Thru Hiker? Section Hiker?? Flip Flopper???

I’m off the trail again, giving my feet a needed break. I hope to get back on the trail soon, assuming my feet cooperate, which I’m assuming they will. On the plus side, I was home for Diane’s birthday (a significant one mind you) which was a very good thing. And, I didn’t even have to blast over the legendary rocks of PA to make it home in time. Because if I did, I’d likely be off the trail for good. Horrific was one word used to describe the last third (heading north) of PA.

In case you’re wondering, I did make it past the half way point.

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I placed the call home, asking to be retrieved in Carlisle, PA. It was convenient for all involved. Actually, to highlight the tenuousness and spirit of the trail, Diane and I were having breakfast in Carlisle (she left early to get me) and two other hikers that I knew, Voodoo and Caboose were also having breakfast. They were trying to figure out a way for Caboose to get home to Pottsville, PA, as he had a 1pm doctor’s appointment for a cortisone shot, to hopefully alleviate the back pain he was experiencing. It was about 11:30am. Hmmm, this could be a tough one logistically for him. Since we would be driving very close to Pottsville, we offered Caboose a ride. We dropped them off at his home, he made his appointment, and we felt better about helping out. That’s kinda’ what the trail is all about! Lessons for society as a whole?

If I do return to the trail, I’m contemplating heading up to Maine and essentially hiking home (again). This is what’s known as a flip-flop hike. Hike about half the trail, and then hike the other half, but either in a different direction or from a different starting point. It would be great to see all the people I’ve meet and hiked with, as they continue their personal quests heading north.

If I don’t get back on the trail to complete the hike this year, I’d be disappointed, but not sad. I hiked a few days with this great guy Jim. Jim was a section hiker (he was out for about two weeks doing a section of the trail) who in our conversations along the way said “it’s better to collect experiences than it is to collect things.” Those words have stuck with me, and by that measure I can say my time on the trail has been an unqualified success. The people I’ve met, the conversations I’ve had, the things I’ve seen, what I’ve learned, the experiences, or taken as a whole, the experience, have all been wonderful. I’m so thankful for the time I did have on the trail.

And, I’ve got a nifty little beard which may stick with me longer than expected.

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Last known picture of “Ivan the Terrible”

In terms of some of those experiences and learning, I’ve done a small recap of my gear. A bit verbose, but if you’re interested, click here to find out what I had to say.

As it turns out, I was interviewed twice on the trail about the trail. Once was for the Daily News Record, Harrisonburg, VA. Take a look here. These pictures were taken shortly after the Shenandoah Standoff that I wrote about. We were probably still babbling about that experience when we encountered Nikki Fox the photographer.

The other time I was interviewed was in Damascus by Appalachian Trials. A short video about highlights of the trail, following Trail Days in Damascus was the topic. I appear about four minutes into the clip.

To be continued…

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

Happy Memorial Day

I’m spending Memorial Day on the Appalachian Trail. I think that qualifies as patriotic!
The weekend has been memorable from a number of perspectives, some pleasant, some unpleasant (if you remember the climb rating system, unpleasant is well unpleasant).
Saturday brought a trail gathering at “The Captains.” Access was via a short zip line where you clip your pack on the line, sit down on a small seat and pull yourself the creek. It’s amazing that people put on such events for us hikers. Burgers, hot dogs, salads and drinks. Eat as much as you like, with camping space available on the property. I had a few things to eat and headed back out. Here’s a shot of some happy hikers.

The climb to the next shelter marked the first of three tough climbs over the weekend. But, the reward was the shelter and rest. I didn’t even need to cook dinner as I was still full from the gathering at “The Captains.”
Sunday featured another tough climb to Kelly’s Knob. In addition to the grade and length, the thing that made the climb just a bit more difficult was the monotony. A part of the climb was on an old road and the view never changed. You’d hike for five minutes, look up and what you saw was exactly what you saw the last four times you looked.
But, as is often the case, I got to the top. Completely soaked with sweat but at the top. Kelly’s Knob is a outcropping of rock with great views. It’s not a solid piece of rock, had to jump some fissures to get the best view.

Fortunately I took my pack off, and made the leap to the best views successfully! Thank goodness, it was a long way down.
Today, Memorial Day would bring the Keefer Oak. It’s the largest tree on the southern part of the AT. It’s over 18 feet around at the base and estimated to be over 300 years old. It was as advertised and more, very magestic. Take a look, although I promise pictures do not do it justice.

Still feeling good about the tree we hit a climb with an estimated 20% grade. Yikes, the third one in three days. My recovery is not what it used to be and I definitely felt this one. Thank goodness it was going to be a short day!
On the plus side, once I the ridge line I got great views of the valley below and the climb and ridge line I would be hiking tomorrow.

Also on the ridge line was the Eastern Continental Divide. A rain drop falling on one side would flow to the Gulf of Mexico, a rain drop falling on the other would head to the Atlantic Ocean.

One Month Update

Some random thoughts after another month on the trail (since my return)…
I’ve hiked almost exactly 400 miles this past month. I jumped back on at mile 240 and tonight I’m tenting at mile 643. I’m pleased with the progress and confident I can maintain my 100 miles per week average. This view was my reward as I passed mile 640.

The dichotomy between solitude and social is really quite remarkable. You can be alone for hours at time and then at shelters, or in hostels and in town, the conversation flows. It’s amazing how much you can learn about a person and why they’re here without ever knowing their real name (only their trail name).
The solitude gives you time to think and I’ve done plenty of that. I’ve reconciled a few things with a few more to go!
And, all the people I’ve meet are all so nice. From people on the trail to the folks in town, everyone is helpful, offering advice, their knowledge of the trail and good wishes. Definitely not your typical cross section of society. It will be interesting to see if this changes the further north I go.
I guess it’s only fair to mention things that amaze and annoy me. The views. They continue to be astounding. How can the next view possibly by better than the last 100 I’ve seen. Yet somehow it is.
I’m amazed at how many hikers smoke. Really. It was annoying when a guy I was sleeping next to in a shelter had to have a cigarette at 3am (no joke). The orange glow right next to me was kinda nice, but really?
People that cut across the switchbacks to save ten steps leading to additional erosion problems, that’s annoying. As it turns out, the switchbacks are not to help hikers, they’re there specifically to help control erosion. A straight path down a mountain invites a torrent of mud and debris.
People that leave their garbage versus leave no trace, take a guess, annoy or amaze?
The amount of trail maintenance that goes into keeping the AT in hikeable condition is amazing (like repairing the damage from the people that bypass the switchbacks). The number of volunteer hours must be incredible.
My brother Lou and his friend Don are planning on joining me at the end of June. I’m looking forward to that.
Also looking forward to Maryland where my son lives and seeing other members of the family.
I’ve started seeing Pennsylvania license plates here in Virginia, that’s encouraging! Hope springs eternal that Virginia does not last forever, only 554 miles.
Congrats to Zack Boynton on his graduation from Montclair. One of many events I have missed out on.
In total my health has been good. I was flat the last few days but worked through that and should be cranking again. I filter all my water. Oddly (joke) people that don’t always filter seem to get sick. No guarantee that you won’t get sick if you filter, but it can’t hurt.
My feet have mostly toughened up. I’m working through one last blister on my right foot. New Skin is amazing stuff.
If you’re keeping score, I’m on my third pair of shoes. Merrell Moab Ventilators to start. Too many blisters. Salomon Ultra Primes which felt great but broke down very quickly (they lasted only about 300 miles). And currently Oboz Switchbacks which I hope carry me through Virginia.
I seem to have stabilized at 163 pounds. Probably about 12 pounds lighter than when I started.
Thanks to my wife Diane, my family and all the friends who continue to support me on this adventure. Sent from my iPhone

Today’s Analogy

Before I delve into today’s analogy, I want to mention two things.
First, for my friends in New Jersey, a few days ago I saw my first deer on the trail. A day later I saw another one. Hundreds of miles and two deer. Incredulous right? I see more deer than that every time I pull out of my driveway! As I’m fond of telling people here on the trail, New Jersey is nature gone wild. Bears, snakes, deer we’ve got it all!
Today I completed back to back 20 mile days (20 yesterday and 23 today to be exact). It’s something I wanted to attempt and today the weather, trail profile and footing (read no rocks) were all ideal so I made the push. Yeah!
Today’s analogy is rush hour traffic (work with me here). When the traffic slows done, you start assessing which lane is moving the fastest. You switch lanes only to determine that the lane you just exited is now zooming along. Maybe you switch back over, maybe you stay put. Most of the time the trail is single lane as you can see in this photo

Not too much to concern yourself with when this is the situation. However, sometimes the trail is a little wider as you can see in this picture

In situations when the trail is wider, especially if there is mud or rocks involved, you’re always searching for the best line or the fastest lane. Uh, over there looks pretty good, let me give it try. Hmmm, actually the other side looks better after all, let me go back over there!
I don’t know about rush hour, but I have learned up or down, left or right the trail always wins! Sent From my iPhone