Family, Friends and PA

Some noteworthy “milestones” over the last few days.
Virginia welcomes you with the Grayson Highlands and says goodbye with the “roller coaster.” A series of steep ascents and descents with horrible footing. But, you make it through! Shortly after The roller coaster, I passed the 1000 mile mark.

That felt pretty good.
Harpers Ferry is nice and is home to the AT Conservancy. I promptly had my picture taken and placed in the photo albums that are maintained by the ATC. I was hiker number 861.

I look a bit different from when I posed for the same picture in January of this year!
Harpers Ferry is also steeoed in history and has some spectacular views; the Potomac River, Weverton Cliffs and the C&O Canal. All very nice. I hiked past the cliffs and spent the night at the Ed Garvey shelter, looking forward to hiking with my son Chris the following day.

I had my pack, Chris had Nate and Jenny had a day pack. She was best equipped to set a torrid pace which she did. When the claps of thunder started we were all thankful for the pace. No sooner had we got in the car for the drive back to Chris’s and the heavens opened (seriously opened).
My intent was to take a zero day at Chris’s in hopes of giving my feet some needed R&R. My insoles broke down. Operator error as I should have replaced them at 400 to 500 miles and put 700 miles on them. Shortly after the insoles broke down, my feet followed. I replaced the insoles in Harpers Ferry and new shoes were waiting at Chris’s. I was hoping my body could reconstruct what had broken down!
My stop in Maryland had two other highlights. The whole family came down to see me, including the dogs. It was really good to see everyone.
The other highlight was when I jumped back on the trail I would be joined by my brother Lou and his friend Don for a few days.

The happy crew about to tackle the AT!
The crew got the whole experience as we were lucky enough to experience trail magic a few days in a row. This guy “Kermit” is his trail name, does trail magic for his volunteer day provided by his company. Cool!

We crossed the Mason Dixon line and Ivan didn’t miss the photo opportunity!

After a few days, I bid my trail mates farewell. I hope they had as much “fun” as I’ve had and found the time on the trail, regardless of how short, an enriching experience!

Virginia

Best Kept Secret On The Trail
If you ever hike the AT, make sure you spend a night or two at Three Springs Hostel, it’s a wonderful place. The hospitality is unbelievable, the proprietors make you feel at home, essentially welcoming you into their home (the bunk room holds a maximum of six people). The food is great, whether you’re spending the night or stopping in for a resupply. They will shuttle you in from Hog Camp Gap as well as into neighboring towns. Without doubt the nicest place I have stayed at yet! I can attest to the food supply as I consumed chocolate milk, a 12″ pizza, two sodas, Gatorade, 1/3 pound sirloin burger, a pint of ice cream that was mixed with peppermint patties and a great breakfast included with the stay; a ham and cheese omelette, bagel with cream cheese and jelly and a yogurt parfait! Yes calories are king! Self Inflicted Pain
On June 10th I was climbing Three Ridges. The trail climbed over 2000′ in about 3 miles. I was relieved at the top, and headed to the rock lookout. The views as you might imagine were spectacular. So I took a few pictures and as is often the case made some calls because tops of mountains typically have cell service. Then, I headed back to the trail. And, I turned the wrong way and started heading back down the mountain. My story is oxygen deprivation and I’m sticking with in.
My doubts did grow, but I can tell you in no uncertain terms, the trail looks completely different from opposite directions. Finally another hiker was coming up the trail and I asked him what direction he was headed. His reply was north, and my reply was an expletive! Then he calmly says to me, hey buddy it’s okay you just wanted to see that part of the trail twice. As it turns out, he’d done something similar previously, but I won the prize for distance. I ended up walking 1.7 miles back down the mountain. I have to admit I was demoralized. Calorie Therapy
So, I needed to regroup. I had to get off the trail and headed into Waynesboro. And what better way to restore ones sense of self worth than a good ice cream shop. If you’re ever in Waynesboro I highly recommend Klines Dairy Bar.

Waynesboro really supports the hiker community. I got shuttled from the trail to town by Jim “The Gizmo Man” and back to the trail by Tom “Southerner.” All they asked is that I sign their book listing all the hikers they have helped! Shenandoah Standoff
On June 14 I left High Top shelter about 30 minutes after “Fern.” I was surprised when I saw her sitting on the side of the trail a few hours later. She’d been stalled because of a momma bear with three cubs that refused to move off the trail. She was huffing, grinding her teeth and when Fern whistled and waved her poles, stomped her feet and bluffed a charge. With three kids to look after I can understand why she might be grouchy but please, let us pass.
Two more hikers appeared (Dos Equis and O) and even with the four of us whistling and yelling she didn’t back off her position a few feet from the trail.

Only when we started to bushwhack an arc off the trail around her, did she move back. I’m sure momma bear considers it a moral victory that it took four of us to move on!
Later that day as I was headed down a curve and two hikers were heading up the curve a cub went blasting between us. Simultaneously, and with some concern, we both began yelling to each other, do you see the mom, do you see the mom? Fortunately mom did not appear and we continued on our way. But let me tell you, bears can move really (really) fast. Beating The Storm
Although I’ve gotten caught in the rain a few times ( and fallen as a result) I’ve also had the good fortune of pulling into a shelter just before the heavens open. And let me tell you, there’s nothing like a few claps of thunder to inject some adrenaline into the system. Here’s a picture of Gravel Springs shelter, the calm before the storm.

Needless to say the laundry did not dry! However, the storms provided some nice landscapes the following morning.

Goodbye Shenandoah
The hiking in Shenandoah was great. If you ever want to sample the AT without too much stress, Shenandoah is a good place to head. The climbs and descents are not too dramatic and the majority of the time, the trail is very walkable. There are numerous campgrounds and resupply points, so you really don’t have to carry too many days of food. In total I saw four bears on the park.

Another Boardwalk
Although NJ still has the nicest boardwalk on the AT, I did pass over this nice little section today.

It was in a narrow corridor, passing between private property on each side. I imagine some animosity might still exist as I can only assume the land grab to provide trail access. Years ago, the trail was often referred to as the government trail!
Over the next few days I will finish Virginia, pass through West Virginia and move into Maryland. Seeing my son and hiking with my brother await!

A Day In The Life…

You have lots of time to think out here. A typical day might go something like this…
– Why do the birds have to start chirping so early? Don’t they appreciate a good nights’ sleep? Maybe they’re just happy to be alive another day. Actually, so am I!
– Man this oatmeal mix (oatmeal, brownie mix, toddler milk formula and blueberries) is sooo good. I’m very grateful that Diane mixes it up and sends it to me.
– Let me check out what the day holds. Oy, a legitimate Tour de France climb. 4.5 miles with an average grade of 10%. Have to remember to set the altimeter on my watch so I can break the climb down into segments.
– What was the name of my second grade teacher? Sister, Sister? Forget it. All I remember from second grade is praying when we got the news that President Kennedy had been shot.
– Don’t look at your watch yet. Ken, if you look this soon you’ll only get depressed. (As you might imagine, when you’re feeling good, time passes quickly. When you’re not feeling so good, time crawls.) – Just ran out of water. Good thing there’s a water source coming up.

– If two trains leave leave the station 20 minutes apart and one is traveling, never mind, too little oxygen to think about this right now.
– Time to cruise, the trail is cooperating. Move fast when you can, slow when you have to!

– Wow, that’s a pretty tree. I wonder if that’s a mountain laurel?

– If there were not hikers out here, would the bugs have anything to eat?
– There are approximately 80,000 blazes on the AT. If that’s true there must be a million millipedes. They’re everywhere.

– Whoa, snake. Never mind, just a devious branch. Take it easy Ken.
– That’s neat, I wonder what that was a part of. I’ll have to remember to look that up!

– The estimate is that you take 5 million steps on a thru hike. That works out to about 35,000 steps per day. That’s a lot of steps where something can go wrong. Ken don’t jinx yourself, think of something else.
– Man, from straight to crooked, dead to alive there sure are a lot of trees out here.

– Oh wow, one of those orange things again. I think it’s a newt. Dude get off the trail for your own good.

– Argh! I knew the good trail couldn’t last. I really (really) dislike the rocky portions of the trail.

– I know that I was starting to shrink already. I wonder if carrying this weight for an extended period of time is going to exacerbate the decline? Man will I have to adjust the seat height on my bicycles?
– Need more water. Source is not that great. Thank goodness I carry s “dipper.” (I filter all my water. Depending on temps and terrain, I’ll consume between 6 and 10 liters per day.)

– Not going to make it to the next shelter. Time to find an acceptable campsite.

– Wow, what a great way to cap off the day!

The Good, The Bad And The Ugly

First, my apologies to Clint for usurping one of his movie titles. Second, if you think the titles for my posts are silly, I’ll take all the help you’re able to offer!
Here’s a view from the mountain top I was on early in the day on Wednesday. It’s Cole Mountain.

I had a short hike to my resupply so I could enjoy the views. And, although a bit windy and chilly, it was a great morning. The top was a bald and afforded 360 degree views. If you look to the left of the shrubbery (yes a shrubbery) that is almost in the middle of the picture, you can see the trail winding its way up the slope. Sometimes you get a view like this with a line of hikers. It’s pretty cool actually.
I’ve written about privies previously (Inadequate Infrastructure). I’ve since learned that new dangers sometimes lurk within the dark and dank confines of a privy. Given the natural attraction of flies to privies this “guy” picked the perfect spot to set up shop.

That’s a double rough cut 2×4, that’s a big spider. Sometimes it just makes sense to leave well enough alone and dig a hole in the woods. I didn’t want or need to think about “and along came a spider…”

Shocking I know (well, we are up to ugly). I can’t quite figure it out, but I continue to have problems with my right foot. In reality, the picture looks a little worse that what (I hope) is going on, but a concern nonetheless.
Picked up a pair of Patagonia baggy shorts today to hike in. I have been hiking in Marmot convertible pants (the shorts only). Given the rising temperatures, my new plan is to hike in the new shorts, and when I arrive in camp, change into full length pants (and dry underwear) as the bugs are also becoming a nuisance. Leg welts, as a result of bites are becoming very fashionable these days, although this far (thankfully) others appear to be tastier than I do.
I should hit Shenandoah in a few days. Everyone talks about the berry milkshakes at the numerous concession stands. Hmmm, calories, can’t wait! Sent from my iPhone

A Few Days

Here’s a picture if a snake I walked past, literally.

I was scanning the trail ahead of me and noticed a chipmunk coming down a fallen tree on my right. So my gaze shifted to him, as he saw me he ran back up the log he had come down. Subconsciously a voice in my head goes “dude, you just walked past a snake.” Whoa, yes I did. Fortunately the snake remained calm and posed for pictures. In all seriousness, it did not move as four of us walked by. He was probably was pissed at me as I imagine that chipmunk may have been breakfast. Needless to say, that chipmunk owes me. I felt kinda fortunate so I bought a lottery ticket when I rolled into Daleville later that day!
Resupplied in Daleville at Kroger’s. The regular stables: oatmeal, tuna fish and some freeze dried meals. To change things up a bit, I did try tortillas with peanut butter which has worked out well!
Yesterday I had to put in a 22 mile day to walk through a section of trail where a shelter and campsites were closed due to bear activity. Got to talk to a ranger who said that a bear had to be euthanized because it was becoming too aggressive (trying to get to food bags, etc.). That makes me both sad and mad because it is a problem started by careless, stupid people on the trail (leaving garbage and dumping food in the fire pits). Leave No Trace exists for a reason people. Take pictures, leave footprints! Crossed the James River today on the longest footbridge on the AT.

On the right hand side you can see the river running brown from the 5 inches of rain that fell two nights before. Fortunately I was hunkered down in Bryant Ridge shelter a veritable Taj Mahal in terms of shelters. Sleeps 20, multiple levels, really nice. The thunderstorm at 3am was spectacular which hopefully cleared the weather for the next days!

Trail Highlights

The last two days presented some great photo opportunities. Yesterday was Dragons Tooth and today was McAfee Knob.

Dragons Tooth is this neat monolith. It was also visible from where I spent the night at Four Pines Hostel. Pretty cool. The other neat part about Dragons Tooth was the descent that required some rocky scrambling. There were a number of metal foot/handholds.

A little different which made for a very good day!
Today I hiked past McAfee Knob, a rock outcropping providing views to an expansive valley and surrounding ridge lines. McAfee Knob is allegedly is the most photographed spot on the AT (a short hike from a parking lot). Needless to say I took a few obligatory pictures. I tried to capture both the ledge and the valley below.

Also contributing to the good days have been the weather. Sunny and warm. A bit hot on the climbs but certainly better footing than when it’s raining and wet!
Tomorrow I hit Daleville where I will resupply which includes a shower and laundry. Trust me, you get dirty and stinky very quickly on the trail. Given its the same with everyone you’re hiking with, you only get the odd looks when you encounter a non-hiker. Sent from my iPhone