Tag Archives: Appalachian Trail

Lost and found

Saturday August 2 – Thursday August 7. West Cornwall Rd, CT – The Cobbles. (Mile 1572.8 since Springer Mountain and only 612.5 miles to Katahdin)

I was eager to put the leg to the test and ordered a cab for 7.30. I’m not sure if cab companies can tell the time or not, but pretty much every one I’ve used has had a very casual acquaintance with being on time but nothing more precise than “he’s on his way.” After I’d called twice, a very unenthusiastic guy turned up, determined not to converse with me if he could help it, a feeling that turned out to be mutual.

We drove back to the trail pretty much in silence and I eventually got started. I was trying to be realistic, though I had an idea that 20 miles was possible, so I really pushed forwards enthusiastically. Unfortunately, the early pace was a little slow, with another Lemon Squeezer type affair, with the rapidly diminishing rock face making for an uncomfortable, buttock-clenching 5 minutes. However, once that was out of the way, I made excellent progress on a well-maintained trail.

The biggest problem was the overwhelming presence of mosquitos, which seemed oblivious to the fact that I had covered myself with “Off.” They were relentless, and really made the day tough. That said, they cut down my break time and I started marking off the miles quite easily. In my regular conversations with myself, I tend to give myself easier targets and often want to stop before doing the miles I need to do. However, the day seemed different and I eventually got to the Riga Shelter by about 6.45 and with a solid 20 miles tucked away.

The shelter has a great view to the east, so I was hoping to be able to get a time lapse video of dawn breaking. However, that turned out to be something of a non-event. When I woke, two minutes before my alarm was due to go off, I looked out of the tent to be confronted by, well, nothing. The entire scene was misted out, indeed, the valley was blanketed in cloud. Later, it started to rain gently, so I delayed my start while the rain passed through and had a very leisurely breakfast by myself.

Packing everything as quietly as I could, I left my two fellow campers sleeping and headed out hoping for another big day, but always having a cop out available for an earlier stop. I was aware that I would be passing the 1500 mile marker within the first mile, and I really looked out for it, yet was unable to spot it. This was disappointing, as I also missed the 1400 mile marker. You’ll just have to wait for another cheesy picture of me by the 1600 mile marker.

Bear Mountain was the first challenge of the day, with the descent being the toughest part, as it is so steep and the rain would have made the rocks slippery. I was extremely nervous climbing up and with good reason. While the climb was fairly taxing, the top of the descent was as bad as I’d been led to believe. I was ultra cautious and took about 45 minutes to cover a very short distance, using small footholds and finger holds all the way, not slipping once. Then, when I was back on the flat, I slipped for the 20th time of the trip, but no harm done.

I was now walking through Sage’s Ravine, a gorgeous trail that followed the river, which was really pushing some water downhill. This would have been a terrific picture and video day, but I wasn’t able to oblige as my battery was dying.

This day was especially bad for steep climbs and rocky descents, with the gorgeous cliff top views from Race Mountain my favorite, while Mt Everett was a lung-bursting ascent, followed by another seat of my pants descent.

Eventually, I’d done my 13-14 mile target and took the opportunity to visit the ATC office that was just off the trail. Nobody appeared to be about, so I walked in and started charging my phone. Eventually, I bumped into a guy who works on the property, though not for ATC. He told me I shouldn’t be there, so I packed up and moved on, eventually completing 18 miles, my original target.

I called a number in my Thru-hikers Companion for Jess Treat, who lets out two bedrooms in her home. She was away, but her friend, the lovely Heath, proved to be a great substitute, even offering me a beer as I walked in. Jess only charges $35, plus $5 for your laundry. For that, you get a clean bed in your own room, a lovely shower, breakfast and shuttles to and from the trail. This is a bargain and highly recommended.

Heath treated us to a great breakfast of blueberry pancakes. She took me and Slow, an older guy from Ocala, back to the trailhead. Slow is recovering from an injury, so we immediately separated and I plunged into the woods.

The terrain was far easier than previously, though I maintained my regular two miles an hour for several hours, passing through the odd meadow, yet mainly under the green tunnel. Some climbs were prolonged, as the day was basically up and over East Mountain, then up and over Mt Wilcox. As a consequence, I took several breaks and my rate slowed somewhat.

I was tempted, at one point, to change the schedule and hang out for a couple of hours at Benedict Pond, that had a side trail leading to a beach However, I’m still over 30 miles ahead of my self-imposed schedule and don’t want to slip back too much. I’m aware that New Hampshire and Maine will claw back some of that surplus, so don’t want to slack off now that I’m back on track.

Another glorious pond sat at nearly 2000 feet near the top of Mt Wilcox and I posted Facebook pictures of this wonderful sight.

After another nearly 18 mile day, I reached Shaker Campsite, where I met a couple of local guys out for a week’s hiking with their sons. We chatted as I prepared and ate my dinner, but the continued onslaught from the mozzies eventually drove us into our tents.

The following morning, I took a short hike into Tyringham to the Post Office for my food package from Diane and consolidated my pack. This is always a moment when the weight of food becomes immediately apparent once the pack is hoisted back onto my back. This was another such instance and the huffing and puffing that followed were entirely consistent with the increased weight. However, once I settle down, the pack seems to become part of me and I move on. It’s a bit like getting an instant, extra 45 lb belly that simply has to be incorporated into your everyday movements.  The only difference is that the belly is now on your back!

I had decided that the mozzies were just too bad to put up with, so I incorporated a trip into Lee to get a face net to at least keep the darn things at bay. Luckily, a friendly old lady, who must have been about 85, stopped and offered me a lift into Lee. She was amazed with the amount of miles I had already hiked and took me directly to the hardware store, where she insisted that they would have what I needed. A face net, a large canister of “Off” and a smaller, more devastating bottle, with 98% deet, completed my shopping and I headed off to a local breakfast joint to demolish their hiker’s special. This is a plate of pretty much everything you might consider having for breakfast and several things that you wouldn’t. That said, I hoovered everything down with relish, charged my phone, then caught a cab back to the trailhead.

It was now past noon and I altered my target to get to the Upper Goose Pond Cabin, which made an 11 mile day. This is run by the ATC and has caretakers, tent sites, the cabin itself, two privies (there’s posh!) and, most invitingly, a large pond to swim in. They also provide pancakes for breakfast, which I only discovered the following morning after I’d eaten my oatmeal, protein powder and fruit concoction. Undeterred, however, I still stuffed down 6 pancakes slathered with butter and syrup. Marvelous.

I took a languid swim in the pond and, even without soap, it felt like one of the finest showers of my life. It was terrific.

On the way to the cabin, I ran into the dads I had camped with the previous evening. One, whose name escapes me, though he bore a remarkable resemblance to Bradley Cooper, was heading back to the road before, telling me that Kenny, the other one, had blown out his knee and was leaving the trail. What a shame, as these two great guys were having a blast with their kids for the week.

That night, with no real prospect of rain in the forecast, it poured mightily. Of course it did!

The next morning, over my pancakes, we were joined at the table by Smiles and Critter, two southbound hikers, as well as Triple P and her fellow hiker, Chicka Chee. Triple P stands for Purple Polish Painter and she tries to tag fellow hikers by asking if they will let her put purple nail polish on at least one of their nails. Now this would normally be a ridiculous proposition, yet, there, at that time, it felt the most natural request in the world. Smiles and Critter each had one nail tagged, so I held out my hand and, well, this is the result.

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Not a good look, I know, though, in my defense, the bright purple didn’t seem so bright in the breakfast room.

As I was leaving, the remaining dad (I think his name maybe Scott) called me over and offered me Kenny’s head net, which Kenny had already said was excellent for vision and better than the one I had bought. I gratefully accepted and he was right. Paying it forward, I met up a little later with Green Lantern, another southbounder, and offered him the other net that I had bought. He gratefully accepted it as well.

I was going for another big day, for me, of 18 miles, though I also wanted to pop in to see “the Cookie Lady” to charge my phone and fill up on as many cookies as possible. However that was for later in the day.

Massachusetts will, I’m afraid, be the muddy and wet state for me when I look back on this hike. The hiking would be terrific if it was dry, but it has become a muddy, mucky mess and it has been tricky to negotiate some of the quagmires that I have encountered. That said, I made good progress throughout the day, passing by the beautiful Finnerty Pond, another extraordinary pond at nearly 2,000 ft elevation.

These ponds have an other-worldly feel about them and have become a favorite of the north, for me, in the same way that the balds were in the south. Here is another beauty.

The Cookie Lady, referred to earlier, lives about 150 yards from the trail and I happily took this detour, only to see that her stall was closed and the place looked deserted. I was just about to venture nearer to the house, in the hope that there was an outside power point, when she swung her car into the drive and into her garage. Encouraged, I walked up to her house, only to see her disappear into the house, leaving me feeling somewhat at a loss as to what I should do. However, I shouldn’t have worried, as she returned a couple of moments later with a couple of blueberry cookies in a basket. She sold lemonade and coke, so I bought a couple of cans of the former and asked if I could plug in my phone to charge. She didn’t seem to understand the concept, so I had to point at the vacant power point and she sort of waved her acceptance. By now I was thinking of staying, as she allowed hikers to tent in her field, yet I chose instead to move on and try to make it to the next shelter, Kay Wood Shelter, in order to keep stacking up the miles.

After a while, I caught up with Triple P, as she was trying to make it all the way to Dalton, a few miles past the shelter, so we hiked together until I reached the shelter. As the sun dropped in the sky, I snapped this deliciously green shot of it’s effect on the forest.

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There was a group of young High School volunteers, along with their group leaders, at the shelter, as well as a lady section hiker. The volunteers were doing trail repairs, so the section hiker and I spoke at length with them about the work they were doing and congratulated them on making such a difference for hikers.

After my breakfast, I packed my wet tent – an early morning shower had given it a helpful drenching – and headed into Dalton to try to get a second breakfast. I reached the town in about an hour and, as it passes right through the town, I was wandering along the street when I heard, “Mighty Blue” shouted from a porch. The house is owned by a hiker-friendly guy who allows hikers to tent on his lawn and his porch. In residence were Spider, Yeti Legs, Tumbles, as well as several others whose names I couldn’t recall. Yeti Legs, he of the grey underpants, had bought a black pair, which at least had the effect of revealing a little less, yet he had also bought a shirt, so was dramatically overdressed for him.

Tumbles was providing haircuts for all who wanted them, at that time shaving Spider’s head and revealing why he is so-called. Underneath his hair is a complete tattoo of a spider’s web, a rather startling revelation that became more apparent as his hair fell away. I noticed that most of the guys also had one or several purple fingers, so I knew where Triple P had stayed the previous night. Tumbles kindly gave me a trim and I left to find breakfast. Jacob’s Pub promised to be hiker-friendly, and indeed turned out to be so, as they allowed me to come in and charge my phone while they cleaned up around me. A grilled Reuben sandwich and two Yuengling slowed down my resolve to leave, though I knew that I needed to get moving, intending to reach Cheshire and stay at Harbour House Inn.

The trip was blighted because of constant thunder and lightning, yet only sprinkles of rain fell and I was making pretty good headway when the storm finally decided to give me a good dousing. On top of that, it decided that it would pelt me with hail that seemed to grow larger the harder it rained. To be frank, I was a bit non-plussed as to what to do. The only shelter would appear to be trees, yet this made no difference to the hail and I was getting dramatically colder and wetter by the second. In the end, I chose simply to keep hiking, as at least I’d warm up and so it proved. Unfortunately, I was in such a hurry to now get down the mountain, that I strode purposefully through the rain and hail, only to make a wrong turn about a mile from the bottom. Not seeing a white blaze for a while becomes increasingly worrying, yet I was suddenly on the road and, frankly, happy to be there.

The rain had stopped, but I was cold and completely soaked. I got my phone and found Google Maps to establish where I was, discovering myself in Notch Road and about a mile from where I should have been. I called the B&B and spoke with Eva, the owner. She suggested that I might go back into the forest and try to find the right route then call her again when I was back on track. This turned out to be a laughable suggestion for somebody with my navigational abilities, as I was soon even more lost and somehow bushwhacked my way back to Notch Road. This time, Eva came and found me and my drama was over.

An hour later, I was showered, my clothes were in the washer and I was sitting in the beautiful living room drinking tea and having cookies. Tomorrow, I’ll get dropped where I should have been and backtrack up the mountain to where I took a wrong turn.

It is not the first time I’ve been lost in the forest and it probably won’t be the last but, as before, I’m back on track, I’m fit and healthy, my clothes are clean and dry and my spirit remains strong. The difficult mountains lie ahead with the most beautiful views to come. Can’t wait!

 

Taking my lumps

Friday July 25 – Friday August 1. PA72, NY17, Southfields, NY – West Cornwall Rd, CT (Mile 1479.1 since Springer Mountain and only 706.2 miles to Katahdin)

The next morning, I woke to find nothing too sore nor broken, apart from my pride, so I called a cab for 9am and got straight back into it. I was entering Harriman State Park and I found it to be absolutely beautiful, so much so that I posted a few pictures on the My Appalachian Trial Facebook page to prove the point, along with this short video.

Everything was going well and the hiking was fairly easy thus far, when I came to the Lemon Squeezer. This is so-called because of the excruciatingly narrow gap that hikers have to squeeze through. I took my pack off and shoved it onto a rock, then climbed out, only to see J-Rex and her boyfriend, Max, coming along behind. I took their packs as they climbed up. Thinking that it hadn’t been too bad, we saw the next part, which was a very, very sheer wall of about seven feet. Max climbed up, discovering several tiny hand and footholds, then we pushed J-Rex’s pack and mine up to Max and managed to pull ourselves up. I couldn’t help thinking at the time that I would have been unable to do this had I been alone, though I tend to prefer to hike by myself, at my pace. With the tougher New England states coming up, I wondered whether or not a hiking partner might be sensible.

I was looking for water at this stage and ran into the Maine Sisters coming out of a shelter with no water. I told them that their old partner J-Rex was just behind, then I moved on.

I eventually found some water at Beechy Bottom Brook and decided that I’d had enough for the day a few miles later, at Seven Lakes Drive. By this time, I only had about ¾ of a liter left, so I set up my tent just off the road and out of sight, as I wasn’t really supposed to camp there. Diane has never been crazy about me camping alone, but I really enjoy the occasional night like this, as the solitude allows me to think completely uninterrupted. Given the limited water that remained, I had a wrap for dinner to preserve some for the following morning.

That night, at around 1.30am (why do these things always happen in the dead of night?), I was woken by the sound of coyotes baying, presumably, at the moon. While I always feel irrationally safe in my tent, noises like this, with nobody around, tend to make the next thirty or so minutes a touch uncomfortable. After a few “ow, ow, owwwwws” the little blighter decided to give it a rest and I drifted off.

For breakfast the next day, I limited myself to coffee and a Snickers, as I had about 4 miles to go, up and over Bear Mountain, before getting a chance to refill my water bottle once more.

The hike was much easier than I had thought and very much resembled, in my imagination, a walk along the ramparts of Sauron’s castle in Mordor from Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. This video shows some of the steps up and you’ll notice that I was talking more Indiana Jones than Lord of the Rings, though I think you’ll get the drift.

Further up, the path ran alongside a lovely view to the left.

I met a Chinese couple near the top, having breakfast on a neatly laid out mat. When they found I was a thru-hiker, the guy very sweetly, and with much solemnity, presented me with a pack of blueberries, which I gratefully accepted and wolfed down when I was out of their sight.

I had assumed I was at the top but, in fact, there was still further, though pleasant, climbing to get to the top. At the very top were restrooms and soda machines (not at all like Mordor) so I gulped down a Powerade and bought some water to top up my bottle. Everything at the top of the mountain is done with the day hiker in mind, as it is the busiest mountain on the entire trail and the path is brilliantly managed and maintained.

The stairs down, over 700 of them, were strenuous, but magnificent and the trail took me down to a park, with families preparing food for a big day out. I refilled with water once more and strolled through the park, trying my hardest to look as pathetic and hungry as possible in the hope they’d throw me a hot dog. Didn’t happen! I’m clearly not as pathetic and hungry as I think I am.

Through the park, I was led to the zoo, and arrived just before opening at 10am. I hurried through the zoo, though the lady who let me in found me some peanut butter crackers, so the pathetic hungry look worked out a little after all. Crossing the Hudson via a bridge was the lowest point on the entire trail, about 124 ft, and the 1400 Mark was passed without any discernible marker.

The climb up again was steep and I ran into a trail maintainer out for the day and we fell into a companionable hike together for a couple of miles before he went off in a different direction to return to his car. It is always good to meet up with these selfless people who volunteer to make my day better.

US9 had a great deli and, as I’d already decided to stay at the Graymoor Spiritual Center less than a mile further, I got stuck into a real, chunky, fat-filled NY sandwich, which is basically a heart attack waiting to happen, and generally chatted with fellow hikers as they came through.

Just beyond the deli, after a brief return to the forest, the road led me to the Friary and I was directed to the ball field, which was an open tenting site for hikers and, despite the recent ingestion of unhealthy food, ordered a pizza. There were many hikers around the field and we all mingled and chatted amiably until hiker’s midnight (sundown), then settled in for the night.

In the morning, I chatted over coffee and oatmeal with No Pain, an older black guy who’d done the trail several times before and he entertained me with several stories of his view of the changing generations.

I set off for the day with the RPH shelter as an 18 mile target. I was really going well until the heavens opened and I got completely drenched. I tried to wring out my socks every twenty minutes or so, yet kept hiking, drying out as the sun broke through. The terrain was excellent, with few rocks and several flattish areas and very few, if any, steep climbs. One exception was the stupendously gorgeous ascent to Shenandoah Mountain and the glorious walk across the rocks at the top. I sat for several minutes by the September 11th Memorial Flag painted on the rocks to record the wonderful view.

The combination of wet feet, wet socks and wet boots gave me uncomfortable feet from about mile 6, yet I completed the 18 miles and got to the shelter, meeting up with several old friends as well as some newer ones. As usual, I was pretty much last to the shelter, so I had to sleep in my tent with expected rain, thunder and lightning as an added attraction.

The weather behaved as expected, yet I stayed dry through the night, though the tent, of course, was drenched. It is always more difficult to pack away a wet tent, so getting to your next destination without further rain is always handy, as setting up your tent later in dry conditions enables the tent to dry out quickly.

My plan was to get to the strangely-named Telephone Pioneers Shelter about 17 miles away, yet my first port of call was going to be a deli, at NY52, only 5 miles away. New Jersey, and now New York, offer delis placed quite conveniently to the trail and hikers are always drawn by the lure of masses of calories to assuage their guilt-free eating impulses.

Before going to bed the previous evening, I had started a rather stilted conversation with a young Japanese guy at the shelter. He was a section hiker and by himself with nobody speaking to him, so I tried to make conversation him. Despite living in Queens, his English is very basic, so we couldn’t really have much of a chat. However, the following morning, as I was preparing to leave, he reciprocated and made a real effort to speak with me. As I’ve said before, it can get lonely out here, so I understood why he was making the effort. I gave him my few basic Japanese words and we basically laughed at each other’s efforts. Once I set off, he was soon behind me and trying to chat once more. Eventually, I stopped for a rest and he moved on.

The terrain, like much of this state, was challenging in terms of ups and downs, though not too extensive, while the rocks often served more to decorate the trail than to impede progress; I’ve become a real fan of New York hiking and was loving the morning.

I’d told my Japanese friend about the deli and he told me that he would likely see me there. Indeed, once I got there, he was buying up the shop, with all sorts of goodies to cram into not only his mouth, but also his food bag. As we sat companionably outside, shoveling food into our faces, I asked him why he was in the US and how he had got here. He told me that he had been a worker at the nuclear reactor plant in Fukushima and that, on the fateful day, he had been working in a separate building nearby and had managed to get out quickly. However, his home was in a dangerously contaminated area and he and his family had to move to safety that very day. He also told me that, while it was a terrible day, he had come to terms with it and regarded it as an opportunity to come to America.

I then asked him if he had a trail name and he said that nobody had named him thus far. Of course, the dark British humor in me immediately gave him the name of Tsunami and, to my delight, and relief, he laughed uproariously and accepted the name. So, Tsunami it is.

Several other old and new friends were also coming by the deli and I must have stuck around for about an hour and a half before heading out once more. On leaving, I checked my emails and found one that necessitated a stop in a hotel and access to wifi, so I eventually finished my hike for the day at that point, with only 5 miles under my belt.

I had ordered a cab for 8.30 and, after wasting 20 minutes trying to find where I’d left the trail the previous day, I was on my way by 9am. I had planned to get to Kent by the next evening, to meet up with dear friends, Brian and Dee Scott, so I contented myself on this day with getting to the Appalachian Trail Metro North train station, only about 100 minutes from Grand Central Station in NYC. Right next to the station, the local garden center allows hikers to tent on their grounds, charge their phones, get water from a spigot and use their toilet. Marvelous.

The terrain, indeed, the state, continued to delight, with wonderful hiking that established NY as my favorite state so far. The rocks are never too onerous and the paths are well groomed, while the climbs continued to challenge without defeating you.

Early on, I came upon the Von Trapp family, a family of five from Canada who are hiking the whole trail. They are dad (Toe Salad), mum (Fimby), a calm daughter of about 13 (Padawan), a younger, deliciously intense girl (Tenacious Bling) and a cheerful boy (Otter). They are having a wonderful adventure together and are very positive at the same time as being realistic. I enjoyed chatting to them while they were filling their water bottles and eventually moved on. The problem was that I couldn’t get the Von Trapps, or, more specifically, the Julie Andrews songbook out of my head. I started to sing, rather louder than my voice should ever be heard, “Doe, a deer, a female deer, ray, a drop of golden sun.” and so on. I was just blasting out the bit where Julie Andrews and the kids jump up and down on the stairs in time to the music “doe, tee, tee, la, far, far,” when I realized I hadn’t seen a white blaze for a while and, blow me, I had missed my turning by a full quarter of a mile. After retracing my steps, I contented myself with “Climb every mountain,” and paid more attention.

Near the end of the day’s hike, I was lucky enough to run into some more lovely trail magic which, of itself, is always a terrific component to any day. This one was particularly full of goodies but, to be honest, the thing that made me most pleased was when the trail angel started recounting who had gone through, and said, “and there was this nice Japanese boy called Tsunami.” Oh yes!!

I got to the garden center at about 5 pm and, after finding where to pitch my tent, chatted with the guy on duty in the center to see if there was a better alternative to the deli down the road. Indeed, there was. This young lad offered to take me into nearby Pawling, where there was a tavern. I enlisted J-Rex and her boyfriend to join me and we had several beers, wings and burgers before getting a cab back.

Despite the fact that my tent was about 20 yards from the railroad line and only 15 yards from the road, I again slept well. There had been several latecomers the previous evening and I met up again with Bamboo, Ungerwear, Yeti Legs, Naturally Hob, now joined by his wife, Chickadee.

Off early in the morning, I seemed to be in excellent form, with the trail taking me through a nature reserve that had me reaching for my camera.

I knew I had a long day ahead of me of some 18 miles, hopefully getting to Kent, CT, where my friend Brian was going to meet me and take me back to his home. Despite looking forward to seeing them again, I was struggling a little and, after about 5 miles, I knew I was going to really have a problem making it to Kent by 4.30, our planned time. I also wanted to spend a little more time with them, so I called Brian to see if he could pick me up a little earlier, at Schaighticoke Road, near Bulls Bridge. Ever affable, he agreed and we met at 2pm on the dot. I was pretty much all in at this stage, having only hiked just over 11 miles and I seem to have these days from time to time. I can only assume the fact that I pretty much never have an intentional zero day, I am not fully recovering from the pounding I put my body through.

The evening was great, with Dee cooking roast pork and making much more than usually necessary, knowing that I would likely hoover up most of the left overs, which, of course, I did. I also had a couple of glasses of wine, the first wine I had taken since I set out on my adventure, in March.

Brian took me back to the trail the following morning, via the business premises that he owns, at which he showed me round like a VIP! It was really interesting to see my friend in a different environment to that in which I normally see him and he was very informative about the hydro electric turbines on which his company works.

I got back on the trail by 10.30, hoping to really get cracking and knowing that I had a very tough uphill to start the day. A scout troop was hiking ahead of me and I fell in about 30 yards behind them. Perhaps I should have taken note of the size and shape of their scout leader to ascertain how much he knew about hiking and directions, for we continued to march along a flat road when I knew that we should have been climbing. Eventually, I called ahead to see if they thought we were still on the AT and they thought that they were. However, I was now convinced that they were wrong and decided to turn back. I told them that I would whistle (my entirely unused bear defense) if they needed to turn round. We had gone at least a quarter of a mile past the turn, so I prepared to give them a shrill blast, only to emit a pathetic squeak, due to my rusting, untried whistle. I then had to shout as loud as I could, “You’re going the wrong way,” though I have no idea if they ever heard. For all I know, they could still be marching in a straight line, as I never saw them again.

Despite the fairly late start, I was able to make camp at the Stewart Hollow Brook Shelter, after over 14 miles, so I was very happy with my effort and set up camp alongside another vintage hiker, and a new friend, Lighter Knot. After a friendly chat, we retired to our tents and I fell into a deep sleep.

The walk into the camp was a long, flat path beside a fast-flowing river and I took the opportunity to anticipate New England while enjoying the easy hiking.

This morning, Lighter Knot and I set out at about the same time, though I was planning to get to a road only 4 miles away, where I was planning to meet Bassman, the section hiker I’d got on so well with a few weeks ago. He had texted me and kindly offered to meet up for breakfast, then run me around to pick up any gear or food that I may need. Such a thoughtful gesture and I was looking forward to meeting him again. We arranged to meet at 10am and I was there on the dot, while he drove up about 10 seconds later. Perfect.

imageBassman knew of an excellent diner in West Cornwall, so we went and had our fill of eggs, bacon, home fries and pancakes, the normal hiker fare when given the opportunity. After that, Bassman was as good as his word and drove me to several places, while I bought food for the next 3 or 4 days and a pot in which to cook my rice, after a bit of a disaster cooking rice in my Jet Boil Flash the previous evening. Don’t ask!!

Back at the trailhead, there was a notice about the difficulty of fording a stream just ahead, with a detour offered that would have added about half a mile to the hike. “It can’t be that bad.” I thought and decided to go for it. One of my problems is that, despite strong evidence to the contrary, I always think I can do pretty much anything and I always go for it. This was such an occasion and, while I managed to get about 3/4 of the way across, my tumble into the stream was something of an inevitability, which duly occurred.

Amazingly, while I ended up with my knees and some of my pack in the water, my phone stayed dry and I quickly scrambled out, only to see a little blood trickling down my leg. I wouldn’t have worried too much about that, had it not been for the egg-like protuberance that accompanied the blood. To be honest, this was alarming and, after walking for about a half mile, I decided to seek yet another Urgent Care facility, as the swelling was spreading rather expansively. Alone, in the woods, such things aren’t quite as easy as that yet, as so often, the Trail provides. I soon ran into an AT volunteer, who offered to take me to Torrington, some 20 miles away and I got to the clinic about 20 minutes before it closed.

imageThe doctor told me that there wasn’t a particular problem and that the swelling would go down with a night’s rest and some icing. The nursing assistant was a hiker and he not only cleaned up the wound, he arranged a room for me at the Quality Inn and ran me down to the hotel in his car. As I say, the Trail provides.

So here I am, back in a hotel, with another chance to blog and an injury to imageaccompany my 19th fall of the trip. I have a cab tomorrow morning at 7.30 and I’ll be back, trudging along soon after 8am. This has been a tough week again and I’m aware of the worry that I keep putting Diane through, yet I keep seeing those miles count down. By Sunday. I’ll be passing the 1500 mark and tomorrow, I’ll have less than 700 miles to go.

This is going to happen, I’m going to finish and, when I do, nobody, apart from Diane and me, will know quite how much of a trial this has been for us both, yet I wouldn’t change the next couple of months for the world. So, hold onto your hats, we’re into the last third, wish me well and cheer me home.

Keep on Keeping On

Sunday July 20 – Thursday July 24. PA72, US206, Culvers Gap – NY17, Southfields, NY (Mile 1379.9 since Springer Mountain and only 805.4 miles to Katahdin)

There really ought to be a law that, when a motel or a hotel advertises that it has wifi, then it really ought to have a working version of wifi. The fact that it may work in the office of the motel isn’t really cutting it for me; I need it to operate in my room, not fade away with every step I take from the office. While I accept that a room for $41.45 a night isn’t likely to boast every modern convenience, the rash statement that it has wifi should be at least moderately accurate. You are probably getting the gist of my complaint that this particularly spiffing motel both boasted and lacked anything that could conceivably be regarded as working wifi. As luck would have it, the owner told me that it always works and that I was the only person who had ever been unable to get access to it. How unlucky am I?

Nevertheless, there I was on Sunday morning, trying to watch both the German Formula One Grand Prix and the last day of the British Open Golf tournament. There are few things that can really rile me, but I think I found one last Sunday. Every 45 or so seconds, just as Rory McIlroy was about to take a shot, or Lewis Hamilton was on the verge of pulling off a thrilling passing maneuver, the screen on my iPad would freeze and, once reset, the action had, of course, moved on without me. You will not be surprised to hear that my language became increasingly earthy and louder, so much so that I simply turned off the iPad, checked out and got the owner to shuttle me back to the steakhouse I’d gone to on leaving the trail the previous day. They actually had working wifi, so I got online until they opened, then got a seat underneath the TV, with the golf on, and spent several happy hours eating like a greedy hog and cheering Rory to victory. Happy Days!

Unfortunately, this didn’t do much for my hiking for the day and I limited my ambition to the first shelter, Gren Anderson Shelter, at only 3 miles away, as it was the only shelter that offered water for about 15 miles. As you’d imagine, getting water, whether from a stream or a spring, is one of the critical reasons for being at a shelter, and New Jersey has been a little lacking in water. Happily, several Trail Angels continue to go out of their way to provide water at road intersections, so we’re getting by.

As I say, it was only supposed to be a 3 mile hike, yet I managed to turn it into more like double that distance, as I completely missed a change of direction (double white blazes) and ended up going down a precipitous descent that landed me on a road which shouldn’t have been there, according to my guide. I instantly knew I’d gone wrong and also knew that I’d have to slog back uphill just to get back to my missed blazes. Eventually, I found the right route and got back into top gear, only to completely miss the blue blaze that indicated the shelter and I hiked at least a mile past the entrance. Realizing I’d messed up yet again (I used stronger language at the time), I had to turn round once more and waste yet more miles and calories in getting to the right place. I was thoroughly ticked off when I eventually got into the shelter and couldn’t even shout at anybody, as the place was deserted. I couldn’t be bothered to cook, so made myself a wrap and cup of tea, only to drag the entire cup into my lap. Not having anybody to shout at, I made do with the forest and unleashed a few choice words.  Shouting at trees can be marvelously restorative.

Despite my outburst, it was eerily quiet and I started to prepare myself for a lonesome night and found a spot to pitch my tent. A few people came in a little later, though just to collect water. As a consequence, and I’m sure it was because I was alone, I needed to use the privy at about 3.30am, so donned my camp shoes, my fleece, my underpants and my nightlight. I must have looked like Wee Willie Winkie, carefully padding over the rocks and trying to identify the path to the privy. With nobody else around, the darkness and the quiet eat into you and I made it back to my tent, now fully alert and listening to every noise that assaulted my ears for the next hour or so. Happily, there were no incidents and I fell back into a deep sleep, before gloomily waking and drinking my coffee and chomping my oatmeal in silence.

I was on the trail at 7.45, planning a 20 mile day, as I needed to make up for the measly 3 miles (6 walked, but only 3 official), the day before. The plan was to get to the High Point State Park HQ for lunch, charge my phone at their office, then move on to Unionville, where the mayor has started to allow thru-hikers to stay in a local park. Everything worked out as planned and the state park even had free sodas for thru-hikers. A cold Coca Cola Is always welcome. The hiking was still fairly tricky, with several rocks to slow our progress, but I found, as I often have, that the further you plan to travel, the easier it is. If you know you need to do 10 miles before lunch, then 10 miles after lunch, then that seems to be more achievable than having no real plan or aiming low. I even had time to shoot a short video at the High Point Monument.

Earlier, after about three hours on the trail, I saw my 9th bear and my first in NJ. It suddenly ran through the undergrowth to my right, it’s thick fur gleaming in the intermittent sunlight. Bears don’t worry me now and each sighting is a bonus gratefully received and enjoyed.

I made the road crossing into Unionville by about 6.30 and walked towards the town, which was only about 0.4 of a mile off the trail. Going past one of the gardens, I spotted Spider, one of the guys I’d been hiking with recently, sitting in a chair, talking with the owner as if they were life-long buddies. The owner, Blake, motioned me to join them and I could tell straight away that he was several Jack Daniels on the wrong side of the optimum amount. That said, he was perfectly affable, introduced me to his wife, Joy and young Blake, then divided their grilled meat into five, as opposed to their anticipated three. Once more, generosity seems to come to hikers out of all proportion to the normal actions of folks.

Once we’d had our fill of steak and chicken, Spider and I left Blake and his family and made it to the park, where several old friends were already set up, including Naturally Hob, along with his wife, Dos Lekis, Yeti Legs, Flea and several others, including a newcomer, Rogue, who I’d met earlier in the day. There was a very cordial feeling in the park, with all of us grateful for such a good facility (port-a-loo, free water and free tent site), so it was a little sad to hear the youngsters call a “safety meeting”, inviting the older hikers as well, before they sat around strumming a ukulele and relaxing fragrantly once more. Given the public circumstance, I thought that was a little thoughtless and could have jeopardized the park for future hikers. Nothing happened, but it could have. Funnily enough, this video the following morning mentions the event but I don’t appear to be too unhappy about it. I suppose I’ve thought more about it since.

As always, the park cleared out quickly in the morning and I was the last to leave, once I’d charged my phone at the general store, eaten two donuts and had two coffees, all of which was after I’d eaten my regular breakfast. I retraced my steps, listening to a podcast on my phone, and, yet again, totally missed the trail head, going a good 300 or 400 yards past. Cursing at myself again, a reasonably regular occurrence in the last couple of days, I got on track at last.

The 20 mile day I’d had the previous day had really sapped me and, in conjunction with some very tricky rocks, I stopped for lunch after only 5 miles, completely resetting the day for me. I had intended to get to the lusciously named Wawayanda Shelter, some 17 miles away, but settled instead for the church hostel in Vernon, NJ, after only an 11 mile day.

For a suggested donation of $10, you get a shower, laundry, a bed (or Tent site) and a recreation room. I found several fellow hikers, but only one, Senator, wanted to go for sushi. We had a great meal and finished off with a Blizzard ice cream at Dairy Queen. Guilt-free eating is going to be a tough habit to kick!

However, the day wasn’t over, as I showered and laundered my clothes back at the hostel and we had a late visit by a lovely couple, Dori and Tom, who asked if 3 of us would like to join them in the morning for a swim in their local lake, followed by breakfast and return to the trail. Me, Spider and Voodoo shot up our hands, so we arranged to be ready for 7.15 the following day…….

………which we were. Dori came to collect us and took us to her lovely community, giving is something of a guided tour on the way. She was utterly charming and everything was as she had suggested. The lake was gorgeous, though unveiling my new, fat-free body was a little embarrassing for me! We all swam for about 20 minutes and then headed back to Tom and Dori’s log cabin home. Ever the teacher (her profession) Dori gave everybody a task and put together a wonderful breakfast that included eggs, bacon, toast, fruit and yoghurt. We were back on the trail by 10.30 and marveled once more over the kindness of others.

Usually, I hike pretty much on my own, but Voodoo, Spider and I started the day together and eventually ended the day together, meeting up with the Maine Sisters, Navigator and Toots, along the way. Once more, the rocks slowed everybody’s pace, allowing us to trek as a team. This was the largest group I had hiked with since starting and it certainly helped the day as we chatted throughout.

I briefly left them to try to join a board meeting for the Family
Partnership Center, hoping to FaceTime the board for a quick chat, yet, while my signal in the mountains was fine, they couldn’t muster more than a single bar between them, so we had to make do with a telephone chat! By the way, please consider my Last 2000 Mile Challenge on this site, as I’ve only got about 800 miles to go and you can join in at any time.

It was getting a little dark in the forest by the time I restarted, so I chased down the group I’d been with and eventually caught them at NY17A, where they were heading for the creamery, a local ice cream shop. $6 each and huge banana splits later, we set up tents on the parking lot nearby, hopeful that this wasn’t a teeny bit illegal. The rain was coming and we hoped that might work in our favor if somebody spotted that we shouldn’t have been there. Nothing happened, other than rain and fairly spunky winds, so everybody got a decent night’s sleep.

Today, I got out fairly early and hiked alone for quite a while, though ran into a few new and one or two old faces. I also wanted to record my impressions of NJ and NY.

I was aware that I was running low on certain supplies and, with my speed still rather slow over the rocks, I asked Diane to book me a motel room after only about 11 miles. I’d just spoken with the cab company who was going to pick me up, telling them I’d be at the pick up point in 5 minutes, when I realized that the descent was very severe and over sharp rocks. Stupidly hurrying, I fell and, fearing the worst, I shouted out in an effort to mask the pain if and when it came. Amazingly, despite being virtually upside down on the rocks, I was relatively unhurt, with just a few scrapes and the odd laceration on my arms and legs. I got myself the right way up and continued on my way. I was very lucky.

Keep on keeping onTonight in my room  I had Chinese delivery and thought I’d share the fortune cookie with you. Believe me, sometimes you really appreciate a fortune cookie and this one couldn’t have come at a better time!

When the going gets tough

Saturday, July 5 – Wednesday July 9. Pine Grove Rd (Mt. Holly Springs) – PA72, Swatara Gap (Mile 1178.2 since Springer Mountain and only 1007.1 miles to Katahdin)

The two day hiatus caused by my own stupidity came to an end on Saturday morning, yet I spent a very restless night prior to hitting the trail once more. I was rather nervous, if the truth be known, that I’d be unable to get back into the swing of things with sufficient impetus to maintain my mileage. I was driven back to my previous finish point by the kind lady at the hotel and fell into a conversation with a couple of day hikers, about to start a hike in the opposite direction. By the time I started, I felt a little shaky, with the remnants of the ice cream still perhaps having their effect. However, once I got back into my stride, I felt strong enough for this little confessional.

The target for the day was a very manageable 12 miles, to Boiling Springs, where I had arranged to meet up again with the very kind Fran and Steve Davis. They insisted upon bringing me gas for my stove on the off chance that I wouldn’t be able to get any in Boiling Springs. As that turned out to be the case, I was doubly grateful for their efforts.

On the way, I was aware that the route was going to take me through more fields and less forest than usual. This is because the trail goes through highly populated areas around this part of Pennsylvania and the ATC wanted to keep the whole thing as rural as possible. To my mind, they came up with a great compromise, routing us through fields and the edges of forests to avoid using roads as much as possible.

The twelve miles, though very warm, was a delightful hike and I was grateful to get to Boiling Springs five minutes early to meet Fran and Steve. I took the opportunity to shoot this short video of the gorgeous lake, as it is your “welcome to Boiling Springs” sight as you come into town. This rather bucolic sight was very reminiscent of England in the early 1960’s and entranced me as I walked the length of the lake.

Steve and Fran had been there a little while and we took several With Fran and Stevephotos together, as well as had a drink in the tavern while I wolfed down another burger, my meal of choice. Afterwards, we wandered over to the outfitter, but it turned out to be a fishing outfitters, with a really interesting guy at the helm and we spent some time chatting with him. I still needed to charge my phone, so when they left, I returned to the tavern and plugged in the phone while watching the remainder of the World Cup game on TV, with Rambler and Dos Lekis, another couple of guys I’d recently met.

The only place to camp in this gorgeous place was a free campsite to the south of the town, so I retraced my steps and found myself back in the fields once more before coming upon the site, in which four guys were relaxing “fragrantly,” if you get my drift. They invited me to join them but I really wanted to set up my tent and felt that, while the ice cream was one thing, compounding the error with a new venture into enhanced smoking might be pushing the envelope a little too far. The guys warned me that the trains run all night and “can be quite loud.”

This turned out to be an understatement of massive proportions. I was just dozing off when I heard a rumble that seemed like it could be thunder, only to have it turn immediately and frighteningly into a rushing, roaring sound that passed so close that I actually ducked, lest it come directly through my tent. It was, at best, startling and was repeated several times through the night. Indeed, at 5am, I actually heard the rails rattle as a heavily laden cargo train hammered its way past my tent.

Despite this rather interrupted night, I actually managed to get a little sleep and got onto the road fairly early in the hope that Boiling Springs would be able to provide me with a breakfast. Ten minutes later, I was sitting in front of two fried eggs, bacon, home fries, plus a second plate of French Toast and syrup. Add a coffee to the mix, as well as the Times newspaper on my Kindle, and I felt very comfortable for the next hour or so.

Realizing that the miles weren’t going to walk themselves, I grudgingly left the town and quickly downgraded my estimate for the day to Darlington Shelter, 14 miles away. I’d originally intended to go on to the next shelter, giving me a short trot into Duncannon the following morning. However, my Starbucks moment back in Boiling Springs had thrown all the timing off, so 14 miles it was.

Funnily enough, there wasn’t quite as much field walking as I’d imagined, yet sufficient for any hiker to appreciate the efforts that these clubs make on behalf of hikers.

We were often walking right on the edge of forests, which gave us great sounds, with the cacophony of birds interspersed with the low sounds of trains warning the populace of some distant town. We seem to have heard trains a lot over the past couple of hundred miles, though not, fortunately, as close as those the previous night.

A deer ran out right in front of me and bounded away and, with everything so close to a more urban setting, it enhances your appreciation of the wilderness once more when you see such unexpected, yet delightful, examples of wild animals.

I had a good sleep next to the shelter and set out for Duncannon, which was less than 12 miles away. I had originally intended to have a zero day in Duncannon, though my ice cream adventure had put paid to that, so the intention was to get in, get my two packages (food from Diane and the replacement solar charger), have a burger and a couple of beers at The Doyle, a famous hikers pub, then head straight out to Clark’s Ferry Shelter, only four or five miles outside town.

This was going to be a 15 or 16 mile day, on a sticky Monday morning, so I didn’t do myself any favors when, talking on the phone to Diane, I completely missed a turning and headed on.further down the mountain, only to find myself in a community with not a white blaze to be seen. It is a remarkable aspect of this walk that the ubiquitous white blaze is so crucial to all hikers well being that we really miss them, with an anxious yearning to see one soon, when we haven’t seen one for a few minutes.

So it was now, as I reached a road, some half a mile after my phone call with not a blaze to be seen. In such circumstances, the only thing to do is to turn round and retrace your steps, however uncomfortable that may be. For me, it meant scrambling once more back up the mountain and continuing until I found a blaze. Eventually, I found my way back, only to get back to where I’d found myself half an hour previously. Still, I was back on track and had done the right thing.

The trail into Duncannon has been slightly re routed to avoid a now-missing bridge into town, but I soon found the Doyle, along with what eventually became a dozen or so hungry and thirsty hikers during that lunchtime. Reluctantly leaving, I picked up my packages, consolidated my pack and started the long, very hot trek out of town. This included a very lengthy, very boring High Street, two bridges and a climb to escape the horrendous noise of cars. Maybe it is because I never walk alongside crowded roads in my normal life, but cars are bloody noisy and I was actually shocked at how alien everything seemed to be. However, once I started climbing, the noise subsided and normal calm was resumed.

This was when I first encountered the difficulty of Pennsylvania rocks, with the last mile into the shelter being particularly tricky and challenging for all my fellow hikers. The shelter itself had no nearby tenting sites, so a bunch of us tenters (and hammockers) set up at a campsite a few hundred yards from the shelter and, most importantly, the water source.

The next day was one of my worst on the trail thus far, even though I did my distance of 13.3 miles. It was hot, it was rocky and, critically, I had totally unprepared myself for the prospect of twelve miles and no potential water source. You can see from this video that I knew that there may be difficulty in getting water, but I made the error of just taking two liters with me and hoping for the best. Once more, not a good decision!

The rocks seemed to sap not only my strength, but also my spirit, as I felt very down most of the day. However, one bright spot was this gorgeous view, so I want to include it to show that the day wasn’t a complete dud!

I’m aware that much of the world lives without water security, yet I had simply chosen to take an insufficient amount. Quite how terrifying the reality of not having the option to drink good water can be I could hardly imagine. When I eventually reached a good source, I greedily gulped down two liters immediately yet, for me, the day was as good as over.

The way the shelters are spaced out meant that the only realistic option was to pitch my tent just off a road and get ready for the storm that was due to arrive later in the afternoon. I slept for over an hour and woke to hear the approaching thunder. Nice and snug inside my tent, I heard a great whooshing sound as, first, the high wind then, second, the rain, pummeled my tiny tent. It was a little alarming at first, but I soon settled down and waited the storm out. Fortunately, it only lasted as violently as that for about thirty minutes, yet it reminded me how brutal the weather is capable of being.

This morning, I decided to head out early and was on the trail by 6.35 (an early morning record for me). I didn’t have breakfast and started to feel a little like the day before, so I flopped my pack on the ground, pulled out my stove and breakfasted right in the middle of the trail. I immediately felt better and, along with plenty of water, I hiked immeasurably better than the day before. I even had time to visit the immaculate Rausch Gap Shelter for a leisurely lunch of mashed potatoes and tuna before completing my day at Swatara Gap some six miles later. Below, just before Swatara Gap, I reflect on the day before and, looking at this now, I can see how, despite my normal upbeat nature, I knew that I had screwed up the day before and I look a little irked with myself.

Diane arranged a cab to meet me and I am now comfortably ensconced in the Days Inn Hotel in the basement, which is apparently the place that the hikers get for the hikers rate.

I must confess that this week has been something of a challenge for me, with the nasty memory (in so many different ways!!) of the ice cream debacle, along with my dehydration and poor choices made. I should also say that the hike is turning out to be a little lonelier than I had thought, with little human contact during the day, though evenings at shelters often provide that in some measure. This is something that I’m just going to have to deal with in the next few months, as there will likely be less and less hikers for company as others drop out, move on or are left behind.

I’ve always thought that there was a significant mental element needed to complete this hike and this is now coming to the fore. I’ve even started to listen to podcasts on my phone, though that seems to disconnect me from the trail in ways that I can’t readily explain, so I prefer just to hike most of the time with both ears free to hear what is all around. I’ll work my way through this temporary blip, yet it is certainly a new element to take into account as I push ever northward.

There’s no fool like an old fool

Sunday, June 29 – Friday, July 4. Turners Gap US Alt 40 (Hagerstown) – Pine Grove Rd (Mt. Holly Springs) (Mile 1106.0 since Springer Mountain and only 1079.3 miles to Katahdin)

This is probably one of the more embarrassing posts I’ve written, mainly because I did something so dumb that it makes even me shake my head in disbelief. However, that is still to come, so I’ll start with where I left off last time, having spent part of the day with my old mate Gilbo.

I got a cab back to Turners Gap early on and it felt great to be back on the trail. From the first moments I knew it was going to be a good day, with a warm sun and gentle breeze welcoming the early Sunday morning. It had something of an English feel to it, with an old church to magnify that feeling. So much so that I felt an early video was in order before I’d even walked 100 yards.

Once I’d moved through this almost soporific start, I found myself hiking at a comfortable, unhurried pace for a couple of miles until I came upon a side road to the first completed monument to George Washington. I normally don’t take side trails, preferring to use up my energy on the AT itself, but I was in such a relaxed mood, with only a relatively short day in front of me, that I wandered up to the monument to get another great view and a slice of Americana. At the top, I met up again with Naturally Hob, who always seems to know about his surroundings and he filled me in on the monument. It is lovely to see a monument in such a splendid setting, overlooking a gorgeous valley in the early morning sun. I knew I was dawdling a little, so left somewhat reluctantly and picked up the pace.

I have been using a solar charger, which Diane bought me for Christmas, to charge my phone on the trip and had noticed the previous evening that it was coming apart a little on one of the panels. Unfortunately this turned out to be the beginning of a catastrophic end, as it came apart completely at the Washington Monument and I took several pics of it before emailing Diane, asking if she could get a replacement from the manufacturer. Typically, she got onto it and one is on the way. Yet another example, as if more were needed, of the importance of my little quarterback at home!!

One thing about Maryland, and later, Pennsylvania, is that the trail often takes you through campgrounds or parks which allow you to fill up with water, a critical element in walking this trail. The hiking is very different, particularly in Maryland, as it is either flat, easy and springy, or hilly, rocky and downright dangerous. The latter hiking is damaging on the shoes and the feet, and certainly slows you down, yet I know it is simply a precursor of Pennsylvania and the rocks that are ahead. Having fallen down on a slippery rock for the twelfth time this week, I have additional reason to be wary of the rocks.

That night, I reached Ensign Cowall Shelter after 14 miles and ran into a couple of thru-hikers, Hobo and Caddyshack, as well as a group of section hikers and a terrific family out on a four day adventure. The dad was particularly interested in the thru-hike and told me the following morning, over a cup of coffee, that his 16 year old daughter was considering attempting it after high school. It constantly buoys me when I hear how inspiring such an adventure is and I’m reminded how lucky I am that circumstances have conspired to allow me the chance to do this.

Leaving camp the following morning, I had about an 18 mile hike planned, yet I was heading for Pen-Mar Park by lunchtime with a mission in mind. I’d heard that pizza could be ordered for delivery to the park and, never one to miss such an opportunity, I set out on that mission.

Before I got there, however, I decided to point out one of the features of the trail that I have hitherto not mentioned. I’d passed through plenty of these spots and had just ignored them, so I thought I’d point out these little blots on the landscape to show that everything isn’t as beautiful as I normally say that it is.

In case you didn’t get the reference, Essex is the county in the UK in which I lived for most of my life yet, for the life of me, I couldn’t remember what these metal monstrosities were. Then it came to me. Doh!!

I got to the park and met up with Lumberjack and Nobody, two great guys I’d met on the trail in recent days. We ordered pizza and recharged our phones and, while we were waiting, I shot this lovely view from the park, majestically overlooking yet another valley and a really gorgeous setting in which to jam pizza into your face. Classy, as ever!

Soon after leaving the park, we crossed the Mason-Dixon Line, separating the south from the north as well as Maryland from Pennsylvania. We were in our seventh state and we really felt like we were motoring now. It is funny how the very act of moving from one state into another gives you the impression of progress, which is probably why the 550 miles in Virginia had us all feeling stalled and a little frustrated by our lack of progress. That may even account for the so-called Virginia Blues.

Hiking with a belly full of pizza (and calories) was great and I arrived at Tumbling Run Shelter at about 6.20pm, only to run into another set of recently-met youngsters, Turbo, Poho, Tomahawk and Doc, along with Lumberjack and Nobody. All good people and very friendly to the old guy, which is always welcome. I set up tent next to another, rather alone, older guy, with his dog, Lucy, who only had a right arm and a right eye (the guy, not the dog). His name was deliciously self-deprecating, Lefty, and we had quite a laugh over it, though I could see how tricky many of the camping actions could be quite a trial for him. However, he refused my offer of help but we had a nice chat and I went to bed thinking how tough life must be for him.

The following day, I had another park in my sights, Caledonia State Park, which meant another 10 mile hike by lunchtime. The terrain was fairly benign and I made the 10 miles in only 4 hours, joining my fellow hikers based around a bunch of picnic tables, with families frolicking in a public pool nearby. It was tempting to go in the pool, but I felt oddly out of place and satisfied myself with a burger and a rest on the grass in the sunshine, while the guy in the concession stand kindly charged my phone for me.

I still had 10 miles of this 20 mile day to go, so I set out after about an hour and a half, making good progress until I started to hear some threatening thunder in the distance. This wouldn’t normally concern me too much, as the noise reverberates from a long way away, but this was clearly coming my way and, with only about a mile or two to go, the storm finally hit me. The rain was absolutely torrential, and immediately utterly soaked me, as I trudged forward through the rapidly liquefying path. I arrived at the shelter completely drenched and had to strip into my only remaining dry clothes, a pair of swimming trunks and my camp shirt. Eventually, the rain subsided, so I set up my tent outside, along with about five or six other guys and gals. There were a number of new faces there, including a really funny Irishman, uninspiringly called Ireland, who kept everybody’s spirits up.

The next morning, I did a quick inventory of my remaining clothes and found that my sweat-soaked clothes of a day or two before were slightly less wet than my rain-soaked clothes, so I reluctantly wore those, along with my swimming trunks; not a good look.

I was heading for yet another park, Pine Grove Furnace State Park, and my mission for today was to not only pass the true halfway mark, but also to celebrate that event at the park by partaking of the Half Gallon Challenge. However, more of that later. Passing the halfway mark was significant, as it meant, for the first time, I was closer to Katahdin than to Springer and it felt like a real accomplishment. Life is full of small victories and deserve to be recognized as such. I was boyishly excited, as you can see from this silly little video.

So, halfway having been reached, it was time for the celebration. This time-honored tradition for thru-hikers is to eat half a gallon of ice cream in as quick a time as possible. I know what you’re thinking, dumb, right? Especially for a 61 year old. Times varied from 90 minutes, down to the best time of 52 minutes by one of my fellow hikers earlier that day. I polished it off in 27 minutes and boasted how easy it had been. I did a time lapse video, but I’m sorry to say that it didn’t upload correctly to YouTube. However, take my word for it, I certainly stuck to the task. Feeling a little smug about my effort, I hung around for a while, looking at the gradually worsening weather, before deciding to chance it and heading out, alone, for the next shelter, seven and a half miles away. My luck held and I made it without rain, meeting up with a young guy I’d met a few weeks before, Bilbo, and meeting for the first time a guy known as Big Sexy, a really friendly, red headed, smiling boy who, when I asked him why he was so named, just shrugged and laughed.

Then it started.

SPOILER ALERT – THOSE WITH SENSITIVE STOMACHS SHOULD SKIP THE NEXT PARAGRAPH

That night, alone in my tent, I realized that I may have made an error by eating pasta on top of my ludicrous amount of ice cream. Indeed, this feeling was exacerbated when I turned on my side and my stomach let out an audible, and painful, groan. “Hmmm,” I thought. This quickly turned to “oh, my God,” as the evident conclusion became quickly apparent. Suddenly, I was scrambling to leave my tent as everything wanted to exit my body as quickly as possible from every possible orifice. It was pitch dark, I was barefoot, virtually naked and desperate and, well, nature isn’t to be ignored and a dramatic evacuation took place. Restored once more to my tent and to the warmth of my sleeping bag, the warning that I had twenty minutes later was far more sudden and even more urgent. I barely poked my head out as I retched and only managed to hold everything before eventually diving into the bushes for an even more intense purging. It was truly awful.

I spent the remainder of the night on alert for another “moment” but, thankfully, I was clearly fully purged and the daylight came without further incident. I was physically, and literally, drained and completely incapable of hiking. Fortunately, I remembered that there was an inn not too many miles away, in Mt Holly Springs, that provides shuttles to hikers, so I called them and asked if they would kindly pick me up at a road only half a mile away. This they did and I pitched up yesterday morning in a dreadful state, completely unable to eat or even drink, even though I was severely dehydrated.

Then, as so often happens on this magical trail, aid came to me in the form of the wonderful Fran and Steve Davis, friends who have been following the blog. They had intended to see me on the trail and, when Fran called and I told her of my predicament, they drove over an hour to not only help me with my laundry, but also to drive me around and try to find gas for my stove. They brought a bunch of supplies with them and were, frankly, just the tonic I needed at that time. Thanks Fran and Steve, you were real life savers. When they left, I still felt weak and decided to stay another night to let everything get back to normal.

This morning, having slept for a solid nine hours, I woke feeling so much better, it was startling. As an added bonus, I discovered that there were two World Cup games on TV today, so I followed through with the plan for another day off the trail and am watching the games while updating my blog.

So, I’ve learned another lesson, which you may think I should have learned by the age of seven, yet it was another lesson that had a happy conclusion and showed me once more that, in your darkest hour, there is always a way forward, albeit one which may not be immediately apparent. I’ll be hitting the trail again tomorrow morning and will stay away from ice cream for at least the next week or so. Hopefully, by then, yesterday morning will have faded from my mind!

….and I would walk 500 miles and I would walk 500 more……

Tuesday, June 24 – Saturday, June 28 VA664, US522, Front Royal – Turners Gap US Alt 40 (Hagerstown (Mile 1037.0 since Springer Mountain and only 1148.3 miles to Katahdin)

With Shenandoah behind me, the first day out of Front Royal had something of an anticlimactic feel about it, yet it was nothing more nor less than a gorgeous walk through a mainly green tunnel, sparingly interspersed with the odd ray of sunshine. Indeed, after about three or four miles, I found myself in a meadow and found that rarest of things on the AT – a bench. I love to get that unexpected moment, so I took the opportunity to video my surroundings. While it is great looking around oneself on the trail, it is immeasurably better to do it sitting down.

No sooner had I sat there, unpacking my early lunch, than I was joined by a local guy with a small backpack. He uses the bench most days to eat his lunch and clearly wanted me to move, but I was having none of it and retained my squatter’s rights! He didn’t seem inclined to share it with me, so I let him eat standing up and bouncing about like a five year old in need of the toilet.

We spoke about the trail and he said that the only hiking he ever does is to come to this bench and eat his lunch. Eventually, I finished and packed away and, as I got up to move on, he homed in on HIS spot; it really was bizarre how possessive he became. Spooky.

I have become aware of how much this is becoming a rather lonely endeavor, so I was pleased to pitch up at Dick’s Dome Shelter after a 15 mile day, and meet up with a couple of new interesting characters I’d met briefly before, Daddy Long Legs and Rudy. Rudy is doing the trail in memory of his grandmother, who passed away after a long battle with Alzheimer’s Disease, while his old college buddy, DLL, is documenting his journey on film and in a journal. They have been burying a small piece of one of her dresses at various spots on the trail and plan to bury the last piece at Katahdin. Rudy opened up to me about her and I was struck once more how hiking with somebody, or talking in camp with a fellow hiker, tends to reveal more than one would normally expose in “regular” conversation. I was moved by his story and his obvious devotion to his grandmother.

It was an early night, however, and I found myself on my air bed , inside my tent at 5.55, intending to read for a couple of hours. The next thing I knew, it was 8pm and, after a desultory effort to read at that time, I passed out once more until the morning. Marvelous.

The next day was something of a test for all hikers at this point. If we were to make any real progress, it was going to be an 18 or 20 mile day, or it would only be an easy 9 or 10. The problem was the roller coaster, a dreadful section that contains endless ups and downs over rocky terrain and that come after a relatively benign beginning 9 or 10 miles. I decided to push on through, as the goal was the Bears Den Hostel, with the “hiker special” of $30 for a bunk, laundry, a shower, breakfast and, crucially, a pizza and a pint of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. By the time I entered the roller coaster, I had committed myself, so pushed on, with the thought of the Ben & Jerry’s uppermost in my mind. The fact that, with about three miles to go, I could have stopped at a shelter, with thunder threatening to ruin my day, shows that the ice cream was definitely having an impact.

I got to the hostel about five minutes before the heavens opened and enjoyed my hiker special with an additional relish that always comes when you are able to poke one in the eye of the weather. This was a rare victory on my part, I should point out.

The day had really taken it out of me, as it had others, and my ambition the next day was very limited, only intending to go about 11 miles to a shelter within about 9 or 10 miles of Harpers Ferry, the town traditionally regarded as halfway through the trail. However, when I got to the shelter, Daddy Long legs and Rudy were there and I decided to hike on a further 3 miles with them to Keys Gap, where I discovered that more food was to be had about 400 yards off the trail.

Food has become something of a cause for me, as the infamous hiker’s hunger seems to have permeated my every thought and I am taking huge advantage of every opportunity to stuff my face as full as possible in a frenzy of guilt-free eating.

The 3 miles went quickly, chatting with and learning more about Rudy so that, by the time we arrived, another 14 mile day was under the belt. Another burger was ferociously dispatched, along with several candies and sodas.

A real landmark had been passed earlier in the day, as we passed the 1000 mile point in our adventure, so I got my camera out to record what I believed to be “the moment.”

Feeling fairly pleased with myself, I then proceeded to pass a further two 1000 markers within the next 500 yards, so I really don’t know when I actually passed that mark. I posted all three markers, with me in the picture, on my Facebook page “My Appalachian Trial”, along with several other pictures I’ve taken over the trip. This seems to be an easier vehicle for photos than WordPress, so I’ve rather abandoned the photos and videos page on this site in favor of Facebook. Please “like” the page if you want to see more pics.

Having gorged myself again, camping seemed to be restricted to the side of a busy road, so the three of us set up within 20 feet of this blaring highway, only to all sleep like babies and remark upon the fact in the morning. Extraordinary.

I knew that yet another highlight was coming the following morning, as I was about to leave Virginia, after 550 miles in the state. As a consequence, I was ready to snap another border crossing, only to find that no such marker exists. I couldn’t believe it. The state had been part of my life for nearly two months but let me go without so much as a nod. You can see my confusion as I sat down for a quick farewell in this video.

Harpers Ferry was a place I’d been looking forward to for several days but, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy aside, I was terribly disappointed in this disjointed little tourist trap. The ATC was a neat little place, with the chance to get water, sodas and pictures recording our journey and checking in at the conservancy as a sort of record. I was number 856 to have passed through and I took a look in the book at the friends I’d met who were now ahead of me due to my cellulitis. It reinforced some of the loneliness of the trip but strengthened my determination to continue my quest.

After a BBQ lunch at Hannah’s in the old village, I headed out and settled at Ed Garvey Shelter, some 6 miles out of town. There is a walk along the towpath next to the Potomac that was absolutely sweltering, with a gentle incline for about three miles, or so it seemed. Several people had taken the day to spend time on the fast flowing river in boats and rubber rings. Indeed, I saw my old friend Billy Goat, who called to me from one such boat as I crossed the bridge. He must have recognized my slow, lumbering trudge!

I had another excellent sleep at the campsite I chose and woke this morning with another limited agenda, as I had to go into Hagerstown to attend to some business. This was a very easy hike of 11 miles through Maryland, with a lot of the terrain flat and wide, even though there were a couple of climbs that brought rocks into play. I’m sure the rocks are there to soften us up for the next state, Pennsylvania, often called Rocksylvania by hikers.

I passed through Gathland State Park, a wonderful little area full of Civil War history and I was lucky enough to run into a woman who seemed charmed by the British accent once more and allowed me to charge my rapidly depleting phone battery in her museum. I was drawn into the displays however and spent a happy hour learning about this area from the very informative lady and the part it had played in the Civil War.

Diane had been particularly eager to know where I was going to spend the night over the past few days and I soon discovered why. Having hitched a lift with a couple of young lads all the way into Hagerstown, I settled into my room, only to have a visitor at reception. Who could it be? As I walked down the hall, a couple of things fell in place and I soon discovered that it was my old mate, Ian Gilland, who was visiting New York with his partner and had driven nearly 250 miles that day, in collusion with Diane, to visit me. THAT is a friend. I was delighted and we quickly went out and devoured about 40 chicken wings, chocolate fudge cake, ice cream and a couple of Buds. Gilbo then returned me to my motel and headed back to New York. What a guy.

It is things like this that remind me how much I must mean to some people and I am extremely gratified to have made so many great friends over the years. Diane has now met quite a few of my old mates and discovered how special they are to me and I am to them. From time to time, when we have so much time on our hands, it is incredibly satisfying to think about those we have touched and those who have touched us.

Gilbo may not know it, but his visit meant more to me than he could ever have thought.

Here’s to the next 1000 miles!!

Bear Necessities

Monday, June 16 – Monday, June 23, VA664, Reid’s Gap, Waynesboro – US522, Front Royal (Mile 965.6 since Springer Mountain and only 1219.7 miles to Katahdin)

It’s been about a week since my last post and it’s been a week dominated by the Shenandoah National Park. I’ll return to the park later, as I had to re-trace some ground after my stop in Waynesboro and actually hike from Reid’s Gap to the normal stopping off point for Waynesboro, which is Rockfish Gap. Billy Goat, with his mom and his aunt, had kindly dropped me off and I’d had a lazy Sunday in Waynesboro, gorging myself, before returning to Reid’s Gap last Monday morning.

I’d arranged a price with a cab company the previous evening for the trip and had various quotes of between $35 and $75. When the young guy came to pick me up that Monday, 20 minutes late, he started on about the cost per mile and I stopped him right there and told him it was $35. He thought about it for ten seconds and said “ok” but didn’t speak to me again for the entire journey. I wish I could use that trick on London cabbies.

The day started well, with a delicious bottle of Powerade left in a cooler by a Trail Angel at the start of the Trail, so I knew I was in for a good day. This improved when I ran into Rip Van Winkel, a nice guy (chemistry teacher) I’d met previously at another shelter. Being of roughly the same vintage, we hiked moderately well together at a fairly similar pace and fell into a chatty day.

Before I bumped into RVW, I found a lovely overlook and shot this video.

I’d planned to do about 15 miles, stopping about 5 miles short of Rockfish Gap, at the Paul C Wolfe Shelter. However, as RVW and I were coming down the steep descent from Humpback Mountain, we both heard voices below. More disconcertingly, these voices were many, loud and predominately female. Arriving at the shelter, the entire place had been overrun by a group from the Church of the Latter Day Saints, with three adults and 27 girls between about 13 and 15.

To be fair to the leader of the group, he had told the girls to leave the shelter free but there wasn’t a single tent site to be had. As far as I’m concerned, getting youngsters out on the Trail at a young age is a terrific thing to do, though leaders should consider the impact upon others and limit their numbers accordingly. Consequently, RVW and I moved on, now accompanied by Aussie, a young guy who had already walked 22 miles and was nearly out for the count.

We made Rockfish Gap, where RVW was being picked up by an old friend! while Aussie merely moaned and groaned in the rear. Having already spent a few nights in Waynesboro, I really wanted somewhere cheap and easy to stay the night, as camping in the vicinity wasn’t available. I spotted the Inn at Afton on the top of a hill and RVW’s friend kindly dropped me off. It was dreadful! There was no wifi, no laundry, the wallpaper was literally peeling off and the furniture had some clear and current termite activity. After sitting there for ten minutes, I found an alternative nearby and got a refund. A kindly local guy saw me walking and stopped and asked if I needed a lift. When I told him where, he said “that’s even worse than where you’ve just come from.” Fortunately, there was wifi and laundry, so, for me, it was almost the Ritz compared to the other place, so I stuck with it. However, it’d you ever find yourself at Rockfish Gap, don’t sleep local – go into Waynesboro!!

The following day, I was really looking forward to hitting Shenandoah National Park, though you can see from my first video in the park that I was really underwhelmed by my immediate first impression. It was so darn scruffy and unkempt and very disappointing.

You can see that it was a very hot day and we spent quite a bit of this day in the sunshine, leading to something over an over-reaction of my sweat glands, as I became completely drenched within thirty minutes. Not nice at all. It was also my second consecutive 20 mile day that ended with a lung bursting climb into Blackrock Hut. Indeed, I was anxious to start seeing some of the famed Shenandoah bears and thought one was chasing me up the hill, as I heard a pounding going on nearby. Imagine my disappointment, not least also my concern, when I realized that the pounding was my own heart, beating rapidly and noisily.

The following morning, I headed out from the shelter (referred to as huts in SNP) and up to Blackrock itself for an early climb. This was a gorgeous lookout that allowed me to pause and eat more food, a new and increasing habit of mine, while I shot another little video.

Young Amber, who you saw briefly in that clip, is married to a military man who was deployed seven times to Iraq and Afghanistan. When I asked here if he had got through it all ok, she said that he’d been shot several times but nothing too serious!! The fortitude with which our military families, both in the US and the UK, take their responsibilities, is nothing short of astounding.

My plan for the day was to get to Pinefield Hut, only about 15 miles away, as I’d read of the various waysides that exist in the park. These are basically places where the general public can eat like normal human beings, while hikers can fill their boots with abandon to assuage their ravenous hiker hunger. To reach the Loft Mountain Wayside necessitated a one mile detour (half there, half back), yet I felt it was worth it, along with Amber and a young guy called Gator. It certainly was worth it, so much so that I slept for about an hour after my blow out on the grass outside. Marvelous!

I still hadn’t seen a bear and I was hearing reports of them as if there were a hundred bears to every person in the park; it was starting to get a little embarrassing. Indeed, that morning, after Black Rock, I had stopped for a break when Amber caught up with me and commented that I must attract animals as I pass through. She said, “Did you see the two piles of bear” and here she hesitated, “excrement?” back there, she continued, having decided upon the mot juste and certainly the first, and only time I’d heard it referred to in this way. “A bear was right next to the first pile, only ten feet into the bushes. I’d missed it again, as I did later in camp, when somebody called out that a bear was on the hillside overlooking our camp. I was already in my sleeping bag and simply shrugged. If it wasn’t meant to be, then that was ok.

The following day was just an eleven mile day, as I had to get into Elkton to pick up a food delivery from Diane. On the hike, I stopped to record my second, revised impressions of Shenandoah and broached the subject of yellow blazing, the practice of taking short cuts on the trail and not sticking entirely to the proscribed trail.

I’ve had a chance to re-think this position, as I’ve spoken with a number of the lads and lasses out here and they are all here for the adventure. They may not necessarily be hiking “every flippin’ inch” like yours truly, but they are certainly hiking their own hike, many of them with issues that they need to resolve. While it wouldn’t work for me, I can see that they don’t stop overnight in motels as much as I do, so they are likely having it even tougher than I am. So my revised view of the Shenandoah’s remains, but I’m revising my view of yellow blazers. Just hike your own hike and don’t pay attention to what others want to do. After all, it is the journey and not the destination that counts.

In Elkton, I also hoped to be able to catch the England v Uruguay World Cup game, though had no idea how I could achieve this latter objective. Luckily, I hitched a ride from a friendly truck driver and he dropped me right by a Mexican restaurant, which is a big fave with hikers. Filling my face with fajitas, guacamole, tacos, nachos, all washed down with a couple of beers, I got into a conversation with a young waiter who liked football (soccer) and told him that I had an iPad and could watch the game on it if I could have access to wifi somewhere. He asked his boss and I was set up, with a complimentary beer, with more nachos and salsa, to watch the game. Even with this kind gesture, England still lost and exited the World Cup.  Again!!

It was now too late to return to the trail, so I found a cheap little motel and left my return till morning.

The motel owner shuttled me back to the trailhead the following morning at 7am, along with a couple of section hikers. It was a gorgeous, crisp day and I hadn’t been hiking for more than about 30 minutes when I saw and heard a disturbance off to the right in the trees. I could see a bear, about twenty five feet up in the tree and starting to move down. I quickly got my camera out and took a lousy still picture, then turned the video on. Imagine my delight when not one, but four bears jumped out of the tree in quick succession and ran further into the undergrowth.

You’ll notice that old big-mouth here doesn’t say anything at all on this particular video; I was an exhilarating combination of mesmerized and scared at the same time. This turned out to be quite the morning, as about twenty minutes later, I ran into a deer on the trail (below), then, when filling my water bottle at a stream, another bear, a big beast, simply emerged from the bushes only twenty yards ahead of me on the trail, didn’t notice me and waddled off down the trail before turning off. This was my clearest encounter and I couldn’t get to my camera, as my hands were wet.

I was having a terrific time and decided to stop and have a peaceful lunch at Bearfence Hut, only to be joined by a very friendly deer who had no objection to being filmed. There is good and bad about this as deers are carriers of deer ticks, possibly the most dangerous animal on the entire Appalachian Trail. These little ticks embed themselves in your skin and can transmit Lyme disease unless you remove them within about a day. Regularly checking yourself for these little blighters (ticks, not deer) is one of my new daily tasks, having found about four or five in Shenandoah.

You can tell I was happy about the day’ event, as I even stopped in front of another view to talk about it later in the day.

I had decided to camp at Big Meadows Campsite and turned up there as several of my new hiking buddies, Nobody, Lumberjack, Doctor, Tomahawk and a few others were leaving the campsite after a shower and laundry. I luckily ran into the camp host, Eileen, and her husband and she seemed to take a liking to the British accent, offering me a free camp spot on her own site. Perfect! The next morning, she came out of the huge RV that they share and offered me coffee, a banana and even some Off, to keep the ticks at bay. Being a Brit in the states is such a bonus sometimes!

I planned a 19 mile day on Saturday, ignoring Luray, a regular stopping point, and hiking on to Pass Mountain Hut. Leaving the campground, however, we got the first sign that we were in for a change of weather, with cloud drifting into the valley below us. It was a lovely sight, though I knew that the day was going to get a little more difficult.

I had yet another restaurant in mind, Skyland, and I was put in the corner when I arrived there. Nobody really wants to sit near us when we are hiking and I’m similarly happy with the arrangement. After all, who wants to be the source of a bit of nose sniffing halfway through a meal? We smell and we know it; why subject others to it if we can be tucked away? Mind you, once seated, they certainly didn’t mind taking my money and I woofed down some chowder, a huge burger and their specialty, a baked ice cream pie. This must have come in at about 2500 calories, which pretty much allowed me to breeze through the afternoon with my new found power. It really is a case of calories in and calories out and Shenandoah is certainly helping out with the calories in.

Bear number six became apparent when I caught up with Lumberjack, who was hanging out on the trail with no particular plan to move forward. He’d seen a bear in his path and the bear, similarly, had no particular plan to get out of Lumberjack’s way. Of course, I pulled out the camera to record this stand off.

At this point, the rain that had threatened had started and I was soaked to the skin, though there was no real alternative to simply putting in the miles until camp. Fortunately, the rain had subsided quite a bit when I got to camp and I was able to set up, albeit in rather damp conditions. The dampness pervades everything and it can be a miserable task to try to warm up and find something dry to wear. So far, we’ve been extraordinarily lucky with the weather. Quite what people do with, say ten days of consecutive rain, I really can’t imagine.

I knew that I’d like to dry off in Front Royal but that I couldn’t attempt to do it in one day, as it was 26 miles ahead and, with the way in which the huts are set up, two thirteen mile days beckoned. The first took me, as well as the little group I mentioned earlier, to yet another wayside, though I shot this great view while on a stop with Nobody. The wind was up and it would rain later, but it was a gorgeous morning.

At the wayside, we all charged our phones and basically hung out and were going in and out of the shop grazing, with burgers, candy bars, milkshakes (I had two) and fries. The camaraderie between the hikers is wonderfully friendly and, even though we all look like we need a wash, and we always do, all the visitors and bikers would stop and chat and were genuinely interested in our adventure.

Leaving the others behind, as I wanted to get to the shelter before the threatened rain, I ran into yet another bear, my seventh, up a tree. I filmed it but you can hardly see him, so it’s not included here.

Another soggy night and yet another bad choice by me for a site to pitch my tent, left me with a fairly sleepless night and I got up this morning very pleased with my choice to spend the night out of the woods. It was an easy 13 miles today, though I saw yet another bear shoot out of the undergrowth and simply cross the path in front of me.

It has been a joy to see these bears and my initial fears have been entirely removed by the clear indication that they are even more frightened of me than I am of them. Whatever I may have written previously, when I may have seemed a bit blasé, I have been bloody desperate to see a bear and now my count is eight in four days. They are stupendous creatures and I feel honored to have had the chance to see them on their turf, and not mine.

So the Shenandoah’s are now behind me and my last impression was that it was great to see the bears, but that the green tunnel was too prevalent and the best views to be had are often on Skyline Drive. It is certainly a magnificent park and one that I’m glad I’ve walked, though you can see in the video that I nearly got lost.