Saturday, June 25, 2011

Half-Gallon Challenge

A sign stood before me that read: Springer Mtn - 1090.5, Mt. Katahdin - 1090.5.  I had finally made it to the halfway point after 3 months and a few days of plodding along.  How did I feel?  Ecstatic.  Excited.  Overwhelmed.  How did I celebrate?  The only way I should.  I ate a half-gallon of ice cream.

It's thru-hiker tradition to stop in at the Pine Grove Furnace State Park, located a couple miles past the official halfway point (this year it was 1090.5, but the trail changes in length each year and only seems to be getting longer), purchase a half-gallon of the flavor of their choice of Hershey's ice cream, and down it, in its entirety, in one sitting.  A half-gallon is four pints, which means I would have to eat the equivalent of four Ben and Jerry's.  I had to participate, of course, but I had some things going against me.  I got sick a couple weeks ago and since then have been on anitbiotics that have completely eliminated my hiker hunger.  My spork had snapped in half in my peanut butter the night before, which I figured could only be a bad sign.  And I don't even like ice cream.  But if you know me, you know how competitive I am.  I was going to will myself through this one. 

I got to the park in the morning after hiking about 7 miles.  I purposely skipped breakfast to leave as much room as possible.  I was excited to see Snake Farm and GPS were already there and letting there ice cream blocks thaw out in the sun.  I quickly purchased my half-gallon of Neapolitan (didn't want to get tired of one flavor) and set it out with theirs.  I had so much adrenaline pumping, I was ready to kill a lion or just demolish a whole bunch of ice cream.  GPS was focused and Snake Farm was a little more relaxed, smoking a cigarette and cracking jokes.

18 minutes and 30 seconds in, and GPS gobbles up his last bit of Peanut Butter Swirl.  The crazy Lithuanian dominated his half-gallon like it was finger food and exclaimed he could eat more.  He went inside and got a ham, egg, and cheese sandwich and a coke.  I looked down and I was maybe 1/4 of the way done.  My brain was already telling me to stop.

39 minutes in, and Snake Farm and I were struggling.  We had moved out of the sun into the shade, and were having to take long 5-10 minute breaks between every couple of bites.  My never-ending brick wasn't getting any smaller. 

50 minutes in, and Snake Farm was visibly about to get sick.  "You better not throw up!" GPS yelled through a mouthful of some other food he was making fun of us with.  I was doing jumping jacks and running around, trying to get my belly to digest some of the frothy, creamy mass.  I needed a different taste in my mouth.  I went over to the soda machine and got a Sprite. 

51 minutes in, the Sprite allowed me to take two more bites.  My ice cream was melting at an alarming rate and I was getting a chocolatey, strawberry soup forming at the bottom of my box.  I still had a pretty good sized lump of strawberry ice cream left, with the chunks of strawberry giving me the most trouble. 

An hour in, and I was ready to be done.  I finished up the last of the solid ice cream, gagging with each bite.  I just had a small cupfull of melted ice cream left.  It was sure to ruin milkshakes for the rest of my life.  Ice cream had already been ruined.  Strawberrys were definitely coming close to be ruined, too.

67 minutes, and I drank my last sip of ice cream soup and slammed my cup down as Snake Farm had his head down on the table and GPS and some others had already lost interest or given up on us.  "Ahhhhh!!", was all I could let out, as the others realized I was done.  I had succesfully willed myself through one of the most miserable food experiences of my life. 

Two hours later, and I finally strapped my pack back on and hiked out of Pine Grove.  I'm pretty sure I'm lactose intolerant, although I think anyone is intolerant to that much.  But I did it!  On to hike the second half to Maine.  I will surely finish just as long as I don't have to eat a full gallon at the end.  I'm officially a member of the half-gallon club.  Booyah.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Harpers Ferry

I'm NOBO (northbound) thru-hiker #477 to come through Harpers Ferry this year.  I'm finally out of the state of Virginia, all 550 miles of it, and damn does it feel good.  I've hiked 1,000 miles and I've got another 1,000 to go.  The official halfway point isn't for another 75 miles or so, but I feel like this is a good opportunity to look back at some of the highlights through the first 3 months. 

On Saturday, March 19th, I began the 8.8-mile Approach Trail at Amicalola Falls in 80 degree temps. and surrounded by tons and tons of people, none of which had packs on, and few who even knew what the AT was.  Getting up to Springer Mtn. early the next morning and passing my first whiteblazes was surreal for me.  I walked with chills all day - I was finally on my way, I was hiking the Appalachian Trail.  Georgia was where I met my first thru-hiker friends and started hiking with Mayo and Tom.  Everything was new and exciting and each day seemed to last forever. 
Passing the border into NC has been one of the most memorable experiences on the trail so far.  I had hiked a lot of the AT in Georgia previously, so to get to the next state felt incredibly exciting.  I felt so accomplished on that day, even though I wasn't even 100 miles in.  NC offered my first balds, freezing cold temps, and aching knees.
Hiking through the Smokys in my first snow was tough but extremely rewarding.  I began to hit my stride in the Smokys, feeling the strongest on my trip yet.  I got lost on the trail and slept in a barn behind a cafe.  Roan Mountain was a ridiculously long, tough climb, that was followed by some of the most beautiful hiking I've done on the trail so far - 360 degree views over bald after bald to Overmountain Shelter, an old barn set in a picturesque valley.  I got to spend a couple days off the trail with Pauline in Banner Elk, which was a wonderful, much needed rest.  Just before the VA border, I was nearly blown off a mountain during the biggest tornado to ever rip through Virginia.  It was without a doubt the scariest night of my life.  I seriously questioned if hiking the Trail was worth it anymore.  Pauline talked sense in to me in Damascus.
Virginia's been a long haul for me.  I crossed in to the state on April 28th, and I didn't get into West Virginia until yesterday, June 16th.  I fell in love with Virginia immediately out of Damascus, as I hiked up Whitetop Mtn and into the Grayson Highlands.  Wild ponies greeted me on Mount Rogers and open countryside offered a much needed change of scenery.  My mom came up to hike with me on Mother's Day, which was really special, because growing up we had always talked about doing this hike together.  I took a week and a half off in the middle of May, and it was really great to be able to be home during that time.  I hit the trail again, excited to be back and feeling a renewed appreciation for my journey.  I got to eat one of the most amazing meals of my life at The Homeplace in Catawba and ran into old friends who I had met my first week on the trail.  Rainy days, unreal heat, swarming bugs, sickness, homesickness, and too much Virginia put me in a funk through the last couple 100 miles of the state, but I made it through it and my spirits are higher now.  Woods Hole and Bears Den have been my favorite hostel visits so far, and last night I stayed at the Blackburn ATC center, where the caretakers cooked an amazing vodka-sauced spaghetti dinner for us with homemade bread and warm brownies.

I've always felt the second 1,000 miles of this trip was where the real adventure was.  I've never hiked in New England, and I look forward to the rugged mountains and new scenery.  There's about 80 miles to Pine Grove Furnace State Park in PA, where I look to down a half-gallon of ice cream in the half-gallon challenge.  I've experienced a lot through 1,000 miles and I know the next half will be just as exciting.  The second half always seems to go faster than the first, so here it goes.  I'm waiting here at the ATC HQ for Pauline to fly in tonight for the weekend.  The day is finally here!  See you all in a week or so.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011


The trail meandered through an open field and headed downhill through waist-high grass.  A couple feet on either side of the trail was mowed, keeping the grass from brushing against my legs.  A deer walked out of the grass like Shoeless Joe in Field of Dreams, just 10 feet in front of me.  We startled each other and he took off down the trail.  As I hiked out of the sun and under trees, I came across my first bear.  He was plodding around the woods to my left, and we both froze as we became aware of each other.  I fumbled for my camera and he just grunted and took off down the slope.  I had hiked about 5 miles from Rockfish Gap and was now entering the Shenandoah's on a 98 degree day.  I would have at least ten other bear encounters through the next 100 miles of trail.  A lot of mama bears with cubs running around, jumping up trees and being goofy balls of black fur.

On my second day I came to Loft Mtn Campground's camp store, where I had an ice cream sandwich and a coke, followed by a 99 cent Yuengling.  I could go to the bathroom and flush, take a shower, and do laundry if I desired.  The Shenandoah's allowed me two of these visits to camp stores, a dinner at the tap room at Big Meadows Lodge, and a dinner at the Elk Wallow Wayside, complete with a delicious blackberry milkshake.  My back kept reminding me I wasn't eating out of my food bag, but I didn't have to - food was everywhere. 

The biggest climb in the Park was a half-mile of about 400 feet, but most of the time I strolled over long stretches of sidewalk flat trail.  The trail was well-maintained and most of the footing was small gravel or soft dirt that felt wonderful underneath my feet.  This was without a doubt the easiest hiking I had done on the Trail.

The trail crosses over Skyline Drive 28 times, I think, and at 5 or 6 of these crossings, I got iced cold drinks and snacks.  "Pigeon", who had begun the trail as a thru-hiker and has since decided to just be a trail angel, met me and fellow hikers for three straight days at multiple road crossings and parking lots.  "Wingin' It", who had attempted a thru-hike last year, had Pepsi's and Gatorade's at one parking lot and hiked more drinks to put in a stream by one of the shelters. 

Despite all of these conveniences, this has been the hardest week on the trail for me.  I left Waynesboro, after taking a zero, feeling exhausted and incredibly lethargic instead of refreshed.  I did 20 miles my first day in the Park and went to bed at 7:30pm.  I woke up with fever chills and a sore throat, and went back to sleep the next morning until noon.  I crawled the easy trail for 7 miles over the next 5 hours to get to the Loft Mtn camp store, where I took cold medicine and hoped the ice cream would make my throat feel better.  It was the first time I've been sick out here, and it was miserable.  I'm a big baby when I'm sick.  I get "man cold's" and I'm annoying and needy and miserable and that's when I'm at home, but now I was hiking the Appalachian Trail.

However, if there was any place on the trail to be sick, the Shenandoah's were the place to be.  "Wingin' It" stayed in the same shelter as me on my second night, and he offered to drive me in to see a doctor the next morning if I still wasn't feeling well.  I felt better in the morning, but by the afternoon I was a zombie and it was only getting worse.  Luckily, "Pigeon" was there at Swift Run Gap and she drove me down into Elkton to the Health Clinic.  I saw doctor Pete, who wrote me a two-week prescription for Docycline, an antibiotic to treat Lymes.  He was fairly certain I didn't have it, but I had been bitten by a tick a week or so earlier and I was concerned, and he said it wouldn't hurt to take it.  He offered me lunch and said I didn't have to pay the co-pay if I didn't have enough money, which I insisted on paying, and even drove me back up to the trail when we were done.  Two days ago, I met Tina from North Carolina up on Mary's Rock and she shared her lunch with me.  Her friendly conversation lifted my spirits and her vegan sandwich was delicious! 

I cannot thank these people enough for their kindness and generosity.  It has been a very tough week out here on the Appalachian Trail, but the civilization of the Shenandoah's and the abundance of support has kept me sane and got me through it.  I'm in Front Royal now and I'm feeling better, just 3 or 4 days away from Harper's Ferry and Pauline.  I cannot express how excited I am!  Friday can't come soon enough.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

day off

With it looking like fairly easy terrain heading into Harper's Ferry, and not having had a break in the two weeks I've been back, I decided to take the day off today.  I stayed at the Grace Lutheran Church hostel last night and am back again for a second night tonight.  It really has felt like home, coming from a Lutheran family myself.  It's been nice to kick off my trail runners for a little and watch the NBA Finals and take multiple showers a day in what has been without a doubt the best shower on the trail so far.  A thru-hiker's main objective is to hike a whole bunch, so what does a hiker do on his day off?  Well for one, as little walking as possible.

Mtn Dew and I began our day off, walking the quarter-mile to the Laundrymat, which was about as far as I wanted to walk today.  I think thru-hikers are a pretty lazy bunch, I know I am at least, despite this whole walking to Maine thing.  Get me off the trail and I don't want to walk at all.  So, we finished with laundry and walked back to the Main Street with our thumbs out, looking for a hitch to the movie theater in town.  There's a 'Trail Angel Network', a list of numbers to call for rides to and from the trail in Waynesboro, but something told me a ride to the movies wasn't going to cut it.  So we spent a half hour trying to get a ride with no luck.  I had the brilliant idea to ask people coming out of Kroger how far it was to the theater, knowing it was further than I wanted to walk, but hoping someone would give us a ride.  I guess my chi was off because we helped a couple old ladies with their groceries and chatted with another couple of people, and no one offered a ride.  We walked back up to the Main St. for a last effort and sure enough, an incredibly generous elementary school art teacher stopped to pick us up.  We went to see Hangover 2, which was OK, and got a hitch almost immediately after the movie.  We had hitched in the middle of town to the movies and back - I now consider myself a hitching professional, a conqueror of any hitching situation, a real lazy, appreciative hiker on his day off.

After the movie, I sat in more air conditioning at the library again, and then went to eat at Ming Garden Chinese Buffet for a second time.  It was better than the first because my stomach was more experienced, and I knew to take my time.  Plus, the "hiker hunger" wasn't quite as strong as yesterday, so I didn't gorge myself with as many different types of chicken on a plate in 5 minutes within sitting down.  I stuck to one chicken this time - General Tso's, and I bypassed the iffy dumplings, the Hunan chicken, the Hunan beef (not very good Hunan, or maybe I was just disgusted because I misread it at first) and the pizza slices (yes the Chinese Buffet had pizza, too).  So the meal all went down a lot better and it didn't take hours and several bathroom visits to digest this time.

Since dinner, I've done nothing but lounge on a couch watching television and surfing the internet.  Tomorrow I'm back to hiking 20 miles in a day, over mountains, in supposed highs of 98 degrees, but for now doing nothing feels great.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Waynesboro, Va

I just got into Waynesboro after a short 5 mile hike that took me just over an hour.  I flew from the shelter with Ming Garden buffet and cold soda on my mind.  I'm sitting in the air conditioned public library now, as my plate upon plate of Chinese food is doing its best to digest, although that's probably not happening for awhile. 

I've been hiking with Mtn Dew, a kid from Massachusetts, pretty much since getting back on trail a couple weeks ago.  He's been really great company, hiking a similar pace and talking lots of sports - he's a big Pats/Red Sox fan.  A couple days ago we heard that the Dutch Haus, a B&B about 2.5 miles off the trail, was doing a free lunch from 11 to 1.  We couldn't pass up the free food, so we walked about a mile and half down a steep mountain road.  We got a hitch the last mile or so to the Haus, and lunch was great!  Lois, the owner, brought out chicken salad sandwiches, potato salad and watermelon, with a big glass of iced lemonade.  She was so generous, driving us to a store to get ice creams and back to a parking lot about a mile from the trail head.  It was hot though, and the climb back up to the trail was tough, so when we got back up to the trail we both shed our packs and took another break.  I joked that I was more miserable and tired then than I was when we were there two hours earlier before the free lunch.  Oh well, it was worth it, if only for the adventure. 

Yesterday was my longest mileage day yet, as Mountain Dew and I did 24.7 miles to make in to town early today.  Mtn Dew, Milo (a kid I've met in the last couple of days, who a bunch of Boy Scouts told him he looks like Abe Lincoln), and I camped down by the Tye River two nights ago.  We had planned to go further, but the long descent down from The Priest Shelter, where I made my "confession" to The Priest in the log book, was long and hard and the river was way too inviting at the bottom.  The swim was a refreshingly perfect end to the day.  The only problem with camping at the Tye, was that it left a long 3,000 ft. climb up Three Ridges to do the next morning.  So, my 25-mile day began with a slow climb that was "rock-scramble" steep in some parts.  I took my time, taking lots of breaks, and made it up eventually, encouraged by an entry in an earlier log book that this was going to be the last "big" climb for 700 miles.  I don't believe that for a second, but I'll use any positive outlooks like that to my advantage.

I caught up to Mtn Dew at the shelter past Three Ridges and we hiked together for the rest of the day.  I came across a trail magic cooler full of ice cold Yuenglings, so we took a long break and drank three a piece.  We broke again at the Blue Ridge Parkway crossing at Dripping rock for close to two hours.  We had it in our heads that we'd get lucky with some more magic, so I took a nap there and cooked some broccoli cheddar pasta.  Hundreds of cars past us, slowing down to look at us like we were some road-side attraction and then speeding up again.  I felt like a zoo animal, just part of the Blue Ridge Pkwy experience for these tourists.  "Ooh look honey, it's one of those 'thru-hikers' in their natural habitat, doing thru-hiker things", I imagined the old couples were saying to each other as they past.  Two hours and no yogi luck.  It was about 7pm when we finally got moving again up to the Humpback Rocks and we still had close to 10 miles to do to the shelter, so night hiking was in our agenda.

The hike up Humpback was easy enough and I started coming down as the sun was setting.  Everything was wonderful until I heard a distant rumble of thunder and before I knew it the sky was dark with storm clouds - night hiking was going to be tough.  My contacts were bothering me earlier in the day, so I had taken them out to wear my glasses.  As it was getting dark, my headlamp didn't help much to see the trail and my glasses aren't the right prescription, so I felt pretty blind in the pitch blackness.  I fell on my face twice, nearly took a wrong trail, and got a little wet from the rain, but I finally made it down to Paul C. Wolfe shelter by about 10pm. 

I'm here in Waynesboro, hoping to stay at the Grace Lutheran Church hostel, mostly because they have a big screen tv, but if not I may be camping out over at the YMCA campground.  I may take a zero tomorrow, I just have to work out a plan to get through the Shenandoah's and to Harper's Ferry by the 16th - Pauline's coming!  I'm excited to get through the Shenie's and out of VA, and see my girlfriend!  I probably will stop over in Front Royal before hitting Harper's Ferry so see yall then.  I tried to upload some pictures, but these library computers aren't letting me do anything, so I'll have to get some up soon!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Buggy and Muggy

IT'S SO HOT!  I'm in Glasgow, VA for the moment - yes, I'm still in Virginia, and it's about 100 degrees.  I hitched a ride into town at the James River footbridge by a couple who's son thru-hiked in '08 with the trail name 'NY Minute'.  They were on vacation from New Jersey, driving Skyline Drive and the Blue Ridge Pkwy and stopping over in Harper's Ferry, seeing what their son saw a few years ago by car.  There's not much to Glasgow except a couple convenient stores, a shelter in town, a restaurant about a 1/2 mile walk away, and a big dinosaur with what looks like Jane from Tarzan riding its back.  The people are incredibly friendly here, as has been the case in all of the small towns I've come to - aware of the trail and willing to help hikers any way they can.

I've had a couple of tough days since Daleville partly because of the heat but mostly because of the bugs.  It is so incredibly buggy right now.  I did about a 21-mile day on Memorial Day, highlighted by swimming in a swimming hole at Jennings Creek with a bunch of rednecks drinking beers, listening to country music, and smoking cigarettes.  I did my best to be friendly in hopes of scoring a beer, but I guess I didn't really fit in with them, even though I do have a very red neck.  I made it to Bryant Ridge Shelter - this enormous three-story, 20 person "cabin".  It actually had architectural merit, one of the other hikers said.  It was cool until I realized I had to sleep in it - there was no flat ground to put up my tent.  The bugs were awful that day and I feared a long night in a bug-exposed shelter, no matter how architecturally magnificent it was.  I climbed in my sleeping bag early at about 7 pm, and was immediately way too hot - it was still probably 90 degrees.  I had no choice but to sweat my ass off the entire night, because my worst fears were quickly confirmed - the bugs were relentless.  I tossed and turned all night and tried to stay as tucked away in my sleeping bag as I could.  I woke up in the morning feeling as if I had been through war and certain I had contracted West Nile. 

The next day I did a really tough 15 miles or so, that started with a 5-mile, never-ending uphill to Cornelius Creek Shelter.  El Flaco, who thru-hiked last year, said somebody had died at this shelter of dehydration, and as I stumbled head first into what I assume to be Cornelius Creek, I could certainly see how that might have happened.  I was soaked, dripping in sweat, and then dripping from cold creek water - it was a marvelous transition of wetness, sad to happy immediately although I was just as wet.  I couldn't stop for very long all day yesterday without being completely swarmed by flies, mosquitoes, bees, and no-see-ums (those little guys are the worst), so I kept going until I was tired and found a place to set. up. my tent.

I am going to hang out in town while this oven of a day cools off and then get back to the trail later today.  I plan to go into Buena Vista tomorrow and then only 3 days or so to Waynesboro after that.  775 miles completed and a lot still to go.  Must go to the store to get the highest percentage of DEET solution I can find.  Just got a text from Tom and Mayo saying they're in Harper's Ferry.  They told me "to drink a lot of water, left, right, repeat."  Thanks guys for the profound advice, I'll see yall when I see yall.