open and all four of us plus Eric (cool guy I met on the trail today) lapped in the luxuries of a warm shower, four hot pizzas… extreme comfort.

3/5/12

Today I realized I had to leave Firewalker, Renee, and Grace to start a higher pace.  Hard to say goodbye to tem.  I stopped by the store before leaving and picked up some Leki Malaku Kumbu trekking poles.  Relly glad I did, the trails were slick with muddy leafy but the poles offered secure footing.  Eric and I set a goal to  18 miles to Blue Mtn Selter.  It’s been miserably cold and wet.  While walking it ok.  Stop for more than ten minutes and 40 degrees wet is really cold.  We reached Low Gap Shelter (11 mi?) and it was stacked full of people.  Hardly anyone on the trail hiking.  News from those at the Low Gap was Blue Mtn Shelter full too.  We found a good campsite ~2 miles down the trail and decided to set up camp.  It’s 9ish now, I’m under my tarp and am finding point along the top ridgeline that are leaking, so I’ve arranged myself to minimize getting my down sleeping bag wet draping my raincoat over the bag.  Condensation inside also sprinkles back down when rain drops hit the tarp.  It’s frustrating and I expect I’ll be wet in the morning.  We’ll see.

It’s been a couple hours now and my sleeping bag is still warm even though damp.  I can definitely see some improvements to make when I make my next tarp!

3/6/12

It’s 2am and and checking about every hour on my bag wetness.  I call to Eric’s tent next to me and turns out his rain fly failed.  His bag is wet and he’s really cold.  I shuffled stuff around and he parked in the right half of the tarp.  At 3:30 we get shut eye slept soundly till 6:30 sunrise.  Putting on the wet clothes to hike was pretty miserable.  Eric and I just dropped down and started doing push-ups laughing at how ridiculous is it.  Once we got moving and warm it felt great.  Two other hiker’s we passed were also soaked.  Grasshopper is heading 11 miles back to Neals Gap disgusted with the conditions and hoping to find a better tent.  The rain water rushing down the mountains was spectacular (video!!). Eric and I both immediately agreed seeing this was worth the miserable night and we were in good spirits looking forward to the day.  The sun peaked through the clouds and we saw blue sky for the fist time in two days.  I found a creek overflowing into a cascade of waterfalls and sat back in it.  Wow, cold (but fun, video). The views along the mountains are amazing (pic) and walls of moss, galax and mountain laurel were all over. Along the trek today we found a former thru hiker left trail magic.

Yet another example of the generosity everywhere in the people associated with this trail.  Seems almost unreal.  We made it to Trey Mountain Shelter at 4233ft at an exposed area neat the top and clods have moved in.  It’s strange watching them pass by the front of the shelter.  An hour ago it was sunny 40; now there is about 100 ft visibility and there is front on the grass!!  I’m tucked in my sleeping bag with a warm water bottle at my feet.  Eric and I are in our bags toasty and enjoying nature’s weather show with good humor.  Should be a good night.  Tomorrow we have a reservation in town at the Hiawassi In to refuel and clean up.  The tendon at my right knee cap is really sore, so it’s time for a zero miles day.  My precious hiking schedule is not on schedule, but it better to be healthy and enjoy the trail with all the amazing people here!

First & Second Day

12 Comments

3/2


We hiked Springer Mnt. to Hawk Mtn. (7.8 miles plus an extra 0.9 miles on side trip). Not much sleep last night at the Hostel. Too excited. Breakfast @ Hiker Hostel and then to trail by 9:30. Army Ranger training in area. Marnix, grace, Avery, Renee, Luke “Firewalker” were together at start, then the group mostly split up. I decided to walk w Renee and Firewalker. Took it easy. Saw cool waterfall. Stomach really bugging me.
Arrived @ Hawk Shelter 3:45, ~6 people there, >14 by nightfall. One guy >90 years old. Spicy Tuna/ramen for dinner & good talk @ table w other hiker’s. Temps dropped quickly to 40’s. Montbell UL Down Inner Jacket + Driclime windshirt perfect. Also my DIY invention i call a warm panel did great!! I’ll post pic of it later. Tarp set up perfect between trees & WM bag w silk liner perfect, though not sure 2mil ground cloth thick enough. 8:30 & everyone in camp asleep. Great day! Hmm, spoke too soon. The Airborne Rangers are training w fake machine gun fire and helicopter flew overhead w spotlight. Hopefully it’ll be a bit more peaceful…wait, there’s another two helicopters. Awesome. Maybe they’ll shine there spotlight on us again. Sheesh.

Gear of the day: DIY foam butt pad & Gorillapod!

3/3
7:30 wake up. Slept great! 35 degrees & UL down inner + Driclime + balaclava perfect. Oh and warm panel under wind pants! Awesome! Destination just before Suches, GA w Renee & Luke “Firewalker”. Stopped for bouldering (video). Lots of elevation change today. Passed “Narly & One Step”, met “Fineprint”. Cool guys. Stopped @ Justice Creek, washed & massage feet (so nice, crystal clear cold water). ~9 others stop & snack w Renee and I. No question they were upwind, wow. Funky smelling. Renee me & Firewalker as well as Ryan and Mark enjoyed tortilla+nutella wraps (thanks for recipe Jenica!!). Grace met up and camp w us (pic). Set up camp on mountain top and wind thru trees sounds like ocean waves lulling me to sleep. 30% rain, so I set the tarp sides low. Seems to be working well against wind, but I’ll be glad if no rain tonight. Idahoan Mash Potatoes w Bacos tonight along w Honey-Peanut butter for dinner (freezer bag cooking). Now I’m toasty warm in sleeping bag. Tomorrow: 12mi to Neals Gap for laundry & shower.

I’ll post up pics/videos when I have better reception. On mountain top now. Two bars w AT&T.

Hiker Hostel in Georgia

1 Comment

Tomorrow i hit the trail and tonight I’m staying at the Hiker Hostel. Can’t say enough good things about it. It’s hard enough planning all the details for the trip. They shuttle from the airport, drop by Walmart for last minute supplies, give you a bunk “home” for the night, breakfast @ 7:30, then shuttle you to either Amicola Falls or Springer Mnt. $75. The best part is meeting a group of hiker’s before you hit the trail.
Liz & Christian from Massachusetts, “Firewalker” & Renee from Norhern Cali, a couple from Ohio, another guy from Netherlands … yet we all immediately clicked. I think most will try to the approach trail, but I’ll head out with Rene & “Firewalker” from Springer. Well, had my 4 wallyworld microwaved Hot Pockets and it’s time to hit the sack. Pic is dark, but its of “Firewalker” disgruntled as he views the scale for his final pack weight.

Lightweight Backpacking Gear List

6 Comments

Choosing hiking gear was much more difficult and expensive than I anticipated. On weekend trips, it’s ok to get the game face on and hulk that 50lb pack filled with luxury items, because the point is to set up camp in a secluded, pristine area of nature before returning home. However, gear for long distance hiking is focused on the walking (not camping), and the walking comfort depends directly on the pack weight. So, it only goes to say the people obsessed with long hikes are even more obsessed with lightweight gear. The extreme “ultralighters” reduce the pack weight including all gear/food/water/fuel to 15-20 lbs, a weight usually seen for day hiking! Go to http://www.backpackinglight.com or read the gear lists of http://www.whiteblaze.com forums.  In the past month and a half, I’ve found it’s a world of counting weight to the tenth of an ounce using a postal scale and posting data on spreadsheets and charts. It’s cutting off half of a toothbrush handle to save an ounce. It’s choosing a lighter weight down jacket with less warmth for twice the price, or making an alcohol stove out of a Dr Pepper can and a stove stand from an aluminum roasting pan because they weigh almost nothing. It’s even buying a sewing machine to invent ways to cut weight and stay warm when it’s cold and cussing at a malfunctioning bobbin at 2:30am. It’s obsession and madness…  …and I believe when my feet hit that trail and I enjoy nature rather than lean forward under an unbearable pack, every ounce shaved will be worth it.

Here’s my Gear List:
Clothing worn: (not part of “pack weight”)

  • Cascadia Brooks 5 Trail Running Shoes
  • Smartwool hiker socks
  • Smartwool t-shirt
  • BCG sport compression shorts (anti-chafing underwear)
  • SFA Lacrosse running shorts
  • Nike wind pants (ripped out liner)
  • baseball hat & bandana
  • **Smartwool (warm, wicking & very low odor)

Extra Clothing in Bag

  • Terramar lightweight thermal silk upper (3.1oz)
  • Terramar lightweight thermal silk bottom (3.4oz)
  • extra BCG compressions shorts (2.3oz)
  • 2pr Smartwool hiker socks (6.2oz)
  • Smartwool midweight NTS longsleeve Tee (9.7oz) *rain jacket will replace this for warmth
  • Montbell UL Inner Down Jacket (7.4oz) *switched to Marmot DriClime Jacket (down get’s wet/cold) (9.6oz)
  • O2 Rain Jacket (6.4oz) *wore down at shoulders from pack straps rubbing, will bring Marmot Aegis Jacket and leave Smartwool NTS at home
  • fleece balaclava (1.6oz)
  • fleece scarf (2.4oz)
  • ear bags (0.4oz) *didn’t use them
  • DIY Warm Panel (1.5oz)
  • Polypropylene glove liners (1.3oz)
  • Fleece Thinsulate convertible mittens (4.7oz)
  • DIY Wind Shirt (3.4oz)*didn’t use it
  • Granite Gear Dry Bag (2.1oz)

Gear:

  • ULA Circuit Backpack (39.2oz)
  • WM Alpine Light 20 degree sleeping bag (35oz)
  • Trash compactor bag (keep sleeping bag dry) (2.2oz)
  • Thermarest Neoair sleeping pad (regular) (13.9oz)
  • 1/8″ GG thinlight pads x2 (one over, one under neoair) (5.7oz)
  • Silk sleeping bag liner (6.3oz)
  • Cacoon ultralight pillow (3.9oz)
  • Tyvek ground cloth (cut to fit bag & gear) (6.2oz)
  • DIY Ray Jardine Tarp (from Kit rdered online) (17.6oz)
  • 14 UL Titanium tent stakes + 1 Ti “V” stake (that is also a trowel) (6oz)
  • Backcountry 700ml Ti Pot/Mug (4.1oz)
    Ti Spork (0.6oz)
  • Alcohol stove (0.4oz)
  • Aluminum stand/windscreen (0.6oz)
  • Bic lighter (0.6oz)
  • 10 Freezer Bags (quart size) (2oz)
  • 16L Granite Gear Dry Bag (for food) (2.2oz)
  • 2 Walmart Bags (to hoist food bag up in tree) (0.1oz)
  • 50 ft cord (1oz)
  • “Esquire” Swiss Army knife (0.7oz)
  • Compass/thermometer (0.7oz)
  • 4-5 Days TP in ziplock (0.2oz)
  • Canon Proshot S95 Camera (6.9oz)
  • camera charger (3oz)
  • iPhone (5.4oz)
  • iPhone charger (1.5oz)
  • AT Thru hiker book (2oz)
  • Dr. Bonner soap (1oz)
  • Bleach (water treatment) (1oz)
  • Purell Hand Sanitizer (0.9oz)
  • Fuel bottle (will carry 8oz fuel) (0.7oz)
  • nail clippers (0.8oz)
  • ear plugs (0.1oz)
  • sun screen (0.2oz)
  • toothbrush (0.3oz)
  • toothpaste (1oz)
  • 1L Plastic water bottles x2 (3oz)
  • First aid ziplock:(1.5oz)–Sudafed, Tylenol, Tylenol PM, Immodium, Benadryl,New Skin, medical tape, needle, thread, dental floss

Base Pack Weight: 234.4oz or 14.7lbs

I expect food/feul/water will add a max of around 13lbs, so I expect my total pack weight will max at 28lbs and low end 18lbs, or average around 23lbs.

Hiking Schedule

1 Comment

Ok, here’s the itinerary for the Hiking trip showing where I’ll be each day.  Unless an unavoidable crisis happens: break a leg, duke it out with a bear, break the handle on my pooper scooper… I’ll stick to this plan. Distances are total miles from starting point. Some small trail towns are more of an outcropping servicing hikers than an actual town, so these are located by road crossings (ex. Neels Gap is not an official town, but is at US 19 & 129 crossing). I’ve read there is cell phone service at many shelters, so I’ll turn my phone on/off real quick to check voicemail or texts each day. Hope you see a opportunity to join me! I recommend getting the Appalachian Trail Thru-Hiker’s Companion 2010 published by the Appalachain Trail Conservancy.  Each year volunteers work hard to keep this up to date and chocked full of info about the trail/shelters/water sources as well as a bit of history about each place.  This is what I’ll carry with me.
(Day)  (Mi.)  ( Location:Shelter/City)

3/1       Flight into Atlanta & onto Hiker Hostel @ 7693 Hwy. 19N, Dahlonega, GA 30533, (770) 312-7342

3/2       HIKE BEGINS!! Springer Mtn –> Gooch Mtn. Shelter (15.1 mi)

3/3     31    Neels Gap/US 19 & 129 (lodging/food  & Navy check-in)

3/4     42    Low Gap Shelter

3/5     57    Tray Mtn Shelter

3/6     68     Dicks Creek Gap/Hiawassee, GA (food  & Navy check-in)

3/7     84     Standing Indian Shelter

3/8     99     Big Spring Shelter

3/9     108   Winding Stair Gap/Franklin, NC (food & Navy check-in)

3/10  124   Cold Spring Shelter

3/11   142   Sassafras Gap Shelter

3/12   157   Cable Gap Shelter

3/13   163   Fontana Dam, NC (food & Navy check-in)

3/14   178   Russell Field Shelter

3/15   194   Double Spring Gap Shelter

3/16   215   Peck’s Corner Shelter

3/17   228   Cosby Knob Shelter

3/18   235   Davenport Gap Shelter/Davenport Gap, TN (food & Navy check-in)

3/19   254   Roaring Fork Shelter

3/20   272   Hot Springs, NC (food, lodging & Navy check-in)

3/21 –Day OFF — *Bluff Mountain Outfitters — get permit for Smokey Mtn Park

3/22   291   Little Laurel Shelter

3/23   313   Hogback Ridge Shelter

3/24   323   Bald Mtn Shelter

3/25   340   Erwin, TN (food & Navy check-in)

3/26   357   Cherry Gap Shelter

3/27   373   Roan High Knob Shelter

3/28   388   Apple House Shelter/Roan Mtn, TN (food & Navy check-in)

3/29   407   Moreland Gap Shelter

3/30   412   Dennis Cove/USFS 50 (food & Navy check-in)

3/31   424   Watauga Lake Shelter

4/1     437   Iron Mtn Shelter

4/2     464   Damascus, VA (food & Navy check-in)

4/3 –Day OFF —

4/4    479    Lost Mtn Shelter

4/5     492   Thomas Knob Shelter

4/6     508   Hurricane Mtn Shelter

4/7     513   Troutdale, VA (food & Navy check-in)

4/8     527   Partnership Shelter

4/9     542   Davis Path Campsite

4/10   562   Chestnut Knob Shelter

4/11   584   Bland, VA (food & Navy check-in)

4/12   602   VA 606 campground

4/13   618   Doc’s Knob Shelter

4/14   626   Pearisburg, VA (food & Navy check-in)

4/15   646   Pine Swamp Branch Shelter

4/16   664   Laurel Creek Shelter

4/17   687   Pickel Branch Shelter

4/18   700   Catawba, VA (food & Navy check-in)

4/19   719   Cloverdale, VA (lodging & shuttle to Roanoke Navy Recruiting Sta.)

4/20 –Day OFF —

4/21   730   Wilson Creek Shelter

4/22   741   Buchanan, VA (food & Navy check-in) *stay at Cove Mtn Shelter

4/23   761   Thunder Hell Shelter

4/24   774   Matts Creek SHelter

4/25   786   Punchbowl Shelter

4/26   798   Buena Vista, VA (food & Navy check-in)

4/27   812   Seely Woodworth Shelter

4/28   832   Maupin Field Shelter

4/29   853   Waynesboro, VA (food & Navy check-in)

4/30  872   Blackrock Hut Shelter

5/1     894   Hightop Hut Shelter

5/2    914    Big Meadows Lodge & Campground (food & Navy check-in)

5/3    933   Pass Mtn. Hut Shelter

5/4    946   Gravel Springs Hut Shelter

5/5    959   Front Royal, VA (food & Navy check-in)

5/6   975   Dick’s Dome Shelter

5/7   994   Bluemont, VA (food & Navy check-in)

5/8  1013  HARPER’S FERRY, VA!

Ray Jardine’s “Beyond Backpacking”

Leave a comment

This is a “must read” for anyone who loves to hike, and especially for the gadget person who likes to modify/rig their own gear.

The Beyond Backpacking, Ray Jardine’s Guide to Lighweight Backpacking book is mentioned so often in distance-hiking forums as “essential reading” I figured it’d be worth reading before hitting the trail.  After devouring it in three days, I consider it a textbook for my future hiking aspirations.  Yes, it’s that good.
Outside of his other accomplishments in rock climbing, sea kayaking, sailing, etc…Ray Jardine and his wife Penny have hiked 12,000+ on thru-hikes of the Pacific Crest Trail, Continental Divide and Appalachian Trail. With a background in aeronautical and astronautical engineering, he took his knowledge of materials to figure out a simple system to lighten the load for long-distance hiking. The result is a book that not only describes a complete backpack with a 8-9lb baseweight (light enough to sling over one shoulder), but goes into almost every facet of the backpacking experience.
His book talks about what the body needs to excel in hiking including nutrition, dealing with hot/cold, dangers of animals/insects, getting potable water… even making your own gear!!  More than that, he explains it so simply it seems like common sense, yet I kept saying “aha! now that makes sense” throught the entire book. He never comes across as trying to “sell” an idea, rather he’s simply stating what works and what he’s passionate about.
I wish I’d read this earlier before spending $$bank on some of my equipment.  I can see now that expensive is not always better. Afer explaining his system, he has a “sewing” chapter in the back with complete designs for how to make your own tarp/tent, backpack and clothing! I’m really thinking about ditching my tent and backpack and just making my own now! Great book.

Finding Gear to Start the New Year

Leave a comment

Well, it’s a new year and 2 months till I hit the trail. I’m feeling anxious and excited to get started! I’ve been pouring over the internet resources reading gear reviews, trail logs, watching Appalachain Trail videos on YouTube, scanning trip planners and buying extra gear I’ll need. The unanimous theme behind all the research is to just plan for one section of the trail at a time and adapt as you go. An article on Trailquest.net summed it up with “The gear won’t get you there, you will”. So, I’m now collecting gear for the first cold, hard section in Georgia expecting temps down in the teens with possible mountain top snow hiking. #1 item on the list… a good sleeping bag.
After reading a zillion reviews online of the “best sleeping bags” from Outside and Backpacker Magazines, I ran into a craigslist add for a Western Mountaineering bag and mentioned to the seller I’m hitting the AT soon via email. Turns out he just finished hiking the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) and not only will he help me out with selling me the bag, he’s going to help get me outfitted with gear/advice for the trip! He explained that distance hikers help each other out paying-it-forward. Before he started, others helped him with gear/advice and now he’ll help me out with my word that when I’m done with the gear he pays forward, I’ll leave it for another person on the AT that needs it. I’m not sure what the odds are of running into a person like this in Dallas, TX, but I’m guessing it’s pretty low. If trail life will mean randomly running into good people like this, I’m not sure I’ll ever want to leave it.

Getting Ready for the AT!!

Leave a comment

My Appalachian Trial Section Hike, 2011:  First Entry

The Appalachian Trail, or “AT”,  is one of three popular long distance hikes in the US.  At 2169 miles from Georgia to Maine, it’s a 5-6 month journey that about 2000 people attempt every year (about 200 actually finish).   It’s maintained by over 30 volunteer organizations, 6000+ volunteers and has about 250 shelters (“lean-to’s” up north) for hikers to use as they make their journey.  On the trail you find friends along the way and form groups, each person getting a trail name.  Often this “hiker bond” will stay with you for life.  Ed Garvey, the first person to write a guidebook to this trail and probably the person responsible for it’s huge popularity today coined it as “the adventure of a lifetime”.

There’s no way I’ll complete the whole trail by the time I go to Navy basic in July, so I’m aiming at doing half the trail from Georgia to West Virginia, or 1007 miles.  Even so, it sure blows away my longest hike to date of 30 miles over a weekend.  From what I read, when I get to West Virginia I will have taken about 2.5 million steps. THIS is the real deal. I probably won’t have any more entries until I’m on the trail stopping in towns along the way to update this.  One of the big reasons, besides writing about the adventure and posting up pics for friends & family, is to mark where I am and when.  Hopefully one of you will read this and decide to join me on a section for a week or even a weekend.  I’ll try to let ya know ahead of time when I’m getting to a really good scenic part, or some place that would be worth the travel to do.

So, I have about 2 1/2 months to get ready for this.  Step 1: Um, Google?  Help?

Good Info Pages Online:

Wikipedia’s AT page

Trailnet: AT Trail FAQ Page

Mahalo: How to Hike the AT

Stove Comparisons – Real World Use

Stove Comparisons – Real World Use

AT Conservancy: Planning A Thru-Hike

Choosing the Right Sleeping Bag

%d bloggers like this: