The Appalachian Trail Journal
The journal has landed
Hello All (by which I probably mean Billy and my mother as I can't see this
log having a huge following),
Note: Text in Green is Billy's comments to the Appalachian Trail Journal.
Total Miles: 7.6
Well the start of the trip has mostly gone to plan. Flying to Atlanta was predictably dull but uneventful. Hotel was mediocre but ok. Bus to Gainesville was on time. The only hiccups were the result of a chain of events beginning with finding another hiker on the bus with me. Of course I suggested we share a cab; and sure, we’ll go with this Hispanic guy waiting at the bus stop. Had I been on my own, I probably would have hung out in Gainesville until I was sure I had everything sorted (i.e. gotten fuel, food and posted my summer gear on to Will). As it was, to cut the story short, I ended up without fuel, but with all my excess kit and an indifferent selection of cold food bought in a hasty supermarket dash. As a result, my pack was much heavier than planned for and I could feel it. However we made it to Springer ok despite a slightly hairy ride up a forestry road in a ropey Chrysler Neon piloted by our man Sanchez. A brief, one mile, backtrack brought us to the start of the trail having happily bypassed the nine-mile approach trail. An easy 7.6miles has brought me to Hawk Mountain Shelter. Camping out tonight. A lot of people here, as might have been predicted. I haven’t deemed it necessary to talk to any of them. Seem fine though, bar one guy who could do with being beaten to death with his own boot. Seen a couple of fat people hiking, which is always good for morale. One is overweight AND carrying a seventy-five pound pack. Good luck to him, though I guess if you have six cans of Spam, you don’t need luck.
Still a little jet lagged having gotten up at 4am, so I am back in ‘bed’ at 6.30pm. Truthfully, the main reason is that I can’t be bothered to talk to the masses tonight. Perhaps some other time when I am better disposed, probably after I get rid of my second rucksack of equipment that I really don’t want to be carrying. That ought to be the day after tomorrow. Got a long (20mile) day tomorrow, then, the next, I should hit the outfitters at Neal’s Gap. After that I should have food, fuel, a better camp mat than the pathetic piece of foam I’m using. My pack should also be 10lb than it is today. The kit all seems to be working well, though it is hardly being tested by the bone-dry, 80 degree day we’ve had. Hope it lasts, as I don’t fancy trudging in rain until I’ve settled into life here again.
Anyway, tired now. Hoping my jet-lag will aid me with an early start tomorrow.
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Total Miles: 26.6
Heard some surprisingly good blues guitar and singing last night. Unfortunately I had been asleep for half an hour and wanted to hear no singing or playing of any quality. People were kinda noisy til late – or at least late for me, but then I did insist ongoing to bed with the sun still high in the sky. Not a great night’s sleep. My back hurt and wasn’t helped by my inadequate camping mat arrangement. It is both too narrow and too short, but I can’t really tell if I’m on it or not – I guess it is too thin as well then. Hopefully, the outfitter tomorrow will carry some nicer ones.
Was out of camp at 6.15am, which was more a result of waking up early and being uncomfortable than some irresistible urge to get up and hike. Still, did a decent job of it if I do say so myself. Walked over twenty miles including getting to/from shelters and water. Terrain was pretty hilly, but nothing that bothered me too badly. Passed a lot of people today, many of whom expressed wonder and awe at my mileage today. Made me feel good, but expect that I shall be paying for every impressive foot of it come tomorrow. Staying at Woods Hole Shelter tonight. Had the option to go on another 2.2miles tonight to get to the next shelter, but it is at the top of a big mountain (highest in Georgia). Figured I’d call it a day at 3.20pm, which I think is a plenty long day. Going to sleep in the shelter tonight. It’ll be full, but I got in early and bagsied a side spot. Eaten already and think I could be in bed even earlier than yesterday. I have bothered to speak to a few more people today. Some are ok, though I have met a new person that requires a beating. Just started raining hard. Glad am in the shelter now.
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Total Miles: 34
Rained very hard last night. Awoke shortly after five, but didn’t even consider moving until the rain had lessened a little. Set out around 7.15am in moderate rain. During my ascent of Blood Mountain the rain got heavier and heavier and there was more than a little lightning. Being at the highest point in the state, carrying an umbrella in the midst of a lightning storm is not very relaxing. Waited out the worst of the storm in the shelter at the summit and began my descent towards Neals Gap. Going down proved to be even worse than going up. The trail became a not inconsiderable stream over slippery rock. Made it down without incident and happily entered the outfitters.
Picked up a new sleeping pad (a Z-rest), some fuel, food and a few bits and pieces. Managed to resist the many shiny attractive and expensive bits of kit on offer. Now have a Data Book so I can do a better job of planning my stops and resupplies. Also posted my spare junk back to Will – all nine pounds of it. Pack feels a lot nicer now. Decided against staying at the hostel at the outfitters.
Legs a little tired and definitely lacking the energy I had yesterday. Days worked out nicely though. Decided against staying at the next shelter as it is over a mile off the trail. Instead, picked up water at a spring and hiked until I found a nice spot to camp. Have excelled myself on that front. Found a beautiful spot on a peak. It has obviously been used as a campsite in the past. It is nice and grassy, not far from the trail, but it is over a small rise so it is out of site. Have an incredible view off to the South-East over the mountains and foothills. Hardly been a cloud in the sky since lunch and I enjoyed sitting in a little rocky outcrop eating my mac-and-cheese, watching the birds-of-prey circle over the valley. Expect I’ll have place to myself tonight, except for these evil biting fly things. Have just noticed that I’ve caught the sun - hopefully not too badly.
Am no longer alone: ‘Short-Legs’ and ‘Psycho-Heiko’ have joined me for the evening. Glad to have someone to talk to as was getting bored trying to make myself sleep while the Sun was still high. Seem like nice people. Sun down now – me sleep.
Today I started, my adventure of the Appalachian Trail, a 2,172.6 mile trail in 2003. My father drove me from our lake house in South Carolina to the mountains of North Georgia. The car ride entailed mountain roads that were both unfamiliar to my father and me. It was a cold rainy morning, and my father had little time for any human errors, for he had to return to the lake by lunchtime to start cooking for a neighborhood party. After wrongs turns, and North Georgia College cadets consuming the road with police escorts on their Saturday morning jog, my father and I made it to the Amicalola Falls State Park. I signed the register here. The register asked where I was finishing...I found it hard to write down "Maine". I just did not want to write "Maine", for the reason- I may not make it there. I had the intention of hiking all of the Appalachian Trail, however, I was not willing to tell others how far I was going to hike. The registry book made me reveal my secret. If asked, I would tell others I was attempting to hike the entire trail, and for those who did not ask, I did not tell. Saturday was a cold and rainy morning, and on the 8.8 mile trail to Springer, I only passed a few hikers, who did not seem to be on the Appalachian Trail for the long haul. When I got to the top of Springer, there was no view, and there was an A.T.C. ridge runner taking statistics about hikers on the Appalachian Trail. Asking questions to fellow hikers about where they were going, as well as, questions about their Leave No Trace practices on the trail. I did not want to be a part of the "questionnaire", so I quickly passed and headed down the trail. Days later, I overheard others commenting about their encounter at the top of Springer with ridge runner, Gizmo. I would later have run-ins with this ATC ridge runner. The first nite out had me setting up my homemade tarp tent and camping away from others.
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Total Miles: 48.5
Awoke to wonderful sunrise over my fine vista. Got up and hiking for eight (clocks went forward last night). Had lunch at Low Gap Shelter with my friends from last night. Seem to hike at a similar pace so expect to see more of them. Chatted a little with ‘Baltimore Jack’ whom I had met at Neal’s Gap yesterday. He is on his eighth consecutive thru-hike. He doesn’t look as though he could hike to the shops mind. Seems to dodge the salad and smokes and drinks a lot as he hikes. I wasn’t entirely surprised when he pulled up at Blue Mountain Shelter (where I’m staying the night) and produced a bottle of Jim Beam.
Two British guys showed up tonight. They are doing a big charity event for Cancer Research (http://www.northamericanchallenge.com/). They cycled 4000miles across Canada, Kayaked 2000miles and are just finishing a southbound thru-hike which they have done over winter. Chatted to them for a bit about the usual sports results etc., then they carried on South.
It is very cold here tonight. The guidebook warns that this shelter is infamous for the icy wind that blows up out of the valley. It’s not a word of a lie. Three others are staying in the shelter itself. A woman who was at Wood’s Hole Shelter - Heiko and I made suggestions of stuff she can dump to lighten her load - and a father-daughter pair out for the weekend. The daughter is only fourteen, but is hiking almost as fast as me and carrying a big external frame pack.
I’m considering doing the eighteen miles tomorrow to get to Dicks Creek Gap, where I can hitch into Hiawassee. Shall see how I feel as there are big hills in the way. If not, I shall stay at the shelter fifteen miles from here and go in Tuesday morning. If I do that, Baltimore Jack says he will split a motel room with me. He looks like he might smell though. We’ll see.
7pm – must be time to try and sleep.
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Total miles: 50.7
Turned out I could hitch into Hiawassee from Unicoi Gap, just 2.2miles from the shelter. Caught a ride in the back of a an aggressively driven pick-up. Sharing a room with Baltimore Jack and a pair of brothers from Maine. John and Dennis. Nice guys. John looks like Jerry Garcia. All smoke constantly. Jack annoyingly flicks through tv channels, pausing only to hurl abuse at anti-war types in the news or check out whatever mullet-wearing cracker spawn are on CMT. Had dinner at Daniel’s Steakhouse. Didn’t have steak, just the ‘salad bar’. Fried chicken is salad here, so I got a decent meal for $8. back at the room now, where we are watching a fine comedy-western with Mel Gibson. Some of Jack’s acquaintances were at dinner. They are true hardcore trail types like him. They all seemed to have strong opinions about various trail-related matters. Fascinating. Hoping for an early start tomorrow to make up the ground lost today. Oh good the CMT awards are on. Kill me.
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Total miles: 63.3
Didn’t sleep too well last night. Not sure why as was comfortable enough in bed and peoples’ snoring could have been worse. Haven’t slept well all trip – must need more exercise. Got up at eight-thirtyish. Had a pleasant continental breakfast at the hotel and set off to the post office. Mailed home some bits and pieces I haven’t been using. Took a while to catch a hitch back to the trail. Eventually a guy in a beat up Beretta stopped for me. Very nice guy. He fits vinyl sidings to houses for a living. Had a pleasant chat about game shooting.
Back on trail at nine-forty. Stopped for lunch at Tray Mountain Shelter after hauling myself up a couple of long climbs. Had some of the ‘flatbread’ I bought at the supermarket. To my deep joy, it is exactly the same as nan bread. Weather alternated between drizzling and pouring. Not very inspiring. Finally arrived at Deep Cut Gap Shelter after another long hard climb. Was soaking wet and cold. Ate a good meal of whole meal pasta with olive oil, garlic, green chilies and parmesan. Hungry for more now. A few section hikers are here tonight. Only thru-hiker is a guy called Charles, whom I met on Springer Mountain. Young guy in his 3rd year of an english literature degree. He’s up on the second storey of this fancy shelter with me. Have been talking books, music, university etc.
The bad weather is set to last to the end of the week at least, with night time temperatures forecast to fall to around freezing. Have a choice of fifteen or twenty miles tomorrow. Guess I will play it by ear. Weather may be the decider. Twenty-one is not out of the question as I am feeling really good out on the trail. Moving faster than everyone I’ve seen and the hills are not causing me any problems. Downhills are the only issue – wet rocks and slippery mud making life hard.
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Yesterday’s deep joy at finding delicious, life-giving nan was transformed into deep hatred of rodent-kind upon discovering that mice had eaten all my bread during the night. Weather hasn’t really improved much. Remains damp and cool. Visibility hasn’t risen above fifty yards for days. Crossed the first state boundary of the trip. I am now in North Carolina. As soon as the border is crossed, one is confronted with a series of evil uphill slogs. Had to pause a couple of times.
At Muskrat Creek Shelter tonight, though it is full so I am tarping outside. This will be the first test of the tarp in the rain – nothing like good preparation. Lot of people here tonight. Not sure I care for all of them. They sound as though they are a lot slower than me though, so should shake them off soon. Tomorrow is likely to be another tough day. There is a big two mile climb up to Standing Indian Mountain. Really want to do the nineteen to Big Spring Shelter. That will put me handily to do a mini-resupply at Rainbow Springs Campground. They allegedly have internet access there, which would be very welcome.
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Well, if I was poorly prepared as far as rain-testing was concerned, it was nothing compared to how poorly prepared I was for the snow-storm I awoke to this morning. My bag got a little wet on one side in the night. The tarp worked fine, mostly, but some small puddles formed outside and as big drops fell into them, surprisingly far-reaching splashes were produced, covering me and most of my possessions in a wet, muddy film.
Hiked on through the snow, which was fine, but slippy. Worst part of it was dodging the snow-laden branches and trees that leaned onto the trail under the weight. When I made it to the shelter, I was soaked. I foolishly had worn all my clothes because it was so cold, and thus had no dry clothes. Genius. Arrived at two-thirtyish and spent from then until now (seven pm) trying to get warmer and dryer. Ate a couple of hot meals and made a few hot water bottles. Am in my bag with two of them now. Also have my survival blanket wrapped around me. Hopefully shall survive the night.
Still very cold and I expect it will get colder as night falls. Am either going on to the campground or town tomorrow. People at this shelter are nice. Met some of them before. One works for Corning, designing oscillators for SDH/SONET type stuff.
Forgot to write yesterday that I saw in the register that ‘E-Z-Does-It’, a hiker we met last year, is just a few days ahead on another thru-hike. He is a retired prison guard from New Jersey. I have witnessed people hike on an extra eight miles at dusk to avoid him. Joy.
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Well, I awoke, which is something. Didn’t actually sleep as badly as I have done. Some mirth in the night as people fought-off pillaging mice. Corninig bloke struck one that was on his food bag, launching it the length of the shelter.
Was up and out by eight. Fifteen minutes down the trail, I realised that ‘d left my sleeping bag back at the shelter. Joy as I got to walk that stretch back to the shelter and out again. Got close to the campground at about two-twenty. En route there was more snow trudging. Was around freezing when I got up, but a little after nine the sun finally popped out and the weather has got steadily better since. Had to ascend Albert Mountain. It involved a gradual two mile climb, then half a mile of steep, steep clambering. That was ok. Worst part of the walk was fighting through snow-laden rhododendrons that blocked the trail for about a mile. Each deposited snow and ice about my person in a most unpleasant manner.
As I neared the campground, a guy in a pick-up full of hikers stopped and I jumped in the back. Lots of people were heading into Franklin, so I went in too. The guy drove us the twelve miles for $5 a head. Staying in the Microtel (think Travel-Tavern) with two guys I met yesterday at the shelter. We went out and got Maccy-D’s, did laundry and went food shopping. Might go and get a bit more to eat in a minute. Truck guy is picking us up at nine am to take us back to the trail.
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A very good day. Up early after a decent night’s sleep. Scott, Vagabond and I then went for breakfast at Shoney’s. AYCE bacon, sausage, eggs, pancakes etc - cheap and cheerful. As usual at American breakfast buffets, I attempted to forge a ‘breakfast bap’ using the closest thing I can find to bread – in this case it was ‘biscuits’, and as usual, it was less than pleasant. I really must stop trying. Finally managed to phone home. I had to get a new calling card after using my $10 up on reaching answer phones. Didn’t have time to try Will again though – maybe tomorrow at NOC.
Late start on the trail (nine-forty), but kept a good pace in the perfect weather on moderate trail. I think most people stopped around fifteen miles in and camped. Passed Steamer and two Wellesley College girls, now called the ‘Rock-Stars’. Met couple of new people too. A guy called ‘Shankadelic’, who was ‘chilling’ in the sun all afternoon, and also Billy with whom I walked for the last part of the afternoon. He is doing similar miles to me and I get the impression he wants someone to walk with. Seems to be even less of a people person than me, so we get on fine. He also makes his own kit and is obviously a big fan of the Jardine book. We shall see if he turns out to be a psycho or not. If he’s ok, it would be good to have company.
We walked a little past the (slightly skanky) shelter, which I had no intention of staying in as ‘Rumbler’ was there. Anyone who has gained a trail-name based on the voracity of his snoring is not someone I wish to stay with. Stopped at a nice enough little spot and are both tarping. Billy has a fine hand-crafted luxury tarp. I am experimenting with mine to find a more effective way of pitching it. Got twelve miles into NOC tomorrow. Apparently you can get a good lunch there. It is then seven to the next shelter.
Forgot – saw my first bobcat on the trail today. Mottled grey thing with a short tail. Wasn’t unduly frightened by my presence, just calmly trotted off ahead of me.
Today I met Ben. I have been passing other fellow hikers along the way. The only hiker that was hiking the same daily distance as myself, was CloudWalker. We met a few times at nite around shelters, as I had to interact with others, because this was my place of water for most nites. I, however, was ahead of CloudWalker at this point, because he and others had stayed in town because a snow storm had come, and was still present. I had heard about Ben along the way. I seem to be the only one carrying an umbrella. So when people started asking general questions, they would point out that there was a guy in front of me from Britain who was hiking lite, and carrying an umbrella. That afternoon, prior to reaching Wayah Bald, on an ascent, I came up behind a hiker heading north. This guy did not seem to want to let me pass. All others had no problems with letting me pass. Occasionally, I may have gotten a sly remark about my pace, but I was not one to ask others to move over. Soon Ben let me pass, but then he continued to walk my pace. I thought, "what is this guy doing?". I think I even asked if he wanted to pass me back. I started talking to him about gear and the trail. I am sure he was a little frightened about how much I knew regarding him. When Ben stopped just shy of Wayah Bald to collect some water, I continued on. As I was taking photographs from atop the stone observation tower, Ben came up. Shankadelic was already present at the tower, chillin' in the sun. He told Ben and I his story about how he got to the Appalachian Trail. Ben and I soon hiked on. Before nitetfall, Ben and I passed Cold Spring Shelter, a dingy shelter. I told Ben I was not going to stay in the shelter since someone else was there. He noted about the hiker's known characteristics. We collected water, and then we left.
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Another fine day. Excellent weather again, though a cold night (30s). Hiked a brisk twelve miles into the NOC to be there for twelve-thirty. Phoned home again and tried Will without success. The centre is on the river, which has some good white-water rafting. Bought some thermal underwear at the outfitter (to replace the set I had already shipped home) in preparation for the Smokey Mountains. Also got some food, fuel and, finally, a lighter (my matches haven’t worked for days).
Billy and I had lunch at the restaurant there. Probably the best food of the trip so far – fries and burger topped with chilli, cheese and bacon. Squeezed in a huge brownie and ice-cream for dessert too – all for $15 with tip. Left NOC bloated. Bumped into the guys I had met the other night. They were all staying the night at the centre. All gave me warnings about the steep uphill section out of the valley, which I chose to roundly ignore. Six miles and over 3000 vertical feet, I had barely kept my lunch down. Would have been a hard climb at the best of times, but quite evil with the mass of undigested food in my gut desperately trying to park itself by the trailside.
Staying in Sassafras Gap Shelter tonight. It’s a very nice two-storey one. Sharing with a father-daughter combo out for spring-break. Billy is working out to be a good person to walk with. He is a little faster than me uphill and a little slower than me back down. I have attributed this to the fact that we are similar height, but he is 50lb lighter than me. Got another twenty miler tomorrow to get us to Fontana Dam. Should be easier than today.
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Total Miles: 161.7
This good weather is getting a bit much. It is too hot and I’m sweating and gulping water like Will at his best [Will is a very sweaty man when hiking]. The easy day I predicted never arrived. There was a lot of up and down, much of it uncomfortably steep. Still, made very good progress, especially considering we set off at eight-forty and were done by five pm. Passed a lot of people today. Seems to be more and more hikers recently, which is weird.
When we got near Fontana there was a handy information board with all the info about accommodation – double room at motel was $31. Bingo. There was even a free phone to a free shuttle. Our shuttle, piloted by true Southern Gal Charity, arrived promptly and took us to the complex.
The Fontana Village Resort is just plain weird to me. I shan’t even try to describe it here. Billy and I took our leave of Chastity (as I embarrassingly called her by mistake) and checked in. The room is a lot better than you might expect for £10/person. Quickly showered and headed to the $10 AYCE buffet. Lots of chicken, beef stew, rice and salad - a bargain. Tomorrow I shall hopefully get to use their internet connection and finally mail everyone. Went to the games room and played pool, table tennis and, best of all, Iron Man Stewart’s Super Off-Road Racing.
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Total Miles: 176.6
Awoke after a very good night’s sleep in a comfy bed. Took a half-zero day. Ate at the burger buffet and got plenty in me. Finally, got to use the internet and email. Didn’t get back on trail until three pm. Got to look at and walk over the dam, which I liked – being an enthusiast for big, obsolete pieces of machinery. Two miles on we entered the park. Planned to do an ambitious 10.9 miles to the first shelter, skipping the campsite. There had been a lot of talk about the climb out of Fontana – 5 miles and 3000ft of it – but it turned out to be nowhere near the ordeal of climbing out from NOC. Had an incredible view from the top of a fire-tower on a mountain. Finally got to the shelter to find it, and the surrounding area, heaving with people – maybe twenty in all. I might have stayed had I been alone, but Billy likes people even less than I do, so we went on to the next shelter – another 2.5 miles. It was getting dark as we arrived. We’ve eaten and decided to eschew cover for the night and sleep under the stars. This may be very good or very foolish.
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Total Miles: 187.0
Sleeping uncovered turned out to be a wise decision. Not chancing it tonight though. Staying in a shelter. Billy and I have had to lie at an angle on the sleeping platform as it is not built for people over six foot. Not much excitement to report. Going remains steadily tough. Got Clingman’s Dome tomorrow morning. After that, it gets a little easier. Had some beautiful views today at Rocky Top.
Turns out the shelter we’re staying in was the place that two hikers were killed by lightning in the Eighties. Can’t say I’m worried though. Hunger has gotten progressively worse since the beginning of the trip. I must be losing weight. Billy’s mother is meeting him on Sunday. I’ve been invited to go to dinner with them - sounds good to me.
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Total Miles: 197.8
We had every intention of doing a 20+mile day today. (Un)fortunately events conspired to drag us into Gatlinburg for the night. We had toyed with the idea of hitching in for lunch, but we were undecided. However, when we reached a car-park around lunch-time and were offered a ride within seconds, our minds were made up. Some former thru-hikers were doing ‘trail-magic’, giving rides and free sodas and we just had to let them drop us off at their choice of pizza place. We both ordered 16” pizzas (mine a double-anchovy beasty) and got some garlic rolls to boot.
It quickly became apparent that we would never be able to hike another 11 miles with our guts full of cheese, dough and pungent fish. Got our (few) leftovers wrapped to go and headed for the cheapest motel in town ($37 the double). Had a pleasant afternoon watching Flight of the Phoenix and eating bowls of Frosties. Sent some time discussing plans for our own wood burning cook-stove. We hope to build one as a project on the trail.
Picked up a book left at the shelter – John D MacDonald – seems good. Think Raymond Chandler in Fort Lauderdale. The introduction by Carl Hiaasen sold me.
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Total Miles: 221.9
Late start back on the trail. We were slow getting going and it was a tough hitch. Eventually, a slightly rough couple from Ohio stopped their Taurus and let us in. At ten-forty we were walking on from Newfound Gap. Made good time - aiming for a shelter. Finally rolled in at eight-thirty – just as it was getting dark and having walked 23 miles. The place was rammed. Shelter full and all the designated tent sites gone. Decided to hike on and stealth camp. Pitched Billy’s tarp off the trail at Low Gap. It’s a hilly site, but at least it isn’t crowded. Tomorrow we should be out of the park. I’ll be glad - although it is beautiful here, it will be nice to return to the relative freedom outside of its rules and crowds.
Finally saw E-Z-Does-It today. He is the same.
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Total Miles: 244.7
A long downhill section took us out of the park. We passed several horses on the way. No idea how they are going to pass some of the wind fallen trees blocking the trail that were difficult for us to climb under. Once out, we had a three (non-AT) mile round trip to Mountain Momma’s Kuntry Kitchen. Had cheeseburgers and Freedom-fries (the same as French fries, but anti-french feeling is running that high out here). All good. Got some food to last us until tomorrow when Billy’s parents can take us to the stores.
Had a long uphill slog in oppressive heat to get out of the gap. Another of these 3000ft in five mile jobs. Passed some of the time discussing the AT hiking [computer] game I must write when I get home. It’ll take 5-months to play and feature lots of animation stolen from Hyper-Sports.
Some beautiful scenery again today. Was nice to have some greenery when we were down at low level – the trees in the mountains are still bare. Together with all the dead leaves on the ground, it gives an autumnal feel at odds with the 80 degree heat.
Tonight we are camping out without cover. Fingers crossed on the weather…
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Total Miles: 256.2
Weather fine as usual. Plenty of climbing this morning to get to Max Patch Road. Billy’s father was waiting on the trail for us. Both his parents are extremely nice. They took us out to Hot Springs for lunch. I had deep fried chicken livers.
Town had a good outfitter. I changed my tent pegs and rope for lighter stuff at a total cost of $15. Bumped into the guy I shared a cab with to the trail. He is now hiking along with Heiko and another guy I met at Springer.
Billy’s parents had kindly brought us enough food that we didn’t need to resupply. Billy received an Easter basket of goodies (for it is Easter). Seemed to be a high Disney content. Guess he must like that stuff.
They dropped us back at the trail after a scenic drive through rural North Carolina – a lot of buildings in ruins, but looks pleasant enough. We hiked the mile to the summit of Max Patch to find Billy’s father waiting for us again. It’s very nice up there – a grassy, open summit, obviously popular with locals. People were paragliding, or whatever its is called – fancy hang-gliding – and landscape painting, picnicking or just enjoying the view (not all at the same time sadly).
Said another farewell to Billy’s father and hiked on to the shelter to find it horribly busy. Got water and went on a few minutes more to this nice camp spot. Staying in Billy’s tarp again. He ditched his hiking poles earlier, which he had been using solely to support his tarp. There’s more space in here without them. Back to Hot Springs tomorrow.
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Total Miles: 270.9
Awoke at 6.30am by rain. We had the awning of the tarp open so had to adjust. Had rain on and off all morning. Not enough to bother us with putting up our umbrellas. Made good time with just a couple of short breaks, one of which was at a most weather–exposed privy I have ever enjoyed – I regretted not taking my umbrella.
The motel in town was, irritatingly, shut. The owners had gone on vacation and shut-up shop. We’re staying at the Bridge Street Café instead. It’s mostly a restaurant, but they do B&B too. Sadly they’re not doing breakfast tomorrow. The restaurant is only open Thursday-Sunday, which is a shame as it looks especially good.
Spent a long time doing laundry – Billy really doesn’t like dirty clothes. Ate at the pub – service courtesy of an ever-smiling, yet oh-so-surly waitress. I had 1.5lb of baby-back ribs, which were so-so. We were distraught upon leaving to discover all the stores shut and ourselves unable to buy our usual bedtime snacks/milk/beer. However, in a flash of inspiration, Billy remembered a campground store down the road – we got there just in time to fulfill our requirement – a six-pack of Bud for me, milk for Billy (he doesn’t drink).
Have checked our resupply plans up to Damascus. Got a 3-5 day stretch next. Might settle down with my book and beer now – life remains good.
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Total Miles: 282.5
Spent morning finishing off laundry, sending stuff on to Will, and buying buying/eating breakfast. No chance to get on the internet at the outfitter – you have to book it and it was jammed until 4pm. Had good lunch at the diner – double cheeseburger and fries, followed by apple pie with ice cream and coffee. Headed out of town a little after 3pm. Are supplied up to Erwin, TN 3-5 days. I am carrying 12 donuts to sort me out for breakfasts. Also discovered I was carrying 2 cans of beer I had failed to dispose of before leaving town.
Had two beer and donut breaks on the trail. Made it to the shelter at dusk to find it full – this is becoming a recurring theme. There were some tent sites left, but they were too exposed to the icy wind that howled in over the hills. We elected to hike on to find a more sheltered spot. Have ended up in a not too bad spot. Still a little windy, but it was a trade-off between wind protection and ground flatness. Billy isn’t feeling too good tonight – his stomach is playing up. It’s cold tonight. Glad I just sent home cold-weather stuff – again.
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Total Miles: 303.1
Cold morning delayed our start until 10.30. Typically, my legs were cold in the night. A fine decision to send home my tights. At least I have got rid of enough stuff to fit my sleeping pad inside my pack. I look quiet the sleek hiking machine now. Fairly uneventful day today. A couple of great views of the foothills and plains. Hunger is a problem at the moment. Just seem to be able to eat and eat. Wishing I’d bought a little more food.
Staying in Flint Mountain Shelter tonight. Couple of section hikers here – one of which used to play soccer with Billy’s uncle. Guy we met in town is here too. He’s called ‘Pez’
Clear sky, lots of stars – so bound to be cold.
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Total Miles: 325.3
Out at 10 this morning. Time went fast today. Hunger was terrible the whole way. Some big climbs in the afternoon. Billy tells me I’m going up them faster now. Probably true, I feel a little fitter and am hauling a little less weight, one way or another.
Tonight we are spending a lot of time debating whether we should stop the night in Erwin. Doubtless we will, but we are debating nonetheless.. They have AYCE Mexican food and the Super 8 has laundry. Sounds like heaven. They even have a library, which probably means internet.
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Total Miles: 338.8 / 355.3
Miles: 13.5 / 16.5
Forgot to write my journal yesterday. Must have been too cozy and full of pizza in the Super 8. Got to Erwin by noon. Phoned the Super 8 from the outfitters. Within minutes, comedy asian people had come and collected us in a lovely Mercury Grand Marquis. Had lunch at the Sonic in town. It’s a fast food place designed exclusively for drive-thru. We had to give our order over speaker-phone and sit outside. Had a good shop in the Food Lion, and Billy got to post some more stuff back. The library was good – 7 computers! Ordered pizza to the motel and watched a terrible film about a hijacked plane full of priceless works of art. Phoned Will – he was drunk. Neither Billy nor I could sleep so we ended up watching a fly-on-the-wall documentary about guys who make custom motorcycles. Finally slept at 2am.
Today got out of room at 11am and checked out. There was a minibus waiting outside that turned out be be ‘Miss Janet’s’. She was extremely nice (living up to her trail-legend status) and was happy to give us a ride to the trail. Back on trail at noon.
Some sun, some rain – well, rather more rain than sun. Not much visibility towards the end – just walking in mist. Shelter full as usual when we got there at 8pm. Tarping out again.
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Total Miles: 375.1
Very hard day terrain-wise. Morning had reasonable ups and downs, but the afternoon’s ascent of Roan Mountain was a toughie – 2000ft in 2.5miles. I was sweating like a faucet. The views have more than made up for the expended effort though.
Visited the highest shelter on the AT (6275ft), but are staying at Stan Murray Shelter, which has just two other occupants.
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Total Miles: 393.8
Nice easy hike to US 19. At the road we finally met the two English girls we’d been hearing about. After several minutes chat with Felicity and Foxy we set about trying to hitch to Elk Park for a resupply. We were quickly picked up by a lady in a convertible Mustang. She drove us to the grocery store at an admirable pace.
We decided to leave shopping until after lunch and walked half a mile to the Times Square Restaurant. It wasn’t very good, but it was cheap. We returned to the store to discover there was no cash machine in town and they didn’t take plastic. Thankfully a friend of the owner was happy to drive us the 12 mile round trip to the next town.
It is evilly hot today. We’re staying the night at a very crowded camp spot, having arrived late as usual. Met a guy called Overshot who is attempting to hike the trail in 3 months. Trail relocation in the area means that the trail is two miles longer than advertised and as such we don’t really know where we are.
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Total Miles: 414.2
Up and out before 8am. Feels claustrophobic here – too many people and kind of marshy with no views. Stopped at a shelter for a break and idled about there for some time in the occasional sun. Finally got up and headed on to the road and get a second lunch at the Laurel Fork Hostel. Had good burgers, severed to us by friendly owner John, before heading outside to lounge in the sun some more.
Eventually we got ourselves moving around 5.30 to knock off the last 6 miles. We hadn’t expected the very sudden change of scenery that awaited us. Now all was rocky canyons and white-water. Stopped and larked about at some nice falls for a while, then had an evil 1800ft climb to get here. It was so steep at times that I got back ache. Got a good spot just off the trail where two other guys are staying. They’ve got a good fire going and we are sleeping under the stars yet again – our luck is held up to now…
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Total Miles: 25.4
Out by 8am again – this time encouraged by the thought of a second breakfast at Hampton. We got to the road in an hour and managed to get a hitch in minutes with a woman in a double-cab pick-up. She was good enough to let us ride up front and even gave us a critique of local diners.
The first diner we went in didn’t look overjoyed to see us – the waitress looked at us disapprovingly and informed us that they weren’t serving that morning. We took this as a snub and headed next door to enjoy a truly excellent meal. I had the ‘Grandpa Special’ – three eggs, sausage, fried apples, and two vast pancakes. I washed it down with lots of coffee then went shopping at the Dollar General opposite. It was a surprisingly good place to resupply – though I am not sure about my wisdom in buying a tin of smoked oysters from a shop with the same fast-food cachet as Pound Stretcher. Got a hitch back to the trail in the back of a single-cab.
The trail wound its way around the circumference of a big lake, which had picnic areas, swimming areas, etc, so we hung out there in the sun for a while. Just as we were getting truly comfortable, thunderstorms blew in. We started back walking at 2pm and have mostly been walking since. Billy had the crazy notion of us getting to Damascus by walking all night, but we are instead stopping at 11.30 and sleeping under the stars. It is a good night for it as there are still some storms in the distance periodically lighting up the sky.
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Total Miles: 458.9
Knocked off the miles by 2pm – this meant that we had walked 42 miles in 24 hours. Feet were very sore by the time we had finished the descent into Damascus.
The town is nice, though without the choice of lodging we’d like. We ended up in a B&B run by Miss Suzy, a lady from Georgia. She is very Southern and very friendly. She drove us to get some Bar-B-Q. I had never truly understood what is meant by ‘southern Bar-B-Q’ until Billy enlightened me. In essence, it is smoked shredded pork in Bar-B-Q sauce to be eaten in rolls. The sauce varies with region, some using vinegar, others mustard. It was served with excellent baked beans that were more meat than pulse, and some good ‘slaw. We got email and laundry done. Tomorrow we shall tackle the outfitters, grocery store and anything else that comes to mind.
Spent time chatting to Pez and a guy called SPG, who was possibly the World’s Gayest Hiker. He is designing his own range of fashion hiking clothing and showed more earnest interest in the contents of Vanity Fair than any man should.
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Total Miles: 468.3
Had a fine breakfast of bacon, eggs, grits, pancakes, melon, strawberries and kiwi at the B&B. Went to the outfitter and took the plunge with a new pack. I am now the proud owner of a Golite Breeze. It weighs just 10oz, but carries my (now very small) load fine. All my possessions now weigh less than 10lbs, 20 with food and water. Held off buying new shoes – mine are still just about ok. Ate at an Italian place and had calzone. A thunderstorm broke the perfect weather, so we took refuge in an ice cream place and ordered huge sundaes and coffee.
We set out some time after six and reached the shelter in the dark.. Only two people in the shelter, but we don’t want to wake them so are sleeping out again. The trees are dripping on us, so it may not be the best idea. Plans are working out for getting to Will’s. We shall be picked up by Billy’s friend Nicky on Tuesday. We’re staying in Atlanta Tuesday night then I’m taking the Greyhound to Savannah.
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Total Miles: 487.3
Trees dripped on us all night so am a little damp this morning. Sluggish start then stopped at a shelter for lunch and to chat with Overshot and Cloudwalker, whom we know better than most out here. Thunderstorms were coming in so we decided to wait them out at the shelter. We both had naps and got out late again., meaning we are camping in the dark again. Tarping amongst a large crowd of what can only be described as weekend-hiker-douche bags.
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Total Miles: 506.0
Awoke among weekend-hiker-douche bags. A late start out, but enjoyed listening to the WHDs talking amongst themselves. Loads of people out at this popular state park as it’s the weekend and mostly sunny.
Nice easy hiking here, though the ground is hard on the feet. Lots of pleasant scenery and big rocks and boulders to climb around on. Tomorrow we head into Troutdale for food.
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Total Miles: 508.0
Billy woke me at six to inform me that it had started raining and as such it might be a good time to get moving. We quickly hiked the two miles to the road an began hitching. The rain never let up and it was cold. Most of what little traffic there was happened to be dump trucks that covered us in spray as they thundered by. It took 45 minutes of hungry frustration before a slightly scary guy in a pick-up stopped for us.
Troutdale seemed to consist of a single diner/grocery store primarily. The place looked less than beautiful inside, but the food was good and plentiful. I had 4 eggs, 4 toast, 2 pancakes and plenty of coffee. Billy ended up with an obscene two plates of food – one a huge mass of biscuits and gravy. Over breakfast we came to the conclusion that getting off the trail a day early may not be such a bad idea.
Billy made the necessary arrangements with Nicky to get us picked up ASAP (230) and we killed as much time as seemed reasonable at the diner before heading out to check out the hiker hostelling facilities at the church. The planned hostel is not yet complete, but there was a pavilion where we could shelter from the rain for a couple of hours. We headed back to the diner for lunchtime burgers and afterwards settled on the porch with ice cream to await Nicky. She duly arrived in a brand new Honda Civic, greatly exciting Honda enthusiast Billy. Nicky is an extremely nice girl – somewhat more outgoing and people friendly than Billy.
Our request for an early pick-up had thrown a spanner into the works of her preparation for the Florida triathlon. She drove us to Winston-Salem (after a couple of hours meandering, lost, through Virginia) as she had to attend a meeting. Throughout the journey, Billy and Nicky bickered near constantly – this seems to be the norm for them. While Nicky planned triathlons, Billy and I went to the mall. We were delighted to find silicon-impregnated bags and sweet-looking umbrella in the dollar-store. We couldn’t stay in Winston-Salem as the TV weather girl with whom Nicky lives was sick. We did take showers and do laundry there though as Nicky didn’t fancy the prospect of sharing a confined space with us for a few more hours, reeking of the trail as we were. After loading the car with masses of luggage and bikes, we headed to Charlotte to spend the night with Nicky’s very hospitable family. The next day we finally made it back to Atlanta, with only one minor road accident to show for ourselves. We did some more shopping in Atlanta and I finally replaced my shoes with some New Balance 806s to match Billy’s. Spent a pleasant night at Billy’s family home then headed over to the Greyhound station in the morning. The locale of the bus station – as in all American cities – was truly terrifying. I am now on my merry way to Savannah and the one-man-party that is Will.
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Total Miles: 512.0
First day (hour and a half anyway) back on the trail after our lengthy break. Felt strange getting back on and was reluctant to wave goodbye to Nicky (and her car) earlier. However, am already feeling back home here, especially now we are housed in our new ultra-roomy 10'x12' tarp. Some angelic soul had even left a cooler of beer by the trail to ease my pain.
Doubtless, our time off could have been spent more productively than it was, but it was fun nonetheless. Billy's and Nicky's families were hospitable to a fault and all fine people. I got to meet one of Billy's cousins from Baltimore who's letchery and humour kept me entertained. From Atlanta I took a Greyhound bus to Savannah. While waiting for the bus, I made the mistake of going for a wander around the neighbourhood. Within moments, I was deep in Cracktown with toothless prostitutes leering at me and me feeling like a big pink target with my swim-shorts, floppy hat and backpack. Savannah was of course fun - it is always fun around Will. We drank plenty of PBR and ate too many Krispy Kreme donuts. I spent the time Will was at work enchanted by his Nintendo. For reasons that still elude me, we also ended up volunteering at the Savannah Highland Games. I discovered that no amount of homesickness can make you eat a scotch pie.
Anyway, back on the trail now and have to stop writing as the bugs are gonna drive me insane so long as I have this light on.
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Total Miles: 535.9
Surprisingly chilly last night, which at least gave Billy's new sleeping bag an early test. Not out til after ten. Went by the very nice Partnership shelter - it has hot and cold running water, a shower and an odour-free concrete privy. It is also only 100yds from a ranger station with snack shop. There is even a phone, and pizza hut will deliver. Sadly we weren't staying there. We did stop for dinner in the Dairy Queen at a truck stop on I81. This was a mistake. The food was nasty and we didn't really need it. It is now not agreeing with Billy's stomach awfully well. We're tarping a mile or so before the shelter - mostly due to Billy's need to make an emergency khasi-stop.
Easy hiking today with nice terrain. Got a few more hills tomorrow though. Met an english guy earlier - he was obvious due to his stack of inappropriate British-style kit. He worryingly failed to spot my accent as British. I hope I haven't spent so long with Billy now that I talk like him.
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Total Miles: 555.3
Out early. Terrain was surprisingly tough today. Got a little past the half-way
point and decided to take a nap to allow lunch to settle. Slept from 3 til 5 then
had to get up and tackle a steep hill. Was far too groggy to consider enjoying
Camping on top of the hill with a fine view of a ridge in front of us. A huge spotlight periodically sweeps the sky. Very tired and still hungry after dinner.
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Total Miles: 575.6
Not our greatest day. Awoke at 0030 to the sound of rain. Awoke again at 0230 when the tarp collapsed. We ran around in the rain, half-asleep, trying to resurrect what, in hindsight, was a shoddy erection of sticks and nylon, secured ineffectually by rotten slivers of wood. A further collapse at 0600 and persistent leaking from the unsealed ridge-seam conspired to give us a wretched night's sleep. Thoroughly demoralised, we didn't strike camp until 12.
We had stopped early the night before because we were sleepy and believed the shelter to be several miles away. Imagine our joy at discovering that the shelter had been only 30 minutes easy hiking away the entire time. To make matters worse, it was a particularly nice one and looked to have been empty the previous night. Discovered that during the night's activities, my container of parmesan exploded, covering everything in my food bag with damp grated, pungent cheese. Everything smells of feet /vomit now. I also broke the nose-piece of my glasses, so now a sharp piece of metal is jagging into my nose.
It drizzled constantly until 6pm. Hiking was a chore and I felt lethargic. We had set out too late to get to Bland as planned. This was bad enough, but we didn't really have much food for an extra night. It was all rather disheartening. After six though, the weather perked up. The trail crossed a single creek twelve (twelve!) times in the space of 2 miles. It involved lots of jumping from boulder to slippery boulder to wobbly rock. Tricky stuff. I have no idea how (even) less athletic people get across. I can only assume they get wet.
Our mood improved further when we got some trail magic - bottles of ice cold apple juice left by the same guy who had left the beer on Sunday night. We are sleeping out 3 miles from Bland Road. The water we were expecting to find on the way here never arrived, so we don't have enough even to cook what little food we have left. We are nonetheless buoyant at the prospect of a town breakfast. Looking forward to reaching Pearisburg on Saturday to stay the night and eat a lot of pizza.
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Total Miles: 591.8
Our luck mostly got better. It didn't rain on us in the night and the hike to the road was easy. It only took 7 minutes waiting at the road for a guy to stop and let us into the back of his pick-up. Upon exiting the vehicle, the owner's dog leapt from the cab, ran round and bit me on the rear. Only my pride, my shorts and my arse were injured. It really did hurt and if the guy hadn't just done us a favour, I may have beaten his dog to within an inch with my umbrella. I'll need o sew up the gaping hole in my shorts sometime.
Bland didn't have the rich variety bustling restaurants and cafes I'd dreamed of during my enforced fast. We ended up eating at a Dairy Queen again. Their breakfast is marginally better than McD's. The supermarket in town was pretty good. We bought their entire stock of pre-packaged Bar-B-Q pork. Got a lift back to the trail with a young guy, probably drunk and/or high. He was a friendly idiot.
The rest of the afternoon went fine, for me at least. Billy is still not best friends with his digestive system. Ate Bar-B-Q sandwiches for dinner. Very nice indeed. Would have been better if it had been in 'red-sauce'. This was Virginia style with slaw and vinegar. Good, but not as good. We've got the same again for lunch tomorrow.
We are tarping again. This time we have created a beautiful and robust shelter of kingly proportions.
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Total Miles: 615.1
A fairly uneventful day. Out sometime after nine. Easy hiking for most of the day, which is what we had been expecting for the last few days only to be disappointed. The Wingfoot guide seems to have been lying by omission about the hills. Stopped for lunch by a pond and ate Bar-B-Q. Billy tried a different Bar-B-Q product and it was a little rank. We then hiked up a 1000ft climb, doing all we could to hold onto our stomach contents. Stopped at the Wood's Hole Hostel to get Coke and chocolate. It's a great place run by extremely nice people, but we decided to hike on to the shelter so we could be a little closer to Pearisburg. Sadly the shelter was full, so we have carried on a couple of miles and are just laying on the ground again, hoping the rain holds off.
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Total Miles: 621.1
Total Miles: 628.4
Failed to write last night as seems to happen in town. It did rain the night before last. Billy did a fine job of erecting a makeshift shelter around midnight. Got to town before 10 and ended up staying at the plaza motel. $45 and not very nice. I slipped in the ropey shower and smashed my ribs against the side of the bath pretty hard. It still hurts.
Pearisburg is probably not the nicest place on Earth. There were some scary people in the laundromat. They reminded us of the Osbornes, but without the money or success. We did get an AYCE chinese buffet for $4.95 which was ok. There were good supermarkets in town and even a Walmart that we visited today. Found supplies of Cadbury Dairy Milk finally. It's made by Hershey under license so is probably horrible. I bought a Simon Says electronic game to play. It makes me happy.
Had a lucky run of TV scheduling, getting to watch The Rookie, Running Man, Planes, Trains and Automobiles, and Seinfeld. We even got to watch Tremors before leaving in the morning. Bought too much bulky food and our packs are very heavy. Sweated a lot in the 7 mile jaunt to this shelter. Nice weather today that ended in heavy rain just after we arrived at the shelter.
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Total Miles: 653.4
Awoke to dense mist outside. Julie, a girl we had chatted to some, left before us but returned to the shelter shortly after so she could follow us and not get lost in the mist. Hiking through the fog was slightly surreal, especially passing through a herd of cows that stared at us as we passed. Terrain is mostly flat at the moment, just the odd climb onto or off of ridges.
Billy is looking comical, dressed in the skirt he bought at Wal-Mart. He looks like a kind of scary Norman Bates character, an effect enhanced by his decision to carry his food bag in his hands (to lower packweight), giving the impression he is carrying a handbag.
We got to the shelter late, but only one other staying here. Sleeping in, but am unable to lie on my front as my shower injury hurts too much. Expecting another poor night's sleep.
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Total Miles: 672.1
Out late (10ish) after a sound night's sleep. Enjoyed reading the book I picked up in the shelter yesterday (Ken Kesy's Sometimes a Great Notion). Two big climbs and some heavy rain made the day uninspiring and slow. Had some extremely soft going as we passed through farmland. At one point I thought Billy was going to sink into the mud up to his knees. I enjoyed watching him fall on his arse as we clambered over rocks on the ridge.
Met Vagabond at the shelter, having not seen him since NOC. Shelter and surroundings packed so we hiked on 1/2 mile and tarped.
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Total Miles: 694.4
Toughish day today - partly due to the terrain and partly due to foolish food choices.
Had a couple of big climbs in the morning as we stove to reach the grocery place 15.5 miles from the campsite. The weather was good and I sweated a treat on the ups. We had a stop to visit the Dragon's Tooth - a big rocky out croppy thing. I climbed as far up it as my fear of heights and common sense would allow. Had slow-going for a while after that as the trail ran up and down some very rocky stuff that required the use of hands and a willingness to take risks.
When we finally made it to the grocery place, it was nearly 4pm and we hadn't eaten since breakfast. We had only been spurred on by the guidebook's insistence that the place served breakfast, lunch and dinner. This was a lie - it was just a gas station with second-rate grocery facilities. In our hunger we ended up impulse-buying a meal. This approach failed to provide me with a balanced and nutritious lunch. I ended up with the following: a sack of crisps, nearly a 1lb of french onion dip, 1 pint of chocolate ice-cream, a chocolate bar and half a gallon of milk.
The remaining 7 miles of the day were spent in deep concentration, trying to keep a cap on both ends of my digestive system. We got to the shelter at 930, in the dark, to find it had been demolished. Tarping.
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Total Miles: 713.0
Total Miles: 718.0
Too busy drinking beer and watching the Bill Murray marathon to write last night. Awoke to rain yesterday morning and had to hike in it for a few hours. I don't like rain. Climbed McAfee Knob which had fine, if partially obscured views of Virginia. We took photos of ourselves on the outcrop which is the traditional, if terrifying, thing to do here. By the time we got to Timker's Cliffs, the weather and views were much better. Got to check out the Aldie Murphy monument - his is a very good story.
Did make good time in the afternoon to make it to the I81 interchange at Troutville. Got a room at the very pleasant Best Western. A short and hazardous stroll down the highway got us to McDonalds where we enjoyed fine dining in elegant surroundings. I didn't fancy hiking on today, but couldn't convince Billy to zero, so we ended up leaving around six. Not sure what we did to kill so much time between checking out and leaving town. Must have spent it between shopping in the Kroger, eating lunch at a BBQ restaurant and looking in the outfitters. I want to go to a system of carrying a homosexual-travelers-bum-bag instead of a pack. They had a Mountainsmith one in the store, which may well have done the job, but it was $80 and I wasn't sure enough.
Tarping at the first shelter we got to this evening.
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Total Miles: 744.8
A big mileage day. Felt pretty easy despite some very changeable weather. Had a mix of sunshine and ferocious thunderstorms. Terrain was fine today with only one longish climb towards the end. Tomorrow we'll start off with a 300ft, ten mile one. Got to an extremely nice shelter late. Sleeping on the floor of the porch.
We saw Drew at the shelter. Drew is basically a fresh hiker and is doing pretty good sized miles for just having started the trail recently. Drew couldn't start the trail as early, so he started in North Carolina. Drew is from the Asheville area, so we had something to talk about both having lived in North Carolina. Ben and I strolled into camp just before dusk. The huge multi level shelter was full of hikers, so Ben and I quietly cooked dinner, while talking to Drew, and did the usual and made our spot away from the crowd. Laying down on the wraparound porch where no one else was staying.
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Total Miles: 768.3
The 3000ft climb turned out to be rather more, but we knocked off the miles easily to give us one of our earliest finishes yet - in to camp by six. We got to check out a big radar dome on the top of the mountain, which I found pretty exciting. We hiked a while with a guy named Drew, whom we've met a few times. He seems ok and Billy will even chat to him despite misgivings about his liberal leanings.
The bugs are becoming a problem and I am obviously going to regret getting my bug netting sent to Harper's Ferry [300 miles away] rather than somewhere closer. Tried playing in the stream by our campsite, but the water was way too cold. Had hoped to wash off some of my trail funk before heading into Glasgow tomorrow.
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Total Miles: 780.2
Well I really want my bug netting now. I am covered in bites all over my face, hands and neck. There are some mosquito bites, but they are mostly from tiny black fly things that leave big marks when they bite.
We got to Glasgow after a hitch with a guy in a decrepit Chevy Blazer. He looked rough - chewing tobacco making his teeth appear even worse than they were. He was a nice enough guy though. He had just finished a 15 hour night shift laying piping and he looked tired. His brakes were clearly defective and I didn't feel confident as a passenger. We arrived safely somehow.
Glasgow is a nice town in many ways. There is a nice park and the library was good. We had breakfast in a small deli (the only place in town). Had sausage/bacon/eggs in biscuits - breaking my cardinal rule about breakfast baps in foreign countries. We spent a couple of hours in the library sending mail and researching bum-bags. Ate a good lunch of a sub sandwich and devilled eggs. We got a hitch back to the trail with an extremely nice couple. We only had time for 12 miles in the end. Tomorrow kicks off with a big climb. Joy.
Hitching was always a big deal for me, even this far north. I always commented to Ben on our chances. I would look at the road surface, see if any commercial buildings were in site, and the bends in the road. We always kind of placed a bet on how long it would take to get the ride into town. The hitch to Glasgow I thought would be a tricky one. Not only did the road curve right where the trail comes out of the woods, but there was a couple that had made it to the road along with us. The couple was a boy and a girl, which usually automatically gets them picked up quickly. I was doubting that they would be willing to help us though once they got their hitch. So I got Ben to get away from them and head where the road straightened out so we could be in better view and the cars would have a place to pull over. We did wait a while, but the hitching gods were on our side, and we miraculously got a hitch before the couple. But Ben and I for some reason had hearts this morning and asked our driver if they would take the couple in to town as well. He agreed.
The ride back to the trail happened to be in a Grand Cherokee, leather seats, with an older couple that were visiting Glasgow and are hiker enthusiasts. They enjoyed our achievements and wished us well.
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Total Miles: 804.8
Slept a little late today. Hiked a mile down the trail before realising we were heading South and turning around. The weather has been uniformly foul all day - cold, wet and windy in contrast to yesterday's blazing sun. Still managed to get the mileage done despite all this - possibly helped by the weather not inspiring us to take any more breaks than necessary. Sleeping in a shelter tonight in the hope that it will help us to leave early tomorrow.
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Total Miles: 825.3
Succeeded in getting out by 7.45 which is pretty good for us. Weather was ok until late afternoon when it rained on us. Had to walk the 1.5 miles to our resupply as hitching wasn't going to happen. 'The Tea Room' wasn't exactly what I was expecting. A shack run by a hillbilly was a far cry from the image of blue-rinse old folk and doilies I had gotten from the name. Managed to find enough there to stock up and even had microwaveable stuff for us to eat for lunch. The owner ranted about the influx of city-folk to the area and about the land they had owned that had been taken by the government. We discussed beef cattle briefly. He owns some of the least healthy looking cows I've ever seen - passers-by frequently report them to the police as a case of animal neglect. He gave us a lift back to the trail.
Hiked up yet another 300 footer in the rain. I have some nasty chaffing issues and it hurts mightily. My anti-chaff shorts won't dry because they're 92% cotton. My back is also hurting at the base of my spine, on the right. It's never hurt there before. I'm hoping it'll fix itself soon. Going to shoot for Waynesboro tomorrow. Should be easy terrain, just hope that the rain stops and my body stays together.
The 'Tea Room' was a family run farm in which they had turned the main parlor into a small grocery store. The store was reminiscent to what you see on TV when the characters visit the town grocery store. The store had the bookshelves with packaged products, very few were name brand products that I am always in search of (ex: I always get Velveeta, here I had to go with Ben's usual of powered cheese, the Mac 'n Cheese brand for $0.99). Upon entering the store, it felt as though the store had been closed for weeks. I was worried that the products would be out of date, but he even had milk that was before the sale date. As we walked the 1.5 miles to 'The Tea Room', I was thinking, why would a tea club want to accommodate smelly hikers? We found the store in a boarded state. Luckily, having empty stomachs and backpacks, we hung around long enough that the owner's son asked us what we needed and he opened the store. It turned out the owner, his mother, was in the hospital...I'm sure she added a soft touch to the store, but this guy was as Ben put it, a hillbilly.
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Total Miles: 846.5
Froze our asses off last night, to use Billy's turn of phrase. It was very cold and we didn't get 100% dry. My tactic of drying out my shorts in the foot of my sleeping bag was a dismal failure. A wet, cold mass by my feet all night wasn't what I needed.
From an unpromising start, it turned into a glorious day. It would have been a great hike, but for my back. It is killing me every time I walk. Not sure what to do about it if anything. Had a bit of a go at stretching, but to no avail. Stretching hurts my ribs as well. Taking ibroprofene is the best help I've found. We got the miles done, but it wasn't fun. Had a good lunch stop at some rocks and laid around in the sun for an hour.
Made it to Rockfish Gap at 6.45. Hitching was going badly despite a lot of traffic. Eventually a guy in a pick-up stopped for us. He had no idea we were hikers, which is invariably a bad sign. He drank as he drove and didn't bother with a seat-belt. He was kind enough to demonstrate the accelerative power of his trucks, which reassured me no end. Some miscommunication and more ill-judgement later, we were dropped off by our boisterous, bad toothed, sweary friend several miles the wrong side of town.
The hike back to the centre was long and miserable. We eventually made it to the YMCA before 9. An extremely nice place - they have a site down by the river for hikers to stay for free. Ordered Papa-John's pizza and gorged - I am going to regret that. Got some more Cadbury's so I am happy. Going to sleep out and hope the weather holds for us.
Our miscommunication with our hitch was mainly my fault. I talked to the guy as if he were a local. Asking him questions about where to stay and eat. The area he was staying in was built because of Interstate traffic (i.e. motels and restaurants at the exit). However the town was two miles east of the Interstate. It ended up that our hitch was only in town for work and had been residing in a motel that was near the Interstate and was not familiar with the town's amenities. So he told us where we could stay and eat, but where he was suggesting took us way out of town, and I didn't have the guts to ask him to drive us back. So Ben and I walked back, Ben hurting the entire way. Probably, in the end, it would have been best to just walk into town, rather than hitch.
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Total Miles: 846.5
Total Miles: 864.9
No writing last night as usual. Awoke at the campsite at 5.30. Didn't have a sound night's sleep due to a stomach full of pizza and a very loud train that went by several times. Went to the Y early and showered - Billy was very happy with the communal showers. Managed to check in to the Quality Inn by 7.30. This gave us 25.5 hours in the room (for $55), and also two free continental breakfasts.
Went and did laundry at a Laundromat with a Pang machine. I enjoyed that immensely. Ate at McD's for lunch and strolled to the outfitters. Spent hours trying on a Mountainsmith bum bag. All my stuff fits in it and I may have bought it, but I still had doubts and it was expensive. I did get me a Frogg Toggs rain jacket just like Billy's at the hunting store though. Spent the evening watching TV, drinking wine&beer/milk and eating chinese food.
Today, went to the post office and library. Got a lift back to the trail with a guy outside the Kroger. Back on trail at 2.30. We're camping a couple of miles South of the shelter, having stumbled for hours in the dark with our pathetic new dollar-store flash lights.
In all our wisdom, Ben and I decided to lighten every ounce possible. Shopping at the dollar store in town brought us the idea to purchase those key chain lights that produce a red glow to them. The lights are used to see where to stick your car keys into the door...we somehow thought they would produce enough trail light to hike on at nite. Besides, they only cost a $1. We were now headed into the Shenandoahs. Government park, means more regulations.
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Total Miles: 887.8
Late finish yesterday meant a late start this morning. Had been encouraged by the thought of a cooked lunch, but when we got to Loft Mtn Campground I remembered the deal from last year- the grill was a mile away down the road, so we didn't bother and just ate food from the camp store instead. I at least got beer with my lunch.
My attempts to phone home were thwarted by the good people at AT&T. I shall be able to try again tomorrow.
The rest of the day was fairly gloomy with mist all about. There are no views and it is extra difficult to navigate in the dark. The only upside to the day was the first bear sighting of the trip. Heard a rustling in the undergrowth and saw the fella about 15yds from us. He ignored us. The shelter only had two people in it and all the camp spots were taken, so we have had to disturb the occupants a little and stay inside.
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Total Miles: 907.8
Slept like a log for the 2nd night running. Enjoyed crazy dreams. The other two guys didn't seem at all bothered by our late arrival. Apparently there was a huge storm in the night with thunder and lightning and torrential rain. This was news to Billy and I. One of the guys had a mousetrap. He barely had time to step away from the thing before he had his first catch. He ended up with a haul of six, from which he made a mound of dead rodents for all to admire. The other guy was carrying a pack that would make a sherpa weep.
My back hurt a little more than it had done for a while. It eased off after an hour or so before it suddenly started to Really hurt, and I had to slow right down. I sat on a rock despondently for a while. Eventually limped on to Lewis Campground. Ate junk there for a while and spent an hour arguing with 15 different AT&T operators, trying to charge my phone card. I gave up and bought another card. Spoke to my mother who has, of course, been researching my ailment and prescribed some stretching exercises. They seem to have helped a little and I shall endeavour to do them every time we stop.
Our buddy Drew bought a camp-pillow in a fit of gayness - six ounces of Hollofil junk. I got slightly carried away myself and bought a travel chess set. I still felt justified in mocking Drew.
Eventually hiked on to Big Meadows, where we dined at the lodge. I had pasta and salad. It was very average and quite pricey. I did drink my weight in Coke though. We're sleeping out tonight near the complex after a welcome change in the weather. We bumped into Charles, a guy we had both met weeks ago. Saw lots of bears and baby deer - jolly exciting. Tonight, we have gas.
The Shenandoahs put regulations on hikers to stay at designated campgrounds. We have only been in the park for 3 nites now, and we have violated the rule twice. Its hard for us, mostly me, to just stop because there is a shelter. I want to feel as though something was accomplished today, so I always asked Ben to hike a little further. We didn't want to pay hotel prices at the lodge, so we are camped in the woods mere yards from the resort. We used the resort's resources- hoping to get an upscale meal to reward ourselves, but instead we got a pricey dinner, that sucked, had horrible service by some douche, but we tried to make the money back by drinking coke and eating all the bread they would serve.
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Total Miles: 927.0
It was a good night to sleep out. Had an acceptable breakfast at the grill and bought some overpriced groceries. Got distracted at Skyland, where I bought some more overpriced junk food.
Have had more issues with my back. I'm wondering what to do about it. My insurance doesn't look like it'll cover me for anything. I did feel pretty good for the last hour of hiking though - the pain changes unpredictably and my mood usually follows it. I am worried I may not make it past Harpers Ferry.
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Total Miles: 950.6
Back hurt for most of the day, but not so much while hiking. We had a terrible value and plain nasty meal at the Elkwallow Wayside. Met two people from Bristol there. Uneventful day.
Staying at the Tom Floyd Wayside Shelter, having just left the park. Shortly after setting up in the shelter, a thunderstorm blew in just like last year. Guess we're heading in to Front Royal tomorrow, though we are not sure exactly why. The timing to get to Harper's in time to make the post office is looking tricky.
The shelter has filled up. People all seem decent - a married couple we've seen a few times and two other hikers, apparently called Sprint and E-Dogg. Circuit Rider and Sherlock (hiking God-botherers) are tenting. I wonder if they will be spared being crushed in their sleep by a falling tree as so nearly happened to a couple on my last visit.
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Total Miles: 970.9
Up early after an uncomfortable night's sleep. Billy had an awful time of it, being cramped (my fault) and kept awake by snoring (me again). The hitch to Front Royal happened very quickly. One of those nice older fellas that seem to love picking up hikers at every opportunity. He told us about the Smithsonian Zoological Park we were about to walk by. It had been used to raise cavalry horses during the civil war and was now used to breed endangered species.
We did our grocery shopping and ate breakfast at McD's. I am growing worryingly attached to the franchise. I bought some shorts at Big K to replace the ones I got (which sucked) to replace my torn Speedos. We didn't even need to try to hitch back to the trail. A guy saw us strolling along and picked us up. 'Hiking Mike' was a teacher who had hiked all but 140 miles of the trail. He was very friendly and vaguely interesting.
Our plans to reach Harper's Ferry for Saturday morning are looking a little optimistic, but we are going for it anyway - the alternatives are all too irritating to consider. We stopped for lunch at the Jim and Molly Denton Shelter - one of the nicest on the trail. A south-bound section hiker was the only person there. He lectured political science at George Washington University. He and Billy discussed US foreign policy while I enjoyed the misleadingly advertised 'warm-water shower'. We got stuck there for a while waiting out a thunderstorm. This brought both a welcome respite from the heat and an equally welcome group of soaking wet female hikers.
We hiked on for a while before stopping at a picnic table. Suddenly Harper's by Saturday didn't seem like such a good plan and we then frittered yet more time away playing chess. Much of the trail had been submerged by the storms. Another came in as we walked, making it even worse going. Most of the trail now stood under an inch of water, parts became bubbling streams. We made it to Dick's Dome shelter, where we bumped into the married couple from yesterday heading out - we did likewise.
Night hiking with these shoddy key-ring lights is near-impossible, so we are tarped at a trail intersection just inside a state park, having failed to make it to Rod Hollow Shelter. We have to do pushing 30 miles tomorrow to stay on track.
We are very inconsistent when Ben and I plan to walk every day. We just think we might want to head there, but there are so many variables that we never make a decision until it is practically putting the odds against us. One variable that always played havoc on any type of planning was our unwillingness to start every day at a reasonable time, nor finish either. So instead of pushing on, we would stop and contemplate all the variations of any possible conclusions. In this case we sat down and played chess...until it finally hit us that we could indeed make it to Harpers Ferry, but sh**, it's probably too late now. Let's try it anyhow. It started to rain again, pouring sometimes, we were completely soaked. If you were not wet from the pouring rain today, you were soaking inside your frogg toggs from your sweat. Some parts of the trail are similar to walking a creek bed. The Appalachian Trail in some areas plays a drainage ditch for the rain, therefore, you must walk in inches of running water, never allowing your shoes to dry. Being Appalachian Trail friendly, I was not willing to walk on the outside of the trail, so it meant I had to walk the ditch the Appalachian Trail had created. The shelter was full again, so we headed north. Once again tonite we are illegally camping in a park.
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Total Miles: ?
Failed to write last yesterday. Out by 6am and knocked off the miles to the first shelter quickly. Grabbed a bite to eat then entered the 'Roller Coater' - a long stretch of constant up and downs. It was too hot and I couldn't filter water as my water container had sprung a leak. Those miles came slowly and very thirstily. Finally made it to the spot by the road where Billy was waiting as patiently as he ever does, and hobbled off to lunch. The Horse Shoe Curve Restaurant is a small bar with good food. We ate enjoyable meals, I drank beer, and we went to settle the bill. It transpired that a section hiker called 'Artful Dodger' hadn't been able to make it to the trail this year, so had instead sent money to the place to pay for hikers' meals. Our $20 tab was taken care of by this kind stranger and set out to finish off the last 10.5 miles.
I had developed some nasty chaffing as well as an incurable thirst and a very sore back. I eventually resorted to hiking without shorts, only my transparent sil-skirt for modesty. The nature of the chaffing was such that the only way to alleviate it was to 'clutch' myself with one hand and hold up the front of my skirt with the other. I was terrified I would encounter a south-bound group of girl scouts. Despite this, I made decent time until nightfall. Then, the combination of rocky ground, inadequate light and a very delicate back made for slow progress. The last half mile took me 40 minutes, most of which was spent thinking I had passed the shelter in the dark and that I was somehow going to have to sleep on the trail with no shelter and no water. Was very happy to stumble into camp to find Billy waiting for me with water ready. He had even saved me a space in the shelter (at Drew's expense). Lots of girls there. I think they survived the ordeal of seeing me in my nylon skirt back-lit by a hiker's head-torch.
Everyone was up and out by six. The girls : Strappy, Big Red and Zero were also in the shelter. The miles into town were straightforward and we made good time. I had agreed to meet Billy at the bridge into town, but there was no sign of him. I waited for a while, before engaging in a long search of the town for him. After a lot of fruitless wandering, I came across him at the Appalachian Trail Conference Centre on my second pass of the building. Turned out he had gone into town to buy Cokes for everyone and we had just missed each other at the bridge.
All lodging in town was full due to there being a craft show on this weekend. Charles was keen to share a room with us so we went to lunch and explored options. Sat with the phone book and the restaurant's phone on our table trying to find somewhere with rooms free. We managed to get a lift with a hiker named Tadpole and her visiting mother to Martinsburg. We are staying at the Econolodge here. Ate pizza, drank beer, watched TV. Billy was kind enough to spend his evening walking back and forth to the truck stop doing our laundry.
I had everyone in the shelter worrying about Ben's arrival. I was contemplating whether or not to return to the trail to go and find him. I was worried that he may have stopped for the nite, or accidentally taken a side trail. Eventually Ben's lite could be seen coming round the bend and I went to greet him and tell him of the good news- "The girls were at the shelter!" The "girls", Strappy, Big Red, Zero, always had company around them. Meaning there were always male hikers trying to hike with them. Ben and I didn't hang around any other hikers, but it was nice to see girls on the trail, and these three were about the only girls that were thru hiking that we had the chance of seeing continuously. The Appalachian Trail has its own society, and the "talk of town" for miles was Strappy. She was the hottest hiker for many men for hundreds of miles. The only problem, she has a man on the outside. Our hurry to make it into Harpers Ferry was to get our packages before the post office closed on Saturday. However, arriving Saturday wasn't worth it. Harpers Ferry wasn't too hiker friendly today with places to stay, and did not allow hikers to camp around town.
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Been a few days since the last entry. Awoke early on the 15th to what I assumed
were the usual effects of a large pizza and ten tins of cheap lager. My back
continued to be very painful. We shared a taxi back to Harper's Ferry - Billy
and I got dropped by the library, while Charles was heading on back to the
trail. It was Sunday and the library was shut. We ate a good lunch at the same
country diner I had visited last year. I like it and the friendly
Our plan had been to do the few miles to the West Virginia / Maryland state line and then attempt the Maryland Challenge [to hike the length of the trail in Maryland - 40 miles in a single day] the next day. With my back in the state it was, this already looked to be a long shot, but I now also seemed to be coming down with something. My digestive system was rebelling and I could feel a temperature coming on. Our plans slowly evolved from hiking on, to staying the night in town and going to the doctors the next day, to getting on the next available train to Baltimore to go stay with Billy's cousins.
The next train was not scheduled until the following morning, so we needed to figure out a place to stay overnight. Initially we figured we'd just stealth-camp on the outskirts of town. We spent a while scouting out possible sites - they all sucked- during which time I was becoming progressively more unwell. We gave up and returned to town to loiter. After an hour or so sat on a wall , a local ranger started taking an interest in us. He asked us what we were doing and Billy panicked - telling him that we were about to hike out of town. From then on, Billy lived in fear of seeing the guy again and having his deception uncovered - we didn't need a night in the cells on vagrancy charges. We finally made the decision that there was no way I was going to be able to sleep rough somewhere in my state, so buckled and booked a hotel room.
Hilltop House was a nice place - no TV, but I passed out as soon as I got to the room anyway. I was awoken several times in the night by the need to sprint/limp to the lavatory. Other than that I mostly slept in a semi-delirious stupour.
This day I would visit the lavatory pretty much every hour so it was unfortunate that our train was 3 hours late. The AMTRAK was rather more luxurious than a British train. Spent a while transferring at DC - in all the the journey took seven hours.
Kevin and his wife Jodie picked us up from Baltimore station in a shining Audi. They took us to dinner and then on to Keith's, where we were to be staying. Keith's house is not kept very clean or tidy. It is like Jamie's flat in its heyday, but with a feral cat living amongst the carnage. I got the sofa, Billy the floor.
The "friendly waitress" was a tall brunette. Very pleasant to us, but we left it at that. Just imagining she would indeed be attracted to two smelly hikers. Keith was nice enough to let us stay at his place, so I was nice enough to help clean up a bit. I even got Ben involved. Throughout the week, we were able to straighten a few things, including alphabetizing the thousands of DVDs Keith owns, fixed the downstairs toilet, and even vacuumed a little. BBC-America happened to be playing a marathon of the first season of "The Office" each nite of the week. This was the finding of what became a lifestyle for my cousins and me. Kevin let us borrow his ol' jetta , which I adore. We pimped the VW around town to local hiking and sports shops, the grocery store, to get Ben's haircut, and even to the doctor's. Keith, Kevin, and Jodi dropped what they had planned for the week to make us feel welcome, even though we basically made them take us in to recuperate.
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Back in Harper's Ferry after spending a very enjoyable week in hospitable
Baltimore. Ate a lot of good meals, watched a lot of TV (The Office was on all
week!), did some shopping and generally relaxed and recuperated. I saw the
doctor, who prescribed me some painkillers and gave me some tips. He thinks I
have bruised a disc, for what it's worth. I have wimped out and bought a
Thermarest (my third). I also have a new light, shorts, T-shirt, shoes and
Keith and Kevin are both excellent sorts and proved wonderful hosts for our stay. Sadly our week had to end eventually. We ate a last lunch with the guys and took the train back to Harper's. We ate again at the pizza place in town, before hiking over the river a mile into Maryland to stealth camp. Tomorrow we shall get up early, retrace our steps and attempt to hike the length of Maryland. I'm not really looking forward to it being my first day back, and while still not 100%.
Getting back to Harpers Ferry meant we had to stay another nite in the town. I had grown more "manly" in Baltimore, I guess, and was willing to stealth just across the river in Maryland. We laid down at dark behind some historical stone walls that were used as a reservoir inlet in Harpers Ferry's barging heyday (the walls today are for tourist to look at). There is only 50 yards between the Potomac River and the railroad tracks that Ben and I took to Baltimore. This meaning that we didn't have much room to stealth camp...and the train tracks were 75 feet above our heads on the hillside. I worried a train may derail in the nite. Trains did come thru at nite, awakening me, but this meant I was sleeping lite and would get us up early before people would see us
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Total Miles: 1048.6
Awoke before 5 yesterday and back-tracked to the border. We started the challenge at 5.30. The terrain was pretty decent for the most part and we knocked off miles at a good rate. I was surprised how good my back felt. Still fairly queasy, I struggled to eat much real food. I mostly fueled myself with chocolate and pain killers. The painkillers are not helping my stomach either.
We had some luck with conveniently placed vending machines and water spigots. With 20 miles down by our early lunch, we even had time to check out the original Washington monument and the Annapolis rocks. All was going well until we stumbled across three lost kids. They were part of a church group. They had little idea where they were supposed to be going or where they were. We figured out where they were likely supposed to be going, turned them around and gave them directions to a shelter a couple of miles away where we hoped the rest of their group would be waiting.
We pushed on to find their supervisors. We got to the road just before the shelter to find Lion King and another hiker with Smiley - a hiker that had to drop out with knee problems and was now supporting a friend's attempt at the challenge and providing trail magic to hikers. Billy went off in search of the supervisors. I gladly took a 7-Up from Smiley. Billy tracked down the 'leaders' of the group and discovered that they had indeed lost three children and weren't doing very much about finding them.
Billy headed off South again to find the kids again and help them to the shelter. He soon came bounding back with a pack, desperate kids in tow. The children had panicked and started jettisoning their stuff as they went because they couldn't stand the weight. I now headed back to gather up these possessions that had been strewn over a half mile stretch either side of the only steep hill of the day. The park ranger who had been alerted by the group leaders was not awfully impressed by the situation, but was delighted with us. The price of our heroics was a lot of wasted energy and time.
We pushed on a ways with my fatigue getting ever worse. Collapse at a road crossing for a while. Eventually I gathered the will to tackle the last miles. Night fell with 3 more miles to go. This coincided with the going becoming rocky and the trail hard to follow. I struggled even with my shiny new light, so I have no idea how Billy got on further ahead with his dollar store effort.
I reached the Pennsylvanian border 17 hours 7 minutes after setting out. I was as tired as I've ever been. Smiley was on hand to give me much needed water. No sign of Billy for a while. He eventually turned up, having gotten lost near the border. We camped just over the state line and slept heavily. We're waiting in the park now for the food stand to open. I ate only chocolate yesterday and not enough of that. I am still queasy and don't fancy anything except hot savoury food.
The Maryland Challenge(40 miles). The challenge to walk the entire state of Maryland has
long been a hiker accomplishment that many attempt on their thru-hike of the
Appalachian Trail The challenge is a show of strength that a hiker has been building since
the foothills that began on top of Springer Mountain in Georgia. A persuasion
that entices many to say that they have walked an entire state within one day,
and becomes for many hikers their biggest one day mileage achievement of the
Appalachian Trail An attempt at the Maryland Challenge was something I strongly wanted to
accomplish. For Ben at first, it was just another crazy amount of miles I was
asking him to hike with me. Ben had just been laid up for a week for his bad
back, but still went for the journey.
Ben and I had done 3/4 of our Maryland Challenge before running into three kids up on a ridge heading south. I do not talk to many passers by, but the three, 11 - 13 year old boys, seemed out of place and fatigued. So I asked them what they were doing out here. At first they seemed a little standoffish. I would be if I was them. Seeing Ben and I standing over 6 feet tall and asking you where you are going...and you don't have a clue. But we struggled through the conversation and eventually got the boys to admit they were lost. So Ben and I did our best guessing as to where they thought they should be going. Having just walked an entire day through Maryland we were very secure in letting them know that they should not be heading south...there was no group camped below us. At the time I thought the boys were slackers and misfits and the group leaders were teaching the kids a lesson by letting the boys "think" they were getting lost to teach them to follow instructions better. This being thought, I figured a group leader and the group were just around the bend...and letting the boys sweat a little until they gave up. So I felt confident in telling the boys to turn around and head north. Ben and I would alert the group leaders in just a few minutes about the boys arriving shortly. The boys were out of water and hungry. I think Ben and I gave them water and offered our food. And I gave them the usual Billy mantra of "walk it off." Telling the boys to suck it up, you are so close to being there, just walk a little further.
Ben and I continued north. Always looking for a large group camped off the side of the trail. Minutes turned into a half hour and still no sign of the boys' group. I was definitely worried I had misinformed the boys and started to panic mentally. Shortly after, Ben and I could hear voices from the road as we descended off the ridge. We got excited that we could hear the boys' group. But we thought, the boys still had a ways to hike. Ben and I hike like clockwork at this point and time on the trail. 20 minutes means we have just hiked 1 mile. So we knew the boys had over a mile to hike if not two, and they would be lucky to get a mile an hour at their rate. Ben and I quickly descended to only find a small group of hikers who knew nothing about the whereabouts of the three boys. We quickly started asking them if they had seen any groups today...It was pointed out that there was a group at the next shelter north of here. I took off immediately to find how far the shelter was north of us. Once arriving at the shelter, I asked openly if three boys were missing. Some adults told me "Yes". I asked if anyone was out searching for them. The group told me that two male adults had gone north to find them...and that the kids had been lost for hours. No one from the group was willing to leave the other kids to come back with me to rescue the boys. So I headed back south to meet Ben again at the road crossing. I told Ben and the hikers of the news. I started running back south to find the boys...I was worried that they could decide to just wonder off the trail into the vast woods. I knew that many hikers are lost on the Appalachian Trail because they for some reason get off the trail and cannot find their way back. I ran back to get the boys and let them know I had found their group. The three boys and I started heading north with me carrying as much of their stuff as I could. The boys were getting desperate and had given up. As Ben stated, the three of them had started dispersing their belongings along the trail because they thought they could carry their belongings no further.
Ben had headed back south to look for me and I let him know about the kids' stuff strung out along the trail. Ben went to collect as I lead the kids to the road crossing. I made it back to the road with the three boys, just in time to see the ranger arriving.
Ben and I didn't stay long and started again the attempt on our Maryland Challenge. We took long breaks to make sure we would leave enough energy to accomplish our goal. The last three miles were walked in the dark. Out of those three miles I walked two of them without my dollar store light. The light was actually making it worse for me. Because the terrain was descending over large boulders, the light wasn't allowing me to gauge the depth very accurately. I decided it best to not use my light and just walk blindly with the moon. It is amazing how well your feet and mind become acquainted to what would seem very near impossible steps on the Appalachian Trail with no light. The last mile I started to use my light again in order to reflect the blazes from the Appalachian Trail I saw a car parked in the distance and a trail led me in that direction. The trail ended up being a side trail that took me into someone's back yard. I retraced my steps and then had to head south on the Appalachian Trail until I could assure myself that I was again walking the Appalachian Trail It is amazing how the multitude of blazes do not seem to be available when you most need them. As I headed back south I started yelling for Ben to make sure he had not wondered off the Appalachian Trail as well. I got no response from shouting Ben's name, so I became worried that he had fallen or had not succeeded this far yet. I started panicking for the second time today. Eventually I assured myself that I was on the Appalachian Trail and saw my blunder. I walked out of the Appalachian Trail into the park and wandered the park's facilities still looking for Ben. Ben had passed me when I took the side trail, then later had missed me in the park, because he went in search of me north of the trail. Finally we connected where Smiley was hanging out and offered to take us into town for a motel with a lovely bed. We opted out.
Ben and I were mentally and physically exhausted and passed out next to the Mason Dixon Line sign and underneath the Pennsylvania sign. It was illegal for us to camp in the park...so we laid down right next to the park's boundaries.
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Total Miles: 1063.5
Extremely tired all day. Have not had enough rest after yesterday's ordeal. Still feeling queasy. It transpires that the food stand no longer opens on weekdays. At least there was a pizza place we could call and get strombolis to be delivered. Being full of stromboli made me feel extra bad. Hope to be feeling a little better tomorrow. Body felt weak all day as though we had already hiked 25 miles before heading out.
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Total Miles: 1087.2
A quick 3 miles in the morning took us to a road crossing from which it was just half a mile to a convenience store. I breakfasted on melon and the very good freshly made sandwiches they did there. We grabbed more sandwiches for our lunch and headed on. It was only 0.4 miles before we were in Caledonia Park. We lounged about and killed time until 2.30. I read my book (Moby Dick) and Billy spent an eternity on the phone to Nicky. I called home to let my mother know I had survived Maryland relatively intact. We finally hiked on.
I felt very much better than I had yesterday. We powered through to Pine Grove Furnace Park in time to shop at the store. Once in the park, we discovered that we would have to pay to camp. We are non to keen on paying to lie down on the ground, so we had to hike on. I gave Will a call on the way out. He is setting out in an hour or so to meet us. He shall be taking the bus to Carlisle, 6 miles from Boiling Springs. I am looking forward to seeing him tomorrow.
We are camped just off the AT outside of the main area of the park. We managed to wake another hiker by stumbling through her campsite in the dark, flashlights blazing.
Having just spent a week in Baltimore feeding our faces, we thought it was not a good idea to attempt the Pine Grove Furnace Park store "half way" ice cream challenge. There was a hostel/motel at the park we could have stayed at for cheap, but I am not a fan in sharing with strangers. We attempted to stay at the park that had lots of acreage of ponds and could hold thousands of occupants. So we started to lay down tucked away in some trees, when some dad from a boy scout camp group that had over 50 kids and had these massive army type dining hall tents set up in the park, told us we couldn't stay here. We tried to plead with the guy that we were only going to lay on the ground and didn't need any of his space…but he was not having it and told us to go to this other section of the park where hikers could stay. We walked the ¼ of a mile to the other location in the park and as we wandered around, all we saw were RVs parked in this location. We started getting curious as to where we were going to stay, when we came across a park ranger in a truck and they instructed us that we had to pay to camp in the park. We were not willing to pay, so we hiked just outside the park boundaries to camp. The park's boundaries were not clearly marked, so we had to guess where the line ended. As we were scrambling to find a flat place off the side of the trail…we accidentally stepped over/on a fellow hiker that was fast asleep! Whoops. We laid down mere yards north of our fellow hiker and went to bed. We awoke to find the halfway sign mere yards from our campsite. The marker is actually 100 miles south of the actual halfway point of the Appalachian Trail
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Total Miles: 1106.0
Total Miles: ?
Failed to write last night. Woke to find we were within sight of the halfway marker. We got up and had a mini-photo shoot. We met the person we had disturbed the night before - a tiny Jewish girl hiking alone. We finally got hiking by 9.30.
It was easy enough going - the the last few miles were over flat farmland. Into Boiling Springs by 4. We hung around the ATC office. They have a porch seating for hikers. Will rolled up in a taxi around 7. It was very good to see him. We went for dinner at the Italian place in town. Picked up a 6-pack of Yeungeling to welcome Will to Pennsylvania and headed to the campground where we were to stay.
The campground is just a field of long (probably tick infested) long grass. Lots of hikers were already there. Will, predictably, hadn't brought quite everything he probably needed - notably he had no groundsheet and had picked up my tarp rather than the sleeping bag. Our final solution involved us sharing the tarp as a groundsheet and him using my Tyvek groundsheet as a blanket. A lot of our fellow hikers were sectioners and some very annoying. I kept hearing snippets of a painfully irritating conversation one group was having. The fantastically noisy trains passed about 20yards from where we slept remarkably frequently. Didn't sleep much.
Awoke early this morning in a poo of my own drool. Ate breakfast and used the facilities at the gas station. We were out hiking at 8.15. It was flat farmland for 15 miles and very easy going. We stopped at Scott Farm for water. While taking a break there, a couple pulled up in a VW. They had cold beer for us. The girl was very charming and all but flashed us an eyeful of her ample charms - I assume this was part of the planned trail magic.
We had two reasonable climbs and some rocky stuff towards the end. Will was flagging some, but he made it - a remarkable achievement for someone their first day out. We arrived in Duncannon shortly after 5. No one was home at the Doyle 'hotel' and we had to phone the owner at home. We got a single and a twin room - $13/head. Sharing with Will. The rooms are even scarier than I remembered from last year. Ours is equipped with a positive liability of a ceiling fan. Billy's shows no sign of having been cleaned in recent times. All of the electrics in the building are antique and it is in poor shape overall.
The Doyle's bar isn't open and the pub isn't serving food - getting into town on a Sunday sucks. Had to eat at the pizza place. We sat in the bar there, watched TV and ate. We went for (excellent) ice cream and then back to the hotel. The rooms are horribly hot and even a cold shower didn't help. Shall be sweating all night.
Will arrives in the gang. Will adds an outside flare to our trio, having just
arrived from the civilized world. Will is a standup guy to be willing to put up
with me; or Ben had clearly explained to him that I love to do big miles and do
not do the social lounging thing very well, cause Will did not seem to mind my
The site for hikers to camp in Boiling Springs was just a side section of farmland sitting right next to a freight train line that ran all nite. The grass was knee-high and was tick infested, only having a Portolet to use- hence we used the gas station bathroom in the morning. I did not talk much to Will and just let him get acquainted to the Appalachian Trail and the way Ben and I hiked by spending time with Ben.
The Doyle is another Appalachian Trail monument. The Doyle is just something that you do not pass up. If I had not met Ben…there would be no way that I would stay at the Doyle. The Doyle has only one bathroom on each floor. You can not just walk up to the front desk of the Doyle and ask for rooms. We had to walk around the back and onto the entrance of the second floor porch and wait for the owners to answer. I was on the main street side of the Doyle and had the window open all nite. I was not willing to use the sheets on the bed, so I was sleeping in my sleeping bag. I did not sleep much and would frequently get up to watch the goings on of the townsmen. The town is a small section of old row houses. I was paying particular attention to a fat lady that was sitting on her front steps most of the nite chatting to local neighbors or talking on her cordless phone about her relationship or someone else's. It was rednecks living in the city. Kids walked the streets all nite…even though there was absolutely nothing to do in this town. The town was a place that looked as though trouble occurred because people could not find something to do that would keep them out of trouble.
The laundromat in town has one of the neatest scams. For every dollar
you place in the change machine, you are given 90 cents. That is 2 quarters and
4 dimes. The machines only take quarters! Also the detergent dispenser is for
looks only. Placing a dollar worth of quarters into the machine will only leave
you with no detergent and $1 less in your pocket. When Ben and Will went to the
laundry the next day…the owner happened to be taking the money out of the
machines. I asked him why the change machine was only giving 90 cents for every
dollar…he stated: "yeah that's right…I make money that way." I told him I lost
a dollar in the detergent dispenser, he said, "oh that thing, it's just for
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Total Miles: 1145.5
A hot night in our ropey rooms. Awoken at 5.30 by pressing need to run to the lavatory - worried I was having a relapse of my stomach problems, but seem ok now. Rolled out of bed late and put our laundry in. Ate at the diner - liver and onions for me. Did grocery shopping - going to eat cold dinners for a while. Stopped at the ice cream place again on the way out of town. A decent climb up onto the ridge, then flat the rest of the way. Met female hikers Axel Rose and Runaway at a view point and chatted to them briefly. Stopped at Peter Mountain Shelter for water. It turned out to be one of the toughest water-runs on the trail - I remembered it bitterly from last year. The water is a long way away down a very steep slope. We're camping out 3 miles from the shelter. The mosquitoes are terrible here.
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Total Miles: ?
Mine and William's attempts to use the bug netting together were wholly unsuccessful. Our attempts at forging it into a hermetically sealed refuge were a waste of time. Upon awaking I killed 6 mosquitoes inside the netting.
I have no idea how Will survived the day. It was a lot of miles even for us, for someone on his third day out (and still recovering from his first) it was monumental. He is quite the trooper. His British-schooling has obviously done its job. His legs are causing him agony with every step, but he scarcely complains. He seems game to attempt whatever ludicrous mileage Billy suggests. It is impressive. Hopefully he shall get some respite tomorrow as we are going to spend a morning in town - McD's is calling.
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Total Miles: ?
We had a spot of luck this morning. Shortly before arriving at the the road to town, we met and chatted to the caretaker of the 501 Shelter. He was heading into town and gave us a ride. His job consisted of living in the house adjoining the shelter, looking after the shelter and, occasionally, embarking on a litter patrol of a two mile stretch of trail around the shelter.
There wasn't much in town for us. McD's turned out not to be an option. We ate at a pizza place - all choosing two slices of pizza and a steak hoagie apiece. I guess it was ok. Resupplied at the grocery store, killed time at a gas station making calls and then headed out.
Back on trail by 4.30, we strolled ten easy miles and camped. We have put the tarp up for the first time in recent memory. It's looking fine. Will is asleep already. Last night he seemed to sleep very well, except for an incident at 12.30, when I was awoken by (the still sleeping) Will crying out and sitting bolt upright. Alarmed, I asked him what was going on, but he was still fast asleep. Slowly, he returned to a prone position. I can only guess that his subconsciousness was responding to agony his legs were causing him.
The ride out of town left me with an injury. We got a ride back in a truck that had a bed cab and steel work boxes running down the sides of the bed. As I closed the gate of the truck shut, I had no idea that there was no room for my fingers to go between the gate being shut and the work boxes. I had forgotten about the work boxes on the side and had my left hand placed too far wide and ended up smashing the tips of my fingers between the gate and the truck. I was rushed, and I knew the driver must be in a hurry, because as he was picking us up, he started taking off before we had all settled in the bed of the truck. The free hitch left me with one of my fingertip nails having a ridge run down the middle of the fingernail. I did learn my lesson. This hitch ended up being a bruiser for Will as well.
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Total Miles: ?
Up and out early. The 15 miles into Port Clinton were uneventful. Will was a little sluggish on the hills - he had hurt his knee in the back of the pick-up truck we got a hitch back to the trail in yesterday. Had an excellent lunch at the hotel - burgers and a huge plate of fries washed down with decent beer. Chunkie, the lady that runs the place, recognised me from last year and even remembered what I ordered then.
Bought jelly beans and chocolate buttons at the Peanut Shop sweet store. The buttons turned out to be made of cooking 'chocolate' and not nice. I bought another AT Data Book at the outfitter and picked up a hammock for $20. The hammock is just to play/experiment with - I can afford the extra weight while we are cruising along with Will. I shall probably send it home eventually.
Tonight, Billy is sleeping out in his bug-netting, Will is in the shelter and I am swaying in my hammock. The other hikers in the shelter seem to be enjoying Will's affable company.
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Total Miles: 1229.9
Unusual night's sleep in the hammock. You have to lie on your back and that doesn't agree with me. Woke up many times during the night and spent 10 minutes coughing up phlegm upon rising. Will was up and raring to go before us, so we sent him off down the trail while we took turns using the dangerously full privy.
When we overtook two guys that had set off before Will and who had not seen him since, we could only conclude that we had lost Will. After some time panicking, I was glad when Will was waiting safely at the rendezvous point. The others hadn't seen him, because he had made a point of passing them while they were distracted at a view-point.
We all ate lunch at the Eckherd shelter - another caretaker maintained one. This one is looked after by a surly guy called Lazzee, who has been there 10 years now. How much was genuine surliness and how much was down to dry-humour we'll never know. We enjoyed cold drinks and I took a cool shower.
We stopped for dinner at an upscale restaurant. It left me $30 lighter, but also fullish of decent food - steak, salad, rice, green beans and chocolate mousse cake, all washed down with beer.
We hiked another half and hour before camping. We can hear the fireworks tonight, but can't see them. We had another bear sighting today - it was a big one about 50 yards away from us. This should have spurred us to hang our food properly tonight, but we are too lazy. Other highlights of the day included Will licking three counties simultaneously - impressive stuff!
Tomorrow we bowl.
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Total Miles: 1257.6
Out by 7, but the walk to Slatington was slow. Will's ankle is now giving problems. It was horribly rocky again - we shall be very glad to finish Pennsylvania tomorrow. We got a hitch into town with three friendly lads in a pick-up. We were sad to discover that the bowling alley had shut down, so we just went and had lunch at a pizza place. Ate pizza, burgers and onion rings - too much food.
Will was not in a fit state to hike on, so he decided to hitch to Delaware Water Gap. Billy and I changed our itinerary to arrive there tomorrow lunchtime instead of Monday as previously planned.
It was an extremely hot day (90's) and, after leaving Will to try his luck with the psychos and crazies, we began our ascent out of Lehigh Gap. The climb out is up the mountain that has been famously deforested due to the proximity of a zinc works. There was no shade and it was very rocky and steep. Hands were required for much of it. Once on top of the ridge, the rest of the hike was pretty nice - flat and the lack of foliage making for interesting views. We powered through 16 miles to reach the shelter as it was getting dark. The water source there was a 20 minute round trip down a slope. We had no choice - there had been no usable water since town due to the pollution. Tomorrow we are going to knock of the remaining 20 miles early and think of something to do to kill time until Tuesday, when we hope to take a trip to NYC and meet up with Keith and Nicky.
As we walked into Slatington- I made it to the last shelter before Ben and Will and decided to wait for them instead of at the road crossing. As I was waiting in the shelter, this 'murderous' looking guy showed up and started talking to me. I wasn't saying much, and was praying for someone else to stop in. I had no idea where Ben and Will were. This guy just wouldn't leave the shelter, and I was scared to leave not knowing what lay north. I contemplated walking south because I knew the terrain, but I was able to hold out until a family with small children came 30 minutes later. Some time later an older gentleman stopped in, all visitors calmed my nerves. Ben and Will were over an hour behind me. I had no idea of Will's troubles.
Having Will join the gang meant hitching would be a little harder. Asking
someone to pick up two male hikers by oneself seems risky. Asking someone to
take three strangers into their car would be overwhelming. Meaning our hitches
would be with more than one person in the car, leaving us less room and fewer
chances to get in and out of town. We lucked out getting all three of us
into Slatington. Getting out of Slatington we had to split and let Will take
the first hitch and luckily a few cars later Ben and I were able to score a
ride. Will was dropped off at the intersection at the end of the bridge, while
Ben and I were dropped off before the bridge. Ben and I walked the ¼ mile
bridge to part ways with Will as he had opted to take the "Hitch from Hell" and
Ben and I scrambled up a treeless mountain made of boulders. That nite we
stayed at a campsite with fellow hikers, even the great ridgerunner Gizmo was
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Total Miles: 1277.8
Out by 6.30 and set about knocking off the miles ASAP. It was very rocky still and hard on the feet. I went pretty well until I used spectacularly poor judgement when confronted with a four-foot drop to get down from a boulder. Rather than take my time and climb down, I opted instead for what I can only describe as a long-step/semi-controlled fall onto a piece of wood 18 inches off of the ground. The wood was rotten and I passed through it without slowing my momentum discernibly. I hit the ground awkwardly on one foot. My ankle was pretty badly hurt and I was concerned about it - until Billy came back and insisted I 'hike it off'. To his credit, this tactic worked ok, until I turned it over again on a curb just as we got into town. This hurt a lot and I was limping for a while - glad to be taking some time off now.
We met with Will in town. He had spent the night at the shelter behind the church hostel (as we are again tonight). He had a
great hitch to get here, which hopefully he
shall describe in his own words soon [he did - and it's available to
PureBound]. We ate at a diner - I had a donner kebab. Bought fruit for pudding
and ate it in the hostel. Got showered and changed there. While I was shaving, I
overheard Billy being hassled by Ridge runner 'Gizmo'. The guy wanted Billy to
stop playing Game Boy, look him in the eye and shake him by the hand. This didn't
go down well at all with Billy. Later on we got to hear this same guy tell us
how it is impossible for people to hike more than 20 miles/day without
destroying their bodies, before moving on to lecture Will on the inadequacy of
his boots. Annoying douche.
We ate at the pizza place where I got me another K-bab. Tomorrow we may go tubing on the Delaware River.
A ridge runner basically mans a certain section of the
Appalachian Trail for both safety and awareness to hikers and the environment. The
ridge runner, Gizmo, does not deserve any type of credit or appreciation of our
Appalachian Trail thru-hike. I just see him as one of the ludicrous individuals that
passed by on our journey. Gizmo, unfortunately, thought he was a part of
our hike and told us how we should do it.
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Total Miles: 1294.6
Total Miles: 1315.0
We never made it tubing. Instead, we got a cheap room at the Ramada ($14 each) and lay around watching Comedy Central all day. The next morning we caught the bus to New York City. Took under two hours to get to Port Authority. We met up with Nicky and Keith at the Ho-Jo where they and Billy were staying. Will and I took the cheap(er) option of a youth hostel. We spent no more than two waking hours at our hostel and I'm sure we ingratiated ourselves with our fellow hostellers by staggering in at 4am, steaming drunk.
We had a good time in the city. Enjoyed a night-time trip up the Empire State building; took a boat trip out to the Statue of Liberty and saw the Seinfeld Cafe. In the evening Keith, Will and I went out on the lash. I think Billy and Nicky amused themselves with some more arguing. We had a lot of fun, but a mighty expensive one. Beer is at least $5/US pint + tip. Got an excellent lunch at an awesome burger place Keith knew about. It was tucked away behind a curtain in a hotel lobby. Strange but very good despite my hangover.
Eventually we had to return to DWG and the comfort of our room at the Ramada. We slept well, enjoyed an indifferent continental breakfast and went to resupply. We had time for a final meal (yet another kebab for me) then loaded up with fruit, bread and brownies, but not enough water, we headed out. Water is getting scarce on the trail.
Hiked on until lunchtime, when we stopped by both the Washington Bakery and the Sunset Grill. Sadly we were too early to get the huge steaks we wanted, so made do with burgers and beer and a play on the jukebox. A lot of weekend hikers are out today. We chatted to one group (because it had girls) for a while. Hiked out full and happy.
Stopped at the pavilion atop Sunrise Mtn. Will was suffering from the same chaffing issues that had troubled me, so I urged him to change his shorts - this he did at the trailside while I went on a little way and kept a look out. Despite our efforts, he came pretty close to exposing himself to a poor couple. There was a parking lot by the pavilion so we spent some time playing with our new frisbee. It was an awful lot of fun and I thought we were surprisingly good.
We are staying near Mashipacong Shelter, which has a great privy, but no water - Billy went on a quest to get some. We are sleeping out as the shelter (and the bear box) have been filled by a co-ed scout group. I was pleased, but not surprised, to find goodies left in the bear-box by Desperado. We met him last year. He looks after several shelters up here and is a good friend of John Matthews who was so kind to Pam and me last year. Most welcome was the provision of Gold Bond and lemonade mix (not to be mixed up). Tomorrow we stop at Unionville to play some basketball.
The ticks are pretty bad here.
The Mashipacong shelter, according to the Appalachian
Trail book, did
not have a water source. However, there were signs and the scouts in the
shelter had sent some people to fetch water. The trail to the water source
was close to a mile or so one way. The trail had you crossing a road,
going down an old forest service road, and then never told you exactly where the
water source is located. You just passed a still black pool of water,
asked yourself, "is this it?"- cause it sure is lacking the attributes of a
water source. Getting water took me 30+ minutes to gather and come
back...and I ran most of it, cause it was getting dark.
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Total Miles: 1334.6
Awoke at 3am and couldn't sleep for several hours. Out late. Hiked to the very hispanic High Point State Park. We had a poor meal there of nasty burgers and fried egg/bacon/ham/cheese rolls.
We hiked a very pleasant 9 miles to Unionville - the rocks have finally eased. We bought sarnies and snacks in the store and went to the park to eat them. We played frisbee for an hour. Billy is remarkably good and knows all the fancy moves.
Carried on 6 more miles to the shelter. We had some swampy stuff on the way - the mosquitoes were disgusting and hateful. Will amused all with a comedy nature tour as we went. It made me laugh.
I hiked ahead of Ben and Will through the mosquito
infested lands of Walkill National Wildlife Preserve. I was basically in
tears. The preserve seemed to only be preserving mosquitoes. The
Walkill Preserve is a former sod farm, now pond, that houses a large pond with
outlying overflow swamps. I do not like to use chemicals such as sunscreen
and bug repellent because of their smell. But walking thru this preserve
was pure screaming/crying torture. The mosquitoes were swarms that would
not leave, and you could never kill them all. I can live with mosquitoes,
but this was similar to the site of a dog imbedded with hundreds of fleas with
no way for the dog to get rid of them. Oh, how I wished, I had bug
repellent...the mosquitoes pure volume and fixated biting killed my ability to
just ignore them...and they got the best of me. Ben and Will had on bug
repellent thru this section.
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Total Miles: 1353.5
We made it to Vernon fine. It took a while to get a hitch despite good location and plenty of traffic. Eventually a guy picked us up for an agreeable trip to town. We used the internet, showered and laundered at the church hostel before heading off to lunch at an italian place. I made the mistake of ordering the carbonara, which was as bad as I should have feared. We would have had the hostel to ourselves had we stayed the night, but we decided to push on.
Once back on the trail, we had another stretch of clambering over rock. It was steep enough for the ATC to provide a ladder for one section. It made for slow going and we have ended up camping in the middle of nowhere, without water. Our food shopping was badly judged - Billy left himself short of supplies for tomorrow. We may need to stop at a deli off of the trail.
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Total Miles: 1375.1
Awoke covered in the now familiar mix of leaf-litter and giant ants. A little thirsty, but the Wingfoot guide predicted plentiful water ahead. Wingfoot is a lying toad. We found none until we got to the Wildcat shelter. The going was tough all day - relentless up-and-down over rocks. Will and his legs are holding up very well and he is just tired. We stopped at the deli, which Pam and I had visited last year. I had forgotten what a nice little place it is. The owner was very friendly and we chatted for some time about alcohol licensing in NY state. We lunched on hot dogs and cheese toasties and picked up sandwiches for dinner.
We hiked on over some more extremely tough stuff and rested by NJ17 where Billy called home. While we were waiting for Billy, a guy in a pick-up pulled up and asked if we were thru-hikers. He then forced two cans of cold Coke apiece on us. He then gave us apples, water and cookies . His name was Pat and he had dropped out of a thru-hike several years ago, suffering with heel-spurs. He told us he had been doing trail-magic for 3 years running and that the reasons were 'a long story'. He mentioned this fact several times, but Will and I had absolutely no inclination to ask him to elaborate on it. He was very well meaning, but slightly scary. His conversation was a little random and he seemed to answer the wrong question sometimes, or at least ignore them and continue along his own agenda. He informed us that James Earl Jones lived near a town (W...?) further up the trail and that he got involved in trail-maintenance - or at least he did until he had artificial knees and a pacemaker fitted. We nodded patiently as he digressed onto the subjects of Darth Vader and Whoopi Goldberg (who also lived nearby and frequently broke down on this very road in her 'antique' car). We finally managed to wave goodbye to Pat and continued on our way.
The terrain remained nasty, though we had fun going through 'the lemon squeezer' [a very narrow passage though rock formations that makes up part of the trail]. Immediately after negotiating this we were faced with a sheer rock wall that could be either climbed or hiked around on an alternate route. We went over, but though only 12 feet high or so, it was a bit of a hairy ascent. I almost fell and shredded my finger tips in the process of staying alive.
We pushed on to Harriman Park and went down to the lake to eat dinner and pick up water. There were a lot of hikers gathered there. A particularly moronic one asked where we were headed. We replied 'the next shelter'. He looked confused and told us we were going the wrong way. We looked far more confused and assured him we were going the right way. He asked us which trail we were hiking and we replied that we were on the AT. He looked like he was really mulling over this sensational information so we just walked off.
Hiked on til dark and are sleeping out and praying that Pat doesn't murder us in our sleep. Will has just insisted that I document what he considers to be the most amusing incident of the day - some particularly timely flatulence on my part as I made the big push up a vertical climb with Will close below me. We were left precariously clinging to the rocks as we both convulsed with laughter.
I almost forgot - earlier we found what appeared to be a another generous bit of trail magic. A large cache of juice in mini-size cartons was waiting near a road crossing. Unusually there was no message from the kind soul responsible. Will and I grabbed some and we carried on swigging the nasty faux juice as we went. We passed a lot of kids hiking South - some of them pointed at us. It quickly dawned on us that it was a school trip and we had stolen their juice rations. Straggling way behind the others were the obligatory fat wheezy kid in flip flops and a poor teacher desperately trying to spur this modern day Roland into keeping up with the others. I expect the kid cried when they reached the road to find the juice ration to be short by two cartons.
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Total Miles: 1386.9
Again failed to get out as early as we ought to have. It was overcast and drizzly this morning and definitely not what I needed with rapidly developing chaffing issues. My legs look horrible - the chaffed area is covered in raised bumps like hives or blisters. The terrain continues to be evil - the rain again not helping. The treacherous rocky downs were made outright malevolent by a little moisture. Each of us took a tumble. I added to the lacerations on my hands and Will picked up the first of his trip.
Several potentially nice views were non-existent in the poor visibility. We did find welcome trail-magic though, in the form of a cooler of Coke, bananas and apples. We managed to escape the charms of the dubious food on offer at Hessian Lake. We passed through the zoo [yes the AT is routed through a zoo - admission free to thru-hikers]. We didn't hang about there too long, but pushed on to Fort Montgomery. We got lunch at a deli and sat a while to consider our strategy for the next week. We ended up deciding to stay here and got ourselves a 3-bed room at Bear Mtn Bridge Motel. $65 and we got CATV, AC and proximity to a garage that sold beer. Will secured us a lift back to the trail by chatting about sport to the UK born owner of the motel.
Almost daily we have been running into people/society. This has varying opinions from a hiker: one, it’s great that we do not have to carry as much food and water; two, the downfall in my opinion, we had to interact with people. Walking thru the zoo, I felt as though I was in a foreign land. Our hiking attire made us stand out like a sore thumb to the families, school children and couples visiting the zoo. I noticed this because I held back to take photos of Ben and Will walking thru the zoo. To me it was as though the three of us spoke a different language from all these “city dwellers”. The dwellers were like lemmings being pushed into the zoo, while the three of us towered over them and cruised thru their swarms, taking in the zoo in only a few minutes, do to its lack of nature’s best offering, because we “lived this stuff”.
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Total Miles: 1400.0
We had a late night. We watched TV, drank beer and ate ice cream. The motel guy banged on our door around 10 this morning to drive us back to the trail. We weren't ready so we lost the ride. We ate breakfast at the Bagel Cafe and read the newspaper that Will picked up. It was very civilised, or at least as civilised as egg, cheese and fried bologna rolls can be. Went to the garage/deli to resupply. As we were hanging around outside the deli, a car pulled up - it and the driver looked familiar. It was the same guy who gave us a lift to Vernon last year. He offered us a lift back to the trail, which we accepted gladly. He hikes sections of trail occasionally, but mostly seems to just drive around and help hikers. Apart from that lifestyle choice he doesn't seem too scary. He told us about the trail up ahead and assured us that the rest of New York was easier going than what we had just done.
At the bridge it was time for our team to, temporarily, split up. Billy was going to push on to the Connecticut border so he can get some rest before his attempt to hike the state in a single day. We shall arrive there the same day, but he is doing a 20-20-10 stretch and we are doing a 10-20-20. Crossing the Bridge was cool - it's an impressive piece of work with fine views. I looked down and watched a train passing far below. The thing must have been hundreds of carriage long and the thing just seemed to pass by endlessly.
Hiking was satisfyingly up and down, but not too strenuous. We decided to stop for lunch at the Monastery Ballpark Shelter. This is set in the ballpark of a monastery. It's a very nice place and Will and I had a great time playing frisbee in the outfield. I think the other hikers were impressed with our skills - they expressed admiration for our boundless energy. Eventually a monk showed up to tell us the deal with dinner. We hadn't intended to stay but it sounded too good to miss. We walked up to the Spiritual Life Centre which is a large five-storey modern building adjoining the old monastery. We were taken up to the large dining room. Here there was a table set aside and labeled 'hikers'. We were waited on by down-and-outs from the St Christopher (I think) Centre next-door. Our servers looked a little scary - one guy resembling a less fat Steven Seagal, with tattoos and a pony tail - but they were diligent and extremely polite. Dinner started promptly at five-thirty. Soup and food were waiting for us. We had to be finished by six so that our servers could return to their centre for counseling and AA meetings. We ate our fill of mashed potato, green beans, meatloaf and noodles - all good. There were a lot of other hikers there. We sat opposite a couple of section hiking girls from NJ. They were out for 5 days and doing about 8 miles a day. They were pleasant but dull. The monk offered everyone a tour after dinner. We didn't have time, so made a donation and excuses and left.
We finally got a glimpse of the NYC skyline and the Empire State Building. We hiked on to a nice spot a little short of our nominal target. Dinner was well worth the delay.
I just couldn’t pass up the opportunity to attempt to hike the entire state of Connecticut in one day. I didn’t know if it had been done before or not, but I thought that I could hike the 52 miles in a day. Ben was always an advisor to my hiking capabilities. I am not one to notice the length, or the elevation change that I am about to attempt. Hiking is putting one foot in front of the other, until I’m tired. Ben, being an advisor, helped me establish a more realistic hiking style that was compatible to his. He would read into the challenges that lay ahead, while I just sat there imagining how we could go further and faster. So we came up with a plan where I would hike a 20 today, a 20 tomorrow, and do an easy 10 before I attempted the Connecticut Challenge. Leaving Ben and Will behind was leaving my security blanket behind. I kept the tarp with me, leaving Ben with his stove. I was on my own again, not having anyone to tell me when to stop. That means I keep walking until I am tired, usually in a location that was far past the norm, and left me no where near a water source or a convenient camping spot. Fortunately, as nite fell, I was crossing a road to do a climb, and ran into a day hiker who supplied trail magic to me. I ended up sleeping on a ridge, with little water and just went to bed.
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Total Miles: 1421.1
We were only 1.5 miles short of the camping area last night, but I think we were better off where we stopped. The designated camp area was just a muddy field on a busy road. The only thing going for it was the presence of a tap. Hiked through to the shelter over some stiff terrain. The RPH shelter was more of a cabin/bunkhouse than a shelter. We waited out the rain there and read some of the decent books lying around and the copies of the America Free Press - a newspaper specialising in conspiracy theories. It contained 3-page adverts for books exposing Jewish plots for World supremacy and similar. The rain outlasted us and we were freezing cold in the cabin, so we hiked on to yet another town stop and yet another date with a local pizzeria and deli on NY52. Both were good. We ate pizza and read a newspaper, before heading next door to the deli for cookies and coffee.
We got more drizzly rain and Billy has the tarp so we were praying that there would be space for us at the shelter. There is no guarantee of that when you are getting in at eight-thirty on a Friday night. Luckily there are only two people here and they are tenting.
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Total Miles: 1437.7
Woke several times in the night and kept fighting my way out of my bug netting whilst having crazy dreams. Got some bites on my hands and my face. One must have got my lip as that was swollen this morning. We are under siege from both mosquitoes and the nasty biting flies that inhabit the area. We were out by 8.15, spurred on by the thought of hot dogs waiting for us ahead. When we got to the road indicated by the guidebook, there was no sign of the promised hot dog vendor. Not to worry though as it was only 7 miles further to the next deli where we stopped for a bite. Got a breakfast bap and ice cream as well as picking up dinner and breakfast supplies. It was yet another of the Boar's Head delis that have taken over New York. There were a lot of freaky people there and it had one of the most lavishly stocked pornography sections I have ever seen.
We got to the shelter before four and found Billy and a lot of other people there. A couple who had thru-hiked in '99 had driven over from Missouri to revisit the trail with their grandchildren and to feed this year's hikers. They had burgers on the grill, home-grown tomatoes, grapes, soda, ice and cookies for all. It was extremely nice. E-Z-Does-It was there as well as a camp hiker we met in DWG. He had been forcing Billy into conversation and I'm not sure how well he went down with my curmudgeonly friend.
Billy had been having second thoughts about the challenge. He has finally done the maths I did two weeks ago and realised it's crazy. To his credit, he's going to do it anyway.
The grandchildren of the folks from Missouri have been a barrel of fun. I witnessed them all go and return from the privy before going myself. Within seconds of getting comfortable I had three urchins banging on the door insisting they needed to go. Later on we let them join in our frisbee game. The amusement wore pretty thin pretty quickly for us, but we had opened the gate to a heap of trouble. We had to hide the frisbee several times from their clutches and the eldest kept coming over to hassle us. Billy needed peace and some rest before his ordeal and he didn't get much.
I never should have let Billy buy supplies on his own. For the challenge he was carrying a jar of peanut butter, two jars of jam and a pound tub of marshmallow spread (why anyone would want to spread marshmallow on bread I have no idea). He had tried to transfer some of the mallow into a ziplock bag to make room in the tub for the jam. The results looked indescribably vile. I shall be carrying that unfortunate experiment out to a trash can with me tomorrow as there is no way a man can actually eat it.
I am predictable about what I eat. I have my favorite foods, and rarely choose something different. On one of my road crossings, there was a town a little over a mile off the trail, so I walked in to get food for the Connecticut Challenge. I was getting a little tired of peanut butter and jelly, and in every prior grocery store had been seeing this marshmallow mix that comes in a jar similar to a jar of jam. The grocery store didn’t have a large selection of groceries. The store was more comparable to a large convenient store. I bought the marshmallow mix thinking it would enhance my peanut butter/jam spread I was going to put on my ritz crackers. I then had the idea to mix the three ingredients to make it one spread that could be easily placed on my crackers during the Connecticut Challenge. Thankfully, Ben was there to warn against me carrying this heartache mess, and Ben had the heart to carry it out for me. This left me with little supplies for the challenge, but at least I would eat something (the crackers and peanut butter I had left), instead of being repulsed and not willing to eat if I carried my “creation”. I tried to go to bed early, but couldn’t. I was sleeping real lite and woke frequently to check my watch to see if it was time to leave for the Connecticut Challenge.
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Total Miles: 1460.6
Woke early after the usual crazy dreams. Got Will up and headed out by 0730. I've no idea when Billy left. After an initially charming introduction to Connecticut, we started climbing big hills. It was tough going made harder by us not having much water. Will had 1 litre and I had two mouthfuls - this for 13 miles of hills in hot weather. Time went by pretty quickly, but very thirstily.
Kent was a surprise. Enormously busy (it's Sunday), it seems to be very popular as a tourist spot with wealthy New Yorkers. Everything looked very nice and expensive. It was a very sudden change entering New England. We stopped at a record store and was amazed by the selection. I almost got carried away in the used vinyl section. The bookstore was likewise impressive. Will bought Feynman's 'Surely you're joking' for the trip home, on my recommendation. We went for lunch at an italianish place. It was busy and we were ignored in the corner for half an hour before Will went and grabbed someone. After our meal, they forgot us again. We went to the counter to pay, left no tip and, after leaving, gleefully realised they had incompetently failed to charge us for our beer.
I said farewell to Will and left him to wait for his bus home. I was back on trail a little after five. CT is very pretty so far. Had some more climbing to begin with, followed by an evil descent down some steep blocks. After that though I hit a road. I hiked along it for 5 minutes before getting excited and breaking into a run. After about fifteen minutes, the perfectly flat stretch of road turned into perfectly flat trail. I ended up running for 40 minutes, which was perfect as I was chasing to make up the ground I had lost to Billy.
I'm staying the night at a campground with a covered eating area. It's likely to rain in the night, I have no tarp, and the next cover is 8 miles away. The water from the old pump here is a little rusty, but very welcome.
The Connecticut Challenge. I think I left around 4.45 or 5 that morning. I was still a few miles from the Connecticut border and made it there by sunrise. I even passed another campsite early that morning with campers fast asleep in their tents. Using your headlamp in the morning felt weird to me- as though I was a stalker of the nite; however, I felt much more scared about what was around the corner this morning then I did when Ben and I hiked at nite. I was unfamiliar with the terrain, and Ben was not going to be behind me. My adrenaline from being scared and my knowledge that I have little time to slow down if I want to finish kept me pumping out the miles. I ended up walking over 3.3mph over the entire time. Hiking Connecticut was a challenge, but there were two sections that were a breeze. My mind kept asking myself if this challenge was even possible to complete as I walked…I’m twenty miles in…usually my day is almost over…and I am not even halfway! The river bed walk (exercise trail) put some positive promises as it seemed to continue on for miles- with no one in site, except for the lady joggers every 15 minutes or so. There was also a “nature trail” walk that was flat as a pancake, but annoying because of its twisty turns to make the route longer for the average day hiker out to experience nature. I only stopped 15 minutes to throw down some peanut butter and crackers. I stopped at the gas station Ben refers to later, had a similar experience and bought an overpriced coke there and saw a couple Ben and I ran into sometimes. The couple had their young cousin with them for a visit…so they were slackpacking a large portion of this section. The Appalachian Trail runs around a pond here, which walking wise increases your trip length, but was not necessary. The pond was like walking an entire grocery store to get a gallon of milk, when you can see the milk is on aisle one right in front of you, but I’m a purist and want to walk every step, so I walked the marshy pond to end right where I had just come from. Halfway thru the challenge I also gained some adrenaline when I was storming along the hills and I all of a sudden looked up at the bottom of a hill to see Strappy and the crew getting water out of the creek. I needed water, but was too nervous to stop. Strappy and them, I think asked, “Where’s Ben?”. I told them that he was behind me. So I basically blew off a conversation with Strappy and just breezed by them. Ben would later tell them that I hiked the entire state of Connecticut. They gave me props and Ben let me know that they were impressed, unfortunately even after finishing such an achievement, I was still too scared to talk to them. Soon after Strappy’s encounter, I was just starving for water. I took the next water source that was pretty crappy. Four young adults (2 male, 2 female) were just finishing up pumping water when I arrived. I took the crappy water and soon passed the group. I then came to the hydroelectric plant where families were swimming in the dams' water. I finished the 52 miles in 16hrs 45mins. I dropped dead at the Sages Ravine Brook campsite. I was too tired to eat, drank over a gallon of the nearby stream within minutes, my muscles were locking up, I passed out.
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Total Miles: 1488.4
Woke very early and could sleep no more so cut my losses and got up. Hit the trail at 0545. It was another tough day with plenty of hills. I stopped at a run down garage a little off of the trail to get a soda. It was a U-haul centre/repair shop/tow-hitch fitting centre, but I could see no signs of any drinks or customers. I walked into an office/storefront that had seen many years of neglect. I went to shut the door behind me when I heard the owner, 'leave that open boy, it's summer. Wind'll close it when it's time'. I asked if they had any drinks for sale. 'Where you from boy? Don't the garages have cold drinks where you're from? All garages have cold drinks.' I asked where I might find them. 'You don't find them boy, I go get them. What you want?' He disappeared into a back room and returned with an orange (in colour alone) soda, for which he charged me $1.20. I kind of liked the place. The walls were covered in ancient newspaper cuttings and photos from the garage's glory days. I chatted to the guy a little longer, but really had to be on my way.
I hiked on to Salisbury. However upscale Kent was, this trumped it. I headed to the store, very thirsty, and made the curious decision to buy a 1/2 gallon of Paul Newman mango and orange juice. I chugged it. Felt unwell. Ate a solitary lunch at a nice little place in town - hot flank steak hero with onions and provolone cheese. I washed it down with sweet, milky tea. Yum. Phoned home, got water, found the library to be closed and hiked out. On the way, I sat on a bench for half an hour, exhausted. I was 23 miles in and had been awake for much too long already. The awkward spacing between shelters had meant I could either do a 28 or 35 mile day. The first looked more realistic right then.
Another big climb later and I am here at my very own shelter. I'm trying for an early night and an early start out. The sooner I find Billy and the motel the better.
I awoke this morning at 8 to lite drizzle and muscles wanting to lock up. I set the tarp up and went back to sleep. I only had 15 slow miles to Great Barrington. I searched for over an hour on both sides of the road (US 7) trying to find a place to stealth camp for the nite. There was not really any place to stay. Then wasted another hour or so just waiting for the sun to go down in order to set up camp. I could have already gone into Great Barrington, but I still had another nite before I would see Ben. So I roughed it and hid in the sticks a little off the trail. There was no where to sleep. The Appalachian Trail here runs beside a farm, a pond, and there is a railroad running perpendicular. I found a flat spot between the twigs and trees near the pond and railroad and set up my tent as nite fell and the mosquitoes let me know they had their kingdom on the pond. The weather turned hellish and threw out lighting most of the nite, along with rainfall.
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Total Miles: 1505.2
Failed to write yesterday. I got my early night the other day and was glad I hadn't tried to hike on further. At 21.30 I was awoken by a huge lightning storm. A deluge of rain and constant lightning all around. I did well the next morning and was out of the shelter at 5.55. At 5.56 I heard thunder. By 5.58 the sky had turned black. By 5.59 I was drenched and stood paralysed trying to make the decision whether to push on or double back to the shelter. The lightning made my decision for me and I scurried back to cover. I had a very steep rocky descent into a ravine coming up and I figured it would be foolhardy to tackle it in that weather.
I waited until 07.30 before I finally headed out for real. The rocks were very slippery and the descent lived up to is notoriety. The damp had brought out slugs, hundreds of them. I don't know where they came from, but they seemed to have found there way onto every tree limb and rock for miles. These were the same tree limbs and rocks that I was using as hand holds for my descent into the ravine. I got more than a couple squished between my fingers before I made it down to the bottom.
After a couple of miles I reached the MA border. The going remains tough on the whole. The trail is finally increasing in elevation again after the low mid-atlantic states - at the end of CT we finally climbed above 2000ft for the first time in weeks. The walk up Race Mtn was truly beautiful. I enjoyed stunning views off to the East with just a little drifting mist for dramatic effect. The sun was out at last and I felt good. I met a couple of people out doing trail maintenance. They warned me of yet another evil descent coming up, but told me there was a spring coming up, the water from which could be drunk untreated. I was mighty thirsty and this sounded good. I couldn't work out exactly what these guys were doing. They were fashioning a trench of some kind, but I don't know to what end. The guy is with the AMC (whatever that is) and the girl is angel. She told me I looked 'really good' and this was my cue to leave before I embarrassed myself horribly.
Pushed on towards the road. The last four miles were flat with lots of boardwalking through swampland. The hitch to town took a while despite plenty of traffic and a good hitching location. An elderly Honda piloted by a man in a straw hat finally pulled up. The guy was very friendly and happy to take me where I wanted to go. The car contained a number of crystals and odd icons. My driver was a little trippy hippy and into 'healing'. He told me about a four-month trip he took last year to visit a healer in Brazil to try and overcome the effects of a homeopathic injection of 'meteoric iron' which had 'hit his body like a bomb'. Despite his obvious weirdness he was a nice guy. I got him to drop me at the motel I guessed Billy would be staying at. This was a mile the far side of Gt Barrington and Billy wasn't there. I walked back to town in a new rainstorm. The Days Inn told me they hadn't heard of him and there were no more hotels in town. I wandered around for a while before bumping into Strappy, Tadpole and the rest. They gave me the number of another place out of town where, sure enough, Billy was staying.
After another mile or so of walking I finally met up with Billy - an hour and a half after getting into town. He had completed all 52 miles of CT in less than 17 hours. I would not have believed it possible had it been anyone other than Billy. We went to McD's and then to Big K and Radioshack, where I bought a swish Sony sports radio. We ate more McD's and spent the remainder of the evening watching TV in bed and drinking cheap wine - only going out to pick up ice cream from the nearby Friendly's.
The marshmallow goo I had carried out had leaked in the rain and covered much of the contents of my pack in sticky mess. I managed to wash the worst of it off.
I went into Great Barrington and found Ben and me a motel (Monument Mountain Motel, $52). I stopped in the local camp store and started searching for motels. Every motel I went in, informed me that they had no vacancies, or I thought was overpriced. I finally got to the far side of Great Barrington and the motel parking lot was empty. I thought I had a chance at this place…no one wants to stay here. I left the door open all day to let Ben in, hoping he would see the door open as he walked the streets. It figures I can’t even book the same motel that Strappy and the gang books…just my luck.
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Total Miles: 1516.9
Got in late last night and failed to write. Yesterday we ate breakfast at McD's and were very disappointed when we went to try and go bowling and found all the lanes booked by a busload of children. We went back to town and I did laundry. We got groceries and headed out of town, me classily swigging leftover wine from a Pepsi bottle as we went. Ate lunch at an overpriced bagel place on the way. We went on to an overpriced ice cream place, where Billy ordered a 'large' ice cream. Hiked on after walking all the way back to the trail.
There was plenty of stiff climbing and the mosquitoes were the worst they've been all trip (that's pretty bad) - my arms were getting savaged as we walked. I managed to leave my hat at a road crossing and had to run back a mile to get it. It is starting to get dark early now (around 8.30). Got to the shelter in the dark and then spent 40 minutes backtracking to find decent water. There is one other guy at the shelter and I felt guilty for coming in so late until he started snoring horribly - Billy and I were woken up several times. I fell asleep listening to my radio. I've found a good station (96.5FM) here that has a very funny show with plenty of inappropriate humour.
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Total Miles: 1541.5
Out at 8.30. It rained in the night An uneventful day. Met Strappy and co on a road which had another great spring. Made charming conversation for a while before leaving them to it. We got trail magic at the next road where a '95 thruhiker and his wife were offering lemonade and donuts.
Staying on the upper floor of a shelter tonight. Our scottish friend Neil is here. Talked to him for a while. The water source here is not great and I'll be glad to get to the promised land of Vermont with it's plentiful water just a couple of days away. Tomorrow we pass through 2 towns, which may slow us down a little.
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Total Miles: 1565.1
Woken up several times in the night by a mix of snoring, sneezing and coughing from a group of section hikers sharing the shelter. The water at the shelter sucked, so we walked a couple of miles to the home of 'The Cookie Lady'. This is a blueberry farm run by an elderly couple. A beautiful place, 20 acres in all, with 2 acres of blueberries. They have a hiker box on the porch and a spigot for hikers to get water. They also have a picnic table for us. We saw no one there when we turned up, so we got water and sat at the bench to eat breakfast. Presently an old fella rolled up on a ride-on mower. He is the 'Cookie Man' and an exceedingly nice chap. He chatted to us a while, asked a few questions, and told us about the trail ahead. Apparently not many thru hikers have come through this year. He went off and got us a basket of cookies to eat and invited us to help ourselves to berries. Berry season usually starts around July 10th up here, but still only a few were ripe this year because of the weather.
We said our goodbyes and pressed on to Dalton. Ate a meal of burgers and milkshakes there before heading to the library. I had some confusion with the lady in the restaurant about what they meant by 'coffee cake'. American coffee cake is not coffee-flavoured and she looked incredulous at the idea of british coffee-cake. She gave me some free cake anyway.
We pushed on to Cheshire, where we ate dinner and got a large bottle of Coke. The climb out of town is 8 miles and 3000 ft. We managed the first two and a half before stopping and camping. We have heard rustling in the undergrowth and we are slightly concerned they may be porcupines.
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Total Miles: 1587.5
Walked up to Greylock Mtn. We can now see big mountain ranges on the horizon. Annoyed that the tower on top was locked. Nick stayed in the garage of the lodge for $10 and said it was ok. Hiked down the mountain to MA2 and went to the Stop and Shop for groceries. It is as nice a store as we've seen all trip. Heading back towards Pizza Hut, a guy stopped for us and asked us if we wanted a lift. It turned out that Pizza Hut had closed down, but there was a Friendly's next door. The guy driving us was a little odd. I think he was lonely and he looked sad to see us go. He volunteered that his hobbies were 'stuffed animals' and 'voices'. Draw your own conclusions. We ate dinner and hung around for phone, lavatory etc. Back on the trail a little late. Couldn't make it to the shelter, so camping a few miles short. We had plenty of climbing today and my legs can feel it.
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Total Miles: 1614.0
Was woken up at 1.30 by Billy crashing around. He had felt some rain and was getting the tarp out. We put it up and the few drops of rain stopped. It did rain plenty later in the night though.
Nothing much happened today. We walked a lot. It was overcast with occasional drizzle. Stopped at several shelters for short breaks. We may be a little light on food and am almost out of bread.
We're tarping tonight. Billy saw a bear today and got attacked by a bird again.
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Total Miles: 1635.2
Had a lie-in this morning as we had a relatively small mileage planned. It was spoilt slightly by being freezy-cold in my sleeping bag. Hopefully I'll wash it tomorrow and that'll fix the problem.
We climbed a big mountain that has skiing in winter. Almost hit 4000ft for the first time in a long while. It was a beautiful clear, sunny day, though still pretty chilly when you sat still. We climbed a fire tower at the top of the mountain for a spectacular view. The ski routes down the side of the mountain look a little odd in summer. Apparently we could also see the Whites in the distance. The view was almost as good as the best in North Carolina.
We're camping near the road to Manchester Centre tonight. Going in early for Breakfast, then doing laundry, buying new shoes etc. Looking at our mileage plan, we have the usual problem of hitting our mail drop towns (West Hartford for Billy and Hanover for me) on the weekend. May have to slow right down to fix the situation.
Deciding not to go in town today, may have not been a good choice. There was absolutely no where to sleep tonite. Every place we tried to lay down had a slope to it. We wanted to sleep right next to the road, but didn’t want to be seen. We even checked the other side of the road, but there was no where to stay there. We wanted to bed early and get into town ASAP. So we ended up tromping over twigs and fallen trees, down a couple of slopes to find an area that was 5sq feet where we just had enough room to lay down between tree limps and other hazardous obstacles. I was sure we were on private property and just couldn’t wait for the nite to pass.
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Total Miles: 1635.9
Spent the whole day in town today, which was very pleasant. The hitch in was close to perfect. The 4th vehicle that passed us was a truck that stopped for us. The guy driving looked like he'd be more at home in NC, with an open beer on the go, a cooler of more beside him and a disregard for seat-belt laws. In the summer he worked collecting scrap-metal and in the winter he found work in the ski industry. He lived in Rutland, having moved there from the country, and seemed resentful of the fact. In the country 'they let you do what you want and leave you alone.' This is apparently not the case in the city. I'm not sure what he was alluding to, but suspect it had something to do with seat-belt and drink-driving laws. The first thing he did when he picked us up was to offer us a couple of beers. It was after 8am so I accepted. As usual, I took care of our half of the conversation. I liked the guy. I was just finishing my beer when he dropped us 5.5 miles later outside the EMS [an outfitters].
We went in search of breakfast. Ate at Friendly's again, not realising there was a McD's 100 yards away. The chamber of commerce has produced wonderful maps of the town to help visitors navigate between the many services and vast number of outlet stores. It doesn't, however, mark on it, useful features like cheap fast food restaurants.
Town had all we needed. We got Aqua Mira [water purification] from EMS, Billy got shoes from a running shoe store, I got some some cut-price Montrails from the other outfitter and even laundered my sleeping bag. We lunched in McD's, played frisbee in the park and felt unwell. Went and posted our old shoes home [why?!?] at the inconveniently located post office. We grocery shopped and ate another McD's.
The ride back to the trail was painless. The 10th car stopped this time - a VW driven by a lone woman. A very nice lady, she was on her way to pick up her children who worked at a kids camp up towards the mountain. They were one of the many families that moved from NYC to the country. Her husband now commuted a long way to work.
The biscuits I bought in town are horrible.
Manchester Center had all the amenities we needed. Getting in early had us waiting for the stores to open. However, with so many amenities, we found ourselves barely making it to the post office before it shut down. The post lady was nice enough to help us out, before closing the counter section of the post office. Our ride into town was the exact opposite of our ride out of town, money wise. We came in a speeding battered pickup truck with no seatbelts and left with some millionaire’s wife in her TDI with leather seats.
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Total Miles: 1659.4
A mostly uneventful day. Got up late and hiked up another ski mountain - this one with a cool looking ski lift building. We nosed around the ski patrol building which was deserted for the summer, but left open. Climbed an observation platform and enjoyed a 'five-state view'. I could only think of four states that could be in sight.
Billy hasn't been feeling too good today. His stomach is not doing well, possibly due to yesterday's excesses. I left him dozing at the next mountain and when he caught up with me he was feeling a little better.
I am still enjoying the radio - WEQY is now my station of choice. Today it featured 5 minutes of my favourite stand-up Doug Stanhope. We're staying outside a shelter tonight. We got here with 45 minutes of light left to find three people sleeping in the shelter. One of them has found the need to erect his tent INSIDE the shelter. Couldn't be bothered to make him move it, so just sleeping out.
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Total Miles: 1678.4
Billy continues to feel unwell. We may end up taking two days in Rutland for him to recover a little. Hiked eight miles this morning after a late start. Ate a good lunch of burgers and fries at the Whistle Stop Restaurant. The place was staffed exclusively by a mother and her three teenage daughters. Ate ice cream for desert - it was served from a caboose adjoining the restaurant. We revised our mileage plan for the day and decided on 11 after lunch rather than 15. This still leaves only six to US4 tomorrow.
Staying tonight at Cooper Lodge, which is an enclosed stone shelter near the peak of one of Vermont's higher mountains. As soon as the sun set, the mice came out. The place is infested with creatures - they are everywhere. I'm praying that they leave us and our stuff alone. On the up side, there don't seem to be any mosquitoes here and there is a good, cold spring close by. At the tops of these mountains the environment becomes, what I believe is called, 'sub-alpine'. Nice smelling pine trees and a chill in the air. All the views are great and it makes a welcome change from the mediocrity of the mid-atlantic section.
Ben hiked ahead of me today. I barely made it to Cooper Lodge. It was a struggle the entire trip up the mountain. Even my mind doesn’t help…I mistakenly think I am very close to the shelter, to only find out I am still miles away. I was willing to quit at any time. Usually I am the first to arrive wherever we are going. However, I knew Ben was somewhere ahead of me, so I kept hiking even though my body told me to stop. I barely made it to the shelter before nite fall. Climbed on the top bunk, set up my sleeping mesh and passed out.
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Total Miles: 1684.6
We were unmolested by mice the other night, but the weather turned bad the next morning. We had steady rain for the walk to Route 4. It was all downhill and slippery at times. My Frogg Toggs are now letting in water, so it is not fun. The bad weather also made what would have been a tough hitch to town, impossible.
We ended up just walking along to the Edelweiss Motel a mile from the trail. It was fine except there was nowhere to get food nearby. We held off getting the room until we finally found a pizza place, albeit one that didn't open until 5, that would be willing to deliver all the way up here.
Once in our room, we began phoning every pizza place in the book. We figured if one delivered then the rest must too. They all refused us, didn't answer their phones, or didn't exist anymore. We had to wait 5 1/2 hours for the one pizza place that would deliver to open. We called them, faint with hunger, to be informed that the delivery driver wasn't working that night and that they weren't making deliveries. Eventually we got a place to come out for some extra money. The bill for our meal was $36.
This morning we caught the bus to Rutland. Stopped off at the very handy Chamber of Commerce information centre, who pointed us in the direction of the very nice and reasonably priced motel we are staying in tonight. I lunched at McD's alone as Billy is still not feeling too special. We went to an outfitter, where Billy bought a RidgeRest for $5. I got a cheap, plastic poncho and a new reading light. Bought gin, tonic and ice cream at the store before returning to the room to wallow in TV all evening.
I wake up the next morning and hear about all the rats that were climbing all over us last nite. I barely am able to walk the 6.2 miles to the road. This is really the first time on the trip that Ben takes the lead and gives my body a reason to struggle thru my unwillingness to move forward. Thankfully a town awaits. Ben is also kind enough to see that I am unable to go on further. While staying in Rutland, we would go out for supplies- just the short walk in town had my stomach exploding. I have not been eating much and the only places I can move to and from are my bed and the bathroom. I call my father for support.
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Total Miles: 1689.2
We finally escaped Rutland's grasp after 4 very pleasant nights of idleness and recuperation. Our day back has been a little less pleasant. Today we spent several hours wandering between and waiting at various bus stops across town and asking advice from assorted townsfolk, before we finally got on a bus back to the trail. We were glad that the rain stopped by the time we got off the bus at 2.45.
We hiked the mile to Maine Junction where the Long Trail and the AT, which have been running concurrently for some time, split. Here I was expecting to take the right fork and start heading East, but there was a sign that I vaguely looked at that mentioned a trail relocation and seemed to suggest we had to take the left fork as the trails were to run together a while longer. We pushed on, following the reassuring white blazes, for 4 miles before I got suspicious. Seeing only Long Trail signs at the shelter, we talked to a couple there who seemed to know what's what and discovered that we had indeed taken the wrong fork. We hiked back the 4 miles. Shortly before arriving back at the junction, it began to pour with rain as a storm blew in. We were soaked. It rained continuously from then on. The trail turned into a stream/pool as it had back in VA. We crossed a bridge over a brook that had become a raging torrent. We hiked on until it got gloomy and pitched the tarp in the rain. The mosquitoes are setting new records for obnoxious behaviour. These seem to be a different species - shorter spikes and longer legs than the norm. They bite hard too.
I am in much better shape and my hiking stance is around 85%. The only downfall of the day is the “Maine Junction” screw up. I always allowed Ben to be our navigator and he even warned me hundreds of miles back about the Appalachian Trail splitting with the Long Trail. I wasn’t familiar with the Long Trail. At the “Maine Junction”, Ben and I stopped for a second, thought wrongly, and headed left. Hiking the extra 8 miles was no big deal to me. Sure it was after we had stayed in Rutland for days, but it was a stupid mistake and may have taught me to be more alert for sign reading, especially in the Whites.
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Total Miles: 1716.1
A productive, but very tiring day. The hills were plentiful and steep. Part way up the first one, I started to feel queasy and dizzy and had to sit down for a while. More rain today - got hit by several showers. My legs are chaffed unpleasantly again. There's no room in the shelter again, so we are tarping. It's only 4 miles to breakfast tomorrow, then another 10 to Hanover and the New Hampshire border.
There's a lot of cool fungus about - bright red things and yellow toadstools.
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Total Miles: 1737.6
Up early and out by 6.40. Breakfast was more like 5 miles away, but no matter. In for food at 8.20 and out again by 9 after a very good meal of 2 eggs, 2 toast, double sausage, double homefries and coffee.
We marched straight on towards Hanover. The crossing into NH was the best state line yet. The VT/NH marker is marble and set into an impressive bridge over the Connecticut river 1/2 mile before Hanover. Our first stop in town was the Dartmouth College dining room, where we had an AYCE cafeteria meal. Not great - had pasta, calzone, burger, hot dog and a couple of ice creams. It came with AYCD juice though. Billy ate almost nothing - his body is still not right.
We did the post office, picking up my cold weather gear sent by Will. He did fine work, only misplacing my fleece cap. Now I have my headlight back, I am up to a complement of 4 lights - minimalism be damned. Went to the library and grocery store, before heading out a little later than planned. Wish we had time to stay - this has probably been my favourite town on he trail so far. There were two indian restaurants too, which we didn't find out about until we'd eaten already. This upset me greatly.
We hiked on two hours or so and are camping in a good spot. Got to keep the miles up to get to Glencliffe in time to make the post office on Saturday.
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Total Miles: 1760.8
Possibly the toughest day for some time. A lot of hills and they were all uncomfortably steep. We also had the worst 12 hours of bugs of the trip. Got stung on the back and the hand by a wasp last night. My legs and hands are covered in a mix of mosquito and small black fly bites. I got stung by another wasp this morning - it was a big black one with several pale yellow stripes and odd sort of horn things on its head.
We saw a moose for the first time today. I was listening to the radio and watching my feet, when I heard a crashing close by and a huge moose jumped onto the trail in front of us. It was sized somewhere between a cow and a horse maybe. We ate lunch atop a mountain and had peace until a summer camp of kids turned up with their ex-pat (Manc) leader. Chatted to him briefly.
I'm very tired today - our sleep was interrupted by a little rain at 3am that forced us to erect the tarp. I didn't get back to sleep until after 5.
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Total Miles: 1775.2
Up and out early. Had to get up in the small hours to take a whizz. This involved me stumbling through dense woods in my socks, getting them soaked yet again. I hiked with Billy until we got to the first shelter, where I headed for water and he pushed on to get to the post office. The going was ok today. Made it to Glencliffe a little after 12 and found Billy in the hostel. It's a very nice place run by a couple of '94 thruhikers. Got showered in an excellent outdoor shower with gravel floors. Did laundry and washed my shoes at last.
Tried hitching to town for a while, before giving up and getting the owner to shuttle us in. Ate a good meal at a pizza place. I had a 16" pizza and ate all but one slice of it. I hadn't eaten since a meager breakfast at 06.30. We ate with an older fella who was section hiking . He was an ex-IBM employee from Poughkeepsie and nice enough company. Went for groceries then called for a return shuttle. In the restaurant, we were sat at the table next to two of the people that ran the hostel. The woman produced a range of outdoor equipment she made under the name Moonbow. She had learned to sew in a factory in here home country (somewhere oriental) and had somehow ended up doing this. She custom made stuff to order and did alterations too. Billy was very interested to hear about all the particulars of her constructions. Sadly she had run out of fleece caps. We hung around until 8, when we finally headed out. It was only a mile to the shelter, but it decided to rain and I was loaded with pizza. We're here now with a trio from Quebec, who are making more noise than I'd like. We are clearly in a tourist area again and will have to tolerate it like we did in the Shenandoahs and Smokies.
I left Ben this morning to sprint in to town to get a package my mom had sent me of warmer clothes for the Whites. The post office was built onto the side of the postmaster’s house. I chilled out at the hostel (Hikers Welcome Hostel) in the back not talking to many, until Ben showed up. I told him the rates and amenities with the hostel. The hostel was in my opinion crowded…and other hikers had been stating that there were more hikers coming in. The overcrowding of hikers was due to the great amenities at the hostel and bad weather. The next major climb was Moosilauke. Hikers seemed to be scared of the descent of this mountain. I had been hearing that many hikers staying at the hostel were going to southbound this mountain because going down the north side was too dangerous, especially with the weather. So hikers were waiting for the weather to dry up and warm up and this “dilemma” had backed the hostel with 2 and 3 day stays of hikers. They had stated that there were 20 or more hikers sleeping in one room…and that didn’t seem to be something I wanted to pay for. The shower, and many other erections, although very appropriate for being hiker friendly, “scared me”. The restroom facilities outside the main house contained multiple tarp erections for side walls and roofing. The main hiker house, a two-story addition to the owners’ seemed to be built with particle board. I did shower there, with the high-pressured shower over rocks. And Ben and I headed out right before nitefall to the first shelter (Jeffers Brook Shelter) north of here. The Whites were coming up and the Appalachian Trail was becoming a challenge again, with more drastic weather and elevation change.
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Total Miles: 1791.1
Out at 9. It rained hard during the night and I didn't sleep well - a combination of the rain, a belly full of pizza and the noise of the porky Quebec girl snoring. Apparently around 3" of rain fell, which is as much as normally falls in a month. The ascent of Moosilauke looked evil on the profile I saw, but wasn't too bad. Steady going most of the way, then some steeper towards the end to take us above treeline for the first time. Sadly there was no visibility and it was raining. At the top, we met a Dartmouth student employed to inform visitors about the alpine environment. We all chatted together in the rain for a while. The job sounded great - he just hung out on top of the mountain all day. All his supplies were stored in a little stone fort.
We continued on for a while before beginning our descent. This was tough, especially in the rain. The final 1800ft were dropped in 1.6 miles of slippery rock and mud. Steps and hand rails had been added in places - without these it would have been an even more dangerous scramble. Once at the bottom, we headed off to some tourist attraction thing that looked pointless and expensive, but it did have a snack bar though. Ate bad calzone and pizza, coffee and a couple of ice creams. The place was staffed by a sound pair of guys, well aware of the pointlessness of their jobs. We watched them take every opportunity to bunk off for cigarette breaks, much to the annoyance of their fat manager. The people they were serving were, almost without exception, fat, stupid and ugly. The attraction (a gorge I think) required visitors to do a small amount of walking with a 300ft elevation change. The woman manning the ticket booth felt obliged to warn people of this ordeal and successfully dissuaded a number of the gastropods from attempting this trek. One such woman was so big, she had taken to wearing a moo-moo style garment; another two sat wheezing, defeated, while their families continued into the gorge.
We spent 2.5 hours there before setting out in scorching sunshine. Hiked 7.5 miles of slowish, extremely muddy going. Billy sunk in mud up to his shin after slipping off a log bridge. We're staying at the last free shelter/camping in the wilderness. From now on we are going to have to pay or work for our stay.
Moosilauke. The ascent of Moosilauke seemed like a normal ascent of an Appalachian Trail mountain, though the climb to the top did seem extended. Now when we stopped we had to don some sort of jacket. Atop Moosilauke, it was misting with cold rain/sleet. The descent seemed to be a challenge of cautious descent. I don’t remember seeing anyone in the ascent and only a handful hiking the very north end (bottom end, Kinsman Notch) of Moosilauke as we climbed down the embedded steel rods that formed steps on our decent. Most people we spoke with were just going up the trail a little way, a mile or two, to see the waterfalls. Come to mind, as we were letting a couple ascend some of the steel rod stairs- I thought to myself: “what an idiot”. This guy was day hiking with his cute girlfriend coming southward and I was worried for the girl, cause I thought Ben and I were the only dumb ones hiking this mountain today. There is a sign as you enter the trail from the north end that states that you are putting your life at risk by climbing this mountain.
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Total Miles: 1806.3
Today we had our first experience of the hut system. We reached our first one at 1030 this morning after 6 miles of walking that included one of the toughest climbs yet. The guy manning the hut kitchen was very friendly and explained what we could expect from the huts while proceeding to feed baked goods, pineapple and soup. I was even able to buy a woolen cap at a reasonable price. We left a dollar apiece even though they didn't want any money for all the food we ate.
Hiked on 3 miles of ok downhill before another very tough climb up to the Franconia Ridge Trail. I went up to Mount Liberty and had an incredible view from the peak. We hiked off along the ridge for a mile or two before we broke through the trees and walked the most impressive section of trail to date. Stunning views all around and great rocky peaks for us to ascend. It was still hard going, but this time you could see what you were climbing and it all seemed more worthwhile. It was a little later than is considered ideal to turn up to get a work for stay place (5pm rather than 3pm), but apparently most huts are as accommodating as they can be about this. To get to the hut, we had to hike 1.1 miles down a steep trail from Mt LaFayette and we really didn't want to be turned away.
There was no problem when we got there and we were welcomed in. We hung around for a while until they figured out something for us to do. We set the table for dinner. This took half an hour as there were 48 guests. We waited for everybody to eat before going in and helping ourselves to (the huge amount of) leftover food. Ate stew, corn, chick peas and pasta. All good, but tepid.
Three kids that we had passed earlier turned up looking clueless. They were wearing denim jeans and one had a bowie knife and a hatchet strapped to his belt. They were fed as we were, before they departed (it was getting dark) to doubtless camp somewhere inappropriate. We are sleeping on mattresses on the dining room floor. I suspect we will have to get up very early tomorrow. We'll be doing a spot of sweeping before we go too.
Getting atop Mt LaFayette, so late in the day, was worrying me. It was cold when you stopped. I had been worrying most of the day about where we were going to stay tonite. The elevation change really knocked down our ability to pump one mile out every twenty minutes. The huts (held 20 – 50 people): the huts charged $70 a nite to “hikers” who hiked/vacationed in the presidential range. The “hikers”, were families, some with small children, who instead of going to a beach, choose to go to the mountains (Yosemite style, book early). The huts were environmentally friendly huts that usually had two main rooms. One contained the sleeping quarters where guests bunked with other guests and were only provided with a wool blanket with each bunk. Bathrooms were split by sexes. There were no showers and the toilets were indoor privies. All power to the hut was run off solar panels and propane tanks. All supplies had to be shipped in by hand or helicopter before the season. Hut employees (college students who acquired the job thru application) worked shifts and were allotted time off to hike out and do personal business/time off and requested to return with supplies carried on their back. The huts would allow 2-5 thru hikers to “work for stay”. In order to stay, a thru hiker would be asked to set the table for the guests’ meals, clean up afterward and do other small chores. In return the hut would allow the thru hiker to sleep on the floor, and eat leftovers. A hut only serves breakfast and dinner at specific times (powered milk is popular, but I was able to eat the food, somehow). The odd placement of the huts left Ben and me always in a complex. I couldn’t handle doing such a short mileage per day. Going to the second hut in a day would make it close to twenty. Doing “big” mileage in the presidential range, left us arriving after three each day- meaning our chances of receiving a chance to work for our stay would be “chancy”. Because most hikers just walk from hut to hut. The huts do have a limit as to how many you can “work for stay”, but no record is kept and you are on the honor system to let the hut workers know that you are indeed a thru hiker. And I was thinking we didn’t have a chance to get a vacancy at the hut that was over a mile away. We could see the hut (Greenleaf Hut) from Mt LaFayette. Thankfully Ben had the courage to tell us to try it- of course he was Right! The crew that works there was more than welcoming.
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Total Miles: 1819.9
The idea of sleeping on the dining room floor was better than the reality. Weak bladdered guests kept us awake most of the night, walking past us on their way to the lavatory. Have been wide awake since , when the hut workers began to prepare breakfast. It’s noisy and the smell of frying meat products makes me hungry.
We laid the tables for breakfast and, though we didn’t get any fried meat products, we did get all the tepid fruit pancakes and pineapple that we could bear. After most of the guests had vacated, we were put to work sweeping up the dining room and dormitories.
It seems that the hopeless hikers from last night had pitched their tent right outside the hut. From what I could gather by overhearing the workers’ conversation, the boys had been trying to pass themselves off as thru-hikers, presumably in an attempt to get free stuff. They had a story about how they had set out on June 30th and apparently thought they had fooled all last night. No one was convinced by the performance, but the huts don’t turn away the incompetent or helpless. In the morning, the AHM went outside and told them to drop the thru-hiker story and reminded them that they were in the Whites, that it is dangerous, and that they are idiots.
The hike back to the trail was a solid 25 minute uphill
slog. Once back at the summit of the mountain, we found many
of the guests from the hut recovering. It had taken them one
and a half hours to cover the same distance. We hiked on
until we reached the Galehead hut, where I consumed AYCE pancakes (better than
Greenleaf’s) and brownies. Spoke to a pair of thru-hikers
Onwards to the Zealand Falls Hut, where we were accepted for work for stay. Already here was a section hiker called Amy. A little over-the-top, but we all got on fine, despite some dangerous lines of questioning to Billy. She tells us she’s an IPR lawyer and sometime mountaineer. We went through the process of laying/cleaning tables again. Dinner (pork, potatoes, corn and stew) was better than the previous night’s and hotter too. As we were tucking in, a guest stood and announced that he would be the evening’s entertainment. Apparently he is a semi-professional ‘storyteller’ – I cringed at the thought, but he was actually not too bad, though I only have a limited appetite for Robert Stovey poems and folk-tales. We slept on the floor, on mattresses again – the three of us, together, are lying with our heads under a table to try and block some of the noise of the guests. It’s all very pleasant and companionable.
After receiving the "okay" to "work for stay", Ben and I headed outside of the Greenleaf Hut in order to "get out of the way" of the paying guests. Sitting outside in the cold, I think this was my idea, seemed to prolong our wait to get back into the warmth of the Greenleaf Hut. Thirty minutes seemed like an hour, time passed by so slowly. Our bodies had been sprinting up and down mountains, and now I had us waiting outside for no reason (except for the belief that Ben and I were in the way of paying guests). Eventually we went back in, cleaned up after the guests, and ate the leftovers. I was tired, but sleeping with 50 or more strangers had me sleeping lite, and the herd of guests walking the halls all nite- I just couldn't wait for the morning. After supplying and cleaning up the dining hall, we were told we could head out now...but no. I suggested we could do more for the hospitality we received from the Hut employees. Finally, it was thought up, Ben and I could sweep the dorm rooms. The conclusion I got from our work- the dorm rooms haven't been swept since the beginning of the season. But doing this made me feel more satisfied about our free stay...and probably put us 30 - 45 minutes behind on leaving at a decent departure.
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Haven’t written since the 12th. In the morning I awoke with the feeling that something wasn’t quite right. My heart had jumped out of rhythm and was beating erratically. I was only vaguely concerned about it. If it went on for longer than 24hrs there might be a slight risk of a stroke, but I figured I’d take some aspirin and hope it sorted itself out soon. Of greater concern was the fact that the heart works much less efficiently when in atrial fibrillation (as mine was) and climbing big mountains could cause me some problems. The first section we were to hike looked very easy so I figured I had a couple of hours before I would be at all troubled by it. Sure enough, after an hour or so, my heart jumped back into rhythm and normal service was resumed.
An easy 7.5 miles took us into the notch that marked our entry into the Presidential range. Amy was taking an alternate route – she has a bad knee and would struggle to match our pace. Climbing out of the notch was a slog, but we enjoyed some fine views on the way up. We made our way onto Mizpah hut. Amy was already there washing dishes and we too were accepted for work-for-stay. This time we all got bunks in the storage area on the top floor. We went through the routine of laying the dinner tables. A group of south bounders turned up and were also accepted to stay. They were all young, as all south bounders seem to be. A couple of Jewish guys, recently out of high school, turned out to live near Amy and know the same people. The other SOBO was a big porky guy, with a huge gash on his leg where he had slipped and carved it open on a sharp rock. My first female contact in five months came courtesy of Amy enlisting my help in performing some chiropractic work on her back.
After dinner, the Jewish SOBOs clumsily cleared the tables; taking unfinished meals from guests and forcing them out of the dining room. The fat guy did nothing except keep asking when he would get his food. Dinner was good – left-over lasagne, salad and soup. Fatty helped himself to several huge portions, despite there not being too much of anything. Billy, Amy and I hung around in the loft chatting until it was time to sleep.
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We got up early to get the breakfast tables ready. Fatso was sleeping on one of the tables. As I was laying the first one, he seemed to wake, lift his head, and decide it really wasn’t worth moving out of my way and slept five more minutes. I finally forced him off and he slumped away, not to be seen again until our food was served. We got wheat-meal, sausage links and pancakes. Afterwards, the guys Amy had been chatting to left, having decided they did plenty of work the night before. We finally forced our chubby acquaintance into some form of labour. He was utterly hopeless.
We headed off for
The ridge and views were stunning. It was very rocky though and we were moving at close to a run. We caught the group much sooner than we expected, as they had stopped for a break. We passed Amy a mile from the hut, and arrived there around 5.30. They already had two people working for stay, but they reluctantly said they would accept two more. We decided we’d rather stay with our new buddy, so gave up our places to a SOBO couple. There was a free campsite 0.6m down a steep hill where we decided to stay. Amy was really struggling with her knee by this point and she didn’t enjoy the extra walk. The site was just two large tent platforms. One was filled, the other partially occupied by a couple from Philly and their dog. We were forced to intrude on the privacy they, doubtless, desired. While we were eating, the dog ran off with some of Billy’s cookies. Billy set up his netting, and Amy invited me to share her two-man tent.
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Total Miles: 1856.3
In the morning, Billy and I hiked out, leaving Amy to try and meet us at
Pinkham Notch for lunch. We had a vile, long, hard descent
down off of the ridge. We got to the place at Pinkham, a
cafeteria for AMC workers and the public. They gave us AMC
member rates of a very fair $6.25. It was really very good
and we had plenty of time to eat our AYCE lunch. We figured
Amy wouldn’t make it in time so ate on without her. The place
even had a small outfitters and a room for hikers to hang out.
Amy showed up eventually and we sat about chatting and making phone
calls. I put back my flight a day and phoned home.
We made the decision to camp up on the Wildcat Ridge.
Amy went on to catch the last gondola to the top, we bought some pricey supplies
and, for the first time in months, some fuel for the stove.
It was a long hard climb up Wildcat, but we finally reached the top and Amy.
Camping at the summit is apparently allowed. It’s a
big grassy area with a couple of buildings and the gondola platform (it is a ski
mountain). We ate on the platform, enjoying fine views of Mt
W and some strong wind. Billy put the tarp up, and again I
shared with my.
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Total Miles: 1872.8
In the morning, we said our farewells to Amy, who was heading back down on
the gondola to meet her father. We hiked 16 easing miles out
of the Whites and stayed the night at a shelter one and a
half miles from the road to town. Two others came into the
shelter, but we were so tired that we scarcely noticed them start to set up
their stuff before we fell asleep.
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Total Miles: 1874.7
The hitch to town took a while. It was
Sunday and the traffic was slow. We finally got a lift with a
woman who was just dropping off her 2000miler husband for a hike up to Katahdin.
He said it was his favourite section of the trail. We
got dropped off at a sweet location between Burger King and Dunkin Donuts.
We did BK first, then DD before heading off to find accommodation.
We got a room at the Hikers’
We watched films all afternoon, popping out for a quick McD’s on our bikes. For dinner we went to a mediocre Chinese buffet. I knocked back two bottles of wine and managed to miss the complimentary breakfast the next morning.
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Total Miles: 1891.7
We ended up going to DD for breakfast and I was surprised by how good it was. The breakfast sandwich was fresh and real food, and they understood what I meant by ‘lots of cream, lots of sugar’ when I ordered my coffee. We went to the post office to send our wilderness package on to Monson. I was just writing a couple of postcards when a guy pulled over and offered us a lift back to the trail. He was a former SOBO thru-hiker. He told us that when he had hiked the trail, he was going through a divorce and was a very angry man. He was much happier now. He was just here to do some section hiking and to visit ‘The Barn’ hostel, where he had stayed in ’96.
We were back on the trail at
. We had a lot
of climbing to do, but we managed reasonable mileage. We
finally made it across the final state line and entered
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Total Miles: 1911.6
Today we had the much hyped Mahoosuc Notch to tackle. It is like a very cold
obstacle course. We got through it in about an hour without rushing and with a
couple of photo shoots along the way. We had been told stories about it taking a
lot of people three hours upwards. I can see how that would be the case for
those less mobile and carrying more than ourselves. For me, the climb out to be
much harder than negotiating the notch itself. Knees are hurting and thighs are
tired. It was a pretty tough day, but we managed to fit 20 miles in.
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Total Miles: 1938.7
Up and at 'em before 7am - we somehow hiked 27 miles over big mountains. We were
running very low on food after some poor calculations at our resupply. I'm not
sure what we would have done if we hadn't found a 10-pack of blueberry muffins
at a shelter and a pair of granola bars just lying at a trail crossing (along
with a stale and revolting box of fortune cookies).
We decided to camp, probably illegally, on the banks of a river. Halfway through Billy cooking his dinner we ran out of gas. We ended up building our first cook-fire of the trip in a spot where we didn't want to draw any attention to ourselves.
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Total Miles: 1954.4
In the morning we had to cook again as the only food we had left was instant
potatoes. We built another fire and were breakfasted and out at a reasonable
hour. We pushed on to Rangeley and the promise of food. We got to the road and
spent a long time fruitlessly trying to get a hitch before a guy we had passed
on the trail offered us a ride. He was a very nice man from Arizona. We chatted
happily for the duration of the ride.
Rangeley is small but pleasant. We ate a decent meal in a restaurant - I had a 14" anchovie, mushroom and olive pizza, beer, cheesecake, apple pie and ice cream, and coffee. Of course I was immobilised for hours after. I thought something was going to blow while we walked round the outfitter's store/gift shop. I phoned Amy and she gave me the green light to change my flights and stay with her on the way back. The grocery store was good, but I was too full to enjoy the process. Hitching out of town was again tough. Finally a friendly family stopped their minivan and let us squeeze in. They took us out of their way back to the trail. They were from Bangor and out on a camping trip themselves and seemed to enjoy hearing about our trip.
I couldn't face much more hiking with my overloaded stomach, so we only went on a couple of miles on to the busy Piazza Rock Lean-to.
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Total Miles: 1977.5
The next day saw a continuation of our relentless slog across Maine. Another 23
miles over mountains. Didn't find it bad going and felt pretty good hiking. We
had beautiful views from all the peaks. We stopped at a campsite 7 miles from
Stratton and slept on a platform.
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Total Miles: 2000.1
Awoken at 5.30am by the need to sprint to the khasi. There seems to be a
state health law that insists on placing the privies a long way from the
Out early and on to Stratton and the promise of more food. A couple of mountains in the way, but got there around 930. We got a lift in with the owner of a motel who was just dropping off Grizzly (one of the original 'g's'). I think he really wanted us to stay at his place, but we had to disappoint him. Went to breakfast at a diner - the place was packed, being Saturday. We met Mr Shaw, owner of the boarding house in Monson. He is kinda a shrunken old man and keen to sell us on staying at his place. He was with a hiker we hadn't seen since TN. We ordered our food, which was good, if a little slow coming. I had 4 eggs & toast, ham, hash browns and coffee, followed by french toast. Afterwards, we went and made calls (I called AA and delayed my flights) and did our grocery shopping. We had a tough time getting a hitch back. Eventually, a guy pulled over in a pick-up. Not sure he realised what we were, but he was a nice guy, if a little gay. He was on his way to a wedding at Sugarloaf and was all dressed up in his natty denims. He was originally from Billy's home town and they seemed to know some of the same people. Not back on trail til 1pm and hadn't even eaten lunch.
Needed to fit in another 15 miles to get us past the Bigelows and stay on track. Had a bite to eat at a lean-to part way up one of the first mountains. There were a huge number of people going to stay at the site. It was a weekend and the mountain range seems very popular. There is a good reason for this as it is spectacularly beautiful. We had great views of lakes to one side and plains and mountains to the other. The weather had turned very cold and windy - had to wear gloves, hat, jacket whenever we stopped. Even hiking, it was freezing cold up on the exposed peaks. Made it into camp just after nightfall. The site was busy, so we lay on the ground behind the lean-to. I had a go at cooking carbonara, but it was indifferent.
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Total Miles: 2024.1
Slept through til 530am when I was again forced up to visit the privy. Made an early start with the need to get to the Kennebec river ferry before 4.30pm. We had some nice level hiking with a lot of following the shores of big lakes. The sandy beaches were cool and the wind was creating some big waves.
Made it to the ferry early. The ferry is a 3/4 person canoe and it is operated by a woman alone on the return journeys and with the help of one of the passengers on the way out. The river is very wide and very fast and it must be an extremely tiring job. Billy did the paddling for us and I sat in the middle enjoying the ride. I got to learn some interesting facts about ferrying. Shortly after, we reached Caratunk. We wandered 0.3 miles down the road to find the cafe, only to discover it was shut. We needed to get groceries from a store 1 mile in the opposite direction. Billy's guidebook listed a handy shortcut that would allow us to detour just 0.3 miles off the trail. All we had to do was follow the AT 1.5ish then take the blue-blazed side trail. We followed the AT for probably 2.5 miles before we really started to worry. We spent sometime deliberating what to do. Couldn't face back-tracking, especially when we didn't feel confident we'd ever find the side-trail. This meant we'd be going 3.5 miles to the place then 3.5 miles back to where we were stood. Option 'B' was to hike on to Monson. This was 30 miles away. I had one meal remaining and no snacks, Billy had two small packets of crackers. This was somehow the slight favourite, despite being a stupid plan. In the end we took a terrible Plan 'C' and carried on to a logging road and tried to walk back to the main road from there. We ended up walking in a long circle for an hour, ending up back at the trail more tired and left with Plan B seeming more stupid, yet more inevitable. Just as we were about to disappear back into the woods, a vehicle came along and we flagged it down. The young couple told us that we could get to town by going several miles the opposite way to that which we had been trying. It was looking too late to get to the store in time unless we got a ride. They were headed the other way, but thankfully, at that moment, a Grand Cherokee pulled up coming in the opposite direction. We managed to get a ride with the two kind guys driving. They took us to the Rivers and Trails place, but it was shut. They were happy to take us a mile further on to the Northern Outdoor Centre though. They had been there the night before and had been surprised what a lively spot it was. There is a restaurant, bar, hot tubs, games rooms, and it even ran a disco til late. We ate a decent meal in the restaurant - I had french onion soup, salad, pasta in spicy meat sauce, and a brownie sundae. Billy had a vast platter of nachos. We got a tentsite at the place and went back out into the cold night to sleep. It was somewhere in the high 30'sF. We hung out in the warm shower block (nothing funny) before finding our site and lying down on the ground for just $6.50/person.
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Total Miles: 2049.1
We got up early and walked to Rivers and Trails. Steve (former longtime
ferryman and owner of the place) was just heading out, in shirt and tie, to an
important meeting. Upon seeing us he was happy to hold back and let us do our resupply 'for five minutes'. He was very friendly and, even though clearly in a
rush, he chatted to us about various. He even offered, at high speed, to change
up our coins into notes or break-down our bills. Sadly there was no way we could
get a lift with him back to where we had left the trail. Figured it would be
quicker just to take the side trail back and re-hike some than to try and find a
hitch back up the loggin road. The only problem was that we couldn't find the
trail from the bottom either. Spent almost an hour thrashing about in the
undergrowth before we figured out where we were supposed to go. Finally got back
to where we left at 10am.
Pushed on over mostly easy terrain, getting in to the shelter just after nightfall (1945) again. Had wet shoes from where we had forded a river in the wrong spot due to some less than obvious blazing. There's only one other guy at the shelter - an older SOBO sectioner who seemed glad of the company. Chatted to him about various junk while we cooked and made ready to sleep.
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Total Miles: 2058.1
This morning we got up and hiked the remaining 9 miles to Monson. Got a hitch in minutes and were in 'town' by 10am. Not much here. Closest thing to a restaurant is the Mobil gas station. We checked into Shaw's Rooming House and went to get some food. We picked up our mail drop, ate burger/pizza at Mobil and did laundry. Phoned home and relaxed in front of our 12" black and white TV. Dinner at Shaw's is vast and excellent. Truly all you can eat ham, potatoes, corn-on-the-cob, cabbage, cucumber, gravy, milk, juice etc. Looking forward to the breakfast tomorrow.
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Total Miles: 2077.2
Awoken at 5.10am by smell of frying bacon and the sound of farmyard animals (Mr Shaw raises his own cows for beef). Got up, abluted and showered. Breakfast was served at 5.45am, rather earlier than advertised. I was hungry and headed down ASAP. Got some coffee and prepared to order. Mr Shaw, himself, was cooking this morning. He operates a simple number system for ordering food. One only has to ask for a 1, 2, 3, 4 etc and you receive that number of eggs, sausage, bacon, ham, french toast & portions of hash browns. All were excellent. Also available were unlimited coffee, juice, milk and donuts.
Chatted with Mr Shaw for a while after breakfast. He had plenty of bad things to say about a lady (we guess the 'Pie Lady'). He is not in good health - decades of smoking have left his lungs in a bad way. He relies on a number of inhalers and spends a good part of his time on oxygen.
Went to the post office and mailed the stuff I have ditched for the Wilderness. Bought a couple more items of food (more brownies) at the Mobil (the staff are friendly). Got a lift back to the trail with Keith Shaw Jr. He spends a good portion of his time driving people around. He does the trail to Monson route and also many trips to Abol Bridge, etc.
The ground was slippery from overnight rain and we both had minor falls. Had more rain after lunch, which was a shame as the morning had been perfect. It was not very inspiring and we have stopped short of our planned 26 miles. We're camping out near a shelter in icy cold wind.
The next day:
Fell asleep writing last night. Awoke after midnight - headlight still on, with a most urgent need to reach a lavatory. My awkward shoes were not appreciated and the walk to the privy was long and dicey.
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Total Miles: 2101.2
Out late for an uneventful day of hiking. The terrain was moderate and a great source of excitement was the fact that the walking eases off further after White Cap Mtn, which we bagged at the end of the day. The rest of the way should be easy. Got a lean-to to ourselves tonight. There is another group of Colby College students here, but they are all tenting.
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Total Miles: 2128.6
Slept well. In the morning discovered that the shelter mice had decided to use the cook pot I unwisely left out as a lavatory - deep joy. Before we headed out, the Colby leader told us that they had heard there was a problem with some bees an hour down the trail. Several SOBOs had been stung.
We got 30 minutes down the trail before I saw Billy start jumping and shouting inexplicably. Next thing, he was yelling at me to run and I felt a stabbing pain in my arse and the front of my ankle. We sprinted for a minute until clear. Billy had been stung a few times on the calf. Neither of us had any warning or even seen what had stung us. We met another Colby group SOBO and gave them a warning to put on their rain gear.
The rest of the hiking turned out to be as easy as hoped. We racked up the miles at better than 3 an hour. The 'Wilderness' still doesn't feel very wild. Had fewer day hikers out today, but crossed plenty of logging roads, saw and heard some traffic and even found a trail magic cooler of soda.
Camping in the rain. Very glad to have only one full day of hiking remaining.
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Total Miles: 2154.0
Up and out early. It had stopped raining, but it was still cold. Terrain not as nice looking today - lots of roots and rocks to fight and my legs felt tired and my feet tender. These shoes really have had it. The balls of my feet are thick with calluses and numb to the touch.
Got good views of Katahdin today. The thing looks huge and daunting. Stopped at Rainbow Shelter for lunch and decided we had enough time to take naps. Slept for one and a half hours I think. Had to get moving again. Still cold. Miles came very quickly today. We think this section has been mis-measured.
Sleeping out tonight for the last time. I managed to spill my pasta on the ground, but it was largely salvageable. Tomorrow we walk 3 miles to food at Abol Bridge, then 10 more to the road where we will try to hitch to Millinocket.
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Greetings from sunny Upper Welland. We summited Katahdin last week,
bringing an end to our 2172.6 mile walk. We had good luck with the weather
and enjoyed a beautiful clear day for the final ascent and stunning views
from atop the peak. I was both enormously relieved to have finished and
rather sad to be leaving the trail. Despite all the physical and mental
ardure that it entailed, I have no doubt that this will end up being one of
the best things I ever do with my life. I am now in the slow process of
getting used to the real world once again. There are definite upsides to
being home again (as trips to the pub and indian restaurants have
demonstrated to me), but also plenty of downsides (now I have to pay bills
and I fight to keep the weight I lost off).
I have to thank most everyone on this list and many more people besides for
their tremendous support, without which the trip would either have been much
more difficult or a complete failure. I am extremely grateful to all who
sponsored me. Thanks to some incredibly generous pledges, we estimate that
in excess of £2600 has been raised for St Richard's Hospice.
Apologies for the lack of updates since Hanover, I did my best to track down
a computer, but to no avail. The final section of the trail was both the
most demanding and the most beautiful. Throughout the White Mountains, we
were rewarded with spectacular views in exchange for long, sadistic, sheer,
climbs that finally killed our knees. We spent our nights in the huts that
provide (expensive) food and lodging for tourists. We were able to work for
our stay, sweeping up and waiting tables, in exchange for a space on the
floor and food scraps. Once we had gotten to Maine, we realised that we had
left ourselves just fourteen days to finish the remaining two hundred and
eighty miles and get to the airport. Just to make it more fun, the first
hundred miles were as tough as any on the trail, featuring delights such as
the MahoosucNotch - a rather awkward mass of boulders that require a fun
mix of climbing, crawling and jumping to navigate. We worked pretty hard,
forcing our now failing bodies to walk some big miles. The second half of
the state proved rather more agreeable and we soon realised that we had made
such good progress that we would be able to take a couple of days off and
have a bit of rest before the 'hundred-mile wilderness'. However, we soon
managed to reduce that free time down to just one day by cleverly getting
lost and wandering along logging roads, desperately tired and hungry, for
more time than I care to remember. Other than that, all ran smoothly and we
made it to the end without further incident.
I'll let you all be for now. I'll be in touch soon about all of the things I can't face sorting out until I settle down a little more
(sponsorship collection, getting the photos to view online etc.). Until
then, take care everybody and my thanks to you all again.
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So that's the whole thing. Embarassingly, it took me longer to post the
journal than it did to write it. There's no entry for our final day summitting
Katahdin - I never quite got round to it I'm afraid. Doubtless Billy and I shall
cover it in the comments eventually. If you're reading this having trawled
through the entire journal then you need to get out more. I don't know if anyone
out there is going to gain anything valuable by reading my junk, but I enjoyed
doing it nonetheless. Anyway, go and do something useful.
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