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Tuesday, May 31, 2016

At it again, Round 4

Haven't posted in some time, and figured an update would be good.

So far:
Thru attempt, 2014: 673 miles
Silly attempt after stopping Thru attempt, 2014: 18 miles
Finish Mass. section: 80 miles

So about 770 miles or about 1/3 the Appalachian Trail's entire length.

I've been on a consulting gig full time, but they've pulled the plug on the project and I suddenly find myself (in a few days to two weeks) with time and nothing formal to do.

The Trail is a gnawing, grinding, beast that calls to you softly, "come back, come back." Its claws are open, teeth showing, but you only here the soft words, "come back."

With my first hiking partner trying yet again this spring to get some distance on the trail but stopping, and my second hiking partner well into his third thru attempt, I've been dying to get back out there. But with the contract running through the end of the year, or so we thought, I just had to give up on any plans for going out again.

Well, that's changed. Which means I need to set aside the Brian Wilson concert at Tanglewood, and a reunion with my fraternity brothers in Rhode Island, to start organizing another section hike.

Have dug through our outside storage locker and closets here gathering hiking equipment, and ordered a ton of "gap" things from Amazon. New boots (current ones a bit less stiff on toe than I'd like), insoles (the ones in your base boot are junk), Mountain House freeze dried dinners,  super light flip flops, ear plugs (don't go in a shelter to sleep without them), portable phone charger, AT Guide - Northbound - 2016.

Current plan is to fly to Roanoke VA, get a hiker shuttle (basically, an ex-AT hiker or a friend of the trail) to where I stopped in 2014, and start heading north again. The question is when? Trying to work out my final date with my project, but likely will be on Trail June 6th or 13th.

Plan is to hike until the latter part of July, which if I make it would have me through Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland and about a third of the way into Pennsylvania. Would come off trail, spend 10 days or so home - with a week of that in Maine - and decide then whether to continue or stop for the year. 

I know the Trail now. I know the people, the long days of hiking through a green space where you can see nothing other than the trail and the trees. It gets boring. Its also hard, with your full-time job to hike 8-10 hours while keeping an eye out for dangerous situations and an adequate water supply. But its also fun. You literally cannot see the places I've seen unless you hike to them. The people are fun. The ones you hike with, the Trail Angels who greet you with a cold soda and a big smile, the random stranger who offers a ride into town. They all contribute.

Last time my "Trail Name" was Paul Bunion, named by my American-Peruvian hiker friend Trudger, in honor of my nobby feet. Why a trail name? Because if you go missing, or someone's trying to find you, there could be 5 Jeff's within a couple day's hike, but only one Paul Bunion.

This time I'm starting as Jeff again, and see what name I pick up.

In the end, hikers say "Hike your own hike." So if I stay on for 5-6 weeks as planned, or give up after a week, its my hike. I get to own whatever comes out of it.


PS. Hiker shuttles drivers are not free, but they do specialize. Rate is universally $1 mile, from pickup to drop off. The advantage with using them is they know where the trail heads, a random taxi or Uber won't.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Tuesday, June 10 - The ankles say enough

Get up in good mood after experiencing rain overnight. The tent handles rain well, and I'm on the Trail earlier than usual, about 6:30.

Next hill mirrors yesterday, a collection of large and small rocks, a fair amount of scrambling to get up on one side, and the more challenging on ankles and knees, down on the other. Unlike similar situations in the south, these boulder-sized rocks frequently offer little alternative other than to sit down and scootch down versus trekking.

See one thru-hiker who started his hike in Georgia, but forget his Trail name (didn't recognize it from Trailjournals).

After completing descent, my ankles and knees particularly on the left side, are basically screaming at me. Come to the realization they did not receive enough recovery time after stopping in Virginia, and will likely be an issue. Decide that discretion, and all that, and call for a ride back from my parents. They gladly and quickly show up 45 minutes later, and I'm back in Harvard a few hours later after driving myself across the state.

Hobble into the house, and Deb and I agree the knees and ankles look pretty puffy. Rest.

Got about five more miles in today, and 13+ yesterday. Still running a bit shy of 700 for the year.

Monday, June 9th - Glenn Brook shelter (1509.8)

My 80+ year old parents get up at 5:30 AM so we could be on the road around 6 for the one hour drive to Salisbury, CT, about six miles south on the Trail of the Massachusetts border. We arrive at my targeted time of 7 AM, and took me about 10 minutes to get my rain gear on because showers had begun.

The trail at the start was ideal. Clear, smooth, and made for hiking. The first hill for the day, Bear Mountain, is only a modest 1600 feet vertical from where I began and presented a fairly rocky ascent. The real surprise is on the backside, which has a very sharp and challenging descent over boulder-size rocks. There were similar situations over next two hills, modest verticals and with lots of rocks. This is creates the usual challenge for ankles and knees, and I’m working with one (inexpensive) trekking pole which will only extend part way. Takes time going down hill.

See five day hikers, all southbound, and two are sharing cookies which is a nice mid-hike surprise.

The day provides some real nice views, and despite the rocks I maintain good spirits throughout the day. 

The shelter, campground area, that I am currently in is empty except for myself. This is a first. Luckily it also comes with a bear box so I can store my food safely without searching for a tree with a suitable limb to string food bag from.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Going back on Trail (as a Section Hiker)

Going back on the Trail starting Monday to do the 90+ miles of the AT in Massachusetts. Will start just south of Berkshire County in Connecticut, and follow the Trail to a spot on Route 2 between Williamstown and North Adams. Should take about seven days and will provide a chance to get some family time in as well.

More later.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The journey by the numbers

Miles hiked on the AT: 673
Days, total: 70
Days hiked at least one mile: 61
Days awoken by chirping birds: 61
Significant injuries: 0
Weight lost, in pounds: 35+
Most miles in one day: 20.7
Time to set up tent, first night: 25 minutes
Time to set up tent, final night: 5 minutes
Bears seen: 0
Cattle who blocked Trail: 2
Final Trail stop roadway number: 666

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

May 27 - The Adventure Ends

I left the Trail today.

Started out like any other morning, but as it proceeded became more and more sure that I was done. They say don't quit on a bad day, and it wasn't a bad day. Have known my interest was pretty much gone, that the hike was less interesting, and goals I had set were either achieved, or likely not achievable on the Trail. Checked to see if any of the de-motivators were active; too little food, water, sleep. They were all good. Just finally and fully lost interest in what was over the next hill or in the next town. And hiking four more months to get rep for a thru just not strong enough.

Turned around and said goodbye to hikers like Jolly Jumper, Songbird, Bypass as they still headed north. Hard saying goodbye to Hermes, my stalwart hiking partner. We sat down for thirty minutes talking about it, my motivation is gone. He's continuing on.

Got a ride into Christiansburg from a nearby B&B owner, and start my trip back home Thursday (options are limited), and back Friday morning if all goes well.

I feel good.  More later.

May 26 - Laurel Creek Shelter (668.6)

We eat breakfast at the hotel, and drive Deb's SUV out to our drop off spot on the Trail. We say our respective goodbyes, Deb gets a picture of us, and we start up the Trail around 9:15.

My pack is SO heavy; I way over bought food. With the food bag one long cylinder in my back back, by far the heaviest thing in it, and on the left side of the pack, the weight shifts around in the pack. Spend time cinching up straps to keep from wobbling down the Trail.

Two descents ascents, rocky trail, means relatively slow progress. We make our shelter just before 7 PM. Eat a seven ounce pack of chicken (!) with my ramen.

For you hikers still working your way up from GA, TN, and NC, don't listen to people who say Virginia is flat or easy. It's neither. You will likely be in good trail shape by the time you get here, and able to do longer days, but don't expect an easy time of it.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

May 23-25, Blacksburg, VA (651.3)

Deb and Hermes enjoy the show
We have spent three days here in Blacksburg, home of Virginia Tech. Don Raines dropped us of at our hotel on Friday morning, and Deb arrived around noon. Spent a lazy day resting and eating, and visited a couple local outfitters.

Saturday we went to Floyd, VA for the Chantilly Farm Bluegrass and BBQ festival. Its in its fourth year, and had a rotating group of bands playing on a central stage with a grassy field in front for the audience. To stage right was a large plywood platform where people could dance, and between bands a local clogging group performed for us. Good sized crowd, 1,500 people maybe? We left around 4 and bands would be playing into the evening. Got to also see some antique tractors as well.

Sunday we went to the movies followed by an unhurried resupply at the supermarket.

Three days of ample food, comfortable beds, and leisurely days have helped heal our sore feet and legs, and provided a needed break. 

We’re back on the Trail tomorrow morning and head toward Catawba. Our big goal is Harpers Ferry, WV, still several weeks away. 

Learned yesterday that Achin is leaving the trail for good, more than passing the 500 mile mark. A successful outing, I’d say.

Friday, May 23, 2014

May 22 - Captain's Campground (651.3)

- Wide views and mid-hike snack
We get dropped of by Don Raines, our shuttle driver today and tomorrow, and start our hike south back toward Pearisburg. Heading this way we run into many hikers we've been with on and off... Swiss Miss, Nobody, Toasted Toad, Bags (and his dog J├Ąger), Blue, Beans, Too Far, Tigger, and many others. Certainly slows us down as we spend 5-10 minutes with each, but it's great to get caught up.

Most of the hike is again in the woods, and a mixed trail. Woods dominate, but we get a good break in front of the Rice Field Shelter shelter, with a wide view of the surrounding valleys.

The big business here is Celenese, the (as I understand it) worlds leading manufacturer of cigarette filters. Why this is important is the are switching from coal, to natural gas, with these huge gas lines being built over the mountains to the plant. This requires lots of contract labor, and all of these laborers are taking up all the motel space hikers might normally use. So if you're looking for an overnight stay in the area with a roof over your head, expect some difficulty.

Tomorrow we start three days off Trail, our first real break since getting on the Trail in March. 

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

May 21 - Pearisburg, VA (630.6)

- Bovine alarm clocks
At 4 AM a diesel pickup shows up in the camp area, for what reason is anyone's guess, waking the 15 or so hikers sleeping there. He parks, apparently because it's the only parking available, and the hikers who talk to him are markedly restrained. Manage to get back to sleep.

Wake up a little before 7, and have pretty much packed up when the farm's cattle start heading past the camp area heading to another field. Talk about an alarm clock for those still sleeping.

Hermes and I agree to put into action a plan we talked about last night; we will go to Pearisburg, get a room, and slack pack the next section. Both of us are feeling physically tired, and that reducing our carry weight ahead of our three days off while Deb is here makes sense. The risk in the coming days is we rest too much, get back into the comforts of regular life, and lose the inspiration to hike. We are aware of this. Let's see how it unfolds.

We hike to Pearisburg, then to a local AYCE (all you can eat) Chinese restaurant, and finally get a ride by the owner of the MacArthur Inn, named after the WW2 general. The Inn is in the process of being renovated and our room hasn't been. It's a place to sleep.

Tomorrow, a 20+ mile slack pack. Yes, not an easy day, just easier. 

May 20 - Woods Hole Hostel (620.4)

- Co-owner, in front, feeds the hungry hikers
We are both ready shortly after 7, a first for Hermes. There's a modest celebration. 
He's going to go ahead and secure our bunk space at the hostel, 13 miles away. Trail was more challenging today. 
I arrive just shy of 2 PM, and Hermes has signed us up for the bunkhouse, dinner and breakfast.    This is working organic farm, and am offered a smoothie on arrival. Drink this in a swing chair on the porch, looking at the cold frames filled with Spring greens and young onions, and farther at the field where free range pigs, goats, and chickens roam. 
The bunkhouse is full, so I set up my tent up the hill. Provide some laundry, take an outdoor shower, and read from the porch. 
Dinner is $13, and communal. The post-Trail Days bubble has burst and 39 show up for dinner. Big salads with greens and other bits pulled from the ample supply, and a light brown molasses bread baked in their outdoor bread oven. Main course is brown rice and a beef stir fry. But before we begin we all stand in a large circle, hold hands, introduce ourselves and say what we are thankful for (I am thankful for getting to see Deb in three days). 
Tomorrow, on to Pearisburg. Breakfast first, at 8, means a late start for the Trail. 


May 19 - Dismal Falls (607.3)

600 mile marker left by a previous hiker
Today was just hiking. Putting in miles, walking almost entirely in the woods, and the trail was clear except for a couple mile stretch of moderate rockiness. Relatively few hikers out. It's been said many hikers go home after Trail Days. Maybe they have?

We did cross a wooden suspension bridge, which must have taken considerable effort to build.

We also completed 600 miles.

We arrive at Dismal Falls, a popular summer swimming hole, but only Hermes and I are here. A wide rushing stream with swimming holes lead to a six foot waterfall. If we weren't going to a hostel tomorrow would be a good place to rinse out salty hiker shirts.

We know "fun" has been in short supply the last few days, but tomorrow we go to one of the better hostels on the Trail.

Deb is coming in a few more days for the weekend; can't wait. 

May 18 - Helvey's Mill Shelter (589.2)

Today ends the first two months of this sojourn.

Thanks to Achin and Hermes in turn for providing support, laughs, and camaraderie during these last two months. They have certainly helped lessen the load, as have many AT hikers, those of you who have shared comments, and the many Trail Angels both seen and unseen. Thanks to all.

Today we stopped in Bland. Hermes got picked up by one of two trucks that were randomly giving rides to hikers, but I was too far ahead. I come back, stick out my thumb, and am picked up by the first truck going by. Father and his two teen daughters, and my first ride in the back of a pickup in a long time.

Long lunch at Subway (second sub is for tonights dinner), stop at the Dollar General to fill gaps in food bag, and then among four hikers in Bubba's shuttle for the ride back to the Trail.

We take a long afternoon in respective tents letting tired feet and legs rest. 


May 17 - Jenkins Shelter (575.2)

- Chestnut Knob Shelter
Out at 6:45 and the morning is quite cool, takes awhile before my hands fully warm up. The morning is captivated by a long gradual ascent of 2,200 feet, culminating with Chesnut Knob Shelter, a fully enclosed, concrete, shelter built on a peak's grassy knoll. I arrive for lunch, followed within minutes by Hermes, and we enjoy it inside away from the still cool morning and accompanying breezes.

Part of the reason we setup a longer mileage day, is what appears in the Guide, a relatively flat section we hope is easier. Get on it only to deal with a rocky trail that extends for miles. Make it to the shelter around 5:15, slightly bumped up from that hike.

Tomorrow we go to Bland, hoping to find a shuttle to get us in and out, and back on the Trail the same day. 


May 16 - Knot Maul Branch Shelter (556.1)

Up at 6 and check outside, overcast and chilly. Watch weather, temperatures have dropped and so cooler for about a week (or longer?). Good for hiking and sleeping, and no rain expected for days.
I head out first at 6:50 and get to enjoy cool conditions, sunny skies, and nice terrain. Walk through first of three active cattle pastures but only see cattle in the distance. 

See only two other hikers on the Trail in the first half of the day, which continues a trend for the day; Trail Days has pulled a lot of hikers off Trail. Ninth mile has another opportunity to walk through an active cattle field.

At about ten miles, just before noon, stop at a small Holston River Bridge to get a light lunch. Two SOBO section hikers are there, and they say there's Magic up the Trail a bit, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with Cokes in coolers. Drop pack and walk up Trail to the coolers, which have been getting stocked it looks like daily for weeks by two former thru hikers. Take two of each, leave a thank-you note in the registry, and return down to the bridge, which has gushing post-rain muddy water rushing underneath it, for lunch.

The sun is shining and I take my time, assuming the faster hiking Hermes will arrive while I'm there and we can complete the last four miles together. Finish, laze around a while, and decide to continue. Get to shelter at 1:50, and sit down to wait on Hermes. There's another campsite a mile away, further down in elevation and perhaps not as cool this evening because of it. Other hikers come in, no one has seen Hermes, so set up tent and take some leg rest time.

Hermes shows up at 3:30, apparently having fallen back to sleep after I left. Oh well, at least not injured.

Tomorrow we have a 19 mile day as we head toward Bland, VA for light resupply on Sunday.