Wednesday, March 27, 2013


I've been thinking a lot about how thankful I am for those who have been supporting me on this journey. I am so lucky to have such a supportive group of family, friends, and strangers. AWE has been incredible source of strength and support for me. My family (including AWE's family) has been very supportive of the trek. I wouldn't have been able to start on this journey without their support.

I was surprised at the amount of love and support I got from my friends and coworkers. My going away party at work was completely packed with people. I had this tiny fear that no one would show up, and then so many people showed up that there were people outside the room waiting to get in. It was an amazing experience. People were very generous to me; that generosity has certainly made it easier to take zero days while waiting for the weather to clear.

I have been even more surprised at the generosity of strangers. When people who were leaving the trail heard I was having trouble with my air mattress, they offered up their own. When we were exhausted and needed a ride, one showed up within minutes. When we were exhausted and needed a ride AND a place to stay, one appeared. Before I even realized I needed a better piece of rain gear, one was given. It is amazing how many people have taken on my dream as one that sparks their own imagination.

To the people who have left me comments here or elsewhere, thank you. To the people who have tracked down my cell phone number in order to text me words of encouragment, thank you. To those of you who have given money or time so that my journey might be easier, thank you. If you think of me throughout the day and send good thoughts or prayers my way, thank you. Your words and actions are a great encouragement to me.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Day 19-21: More Zero Days at Fontana Lodge

We've been waiting on the weather to clear in the Smokies for what feels like forever. OWL is restless and ready to get out of here. I, on the other hand, am just fine relaxing by the fire, reading a book, in order to not be completely miserable out on the trail.

Yesterday we had a special treat - Megan from metafilter drove up to meet us & took us into town for errands and dinner. She is super nice and it was a great diversion. We drove to town on the "Tail of the Dragon" 2 lane road; 318 curves over 11 miles...that was quite a ride!

First we went to the outfitters, where I got a foam pad to put under Princess. Two of the guys working at the outfitter had thru hiked the AT, and after asking if we'd had any trail magic that day Wildcat went to the back and got us each a cold microbrew. Then - as if that weren't enough - he walked us over to the gas station and bought us Little Debbie chocolate pies! Said they are perfect trail food - high calories, pretty light, you can burn the box they come in. Can't wait to try it out.

Then on to a brewery for lunch. It was great to have some comfort food - mashed potatoes, bbq chicken, and beer. Megan told us about a get-the-stink-out detergent used by hunters, so we stopped by Walmart to pick some up. Then (after she found out my rain jacket wasn't goretex) she volunteered to give me her extra goretex jacket for the hike. We stopped by her place on the way back to the lodge to pick it up. How awesome is that?? I am comfortable with the idea of trail magic as food or snacks or rides - but not yet accustomed to people being so incredibly nice and offering up their time and possessions to help me on my journey. It is a very humbling experience.

This morning there was a great controvery about whether or not we should stay (my vote) or go (everyone else's vote). Yesterday when I talked with the guys at the outfitter, they both said to wait another day. Snowman (the only person here at the lodge who has been through the Smokies multiple times) said he was waiting at least another day, and maybe until Thursday. And so, after talking with the backcountry office & spending an hour or two trying to get ridgerunner reports, we decided to stay. I know OWL is anxious to go, but I don't want to posthole (step through fresh snow) my way through the Smokies. Plus, my lungs don't like the super cold air.

The weather is supposed to get better tomorrow. I really hope it does. I don't think I can talk the group into staying yet another day.

P.S. I think we made the right decision. The GSMNP twitter feed is reporting that 6 miles from our current location (and at a relatively low elevation) there is a foot of snow on the trail, and 3 foot drifts. Doesn't sound like much fun.

One other thing we learned by calling the ranger station is that the road from Newfound Gap to Gatlinburg is currently closed due to icey road conditions. So we may not be able to resupply in Gatlinburg after all. We picked up some extra food that should take us all the way to standing bear hostel, (the ifirst mail drop outside of the smokies) if needed.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Day 18: Zero day at Fontana lodge

Our second zero day: this time without wineries or wives. The weather today isn't too bad. I am enjoying the day off, but want to be making progress. Lots of hikers are here at the Fontana lodge. We are all a little scared of the Smokes & are waiting on the weather.

This morning I went down to the General Store & Laundromat, and did laundry. (Even though I did laundry a few days ago at NOC...I still like clean clothes). To do laundry means to take off all dirty clothes, put on my rain pants & my rain jacket & my crocs, and wait until the laundry is finished. Everyone in the laundromat was dressed exactly the same. :)

I spent most of the laundry wait time in the general store. Everything is very pricey ($7 for a can of cheez-whiz, $11 for a tiny bag of jerky, $8 for a tiny can of fuel, $40 for a foam sleeping pad). But it is cheaper than getting food at the lodge! So after much consideration I got sandwich stuff for 'breakfast', easy mac for an afternoon snack, and a teriyaki noodle pasta side + salmon pack for dinner. We also got a bottle of red wine, to have with cheese and summer sausage. Maybe that hiker hunger is kicking in, after all. :)

It's been nice to chat with other hikers and have a day to catch up with the journals of those who haven't made it this far yet. PrayerWalker got off the trail at Stecoah Gap. Several others have bailed out as well. Some who I thought were far ahead (Trekker & Pilgrim) were only a day ahead. PathFinder looks like she is doing great.

Snowman & Escargot are holding here for 2 nights. Snowman thrued a few years ago but he & his wife are on their third thru attempt. Since he has been through the Smokies three times before (once in a snowstorm) we are going to follow along with him. Or, at least, we aren't going to leave before he does.

I've caught up on posting to the blog, written email, written postcards, watched basketball, laid in front of the fire, read my Sun magazine (the good one not the trashy one). Getting a little bored but not stir crazy yet. Maybe I'll go soak my feet in the bathtub next. Wild & crazy, I know.

We are all eating hiker food in hopes to save a little money. Scorched Pipes Wilson (scorched because he singed his eyebrows while lighting his pipe in his tent, Pipes because he sings, Wilson because he is STILL carrying a volleyball around) decided to save fuel by using the lodge fireplace to heat up his mashed potatoes. Pretty smart idea!

Day 17: Stecoah Gap to Fontana Dam

15.1 miles
Getting off the mountain last night was one of the best decisions I've made so far. It is amazing what a hot shower and a hot meal can do for my morale. The cabin last night was simple but great. $16 for the cabin plus a few bucks more for a grilled cheese and salad for dinner equals a great night's sleep. I was joking with OWL that if I wrote a book about my adventure I would name it "beer to beer" but I think a more accurate name will be "shower to shower". Even after taking a hiker bath every day (using dehydrated baby wipes) I still manage to have a nice hiker funk going on by the time I get to town. A hot shower is a true luxury!

Old Goat & I got up early in order to be on the trail at sunrise. We decided to slackpack this section in order to stay on schedule. The sunrise was absolutely spectacular as we climbed up Jacob's Ladder. The climb would have been awful with full packs on, but with fresh legs and limited weight in the pack it wasn't too bad. We made really good time overall, but it was a much harder day than the elevation profile hinted at. What we thought was going to be a nice gradual downhill turned out to be a scramble over rocks and trees and eroded hillside. I was tired when we finished but every day I feel stronger.

I saw my first flower yesterday - a little buttercup. 167 miles for one flower - seems worth it. :)

We are going to stay in Fontana for at least one more day. We are about to enter the Smokies, and once we start there isn't a bailout point. The Smokies have the highest elevation on the trail, and it's not someplace I want to weather a storm. There are two weather rumors right now: either rain (and almost freezing temps) during the day, or 6-8 inches of snow. I don't really want to wait - a delay in the plan! - but want to be smart about it. This is supposed to be a fun adventure, after all, and not a "test my survival skills" adventure. There are some people headed up tomorrow. But "zag and the geezers" are holding.

Also - my new sleeping pad arrived via FedEx!!!! And it appears to hold air just fine. I have named it "Princess". So hopefully Princess will last me through the Smokies...and beyond!

This week was really tough. But I knew the trail would be a trial when I started, and I am just trying to roll with the punches and not spend too much time worrying about the "what ifs". Even though it's been hard, the AT has been good to me so far. Every step is a step closer to Maine.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Day 16: Sassafrass Gap Shelter to Stecoah Gap

Well, last night was *miserable*. It started snowing about 10:30pm last night. It was 16 degrees when we woke up this morning. And, I spent the entire night on the shelter floor (no insulation). The old leaky sleeping pad lasted about 3 hours between deflations, and the new one lasted about 20 minutes.

I don't think I have ever been so cold. My sleeping bag kept me pretty warm, at least the parts of me that weren't on the ground. When it started snowing last night I broke out the space blanket (thanks Wael!) and wrapped it around the sleeping pad, so that helped keep some of the cold air from the shelter floor out. Still - cold and miserable. I didn't sleep hardly at all. I knew it was almost sunrise because it stopped getting colder.

A tip for keeping your water reservoir hose from freezing while you hike: Blow the water back into the reservoir after you finish taking a drink. Then clip the hose so the mouthpiece is high up; this causes the water to flow back into the reservoir instead of collecting at the mouthpiece and freezing.

I walked with Old Goat & Silver Streak today. Decided pretty early (like, 1am) that I did not want to spend another freezing night in the woods, so I looked up hostels in the area and found one that picks up at Stecoah Gap. Old Goat went into town with me. We are going to slackpack 15 miles tomorrow to get to Fontana on schedule.

Speaking of on schedule, Big Agnes did not overnight my sleeping pad originally so it is scheduled to be here Monday. Agh! I called them and they upgraded to overnight, but they can't guarantee it will be here tomorrow (Friday) because it is already in transit. I am trying to be cool about it, have a "whatever happens, happens" attitude but I am freaking out a little bit. I don't want to wait around for 2 hiking days for a sleeping pad that may or may not work. But Fontana is basically a resort town & doesn't have an outfitter per se. So we will see what happens.

Called AWE to talk about all the options. I was saying - well if I am going to stay in Fontana for 3 days why not go home? And she said - honey I love you but you have to stay on the trail. Even if it means you pay for a hotel room. If you come home it will make it hard to go back.

She is right. There is a piece of me still looking for an excuse to quit. I have to make sure that piece does not win.

Day 15: NOC to Sassafras Gap Shelter

6.9 miles

A long hike up out of NOC. Actually walked with OWL for quite a bit of it. She is slower on the uphills than I am (or maybe she was just letting me lead for a day). Met a few thru hikers from New York: Clever Girl, Apollo, and DumpTruck. Pretty nice folks. Also saw the guy with a ferret, Domino. (Yep, he took a ferret onto the AT. His name is whatever meal time it usually when I see him it is Dinner).

Today is AWE & I's 9th anniversary. I did remember to hide a card and a gift before I left. I'm so glad I got to FaceTime with her yesterday.

I was super nervous about the "Jump Up" on the map, especially after the "Jump Off" going down into NOC. But it wasn't too bad. Met up with Silver Streak & Old Goat, and walked the super steep part up with them.

There was lots of room at the shelter, so I set up my sleeping pad & bag...then went to rinse my socks. Got back to the shelter and the sleeping pad had deflated. Damn it! I called Big Agnes (remarkably I had data service to look up their number), and they are shipping a new one to Fontana. I am nervous about it, though. It will be very cold in the Smokies (highest elevations yet) and we will have to tent. (The Smokies permit system allows section hikers to reserve spots in the shelters, but thru hikers have to tent if the shelters are full). I may pick up a foam pad just in case.

It is supposed to be cold tonight, in the teens. I ate instant grits for dinner (oh how the South has worn off on me), plus cheezits, gorp, dried pineapple, and some chocolate. Hope it keeps me warm.

There is a group of about 15 college kids here on their spring break, learning to lead courses in backpacking/rock climbing/etc. They are doing a section hike SOBO from Franklin to NOC. Noisy and loud but it is funny to watch the college girls fawn over the stinky thru hiker boys. There is a huge bonfire. Glad I have earplugs.

Day 14: Wesser Shelter to NOC

5.9 miles
Survived the night ok. No tornados our way and the storm was steady but not terrible. My tent stayed dry but the air mattress thing is out of control. I had to blow it up about every 2 hours during the night. Combine that with sleeping on a hill...makes for a very grumpy zag.

I went to get water in this cool little spot, the spring feeds into this old concrete box, which has a spout on it. Super easy to get water, and the sun was shining just right through the trees. Reminded me of that hymn I haven't heard in years "morning by morning new mercies I see..." I'm not sure what it is about being out in the woods but I have hymns going through my head all the time. (And I haven't been to church - except for weddings and baptisms and visits home - for years).

Called NOC and reserved a bunkhouse room for OWL & I.

Since we had a reservation I knew she wouldn't go on to the next shelter. Too bad I can't make reservations at the shelters. :) So I took my time up and down the mountains. Pay attention to the breath. Pay attention to the step.

There were some dramatic dropoffs today. One spot - the "Jump Off" was really scary! I was hiking along the top of the ridge, with the mountain dropping off on both sides, and suddenly the mountain dropped off the front, too! I looked behind me...thinking maybe I missed a blaze. Looked down to the right side and saw a blaze on a mess of boulders. That was the only way down! So...I went down. (I would have taken a picture but I am a *little* afraid of heights and thought I might drop the camera or myself off the cliff!)

Made it down to NOC. It is basically a 6 mile steep downhill from the shelter. Got beer and ice cream at the general store, then set up my wet things to dry on the deck of the bunkhouse, then got a shower. (Priorities!)

I stopped by the outfitter to see if they could help find the leak. Turns out it was in the bottom seam of the mattress, so they gave me a new one. Nice!

My favorite part of town, by far, is being able to FaceTime with AWE. I miss her so much!

Day 13: Wayah Shelter to Wesser Shelter

10.6 miles
Started out this morning wanting to go to Cold Spring Shelter, like our "plan" stated. An easy 6 miles. I was pretty set on it, too. My knee is acting up and I needed an easy day.

Well, I got there about 12:30 and had lunch. Saw OWL, John the storyteller, Silver Streak, and Old Goat. Ate a little (I am trying to eat more) and then it was sort of decided that we were all going to take off for the next shelter. I was sort of pissed about it. The "plan" said we could stop, and I wanted to stop! But everyone else wanted to keep going. So on I went.

Hiked through fog and cold and rain. It was really cool to watch the fog roll in through the mountains. The colors in nature are really vivid when it is foggy and raining.

Got to our designated stopping point & OWL was no where to be seen. I did catch up with Old Goat, who said she & John were way ahead. He said - "look, you don't have to try to catch them. Just hike at your own pace and you will get there. Personally I want to enjoy my hike and not rush through it."

That made me feel a lot better. We walked together for a while and talked - he is a pretty interesting guy. I really like talking with people while I hike, and it was nice to walk with someone slower and older than me but just as determined.

Soon after I decided NOT to go to the hostel it started pouring down buckets of rain, thunder and lightning, the smell of ozone in the air. But, I didn't want to go backwards, and I didn't want to lose pace with OWL, so I just kept trekking to the shelter. By the time I got to the shelter I was sopping wet - even rain gear eventually gets wet. (Rain gear doesn't breathe, either, so sweat just accumulates inside the jacket). No room left in the shelter, so I set up my tent. It was on a slope but it stayed dry inside. My air mattress is really losing air fast. I can't seem to find the leak. But maybe if it keeps raining I can just find a big mud puddle.

Day 12: Winding Stair Gap to Wayah Bald Shelter

11 miles
(side note: this hotel's computer is on dialup and using IE6. Lord help me).

We were dropped off by the shuttle at Winding Stair Gap around 10am. The shuttle was smack full of hikers; one person in each available seat with a pack in each lap (and some hikers standing in the aisle). Easy to get in, hard to get out. Saw that the Sapphire motel (hotel, holiday inn) had a swimming pool - could have used that to fix my air mattress which is still very leaky!

Several folks are slackpacking this section and staying a hostel run by Wiggy. We are not.

Pretty nice day but slow going. Lots of uphill and I am tired. I didn't sleep well last night; being in town brings out the night owl in me. We had really nice trail magic by a dude named Fresh Ground. Hot dogs, chicken soup, hot chocolate, trail mix, gatorade, etc. Ate two hot dogs and laid in the sun. Then set off again. The hot dogs did not help my trail speed. My pack weighed in at 38 lbs. Too much food.

OWL left me in the dust, as usual. Everything hurts...pretty sure I have tendenitis in both knees (hurts going downhill) and my outer right knee is panging pretty bad. OWL is always pushing for more miles and I am struggling to stay with her. Whenever I see other hikers they tell me how long it's been since OWL passed them. Kind of funny, actually. But kind of not. I am worn out and had a little sobbing fit on top of a mountain. I'm sick of playing catch up. Just have to hike my own hike.

Probably the toughest day so far, emotionally.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Day 11: Wallace Gap to Winding Stair Gap

3.1 miles
We decided to stay an extra day in Franklin. I need to go to the outfitter, and my feet need a day to recover. Because we had such a big day yesterday we are still on schedule, even with today's Nero. (A Nero is a "near zero"...where you hike just a few miles).

We caught a ride out to Wallace Gap with a trail maintainer. Super nice guy - didn't catch his name but his dog is named espn (pronounced esspin). Found out some cool stuff about how they built the long branch shelter - the wood was donated, and they were able to get most of it to within a few hundred feet of the site via old roads - and how they chose the spot for it (its a combined effort between the at conservancy, the forest service, and the local hiking club). Interesting guy. He told us to check out a local pub/coffee shop after our little hike.

The 3.1 mile hike was nice. I didn't carry a pack, just hiked with my sticks. Funny that it takes me about 1.5 miles to warm up my feet/knees/legs...with or without a pack. Good to know. OWL always likes to go fast at the beginning of the day to warm up her core body temp. I like to go slow until everything wakes up.

Hitched a ride back into Franklin (hi Mom, please don't worry!) with a nice guy who who works in metal alloy trading. He told us a little history of the area (his wife works with the historical society) - that was really interesting. I like learning about the areas we are hiking through. I am finding the locals to be super friendly and helpful, so far. (Probably helps that we are super friendly and helpful also!)

When we got back to the hotel, country mile was in the parking lot of the motel, renting a car. He gave us a big hug and said if we needed to go anywhere to let him know. Also saw Pipes.

There is a "hiker box" in front of the hotel that has discarded gear. Lots of oatmeal and grits. A "dream pillow", some measuring cups, a big can opener, and an entire bottle of Italian seasoning. I grabbed an almost empty container of Epsom salts, washed out our two garbage cans, and soaked my feet...while my shorts dried in the sun. Because I am a classy hiker. ;)

We went to the 76 outfitter in the middle of town. I bought a new long sleeved wicking shirt (to sleep in), some body glide, and some electrolyte tablets. They were super awesome and let us print off USPS shipping labels, and will take our boxes by the post office on Monday. Really great folks there.

We stopped by the pub/coffee shop and had a cup of cider, some cheese bread, and split a mushroom/spinach/provolone calzone. Because apparently I crave veggies and carbs. Got back to the motel in time for the 4pm shuttle to Walmart. Wow, that was an experience. There is so much stuff in Walmart. I always found Walmart a little overwhelming *before* the hike, now I am just astounded by the amount of stuff that is available. We went straight to the fruit, and picked out a mango, an apple, a few bananas, and some spinach for dinner. Got some yogurt for breakfast and some tortillas for trail lunches. We split a half gallon of chocolate soy milk in the parking lot while waiting for the shuttle.

Talked with a dude named "outside dog" for a while. He met a girl at springer and is going to spend a week off with her. New love is so cute.

Went in to the hiker lounge to type up these notes on a computer, and met peace walker, who has been reading this blog. What a small world! We are all planning to leave on the 9am shuttle tomorrow. Nice to have some new friends to hike with.

I have a slow leak in my sleeping pad that has been driving me crazy. I have to reinflate it around 3am so my hip bones don't hurt when I sleep on my side. I tried running soapy water over bubbles. Tried blocking the shower to fill up the bottom luck. I really need a bathtub to find the leak. Bathtubs are hard to come by on the trail. :)

Also, my feet are much better. The right foot doesn't hurt any longer, and the left foot is almost healed up. Now if my knees would just catch up. Outside dog gave me some tips for using the sticks on downhills, so hopefully those will help. I am guessing I have some tendinitis in my knees.

When it comes right down to it, all that matters is people, water, food, and miles. In that order.

Day 10: Carter Gap Shelter to Wallace Gap

12.8 miles
Staying in the shelter was nice - it is far more social than staying in the tent. Of course I had trouble falling asleep. I have had a lot of trouble eating and sleeping so far.

i think the problem with eating is that we don't really have designated eating times, and we have been snacking a lot during the day. I can't bring myself to cook in the morning, so I've just been drinking my special protein powder/nesquik mix and heading out.

Sleeping wise, I am a night person. Sonit is especially hard to go to sleep at 7pm. Also, i am nervous about bears. Especially since my odor proof bag tore. I'll pick another one up in town.

Woke up at 5:30 am, anxious for the alarm to go off. I was happy when OWL got ready faster than trekker and pilgrim. Less so when I was still the slowest of the bunch. Once I get into a routine it will be better.

The first 4 miles went by super fast. OWL wanted to make it to Franklin, but I wasn't sure my feet would make it. We stopped in a rhododendron grove for the most beautiful vista yet. The sun was coming up over the rows of mountains. A spectacular sight.

We got to Albert mountain - wow, what a crazy climb. This is the first time I have seem a blue blazed trail specifically as a shortcut (and not just to water or a shelter). Basically, the climb was .4 mile of rock climbing with a pack and hiking sticks. Scary but exhilarating. I was thinking - the only way I'm going home is if I get hurt, or if a family member needs me. And I really thought it might happen in Albert Mtn. But we both made it to the top without incident and wow, I felt strong. Really it was the best I have felt all trip, like I can do anything. I can do the things that scare me. I can do this!

The view from the top of Albert Mtn. Was great. There is a cool fire tower on top of the mountain that used to be a live-in ranger station. We had a very nice rest on top of the mountain.

Our first plan was to stop at the brand new Long Branch Shelter, but we blew past that stop at 1pm. We did stop by to get water and use the privy. The shelter still had that new shelter smell....absolutely beautiful. But we pressed on to Rock Gap shelter. We were going to spend the night there, then get up early and hike the 4 miles to winding stair gap, and hitch a ride into town. But the Rock Gap shelter was awful...obviously abused as a party spot by the locals. We didn't really *want* to keep going, but we wanted to stay even less. We stopped at the next gap, Wallace Gap, where we were able to call the Franklin Budget Inn for a room and a shuttle.

The shuttle pulled up, and trekker and pilgrim were inside! They had made it to winding stair (3 miles further) and called the same motel for a shuttle pickup. Pretty neat. It is starting to feel like a big family, because you see the same people over and over.

I have never been so happy to see a shitty hotel room in my entire life. The room has two beds, a toilet and shower, a fridge and microwave, and a small little tv on a rolling cart. But it is more than I need. I ate a burger and some onion rings, split a 6 pack of fat tire with OWL, and talked with AWE via FaceTime. A very excellent day indeed.

Day 9: Standing Indian shelter to Carter Gap shelter

7.6 miles
A little freaked out about the elevation climb today but it wasn't so bad. Nice wide trail on a gradual uphill for most of it. The ground is completely frozen in most spots (or totally muddy, mudsliding should be in the hiker olympics). One cool thing i have been noticing is mud icicles; i guess it happens when water freezes above and below the mud. It looks like stalagmites growing out of the mud. And once the mud is broken up there are icicles on both sides!

We got to the shelter no problem, and pretty early...good thing since we got such a late start. We are staying in the shelter tonight...a first for us. Hopefully it will allow us to get out early (since we don't have to tear down the tents).

Seems like everyone is either retired (older than us) or just out of high school or college (younger than us). I feel really lucky to have the opportunity to do this Now.

At the shelter tonight are country mile (he) and crossroads (she), 75 and 72 years old. They are really friendly and I really have enjoyed talking with them along the way. We first ran into them just before the freak ice storm a few days ago. Also two guys from California, trekker and pilgrim. They worked together for 30 years. Pipes stopped by - apparently last night he took a swig out of his denatured alcohol (fuel) bottle and had a terrible night. But he is ok. He is still trying to catch up with his buddy, detour. He still had a volleyball - said it was too big to fit in the box he mailed home. I would have shipped another box, I think!

Pilgrim warned us they got up early - 6:15 - so we decided to get up then also and try to get a jump on the day.

I have been terribly homesick all day. I miss AWE like crazy. I think the longest we have been apart during our 9 years together is 5 days. She is my best friend and it is really hard to be so far away. Thankfully we have had cell service, sometimes it is not good enough to call but texts usually get through.

I can feel myself getting stronger, and I am definitely having fun. But being away from home is tough. I am so thankful to have such a supportive family (and extended family) and friends.

OWL gave me a hug this afternoon, that helped a little bit. I bet you could make a killing if you charged $1 for a hug at a shelter a few days away from a town.

Day 8: Bly Gap to Standing Indian Shelter

7.7 miles

Not much happened today. Lots of rock hopping on the downhill...more than expected. The good thing about hiking in North Carolina is that the trail (so far) is a much gentler grade. And it doesn't insist on going to the absolute top of every mountain we climb over. In Georgia you think you are at the top...then you have another 500 feet climb up to the top.

We got to deep gap and there was an old dude on his cell phone, describing some hikers who were "prepared to spend the night". Turns out he had driven from Florida with three other guys, and they were planning to section hike to Franklin. Except, the 3 guys took off and got themselves lost before they even got on the AT. He was on the phone with the forest service to get help finding them.

We went on to the shelter. Met a dude named Dozer (like bulldozer, because he just goes through anything on the trail). He hiked the northern part of the trail last year, and is back to finish the southern half. Pretty nice guy. He was a little concerned about sleeping cold; the low in Franklin was supposed to be 24, and we were 2000 feet higher. (The rule for predicting temps in the mountains is 3.6 degrees cooler for every 1000 feet higher). Dozer had a hammock and a 30 degree bag, so he was going to sleep in the shelter.

The lost hikers were found, and got to the shelter way before sunset. They went the wrong way on a trail and hiked a couple miles before dead ending and realizing their mistake. They acted like it was no big deal but I think the guy did the right thing by calling for help when he they didn't show up 6 hrs after they were supposed to.

OWL washed her shorts, and hung them to dry in the sun. They froze solid before the sun went down, and had icicles hanging off the corners!

We slept in our tents (slightly warmer than the shelter). One trick Is to heat up water and put into a nalgene/platypus, then put the nalgene in your sleeping bag with you. Oooh warm feet are the best.

Managed to sleep okay. Old dude said his watch said it was 19 before windchill. I have a 15 degree bag, a silk liner (adds about 5 degrees), and a 15 degree insulated sleeping pad. I did wake up in the middle of the night with one hand absolutely freezing, it was outside the sleeping bag. All that technology doesn't help if you sleep with parts out in the cold!

I was super slow getting out of camp (as usual...this is no different than at home). I just kept hoping the sun would melt the frost off my tent!

I am not eating enough. I have zero appetite and it is hard to eat, even when I think of food as fuel.

An announcement

Please forgive the sporadic updates. I can only update when I have data service, which is not often.

Day 7: Dicks Creek Gap to Bly Gap

9 miles
Wow, adding 15 lbs of food and water really weighs you down! I had a really hard time saying goodbye to AWE. I am going to miss her so much. My feet hurt. My knees hurt. I am scared of the unknown. But once we got going it was okay.

We had some really weird weather. It was pretty windy so we had our rain gear on. When we were getting ready to head up yet another mountain, we ran into a group of 2 guys and a girl running down the mountain. The guy had a HUGE backpack on and I was so astounded by the size of it that I didn't really notice when he said "there's ice up there". I just thought - yeah - ice - whatever. But when we got about half mile up we saw what he meant. The trees were spitting ice at us. Not hail. Not sleet. But 1-2 inch long cylindrical pieces of ice. We just plowed through it as fast as possible. When we reached the summit, suddenly the ice stopped. It was blue skies and perfect weather on one side of the summit, and blowing wind and ice on the other. So weird.

We originally were debating between staying at the shelter (4 miles) or camping 6.3 miles in. When we got to the campsite we decided we felt well enough to keep going to the campsite at Bly Gap - just inside the North Carolina border!

On the way to the border we heard a guy playing a mandolin behind us. He followed us for about 2 miles. Kinda nice at first but then it felt like I was in an Indian-style blair witch project flick. Dude doesn't have a tent but he has a ukelele and (we found out later) jeans and a nice shirt for town. He is just staying shelter to shelter. HYOH (hike your own hike).

Feet feel ok. It was nice to get texts from people all day - AWE knew I was feeling apprehensive about the day and had people send little encouragements throughout the day. Pretty nice to feel the support from everyone.

P.s. what is causing this blue wood I see everywhere? Don't think it is pine beetle...I am not a tree expert but can't tell what kind of wood it is.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Day 6: addis gap to dicks creek gap

The first mile nobo (northbound) from addis gap is sometimes called "the longest mile" because it gains over 1000 feet in elevation with no real place to rest. Lucky for me, I can rest on the upbound. :)

It was foggy and windy and rainy. I am getting used to the clothing changes, take off layers on the uphill (ie when you are working up a sweat), then put them on for the downhill. Not that downhill is much easier; there are many things to trip up the feet and mud holes to navigate through, but I don't sweat as much.

Clothing changes are harder to do when it is super nasty out. When it's raining or snowing or icing, you don't really want to stop. So most of the time I have been hiking in a short sleeve wool tshirt, and my rain jacket.

We made pretty good time to dicks creek gap, only saw one other hiker (snow frog) and ended up giving him a ride to hiawassee. Ate a last meal - Italian - and went back to the hotel to figure out how to stuff everything in my pack. Easier said than done. 10 lbs of food and 4.4 lbs of water really weighs down my pack, but there's not much to be done about it. I already decided to leave the nook at home, along with my extra short sleeve shirt, and about half my med kit. We'll see how it goes, I guess. By the time we get to Franklin maybe we will have some more ideas about what to trim down.

Day 5: our first zero

We spent our first zero in the company of our wives. We ate a delicious breakfast, went to a winery, went shopping for last minute items (a baseball cap!) and just generally enjoyed ourselves. Pretty nice!

Monday, March 11, 2013

Day 4: Unicoi Gap to Addis Gap

After the 14 mile excursion yesterday we decided not to hike 17 miles today. the new "plan" was to evaluate at Tray mtn (4 miles) or Addis gap (12 miles). About half a mile from the Tray mountain parking lot a nice lady fighting to keep her dirty girl gaiters on her hiking boots said there was some really great trail magic up ahead. Sure enough, a Boy Scout troop from Baldwin, Georgia had set up a breakfast feast: pancakes, eggs, juice, milk, and Gatorade. Well, after eating pancakes I couldn't very well call for a bailout at Tray Mtn, so we kept walking.

Met a few other thru hikers at the hiker feed, most of them young and fast. They were complaining about a weekend hiker at the shelter who passed a kidney stone last night. His agony kept everyone awake, but apparently he was ready to go this morning. Glad we weren't there.

We saw a hiker taking a break on a log, looking thoroughly dejected. I asked him if he was hiking with Donny (aka pipes), thinking maybe this was the lost hiking partner. He was not, but said he stayed in the shelter last night with pipes. "That dude needs an intervention with his 50 lb pack...he has a volleyball in there!"

When we got to Addis gap we realized we forgot one crucial bit of information: which way to walk on the forest service road to meet the truck. No cell service anywhere (the gaps I keep talking about are really the spaces in between mountains, so cell service is very limited). Luckily a couple of day hikers with pbr in hand said they saw a lady in a truck down the road to the east. So we went east, and a half hour or so later we found a very jolly a&e...they had been touring north Georgia's finest wineries and were very pleased with their findings.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Day 3: Hogpen Gap to Unicoi Gap

We hiked hard today, about 14 miles. It was absolutely beautiful again; sunny and in the high 50s. Saw a little plane fly overhead. So weird - totally out of context. Met two more hikers. DixieGrits (older guy from Mississippi who says he wants to move to Virginia, too many rednecks and too many republicans.) "Rednecks are everywhere", said owl. "Republicans too", I said.

Eventually dixiegrits stopped to eat lunch, and we passed him for the day. We caught up to a young guy who we heard singing his heart out across the mountain. Owl gave him the trail name Pipes. We'll see if it sticks. He was worried because he had lost his hiking partner the day before. We both know how much that sucks, so were sympathetic. He said his pack weighs 50 lbs. Oofta.

My feet are still hurting. Think I have new blisters from where the old ones were taped. Ugh. I was so happy to get to our destination for the day, ahead of schedule! Slackpacking is awesome, but there is pressure to be at a specific place at a specific time. If we were tenting it, we could just stop whenever. But if we were tenting, we wouldn't have delicious Mexican food for dinner, or our lovely wives greeting us, or hot baths, or fluffy beds.

Day 2: Neels Gap to Hogpen Gap

6.4 miles in almost perfect weather. We left Neels Gap about 11am. It was a little windy but warm enough, I had my rain jacket on (for wind) but took it off about half a mile up the mountain. Started to take a drink from my camelback, and water started pouring from the hose onto the ground! A little yellow piece that serves as the stopper had fallen off. Not good! Luckily it is bright yellow, so I was able to find it quickly.

The trees were still covered with snow and ice, and the snow started melting as soon as the sun came out. We had snow falling on our heads all the way up the trail. It was so pretty.

Owl built a little snowman next to the trail, with a maple leaf for a hat. You can tell we don't see snow much where we're from. :)

Up and down, up and down. Take layers off, put them back on. As the snow and ice melted the trail turned to mud. Cold mud. (At least it's not ice!). Met a couple of thru hikers from Ohio. Didn't catch their names but we kept flip flopping up the trail with them. We'd hike in front, stop to take a break, they'd catch us, hike for a bit, stop to take a break, on and on. It is nice to meet others with the same goal. Although everyone seems to be a little hesitant at first. Like we're not super comfortable calling ourselves thru hikers yet. Everyone knows that only 10-20% of hikers will make it to kathahdin. We are all out here to beat the odds.

I have ended up with matching blisters on each foot near my arch (heel side). I even put leukotape on the hotspots, and aired mu feet out at lunch. Didn't help. I think it is the superfeet insoles I've been using. I wore them around town and hiked a nit in them, but not over the terrain we've been hiking. Got a pair of new insoles, will see if it helps anything tomorrow. For now, antibiotic gel, bandaids, and tape. A cheeseburger, a bath, and sleep.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Day 1: Woody Gap to Neels Gap

Since owl & I had already finished the trail from amicaloa falls to woody gap in December, we decided to start our slackpack at woody gap. We left Alabama early in the morning, and arrived around 11am to blowing snow and howling winds. A group of hikers were huddled near the small stone outhouse building, and while we were getting ready most of the hikers got into a van and headed towards town. But not us! We were ready to hike, even if the windchill was in the low double digits.

We donned our rain gear (moderately wind proof) and balaclavas and set off. The wind was unbelievable. But once we got out of the gap, the wind started blowing above us. It was still howling and whistling but since it wasn't directly hitting us, the hike became very meditative.

Our water reservoir hoses froze almost immediately, and we spent some time trying to devise ways to keep them warm. Eventually we gave up and after breaking up the ice in the hose and sucking like hell to get the water through, we would blow the water back into the reservoir to keep the hose ice-free. This worked pretty well.

The snow and wind slowed us down significantly, and I spent part of the hike thinking about bailout scenarios (like, we could put on all our clothes, get in our bags, and huddle up in one tent in that little cave). Kinda scary but I would rather be thinking about it and not need it than the reverse.

By the time we got to Blood Mountain we were pretty wiped. The blood mountain shelter is super creepy - completely made of stone and by itself on top of the mountain. The once existent fireplace is blocked off with stone, and there was an inch of snow on the stone cold (ha ha) floor.

We had 1.5 miles downhill to go, and 1.5 hrs before dark. That sounds like a lot of time, but we knew it would be close. The trail down the mountain is about 1/3 slick rock (covered with snow and ice), 1/3 normal trail (covered with snow and ice), and 1/3 rock steps (covered with snow and ice). Several times I sat down and slid, using my hiking poles for navigation. It was cold but it felt far less treacherous than navigating the ice.

Sunset was really cool, the colors of the sunset were reflected in the snow covered landscape. So first it was orange, then yellow, then red. It was really pretty but we had other priorities besides photography. We kept on trucking, headlamps on, and arrived at the parking lot just as it got dark. Awe and a. were there, ready to whisk us away to beer, pizza, and a hot bath.