Day 34: Making Miles and Blazes

Appalachian Trail: Day #34

Shelton Gravesite –> Bald Mountain Shelter: 21.7 miles

Total AT Miles: 325.3

(Current Whereabouts: Pearisburg, VA @ Mile 634.6)

Yesterdays funk cleared making today all about the miles. I hike fast but still stop for photos and to meet new folks.

I met Breezy at the Shelton Graves campsite. She began hiking Sobo (southbound) last year and had to get off trail for a while due to fractured feet. Ouch!

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The trail crosses this road and climbs the stairs over the barbed wire fence.

Messages from the trail.

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I found this bag hanging in a tree. Trail magic oreos!!!
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Making a white blaze!
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A trail maintenance crew.

The trail crew behind the oreo magic. Thanks guys!

The Appalachian Trail winding through the countryside.

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Dr. Kool-Aid left me a note so I’d know where they were headed. I love trail notes!

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Signs on shelters direct us to water and privies; the only things we need in life!

The trail crosses the road next to the Tennessee welcome center then heads back into the woods. Welcome to Tennessee! We’ve been walking it’s border with North Carolina for a while now.

I run into Dr. Kool-Aid again up on the hill. What’s up buddy! Long time no see.

We see this shack down a muddy road. Curiosity draws us closer and we take some photos. After walking back up the hill, and sitting to catch our breath, we ponder what we were thinking…

 

Views and poo?! I’m not sure of my obsession with poo photos… maybe someone can tell me what it is.

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Walking up Big Bald on a cloudy, threatening day.

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Thankfully, the weather is kind once more and we only deal with occasional bouts of drizzle.

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The trail winds off Big Bald and through the odd shaped bald below.

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Blazes on posts.
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Clouds cowering in the sky. Can clouds cower?! For alliterations sake, eh?

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We arrive at the shelter at dark and I sleep like someone who hiked 22 miles!

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Day 33: Rocks that Speak

Appalachian Trail: Day #33

Jerry Cabin Shelter –> Shelton Gravesite: 3.5 miles

Total AT Miles: 303.6

(Current Location: Pearisburg, Va – 634.6 miles)

I walk through the woods in a daze when I stumble upon rocks that are the ground we walk on. A white patch of clean granite(?) looks like a blaze. I know the trail leads on but I wander up the slick rock anyway to find an overlook not marked on the map. I drop my pack as a voice as cold and distant as the mountains yonder beckons me to stay. I think of another hiker who says the trees commune with and guide her. I stay.

I know the voice is my own mind, an instinct or my subconscious, yet I ponder why it would speak to me though the rocks and not directly. Perhaps it knew I may not listen. I am attuned to myself though my mind still wanders. I do not always listen.

I find a nook in the rock to fit my butt. I sit, crossing my legs, and I breathe. I become aware of birds fluttering and chattering in the trees surrounding me. I hear the sounds of civilization in the valley far below.

When my mind stills, I dredge up the thoughts that plague my mind. I inhale them to the top of my conscious then, on the exhale, release them into the world. After a few rounds of breathe my body tingles. I am no longer troubled. I am fully in the moment.

Hours later after meeting many hikers stopping for the view as well, the rocks speak to me again. With urgency, they tell me it is time to go. I previously planned to stay cowboy-camping in this beautiful place. I listen once more and I walk.

It is late, an hour from dark. I see smoke rising through the trees. A drizzle begins to fall. I thought I would hike on until dark but whatever this voice is, obviously not the rocks, guides me to the camp. I walk up the path to Shelton Graves and meet a south-bound hiker. She built a bonfire. I cowboy camp here and we talk into the night around the warmth of the blaze.

Morning in the camping area at the Jerry Cabin Shelter. I lay around my tent. Dr. Kool-Aid joins me for coffee.

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We walk through open fields of red plants and still lifeless trees.

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The rocks that spoke to me.
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Lino, a thru-hiker from California(?). His family is from El Salvador.
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Kristin, whose trail name is now Arrow, and Firefly. Both thru hiking.
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Sun tea with honey brewing in the sun on this rock.
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Rice and beans for dinner cooked in sun tea. It was the only water I had.
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I cut the hair out of my eyes with my knife.
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Earl Grey!
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Bright Bags who is also from Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh!!!
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Stairs holding the slope together in the mud. Imagine this in the rain…

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Day 32: Two Paths Diverged in a wood. I chose the one more trodden.

Appalachian Trail: Day #32

Spring Mountain Shelter –> Jerry Cabin Shelter: 15.4 miles

Total AT Miles: 300.1

(I made the cover of my own blog! There’s a first.)

We wake in the cold with the ground coated in a dusting of icy snow. We walk into the shelter bundled in all of our clothes and we cook a hearty breakfast that should see us through till lunch.

It is hard to leave when your hands are too numb to pack your bag, but we somehow manage. We pass another trail-magic cooler, this one empty as well. Our luck has not been good on the coolers. Then again, it’s the early bird that gets the worm and we are far from early birds.

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Thankfully, the sun arrives in time for lunch. We eat. Then, still bundled in everything we own, we lay down in the sun for a nap.

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We hike on refreshed and rejuvenated. The guidebook mentioned a view.

What we found was an exposed ridge-line making us feel we walked the edge of the Earth.

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The trail presented us with a choice: The AT or a bad-weather blue-blazed trail. This time when two paths diverged in a wood, we chose the one more trodden.

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The trail is certainly treacherous here. One wrong step and you’re falling a very long way.

Dr. Kool-Aid and myself stop for some fun with photography, staging our own little photo shoot.

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The trail continues along the rocky ridgeline.

Sometimes climbing straight down.

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Dr. Kool-Aid and I hike on into the sunset, arriving at the Jerry Cabin Shelter with just enough light to set up our tents. We fire up our stoves in the dark, both of us starving. I opt for mac n’ cheese. My go-to. Then we crash, exhausted from a long (for us) day.

 

 

 

Day 31: Goodbye Hot Springs

 

Appalachian Trail: Day #31

Hot Springs, North Carolina –> Spring Mountain Shelter: 11 miles

Total AT Miles: 284.7

Morning in the Laughing Heart Hostel on our final day in Hot Springs is a depressing, stressful time. At least before the walking begins. But I always feel like this during the transition between stationary and moving. And it always passes once my pack is swung onto my back or my leg over the bar of my bike.

I cook breakfast for myself, Orion, and Bahala Nah whose birthday is today. I scramble another dozen eggs while the spaghetti ingredients – onion, sausage, and tomato – cook. I fry the eggs and add the filling. To top the omelettes, I add leftover spaghetti sauce made by Orion last night and as much parmigiana as I dare. Delicious, filling, and fun to make. I miss cooking on a “real” stove.

Orion leaves heading up the trail. I spend a while longer working on the blog then walk out of town myself ending the anxiety of the morning. My pack is heavy and the walk is a bit of an uphill slog. We make it to camp before dark just in time for snow to fall.

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Orion made spaghetti dinner for us last night so I cooked breakfast.
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Orion enjoying his omelette.
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Appalachian Trail: Maine to Georgia!
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The hallway of the Laughing Heart Hostel.
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Tie of the Laughing Heart Hostel and her touring bike that a tired tourer practically gave to her. Somebody was tired of bike touring 😦
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These guys are stocking the stream in Hot Springs with trout.
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Flying fish!
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Lindsay and Patrice are filming for a documentary on female thru-hikers. www,thruATdoc.com
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Linsay and Patrice interviewing Lady Catherine.
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The river flowing through Hot Springs.
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Leaving Hot Springs, the trail turns off the road and follows the river.
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Then climbs a rocky mountain.
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Someone drew this on a tree. Art or Graffiti?
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Little flowers along the trail.
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Dr. Kool-Aid taking in the serenity of this pond on a lunch break.

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A bridge crosses the highway. I
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“Love all. Exclude none.”
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Squeezing water through a Sawyer water filter into the bladder of his pack.
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And time for a back-flush. Water filters clog over time. To clear them out, Dr. Kool-AId simply allows water to flow from the bladder in his pack back through the filter into the dirty water bag.
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This mouse looks so peaceful in his little grave: a hollow of a tree.
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The hollow where the mouse lies to rest.
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The view from a tower on top of a mountain.
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Descending in the wet, windy conditions felt a little sketchy.
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Cherokee Nation Forest.

An Update and Trail Days: May 15th

Appalachian Trail: Day #68

Damascus, VA (Again)

Total AT Miles: 589.9

Kodak here signing in from Damascus, Va. Mountain Goat, My Shadow, Firecracker, and myself caught a ride here late Wednesday night to attend the Trail Days Festival. Trail Days celebrates hiking with the town swelling from a population of ~800 to an estimated 15,000 people. The main event of the festival is a hiker parade. Current and former thru-hikers tramp through town while locals bathe away our smell with water guns. The town also fills with vendors competing for business, repairing worn-out gear, and hosting gear give-a-ways.

After vendors vend their wares, hikers party around their fires. A field fills with tents so close walking becomes a gnarled maze of tripwires. The woods fill as well with two separate areas: quiet and chaos. We camped in chaos not entirely sure what we were getting ourselves into. Our tents happened to be right next to the largest bonfire I’ve ever seen with hundreds of nearly naked hikers tribal dancing to the thrum of a drum circle.

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Tent city Sunday morning after clearing out. All that grass was packed with tents.

The blog being a month behind my current where-abouts, I’m posting some photos from the last thirty days. The hike is going well, better than I ever imagined. In fact, when people ask me how it is I tell ’em, “Everyday feels like the new best day of my life.” While this isn’t totally true, it isn’t too far off.

I am still hiking with Dr. Kool-Aid, My Shadow, Mountain Goat, and Finch. Firecracker is a recent addition, but has been with us for a couple weeks now. We are all eating better than ever with the occasional cookout.

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Here we are grilling sirloin skewers at Woodchucks Hostel in Damascus the first time we were here (two weeks ago).

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We arrived at Watagua Lake a few days before to find former thru-hikers performing trail magic. They were grilling burgers and had coolers filled with beer and pop. We stayed put that evening and the next night as well. A kind family lent us their kayaks and paddle boards. We fried bacon, beans, and eggs on a charcoal grill adding wild onions for extra flavor.

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We crossed another border! Three states down, eleven to go.

We crossed the 500 mile markers – there were three with one made of pony poo – in the Grayson Highlands with it’s wild ponies.

We’ve entered the rainy season. I’ve been soaked through a couple times now. It’s actually a nice change and I often enjoy the rain.

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Lots more hitchhiking.

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And bellies full of pizza.

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Wheeling carts of backpacks as we purchase food for days to come.

And then feasting with the addition of wild foods. Those are ramps in the backpack and all diced up. Firecracker is holding Solomons Seal, a root we’ve decided needs too much cooking to be worth our while. We also eat stinging nettle and wild garlic with the occasional green salad. We are all eagerly anticipating the arrival of berry season.

 

My shoes died a horrible death as I walk them to shreds. My friends all tell me they were dead weeks ago. Maybe they were right. My feet were sore for a time. I replaced them today tossing my poor old shoes into the trash where, I hate to say it, they belong. You definitely do NOT want a whiff of ’em. They smell bad enough to kill an elephant. I can hardly imagine how a recently bathed, clean-laundered person would fare. You know those movies where noxious gas touches a person skin causing them to convulse, blister, and boil…

Epic sunsets,

And frightening night hikes.

Stunning vistas,

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And pony poo??

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Salamanders,

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And wild animals.

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Plants,

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And hikers blowing their seeds across grassy landscapes.

Our hair grew long but then was cut by friendly church-folks here in Damascus. My shirt is in the wash if you were wondering.

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I’m hoping to prepare some new posts for the coming days but first must heed the call of the bottomless pit that was once my stomach. Tomorrow, we catch a ride back to Bland, Va then hike a few days to the town of Pearisburg, Va where you’ll hear from me next. Take care everyone and Happy Trails.

 

 

 

 

 

Day 30: Merry Music Making and a Panda

Appalachian Trail: Day #30

Hot Springs, North Carolina: Zero Miles

Total AT Miles: 273.2

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??!!!! Mountain Goat found a panda onesie in the hiker box. Of course she had to wear it!

Today begins like yesterday: breakfast followed by hostel work. This morning, we change things up. I whip up omelettes with help from Mountain Goat who makes potato pancakes,  “hashies” as she calls ’em, on the second burner of the hotplate. The real kicker is she is cooking in a full panda onesie. Most would just wear an apron!

After breakfast, I clean the bathrooms and Orion takes care of the rooms. We help Tie load a car full of stuff to go to a garage. Then, with work complete we play. I found a rock climbing harness in the hiker box and, with 50ft of rope purchased from the outfitter, I climb a tree forgetting where I am for quite some time. I climb to the top advancing my rope as I climb and then I swing. I walk out limbs leaping to the next and I hang, upside down of course. I’m a tree guy by trade you see so my behavior is not as abnormal as it would seem. Here’s a link for photo’s of tree climbing and chainsaws: Pittsburgh, Pa: Three Seasons in the Hometown

While I’m climbing the tree, Orion is in a chapel next to the hostel playing the piano. I walk over when I’m good and tired and I sit and listen. He’s fantastic. Seriously. Mountain Goat and Finch join in the merry music making. Mountain Goat plays the piano just as well as Orion. I’m taking aback watching her lose herself in her music.

A man whose name I’ve forgotten (sorry!) hears us playing and joins in on his guitar. To think people pay for shows such as this! When he’s done, Finch barrows the guitar and plays for a while herself losing herself as much as Mountain Goat.

When the music dies we wander into town for dinner at the bar. Dinner turns silly as salad is stuffed into a mouth. I have a photo of the ordeal but am not posting out of kindness… Orion and I split an appetizer. We have spaghetti to be cooked at the hostel. Fun and affordable.

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My Shadow posing with the Goat turned Panda.
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Add a morning Finch to the mix!
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Orion and I helped Tie move a few things. This was hanging in the garage. Y’all know I like bicycles A LOT, right?!
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My Shadow and Mountain Goat bought me a bag of coffee they ground themselves in the store. Thank you 🙂
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A banner hanging in a store in Hot Springs. I have a soft spot for kind words.
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The coffee they gave me! One of the best coffees I’ve ever had.
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Orion was told of this piano in the chapel next door to the hostel. He and Mountain Goat spent a while serenading us.
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Mama Finch!
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And Mountain Goat both sitting in the window of the chapel while we listen to someone strum a guitar.
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That someone a strummin’ said guitar.
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Mountain Goat taking a photo of Finch and myself.
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Finch picks up the guitar and plays some tunes as well.
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Mountain Goat and Finch goofing around. Everyone is so musical!
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A decoration at the Laughing Heart Hostel in Hot Springs, NC.