Friday, 31 May 2013

More sounds of the AT

This is the sound of falling rain, heard just a half an hour after the owl below: Here is a bird, heard at 8:40 p.m. on May 20: Here is an owl, heard at 5:07 a.m. on May 20 (you may have to adjust the volume, it could be a bit faint. I rearranged the order of the sounds to put the faintest last. It can be shock to the system, to have the rain suddenly blare from your speakers! Sorry.)

Thursday, 30 May 2013

Walking mindfully

May 29 - Trying to walk mindfully

It ain't easy. That's all I can say. Somehow I thought walking in the woods would be meditative. And is when it's flat, lol. Still I tried. When I found my mind wandered I'd bring it back to the trail. But then it was off again. 

I discovered too that I like hiking with others. I hiked alone and camped alone this whole five day stretch and while it was a nice change of pace, I missed sharing it (especially the hard bits) with someone who could commiserate. And I found that hanging in my hammock with nothing to do but be in the moment was more conducive to meditating in nature than hiking with a pack strapped on you. Hmm. 

I woke up at 6 a.m. and after letting my brain work itself up to speed, got up. Actually getting out of the hammock is the most difficult thing about hammock hanging. It's just way too comfortable. I can hang (and have hung) for 12 hours without issue. I can't do that in a tent as every part that touches the mattress is hurting after only 8 hours. And in a tent, my head never rests in the proper position for some reason. 

The one thing I noticed when I got up was how damp my down quilts were.  It was very humid with the rain and everything was damp, clothes, too. And I was dirty inside my clothes. The humidity and warmer temps have made me stickier more quickly than in previous weeks. Not good when you actually offend yourself. 

I only had nine miles to go so I wasn't in a hurry but six weeks of learning how to pack things up efficiently put me on the trail in record time. 

I think I've changed my mind about PUDs again. They're for the freaking birds! The hike today was 50-50 good and bad. The good parts were nice forests with pine needle-covered trails and easy walking, even uphill with a grade that made me sweat. The bad were rocky outcroppings the trail maintainers thought would be fun to have hapless hikers hump over. They did me no favours. 

The strange occurrence of the day was when I crossed a road and there was a guy 50 meters up the trail on the other side, just standing there. He didn't have a pack. He said hello as I passed waited a minute and then began following me playing a recorder!  He played well but he kept coming for hundreds of meters and since it was out of a ga,p it was all uphill. It wasn't banjo music but it was a bit strange. He finally stopped turned and headed back down. I sort of wished I'd asked him about it. Walking, playing meditation perhaps?

Finally arrived at Partnership Shelter, the Ritz of trail shelters. A log house with matching privy - a privy that not only has complete floor to ceiling walls mind you, but, get this ...  a door!

It also has a shower. And that's why no one wants to leave. There were people all over the place and it was a party atmosphere. I saw some people I had not seen since Georgia. They're skipping around and not thru-hiking.

I walked on past to the Mt Rogers HQ building where I recharged my dead phone at an outlet behind a stuffed bear. Later on a father-daughter team showed up outside where I was sitting and he complained about the hangers on at the shelter. They were planning on staying the night but not with a bunch of stoners there and he was upset the rangers didn't enforce the one night rule. 

There was a local transit shuttle that was to make a run to the town of Marion six miles away but it was three hours later. I put on my town shirt and began asking visitors for a ride to town. The third guy said yes. 
Dehydrated peanut butter!?

Turns out he owns a new business in town that sells food and beverages and all sorts of stuff, a lot of it art related, including pre-poured ceramics that you buy and then hand paint yourself. He then fires them for you. I mentioned my parents made pottery for a living and he showed me a warehouse full of moulds he acquired but had not put to use thus far. There were close to 1000 of them. All I saw was enough "stuff" to drive you insane. I hope he knows what he's getting into. Ceramics is labour intensive.  :/
Jim and some of his ceramic moulds.

I don't know what to do about the foot issues I'm having. I've read what Pat's document said and I've tried May's suggestion about a lube. And I've been reading my Kindle book, Fixing Your Feet. 

 New blisters appear beside the old ones and old ones become new ones. It's only a problem after some hours and seems to be related to sweating and higher temps. I can feel my feet are hot. But I can't stop, peel off socks and tape, wipe with alcohol (so the new tape sticks), retape and don fresh socks - every two hours. Can I?

So maybe I need to take several days off and just heal? But then what? I must admit I'm a bit gun shy now. And to make it worse now I've developed shin and ankle pains on my right leg which I think are from changing my gait because of blisters on the right heel. 

Don't mean to belabour the blister thing but it's the centre of my attention now. Not sure what comes next. 

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Easy trail

May 28 - Nice temps, easy trail

Warm night in the hammock. I was up and on the trail early with another beautiful day beckoning. This was the hiking I think I expected. Warm sunny days and a dry and easy trail. Oh there were ups and downs, there was rock and root and some mud but all in all it was not as painful as some other days. 

Strange noises during the night. I couldn't fall asleep for some reason until near midnight. It was eerily dark too and the wind was rubbing and banging tree branches together and they creaked and moaned. I thought maybe it was the Blair Witch come to pay me a visit. 

Then around 3:30 a.m. I was awakened by the most God-awful noise. No idea what manner of creature it was. It might have been a bird as there was an owl booting in a strange way at the same time. A territorial fight? I grabbed my iPhone to record it. I've heard so many strange noises at night I've taken to leaving the voice recorder as the last app used so I'm ready when they present themselves. No luck this time, though, as whatever it was was gone.

These noises are not frightening for some reason and I think it's because I accept strangeness in strange surroundings. Instead of being frightening, they're merely a curiosity. 

I hiked farther than planned thanks to a re-taping of the feet and a change of socks with a good dose of Gold Bond. I watered up at the shelter I had planned to stop at but decided to head on. It had some good camping options but the house flies at last night's shelter made me head on in the hope of avoiding a similar onslaught. 

I hung my hammock far away from the shelter last night but the flies found me anyway. After dinner I lowered the tarp wings and after packing things up came back to find 30 of the buggers in the space between the netting on the hammock top and the tarp itself 6 inches above it. I shooed them all out and got into the hammock but they came back and I was forced to listen to them banging their heads repeatedly into the tarp for the next two hours. 

So I walked on for about a half hour when the sky grew dark and rain drops began falling. I climbed a slope and strung first tarp and then hammock. Once the tarp was up I was able to work out of the rain. I got everything ready and then made dinner sitting in my hammock with the tarp rigged in porch mode as the heavens opened and the thunder boomed.  A real A.T. moment. :)
Ramen noodles and tuna dinner.

Burning off the excess fuel. No baby oak trees were harmed making this dinner :)
My set up before the rain began in earnest.

Distance: 15.8 miles

Ponies and trail magic

May 27 - Ponies and Trail Magic!

Chilly night. Maybe the last one? Once I'm over Mount Rogers, it ought to be smooth sailing temperature wise. I decided to make a hot breakfast followed by coffee. I've lately only been having a Cliff Bar or cold oatmeal right out of the package with a bit of water. Believe it or not, it actually works -  tastes good and it's fast and there's no cleanup.  

I taped up the potential problem areas on my feet and then fixed up my two remaining open blisters like the book says, with moleskin with a hole cut in the middle where the blister is, and then filled it in with a free sample of zinc oxide I managed to yogi back on Damascus. And then taped over that. The zinc oxide is supposed to dry the blister up. We'll see. They're both on the heels so I still have slippage issues with the shoes. 

Then I was off for my morning constitutional which I seem to need only every second morning (is this more info than needed, lol?). I moved away from my camp and the trail and found a nice log amongst a small stand of red Trilliums to hold onto during the squat and wondered, as I dropped my pants, if the A.T. might actually loop back and was closer than I thought it was. It's a snaky trail. 

No sooner had I assumed the position, wearing my bright orange puffy jacket no less, than I heard voices. Boy Scouts. Lots of them. Thankfully I was low enough I could only see their heads 50 meters or so away. They kept me pinned down for a while though. :)

The climb up Mount Rogers and then up into the Grayson Highlands was difficult and took longer than expected because of the terrain. But the ponies more than made up for it! There was a bunch with some babies at the first shelter. One came up to me and licked my calf with a rough tongue, obviously enjoying the salty taste of a sweaty hiker. And they must know about salty hikers, as it happened a second time a few hours later.  

I changed my mind about PUDs today. [Editor note: PUDs are "pointless ups and downs."] The trail was still full of Memorial Day day hikers and I realized that this is their trail and not ours. Thru hikers and even section hikers are the intruders. The trail was conceived for those who live near it, to enjoy on weekends like this one and how boring for them if it was only a nature trail meandering through easy terrain.  Instead, the designers have made it challenging for them. To long distance hikers it might be tedious to go around in circles and always up and down in the most difficult terrain but that's our lot. 

The only down side today was getting close up and personal with several families having personal difficulties. I heard a lot of harsh language directed towards children and saw one slapped in anger. Being a parent is difficult. I was behind one group and heard the father say no matter what he did it wasn't enough, they always wanted more and be was sick and tired of it. I wasn't sure exactly who he was talking to. He had a wife, two kids and two dogs in tow and was unaware I was coming up. But the wife and little boy saw me and they were embarrassed. Families and holiday weekends. They ought to kept separate.  

Finally got to a place called The Scales which was the bottom of the last climb of the day. I really wanted to get over this 5000 footer and back down below 4500 feet before my feet gave out and I'd be stuck in the cold again. And there it was on the fence, a sign. "Trail Magic"!

There was a tent, a truck with the tail gate full of bags of stuff and a smoking BBQ!  Puddle Jumper and Slayer, 2012 thru-hikers, had driven 3.5 hours to do some Memorial Day trail magic for hikers. There were burgers and hot dogs, cold drinks and Gatorade,  chips and Doritos. A real feed. It really was wonderful. 

I hiked up and over the last bump in the road and dropped 1000 feet to Old Orchard Shelter at 4080 feet. It's now 7:30 p.m. and still 20C out there. 

I really enjoyed the hike today. I enjoyed my wild camp and I'm glad I stopped when I felt like it, when I was ready. Right here, thank you very much. 

Today's hike was 13.9 miles and took about 8 hours. 

Mountain climbing

May 26 - mountain climbing

Blisters on heels were an issue again. Terrain was nice except for the rockiness up Whitetop Mountain.

Buzzard Rock was an interesting place. Hung out there a while out of the wind and tended to feet and changed socks. 

Decided to stop for the day when I was tired and knew I could not make it over Mount Rogers and part way down other side to camp.  Did not want to be stuck on top at 5500 feet as tonight will be cold again. I'm stealth camping at just under 4900 feet on the south side. It's 5:30. The chores are done and I've had dinner. The temp is 16C and dropping. There's a cool wind blowing and the sky is overcast. I've been told tomorrow should be another fine day and no rain is expected. 

Hello Virginia

May 25 -  Hello Virginia

I had trouble getting going this morning thanks to a fitful night's sleep.  I wasn't sure what I'd be doing today. Had the blisters healed enough to hike? The one thing I had to do was send my bounce box either to the next location up the trail or home to Ottawa. It's the Memorial Day weekend here and the post office was only open a few hours this morning.  What I did the rest of the day was dealer's choice. 

I headed to the Blue Blaze Cafe when it opened at eight o'clock and just had coffee while I pondered my guide book. I decided, after four cups of coffee, to go and sort out my stuff, take the box to the post office wearing my shoes and new inserts an  then begin packing my pack to see how it all felt.  

It was all good so I decided to head out, although it was 11:00 a.m. by the time I turned in my room key to Dave at Mt. Rogers Outfitters and thanked him for his hospitality. It was his son Jeff who helped me with my shoe issue. 

I hadn't spoken with Julia for about a week and I decided to try to Skype her. It worked! Speaking with her always lifts my spirits. I was smiling for an hour at least. :)

It was a beautiful day with a clear blue sky and the air was still crisp from moderately cold overnight temperatures. I walked the length of the town heading north following the white blazes on East Laurel Avenue, the main street. I got as far as Mojo's coffee shop and decided to drop the pack at the door and go on in for a real cuppa joe. The blackboard said something about breakfast smoothies and I asked about breakfast options. They had a menu and I delayed my departure to enjoy some bacon and eggs with toast and jam. 

The A.T. follows the Virginia Creeper Trail for a bit as it leaves town. The VCT is a bike trail that used to be an old railroad used to haul logs down from the mountains. It's 34 miles long and here are 6-7 bike shuttle companies that now haul trailers full of bikes and chubby tourists in vans up to the top where riders can throw a leg over the top tube and then coast all the way back to Damascus. 

Pretty soon I was climbing and filtering tasty mountain stream water and dumping Dave's rather vile eau de tap. Some of my blisters had dried up and I taped the ones that were still an issue. I added tape to areas where things were tender and I snugged up the shoes as much as possible. It all worked out great. And the trail cooperated as there was a lot of flattish ground, "soft" in the sense of pine needles or oak leaves to tread upon as opposed to the typical slanted sideways with rocks and roots trail we've been experiencing. It was a pleasure hiking some parts of it today. 

There was one detour due to flooding and the trail went down a stream bed full of mini boulders that was hard to walk on. But I took the advice I was given, slowed down and trod carefully. 

I got to the blue blaze shelter trail but it was only 4:15 p.m. and way too early to stop. What would I do until it got dark? So I kept hiking, deciding to try for about two more hours if possible. 

About 40 minutes later I started meeting little groups of Boy Scouts, each with one or two adults. They all looked in the bag and each group had one person who wanted to know how far the shelter was. As I told them, 40, 45, 50 minutes walk and they'll be there, I could see the disappointment in their young eyes, and I'd quickly add, but you're walking much quicker than I am so you'll be there in no time. 

Then there were more and adults, all out for a weekend hike on the long weekend. One poor woman was already carrying her boots and wearing her Crocs and I figured she'd only been walking a couple of miles from the US58 trailhead. 

I passed all sorts of campsites adjacent the trail that were full of tents and people. It had been my intention of finding one of these and now, as I got closer to be trailhead, I was worried they'd all be taken. The next shelter was out of reach for me. 

But then I found the near perfect site. And it was vacant. I set up and hung my food bag. The ground was covered by pine needles. I realized this is the first time I've been camping all by myself with not even one other tent! 

It feels like it will be a chilly night. I can hear occasional traffic somewhere and I thought I heard fireworks being popped once or twice. I'm at 3000 feet and about 1.5 miles from the VCT. 

All in all it was a good day and I had a great hike. :)

Saturday, 25 May 2013

Zero day in Damascus

May 24 - Zero in Damascus

I've skipped ahead about 75 miles due to the 3 hostel shuffle.  Not sure what to do next. I think I'll just walk out of here tomorrow going north and not worry about "hiking every blaze". That's not what this hike is about for me, anyway, hiking every foot of the AT.  It's about self discovery and not getting to a geographical point on a map. It would have been nice perhaps, to say I'd hiked very foot but a shuttle back to where I left off would cost $100 or more and there's no one with whom to share the cost. 

There's a guy called Jeff at Mt. Rogers Outfitters who yesterday, impressed me with what he said about measuring my feet to see if my shoes were the right size or not.  I have not had my feet measured in, what, forever? What a concept. 

I spent the morning applying my new found blister repair and prevention knowledge to my foot care. I visited the local pharmacy, applied lotions and bandages and walked in my comfy (from my bounce box) shoes. 

I waited until the afternoon, because that's when feet are their largest, to seek out Jeff but was told he had taken packages to the post office and then had to cut the church's lawn and then had to go to his daughter's graduation. Apparently he's the only one at MRO who knows about shoes. Darn!

I dashed to the post office, aided by the fact it was off the main drag and anyone going down there would have to come back the same way. Sure enough I spied a bicycle wheel as I peered down the block and headed him off as he came back up the road. He remembered our "deal" and said he'd be back in 30 minutes after he cut the lawn. No problem. 

He was back a bit later than agreed upon but he did came back!

Jeff is an interesting guy and an A.T. character. He has no watch, no cell phone and he takes his time. When I met him yesterday he was talking about the Zen of the trail.  He wasn't the Zealot of Zen but it was weird he was talking about what I thought I needed at the time.

We had just shuttled from Black Bear. I was looking for foot care and the South Africans were looking for equipment upgrades. And there was no room at the hostel. I walked up the street to the the Hiker Hostel and then to several B&Bs and they were all full.  It was raining off and on. I left my pack in front of MRO secretly hoping someone would steal it, putting me out of my misery. But it was still there when I got back, still homeless. 

And then Jeff, who I'd talked with earlier about a bunk, started talking about Zen and life and relaxing and going with the flow. Did he see something in my face?  Fifteen minutes later, two hikers decided to leave and another said he'd bunk with this other guy and suddenly I had a room to myself!

Don't sweat it. The details work themselves out! Yes, sometimes they do. 

Then later last night an older dude walks in. No bunks available except, ahem, the one in my room. Knowing what it's like to be without place to rest one's head, I offered up the other bunk in my room. He was grateful. But I don't think he showered. And I know he hadn't done laundry. He ponked. Big time. OK let's be honest, he stank to high heaven. I've always done laundry coming into town. Who wouldn't? Why not be clean?  I gagged all night long. He thanked me repeatedly for sharing my room but ... 

So back to the Outfitters. Jeff measured my foot. What an education! From heel to big toe knuckle I'm a size 12 but my stubby toes indicate I'm a size 10 and combined it comes to an optimal shoe size, for the trail, of 11.5. And that's what my Oboz are. Then he said I did not have a wide foot!  What? I've been buying the wrong shoes for years!

Long story short, all I needed to make my new shoes work, in his opinion, was size F Superfeet insoles. I tested a demo pair and they did feel better on the blisters. There's way more to what he said but it all made logical sense so I hope he's right. He even showed me a way to tie the laces to minimize movement within the shoe.

You have to understand the context of this procedure, though. It took about an hour. He was constantly interrupted by folks and good old boyz asking about the graduation and one good old boy came up and asked about a still he wants Jeff to take over. I am not making this up. Jeff even asked me if I'd like to go the graduation.  He'd really like it if I'd drive, if I was up to it.  These people are laid back.  Life just is, is hard, and there's no use rushing cause the end will get here soon enough. Lessons for all of us.

This is Laurel Creek in Damascus, in flood condition.

Thursday, 23 May 2013

3 hostels in 1 day

May 22

Woke up to a beautiful morning. The sun came out and the sky was blue. I packed up my wet tarp and damp hammock and quilts and headed up the mountain. I turned at one point to look back down the valley and saw that the red barn contrasted nicely with the green vegetation on the surrounding hillsides.  Things are getting greener. 

I was feeling pretty good and I'd taped up the blisters better than the day before using lots of moleskin foam and tape which seemed to provide more cushioning. I even toyed with putting in a longer day because of the beautiful weather. 

I walked over two impressive balds, Hump Mountain and Little Hump. The trail got rocky as it wound back down the mountain. At one point, it was a boulder field that required careful footwork to negotiate. The most interesting part was when I suddenly heard a river running below the rocks!  Not just a trickling stream but what sound like a lot of water. I know water has power and wondered how much of the soil and smaller rocks were being washed away somewhere below me. 

Springbok and Kittie caught up to me a mile before highway 19E, where I knew Mountain Harbor hostel was located. I decided to go there with them and we walked the .3 miles on a very busy highway in the rain. 

Mountain Harbor Hostel was full up, unless you wanted to spend $95 for a room in the house. The hostel was in back of the barn. No thanks, we said. How about a shuttle? They said sure, no problem. But where to? There were no motels for 50 miles up the road to our next resupply town, Hampton. I had my bounce-box going to the trail famous Kincora Hostel run by Bob Peoples who is a legend on the trail. 

Thirty-eight dollars and about a forty minute drive later, we were standing outside a completely deserted house covered with ivy, attached to an old beat up wooden building that was the hostel. We had trouble finding the light switches even though it was only 2 p.m., because the building was hidden in the trees and the sky was dark with rain clouds. 

Unfortunately, the best we could say about the place was that it was run into the ground.  We found out later that Mr. Peoples is 77 years old and his wife died 5 years ago and she had done the cleaning. He works on donations but the box was empty. It was filthy and uncomfortable to be there.

The Guide mentioned another hostel .7 miles down the road, so we shouldered our packs and headed back out into the rain. Black Bear, the third hostel of the day, was an oasis in the wilderness compared to the unfriendliness of Mountain Harbor and the depressiveness of Kincora. 

We did a run into town for food at 5 p.m. and as we passed the A.T., two hikers we recognized, Simba and Bobsled, wandered out of the woods. It was raining and they decided to join us for the town run. Then on the way back we picked up first one and then a second cold and wet hiker looking for a bunk for the night. 

I contacted Julia using the hostel's computer as there was no WiFi and no cell service. I caught up on some emails and news. Thanks again for all the kind comments and suggestions on how to fix my blisters. I've been busy reading! 

May 20 and 21

May 20 - a shortish day

It rained hard last night. Clothes and shoes were still wet in the morning.  I learned about closing zippers on rain gear. I wondered why I was so cold yesterday, coming down Unaka Mountain. It was because I had both jacket zippers and both pant pocket zippers open. The inside of the pockets are just mesh so all water is funnelled inside and soaks your clothes!  Lesson learned: close all zippers when stowing rain gear for maximum protection at the start. 

I taped my feet and put on dry socks but had wet shoes. Blisters persisted and I had to tape later on. 

Met Brush Buddy and Beatnik at the shelter and two South Africans, Springbok and Mitten, came in and we had a good chat. Then Rider suddenly showed up out of nowhere. It's funny how people keep coming and going on the A.T. 

I was hanging by 7:50 p.m. at the Clyde Smith shelter, having hiked 9.2 miles. A relatively short day. 

Not sure what to do with my feet. Is it the shoes?

May 21 - happy anniversary to us!

It's 7:17 p.m. and I'm lying in the hammock listening to the rain come down. I'm at Overmountain Shelter and except for one tent, everyone else is inside the shelter. I can't blame them as it is a unique shelter - a converted old barn. But it's typical for a shelter. That is, sort of dirty and the lower level doesn't offer much in terms of weather protection. It has a fantastic view though and it was fun sitting at the picnic table watching the storm roll up the valley towards us. 

It was a tough 12.8 mile slog today, thanks to the blisters. This would be a great hike if every step weren't so painful. I'm not sure what to do about this except take time off the trail to heal and maybe get new shoes. The blisters are all along the sides of my feet, making me wonder if they're just too tight. The guy at the outfitter said Oboz didn't come in wide sizes but the size 11.5 I bought fit sort of loose so I bought them, thinking they'd be OK. 

There's a hostel/B&B 9 miles down the trail. Depending on the weather and my feet, I may drop in. If they shuttle to town, I can pick up some more supplies the pharmacy if there is one, as I'm almost out of duct tape. And if there isn't, at least I can dry out. Everything is damp and plain just wet and I could really use a shower. 

The rain and wind is picking up. The windward side of my tarp is resting against the hammock. I have to be careful or it'll soak the hammock and the under-quilt. It would've been a good night to be indoors. 

Monday, 20 May 2013

Leaving Nolichucky

May 19 - Leaving Nolichucky

It rained hard all night. In the morning, the sun came out for a while, giving us a false of hope for a beautiful day. 

We started up the mountain in what must have been 100% humidity. I was soaked in sweat in no time and there was mist in the forest rising from the wet leaves and rocks. The trail was rocky and full of roots, making it difficult to put your entire foot down at once. My shoes were constantly slipping and sliding and my blisters let  me know they weren't happy. It was painful going. 

The forecast for the Nolichucky Zip Code called for thunderstorms after 2 p.m. I felt rain drops falling, checked my watch and it was 1:59 p.m. Were they kidding me?!

Five minutes later, I was in full rain gear and the skies had opened up. And it didn't stop. It poured rain until after 5:30 p.m. and twice I found myself in a hail storm.  The thunderstorm was right overhead and pea sized hail covered the ground like confetti at a wedding. For several hours, the thunder rolled and rolled. The sky was dark and that made seeing the lightening out of the corner of my eye easier (I was walking with my head bent watching my steps and trying to keep the rain from running into my rain suit). For a solid hour I walked in thunder and lightening and not once did the count between the two go past 6-Mississippi. 

There were several small balds to contend with including Beauty Spot, and I had to pause at the edge of the woods for the storm to move further away more than once. I made it OK but it was somewhat nerve wracking knowing that even distant thunder is no guarantee you won't be hit. Apparently lightening is a major cause of hiker deaths on the A.T. And on a bald you may be the highest thing around. 

I finally cleared the high point of the day, an amazing old spruce forest on Unaka Mountain. Pine needles everywhere and so dense that not even hundreds of hikers could wear a beaten path. It's the first time I've seen the white A.T. blazes so close together. And they needed to be as the path through the forest was not certain. 

By this time my shoes were soaked through. Ironically, the cold water helped with the pain of the blisters. The path down the other side of Unaka was a running stream. A very lively one. There was no choice but to walk in the middle of it. You try to stay on the edges but the water pools and if there's no rock to step on, you squish into a puddle of mud and cold water. The water takes the path of least resistance, so sometimes the stream you're wading in veers off down the slope and you're relieved to be on dry ground again. But then suddenly there's "hole" in the mountain with new runoff water pouring out of it and you're back to splashing down the trail. 

MacGyver and I talked of stopping about 11 miles into the hike at a gap that showed camping. I'm not sure what happened but somehow I hiked way more than that and I have no idea where MacGyver is. I didn't see him so either I passed his camp without noticing or, more likely, he's on ahead because he didn't want to set up camp until it stopped raining.

My confusion stems from having a new app that uses GPS to show your location on the trail. It's not agreeing entirely with The Guide. I was surprised for example when I checked my location when The Guide said I'd arrived at Low Gap. The app said I was 3.8 miles past it!  And Cherry Gap shelter was only 1.1 miles further along. The Guide agreed with the 1.1 mikes. But The Guide says I hiked 17.5 miles today vs. the app which says its a bit under 15.7 which makes more sense to me as I was moving painfully slow (and painful being the operative word) before the rain began. AWOL's The Guide is getting a lot of criticism about distances being off. 

I got to Cherry Gap shelter at 7:45 p.m. and strung my hammock as it had mercifully stopped raining.  There was still the odd roll of thunder. There was one other tent set up and 5 guys in the shelter itself. There were no cables for food bags so I had to get my bear bag line up before doing anything else as it was getting dark. I made my dinner while still in wet clothes but after the food was hung, I stripped off and then tended to my feet. The pads and tape I put on at Nolichucky had come away and my feet were all shrivelled up. I have a host of new blisters. I think that makes 8 now. I massaged the dogs and then applied Joshua Tree healing balm that I bought from Uncle Johnny. Not sure what it does but it gives me a comforting feeling. :)

I was in the hammock checking the maps using a headlamp about 8:50 p.m. And then I started typing this thing out and now it's 9:40. I'm usually asleep by 7:30!  

Today was a really hard day. I was cold, wet and in pain from those damned blisters. And a bit scared about the lightening. But I'm rather pleased I came through it like I did. I slogged through the cold muddy water, got to camp, did the chores and feel good about it. It was a good day. :)

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Sounds of the AT

Here are two recordings Gronk made.
The first is "the noisy woods at night" complete with cicadas and frogs.

This second one is the woodpecker that was keeping him awake. If you imagine lying in your hammock trying to sleep, as I did, it may make you laugh!

Saturday, 18 May 2013

Zero day in Erwin

Gronk decided his blisters needed a rest, so he took a zero day in Erwin. MacGyver decided that sounded like a good idea too, so they are hanging out at the hostel. They also took the shuttle into town, to get some supplies and pass the time. 

I wanted to post the two sound files Gronk sent me - one of the noisy woods at night (cicadas) and the other of that woodpecker who kept him awake. I could play them on my computer because they are m4a files from his iPhone and I have a Mac. But it seems so complicated to post them to the blog. Apparently, I need to sign up to some sound cloud thing and get a player and blah blah blah. So sorry, until I feel motivated, you'll just have to imagine.

In the meantime, here are some of his thoughts while on the trail. He sent me point form notes so I have written them up for him.

May 14 

Remember there was talk of the norovirus making people sick from Hot Springs on. I noticed that there seemed to be several 'sobos' (south-bound hikers) showing up and talking of throwing up. 

The temperature was 2C (36F) at 3500 feet of elevation overnight, which made for a cold butt in the morning. The day began with an easy 4 mile downhill walk but then that became 5 miles uphill. The last mile was a climb of 1200 feet in elevation gain. There wasn't enough water along the trail and my tongue was hanging out at the top of that hill.

Despite this, it was a beautiful day, not too hot and not too cold. The last 5 miles of the day should have been easy, as the Guide indicated a slight downhill run. Unfortunately, it was anything but easy, as the hike up to and then along Big Firescald Knob Ridge and then down from it was a bit of a nightmare. Nearly everyone I talked to got a bit lost, as it was a rock scramble where you needed hands and feet. I felt like a mountain climber.  Not easy. 

It was a nine hour day to hike 15.4 miles but we had a milestone - we're at mile 300.3!

May 15

Long gorgeous day highlighted by a 3 min phone call to Julia where I heard everything she said but the only thing she heard was 'wa-wak-wak' like Charlie Brown's teacher.

I pushed it to complete 19 miles and my feet felt totally flat afterwards. In spite of that, I felt in the moment most of the day. I asked myself about life and what I wanted to do with it.  

I wondered why many hikers are always interested in getting down the trail. I'm here for a Zen experience. If you enjoy hiking, should you not linger during the day's hike? Yet an A.T. through hike doesn't seem conducive to Zen hiking. Through hiking demands you always look forward and northward to get to Katahdin before she's closed for the season. The goal is Katahdin always, and not smelling the flowers. Through hikers seem to talk about what's next and not what's now.

I got lost going down a rock scramble at one point. Headed back up and found Tedly scratching his head as well. We debated whether to go farther down where clearly many had gone before us, or up to the left where climbing over boulders was required. I finally said I'd go up to see if here was a blaze but none was to be seen.  Nothing but more boulders.

I went back down to where Tedly was waiting and he said let's go down but something didn't add up, as The Guide clearly indicated a summit with a road walk afterwards. Down made no sense. 

I suggested I scramble up the boulders one more time but go farther and sure enough there was a blaze around the next set of rocks. I called to Tedly and when he was up, we walked on and there was the gravel road. But it was more like a cart path and not a road and it wasn't made of gravel either. 

The Guide said 'East 1.5 miles,' so off we went to the right. Regardless of which direction you're pointed, East is always on your right hand when you're a NoBo. 

Because the road allowed us to walk side by side, I got to know something about Tedly. We'd been passing each other for several weeks but I knew nothing about him. 

He's 64 and has a beard down to mid chest and a pony tail to balance it out. He's been a documentary movie maker for 40 years and while in the military, covered the US troop pullout of Vietnam. This is his first, and will be his only, hiking experience. He sold his business and car and his stuff is in storage. When he's done the trail he will not hike again. His plan is to pull in a few favours and get himself embedded with US troops in Afghanistan next year. An interesting character to say the least. 

I caught up with MacGyver who was chatting with several hikers I had not met before - Peanut who begins chef school in July, Rider, Bill and Elenia. We were at a gap which contained I-26 which runs to Charleston.  He said they were going to a "meadow" indicated on The Guide. 

It was a 1.7 mile uphill slog but we finally made it. We camped in the trees adjacent to the meadow 
 and I had my hammock in a little field of wild flowers. I had dinner and was in bed by 7 pm. 

May 16

Spent a nice night at a meadow site. As I hiked, I noticed for the first time that there were more signs of human habitation. Power lines and ATV tracks, houses visible on hillsides, and fences!

The hiking was great except I acquired two new blisters and my big toes hurt again. We camped past the No Business Knob shelter where Whiteblaze says people were ill with the norovirus. I had a nice hang in the trees and a balmy night. I didn't use the net on the hammock as there were no bugs. I wore shorts and no insulating layers, as temperatures were finally in the teens C (high 50s F.) 

Total distance today was 16.6 miles.

May 17

The 6 miles into Nolichucky was harder than expected. I developed two new blisters, one each under big toe joint under the callus. Not sure what do to treat them. I was wincing coming down the mountain.  Surprising what body parts you really need, every second of the day. 

The walk into town fortunately was not taxing on anything else and it was a pleasant 3 mile downhill, after the inevitable uphill, into the gorge where the hostel is located.

I got here after the rest of our little group who were camped together (they had set out before me and hiked faster.) I chatted with Uncle Charlie, the Nolichucky's proprietor and arranged accommodations, laundry and a shower. I had until 3 p.m. to figure out the next resupply point which I think will be Hampton TN. 

The shuttle dropped us at the Food Lion and then we had a couple of hours to hunt up dinner which ended up being at a Mexican place. If I can figure out what to do with my blisters I'll be on my way out tomorrow. [NB Instead, Gronk took a zero day.]

Rain in Erwin TN.

May 17-18

Just got back from town. Bounced my box, had breakfast ($1.99 for egg, bacon, sausage on a biscuit), and a stop at Walgreens for hand sanitizer, bandages and alcohol wipes they gave me for free as I only needed a half dozen. Wonderful people hereabouts.  

Not sure what to do. No rush as there's camping 5 miles out and that will take 3 hours or a bit longer. I may pay for another night and let the feet rest. To go into town I used the corn pads and taped the heel blisters (3 on the same heel) and they felt not too bad once I walked on them a bit. Don't really want to get my shoes and socks wet and that'll be a given if I go out today. 

Just listening to a guy talk about the virus he picked up. He had a really bad day yesterday. Couldn't keep a saltine down. Crap. Literally. 

Watched the Nolichucky Fire rescue team in the river, practising.

Friday, 17 May 2013

Some trail pix

These photos just came in. I decided to put them up with little captions, and when I get a written report, put that up separately. Enjoy! Julia.

Resting spot on the trail.

Rocky trail, but pretty.
A Bald in the sunshine.
An old fashioned stile over a fence.

Camp site, the evening of May 15.
Another Bald.
On the way down to the Nolichucky Hostel and Erwin TN, still 1.3 miles up the hill.

Leaving Hot Springs

May 13 - Leaving Hot Springs

Leaving town is always hard but not as hard as saying good-bye to a trail friend. Bonjour was done his section and it was time for him to go home. We'd hiked together and bunked together for more than a week and I must admit I had gotten used to his company and his stories. We share a similar philosophy of life and have many interests in common.  I'm going to miss him. Thank you, Wes, for helping me out and showing me how to do things better. I really appreciate it. I hope we can hike together again some day. 

This is one of the sad realities of the trail. You meet really super people, hike together for a time, share stories and interests and even secrets but soon it must come to an end. It's the way of the trail. Sad, really, but there it is. Reality. 

MacGyver and I headed out of town, crossing the French Broad River, hopped the rail on the far side and descended to the water's edge and then walked up river a piece past several rapids before starting the climb out of the canyon. There are two white water rafting outfits in Hot Springs. 

A half hour later we were on Lover's Leap Lookout looking down on the town below. One last look and we turned north heading away from the river and left Hot Springs in the rear view mirror. 

It was a good day for hiking - cool and sunny. On the north and west sides of the mountains, we felt the chill of cool air on sweaty skin but on the leeward side, we felt the warm sun peeking through ever increasing numbers of leaves and brush. The trail was dry and walking was easy. We made good time. 

My new shoes felt loose but I didn't want to over tighten them like I did the last pair which I think helped stretch them out prematurely. I felt some rubbing on my left ankle bone and switched insoles after two hours. I had started with the old insoles. It was a case of six of one vs. half a dozen of another.  The old insoles compress and lower the foot and cause the ankle rubbing. But they cushion the ball of the foot. The new (factory) insoles prevent rubbing but don't cushion as well. Superfeet insoles, which everyone swears by, hurt my insteps too much. Maybe I should use half of each?

We hiked to the first shelter, our minimum distance for the day at about 11 miles, and called it a day. We set up on a ridge overlooking the shelter area and except for moderate winds, it is a good spot. I have the fly pitched low to shelter me from the wind but I still feel it. No bugs but it might get a bit chilly overnight. I'm done dinner, the food is hung, and I'm in the hammock contemplating putting on my fleece shirt. It's only 6:15 p.m. The temp is 15C. I'm done for the day. A woodpecker is hunting for his dinner at a tree about 30 feet from me. Noisy bugger. :)

Monday, 13 May 2013

More on cicadas

[Posted by Julia.]  A friend of ours pointed me toward this article, about the cohort of cicadas due out on the east coast this summer:

I'll quote a bit of it here, in case the link fails or something:

“It’s a delicacy that’s rare,” says Betancourt, who’s known to dine on a few bugs from time to time. She calls cicadas "the shrimp of the land.”
“They are arthropods, which means they have an exoskeleton,” she said. “We regularly eat the arthropods of the sea and those are the shrimp, lobsters and crabs. And so cicadas are arthropods too.” ...
Betancourt suggests trying to grab the magicadas when they’re fresh from the ground and undergoing their molting stage, which consists of shedding their skin as they prepare to fly away to find a mate.
“That’s when they’re softest,” she said. “When they first emerge, they’ll be kind of a green color and after a few hours they’ll harden.”
The scientist says you’ll most likely find the soft cicadas in the morning hours. She says you can still eat them once they harden, but you should expect a little extra crunch. You’ll also want to pull off the wings, because, like corn kernels, they can get stuck in your teeth. ...
“Boiled they’re going to taste a lot like shrimp. If you eat them au naturel, raw, they’ve got a delicate nutty flavor; a buttery texture,” he said. “I like the soft-shelled ones.”
Both entogastronomists -- what insect eaters are called -- warn those with food allergies, specifically those who are allergic to shellfish, should consult their doctor before eating cicadas. Betancourt says you should also avoid binging on cicadas that have been living in areas where a lot of pesticides have been used. ...
For the squeamish, Raupp says he has a land and sea analogy he likes to use.
“Have you ever eaten an oyster or a clam out of the bay? It lives on the bottom of the bay and filters, you know what (feces),” he said. “You’d eat this thing, but would not eat this delectable insect that’s been sucking on plant fat for 17 years? I think it’s weird.”
Betancourt is more pragmatic, offering this piece of advice for the cicada-eating virgins: “Close your eyes when you’re taking the bite.”

I have some personal issues about eating anything that isn't plant life. As an ethical (as opposed to health-oriented) vegetarian, I can no longer bring myself to eat sentient creatures. However, I don't know how sentient shrimp or cicadas are. Is it just human vanity that allows us to imagine that any other life forms that are not human are somehow less able than we are to feel or have an interest in life? I think it is. Human vanity comes from being conscious, from being self aware, and we figure those other creatures are not self aware, because they don't act like we do. Of course, I am not the first to think this! And in fact, it forms the basis for the plot of many a sci-fi film where aliens treat humans as lesser creatures, and show up the hypocrisy of our human vanity. Ecclesiastes 1 has a lot to say about that.

Sunday, 12 May 2013

Reflections after one month

It's hard to believe I've been on the trail for four weeks. I think it's mainly because I don't seem to have 28 days of memories of what I've done. I've been to five trail towns - Hiawassee, Franklin, Gatlinburg, Newport and now Hot Springs. But the other 20 or so days all sem to blend together. I have an indelible memory of a rocky or muddy trail full of tree roots leading up and down through mist and fog with some views now and again. It's like basic training in the army but this one never ends!  :)

Julia and I speak often of expectations, namely about how having them jeopardizes the eventual outcome. Expect one thing and get something else, like wanting a Tim's double double and finding out it's only black and you've already left the drive-thru lane. You may end up having a bad day. 

So I came to the trail without expectations, or so I thought. What I've found is I was expecting more of what I saw on all the videos I've seen on the A.T. , like flatter terrain. But it's been anything but flat.  I thought I could walk myself into shape but I had to hit the trail ready to climb mountains. 

I didn't expect to be spending so much of my time looking at where I step. It's constant. One wrong step and down you go. Maybe for the 10 count and then you're out. 

I thought it would be spring in Georgia. I left the weekend of the Masters and they were wearing short sleeved shirts in Augusta,  but it was freezing in the mountains. 

I expected it to be wet but I expected a warm wet, walking in warm rain showers, but I got nothing but cold wet rain soaking through and leaving me shivering. It's been a crazy spring everywhere it seems but I'm feeling it more than I care to admit.  This would be easier if the conditions were more favourable. I hope it warms up. 

And I really didn't expect to be missing Julia so much.  It ain't easy. It seems two things drive people off the trail - physical injury and tiredness or some sort of mental trauma from back home. 

Bonjour is going home to MN tomorrow. MacGyver is still here and we'll be heading out in the morning. I spent the day buying new boots and resupplying. It's 5-6 days to the next trail town, Erwin TN. That's a lot of food to carry and I never seem to have the appetite to buy enough. It looks so unpalatable. But I tried to get enough breakfasts and dinners and snacks at the Dollar General and the Hillbilly Convenience Store. 

One highlight today was a soak in a 100+ degree tub at the Hot Springs Resort. My share was $15 for an hour. They have 17 jacuzzis of various sizes out along the river bank and each has three walls for privacy and one open side facing the  river.  That was sort of cool as I've never been in a mineral hot spring before. Supposed to be therapeutic. We'll see if it helps the aches and pains. 

I really want to thank everyone for all the comments on the Gronk blog with which Julia is doing such a great job. I'm humbled by your kind words of encouragement.  Thank you so much!  I wish I could respond individually to each of you but having reliable cell and wifi service is so inconsistent. 

I'm not sure how far I'll get or how close to Maine. I'm hurting a bit and I seem to have issues with some of my equipment, namely the pack. Actually my body seems to be crooked and that's making the pack not fit right, putting pressure on my left hip. I may need a physio or someone to straighten me out eventually. A new pack is not the answer. 

But I'll carry on a while longer hoping for warmer weather and more gradual climbs. (Ha!)

Cheers all and thanks for following.

New shoes.

Popular trail food, easy to carry, dense with calories.

Resupply completion reward.

Hot Springs

May 11 - Arrived in Hot Springs.

Woke up feeling beat up. Big toes were numb and I laid in the hammock rubbing them to no avail. My hands felt stiff, too, like I'm getting arthritis or something. We were between shelters and we packed up and wondered why it felt so damp during the night yet everything was bone dry. I wrapped up my tarp guy lines and realized it was the first time during this trip that they weren't wet! Then it began to sprinkle. 

It was a relatively easy 8 miles in light rain to Hot Springs and we got here by 11 a.m. The trail goes right through the town along its Main Street and the sidewalk has the A.T. logo stamped into it at regular intervals. Nice touch. 

We did a recon of Bluff Mountain Outfitters and waited for the restaurants to open for lunch, sitting on the bench outside BMO, who let us keep our packs inside. 

We found a place to stay that's brand new and part of a new restaurant BBQ place, Still Mountain Restaurant, called Creekside. We paid cash and wangled a deal for two nights. It's right along the river and Bonjour and I each have our own bedroom with double bed. 

There's a patio outside with a fire pit and cords and cords of wood, so in the evening we had a fire and invited MacGyver over and we sat around in the dark and sometimes drizzling rain and watched the coals glowing. A good day overall.  Hot Springs may be a hard place to leave.

Here is the Creekside patio:
The Hot Springs Shop:

At least it's organic!