Tag Archives: Diane

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.

A sputtering restart

Friday, June 6 – Saturday, June 7. VA624 North Mtn Trail – US220, Daleville, VA (Mile 724.0 since Springer Mountain and only 1461.3 miles to Katahdin)

I certainly didn’t expect to be posting so early, but things didn’t go quite as planned, so here I am. Having had 11 zero days back home and been pampered by my lovely wife, I knew that returning to live as a hobo would be something of a challenge. I also knew that leaving Diane again would be difficult and both those things came to be.

The return flight to Roanoke was for Thursday, which was the last day of my antibiotics. These were pretty powerful, so I had left the wine and beer alone and was glad to get to the end of the course. My initial plan was to hike four or five miles, them set up camp short of McAfee Knob. However, once I was on the way, I decided to ease back into the trip, leaving my first hike until Friday morning. In this way, I was able to return to Joe and Donna’s hostel at Four Pines, Catawba and take in the Homeplace (for the third time), then sleep the night in my tent in their field.

They were surprised to see me and, after explanations and introductions, I met my new fellow hikers. Most people seem to be really friendly on the Trail and these were no exception, so we all headed out to the restaurant as a band of brothers and sisters.

Returning from another substantial meal of fried chicken, BBQ pork and all the trimmings, I decided not to go straight to bed and took my shot at a game of cornhole, a terrific little game that involves lobbing a set of beanbags onto a board, some thirty feet distant. Priding myself on my competitive nature, I was confident I’d soon be teaching these southern boys and girls a thing or two about the game, so I lobbed a few bags and was ready to take on allcomers.

Bama, a young, ex military girl from Alabama said she had played a bit, so I smiled and got ready for the slaughter of the innocent. Unfortunately, the innocent turned out to be me, as this five feet nothing girl wiped the floor with me, 21-0, 21-4. The fact that she was then convincingly beaten by a young guy straight after, confirmed to me that, perhaps, cornhole isn’t my game, so I resumed my position as spectator.

The next morning, after a fairly decent night’s sleep, I set my alarm for 5.30am to really get to grips with my slightly increased mileage “requirement” of 13.3 miles a day. It still took me two hours to get myself sorted out and on the road, though I was heading down the road, back to the trailhead, by 7.30.

I was distinctly nervous about this return and my legs were a little shaky at first, though I made steady progress for the first couple of hours. There was a delightful walk through another meadow and I started to feel comfortable once more, until I encountered this little fellow. He, not unreasonably, didn’t feel inclined to let me pass, so I decided that discretion was the better part of valor and gave him a wide berth to get past. Black snake soon after Catawba.jpg He may well have been harmless, but it is always a jarring moment when you see one of these little fellows.

Welcome back to the Trail!

Shortly after, I passed the 700 mile marker and felt that another accomplishment was under my belt. I’d left the Trail at 698.3, so this was an important milestone to me. I did fairly well and covered about 5 miles in about 2 hours and was just congratulating myself that I was well and truly back when I got lost (again).

I’m not terribly sure how it happened, but I was suddenly going down a wide road that didn’t seem very AT-like. After about a third of a mile, I spotted an information board ahead of me, with a map that showed that I was plugging away down a fire road and that the AT was running parallel but a few hundred yards away in the woods. The two roads were due to intersect about two miles ahead, though it didn’t seem right just to walk on until I got back on track, so I simply turned round and retraced my steps.

This turned out to be fortuitous, as I ran into a really nice guy, Tim, who was out for a day hike up to McAfee Knob, the most photographed landmark on the Trail. Hiking the AT is a very solitary endeavor and, though you get together with people most evenings, you are often entirely by yourself for pretty much most of the day. As a consequence, when you do happen to run into somebody with whom you can have a decent conversation, it is nice to team up, if only for the short time that you spend together. Tim was very easy going and we chatted back and forth all the way up to McAfee Knob. For me, it actually made the hike easier, which is another advantage of teaming up from time to time.

The view at the top is another great example of what this country has to offer in scenery. There were several others there, but I managed to grab a pic in that iconic spot and felt great that I’d been afforded the opportunity to give this whole thing another go.

The iconic McAfee Knob shot.jpg I also shot a video that gives more of a view of the place. Beautiful!!

Tim was heading back down the way we’d come, so I moved on to try to complete my intended 16 miles for the day, though not before I ran into a guy who was out maintaining the Trail. He was lopping off branches just to make my day easier. Think about that. Some people, in many cases, many people, see it as their duty to maintain this gorgeous trail for others and simply get up there and get on with it. I thanked him for the work he was doing and continued on my way, only to hear a huge commotion in the trees just ahead of me. I can’t imagine anything other than a bear that makes so much noise, though I was unable to see anything, yet again.

I had an extra treat a few miles further on, as Tinker Cliffs give you a wonderful opportunity of not just a spectacular view, but also a spectacular walk, taking the Trail all the way along the top of the cliffs for about ten minutes, sometimes deliciously and perilously close to the edge. If McAfee Knob gets all the attention, then Tinker Cliffs is the unacknowledged gem.

I was getting a little tired now and would probably accept that I’d overdone it a bit for this first day back. However, I eventually reached Lambert Meadow Shelter and spent the evening chatting with a group of weekend hikers as we sat around eating, before I set up my tent across the river near a very quiet young man, Bilbo. Apparently, he has hairy feet and is fairly short, hence the name.

This morning, I kept up my 5.30 alarm call, intending to reach 20 miles for the day. I had hardly slept, so the alarm was more a courtesy than anything else. Once more, I was first up but one of the last to leave, this time by 8am and I really got stuck in to the miles. Indeed, after about five miles, I was merrily munching on a Snickers without a care in the world.

As I sat there, my legs slowly “set” and, once I got going again, I was a different hiker, sluggish, with no real pep anymore. I’ve since spoken to Diane about it and she reminded me that the antibiotics were strong and likely still in my system. The blood work had also shown that I was a little anemic, so that may be another reason for the sudden weakness. Also, maybe the 11 day break had taken more of a toll than I thought. Whatever it was, I didn’t feel good and I decided to take a short break at Daleville once I met Bama again and she told me that there were restaurants a short walk from the Trail. The thought of pizza drove me forward and, sure enough, like a mirage, Pizza Hut appeared mysteriously through the trees as I emerged onto the road.

A large meat lovers pizza and two Buds later, I was hoping that I’d be revived and ready for another half a dozen miles at least. It was then that I saw a cheap motel next door and a snooze became more of an attraction! So, checked in, showered and laundered, I think that I may have taken on a little too much for these first few days. Indeed, I’ve just gulped down nearly two liters of water, so I may have been a little dehydrated as well.

My plan had been to get back up to twenty mile days straight away, but I think a more realistic target is going to be 15 milers for a few days at least. I’ve heard of the Virginia Blues and maybe I’m going through them. Whatever it is, however, I feel I’m starting to get back on track and looking forward to the next challenges that come my way.

The best laid plans of mice and men

Days 2 – 4 3/23/2014 – 3/25/2014 Springer Mountain Shelter – Woody Gap (Suches, GA)

You know when you make great plans of how you think things are going to go and then, when reality unfolds, they all turn to mush? Yes, well that’s exactly what happened to me the past couple of days.

I had this great idea of taking pictures on the way, all the while using my solar charger to keep my phone and iPad buzzing along effortlessly. I would be blogging most nights, adding selected pics and videos like a latter day Alan Whicker (only my Brit friends over about 50 will get this reference). I suppose the clue should have been in the name SOLAR charger, direct sunlight being something of a prerequisite. As we’ve been hiking up and down mountains, winding through heavily wooded forests, that hasn’t happened so much and my phone has barely held sufficient charge for the odd call to my ever-suffering and never-complaining wife.

However, I’ve now pitched up at the Wolf Pen Gap Country Store, in Suches and have access to wifi and unlimited electrical supply. The first thing I have noticed from this trip is how inter-connected we all are and everybody rushed to charge their phones and check their email.

Continue reading The best laid plans of mice and men

Separation

This is really it, on the plane, with the rather symbolic separation of Diane and me, as we are located in seats on the plane one row apart.  It seems appropriate somehow as we ease into this 6 month separation and I’m glad she is coming to Atlanta and beyond with me, delaying the final farewell for a day.  She has been nervous all week as the day has approached and now is keeping as brave a face as possible under the circumstances.

Temporary separation has rarely, if ever, been an issue in my life.  My separations until now have been permanent, willfully walking out on two marriages, never to return.  This is different, though, as I will be coming back joyfully to this marriage in six months time, though I’m sure Diane and I have two different perspectives on the time apart.  I’m going off to have my, probably, last great adventure, while she is the one left behind to keep the house running, preparing me food and looking after her folks.  I’m certainly going to miss her; indeed, home sickness is probably a greater fear for me than bears or injury.  However, I’m not letting the impending distance between us get in the way of embracing this journey to its fullest extent.  I’m ready for the rubber to hit the road or, in this case, the trail.

I had to leave my pepper spray behind in the car, though Diane will mail it to me in about a week or so.  However, irony of ironies, when we went through security, Diane’s bag must have alerted the security team to something and they found her own, smaller pepper spray in her bag.  Naturally, they confiscated it.

Since I had my head shaved, I’ve really felt a calm fall over me, with a quietness of spirit I didn’t know I possessed.  I have talked about this peripherally for years, researched AND talked fervently about it for the past three months and, now that I’m about to walk into the woods for the first time in my life, the talking has to stop and the research is done.  It’s now going to be a case of putting my research into action and simply planting one foot in front of the other 5,000,000 times, which is apparently the number of steps that it takes to complete the Trail.

Tomorrow, I’ll send my first pictures from the Trail itself, so follow along with me and let the fun begin……

Hair today, gone tomorrow

Full head of hairI’ve been something of a silver fox for many years now, with the luxurious grey mane being probably my best feature.  So it may seem rather incongruous of me that today I followed through on my plan to dispense with this mass of grey hair for the duration of my hike.  My lovely wife wasLosing it terribly nervous about the prospect and, to be fair, I was a little uneasy.  However, we went to “His Place,” a great, traditional men’s barber in Ellenton, where Wendell, the proprietor, worked his magic.

The vast majority of my hair was history within seconds, while Wendell, gradually and Baldyefficiently, shaved closer and closer to my skin until I was as bald as a baby’s backside.  Don’t blink as you watch the time lapse video, as you’ll miss the first 95% of the hair in the first two seconds.

I recognize that I now look like an escaped convict, but I’m sure I’ll appreciate it a few weeks from now when the weather starts warming up and nothing nasty can find a home underneath my hat.

By the way, please check the new page on this site.  It is the Last 2,000 Miles and is one I had intended to leave a few weeks, though events have now overtaken me.

 

Food, Glorious Food

As something of a trencherman myself, the rather unappetizing pile of processed rubbish currently sitting on my dining table ready to be packed, has made me a little glum about my food prospects on this trip.  However, my wife slipped neatly into gear last night and made a whole load of lentil soup, then dehydrated it overnight.  I was somewhat dubious when I saw this crispy concoction this morning, yet took some on a hike in Myakka River State Park this afternoon.

I was actually going to try out my tent in conditions other than my living room, so I took some food along to try to get a taste of the whole experience.  I also carried a pack of over 30lbs.  Let me tell you, the first few steps were something of an eye popper, yet I soon got used to it.

Diane has been fairly scathing about the packets of ramen noodles, the Mac n’ Cheese and particularly the Cheddar Potato Soup Mix, which even looks fairly vile from the picture on the packet.  She has drawn my attention to the high salt, fat and sugar content of most of this stuff and today proved to be not only the guardian of my health, but also my personal chef on the trail.  The soup was delicious and I’m only posting now so that you can see my reaction on film when I tasted it. As they say down here, “You can’t fake fresh.”

Loneliness of the long-distance hiker

For the past few months I’ve been preparing for my upcoming hike on the AT and have been concentrating on my kit, toughening up my feet and wearing in my boots.  Ive also been fattening myself up in preparation for the expected weight loss, though I suspect that is more because I am a greedy hog than any conscious effort on my part.  However, one thing that is difficult to prepare for is the loneliness that is necessarily going to be part of my experience at some time or another.

That said, I have had some experience of this in recent weeks, without having been particularly conscious of it.  It is only now, sitting here typing another post, that I’ve become aware of my wife’s brilliant strategy to assist in my preparations. Continue reading Loneliness of the long-distance hiker