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The First 70 Miles

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Leaving Springer Mountain was awesome. It was great to have our parents with us as we set out on our journey and to finally begin hiking after years of planning. After setting out, we hiked around 8.7 miles to the Hawk Mountain Shelter where we ran into a fellow Virginian, and from Charlottesville no less, named Andrew who was thru-hiking as well. He told us that he was trying to average around 25 miles a day in order to finish in around three months.

From Hawk Mountain Shelter we hiked a 21.1 mile day all to way up to one of the AT’s oldest shelters (1934), standing firmly on top of Blood Mountain. It was Jake’s 22nd birthday and to hike as far as we did in such wonderful weather and pretty country was a fantastic way to celebrate. The next morning, however, we awoke to find a wet, cold fog rolling in through the windows of our shelter, dampening every piece of gear we had. We got up though and hiked only a few miles before coming to Neel Gap where an outfitter, Mountain Crossings, is located. We resupplied on food and got a whole bunch of useful tips and information from the staff who were working there.

Only about a mile after leaving Neel Gap, we were going up a steep section of trail when, up ahead, I heard “Hokie Hokie Hokie Hi, Tech Tech VPI!!” I looked up and standing there was an older man with a Virginia Tech hat almost identical to mine. We talked for about five minutes or so and I learned that he was a 1975 alumnus and that he lived near Hiawassee. He invited Jake and I to his home but we respectfully declined because our schedules did not match up. I was very appreciative and we ended the conversation with him saying “next football game, you stop by our tailgate and we’ll set you up right.”

That day was a misty, drizzly day where neither of us could see more that 25 yards in front of us. Due to the weather and the time we wasted on resupplying, Jake and I decided to set up camp after only 13.9 miles of walking, near Low Gap Shelter. There was terrible weather that night. The wind blew as hard as I’ve ever seen or heard it blow and the thunder roared every few seconds as we tried to stay dry in our separate tents. After a few hours of incredible winds and bursts of lighting, the storm subsided suddenly and I was able to sleep the whole night through.

The next morning, the weather had returned to near perfect and we hiked on, climbing three or four mountains that were higher than 4,000 ft. and completing a near 21-mile day. We were exhausted, however, and that night, which was last night, we were once again hit with a series of terrible thunderstorms. Early this morning, we got up and hiked only 6.3 miles to Dicks Creek Gap where we caught a rickety old shuttle in to Hiawassee, GA and booked a $39 room at the local Budget Inn.

After doing laundry, cleaning out a China King Buffett, and eating a chicken strip basket from Dairy Queen, Jake and I resupplied on enough food for the next six or seven days (enough to get to the Nantahala Outdoor Center and hopefully Fontana, NC). We also showered and cleaned most of our gear. Tomorrow we will cross into North Carolina and, in a few days, will be in the Great Smokies. The two of us are tired but are as energized and as motivated as ever to keep going. We both cannot wait see what lies ahead.

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The calm before the storm

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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

A Home Left Behind

Today marked the beginning. I woke up in a nervous rush, loaded the car and walked through the house six or seven times making sure the lights were turned off and that the doors were all locked. It was raining, adding a kind of urgency to our hitting the road. However, I felt the enormity of it all quickly begin to sink in just as I closed my bedroom door. I found myself standing there, letting a moment pass, coming to the frank realization that I would not be returning home for many months and that I would be hiking through hundreds of miles of the most rugged terrain in the eastern United States. I stood there torn, wishing to both leave and to stay at the same time, and my hand slowly reached for the handle. I opened the door and looked in on the room, my room, with its short, twin beds and it’s brightly colored walls. In that moment, I realized I was looking in on a child’s room and the uncertainty of what lay ahead took me by incredible surprise. Who would be the person returning to this room in four months or more? Who would be the person to sit on the end of the bed and gaze into the portraits of Confederate generals that hung on the wall with the same interest that I have now? Would I return from such a long trek the same boy who was standing in the doorway, gazing in on the tightly made up beds, one with the checkered quilt my mother had sewn laid across it? Shutting the door this morning was the beginning, the first steps.

After the truck was packed and we were ready to go, I knew it was now time to say farewell to our dogs. Francis, the most protective of our small pack and whose loyalty knows no bounds, gently trotted up and sat looking up at me with her dark hazel eyes, as if to show me that, even with the falling rain, she would watch over the house with us boys out of town. A stray puppy who had wandered onto our front porch in the middle of terrible snowstorm, the shivering little Francis was taken in and raised as one of our own. She has since spent everyday roaming our property line, watching over us, as if to repay a debt she feels she owes our family for saving her. I smiled down at her and she raised her chin in a proud way, rarely seen in a stray. I knelt beside her and patted her big, soaking head, telling her goodbye. She looked into my eyes with an unbreakable seriousness, realizing the great responsibility I was asking of her. I rose up and then approached our Gordon Setter, Sophie, who, unlike Francis, has no protective side. What she is lacking as a guardian, however, is made up for ten times by the unconditional love she possesses for ever living creature. Many times we have found her cuddled up with our young cat, Ron, cleaning and nuzzling him as if he were her own. Years ago, as a puppy, Sophie was bitten by a Timber Rattler and just barely survived. Time has made it apparent that she never fully recovered from her venomous encounter and my family has watched her aged far quicker than her years should have allowed. As I walked up to her, sitting underneath the roof of our garage, she rocked back and forth, trying to get up to greet me. I knelt down beside her and and I rested my hand upon the knapp of her neck, as to motion to her to remain where she sat. Her eyes rolled in all directions as I caressed the soft spots under her ears and I could see that there was enough puppy still left in her to not realize that I was saying goodbye. The excitement in her big dark eyes asked what it was we would do today and she leaned in to lick my face. I slowly stood and Sophie remained where she sat, staring up at me with happiness written all over her face. I smiled at her, hiding my sadness as to not spoil her ignorance. I then proceeded to the other side of the garage where our oldest dog, Louie, lay with his head resting on his paws. I started toward him and he raised his eyes to meet mine. I have said goodbye to Louie like this many times before. In high school, my everyday interactions with him, roaming the woods and hiking the trails around our home, was cut short by my going off to boarding school and then, eventually, to college. Each time I left he seemed to know it beforehand and each time I returned I saw him age just a little bit more. My eyes now fell upon the sad face of a twelve year-old Boykin Spaniel and, as I sat down on the concrete next to him, he lifted himself and slowly crawled into my lap. Deep within his fading yellow eyes, I saw nothing but an unshakable companionship, an overwhelming love and respect that neither distance nor time apart had ever withered. He whimpered slightly but quickly ceased, as if to let me know that, despite his aged body, he was still strong enough to say goodbye. For only a few moments we sat there as the pattering Virginia rain fell from gray skies before he finally stood. When he arose, however, it was not in the straining way he had done so beforehand, but solid and youthful. I too got up quickly from the concrete ground, just as he had, and stared into those yellow eyes, not speaking a word. For only a short time we shared this moment and then he turned his back and dashed off into the soaking woods and I too turned and climbed into the cab of our fully loaded truck, put the key in the ignition, and drove off down the gravel without once looking back.

Tonight my brother and I are in Durham, North Carolina spending the night in my parents’s new home. Of course my brother is sleeping on the queen-sized mattress while I have occupied my spot of the carpet and I’m left with nothing to do but to reflect upon the days events. Jake and I are heading off for what might be the greatest and grandest adventure of our lives. We will no doubt face struggles and triumphs that we have never and may never face again. Perhaps it is simply fear for the uncertainty of what lies ahead, such as the fear of failure or that I may discover that I am a weaker person than I, at first, assumed. Perhaps it is the strong attachments that I have for my home remaining from all the years of my childhood which provokes such sentiment. Maybe it is coming to the realization that the time has finally come and we are really doing this. I guess it will become apparent when we finally begin our trek in three days time, or perhaps it will remain a mystery. Whatever I may feel, I know, with absolute certainty, its basis is not out of lack of want. As we now rest upon the eve of grand adventure, I have found that fear and doubt seem to only strengthen my resolve to begin and, hopefully, finish. Today was the beginning. Let tomorrow lead only one day closer to our departure and let tonight pass gently by.

My Equipment

Most of the gear I will be taking with me on the AT (minus a hygiene kit and First Aid kit)

It is a strange feeling, frightening in a way, in seeing a pile of gear and knowing that in a new life soon to be lived, it will be all that you have in order to brave the wild parts of this country. While some it is rugged and old, such as the sleeping pad I’ve had since Cub Scouts, and some of it’s new, such as my shining red trekking poles, all of the gear brings to light an unbearable sensation that in just a few months some of it will be broken or ditched, but all of it will be scratched up, torn, and used.

Revealed within many of the thru-hiker accounts that I have read is a seemingly developed notion in one’s own bodies becoming viewed simply as another piece of their equipment. It appears that they begin to view their legs and feet simply as tools for walking, their hands for cooking, and their eyelids for sleeping. Each part has its specific use, its precise purpose, all except their conscious mind. A hiker’s mind is much more and of incalculable importance, becoming not only as a means of problem solving, but as a way to comprehend, enjoy, protect, and logically approach the issues concerning oneself on the trail. In my experience as an outdoorsman, I know that the trail will present unforeseen challenges, injuries and miscellaneous failings, however it is only through the combined strength of both the mind, the tools, and the desire to go on will I learn to not only endure, but to thrive.

Gear

Clothing

Osprey Kestrel 68 Technical Backpack Patagonia Lightweight Liner Gloves
Marmot Pounder Plus Sleeping Bag The North Face TNF Apex Gloves
Granite Gear Air Compressor Sack-8L (for sleeping bag) Under Armour M Series 6″ Boxerjock Briefs
Cabin Fleece Sleeping Bag Liner Patagonia’s Capilene 2 Long Johns (Top & Bottom)
MSR Pocket Rocket Camp Stove Driducks Basic Rain Suit (Jacket & Pants)
MSR Isopro Fuel Can 8oz. Columbia Omni-Dry Silver Ridge Plaid Long-Sleeve Shirt
Evernew Titanium Non-Stick Pot w/Handle The North Face Gordon Lyons 1/4 Zip Fleece Jacket
GoLite Shangri-La 1 Shelter Patagonia Micro Puff Jacket
GoLite Shangri-La 1 Nest Moisture Wicking Short Sleeve T-Shirt
Therm-a-Rest Z-Lite Sleeping Pad The North Face Paramount Peak Men’s Convertible Pants
Leki-Makalu Khumbu Speedlock Trekking Poles Knitted Hat
Martin Steel-String Backpacker Acoustic Guitar Baseball Cap
Platypus Hoser (2 liter) Smartwool PhD Outdoor Light Crew Sock (2 Pair)
Aquamira Water Treatment Drops Garmont Men’s Syncro GTX Hiking Boots
Petzl Tikkina 2 Headlamp

 

Less Than A Month To Go

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.