Monday, 17 June 2013

500 miles in 5 minutes

A compilation of slides from the trail. It gives you a fast feel for what it's like to be out there without spending a long time on any one photo.

You can also go straight to YouTube to watch it, in different sizes for your screen and bandwidth:

     And better quality flickr photos are here ...

Thursday, 13 June 2013


Hello Gronk fans! Here are some things I didn't post for Gronk earlier, for whatever reason. Enjoy!

Rain storm in Roanoke, and the reason why Gronk was delayed a day in flying home:

A still photo of the storm in Roanoke:

What it looks like without the rain. There are hills back there!

A screen grab of the television news, after the storm:

The mama deer and her baby:

Hiker boxes at the HoJos in Dalesville. Gronk contributed some of his extras to the boxes.

Camp on the Trail in heavy rain and wind:

Camp in the rain, complete with dinner being made:

Lichen on a tree. Remind you of Space Invaders?

Ottawa bound

June 13, later - Ottawa bound 

I hung out at the local mall today, to kill time. There were many stores we don't have in Canada and they had some novel kiosks selling what I normally would've thought to be pretty cool stuff. 
Roanoke Valley View Mall

What surprised me was my total lack of interest in any of it. A remote controlled helicopter would've been pretty cool two months ago.

I walked both floors of the mall and wondered how anyone could be interested in the stuff they were selling. A place called Lids only sold ball caps. There were at least three others places selling "lids" along with the accompanying tee or sweat shirts and jackets. And except for Lids, they were all selling running type shoes. It seems neon orange, green and yellow are the in-thing for shoes now. There were no customers in the stores. Hopefully, it was just because it was too early in the day.

The coolest kiosk, though was selling throwing knives, mini cross bows, stun guns and Klingon battle swords. And the prices were reasonable. :)
Mall sculpture setting a poor example.

The two gals at the airport who were such a help getting me rebooked suggested I do lunch at Shakers. It was about a 15 minute walk from my hotel. And I'm so glad I did. 

I had a couple of  Fat Tire draught beers and ordered their bacon cheese burger (my default selection when everything looks good). It was one of the best burgers I've ever had (probably thanks to the double bacon I asked for!). But then I had two thoughts - when was breakfast at the hotel and when did the shuttle run?  I have to be at the airport for 5:45am. 

I called and was told breakfast was at 6am and if a shuttle driver was not available, they'd pay for a taxi to take me to the airport. 

So I ordered a second bacon cheese burger with fries for breakfast. I have a fridge in the room. I had also told the waiter that the first one had been a really great burger and I needed a second one to go.  Well the chef himself came out and had a chat with me.

He had plastic cutlery so we switched steamed apples for the fries and he packed the wet ingredients separate from the dry so I ended up with a deconstructed burger I could put together after nuking parts with my microwave oven. The apples were the icing on the cake. And I have coffee in the room. I love how American businesses bend over backwards to make the customer happy!

It ain't over 'til it's over.

June 12 - It ain't over till it's over.

But the hike to Maine is finished for me this year. And I feel good about that. After 8 1/2 weeks of living out of a backpack and sharing it with all manner of insect life, I'm ready to go home. 

And I miss my wife!  :)

I'm not done with the A.T., though, and I think it's OK that I didn't eat the elephant all in one go. I'll be back. 

And it will be in better physical, functional condition. I had noticed over the last few days after leaving Pearisburg that I couldn't tilt my head back to finish drinking the Gronk coffee from my pot without feeling a tearing sensation down my neck towards my left shoulder. I think it is wise for me to get off the trail before more damage may be done. Julia's setting me up with a chiropractor for an overhaul. 

I've retrieved my bounce boxes and booked my flight to Ottawa for Thursday. 

I really want to thank you all for the encouragement you offered. It was fun and humbling to read your comments. Thank you so much for taking the time. I really appreciate it. :)

June 13 - Update

Due to severe storms expected in the US north-east, my connection through Washington was cancelled until tomorrow. So instead of rolling the dice there, I've rebooked the whole trip for tomorrow. 

And instead of another $30 taxi ride to my cheapie hiker motel and them back in the morning, I caught a free shuttle to the Comfort Inn Airport in Roanoke VA. They even gave me the "distressed traveler" discount!

Wild life at the Comfort Inn.

Interestingly, when I put my pack onto the scale at the airline check-in counter, it weighed only 23 pounds. With full food and water there would be another 10 pounds for 33 total.  That is very light compared to most packs being carried out there. This it goes to show, to me at least, that there is something wrong physically with me if I can't even carry that weight comfortably.

Wednesday, 12 June 2013


June 11 - Saturation point reached

It rained most of the night. Temp fell steadily. Only 16C in the hammock. Very chilly outside with a moderate wind with gusts. 

Another limb came down. It was smaller than the last one but that's now the third one that has come down near me. There was one as I walked out of Damascus that cracked right over my head. The sound made me run forward ducking my head. It crashed to the ground right on the trail about 10 meters behind me!

I had packed all my damp gear in 45 minutes and was heading down a soggy trail.  A surprising number of tents were set up at campsites just past me.  

Within the first hour on the trail I was thinking I may have had my fill of hiking this summer. I thought about leaving the trail at Daleville, my next town stay. 
One minute of sunshine, in 24 hours.

The feet were still an issue but the main problem was my shoulder, or rather, the trapezius muscle. I had two days off in Pearisburg, one day of hiking and then another day off during the storm, and it still bothered me so much, that I used my hiking poles beneath the pack to hold it up a bit for short periods. If I could have carried my pack with just the right shoulder, I would have. 

I slogged through a lot of Alder tunnels filled with mud. I kept readjusting my pack straps trying to put most of the load on the right shoulder. I couldn't use the left hiking pole at all and if anything, the trapezius pain seemed to be getting worse. 

I decided to see if there was a bail-out option before Daleville. I scanned The Guide thinking I'd have a road crossing with a town nearby in a day or two, but then I saw this: Camping at "The Captain's" 30 yards east. I decided to keep my eye out for this place as The Captain might be able to, or know someone who could, shuttle me to town. 

As I walked, I thought, I love the soles on my Oboz shoes because I can't feel rocks and roots through them. I hate the soles on my Oboz because they're so slippery they're dangerous! I've slipped and fallen twice with them and have slipped and caught myself more than a dozen times. I'm really leery now of rock scrambles. It takes time to navigate these hazards. 

With all the rain, the streams were swollen. Usually there are rocks in the stream you can walk on but this day, all the rocks were under water by several inches. There were numerous crossings to be made and my shoes were soaked from the get-go. At least with hiking poles, I was offered some stability. 

The Captain's was eight miles into the day's hike. Before I got there, I saw a blue blaze trail going off to the right with a sign stapled to a tree stating that the zip line was closed because of the swollen river and slack packers were to take the side trail to the road, turn left and walk a half mile to The Captain's. Look for mailbox 4464.

I continued on, wondering about the zip line, when I ran into a stream that fed that swollen river. It was very fast water, wider than most streams and the rocks were covered by about a foot of water as gauged with my hiking stick. I felt it could knock me over and I didn't want to chance it if I didn't have to. 

And I didn't have to, thanks to that sign a quarter mile back. I returned to the fork, took the blue blaze trail and about 20 minutes later, turned into the driveway of 4464 Big Stony Creek Road.

There was no one home and I had no cell service. It was a cool place though. There were two friendly dogs and the back door, to a huge closed in porch with a fridge filled with soft drinks, was unlocked. A sign said to make yourself at home even if no human was around and to sleep on the porch if it was raining. Nice. The zip line connected the property to the A.T. on the other side of the river. A novel way to get to your campsite for sure. 

I headed back down the road retracing my steps, surprisingly disappointed no one was around to help me out. A truck came down the road and I waved to the driver and then kicked myself for not waving him down and asking where we were in relationship to Daleville. 

A moment later the truck returned!  He said I looked like I needed directions. He had turned around and come back!  It's funny how things show up just when you need them. Kismet. 

His name was Jason and he was a farrier. His client that afternoon had cancelled and it was my good fortune he was there on that road at all. He said the A.T. crosses the river a half mile further up the road on a pedestrian bridge and I didn't have to backtrack. And he offered me a ride up to it. 

I asked him directly - how much could I offer him to take me to Daleville?  He didn't answer right away and then we arrived at the foot bridge across the river. I could see the telltale white blaze off to the right which was north. And then I saw a hiker hurriedly coming down into the gap. He had seen the truck pull up and wanted something. 

He came up to us looking desperate and started talking about bad boots and needing to find an outfitter. I looked at his boots and the right one had the sole completely separated from the rest of the shoe. It was held in place with a lashing. This guy was in a bad way. The nearest outfitter was in Daleville. So suddenly we were on our way. 

Talk about timing and coincidence. Had Jason's client not cancelled he wouldn't have been on that road. Had I crossed the swollen creek I'd have been there earlier and missed Jason. Had Jason not given me a ride up to the trail the guy with one good boot would not be going to the outfitter. 

It was an hour and a half to Daleville. Jason dropped me at the front door of the HoJo motel which is closest to the A.T.  He wouldn't take a dime for going out of his way!  Said he was paying back kindness shown to him. Wow. 

I decided to sleep on my decision to leave the trail. 

A dark and stormy night. And day. And night.

June 10 - A dark and stormy night. And day. 

It was just past 7pm last night when the wind picked up. I thought it prudent to check the tarp lines and decided to double wrap the lines around the rocks. 

No sooner was I zipped back into the hammock when it began pouring and the wind kicked it up several notches, enough to make my hammock shake and shimmy. The wind seemed to change directions repeatedly and I was worried the tarp might fail. 

I had a fitful sleep as my house kept moving to and fro with each wind gust, and when I woke up at 3 am, I was still wearing my glasses as I was prepared to leap out into the storm if need be. Truth be told I wasn't sure what I'd do if the tarp failed. A cord breakage would not be much of a problem but if the material failed it would be structurally unsound to the point where it could not be pitched. And then I'd be in some trouble.  It's made of Silicon impregnated nylon and works much like an umbrella - so long as it's under tension it will shed water. 

What was worse, though, was the hammock was taking on water. I used the excess tarp-to-tree lines to act as drip lines on the hammock suspension. I have 12 foot lines and rarely need more than three or four feet to secure the hammock to the tree.

When it rains hard, water flows down the tree and then some of it veers off following the hammock suspension. A drip line gives the water another chance to change direction and flow to the ground instead if all the way to hammock where the material will then soak it up. My drip lines were too small relative to the flow of water. 

It was still storming three hours later this morning and it continued until past 9 am, when I was wondering what I ought to do. I was surprised I had some off-and-on AT&T service and managed to get a radar image. Then I sent an email to Julia and she managed to update me on the weather with more accuracy. 

The rain kept starting and stopping. For a brief moment there was sunshine and the world looked rather pleasant. Then it was gone and the winds were back. Bottom line was they were calling for 90% chance of rain today but a better day tomorrow.
One frustrated hiker.

There were at least eight tents back at the campground four miles back where I watered up yesterday and I kept waiting for these hikers to come by but I only saw three. So it seems they saw the same weather report and are staying put. 

I hung out listening to the radio when available - about 10 minutes or so each hour if lucky, and read stuff I have on my Kindle app. 

Thunder showers, some pretty severe, came and went. One in particular filled my tarp (rigged in porch mode) with puddles of water. I had to push up on the tarp to empty the puddles every few minutes. When the rain subsided I went out to tighten things up. 

As I pulled on the tarp lines I heard cracking wood. I heard this twice earlier an hour or so before. I thought it might've been an approaching hiker but none showed. As I looked over there was the tremendous crack of splitting wood and a huge limb, as thick as my waist, on an adjacent tree only 20 meters away broke loose and crashed to the ground. A widow maker!

I looked overhead to double check there were no potential hammock killers above me. I usually hang from smaller trees away from the big monsters and never under any dead limbs. A sobering incident nonetheless. 

It's damp and misty but there could be worse days. The tarp and hammock are holding up so far. Another soggy day in the hammock.

Back out there

June 9 - Back out there

When you leave town after a zero day, you smell good and you're clean. You foolishly try to make that last as long as possible by walking around things that may make you dirty or have bugs hiding in them. But it's all for naught. 

I was slow getting out this morning and didn't hit the pavement for the walk back to the trail until almost 10:30. It was a hot sunny walk and I was in the woods by 11 with sweat pouring off me. It was very humid. 

The climb out of Pearisburg involved crossing the New River on a huge bridge. It's called "new" but geologists believe it's one of the two oldest rivers in the world. There were two kayaks and two canoes floating along with the current, the people knew each other and were chatting with one another. Nice way to spend a Sunday morning.
Just follow the dotted line...

My pack did feel lighter, I'm happy to report but the shoulder was still sore. On the walk up to Walmart yesterday, I wondered about whether or not it was from muscle fatigue as stretching it made it feel a lot better. 

That made me think it might have something to do with the hiking pole and not the pack at all. So today I carried the left pole more than I used it. I tried shortening and then lengthening it. I paid attention to how I used it relative to the right pole. I noticed I had a strangely uneven gait and was digging the left pole into the ground with more force and a twisting action. The jury is still out but I may be on to something here. I tried to walk more balanced and I think it helped. 
The view from Rice Field.
Look carefully - there's an approaching hiker.

The trail climbed to a ridge a couple of thousand feet above Pearisburg and stayed there for several hours of hiking. At one point I came to a group of tents at the prettiest camp site. I was looking for the water source and spoke to Jay Bird. He said everyone was there because of possible thunderstorms later on and the fact it was 11 miles to the next water. 

I filled up my bottles and then filled my dirty water bag as backup because I knew I would be wild camping before the next water source. Eleven miles was out of reach for me. 

Interestingly this also happened last week where I was obliged to carry four extra pounds of water. So although my pack was lighter this week, that extra water made it heavier, lol. 

There was a camping area shown on the map and I wanted to walk at least to that spot before stopping. But when I got there it turned out to be an open field so I kept moving.

And then a mama deer with her spotted fawn strolled across the trail!  She sort of leaped behind some stubby trees but then stopped and eyed me curiously. The fawn just stayed by her side.  Wonderful. 

And suddenly there were hikers. Four of them looking rather sweaty. Hikers usually nod at me and pay me little attention. These four leaped up and looked they want to hug me. 

Turns out they yogied a ride from a local who knew a short cut back to the A.T. and following his directions, for 10 miles they figured, way longer they he had indicated it would be, they walked a road that petered out into a cart path that petered out to a dead end trail. And there, thankfully, were two white blazes. But which way was north and where were they? 

I told them I knew exactly where they were and they were much relieved. But not happy. Water was either four miles back or seven miles ahead. They weren't out of water but were low and I offered some of mine but they said they'd be OK. They decided go the four miles south and I said good-bye and headed north. I wished I'd been a little more insistent and given them some of my water.
A life saving trickle of water.

I walked another half mile and then decided to pack it in. I was still on the ridge and it was rather windy but I found two trees that were square to the wind and rigged my tarp with a steep pitch on the windward side. I had to use large rocks as it was just too rocky to drive in a stake more than two inches. First time that's happened. 

I set up my cook pot and stove to make dinner and then it began to rain. There was some distant thunder but no storm materialized over my head. 

And then there was another spotted fawn!  Right on the trail in front of my camp. And this time I got a picture with my phone. He was snacking on something on the trail and was a bit jittery, jumping sideways every so often. And then he wandered off into tall grass. I was being very quiet so his mama was giving him some leeway I figured.

A mist rolled in and I felt its chill. It was time to turn in. I hung the food bag and crawled into the quilt.