Monday, April 9, 2012

Land speed records

State number 2 down! No more stops in North Carolina. Over 400 miles completed including 98 in the last 6 days. Here's another example of a bad day on the trail...

Ever wonder how fast you can run with a 30 pound backpack? Well go to the top of the nearest 6000 ft mountain and wait for the first lightning storm to come along.

After spending three days doing over 17 miles each in an effort to catch up with Bill and another fellow hiker, Hawk. These guys must be flying because I always seem to miss them by about 5 to 8 miles. Bill's last message to me was that they would be at Loft mountain, arguably one of the toughest climbs on the trail before the White mountains in New Hampshire. Well I calculated I could do the 17 miles without a problem even if there was a tough climb involved, after all I've been going up and down like 5  times a day for the last month. So I left out of the Cherry Gap shelter on my way. I stopped for lunch at another shelter about 10 miles down the trail. I even took the time to take a quick sponge bath (I poured a bottle of water over me). Then I  signed the the shelter log book, "Stopped for a break, got naked and drenched myself in water. After all, what's a shark without water? ~ Jaws"

After my good long break I was ready to go. I only had 7 more miles to go and it was only 2:30. Normally I can knock out 7 miles in about 3 hours. Heck I just did 10 in 4 hours so I'm feeling pretty good.

Well after I left the shelter... almost immediately, it started raining. Then it got worse... and worse... and darn it, worse. I had to stop a few times to remind myself why I was doing this. I really wanted to get to hang out with the guys again.

After the first four miles of negotiating wet trail, mud and some minor puddles I managed to get to the "hard" part, the last three miles, all up hill... No, up a mountain! The first mile I was working really hard since the grade up the trail increased dramatically and was very muddy. For every step I took, I slid back half a step. Needless to say I wasn't going very fast.

On the second mile, I had a hand-over-foot climb to several false summits. Then just as I was getting to the first of two peaks, here comes the thunder. I don't want to say I had a close call, but close enough to see the tree that got hit and for my hair to stand up. I didn't know lightning could come out the bottom of a tree. I don't expect the birds hanging out for cover at the base of the tree did either. Well, I thought to myself, "as much as I like fried chicken, I'm not sticking around!" I think if someone clocked me going down the hill I would have gotten a speeding ticket. Anything to keep from getting the hairs on my behind from being singed. I'm not a stunt man, but I sure must have looked like one as I jumped and dove down the rocky ledge slipping and misstepping most of the way. I even did a Tarzan swing off of a couple tree limbs. I managed to get down into the next gap and was spared from any more fireworks. But now I had to hang out and wait for the lightning to pass before proceeding back up the next peak.

After waiting for about 30 minutes on my rubber sleeping pad (holding my ankles), I continued. The last mile and half had to be the worst. All up hill through mud and puddles over a foot deep. Everything I had on me, including me, was soaked. I even put my hikers umbrella away because that was just useless at that point.  "After all, what's a shark without water?"

Now I just wanted the shelter. I climbed FOREVER! And it was starting to get dark! Where did the time go? On my final steps of the trail, I happen to look up and see a sign. With my flashlight in hand I read the sign telling me I was 0.1 miles from the shelter. FINALLY! The end of the worst day on the trail ever. Well at least I'll get to tell the guys about it. When I stepped into the shelter, Bill  and Hawk were no where to be found. Man those guys fly!

"Ok this is double hot chocolate day."

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Trail Angels

OK so I first need to thank everyone for the birthday wishes on Facebook. I spent my birthday at the Standing Bear Farm Hostel ( The owners have a great setup where everything in run off the honor system. There are some resupplies available, showers and cozy fire to sit next to at night.  On my night there, however, the owners' two little girls went the extra mile and decided to bake me a birthday cake.  It was very sweet of these two little girls who have never met me before to do something so nice.  It did make my birthday special.  They were little trail angels.

Trail Angels are people who do very special things for hikers to help make their day a little better. I've mentioned before that as a hiker I've received Trail Magic in the way of free meals, sodas, and fruit. Well it is usually trail angels who provide the magic.  But the magic isn't always something you'd expect.  In the case of my birthday it was these two girls making a 40th birthday away from family special.

A few days earlier I had hit Newfound Gap with Bobber. As soon as we got there a fellow named Mark was there to greet us with chips, sodas and ride into Gatlinburg. If you've never been to the Smoky Mountains, Gatlinburg lies on the borders of the western park boundaries. It's 15 miles from Newfound Gap and an entire day's hike.  Mark really saved our butts.  He was once a thru-hiker and knows how special it is to get the help when you really need it. Mark and his wife work really hard to help others out in the the area, and that makes them very special to the hiking community.

After a night of gorging in food in Gatlinburg, the next morning Bobber and I headed over to the nearest outfitter, the NOC, to see about getting a shuttle ride back to the trail. The NOC has a strict schedule for shuttles and they only carry about 4 hikers at a time.  Well at 9am the best we were going to get from the NOC was a 3pm shuttle.  Luckily there were angels in the making that happened along behind us.  A couple from Ohio, Robert and Katie, in town on vacation saw us at the NOC and started asking questions about our gear and the hike.  We gladly told them everything they could want to know. Well Katie told us how afraid she was of the mountains and cliffs.  She explained how bad her fears were from taking a trip the day before into the Smoky Mountains.  She said she couldn't stand the thought of driving on a mountain looking down the the steep cliff walls from the road.  Well after learning we were trying to get back up to the TOP of the mountains with no luck, Katie put here fears aside and said she would gladly see us get there.  Robert and Katie drove us the 15 miles to the top of Newfound Gap... and then refused to accept any gas money from us.  This type of help was so unexpected and makes them very special people to go out of their way for us... complete strangers to whom I feel I owe a special thanks.  So to Robert and Katie, thank you for being our Trail Angels!

I have other trail angels that have been my support system all along since planning this hike.  MOM and DAD! They have been caring for my cats while I'm on the trail.  Recently one of the cats became very sick to the point it didn't sound like she would make it. But with the right care and love she is doing much better now. I can't wait to hit NJ to see them!  Thanks Mom and Dad for taking such good care of them.

My biggest trail angel and supporter has been Mary. She has been making sure I get everything I need while I'm on the trail. She has been experimenting with making dried meals for re-hydration, forwarding snacks we purchased before I left, and most importantly makes sure we get to talk when the cell service provides the opportunity.  She's my Trail Angel and I miss her so much.  Luckily she came up from Florida this weekend and picked me up in Hot Springs, NC. We got to spend quality time together in Asheville visiting the Biltmore. What a great birthday weekend!

Well it's 274 miles down. Mary will be dropping me off on the trail tomorrow morning to meet up with Bobber again. We will be off to tackle the rest of North Carolina and Tennessee.  Here's some pictures from one of the best places I've seen so far on the trail, Max Patch.

Walking up to Max Patch

View from Max Patch

The trail across Max Patch

Just kicking back on Max Patch

Making it into Hot Springs after an 18 mile day

Carrot Birthday Cake sent by Mary to Hot Springs... SWEET!