Sunday, April 24, 2011

NC/TN Border

Sorry it's been a little while!  I made it through Erwin, TN, staying at Uncle Johnny's hostel, putting on about 8 pounds on sodas and all you can eat pizza buffets, and having no computer access.  I've been adventuring since I left Hot Springs - nothing seems to have gone how I expected it to.  I have been low on energy from an increase in allergies with everything blooming, but I've still been doing good miles.  I've been hitching to cafes and hiking extra miles to hostels for real meals, to skip my seemingly endless supply of Ramen noodles and Knorr pasta sides.  I've slept in two barns since Hot Springs, one had
been converted to a shelter on the trail in the '80s and the other was an old pig barn behind a cafe a couple miles off the trail with tons and tons of junk in it.  A storm was coming so I figured if I could hitch into the cafe before it came, someone would certainly feel sorry for me and I'd find shelter of some sort.  They call it Yogi-ing out here, or putting yourself in a situation to get something from someone without really asking - like sitting around in a parking lot full of people for awhile, hoping they'll give you something to eat.  It's pretty hoboish.  Well four of us cleared out enough space to put our tents on the dirt floor of this old barn behind the cafe and we were sheltered from the storm that did hit pretty hard.

And I got lost.  I have talked endlessly about the impossibility of getting lost on the trail - you just follow a path marked by white blazes to Maine, how hard could it be?  Well, I take it back.  I went a good 2.5 miles out of the way, at least, before I ate my pride and turned around.  This is what I wrote on April 14th...
Hiking's a lot like driving sometimes. Your body does all the work but your brain shuts off.  Minutes and miles pass without realization. Your poles churn away like pistons in an engine. You try to think about things, but nothing significant ever really materializes. You hum a song or try to think of lyrics to a song - you think about a lot of random stuff. Your pole tips add to the lines on either sides of the trail, done by previous hikers, like oil streaks on the road. My body feels like a machine most days, and some days I drag for hours, not getting anywhere as time freezes.
I woke up tired and I was out of it all day - no energy. I didn't feel like hiking and I was lazy all day, dragging behind everyone else and stopping whenever I got an opportunity. I made it to a shelter 10 miles away and sat there for an hour, not wanting to go on. But I did go on, past 300 miles for the trip and I got lost.  There was a crossing that I took a wrong turn at. I remembered thinking the trail didn't look very well maintained, but there were a lot of footprints and pole marks so I didn't think twice. The path began to widen and it turn into an old road. I started to become skeptical. I realized I hadn't seen a whit blaze in awhile. I walked at least another mile out of stupidity and stubbornness - I was going steeply down a mountain and the last thing I wanted to do was turn around and go back up. Finally, after hiking for well over an hour I realized it definitely wasn't right and I needed to turn around. It was getting dark and I needed to get water and find a place to camp on the actual trail.
All's well that ends well. I made it back to the trail and set up camp, got water, cooked dinner, hung a bear bag, and changed out of my hiking clothes all before it got dark.  So to finish my analogy that hiking is very much like driving a car - you hike along semi-coherent for miles, with your brain halfway turned off it's easy to miss a turn and end up in a town named Enigma - right mom?
I made it to Elk Park, NC Thursday and have taken two full days off the trail with Pauline. It has been incredible to see her and rest up all of my aches and eat real food and sleep in a soft bed next to her. I'm about to head back out and it sucks. I miss her already and it feels like I've been off the trail for so long. But I'm excited too, to make progress and get back out there. I'll be hiking with a brand new group, and hopefully I can catch back up with my old group soon enough.  It's hard to take significant breaks on the trail but I definitely loved every second of this one - it was totally worth it. We went into Boone, NC and had a really nice, romantic dinner.  She beat me at pool, too, I must be getting rusty out here :)
Pauline and I went to Grandfather Mountain and the mile-high swinging bridge

I plan to be in Damascus, VA in about 4 or 5 days.  I'm super excited to get into Virginia, and for flatter terrain and wild ponies. A huge chunk of the trail is in Virginia, so I'll be there for quite some time, but I look forward to the change of scenery. I get to see my mom and the Horns in Draper, just outside of Bland, VA, which I'm really looking forward to! I'm equipped with my ipod now and I got to see Pauline. I'm energized, I have been able to recharge. See yall in Damascus!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Hot Springs!

There are a lot of different types of people out here hiking the Appalachian Trail.  There are those out for just the day and those hiking for multiple days, doing sections of the trail.  I met a hiker, Gizmo, who considers himself a LASHER (long-ass section hiker), has done nearly half of the trail and was hiking from Springer through the Smokies this spring.  During this time of the year though, the majority of the people out here are thru-hikers, attempting to make it all the way to Katahdin in Maine.  I'm a NOBO, or northbounder, but I'll run into SOBOs as well later on.  There are also pretty legitimate HOBOs out here, too - people who were homeless before and will be homeless after hiking.  This one guy out here is nearly 30 and he said he's never paid rent in his adult life.  He hiked the PCT last year, is hiking the AT this year, and crashes on friends couches and cooks them meals in between.  There are a lot of these nomadic type people out here.

There are people who trained ridiculously hard before coming out here with p90x, shakedown section hikes, cross-country skiing, eating all of the right foods.  And there are also people who put on loads of weight and were complete couch potatoes, claiming they would lose weight out here anyways.  Some were in Boy Scouts and some have never set up a tent in their life.  There is a guy who weighed in at way over 300 lbs and already has lost 50 lbs and there is a guy who started out weighing 127 lbs and is afraid he won't exist by the end of this.  There are those who like to talk gear all night and those who like to smoke weed.  There is an 80-something year old named Cimarron and teenage kids hiking the trail.  Some people hike from shelter to shelter, usually about 5 to 7 miles, and some have already done 30-mile days.  There are a lot of different types of people.

But we all have the same goal - to reach Katahdin.  And we're all experiencing the same things - aches and pains, and rains, and hunger.  I've hiked 271 miles so far and I'm taking my second zero day so here in Hot Springs, NC - so named because of the natural mineral springs which I will be relaxing in later.  I was told yesterday by one of the employees at Elmers Inn that it used to be named Warm Springs, but that the name needed to be more appealing, kind of like Great Wraps instead of Good Wraps.  I made it out of the Smokies alive and experienced an incredible range of temperatures and weather.  It snowed on the first night and 3 days after I was hiking in snow and ice, I was sweating and swearing up steep mountains in 85 degrees.  I've lost about 10 pounds already, but I think it will start to level off a little bit.  At least I hope it will.  I'm feeling a lot stronger but the heat has been difficult.

I stayed at Standing Bear Farm Hostel three nights ago and it was such a cool, relaxed place.  The owner, Curtis, has a complex of buildings in his backyard - a bunkhouse, showerhouse, kitchen area, and a resupply shed.  It's all on the honor system - you write down what you take out of the shed and put your money in an envelope.  The next night I camped on top of Max Patch with about 20 others and saw an amazing sunset and sunrise.  Look up pictures of Max Patch if you get the chance - it's beautiful.  It's a big bald probably two football fields or more of green grass on top of a hill.  I hiked 19.8 miles to get into Hot Springs yesterday and I'm just resting up before heading back out tomorrow.

Standing Bear Hostel

Max Patch
 I feel like at this point in my trip I've got a pretty good sense for what to expect for the whole thing.  I've experienced bitter colds and scorching heat and hunger - oh man the hunger.  But I'm still out here and I'm still loving it.  I've met so many really great people, and this revolving community is so supportive.  We're all very different and I probably don't have much in common with a good number of people out here, but we are all hiking to Katahdin and that in itself makes us all pretty much the same.  Age doesn't matter. Druggies, hippies, hobos, rocket scientists, video game programmers, students, nurses, people in gap years or just retired - we're all the same.

Thursday, April 7, 2011


The sky lifted and a sliver of blue finally shown ahead.  The sun peeked out of a blanket of dark, storm clouds and illuminated the snow on the branches and ground.  It was my second day in the Smokies and I had been crunching in a couple inches of snow for hours - my glasses fogging up and my breath visible all around me.  24 hours earlier I was in shorts and a t-shirt, heading out of Fontana Dam in 75 degree weather.  I had planned to hike 15 miles but stopped 3 miles shy at the first shelter to grab safety from the storm. The last 1.5 miles were a sprint up the mountain as I saw thunder and lightning flying towards me.  I fell asleep to torrential rains and heavy winds beating down on the shelter roof, only a foot away from my head.  I kept thinking - please don't collapse on me.  I awoke to below freezing temperatures and two inches of snow on the ground.  The vast weather changes chilled me to the bone, but man was it beautiful!

On my third day in the Smokies I reached Clingman's Dome, and the hike up was surreal - hiking along a thin ridge, higher than any other peak around.  I kept going up and up to the top of the world it seemed like.  The trees became evergreens and the fresh smell in the air was incredible.  A couple tenths from the top, the trail turned to a paved road and the serenity completely vanished.  Hundreds of overweight tourists were plodding up to the walkway at the top.  The views were amazing up there - complete 360 views for hundreds of miles, but it was all out of context. It felt artificial being up there like I was looking from a skyscrapper - amazing nonetheless, but something was definitely missing.  I ended up doing 18 miles in the slush and ice and made it to Gatlinburg, TN in the afternoon - happy to have a warm shower and a cozy bed. 

I know the last post was a bit of a downer and I appologize, but I wanted to keep everyone as in-tune with my trip as possible.  I have been doing a lot better since I left Fontana - my knees are feeling better, though still sore, and my spirits have been higher.  This is what I want to accomplish and as long as I keep moving forward I know good things will come.  Thank you so much for the kind words of encouragement from everyone.  I hit the 200 mile mark yesterday, with 204.7 officially hiked.  I've got about two more days in the Smokies and then probably five days to Hot Springs.  I'm feeling energized and excited to get back out there.  Here a video and me and my buddy from England, Mayo.  I wanted to upload some more videos, but the computer's not cooperating.

Sunday, April 3, 2011


I've been pushing hard lately and my body's starting to feel worn out.  With anything I think there are re-evaluation phases and I feel like I'm in one of those right now.  I'm homesick, I miss my girlfriend and I hurt a lot.  I hobble out of my sleeping bag every morning in the freezing cold and walk like I'm sixty years older for an hour or two after my knees loosen up a little.  The views are amazing, but amazingly all very much the same.  I'm currently in Fontana Village and it's a complete dead zone for cell service, which is most definitely what I look forward to most about being in civilization.  I'm about to head out into the Smokies tomorrow, and the terrain and weather is intimidating.  I just want the Smokies behind me.  I need to figure out if hiking the whole trail is something of utmost importance to me.  I've been out of my comfort zone for over two weeks now, and I am surviving but I'm missing everything about what my life was.

I feel like my body aches will always be there and that it will just be something I will have to deal with.  I know the terrain will ease after the Smokies and especially once I get into Virginia, so I have that to look forward to.  The weather will warm up and I can get rid of some of this weight I have to carry on my back too, which will be nice.  It will get easier.

I knew these rough patches would come, and I figured that I would have to deal with all of these things that I'm dealing with.  So at least I anticipated it.  I will be hitting the highest point on the entire Appalachian Trail in three days, Clingmans Dome, and after that, its all down hill from there, haha, right?

And even though I am struggling a bit, I'm proud of myself for being out here and putting one foot in front of the other.  Every day is an accomplishment.  I'll see yall after the Smokies probably! Love yall