|Dates:||10 Mar 2016 - 26 Sep 2016|
|Duration:||6 months, 2 weeks|
Pokey (Josh) and Lupine (Nicole) are thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail in 2016! They set out from Amicalola Falls on Thursday, March 10, and will be on the trail for approximately 5-7 months. You can track their progress here
Here we go, a final recap of the 100-mile wilderness and the conclusion of our journey!
Tuesday 9/20/16 14.2 miles (AT 2074.6-2088.8) Long Pond Stream We left Monson with our third huge breakfast in a row at Shaw's hostel. Shaw's was a really wonderful place, possibly our favorite hiker hostel on the trail. They greeted us with a cold beer, treated everyone fairly, and made everyone feel welcome and enjoy their stay. We took an extra rest day on Monday thanks to Puma and Beehive, who talked us into another zero. We also wanted to make sure we had a reservation for Baxter State Park, so we made one for Sunday night and shifted everything over a day, which turned out to be one of the best decisions we have ever made. We left town with Puma, Beehive, Flannel, and Stardust, and solidified our crew for the next week and beyond. Our packs were loaded to the max and felt extremely heavy as we entered the 100-mile wilderness between Monson and Baxter Park. We rationed our food into daily ziplock bags, so we wouldn't eat it all up too quickly. The hiking was made difficult only by the very slick slate and roots. We got our first and only true river ford later in the day at Big Wilson Stream, which was about knee-deep. We finished the day just before the Barren-Chairback mountain range, which we saved for the second day after eating a bunch of food.
Wednesday 9/21/16 16.1 miles (AT 2088.8-2104.9) West Branch Pleasant River This was one of our toughest days of hiking, over the Barren-Chairback mountain range. Got a few cool lookouts but other than that it was a tough day over five (and a half) rugged peaks, one right after the other. Thankfully we finished about an hour before dark at a beautiful campsite across a small brook and ate down some more pack weight.
Thursday 9/22/16 16.4 miles (AT 2104.9-2121.3) East Branch Lean-To We knew from the weather forecast leaving Monson that this would be our only evening of rain. So we left early with a mission of making it to the East Brook Lean-To early so that we could secure shelter spots. This would be difficult for the six of us to get spots in an eight-person lean-to, but we hiked with a mission all day. Apparently many other people had the same idea, because most hikers we saw that day took few breaks and kept them short, so the race was on. Early in the morning, I got stung by a couple of yellow jackets because there was a nest just off of the trail. Thought nothing of it for a while, but by the time we took a lunch break on top of White Cap Mountain my skin was on fire and itching in all of the most sensitive places. By the next lean-to I had broken out in hives. I had no idea I would react that way, but then again it was a long time since I had been stung by anything. Fortunately, Stardust and another hiker named Nite Owl gave me a handful of anti-histamines which got the reaction under control after an hour or so. White Cap Mountain was actually a pretty cool place, and we got our first look at Mt Katahdin, but unfortunately I was a little too preoccupied to stop and notice. Unbelievably we still made it to East Branch Lean-To just after 4:00, passing several hikers along the way and securing shelter spots for all six of us. We made a fire and had a nice early evening before getting cozy in the lean-to when the rains rolled in. We definitely earned staying dry that night.
Friday 9/23/16 19.5 miles (AT 2121.3-2140.8) Potaywadjo Spring Shelter White Cap was our last big mountain in the 100-mile wilderness. Friday was our easiest day of hiking by far, the terrain was just incredible. We bounced along on soft pine needles for several miles, and made excellent time that day. In the morning we stumbled upon some hikers getting a food drop from Shaw's (there are a few access points to the trail via logging roads), and we were able to unload some trash and get some cold drinks, which was awesome. We cruised along and made it to Antlers Campsite by mid-afternoon. This was a very beautiful campsite, right on a lake, with open views all around. Several hikers had gotten there even earlier and made a campfire on the beach and were collecting and cooking fresh-water mussels. It was an incredible scene and we were very tempted to stay, but it was too early and we had more miles to do. We tore ourselves away and pushed on another 3-4 miles to the next shelter, which we had all to ourselves because so many other hikers had gotten sucked into the Antlers site. Time Warp was the only other hiker who left with us, so our crew increased to 7. We had the place to ourselves, and made another fire and slept in the shelter. It was then where we decided we were going to crush a huge day the next day.
Saturday 9/24/16 30 miles (AT 2140.8-2170.8) Hurd Brook Lean-To None of us had hiked 30 miles before (Flannel had on a different trail, but not the AT). Puma, Lupine and I had come close, with a couple of 29-mile days. We decided we were going to go for it. We woke up at 4:30 on an extremely chilly morning and forced ourselves out of our sleeping bags. We rekindled the fire and warmed up around it over breakfast, then packed up and left at first light. All day we tucked our heads and hiked like crazy people. We got 15 done by noon and 18.5 by lunch. We kept the breaks short, ate snacks while we hiked, and kept on trucking. We publicly stated our mission and kept each other to it. Even with Nesuntabunt Mountain thrown in there in the middle, and not the smoothest terrain, we kept a good pace and finally reached Hurd Brook Lean-To just after 6:00. We thought we would be hiking well into the night, so we were ecstatic to make it in such good time. We all hiked the last 0.3 together past the shelter with packs on to make it a solid 30 (the shelter was 29.7), then walked back to set up our tents and make another fire. People probably thought we were crazy but we were all proud and feeling pretty accomplished. This was our last lean-to and we were feeling pretty happy about the past three very solid days of hiking.
Sunday 9/25/16 13.4 miles (AT 2170.5-2183.9) Katahdin Stream Campground We tried to sleep in but were up at the usual time. We had just a few miles until we reached Abol Bridge Campground, the northern end of the 100-mile wilderness. We grabbed some extra supplies at the camp store, then the seven of us all got lunch at the on-site restaurant. It was nice to eat a bunch of real food after five full days of rationing trail grub. Our legs were pretty tired from our big day but we still had another ten miles to get to the base of Katahdin. The trail wound along past more ponds, streams, and cascades before finally arriving at Katahdin Stream Campground. We registered with the ranger and then made our final trail dinner around our final trail fire. We got to bed at a decent time to rest up for our big summit.
Monday 9/26/16 5.2 miles (AT 2183.9-2189.1) Baxter Peak, Mt Katahdin The ranger warned us of snow and ice the previous day on Katahdin, so we waited until it was light outside to leave. Also we needed to wait for Papa Lupine, who flew out from Colorado to meet us at the park and climb Katahdin with us. Around 7:30 we left the campground; Puma, Beehive, Flannel, Stardust, and Timewarp took off and we stuck with Papa Lu on the long way up. Katahdin was definitely one of the toughest climbs of the whole trail, and got rougher as we got closer to the summit. It was over 4000' of elevation gain (one-way), and after the first couple of miles it turned into straight up hand-over-hand rock climbing. It was slow going but also got more exciting as we went. The last 2.4 miles were above treeline with open views to all of Maine's incredible beauty. It was the most perfect clear day, better than we could have ever imagined or hoped for. Hard to imagine there was snow and ice the previous day, although we saw some ice under some rocks where the sun couldn't reach. Our stomachs were turning as we approached the summit, and finally we sprinted towards the sign marking the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail. It is one of those moments we will never forget in our entire lives. We collapsed on and then kissed the sign. We hugged our friends and trail family (who waited a couple of hours for us at the summit) and shed tears. We had finally done it. Thanks to Papa Lu, we were able to carry the ashes of Papa Pokey up with us up the mountain, and we scattered them next to the giant cairn at the summit. He always wanted to hike the final mountain with us, and we were able to make that happen. So it was a very emotional summit for us, for all kinds of reasons. We lingered at the top as long as we could before we began our long descent. That night, Papa Lu took us all back to Millinocket where we got a cheap motel and slept like babies that night.
Tuesday-Thursday 9/27-29/16 We took a "zero" day in Tuesday to figure out what to do with ourselves. Papa Lu left early to catch a flight, so our crew of 6 (Timewarp traveled home with his family) decided to rent a van and sort of wind down together on our way home. On Wednesday we caught a shuttle to Medway, a bus to Bangor, and then piled in a rental van and drove to Cleveland, OH via Killington, VT to drop off Puma and Beehive. We drove through the night and kept each other awake, and Beehive's grandma welcomed us with gratuitous amounts of food and some beds for us to crash on. After a brief visit and sad goodbye, we drove back to PA with Flannel and Stardust on Thursday where we said goodbye to them and they finished up the trip back up to Connecticut. So the adventure is complete. It feels a little weird, but we will adjust back to normal life soon (I hope). And I'm sure this will set the tone for the rest of our lives, and more adventures will follow. We just want to say thank you to everyone who has followed and supported us on this trip. We have really appreciated all of the comments and words of encouragement along the way. A special thank you to Gam for showing us this really cool app and website :) Until next time!
Saturday-Monday 9/17-19/16 14 miles (AT 2060.6-2074.6) Don't have a lot to say for this update, other than we are about to enter the 100-mile wilderness and finish up the trail this week. And Papa Pokey is greatly missed.
19.4 miles (AT 2041.2-2060.6) Bald Mountain Stream It got cold last night, woke up with temps in the mid-upper 30's. It was tough getting out of the sleeping bag but we forced ourselves up early because we had a big day ahead of us. Today we had a couple 1000' climbs, so it wasn't all flat but not anything too bad. We made good time and did a good amount of miles to get us within 14 of Monson, our last trail town before the 100 Mile Wilderness and then Katahdin. Cannot believe how quickly this final stretch is going! We are camped out with Flannel and Stardust again, and Time Warp showed up late too. Our good pace this past week means we have caught up with a bunch of hikers who were ahead of us - Clovis, Good Talk, Yosamite, Patches, and Wet Tent are just a few of the people we met back up with today. We've also been seeing hikers like Firecracker who were behind us that flipped up to Katahdin and are hiking south to finish up the trail to avoid the colder October weather in the northernmost sections. It's great to see so many of our friends still on the trail and finishing their hike their own way at their own paces. There are a lot of thru-hikers this year, and in no way is that a negative thing. People are really what make the trail so great.
Photo: A lot of hiker trains today, this one with Flannel and Stardust heading down the other side of Pleasant Pond Mountain
Wednesday 9/14/16 16 miles (AT 2011.3-2027.6) East Carry Pond We slept in until 7:15 after our big day over the Bigelows. Our legs were a little tired but after going over Little Bigelow Mountain it was fairly easy hiking the rest of the day. I would say the terrain was mostly flat but "flat" for Maine still means roots, rocks, and bog bridges that all became slippery death traps from the light misty rain we had on and off all day. We hiked together with Flannel and Stardust and we ended the day at one of our best campsites of the whole trip, camped on the beach of East Carry Pond. It looks more like a lake (still can't figure out the difference between the two sometimes) with crystal clear water and we set up our tents right on a sandy beach. Another hiker named The Dude (who looks and sounds exactly like the character from The Big Lebowski) had a little fire going and we had a great night on the shore of the pond. The clouds parted in the late evening and we could hear loons calling on and off as we looked up at a nearly full moon on a crisp, cool evening. It was pretty magical.
Thursday 9/15/16 13.6 miles (AT 2027.6-2041.2) Holly Brook We woke up early to catch the sunrise, which was also a gorgeous sight with the mist floating above the water. We sipped coffee and ate breakfast while we watched the sun peek over the horizon. Our stuff got a little damp and sandy being on the beach but it was totally worth it, and everything dried out by the end of the day. We hiked a quick ten miles to the Kennebec River, the widest crossing on the AT in Maine. It's too dangerous to ford so there is a ferry service (which in this case is a fancy term for "canoe") which helped us get across. We crossed a major road at US 201 and walked into the very small town of Caratunk. We picked up our food mail drop at the post office and were able to get laundry done at the Caratunk House, a B&B and hiker hostel. They also made us delicious burgers and milkshakes while we waited for our laundry, so that was pretty awesome. The four of us hiked on and made it another 3 miles or so before we came across a great stealth camping spot along Holly Brook. There were a ton of dead branches and sticks so we collected a bunch of firewood and made an excellent fire for ourselves to sit around as we ate dinner and made hot chocolate. We've really had some great camping the past couple of nights.
Photo: Our tentsite on the shore of East Carry Pond
18.8 miles (AT 1992.5-2011.3) Safford Notch Campsite Maine has really kicked our butts for the first hundred miles. Today we kicked it right back. We did a couple of huge traverses over two mountains with several peaks. This morning it was South Crocker (4040') and North Crocker (4228'). We descended all the way down to Stratton Brook, and in doing so we crossed a big milestone with the 2000-mile marker. Terrible Lizard's boyfriend Tom left a bunch of cold beers for trail magic on the other side of the Crockers, and we packed em over the mountains to save them for this moment. After lunch we had another big climb up Bigelow Mountain, which may be my favorite one on the whole trail in Maine so far. First we had to get up to Horns Pond, back up at 3000ft, and passed by a great lean-to and campsite. The mountain has some seriously beautiful forest, with mossy rocks and old twisted roots and branches. It was a steep climb up South Horn, and then we summited West Peak (4145'). There were stunning views in all directions in the alpine zone above treeline to the many lakes and ponds and mountains of Maine. Apparently you can see all the way to Katahdin and all the way back to Mt Washington, but both were very difficult to pick out being so far away. We passed up another campsite and continued on to Avery Peak, named for Myron Avery, who is responsible for building most of the Appalachian Trail especially in Maine. It was a long descent down to Safford Notch, where we finally reached our campsite after dark. All in all it was 13000' of elevation gain over 18.8 miles, our biggest day in over a month and one of our hardest ones ever. We're happy to have accomplished so much and proud to be members of the 2000-mile club!
Photo: The views from the top of Bigelow Mountain were amazing, and we hit it on a perfect day at a perfect time
15.8 miles (AT 1976.7-1992.5) South Branch Carrabassett River It was still cold and windy this morning, and we were reluctant to leave the warmth of our sleeping bags. Camped above 3000ft, we went over the peak of Saddleback Junior before descending all the way down to where it was much warmer. We climbed back up to where we were again, but didn't have many views as the AT skirted a bunch of different summits, including Sugarloaf Mountain. We did put in a full day and now have less than 200 miles left. We're camped alongside a river, which is always nice listening to the ambient noise of the water. We also made a fire tonight for the first time in a long time. Tomorrow looks like a big day with several more peaks to climb and a bunch of elevation change.
Photo: So far all of the stream and river crossings have been very easy because it's been abnormally dry around here. Normally it is about knee-deep at Orbeton Stream, where this photo was taken today.
Friday 9/9/16 14 miles (AT 1954.7-1968.7) Rangeley, ME Maine finally cut us a break with the trail on Friday - it was much easier and we cruised all day at a good pace. Went by a bunch of ponds, still no moose to be seen though. We got to the road to Rangeley by 5:00 and quickly got a ride into town from a nice lady from NH who was on vacation. Rangeley is pretty cool little town that is right on a lake. We checked into our B&B and found out our friends Flannel and Stardust had also gotten a room there. That night we all went out for dinner at a pub and then went to bed at a good time to catch up on some much needed sleep.
Saturday 9/10/16 0 miles Rangeley, ME We took what may be our last zero yesterday. Rangeley was a good place to do so. It had everything we needed to get our resupply and then some. Our B&B host cooked an excellent breakfast for us and seemed to enjoy feeding us a ton of food. We got all of our errands done and ran into Puma, Beehive, and Little Sister (now also known as Toaster) at the outfitter. We convinced them to stay in town and we all went bowling that evening at Moose Alley (a lot of places in Rangeley are moose-themed). It was a lot of fun, and then we all went out for BBQ afterwards which was surprisingly awesome. It was a really great day off and went by too quickly.
Sunday 9/11/16 8 miles (AT 1968.7-1976.7) Redington Campsite Woke up to dark clouds this morning. After another awesome breakfast it started down-pouring as we began packing up our things. The owner of the B&B was very cool about letting us linger there until the storm passed, and then gave the four of us a ride back to the trail afterwards. We got to hiking around noon, and the first four or five miles went by smoothly. We did notice a decent wind blowing in the trees up above us, and were soon harshly introduced to it as we ascended above treeline going up Saddleback Mountain (4120'). For three miles, we fought for every step against a pretty significant wind as we summited Saddleback and then The Horn (4021'). We had great views in all directions but the wind was too strong and cold to linger above treeline for too long. We finally went back down and were somewhat sheltered from the winds a little bit, but we're still above 3000ft and it's enough for it to be very chilly. Haven't been camping in weather like this since the Smokys, really. Tonight is a good night to have warm sleeping bags, and we went to bed early because it's just too cold to hang around outside of them. The wind should die down overnight and then it looks like we have some more good weather ahead this week. If this is what it takes to break the humidity, that is certainly okay with us.
Photo: Had to pause briefly for a photo at the summit of Saddleback. Using the sign and our poles to keep us standing upright against the wind
Wednesday 9/7/16 8.2 miles (AT 1931.5-1939.7) Sawyer Brook Got up early and made it to the road to Andover by 8:30. The road was paved but had no painted lines or anything on it. We sat there with a couple other hikers for over half an hour, and only one logging truck drove by. The hitching situation was not looking good, then finally we all got excited to see a van heading the opposite direction, then turning around and heading back our way. A guy got out and asked if we were looking for a ride into town. Turns out he was shuttling for the hiker hostel in town, and they were charging $12/person for a one-way ride in. We were not happy about that at all but it didn't look like we had any other options so we all hopped in and paid for a very expensive taxi ride, essentially. We didn't give that hostel any more business and instead walked to the Little Red Hen, an amazing restaurant that is very hiker friendly. They make everything homemade, even bread and rolls, and have a shower and laundry machine on-site so we got to get clean again. They were everything that other hostel wasn't. We scraped together a two-day resupply from the small market and general store across the street, then went back to the Hen for lunch before hitching back to the trail. It was a successful in-and-out town day, and we were able to put in another 7 miles to finish the day. It was pretty dark when we arrived but it put us in a good situation for the next couple of days.
Thursday 9/8/16 15 miles (AT 1939.7-1954.7) Bemis Stream We had a lot of climbing to do in the morning, with seemingly no reward for it. Moody Mountain was a steep 1000ft climb over just half a mile and then we went straight back down the other side. Old Blue Mountain was twice the height and distance. The first 5.5 miles took us almost 5 hours and we never really recovered, the rest of the day dragged on and we never really got a good rhythm going. Took us all day to hike 15 miles. Maine is hard. At least we are within a day of the next town (Rangeley) and we have a room reserved for two nights. It will be our first zero since crossing into New Hampshire, and our bodies definitely could use some rest.
Photo: The Maine Appalachian Trail Club was nice enough to build this bench, near Bemis Mountain, which gave us some much needed rest after lots of climbing.
16.3 miles (AT 1915.2-1931.5) Dunn Notch We woke up refreshed and ready to attempt another full day today. At first it felt all too much like yesterday when our plans were shot - we went up 1500' in our first mile up Mahoosuc Arm, and then the climb up to Old Speck was basically just as steep and also had some exposed rock thrown in there as well. Things finally eased up though, when the AT parted ways with the Mahoosuc Trail and went down Old Speck Trail to descend into Grafton Notch. The last couple of days where it has been challenging and we tire quickly, we often wonder if there is something wrong with us. Why am I so tired? Am I breaking down? Is this the end? Did I drink unfiltered water? Do I have Lyme's Disease? Flying down the Old Speck Trail made everything go back to normal though with the easier terrain. We paused close to the notch for water and lunch, then continued up the long approach to Baldpate. This was definitely the most spectacular sight of the day. The east peak is all exposed rock slabs and we got our first true look at the beautiful Maine wilderness when small gaps appeared in the clouds. It was a great summit to relax on, and was worth another tough climb. We hiked with Puma and Beehive until Frye Notch Lean-to, where they and most of the other hikers today stopped but we pushed on for another 3 miles. We got within a mile of the road into Andover before it got dark. Our plan is to go in and out of there and get laundry done and shower; we smell a lot! Also eat insane amounts of food to settle some of the hunger pains we've been having lately, if only temporarily.
Photo: The lingering clouds on the summit of Baldpate, east peak.
7.4 miles (AT 1907.8-1915.2) I think Maine is officially trying to kill us. Parts of today were especially difficult hiking - the rest was carefully placing each footstep without slipping and falling and breaking all of your bones all at once. The best example of this was Mahoosuc Notch, considered the hardest mile of the AT. It took us just over an hour and a half to go through. It was actually pretty fun, although a little murdersome on the knees and joints. That coupled with many more peaks and climbs and sliding down rock slabs resulted in a short day today. After Mahoosuc Notch we weren't feeling the 1500ft climb up Mahoosuc Arm, which involves a lot of rock climbing from what we hear. People love to warn you about what's up ahead; today they warned us not to do the notch and the arm in the same day. Usually it's all blown way out of proportion, but that part turned out to be true for once. We made it this far, I think we can handle the remaining challenges Maine has to offer. Can't say the same for my one trekking pole; the metal snapped in half today on one of the descents. Looking to get some rest tonight and start off fresh tomorrow.
Photo: Mahoosuc Notch: up, down, over, under, around, through, repeat.
12.1 miles (AT 1895.7-1907.8) Carlo Col Shelter We hit 1900 miles and walked into Maine today! NH wasn't going to go away quietly. Many ups and downs, bogs, roots, rock slabs, and steep ledges slowed down progress and tired us out today. We summited Mt Success, the last mountain on the trail in New Hampshire, much later in the afternoon than we anticipated. We got a last beautiful view of the Whites and everything behind us before descending down into some more rugged terrain and crossing the border. We've been told many times that southern Maine is no joke, so even though the end is in sight it doesn't look like it's going to get easy anytime soon. It's a great feeling to be in this state. Lots more rugged and rural terrain to look forward to, including what is considered the trail's hardest mile tomorrow. We hardly saw any other hikers today and we have the shelter all to ourselves, which is a little spooky in these dark silent woods.
Photo: Can't believe we crossed our last state line!
Friday 9/2/16 15.2 miles (AT 1875.6-1890.8) We had a nice full day of hiking with a decent amount of miles done at the end of it. We woke up at 6:00am to a bunch of alarms going off and a group of hikers from Brown University making a ton of noise and being obnoxious. We were pretty grumpy and bitter as we packed up our stuff and walked back to Carter Notch Hut to make our breakfast. We weren't allowed to use our camping stove near the hut so after we grabbed some water they sent us down to the beach near one of the Carter lakes. It's a beautiful spot, but it was a chilly morning with a steady breeze that felt very cold coming off the lake. After coffee and breakfast we had some serious hiking to do over Carter Dome, Mt Hight, Middle Carter, and North Carter mountains, all 4000-footers. The breeze was an icy wind up at the summits and we were covered in fog. Again beautiful, but also cold. Our only good views of the day came from the top of Mt Moriah, our last peak in the Whites. We could look back on the Carter and Wildcat peaks, plus get a glimpse of Washington and the Presidentials behind it. After the descent it was an easy last few miles to the shelter and then the trailhead at US 2, the second Gorham exit for the trail. We got a hitch to a resort and inn a few miles away and quickly took showers. A lifelong friend of the family Pokeys named Marie drove up from the other side of the Whites with her son William to meet up with us. They took us out for dinner (Chinese buffet!) and then drove us over to get our resupply done. I haven't seen them in over ten years so it was really great that we got a chance to meet up.
Saturday 9/3/16 4.9 miles (AT 1890.8-1895.7) This morning we packed up, checked out of our room, and grabbed breakfast at the on-site restaurant. Along the way Marie texted and asked if we wanted to meet up again so I could look at some boots. My second pair of Merrells are taking a dump again and I've been looking to switch back to boots for Maine, which has some seriously rugged terrain for the rest of the trail. Marie's husband Karl Limmer is one of the two behind family-owned Limmer boots, which have a long history of being reliable and loved by hikers and have quite the reputation in the old-school backpacking community. We drove over to meet up with Karl and found a model and size that fit well, and he is going to ship them to Andover, ME for us where Lu's boots are coming back too. We are very ready for boot life again! After a late lunch Karl drove us back up to the trail and we headed back out. We made it about five miles before dark and found a great stealth spot near a stream that isn't really flowing anymore. If it was a full day we might have reached the Maine border but we are definitely going to hit it tomorrow, so this will be our last night in New Hampshire. Final state, here we come!
Photo: This was what the exposed peaks from Thursday looked like, going over the 4000-footers in the Carter ridge
Tuesday 8/30/16 10.3 miles (AT 1854.7-1865.0) Osgood Tent Site This was one of the best days we have had on the trail. We woke up early at Lakes of the Clouds Hut; us and the other thru-hikers had to be off the floor by the time guests started wandering in for coffee and breakfast. It was a beautiful morning - the winds had died down and the clouds had cleared for a great sunrise at the base of Mt Washington. It was a long and magnificent mile and a half up to the summit at 6288'. The summit is a state park and has a museum, gift shop, snack bar, and all kinds of other stuff at the summit station. The cog railway makes runs up and down the mountain all day, and there is an auto road where people can drive up as well. So we were soon in the midst of dozens and dozens of tourists and "daywalkers." It was still a pretty cool experience, and we got to peek out of the fog a little bit which is rare for Washington to be so clear. The next trek through the Presidential range was absolutely stunning. Very rocky and strenuous, but incredible views as we walked above treeline the entire time and walked past Mt Clay, Mt Jefferson, and Mt Adams before stopping at Madison Hut. We took a breather there and then did the steep climb up and over Madison. Coming down from the Presis back below treeline down to around 2500' was long and very challenging on our knees. We felt pretty roughed up for just ten miles but it was incredible and unforgettable. We have been very lucky with weather in the Whites, which can get very dangerous in poor conditions. Tuesday's experience is something we will be grateful for forever.
Wednesday 8/31/16 4.7 miles (AT 1865.0-1869.7) Gorham, NH We slept through some morning rain and were very happy about this easier stretch through Great Gulf Wilderness to Pinkham Notch. Lu saw a moose right in the middle of the trail before it took off crashing through the woods. We got to the visitor center around lunchtime and got some bagels and coffee before hitching a ride into Gorham. Flannel and Stardust had an extra bed in their room so we shared with them again. We picked up some resupply and then went out for pizza. I think this was the best example of hiker hunger we have displayed in a while. We ate an order of mozzarella bites, and both had 10" pizzas to ourselves. It wasn't nearly enough food, so we ordered another pizza and had some cheesecake for dessert as well. We still weren't full after that, but at least the hunger had died down for the time being. A lot of hikers in town that night (there are two different roads into Gorham, at different trail mile markers). We had a good time seeing everyone throughout the day.
Thursday 9/1/16 5.9 miles (AT 1869.7-1875.6) Carter Notch Today's climb up Wildcat was the steepest one of the trail so far. It involved using our hands at times to help pull us up and over boulders and giant slabs of rock. There were excellent views looking across Pinkham Notch to Mt Washington. Wildcat has five peaks, and the AT takes you over four of them. We walked by the scenic gondola, which we were semi-regretting passing up the opportunity to take up the mountain. After that it was an 1100' drop into Carter Notch, where we stopped at our last AMC hut for water. It was getting late and there weren't a whole lot of camping options, plus neither of us were feeling particularly good about another steep climb to finish the day, so we are camped about a half mile from the AT near Carter Notch. The miles left in NH are steadily winding down!
Photo: This summit meant a lot to both of us, and definitely felt like one of the best accomplishments of the trail so far.
Sunday 8/28/16 7.4 miles (AT 1836.3-1843.7) Yesterday ended in a very fortuitous way. We hiked the 7.4 miles to Crawford Notch in great time. Along the way we were reunited with Puma, Calves, and Little Sister, shortly followed by seeing Reptar and Uncle Spider. The plan was to get to the notch quickly and then get up the climb to the next hut. We were very low on cooking fuel so we had to hitch to the AMC Highland Center 3 miles up the road to pick up some more before we could move on. We read the weather forecast from the Mt Washington Observatory and saw that the weather was turning and the high summits were going to get strong winds all day the next day, when we were planning on summiting Washington. We were barely discussing alternative plans before Uncle Spider got us in on some super awesome trail magic. A guy named Adam (whom Reptar and Spider met the day before on another peak) picked the four of us up and took us back to his lake house in Madison, NH. We stopped at the grocery store on the way to pick up dinner and some extra snacks - Adam paid for all of our things. Then we got to take kayaks out on the lake and enjoy the much nicer weather in the valley. We watched a movie, ate a bunch of ice cream, slept in real beds, took showers and did laundry. Can't believe how things turned out.
Monday 8/29/16 11 miles (AT 1843.7-1854.7) We all made a big breakfast feast at the lake house before Adam took us back to the trailhead. He definitely has the hiking bug, we were talking a lot about thru-hiking and also hiker hostels; he seems interested in starting one. I hope he does, he's an excellent host and a great person. We saw our friend Sneaky Pete down at the notch and the five of us started the long hike up to the Presidentials. Starting at 1261' we had to get up to 4000'. The winds really started to pick up between 3000'-3500'. There were lots of exposed places on Webster Cliffs, leading all the way up to the peak of Mt Webster. We arrived at Mizpah Hut around 2:00. It was too early for the hut to start taking hikers for work-for-stay, and they seemed to indicate that they wanted us to move on if we could. It was another 4.7 miles to Lakes of the Cloud Hut, and it seemed doable even though we would be walking straight into the clouds and stronger winds. The weather pattern is actually clearing so at first it wasn't any worse than what we had already seen. We did go above the treeline and from 4800'-5000' it started getting really gnarly. The sun all around us disappeared and we pushed through clouds and high winds. The last mile was pretty epic and suddenly the Lakes hut appeared in front of us out of the fog. We got there at 6:00, and got a work-for-stay spot so we could stay indoors. The weather should clear overnight, and should be much safer to summit Washington in the morning. Our friends who were up there today had to get shuttled down the mountain along with other hikers stranded at the top, where 50-70 mph sustained winds had occasional gusts up to 96. The conditions here are so crazy. These are definitely the craziest alpine conditions we have been in on this trip so far. It's in the mid-40's in the middle of summer up here! Down at the bottom it's a nice clear night. Definitely prefer it up here right now.
Photo: A last look at the ridgeline before disappearing into clouds
10.8 miles (AT 1825.5-1836.3) Everyone left camp pretty early today, except for us. Even with the extra sleep we were both still pretty sore after a rough day of hiking yesterday. We had two tough climbs today - Mt Garfield, a 600' climb over 0.4, and South Twin Mountain, an 1100' climb over 0.8. Of course we had to go way down in elevation between both of those. When we reached the summit of South Twin, we had only gone 4.3 miles and it was already lunch time. The tough climbs and slow pace is totally worth it, though. We had another full day of great weather and epic scenery. We were the first ones to this great stealth site past Zealand Falls and chose the flattest, greatest tentsite and bear hang branch and were in the tent by dark. Those smaller things feel like luxuries sometimes. Another excellent, long day in the Whites.
Photo: The White Mountains are a great place for panoramas. Here's one of Lu standing on the edge of Pemigewasset Wilderness. Those big mountains on the top right make up Franconia Ridge, from yesterday
Thursday 8/25/16 1.5 miles (AT 1814.5-1816.0) North Woodstock, NH Yesterday we woke up at our makeshift campsite and hiked an easy 1.5 miles down to Franconia Notch. After a quick stop at the visitor center for coffee and muffins, we hitched into the grocery store in Lincoln to get our resupply. We had a room reserved at the Autumn Breeze motel in North Woodstock, which has a great rate for hikers, and the proprietor Anne picked us up and gave us a ride. We shared a room with Flannel and Stardust, and Anne took care of our laundry while we took showers and relaxed for the whole afternoon. We went for dinner at the Woodstock Inn and brewery, which was very good. We left full and went to bed immediately following that.
Friday 8/26/16 9.5 miles (AT 1816.0-1825.5) Garfield Pond Woke up to rain this morning. We all slept in until about 8:00 and slowly packed up. We grabbed coffee and breakfast at an excellent coffeeshop, and waited around for the weather to clear up before Anne gave us a ride back to the trailhead. We had a 2800' climb to get up to the Franconia Ridge Trail, which the AT follows for the next 3.5 miles. On the way up I fell and lost my glasses without realizing it, and Lupine and I backtracked a half mile or so to eventually find them. When we reached the summit of Little Haystack Mountain, we began a two mile section above treeline that we will never forget. The weather had cleared up and we had an amazing walk along the ridgeline that went up and over Mt Lincoln (5089') and Mt Lafayette (5263'). It was absolutely incredible. When the wind started to pick up on top of Lafayette we began the descent down below treeline again. On the way down I fell again and got pretty scraped up and broke my glasses. They just really wanted to die today I guess. We arrived at Garfield Pond three miles later as the sun was setting. This stealth campsite is packed with tents but we managed to squeeze in and are cozy inside our tent even though the winds are really blowing tonight. It was a lot of work but today was an amazing day.
Photo: The epic walk along Franconia Ridge, approaching Mt Lincoln
11.5 miles (AT 1803.0-1814.5) Cascade Brook Another beautiful day today. It was slow going again, going from Gordon Pond to Eliza Brook Shelter was a difficult 4.2 miles. The terrain is very rugged, there are lots of roots and odd-shaped rocks of all sizes and many bogs and mud pits to step around (or into). After a break at the shelter, we started the climb up Kinsman Mountain. It was very steep and strenuous for a lot of the way. We reached the south peak first, and took a long break with shoes and socks off. Got a lot of sun and ate many snacks. We stopped again at the summit to take some photos, then walked down and back up to the north peak. There were excellent views of Franconia Ridge to the northeast, which we will go over in the next 2-3 days. After the descent we stopped at Lonesome Lake Hut, run by the Appalachian Mountain Club. There are several huts run by the AMC in the Whites, and we have heard many mixed things about them. Our experience was very nice, we met the crew members and they offered us some work-for-stay spots. They also let us help ourselves to leftover pancakes and top off our water bottles. Since we are going to town to resupply tomorrow we declined the stay, but would definitely like to do that again at another hut sometime if we get a chance. A mile and a half later we arrived at Cascade Brook trail, where there were supposed to be some flat spots on a side trail. I wouldn't call where we are "flat" or a "spot" but we made it work. We found enough room for our two tents; Flannel and Stardust are camped with us too. We can hear the waterfalls from where the tent is pitched and we spent some time down there tonight before and after dark. The White Mountains are beautiful and certainly feel pretty remote, even though they are well-visited by many people (not just AT hikers for once). Tomorrow is a short day to resupply in town, and then we will play it by ear with the weather to plan out the next few days.
Photo: Lonesome Lake, with Franconia Ridge in the background
12.6 miles (AT 1790.4-1803.0) Gordon Pond We had an incredible first day in the Whites. The climb up Moosilauke was long and tough (we went from 1043' up to 4802'). But we got some trail magic on the way up and were rewarded with an amazing experience up at the summit on a crystal clear day. It was definitely breezy - wind jackets were needed and the wind barriers made of rocks were excellent to sit behind and eat a big snack. You could see out in all directions, including an amazing view of the Presidentials and the rest of the White Mountains to the north and east. We stayed at the top for a good solid hour with Stardust, Flannel, Les Mayo, and Terrible Lizard. After stopping down at the shelter for a break, we hiked a very steep descent of Moosilauke on the other side. The trickiest part was when we were descending along Beaver Brook Falls, stepping down onto wooden steps bolted into vertical rock faces and being very careful not to slip. When we finished, we read a trail sign at the bottom that said: "This trail is extremely tough. If you lack experience, please use another trail. Take special care at the cascades to avoid tragic results." Crazy. Took us an hour to go just that one mile down from the shelter. We crossed the road at Kinsman Notch and hiked steeply back out on the other side. 12 miles felt like a very full day today for all of us. We are camped off the AT tonight on a side trail near Gordon Pond. It's beautiful and seems like a good place to spot a moose. The only trouble is two large and loud groups of campers on either side of the pond. Tomorrow looks like another tough day over Mt Kinsman.
Photo: From the top of Moosilauke, Lupine checking out what's ahead this week
14.8 miles (AT 1775.6-1790.4) Woodsville, NH Today was cold! Woke up chilly and stayed chilly most of the day. It was in the sixties and breezy but it felt cold to us, we aren't used to this again yet. The morning started off with a great climb up Mt Cube. The AT goes over the south peak, with excellent views looking back to Smarts Mountain and out west to Vermont. We took the extra side trail to the north peak so we could see out north and east, to Moosilauke and to the Whites beyond. It was worth the extra half mile. After that there wasn't a whole lot going on, just a bunch of road crossings and some smaller hills and Mt Mist, all below 2300'. At the end of the day as we were starting to get tired, we ran into DR and Baby Blue again, the father-daughter duo who surprised us with trail magic at Trapper John Shelter two nights ago. They had some more trail magic for us (watermelon, can of coke, Powerade), and we got to talking about our plan for the first few days of the Whites. Apparently we picked a bad road to hitch to town on, so DR said "why don't you come home with us - you guys can shower, crash, do laundry, and we'll get you resupplied." We couldn't believe it! We did all of the things. They took us back to their home (about 25 min away), fed us dinner, let us shower and laundry, and DR drove us to Walmart to get the extra food we needed for another day or two. Apparently they are used to housing hikers, but this kind of spontaneous "super trail magic" is a first for us. We couldn't be happier and more grateful. Feeling very refreshed and ready to tackle Moosilauke tomorrow. Less than four hundred miles to go!
Photo: A warm welcome. Great place to take a break during the day.
12 miles (AT 1763.6-1775.6) Hexacuba Shelter Glad we decided to take it easy with the miles today because we are starting to hit some tough climbs! We got to sleep an extra hour or so, and as a result we stumbled upon some awesome trail magic at Lyme-Dorchester road just as they were making chili for lunch. There were also melons and a cooler full of beer and sodas. It fueled us up for the climb up Smarts Mountain. NH climbs so far are steep and you can have 1000ft/mile grades like it's no big deal. Except they're actually a big deal. We had two separate stretches like that on the way up Smarts. There was a firetower at the top with excellent views to the Whites up ahead, including Mt Moosilauke. There was also a fire warden's cabin where we sat on the porch and ate some more lunch. The downhill was more gradual, and we went all the way back down 1800' to a brook where the trail shot back up again, starting the ascent up Mt Cube. We got the steep part out of the way at least, and got nearly halfway up it before stopping at the shelter we're at now. We did the same amount of elevation gain as yesterday in 2.6 less miles, so I guess that's why our bodies feel like they did the same amount of work. We caught up with a bunch of friends here - Flannel and Stardust, Les Mayo, and Lady Catherine, who we just found out had flipped up to Maine and is now hiking south to finish her thru-hike. Looks like we'll be going through the Whites with some good company. Tomorrow's goal is to get all the way to the base of Mt Moosilauke, so we can put all of our efforts the next day into that crazy hike. A small storm is heading our way tonight, sounds like the rain is starting.
Photo: One of the steeper sections of today's ascent to Smarts Mountain, looking up and then back down
14.6 miles (AT 1749.0-1763.6) Trapper John Shelter Woke up at our stealth site after a good night's sleep. New Hampshire started out easy enough, but lasted for only about 8 miles. The rest of the state looks mostly difficult, some parts exceedingly so. We had two smaller mountains to climb today, nothing huge and both about 1000' climbs. The second one was much steeper, but had excellent views from Holts Ledge on the other side. We didn't do too bad for our first full day back, but the two mountains at the end of the day wore us out a bit. We are very glad we stopped at this shelter because DR and Baby Blue hiked a mile uphill to bring us some shelter magic - sodas, beer, chocolate milk, ice cream, and fresh cucumbers from their garden. They are a father-daughter duo from the area who did a southbound thru-hike last year when Blue was just eleven years old. It was a great night and we actually made a fire for the first time in who knows how long. There was an old chimney across from the shelter so it seemed like the appropriate place to do so. A couple of bigger climbs ahead, we'll see how much we can do tomorrow.
Photo: There will probably be a lot of vista photos from the Whites but here's the first one, looking out from from Holts Ledge
Tuesday 8/16/16 14.7 miles (1732.3-1747.0) Hanover, NH We managed to wake up relatively early with Flash and Wolverine and get going at a good time. With only a few pauses to pick blackberries, we went five miles through a cool mist and walked into West Hartford, VT. Our guide book indicated that there wasn't much going on in the one-street town, but we stumbled across a deli that was open and friendly to hikers. We ordered sandwiches and they gave us some free donuts. That helped fuel is through the next nine miles, past the town of Norwich and across the Connecticut River, which marks the border between Vermont and New Hampshire. Such a great feeling to enter our thirteenth state. Lots of beautiful hiking up ahead in the White Mountains.
Wednesday-Thursday 8/17-18/16 0 miles Bethlehem, PA On Tuesday evening we rented a car and drove back to PA to visit Mama and Papa Pokey. It was our last chance to do so before we go through some pretty remote places in New Hampshire and Maine. It was a pretty emotional visit, but very quality family time that we will always remember.
Friday 8/19/16 2 miles (AT 1747.0-1749.0) Very long drive back to Hanover today. There was a lot of traffic and going through New York City was actually the quicker route. It still took us nearly all day and by the time we got back to town we only had a few hours of daylight left. We grabbed dinner and hiked until sunset and found a nice stealth camping spot on top of a little hill. Lots of forest noises tonight. It's nice having privacy but it's also definitely a little spookier being by ourselves. It's a nice clear night and we can see some stars in the gaps between the trees. It feels good to be back.
Photo: Us at the border. Just two states and 440 miles left
14.1 miles (AT 1718.2-1732.3) Thistle Hill Shelter Much tougher day than we anticipated, hiking-wise. Many short but steep climbs over and over again wore us out. We still put in a full day but it took us a while. We had a great lunch stop at On the Edge farm, where we split a strawberry rhubarb pie and some venison sausage and smoked cheddar cheese. We also hit some great trail magic at the end of the day in the form of s'mores, PB&Js, muffins, and brownies. There were also many opportunities to pause and pick wild blackberries along the way. We hiked all day with Flash and Wolverine, our paces pretty much match and they are fun to hike with. Can't believe tonight is the last night in Vermont!
Saturday 8/13/16 0 miles Rutland, VT After breakfast at the Inn, we were able to take a bus into the town of Rutland. We got dropped off near the hikers hostel at the Yellow Deli. We went there to take a shower and do laundry. It was an awful day weather-wise, and it was our friend Puma's birthday and many of our friends were in town for the day. Wasn't too long before we decided to grab a bunk and stay at the hostel. The rest of the day was a lot of fun; we played pool, went bowling, ate lots of food, and had a good time hanging out.
Sunday 8/14/16 16 miles (0.5 Shelburne Pass Trail; AT 1702.7-1718.2) The Lookout Had a slow morning after a late night, but got our resupply done and caught the 10:15 bus back to the Inn where we left off. We reconnected with the AT and slowly got back to hiking mode. Along the way we got ice creams at Gifford Woods State Park, and ran through a rain shower to get to Mountain Meadows Lodge (they gave us coffees and a towel to dry off with). Once the rain stopped we had a nice walk down to some waterfalls and then a steep climb over Quimby Mountain. Again it seemed like a pointless 1000'+ climb that only exists to make us tired. We were feeling pretty beat but we walked with our friends Flash and Wolverine for the rest of the day and that helped us get to our destination for the evening. It's at a cabin at this place called The Lookout, and there is an awesome little deck on top of the roof where you can look all around you for some awesome views. Still waiting for the clouds to clear up, hopefully we'll have some better visibility in the morning.
Photo: The Lookout cabin
15.9 miles (AT 1684.1-1697.0; 3 miles Shelburne Pass Trail [old AT]) Shelburne Pass It was very muggy and buggy overnight in the shelter so we had a hard time sleeping. After five miles we crossed the less-than-500-to-go mark, and the finish definitely felt much closer than it had before. The toughest part of the day by far was the long climb to get up and over Killington (4235'), the second-tallest mountain in Vermont. It was 2000' up and back down again. The LT/AT actually has the audacity to skirt the summit, so it was a very steep 0.2 side trail up another 350' for us to get to the peak. The clouds were just starting to clear up and the wind was really moving, it felt good to be up at the top. We followed the ridgeline around Mt Pico, and took the old AT down the other side of the mountain to Shelburne Pass. Our reason for doing this was because it drops you off right next to the Inn at Long Trail, our destination for the evening. Donut and Wolfman were there, and we all dropped our packs and went right into McGrath's Pub for a big dinner and lots of Irish-themed festivities. This included some live music from a great Irish duo band and many libations. A lot of work paid off at the end for us this time, which we needed after the disappointment from the night before. The Inn lets hikers camp across the road in a little fenced area. Once again it was just us and Wolfman/Donut.
Photo: Looking down at Lupine on the steep side trail to get up to Killington Peak
17 miles (AT 1667.1-1684.1) Clarendon Shelter Had a pretty good morning of hiking, went by Little Rock Pond and the nice campsite there. We met some trail maintainers who showed us how they felled a tree near the privy, and gave us an apple. Another five miles later were some very intricate rock gardens decorated with many little cairns. We took the side trail to White Rocks Cliff, which had a great lookout spot. Down the mountain were some great cascades at Bully Brook, and we cooled off there under a little waterfall in a knee-deep pool. We immediately got sweaty again climbing up and over Bear Mountain, a very pointless 1100ft climb with no views (the trail even skirts the summit). We pushed on to finish our day 16 miles at VT 103, or so we hoped. We walked half a mile down the road to a restaurant that our guidebook listed as being open and having tenting available. It was neither. We felt very defeated but walked all the way back to the trail and ended up doing another mile over a very steep rock scramble. We finally got to the shelter in very grumpy moods. We were surprised to see only two other hikers there, a couple we got to know named Wolfman and Donut. They are super nice and we were in a better mood after talking and hanging out with them. Definitely some nice parts to the day but it was tough.
Photo: Our swimming spot at Bully Brook
14.4 miles (AT 1652.7-1667.1) Big Branch Woke up to rain this morning. Thought it was 7:00 but it was actually 8:30, so we got a pretty late start. We were feeling sluggish because of the weather, and also we had to take a couple of breaks to make phone calls. One to family at the top of Bromley Mountain, and another to my bank at Styles Peak because someone stole my bank card info and drained my entire checking account. Looks like it's going to get resolved but I'll probably be without cash for a week or so. At Griffith Lake we suddenly ran into a bunch of kids on bicycles in the middle of the Long Trail/AT. They looked like they were totally lost on a summer camp trip or something. We tried to convince them to turn around and get back on the mountain bike trail, but I'm not sure how successful we were because we kept passing more kids on bikes as we continued north. The sun started peeking through the clouds in the evening and we suddenly caught a beautiful view on top of Baker Peak, after a tricky and slippery rock climb. After that we made quick work hiking another 3.7 to where we are now at Big Branch with another NoBo AT hiker named Coach. Everyone always seem to be on their best hiking game when hiking with other people. This is a beautiful campsite, and we are camped here with only one other hiker named Works Hard (Coach pushed on). What started off as a slow, crappy day turned into a fairly nice one by the end of it; the change in weather matched it perfectly.
Photo: From Bakers Peak. We are loving these Green Mountain views
10.7 miles (AT 1642.0-1652.7) Bromley Shelter Town day today. We had a little over eight miles to do in the morning before we reached the road that lead to Manchester Center. When we were eating breakfast and packing up, our friend Beehive stopped by our site. We hiked all the way to town with him. On the way there we saw a cool view at Prospect Rock, and also crossed paths with a guy Lu and I went to the same college with (who coincidentally is also named Josh). We talked for a while about the trail in both directions. With 3/4 of the trail completed, there's still a lot to look forward to ahead. We got a hitch into town pretty quickly, even with the three of us plus another hiker named Right Lane. We got some lunch and then went to the two different outfitters in town. After that we parted ways with Beehive and did some other errands, including getting a resupply. By the time we were ready to get back to the trail it was nearly 7:00, but we were able to land another hitch easily. People have been very cool about that in Vermont. We hiked another two miles in to the shelter, and it was completely dark so we called it a day here. We're close to the summit of Bromley Mountain, which is supposed to have beautiful views so we wanted to catch it during daylight. Hopefully the rain holds out for us so we can see it.
Photo: Didn't take very many photos today. Here's one from Prospect Rock, a lookout over the town of Manchester Center.
17 miles (AT 1625.0-1642.0) Winhall River Got an early start by waking up to a nice sunrise at our tentsite in front of the shelter. It was a good easy hike for the first eight miles, then we went up and over Stratton Mountain (3936'). It's the tallest peak in southern Vermont, and was a good 3300ft of elevation change for us over the next six miles. The mountain was the inspiration site for both the Long Trail and later the Appalachian Trail. The overlook tower was a lot nicer than the one on Glastenbury yesterday, because the summit is maintained by on-site caretakers. At the bottom on the other side was beautiful Stratton Pond, where we went swimming in the late afternoon and dried off in the sun for an hour. We hiked for another two miles before calling it a day. Would have liked to camp near the pond but it would've cost us a $10 fee for the Green Mountain Club. This river will do good too.
Photo: Stratton Pond north shore, our swimming hole site.
Saturday 8/6/16 0 miles Bennington, VT Neither of us were feeling well yesterday morning. We slept in until right before checkout, got dressed, then booked another night at the motel and went right back to bed. I guess we needed it because we didn't wake up again until 1:30. We went out for a walk around town, checked out a local home brew festival and saw some live music. After that we got a pizza and watched the olympics all evening. It was a good day.
Sunday 8/7/16 14.4 miles (AT 1610.6-1625.0) Kid Gore Shelter We left town at a decent time and immediately ran into some trail magic. We got some cold drinks and a donut to fuel us back up into the mountains. We climbed up 2600 feet or so to get over Glastenbury Mountain over the course of ten miles. It wasn't very steep, just a long steady uphill with a few breaks. The summit had a very cool lookout tower with panoramic views all around from the top. The Long Trail/AT runs through some beautiful lush green forest in this area. Glastenbury Wilderness, what we went through today, is said to be the second most remote place on the whole trail. It's true that we don't hit a town for another day or so and all you can see is green all around. It's even getting colder - we have long sleeves on for breaks and in the evening and it feels great. Looking forward to some more time in the Green Mountains.
Photo: A view from the lookout tower on Glastenbury Mountain.
Thursday 8/4/16 17.1 miles (AT 1589.2-1606.3) Congdon Shelter Yesterday was a big day. We walked a few miles and got sidetracked by a sign that said "bikes for hikes." A guy in the neighborhood has four bikes that he lends to hikers for free so they can take them into town. We put down the packs for a while and pedaled into North Adams, a couple miles away. We ate a delicious brunch at a coffee shop, then biked up to the contemporary art museum. It ended up being pretty expensive for admission, so we didn't actually go in. Both the brewery and the bowling alley weren't open yet, so we headed back after that. We hiked on and after a few miles we crossed the border and entered our twelfth state, Vermont! For the next 105 miles the AT coincides with the Long Trail, the oldest long distance trail in the country. We did another 10 miles and finished late at Congdon Shelter, right on the trail. We quickly met a wide variety of hikers at the shelter - some SoBos, some section hikers, a couple people doing the Long Trail, and another NoBo who we haven't seen since Virginia.
Friday 8/5/16 4.3 miles (AT 1606.3-1610.6) Bennington, VT We slept pretty well in the shelter, woke up at 8am and hit the trail just before 10:00. We only had a few miles to do before we reached US 9, which leads to the town of Bennington, VT. We got picked up by the owner of the Catamount Motel, where we are staying tonight. We had a great lunch and got our resupply and laundry done. Feels good to be clean again. Tomorrow we have a long climb out of here, so we'll see how far we go.
Photo: Us at the MA/VT border, southern terminus of the Long Trail, which ends at the Canadian border.
16.3 miles (AT 1572.9-1589.2) Wilbur Clearing Shelter Today was filled with lots of food and leisurely breaks, two of our favorite things. We did our long breakfast this morning and walked an easy 4.5 miles down into Cheshire, MA. It is a tiny town, but had enough of the places we wanted. The ice cream/deli store was closed when we arrived, so we walked just off trail to a general store. It ended up being a hardware store mostly, but had some snacks and drinks and ice cream so that made us happy. By the time we got back to the deli stand it was open so we got fresh sandwiches and some Gatorade. That fueled us for the climb up to Mt Greylock, the highest point in Massachusetts. The summit is at 3491', which isn't huge for the AT but the highest we've been since Shenandoah National Park. Just before the summit we hit some trail magic from a youth missionary group. They had cold sodas and snacks but also cooked pasta and coffee and all sorts of different things. We ate a bunch of food there and at the summit of Greylock there was a lodge and restaurant where we drank a beer. After that it was only another 3.3 to the side trail that our shelter is on. It's very much full of noisy campers. Sounds like everyone's bags are getting crushed in the bear box.
Photo: The photogenic memorial at the top of Greylock was under construction, so it was unfortunately not terribly impressive when we saw it. Saw this sweet pond and cabin just before the top though
16 miles (AT 1556.9-1572.9) Crystal Mountain Campsite We woke up to the noise of kids shouting and being annoyingly loud at first light. It rained a bunch overnight, but we stayed dry inside the tent. Because we were up early we were able to do almost twelve miles before lunch and walked into Dalton, MA. We ate lunch and drank a beer at the pub, picked up some more food for the next two days, and packed out subs for dinner on our way out. We stopped at the first campsite outside of town. It's in a nice spot, there is some very pretty forest in this area. We caught up to Stardust and Flannel, who are hiking with Flannel's niece until the weekend. We stayed up a while with them and Uncle Spider and Reptar; they are from the Lehigh Valley, PA and we finally just met up on the trail recently. It ended up being a great day, and tomorrow will be fun going to the highest point in Massachusetts. The nights are getting cooler, and the bugs weren't as bad today!
Photo: More great trail from this area
Sunday 7/31/16 15.5 miles (AT 1532.6-1548.1) Upper Goose Pond Cabin Had a nice long day yesterday. We really enjoyed our lunch stop at Jerusalem Road right outside of Tyringham, MA. There was a little stand that sold sodas and gatorades and snacks on the honor system for hikers, and there was even a nice little bench nearby and a power strip to charge our phones. There was a lot of nice easy walking for much of the day. We finished up at Upper Goose Pond Cabin, a destination we've been looking forward to since planning this trip. It's a giant red cabin run by a caretaker that has a bunkhouse inside. It was a half mile off trail but well worth the detour. There were twenty other hikers there, many NoBos but a few SoBos as well. Had a good time talking with Whistler, a SoBo guy, and caught up with a bunch of hikers we hadn't seen in a few days.
Monday 8/1/16 8.8 miles (AT 1548.1-1556.9) October Mountain Shelter We woke up this morning to pancakes. The caretaker makes them each morning for everyone along with coffee. Then we spent the morning relaxing and checking out the area. There's a nice covered porch, a cooking area out back, a wash station, a few privies, campsites, and lots of space for drying out clothes or gear. The cabin is right on the pond, and has a couple of canoes that you can take out on the water. The water is so clear, it seems much more like a lake than a pond. I ended up doing the water run with the caretaker, so we got to row across the water to a rock spring and fill up 16 gallons to bring back. We ate lunch then decided to do a short day instead of zeroing, even though we definitely could have found more things to do (play monopoly, go swimming, nap). Since we're much closer to Dalton now it will be a lot easier to go in and out of town tomorrow. We only have a couple more days in Massachusetts already, everything is going by so fast. Can't believe it's August.
Photo: Upper Goose Pond Cabin. Great stop, miss it already
12 miles (AT 1520.6-1532.6) Left Great Barrington today, got a ride back to the trail from a very nice couple who do trail maintenance in the area. We pushed through the fresh-from-town sluggishness and made it to the Mt Wilcox South Shelters in the evening just as it started to rain slightly. Unfortunately the site was overrun with many boys from a summer camp. They were nice and all, but loud, so we ate dinner and moved on. We found the next flat place to set up camp, and were quickly overrun by bloodthirsty mosquitos. They were seriously bad as we tried to hurriedly pitch the tent and hang the food. They definitely made us both go a little crazy. Tomorrow we get to go to Goose Pond, a place we've been looking forward to ever since we started planning our thru-hike.
Photo: A lot of good forest pictures today
Thursday 7/28/16 12.9 miles (1507.7-1520.6) Great Barrington, MA Yesterday was such a great day. We woke up early and left at 6am. We caught a beautiful sunrise on the ridge of Mt Race, and saw some amazing views from the ledges. Then we went up and over Mt Everett, which had some steep rock faces on the climb up. We made it to the parking on the other side near Guilder Pond just after 8am, to finish up a tricky 4.5-mile section. There we met up with a trail angel named April, who drove over an hour from Connecticut to meet up with us. She pulled up in a van full of muffins, fresh fruit, honey buns, gummy bears, and iced coffees for us and other hikers. It was probably the greatest breakfast we've eaten on the trail, and she was super cool and we talked for a while about backpacking and trail running as we took a long break there. Although we're loosely connected (Lu's Dad and her fiancé know each other through work), she was extremely supportive and generous and very encouraging. After that we had another 8 miles between us and US 7, our destination for the day. Our friend Mamba met up with us there. We hiked with him for almost 200 miles in the very beginning; he jumped off trail around Hot Springs, NC for a sweet job opportunity in Boston. He drove a good distance across the state to meet up with us, and he took us out for lunch (best burger I think we've ever had) and showed us around the town of Great Barrington and shuttled us to get all of our errands done. It was very cool of him to go so far out of his way and it meant a lot to us. Everything about yesterday made us feel very loved and supported; that has been a constant theme on this trip so far, from family and friends old and new.
Friday 7/29/16 0 miles Great Barrington, MA Today we slept in and took a rest day to do laundry and check out the town. It is very hip. We walked around downtown to visit the many shops, a co-op, diner, coffee shop, candy store, creamery, and a small movie theater. It was a great day. I can see why so many people visit the Berkshires, seems like a very happening area in the summer. Back at it again tomorrow.
Photo: One of the many nice views from Mt Ridge
21.6 miles (AT 1486.1-1507.7) Laurel Ridge Campsite Got our groove back today. Hiked all day and finished over 20 miles. Crossed the 1500-mile mark. Saw some old hiker friends and made some new ones. Took a cold outside shower in the middle of the heat. Did some real climbs again. Checked off another state and walked into Massachusetts to finish the day. The only thing missing was a cold drink and a burger, but that should be coming tomorrow when we hit the town of Great Barrington. Everything keeps getting better and better!
Photo: The trail in Connecticut finishes (NoBo) with the state's highest peak, Bear Mountain (2316'). The two peaks on the left are Mt Race and Mt Everett, which we will go over first thing tomorrow.
Monday 7/25/16 2.8 miles (AT 1466.7-1469.5) Yesterday we spent most of the day hanging out in town. We slept in, checked out, grabbed coffee, did errands, picked up our sweet new ultralight tent at the post office, and ate lunch. As we were getting ready to head back out to the trail, we saw the skies darken and checked the weather radar. We decided to hang out a little while longer in the library instead, and safely waited out a rainstorm for about an hour. At 4:00 we finally left and walked the 0.8 road walk back to the trail. We only made a few miles before the sky got dark again. This time it was supposed to rain for several hours. We didn't really want to set our new tent up for the first time in the rain or in the dark so we quickly picked a stealth campsite and set up. Neither of us have used a trekking pole tent before (which uses our trekking poles for the structure, no tent poles) and there were no directions, but we got it figured out just in time before the rains came in. It did very well with no collapses and we stayed dry all night.
Tuesday 7/26/16 16.6 miles (AT 1469.5-1486.1) Sharon Mountain Campsite Unfortunately we didn't sleep too well, for whatever reason. Our sleep cycle has definitely been confusing this past week. We snoozed another three hours before feeling rested and decided to eat breakfast on the trail. Even after coffee, we both felt sluggish all day. I'm sure being dehydrated wasn't helping, even though we were both drinking lots of water and taking electrolyte supplements. At least it didn't feel as hot as yesterday or this past weekend, and we could hike throughout the day without needing to stop and wait out the heat. We finished at dinner with a decent 16 mile day, but it felt like a longer one. The trail is definitely starting to get more difficult, and we know it's only going to get tougher the farther north we get. At the same time we know the scenery gets better and better as we go north too. Tonight at our campsite, some section hikers stole our bear rope that we hung before dinner and used it for their own. By the time we figured it out, it was dark and we were stumbling around the woods trying to find it. We had switched out our old paracord for reflective rope so I knew it was gone when our headlamps couldn't catch it, and that someone had to have taken it. When I asked them about it they didn't even apologize or anything, they were just annoyed that they had to rehang their food again. Me too guys, me too.
Photo: Nice to see the water sources picking up again as well. Haven't seen a brook looking this nice in a while
Saturday 7/23/16 29 miles (AT 1437.4-1466.4) Mt Algo Shelter We stuck to our plan and woke up at 5:00am and hit the trail by 6:00 in order to beat the heat. We hiked five miles to a lake and made coffee for our first break. After that we did another three to West Dover Road, where we hit some trail magic. A guy named Sidetracked was parked underneath Dover Oak, the largest tree on the Appalachian Trail (estimated to be over 300 years old), with coolers full of iced drinks and other snacks for hikers. We stayed there for about an hour before pushing on another three or so to NY 22. We crossed the railroad tracks and the Appalachian Trail stop for the NYC metro, and stopped at Native Landscapes Garden Center for our mid-day siesta. They let us hang out under a gazebo and use their outlets to charge our devices. They also had a free outdoor shower for us to use, and we bought drinks and snacks and hung out there for a few hours to wait out the hottest part of the day. It was around this time that we started publicly stating our mission to hike to Kent, CT. It was still 18 miles away and by 4:00 we were still sitting in the shade so everyone thought we were just kidding around. We finally got going and did another 5-6 miles to the next shelter, where we ate dinner. We finally convinced our friends Foot and Songbird to push on with us (night-hiking is always much better with company, for many reasons). The other hikers thought we were crazy but wished us luck as we headed out - they made us feel like we were going on an important mission or something. We booked it for the first four miles to the next shelter while there was still light out, and stopped to make coffee. Then we switched our lights on for the last eight miles of hiking. It went surprisingly well, we had a decent climb and some rocks to maneuver but nothing too bad. At the top we took another long break on a big rock slab to check out the night sky full of stars and watch the moon come out. The last few miles we were all feeling it, but we made it to our destination shelter just before Kent at 2:00am. We immediately set up our tents and passed out.
Sunday 7/24/16 0.3 miles (AT 1466.4-1466.7) Kent, CT This morning we slept in a little before packing up and walking the short downhill to CT route 341. We immediately got picked up by a section hiker in a van who took the four of us into town. First we ate a big breakfast, then went to the outfitter to grab some supplies. Then off to the grocery store and laundromat. Our friend Kaitlyn met up with us on her way to Vermont and we all went out for pizza together. It was a great visit, it was fun being able to share what we've been up to for the past few months and we're glad she got to meet some other hiker buds as well. After lunch we checked into our room at the inn and we all took amazing showers (really, one of the better ones of the whole trip). Our friends Flannel and Stardust met up with us for ice cream in the evening and we hung out with them until after 7:00 catching up and killing time until it started cooling off again. We had been trying to catch them for several weeks, and now that they had taken some time off in their home state of Connecticut we were finally able to see them again. They headed back out to the trail along with Foot and Songbird, and we went back to our room after a quick stop at Kingsley Tavern. Called our families and finally got a chance to relax in a comfy bed again. We are so happy to be in New England! The whole vibe of the forest and the trail towns completely changed as soon as we crossed the border, and everything after this is going to get better and better as we continue north. We are heading back out tomorrow after we grab a package at the post office in the morning.
Photo: Always nice to see these signs!
Thursday 7/21/16 18.8 miles (AT 1409.6-1428.4) RPH Shelter The best part about yesterday was the shelter at the end of the day. We hiked all day in the heat and were moving pretty slowly. That was until we passed Canopus Lake at 6:45 with five miles to go. Our guidebook showed that we could get pizza delivered right to the shelter, and after calling the pizza place and learning they were open until 9:00, we flew up the trail for the home stretch. We ate pizza and the local caretaker brought some cold beers for everyone at the shelter, it was amazing.
Friday 7/22/16 9 miles (AT 1428.4-1437.4) Morgan Stewart Shelter Today's highlight was Mountaintop Market Deli. It was five miles away from RPH shelter, and by the time we made it there for lunch the temps were already in the 90s. The heat index reached a high of 99 today. We tried waiting it out in the shade behind the deli for a few hours but at 5:00 we had no choice but to move on. We were okay with cold and then rain, but we both dislike the heat very much. Even right now, after sunset at 9:00, it's still in the 80's and it feels like a heat trap inside our tent. Our new strategy for tomorrow is to get up super early and hike until it gets too hot, and then take a long break and hike in the evening and possibly at night. If that doesn't work, we'll probably have to become nocturnal creatures until we reach higher elevation and colder temps in New England.
Photo: So darn hot
Monday 7/18/16 0 miles Greenwood Lake, NY We took a zero in the great little town of Greenwood Lake. We ate an amazing breakfast at the cafe/coffee shop, spent hours in the bookstore, waited out a thunderstorm in the room with Chinese food and bad tv. Got to take the canoe out on the lake. Great day for a rest!
Tuesday 7/19/16 23 miles (AT 1371.3-1394.3) Black Mountain We had an extremely late start out of town. After a resupply it was way worth it for another cafe breakfast. Everyone in town was very friendly towards hikers. The cafe owner discounted our food and gave us free drinks, the bookstore manager chatted with us for a long time, the inn keeper gave us a discount hike rate, and a man we met at CVS gave us a lift back to the trail and let us fill up water at the well from his house. We started at 2:30 and still wanted to do a lot of miles, so we figured it would be a late day. We ended up hiking well into tonight, and going through "the lemon squeezer" under the light of the moon. It's a very narrow passageway through two vertical rock walls, followed by some tricky rock scrambling. We hiked all the way until almost 3:00am. The reason we wanted to get so far is because there was a view of the New York City skyline from the top of Bear Mountain, and we wanted to catch it at nighttime as well as daytime. It was hard work but we made it and the reward was a great camp spot.
Wednesday 7/20/16 15.3 miles (AT 1394.3-1409.6) Graymoor Spiritual Life Center Today was very tiring, due to lack of sleep from last night. We passed right out but were woken up in a few hours by the heat of being in the open sunlight. Tired muscles meant we didn't go very quickly today, took us all afternoon and evening to get the 15 miles done. Today's highlight was Bear Mountain, where there was an old stone observatory at the top. This area is the closest natural area to the city, and gets a lot of visitors. We were happy about the vending machines at the summit. On the other side we walked by a lake (with a concession stand), and then the trail went right through a zoo. They take in animals that are injured and wouldn't otherwise make it back out in the forest. Saw some foxes and eagles and many reptiles. In front of the bear cage was the lowest elevation spot on the whole AT, which is less than 200 feet above sea level. After that we crossed the Hudson River and did another few miles to an Appalachian Deli and convenience store, where we grabbed a few groceries and some dinner. All in all there was a lot to see, and it was a great day for eating! Oh and we also crossed the 1400-mile mark. We are camping in the ballfields at Graymoor Spiritual Life Center, where the monks here have been hosting hikers for the past 40+ years. We are pretty exhausted from some long days and off-schedules, so we're hoping to get a good nights rest tonight and recover for tomorrow.
Photo: Awful quality, but this was the view from our campsite last night. Wish we had a real camera for shots like this!
Saturday 7/16/16 28.8 miles (AT 1335.7-1361.8; 2.7 mile road walk) Warwick, NY
Saturday was one of the most interesting days on the trail so far. Mosey cooked us an awesome breakfast at her house before dropping us back off at the trailhead. We started hiking and soon ran into Lumberjack, from Montreal. We hiked with him to the New Jersey high point, where he went to a lake beach for a shower and we pushed on. We made fairly good time through lunch, and then Lumberjack caught up with us again. We hiked with him for the rest of the day. He's a very interesting and intelligent dude, speaks a few languages and has travelled around the world. He started six weeks after us and it seems easy for him to crush big miles on any given day. We kept up with him to the next shelter, 14 for us at that point. He convinced us to push on, so after a snack at 4:30 we moved on. Another six miles over the swampy boardwalk and then we were at the road that leads to the town of Vernon, NJ. We were thinking of staying there at a hostel but we ended up pushing on to the next shelter for some reason. Just into our climb up "Stairway to Heaven," we met a local and talked with him for a couple minutes. He mentioned a drive-in movie theater in the town of Warwick, NY that is friendly to hikers and shows late night movies. The road to there was only a half mile past the shelter we were aiming for, so we decided to go for it. At the top of the climb we saw a beautiful sunset at Pinwheels Vista, and then had another 4.3 miles to get to the road, which was mostly night-hiking. The sad thing when we finally reached the road at 10:00 was that the drive-in was 2.7 miles away from that. We had already hiked a marathon but we weren't about to quit. Hitching is illegal in New York and I doubt anyone would have pulled over for us at night anyway. We finally showed up to the theater at 11:00. Miraculously, they had delayed the movie because of all the car traffic in and out so they started it at the moment we arrived. They were super nice to us, let us in for free, and let us camp there that night. It was so cool setting up our tent, watching a movie, and then passing out. We saw the new Tarzan movie (it was awful). But it was such a crazy and perfect day, and an experience we won't forget.
Sunday 7/17/16 9.5 miles (AT 1361.8-1371.3) Greenwood Lake, NY
Today we hiked into Greenwood Lake, NY and left Jersey for good. Eight states down! They're going quickly now after Virginia. Hard to believe we're nearly two-thirds of the way through this thing. This town is great and the place we're staying on is right on the lake. We're thinking of zeroing tomorrow to take full advantage of everything. For now it's definitely bedtime after a long two days
Photo: Getting creative with the border pics now
13.2 miles (AT 1322.5-1335.7) Port Jarvis, NY
Other than a stupid killer mosquito in our tent last night, it was a beautiful night in our stealth camping spot that we had to ourselves. Waking up to early morning sunlight hitting the trees above us was a great first thing to see. We had to hike a couple miles to the shelter to get water for breakfast and coffee. After that we took a break under the pavilion on top of Sunrise Mountain and waited out a quick day shower. It was a pretty hike through High Point State Park, and when we reached the park headquarters by NJ route 23 we got free cans of soda just for signing in at the office. There we got picked up by Mosey (NoBo '15) who took us back to her house, where she is running a low-key hostel this year. She is a super cool lady and has been really great to us (she is essentially just sharing her house with hikers) and Lightning, the only other hiker here. We finally got some laundry done after a hot, smelly week and took showers. Got enough food to get us to the next town in a couple of days, so we'll hit the trail again tomorrow morning.
Photo: Pavilion on top of Sunrise Mountain, one of the higher peaks in New Jersey at 1653'
15.9 miles (AT 1306.6-1322.5)
Let's see. The highlights of today consisted of a 30-minute thunderstorm, Lupine nearly stepping on a rattlesnake, and a sweet tavern right on a lake that we stopped at for dinner. The Jersey mosquitos are out in full force and make it difficult to stand or sit in any one location for too long. We have wet shoes and socks but a clear night tonight, and are stealth camping without the rainfly on like rebels. Short and sweet tonight so we can hopefully get back to our normal bright-and-early routine
Photo: Jersey sunset from one of many ridges so far.
Time for an update!
Saturday 7/9/16 7.9 miles (AT 1249.4-1257.3) Bethlehem, PA
Woke up to a beautiful misty morning. Stayed that way all the way to Palmerton. We got picked up by Mama and Papa Pokey and we went back to the house for showers. After that we went to LL Bean and Dick's Sporting Goods to pick up some new footwear for summer. We both went with breathable, low top hiking shoes. Hopefully they will last us until the Green and White Mountains where we will switch back to boots. Got our resupply done as well.
Sunday 7/10/16 20.2 miles (AT 1257.3-1277.5) Wind Gap, PA
We slackpacked from Palmerton to Wind Gap on Sunday. We started off with the climb out of Lehigh Gap, which was incredible. It wasn't very technically difficult but it was wide open with lots of views in all directions. Basically one big giant rock pile. We hit some trail magic on the way so we didn't have any issues with water. This was a pretty dry stretch so I'm glad we were fortunate enough to be able to slack that section. When we got to Wind Gap, Mama Pokey brought us our packs and then took us out to first dinner and drinks at a local sports pub. Our friend Eric met us there and afterwards took Lupine and I back to his house, and his wife Maria made us an awesome second dinner of chicken and rice and greens. We had two plates each, after 3/4 of a pizza earlier. We stayed up late with them talking about the trail and the different things we've learned along the way so far.
Monday 7/11/16 15.5 miles (AT 1277.5-1293.0) Church of the Mountain Hiking Center Delaware Water Gap, PA
Eric brought us back to the trail in the morning after breakfast at Dunkin Donuts. With our packs back on we were slower and it took us all day to reach Delaware Water Gap. After the downhill into town we were both feeling pretty beat up after a long week. Set up camp at the church hostel and went to the local tavern for dinner and drinks.
Tuesday 7/12/16 0 miles Church of the Mountain Hiking Center Delaware Water Gap, PA
We zeroed in the gap yesterday. It was a nice town, and with the church hostel it was very affordable to stay an extra night to recover. That place was awesome. The pastor Sherri was super cool and there were a few people checking in on us throughout the day to see if we needed anything. After a long resupply we spent a lot of the day playing cards and hanging out. A bunch of people ended up taking zeroes too. We had a lot of friends show up that day (Puma, Beehive, Sneaky Pete, and many others) and we all went back to the tavern that evening. Caught a bunch of Pokemon there.
Wednesday 7/13/16 13.6 miles (AT 1293.0-1306.6)
We hiked out today after a killer breakfast at the diner in DWG. We finally left the state of PA for good when we crossed the Delaware River. Unfortunately the rocks haven't quite ended yet, but we hope it gets better with each step we take into New Jersey. We hiked through the section we did last year on our first backpacking trip together. The big highlight was Sunfish Pond, which is pristine and has many cairn sculptures on its rocky shores. Our feet were done after we walked by Catfish Lookout Tower, so we set up camp at the next tenting place with water. The mosquitos almost ate us alive over dinner but we're safe in the tent now. Seven states down, seven to go!
Photo: PA/NJ border
17.4 miles (AT 1232.0-1249.4) Bake Oven Knob Shelter
Today was a day where if I had a day rating system I would rate today at a 2. And that would only be because Pokey's parents are angels and slack packed us and fed us bagels and candy. Also camp, camp was good. So maybe a 3. Today I think Pennsylvania was trying to kill us. Or at least kill our morale. When it's 85 degrees at 8am and 2000% humidity that would be an easy job for PA. But on top of that there were the jagged rocks, the lack of water, and the little devil gnats. These special gnats are immune to bug spray and their sole purpose is to commit murder in the only way a devil gnat can. That is to fly into your open eyeballs and blind you while you attempt a rock scramble, or fly into your ears and nose and mouth and just generally try to distract you from not falling off a mountain. Luckily today the little gnats lost and we live to hike again. Oh also today we had beers at a place off the trail with a Hawaiian/mountain life/fishing theme I'd like to think I would be a regular at if I were a local. So maybe we can bump today up to a 5. Oh and we had awesome trail magic at the exact right moment from 44 and Annie! Actually it was a pretty decent day. It's really hard to have a bad day out here even though the devil gnats tried. There are too many good things and good people everyday, even the weather and the hell bugs can't outweigh it.
Photo: Knife's Edge (cliffs). Makes for a better seat than a trail
14.8 miles (AT 1217.2-1132.0) Eckville Shelter
Today felt like the hottest day so far. The climb out of town in the morning was rough, it was in the 80's by 9:00 and very muggy. It got worse as the day went on. We did about 5 miles to the Hamburg Reservoir and met our friend Alex from Philadelphia and dog companions Diego and Bernie. They hiked with us all the way up to Pulpit Rock and then to the Pinnacle. Both had good views, although visibility has been better with so much haze everywhere today. We had some cold drinks at the top and took a long break there. When the trail split we said goodbye and continued on another 5 or so to Hawk Mountain road, and walked down to Eckville Shelter. This place is special because it is an actual bunkhouse on the same property as a house for the caretaker. We are tenting in a meadow across the street. The heat index is in the 80's still and tonight is a night where it's extremely hot and sticky in our tent. Tomorrow is supposed to be like this too. Where are all the swimming holes at, PA?
Photo: Dogs at the Pinnacle
18.5 miles (AT 1198.7-1217.2) Port Clinton, PA
Well it got really hot today. Heat index in the low 90s and very muggy. PA has not disappointed with the rocks and dried up water sources. We had a good morning, hit a trail magic cooler at a French-Indian War monument site that had sparkling water and cookies. Had quite the little backwoods lunchtime adventure at the intersection of Sand Spring Trail when going to get water. Walked 0.2 down to the spring, on the way I nearly stepped on a huge timber rattlesnake (first one I've seen for sure so far). We stared at each other for a minute before I made a wide arc around it. Got to the spring and it was dried up. We were nearly out of water, and I was determined, so I went another 200-300 yards farther down the trail until I could hear water trickling. I bushwhacked off to my left until I reached the sad puddle of a stream. Had to dig a hole and let it pool up with water before using a tin cup to scoop it out. Rattler was gone on the way back, but that didn't help my nerves at all. After that it was a pretty easy rest of the way until a treacherous downhill into Port Clinton. The hotel that serves food was still closed for the holiday, but the local fire company let us in as guests to have a couple of beers. We are camping at the town pavilion a few blocks off of the trail. The rest of PA is some very familiar territory to us and we're looking forward to it!
Photo: PA = rocks and rattlers
Friday 7/1/16 16.3 miles (AT 1164.0-1180.3)
Friday we got up early with the intention of doing some big miles. We got the early start we needed and soon ran into Clovis and Good Talk. We hiked with them for a while and we all had to fill up at the orangest stream I've ever seen! Has something to do with iron or sulfur in the soil I think (those are the various things I've been told anyway). We ate lunch at Rausch Gap Shelter 0.3 off the trail, where we expected to wait out a thunderstorm. It passed over us with the tiniest drizzle. After that we went over another mountain and approached PA route 443 after 16 miles. It was 4:00 and this was the last road crossing for another 11 miles. We were pretty worn out so we texted Papa Pokey and asked to be picked up where we were. He came to the rescue and took us all the way back to Bethlehem, PA (a little over an hour away).
Saturday-Monday 7/2-4/16 0 Miles Bethlehem, PA
We triple zeroed with Mama and Papa Pokey over the holiday weekend. We got errands done, resupplied, took care of things long put off (like updating our photo blog), and got to see some friendly faces. We saw some band mates from Trouble City and many other friends at an early 4th cookout, and our dear friend Aniko took us out for a drink and later for some ice cream. We had some great homemade meals over the course of the weekend and got to spend some quality time with our cat. It was the perfect rest and rejuvenation we needed for the second half of our trip. On our last night we watched an old documentary called Appalachian Impressions, which highlighted the places we've seen so far and gave us a sneak peak of what's ahead. It made us excited to get back out again.
Tuesday 7/5/16 18.4 miles (AT 1180.3-1198.7) Hertline Campsite
This morning we got back to the trail. Pokey's brother Aaron and his girlfriend Kelsey drove us back to where we left off, and slackpacked with us for the next 13 miles. It was a pretty good stretch, although rocky in some places. We did get a few views though. Papa Pokey met us near 501 shelter with our packs. We said goodbye to everyone (Aaron and Kelsey got a ride back to their car) and continued on for another 5 miles before getting to camp. We're a little tired, this was our longest mile day after taking a zero. But happy to be back! The next few days we'll be hiking parts of the trail close to where we went to school and where we lived for a few years.
Photo: Pokey, Kelsey, and Aaron pondering a lookout (or overlook?)
Wednesday 6/29 13.1 miles (AT 1135.3-1148.4) Duncannon, PA
Birthday was a success on-trail. Papa Pokey drove down to meet us and Little Santa in the morning at the next road gap with breakfast sandwiches and coffee. Then he drove our packs to Duncannon so we could slackpack the remaining 10 or so miles into town. It was great because that section was pretty rocky so it was very helpful without having the extra weight. We met back up in town at the Doyle Hotel, a famous stop for hikers. We got beers and had lunch, and I got some birthday presents. Lu got me some sweet new hiking shorts and some better sock liners. Mama Pokey made us a very delicious homemade cake with all the best ingredients. We were debating hiking on to the next shelter, but after walking through town and crossing the bridge Lu and I decided to get a room just outside of town. We relaxed on a bed and watched tv for the rest of the evening.
Thursday 6/30 15.6 miles (AT 1148.4-1164.0)
This morning we were slow to wake and get moving. We grabbed breakfast to go and got a shuttle back to the trail at 11:00. The climb back out wasn't too bad, and then we were on a ridge for the rest of the day. We had to load up with water early and make that last the rest of the day until camp though. PA trail is definitely starting to get rocky, although I don't believe we've hit the worst part of it yet. Our plan tomorrow is to go as far as our legs will carry us, and then get picked up in the evening to spend the holiday weekend with family and take a zero or two (or three). Can't believe it's going to be July!
Photo: Birthday cake after lunch in the Doyle Hotel. So good!
14.3 miles (AT 1121.0-1135.3) Darlington Shelter
Slept in a little (very easy to do in a real bed) and walked back into town to get breakfast at Caffe 101. By the time we were actually ready to leave town it was after 12:00. Walking through Cumberland Valley was great, the elevation profile is pretty flat and we spent a lot of time walking through farmland or alongside it. We hiked a lot of the way with Little Santa (from Santa Cruz, CA). We somehow narrowly avoided a severe thunderstorm that passed just north of where we were. Passed a couple of southbounders who weren't so lucky and got soaked. The end of the day had a tough climb uphill loaded up with water, but other than that it was a pretty easy day. Tomorrow Papa Pokey is meeting up with us at the next gap with breakfast for Pokey's birthday, and we are going to slackpack the rest of the way into Duncannon. PA is great so far!
Photo: A little sample of the scenery through Cumberland Valley
Friday 6/24/16 13.6 miles (AT 1068.7-1082.3) Caledonia State Park
Friday we walked to Caledonia State Park. The shelters in this area are really nice. We listened to a new podcast most of the day while we hiked to pass time. When we got to the park we walked by the pool area, and got some soda and ice cream from the snack bar. We got a spot in the campground for the night, courtesy of Mom and Dad Pokey. The campground hosts were nice to us and invited us to hang out at their campfire. Got to take a shower finally!
Saturday 6/25/16 19.4 miles (AT 1082.3-1101.7) Pine Grove Furnace State Park
This was one of our favorite days of the whole trip so far. Mom and Dad Pokey met us at our site in the morning, driving about two hours to do so. They brought us Panera breakfast. It was the first time we had seen them in over three months. After breakfast we left our packs with them and they dropped us back off at the trailhead for our first slackpack. How great that was! We hiked like champs without all the weight, and did over 19 miles to the next state park in just over six hours. We crossed the official halfway point on this stretch, so we finally have more miles behind us than in front of us now. We got ice cream at the general store at Pine Grove, but neither of us participated in the "half gallon challenge" (many hikers attempt to eat a half gallon of ice cream in one sitting in honor of completing half the trail). Mom and Dad Pokey met us there and took us to our campsite at the campground, which they also reserved for us (thank you, guys!). We got to take another shower before we met up with Pokey's Aunt Mary and Uncle Ted. The six of us all went out to a winery and then to a homestyle country all-you-can-eat restaurant for dinner. It reminded us very much of the Home Place in Virginia, which was a very good thing. The food was great and being with family was even better. So glad that we were all able to meet up, it really made our day. And thank you all for treating us hungry hikers to dinner!
Sunday 6/26/16 8.5 miles (AT 1101.7-1110.2) Chambersburg, PA
The next morning our friends Mike and Tara met us at the Pine Grove campground. They have family in southern PA and were down for the weekend, so they met up to spend the day hiking with us. They brought two cars to shuttle around so we could all hike together, and we got to do our second slackpack in a row. Hiking with friends is awesome and makes the day go by really fast. It was a good section that they both grew up hiking so it was fun to share that with them. Once we reached the endpoint they took us out for a drink and then back to their hometown of Chambersburg for dinner. I had the largest burrito/margarita combo that I've ever seen in my life. Tara's mom and stepdad then put us all up at their place, and graciously let us shower again and do laundry there. We stayed up late talking and checking out all the stars we didn't know with a new app I got for my phone.
Monday 6/27/16 11 miles (AT 1110.2-1121.2) Boiling Springs, PA
This morning we went to breakfast with Mike and Tara before they dropped us back off at the trail. It was great to see them and I hope they join us again at some point so we can do some more hiking and maybe some camping too. We had a fairly easy 11 miles into the town of Boiling Springs. In Cumberland Valley there is no camping so we could either stay in town tonight or hike another 13 to the next shelter. We thought the choice was pretty obvious. We are staying at Allenbery Resort and Inn, a beautiful property with 50+ acres and a playhouse among many other features. Unfortunately this is the last of three nights that hikers will be able to stay here, because the whole property is going up for auction in a couple of weeks. We had a great weekend and are looking forward to more family visits in the next couple of weeks while we travel through PA.
Photo: L to R - Mama Pokey, Uncle Ted, Lupine, Aunt Mary, Pokey, Papa Pokey. Thank you guys for dinner and the campsites and the slackpack and all the other support along the way!
Wednesday-Thursday 6/22-23/16 28.4 miles (AT 1040.3-1068.7) Deer Lick Shelters
We made it to the North! Yesterday was a big day. We started the morning kind of slow, sleeping in a little and stopping at the original Washington Monument, a quick side trail right off of the trail. We were making really great time hiking though, listening to a podcast and going over some friendly terrain. We did 19 to a shelter by the evening and found it full of Boy Scouts. We decided to push another 5 to the border of MD/PA, since we would be in our tents either way. We made it just after dark, and it was very exciting. It was our farthest day at 24.3 miles, and the first time we had completed one percent of the trail in a single day (21.89 miles). We fell asleep exhausted and slept in late.
The showers weren't so bad overnight, they were supposed to continue today but they didn't. We made it to Waynesboro in town by lunch. We got our resupply and a meal and hopped back on the trail to the next shelter. At dinner it started sprinkling and then the skies really opened up. We got a tent pad site and it's basically just holding water in like a bucket. I know our tent was already wet and recovering from last night, I hope it does okay tonight in this pool of water that we're in! We're very excited to be in PA and just found out we get to see family this weekend, it's going to be great.
Photo: Us at the MD/PA border. Six states down!
10.9 miles (AT 1029.4-1040.3) Dahlgren Backpack Campground
Many storms today! The first one we narrowly escaped by sprinting the last half mile to Rocky Run Shelter just before it hit. After that cleared up we went another couple miles to the backpacking campground where we are now. It has stormed on and off ever since. Our evening was greatly improved when we were told about the pizza place that delivers to the nearby road gap. So we're still happy campers even though we're getting hit hard with rain. We got a large BBQ pulled pork pizza with coleslaw, jalapeño poppers, and cheesy bread sticks. Even though we couldn't go any further today we're glad we didn't get stuck hiking through any of those crazy downpours!
Photo: Couldn't believe we could get delivery here! That really helped cheer us up
Sunday-Monday 6/19-20/16 18.7 miles (AT 1010.7-1029.4) Ed Garvey Shelter
Sunday was a big deal because we finally, finally left Virginia for good after seven weeks! We had about 12 miles to do before we walked into Harpers Ferry, WV. Our first stop off the trail was at the AT Conservancy headquarters. We registered as NoBo thru-hikers and got our photo taken for their records. We are numbers 830 and 831 to pass through; when we started at Amicalola Falls in Georgia we were numbers 520 and 521. So a lot of people have passed us but we are still having the adventure of our lives. Our friends Wyatt and Brianna surprised us on their way back to Philly and took us out to lunch in town. It was a cool place with a shaded, rock garden patio in the back. Very nice to see them again and catch up on everything. After lunch we walked around town with them for a while before they dropped us off at a motel on their way back out. We stayed at the Knight's Inn just over in the next town. They were really nice to us and other hikers, hooking us up with a discount and letting us do laundry there. We stayed up with another couple named Lost-and-Found and Peppermint and celebrated Lost-and-Found's birthday with pizza and beers.
Today we slept in late and got a shuttle back to Harpers Ferry. The town looks very much like it did in the 19th century and has a rich history. The lower part of town is actually a national historic park. The town played a big role in the Civil War. We walked around and checked out everything that we missed from the previous day. The trail walks right through town before crossing the Potomac River to enter Maryland. So we finished another state, and are now working on our sixth! The last two days have been incredibly hot and muggy, and it was a long six miles walking through the heat to get to the shelter. Fortunately just before our climb out there was a very cool lady from Texas doing trail magic for hikers while she was slack-packing her husband, who is on the trail. We ran into a family who lost their pet pot-bellied pig in the woods somewhere. Unfortunately we didn't see him on our hike up the mountain. Should be able to reach PA in a couple days, looks like some nice terrain through western Maryland!
Photo: Harpers Ferry at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers
18 miles (AT 992.7-1010.7) Blackburn AT Center
Today was challenging, and came with some great rewards and milestones. Immediately after leaving the shelter this morning we began a stretch of trail called "The Roller Coaster." For 14 miles, back-to-back ascents and descents cover more than 9000-ft of elevation change. In the middle of it we crossed the 1000-mile mark, which was marked with a simple sign. It was a very cool moment, and today we got to feel like we were accomplishing something. We also briefly entered West Virginia, but the trail follows the border for about 15 miles before it breaks away from Virginia for good. Virginia just won't go away quietly! The Roller Coaster definitely wore us out but it felt good to cover it all in one day. After that it was another 4 to the Blackburn AT Center, over much easier terrain. This beautiful place is about a quarter mile from trail, and the main living area has a couple of people from the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club that stay here year-round. They host meetings and other events and lodge PATC crew members when they're working on trail. There is a hiker cabin out back with some bunks, and we can use the outlets on the porch and share a common picnic area. There is an outside shower here too. We were greeted by Trail Boss the caretaker, and his wife Sandi made some extra dinner for us and Charcoal - potato and lentil soup, bread and butter, iced tea, and chocolate cake. It was such great thing at the end of a hard day. Tomorrow we have 12 more to get to Harper's Ferry, and finally get to finish another state!
Photo: Us at 1000 miles
18.4 miles (AT 974.3-992.7) Rod Hollow Shelter
That storm last night was really crazy. It hit hard around 7:45 and I am so glad we were in a shelter. We heard a very loud snap and crash and saw that a huge branch had fallen down next to the picnic pavilion. We later heard about a tornado in West Virginia, and hail in other parts of Virginia. The trail today had tree carnage all over the place, and it made me think about all the volunteers that maintain the trail and how much work they put in after a storm like this one. In the morning we got some awesome trail magic from Raindrop (NoBo '15) and her friend Whitney at the gap just after the I-66 underpass. They had lots of food and snacks and cold drinks for us, and camp chairs! We made sandwiches and had a big early lunch. Talking to Raindrop about hiking and the rest of the trail helped cheer me up. Coincidentally (or not) my foot started feeling better after that too. It was a fairly easy day of hiking and we felt great until just after 17 miles, when our bodies decided they were done for the day. The weather cleared up so we are back in our tent home tonight just outside the shelter. Everyone is very excited to leave Virginia.
Photo: There used to be a nice bench in this meadow, until last night happened. Poor bench.
Wednesday-Thursday 6/15-16/16 5.2 miles (AT 969.1-974.3) Jim & Molly Denton Shelter
Yesterday was quite the adventure getting back up to Front Royal. After breakfast, laundry, and showers at Big Meadows, we packed up and walked down to the wayside by Skyline Drive. Another hiker named J-Bird was there with a very sickly looking beagle that he was calling Bear Runner. He found her near the trail, very dehydrated and covered in ticks and algae. When he called the number on the collar the lady who answered knew nothing about the dog (except that maybe she was her son's, but she didn't know of him having a dog). J-Bird was able to get a vet tech over to give her fluids and she was drinking water by the liter when she wasn't sleeping. After saying goodbye to everyone we started walking up Skyline Drive with our thumbs out. Other hikers told us it was fairly easy to hitch up and down the road, but it was more difficult than anticipated. After a few miles of walking we did got two hitches up about 29 miles before we had to call a cab. One of them was actually from the fire crew of Shenandoah, half of the guys who work to put out forest fires (or start controlled burns). It was cool to talk with them and they took us a good amount of the way north. By the time we got into town it was late in the evening, so we booked a room and did our resupply and ate TV dinners. This morning after breakfast and the post office we got back on the trail around 10:30. We went 5 miles to lunch at Jim & Molly Denton Shelter, and knew that we had to stay here for the night. For one, it is a beautiful shelter with a porch and benches and a separate cooking pavilion. The Potomac Appalachian Trail Club runs this shelter (and more of the AT than any other club), and they maintain it and add all kinds of awesome features like a solar shower, a horseshoe pit, and a trail magic box that they stock from time to time. They even piped the spring so that you can walk over to a faucet and tap it out. The second reason is that there is a severe thunderstorm watch and a hundred percent chance of rain for the evening, so we wanted to make sure we have a roof over our heads. Looks like we'll be getting to Harper's Ferry during the day on Sunday instead of Saturday night, but that's probably a better plan than our first one anyway. Yesterday wasn't very restful so we're going to take it easy for the rest of today!
Photo: Some scenery on our hike out of town today.
20.8 miles (AT 903.4-924.2) Big Meadows Campground
We had a very long day today, and a lot of great things happened. We actually woke up early and got on the trail by 8:00, because we knew we had a lot of miles to do. It felt good to get a bunch of them done in the morning. We met a nice lady doing a photo blog for a local newspaper and she took our portraits and gave us some delicious local bagels and some apples. Just before that we walked underneath a mama bear and a few cubs that were wayyyy up in a tree. We saw another one later in the day to bring our total bear sightings to 13. We stopped for lunch at Lewis Mountain Campground. We got sandwiches and chips and ice cream and some cold beers from the camp store. We also saw Miss Janet there, who we haven't seen since Georgia. She goes up and down the trail helping hikers and doing trail magic. She's probably the queen trail angel. I finally got her stamp in my AT passport and we got a photo with her by her sweet van. In the afternoon I convinced Lupine to take the harder blue-blaze trail over Bearfence Mountain. It involved lots of rock scrambling and climbing, and was very much worth it to look out all around. I'm glad we're still finding ways to make the most out of our trip, even when we still have lots of miles left on the day. We really booked it after that to make it to Big Meadows. We went to the lodge first to have a nice big dinner, then walked to the campground where we are now. I met a really nice guy and his daughter who gave us some water and they were really impressed with our progress so far. It made me feel good about what we've accomplished. Since we finished up our last section in Shenandoah today we get to move up ahead to Front Royal tomorrow. Then it should only be a few more days till West Virginia!
Photo: Looking out from the rocks on top of Bearfence Mountain
14.1 miles (AT 889.3-903.4) Hightop Hut
I should start by stating that I am no longer counting side trails and shelter trails, only counting AT miles from now on. We started this morning by walking to the camp store at Loft Mountain. We got breakfast there and also picked up a couple of dinners and some snacks and other useful items. We charged our phones and Lu took a shower. We saw a guy named Chatterbox who we hadn't seen in a while, he also took a week off a little while ago so he is the only familiar face we will see for a while probably. The conversation with other hikers today was basically all about bears. For good reason, too - there are so many in this park (400-600, according to a ranger). We saw two more today. One little cub in a tree, and another huge one later that we had to get out of the way of so it could cross the trail. Other than that we walked through the woods mostly. I think Skyline Drive has more scenery than the trail in this park. We don't mind being under the cover of the trees though, it's been very warm the past few days and it's much cooler in the shade. We crossed the 900-mile mark today, at one of the few vistas we came across. A lot of people in tents again instead of in the shelter (or hut, as they're called in the park). We managed to find a spot this time so we don't have to sleep with the mice and spiders. Plus people are still awake and talking over there right now so I'm glad we can go to sleep in peace and quiet in a minute. Tomorrow we should be able to finish up our last section in the Shenandoahs as long as we can make it all the way to Big Meadows Campground, almost 21 miles from here. We aquablazed the rest plus hiked a portion of that last year. Then we can jump up to Front Royal and hopefully make it out of Virginia within a week!
Photo: The bigger bear of the day
19.1 miles (AT 869.0-888.1) Loft Mountain Campground
Our second day back was a long one. There aren't a whole lot of designated camping options with water on the AT in Shenandoah NP. Once again we were looking at either 13 miles (too short) or 19 miles (too far, but perhaps doable). If we were in normal shape today wouldn't have seemed so hard, but it was! A lot of things we hadn't felt in a while came back today - sore hips, shoulders, and feet, hot spots and blisters, and lots of fatigue. The 90+ degrees and lack of water didn't help too much either. Fortunately the terrain wasn't too bad or else we would have had to cut the day short. We saw a bear at the end of the day! We had seen a couple when we went car camping here last week but this was the real deal - while we were hiking, just off the trail. I was too slow to get a picture, and Lupey didn't want me to be near it for long enough anyway. Bears here don't seem to mind people at all, and have for the most part ignored everyone and minded their own business scavenging for whatever food they can find. We are back at Loft Mountain Campground, except this time we walked in from the trail (instead of driving in) and it feels much better to do so. It's nice to be one of the hiker folk again.
Photo: Arrived just in time for sunset. One of many views here at the campground
Friday 6/3/16 - Saturday 6/11/16 12.7 miles hiked (AT 856.3-869.0) 40 miles in a canoe
It's been a long time since an update, and definitely the strangest week of our trip so far. Friday the 3rd we walked five miles to Rockfish Gap at the southern end of Shenandoah National Park with Flannel and Stardust. My right foot was really hurting and Lupine's bite on the back of her left knee was definitely not looking good. We knew we would be taking at least a couple of days off, so we rented a car from Enterprise and got them to pick the four of us up at the gap and take us into Waynesboro. We split a room together and got some errands done in town, and had a fantastic dinner at the Ming Garden, an all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet that also included a sushi bar and Hibachi grill. We had first heard about this place in Franklin, and it was well worth the 750 miles of hype.
The next day Lu and I went to urgent care. Lu's bite turned out to be an infection, so it needed some antibiotics and a couple of repeat visits throughout the week before it got better. My foot wasn't broken or fractured, so they told me it was a sprain and to stay off of it for several days and take lots of ibuprofen. We both got wrapped up and realized it could be a while before we could hike again. We teamed up with Flannel and Stardust who were also taking a zero and decided to do some trail magic some thirty miles south of where we were, at the most demoralizing gap we could think of (in between a 3000-ft descent and a 3000-ft ascent). We got some beer and soft drinks and donuts and cookies and some fruit and water and got to meet a bunch of other thru hikers who were just a day or two behind us. I drove down to Daleville to kidnap our friends Burnsaw and Firefeet, and brought them back up to where we were. That night we went to a local pub and celebrated our friend Tumbleweed's birthday along with some other hikers.
Sunday we tried very hard to keep ourselves entertained for our second zero in a row. We packed our midsize sedan with the six of us (Lu, me, Burnsaw, Firefeet, Flannel, and Stardust) and did as many fun town things as we could think of. We went to the movies (saw the Jungle Book; it was great), went mini-golfing, and went out to dinner afterwards. So basically it was a triple date that included all the cliche activities. We also tried to make plans to aquablaze the Shenandoahs. Basically what that means is canoeing up the Shenandoah River alongside the trail that goes through the mountains and the national park. The only problem with our plan was that the water levels were too high from all the rain so we were told we couldn't get on the water until at least Wednesday.
On Monday we checked out of the Quality Inn, finally, after three nights there. Call me spoiled, but I was getting sick of that breakfast day after day! We decided to get a campsite at Loft Mountain Campground in Shenandoah National Park. We grabbed some supplies for car camping and set off with Burnsaw and Firefeet (Flannel and Stardust returned to the trail that day). When we got to our site and got settled we tried doing a little five-mile hike down to some waterfalls, without packs. It was nice but Lu and I were still hurting, so we knew it would be a little while longer still. We got to make potatoes and hot dogs and other fun fire food that night.
The next morning we drove back to the clinic in Waynesboro to have Lu's wound cleaned and pick up an antibiotic prescription. We were able to solidify our plans for a three-day, 40-mile aquablaze from Luray to Front Royal. We got all of our supplies for the trip that evening. Back at the campground we caught up with Flannel and Stardust and also Puma, who all stopped there for the night (the AT skirts right around the campground, so it's a good stop for hikers). We had a good fire at our campsite and shared some drinks and had a great time. It was great to see some of our closest friends but we were definitely starting to get a little envious of them hiking on while we had done zero miles in four days. It was definitely frustrating to be standing still.
Wednesday through Friday we at least got to make some miles on the river! It was a great idea to aquablaze and the timing could not have been better for Lu and I since we needed to rest anyway. We spent three days in beautiful weather relaxing in canoes that we barely had to paddle, letting the current take us gently downstream. We did go through some class II rapids, which Lu and I handled like champs. Burnsaw and Firefeet capsized a couple of times and got spun around a little but we all survived. It was a wonderful experience, one of our favorites so far. Wish there was another section like that we could do, but I suppose it's controversial enough as it is. Some people are really against the idea of aquablazing or blue blazing (taking other trails besides the AT to make your way north). In our minds, as long as we journey north by our own efforts and don't flat-out skip anything, that's a pure enough thru-hike for us. There's a saying out here that everyone says (but often don't adhere to), "hike your own hike." Ours has included some side trails and some canoeing, which for us has only enhanced our journey north and doesn't take anything away from what we've accomplished, and we're happy with everything so far.
On Friday evening after our epic river journey, Burnsaw and Firefeet's friend Tim drove to Front Royal to pick us all up. He is joining them for a week to do some hiking, and they dropped us back off in Waynesboro on their way back down to where they left off. After one more night at the Quality Inn, and one more trip to the clinic this morning, we were finally able to get back on the AT today, packs and all. It feels so, so good to be back! My foot isn't a hundred percent and Lu is still healing too but we're good enough to go and are ready to slowly get back on track. We entered Shenandoah National Park and made it to the first shelter and even though we're with a whole new crowd, we feel like we're back in familiar territory again.
Photo: Not a bad way to spend a few days and travel north on the Shenandoah River. We did use the paddles too, I promise.
Wednesday: 15.1 miles (AT 822.8-833.2, 840.5-842.2; 3 miles Mau-Har Trail) Devil's Backbone Brewery Spy Rock was an awesome campsite. We hiked 8.7 miles to and over a mountain named The Priest. The trail register at the shelter there had some funny confessions in it, and we left a couple of our own. After descending 3000 ft we went right back up 1000. There we continued north on the Mau-Har Trail for the next three miles. The AT went south, east, north, and then back west to join back up later on after climbing Three Ridges Mountain. Our trail was rough and rugged but had some beautiful and tricky climbs along some roaring cascades and waterfalls. It was worth it to take a long break with our legs in the water. After getting to Maupin Field Shelter we went another 1.7 on the AT to get to Reid's Gap, just off of the Blue Ridge Parkway. We ended up having to road walk downhill for over a mile with another hiker named Fish before we got a hitch from a nice lady named Jody. She gave us a ride to Devil's Backbone Brewery, a huge campus that has a tenting place for hikers. We got in just in time for trivia and burgers. We played on a team with Flannel and Stardust, and didn't win but didn't lose either. It was a lot of fun, and we stayed up well into the night.
Thursday: 14.1 miles Paul C. Wolfe Shelter This morning we gathered in the main patio area at Devil's Backbone with the other hikers and met for an amazing hiker-only breakfast that they cooked for us. Best $5 spent so far, I think. After many cups of coffee they gave us a ride back to Reid's Gap around 11:30. We knew we wouldn't have enough daylight to go 19 to Waynesboro, so we went 14 to the shelter before town. We hiked and talked most of the day with Flannel and Stardust, and time went by quickly. That was until about 5:00 or so when we got hammered by the roughest rainstorm we've hiked through so far. We made plans to get a car and room in town for tomorrow. We're going to be taking at least a couple of days off after our near-o tomorrow, while we make our plans for conquering the Shenandoahs
Photo: Soaking our feet in the creek on the Mau-Har Trail
12.4 miles (AT 809.9-816.3, 820.1-822.8; Lovingston Spring Trail 2.7; 0.6 from shelter) Spy Rock
Lupine's Log: If I had written this an hour ago I would've focused on totally different aspects of today. Namely, my infected spider bite that is freaking me out and the giant rash that has erupted on my leg. But that's how much things can change in a short time on the AT. Now I've just had one of my favorite experiences so far which was watching the sunset on top of Spy Rock. I didn't even want to do it because it was so high up and involved actual rock climbing but I'm so glad I did. It was beautiful. I hope I remember it forever. 180° views of green rolling mountains and a fiery red sunset. Today was not a bad day either. We left Cow Camp and went over Cole (my) Mountain which was a beautiful bald summit of at least a half mile. We got to Hog Pen Camp and there was more incredible trail magic. Donuts, fruit, cookies, and about five cases of beer. When a SoBo told us about the beer, Josh thought they said "bear" and he was very excited to go see it which was adorable. There were a lot of hikers gathered there so we got to meet a lot of people. We took a beer to go and drank it while we hiked. For some reason this gave me extra energy. We took a side trail around a hump that cut out about a mile and I feel zero guilt. However, we did realize that this was a tick haven and a good place to cook meth because we found the burnt remains of a pop up camper. When we made it to Spy Rock it was 6:00 and we could've gone farther but Josh and I were both feeling done. His foot is hurting and I'm a walking allergic reaction. We were looking at the book and realized that this ridiculous section is the hardest until New England. It's about to get much, much better. I can't wait for Waynesboro even more. Josh and I made a plan to rent a car, kidnap Burnsaw and Firefeet, go back to aquablaze, and do trail magic along the way. If it all works out it will be legendary.
Photo: Sunset on top of Spy Rock
Memorial Day Weekend 5/28-30
Saturday: 20 miles (AT 764.4-784.3; 0.1 from shelter) Glasgow, VA Saturday we were able to make it past the "bearea" and go the full 20 miles into Glasgow. The biggest climb of the day was Apple Orchard Mountain (4225'), but it felt like we did most of that work the day before and much of the day was downhill. At the very bottom we walked along a creek and then along the James River for a mile, before crossing it on the longest foot-use-only bridge on the AT (~1000 ft). Several hikers and locals were jumping off the bridge into the water, and although it would have been refreshing after a long day we didn't want to hitch a ride into town dripping wet. After about fifteen minutes trying to hitch, a trail angel named Ford pulled over and asked us where we were trying to get to. He was heading to Natural Bridge, just past Glasgow, so he gave us a lift into town (6 miles from the trail). He was out for the weekend biking and hiking. Our guidebook showed that there was a free hiker shelter right in town with camping, electricity, running water, pit toilets, and an outside shower with hot water. It was fantastic, and after Ford got to see where we were staying he decided to pitch his tent next to ours and stay the night. We talked with him for a long time over dinner and he bought our meal for us, which was especially nice because we ate a lot more than he did! He seems to know a lot about the trail, and we talked about that the most. I hope he wins the lottery or something so he can quit his job and hike the AT, he would be excellent at it. Later on that night we celebrated another hiker named Flannel's birthday at the shelter. His friend's mom baked a cake and then vacuum-sealed it so she could mail it to him, and even made a separate container for the icing. It was absolutely delicious. When Flannel finishes the AT he will be a triple crowner, having hiked the PCT and CDT before this. We stayed up late into the night around the fire and had a great time.
Sunday: 10.7 miles (AT 784.3-794.8, 0.2 to shelter) Punchbowl Shelter The next morning Ford was going to bring us back to the trailhead, but Lupine wasn't feeling too well so we thanked him and gave him our info before he took off. We had a leisurely morning and were able to pick up extra supplies and do laundry before the next stretch to Waynesboro (~77 miles, five days for us). After lunch we got a hitch with Yukon and Shadowfax back to the trail from an awesome lady with a pickup and a landscaping business. On the trail we had to get from 680' back up to Bluff Mountain at 3372', then down to Punchbowl Shelter. It was a long "short" day. In the economy it poured again of course so cooking dinner and hanging the bear bags were interesting experiences.
Monday: 15.9 miles (AT 794.8-809.9; 0.8 shelter trails) Cow Camp Gap Shelter We slept really well and late, and didn't start getting up until after 8:30. We still don't mind that it takes is a whole to pack up and leave, we enjoy our morning routine which includes breakfast and coffee (a lot of hikers eat a quick snack and then head out). We defended back below 1000' again to walk along a series of creeks and cascades. At lunch we soaked our feet in Brown Mountain Creek, which felt amazing. Then we walked along the creek for a while and saw many remains of an old village of freed slaves who grew corn and other crops. I do like learning about the history of the forest and the mountains, and try to picture what they must have looked like in the past. At US 60 we got some trail magic from Little Brother's mom and her wife in the form of fruit, cookies, donuts, and an ice cold beer. That helped give us the energy to get over the 3000-ft climb over Bald Knob (4059'), which actually has a wooded summit. We had a couple bars of service to FaceTime with Lupine's family at the top, which was nice. After that we got hit with a late afternoon rainstorm which forced us off at the next shelter, which is 0.6 off the trail. That distance must defer a lot of hikers from coming here because we have the whole place to ourselves, which has not happened before. It was a relief to get out of the rain and not have to get our tent soaking wet again. Fortunately tomorrow we stay between 3000'-4000' all day! Then it will get crazy again. Oh yeah, we also crossed the 800-mile mark today :)
Photo: A shot of the footbridge over the James River
We have been bad journalists this week! Here's the recap:
Monday: 18.8 miles (AT 708.7-727.5) Daleville
Monday we saw some sweet stuff. We climbed up to McAfee's knob in the morning, one of the most picturesque places on the whole trail. We got our epic photo taken and made coffee. 5-6 miles later we were on Tinker Cliffs, which had some excellent lookout points. It was a beautiful hike and we did a long 18+ miles into the town of Daleville. We got a room at the Howard Johnson and had a delicious dinner at Three Lil' Pigs BBQ. Good sandwiches and a nice cold draught. Slept so well that night.
Tuesday: 0 mies Daleville
We had been the idea of not zeroing until Waynesboro. After a long day into town we decided to abandon that idea and took a zero like we originally planned. We got our resupply and everything done early, so we had most of the afternoon and evening to lay in bed and watch back-to-back heist movies on tv and order pizza. Almost as good a zero as the MacArthur Inn.
Wednesday: 18.9 miles (AT 727.5-746.0; 0.4 shelter trails) Bobblets Gap Shelter
We made up for our zero by nearly sabotaging our bodies with a huge 18.9 day right after an off day in town. What a horrible idea. To be fair, it was either that or 12 (too short), but it definitely hurt at the end. The AT met up with the Blue Ridge Parkway for the first time, and went by several overlooks. We made it to the shelter close to dark and there weren't very good tent options, but we made it work and slept like babies thanks to Advil PM. We met Iceburg, a winter flip-flop hiker who was attempting to finish his final 38 miles of trail the next day. We know he made it at least halfway, and will know more once we finish up this section to Glasgow.
Thursday: 9.9 miles (AT 746.0-755.7; 0.2 shelter trail) Middle Creek Campground
We were really feeling it after that long day. We went over Cove Mountain and were definitely having doubts about going another 18. We heard much talk about a campground near Jennings Creek that had burgers and milkshakes, a pool, and an air-conditioned movie room. When we heard about the free shuttle in (it was more than a mile off trail), we were sold. We were going to eat and hike out but there was a horrendous downpour and many friends were staying the night there, so we decided to stay as well. We hung out until dark by the pool pavilion having a great time catching up with everybody. I really enjoyed my milkshake.
Friday: 8.8 miles (AT 755.7-764.4; 0.1 shelter trail) Cornelious Creek Shelter
Today's elevation was insane. We did over 6000' of elevation change in 8 miles, and called it a day at Cornelious Creek Shelter. The next two camping options were shut down due to recent bear activity, and we definitely weren't going to do another 12 after that hard first half of the day. It was crazy hot and humid, and the uphills never seemed to end. Some people are doing 20+ mile days over this stuff, by we definitely aren't! And that's totally okay. We tried to do 57 in three days and instead it will take us four. Who cares? Sometimes it's easy to forget and try to do too much and that is no fun. I think we are definitely getting caught in the "Virginia Blues." This month had been so rainy and now so humid and buggy that the rain is almost better. Virginia seems to never end, and it is definitely not easy and people are silly for saying that it is. A lot of others are road walking, yellow-blazing (hitching ahead), or just plain quitting. Morale is lower now than it was a month ago. I think we're all anxious to get to Waynesboro, because after that is Shenandoah National Park and then finally West Virginia. Just have to remember to stay honest with ourselves and not push too hard, or it will make everything harder. Hope we bounce back tomorrow.
Photo: Our triumphant McAfee Knob photo
Saturday/Sunday 5/21-22 Miles hiked: 22.8 (AT 686.7-708.7; 0.2 to Dragon's Tooth; 0.6 road walk) Johns Spring Shelter
Well we changed plans again. We woke up and it wasn't raining so we hiked up and over our first big climb of Brush Mountain (~3150'). In this wilderness area we walked to the Audie Murphy monument, who was the most decorated American soldier of World War II. We did those first seven miles by lunch and the weather was till holding out, so we decided to walk to Four Pines hostel instead of getting a ride out from the road crossing early. The highlight of the second climb over Cove Mountain was definitely Dragon's Tooth, a huge stone monolith with views to the mountains. The way down was treacherous and no way could we have done it if it had rained. Many steep, near vertical rock scrambles with occasional handlebars built into the rock. It was brutal on the knees and definitely slowed us down but we still made it to the hostel by 5:30, after 15.8 miles for the day and crossing the 700-mile mark. This was critical timing because it meant that we made it in time to get shuttles to the Home Place restaurant in Catawba before it closed at 8:00. It's a family dinner-style place that serves up to three different all you can eat country style meat and sides. It was so amazing. Definitely the best, most filling, and most enjoyable meal on the trail so far and we stuffed ourselves. Peach cobbler and ice cream for dessert topped it off. After dinner we had a few brews and talked with the other hikers before setting up our tent and going to bed.
Four Pines was our favorite hostel so far. The owner Joe is a great guy who actually enjoys hikers' company and likes to hang out. I should say hikers and bikers because it's close to the trans-am trail as well. There's another guy named Eddie who drives the "Dragon Wagon" van to shuttle everyone around between the hostel, restaurant, convenience store, and will even go further by arrangement if needed. They work so hard to make sure everyone is as happy and comfortable as possible. And for all of that, it's donation-based pricing. They hardly even mentioned paying them (another place we went to mentioned donating every few minutes). There's a large 3-bay garage filled with beds and couches, a barn, and lots of space for tenting. For games they had darts, chess, and corn hole. There are chickens and Guinea fowl running about the property eating grubs and ticks, two hostel dogs, a pond with ducks and bullfrogs, all set on a beautiful plot of Virginia mountain land. We loved it so much. It was tempting to zero there but after a relaxing morning off and finally drying out our tent and socks we hiked 7 miles out to the next shelter. Of course we got some quick afternoon showers as a reward. We might make it all the way to town tomorrow, or stop 5 miles before. We have enough food now thanks to the amazing food boxes our families sent to us. McAfee's Knob is in the morning and is a well known, visited, and photographed spot on the trail. Excited for what tomorrow brings... hopefully it won't include more rain.
Photo: Us at Dragon's Tooth. I wish I took better pictures at Four Pines, that was really the best part of this weekend.
Miles hiked: 14.1 (AT 672.6-686.7) Craig Creek
So it turns out the bear shelter that had all the issues and is indeed closed down is Lamberts Meadow Shelter, 45.5 miles north of where we were last night at Laurel Creek Shelter. Looks like we worried for nothing. We both woke up in the middle of the night and had a hard time going back to sleep. It was rough getting up in the morning but we took our time and had a good time hanging out with Chupacabra during breakfast. He's from San Diego and hiked the PCT before this, intends to do the CDT northbound after finishing the AT, then hike south along the PCT again to get back home. That's a lot of miles! Lupine and I spent more of the morning identifying trees than hiking, which was fun. I think we put a lot of stress on doing miles and managing time so it was nice to take a break and just enjoy ourselves for a minute. We walked past a huge, beautiful oak tree (Keffer Oak) that is estimated to be around three hundred years old. Its branches look like trees of their own. It's cool to see something that predates most of colonized America, that's a lot to live through. The area we're walking in has a lot of Civil War history from what we're told. We walked past a house ruins site and many mysterious walk cairns. We also went through more beautiful Virginia pasture lands and passed the Eastern Continental Divide (waters west flow to the Mississippi River and out to the gulf, waters east flow to the James River and to the Atlantic). The situation tonight is that they're calling for a downpour - one to two INCHES of rain. When we heard the news at 2:00 we did our best to hustle to the next shelter, 6 miles away. We made it there by 4:00, but all the shelter spots were taken by other people who had the same idea. We moved on and went to our originally planned campsite at Craig Creek. We were able to hunker down in our tent and eat dinner before the rain started. It's supposed to get heavy overnight then lighten up but continue through the day tomorrow. Our new plan is to get a ride at the next road gap to Four Pines hostel, where we have mail drops. Then we can rest during the afternoon and wait out the rest of the rain. The rest of the way to Troutville is supposed to have some really spectacular views, and it should clear up for a few days after tomorrow so we can actually see them. Most importantly, this way also makes it easier to avoid the actual bear shelter for real this time.
Photo: Keffer Oak, the largest tree we've seen so far. Great snack spot. Check out the backpacks for scale
Miles hiked: 16.2 Laurel Creek Shelter
Started off feeling great today and ended up being wiped out by the end. It was a hard 16 miles. We had to get from 2450' up to 4100', back down to 2058', then up again to 3782', and finally back down to the shelter at 2798'. Much of the terrain in between was either a mud pit or a pile of wet, slippery rocks. We both nearly took some nasty spills. Our pace was slowed down a bit but 9-5:30 wasn't so bad for a day's work. We had visions of doing 18-19 miles but we were happy to make it here. Sometimes there are lots of options for camping and water, sometimes there aren't. Today we went through Mountain Lakes Wilderness, which had one view at Wind Rock, but also several miles of beautiful forest wilderness where you could hardly hear a sound. There's lots of bear tumors flying around about this shelter where we're at tonight. Several people heard it was supposed to be closed down due to bear activity, which included pulling down bear bags and getting at the food. Someone else said there was a mama and two cubs here. We hope there is safety in numbers, and also feel a little better about a dog being here as well. I really hope everyone decided to hang their food tonight.
Photo: Lupine looking over Mountain Lakes Wilderness
Tuesday/Wednesday 5/17-18/16 Miles hiked: 21.4 (AT 635.0-656.4) Stony Creek
Lots of rain. Mostly over the night last night. Yesterday and today had some light showers during the daytime and lots of water blowing off the trees constantly. Everything around us is damp or wet and nearly all of our things are the same. A sunny day sounds so nice and seems so far away. The forest does look cool covered in fog, and it's good weather for hiking. The past twenty miles have been close to the West Virginia border. I actually set foot in the state at the view at our campsite last night. We did 8 miles yesterday and 13.4 today. Hopefully tomorrow we will be back up to 16. We did get late starts the past two days, yesterday leaving town and today trying to wait out the rain. It's definitely harder to jump out of bed and get going when it's raining. We caught up with Bees and Bones today and flip-flopped much of the day. Bees is recovering from Norovirus, which sounds like a horrible thing. I'm ready for my Vasque boots to be fixed. Mama and Papa K are graciously sending them back to the company for me for warranty service. Tonight we are stealth camping for the first time, in the woods by a creek near a bridge crossing. Two big uphills and one bigger downhill tomorrow look challenging. Ready for a day of sunshine, hopefully soon.
Photo: The view for much of the past two days
Thursday-Monday 5/12-16/16 Miles hiked: 45.4 (AT 592.1-634.2; 2.4 road walks; 0.9 camp/shelter side trails) MacArthur Inn
It's been a wild weekend! It was all centered around getting to Trail Days festival back down the trail in Damascus, VA. I'll do my best to recount it all:
Thursday: Our goal for the day was to hike 17 miles to Trent's Grocery, where we could grab some food from the deli and camp out for cheap. We were also hoping we could get a ride to Trail Days from there. It was a pretty uneventful day of hiking, except for crossing the 600-mile mark at lunch. We got to VA 606 and walked a half mile down the road to the grocery. It was basically a convenience store with a deli, and we ordered food and picked up our summer gear which was mailed to there. It was okay until some locals came in and starting acting a little creepy and inquisitive, especially with the lady hikers. It quickly became obvious that we weren't going to stay, so even though it was after 7:00 and starting to downpour, we hiked back up the road and up the trail two miles, and then down another quarter mile to the campsite at Dismal Falls. We had to carry our winter stuff along with our new summer things because there was no way to mail it back from the grocery. It was dark and raining when we got to camp. We set up our tent and bear rope and then joined our friends Bad Apple, Sushi, and Steel out of the rain under Steel's hammock tarp and stayed up past midnight drinking many beers packed out from the store.
Friday: It was the first day of Trail Days and we were still in the woods, 140 trail miles from Damascus. We had little choice but to keep hiking to the next destination - a hostel also in the middle of nowhere called Woods Hole, about 14 miles away. We figured there would be many hikers there and one of them at least would be wanting to go to Trail Days. It was a beautiful and fairly easy section of trail through the woods, over many streams and past a pond. Then we went up over a huge, nameless mountain which tired us out. We got to Sugar Run Gap around 4:30 and walked a half mile down the road to the hostel. It's a pretty place with a garden and goats and log cabins. They offer yoga and meditation and massages and it seemed like a hippy place that we were looking forward to. I'll try not be be to negative because so many people love that hostel and its owners. I'll just say we weren't happy with the way we were treated while we were there. As soon as we arrived we saw FireCat, who offered to give us a ride into Damascus that night. The weirdness started when we agreed to leave with him that night instead of staying overnight at the hostel like we were planning. I guess they weren't happy about us being there or using their services (even though we paid for all of them) if we weren't spending the night, which became apparent to us as the evening went on and we waited for FireCat's brother and cousin to come pick us up. We ended up leaving at 8:30 (us and our friend Legs), and after dinner at Waffle House we drove about two hours to Damascus and arrived around midnight. We headed towards "Tent City," a campground about a mile south of town that is crammed full of tents. We heard lots of noise and partying as we approached and we walked around for a while looking for a place to put our tents. We found a spot and after walking around a bit to get our bearings we tried to get some sleep.
Saturday: We got to experience a full day of Trail Days on Saturday. The town park was transformed and was filled with vendors and tents representing various outdoor gear companies, famous AT folk, arts and crafts, food, and live music. It was awesome. There were raffles and giveaways, and Lupine and I both won a couple things and were able to pick up some sweet new sleeping pads. We got to meet The Good Badger, the author of a sweet book called "Appalachian Trials" which really helped us in our preparation and motivated us to persevere with our plans to thru hike. We also got to meet AWOL, who makes the guidebook that everyone uses out here. That night we went to "Hiker Prom," which had a low turnout (probably because of the $5 cover for the bands). We still had a great time playing corn hole and listening to music and sampling the various beers from Damascus Brewery. Saturday we were reunited with Burnsaw and Firefeet and hung out with them all day, which was great. Later that night we went to a karaoke bar and they sang "Don't Go Breaking My Heart," which was hilarious. Overall it was a great day and I'm glad we got to experience Trail Days. At night we got back to camp and saw FireCat packing up his things to leave. His friends from Jersey weren't enjoying themselves at all and wanted to leave, so they left and we stayed and wondered how we would get back the next day.
Sunday: Most vendors and other hikers started leaving on Sunday morning, so we were looking around with Legs trying to figure it how to get back to a random hostel in the middle of the woods two hours away. The answer came at a coffee shop during brunch. I was busy scribbling PEARISBURG (the nearest town to where we were on-trail) onto a piece of cardboard in anticipation of hitchhiking, while Legs was talking with SOS and Trail Mama. This amazing couple graciously offered to take the three of us not just to town but to the exact trailhead where we got off to get to Woods Hole. It was incredible. They even bought is McFlurries along the way. SOS thru-hiked in 2012, and Trail Mama put 15,000 miles on her car that year doing trail magic all up and down the trail, so they had some pretty good stories for us as we drove. We were dropped off around 4:00 and we thanked them and were able to put in 12 miles before it got dark to get to Pearisburg. All lodging in town was fully booked, and the situation looked bleak until we called MacArthur Inn in the next town of Narrows, VA. It seems to be a one-man operation run by a guy named Alan, who picked us up within ten minutes right where we were and took us back to the inn. He is an excellent southern gentleman with an award-winning mustache (really) and a great accent. I thanked he liked us and hooked us up with a huge room with a king size bed and private bath. We slept like babies.
Monday: And that leads us to today. There is hardly anything to do in this town except do laundry and grocery shopping and go to the post office. Fortunately for us, those were the only things we had to do today. Damascus wasn't exactly a relaxing zero (my phone says we walked 13 miles around town that day), but today made up for it. We laid around and watched movies and bad tv. We event got pizza and wings delivered right to our room door. With all that extra hiking last week we are still a day ahead of schedule and definitely earned this zero today. It went by too quickly. Now that the logistical burden of Trail Days is behind us we get to focus on hiking and making miles. More beautiful sections of trail up ahead.
Photo: Didn't take too many photos during Trail Days, but this is a small portion of the town park during the festival.
Miles hiked: 13.8 (AT 578.6-592.1; 0.3 shelter trail) Helveys Mill Shelter
Today may have been our longest resupply day, in terms of miles hiked. We did 13.5 trail miles, plus the shelter side trail, plus probably about a mile or so around town. We had no idea how we were going to get to Bland, we just knew the post office closed at 4:00 and we had a package there waiting for us from Lupine's parents. We did the 11.3 to US 52 without much trouble. There was some trail magic there provided by a guy named Richard from Alabama. He has hiked the AT four times, most recently three years ago. He had sodas and bananas and Powerade for hikers and was offering free rides into town, because he knew it was a tough place to hitch from his past experiences. We would discover this for ourselves later. On the way in we talked about Trail Days and how we were unsure if we were going to go this weekend. He said he had a lot of our same concerns about it but has gone the past few years and enjoyed it each time. We thanked him for the ride and got our package, which Mom and Dad Lupine stocked full of proteins for us. Since we didn't have to do any additional resupply we got a ride to Subway from a nice man we met in town. We both ate footlongs packed full of calories, plus chips and sodas. I don't think either of us have ever finished a whole one in one sitting before. We figured after two quick rides we'd have an easy time getting back to the trail. The way back was a little trickier, we walked probably a full mile in the direction of the trailhead thumbing it along the road before finally a guy with a white pickup truck pulled over and gave us a lift. We sat in the bed and were very pleased about the first successful hitch of our lives. We got back to the trail, walked over I-77, and hiked a couple more miles to the shelter we're at now. We were reunited with Chicken Feet and Bad Apple (the guys we hung out with in Marion driving around in a truck), and we were all happy to see each other again. Tomorrow we walk to the grocer that (hopefully) has our summer gear mail drops. Still no idea how we're going to get to Trail Days but I'm sure something will present itself, as it tends to do out here.
Photo: Happy hitchers
Miles hiked: 20.1 (AT 558.5-578.6) Jenkins Shelter
We finally hit 20! We came close a little while ago with a 19.8 day but now we have definitely done it with 20.1 today. We climbed 600ft over Lynn Camp Mountain as a warm up. Then came the 2100ft climb of death over Chestnut Knob (4400ft). It was definitely a hard first half of the day but the second half looked easy in the elevation profile in the guidebook. Near the top we finally caught one bar of cell reception and found out our mail packages of summer gear got rejected by UPS because they don't deliver to any post offices ever and apparently the only place they deliver to in Bland, VA is the prison and not anywhere else. We convinced the lady at the depot store on the phone to deliver them to a grocer another 20 miles up the trail, but still technically with Bland address. It was all very stressful and frustrating but she was helpful. We ate lunch at Chestnut Knob Shelter, which was a cool stone fortress with four walls and a door and an indoor picnic table. We looked forward to the second half of the day, which was supposed to be the easy part. It definitely wasn't. For one thing, there was no water for an eight mile stretch and I didn't check until it was too late, so we both had half a liter for that whole length and ran out quickly. Also, the terrain was rough and rocky and anything but flat as it followed a ridge the whole way. It was sort of awful, but we both put our audiobooks on and roughed it out. We're both pretty tired now. We did meet Elgixen (sp?) at dinner, who has a wonderful positive outlook on the universe and universal consciousness. He told us a dowsing story from earlier today and how it led to a great experience with a kindred spirit who lives just off the trail in one of the houses we saw along the way. We also met Endless from Mass who hiked the PCT last year and really enjoys hiking. Virginia is beautiful but still definitely hard and there are many long days ahead.
Photo: Chestnut Knob Shelter sits in the middle of a clearing on top of the mountain.
Miles hiked: 19.3 (AT 539.2-558.5) Knot Maul Branch Shelter
We had three options for today - 14.7, 17.4, and 19.3. Lupine felt much better today and we killed it and did the bigger mile day. Our mission this morning was to get to The Barn for brunch, a restaurant right off of I-81. Along the way we got distracted when we passed an historic schoolhouse that was stockpiled full of trail magic from a nearby Methodist church. We missed breakfast by 15 minutes when we reached The Barn but enjoyed sandwiches anyway instead. Today we went through some meadows and cow pastures which were beautiful. The trail passed through a bunch of private property today, which is rare. Other than that we were in the green tunnel much of the day and went up and over some PUDs (pointless ups and downs). But the coolest part for us was probably passing Davis Path campsite, at mile 547.2. Seems like any other place on the trail but this year it is exactly 1/4 of the way through the whole thing! The second quarter will go much quicker than the first, at the rate we're hiking now.
Photo: The funny thing about this sign is that we passed it about 3 miles past the actual quarter mark.
Saturday-Sunday 5/7-8/16 Miles hiked: 7 (AT 532.2-539.2) Chatfield Shelter
Marion was a great town. We spent a good deal of time with Chicken Feet and Bad Apple. After going in for Chinese food the night before at the shelter, the four of us decided to split a cab to pick us up from the Mt Rogers visitors center and take us to our motels in Marion. The town shuttle doesn't run on weekends, apparently. When we got to the center though we met a guy named Greg who pulled up in a red jeep and was dropping off some other hikers. He graciously agreed to give the four of us a lift back to town. He said he looks out for hikers and respects them, he is an independent surveyor and is very familiar with how rugged and rough the mountains can be. On the way back to Marion he and Bad Apple got to talking about them being veterans and all. After giving us a town tour Greg took us to his office, gave us some cokes, and then really surprised us by giving us the keys to his other vehicle, a work truck. We were dumbfounded. Just a few minutes of talking with this really awesome guy and getting to know each other and it was enough for him to trust us with his vehicle! It was really fun to drive around town instead of walking or calling for cab rides. We got to go and do whatever we wanted. The four of us did all of our errands around town together. Ate breakfast, checked into our motels, did laundry, resupplied, went out for dinner. We saw our friends Burnsaw and Firefeet again, they're staying in town for a couple of days waiting for Firefeet's boots to come in. We all had delicious dinners and beers and got to sample some moonshine across the street at a Warrior Hiker event that Bad Apple invited us to. We had a long but fun evening. In the morning we packed up all of our things and Chicken Feet drove me to get breakfast for Lupine and I while we waited for Bad Apple to wake up, who apparently had a really long and fun evening. We ate and got ready and still no sign from him so we left him the truck and called a cab to take us back to the trail. Chicken Feet is an incredible person. He just turned 68 and is a tiny, ultralight hiking machine who destroys miles. He is hilarious and is great to talk to and is very kind and generous with us. The three of us hiked 7 miles out of town to the first shelter, where he moved on and Lupine and I ended up staying put. Short day but Lupine wasn't feeling too well from some new medication and we took the afternoon off to rest. We came up with an outline of how we're going to get through Virginia, and instead of it being scary it looks really doable. We're both excited to do some bigger mile days in the not too distant future and stay on track with our long-term schedule. I hope we catch up with all our friends, new and old, very soon.
Photo: Chicken Feet also drives great stick shift and was happy to be the chauffeur around town. He liked that truck a lot.
Thursday & Friday, May 5-6 Miles hiked: 35.5 (AT 497.1-532.2; 0.4 shelter trails) Partnership Shelter
The reason I didn't journal last night is because I couldn't - my hands were too cold to move. The weather here the past couple of days has been wild. On Thomas Knob we woke up to snow and ice covering our tent and the trees around us. Our bear hang froze to the tree branch we hung it from. One of the many difficult things to do that morning was to climb the frozen tree and break the ice off the rope branch by poking at it with an extended trekking pole. It was in the twenties and no one was expecting snow and our hands were frozen and our stove is deciding I doesn't want to light anymore lately. We finally got moving at 11:00 and still weren't the last to leave. The terrain we went over the next few miles to Grayson Highlands was some of the best on the whole trail, even when turned into a frozen wonderland. Everything was open with many rocks and frozen trees and shrubs. The ponies were still doing their thing and grazing like it didn't bother them. We hiked and it cleared up enough to see out to the beautiful highlands ahead of us. We are lunch at Wise Shelter on the outskirts of the state park with Irie, and ended up hiking the next 6.5 with him. He's really great and for a while played reggae on a Bluetooth speaker for us to listen to as we hiked. That was when the weather turned bad again. It started sleeting and then violently snowing, and then a big, wet snow with big fluffy flakes. We went through a livestock corral, which was cool (no livestock in it that day). After going up and over Pine Mountain (4950') the snow turned into a wintry mix and then rain down at lower elevation. We got to Old Orchard Shelter in a steady rain/snow mix and saw the shelter was full. Irie managed to squeeze in and we pressed further on, after a quick rest break. We did another four miles in rain/snow/sleet over an annoying 800ft bump to Hurricane Mountain Shelter, 16.2 for the day. When we got there we were freezing and shivering. Everything we were wearing was completely soaked through. My hiker box shoes don't hold any water out at all, so my feet were in puddles all day. We did all of our evening duties, got water, made dinner, and set up spots in the shelter with hands that barely worked from the cold. Temperatures dropped into the twenties again and we were already cold and wet, a recipe for hypothermia. Fortunately, we didn't send home our warm camp clothes and 15-degree bags so we were able to get dry and warm within an hour or so after we climbed in for the night. This morning was cold again, but it finally stopped raining. We warmed up in the first few miles of hiking. We met Ken and Songbird at Hurricane Shelter. Today while hiking we met Bug Juice, Salty, Cookie, Tough Love, and Bad Apple. Hiking today took place entirely in the "green tunnel." Just forest and green and many uphills and downhills. We crossed a meadow and some power lines, that was about it. That being said, everything looks like an incredible lime green rainforests with Spring still in full force even after a quick freeze. We had multiple rain showers throughout the day, just passing giant clouds lasting thirty or so minutes. The last one late in the day really drove us crazy, especially me for it ruining my last pair of dry socks to hike in. After lunch at Trimpi Shelter just off the trail we pushed and managed to make it all the way to Partnership Shelter, 19.3 miles for the day (our second highest so far). My ankles felt it for the last few miles but other than that we're ok. This shelter is a huge, two-story shelter with a pricy and shower and water spigot. It's beautiful and looks new. A short 0.2 away is the Mt Rogers Recreational Area visitors center, where there is a magical phone where you can call and order pizza or Chinese food and have it delivered to you. We were gifted leftover pizza and Stromboli upon arrival and later had Chinese for second dinner. We saw Firecracker and Kodak, Less Mayo, and Chicken Feet. We met a bunch of other hikers tonight - Chef Tumbleweed, Mountain Goat, and others. We were very full and toasty once more in our bags and happy that Marion, VA is a short walk and car ride away from. I'm proud of us for doing the harder mile days and sticking it through some tough weatherS Never thought we would see snow and ice in May, in Virginia.
Photo: The one time it cleared up on Thursday came at the perfect moment as we approached the Grayson Highlands
Miles hiked: 13.9
Well we're back to another glorious day on the AT. We had quite the 2200ft climb to get up to Whitetop Mountain (5080ft), but it was well worth it. Along the way we walked past grazing cows. Buzzard Rock was a great lookout point near the summit of Whitetop. We are now walking through the Virginia highlands, and they are beautiful. It was pretty chilly today, but we got some patches of sun here and there. After a great lunch picnic spot we walked through Elk Garden, a beautiful meadow with flowers and views and a bench to sit on. We aired out our tent and made some silly videos to send to our families. A mile before our shelter we went by Brier Ridge, another high meadow with great mountain views and GRAZING WILD PONIES! They were awesome! They came right up to us and licked our legs and hands and let us pet them. There were a few babies here with their mamas, some fat ones, some very friendly ones, and a farty one. We took a long break the and had a great time. We skirted the summit of Mt Rogers, the tallest mountain in Virginia, and are tenting at Thomas Knob Shelter, at 5400ft. Tomorrow will be the last time we are above 5000ft until the Presidential Range in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Tomorrow we also get to walk through Grayson Highlands State Park, where we will get to see many more beautiful sights and many more ponies, we hope!
Photo: A wild pony of the highlands
Monday & Tuesday 5/2-3/16 Miles hiked: 13.2 (AT 469.0-470.3; 482.3-483.2, VCT 16-27)
Apparently you can have a case of the Mondays even on the Appalachian Trail. We woke up very early at Woodchuck Hostel to the sounds and smells of breakfast being made. It was very delicious later on but at 5:15 we still wanted to be sleeping! It took us a long time to get everything done. My boots falling apart has really been a pain, the outfitter that sold them to me less than 6 weeks ago won't let me return or exchange them so I have to figure out how to get the manufacturer to help me out somehow. I tried a couple of different hiker box pairs on and stuck with the Merrells I found the day before, although the sole is more flimsy on these shoes as compared with the boots I'm used to. The Dollar General didn't have quite enough for our resupply so we had to walk a ways across town to get groceries. Then the post office to mail things. Then the outfitter to get our stove looked at. By the time we finished everything it was after 3:00, so we knew we were t going to get in our full day as planned. We ended up breaking our 13 miles up over the course of two days. We nearo-ed out of Damascus heading along the Virginia Creeper Trail, instead of the AT. The VCT is one of the oldest and nicest rail-to-trails in the country, and is a beautiful, well-graded riverwalk. For around 12 miles going out of town it runs parallel with or is the same as the AT, which goes up and over viewless mountains and ridges on its own route. Needless to say we opted for the much cooler option, and hiked a couple miles out until we hit national forest land again where we could make camp for the night without being on private property. It ended up raining on us quite a bit after we made camp, but we tried our best to enjoy the fire with all of our rain gear on. Still got sad and wet. Also I spilled our whole dinner into the ground when I knocked the stove over while cooking. It was awful. Monday was probably the hardest day for us so far mentally, we just wanted to leave and couldn't really get going and things weren't exactly going our way that day. That's how it is though, sometimes. We are now starting to understand the (sometimes very literal) meaning of the phrase "when it rains, it pours." Today was much better than yesterday. Mostly the rain held off and we got to enjoy most of the day on the Virginia Creeper Trail. This included a well-placed cafe at lunchtime where we got sandwiches, fries, onion rings, cole slaw, and root bear floats, all while skipping an afternoon rain shower. The trail intersects with the AT twice after Damascus and finally we had to part with our beloved river trail to head back into the woods on the AT. We found a great campsite along Laurel Creek not far from where we got back on. It was nice to get off the trail for a day and I'm glad we found our rhythm again. Just like anywhere else, we have to remember to make our own luck and make our own smiles and create our own happiness here, even when things don't always go the way we want them to.
Photo: There are many trestles like this that cross the water along the VCT
Saturday & Sunday 4/30-5/1/16 Miles hiked: 13.3 (AT 455.7-469.0) Woodchuck Hostel Damascus, VA
We made it to Virginia! We hiked the remaining 13 miles into Damascus as quickly as possible to avoid the evening rainstorm. I was really feeling it after we crossed the TN/VA border from the last few long days, really sore feet and blisters on both pinky toes. I was pretty cranky by the time we pulled into town, but Lupine was feeling pretty good. As we walked through town and crossed the park, we saw the tail end of a 50k race and there was a huge cookout and food spread laid out at the finish line for the runners. There was so much left over that they were generously feeding hikers that passed by, and we happily feasted on hot dogs, hamburgers, potato salad, cole slaw, fresh fruit, veggies and dip, chips, cheese and crackers, and mini sandwiches. After a big lunch we looked around for a place to stay. All the rooms and hostels were all filled up, which was kind of surprising because we haven't really seen too many people the past few days. We later found out that it was because all of our friends that were up ahead of us have been in town for the past 1-3 days taking zeros. It was great to catch up with all of our friends in the Cat Crew, Bees & Bones, Pluto and Sacagawea, Scavenger, Doc & Legs, Johnny B. Goode, Chatterbox, Tom & Pam, and many, many others. We headed over to The Place, a hostel run by the Methodist church in town. It has catered to AT thru-hikers and trans-am bikers for the past forty years. It was certainly interesting. It was neat to stay in an historic place and was certainly economical (recommended $7 donation). However, they had many, many rules to follow and the on-site caretaker, although a nice guy, was always present to make sure we complied with each and every one. We had to stay in separate bunks, but our stay did include a shower and hot coffee in the morning (as long as you mopped the bathroom floor and washed your mug out when finished). The next day we moved over to the Woodchuck hostel, which has real beds and linens and also a washer/dryer in addition to hot breakfast and a large yard. Burnsaw and Firefeet caught up to us and we got to hang out with them last night and most of the day today. My boots completely fell apart already but I managed to score a broken-in pair of Merrells from a hiker box which should work out perfectly, I hope. We replaced our broken bear rope at the outfitter. OH! Which reminds me of Friday night: around 4am, we heard some strange roar/growl/gurgley noise which sounded a lot like a bear but we kept convincing ourselves it was a dog. It got closer and closer to our small campsite, and I was fully aware of the fact that our food was right outside our tent in an odor-proof bag instead of being hung in a tree like it normally is, since we had to drastically shorten our rope when it got stuck in a tree at Vandeventer shelter a few days ago. The unknown beast finally passed by our site, but we didn't sleep much after that. The next day we confirmed with other hikers that a mother bear and cubs were passing through the area and were spotted a couple hours after we heard that noise a few miles north near the shelter's water source. Bears are REAL. Anyway town is great and all but I think we are going to stay on the trail as much as possible through Virginia. It's not always relaxing trying to adhere to all the rules, regulations, and business hours in the towns and they can be a real money drain. For the next month, with the exception of Trail Days next weekend, we're going to try to live on the trail as much as possible and do quick trips into town for resupply, laundry, and the occasional shower. I think we're finally reaching that point where trail life becomes the norm and towns seem strange and foreign. We are, however, going to try to enjoy these mattresses as much as possible tonight!
Photo: Three states down, eleven to go! It'll be a while before we reach the next one, there are over 500 miles in Virginia (one quarter of the whole trail)
Miles hiked: 19.8 (AT 435.9-455.7) Double Spring Gap
Today was easily our greatest hiking effort so far. 19.8 miles! Just a measly 0.2 shy of 20. I still can't believe it. We got up and left just before 9:00 with no real plan, other than to go as far as possible. The weather was perfect, high around 70, clear blue skies, and the occasional slight breeze. The terrain was suitable for many miles, and followed a moderate ridge line pretty much all day. Nothing is ever flat on the AT, but there were no horrendous inclines or long ups or downs. We moved at a good pace and even hit three miles in one hour! We managed to go 11.4 miles to the TN 91 road crossing before lunch, and there we got some trail magic from Lynn, Bald Eagle's wife. Bald Eagle is one of the two guys that told us about the Black Bear resort for lunch the other day. Lynn gave us some bananas, oranges, water, cookies, and pound cake, all delicious. We ate lunch under a shady tree, and that was when Lupe mentioned going 20 miles to me for the first time. I thought she was crazy, seeing as though we hadn't done more than 16 before today. After that we walked through some beautiful open pasture fields, some of which is a well-graded handicap-accessible section of trail, which was really neat. Then we just kept hiking. We took regular breaks but kept moving steadily along. At our second shelter we met two section hikers named Ron and Patrick, who are both very nice and friendly. We hiked to Low Gap, 17.9 miles in, and took a longer sit break and stocked up on water to bring to camp. The last 1.9 seemed harder than everything before it, but we made it to the campsite just after 6:00. I am really proud of us. I know others have done 20, 30+ miles in a day but this was a big deal and we're very happy about it. We had a nice quiet evening with Ron and Patrick and talked for a while after building a quick fire to keep the bugs away. Virginia is just under 10 miles away and we'll make it all the way to Damascus tomorrow as originally planned. More rain is expected this weekend so that will motivate us to get to town as early as possible!
Photo: Lupey checking out the view looking over the pasture fields. It's not always woods and mountains out here!
Miles hiked: 16.1 (AT 419.8-435.9) Vandeventer Shelter
Another long but wonderful day. It thunderstormed all night off and on so everything was wet when we packed up this morning. We were up and ready before our friends Burnsaw and Firefeet so we left first and didn't see them again for the rest of the day. Lu and I walked along the river for a while and then climbed up and over Pond Mountain, a large, pointless thing that the AT feels the need to conquer for some reason. There wasn't even a stupid pond. It was a million percent humidity and we were very tired and sweaty and a little dizzy by the time we reached the top, around noon. We hurried down to get to Shook Branch Recreation Area on Watauga Lake, to eat lunch and air out our wet things in the hot sun. There was a picnic area, lots of grassy space, a sandy beach, bathrooms, water spigots, and trash cans. It was amazing. We cooled off and went swimming again for the second time in as many days. An amazing woman named Elizabeth came over to us and gave us a whole can of Pringles, and then offered to grab us McDonald's on her way out. She came back about twenty minutes later with Big Macs, large fries, sweet teas, and ice cream, and wouldn't accept any money for them. It was heaven on a beautiful day at a beautiful lake. We stayed there for almost an hour and a half before moving on. The trail circled around the lake, crossed a dam, and then followed a road for a while before going back into the woods to enter Big Laurel Branch Wilderness. By then we were over 11 miles for the day and well into the afternoon, but had no real camping options for the next five miles and made it all the way to Vandeventer Shelter after 16.1, our new best. We were finally rewarded with our first view of the day behind the shelter, which looks back down to the lake and surrounding mountains. It's a good one. Tonight I lost the bear rope rock bag in a tree and had to shorten our cord a whole bunch by cutting it. Also the water source was 350 feet downhill, which was not a fun thing. Other than that we're tired and happy after a long day. Tomorrow's terrain looks very manageable, much easier than today, and we have our eyes set on many miles. Damascus in two days is still possible. Looking forward to all of the wonderful things in Virginia very soon.
Photo: Our trail magic today, in the form of fast food. Thank you Elizabeth!
Miles hiked: 6.2 (AT 414.0-419.8, 0.4 road walk)
Well today was pretty much sabotaged. But it was a good kind of sabotage. Josh seems entirely back to his laid-back-no-consequences-self and less super-planner that he's become! We started off at a good pace and then stopped for water and our first break. Then some old dudes told us they were on their way to a hostel down the road with cold beer and pizza. So away we went. We spent much longer there than we planned. Josh and I got some awesome bass mouth coozies that are great for ultralight backpacking. We got a ride back go the trail from someone we met at the hostel. Then we walked about two miles to a waterfall and went swimming. Then we walked probably half a mile away and found another perfect campsite so we had to stay. Pretty soon a thunderstorm rolled in so I'm very glad we camped when we did. Now we're just laying here laughing about what a wonderful day we've had. Really living in the moment today. And we'll still get to Damascus in plenty of time, we're just adding some miles into our days but it's well worth it.
Photo: Laurel Fork Falls, our swimming spot. Water was cold, but doable. So we did.
Miles hiked: 14.7 (AT 399.3-414.0)
We made up for stopping earlier than planned yesterday by going a little bit farther today, just shy of 15 miles. It felt pretty good, glad we're still on pace to reach Virginia before May 1. The terrain has been a little bit easier, still some elevation change but not as extreme as climbing up and down mountains all day. On this section of trail in Tennessee there were many brooks and streams, which was great because water was plentiful and we never had to carry more than a liter at a time all day (water is heavy). We had lunch at a nice vista with a random bench to sit on, which was excellent. We also took a break at "Hardcore Cascades" and soaked our feet in the icy water. Burnsaw saw a giant salamander. I'm always anxious about our pace and getting to camp at a reasonable hour but I'm learning to just be content with the way things are. We made it just before 7:00 tonight, we are tenting in a grassy meadow spot with a nearby pipe spring. There are many stars out tonight, but Jupiter is shining the brightest. Tomorrow we go over our last big climb before cruising into Damascus, VA in a few days.
Photo: Lupine on the bench at our lunch spot
Saturday-Monday 4/23-25/16 Miles hiked: 16.2 (AT 383.3-399.3, 0.3 shelter trail, 0.3 hostel trail, 0.2 Jones Falls trail)
The last three days were really something. We woke up on Saturday to a chilly and foggy morning at Overmountain Shelter, so we didn't catch the sunrise we were hoping for. We did sleep in a little though. We hiked over Little Hump and Hump mountains (~5500ft), which in sure are amazing on a clear day but for us were freezing and windy. We walked through clouds and for soaked, even though it wasn't actually raining. We couldn't see out but were exposed to the elements on those large bald mountains. Bummed to miss the views from them, but we pushed on and it warmed up as we walked down into lower elevation and it cleared up some as well. We left NC for good and walked down to cross US 19E near Roan Mountain, TN. We walked along the road to get to a B&B/hiker hostel that was holding our fantastic mail drops sent to us from our parents. It was there we met Loretta, a wonderful, wonderful woman who drove down from Elizabethton (about thirty minutes) to pick us up. Her son Terry is a good friend of ours from PA, but we had never met each other before. She drove us and our good friends Burnsaw and Firefeet first to Smoky Mountain Bakers, which has amazing wood-fired pizza and delicious baked goods as well. We easily finished three pizzas between the five of us and then Loretta took us all back to her home. We ended up staying two nights with her and took a zero on Sunday. She was so incredibly nice to us and so generous. She even let us use her car to run errands, which included getting Burnsaw's phone replaced after weeks of trying to get it done over the phone. She invited us to her church the next morning and we went, everyone there was really friendly and the pastor even called us out at the start of the service for visiting from the trail. After that we did our resupply, and that night we grilled ourselves supper while Loretta made us a delicious peach cobbler. We all definitely got to know each other and did not feel like strangers when she dropped us back off on the trail this morning. Her generosity is something we won't forget, she is such an angel. We had a great first day back on the trail today. We took our time, picked wild ramps, had lunch in a beautiful meadow with mountain views, took a side trail to a waterfall, and finished the day camped alongside a beautiful river. I feel like we have truly been enjoying our surroundings, the place that we are, and the moment that we're in. It is so great to be here and to be on this journey, which is quickly turning into one of the best experiences we've ever lived.
Photo: Us with our trail angel and adopted family, Loretta
Thursday and Friday 4/21 and 4/22 Miles hiked: 30 (AT 354.4-383.9, 0.5 shelter trails)
We've had a long couple of days! Yesterday was either 14 or 15, again depending on the guidebook. I've been using AWOL's mostly to track mileage so I'm going to stick with 14. We went over Unaka Mountain (5180') in the morning, which has a deep, dark spruce forest at the top which smells great. We pretty much cruised for the rest of the day over some smaller peaks and finished the day at Clyde Smith Shelter. We were there with Burnsaw, Firefeet, section hikers Pam and Tom, and a triple-crowner (Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail, and Continental Divide Trail) named Periwinkle, who is an odd dude but very nice. We stayed inside the shelter and I'm glad we did because it rained overnight. The shelter roof leaked but not on us, just a little bit on our things. Today we did our longest day so far. It took us until 3:00 to get up to Roan High Knob, and it really poured on us on the way up. The peak is over 6000ft, the first time we've been up that high since the Smokys and the last time for us until New Hampshire. It dipped under 40 degrees up there, and we were cold to the bone and shivering all through lunch. We pushed on in order to stay warm, and were all a little cranky. Once we got down to Carvers Gap we saw a sign that we were walking in the Roan Highlands, which I loved and think sounds like a sweet place from Middle Earth. It sort of cleared up temporarily while we went over Round Bald and Jane Bald, which had amazing views all around. Our heads were literally in the clouds and we could see them running through us and bouncing off the mountains around us, it was really cool. The trail skirts around Grassy Ridge Bald and goes down into Yellow Gap after passing another shelter, our second of the day that we walked by. The reason we pushed so far (16 miles altogether) is because in that gap is a side trail that leads to one of the coolest shelters on the trail, Overmountain Shelter. It is a conversed barn with amazing views, and there are a bunch of hiker friends here checking it out as well. It's a beautiful spot, and I'm glad we made it here. Definitely worth it. It also means that tomorrow is a short(er) 9.5 mile day; we are going to get picked up at Hwy 19 by my friend Terry's angel of a mother. We are sort of cowboy camping in our bags on the barn porch and will hopefully be able to see the sunrise right from where we are, if it stops raining again. We are going to sleep well tonight.
Photo: Overmountain Shelter this evening in between rains. There's a small rainbow that appeared a couple of times today
Monday-Wednesday 4/18-20 Miles hiked: 25.6 (AT 328.8-354.4)
Erwin, TN was a lot of fun. We had a full 13-mile day of hiking on Monday before we got to Uncle Johnny's hiker hostel. We proved pretty quickly and got there by 4:00. Uncle Johnny's is quite the place. The owners are deadheads and they have a dog named Jerry Garcia. There is a general store/small outfitter, and out front is a large patio hangout area with chairs and picnic tables. There is a large hiker box, where people leave unused items for each other. Around back is the hostel (bunkhouse), some small cabin-style rooms, a community bathroom with showers (advertised as "the finest shower facility on the whole trail"), and a large grassy lawn filled with tenting. There are lots of hikers at the hostels, and it's a great place to catch up with those we haven't seen in a while. Sure it's a bit rustic, but it's luxurious for trail life and still a better choice than a dumpy motel. After checking in and showering we caught up with Burnsaw and Firefeet and we all packed into a large van and were shuttled to a nearby Walmart. There we managed to do a food resupply for both trail and town, replaced our water filter, and picked up some beer all in the same place. I love and hate Walmart. We stayed up late eating and watching a movie, it was a lot of fun. The next morning we slept in, and mostly hung out outside all day. Burnsaw caught a large rainbow trout in the river, and him and Firefeet gutted it and grilled it. It was pretty sweet. Yes he did buy a three-day fishing license for Tennessee, which was also provided by Walmart. We stayed in a cabin the first night and tented the second night, since the weather was still nice. We caught the shuttle that night to a marvelously mediocre Italian restaurant. Afterwards we made a fire back at the hostel and hung out for a little bit before going to bed a little earlier than the previous night. This morning we packed up while Burnsaw borrowed my phone to call AppleCare back for the millionth time about getting his water damaged phone replaced. They really are the worst, it's amazing. Lupine and I re-weighed our packs, and we have less than eighty pounds between the two of us now fully stocked with food and water. It's going down! Summer is going to be even lighter. Glad we still have our warm stuff for tonight's it got chilly and windy. Hiking out was hard as usual, and we either went 11 or 12 miles depending on which guide you're using. It sure felt like 12. Glad to be hiking, and glad to be with our friends again. Tomorrow is our 6-week anniversary out on the trail, and it looks like we'll be in Virginia by the end of the month. All things are good.
Photo: Uncle Johnny's hostel
Miles hiked: 13.7 (AT 315.2-328.8, shelter trail 0.1) Whistling Gap
Another beautiful day on the trail. Had a slow start this morning because we knew the mileage was shorter today than the last two. First we went down to Sams Gap to cross under I-26, and then spent the rest of the day going up and over Big Bald. What a beautiful section of trail. After our first uphill we crossed a meadow where we could see our day outlined in front of us in the distance. As we went farther up the woods turned into green slopes that were completely covered in little white flowers called Spring Beauties, so many of them that they looked like snow. We pushed and did 8.9 miles up to the summit of Big Bald so we could have a late lunch up there. There was some cell reception up there so we got to FaceTime with my parents and brother for a few minutes. Big Bald is the tallest point around for a little ways so you can see out in all directions. The rest of the day went fairly quickly, and we dropped back down into Whistling Gap where there is a campsite and a small water source nearby. Our water filter broke for good, the pump handle is shot now. Couldn't handle the AT I guess. This campsite is used way less frequently than the shelter areas, and there are only a few others here tonight. We met southbounders Moxie and Bald, and a section hiker named Brian who is planning a thru-hike this year and is very excited with lots of questions. Moxie and Bald are great, they love talking about the trail and have many good stories and advice about what's ahead. They are all older guys and the company is a nice change of pace from the mob of younger, gung-ho mile-crushers that we've been around the past couple of nights. We had a nice fire and talked until dark. We have a spot reserved for us at Uncle Johnny's hostel in Erwin, TN tomorrow night. It's another 13 miles to thee so we'll try to get going early and get there as soon as possible.
Photo: Our first climb out of Sams Gap led us to this meadow, where we could see our route ahead of us. Big Bald is the high point in the photo.
Miles hiked: 15.2 (AT 300.1-315.2, 0.1 shelter trail) Hogback Ridge Shelter
I'm proud of us today. We did another 15-mile day, and have done 30.5 in the past two days. When we first started hiking it would take us nearly twice that amount of time to cover that same distance. I'm also proud of the fact that we were moving much faster than yesterday and finished the whole day in just over eight hours including breaks. Yesterday took us well over nine, almost ten hours. My right pinky toe suddenly turned into one giant blister, and my shoulders are having a rough time adjusting to the different strap placement of the new pack. Other than that I feel pretty okay, just tired. Our stupid water filter got clogged again after just three days since cleaning it, and will be getting replaced for good with a different filter. There were more meadows at high altitude (4000+ feet) today, it's very pretty up here. We had to go way down into a gap to cross a road and then go way back up again, and we're finding that this is a pretty regular occurrence. When we got to the shelter area we caught Shotgun and Tumbleweed before they took off for some night hiking. There are some pretty douchey and competitive hikers out there, and some are present at this shelter tonight. We had a good time hanging out with Whiplash though. Still no sign of Burnsaw and Firefeet. Just 27 miles to Erwin, so the next two days are going to be a little easier than the last two. Our hiker tans are getting pretty serious in this beautiful weather we're having.
Photo: Road crossing (NC 212) at Devil Fork Gap
Miles hiked: 15.4 (AT 284.7-300.1) Jerry Cabin Shelter
Today was a big day! We set a new personal best by hiking over 15 miles in a day for the first time. We also crossed the 300-mile mark just as we pulled up into camp. We hiked pretty much all day and it got dark on us while we were eating dinner again. In the morning we passed a couple of Southbounders - one in particular was finishing up his last section of the entire trail today. He had hiked most of it a couple of years ago during a thru-hike before breaking his leg, and had section-hiked the rest of the 60 miles he missed up until this point. We were really happy for him, and you could tell he was thrilled about finishing as well. I hope someone buys him many congratulatory drinks at "Trail Fest" going on this weekend in Hot Springs. For all the ascending we did yesterday, we immediately went down 1200 feet, only to go right back up 2500 feet. After lunch we had a couple of beautiful sights. Jones Meadow was sort of Smokys-esque with a soft, dirt path winding through green hills filled with blooming flowers. After that was some very rocky and rugged ridgeline walking along Big Firescald Knob. We were definitely ready for camp by the time we arrived at the shelter area, and are so happy to be back in our tent for the first night in a while. Burnsaw and Firefeet (Amanda) never showed up tonight, I hope they catch up with us early tomorrow.
Photo: Looking back at the ridgeline at Big Firescald Knob
Tuesday-Thursday 4/12-16 Miles hiked: 24.1 (AT 260.6-284.7) Spring Mountain Shelter
Need to get back in the habit of journaling every night again or I am going to forget things! Tuesday we hiked most of the day in a constant rain for the remaining 13 miles to Hot Springs, NC. It did clear up layer on, so we weren't soaked to the bone and cold the entire day at least. Poor Amanda accidentally burned her boot in the fire so that it was too small and stabbing her in the foot the whole way. For this reason her trail name is going to be Firefeet, I think. The four of us for a room above the Spring Creek Tavern in town which turned out to be a good deal and was nice and clean. Showering felt amazing. The tavern had this thing called beer roulette, where you get a random craft beer out of a cooler for $2.50. Great. Went to bed very late that night in a very comfortable bed. We zeroed in Hot Springs the next day. Hot Springs is a trail town, so we had to spend some time there even though it's less than a week since Asheville. I'm glad we did, it was well worth it. I splurged a bit and replaced my pack, trimming two pounds and five ounces. I now love my pack instead of wishing it was better. We also went to the resort/spa and got a mineral bath, which is piped into a modern jacuzzi. The water supposedly comes straight from the natural hot springs in the area, although I suspect that it may have been just an expensive hot tub. Still a great time, and we drank many beers. Dinner that night was also great, Lupine got an extra half rack of ribs for free and they were delicious. There are 64.7 miles between Hot Springs and Erwin, TN. We're attempting to cover that distance in five days, so we don't have to carry another day's worth of food. Poor Lupine has a very heavy pack, since she carries most of the food. We left town very late today at 1:00, and did 11 miles to the shelter we are currently in. It's just the two of us and some very active mice in here. Along the way we met three really nice section hikers Chopsticks, Dangles, and Cap, along with their two beautiful dogs Luna and Mogley. We talked and hiked with them for a while and they helped raise our spirits when we were starting to get tired. The next four days we have to average about 14 miles per day, which will be a challenge but we're up for it. Hope these dumb mice leave us alone tonight so we can get an early start in the morning.
Photo: Sampling the hot spring mineral bath on our day off in town. L to R is Burnsaw, Firefeet, Lupine, and Pokey
Miles hiked: 13.3 (AT 247.5-260.6, 0.2 shelter trail) Walnut Mountain Shelter
It took us a looong time to do everything today. Long time packing up, long breakfast, long rest breaks, and a long lunch break as well. We didn't reach our destination until after 7pm, a first for us. I much prefer the early starts, but today we were feeling pretty sluggish as soon as we woke up. We still made our 13 miles though. If we average at least that much each day, we will make it to Damascus, VA by the end of the month and be able to take a few zero days. Our lunch stop was at Max Patch, a beautiful North Carolina bald. Views in all directions. Our friends Shotgun and Tumbleweed were having a leisurely picnic of their own with day hiker Linda up at the summit, and we joined them as we enjoyed the surroundings. Linda was really nice to us and even packed out all of our trash, which is a small thing yet is very helpful to us. We are in the shelter tonight. It comfortably sleeps six persons, and we were amazed to find only one other hiker in it when we arrived late in the evening with Burnsaw and Amanda. We happily laid out our bags inside - the forecast is calling for rain staring at 11 tonight and lasting until 5pm tomorrow, so it's nice to be out of the elements. It is very windy up on this ridge. Making dinner in the dark with the roaring wind was very interesting. We'll be tucked into our bags tonight, hoping the nice stay away and dreaming of a warm and sunny bald mountain peak.
Photo: Looking back at the AT as it nears the summit of Max Patch
Friday - Sunday 4/8-4/10 Miles hiked: 10.7 (AT 237.0-247.5, 0.2 shelter trail) Groundhog Creek Shelter
We had a pretty fantastic weekend. On Friday morning we slept in at the shelter and finished the last mile out of the Smokys. We did a couple more to the I-40 underpass, then somehow missed a turn and had to do some backtracking down a gravel road to find the trailhead again. The gracious Mother Smucker (who we know from college) was waiting for us near Standing Bear Farm hostel. After meeting some of our trail buds she drove us an hour back to her home in Hendersonville, NC. She took us out for a perfectly greasy diner breakfast, drove us all over, cooked us meals and made us coffee, made a bed for us and let us take over a room in her house. Oh and showers, of course. It was the best time, and was an excellent way of celebrating our first full month on the trail. In addition to our errands we also spent some time walking around Asheville shops and went to a giant flea market. We took a full zero on Saturday, after our nero on Friday, and it went by so very quickly. I think Smucker may have caught the hiking bug. She's already mastered living in the woods for an extended time, and would do it again. She says she wants to hike Vermont with is, and we really hope she does. Friday and Saturday flew by and then suddenly on Sunday morning we were back on the highway heading back to the NC/TN border, where we re-entered the woods again. It's always a little hard getting going again after a day off, especially going immediately uphill. After 4.5 miles of getting our butts kicked we finally reached the summit of Snowbird Mountain, a large grassy bald with a tower that does airplane radar. Waiting for us at the top were some amazing trail angels from Newport, TN. They said they come out every Sunday during thru-hiker season. They had a huge spread of soda, Gatorade, beer, snacks, homemade fudge and cookies, hot drinks, water, and even a little resupply for toiletries and first aid. This whole weekend was filled with incredible generosity that I will never forget. It amazes me how much genuine kindness has been shown to us, which always lifts our spirits and helps us tremendously. Mother Smucker spent a lot of time working for a conservation corps, and was telling us about doing something like that after the trail as a way of giving back. I think that sounds like a great idea, or at the very least providing some trail magic of our own one day. Tonight we are overwhelmed with gratitude and are very thankful to have the opportunity to be living out here. One month down, five more to go.
Photo: Trail Angels out today at Snowbird Mountain
Miles hiked: 14.8 (AT 222.2-237.0) Davenport Gap Shelter, GSMNP
This morning we woke up to ice and snow covering everything and turning the shelter into a winter wonderland. For some reason it didn't feel quite as cold as we thought it would, but it was still pretty damn cold. Everywhere looked amazing. We finally got to use our microspikes, for once. It was fun climbing our last 6000-ft peak for a while, stomping through ice and snow the whole way and enjoying every minute of it. Our first vista we saw that it only snowed at the highest elevations, so we felt honored to witness it. We hiked our longest day so far, just shy of fifteen miles. I held up surprisingly okay, I have to trust my body more I think. One thing I learned today is that having to poop on a very windy mountain ridge is quite a predicament. We hiked all day, a lot of it was descending down toward Davenport Gap, the northern boundary of the park. I'm a little sad to leave here. It's a beautiful place, and I will never forget hiking and camping amongst the mountain peaks. I won't miss having to stay in the shelters, I prefer our tent in any weather. Looking forward to a day or two off in Asheville. After nearly one month on the trail, it's a good time to relax and take a break.
Photo: Great view from a snowy ridge
Miles hiked: 12.1 (AT 210.1-222.2) Tri-Corner Knob Shelter
They did say the Smokys are cold. So far it has been cold in the morning and evening, and fine during the day. Today was cold all day. I think the warmest it got was mid-40's and gusty. We hiked 12 miles all above 5000ft, from ridge to ridge, mountain to mountain. It's so epic to live up here, I love it. So many views during the hike today. Charlie's Bunion was well worth the detour this morning, a rocky outcrop surrounded by cliffs and mountains. We got some of the last spots inside the shelter, there's a chance the weather might turn into sleet or snow. It's already below thirty inside the shelter, and it's well before dark. We are nestled in our bags early, in full warm clothes, and our silk liner for extra warmth. This 12-miles per day pace is fun, but we could use a day off this weekend. We really need to lighten our loads, too. I have my eyes set on a discount used outdoor consignment place in Asheville to scout out any lighter gear alternatives. People are moving from outside the shelter onto the floor. The goal is to go 14.8 tomorrow and get close to the northern boundary of the park for our last night in the park.
Photo: Lupine standing on our favorite ridge of the Smokys so far
Miles hiked: 7.7 (AT 202.8-210.1, Sugarland Mtn Trail 0.4) Icewater Spring Shelter
We actually did everything we set out to do today which I think is amazing. We got our resupply from a Walgreens and I will never appreciate a Walgreens as much as I appreciated this Walgreens today. Even if the cashier told us we stink. Gatlinburg is like a crazy hillbilly circus town nestled in the hills. Every storefront is like an over the top tourist trap. They have a space needle, Ripley's believe it or not, zip lining. It was like Jersey boardwalk plus moonshine. It was amazing. I thought the cab ride back would be our last. We crammed eight people into a six person cab plus all the packs and I'm pretty sure the wheels were hitting the wheel wells! Flipper was convinced we were going to die. Burnsaw and Amanda stayed behind and got in super late so we've been hanging out with the Cat Crew (Flipper, Puma, Manager, Wahoo, Catfish John) and I believe we have been accepted in their club as "Burrito Cats" because Josh and I packed out giant Mexican burrito meals in styrofoam boxes to camp. Josh carried them three miles uphill in his hands and they remained immaculate, it was amazing. Altogether it was a fantastic day. I'm so excited for tomorrow, another 12 mile day. Then it will be fifteen and then Asheville. Cold weather is coming our way apparently and I really hope we get to use our microspikes. Hopefully Burnsaw and Amanda will catch up once we zero in Asheville. So many things to love on the trail.
Photo: Not our tent, but definitely our dinner and a nice view from the shelter
Miles hiked: 14 (AT 189.3-202.8, Sugarland Mountain Trail 0.5) Mt Collins Shelter, GSMNP
Today was epic, and easily one of my favorite days on the trail so far. We did fourteen miles today, our highest so far, and feel pretty good at the end of it. We went over 6000 ft for the first time. We saw the trail enter a deep, dark, spooky spruce forest. We walked over the highest point on the AT, and the third highest point east of the Mississippi. We passed the 200-mile mark. So many great milestones achieved on a perfectly clear day. We could see out for 50+ miles on the observatory tower at Clingman's Dome. We met a lot of people who seemed impressed by what we were doing; a lot of people just think we're crazy. I love that we're staying in a shelter that's in this dark forest part of the Smokies. If I was a bear I'd definitely live in this part of the park. We're actually staying inside the shelter tonight instead of outside in our tent. There's an inside stone fireplace that's keeping us warm and we can hear the rain patter on the roof outside. With the wind picking up it's going to be another cold night in the Smokies. Three and a half weeks in and we're still as happy as can be.
Photo: Looking back on a Smoky Mountain Ridge
Miles hiked: 12 (AT 177.3-189.3) Derrick Knob Shelter, GSMNP
12 miles a day is what we need to finish the trail in six months. The idea is that you work your way up to it, then average more than that in places to make up for the beginning and for the end, where the mileage drops again due to the beautifully rugged landscape. 12 miles today felt long as hell. It started off great, and then the second half was a lot harder. Looking back on it we learned it's better to plan your day around terrain, rather than mileage. The Smokies are epic. It feels epic to be living up here. The Appalachians look like Middle Earth of the East in some places, this is definitely one of them. The weather can be crazy at times, like this morning, which was somewhere below 15 degrees not including wind chill. But today and tomorrow look like the weather is going to be okay, which is very fortunate. This is the place where they say you have to pack warm (again in Vermont through Maine). I wish thru-hikers were allowed more time to complete this section, instead of having to average at least ten miles a day to get right through it. Tomorrow we pass the less-than-two-thousand-to-go mile mark, and walk up and over the highest point on the AT, Clingman's Dome, at 6643 ft. It's our longest day so far. I can't wait for it. People are loud and sucky well past hiker midnight (9:00) at this overcrowded Smokies shelter, another restriction of the hiker's permit. And there are coyotes howling. Please shut up and let us sleep!
Photo: Just an average stroll through the Smoky Mountains
Miles hiked: 11.4 (AT 165.9-177.3) Mollies Ridge Shelter
We are officially in the Smokies! A beautiful, mysterious, and frigidly cold place where thru-hikers are forced to move in herds. The beginning of the day we crossed Fontana Dam which was closed to traffic, and looked like a post apocalyptic world. The beginning of the uphill was tough but once we got our legs we were flying. We went the last 5 miles in two hours. The trail was covered on both sides by Carolina Spring Beauties like a blanket for miles. I forgot how cold I was and how sore my muscles felt and flew. The shelter here is so packed. I always say I'll go to bed early and read my book but then there's a fire and people and I can't miss out. Tomorrow is another 10+ day of hiking. It feels awesome to pick up the pace and know we've improved. Tonight we have to survive 55mph wind gusts first.
Photo: Us at the GSMNP southern boundary.
Miles hiked: 0
One thing I learned today: unplanned zeros are way better than planned zeros. We didn't think this was going to happen today, although Lupine says she was planning this early on. We caught the shuttle into town and did laundry and figured out our mail drop / resupply situation. There we also had a delicious lunch and had a great time talking to everyone that was there. It was around this time that we were discussing our original plan of hiking 6 miles into the Smokies and camping at the first designated camping spot. It was quickly decided that we would take the day off, catch a shuttle back to the Fontana Dam Shelter, and get up and hike 11 miles tomorrow to the next shelter instead. I really wanted to hike today, but I'm glad we took the day off because I'm not sure that my legs agree with hiking three hours with no breaks yesterday, a lot of it being downhill. My only three terms for zeroing were hiking 11 instead of 6 tomorrow, spending the night in our tent outside instead of staying in the shelter (I didn't sleep much last night, shelters aren't always the quietest places), and packing out a six-pack of beer. We also packed out hot dogs and marshmallows and roasted them on the fire. It felt weird at the resort because there was hardly any service and the wifi was down, so it still sort of felt like being in the woods. Tonight at the shelter is way less crowded than yesterday, and everyone is great and is in a fantastic mood. It's a really great group of people. The sunset over the lake was beautiful.
Photo: This evening at the Fontana Hilton
Miles hiked: 12.8 (AT 153.1-165.9) Fontana Dam Shelter
Long day of hiking today. Fortunately we woke up and the rain hadn't started yet, so we were able to pack up our tent and the rest of our things while it was still dry. After a typical breakfast of coffee, oatmeal, and protein shakes, we got going and covered the first part of our day, 6.1 miles to lunch, in just under three hours. The second part of the day was rough. The inevitable rain came, and got more intense as the afternoon went on. Lupine and I hiked nonstop for three more hours and 6.7 miles straight through all the way to the Fontana Dam Shelter. Our feet were killing us by the end and it hurt to walk around for a little while. The rain isn't so bad actually, it actually keeps you cool while hiking, and we always have our dry camp clothes to change into. This shelter is known as the "Fontana Hilton," and is one of the largest and nicest shelters on the trail. There are bathrooms nearby with flushing toilets and even a hot shower, and there are really nice views of the Fontana Lake and a large picnic area with a fire pit (makes me wish we could have been here on a sunny day). To some it may look little more than the inside of a box car, but to hikers it's pretty remarkable compared to the typical three walls and a roof you get at other shelters. This is just the second shelter we have stayed inside of so far, the other being the one on top of Blood Mountain back in Georgia. Tomorrow morning we are catching a shuttle to nearby Fontana Village, where we have a mail drop waiting for us, then we will finally enter Great Smoky Mountains National Park! Should take us about a week to complete the entire AT in this section, I think it's about 70-80 miles. The highest point on the AT is in this section, and we will be up over 6000 feet a few times. We've been looking forward to this part for a while, and can't wait!
Photo: The "Fontana Hilton" alongside the lake.
Miles hiked: 9.1 (AT 144.0-153.1) Brown Fork Gap Shelter
Today was a great day! I did something I hadn't done before this point - listened to music while hiking. Don't know why I waited so long. I guess for fear of draining my phone battery, which it did only a little bit. It made the time and the miles fly by, and I had a great time dancing down the trail in places. I felt good all day. Even at the end, going through this crazy ascent called Jacob's Ladder, which goes straight up a ridge with no switchbacks. With a pack on, it seems like an excellent way to spend purgatory. Jacob's Ladder and the climb out of NOC yesterday are supposed to be among the toughest climbs of the entire trail, so it feels good to have done both of those back to back. The past couple of days we have seeing a lot of this Boy Scout troop, who do a small section of trail every year. There is one kid in particular who apparently thinks we're idiots. He enjoys reminding me that there are still two thousand miles left to go and today he told me that he's betting that I will quit. I've been doing okay about being the bigger person, but I still imagine knocking his pack over a steep ridge into a ravine. I told him I would mail him a postcard from Mt Katahdin. There is much rain in the forecast for the next couple of days. We're hoping to get an early start in the morning and beat the worst of the storm which should hit this area in the evening sometime. It's 12.8 miles from here to an infamous shelter on the trail known as the "Fontana Hilton," a shelter with four walls, running water, toilets, and even showers! I hope the 5400+ ft of descent tomorrow doesn't wreck my knees too badly before we enter the Smokies.
Photo: A portion of Jacob's Ladder. Hard to capture in a single image, but it did this for over half a mile with no pauses.
Miles hiked: 6.6 (AT 137.4-144.0) Sassafras Gap Shelter
Woke up this morning spider-free! Got another shower in and then packed up our gear and checked out of our room. The Smokies website was back up and running so we registered and paid for our permits that will allow us to hike the eighty or so miles through Great Smoky Mountain National Park. We should enter the park in three days from now. We printed the permits at the NOC outfitter, and also picked up some fuel and I replaced my stretched out socks with two new pairs of Darn Toughs (well worth the cost). This was followed by one last delicious town meal of eggs, bacon, and pancakes. The hike out of NOC was hard. 3700 feet of uphill over the course of 6+ miles. Some of it was gradual, other parts were pretty steep. Coming off a zero say wasn't quite as hard as I thought it would be, but it was still hard and my feet were hurting by the end. It feels good to be back in the mountains instead of looking up at them. I am also very happy to be in our tent again. And to spend the day hiking. And to be back in the woods. Rest days are nice, but this is what we enjoy doing.
Photo: Our route today from NOC to Sassafras Gap Shelter
Miles hiked: 0
That's right, zero miles. That feels awesome to say. We woke up as the sunlight came through the window, and looked up to see a two inch spider hanging out in the corner above our bunk. We somehow managed to capture it and set it free outside without losing our minds. After that wake up call, we grabbed breakfast at the one and only restaurant in this outdoor summer camp facility (which isn't a bad thing at all). We're getting pretty good at cleaning our plates lately. Later tonight we put down a large 16" pizza fairly easily. In between those wonderful meals, we pretty much just hung out by the river in a common picnic table area. Since we were there all day staying put, we saw many hikers come and go. A lot of friends arrived this morning or around lunchtime, a lot of whom we thought were ahead of us. Many are staying in our bunkhouse tonight. There is always a lot to talk about, and there were many beers to be drank. Getting toasted by the sun during the day felt wonderful, and we have the marks to prove it. We also organized our mail drops (thank you again, family) and I replaced a broken headlamp at the outdoor store. At dinner we were finally reunited with our friends Burnsaw and Amanda, who cranked out a 16+ mile day to arrive here just twenty minutes before the French Fry palace closed for the evening. That was a pretty legendary move, and we are awed. Although lying around today was really fun and we feel fantastic, it's hard to sit around in one place for too long. It feels weird, and after packing up our packs tonight we're ready to move. On a side note, I feel like a colonial person wearing merino leggings and socks in crocs all the time.
Photo: A typical hiker meet-up
Miles hiked: 6 (AT 131.4-137.4)
Here we are at the Nantahala Outdoor Center! We are happy to be here - it's like an off-season summer camp. It was raining this morning; as soon as we got our rain gear on and were ready to head out, it stopped. Go figure. Hiked all day with it on, finally took it off at lunch (it gets reeeally sweaty with it on), and it started raining again. Hilarious, rain, hilarious. Today wasn't hard, but it was a lot of downhill, which is no fun for the knees after a couple weeks of hiking every day. NOC has a general store, an outfitter, a restaurant, cabins, and a bunkhouse, where we are staying. We have our own private room, which is nice, and we both agree it is way better than the motel-like place we stayed in before. Everything is located on a large campus located on the Nantahala River. The word "Nantahala" is Cherokee, I learned, and means "land of the noon day sun." I like that a lot. NOC is known primarily for white water rafting, and the US Olympic trials were held here this weekend. There is a lot of business from hikers as well, since the AT passes right through it. There is enough to do here to keep us from going crazy, but not enough to spend too much money. A perfect place to take a day off tomorrow. I still feel like hiking but I know we need a zero, our bodies will be grateful. Got to hang out, drink, and eat with Mamba, Iowa, Book Cover, and Dawn, who we thought was a long way off but were very happy to see again. We also met other hikers Badger, Billy (the Kid), Lady Catherine, Willow, and Gold Rush. Ate a delicious farm-to-table-to-belly cheeseburger, and the local Nantahala Brewing Company makes a good IPA. Showered and did laundry for the first time in eight days (we stank, badly). Also we picked up our mail drop with food/supplements resupply that the outfitter held for us, and received an unexpected box full of cookies from home (thank you, family)! Tomorrow I will update the online blog and journal, and probably wander around NOC aimlessly wishing we were back on the trail like proper outdoor citizens. But for now, it's past our bedtime!
Photo: Lupine checking out the fog rolling off the mountains before descending 3000 ft.
Miles hiked: 10.8 (AT 120.8-131.4, Rocky Bald summit 0.2)
Not a bad day today. First time in double digits since we overdid it on our death half marathon day. Twenty percent chance of rain all day and night but so far it's held off. Went over four miles before our first break - longer than usual because the water sources we were looking for were all dried up. A few nice views today from Copper Ridge Bald, a side trail to Rocky Bald (our lunch stop), and Wesser Bald at the end of the day has an observation tower with 360-degree views. Legs feel good and there is a noticeable improvement with our endurance, especially on uphills. A lot of familiar faces at camp, and I was especially excited to see my favorite trail dog so far, Bandit. He's an Australian Shepherd mix. I think it would be great to hike with a dog, although also very difficult at times I'm sure. Tomorrow is a six mile descent into the Nantahala Outdoor Center, otherwise known as NOC. We are going to be staying in the bunkhouse there two nights so we can take our first zero day (zero miles hiked) on Monday, which we are really looking forward to. Should be interesting there, we heard from some southbound section hikers that they are booked for the next couple of weeks because they are hosting Olympic trials for whitewater kayaking. We have a mail drop scheduled for Monday there as well, hope it arrives on time!
Photo: Bandit the trail dog
Miles hiked: 7.1 (AT 114.4-120.8, shelter trail 0.3, Siler Bald summit 0.4)
The rain did indeed stop by morning, and we slept in an hour to make sure of it. It was quite the hike just to get back up to the trail from the shelter, and then we had another steep uphill to check out the summit of Siler Bald off the AT. It was well worth the detour, there were views in all directions and we had a nice long breakfast up at the top. We got back on the trail and quickly arrived at Wayah Gap, where we met another hiker Once-a-Day's father who gave us fresh fruit and sodas. It was then a long 4.2 mile climb to Wayah Bald, another incredible summit. There is a stone observatory tower with panoramic views in all directions, today you could almost see all the way out to the Smokies. A parking lot nearby meant lots of day hikers were there. I spent a lot of time talking with an older gentleman from Canada and also four ladies from NC and Florida. They were all very sweet and asked a lot of questions about us and our hike. We had another long break there for lunch. The shelter was only a mile from there, so it was a relatively easy day. We found out that we just missed our friend Taylor who visited Franklin today, one day after we were in town. Small world. At camp we made mac and cheese with summer sausage and dehydrated pumpkin cheesecake for dessert, and even managed to get a fire going with all the wet wood from last night. Mamba and Iowa are here, and today we met Zissou, two quiet German guys, and there are a few other here who we haven't met before. I saw a mouse staring me down while hiding our bear canister, and just now I heard a wild call of a drunken turkey or the most absurd owl I've ever heard. The woods are definitely starting to show signs of life.
Photo: Lupine at the summit of Siler Bald, our breakfast spot
Miles hiked: 5.7 (AT 110.8-114, 2 miles of backtracking, 0.5m shelter trail)
We are now two weeks into this trek. Today was a very successful town day! So much trail magic. We backtracked a mile back to the gap, and as we were waiting for the county transit to pick us and some other hikers up, Ron Haven's little bus shows up and our jumps Mr. Haven himself, announcing a free ride into Franklin (which is 10 miles away and not walkable). Ron owns the Budget Inns and another hostel in town. He gave us the rundown on Franklin on the way in. Even though we didn't stay at his businesses, he wouldn't take any money for the ride. We got dropped off at the Budget Inn in the center of town. There we saw our friends Mamba and Iowa, who were zero-ing today (zero miles hiked). They let us stash our stuff and charge our phones in their room while we did our errands in town. The first step was Outdoor 76, one of the outfitters in town, to grab some fuel and some other odds and ends. I was looking forward to talking with someone about my aching foot problems, they had a good reputation for being knowledgable about such issues. I thought I might need some insoles or something. I got my feet measured, and found out that my boots were over a size too narrow for my feet. I tried on at least five pairs before finding the right ones, and after walking around town in them my left foot pain started to go away. I also picked up some Crocs for a lighter camp shoe, and Lupine got a new kickass hat, so we sent all the old stuff home. All of these things came at a 10% discount, just for being thru-hikers. I wasn't really expecting to buy boots so quickly, but I knew I would have to replace them eventually so I don't mind so much. Also I am now no longer worried about my feet swelling and flattening out now, since my old pair fit so snug before. After the outfitter we did a quick food resupply in record time and packed up our packs back at the motel. As we were walking to the local brewery, a car stopped short nearly causing an accident and a woman named Jeannie rolled down the window and asked us if we were thru-hikers. We said yes, and she asked if we needed a ride back to the trail. We said yes we did, but that we were on our way to eat first. She said no problem, and she would meet us over at the brewery after she got a few things done. We couldn't believe it. When we got to the brewery ("The Lazy Hiker"), we found out that the food truck had just closed. The bartender was really nice and let us keep our packs while we ran up the street to a diner to order takeout and bring it back to the pub. The waiter who got our order together there was also very friendly and gave us free root beer. When we got back to the Lazy Hiker we ran into Jeannie again, and when she saw we hadn't gotten a chance to eat yet she said "take your time, drink a beer, I'll be back in a while." Everything really does move slower in the south, especially out here, and it's amazing. The Lazy Hiker was sweet, and a former thru-hiker named Pox bought my flight and Lupine's pint. He's a great guy, and as we were eating we talked with him about his appearance as an extra in "A Walk in the Woods" film, his podcast about the AT ("Pox and Puss"), what it was like to thru-hike in the 90's (he thru-hiked in '98), the evolution of hiking gear, and other stories until Jeannie came back to pick us up. She gave us a free ride back to the trail, and wouldn't take any gas money from us. Franklin absolutely blew my mind, no hiker should skip it. Everyone was so friendly to us and went out of their way for us. Back on the trail, about two miles in, it rally started to rain and we both got soaked. It wasn't upsetting at all, just another twist to the day. We set up our tent under the shelter roof (the shelter was full) and ran it out in the rain. Other hikers that we know Elle, Shoe, Jah, and Irie are all here as well tonight. The rain should be over by morning, and we have an easy 7 mile day tomorrow with some beautiful balds coming up. We are so happy to be out here on this trail.
Photo: Inside of "The Lazy Hiker" brewery
Miles hiked: 13.2 (AT 97.6-110.8)
What a day. Slept in a little later than planned, but still on the trail by 9:15. Albert Mountain was a slow climb at first, then it shot up out of nowhere for the last 400 feet. The firepower was neat, but you really get vertigo climbing the steps up at that altitude. Once the wind started howling I quickly snapped a couple pics and ran back down. We hiked so long and far today. We did 8.4 before stopping for lunch at Rock Gap Shelter. My feet were sore by then. After a nice long break and a chat with Flipper, we decided to keep going to get as close to Winding Stair Gap as possible so that we could get the first shuttle into Franklin, NC for a resupply. Well, for once we couldn't find a good unmarked campsite by the time we reached Winding Stair Gap. By that point we had already gone 12.2 miles, our longest day yet, and we were incredibly tired. AWOL's guide said there was a campsite 0.3 miles from the gap, so we figured that would be an easy backtrack in the morning. We got there and were very disappointed to find out that camping was banned for site restoration, and the campsite was too close to the stream anyway. Miserable and sore, we had no choice but to keep ascending for another 0.7 miles to Moore Creek, where camping was allowed. We were very cranky as we set up camp. But then, the trail did that thing where it turns your spirits around. We met these two great guys, Beast and Skywalker, who were cooking ribeye steaks on heated rocks in the fire and offered us some very generous slices. They are probably some of the kindest, most generous people we have met on the trail so far. Beast has walked here from Savannah, GA. Seriously. He carries two backpacks and another bag, has all this heavy gear including a teapot and a wind-up radio; I don't know how he does it. He's a gourmet chef and has spent a lot of time in California and in Hollywood filming for a cooking show. Skywalker is from SC and started hiking three weeks ago with his wife, who had to get off the trail after a knee injury on her first day out. He talks about his wife a lot and you can tell they're really in love after 27 years, it's really sweet. He films videos for her with a handheld camcorder, and we are in one of them. They both really inspired me to be more generous to people on the trail - they are so kind and also great company, and they happily share food and snacks and other trail treats with anyone they meet. There's a full moon out tonight and many stars, another perfect night after a long, hard day.
Photo: Enjoying some unexpected ribeye steaks! Thank you, Beast and Skywalker
Miles hiked: 11.5 (AT 86.3-97.6, 0.2m Standing Indian summit)
As of this point we have hiked over 100 miles since beginning our journey! This is including the approach trail. Always including the approach trail. It's nice to celebrate these mini-accomplishments. Woke up chilly again, not quite as cold as yesterday but still cold. It did finally warm up later on, it was another nice clear day. Standing Indian Mountain wasn't so bad, there were switchbacks going up for once and the 11.5 miles we did today were fairly nice and gradual. Only in the last mile or so did my feet start to feel sore. We are camping in one of my favorite places so far, at Betty Creek Gap. Our tent is pitched in the midst of a rhododendron thicket next to a perfectly clear stream. It's pretty magical to look at. Many friends here tonight - Mamba, Iowa, Puma (though he was way ahead, but he took a couple zeros), Shoe, and Orbit and Silver Fox, who we met yesterday. They're a mother-daughter pair from Vermont, and are really cool people. Seems like we meet many great people from New England! Tomorrow is going to be a long 12.2 mile day to Winding Stair Gap, and includes Albert Mountain, which is supposed to be steep near the top and has an iconic fire tower at the summit. Looking to get an early start in the morning.
Photo: Our awesome magical camp spot for the night, hidden amongst the rhododendron
Miles hiked: 7.7 (AT 78.6-86.3)
The weather the past couple days has been crazy! My watch read 15 degrees (Fahrenheit) when I looked at it this morning, and that was on the inside wall of the tent. We didn't get buried in snow - it wasn't enough for us to have to put our microspikes on (spikes that slip over boots to give you traction in ice/snow). But it was just enough snow to make the trail and the NC mountains look beautiful today. Because we went farther than we planned on yesterday, we were able to sleep in on this chilly morning which felt fantastic. We didn't get going until almost 11:30. It was a fairly easy day, once we got through these two crazy steep ascents first thing. The altitude is much higher in NC already. The trail in Georgia would hang out between 3000-4000 feet, NC immediately shoots up to 4000 and stays in that range. Tomorrow we will go over our first 5000 ft peak, Standing Indian Mountain. I don't mind the cold temperatures, although it does make it hard to leave the cozy sleeping bag in the morning. I'm excited for these bigger mountains - Standing Indian tomorrow, Albert Mountain the day after that. Then it's an easy resupply day in Franklin, then after that we finally get to see some of these famous balds! Looking forward to what's ahead.
Photo: The snow-covered trail today
Miles hiked: 9 (AT 69.6-78.6)
First journal from a new state! We are now in North Carolina! Woke up this morning in Hiawassee, GA and got our food and packs packed and organized, then had a quality breakfast of leftover cheeseburgers and Taco Bell. We were then shuttled back to Dick's Creek Gap and set off once again down the trail. We covered the 4.5 miles to Plumorchard Gap Shelter in just over two hours and were feeling pretty good. I had this nagging feeling the whole time about pushing on another 4.5 miles to a campsite just over the state line. I managed to convince Lupine to push on, so that we would have an easier day tomorrow plus get to cross over into a new state! We left a note for our friends Burnsaw and Amanda and pushed on. It was very chilly on the way here, it even hailed a few times. I am currently buried in my sleeping bag inside our tent. Outside it is 20 degrees and falling, and the snow is beginning to pile up. I have to pee but I really don't want to leave this nest. Still could not be happier right now. Happy first day of Spring!
Photo: Us at the border
Miles hiked: 6.5 (AT 63.3-69.6, 0.2 miles Vista trail)
I'm lying on a mattress! With sheets! That's about all I can say of where we're staying, at the Hiawassee Budget Inn. It's dirty, most of the outlets don't work (except for the one in the bathroom), there are weird drawings and messages written in various places - it's perfect! Running water, flushing toilet, SHOWER. We woke up and hiked 6.5 miles to Dick's Creek Gap, where the best trail magic to date was waiting for us: hamburgers, hot dogs, chips, soda, and apples were all provided by students from the "Trail Magic Club" (how great is that?) of Young Harris College. And then, a couple of guys from Alabama gave us a whole box of Krispy Kreme donuts! Amazing. We got a free shuttle provided by the Budget Inn to Hiawassee, GA, where we immediately checked into our rooms, showered, did laundry, snacked, walked to dinner, splurged a bit by gorging ourselves, and picked up a food resupply at the grocery store on our way home. Now we are all worn out and veeeery sleepy, anything after dark is past our bedtime these days. Our first trail town has been a huge success!
Photo: Trail magic at Dick's Creek Gap, provided by the Trail Magic Club of Young Harris College in Georgia. Thank you guys!
Miles hiked: 5.4 (AT 24.3-29.3, 0.4 shelter trail) Blood Mountain Shelter
Today we left a perfect camping spot at Lance Creek and had a leisurely breakfast (many grits, again). We hiked with Sperry and Amanda to Woods Hole Shelter (~4 miles) in less than two hours, a pretty good pace for us. We had a long lunch break at the dumpy, sad looking shelter, later joined by Mike from Massachusetts and Captain Redbeard. It was very chilly (39 degrees) and windy. I put on all of my hiking layers to stay warm, and eventually had to get moving to keep warm. We then hiked the 1.1 miles up Blood Mountain, which wasn't as bad as people made it seem. Perhaps the decent is trickier? Blood Mountain is covered in fog and is very spooky, and the shelter is the same way. It's made of stone and was built in 1934. We are sharing our bear can with Mac from Philly and Dawn from Vermont, so they can stay the night here without risk of being fined by a ranger. Mac taught us to play "Oh, Sh*t" the card game, which was pretty fun. Dawn is really great, I hope we run into her later on. Cole got her trail name today! By the powers vested in Dawn, Mac, and myself, we officially approved the trail name "Lupine" for Nicole. I'm glad we are staying in this old spooky shelter, I hope mice don't chew holes in any of our things but I like our little room in here. We should be able o keep warm in our bags even though temps should be in the 30's up here at 4450 feet. Excited to resupply in Neel's Gap tomorrow and check in with family.
Photo: Blood Mountain shelter
Miles hiked: 8.5 (AT 15.8-24.3) Lance Creek
Today we packed up camp in the rain! Everything gets soaked and filthy quickly. As soon as we got going the rain stopped, go figure. It actually turned out to be a fairly nice day. We got our first trail magic today, from none other than the legendary Miss Janet. I was surprised to see her so far down the trail. She gave us bananas and Cole and I split a soda. We made great time to Woody Gap, where we ate lunch and dried out our tent when the sun came out. There we heard rumors of thunderstorms, so we got moving in a hurry and were really pushing it to get to camp before the rain hit and the sites filled up. We got to Lance Creek and found an overflow site next to Funfetti, and later on Sperry and Amanda camped with us too. We labored over starting a fire with wet wood, which finally took after an hour or so. It was well worth it, and many people pitched in to help. Hikers from other campsite all congregated to our spot to enjoy the fire - El Tejano, Simon, Ryan, Pud Muddle, and four others I haven't met. We talked and laughed until well past dark, and instead of rain the sky cleared up and we can see the moon and so many stars. We can hear the creek running just a little ways away, it's a very beautiful place to camp. I really like the people on this trail. A lot of people got off the trail to stay in a hostel for fear of a rainstorm that never happened. We almost fell for it too. I'm so glad we stuck it out and were able to relax - you can't predict anything out here and magical things seem to happen when you don't expect them.
Photo: Drying out our gear in the noonday sun
Miles hiked: 8.4 (AT 7.4-15.8) Gooch Gap Shelter
This is a great trail. Cole got her wish and we spent a good amount of time with Sperry (John) and Amanda today.
Two and a half hours later
Take two. Today was amazing! Oh man. So we shared some coffee with Sperry and Amanda, and hiked with them most of the day. Sperry adopted his trail name finally. Today we also met Special Legs - what a character. Ripoff tank and denim shorts, carries a guitar which he can't play, and says he's walking to California? Seems like a sketchy dude but he's harmless. Ex-marine, PTSD, skipping town for the "hippie life" apparently. Hiked a couple of little peaks in record time because El Tejano had heard a rumor of hot dogs from the previous day. No hot dogs were to be found. That's okay because after that was Justus Creek, which was beautiful (more rhododendron and other mysterious magical thickets). We took a break and sampled the beautiful spring water. Gooch Gap Shelter is crammed full of tents. We all ate dinner then made a fire, and I couldn't help but think that this is exactly how I pictured life on the AT. I went back to grab my headlamp as it got dark, and somehow wound up on a log drinking whiskey provided by section hiker El Huahua and shared with El Tejano and his hilarious cousin, Bubulubu (he calls himself "El Guapo"). Those guys are all great, we stayed there for a couple hours talking and cracking up. Going to bed very happy. It's going to rain tomorrow, we're ready for it.
Photo: A typical shelter scene around dinner time
Miles hiked: 9.1 (Approach Trail 7.3-8.8, AT 0.0-7.4, Long Creek Falls trail 0.2)
Today was a big day! Woke up early and got moving around 8am, finished the Approach Trail and summited Springer Mountain for the official start of the AT! Ate some pop tarts and made some coffee at the summit. Met a bunch of awesome people today. At Springer we met another couple, John and Amanda from South Carolina. We've chatted with the the most so far probably, they're around our age. Miles 1-5 of the AT are absolutely gorgeous - soft, wide trail making its way through many thickets of rhododendron and beautiful forest area, with many stream crossings. The AT here frequently intersects and briefly coincides with the Benton MacKaye trail. Took a late lunch after 6.8 miles miles of hiking at Long Creek Falls, a beautiful place to relax. Another person we met today was Simon, from New Zealand. He recently turned 50 and after his friend bailed, he decided to go ahead and hike the AT anyway. He has a pretty funny local "guide" who picked him up at the airport, let him crash at his house, and decided to hike Georgia with him. Not sure if Simon is particularly enjoying the unexpected company, but he seems to be tolerating it well at the very least. Funny side note - I sat in some marijuana resin from Simon's guide, and now my pants have a permanent stain on my butt. My shoulders are hurting the most so far - they get sore from holding the pack and get all red and rash-y. This has happened every backpacking trip so I'm not surprised, we'll see how it works out. Having a hard time figuring out what I'm going to send home... I know I have too much but I can't figure out what to part ways with yet. Undecided about doing a shakedown at Neel's Gap. Oh - and we also met Pop Tart, a 60-year old retired man from Albuquerque. Hiked about a mile with him, and he joined us at the falls with Simon and Simon's guide. All of the above people are camping at our spot tonight, the recently constructed Hawk Mountain campsite. It's like a campground, with a path that takes you past thirty different campsites. There's a few bear bins and a privy and a water source at the end of the path. The rain is holding off so far, but we know it's coming!
Photo: The official plaque marking the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail at the summit of Springer Mountain, with the first (or the last) white blaze.
Miles hiked: 7.3 (Approach Trail 0.0-7.3)
We're finally here! Anna dropped us off at the base of Amicalola Falls to see us off (thank you, seester)! After a couple of photos and a brief FaceTime session with our parents, we got going around 9:30am. Started out foggy and breezy, was in the 50's at the warmest. We made good time, 5.5 miles by lunch at 12:30. Although we were feeling pretty confident, we played it safe and finished the day around 2:15 at Black Gap Shelter. Packs weigh in at 45 pounds (me) and 43 pounds (Cole)! Cole immediately dumped a liter of water to shed a couple pounds. Napped for about an hour once we set up camp, probably could have slept for much longer! Relaxed for the rest of the day. Cole spilled the stove heating up water and I got soaked, so that was interesting. Fortunately the water wasn't too hot yet. Only lost 16oz of water and some fuel, no harm done. Waking up bright and early tomorrow, or at least that's the plan! Legs are sore. Met a duck dynasty-looking guy at the shelter, all decked out in camo. He's from Alaska, and has been living on the trail for the past ten years. He was real nice. Also we met Joe, who apparently just took off from home and is out here for an unknown amount of time.
Photo: Us at the start of the Approach Trail with Anna
|Dates:||10 Mar 2016 - 26 Sep 2016|
|Duration:||6 months, 2 weeks|
Pokey (Josh) and Lupine (Nicole) are thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail in 2016! They set out from Amicalola Falls on Thursday, March 10, and will be on the trail for approximately 5-7 months. You can track their progress here