Postmortem

See what I did there, “post”mortem. Tee hee…I crack myself up. It is hard to believe that I have been home for a couple of months already. Seems like my thru-hike attempt happened eons ago, and it wasn’t really all that long ago that I was on the trail. It has been hard being back. I spent several years thinking about the thru hike, and probably close to one full year planning the hike only to call it quits 38 days and 288 miles into it. And unfortunately, that was nothing in the scheme of things. Zippo. There is a reason less than 20% complete a thru attempt. It is hard. For me, I did not even get to some of the hurdles I would have to cross, mostly the mental hurdles that were to come. I am following a few people that I met on the trail and they have mentioned some mental hurdles that are challenging them at the moment.

I read somewhere that there are three stages to a thru hike of the magnitude of the AT. The first is physical. You have to get your trail legs and your body has to adjust to the daily grind of hiking. There is a certain amount of physical pain you must endure to get through this phase. The second is mental. Once your body has adjusted, it is now time for the mind to start giving you a hard time. At this stage you are 30 to 45 days into it, and you are doing the same exact thing each day. I had some of this difficulty, but there would have been more to come. It is very easy to question what you are doing when things are tough and wonder why on earth you are still out on the trail. Especially when back to back to back days are the simply a green tunnel through the woods or when climb after climb affords you a fogged in view. The third apparently is spiritual. If you can push through to the third stage apparently that is when things become very different. It is no longer a chore, or difficult, but it becomes enlightening. Beats me. I could not even get past the first phase.

This past week I found a video blogger (vlogger) whose videos I have been enjoying. Especially the videos through Hot Springs, or more specifically the ground I covered. It was really cool to see something and remember my time at that location. Leslie was getting a kick out of the videos in general and then found out what I meant when we watched the Hot Springs video and she could see where she had been just a couple of months ago. This guy is a riot and I find that he and I think rather similar thoughts on the trail. I would encourage you to check out his videos, but I do want to mention that he is a colorful character and that is your language and other activity warning. So if you are easily offended, you may wish to take a pass. He is not measured in his videos. He is straight up what you see is what you get.

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCsLTtc6ddmv2CuRvP-tWnzA

Been considering my options moving forward. Do I want to attempt another thru? Do sections? Do only the pieces that sound really, really cool? Maybe skip it altogether and do the Ice Age Trail or head out West and do the Colorado Trail or PCT or JMT?

I am not ready to let the AT go, so I will be going back to it. Oddly enough the one thing I really liked about the AT was the people. Some of the other options (trails) are much more remote. Right now I am thinking I will start in Harper’s Ferry this time, the emotional half way point of the trail (the real half way point is just north of Harper’s Ferry, but HF is where the Appalachian Trail Conservancy headquarters is located so it is considered the “halfway” point). I really was looking forward to the Northern half of the AT and since I did not even get to the Virginia state line, I figure I have a better chance of seeing some of what I want to see if I start at the half way point and work my way north.

During the hike I made reference to how hard it was to be away from Leslie and home for so long, and I considered that if I went back I would probably only do 45 – 60 days or so at a time. I think this would be Leslie’s preference as well. It is hard for her to get out to the trail to visit. However, the thing that is difficult about doing 45-60 day sections is that you are just getting into hiking shape after 30 days or so, so once you are pretty much ready to really start hitting the miles you are done for the year. LASH (long ass section hiking) is a very challenging way to complete the trail. The concept of the thru still is grabbing me, even though I would hate to redo those first 300 miles again. I think what I would like to do is start off from HF, hike north with the goal of Katahdin, if I am up to it, and then decide from there. If we were to then decide that we were up for the thru, then I would likely do what I was originally thinking and flip to Springer and hike north for a finish at Harper’s Ferry. Once at Katahdin, I would be in shape enough that the first 288 miles that took 38 days this year, would only take me about 16 to 19 days, maybe less. For all the complaining I did about Georgia’s mountains and the uphills, NC and TN taught me that GA was cake.

Doing it that way I would probably delay my start until mid-May. That would give me a little extra time after tax season to get the achilles ready for battle. That would mean a finish likely after October 1st, if completing a thru, but hiking back to Harper’s Ferry the elevation that last month would be a lot lower than if I were to head south and end with the Smokies and GA. From a weather standpoint that would be preferable.

Looking back on my writings, blogging and instant messages, May 9th was the first day I mentioned my achilles bothering me. It so happened that that day was the day we crossed into NC and decided due to the wind to not camp at Bly Gap, but instead to push on. The next two miles were straight uphill. To that point in time and in fact for me, that uphill was by far the worst on the trail that I experienced. That was the day I mentioned my achilles and they only got worse from there. I do not know if I had stayed at Bly Gap and rested until the next morning if that up would have caused the same issues for me. I knew at the time of the decision that I was tired and should have camped at Bly Gap, but I did not want to camp in that wind, I did not want to let Crooner go on without me and I figured pushing my body was what it was all about. Who knows.

Anyway the experience of the hike was very valuable. It may have turned out that that was my shake down hike. I do know that I was a bit cocky going into it. I knew it would be tough, but I had experience so I would be fine. Well, it was tougher than anything I have done to date and it kicked my ass. So tail between my legs I came home.

There are several things I would do different. 1) I would use my old external frame pack. Unless I can figure out how to lower my pack weight by 10 pounds, the external frame is the way to go. 2)I would not carry as much food, nor would I buy it all in advance again. That turned out to be a costly mistake, instead of a cost savings. 3)I would take more pictures and video. I did not really take any video and I only did two Facebook live segments. I would take more video and do more FB live. 4)I would be more diligent about training ahead of time. When you get old hiking yourself into shape might be an issue. As it was in my case with my achilles. 5)There are some other minor gear issues that I would resolve, but overall I was happy with most of my choices. And some were perfect, such as buying the ZPacks Duplex tent. Best tent I have ever owned.

Leslie and I are going to be going camping in a couple of weeks and I am going to take my GoPro along and try to put it through its paces. This will likely mean I will be starting a YouTube account and posting some video to it. I’ll post the links here once I get it figured out. If I go back to the AT I want to be better prepared with the electronics so that I can post more pictures and videos. I doubt I can match the humor of Dann’s video’s above, but maybe through some practice it won’t feel so stiff and forced to me as I do it.

Anyway, thanks for reading and there will be more to come. I know I promised pics from the trail, and to be honest I have not really looked at them too much yet. I’ll get there. As far as next summer goes, there are a lot of moving pieces that would need to fall into place. As we did this year, Leslie and I will discuss it and then I will discuss it with my Dad and brother as well. Leaving for a long period of time impacts a lot of people.

So for those of you that joined me for sections of this year’s hike, Crooner, Croc & Debra, Ben & Stephanie Ann, The Women of the White Blaze, or those of you who talked about it, John Hajicek, Clark King, or anyone else I might have failed to mention…start thinking about next year. Considering a May 15th(ish) date in Harper’s Ferry. Be an honor to walk with any of you again, be it a few days or many many miles. The people make the journey.

Samaritan

Leslie’s First Guest Blog Post! (Day 90…..should I still be counting?)

One of the things I intended to do while Samaritan was hiking was write a guest blog post. A number of times while he was gone I would wake up in the middle of the night and start writing in my head. But in the light of day, there were many things to do at the office…at home, I would find chores to keep me occupied. I never got around to putting words to paper or more accurately, words to Word. I now believe I avoided writing because my emotions were too raw and close to the edge during that timeframe. In true Gemini style, I hid under the covers rather than deal with all of the truths happening around me. Life as I knew it was changing fast – too fast. My husband was off hiking as my job was winding down and I would have all this “free time” sprawling in front of me. It was hard to keep a smile on my face when all I wanted to do was cry at the perceived loss of my identity; it was hard to stay positive with Samaritan when all I wanted was for him to be next to me. So I concentrated on “busy” work rather than dealing with my emotions. Looking back on it now, because we learned before Samaritan left for his hike that my job was ending in early June, we should have taken the time to really talk through if this was the right time for his hike. Perhaps if we had put off his hike to next year he could have trained more and would have avoided the Achilles issues. Shoulda, coulda, woulda…didn’t.

Flash forward to now. Samaritan has been home from the trail for almost 2 full months. It really is wonderful having him home although with each passing day – at least for me – his trail experience seems farther and farther away. I’m not sure if Samaritan feels the same but I’ve noticed he has an easier time talking about his experiences now than he did upon his return in June. I do know he’s happy he hiked for as long as he did. We both know that he will continue the journey – not as a thru-hiker but he will be a 2,000-miler. We’ve had a number of talks about it and I’m certain he will post his own thoughts on how he plans to accomplish it.

Since he’s been back we have: bought a truck, gone camping, attended Summerfest to see Berlin and Tom Petty, saw Dennis DeYoung perform The Grand Illusion in its entirety, spent time with family and friends, eaten some great food at home and restaurants, listened to albums, survived the flooding (no damage for us thank goodness), adopted a kitten and spent lots of quality time together. Samaritan has even joined in on the fun of cleaning and purging closets! All of these adventures are what we needed when we realized his hike was over on June 4th. And we’re not done yet! There are more week-long camping trips to come as well as a trip to LA in September to see the final leg of Tom Petty’s tour where Lucinda Williams will open. We have also built in time at Yosemite National Park (short hikes only) and Napa Valley (yum, wine) as part of that trip. The great thing is we used our frequent flyer miles which means the money we saved on flights can be spent on more wine tastings and wine! When that adventure is over, it will be time for me to buckle down to seriously begin my job search. Until then, we are taking advantage and enjoying the time we have together making memories!

Thank you all for your support of Samaritan before, during and after his hike. We truly appreciated hearing and reading your comments. Please continue to send positive thoughts and prayers for his Achilles to heal/strengthen and for me in my job search. We are BLESSED!

-Leslie

Day 38

Hi,

Just got home. I have read each and every one of your comments on Facebook in response to my having to leave the trail and from the bottom of my heart I thank each one of you. I will have a few more posts to make here, stories and other thoughts and now that I am home hopefully some pictures as well. However, it is still a bit early and the emotions still a bit raw for having to leave the trail before I was ready, so it may be a few days or a week or so. Again, thank you for your comments, thoughts, prayers and concern.

-Samaritan

PS – I have an appointment tomorrow morning with the orthopedist. 🙂

Day 37

Day 37

A couple of days ago I made the decision to end my hike at Harper’s Ferry and it really was not a difficult decision. The harder part of that decision was convincing Leslie that I was OK with it.

Today I am making a much more difficult decision and one that I am not OK with to end my hike due to achilles tendonitis. Even with the heel lifts it is very painful going uphill. I don’t want to risk further injury and from everything I have read once you have this the solution is not painkillers or a little stretching. In fact one of the solutions is to NOT walk uphill, especially under a burden of a 35 pound pack, which on the AT is impossible.

Thinking back I followed some bad advice that probably aggravated the situation. A fellow hiker suggested that I should extend my legs when going uphill as that is where you get your power from and it will stretch the achilles with each step. I am fairly certain this made it worse, although at that point it may have been too late anyway.

Oddly enough Leslie just texted me that she could not sleep and was packed and ready to head home from somewhere in the middle of Indiana. So I instead of me being stuck in the middle of nowhere wondering how I am going to get home from there, she is turning around and driving the same thing she did yesterday but her end location is 15 miles further up the trail.

In many ways I feel like I never got untracked on this hike. I had a lot of new gear I was figuring out and spent the first 30 days getting into hiking shape. I finally felt like things were coming together with the exception of the achilles. I was really looking forward to seeing what my body could handle in terms of daily consistent mileage. I was also looking forward to passing the 300 mile mark later today or tomorrow on the trail. In the end mile 289.7 was all I my legs could do… and I have 5.3 miles to do today to get to that point.

At the moment pretty devastated. This too shall pass….

-Samaritan

Day 31-34(ish…)

The last couple of days have been wonderful. As many of you know Leslie came to meet me in Hot Springs, NC and we have just been enjoying our time together. Leslie was kind enough to ask what I wanted to eat and went shopping for the ingredients. Our first night we had filet with a brandy cream sauce, garlic mashed potatoes and brussel sprouts with cheese and bacon. I actually had been craving that specific dinner for quite a while on the trail, so to have a chance to actually make it and enjoy was fabulous. I have not been craving much so to satisfy that craving was wonderful.

On the way into Hot Springs a couple of days ago we hiked about 13 miles. I have been having two issues with hiking. As many of you have read on Facebook one is the achilles pain that has been cropping up from time to time. More about that below. The other is some chafing issues that came about after the first day in the Smokies. If you read about that day that was the day of the 9 miles or so of solid up in a 12 or 13 mile day. I tend to sweat a lot and on that day I was literally soaked through like I had gotten out of a pool. Well I had chafing issues under my arms and on my thighs. I have been dealing with it ever since and thought it was under control, until the day I hiked into Hot Springs. I had already stopped once and re-applied Desitin which was the recommended solution. However, it was not working on this day. I knew the answer was to stop and put on my leggings under my shorts. In order to do this I had to strip naked from the waist down and put on the leggings and then pull my shorts back on. So I calculated in my mind….let’s see, I passed “Best Wife” (Best Wife is the trail name of the wife of Pappy, a couple that is doing the whole trail this year) quite a while ago and a mother and daughter pair a little while ago. So, if I let the mother/daughter pair pass me by I’ll have plenty of time before “Best Wife” comes through to do the changeover. Now the night before the mother/daughter pair camped at the same site we had been at and hardly spoke to us, so I had no reason to believe they would talk to me at this moment in time. Well, I was wrong. They chatted for about ten minutes before moving on. I decided at that point to quickly change out and “Best Wife” missed the show by 30 seconds. Whew. The challenges of trail life…..

So on Wednesday I did some research on my achilles/heel pain and it seems like it is a simple tendonitis type of thing in the lower portion of the tendon. From what I read the answer is to raise the heel slightly and avoid the constant full stretch of the tendon that occurs when hiking uphill. When going up your foot is in an extended position on the trail and the rest of your body is perpendicular to gravity, resulting in a fully extended position for the achilles tendon. After all of the up we have been doing no wonder I am having some issues there. The big thing is it is limiting my miles. After about ten miles, I can force another few, but that is about it. That would be a long way to Maine at 10 to 13 miles per day.

Yesterday we went into Asheville to see if I could get some answers for my achilles/heel pain. I was concerned it might be the shoes themselves, so I took my shoes along fully prepared to drop another $120 on a new pair of trail shoes. The first guy we saw knew what he was doing, but did not have a pair of non-waterproof shoes that would solve the issue. He gave me two other stores to try. At the second store the guy tried to sell me a pair of Altra shoes. Altra is known for their zero drop technology, which means that your heel and front of the foot rest on the same plane. Most shoes raise the heel slightly, so this means that my heel would drop more, instead of being raised, thus extending the tendon further and for longer periods of time. Clearly he did not have a clue as to what he was doing, so we left there and went to the third place, Foot RX. The guy at Foot RX knew exactly what the issue was and sold me a pair of heel lifts that will raise my heel about 3 millimeters. That does not seem like much but apparently that is enough to help release that tension that occurs on every single step. I’ll find out Saturday how this works. That and some gentle isolation stretching and hopefully that will be the end of this issue and Crooner and I can make up some miles.

Today is a relatively boring day of laundry and repacking. I am considering swapping out my backpack and going back to my old external frame Jansport. This afternoon or tomorrow I am going to pack it up with all my stuff and see what I think. The ZPacks is OK, but without that external frame it tends to need some readjustment all of the time and by the time I have a few hours in does not seem to fit right anymore. Sometimes it is the right shoulder that seems to take a beating, and other times it is the left. Or it seems unbalanced and I have to constantly try to readjust it back to center. Not sure what the issue is, but once you are used to a solid external frame pack, at least for me, it is hard to switch I guess. Crooner and I have had this conversation a lot. Everyone out here is an expert. They will tell you what you need in order to be a successful thru-hiker. For one it is a specific tent or hammock or pack or shoe or whatever. I have told Crooner the key to successful backpacking is you have to find what works for you. Every piece of equipment has its positives and negatives and you have to find the balance that works for you. He has been learning a lot about it, but so have I. Absolutely love my sleeping quilt and my new tent, but the backpack is not working as well as it should for the money invested.

Tomorrow I think Leslie and I will likely go check out the naturally occurring Hot Springs from which the town receives it’s name. Hopefully that will help the body recover some from the beating I am giving it as well. Not sure what else is on tap for tomorrow, but Saturday Crooner and I will head North yet again. Next stop for resupply is Erwin, TN and not too long after that is Damascus, VA and the fourth and longest state on the AT.

And now for the big news. Some of you may know that there was a reorganization at Leslie’s place of employment and her position was eliminated. Her last day of formal employment is June 2nd. What this means is that she will likely have the summer off as she looks for a new job. We found out about this a while back and probably should have thought about it a bit more before I departed for my summer adventure. Not only am I not home to support her through this period of transition, we are missing a chance to have the summer of a lifetime and go for more extended weekend camping trips and just have that opportunity to spend a lot of time together without her having to worry about using up vacation days. This has weighed heavily on my mind as I trudge up some of these incredible climbs the AT tosses in my direction. Instead of killing myself, I could be home with Leslie. We have discussed it and although she will not tell me to come home, I know she wants me there. Her big concern is that if I don’t do this I will regret it and she does not want to be the cause of that regret. So I have decided that I am going to hike to Harper’s Ferry and stop there. That is the psychological halfway point of the AT and at over 1,000 miles it is nothing to sneeze at. Perhaps at some point in the future I’ll come back out and pick up at Harper’s Ferry and hike to Katahdin. If so I could start later and it won’t take five or six or more months either. It seems like a good compromise as God willing I should be done by mid-July and we will still have at least a couple of good months of weather that we can enjoy. So there is the big news. A new finish line and time target.

Pray all is well with everyone.

-Samaritan

PS – Got cleaned up. Feel like I have lost 10 pounds. 🙂

Before

After

Day 29

Day 29

We are out of the Smokies. Sad part about that is that makes me happy. We were looking forward to the Smokies, but in the end it was not very enjoyable. First day was all up and hot. I wrote about that day earlier. After that it was terrible weather, either cold or rain or wind or both or all three. We ended up spending three nights in Gatlinburg and neither of us wanted to spend anytime there initially. Our goal was to hike straight through. Ah well, that is what happens sometimes.

So last night we spent at Crosby Shelter. This was the first night we met a Ridge Runner in the Smokies. They do everything from cleaning the campgrounds to checking permits and educating the hikers. She was OK, maybe a bit strong on the education part, but if I ever write my blog post about hiker responsibility, you’ll see I cannot argue with being overly aggressive on education. Anyway, we (thru-hikers) need to have a permit to get through the Smokies. The Ridge Runner checked my permit when I got in. At that point I had to come clean with her and let her know that when I did laundry in Gatlinburg that I washed Crooner’s permit so he no longer had one. She was easily convinced to give Crooner a hard time about it. Oh boy. Crooner was pissed. Thought he had to pay a $100 fine for not having it. Of course I was cracking up the whole time. Poor Crooner.

Last night at about 2:30 am some guy comes flying through our shelter. We think he was doing the AT Smokies challenge (my made up name for it). The AT goes through about 71 miles of the Smokies and some try to do the complete distance in 24 hours. I am a light sleeper so I heard this clown coming down the trail as he had bear bells on. He comes flying through the shelter, drops his pack and runs down to the stream to fill his water bladder. Then back to the shelter to insert the now full bladder back into his pack. All the time bear bells a ringing. And four of us on the top bunk with our heads up watching this clown. He paid us no never mind, went about his business and finally left. If karma exists, this tool has it coming in spades.

This morning I awoke with a screaming headache. Ibuprofen did not really do a lot so I decided to try and hike it out. Once I made that decision I hit the trail hard hip g to get to Standing Bear Farm as soon so I could so, I could relax. It was a bit over 10 miles and I was done I just under 5 hours. Headache is still present, but hopefully a good night sleep is on tap.

We have three days to Hot Springs, NC and are about 30 miles away, so that is doable. Best part is Leslie will be waiting for me! For me that has been the hardest part of this trip, being away from Leslie. So far every day we have been able to text and communicate, but that has required some uphill hiking from some spots to find a signal.

Tomorrow a new day dawns.

Thanks for reading along….

-Samaritan

Day 22-24

Day 22, 23 and 24

We hiked out of Fontana Dam by walking over the dam itself. There is a picture of this on FB. It was pretty cool. When we got to the start of the Smokies we had to hike up the road a stretch until the trail started. At that point we had to register as thru hikers to hike through the park. The backcountry shelters are reservable, and since thru hikers really don’t know when they will be somewhere, they cannot reserve a spot. This presents issues with potential overcrowding. The answer is that thru hikers must stay in the shelter if it is not full. In practice this means that if we quit at 4 pm and the shelter is not full we need to take a spot in the shelter. Now if people who have reserved the shelter show up later, and if the shelter is full at that time then the thru hikers are told to go set up their tent or hammock. If this is 10 pm, it does not matter. So far the practicality of this has not been an issue for us, the shelters have not been full. I would prefer to setup my tent and have my private personal space, but this has been working. I guess. During peak season this might be more of an issue I suppose. Not saying I like it by any stretch, there is hardly enough room in the shelter for everyone to keep track of their stuff, but it is a minor pain in the butt. And it is doing what they want it to do, limit impact. At the shelter in GA and NC, it is all bare dirt for a huge area around the shelter. Not in the Smokies. The impact is indeed limited.

What doesn’t work are the designated toilet areas. That is the most ridiculous thing I have seen. They should have privies at every shelter and have the concentrated impact of that, rather than a 100 yard by 100 yard field of toilet paper flowers. It is the grossest thing ever and no I won’t be using the designated area.

Also the trail maintenance seems lacking in the park. The volunteer clubs in GA and NC are crushing it compared to the Smokies. Ah well, I am sure budget cuts are to blame…. Or at least that is what someone would say.

So a friend of mine told me on FB that the first day in the Smokies from Fontana Dam to Mollie’s Ridge Shelter is the hardest day in the South. If that is true, I got this. It was hard, brutal in fact, but I made it. It is a 12 mile stretch and all but about 3 miles are uphill. If I recall we went from about 1,700 to 5,100 feet or so. For those of you in Burlington, think of walking up the pool’s water tower hill for miles. It wasn’t all that steep but there were sections that were easily that steep. In terms of distance think of uphill from Burlington to Waterford. Now put 35 pounds on your back and go. Ugh. And it was hot. At one point I stopped and it was if I had jumped into a pool with my hiking gear on and just got out. Yeah, I tend to sweat bit. But that was ridiculous.

So if that was the worst day in the South, May 20, 2017 will now be known as the “the day that shall not be mentioned. “ Frankly the 20th to 22nd should be known as “the days that shall not be mentioned.”

May 21st was maybe not as relentless, but it was equally as brutal. It rained all day. I don’t really mind hiking in the rain, but what I mind is the stopping. That is when it gets cold. And if you stop midday for lunch or something typically you remove the wet cold shirt so you can warmup during the break. After the break the wet cold shirt goes back on. That is hideous.

Today the 22nd we hiked to Clingman’s Dome, about 10 miles or so. Again all up. Again rain. And no view at Clingman’s. So we got a ride to Gatlinburg for an attitude readjustment…laundry,showers,food and drink. (I cannot believe how bad we smelled! A tourist described Crooner as “that dude smells well traveled.”) Tomorrow we go back and have rain for the next three days. So far the Smokies are a bust. A lot of very hard hiking for no views. Blah. Hopefully sunnier updates to come.

-Samaritan

Day 20

Today I met Wandering Star. She is at least 70’s I think. She has done the triple crown of hiking and is currently on her third thru hike of the AT. She just loves hiking. The triple crown involves hiking the Appalachian Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail and the Continental Divide Trail. In addition to that she has done several others such as the Camino and some others overseas. What an inspiration and extremely knowledgeable lady. Her memory or where water is on this trail is amazing. I cannot remember where I stayed two nights ago and she can remember stuff from her last thru hike.

Yesterday while climbing over 3,000 feet I actually considered doing a first person what goes on inside my head account of the climb. Ultimately I think it would be too difficult for me to write so that it would be compelling reading.

However, I can share some really bizarre observations. While slogging up a slope basically heal-toeing it with each step, if there is a rock, or heaven forbid a step installed in the way, the added effort to pick your foot up that extra 2 inches can be overwhelming and you may have to stop for a break. 2 inches. Other times, especially after an extended break it is almost impossible to get momentum moving forward again if an uphill is the first thing (and it usually is). The goal is some sort of stasis where breathing, poling, heart rate and leg movement is not overwhelming any of the other parts. For me that usually means a fight. My body says “For God’s sake man, what are you doing? Go home, lay on the couch and have a glass of wine!” And that is when both breathing and heart rate decide to let me know they are not happy with me. On the flat or the down I can hold my own with anyone. The ups still kill me even though I am developing into a climber.

Apparently there is this thing called hiker hunger. When hiking up and down mountains carrying 30 to 40 pounds it is virtually impossible to eat enough to replace the 4,000 to 6,000 calories burned and hiker hunger sets in. All you think about is food. In trail towns you will eat everything in sight. My hiker hunger has not kicked in. In fact as I am getting into hiking shapes have not been very hungry at all. I do not have a scale but think I am down about 15 pounds at this point. At some point, probably sooner rather than later my hiker hunger will kick in. Perhaps after the Smokies when we start upping the daily mileage.

Tomorrow is Fontana Dam for resupply, then the Smokies. Hopefully I can give another update tomorrow evening.

-Samaritan

Day 18 and prior….

Day 18 and prior.

Today we are at the Nantahala Outdoor Center in Bryson City, NC. We got here yesterday after a dreadful downhill section that will probably only get worse as erosion takes its toll. The section was burned by the wildfires last year and without much vegetation, stands to lose a lot of soil if hard rains come. Parts of the down seemed liked you were standing on a rock with a cliff on either side. No, it wasn’t that bad, but felt like it.

We got to the NOC which is a perfect blend of backpacking and whitewater river rafting. The AT goes right through the campus and there have been major rafting events here and the campus has produced several Olympians. They have an Outfitter here and the store is amazing with its selection. Good thing I don’t need anything.

Actually I did need one thing, my Smokies permit. There is a special permit for thru-hikers. Costs $20 and we have 8 days to get through the Smokies once we enter. We are required to stay in the shelters to limit our impact on the environment, however, if the shelters are full thru-hikers are “kicked out” and we have to then tent. I was told this is because they believe thru hikers are more up to speed on Leave No Trace practices and will limit the impact on the environment.

Whether or not that is true, I have seen all sorts of ridiculousness so far on this hike. The Boy Scouts have it right in teaching outdoor ethics by a long way. I believe nature belongs to all of us, but also wish there was a way to educate people better about it. With rights, or privileges, comes responsibility. Too often the responsibility part is forgotten. I don’t feel comfortable walking up to people I don’t know and correcting their mistakes. If I know someone for a bit that is different. It is more like teaching, than lecturing.

So, yesterday I was hiking uphill, and if you have followed along you know I hate uphill and only now am beginning to get better at it. It takes some time for me to get a rhythm going where my steps, my arms and poles and my breathing are in sync and I can keep moving. So stopping just kills that for me and I have to go through the process again. So yesterday, I am hiking uphill and I look up and see seven people coming my way. Day hikers. Might have been two days ago….anyway….the gal in front has long blonde hair tied up and a bright pink coat and the whole deal. I keep moving, uphill has the right of way for all of the reasons I have spoken about above. It is hard to regain momentum uphill. We were literally about two feet apart when I finally had to jump off of the trail to avoid a collision. She was not going move. I was fuming. The third guy from the back says to me, “Hey, aren’t we supposed to let you pass?” Yes. Tell that to the dingbat up front please.

Overall that kind of stuff has been few and far between. The amount of garbage seen on the trail and in the fire pits has been surprising, but a lot of my background backpacking has been Philmont and the scouts simply don’t leave trash all over. They are taught better, so I am spoiled in that regard.

Today we did a whitewater rafting trip. The troop does one every couple years at Kosirs. Dick Peiters has property near there and has been kind enough to allow the troop to camp on his property in order to access Kosirs which is down the street. This was very similar and it was fun. The water was ice cold and the sun really hot. So another zero today, this one unplanned, but in terms of timing not a bad time. Tomorrow starts some massive uphill climbs and then the Smokies. The next two weeks has me a bit worried, but if I can somehow get through them, I think the rest is doable.

So for the rest of today, fuel up my body with good food and repack my gear for an extended stretch of backpacking. I will be stopping in Fontana Dam to resupply in a few days and then hit the Smokies.

-Samaritan

Day 11, 12 and 13

So when I am on the trail I come up with all sorts of stuff to discuss in my blog and by the time I get to the computer to write, I have to think really hard about what all that great stuff was I wanted to share. I am going to have to download a voice recording app for my phone or something. Although, that might not be the answer either as I had intended to do a lot of writing on my phone at night in the tent. However, my phone eats power like crazy, so I have not been using it for that. Or watching NBA playoffs.

I am in Franklin, NC tonight. Took a zero today. A zero is a day of no hiking. A chance for the body to recover and repair. This is my second zero. My original plan only had one zero in this stretch, but my body had other ideas. I am really trying to listen to my body as it can send me off the trail very quickly if I don’t. I am getting stronger though. I can see the improvement daily, which is wild. And I am down about 10 pounds so far, which is ridiculous weight loss honestly. I suspect I am not eating enough, but it is really hard to eat after some of the brutal hot hiking days. Ah well, I will keep trying to better about it. For now, the body is rebelling, but adapting.

One thing that struck me about GA and now NC is that the trail goes up and down so much that we are literally walking in and out of seasons. At altitude we are hiking through very early spring. The trees are just beginning to bud and everything looks like it is ready to wake up. When we lose that altitude in sections we are hiking through very late spring, or maybe even early summer. The contrast in a day can be very striking. However, when I mentioned this to Crooner, my 21 year old hiking partner from Milwaukee, well, he had not noticed that. 🙂 I also had to point out an entire hillside painted in pink and white flowers. He would have walked right on by…

OK, so I am going to jump around a bit. One evening we were talking about stupid things that we have done. Of course, I had very little to offer to the conversation, but I can listen anyway. It reminded me of Cole’s Law, “Be smart about your stupid stuff.” Which of course means if you are going to do something stupid, that is fine, but be smart about the how, where, when etc… Well, out of the mouth of babes and Crooner says the one thing you should never do is break more than one law at a time. In other words if you are driving around with illegal substances in your automobile, do not speed. Ever. Or have a broken tail light or any number of other possible violations. The more laws you break at once the more likely you are to be busted….for several at once. Ugh. That can put a real damper on plans. Good thing I learn from others mistakes…Anyway, these are the deep conversations that happen sometimes on the trail.

The last couple of days saw a couple of milestones fall. The first is we finished our first state. Georgia is in the rear view mirror and North Carolina and Tennessee in front of us for the next 400 or so miles. We will be crossing in and out of the the two states numerous times before we finally leave them behind and hit Virginia. About a fourth of the trail is one state. Virginia. Over 500 miles. Then Harper’s Ferry. That is the first big big goal of the trail. However, I cannot think about that. These milestones will come, but only if I take care of what is in front of me right now. The two toughest climbs of the trail so far happened right here in North Carolina. The first was at the end of a tough day and had there been cab service I would have been on a plane to Milwaukee. The second was earlier in the day and I handled it just fine. (slow, but fine) But that is what it is all about. Literally one step at a time. On the ups I will frequently look up and pick a tree in front of me and make that tree my goal. When I get there I can stop for a short break. Then another short term target. And so on. If you start thinking in terms of Harper’s Ferry or Mount Katahdin, forget it. You won’t make it. It is all about short term goals and daily improvement. That is the only way to eat an elephant…one bite at time. If that was not the case I could work myself into a real funk at this point realizing I have almost 10% of my time goal spent, but only about 5% of the distance covered. In fact, if you look at an AT map the amount of distance covered so far is similar to the width of a hair. Ugh. One step at a time…..

The people everywhere so far have been amazing. I have joined several facebook groups related to hiking the trail this year and it is amazing the amount of judgment that goes on on those groups. People seem to believe that if it works for them, it must work that way for everyone on those groups. Out here, that is not the case. I have a feeling the people on those groups doing the judging have never hiked a step on the AT in their lives. Out here for the most part acceptance seems to be the case. And being helpful. If you need something, everyone is willing to pitch in and help out. What is it about the outdoors that brings out the best in people? How can we bottle this and bring it home to all?

Speaking of people, have not met any real characters the last few days, but will update my “people” page anyway. In terms of soundtrack, been listening to a lot of Mother Nature the last few days, but did spend an afternoon listening to Kurt Vile. If you like music you should check him out. Very fun stuff, and great guitar work.

Still figuring out my gear as well. I have sent several things home and I think I have most of it dialed in. I received my new tent today and it looks amazing. This is interesting. Last fall I did a post on the Big Three: Backpack, Tent and Sleep system. I thought I had that dialed in. I now have replaced two of the big three and saved over four pounds of weight by doing so. And the sleeping system I posted was brand new, never used at that point in time. And I love it. I did not want to replace the tent, but it leaked…straight through the silnylon. That is not an easy fix of seam sealer or anything so if I need a home for five months, I guess it was worth replacing. I got a Zpacks Duplex tent. It weighs less than two pounds and has a ton of space. I cannot wait to get back out there and really test it out. So in terms of the big three, I have all new stuff since my last significant backpacking trip. Usually testing new equipment on a thru hike is not advised. One really should do field testing prior. Oh well, my first 30 days are a test on several levels, so why not toss equipment into the mix.

As far as other gear goes, I am waiting until after the Smokies to send another box of warm weather gear home because it snowed in the Smokies just a few days ago. If that happens while I am going through I will survive, but I won’t like it.

And I think I finally have a way to attach the camera strap to my backpack so that the camera sits comfortably on my chest. It bounces, just a little, but enough that I have developed a hard spot on my stomach where it hits. I’ll have to figure that out, because I don’t think that can be good. On the rainy days I have kept it in my pack, unfortunately. But honestly when exhausted hiking up a mountain, the last thing I want to do is crouch down and try to get the perfect camera angle for a shot. I still have been shooting a bit. Sometimes we hit a stream crossing and depending on depth of field I could probably take 50 shots in that exact same area and they would all be amazing and different enough that you would not think they were taken in the same area. For pics I cannot wait until we get into the balds. They are coming up with the first being Siler Bald. They got their name from the fact that they are bald, no trees or significant bushes on top, so from the summit you can see forever. I pray that the haze that has been present the last few times I have been up high dissipates so I can get some good pics.

I have done a couple of Facebook Live videos. They are kind of fun to do, so I’ll keep looking for opportunities to do those. Going to be entering the Smokies soon so I will not have as much time to update the blog. This is kinda how it is going to go though. Early on, will spend less time hiking as I get into shape and have more time for blogging. Also, early on, there are more trail towns etc, because there are more hikers. As people drop out because it is more difficult the hiker places to stop are less and things more spread out. I am about to start to enter the second phase of this adventure and time will be spent on hiking more than anything else. In another 30 days or so I will likely be walking from seven am to seven or eight pm as the days get longer. That is how you do long mileage days. Not about the speed, but about the time spent doing the walking. I am going to kill Virginia. I would like to get through there in 30 days, but probably closer to 35ish.

God Bless

Samaritan