March 14th: Word of the Day is Blustering

Miles Today: 15.9

Mile Marker: 109.5 Winding Stair Gap (Franklin, NC)

The weather forecasts here have introduced me to the word “blustering”.  We get blistering in Texas, but not blustering.  It has been in the weather forecast all week.  Today had 20mph winds and gusts up to 45mph.  Apparently we got more snow last night.  I woke up to about a half inch stuck to my tent and another two or so on the ground.  I checked the weather and apparently the cold weather accelerated.  We are looking at temperatures in the single digits and wind chills in the negative numbers tonight.  I'm equipped down to the teens and can make it through the single digits in a freak storm, but I'm certainly not volunteering for it.

I've been hiking with a guy named Head First, and we were planning on doing 12 today and doing the other 4 tomorrow and nearo into Franklin to skip tomorrow's frigid weather.  I read him the forecast this morning and got a decisive “We're getting off at Rock Gap”.  Read my mind.

We got light snow and high winds all day today.  It is still kind of fun to hike in the snow once you get moving and warm up.  It's just that transition from sleeping to packing up to hiking that sucks.  I tried making a snow angel, but it was too icy and I didn't want to tear up my rain gear.  As the day went on Head First and I decided we would rather hike the extra four miles to Winding Stairs and get off there today.  It hits a more major road and it made us feel better to get it over with since we were hitting town a day early.  When we got to Rock Gap we hit more trail magic.  More hot dogs and soda, and another group brought some beer.  I begrudgingly skipped a Yuengling because I still had the four miles to do.  A beer would have zapped me I think.  I can't get Yuengling at home, so it was probably the worst part of the day having to say no as I looked on despondently at the others drinking and quitting for the day.  I'm glad we pushed on though.  New high score! We finished like champions today.  The ending couldn't have been more serendipitous. We stepped off the trail and less than 30 seconds later a woman named Hiccup pulled right in and asked if we needed a ride to town.  Marvelous.

Almost forgot, we also cleared the 100 mile marker today!  Pretty crazy that is only the 5% mark, but it still feels great.



March 13th: Frozen Clothing and Boots Suck

Weird ice extrusions

Weird ice extrusions

Miles Today: 12.5

Mile Marker: 93.6 Carter Gap

Waking up and putting on clothing that is so frozen it can stand is a bit of a bummer.  Also walking around in crunchy boots for an hour until they thaw isn't great either.  I have a giant zip lock to put these things in so I can sleep with them, but I honestly didn't feel like making the space.  Won't make the same mistake tonight.  I did however sleep with my water filter, because if that freezes it's ruined.

Today was pretty uneventful.  Set off around 9:00 and got to camp around 3:30.  Everyone from the shelter last night made it up here too.  Someone managed to get a fire going, and we spent most of the time planing around and complaining about the weather.  Some people are escaping to town tomorrow afternoon.  I plan on doing a full day tomorrow and then a nearo (near zero mile day) and heading into Franklin on Wednesday and staying the night.  If the weather improves I may head back out.  Constant state of flux out here.



March 12th: First Week, First Snow, and First Border

Miles Today: 11.8

Mile Marker: 81.1 Muskrat Creek

If I'm going to finish this thing I can't hide in town forever.  We got our first snow last night, and I was able to sleep soundly through it on my box spring covered in parchment paper in town.  Super helpful staff there, but when you're trying to escape sleeping outside on the ground as cheaply as possible, you don't exactly land at the Ritz.  You also don't particularly care.  For the last two days that place was my palace.

My intent was to catch the 9:00 shuttle this morning and get started around 9:30.  Around 8:30 that plan changed to catching the 11:00 shuttle.  Ultimately I hit the trail at noon.  No regrets.

The hiking was sloppy all day.  Everything was beginning to thaw and the water was using the trail as a gutter.  One big mudslide all day long.  Along with the thaw also came large chunks of snow plopping down on my head every so often.  The woods tried to engage me in a snowball fight all day, but I stayed focus. I stopped for lunch at a shelter 0.20 miles off the trail and ran into the guys from Greenville who ran after the trail magic with me.  After being dry for a bit and inhaling some food I headed out.  It was a great idea at the time, but by the end of the day I wanted that 0.40 miles back.  I strolled into camp around 6:30 and caught up with the rest of the group who zeroed in town yesterday.  The weather is going to be cold and wet through Tuesday.  Wednesday is supposed to get down into the single digits.  None of us are excited.  We will all likely be racing each other to town to secure a spot to sleep on Wednesday.  

The highlight of the day was hitting the North Carolina border.  First two goals met.  I have been focused on clearing the first week and then clearing the first state. Today we said goodbye to Georgia and a bit of our fear about this whole endeavor.  I'm starting to feel a little more identity as a thru hiker.  Many, many, many more miles and challenges to face, but I feel like I'm off to a good start.



March 11th: Zero Day

I'll spend today resupplying, eating real food, napping, and maybe catching a movie.  What I won't be doing is hiking.  I'm already trying to figure out a way to get someone to take me a half mile down the road to the grocery store so I don't have to walk. 



March 10th: Two for Two on the Rain

Miles Today: 11

Mile Marker: 69.3 Dicks Creek Gap

This morning started around 3:00 like a Benny Hill skit.  As soon as I tended to one problem another one popped up.  I've been using a tarp to camp, and with such limited shelter you have to be very careful about where and how you camp.  That is to say chasing after hot dogs up to 4,200 feet going into a forecast of rain and 20-30mph wind gusts isn't the ideal situation.  I was unfortunately made aware of the weather the hard way.  I also went to bed without tightening everything again after the tarp had settled.  Solid foundation for failure.

Wind and rain started whipping into my face and onto my sleeping bag.  I was able to make some adjustments to block out the rain coming in the front and got back to sleep.  I woke up later and checked to make sure I was still dry, but I discovered rain was coming in at my feet.  Repeat again but now rain is coming in the back.  Ultimately everything I had was wet.  Putting on sopping wet hiking clothes and packing a bag full of wet gear makes for a very displeasing morning.  Although I didn't let the comedy of it escape me.  

Wet clothing is annoying, wet down is no bueno.  When down is wet it loses all of its insulating power. The rain took down my sleeping bag and one of my jackets.  We have a wintery mix coming in tomorrow night and persisting through Tuesday; I need those pieces of gear.  My initial plan was to hike through tomorrow night and then head to town and skip the first overnight rain,  snow mix.  My primary concern is ice.  I can hike in snow, but I don't have the footwear for ice.  After tomorrow it should just be snow coming in for a few days.  Instead I came to town tonight to dry off.  Annoyingly enough once I got here my sleeping bag and jacket were actually dry enough. Oh well, can't unring that bell.  After getting here I also realized how exhausted I am.  I've decided to take a zero day tomorrow (no hiking) and head back to the trail Sunday morning.

Aside from wearing saturated clothing and my rain gear to stay warm, the hiking was challenging.  I was pushing harder than normal to stay warm and hoping my body heat would dry my clothes.  The mountains could tell I was in a hurry, and they whipped up some more 30mph winds for me to fight through.  I also needed to arrange accommodations and figure out a better shelter situation before heading back out.  The tarp is a cool piece of gear, but I've had to admit it isn't the right piece for this hike.  Special thanks to Shawn and Justin for helping me source and decide on the right replacement while it was too windy for me to call myself.

The moral of the story is, I do not regret chasing up the hill after the hot dogs yesterday.  I did learn some things though.  Still enjoying it.



March 9th: Watching the Sunrise and Trail Magic!

Miles Today: 15.4

Mile Marker: 58.3 Tray Mountain

I slept terribly last night.  It was the first night I camped near a shelter, and a late night group came in and were rowdy until 10:30.  That may sound early, but right now everything breaks up by 7:30 and most people are asleep by 8:00.  However the real problem was I drug in late and exhausted and picked a poor camp site.  I was at a slight incline and kept rolling off of my sleeping pad.  After tossing and turning I woke up at 4:30, posted yesterday's blog, mapped out my day, and packed up around 5:30.  I was able to sneak out of camp while it was still dark and catch the sunrise while eating my breakfast.  I can't even remember the last time I was able to just watch the sunrise.  Tiff and I always saw it at work, but we were you know… working.

From there I had a really casual day.  The first five or six miles of the morning were amazing.  Trail was well maintained, no rocks, and the woods were just waking up.  I took it slow and took three naps before the rest of the wave of people from Low Gap started to catch up.  My plan was to get in 11 and then reassess.  Then I found a spot in the guide at 13 to shoot for.  Right after I got there four other people showed up just as beat as me.  We were debating camp sites when a lady came down the hill and mentioned trail magic 0.8miles up the mountain.  I decided I could go another mile for some alleged hamburgers.  When I got to he top I found three local guys serving a spread of hot dogs, cokes, ice water, cookies, and some fruit.  A few minutes later and the other four crested the hill.  From there we pushed as a group to the next shelter because we needed to be by a water source to fill up and make our next leg tomorrow.

So an accidental long day after a rough, slow streak.  I'm a little overheated and dehydrated, but I'll get that fixed before bed.  All in all it was an excellent day on the trail.  Next bogey appears to be Saturday when we could be getting our first wintery mix.



March 8th: The Sun is Back and so am I


Miles Today: 11.5

Mile Marker: 42.9 - Low Gap

I got a late start out of Blairsville, and I didn't get on the trail until 10.  It only took me about 10 minutes to catch a ride into town from a nice retired guy named Dwight.  I grabbed a sewing kit from the outfitter along with a Cherry Coke and an Oatmeal cookie.

Today fully made up for yesterday.  The sun was out and the views were amazing. I took it easier today and made some adjustments to my pack, my shoes, and my hiking style.  I don't know if it was those things in concert or one thing in particular, but my knee did much better today.  My feet still hurt, but that will likely be the case until I just stop feeling them.

I ran into a few people, but for the most part I hiked alone the whole day.  I just pulled off to a shelter that sleeps 7 and there are at least an additional 30 tents out here with more people rolling in.  The hiking season is in full effect. 


Thank you to everyone for your comments. They are great to read, especially after a day like yesterday. 



March 7th: The rain won't stop

Miles Today: 10.8

Mile Marker: 31.4 Neel Gap (technically Blairsville)

After overshooting yesterday, I am moving slowly today.  I likely started out of the gate too fast as a whole. I'm still feeling some overuse injuries in my left knee and ankle despite redistributing pack weight.  I'll try giving my ankle more wiggle room tomorrow to see if that helps.  I've been hiking in trail runners lately, but I started the AT in insulated boots due to concerns with colder weather.  I'm thinking having the extra ankle support may be transferring some of the lateral force to my ankle instead.

The hiking today was suboptimal.  I am still thoroughly enjoying being out here, but today wasn't particularly a highlight.  It rained all day.  Half the day was heavy rain and the other half was obnoxious drizzle that was just constant.  In addition to the rain it was foggy all day.  Some of the fog was actually beautiful; like hiking in the clouds.  However the view from Blood Mountain was shot.  It was the first spot of the trip that holds amazing panoramic views.  Unfortunately I didn't get to see them. So no pictures for the day.

I ended the day at Neel Gap.  It is the only section of the AT to run through a building.  It runs through Mountain Crossings outfitter where NOBOs get their notorious pack shakedowns.  I walked in looking bedraggled and defeated.  The lady working there asked if I needed help with anything, to which I responded with a blank stare.  I wanted a soda, but the words weren't forming correctly. She followed up with “Or with life in general”.  I said yeah, that second one.  She gave me the rundown on the food, drinks, and lodging situation.  My intent was to hike another two miles to get to the backside of the next mountain and avoid some of tonight's wind gusts, but she made staying indoors sound so promising.  After looking for suitable glove replacements, a Mr. Pibb (Coca Cola owns Georgia), and an amazing sandwich which in any other setting would have been bland I decided to get a cheap motel room.  She found open motels and gave me directions on where to go and set me up with numbers to get a ride back in the morning.

I stood out front in the driving wind and rain unsuccessfully trying to hitchhike for about 10 minutes. I headed back to the store to dig out an insulating layer before trying again, but as luck would have it someone was already taking their son in to town. They let two nice ladies and my mopey mug cram into the back seat, and shuttled us 15 miles into town.  I got a cheap motel, a needed shower, laundry, and a large supreme pizza, and a DR PEPPER.  Things are looking up.

It is supposed to rain all night tonight, which will make for swampy hiking. However tomorrow through Friday should have sunnier weather.  Hopefully after some rest in a real bed I will be good to go tomorrow.



March 6th - Overkill

I hiked 2 miles further than I had initially intended today.  While I need to average about 15 miles a day, you usually hike in a bell curve with low miles while you're new, high miles in the middle, and low miles at the end when the terrain is much harder. There is a 5 mile section tomorrow that requires a bear canister in order to be able to camp there.  Since this is the only section requiring a bear canister on the entire 2,189 miles of the AT, I didn't bring one.  My initial plan was to finish today 8 miles before the bear canister section and do 13 miles tomorrow to hike through it.  Toward the end of the day I met a few other thru hikers and hiked with them for a while.  Some of them stayed at Gooch Gap, but Tom and I pressed on.  I decided to hike further than I planned so we could camp near water, and he cut his day about 4 miles short.  He was fine when we got here.  I on the other hand am shot.  That last two miles took it out of me.  I've been having some pain in my left knee and foot.  I rubbed some amazing mentholated ointment my friend Cheryl gave me (thanks again) on it earlier in the day, but it had worn off by then.  Yesterday it was my right side with problems. I’m thinking I need to realign my food bag so it sits horizontally and the weight sits more evenly. 

This morning started with some light rain, but overall the hiking was good.  It was cloudy all day, but the weather was nice and overall enjoyable.  Not much in the way of scenery, but I did come across an old cemetery.  Almost all of the headstones were blank rocks stuck in the ground, so it is hard to tell how old it is exactly.

The learning curve is definitely in full effect. In addition to over hiking today, I poked a hole in my hiking shirt yesterday (my only one) and realized I forgot my sewing kit. I almost lost my trowel this morning.  I made a blunder with my bear bag and had to sacrifice some of my line to the trail. And I lost one of my gloves.  I really liked those gloves, but I'm going to have to buy whatever the next outfitter in a couple of days has.  On extended weekend trips these things don't matter, because you're home soon and can easily replace things.  I'll need to remember to me much more careful.

Tonight and tomorrow promise serious rain, so that should be interesting.  I intend to sleep in and recover and take the hiking easier tomorrow.



March 5th - So It begins

Top of Springer.  This is where it officially begins! 

Top of Springer.  This is where it officially begins! 

Miles Today: 12.8

Mile Marker: 5.5

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Yesterday Mom and I hiked to the top of Amicalola falls.  This morning I decided to skip that section, because screw those 600 stairs, and start about 1.5 miles north at the top of the falls.  This left me with about 7.3 miles of “Approach Trail” to get to Springer Mountain where the AT officially begins.  

After an amazing send off with delicious food and champagne the night before, Rick dropped me off around 8:15 this morning and we said our final good byes. I headed North to Springer Mountain to get this thing started.  I cleared the Approach Trail and made it to Springer by 11:30.  I hiked on another 5.5 miles before I was tired and called it a day around 3:30.

I found a perfect spot to stealth camp by myself about a quarter mile off of the trail.  I wanted a bit of peace and quiet for the first night to let everything sort of settle in and fully process what I'm about to undertake.  That and I woke up at 5 AM and fully plan to go to sleep at 6:45 PM when the sun drops behind the mountains.

As for the hiking I could not have ask for a more perfect day to start.  This morning it was in the mid 30s and the sun was shining and by the afternoon it was in the low 60s.  Mom hiked the first 2 miles of the Approach Trail with me to see me off.  I know some of you are now picturing her following me trying to pin mittens to my jacket and ensuring I packed enough food.  On the contrary she was more excited for me to start than I was, and would have easily sprinted ahead of me if she weren't letting me set the pace.  Knowing her she probably jogged back the whole way when she turned around.  I did pack mittens though. 

After she left I hiked without seeing anyone for about an hour.  Everything sort of just melted away.  All of the stress from planning is now over and I had an amazing day.  While I mostly hiked alone I did meet some great people today.  I met a couple of guys Joe and Jay on the approach trail and we spent the rest of the trial leap frogging each other.  Once we got to the top Joe made sure I got pictures of me on Springer before I set off.  I ran into a few thru hikers as well and one crazy guy hiking in sandals and doing a yo-yo (hiking there and back).  Absolutely insane, but very welcoming.  

So I'm exhausted and my feet are killing me, but I'm happy I'm here.