Monday, June 23, 2008


Just to give you an idea of the relative ease of the trail, I introduce you to Cimmaron. He was a Boy Scout Leader for 36 years and hiked went to Philmont 15 times as a leader. He had a Philmont belt and a Philmont Hat to go along with it. He will be working his way up to 12 - 15 miles per day and flip-flopping around the end of July. Just as a side note, Cimmaron is 86 years old.

The nice people in Hampton that bought me breakfast

This is Jack and Billie Hilton of Elizabethton, TN with their granddaughter Ashton. I ran into these people this past Wednesday morning. I just started chatting them up about the Appalachian Trail and Jack decided to buy my breakfast. The Mom'n Pops places along the trail are some of the nicest places to stop and get good cheap food. Sometimes getting into town is as easy as an early morning walk off of the trail.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Arrived in Damascus, VA

I noticed Daniel's Facebook page was recently updated, so I dialed him up.

He's currently in Damascus and taking a zero to take care of business. He's staying at a hostel called "The Place," owned by a Methodist church but run on a sort of work-plus-donation honor system. When I caught him, he was hanging out in a coffee shop with a guy named "Never the Same" who, interestingly, is from Carrboro and does contra dance (woot).

Daniel told me about some night hiking he did around Watauga Dam, I believe. It was a full moon, so a good time to night hike altogether. He was sitting by the dam and saw what looked like bright headlights coming over the mountain, and that was actually the moon. He characterized the seven miles, three hours he hiked in the dark by himself as "intense," with his body in "high awareness mode." He was tuned to the smallest noises and sights, and they made his heart thump. Some glowing spots he took for insects at first were the eyes of some wild or free dog, who ran off barking loudly. Daniel said it "freaked me the f* out." At 12:30 when he stopped by a spring, he heard footsteps. In such times of uncertainty or fear, he collapses one trekking pole to use as a weapon. This time, he heard some animal make a call like a cross between that of a dove...and a Wookie. Three times it called, with a pause in between each. Daniel was unsettled enough to move on then. For one hour Daniel walking in the dark because his lamp went out, but there was enough light to see by. He made it to the shelter by 2, listened to some bears, and went to sleep. The next day was exhausting, until he took an afternoon nap.

Daniel took longer than he expected to reach Damascus because of two unforseeable events. The first was the opportunity to volunteer on the trail, which he said does not happen every day and which he could not pass up. The second event was an unexpected meeting on the trail. Daniel got to talking with another hiker about where he was from, and it turned out this guy "Matt" is our cousin's husband! Daniel ran into a relative neither of us had met before. It was so bizarre and awesome that Daniel hiked with Matt and his group for a few days. Wow.

Daniel has also had a few more gifts of free food and conversation.

He's next accepting mail at Pearisburg (VA 24134). I'll talk to him tonight to be sure that's at the post office. (NO, see below) It's about 160 miles away, and I think he plans on getting there in less than ten days. He or I will post soon to verify that.

Edit: He told me he'll be in Pearisburg June 30 or July 1...or maybe July 4. So let that guide you. He does not want to depend on the post office; instead, send packages to c/o Plaza Motel, 415 North Main St., city/zip above. Don't forget to note "hold for thru-hiker" on the package.

Daniel added that he met an 86-year-old hiker named Cimarron, and he also plans on buying a hiking kilt tomorrow to have more room for movement. Wear it with pride, Daniel.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Another call from Daniel; more about Brittany

Daniel gave me a call today and elaborated on his volunteer work. Officially, he worked for the Appalachian Trail Conservancy for three days last week, Friday-Sunday. He was given free food, a volunteer patch from the Tennessee Eastman Hiking Club (maintainers of the area), and tools. He told me about working on a bald trail, where there were nice steps but hikers were going around the steps, and there was a washout. So these volunteers rerouted the trail from a steep climb into a switchback. Daniel said Ian was also there, and a fellow named Blue, and nameless others. Daniel got his lovely locks French braided. He said that a place called Laurel Fork Gorge is absolutely beautiful, and one should spend at least two days there. Otherwise, the hiking is easy, fast, not much to look at. Daniel had a hurting ankle after the trail work, but it went in a day.

As for me, my ankles do not feel right yet. I started standing and walking a little yesterday and this morning. I would not call the results painful, but they aren't right. I'm getting swelling when I walk, and my stride isn't normal, isn't smooth. In fact I can't not limp. So now I wonder if I'll be right in a month and able to rejoin for a time (Slam! Pennsylvania boulders!), and yes, spend some more time with my dear brother, or if I ought to start looking for a cheap apartment now. My spirits are low.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

More time to mail Daniel

He called our Dad, and all the information I can extract is that he hiked about 30 miles north of Erwin, then spent three days employed in trail work. Construction or repair, I guess. So it will still be a while before he is in Damascus. See a few posts earlier for his address there!

Friday, June 13, 2008


X-ray says the bones are fine. Most likely tendonitis (unless an oddly-placed stress fracture that will need an MRI to be seen). Doctor says to keep off the feet, elevate, take ibuprofen, ice. So I have done, walking nearly none at all, crawling and sliding across the floor instead. It's still a novel way of moving, so it's a little fun, but it's a big change in activity for what seems to be little help. The swelling is gone, but it still hurts when I stand. I would have thought that on my fifth day of limited movement the pain would be gone. One week away seems unlikely to do the trick. I am concerned that when I heal (if I heal), lack of practice and movement will have made me unable to walk still!

At least I am eating vegan mac n' cheese, watching Terminator 2 (reminded me of bear jokes), and reading The Two Towers. On Monday Ulysses and I talked about Tolkien and the fact that my brother sort of resembles a young Gandalf, and how I need to finish the trilogy, so I shall. But the more humorous resemblance is that of my brother to Rasputin. Daniel's beard is bushy, and his hair is wild when he wakes, so Haha bestowed the name "Rasputin" on him. I hope he takes it for his trail name!

If it's your style, please send me healing thoughts. I'm impatient to be back on the trail.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Not so awesome

Since Hot Springs the hiking has been fair, but everything is not well. The first day out of Hot Springs (Tuesday) I noticed my ankle hurt a little. It was not a big deal, but the next day it hurt a little more, such that we were moving more slowly than normal and ultimately hiked over an exposed rocky ridge in the dark (there was a nice view of town lights below). Thursday told us that there was something wrong enough to merit a half-day and a bandage, and the hikes through Sunday evening were an absolutely painful (in all senses of the word) crawl. Over the six days my distorted walk played with my other ankle, my shin, and my knee. It hurt to stand, which meant it hurt to go to the bathroom too. The medicine I took did not help, and this time was the most emotionally taxing time of the hike so far. To be honest, I am very afraid that it may put me off of the hike. I hope hope hope that is not so.

When we stumbled into Uncle Johnny's hostel in Erwin, TN at dark on Sunday, I was overwhelmed by the hiker concern. A bag of ibuprofen materialized. People offered food--chips and fresh cherries. Cubit brought the kitty cat for me to play with. Ulysses biked to the store and brought back a bag of ice for my ankle. I got several piggyback rides over the next two days, including one from L'il Cubit--she may be l'il, but she's a beast! Once again, it was nice to see people we knew. Dan, Chuck, Haha, Will, Brotherproof crew, Caleb, Ian. Our dad arrived late Monday (Erwin is not so far from Raleigh) and spent the night in the camp yard with us, and then drove me home today (Tuesday). So yes, I am typing in Wake Forest right now. We will have my ankles checked out. With any luck, I should be able to rejoin my brother after a week or two of rest. I hope very much that that is the case.

Interesting moments over the week: At the top of Big Bald (360 degree view), I met a family from Greensboro, NC. Sunday we passed a campsite to which someone had brought a plastic lawn chair! There was also a register at the site, and we read and added our own exclamations about this chair in the middle of the woods! Tuesday many hikers at the first shelter stoned, skinned, and ate a rattlesnake. Of course I found it appalling ("But it was hanging around the privy sign and rattling at us!") but there you have it. Turns out the woods are actually stocked with these snakes, and there's a fifty dollar fine for killing one. The last three miles into Erwin a local named Dave ran into us, hiked down the mountain, came back to see if we were OK, offered to carry our packs (declined), and followed and conversed with us for the two hours it took me to make it to town. When we reached the road he even told us where he lived and said we could come by if we needed anything at all. People are so nice.

We spent several nights tarped out instead of in shelters last week. It has quite a different social feel. At shelters, the conversation happens loudly out front, and when people crawl into bed it becomes silent. But we shared tarp space a couple of nights, and quiet, hilarious conversations continued after getting into the sleeping bags (e.g. one conversation about hiking naked on the Summer Solstice). It's definitely more intimate, sharing your personal shelter by choice, than is happening to sleep in the built shelter with someone.

If I haven't miscounted, I hiked 200 miles so far, 60 of them in pain. Not bad for a first trip. I have to say that whatever happens with my ankles, I've found a new hobby. Backpacking. I love it. There will definitely be more of this, one way or another.

Monday, June 9, 2008

You can send mail!!

Daniel has great plans to be in Damascus, VA within a week, so if you are interested in mailing him something, now would probably be a good time to do that. He suggests mailing him at an outfitter, because they are open 7 days a week.

So here is an outfitter address:

Mt. Rogers Outfitters
110 Laurel Ave.
Damascus, VA 24236

Use the instructions on the right-hand side of the webpage for further instructions on how and what to send.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Another Post, One Day Later!

Directly after I finished the previous post and went down the street to find Daniel, I ran into Kit imploring us to spend the night at Elmer's, or the Sunnybank Inn, and sign up for dinner. Thus the dinner minimum could be met, and Kit, admittedly addicted to the place, could have his third awesome vegetarian dinner there. We agreed.

Awesome place. an 1875 Italianate Victorian house incorporating earlier 1840 buildings. It has been a boarding house for travelers for over a century, and for Appalachian Trail thru-hikers for 50 years. For you history people, it's on the National Historic Register! This history and more, plus bed and towels, meal option, eclectic antique furniture a music room, parlor, puppy, hundreds of books, second floor porch, and dinner discussion, for a ridiculously reasonable rate! And get this: "The Sunnybank Retreat Association is a not-for-profit private educational and recreational membership organization that exists to provide experiences that promote physical, mental, and spiritual health, and further a natural and simple way of life. The Association supports groups and politics that promote ecological wisdom, human and animal rights, global responsibility and sustainable economics." Sweet.

Before dinner imagine Brittany, Daniel, a Canadian, and three English guys watching Sicko in the parlor. Amazing. Dinner was vegan for my sake: amazing lentil stew (Daniel and I had two bowels each), salad (with cheese for the others because cheese is like crack), stir fry, and sweet potato pie by courses. Wow. After dinner more hikers showed up, and we walked the block or two down to the pub. I really enjoyed the evening.

So now I'm composing on that second-floor porch, feet up, freshly showered, 7 a.m., waiting for breakfast to roll around and for everyone else to wake. We made no mileage yesterday, so in hiker language it was a "zero day." But I think we made the right choice. Elmer's place has been totally worth it.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Hot Springs, NC

Yesterday we got into Hot Springs NC and we are currently trying to leave as soon as we wind up with things here in town getting resupplied and mailing out things to everybody including one. The weather has warmed up considerably so the 35 degree sleeping bags aren't very comfortable anymore.

We were going to stay in a top notch hostel last night (15 bucks per night) but we ended up SLEEPING IN A VAN DOWN BY THE RIVER!!! Of course when I say van, I mean that I was sleeping under the tarp. It was really down by the river. One of the more pleasant nights so far. Dinner came in the form of a home style diner version of the six dollar burger and fries. It came only two hours after lunch which meant it was tons of filling fun. I was hungry 3 hours later though.

Hiker's hunger is the worst. After packing 10 - 15 miles per day for several weeks, you end up with the hiker's hunger. You can eat at a buffet for two hours and still be just as hungry as when you started two hours later.

That's all I can think of right now but before too long I think that we are going to try to put up profiles of the people that we have met on the trail and then get their pictures up here too. Not everyone is a tree hugger or outdoor oriented. You would be pleasantly surprised.

[above is Daniel's portion, below is Brittany's]

As far as hiker hunger goes, I'm not there yet. I had a veggie plate of cucumber salad, turnip greens, fried green tomatoes, and pinto beans at the diner last night, and was stuffed. (One of the patrons last night whispered "More hippies!" as she walked by us.) A huge homestyle hash brown plate with toast and fruit this morning, stuffed. Snacked on a peach, a tart, a pint of chocolate vegan ice cream, and some fudge cookies...I may be sick soon.

The hike is still cool for me. I mean, I'm still slow, but there are great moments. Max Patch was an enormous bald, I mean enormous bald, with millions of buttercups (and many vacationers) on top. That same evening there were many stream crossings with log bridges (squared off), very beautiful. We had a potential bear encounter as well, arriving at a shelter laden with official and unofficial notices and anecdotes about the tenacity of the bear in the area. Not wanting our food stolen or gear destroyed, we hiked away from that (1938-built) shelter and camped under the tarp at a place called Catpen Gap. I don't like setting up in the dark, and because we didn't know if the bear might be where we were anyway, I sang Jesus Christ Superstar and Fountains of Wayne songs to warn potential bear of our presence while Daniel hung the food bag.

^^^Max Patch ascent and Daniel atop the bald enjoying the wind!

It's great to run into people we know. Just yesterday, we ran into the following hikers we knew, all in Hot Springs at the same time: Kit, Levi, Jukebox, Rolex, Cyclone, Skatch, Kansas, Dixie Dawg, Ben, Float, and Will. It's like a family reunion of dirty, smelly people: Hey guys! Great to see you here! How's it going!?

We are doing laundry as this entry is typed. So I'm sitting here in the outfitter in my rain jacket and my cleaner shorts, feeling somewhat exposed. This is typical, I am told. It's just a different way of life. Other hikers have said in real life, they shower and wear a clean outfit every day, but on the trail it doesn't bother them to go on for days without a cleaning. It doesn't bother me either, but I'm kind of glad to get 12-day funk out of my hiking pants!

We meet so many people, nearly every day, I wish I could write about them all. It's wonderful, being a hiker. People just want to talk to you.