Sunday, March 25, 2012

Trail Lessons

This trip has been getting harder. I expected this be somewhat of an uncomfortable experience, but there are days that make hiking the trail seem impossible.

Now I'm not talking about bad weather. I can deal with getting wet IN my tent. I'm not talking about carrying everything on my back for 8 to 10 hours a day. That's just a part of learning what I need to carry to survive out here. I'm talking about the other hardships of being on the trail.

The hardships include the pain the body goes through, being away from loved ones, and the other unexpected annoyances that make this difficult.

When I'm in pain, there is nothing better than rubbing in Icy Hot to soothe the aches. But what do you do when you put Icy Hot on your body and you don't feel it? I can't believe the pain is that intense... it truly doesn't feel like it. But come on, I can't feel Icy Hot on my feet? I had to rub some on my upper-inner thigh just make sure it was working (yeah that's smart).

So the solution... Ibuprofren or Vitamin I as we call it on the trail. It keeps the pain to a minimum on some nights. Stretching is another helping technique. It's just too bad that I didn't bring my yoga mat. The real answer is that the pain will eventually go away... or at least require less than a hundred pain pills. With being on the trail comes the acceptance that being uncomfortable every day is just a part of the adventure...and having major pain is just a bad day.

Having a relationship and doing the trail is another issue. I want so badly to talk my girlfriend but there is never enough cell service in the mountains. I'm actually carrying two phones, my regular phone which has all my maps, guide books and photos from the trip and a pre-paid phone. The extra weight (3 ozs) is worth it. So far we've been able to talk everyday, even if only for a few minutes. Still I miss her... and we're working on that too. :)

Another thing that makes this tough is the terrain. When I'm hiking for 5 hours I would expect to be putting some serious miles behind me. Well that's just not true. On a couple occasions we had a goal set and didn't meet it because it took FOREVER to get where we wanted to go. We've had some long 6 mike sections. Ever seen me roll my eyes? I do it every time I see stairs on the trail...and there are a lot of stairs.

I've fallen twice now, slipped over a dozen times and tripped hundreds of times over sticks and tree roots...
Banged my knees and ankles...
and hit my head on tree.

And on top of all that I found out that my nose sweats.  No, not the outside.  I'm tried of constantly blowing my nose.  I don't have a cold; it just sweats... kind of like when I eat something really spicy and it clears my sinuses.

The good news is that I found the perfect cure for any of this. HOT CHOCOLATE!

Everyday is tough, but everyday there's a reward... whether it's a mountain top view, a cool breeze on hot day, or something different that I've never seen.  But on tougher days there's always hot chocolate.

Fontana Lake from the south

Fontana Dam from the south end

Bill and I crossing the dam into the Great Smoky Mountains NP

My view from Clingmans Dome in the Smoky Mountains

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Good-bye Sweet Georgia

This week marked several milestones on our hike along the AT. Wednesday Bobber and I passed the border into North Carolina. Thursday we had our longest hiking day with over 19 miles. Then on Friday we passed the 100 mile mark.

Here's some photos to recap the week:

Crossing into NC
Bobber at one of our first peaks

View after the toughest climb on a 19 mile day, Albert Mt

Trail Magic setup by college students on spring break, free food is awesome!

This WAS steak, ribs, shrimp and chicken. :)

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Jaws on the AT

It’s been one week and I’ve traveled several miles along the trail, made a few friends, and a name for myself.

I started late on the 6th heading up Springer Mt where I met Bill.  Bill had just come 8 miles straight up the Approach Trail. The Approach Trail starts in Amicalola State Park and takes several hours of hard work to climb to the starting point of the Appalachian Trail.  I decided against doing this.  I think of the Approach Trail to be kind of like pre-season football, it’ll get you warmed up… but could also cause a season-ending injury. I got a ride up to the top along a forest road and glad I did. Bill still reminds of his trip to the top.

On Springer Mt, Bill and I had talked briefly and together we decided to head to one of the first shelters on the trail, about 2.5 miles in.  It was after all 4pm.  Once we hit the shelter we met several other people who also had started for the day and couple others who were finishing up a section hike.  Most notable was Eric.  Eric is from Wisconsin, just like Bill, and an experienced trucker. Of course you would know this just by talking to him; his ability to cuss made me blush.

The next day the three of us headed out to tackle the AT. In 3 days we traveled over 30 miles to Neels Gap. On the way, we took our time, saw the sights, and had a few laughs.

Eric was not doing too well with his 50 pound pack and his choice of clothing.  Every time we went uphill he began to call himself the furnace.  By mid-day on day 1 he had taken off every layer up top except his jacket, which he kept unbuttoned, earning himself the trail name Bare Belly.  We always knew how far behind Bare Belly was when he started cursing the mountains. We were good to wait him out and give ourselves a few minutes to breathe. This eventually caught up to us though.

On the second day we had planned to hit Neels Gap after 15 miles but it got late before we knew it.  That night we camped out at Jarrard Gap and got pounded by a rain storm that seemed more like a tornado. I had not slept too well any other night as I’m still trying to get used to sleeping on the ground, but this particular night I slept like a baby through most of the storm.  I didn’t care as long as I was dry and all my stuff stayed dry. The tent did wonders that night.

Once we got to Neels Gap, we stayed at the hostel and got that experience in for the first time.  It was great. Mainly because we got to experience our first bit of trail magic too.  Trail magic is when someone does something special or really nice for hikers.  That night a church group came in to cook us hamburgers.  The food they laid out included plenty of fixings, an awesome potato salad, desserts, and cat food.  Cat food!?!?  The hostel had a couple resident cats that had food dishes kept on a table by a window.  One of the hikers, Peter, decided to just go around the room taking what ever food was laid out.  So as I passed him I noticed the big juicy hamburger on his plate and next to it, dry cat food.  I warned Peter that the food was REALLY dry and he may need to some water to wash it down. I then pointed to the cats’ water dish.  He looked at me funny not understanding, so I told him to take the cat food off his plate.  Peter was promptly named Whiskers.

Well after leaving Neels Gap, Bill and I had continued on for a few days of serious hiking. We traveled up several peaks a day, some much longer than others.  All we could think was how Bare Belly would have faired with us. He decided to lag behind since our pace was too much for him.  Probably a good thing as each hiker needs to do what they want on the trail and try not to follow anyone else’s itinerary.

Our unplanned itinerary has been wonderful so far, even with the pains I have in my knees, back, legs etc.  Bill and I landed in Hiawassee yesterday and decided to take a zero day today after all the hard work. A zero day is a day off with zero miles. Tomorrow we will leave behind Georgia and march on into North Carolina with Franklin as our goal destination.

Funny thing happened on the way here. A couple nights ago we saw some transitions as we got ready for another night in the woods. Bill, or Billy Bob as he is known at home, became known as Bobber with other hikers.  And for me well I picked up the trail name of Jaws. It’s either on account that I have several shark tattoos or because I just don’t shut up sometimes…   or maybe both.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

And away we go...almost

They say that getting there is half the battle. If that is true, then I should get a medal just for the commute to the trail.

I took a bus to "Hotlanta" yesterday and stayed the night in the worst hotel ever conceived. The free breakfast consisted of dirty, already peeled hard boiled eggs and warm orange juice. I once found half of a watermelon left in the sun at a trail picnic site more appetizing. The coffee was good though, even if the tops were too big for the cups... by about 2 inches! Of course the girl that worked there said she knew that, but still asked me to put the top on anyway if I take the shuttle bus to the airport. I looked at her and lightly flicked the coffee top with my finger and watched it fly off the cup and the table. Yeah ok, like that top will keep me from spilling the coffee all over myself and the driver.

Anyway, back to the commute.  While on the bus yesterday I spent most of the day figuring out how to get to the trail. There's many options and most are expensive. I decided I would take a bus to Gainesville, Georgia and then taxi to the trail, a $125 option. This was the best I could do since my schedule of getting into town didn't sync with the hiker hostel pickup schedule, the $70 option.

So after checking out of the Uncomfort inn, I got on the train from the airport to the center of Atlanta to the bus station only to find the bus to Gainesville  FULL. I laughed and told the lady at the counter "no problem." In truth it wasn't as I'm finding that going on this trip without a jump-off plan liberating somehow. 

As luck would have it, ten minutes later I got a call from Bill, a fellow who does last minute pickups in Atlanta to the trail for less than the bus option. I emailed him last night just incase. Bill said it would take 3 hours to get to me...and as I'm expecting 3 hours to go up north. Well that's fine with me! I'm happy there are folks out there doing this service for hikers.

Well, in order to meet Bill, I had to get back on the train and head as far north as I could, to the end of the line. One again I found myself in laughter as this darned train station was in the middle of nowhere. There wasn't even a vending machine...just the wind blowing...with tumbleweeds rolling by. I have to wait here for 3 hours? Ahhhhhhh, no. I got on the train for the last time and went south one stop where they have a Starbucks. Yes, coffee! I called Bill who said he was happy to adjust the pickup point.

Thank heavens, it may be dark when I start hiking today, but at least I'll be there.

And away we go!

PS. I did eat that watermellon