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.

Monday, 10 June 2013

June 10 storm on the AT

This morning, I got this email from Gronk:

" I'm in the middle of a huge storm. Started last night at 7. Feels like remnant of tropical storm.  High winds and gusts that change direction all the time.  Hoping my tarp won't fail. A bit scary. Am staying put for now. Hammock is taking on some water. Everything damp or wet. 

Have weak signal so will send this "

So I got on the NOAA radar and started looking locally and found that some dense rain had been pushing through, as he said.

Then, my phone rang and it was Gronk! Unfortunately, it was the kind of reception you get in horror movies, where you can only hear every third phrase from the trapped hero. "wore glasses all night ... wind ... tarp may fail ... " Then, the call failed! I am sure he will eventually be fine, but I thought this deserved an update.

This is the Blackburg VA radar now. All that green and yellow stuff was what passed through Gronk's campsite over night. From the big picture, it looks like he will get hit with some more later today too.

Saturday, 8 June 2013

Pearisburg, VA

June 8 - Zero day in Pearisburg

Working on lightening my load, I went through the pack and made a pile of the stuff I didn't use this last week. It was mostly clothes. I did use my rain jacket but I had a lighter Sil-nylon jacket in my bounce box which I picked up at the Post Office. AND my Amazon package was there too!

Back in Marion VA, I ordered an external battery pack after reading reviews on line for eight different models. I gave Amazon the general delivery address for Pearisburg and accepted it. I got free delivery, too as it cost just the right amount to qualify, $39.99. It will allow me to recharge my phone about three times while in the woods between towns. 

So now I have two bounce boxes. The heavier rain gear is in a separate one just in case I find I need it. I hope the warmer weather means I won't need it. 

I spent the day doing chores and relaxing, although I did walk 4.2 miles up to and back from Wally World [Editor note: this means WalMart - I didn't know and had to ask!] looking for waterproof tape. 

The next section is remarkably like the last one. It's 97 miles with a grocery store/grill 23 miles away from the next town stay, which will be Daleville. I have five days of food and expect to be in Daleville on either the seventh or eight day.  I'll be heading out tomorrow. 

The "Stickpic" attached to the camera allows the camera to be attached to the end of a hiking pole, thus allowing the hiker to make a video of himself all alone in the woods (as in the previous blog post). The "New Trent" is an external portable battery charger that will allow the phone to be recharged when there are no electrical outlets around.

Some videos

As Gronk dries out his gear

here are some videos to keep you entertained.

This is the pony who enjoyed his salty leg:

Here's the first video on the AT that he posted on YouTube, although it was made only a few days ago, earlier this week.

Here's a typical hillside on the AT (that clicking in the background is some sort of bird):

And here's Gronk at his camp site on June 4:

Finally, that beautiful, fragrant flowering shrub was the mountain laurel.

Editor aside and extras

Hi all Gronk fans! Julia here. I thought you might be interested to see what we see, when we have "FaceTime" chats. Peter took a screen capture from his iPhone of our talk last night, so I though I'd post it here.

Then, when I downloaded email this morning, there were 15 more! I'm going to put a few of the photos  (below) into the blog entries already up, like the black snake and some of the views. But I'll post them here too, in case you don't want to go back and see them in context. He also has a few videos, some of which are on YouTube. I'll post both the videos and the URLs, in case one doesn't want to work. As another alternative, you can go to Peter's YouTube channel and see his videos there, all at once. But I'll do all the videos in a separate entry.


Black snake on the AT:

The Heidi shelter, where you feel like yodelling:

More field walking:

Crossing the I-77 takes a lot of extra walking:

Camp site in the morning:

How to fix the path through a big blow-down:

True American colours on trail magic:

A well known suspension bridge on the AT. It really does bounce when you walk on it!

Stay tuned for videos in the next Editor entry!

Friday, 7 June 2013

Into Pearisburg

June 7 - Into town

Woke up to rain. Sigh. Waited but it didn't go away. Got up and packed. 

I'm out of alcohol wipes so yesterday, I used my cooking alcohol (methyl hydrate) to swab the areas of my feet where I need the tape to stick (the wipes dried the skin nicely). It didn't work. So today I used water. That didn't seem to work either.  There's a Rite-Aid pharmacy here and I hope I don't have to buy 100 wipes. In Gatlinburg, they gave me free samples!  

It was a relatively easy 8 miles to town. Everything was wet. There was grass along the trail and what must have been a solid mile of Alder tunnel where I was just doused with rain water continuously. Not much you can do but shrug and say, Reality - Gottaluvit!  So I was doused with water and my shoes were soaked and it was squish, squish, squish all the way down the final 2000 feet to the road. 

I must work on my Yogi-ing skills. From the trailhead on the road, it was about .8 miles down the hill to Main Street in Pearisburg. A guy in a van who had turned around and was clearly waiting for this old dude to walk up his driveway to get driven somewhere, asked if I needed anything and dummy me, I said no! I should've said, "Yes, a ride to the bottom of the hill, please."

I must reduce my load. I must figure out why my pack is hurting me. I must get my feet in working order. 

A rainbow of colour

June 6 - A rainbow of colour

Squished insect in shoe. Lesson learned: check shoes before inserting feet!

I usually fall asleep right away but last night I lay awake, thoughts racing, until midnight. It may have been thinking about bears and having that bacon cheese burger hanging in my pack at the end of my hammock, lol. 

I  just couldn't find a place to hang my food bag, so I quadruple wrapped the burger and hoped for the best.  It's 12:30am as I write this. 

Woke up to rain hitting the tarp with a nice sort of rat-a-tat-tat sound. It didn't stop so I got up and packed up and then headed out. I rather enjoyed the rain at first.  But as the day wore on and the shoes got soaked and my feet began moving in them, the pleasantness wore off. 

VERY tough day for me. Blisters and sore feet were a problem. And my pack was hurting my left shoulder again. I have to figure that one out as it makes no sense. But I did notice the left shoulder strap is twisted a bit as it lies on my shoulder. The right one is perfectly flat. Manufacturing error?  

As I hiked along, water soaked trails going squish, squish, squish, I thought of my bacon cheese burger and how good it would taste later on, sitting in my hammock munching away waiting for the coffee to heat up. Then another thought struck me. Would it be safe to eat?! But I had wrapped it tightly. Surely no bacteria could breed? Damn. 

There was one big 2.5 mile climb up an unnamed mountain which had a view but my only view the entire day was misty fog. There was also a fire tower view three miles along the ridge of this mountain but I didn't even bother walking up to it. 

But what there was today was plenty of was colour!  All along for a week now, there have been these six to ten foot high bushes with bright orange flowers but they've been off the trail and I couldn't get a picture. Today, they were right up alongside the trail and not only were there orange blossoms but there also were hot pink blossoms and two-tone pink and white ones. They were all along the edge of the trail going up and down and they had the most wonderful scent.

Finally I arrived at my destination, Doc's Knob shelter. I backed up a hundred yards to a nice looking wooded area that I had passed and set up my hammock, in the rain of course. But I was home for the night. I was dry and I was warm. 

And the burger was great.  :)
Home right on the trail.

Doing damage

June 5 - doing damage

Very easy start to this day. Lulled into a false sense of security, I even made a video for fun as I walked.  

But then the rocks began and they went on and on. I needed to resupply, as I had less than a day's food. Trent's Grocery was talked about and that was my goal, 14 miles away and a half mile off the trail. 

I finally got there after two trail magics!  The first was a case of water which was timely. But the second was obviously from a hiker. There was a cooler that had hot dog buns, ketchup and mustard, marsh mellows, baby carrots and Budweiser. Adjacent was a lighter, two rolls of tp from a four pack, a roll of duct tape and a plastic container of cinnamon hearts - solid sugar. There must've been dogs for the buns before I got there. 

Did I mention the Bud?! :)

There were three cans in semi melted ice. I cracked one and it went right down. I had passed two older day hikers a half hour up the trail and I knew they'd enjoy a cold one as we'd joked about it as I passed them. What a surprise for them! 

I got to Trent's and ordered a bacon cheese burger. I looked around and for a hiker it was sparse. Minimal. I was confused at one point when I saw tuna next to trout and thought, "Oh, trout," but then realized that it was bait - trout food to catch trout, shelved right next to people food. I bought some bars and peanuts. Ordered a second burger, retaped the feet and headed out. 

And there was Stitch! We got caught up and said our good-byes. She was staying at Trent's that night - they offered camping - and was headed to Woods Hole Hostel the next day. 

I walked back to the trail head and then another 1.8 miles into the woods before calling it a night. There was a waterfall .3 miles up the trail according to my map and I heard from my hammock, excited voices in the distance which must've come from there. It made me happy to think they were at the falls and having a good time. :)


June 4 - Snake!  :)

In April I asked aloud, "Why are we doing this?" No one really had an answer. In May I only asked myself on steep climbs, "Why am I hiking?" Now, a month later, I just hike. 

Hike. Eat. Sleep. Repeat. My world.  It's funny how we acclimatize to something. Even when it's hard. I am now a hiker. Or am I?

Today was an easy day. It's easy to be philosophical when one is not being overly challenged. 

When McGyver and I started out, there was a lot of angst. I kept my trail guide in the backpack mesh pocket and was constantly pulling it out to check it so we wouldn't get lost. Blazes were not as regular as we were led to believe and we were confused a lot. 

Now, following the trail is second nature. It's unconscious. You instinctively know where it is. Blazes are in the corner of your eye (if that), and you don't sweat it if you don't see one for a half hour. We have become part of the trail. 

The titular snake was a 4 foot black snake just playing possum at the edge of the trail. Totally harmless. He didn't move and he had a very small head. I liked the way his body was so subtle. Many black curves as he lay in the oak leaves.

A nice day on the trail. 

500 miles

June 3 - 500 miles 

It was still raining when I woke up. I packed in the rain and headed down the mountain. The trail is a mess when it's wet. Especially the down hill parts. You have to watch you don't end up on your ass. 

Then came the climb of the day - 2200 feet of elevation gain over 4.4 miles. Shouldn't been that hard but it was. My heart kept racing and I spent a lot of time waiting for it to slow down so I could continue. 

I really wonder if I'm handicapped now. I've had the myocardial bridge thing since birth, yet I used to run 10 miles in 52 - 55 minutes in college. Yet now my heart rate goes through the theoretical roof for someone my age on these climbs. (The numbers say I should be stroking out). The cardiologist said I had 30-40% blockage of the arteries. Is this the problem?

I believe the research and documentation that is coming out now, about how primal and paleo diets are healthier than what your average person eats. But I don't like this handicap I have. If it's the arterial blockage causing the high heart rate, then I'm going to give the Ornish diet a go. Or Flemming's as outlined in his book, Inflammation. Both claim to have had success in reversing arterial plaque. On the other hand, maybe it's just in my genes and that's the way it is. 

One thing the trail has shown me is, sometimes that's just the way it is. You get so basic out here. Necessities are few but you can't do without them. Staying dry and warm, having food and happy feet are about all that's required. Anything else is a luxury or at least, a bonus. Like coffee. 

At noon, I was at Chestnut Knob shelter. There was a lot of meadow walking through wet grass to get to the knob. When I saw it, a blockhouse structure with a real door, perched on the very top of the mountain with fog all around, I wanted to start yodelling. I threw open the door and a half dozen hikers looked up and I said, 'Where's Heidi at?' They all chuckled. Everyone had had the same idea.
The Heidi shelter.

I dropped my pack for about 10 minutes and sat down for a while but there really wasn't room for all of us, so I headed out. 

The trail headed down steeply for quite a stretch before heading back up to a ridge which went on for some distance. The ridge was a series of continuous ups and downs for several miles. Officially know as Garden Mountain, it's unofficially known as God's Thumbprint. 

Eventually I arrived at Jenkin's Shelter at mile 575.2, making it 500 miles for me officially.
Jenkin's Shelter

It was at 2400 feet and there were skeeters galore, but the songbirds were in good voice and I lay contented in my hammock with the bug net zipped shut.  I'd hiked 16.8 miles.

Nero day

June 2 - Nero in the rainy woods

Three people wandered into my camping area adjacent the shelter last night at 11 pm. Who hikes at 11 pm?  Surely no one who wants to see what's around them. It took them until 12:30 to finally turn off their white headlamps which kept flashing into my hammock entrance only 30 yards away. Finally it was quiet again. 

In the morning I packed up leisurely and it began to sprinkle as I set out but it stopped within a few minutes. The hike away from the shelter was an easy downhill and I watered up at the first stream I came to. 
Beautiful fragrant flowering shrub, the mountain laurel, kalmia latifolia.

But then it was uphill. And I mean straight up. The hill was called Lynn Camp Mountain and although it only went up 600 feet in 1.1 miles, it felt a lot steeper. 

Very near the top, it began to rain. It had been a hot and sweaty climb but still I put on my rain jacket. I was a bit out of sorts from lack of sleep I think, and couldn't decide how to handle the rain. Do I walk?  Do I string the tarp and wait it out? 

My mind was made up for me at the very top. The trail came up to a flat spot with two perfect trees and then it plunged down precariously right away. 

I've been telling people that the beauty of a hammock-tarp combination is that I can put up the tarp and then, staying dry beneath it, open my pack and then string up my hammock without getting anything else wet.  But I'd never done it. 

I've learned on this trip not to second guess myself, as things have been working out regardless of the thinking. So without hesitation, I dropped the pack and pulled out the tarp and stakes I keep in outside pockets and set it up. Then I put up the hammock and then I wondered what I was going to do. It was only 10 am. 
Nero day set-up.

I decided to make coffee. And not Gronk coffee with floaty bits but real Starbucks Via. Kind of expensive but worth it when you want a good instant cuppa joe. 

I sipped coffee and I thought about staying put and taking a 'nero' day (I'd hiked 2.3 miles, so "near zero"). One of my mini goals on this trip was to take a zero day in the woods in the hammock instead of in a motel in town. This was my chance for that. 

An hour later, two female hikers appeared and one longingly looked at me sitting high and dry under my tarp rigged in porch mode. I was reading on my Kindle App. The older of the two, 60ish, said she had a sore ankle and wondered if she could come in out of the rain. It's not a big tarp but I said of course. 

She dropped her pack and pulled out her Tyvek ground cloth to sit on and spent about 20 minutes resting and having a snack. Her name was Sarah from NC and she was section hiking with her younger friend for several weeks. Then she donned her rain gear and pack and disappeared down the trail. 

The zero in the woods I had originally anticipated, was me lounging off the beaten track (read, stealth camping out of sight) and not on the doorstep of the A.T. High is where I was. Numerous soaking wet hikers came by and I swear some were glaring at me in my "house" and I felt quite the wimp for not being out there with them. But then I got over it!  :)
(Not sure this view belongs here but it is so pretty, I figured it might have been a break on the rain at the top of the hill on this day. Ed.)

Sarah told me that the forecast was for 80% chance of rain during the day and then thunderstorms after 2 pm, so even when the rain slowed to a trickle and it got brighter, I stayed put. I could see fog down the mountain and I knew the rock and roots would be slippery. 

I read. I meditated. I read some more and made notes in my pad to save my phone battery. I talked with 15 hikers. I napped then made dinner. I sat in my hammock and just watched. The rain stopped but then a fog rolled back in a while later and sure enough that was followed by a rain shower.  Just like it had been an hour before. 

I watched bugs the likes of which I'd never seen, walk to and fro through my camp. One coloured a yellow brown and, having wings and a longish abdomen, looking a lot like a dragon fly, bounced repeatedly on the ground using his butt end for the bounce. Boing, boing, repeatedly. ???

I watched an ant carrying an egg try to avoid a spider which gave pursuit. Don't know who won as they disappeared behind a rock. Life unfolding. 

For a day with little hiking, it was very productive. A really good day. :)

Seeing the forest

June 1 - Seeing the forest for the trees 

Last night's sleep wasn't the greatest. I was maybe two miles in a straight line from the interstate and it wasn't until it was dark that I heard how loud it was. And there were trains. It was like I heard them a half hour before they got to me and then it took a half hour for them to fade away. And then there would be another one. 

There were also biting flies, both big'uns and littl'uns. I thought I'd seen no-see-ums before but last night's were the tiniest I'd ever seen. Their bites were tiny too but still annoying to contend with. At first, I put on a long sleeved shirt and stuck my legs under the quilt. But they came and bit me on the hands and face. Finally I had no choice but to rig the bug net. 

So I wasn't in the best mood this morning. Which made me curse the cob webs that I had to keep wiping off my face every ten seconds as I hiked. Usually they're only this bad after a rainy night. But this was ridiculous. I tried using my poles to clear a path but they're so light it only blew them around and they got me anyway. There must've been a thousand of them. And why are they always at head height?

My spirits were lifted when first one and then a second deer were startled by my approach and, letting out snorts, bounded swiftly and sure-footedly across the trail and deeper into the woods. 

I have not seen much wildlife but I have forgotten to mention my run-in with a very upset ruffed grouse. I think it must've been a young mother as she was very small. I startled her and then she scared the crap out of me. She had her tail in fan mode and flapped her wings so hard she hovered above the ground. Then leaning forward she came at me making a lot of noise. It sound half angry and half terrified. Combined, it gave me the willies. As she came at me, I banged my sticks together in front of her and that made her hover off to the side where she regrouped and came at me again. And again. But then she changed her tactics and it looked like she was trying to make me follow her and now her cries sounded like forlorn resignations of having lost and it being the end of the world.  I must have been near her nest. 

There were some steep, and due to the humidity, sweaty climbs today. It was a tiring day. But I finally clued in to a way to help myself. 

There are few suitable places to take a break along the trail. Rocks and fallen trees are few and far between. But trees are plentiful. I've been having meals sitting on the hammock, as it's easier than sitting on the ground and since I've been camping alone, there's one one to go eat a meal with anyway. 

So today, I packed my hammock at the top of my pack and when I wanted a break, I pulled it out and strung it up. It only took two minutes. Perfect trees are not always available when you want them. But they show up more readily than a comfy rock. 

Before the day was over and to add to the difficulty, there were more fields to contend with. You don't appreciate the green tunnel that is the A.T. until it is taken away and replaced with a hot sunny fields that go on forever. 

And the day ended with a climb. Of course. But this time there was something else there - Trail Magic!  From a church group. PB 'n J sandwiches and sodas. I had one of each. No one was there, so I tore out a notebook page and scribbled a thank you note. 

I was going to go further today but the body said no. So when I got to Knot Maul Shelter I called it quits.  Only 12 miles. I wish I could walk further. The sun has lots of life left and if able, I could walk another three or four hours. But it is not to be. C'est la vie. 

I found a Jiffy Peanut Butter cup on the trail. Must've fallen out of someone's pack. I stirred it into my Ramen and tuna for a Thai accent. It was good. :)