Finally well and hiking again!

I hiked through a lot of this through this section!
I hiked through a lot of this white stuff through this section!

As I type this, I’m at Laughing Heart Hostel in a Hot Springs. Today was heavy rain, but thankfully the worst of it came after I arrived at 2p. I’ll be taking a zero day here tomorrow and am grateful to be showered with laundry done.

DAILY LOG

Wednesday March 26 Standing Bear hostel 240.2 to Groundhog Creek Shelter 247.7

Flash and the Princesses dropped me off north of the Smokies at Standing Bear Hostel. Road closures through the center of the Smokies make it impossible to hike my plan through the Smokies and I’m just not willing to wait out the weather another day. I’m a hiker and hikers HIKE!

One of the main reasons I wanted to go to Standing Bear Hostel: Box of goodies from my mother and niece. Adia had decorated a shoe box for me and she and Grammie had filled it with goodies. I ate the thin mints right away! Then I ate Reese’s for a snack that day. Shared zucchini bread with other hikers who were staying at the hostel. They were all quite jealous of my largess. Adia also made a lovely card for me AND included a four leaf clover which I will carry with me the rest of the way.

Snowbird Mt.
Snowbird Mt.

Standing Bear Hostel was fairly new when I came through a decade ago. Still owned by Curtis, but Rocket told me he has managed it for the last 3 years. They have a bunk house, private cabins, kitchen, laundry, shower and a small resupply store.

At the hostel: Facts was here (last time I saw him I identified him as a young Jewish man who tried too hard. Turns out he’s Protestant, son of a preacher. Oophs!) and Red Beard (we are both from Atlanta), Snorlax. The manager, Rocket, is a very thin, hard looking man, though he spoke kindly to me. The young men inside were thrilled with the availability of marijuana and the hostel has just also gotten a liquor license. Clearly not my kinda place. But I talked to others later who stayed there and found the place charming. No matter, I needed to move on and become a hiker again, regardless the amenities. It was only 10:30a and I needed to move. But there was also an amazing amount of snow ahead of me.

Groundhog Creek shelter is an older stone shelter.
Groundhog Creek Shelter is an older, stone shelter.

The hike to the next shelter was just over 7 miles, but the first 5 miles were up to a bald with an FFA tower, Snowbird Mt, 245.2. (From 1700 feet to 4300). It was a nice grassy bald, with posts lining the way, painted with the AT white blaze. Much more snow over the area than I’d expected, about an inch to three inches. The temperature did not get above freezing and the sky was partly cloudy, so there was little melting, except a bit on the trail where people were walking. So by 2p there mud to avoid. After the bald, the hike was straight down to Deep Gap. There must be a dozen valleys named a Deep Gap and the AT seems to plunge down through all off them. There are also too many places called “sassafras.”

imageI’m slow. Very, very slow. I hiked just short of a mile an hour (counting breaks). It was like starting the hike all over again. Wet, cold weather made it hard to take a break. Nowhere to sit that’s dry. And the wind is blowing so you can’t stop for long without getting cold.

I finally made it to Groundhog Creek Shelter. For an hour I was the only one at the shelter, an ancient stone structure that really needs attention. Then Bean Dip joined me (Australian, fast hiker) If I’d known she was coming I’d have stayed inside shelter, but I already had a tent set up. Bean Dip also brought me my bandana, which I’d dropped on the trail! She is excited about her mother coming to hike with her soon, though she plans to make several gear changes after her mom leaves, including a smaller tent and stove.

Bean Dip, eating her freezer dried meal.
Bean Dip, eating her freezer dried meal.

Very cold night. It had not gotten above freezing all day. Bean Dip updated me on several people. Radar and NORDO had passed me. Turkey Buzzard/Mickey has dropped out (she says this is his 3rd attempt, but it seems to me that his only issue is an oversized pack. A good outfitters could solve that in a couple hours!)

Thursday March 27 Groundhog Creek Shelter 247.7 to Roaring Forks Shelter 255.9

Not sure who postholed this section before me, but it was over a foot deep.
Not sure who postholed this section before me, but it was over a foot deep.

My tent was quite damp in the morning and it took me far too long to get going due to cold. Once again I threw up some of breakfast. Is this going to be every day? Also found a pair of socks that I thought Bean Dip had left (they weren’t hers).

Still hiking in snow most of the day and there are some places that someone, maybe 2 days ago, postholed through more than a foot of it. Their foot steps are frozen into the drifts. Whoever they were, I am grateful to them, though they have much longer legs than I. Very windy all day. Too cold to stop and rest for more than a minute at a time. Wore my rain jacket most of the day to cut the wind, adding my rain pants before lunch.

The style to Max Patch.
Entering Max Patch.

I was not prepared for the height of Max Patch Bald, 254.1, nor the wind. I had been walking up hill almost since I left Groundhog Creek Shelter and needed a break, but the climb was relentless, alternating between mud and deep snow. My hiking pole got stuck in one snow drift and I lost the cap to my pole. (I had a spare). When I got to the top I was able to lie down on my ground cloth and rest. As long as I stayed low I could avoid the wind and soak in a bit of sun. After walking in trees, the bald feels dizzying, wide and high. It’s like the opening scene of the Sound of Music where Julie Andrews sings, “The hills are alive……

Max Patch
Max Patch

It was dry most of the way to Max Patch, so as soon as I saw water I stopped. I met Jeff, who thru hiked 3 years ago. He will be working for the park service this summer in the Smokies. I wish him well.

Max Patch
Max Patch

From the bald it is down hill for several miles, but the temperature had at least inched over freezing. With the melting snow the whole trail was mud. Such a mess and my new shoes are not waterproof. I moved so slowly trying to keep my feet dry. I’d wanted to push past to the next shelter, but at 5pm, tired and muddy, I was the first to stop at Roaring Forks. A squirrel was scolding me from the shelter and I wasn’t sure I was welcome. Shortly after, Hopper and Bismarck came in. Then Grasshopper and Jump Up came. The four of them had stayed in a cabin at Standing Bear the night before. The first couple are very experienced AT hikers, but this was the longest day for the second couple. We all stayed in the shelter since rain was forecast. Right at dusk, Wrong Leg (a strong hiker with a British accent) came and filled the shelter. Jump up gave me the bandana that had been lost in the laundry at Top of Georgia hostel! He’d been carrying it all that time. Their bandana didn’t return from the laundry either, and were given mine.

No rain overnight, though it was forecast, and the temperature was mercifully above freezing, though the mud was a serious problem in the shelter area.

Friday, March 28 Roaring Forks shelter 255.9 to Dirt road 265.4

I woke in the dark hours to the sound of scurrying mice. It’s the thing I like least about the shelters and why I usually camp in my tent. But the mice didn’t seem to have done any harm. No rain overnight, but the gray skies look like I should get a move on! I added my pack cover and put my rain jacket and pants where I could get to them easily.

Things are beginning to green up!
Things are beginning to green up!

I started the morning 18 miles from Hot Springs and wanted to at least halve that distance today. I was the first out of the shelter at 8:15a though of course I knew everyone would pass me by lunch. We all took a break at Walnut Mt Shelter, 260.8. That had been my goal the night before, but it was such an exposed, windy spot I was glad I didn’t. Also there were 10 people, including Bean Dip, in that tiny space, according to the log. It must have been miserable. I drank the last of my water and intended to fill it, but found the trail to the stream a muddy mess. I decided to hike on to better, easier water.

A couple miles later I was getting water at a small spring and met No Poles, who hiked the AT last year. He was complaining at how slow he was, but I’m jealous of his daily distance. 10 miles is still a big day for me.

The tiny white and pink flowers are Spring Beauties.
The tiny white and pink flowers are Spring Beauties.

Much of the day was windy and my rain jacket went off and on. The skies threatened rain all day, but didn’t.

I really wanted to make it to the bottom of the mountain I’m on, another mile to an actual campsite, but my feet ached and when the trail crossed an old, flat road bed, I called it a day. I’m about 8 and a half miles from Hot Springs, mostly downhill. I am ready for a hot shower and laundry. I took a Baby Wipes bath, the best a camper can do!

Most hikers could have made it to Hot Spring in 3 days. It will take me 4. I am just not as strong a hiker. My short little legs just don’t move so quickly. I hope I’ll be able to increase my speed and miles very soon. While I try to remember it’s still early days, I am disappointed by my slowness.

Best things seen today: I saw tiny white and pink flowers, Spring Beauties, a sure sign of spring, which I’m longing for. Also the first leaves of Virginia Water Leaf. I heard an owl when I first stopped to set up camp and woodpeckers are constant much of the day.

Saturday, March 29 Dirt road 265.4 to Hot Springs (Laughing Heart hostel) 273.9

Well that was an odd night. About midnight I woke to the sound of a tractor and headlights blazing on my tent. I could hear two men talking from the vehicle, wondering who would be camping here. I suspect they had only seen the tent because of the reflective tape on the stakes and lines. Frankly, I was frightened. I could hear them talking, but could not make out what they were saying. They didn’t get off the tractor and I didn’t get out of the tent. Eventually they backed down and turned around. My heart had just about settled back to a more normal rhythm when they came back. This time they didn’t come nearly so close, but they sat there illuminating my tent for what seemed like an eternity. Then they finally backed up and drove off. I was frightened as it was obvious that there were at least 2 of them and just one of me. The only “protection” I carry is pepper spray. Later at the hostel people suggested that the men on the tractor had a still in the back woods.

This was not in my guidebook. Two graves, near Deer Mountain Park shelter. They were buried in 1944 and 1966.
This was not in my guidebook. Two graves, near Deer Mountain Park Shelter. They were buried in 1944 and 1966.

It was sprinkling when I woke up, but I managed to get my food bag down between showers and most of the tent packed up before it began to rain hard. By the second mile of the hike I was simply too warm to hike with a rain jacket. This is the first day that it was warm enough to hike in short sleeves. Spring is coming! And I saw other evidence of it too. One bloodroot just about to pop into bloom. The very first blush of a redbud. A tiny snake that I narrowly missed with my hiking stick.

Though the 8.5 miles was mostly down hill, it was still difficult and my feet are quite sore. While it’s clear that this shoe/insole combination is superior to the one I started with, there is no padding and my feet hurt every evening. My keg muscles recover overnight and my knees have no pain at all, but the ache on the bottom of my feet sometimes keep me from falling asleep. I hope that they will toughen up and also that I will continue to lose weight, making it less weight on them overall. I wonder how much weight I’ve lost. Perhaps 6 pounds?

My first view of the French Broad River and Hot Springs.
My first view of the French Broad River and Hot Springs.

It sprinkled off and on all day, but I mostly chose just to be wet. It began raining harder on the switch back decent of the final mountain. I could see the French Broad River and Hot Springs below more than 2 miles before I arrived. Cities look so peaceful, clean and organized from that height. I’ve found that when you can hear traffic noises, you are about a half mile from the road.

Laughing Heart Hostel is located on the edge of the AT parking lot as you drop into town. Very convenient. It’s run by former thru hikers Chuck Norris (he does look surprisingly like the actor) and Tigger. It’s got about 12 hikers tonight (most in private rooms) plus a few past thru hikers who promise trail magic tonight. I’m in the bunk room with 5 other young men including Goat, Money Maker (he’s raised over $5 thousand for a charity on this hike), and Snorlax,

The Princesses are here. They’ve been to Damascus, VA to drop off some resupply boxes. They were going to hike today, but wanted to avoid the downpour. Maybe they will hike tomorrow. I hope their return to hiking is better than mine. I feel as if I’m breaking in my trail legs all over again! This section felt like I was starting the trail from the beginning.

Gear changes and lightening the pack

I’m off hiking today, but thought I’d leave you this post

I’ve had requests to explain how I dropped my pack weight to 25pounds. I started the trail at 30 pounds on my back. Here are the things I did….

GEAR CHANGES

I fancied myself a moderately experienced hiker when I started this trek. I knew I was not in the physical condition I needed to be in and would be getting in shape on the trail. But I thought I’d made good decisions about gear. I was wrong. I have replaced most of my gear and sent home three pounds of things I didn’t need or over packed. See details below. So far only one item have I regretted–rain pants, which I replaced.

imageBackpack: I started with a GoLite 70 Jam, which I bought the spring before the hike. It has no stays and you use your sleeping pan to form part of the structure. Though I had an earlier model pack many years ago, which I loved, this one simply did not hold up. A strap broke and others were showing wear. But mostly the fit got worse with each step. You could see daylight between my back and the pack by the second day. I had bought this direct from the manufacturer and they would not take it back. Booooo GoLite!

At the outfitters at Neels Gap, I gave up. I had Will go through my pack to lighten the load to a more manageable 27 pounds (including pack weight). Then he tried fitting the GoLite pack to me. It just could not be done. He spent another hour finding me a new one. We settled on the ULA Catalyst. At $250 and an estimated 40 ounces (close to the weight of the old pack) it’s a lighter version of the traditional pack. Most importantly, it’s a great fit. The hip belts and shoulder straps change out for a fairly custom fit. I used the medium hip belt and the J straps. So from a weight standpoint it was a wash, but the fit and function were improved. Greatly improved.

imageSleeping Bag: I should have taken Will’s advice at Mountain Crossings to get the Western Mountaineering, 10F bag ($545, 2 pounds) to replace the Big Agnes, Juniper ($280, 2 pounds, 7 ounces). The BA bag is perfectly good, but at a 25F degree rating, simply not warm enough for me and the conditions on the AT this time of year. After two cold nights I had Will ship me the warmer bag and sent the BA back to REI for a refund.

imageTent: the Big Agnes Fly Creek UL2 is a good tent. It’s very popular on the AT and I’d recommend it to anyone. I would not have considered replacing it if I had not accidentally left it at Muskrat Shelter on a cold, rainy lunch time when over a dozen hikers and I were trying to warm up and dry off. It was pandemonium when I packed up and I accidentally left it out of the backpack. Stupid mistake. It was almost a dangerous situation. Had I not gotten the warmer sleeping bag, I’m pretty sure I’d have suffered serious hypothermia. When I finally got to Franklin, 3 days later, one of the first things I did was replace the tent. And, as can be expected on the a AT, some trail magic brought the tent back to me. Since the new tent was lighter, I sent the old one back to REI for a refund. The new tent is a Light Heart Gear tent ($325, 2 pounds) a small NC manufacturer.

Things I sent home/donated to the hiker free box. Weight 3 pounds:

Yo yo

Watercolor pencils and paper

Extra long sleeve shirt

Extra long pants

Extra pair of socks

Foot powder

3Ezbit tablets, in case I run out of fuel

Extra fuel canister

Trowel (replaced with a broad, light weight tent stake)

Extra vitamins, painkillers, mole skin, bandages, alcohol pads (I had about 3 times the amount of these items I needed. All you need is enough to get to the next resupply point)

Duplicate items, which I only needed one of: three lip balms, 2 baby wipe packages, 2 bandanas, 2 travel tubes of toothpaste, 2 combs, 4 emergency hand warmers (I kept 2 and used them both 2 days later!)

Rain pants (this was a mistake. I really could have used those in high wind the next week)

Small tubes of hair conditioner, shampoo, moisturizer.

Leatherman mini (which I replaced with a smaller knife)

Packa, a combination rain jacket, pack cover that seemed like a good idea at the time. It’s a great concept but never really fit right. Because this was an unproven piece of gear, I had a separate rain jacket, which I kept.

Travel pillow

Will also thought I should ditch my electronics, but I kept them. He had my silk sleeping bag liner in the to-go pile, but I grabbed that. Good save as I needed it.

Moral of this story: there’s always more to learn. If you get a chance to have an expert go through your pack, do it. The final decision of what to keep is up to you. Places to get this done: Mountain Crossings at Neels Gap near Suches, GA. Top of Georgia hostel, Hiawassee, GA. Appalachian Trail Kick Off Days annually in early March at Amicalola Fall State Park.

Don’t Get Hurt and Keep Moving North

Aquone Hostel
Aquone Hostel

As I type this, I’m lying in a warm bed, having just eaten meatloaf with REAL mashed potatoes, cooked carrots and strawberry cake for dessert. How’s that for roughing it on the trail? Obviously I’m OFF the trail at the moment. About 4 hours after leaving Winding Stair Gap (Franklin, NC) I began to feel a cold coming on. As my lungs began to fill, I had less and less oxygen for hiking up hill. Finally, I had to get off the trail when the cold threaten to move to my chest. I’m at Aquone Cabins & Hiker Hostel. I have scrapped my detailed hiking spreadsheet. This is the new plan: Don’t Get Hurt and Keep Moving North.

DAILY LOG

Tuesday, March 18 Winding Stair Gap 109.8 to stealth camp in meadow roughly 116.7

Last night I spent in downtown Franklin, celebrating St Patricks Day. I met several locals and learned much about this small mountain community. Full of corned beef, cabbage, hard cider and a dram of Irish whiskey, I was off to bed early at the Budget Inn.

imageSkipped the free breakfast at the Baptist Church at 7am. Instead, I walked to a diner for bacon, eggs and hash browns. Having a hard time waking up this morning, even after 2 cups of coffee, but I’ve already been off the trail for 2 days. I feel I need to get back hiking! Took the shuttle to the trail and was hiking by 9:30a. It’s 4+ miles UP to the first shelter and I took my time. My knees feel good and most everything else seems to have recovered, but my energy is still low. I still have a case of the dry heaves each morning (though I’ve stopped throwing up) and the mild diarrhea continues. I want to believe it’s from the high levels of vitamin C I’m taking to promote healing (and also possibly my single hard cider. I do like the taste of alcohol, but it seems to like me less and less. Good thing I don’t drink much.)

Most of the "bridges" look like this.
Most of the “bridges” look like this.

When we were let off at the trail, it was dripping, mostly from the wet trees, but with the heavy fog I feared it might rain. I put on my pack cover and had my rain jacket handy. After crossing a one sided bridge over a waterfall, the climb began. It wasn’t long before I’d gotten above the fog, though. I watched the slow lifting of the mist from the valleys below.

Puff ball
Puff ball

Met Smoke Stack (he’s just stopped smoking) and Mama (his mother) and stood on the trail for a very long talk. Mama is the one who wanted to hike and her son decided to come along. She and I have a lot in common and I hope to spent more time with her again. They are slack-packing (hiking without a backpack. A hostel driver let them off at the trail and will pick them up and take them back to the hostel at night) in the opposite direction today. We practically hugged as we parted. Connections are very strong on the trail.

Owl pellets. Owl's swallow their prey whole, then toss up the fur, bones and undigesttable bits.
Owl pellets. Owl’s swallow their prey whole, then toss up the fur, bones and undigesttable bits.

Lots of interesting things to see along the trail: Galax, old puff ball mushrooms that released their spores last fall, owl pellets. I got the first strong whiffs of young pine sent, even through my stuffed up nose. Though I’ve been walking through them since Springer, I think they may be waking up for spring. I watched two woodpeckers chasing each other, battling for territory.

imageI am meeting all new people on this section. Since I stayed an extra day in Franklin, everyone else has passed me by! It’s lonely being so slow. If I’m lucky I will find a group moving at the same speed and stay with them to the end.

My new shoelaces.
My new shoelaces.

Met Blank (he didn’t have a trail name, so his son started calling him that as a placeholder) and Champ. This is a father/son team, section hiking for about a week each year, doing big miles each day. They gave me lots of details about their hammocks. They are going to Fontana Damn this section.

Passed 3 young women in their 20s taking a break. Squirrel (She quit her job to hike the trail. She says she is most excited that she spends so much time in the present moment while hiking). Listen (She showed me a better way to hold my hiking poles. Shorten strap, put hand up through strap, then let the strap cradle your hand. This way the strap does most of the support and I won’t do the “death grip” that’s making my thumbs go numb. Coach (she is a swim team coach). All were really lovely young women. And I bet they hike a lot faster than I do!

Met Shortcut who described himself as a retired “through” hiker. “When I get tired, I’m through!” He lives near Amicalola and does trail maintenance. His pet peeve are people who take shortcuts and end up blazing new trails that cause runoff problems. His wife is going to meet him in Pennsylvania where they have family.

My new tent. I can even cook under the rainfly.
My new tent. I can even cook under the rainfly.

Two Germans who went out on the shuttle with me (but were let off at an earlier section of the trail) passed me. They said the pancakes and bacon at the Baptist Church powered them through to big miles today! Though they said that they never eat bacon with pancakes, only bread. I noticed that when at the hotel he seemed to be wearing bell bottom pants. Are these coming back in style?

No cell phone service since I entered NC. This iPhone is turning into a very expensive paperweight. Future hikers: Get Verizon!

Set up camp all alone in a meadow and made it a fairly short day, just 7 miles. I have little energy and seem to be getting a cold. There was a designated campsite a mile farther, but I just didn’t feel like it. No pain. Diarrhea has stopped and there’s been lots of water to help me stay hydrated. But I’m tired. It was quite a climb this morning. I stopped a mile earlier to cook dinner, thinking that would let me rest and give me energy to push through to the campsite. But I could not even eat all my dinner. I had played the cooking game that every hiker plays. “What’s the heaviest meal in my pack?” But I could only eat half. I put it in a ziplock bag, closed it up and placed it carefully on the top of my pack. Finally finished eating after I’d hiked on and set up my tent, but basically had to force it down. Not hungry.

This is a really good bridge.
This is a really good bridge.

But there is an advantage to stealth camping. This private camp gave me extra time–without anyone watching–to set up my new tent. It took me quite some time to manage, but eventually I got it in place. The tent uses my hiking poles as support, which is why it only weighs 2 pounds. After you stake the ends of the tent, you climb inside with your hiking poles and push up the top. It’s a neat, sleek design and I think I’ll be happy with it after I learn how to get the tent up quickly.

Really beating myself up for all the food I’m carrying. I’ll be at the NOC in a couple days and won’t even need to resupply to get to Fontana Dam! And I re-supplied a lot of little items too, that are weighing down my pack–fuel, toilet paper, toothpaste, baby wipes…no wonder my pack is heavy!

I am about four days behind schedule according to what I originally laid out. But I’ve decided to scrap that plan. My new plan is Don’t Get Hurt and Keep Moving North.

This is my first bald, Silar.
This is my first bald. Silar Bald.

Wednesday March 19 stealth camp 116.7 to LickLog camp 122.1.

Listened to owls falling asleep last night. Unexpected rain overnight. Didn’t the forecast say clear skies? There’s more condensation in tent than I expected. It is a single wall tent, but has an attached vestibule that allows for quite a bit of ventilation. Of course, that doesn’t help much in the rain.

Packed up everything wet. Another low energy day. I’ve gotten a virus and am losing my voice. My throat is raw. When I finally hiked the three miles to the tower at Wayah Bald (119.9), the sun had come out and I set up the tent to dry, and aired the liner and sleeping bag. There were visitors to the tower, since the view is spectacular and there’s a stone tower too. Well below me was Franklin. Hard to believe I’ve climbed so high. No wonder I’m tired. Met a really fun threesome from Florida. Mike and Raina (that’s not quite the right name. I hope you see this post and correct me.) have a cabin near Franklin and their friend Ronnie was visiting. What nice people and they seemed very interested in the hike. Made me feel like a celebrity. I think Mike might do the trail someday, too! A special hello to you all and I should have taken you up on your kind offer for a shower. My cold is getting worse and it would have been a good idea to get off the trail for a bit. Ronnie, good luck with retirement from the post office and please write that book. Sorry you didn’t get to finish your story about Carpenters for Christ and the feuding churches, but I think it might make a good subject for a book.

I got lost on the way to the Wayah Bald Shelter and walked an extra, useless mile. I hate wasting the little energy I have.

This rock had at least three different likens.
This rock had at least three different lichens

Camping alone again. No fun, but I just didn’t have the energy to hike 3 more miles to the shelter. Honestly think if I could ever get well I could really hike this trail. No chicken soup for my cold, but I made a cheese, chicken, mashed potato dish that was hot, filling and used my heaviest food item.

Doing a much better job with hanging my bear bag. The goal is to hang the food bag 12 feet up and 6 feet out from the base of the tree. It’s hard to find an appropriate tree and my throwing arm is poor. When I get close I feel like a winner. But regardless, I make sure the food is away from me. If a bear decides he wants it, I don’t want to be nearby. With the (slightly) warmer weather, I’ve started carrying my pepper spray on my backpack shoulder strap.

The wind really picked up after I set up the tent. If I had more energy I’d pack up and find a more sheltered spot. It could be a cold night. Hope it also means less condensation in the tent.

Thursday, March 20 Licklog Gap camp 122.1 to Burningtown Gap, NC 124.4

A cold, windy night and my cough is pretty bad. I have some hot tea that tastes only faintly of last night’s cheesy, chicken potatoes. While packing up I manage to knock over a bottle of water inside the tent. Saved the sleeping bag but my pad and liner got pretty wet. And that was all the water I had. This is not a great way to start my hike.

This hostel is the nicest one so far v
This hostel is the nicest one so far v

My plan to get off the trail and heal worked. There is no Sprint service here, but I put the phone on roaming and was able to connect to Verizon just long enough to call for a rescue from Aquone hostel. I showered and managed to find leaves in places no leaves should be! I gave them my laundry and drank a gallon of hot tea. It took a few hours for me to warm up. I’ve decided to be here at least 2 nights.

Noodle,a Flash, elusive and Valley Girl.
Noodle,a Flash, elusive and Valley Girl.

Joining me at the hostel is Elusive (quiet, retired man), Flash (named for her hot flashes) and her daughter Noodle (they are finishing up a 500 miles stretch, but hiking in style with as many hostel stays and slack packs as they can arrange. They call it the Princess Hike!) and also Valley Girl (who is actually from Texas) and her service dog Jake. I had met her at Top of Georgia hostel. Turns out she’s been as sick as I have and has joined the Princess Hike. She knows several who seems to have picked up some virus at Neels Gap. A few have abandoned the hike.

Dinner!
Dinner!

Lovely dinner and anticipating breakfast. I may go into town with the ladies tomorrow to get cold medicine and vitamins. They’ve invited me to join their hike and if I can get well, I may do so! We’ve discussed bypassing the Smokeys and coming back to them when it’s warmer. The Smokeys contain the highest elevations (over 6,000 feet) and we’d like to avoid the snow.

TIPS & TECHNIQUES

  • The key to cold weather camping is to STAY warm, not try to GET warm. You must put on that jacket and hat before you need them. If you get cold it’s much harder to warm up. The pack on your back is like a little heater, but as soon as you stop hiking and take it off, you get cold fast. I keep a small stuff sack at the top of my pack with my fleece hat, down jacket, gloves and rain pants. I can get to them quickly when I take off my pack to keep from getting cold. Also, crawl into your sleeping bag early. It takes time to heat the bag up.
  • Spend some minutes fluffing your sleeping bag each night before you crawl in. It’s the loft that keeps you warm and the bag has been smashed down in your stuff sack all day. If you get to camp early, set the sleeping bag up right away and make sure it is very dry.
  • In cold weather, if you want your electronic’s batteries to last, put them in your sleeping bag with you at night to keep them warm. I sleep with my phone and iPad mini. I’ve even trained myself to locate them before I roll over.
  • Always assume it will rain. Don’t leave clothing outside to air over night. Even when the forecast says there will be no precipitation, remember that these mountains create their own weather patterns. The Appalachians laugh at your weather forecast!
  • In a tent that has a condensation problem, use your liner (during cold weather) on the outside of the bag. It will help with warmth and the condensation will gather on the liner, which is much easier to dry than the sleeping bag. To cut wind, put your rain jacket and pants between the liner and bag.
Dessert.
Dessert.

A day in Franklin, in pictures

Lots of lovely shops, like this antique store.
Lots of lovely shops, like this antique store.

Enjoying my second zero day in this lovely North Carolina mountain community.

Lunch at the Rosebud Cafe was roasted veggie sandwich and blackened pea soup with greens. Notice the strawberry cupcakes in the background. I resisted!
Lunch at the Rosebud Cafe was roasted veggie sandwich and blackened pea soup with greens. Notice the strawberry cupcakes in the background. I resisted!
This is where I got my new tent. Top notch store, expert advice.
This is where I got my new tent. Top notch store, expert advice.

 

LOL
LOL
Wish this had been open.
Wish this had been open.
Clearly the trip is about to get better! My first 4 leaf clover of the hike.
Clearly the trip is about to get better! My first 4 leaf clover of the hike.
Very historic little town.
Very historic little town.
images earned a lot here, like how to put on a long cloth kilt.
I learned a lot at this downtown museum, including how to wear an original long kilt.

 

This is my mothers family tartan.
This is my mother’s family tartan.

 

What a view!
What a view!

 

Got a personal tour of the hiker hostel across the street from the Budget Inn where I stayed. Same owner, Bob Haven.
Got a personal tour of the hiker hostel across the street from the Budget Inn where I stayed. Same owner, Ron Haven, who seems to operate on his own time schedule. You can’t guess when the shuttles will actually run when he’s driving. He’s on Haven Time. 
Spring is coming!
Spring is coming!

 

 

 

No turning back now

I’ve given my notice at work and will be leaving my day job on January 31. I’m not leaving for another job, however. I’m preparing for an adventure!

imageStarting March 22, I will hike the entire Appalachian Trail from Springer Mountain, GA to Mt Katahdin, MA, through 14 states. It will take 6+ months and almost 2200 miles. I’ll live out of a backpack and sleep in a tent, with weekly stops to civilization to resupply (and hopefully a shower and laundry).

(NOTE: I later moved the start date to March 1)

Answers to obvious questions that usually come up at this point: I’ve wanted to do this since I was 12. Yup, this is crazy.

When I finish the trail, I plan to come back to Atlanta briefly. Not yet sure where I’ll start, but I plan to travel the world by teaching English, plus some writing/blogging/travel services and whatever comes up.

I’ll probably never again own much more than what will fit in a couple suitcases, but I will have a rich, interesting life. Please, follow along right here. I expect to be able to post periodically as I hike. If you’d like to support me, here’s a list of things you can do.