Saturday, October 13, 2012

Walkin' With The Ghost Whisperers

J.R. "Model T" Tate's book about the history, myths, lore and legends surrounding the Appalachian Trail is now available for the Kindle! On his third thru-hike of the AT, the author realized he had hiked past hundreds of monuments, historical markers, old buildings without ever hearing the stories behind them. He embarked on researching these stories, and trots them out like we were sitting around a campfire in a voice that betrays his southern roots. That the story follows the trail northward makes it handy to have in one's back pocket to read and to refer to along the way.

Bonus! While the printed version is thick and heavy, the Kindle version is weightless! Link to Amazon [here].

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Lessons Learned - Cameras on the Trail

I love my camera. It ain't for everyone, and most backpackers would probably prefer a smaller, lighter camera. Perhaps one that's water proof. But I wanted the image quality that comes with a big sensor, in a package that wasn't as bulky or as heavy as a DSLR. So I carry a Fujifilm X100.

My thoughts on cameras for hiking (here).

During my northbound Georgia section, I carried it in a padded nylon case by Tamrac. (Upper right in photo at right) Their Tamrac 5693 Digital 3 Camera Bag (Black) is a perfect fit for the X-100. I put a shoulder strap on it and slung it over my shoulder after I put my pack on. The camera was accessible that way, and well protected. If it rained, I put the whole thing in a dry bag, and stashed it in my pack.

When I had to go home with my knee injury, I spent a lot of time cutting weight out of my pack. That case weighs 7 ozs ... Almost half a pound! It had to go. But what to replace it with?

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Where I'm At

I know, I know ... I've been delinquent in posting updates. I'd like to say I've been completely focused on banging out the miles. But, the truth is, I took the easy way out and just updated Facebook with photos and a few lines. I'm sorry.

And, the Blogger app for android does not seem to allow me to respond to comments ...

I've written several updates, and I'll continue to do so till I'm up to date. Which brings me to that point.

Once again, an injury has taken me off the trail...

I made it thru the Whites, the Green Mountains and into Manchester, VT. All while limping along with foot pain that was all too slowly improving. A doctor on the trail suggested I get a script for Prednisone, and that was working swell.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

New Hampshire's White Mountains

I came down out of the mountains to a bit of road walking towards Gorham, NH. At the intersection of US2 and North Road sits White Mountain Lodge & Hostel. A wonderful New England lodge that has been beautifully maintained and converted into a hostel catering to AT thru hikers.

I limped in with a sore heel and surrounding tendons that had been bothering me for a while. They took all my dirty laundry, gave me loaner clothes, showed me the common room with a big TV and a shelf of DVDs, a fridge full of pizza and Ben & Jerrys ice cream, and a bunk with a real mattress and clean linens. A shuttle took us twice daily to the local super Walmart for resupply. The freezer had ice packs.

Heaven. I never wanted to leave.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Hiking Maine's Mahoosuc Mountain Range

Southern Maine's Mahoosuc Range, a northern extension of the White Mountains, has the reputation as the hardest section of the Appalachian Trail. A 4000 footer, and several that are nearly so. Steep notches where the trail goes straight up and down. A foot path that is often shear rock face, and slippery when wet. It's the home of the infamous Mahoosuc Notch - A mile-long jumble of boulders described as the most difficult, or fun, mile of the trail, depending on one's predilection for bouldering.

After my shipmate, Ray dropped me off at The Top Of The World, I hiked a few miles to a campsite by a stream, The next morning I traversed Bemis Mountain. A long, steep descent brought me to South Arm Rd where I camped for the night. The next morning I got a lift to Pine Ellis Lodge in Andover to resupply, and to ice my feet and knees. More after the break.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Nobos I Knew

Started running into northbounders I had hiked with back in Georgia.  Mouse appeared on the trail in the Bigalows, recognized me,  but not really.  I reminded her we had met at an overview in Georgia.  That didn't ring any bells so I told her "It was a nice night for a knife fight," an expression she had used to show off her Tennessee accent.  That brought it all back!

A few days later, I ran into Wiffleball - So named 'cause he hiked with a bat and ball and organized games at shelters along the way. We had started hiking together the first day from Springer Mountain, along with DamnYankee, Loopy and DarkAge, but he was soon stretching his legs and got well ahead of the rest of us.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Old Shipmates Along The Trail

Ray Richards, a shipmate from our time on USS Eisenhower in the 70's, and an unabashed "Mainah," met me at "Top of the World" in Maine, with milk and home-made whoopie pies!

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Stratton, the Crockers and the Saddlebacks

Sue runs the Stratton Motel & Hostel in Stratton, and she shuttles hikers all over the region. I gave her a call when I reached my point of frustration trying to hitch into town, and she came out to pick me up.

Stratton is a good resupply town. There's a grocery store across the street from the hostel, along with a diner open for breakfast and lunch.  Other places in town offer options for dinner, and there's a hardware store offering some supplies hikers may need. And Sue's hostel has a full kitchen, showers, and a living room with TV and a closet full of DVDs.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

The Bigelows

The trail out of Monson had a relatively flat profile, and in a few miles it actually turned into a pleasant foot path, relatively devoid of rocks and roots! I made good time, passed over Moxie Bald, and then into Caratunk for a meal, shower and laundry at Northern Outdoors.

The next morning I made it to the northern bank of the Kennebec River just as the ferry was returning from the other shore. The ferry is a canoe  piloted by Hillbilly Dave. The ATC contracts for this service every year because hydro-electric plants upstream release water without notice, causing the river to rise as much as four feet in a matter of minutes.

Two days later I was climbing Little Bigelow Mountain, the first of three peaks in the Bigelow range.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Walks With Deer

Got up before dawn and was on the trail at 4:45.  Summited Barren Mountain and was treated to a view of distant mountains with a layer of clouds below.  The sun peaked out of the clouds and sent a ray of light across the valley.


Thirteen days after I summited Katahdin, I walked out of the wilderness to the road leading to Monson. A guide I had met with a couple on Barren Mountain pulled in to the parking lot and offered me a ride into Monson.

The trail provides!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Hundred Mile Wilderness

I stayed an extra day at Baxter State Park to rest my legs after climbing Katahdin. I had been recovering from a tendonitis/bursitis in my knee, and didn't want to push it. This really informed my strategy for the next several days -Take it slow, and follow hard days with easy ones to toughen up my legs. Hopefully without injury.

The next day, I hefted my pack, heavy with food for ten days, and headed south.  Ten miles later, I crossed Abol Bridge, scarfed down a "loaded" burger at the camp store/gas station, and entered the Hundred Mile Wilderness.

This stretch is the most remote section of the AT. Until recently there were no provisions for resupply once one entered. Improved forest roads, enterprising hostel owners, and the occasional cell service on mountain peaks have made it possible to get bailed out. Still, I saw hikers banging up ther knees trying to get through as fast as possible due to poor food or water purification planning.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Happy Fourth of July

It looked like rain when we got to Baxter State Park. The ranger station at Katahdin Springs Campground has a selection of old day packs one can use to climb Katahdin. We registered with the ranger, loaded day packs with rain gear, fleece, lunch, and a couple of liters of water, and headed for the trail head.

Getting to Baxter

In the end, a rental car was much too expensive, and I flew into Bangor. The next leg was a bus to Medway, and the bus station is just a short hike out the airport entry road to the main drag, and a couple of blocks to the right.

I bought my ticket and had a few hours to kill. There's a shopping center with a grocery store and a Staples back a few blocks. I boxed a carry-on bag and the duffle I had protected my pack with, and shipped them home from Staples. I saw a seafood place next door and had their "famous lobster roll," which was nicely loaded with lobster.

The bus ride to Medway was short. There were three other hikers onboard, including Jason and a woman my age with the trail name Mothra. Paul from the AT Lodge in Millinocket was waiting for us, and got us into town right at dusk.

Besides the Lodge, he and his wife own the Appalachian Trail cafe. We had dinner, got back to the Lodge, and prepped for the next day.

We all got up around five, showered and hit the cafe for the breakfast which was part of the deal, and more than I could eat.

Then Paul packed us back into the van, and drove us to Baxter State Park for our ascent of Katahdin and the start of out trek.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

I Have My Reservations ...

I'm not talking about whether I'm ready to hike, I made campsite reservations at Baxter State Park. This is one of those logistical thingies that Sobos have to worry about. Nobos can just waltz in and stay at a campsite designated for long-distance hikers. But Sobos have to have reservations or risk being turned away if the sites are all full.

The reservation system at their website has all the information, but it can be complicated depending upon when you want to make your reservations.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

A Single Speed Bike?

My Physical Therapist wanted me to start riding a bike midway through my treatment for tendonitis, because he said the cyclic action of pedaling would help rid my knee area of lingering inflammation. So, I pumped some air into the tires on my old Trek 1200, and started riding.

That was about the time I read Gear Junky's "Best Gear of 10 Years!" post.  It put the concept of fixies and single speeds into my psyche, and it took a tenacious hold. The idea of a road bike stripped of derailleurs, shifters, cables, extra chainrings and sprockets - a machine stripped to its most basic essentials, appealed to the minimalist in me. Less friction, less weight, just a chain between two gears. A pure connection between man and machine.  Read more after the break ...

Thursday, June 21, 2012

The Sobo Plan

I graduated from physical therapy a few weeks ago, and my knee is feeling great. Since then, I've been either hiking at Saugatuck Dunes State Park, or riding my bike pretty much every day. Getting strong, and I haven't touched an anti-inflammatory in over a month. I'm good to go.

So, I'm planning to depart Michigan right after my niece's wedding, drive a rental car to Maine, spend the night at the AT Lodge, and summit Katahdin on the 4th of July.

Then I'll be hiking south to Springer ...

In the meantime, I'll be upping my game with longer, harder bike rides and hikes, while banging out a honey-do list and reworking my drop-box plan.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Oh Those Bones, Oh Those Skeleton Bones

I've been thinking about that with every step I take for the last three weeks in an effort to retrain myself to walk properly.  Some kinda mantra, eh?

My physical therapist had determined that some trauma to my foot had caused the joint between my ankle and heel, the sub-talus, to seize up.  That joint allows the heal to slip around, provides shock absorption with each heel-strike, and allows the foot to flatten mid-stride, so that we launch off our big toes at the end of the stride.

At the same time our foot flattens, our tibia rotates inward so that the knee is pretty much right over our big toes at that point.  The femur and the hips roll in at the same time.

A whole lotta shakin' goin' on!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Getting to Katahdin

Anticipating being cocked, locked, and ready to walk in time for an early southbound Appalachian Trail start, I started looking into how one gets to Katahdin. Here's my notes:

Monday, May 14, 2012

When To Start a Sobo Appalachian Trail Thru Hike

Oil on Canvas painting of Katahdin by Frederic Edwin Church

I started a northbound (nobo) hike in Georgia on the spring equinox, and hiked 114 miles before leaving the trail with an injury. I'm in physical therapy, healing fast, getting stronger every day, and have been considering my options to finish my thru-hike. At this point, it's reasonable to assume I can be ready to go some time in June - Maybe, possibly early June ...

The Appalachian Trail Conservancy's web site has all kinds of strategies listed beyond the traditional northbound thru hike. Flip-flops, southbound (sobo), leapfrogs, head starts ... All with their own pros and cons, and optimum starting times. A June start means I could flip-flop by starting at Harper's Ferry, WV, hiking to the northern terminus in Maine, hopping a train back to Harper's Ferry, then hiking south to Georgia. Or I could go for a more traditional southbound (sobo) hike.

The latter has a lot more appeal to me.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

MYOG - A Smaller, Lighter Cook System

My MSR Titan Tea Kettle has an 850 ml. capacity, and I never used more than a half that during my, uh, shakedown hike this spring. So I boiled water in my old 600 ml Snow Peak cup over my backpacking stove to see if the flame pattern was ok. It was.  I have one of Tinny's aluminum lids for the cup, and together it weighs about an ounce less than the MSR. Takes up less room in my pack too.  Now I needed a cozy/pouch.

I had built one for my MSR Titan Tea Kettle. It's a simple, insulated pouch with a drawstring top, that serves as both a cozy and as a bag to carry the pot with stove, lighter and misc cooking stuff inside.  It's made of a light ripstop cotton duck, and insulated on the side and bottom with Insul-Bright, a hollow polyester fiber with a metallized film backing. 

It's over-built, and I figured I could get away with a lighter material. I still wanted cotton, cause I didn't want it to melt from a hot pan.  I broke out some scraps from a Ski Patrol project, the leftover Insul-Bright, and Mary's sewing machine.

Monday, April 30, 2012

What I'll Do Differently When I Get Back On The Trail

In the time I was out there I learned a few things before my knee got angry with me. I hiked 12 days, and was on the trail 14 including the two zeros in the woods. I did 115 miles, averaging 9.6 miles per day. Hiked in the rain, lost my food bag to a bear, climbed the equivalent of Mt Everest, and avoided shelters every night for the luxury of my tent. I took too much food outta the gate, and otherwise found some opportunities to reduce pack weight.  When I started hiking farther and faster, I uncovered a skeletal problem that caused me a lot of pain and anguish. All in all, a pretty good shakedown ...

So what will I do different when I get back on the trail?

Monday, April 23, 2012

The Underlying Cause

Saw Dave - my Physical Therapist at Holland Hospital Rehabilitation Services today. I've seen him before, and he always got to the root cause of my pain. With two conflicting diagnoses, I was eager to hear what he had to say. After I described what happened, and he did an initial assessment, he agreed that I was dealing with a pes anserine bursitis, along with some lingering tendonitis. He said it was clearly an overuse injury. But the fact that it did not occur till I was ten days in, and then only after I had increased my mileage, suggested that there might be a bio-mechanical issue causing it.

Monday, April 16, 2012

A Second Opinion ...

Saw a Nurse Practitioner at my primary care facility today. She's calling it a pes anserine bursitis vice a patellar tendonitis. That's the bursa that's under three conjoined tendons at the point they attach to the tibia - right where I feel all the pain.

Treatment in the short term is the same - rest, ice, compression, elevation ... and anti-inflammatories. Maybe a lidocaine/cortisone cocktail injection. I did get a referral to my PT, which is what I was really after.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Well ...

Doc told me to give it a few days, and I've given it six. I've been a good boy - resting my knee,  taking anti-inflamatories, icing it, using a compression wrap ... But the bottom line is that I'm spending a lot of money staying in this motel, and I still can't walk without pain.

I have a shuttle to Asheville tomorrow, where I'll pick up a rental car and drive home to Michigan. There I'll see my ortho guy, get a better picture of what's going on, and get on any treatment/therapy to repair the injury.

I'm bummed. But I've had a great outpouring of support from my friends and family.  Everyone urging me to get healed, and to get back on the trail.

Which I will.

If I'm ready by June, perhaps I'll flip-flop by going to Maine and hiking south. If I have to wait till July, I'd consider a Flip-Flop where I'd start in Harper's ferry, VA, Hike north to Katahdin, then return to Harper's ferry and hike south to Springer Mountain.  Otherwise, I'll start again on Springer next Spring.

What is certain is that the trail will be here when I'm ready for it.

I'll be posting throughout the process, and I appreciate all your support.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Mmmmmm... Ramps!

Sly, Bag-O-Tricks, and Bookworm are staying in the room next door. Yesterday the latter two went hunting for ramps along the AT, and came back with a nice bunch.

Ramps are a wild leek that resembles a scallion, but with broad, flat leaves. The flavor is described as being like an onion, but with a very strong garlic smell. And they are pungent. Those who eat a big meal of them tend to be shunned by others ...

For days.

Because they are one of the first greens to grow in spring, their appearance in spring is a big cultural event throughout Appalachia. Large regional ramp festivals are held annually in North Carolina and West Virginia. Lately, ramps have become the darling of chefs and foodies.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Stupid Meaningless Milestones

You know like arbitrary lines in the ground, or big round numbers, or some construct someone comes up with that folks latch on to? Usually completely meaningless in the grand scheme of things?

In the last few days, I crossed my first state line, passed the 100 mile mark, and have climbed the equivalent of one Mt. Everest.

Without Sherpas.

Of course if you push too hard to make one or more of these milestones, and end up in a motel for days popping pills and icing your leg, they may be meaningful - Just not in a good way.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The Doc Says

With the help of the prednisone, naproxin and norco, and a madingly slow pace, I made it to Rock Gap by 6 pm. It had been raining steady with hail for the last three hours. So when Ron Havens himself showed up in a warm van, I could not have been happier.

He grew up in the area, worked for the Forest Agency from when he was in eighth grade, and have been all through these mountains since. He was a wealth of knowledge, and it was a pleasure talking with him. 

He told me to just ask at the desk, and there would be someone to take me to the clinic in the morning.

Sure enough, one of his friends showed up to take me, and waited for me against my objections. These people go way out of their way to help us out.

The First Temptation of L Dawg

I had spent two days and three nights in camp, more or less babying my knee. When I got up the third morning, it was feeling noticeably better. The sharp pain was gone. It was time to leave camp and get to Franklin, NC.

Ron Havens is a respected friend of the trail who operates three motels catering to hikers. He picks up folks at several nearby gaps, one of which was only eight miles away.

Relatively easy miles with the exception of Albert Mountain. Not the highest, not the longest ascent, but the first to be steep enough to require using hands to climb over rocks.

Several hikers pointed out that there is a blue-blazed trail that circumvents the mountain...

My Walking Stick

After any period of rest, the first several steps were real painful. I needed a walking stick since I use my hiking poles to hold my tent up. I found a nice piece of rhododendron, and cut it down to size.

It fit great. Nice bent handle. I used it everywhere I went during those days, tended fires with it, and when I was bored, I started whittling on it. One knot became a part of a bear paw for the one that got my food bag. Another was my knee with the hot spots showing. Bands around the grip featured the mountains.

When I was ready to hike out, I wrote this URL on the handle, and left it against a tree. If you found it, that's the story. Hope you make it yours, and that it's as good to you as it was to me.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Pampered in the Woods

One zero stretched into two as I wanted to give that knee a good rest. I was rarely alone, seeing something like 20-30 hikers a day. And they were all good to me.

I traded a Snickers Bar for an ace wrap with a Scoutmaster.
I was limping around gathering fire wood when one group came into my camp to take a break and hear my tail of woe. One of them got up, scoured the gap, and came back with an armload of wood.

One morning a couple came in and the woman offered me some Badger muscle rub. Then, a big ole, tobacco chewing boy asked me if I had any chondroitin. When I told him how the bear got it, he pulled out a big bag and gave me a handful.

Monday, April 2, 2012

A Snail's Pace

After three days of a literally blistering pace, I woke up at Beech Gap, crawled out of my tent, stood up, and it felt like someone had shoved a red hot poker in my knee.

"Mr Garlinghouse, on a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate this pain


It felt like another inflamed tendon. It hurt every time I put weight on it, and it felt slightly better after I walked on it a bit. I delved into my first aid kit, took some naproxin and some norco, and hit the trail.


Sunday, April 1, 2012

Trail Angels

Back when I got on the trail at Dick's Creek Gap, I was greeted by a group of ladies set up to feed hotdogs, chili and homemade angel food cake to hungry hikers.


I was still pretty full from breakfast, but graciously accepted a slice of cake. My mom made great angel food cake ...

I'm sure it powered me up those first few hills ...

A Blistering Pace

I was 11 miles from Dicks Creek Gap, the point where I could get into Hiawassee to resupply, and I banged them out. Longest mileage to date, and I was hustling in the afternoon to get to the gap before dark. Found no cell service to call for a shuttle, so I hitched a ride. The young man drove me right to the motel and wouldn't accept gas money.

Took my first shower in too many days! Also found my first blister on my small toe, and figured I had found my blistering pace.

I went to an all you can eat Chinese place, and put a dent in that buffet. Then to an Ingles supermarket, (a Fresh Food franchise),  and bought way too much food. Took it back to my room repackaged it for the trail, and passed out.

The next morning I took my smelly hiking clothes to a laundromat, ate a big breakfast of eggs, grits, and bacon with biscuits and gravy.  Checked out of the motel and hitched a ride back to the gap. By 1:00 I was on the trail with the goal of doing 9 miles to the GA/NC border.

Had to hustle to get to the border before sunset, and  I set up camp next to the spring at Bly Gap.11 miles in, 9 miles out, not bad for a town visit day, eh?

I decided since I was on a roll, to hike 12 miles to Beech Gap where there is good camping and water. The profile looked pretty easy. It hit the highest elevation to date at Standing Indian Mountain, but the approach and descent both looked easy. ...

It started to rain that afternoon during the descent, so I hustled a bit more than I should have to get to camp and into dry clothes. Two more blisters ...

I'm beginning to understand why Pirate told us "Never hike after 2:00"

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Real Trail Magic

We made it to Blue Mountain Shelter last night, and plan to push through to Tray Mountain Shelter today - 9.1 miles, with two mountains in between. Weather is outstanding for a change, and looks good for a few days.

Now, there's the kind of "trail magic" where folks set up at a gap and provide burgers and such to hikers passing by. Then there's the kind of magic that happens when you really want it most...

Yesterday a local hiker heard I had lost my food bag to a bear, and brought me a packet of Sue's Chicken! Then Shrink gave me a few ounces of olive oil. I poured the oil into my pot, added the chicken, and some chili powder, cumin, dehydrated peppers, onions, tomatoes, black beans, salt, pepper, tomato powder, brown minute rice, and water. - All stuff the bear didn't want. Best chili I've ever eaten.

Course it might just be the hiker hunger setting in ...

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Please do not feed the bears!


It had been cold and wet with a hail storm thrown in when we got to Hog Pen Gap.  We found a nice campsite just a few hundred yards south, where two tents were already set up. We set up our tents, made some dinner and prepared to settle in.

I was a good doobee, and hung my food bag from a tree at least 200 ft from our camp. The limb was a little to low for the PCT method, so I did as everyone else was doing, and tied my line off to a tree.

I got up before dawn, strapped on my headlamp, and headed for the tree. when I trained my light on the limb, there were only three bags hanging.


The line was still attached to the tree, but had been snapped. I searched the area and saw where it had feasted.

Clearly, the bear liked packaged tuna, peanut butter, mixed nuts, dried fruit, olive oil, dried milk, powdered cheese and fruit preserves.

Fortunately, it didn't much care for quinoa, vulgar wheat, oatmeal, dehydrated veggies, or spices and herbs. I figure I still have a couple of days of food, so I'm hiking on.

My sponsor will appreciate that the bear liked my Emergen-C Joint Formula, and ate all the packages I had in my bag. So I feel good that it's getting its vitamins.

Friday, March 23, 2012

We Are The One Percenters

After a couple of tough climbs over Sassafras and Justus mountains, we got to Woody Gap Shelter, and it was a zoo.  Not a camping spot available.  We hiked on and found a nice spot with an established fire ring just a bit beyond.  Enjoyed dinner and a nip around campfire.

The next morning we all filtered out, made our way down to Gooch Gap for water and breakfast.

It was a relatively easy day. One tough climb, then a long, easy downhill run to our campsite. I felt like I found my legs, and stepped out.

It started to rain. I stopped, put on my rain gear, started hiking uphill, and started to sweat. I figured I'd rather be wet from rainwater than sweat, so I took it off and was perfectly comfortable hiking whilst soaking wet.

While watching for any shivering...

We stayed at Lance Creek, a campsite just outside a "temporary" area in which campers need bear vaults for their food. For that reason it was a popular stop. The weather cleared, and we enjoyed another campfire and watching each other hang bear bags. We calculated that we had completed 1% of the trail.

Woo hoo ...

It poured overnight,  accompanied by thunder and lightning. We all got up, put on our wet clothes, packed our wet tents and set out to summit Blood Mountain in the rain.

And we liked it that way!

Seems everyone stopped at the infamous shelter at the top for lunch and to dry out a bit. We were looking for a nice downhill run to Neel's Gap, where cabins with hot showers and pizza awaited us. Instead, we picked our way across slippery rock fields and down steep rocky trails. Our knees were complaining as we made our way to Blood Mountain Cabins to dry out.

Four days from Springer, five from Amicalola.  There were a few who did it in two.  But we were generally moving with the majority, and seeing the same folks each night ... Slowly breaking ourselves in as planned.

And we all learned what was waterproof, and what was water-resistant...

Tuesday, March 20, 2012


The train pulled into Gainsville, and Survivor Dave was waiting to take me to Amicalola Falls SP, home of the approach trail. I got my pack together as Kim showed up with her Mom. After pictures by the arch marking the beginning of the trail, we headed off for a grueling 7.3 mile clime to Black Gap Shelter.

It was near record highs at over 80 degrees, and all the warm clothing we thought we would be wearing was in our packs adding to the weight of excessive amount of food.

We were exhausted as we got to the shelter around 6 pm. We pitched our tents, made some dinner, and passed out. We were up before dawn, had camp struck, had a good breakfast, and were on the trail before sunrise.

You see, I've had this secret mission to be the first to sign the register on top of Springer on the first day of spring.  Fresh footprints made me think I wasn't going to make it!

As we were climbing, a great view of the mountains came into view to our left. But to the right was a greater view- The plaque on Springer's summit making the start of the AT!

I grabbed the log and found no one had signed it yet!  I made the first entry of the equinox, we took some pictures, and headed down the trail. We hooked up with Darkage, Damn Yankee, and Doug at the parking lot. The Asylum Train was hitched up, and we stepped out for Hawk Mountain Shelter.

The Asylum Train Leaves the Station!

The trail grade was a bit easier than the approach, but for Kim and I, it was a 9.6 mile day, and our packs were only marginally lighter. It was another day in the 80s.

We all groused about carrying cold wx gear in these temps, but the reality is that we cold be postholing thru the snow next week.

Hawk Mountain shelter was crowded with all the folks starting the trail in spring, but I was the first. The First AT Hiker in Spring

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Set ...

Grabbed my bag, kissed Mary goodbye, and got on Amtrak's Pere Marquette for the first leg of a two day trip that will take me to Georgia.

I'll get into Gainsville at 7:00am, where Survivor Dave will give me a shuttle to Amicalola Falls State Park. There I get on the approach trail to Springer Mountain.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Ready ...

Saturday morning I hop a train for the first leg of a trip that will get me to the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail on Monday morning. From there I'll start a 2184-mile hike along the spine of the Appalachian Mountains, to Mt Katahdin in northern Maine.  Along the way I'll pass thru 14 states, climb a total of 629899', make 865 summits, and bag five of the 50 states' highest peaks.

If history predicts anything, I'll be one of 1150-1700 attempting an AT thru hike this year. 28% of us will finish.

To improve my chances, I'll start slow - eight mile days with lots of breaks for the first week, and build up to an average of fourteen mile days. There'll be stretches where I bang out twenty mile days, and others where I'll be lucky to do ten.

I've spent the last year putting my pack together, often changing things to get the best performance at the lightest weight. Of course, nothing's lighter than leaving stuff behind, and I'm still working on that. As it stands, outfitted for the shoulder seasons, my pack weighs 21 lbs without food and water. That will drop to 18 when I swap gear in summer.  Food weight will vary between 6 and 14 lbs based on the number of days between resupply.  Water will vary between 2 and 4 lbs depending on water conditions.  I could be humping  as much as 40 lbs, but most of the time it'll be closer to 21-35.

I'll burn 4000-6000 calories a day and will be hard-pressed to consume anything close to that. I've chosen food with the highest calories/oz.  I'll be hiking on a diet high in carbohydrates and fat, with foods selected to assure I get complete proteins, and generally eating like a Hobbit. Most everything I eat will be rehydrated, cooked over a butane stove, and eaten out of a pot with a spork.  Yum.

I scored a sponsorship from Emergen-C and I'm packing their Joint Health Formula, which provides a mix of antioxidents, B vitamins, electrolytes and other nutrients, along with glucosamine and chondroitin.  I'll also be packing fish oil and Vitamin I (ibuprofen).

I'll generally resupply at grocery stores in towns along the way.  However, I have 10 boxes of food and supplies that Mary will mail to places along the trail.  Most of those boxes just have stuff that I'm unlikely to find along the way, plus Emergen-C, Clif Bars, meds, sections of the trail guide, batteries ... There are four that have a full food resupply that are being mailed to places where resupply is limited or non-existent.

I also have a box filled with summer-weight gear that Mary will mail to me when I get past Mount Rogers in Virginia, when the chance of snow and freezing temps is low. I'll mail the winter stuff home, and she'll mail that back when I'm heading into the White Mountains in the Fall.

There's a list of milestone dates over there in the right column. It's based on past thru-hikers average pace, and is not a schedule I feel compelled to keep. It's a yardstick by which I'll measure progress to make sure I meet my one hard schedule point - to get to Baxter State Park in Maine before they close for the season, around Oct 15. Else, I don't summit Mt Katahdin.

I'm packing a camera and a Droid, so I'll be able to post updates to this blog along the way.  Hope you follow along. If you want to be notified when I post something here, put your email addy in that "Follow by Email" block on the right-hand column.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Ixodes Scapularis On The AT

Adult deer tick(cropped) On a trail populated by bears, wolves, poisonous snakes and maybe even cougars, the creature that scares the hell outta me is smaller than a dime!

Ixodes scapularis, aka the deer tick, aka the black legged tick - Which in turn is the most common vector for Lyme disease along with a few other equally nasty possible co-infections.

Deer ticks have three life stages - larvae, nymph, and adult.  They need a blood meal between each stage.  As they feed, they pick up any of several  several bacterial, rickettsial, viral and protozoan diseases from their hosts, and secrete saliva and other fluids back into the host's body - along with whatever nasties they've picked up from previous hosts.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

The Doc Says ...

Gray345 Went to see an orthopedic specialist about some pain I've been having in my knee. I considered not going. With nine days before I'm to get on a train to Georgia, I did not want to hear that hiking in the mountains wasn't in my immediate future...

Besides, I've had knee pain all of my adult life. It'd flair up, last a half hour, then go away and not bother me for months...

But this time the pain wouldn't go away. I felt twinges of pain as I walked, and it was tender to the touch below the kneecap. I called, and was able to get in today - as long as I could get there in 20 minutes...

I may have exceeded a speed limit or three, but I got across town with 5 minutes to spare.  The doctor I saw clearly understood backpacking.  He poked, prodded, stress-tested, and filled in some substantial gaps in my knowledge of the anatomy of the knee. He ruled out tears in either my meniscus or ligaments. And said I have tendonitis. While that's not good, it's not hike-ending.


Rest, ice, vitamin I, and daily stretching are in order.  He questioned me about my pack weight, and was happy I wasn't humping 60 lbs.  He likes that I'll be starting out slow and building up to big mile days, and he really liked the idea that I'd be using hiking poles!

The doctor proved he knew more than a little about backpacking when I questioned him about Advil vs Motrin.  He told me that with Aleve at 1 pill every twelve hours, vs 2 Motrin every 6, it helps lighten my pack load!

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Seam Sealing My LightHeart Gear Solo

It had gotten to be mid-winter in Michigan by the time I got off my keister to do this. I figured that even if the sealant didn't need to be warm, I did. So I cranked up the heat in the barn, and pitched the tent by screwing cup hooks into the wood floor. Then it was off to my local outfitter for a couple of tubes of sealant.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Appalachian Trail Completion Rates

I've seen a lot of numbers thrown around about the percentages of declared AT thru-hikers who complete the trail, and where the ones who don't drop out. But hadn't seen anything empirical.

I found recent data on the Appalachian Trail Conservancy's "2000 Milers" page, massaged it a bit in a spreadsheet, and came up with both annual completion rates, and average drop-out rates by milestone for the period covering 2005-2011 ...

Thursday, February 23, 2012

And Now ... A Box From Our Sponsor!

The doorbell rang, the dog went nuts, and our friendly, local Fed-X driver was waiting with a big, heavy box.  I opened it up, and inside were bags and bags of fizzy goodness!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Companion on the Droid

I renewed my membership with Appalachian Long Distance Hikers Association, which among other things, gets me a copy of the Thru-Hiker's Companion in Adobe pdf format.  I have an unbound version of AWOL's AT Guide that, with it's clever integration of the trail's profile with milestones, will be my primary navigation tool. But the Companion has amplifying info that fills in where the AT Guide leaves off - History of the trail, and of the areas it passes through, park regulations, where to find AYCE buffets in town ...

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Let Them Eat Cake!

I read something about baking in a pot over a stove, and went looking for something on the intertubes.  I found several videos, including an excellent one produced by Mike Clelland for NOLS on a process called "Steam Baking." (See Below)

The approach is to put a couple of stones in the bottom of a pot to hold a silicone muffin cup off the bottom, add water to the pot, put the batter in the cup, place the cup on the stones, put the top on, put the pot on a stove.  When the water boils, the cup is enveloped in steam. Eventually, the batter rises, and when the cake passes the toothpick test, it's done.  Turn it out and enjoy.

I had to give this a try. I picked up a pouch of Martha White Blueberry Muffin mix at our local grocery, and assembled all the required stuff in the kitchen.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

My New GG LT4S Trekking Poles

I had been looking to replace my good old, stable, 18oz/pr Black Diamond Trekking poles with something lighter. Whatever I chose would have to be adjustable from about 115cm where I like to cruise, to at least 130 cm to work with my LightHeart Gear Solo tent.

BD came out with a new line called Distance Trekking Poles that fold up like avalanche poles. They come in both fixed lengths, and in an adjustable version using a flick-lock. The   weighed from 15.2 to 16oz a pair, depending on length, and list at $119.95. Which seemed like a lot to pay to save 2 ozs ... But more importantly, the one length they had that extended far enough to support my tent (120-140cm), did not collapse enough to support me in the manner to which I have become accustomed.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Zach Wrote a Book!

Appalachian Trials: A Psychological and Emotional Guide To Thru-Hike the Appalachian Trail (Volume 1)

Zach Davis' long awaited (and much hyped) book has finally been released in both softcover and ebook format. While thru hiking long trails like the Appalachian Trail is seen by many as a tough physical and logistical feat, experienced thru-hikers know that it is much more of a mental one - Dealing with the psychological effects of getting up day after day, eating your oatmeal, packing your stuff and putting one foot in front of the other five million times, with little discernible progress, towards an all-too-distant goal ...

(Why am I doing this again?)

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Camp Shoes

Seems for a long time Crocs dangled off the back of a lot of hiker's packs. Primarily so that they could take their boots off, slip into something more comfortable, and allow their boots to dry out. Wearing them for stream crossings also helped to keep boots dry, and most want something to wear in communal/campground showers. Over the last several years, lots of hikers have given up boots for trail runners. They're lighter on the feet, more comfortable in camp, and they dry quickly. Some have decided that they don't need to carry the extra weight of camp shoes any more.

I pondered this. A cheap pair of flip flops satisfy the communal shower issue. I do like the idea of trying to keep my shoes dry, and something to wear for stream crossings seems like a good idea. I decided to look around for something light, something that would stay on my feet, and protect them when crossing a swift stream.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Getting Pictures from the Camera to the Droid

I started investigating how I was going to upload imagery from my new camera to illustrate this blog, and to post to social media sites while hiking the Appalachian Trail. The weight of a laptop makes packing one out of the question. So I figured I'd just plug a an SD card reader into my Droid's USB port, transfer the files, tweak them with the Photoshop app, and then upload photos when I had a signal

I figured wrong.