Saturday, July 31, 2010

Heading Back Down...

All smiles as I head back down the mountain. Here I was already over a mile down from the summit.

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View from the top...

For an ever so brief moment, the clouds parted, the view became clear and the sun shined. It was truly a prayer answered. The view was spectacular.

This view, from the summit of Katahdin, is of the "Knife's Edge" trail.

The AT runs up the "Hunt Trail," which is named for the Hunt Family which had a homestead located below the trail.

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Top of Katahdin...

I made it (July 30, 2010)!!!

Lots to share ... Will update with the full story soon.


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Big Ooh & Koopa ...

On top!!!

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Climbing in the clouds...

The climb turned cold and wet. The challenges piled up.

This is a less than flattering butt shot of me heading up.

Thanks to Big Ooh for snapping some pics of me in action.

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Vertical, Technical, What?

A little less than half way up the mountain we ran into some technical climbing that, to be honest, we weren't fully expecting.

I'll admit ... It was scary. This is Koopa on one of the tame sections. The hairy parts of the mountain were so rough that no one pulled out a camera to document our progress.

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The weather changed...

After starting our day in bright sunshine and clear skies the weather changed about a quarter of the way up the mountain.

We knew we were climbing on a Class II day so we crossed our fingers and hoped that the rain, high winds or any possible snow would hold off until until we were safely off the mountain.

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The trail starts upward...

As Koopa, Big Ooh and I proceeded up the trail the trail turned a little more vertical and the difficulty grew.

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Katahdin Stream Falls...

This waterfall is one mile up the trail from Baxter State Park, where we started our summit attempt. To this point the trail was amazingly easy. Ooohhhh... How that soon changed.

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Thursday, July 29, 2010

Gut Check & Decision Time ...

I've been somewhat dreading the composition of this post.  I took some actions yesterday that will change my journey completely ...

Flexibility is important ... in fact it's vital, in business, in life and especially on the Appalachian Trail.  I had grand plans to start this journey in Georgia and end in Maine but as the miles and months have passed it became evident ... that to ensure my safety I might have to insert some "flexibility" into my plan. 
For the past few weeks I've been painfully aware that I'm a little over two weeks behind my well planned schedule.  As I get further north the mountains will grow higher and the terrain more and more difficult. Without a doubt my daily mileage will again fall, from the 20-something mile days I've been able to do lately, into the expected 14-17 mile range.  At that pace, on a northbound track, I would enter the White Mountains of New Hampshire, pass over Mt. Washington, walk through the 100 mile wilderness and summit Maine's Mt. Katahdin as the weather began to change from fall into winter.  To some, that doesn't mean much, but to those who understand the conditions those mountains can produce ... it can be dangerous, if not deadly.  So ... as the reality of the timeline and situation weighed heavily upon me I had a little talk with my ego and it went something like this...

Me - "So, Ego ... what's the problem with being safe and doing a flip flop thru hike?  A lot of SUCCESSFUL thru hikers do it!
Ego - "Well, Yahtzee ... that wasn't your plan!  Can't you get anything right?  Can't you just hike faster and harder and just get it done?  That's what a REAL thru hiker would do!"
Me - "Not true!" A real thru hiker is someone who makes safe choices which enables them to complete this grueling, multi-month adventure.  A REAL thru hiker is someone who recognizes their limits and finds a way to work within them!"
Ego - "Hummm... but a "flip flop" is so lame!"
Me - "Why? I'll still be completing the trail ... just half of it will be northbound (from GA to PA) and the other half will be southbound (from ME back to where I left the trail PA)."
Ego - "But where's the glory in finishing in Duncannon, PA?" There's no mountain summit ... no excitement ... no BIG FINISH!"
Me - "True, but there will still be a finish ... there will still be an accomplishment. Do I need glory? Do I need more than just the personal satisfaction of completing my goal?
Ego - "But what will other people say? What will they think? I know ... they'll think you failed."
Me - "I don't care.  This is MY hike, my goal ... my dream ... my vision ... my journey.  Plus, I don't think my friends and family will think that I've failed."
Ego - "Whatever ... it's still lame!"
Me - "Ego, you can leave now.  I have no purpose for you ... no room in my head space ... no place in my thoughts.  I'm making the best choice for my success and, for that I'm proud of myself."

So ... with that ... I made the decision to abandon the heat, humidity and 20+ mile days that I've been enduring through northern Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland and about half of Pennsylvania.  I joined my friends Koopa and Big Ooh (who've been enduring similar internal struggles and having conversations with each other and themselves).  While we may not have started this trail together we've made it further than thousands of others have and we plan to finish it ... hopefully together.  While the Kodak Mt. Katahdin moment may come early (in fact, it will come tomorrow -July 30th- if the weather is good and the park service allows us on the mountain for a summit attempt). The "glory" will be in the personal satisfaction that I will embrace on the day I step foot back onto a dingy street in Duncannon, Pennsylvania.  I will have arrived at my journey's finish line and although I'll be standing at street level, in front of the Doyal hotel, I'll be on top of the world.  Until then ... I will continue to hike ... and blog ... and experience all of the joys, tribulations and lessons that this trail so fruitfully delivers each day. 

In a way, this is one of it's biggest lessons so far.  It seems that it's not the major summits that make our journeys exciting ... it's the average, everyday places that can serve as our finish lines ... as our points of major accomplishments ... as our destinations.  I look forward to seeing Duncannon again.  It may not be Katahdin but when I stand again at the place where I left the trail two days ago ... I will have completed one of the largest personal and physical challenges of my life.  I will raise my hands in the air and people may stare, unaware of the purpose for my excitement, but it's not about them ... or where I finish ... or what the "final" photo looks like.   It's about MY A.T. JOURNEY ... and thankfully that journey continues...

Rolling on,

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

New Boots!!!

The boot tread on the left is new ... guess that makes the boot tread on the right the one I've been wearing for the past three and a half months. Amazing to see the difference in these heavy duty trekking boots.

While I'm thrilled to have solid footwear again, I'm not looking forward to breaking them in on the trail. Looks like I'm headed back to blisterville for a (hopefully brief) visit.

Happy Trails,

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Walked the soles right off...

After over 1,100 miles my Asolo Powermatic 250s are done! With the recent rain storms it became quickly apparent that it was time for a new pair of boots! Aside from slipping and sliding on wet rocks, due to loss of tread, the water flowed freely into the boot, soaking my socks. It's certainly an experience to hike 17 miles with soggy feet ... not a good experience, but an experience none the less.

Rollin on (in new boots),

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Sunday, July 25, 2010

It's hot in PA...

The trail runs through a lot of privately owned farm land in Pennsylvania. We had just descended from that mountain in the background and found ourselves walking through corn fields.

Yesterday was so hot (especially when walking in open fields) that we had to revise our hiking plan. Instead of the planned 23 miles, we did 17 1/2. Today we're planning on doing the same amount of miles, despite the extreme heat warnings that have been issued by the weather service. Just have to drink more water.

This is a photo of Koopa walking in the open field yesterday.

Rollin on,

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Friday, July 23, 2010

The Famous Half Gallon Challenge...

It's tradition, that when you reach the official half way point on the AT you attempt the "half gallon challenge."

Big Ooh and I went for it. Koopa gets a pass due to a pre existing condition. If they had Lactaid ice cream she would have had to raise a spoon too!

I selected mint chip and Big Ooh picked cherry.

Let the challenge begin...

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Starting with a smile...

When starting this challenge it seemed like a delicious way to simply over indulge in yummy, frozen ice cream ...

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Almost done!

Thank goodness this photo was taken from over my shoulder. At this point I think I was just about as green as the ice cream!

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Big Ooh Finishes ...

In 22 minutes Big Ooh polished off his half gallon of cherry ice cream.

He said he had to stop talking because he kept biting his cheek and tongue, since his mouth was frozen.

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My oh my ... that was WAY harder than I thought it would be. Uggggghhhh....

Not sure if I'll ever eat ice cream again!

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The Big Prize...

After 44 minutes of minty goodness ... I earned this wooden spoon.

Rollin on,

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Thursday, July 22, 2010

Another state down!

So my hand is in Maryland and my body is in Pennsylvania! Or... since this is the official Mason Dixon Line, you could say my hand is in the South and my body is in the North. Either way ... I'm moving forward and making progress!!!

Rollin on,

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Bye Bye West Virginia

I should have posted this a few days ago but Big Ooh, Koopa and I have ramped up the daily mileage so it leaves a little less time to blog...

If you think that thru hikers don't have to deal with "traffic jams" due to "road construction" you'd be incorrect. I'll be honest, I was pretty surprised when I ran into this myself but the photo is proof!

Somewhere on the other side of this bridge is the West Virginia / Maryland boarder. While attempting to cross the bridge (on Saturday, July 17th) I was stopped by a construction crew who was in the process of tearing up small sections of the existing wood planks to replace them with a composite, simulated wood plank. They informed me that the wait to cross the bridge would be 30 minutes. I didn't take that news too well and protested that "I was a thru hiker and was going 20 miles that day!"

Just typing out my little tantrum makes me a bit embarrassed but adding an additional half hour of simply standing on a bridge wasn't in my plans that day (or any day between here and Maine). Unfortunately the river, far below, was wide, deep and swift so my only option was to wait .... and stare at the crew's foreman (which I did with some success). After 20 minutes he came over, drug a platform across the gaping hole and told me I could cross.

Unfortunately, once across I forgot to seek out the state line sign ... So this is the only pic I have to document my farewell to West Virginia.

PS: My bridge delay did hold me up enough so that I missed the opportunity to catch up with Big Ooh and Koopa in time for dinner. Normally this wouldn't be much of a big deal except that, that night we were to venture .2 miles from the backpacker's campground to a fine dining establishment that actually welcomes hikers. Luckily Koopa and I touched base via cell phone long enough (before the signal cut out) to read several dinner specials to me. That evening, after what turned out to be a 20+ mile day, I dined on fresh Atlantic salmon, garlic mashed potatoes and fresh vegetables ... from "to go tins" while sitting at a picnic table ... in almost complete darkness. What a great end to a long day!

Rollin on,

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Sunday, July 18, 2010


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Washington Monument...

So it's not the one on the Mall in Washington D.C. But it is the original!

Rollin on,

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Saturday, July 17, 2010

Battlefield Info...

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This is the first battlefield that ran directly next to the A.T.

A very somber feeling falls around this place. It's hallowed ground, for sure. I came upon this field around 6:30 this evening. Any tourist had long since departed so it was just me, walking in history...

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Awesome customer service...

Gotta give a shout out to Camelbak!  The hook on my water bladder broke which allowed it to fall to the bottom of my pack and made it difficult to remove without unloading everything.

I contacted their customer service department and left a voicemail.  Not only did they respond the next day, via email, but sent out a replacement part and a bunch of goodies ... including a brand new 3 liter bladder.  THANK YOU Camelbak!!!  Here's a photo of all the stuff I received ...

Thursday, July 15, 2010

My Official AT Thru Hiker Photo...

This is my official thru hiker photo. Out of the three or four thousand who started the trail this year, I am #708 to arrive in Harpers Ferry.

Whoo hoo...

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Harpers Ferry!!!!

I made it to Harpers Ferry!!!

Harpers Ferry, West Virginia is the "psychological" halfway point on the trail. The real halfway point is still a little north of here but this is the home of ATC office and therefore kind of like the mothership for all thru hikers.

ATC stands for Appalachian Trail Conservancy and their iconic building is one that every AT hiker knows on sight.  I've been here once before, back in November 2008, when I was vacationing in Alexandria, VA.  Back then I was simply a tourist and after wandering around a bit found my way to the hiker area.  There I enjoyed looking at the photo books (full of that year's thru hikers).  But it was November, so I was there alone.

This year I was greated with somewhat of a rockstar status by the volunteers who staff the front desk.  They, themselves hikers, understand the accomplishment of making it to this point on the trail.  I was now a member of the club and belonged in the hiker area.  In fact, it's where I'm typing this now.  Ahhhh.... free computer access!  Love it!!! While sitting on the couch in the hiker area (lounge) I said to a fellow hiker, "It's cool to belong here this time" after telling the story of my 2008 visit.  He said, "we worked pretty hard to belong here. We've earned it." And he was so very right ... I have earned it and I'm super proud of that fact.  But back to my initial arrival ...

Before I could wipe the sweat from my brow I was back outside, in front of the ATC sign, having my picture taken.  It was then promptly printed and I was handed a pen and shown the template for how they wished me to add my name, trail name, start date, ect.  I took great pride in filling out this self service form.  As if I was inscribing my very own Olympic medal (are they inscribed?) or Wimbledon trophy.  It's been a long and painful process to get to this point ... yet rewarding and amazing too.  What a journey it's been to this point. What does the rest of the trail hold?  I guess there's only one way to find out...

So after I "had my picture made," as some of my Southern friends like to say, and had it added to the 2010 Thru Hiker Book I headed down to the historic town of Harpers Ferry.  I was in search of food of course.  I knew right were I wanted to go.  The diner was a place I'd been before, back in 2008.  Unlike the last time I was here the town was busy with visitors.  In November 2008 this place was almost empty. While the historic sites had remained open the majority of the shops and eateries were closed during my last visit.  If I recall correctly only one restaurant was open when I was here last ... so that's where I headed.  As luck would have it, I sat in the very same booth that I had in 2008 where I proceeded to eat another over priced, cafeteria style, cheeseburger and fries. Thing is, this time I enjoyed every bite and soaked in every tidbit of history that's tacked up on the walls.  Yes, I had arrived ... on foot.  Just the way I'd thought about over a year and a half ago.

After leaving Harpers Ferry, back in 2008, I knew that I would hike the AT ... starting in March of 2010.  There was no doubt in my mind.  I'm not sure where that specific date came from but it was simply a fact.  I knew it to be true and it would be so ... and it is.  Granted I started in April of this year but I don't think a month means much in the grand scheme of things.  I'm not sure where that intention came from but it certainly is a testiment to setting an intention and watching it manifest.  It's certainly a lesson in, "If you put your mind to it ... you can accomplish anything." 

Rolling on,

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Virginia is DONE!

Whoo hooo... Virginia is done! Tomorrow (7/15) I'll arrive in Harpers Ferry! I can't wait to get to the ATC office and have my picture taken and added to the 2010 Thru Hiker Binder ... So cool!


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The Roller Coaster...

The last 13 miles of Virginia is called, "The Roller Coaster." While that, for some, may illicit fond childhood memories of a favorite amusement park ride, for me these two words hold an entirely new meaning. Virginia's Roller Coaster consists of a very rocky trail that quite simply runs directly up one side of the mountain and then down the other side. There are ten of these mountains in total, which was about nine too many for my taste. There's almost no flat spots at all through that section of trail. Imagine, if you will, a child's drawing of mountains. You know, the one done in crayon... and looking as if the "mountains" are simply fat or thin triangles or a continuous running of the letter "W" on a page. Well that's about what my map's elevation profiles looked like for that section. You're either going straight up or straight down. On a good day it's un-fun ... but yesterday was less than a good day.

Yesterday (7/13/2010) was so humid I began to wonder if I was going to need gills in order to continue breathing. Making things worse was the heat ... which unless I use terms such as "the depths of hell" or possibly "center of the sun" nothing comes close to describing it. Unfortunately, unlike out west, just because the sun is out doesn't mean that things dry ... because of the humidity. Buckets of sweat simply poured off of me (gross, I know). I began to think to myself that it must look as if I'd just climbed out of a pool ... but oh how wrong could I be?!

Shortly after thinking that thought ... it began to rain. Not a pitter patter of rain but a torrent. It actually reminded me of a scene in Forest Gump where Forest is describing the different kinds of rain he encountered while in Viet Nam. Well this rain was kinda like that.There were big fat drops of rain and stinging rain and then sometimes it felt like it was coming up from directly below you. Yup, life imitated art yesterday. I kept waiting to walk up on Lt. Dan swinging from a tree and shaking his fist at God while screaming at the top of his lungs. All I got was more rain, which turned the trail into a river. While going uphill, I walked against the flow. While walking down, I walked with it. Needless to
say ... My boots were soaked. My socks squished with every step.

NOW I looked like I'd just climbed out of a pool! All of my clothing was completely stuck to me and (great time for this to happen) but my pack's rain cover failed, leaving everything somewhere on the damp to wet spectrum.

Some days on the AT are simply better than others ...

Rollin on,

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Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Out of the storm...

Luckily, after yesterday's horrific weather, there was a hostel nearby. Arriving completely soaked I was met with a smile and for $27.50 received the hiker special, consisting of a shower, warm bunk, load of laundry, Tombstone pizza, can of soda and pint of Ben Jerry's Ice cream.

The lesson ... Even bad days have silver linings.

Rolling on,

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The Bear's Den...

With a total frat feel ... this hostel reminded me of college life, just sans alcohol.



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Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Lunch with friends...

Koopa (left), Big Ooh (right) and I enjoy some lunch on a overlook shortly before leaving SNP.

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Ever wonder what a timber rattler looks like?

Well ... Here you go! Koopa spotted this beauty the other day right along the side of the trail.

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Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Deer Are Near!

Hello Everyone,

I apologize for not posting recently but I've been out of cell range.

After completing the Blue Ridge Mountains it was on to Shenandoah National Park. I'm currently about two thirds done with the park and taking my sweet time in completing it. It's been very hot here lately and it's really draining to haul ones self and a pack up and down a mountain (or five) everyday. So, since this park has fee based campgrounds (with showers and laundry) as well as lodges, I've basically been taking advantage of the amenities available. What's NOT readily available, apparently, are cell towers, since I can't seem to get a signal anywhere. I'm currently receiving a "1G" signal so who knows if this will even transmit. Fingers crossed, it will.

What this park has a ton of is wildlife. I've seen more bears, white tail deer, raccoons, assorted birds and ticks than anywhere else on the trail. The other day I had a close encounter with a bear. After passing it, he decided to turn around and follow me for a while. It was a tad bit unsettling but the bear eventually tired of the "scare the hiker game" and must have decided to go find an unattended backpack or improperly hung food bag to score a snack.

About four days ago, Koopa and her three brothers (who hiked with us for a week) had a face to face with a momma bear and three puppy sized cubs. Luckily it turned out okay but she staged a false charge at them and then stood up on her back legs in order to force a retreat. I would have liked to have seen that but, to be honest, was glad to have been elsewhere when the whole thing went down.

Luckily for me, I've been surrounded by white tail deer much more often than bear. Here's a picture of a pretty girl who came to investigate me while I was taking a break for lunch. By the time I got my phone turned on she'd already walked away but was kind enough to look back so I could snap this shot.

Happy Trails Everyone,

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