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Our departure from Harpers Ferry ignited a certain level of gloom that had been following our group since the Shenandoahs, a slight depression that had slowly grown as we began leave the big mountains and made our way in to the Mid-Atlantic flatlands. I saw that, out of all of us, it affected Buckets the most. We’d stop at a view, which were becoming more and more rare, and a strange look of sadness would come over his face as he watched the countryside gently roll off in either direction all the way to the horizon, constantly crisscrossed by a net of power lines and highways. We had started this Trail to see the mountains and, up until this point, we’d been scrambling over one after another. During breaks and at night before falling asleep, the four of us would recollect the great adventures we had fought through just weeks or months ago, talking as if years had past. We recalled the wandering mountains of Georgia and the flooded and frozen Great Smokies of North Carolina. We retold the stories of how the wretched, frozen fog on top of Roan Mountain in Tennessee had almost been the end of us or how we had slipped and slid our way down the rain-soaked Priest and then up the windswept southern side of Three Ridges Mountain in Virginia. The four of us had overcome, and in a sense conquered, the mighty and tall Southern Appalachians. We’re mountain climbers who whose need for wilderness and big climbs define us as thru-hikers. Now, as we stumbled across the flat, rocky terrain West Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania, weaving in-between houses, along railroad tracks, and across countless highways, we felt somehow unfulfilled as the miles went by.

Leaving Harpers Ferry was also a realization point for not only myself but for the group as a whole. It was quickly becoming apparent that my right knee was deteriorating with each passing day and that I would eventually have to take a substantial amount of time off the Trail. The many miles of denying there was a problem and the even more miles of hoping it would get better began to finally take their toll and as I awoke on the morning of April 30th, I could just barely move. I tried to tough it out but just eight miles in I found myself not being able to go any further. Jake told Veggie and Buckets to go on ahead while we would rest up at a nearby hostel and hopefully the next day I’d be better. An hour and a half later, as Jake and I were lying in our bunks and my knee was wrapped with an Ace wrap and ice, Buckets came bustling through the door saying, “I’ve walked a thousand miles with you guys. I ain’t splittin’ us up just ‘cus one soldier’s down.” We all laughed and I was glad to have both of them there but I knew that night was a last ditch effort to salvage my knee and thus salvage the trip as we had planned it. I spent the night worried, not only for myself but for my brother, for my newfound friends, and for the uncertainty that lay ahead.

The next morning my fears were realized when I stood up, hardly balanced and in a tremendous amount of pain. I gritted my teeth and bit my lip a million times that day as I took each step with deliberate tenderness and wincing pain. As night began to fall and we made our way to the shelter, I knew it was the end of the line for me. That night the air was hot and the roar of a nearby highway kept us all awake. I started playing guitar and the three of us sang every song we knew. By ten o’clock, which was way past our normal bedtime, I was playing “Rocky Raccoon” and Buckets was belting out the lyrics word for word. As his Jersey accent echoed off the rocks and the wooden walls of the small shelter we had to ourselves, he sang out “Rocky you met your match/And Rocky said, Doc it’s only a scratch/And I’ll be better doc as soon as I am able.” As strange as it sounds, I knew, at that moment, I’d try my best to be back. I hadn’t quit in Georgia like so many others had. I hadn’t given up when the razor sharp winds atop the high ridges of North Carolina and Tennessee cut in to my shivering self. I made the decision right there, in the darkness of a Pennsylvania shelter, that I would not give up, not yet.

So the next morning, as the invisible pins and needles began to stab underneath my kneecap, both Jake and Buckets helped me with every step as we made the three miles to Caledonia State Park, near Fayetteville, Pennsylvania. Jake and Buckets instantly got on the phone and Buckets arranged for a park ranger to pick me up at a nearby road. They went on ahead as a guy named Dwight picked me up and took me to the park office. Their secretary, Debbie, put me to work inventorying t-shirts, paying me in peanut butter crackers and homemade lasagna. A few hours later, Bucket’s father picked me up after driving three and a half hours across the nothingness that is western Pennsylvania. Neither one of us had ever met one another and to him I was a stranger, yet he showed me such incredible kindness when I was at one of the lowest points of my life. That evening we met back up with Jake and Buckets, went out to dinner, and said goodbye. For over two months the three of us hadn’t been more than a half mile from one another and now I was departing, unsure when or if I would return.

As Mr. Gersie, Mikey Bucket’s father, drove through the night, the woodlands gave way to the Philadelphia suburbs after a while we were in the heart of a city that went on and on for miles and miles. I saw the steps Rocky that ran up outside the Philadelphia Museum of Art, crossed the Schuylkill River, and drove alongside the Delaware. I saw the Walt Whitman and Betsy Ross bridges as well as Broad Street where the Phillies and the Eagles play. That morning I had woken up on the Appalachian Trail and here I was cruising through one of the largest cities in America.

For two days I stayed with Mr. Gersie at the George School, a Quaker school just outside of Philadelphia and during that time I could not believe the astonishing amount of compassion and benevolence the entire community showed me. They fed me, gave me crutches, and showed genuine interest and concern for my experiences on the Appalachian Trail. In addition, I could not imagine a more beautiful place to begin my recuperation. Their campus is strewn with stunning buildings, large, well-groomed fields, and massive oak trees where the squirrels and birds play. I can’t express just how thankful I am for Mr. Gersie and the George School for the incredible hospitality they showed a demoralized and injured stranger who had found himself all alone many miles from home.

After going to the doctor and talking to my parents, we decided that I should take the train to Durham, where they live, so that I can take as much time as I need to completely heal up. This morning I began physical therapy at Duke University and was told that I would not be at my pre-injury level for at least four to eight weeks. I guess all I can do at this point to work as hard as I can in order to cut that time down. Nothing would make me happier than to rejoin Jake and Buckets and to finish the Trail with them, even if it wouldn’t be as a thru-hike. I am, however, unsure about that possibility. What I am sure of is that I have not quit yet and I view this time away from the A.T. as simply part of my journey.

Jake and I set out on our thru-hike to go on an adventure. We thought that by going out in to the wild lands of this country, we would somehow experience the thrill of exploration and discovery. I look back now and realize that true adventure does not simply lie within the mountains or the deep valleys where we found ourselves. Rather, genuine adventure is found when everything goes wrong and you stray from whatever plan or expectations you had. It occurs in times of sickness, injury, freezing rain, and knee-deep snow. Times when your very survival depends upon what solutions you can find from within yourself. You discover what your limits are and are constantly testing them, taking them further and further. This purest form of adventure is dangerous, reckless, and wild, however it is the only way to find the true strengths and weaknesses within us all.

Since I am unsure about the possibility of when I will return to the Trail, I did not know what I would use this blog for in the future. So, at the suggestion of a few friends, I’ll be using this website to update Jake and Bucket’s progress, my progress with physical therapy, and to fill in the countless gaps in the story that I have yet to write down. Thank you all for your incredible kindness, support, and compassion that you have shown my brother and I as we made our way across America. Jake and Mikey Buckets are still out there hiking, getting nearer and nearer to New Jersey, and I’m sure they would greatly appreciate any encouragement you could send to them. Our story is far from over and, in many ways, has just barely begun. Once again, thank you all for everything and please check in every now and then for updates on our progress.

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The sun shone brightly from a clear blue sky as my parents dropped us off at the trailhead in Rockfish Gap. The breeze blew in from the Valley side as my brother and I kissed our mom goodbye and set off hiking, this time my dad came along for the first eight miles. We signed in at the southern entrance of the Shenandoah National Park and the five of us (Buckets, Veggie, Dad, Jake, and I) set off northward. The pleasant weather and easy terrain went on and on as my brother and I talked for hours with our dad about all kinds of stuff. Those eight miles seemed to be the fastest eight miles of the trip thus far simply because, if only for a moment, Jake and I weren’t thru-hiking. Georgia and Maine and everywhere in-between fled from our thoughts and for a few hours we were just out with our dad, something we’d done countless times growing up. In far too little time it was all over and my dad was standing at his pick up point with my mom and before I knew it they were driving off down the pitted dirt road through Jarmen’s Gap.

Just as the car slipped out of sight the four of us were forced back to reality when we heard the distant rumbling of far-off thunder. It was 3:00pm and we still had twelve miles to go. We would not get lucky that day and make it to the shelter before the rains came, rather we found ourselves soaked through and through. The rains did not stop and all the next day we were met with even more hard-falling, cold rain. That evening, which was Monday night, our good friend, as well as a 2011 thru-hiker, Paul drove in and then backpacked for a little ways to meet up with us.

The next morning I woke up shivering and utterly surprised to see that there was three inches of snow on the ground. You could sit there and watch the snow get higher so we decided to get packed up get out as soon as possible. We could not compete against the rising snow drifts and for twelve and a half miles we fought our way through the blow-downs and giant piles of freezing snow that had now overtaken the Trail, forcing us to cut our day short. We eventually made it to a shelter and tried our best to get as dry and as warm as we could.

By the next morning we awoke to find a freezing cold wintery morning with wet, heavy snow clinging to just about everything. The sun was out and the day slowly warmed up as we trudged the long twenty-five miles to Thornton Gap. There, a good friend of Jake’s named Chad Sims picked us up and took us in to Luray, Virginia. We drove out of the snowy mountains and stayed at his father’s hotel, the incredible Mimslyn Inn. The room was absolutely amazing and the hospitality was astonishing. Chad’s father was even kind enough to drive us back to the trailhead early in the morning after allowing us to stay the night at his fantastic place. It’s strange to think about how cold and miserable the cold, snowy morning was and by nightfall we were staying in the closest thing to a palace I’ve ever been in.

Recently we’ve had much better luck with the weather. It’s been raining at night and been clear and warm during the days. After some consistent, big-mile days we made it to the West Virginia/Virginia border and thus broke through the 1,000 mile mark. After a nine mile hike from a shelter in to town, we made it to Harpers Ferry, WV. There we signed in at the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, becoming to 28th and 29th thru-hikers of the season, and the rented a cabin at the KOA campground here. Seeing we needed to resupply and taking pity of us, an incredible girl named April drove us from the campground to the Walmart and back in order to resupply on food and supplies. It was a true selfless act of kindness and the only payment she asked for in return is that we “pay this good deed forward.”

Tomorrow we plan to set out early and make it deep in to Maryland and then Pennsylvania shortly thereafter. All four of us are staying in good health, however my right leg has become extremely painful, especially my knee and calf. While we are now over a thousand miles, there is still a long way to go. Soon we will be at the halfway point (roughly four days) and will hopefully make it through Pennsylvania without incident.

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It’s been quite a while since I’ve last written a post and there are many reasons for it, the biggest one being the shear amount that has happened between then and now. I guess the place to begin is on the bridge out of Hot Springs, North Carolina. Jake’s friend, Alex, dropped us off just as the sun was setting in-between two western mountains. We hopped the guardrail and were back on the Trail, heading upstream of the French Broad River. The water was a solid brown but as the sky lit up in a clouded spectrum of oranges and pinkish hues, it was reflected off the river as dusk slowly turned to night. The climb out of the little town was very steep and followed along the edge of a granite and limestone outcropping, making for dangerous, yet incredibly exciting, near-night hiking. That evening was our first warm, dry night in quitte sometime and we set our tents up right as the last rays of sunset slipped behind the mountains.

The sounds of empty coal cars thundering down some nearby railroad woke us up early and we set out on our way. Near midday we stopped for lunch at a shelter and from a few hundred yards behind us came a “hey boys” in a thick and very distinct south Jersey accent. We turned to see Mike “Buckets,” the thru-hiker we’d met back at the Nantahala Outdoor Center. The three of us have been hiking together ever since.

After just a couple big-mile days, we were in Erwin, Tennessee staying at Uncle Johnny’s Nolichucky Hostel, a nice little place with showers, laundry, and cheap bunks. We resupplied and left the next morning in a hail storm. After knocking nearly twenty miles, we settled down in a place called Cherry Gap and called it a night.

Long before I began thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail, there were a couple of backcountry trips that stuck out in my memory as the worst. The next morning began a day that surely topped any experience I’d had before and it has grown in infamy between the three of us since. It started off bitterly cold with a drizzling rain made worse by a wet, claustrophobic fog hanging low over everything. Hiking through the heavy air was exhausting and our visibility throughout the day never grew more than twenty-five feet. It seemed to grow colder with each passing hour and the farther we went, the wetter and muddier the three of us got. All time and sense of distance or direction was lost in that frozen, wretched fog. I would check my watch and hike for what I thought was an hour and look down to realize only ten minutes had passed. You could have considered the terrain easy on any other day but the shin-deep mud and constant beatings from a cutting wind made the miles drag slowly by. The three of us eventually made it to large, cabin-like shelter on top of Roan Mountain where we tried our best to get as dry and as warm as we could. That night we shivered ourselves in to what little sleep was possible.

While it was a struggle, before we knew it we were in Hampton, Tennessee and a little over fifty miles away from the Virginia border. We resupplied at a Dollar General and slept at Bob Peoples’s hostel, Kincora, which was amazing. That night, “Buckets” and I sat up and ate sixteen hot dogs in just over an hour. The next morning we followed the Laurel River for a ways before climbing back up in to the northern Tennessee mountains and somehow made it to Damascus in two days. Worn out and beat up from our two back-to-back marathon days, we did a zero-mile day there and my good friend from high school, Tyler, drove down and spent the night in the local hostel with us. That night there was a blues musician playing at a local bar and we spent the night listening to some real Southwest Virginia pickin’. I have never felt so happy to be back in my home state until now.

All too soon, Jake was knocking at the door at 6:15am and we were back on the Trail, hiking through the chilly, misty dawn. That afternoon, thunder roared and a little bit of lightning shot across the sky. Halfway up Whitetop Mountain, marble-sized hail began pummeling us from above, leaving whelps up and down my arms and shoulders. By the time we made camp, the mountainside was a shining, glassy mess of white ice. We had finally made it to the Grayson Highlands, a place where the windswept mountaintops roll in to one another and wild horses roam free over craggy rock scrambles. The weather was as near to perfect as it could be and for as far and as wide as our eyes could see was revealed the shear immensity of the land we were now venturing through. The three of us had one of our most enjoyable days of the trip so far.

Over the next few days, our group of three grew to five, including “Patches,” a school teacher from New Hampshire and one of the few female thru-hikers we’ve met so far, and Matt “Veggie,” a quiet but sincere western Massachusetts man who is hiking to his college graduation. Together we have covered incredible distances in only a few days, enjoying one another’s company all along the way.

Two days ago, the five of us practically had to drag ourselves through twenty-four miles of rain-soaked trail on a day where there was no sun, making the entire day a constant battle against the cold. By the end of the day, we were utterly exhausted and a few of us were low on food. The next morning was a frosty spring morning but the red sun coming up in the east quickly turned to a warming orange and the sky became a clear, cloudless blue. For some reason unknown to me, our energy swelled and we kept pushing on and on down the Trail. Finally, near the twenty-four mile mark, “Patches” mentioned something about there being a full moon that night. After discussing it briefly and throwing a good bit of our better judgement to the wind, we set off once again for a high ridgeline on what was sure to be a below-freezing April evening. By midnight our energy finally gave out and we pitched a tarp and all huddle underneath, having completed a 32.6 mile day. The night was a bone-chilling cold and the wind whipped relentlessly through the leaf-less trees but we were warmed by the knowledge that we had ventured far past our limits and somehow come out okay. The shear rawness of it all, the utter reality of what we had just done, all of it made the settling frost and the biting cold just a little bit more bearable.

We woke up early this morning to another sunny day and we set out for Pearisburg, Virginia early. Due to the night before, we were only about nine miles away and made decent time, pulling in to town around 11:00am. One-by-one, we descended on a local chinese buffet and, after about two hours, we had eaten so much food that the staff were doing everything they could to run us out except ask us to leave, including putting the same song of repeat for fifty minutes.

So here we are, nearly six weeks and six hundred thirty miles in to our hike. In all that I had read or heard about long distance backpacking, I had grown to expect some great change within myself, some overwhelming realization of who I am and what it was I wished to be. It is true, I have grown far more confident in how far I can push myself and what I am capable of. However, my own personal enlightenment has escaped me. It is within those whom I’ve met along this journey where a true understanding has come to develop. This Trail has shown me hundreds of miles of land where countless people live who are willing to help a fellow when they desperately need it. It may sound strange, corny, or crazy but the shear amount of kindness we’ve encounter both on and off the A.T. would make even the most stone cold, cynical person smile at a stranger. I’ve had food, rides, places to sleep, equipment, and words of encouragement offered to me without cost or conditions from all sorts of people. There’s still many miles and many months of trekking ahead but it makes the traveller’s weight a little easier to carry knowing there are still those out there willing to lend a hand when it is needed most.

Our next stop is Blacksburg, Virginia, my second home. We should be arriving on Wednesday, April 11th and my good friend Andrew Sunderman has offered to pick us up and take us in to town. After so many miles of unfamiliar countryside, I can’t wait to spend a night or two in a place and a people as close to my heart as Blacksburg. More to come in a few days from the heart of the Hokie Nation.

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Just hanging out in Gainesville Ga. We just ate some heady steaks. Now I’m Watching some law and order. We start hiking tomorrow morning. Stoked

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Jake (right) & I (left) on Baldy Mountain, the highest peak in the Cimarron Range (12,441 ft.)

For about a year now, my brother and I have had countless people ask us about hiking the Appalachian Trail and now that our departure is fast approaching, these concerns have become increasingly important. Somehow, between explaining what gear we’re taking and when we’re leaving, the conversation always seems to roll around to the same two questions: “Are you bringing a gun?” and “Why?” Well neither one of us are bringing a gun because that’s just stupid but the “why” part, at least for me, was a lot harder to figure out.

It all started with a 2:00 am text message from Jake that said, “hey pussy, let’s hike the AT.” Never one to back down from a brotherly competition (i.e. Eagle Scout, etc.), I said okay. As time has now come to past, something within me, somewhere far removed from any logic and reasoning, has kept me saying okay. Thus began our journey, years before we have actually planned to begin hiking. Now, as the months have slowly ticked away and only a few weeks separate now and then, I am constantly feeling a sense of overwhelming excitement and building panic. With most of our preparations complete, our focus has fallen on finalizing our itinerary and gaining invaluable body weight that we are almost guaranteed to lose. More news to come.

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