Monday, October 26, 2009

That's a wrap...early.

Although my feelings were lightened by the hilarious songs that Band-Aid made up about our hiking party, the sense of foreboding remained when we left Dalton. Short days, cold weather, and word of storms led to many zeros. We zeroed in one AMC cabin with a fireplace and morning pancakes while looking after a young mouse Jeramiah found by the roadside, alone and disoriented--we named him Laverticus. Rain happened, and then day-long flurries followed by some sticking, and we zeroed again three days later at Tom Leonard shelter. Which, by the way, had a beautiful path-not-taken in a yellow wood. Torch, J, and I, along with two new friends, Robin and Brandon, easily convinced one another to take a total of three zeros, with usual daily trips back into Great Barrington by two miles of AT. We gathered much firewood from far and wide, kept the flames up all day, and generally bummed in the woods. I convinced Torch and J to do the half-gallon challenge with me, and Brandon came along; but alas, Brandon, the one of us not over the halfway-mileage-point, was the only one to complete the challenge! I could barely force myself to eat a quart. Well, at least we know now.

An extremely sad moment came after four days with Laverticus, when he passed away. We had loved him, kept him in our shirts so he wouldn't freeze, fed him, watered him, exercised him; he had crawled on our clothes and faces, and peed and pooped in our hands. He was smart, and crazy-brave. J and I mourned, and in the silence Robin played a sad song about change.

I was glad to take these zeros. I felt no desire to hike in the weather. And I started to realize I was done. When a Monday morning came, and the sky was beautiful, and it was not all that cold, and I still had no desire to hike, I went back to Great Barrington and said goodbye to the trail. J and Torch came and shared a hotel room with me. I forced myself to walk away the next day. I grounded myself at a wonderful place with wonderful friends, in New Jersey. It was hard, but it got better.

I'm still on the road at the moment, but I suppose that would be material for another blog, not this one. I would like to return and finish, but not right now. Torch made me a wooden AT-symbol necklace, and I'm wearing it now. I wish friends did not have to part.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Into MA

After having the best Equinox Thanksgiving potluck ever (and Sam's vegan cookies) at Becky's, J and I started hitching back to the trail. We made it far enough to stay in a hostel in Rutland run by a religious community, learned that our friends Band-Aid, Torch, and Lucky had been there the day before, and learned that our friend Chewbacca was there to stay. A big surprise! Not everyone's trail leads the same way.

We got back to the trail, hiked, got rained on, got hailed on, got flurried on, froze our butts off one night, celebrated entry into MA, resupplied, lazed about, blah blah the usual. I have a new sleeping bag now, that is as big as the rest of my pack, and almost wedged me in a spiral staircase on top of Mt. Greylock. I got sick one night, not sure why. I had my internal frame pack sent out, realized it didn't fit my sleeping bag any better, and am about to send it back.

I'm in Dalton, MA right now. I was here a few years ago with the Deerfield fellowship to see the Crane Paper Museum, and J and I went there again today. We're staying with Rob, a wonderful man who never advertises but merely opens his home to hikers as guests, friends, family. He made sure we were showered and laundered and fed and entertained and rested, and we decided to stay a second night to spend more time talking with him. He has a photo album of every guest from this year, and went through it with us talking about different people, what wonderful stories they told, how long they stayed. It was cool to see the faces to the names we've been reading in journals along the trail. One fellow, for instance, writes colorful and sticker-ful entries as Hannah Montanah's Hiking Tips, and he's really a burly guy with a big beard and turban. We saw people we've traveled with, or merely met.

All the northbounders have crossed us by now, so there are no more friendly faces from down south. We're at the back of the pack again, of course, almost to the 1,089 mi halfway point. ALMOST halfway, and we started in April! We could finish a through hike, and J still says he will, but the cold weather is not a friend to me, and the precipitation lately has me feeling crummy too. I'm entertaining ideas once again for alternatives to this hike, but I'll let the weather clear, and I'll get to New York, before making any decisions. Rob's stories certainly have rejuvenated me and my desire to keep going.

And J is now carrying an Elmo doll on his pack. Life is good.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Into Vermont!

Continuing New hampshire stories...

I enjoyed the Granite State, I suppose. The White Mountains are supposed to be some of the grandest on the trail. And they were. Majestic, truly. But they were also cold, metaphorically and otherwise. Rocky peaks rising into the sky, gray, hard, dry, treeless. Not my cup of tea. The highlight for me was a night hike and dawn viewing from Franconia Ridge. Several of us had made plans to hike the ridge under the full moon, but sleep set in, and it turns out half of us were lost anyway. So a few days later, J and I went back to complete the missed section, cowboy-napping by the highway, and I finally got myself to wake and rise in the dark, around 2 a.m. It was my first night hike, and there were no hitches really, except that by the time I got above treeline, where the moonlight could actually illuminate the trail, the dawn had begun with rusty colors. Still, I turned off my headlamp and made my way to the nearest large peak, Lincoln, with the almost-full moon over my left shoulder and the growing colors over my right. The stars dimmed behind me, the black sky turned purple, and by the time I got to Lincoln the dawn was casting harder shadows than the moon was. I waited on that peak for 25 minutes while the colors became maroon, rose, coral, peach, yellow, and the bright orb rose to warm my shivering body and running nose. I watched the line of light crawl down the peaks to the west. I was all alone, and it was totally worth the early rise. I've seen dawns before, but nothing as wonderful as dawn from a mountaintop. I'm sure I haven't conveyed any idea of how wonderful it was. A few hours later the ridgeline was mobbed with hundreds of dayhikers for the holiday weekend.

I cannot fail to mention someone else's dayhiker-free Mount Washington story. From Madison hut, six of us southbounders set out towards Washington in terrible rain and wind and cold, a seven mile journey to the next hut, all above treeline. About five minutes out, I decided to turn back to the hut and zero (J was disappointed). But J and four other hikers continued. Sadly, the group was one short when they made it to the next hut, for the one had fallen on a rock and busted his face. It's so terrible, but I'm glad it wasn't me. I hiked by myself the next day, in great weather, and caught up shortly.

Chet's hostel in Lincoln was great fun, what with an adult trike and a tandem bike. hanover, home of Dartmouth, was not exactly the college town most of us expected. We were already hating the Outing Club, which conducted freshman orientation backpacking trips without tents for the students, meaning large groups took over every shelter, a major faux pas in the woods. J and I were loving Pittsfield, VT. We stayed at a farm, pulling weeds for our stay and for sandwiches in the general store. The farmers are two hikers we met down south, and Danny Boy (Snipe) from Georgia was there as well, so it was a fabulous reunion! We never expected to see Dan again, and there he was with full beard and his picture on the front of the Wall Street Journal (Sept. 21) in an article about work-for-benefit on the trail.

We stayed at Amee farm two nights, and the next morning J set the record at the general store for eating a breakfast challenge--huge plate of food in 14 min 28 sec--thereby earning himself a free meal. Then we hitched to Burlington, VT, to visit my friend from my work at howell Farm. And here we are, devouring Becky's library and watching all her movies. In another coincidence, we met her friend Sam, aka Samwise, who just finished a northbound thru-hike. he recognized me from a shelter in Maine, and we talked about being vegan on the trail, and about his new vegan backpacking blog. What a coincidence!

But potluck tonight, and then hitching back to the trail tomorrow. Just a few days short of 1000 trail miles. Not even halfway, but still going with the flow, still having a great time.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Over NH, almost into VT

Sitting in the Hanover, NH library right now, racking my brain to think of everything to say.

First things first, Jeramiah caught up to me finally and we're hiking together again.

He caught up the evening after I finished Mahoosuc Notch, which has a reputation as being the "hardest mile on the trail." I like the way someone else put it: It's like an adult jungle gym. That is, it's a mile-point-one of huge rocks and boulders that are resting in a pile at the bottom of a notch, with some water running underneath. It requires a good deal of scrambling over and under and around, and a little strategizing, but nothing intense or dangerous. I went through alone, taking about an hour and forty minutes to finish. It was nothing like people built it up to be, not challenging at all, just different. I highly recommend that section.

Pretty soon after, we crossed into New Hampshire, kissed the ground, laid our final good-riddances in the Maine soil, and rejoiced. Deliver us out of these bogs and mosquitoes, New Hampshire. Time out for some visitation with my family, however. They all three drove to Pinkham Notch to meet J and I, and while the visit wasn't exactly restful, it was fun. And delicious. We drove around a lot, up the Mt. Washington Auto Road on the second day. I believe Washington (he'll kick you apart) is the tallest peak in the northeast? At any rate, it has the "worst weather in the world," with snow every month of the year and a planetary record windspeed of 231 mph many decades ago. It has a long history of tourism and research, and there is a weather observatory and little museum up there now, and a historical recreation of one of the early summit houses. We chilled there, contemplating pretending to be tourists to thru-hikers we did not know, showering them with the same old questions. But I would have laughed after the first few words and given it away. Later that day we went to a shopping town, where I got maple candy and some kid's secondhand keychain Ugly Doll, which I have named Guggers and now carry with me.

After that visit, several zero and near-o mileage days conspired against our hiking through the White Mountains very quickly. I got my first taste of mountain hospitality at Madison Springs Hut (Carter Notch had sent me out in the cold rain just before dark with a cry of "no room"). The Appalachian Mountain Club, which maintains many trails and the AT through New Hampshire, has run these "huts" in the forest by special permission for over a hundred years, I think. There's much criticism. They're very expensive, being situated on mountaintops in a popular location, and hikers and helicopters must bring in all the supplies, and bring out the waste. They charge thru-hikers for a mere spot on the dining room floor at night. But they also feed their leftovers, and sometimes make special food, for the thru-hikers. Work-for-stay is also possible. I lucked out at Madison my second night, for a group of old college buddies and some of their sons "adopted" me into one of their vacant reservations. I got to sleep in a bunk, and had special vegan food prepared for me. At Mizpah, I got to cook stir-fry for myself and sleep in the library, in exchange for washing dishes. At Lonesome Lake Hut, there was a spaghetti and salad feast, again in exchange for dishwashing. I felt I was for the most part, though with some exception, treated well. But then it was nice to hit some actual free shelters again, and escape the crowds.

Darn! Library closing! More later.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Andover, ME

Finally, some time to write! I wonder if I can fit it all in the time I have.

As I said before, J and I left his house after fourth of July festivities to try to hitch hike to Millinocket and begin hiking the AT south. The hitching was a mixed bag, and it took forever to just get out of Ohio. We also found a kitten, a hairy orange guy, in a ditch while walking through one town. We bought him food--he got gravy on his face, so we called him Gravy. I sacrificed my cotton thrift clothes that I bought to wear around J's house so they could be Gravy's bedding, and we carried him in a box for an evening and a day until we could get to Portsmouth, OH, where we heard that an animal shelter was. The unhelpful lady on the phone--when we got to Portsmouth--told me there was no space for more cats, and she didn't have any suggestions of where to turn, either. We spent a lot of time at the library trying to find a place to take him along our route, then we took him to the vet to get checked out. Luckily, a woman named Crystal picked us up as we left the vet and promised to take care of him until she could find him a home. She talked about rescuing kittens before, and said she'd take Gravy back to the vet for extra treatments, so we felt good about leaving our baby with her. We had only had him for a day, but it seemed like longer, having to make sure he was comfy and happy and didn't run off, which he tried. It was an emotional parting, really, and Crystal said we were going to make her cry!

The next few days we hitched through a corner of Kentucky, up West Virginia, into Pennsylvania. We stayed at a campground one night, found a spot in the woods another night, pitched behind a narrow tree by the highway another night. All sorts of people picked us up, genders, races, ages, and numbers. Trucks with single drivers and empty beds passed us up while cars and trucks full of people and equipment found ways to squeeze us in. People offered us food, drink, smoke. Best was the grapefruit at one guy's house!

In Pennsylvania we failed to contact J's friend who was supposed to live around Pittsburgh. We chatted a guy at the coffee shop who took us to a place to camp in the woods, and started hitching the next day. First we were harassed by the police for walking along one highway--it didn't have the limited access sign on the ramp we took!--but he told us hitching was legal. Then we tried back at the ramp, got one exit down, and got stuck for almost five hours as car after car passed us. It was depressing. THEN another cop came and told us that people had called in to REPORT us for standing there to hitch, and hitching was actually illegal, and we would have to leave. It was such a crappy day that I gave up. We took a local bus back to Pittsburgh, found our way to the Greyhound station downtown, and hopped on immediately. A day later, we arrived in Bangor, ME. It was my first bus trip ever, and quite the impulsive travel decision.

In Bangor the next day we saw a pair of traveling kids with their dog--Panda was the name of the guy--and they were pleased to see us and pass on info about Bangor and Bar Harbor. They told us of a secret place to camp in Bangor by the river, which we eventually decided to try. Sitting there, waiting for it to get dark, a woman passed us with her dog, asking us if another dog sniffing around was ours. No. Then, she simply asked us if we needed a place to spend the night, and invited us to her house. Her name was Sarah, and she was a French teacher working on, I think, a folklore dissertation. Her dog was named Tillie because she liked collecting rocks and ripping up sod, and Tillie had twenty-six toes. Sarah lived in a beautiful house like the kind professors have close to college campuses. She gave us her back room, the sunroom I guess, and I slept on the daybed. She let us bathe and wash our clothes, and she told us to help ourselves to the food and drink in her fridge. Her house was filled with books, and I wanted to read them. Sarah was so poetic in her demeanor, and spoke about oral histories and connecting children to their communities, and spoke about the friends she made in France when she was younger. She lost herself in telling her own story while driving us up the interstate, and passed our exit by a long shot, even though she had meant to take us only a few miles!

We got to Millinocket quickly, found my box was not at the post office, hung out with some high schoolers who showed us the way to the trail. A man picked us up in his car before we even put our thumbs out, and before we knew it we were in Baxter State Park. July 12 we hiked to the base of Ktaadn (seeing four moose and a bald eagle on the way) and started our ascent, too late in the day for my pace! It took us 12 hours, when others took 8-10 hours. There was so much rock-hopping, and climbing, and clambering! We had our full packs on, and I had to drop some of my things behind a rock to lighten my load and center my balance better. I literally required J's hand up on some of the rocks because they were so slick and tall. We summited around 6:15 pm, two hours after we saw the last group on the way down. It was freezing and windy up there, so we took our pictures by the sign and got going down, hoping to make it below treeline before nightfall, which we did. It was 12:19 a.m. when we got back to the campground, and I was so tired.

Next was the "100-mile wilderness" which was not really a wilderness, but definitely fewer roads crossed. The mosquitos were infuriating, as was the mud and the rain and the roots and the rocks, and the dozens of orange slugs we found on our gear and ourselves in the mornings. The terrain was flattish, but we were slow going. We had a day of me going back in to Millinocket for more food, and J going in thinking he would get off the trail, but his mom convinced him to wait it out. We got a hitch back to the wrong trailhead and lost a few days doubling back over the missed section so we wouldn't skip any trail. We met more hikers and dogs, one named Morgan with a pink nose and beautiful blue eyes, and we made it through the wilderness (swamp) into Monson. J was ahead of me, so I hitched by myself. On the back of a motorcycle. Oh yeah.

Molly in Monson let out a room and let J work for it, so we had a private room with sheets. The bar had great pizza, and lake access. We hung out for a bit, zeroed, used the internet to fiddle with my pictures. Shortly after Monson J and I separated on the trail and crossed a major ford, the west Piscataquis. I cross upstream among several islands, got tangled up and turned around, but eventually made it back to the trail without having to spend the night lost. J crossed at high water and got swept away momentarily, immediately assumed I had drowned, swam to the shore, and then saw me clambering out of the woods back to the trail. He was soaked. We called it quits for the day and built a fire.

Soon after that we met a group of hikers we've been with for about a week. Some of them flipped at Damascus after we did. We've been going into towns together, hanging out, drinking, doing Karaoke, watching TV, enticing each other to zeros, and so on. Currently I'm at the Pine Ellis hostel in Andover with TNT, as I lost J and the others a few days ago at another town. I think they stayed in town longer than expected, and if they made it off the trail by now they are probably at the "party" hostel near here. I like this place though, with internet and phone and shower and sheets and laundry and a porch. TNT was helping me with some fungus I have, directing me to soak my feet in salt water. It burned indescribably, and David, who runs this place (his home, really) gave me beer to ease the pain. And foot powder too. And I got to float around in a pretty floral skirt because they provide clothes to wear while doing laundry! How nice! Right now I'm trying to let my shoes dry from their washing--hopefully that will help with the fungus.

I am almost out of Maine now, and into the Whites, and close to Mahoosuc Notch, which is supposed to be the hardest mile on the trail. They say that about a lot of places, so it's hard ot believe, but Maine has definitely been a whole different animal from the southern part of the trail.

I'm sure I could say more, but I've been typing for almost an hour, so I'll have to call it quits.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Monson, ME

So Daniel finally posted the letter I sent him from Damascus, you can check out the post by him below.

There's so much I want to talk about, but I know I have to get off the internet soon, and start hiking to the shelter 6 miles off the road, but 4 miles hitch... I want to talk about hitching, and police, and generous people and their homes, and Gravy the kitten, and moose, and mud, and Ktaadn, and a bald eagle, and rocks, and hiker boxes, and mildew, and ponds, and a motorcycle, and mosquitoes...but it can wait. I spent the last probably two hours messing with getting the photos off of my camera. And I'm tired of the computer. Here.

They added backwards this time, so they're all out of order, most recent photos first.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Friday, July 10, 2009

This should be my last Damascus post. It's different from the others because I'm composing on paper and typing up later. Hopefully it will be less hurried.

Summary since Erwin/ Uncle Johnnie's:
We hiked out on Friday, having done an 11 mile slackpack in the morning, 4 more to the shelter. Grant and Ian were there with us and we matched pace the next three nights as well. The third day, the four of us ended up getting sucked into a nearby lunch counter run out of of a woman named Connie's home. It's called the Greasy Creek Friendly. I ate chips and salsa, portabella shroom burger, and a salad (all delectiably delicious trail treats). I even ate the chunks of carrots, it was that good. Connie was a sweet middle-aged lady, with cute grey braids, running the place all alone. We heard that before we came, she was singing 80's songs and making her cat dance. But shw eas so frienfly. The four of us camped outside there, baked biscuts on a stick and came up with the idea of hiking to Maine together.

In the next days we crossed some awesome balds, met some aggressive domesticated horses who bullied us for food until we left, spent a night in a barn-turned-shelter with the full moon and heat lightning in view, passed waterfalls suitable for a hiker shower, walked through a river gorge, climbed a srpuce-fir forest to the former site of a mountaintop hotel, waded a creek, fed ducks on a lake beach, and marched through driving rain. However, wading the creek was part of cursed quest to find a resupply point. We walked through pouring rain, missed the side trail by almost a mile. Walked back in pouring rain. Found the poorly blazed trail. Waded a swollen creek, waded through briars and came out at Abby's Place. The sign on the door said 'We'll be back at 8:00' Boy was I steamed. What kind of serious hostel does that? Closed all day?! So unprofessional. We wasted an hour and a half and walked close to two needless miles for that.

In the last post I mentioned Kincora hostel, where we cooked everything in sight and baked from found ingredients. I made a sweet potato - banana pie that was very highly rated, for example. Kincora is the best hostel so far. Never closed, low donation only, showers + laundry + shuttle + kitchen + matresses included + great hiker box + hundreds of Christmas postcards from hikers triumphant at Kataadn's summit. So inspiring!

Sorry about the timing folks, I didn't realize that the letter was in there until about a week after I got the package. Then I went computerless for another half week down in Frisco for the 4th. Clear cool blue water, could see your feet at all times. Anyways, there we go.

-Daniel aka Red Flag

Monday, July 6, 2009

Last time saying what a great time I've had at J's mom's house. And a chiropractor this morning? Wowee. Pop poppity pop pop. Here comes the sun, but no pool. Alas. Onward!

Sunday, July 5, 2009


I mailed Daniel a letter a while back that I wanted him to post for me; I don't know why he hasn't. Please do so, soon, Daniel.

Long story short, we hitched out in three days to Bowling Green, KY, stayed with my friend there, then hitched in to days to Cincinnati. We spent one night at a hostel and met 2sergeantsbiking, who are biking across the country for a vineyard they want to start. Hitched with farmers and cage fighters next day, and with Mike, a biker from Carrboro, who took us through three states, yay! We camped behind a church. Ali showed us her lab and talked about genetics and stories, and cooked a great soup. And after a day of a speeding ticket, four cops, three times being kicked out of gas stations, and an almost-lost ID, Michael and Nadera let us stay at their house and fed us and showed us their art. A lot of people who didn't give us rides stopped to be sure we were ok, or bought us water, or gave or offered us money. It was very interesting to see their concern.

Once in Cincinnati, we called J's mom and went home. She has fixed fabulous vegan food ever since I arrived. Curry and spaghetti and more curry and hummus and cashew cheese and GREAT smoked barbecued seitan and burgers and pancakes and french toast and mixed drinks. Nom nom nom! And at the big 4th party, a friend brought raspberry almond cookies and brownies that she was perfecting. We spent a little time preparing for the party, and visiting J's camp friends, and going to a neighborhood festival, when I got mendhi on my palm like I've been wanting. We even went to Goodwill to pick up clean, normal clothes to wear while we are here. I made chocolate mousse for later, and we're planning to watch Reefer Madness: The Musical. Maybe we'll also play in pool before we leave in a few days. Before leaving for...Maine!

I'm having trouble with Picasa from this computer, so I've put the latest pics on Photobucket.

Also, I abused my camera a bit too much, and the screen has given up. I'm taking pictures blind now; thought I'd mention it in case you noticed a drop in photo quality.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Damascus, part I

In Damascus public library, and the little popup window gave me 10 minutes left on my session, so not much talking.

Started hiking before the leaves were out. Some of the first plants to come up are now dying. Seasons!

4 states! 460-some miles! Virginia!

Slow as molasses. Couple more 18s, but they screw me over. Shin splints right now. Awfully prone to overuse injury, it seems.

So that means unless I flip and still winter hike, no thru. So what's my destination? What's my quest? Where am I going? I'm open.

As I hike, I note places near road crossings that are beautiful. I note short routes of mostly downhill or really easy stuff, where I'd take a first-time backpacker. I really want to take my mom out here. Weekend it, and we can fit a full-size air mattress!

Unaka Mtn was one of the latest beauties. Spruce and fir, widely spaced. So green. Jeramiah and I note such places as elven. Sometimes we pretend orcs and dragons are in the woods. Sometimes we pretend an evil sorceress is controlling the weather. It's fun times.

But I gotta go! I'll try to post again tomorrow!

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Out of Uncle Johnny's

Well! Four days here, two in the bunkhouse, plus a shuttle to Spivey Gap today to slackpack back to the hostel, all free! Wow! Freebird, who's been in charge of the store, is so generous! And of course Johnny and Charlotte, who own the place. We're hiking four miles out to the next shelter tonight, after I eat my last bowl of microwave Mac and Yeast from heaven. New pictures are here:

Heard of some more hikers just going home. How sad! If I get off the trail, I won't be going home!

Feet feel good for now. Yay. Moving on. 339 down!

If you want to send me a package, I'll be checking the post office in Damascus, VA. I don't have the zip code in front of me, but the address would be my name on the first line, next line General Delivery, next Damascus, VA zip code, next "Hold for AT Thru Hiker." You can look up the zip, right?

I'm about two days ahead of my schedule last year. So far behind everyone! But a great time. Grant and Ian (Tolkien dork and museum dork) are with us since the Smokies, so still have some "old" friends for the time being.

OH! Going by the name Bar Fight now, officially. :D Vegan rage and pink fingerless gloves. I will mess you up. :)

Thursday, June 4, 2009

STILL Still Going at Uncle Johnny's

I apologize for the rambling nature of my posts. I always feel like there is so much to say, but I can never remember it when I have internet access. Also, it's hard to communicate what the AT is really like.

Anyway, like I said, I'm chilling here at the hostel for a while because my foot feels funny. It doesn't exactly seem to be getting better, and I also realized this morning that the old injury site is swollen, so I've wrapped it. J. and I are doing laundry and preparing cabins for guests in return for stay tonight. He's still around and hanging out with me, whether it's because he likes me or because he's sickish, I don't know. He's been sick to his stomach for the past day and a half, and he finally puked last night. Leprechaun tried to hike out yesterday, feeling fine, got less than a mile away, and had it coming out both ends. And then returned. A couple others have been having similar problems. Eek.

I'm still waiting to see what will happen. There's a festival in Erwin this weekend, so maybe I'll be around for that, and it'll be fun. Here at the hostel we've been watching movies (Lord of the Rings and O Brother Where Art Thou being specially appropriate favorites) and doing crossword puzzles and playing cards and doing Trivial Pursuit questions and drawing pictures on the photos in the newspaper. And sometimes drinking. Several people who are quite well have been having trouble leaving the hostel because it's just so fun to hang out. A mocking horoscope made up yesterday: "You will chillax and drink beer for the next three days." I have a personal motto: Pooping is always the right choice. Mohawk has his own: Don't fight the zero. And indeed he, and we, and others have not. It's all part of the experience! Though it sucks when people who have been friends for the past week and a half move on. There are strangers outside waiting to be friends, I think. Except for the guy who got to the grape jelly in the hiker box before I did... [narrows eyes]

Hostel dogs are cool. One is a stray who showed up a few days ago and just lies on the sofa. I brushed the hell out of him earlier today. The other is friendly, but he looks like he wants a bath and some itch medicine.

The area between Devil's Fork Gap and Spivey gap has some pretty spots for day hiking. Just suggesting. One more cabin to change the sheets later today I hope.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Still Going at Uncle Johnny's

So here I am at Uncle J's. This is where I stopped last year, having to go home for a nasty stress fracture in the ankle. So I was a bit pissed to feel my foot acting up yesterday, and I would be damned if Erwin, TN would be my hike's end for two years in a row. Thus J. and I only hiked 12 miles yesterday, and then hitched in very easily to Erwin this morning. I plan on staying here until my foot feels better, which I hope is a week or less. It's nowhere near as advanced as last year's problem since I was trying to be proactive in preventing serious injury. I plan on hitching back to where I left off and keep hiking north for the time being.

I've seen others hurt, some seriously. A guy named Centaur, who I met in the Smokies, has gone home for a week. Others took a zero in Gatlinburg. Chairman, who is in design school at NC State, has tendinitis of the Achilles tendon, and after hiking 8 miles north today he decided to hitch back and spend a few days at the hostel. I expect to become acquainted with him! Some people are getting bummed about the monotonous scenery, or bummed when hiking partners split and they find themselves alone for a few days, as the AT experience is largely social. I'm still hiking with Jeramiah, and I don't think even he knows if he'll be waiting for me to heal up. We've hiked together for nearly 300 miles now (we've completed 327 miles of the trail each), and I'm sure it'll feel different for me, whenever we split. Plus, I've entertained ideas of hitching up to Maine, or leaving the trail to visit other parts of the country (any takers?). No plans yet. Besides, I need to try out the new scenery, since the last 200 has been all a repeat of last year.

Healthwise, I'm pretty good. Thought I had giardiasis because of the nausea and cramps and diarrhea around my graduation time, but that got better. Fought some nasty foot fungus and some new blisters last week. Yesterday got a sunburn, and this morning discovered the funny feeling in the corner of my eye is probably also a burn, perhaps from blowing on J.'s cooking fire. Lots of insect bites, but surviving them. Braving an overfull stomach right now, as we just came back from the shuttle to town for Mexican food, and I always seem to eat too much in town. Falafel and cheezecake and tiramisu from Asheville, from my visit with Ashely, were great!

My tarp is working out well, yay. Keeping me dry in the rain. My pack is light and roomy (I started at Springer with 25 pounds but left Hot Springs with 32, eek). My shoes are starting to feel cramped, and I ought to move up a size and replace them soon, but I do love trail runners. Haven't played with any stoves yet. We'll see.

Met some cool people. John here is legally blind, though he can see some. He's hiking sections. Chairman from Raleigh I mentioned. Needles is a tattoo artist--he ought to meet up with Vinnie from earlier! Leprechaun is a rock climber who just got admitted to college today! And Mike from Ottowa is celebrating his 27th birthday today. Apparichaman has a sweet mohawk and curled mustache, and has been going at the trail almost as long as J. and I. Overall, loving the social scene. Loving meeting people, hanging out, and making inside jokes about staph infections.

No bears yet, alas.

My computer time is running out at the hostel, so I'm off to watch episodes of the Simpsons and eat chocolate. Later!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Rushed in Hot Springs

Boo boo boo! Not much time left! Short post.

I'm in Hot Springs, taking a zero day. Took a while to get here. Some days I've had no energy, just dragging out 7 or 9 miles. I think it's a calorie issue. Must fix. Getting tired not of cold food, but limited options cold food provides. Thinking about making a beer can stove. Peas and rice courtesy Jeramiah were great yesterday morning.

Many people are very casual about making it to Maine this season, and sometimes I find myself among them. I do just want to have a good time. J. and I ran into a southbounder who started last July (and took the winter off), who showed us his pictures from Maine to Max Patch (Tennessee). It was pretty inspiring for about ten minutes, and then I was going uphill again with no energy...

The Smokies were nice. I did a few days without J. as he had to go to doctor, but he caught up promptly. Max patch was rainy and viewless, but it's been nowhere near as wet as when we first entered NC. Yesterday was fantastic. The 18 miles (longest day) into Hot Springs were a ridiculously lush landscape, grasses and flowers leaning into the trail, white moths fluttering here and there, a light drizzle, the sun shimmering off of all the damp leaves.

But ah, I have an Ashley to meet! Post soon, I hope! See last year's post on this section and Hot Springs and the Sunnybank Inn.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Alive and Well!

I am home for graduation until tomorrow morning, so no time to tell ALL the stories. See for yourself by browsing my pictures.


I feel great. The AT never gives you what you expect. These three weeks have been far different from the three weeks of 2008 for me, and I love them all the same. I have been moving slowly, and many people have been passing me, but I am healthy and grateful for it. I also settled in with a group for two weeks, making friends I hope to keep in touch with for a long time. People and places have been beautiful.

From SCA and AT 2009

On April 20, my dad drove me to the Forest Service road dropoff a mile from the top of Springer Mountain in Georgia. At about 6:30 in the evening I tapped the first white blaze of the trail and looked out over the horizon. I spent the night alone in the nearby shelter, where the magnified sounds of mice frightened me until I realized what they were. I finally met other hikers the next day, including a couple with a dog, an overloaded anthropology/art student named Tex, and an easygoing dude called You. I also met a fellow from Raleigh I wouldn't mind having coffee with later, who knows? This group hiked on, and I ended up camping one night with a pair of guys filming for their YouTube adventure show. They gave me beer and regaled me with tales of undercover work for the FBI. They filmed me in some of their segments, but why would I want to show you those?

Maddie and Vinnie, from SCA and AT 2009

I spent my fourth official night at Woods Hole shelter and acted the crankbasket. Having decided to get up very early to hike to the sunrise on Blood Mountain, I was greatly annoyed by a combination of hikers who decided to talk loudly around a campfire well after dark. I lay in my sleeping bag stewing, contemplating exactly how I would describe in the blog. When I heard them say they would be spending the next night at the hostel at Neel's Gap, I promptly decided that I was going to avoid them and take a nero (near-zero-mileage day) at the top of Blood Mountain. None of the group seemed so bad in the morning, but I had made my mind up. Yet the mustiness of the Blood Mountain shelter was more than even Ashley could have tolerated (built by the CCC, very interesting at least), so I gave in and hiked to the hostel for the night, making it in right before the place closed. I stayed there for two nights with Thomas and Jeremiah from Cincinnati, and Maddie and Vinnie from Louisville, and took back all the bad thoughts I thought. I seemed the odd one out, but I think we discovered much in common, and I was to hike with most of them for the next two weeks.

Jeremiah, from SCA and AT 2009

Jeremiah became my special hiking partner, as we hiked similar speeds throughout the day. The first night out of Neel's Gap we had the shelter to ourselves for quite a while, and we talked for a long time. About education, and anarchy, and veganism and feminism, consumerism and dumpster diving, religion and ghosts, and more. I confessed how I had judged him and disliked him at first, and he confessed how he had judged me. Quite the learning moment. He has some atypical life experience under his belt as a homeless traveler for the past two years. He has no money whatsoever, but a good mother. He hiked 1500 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail last year. He had to postpone the start of his hike for a few weeks because he had an unexpected stay at Orleans Parish Prison for a minor infraction. He is smart and talented, and I expect great things from him, college or no. I may hike with him through the Smokies next week.

There has been a lot of rain, nearly every day for over a week, from our stop in Hiawasee, GA to our arrival at the Nantahala Outdoor Center (NOC) in Wesser, NC. Amazingly, my feet stayed healthy. A few blisters, but nothing to write home about. My tarp has kept me sufficiently dry when I camp, and my cook-less food strategy has satisfied me, honest! I AM a bit fed up with the menu, to be truthful, but I'm not sure switching to cooking would make a big difference. I have had a lot of peanut butter, ramen, oatmeal, raisins, trail mix, textured vegetable protein, chili mix, and energy bars. In camp we sit around dreaming up fantasy foods, or saying what we're going to eat when we get to town (chips and salsa for me!).

Cool Breeze, from SCA and AT 2009
From SCA and AT 2009

There have been several good instances of Trail Magic. The basic kind is the box full of food and cooler full of drinks left at a road crossing, and we met one of those. At Neel's Gap, a fellow named Cool Breeze took me to the grocery store for vegetables and grilled them at his cabin for me, then he and his roommates showed me a nice waterfall. Rickety van + darkening woods + ax in the floor were all kind of creepy and reminded me to be careful, but Cool Breeze remained a cool guy. After we left Neel's Gap he hiked from the north to cross us, bringing a fresh tomato for me, and whiskey and more as well. Even food and a tent for some of the others. Genuine generosity. A pair of hikers gave Jeremiah beer, which he shared. And at the NOC, by pure lucky timing and getting lost on the NOC campus, we ran into an NOC employee who invited us to a potluck the following night, just one ridge away from the AT. We filled up with food and beer and wine and music and campfire, and enjoyed the most amazing privy.
From SCA and AT 2009

Monty and Natalie, from SCA and AT 2009

The next day the property owner, Monty, walked over the ridge to our campsite to invite us back for more fire and alcohol. He shared his corn liquor with us, and then gave me a bag full of organic greens form his garden: cabbage, lettuces, horseradish, cilantro, basil, mint, radish, and possibly oregano. AND he arranged for a friend to take Maddie and Vinnie and Thomas to the Trail Days festival in Damascus, VA this week. Jeremiah and I hiked on to Fontana Dam, where my brother picked me up for graduation. Libations all around.

Mini stories:

From SCA and AT 2009

-A hiker named John took my leftover vegan burger, dopped it on the ground, then picked it back up and ate it. He said he thought it was chicken, and wouldn't have picked it up if he'd known it was vegan. Ha.

-A hiker named Dan creeped me out at first, especially when he said he felt like he lost his soul (as Vinnie and I were picking animal shapes out of cloud shadows). No disrespect if you are reading, Dan. I was glad to see him chill out later. Another instance of misjudging.

-At Blue Mountain shelter, a mama mouse was moving babies from place to place in the rafters and dropped one. Poor baby mousie was so tiny, and cried and squeaked. We left the shelter alone for several hours hoping mama would come, but maybe she couldn't crawl up the vertical wall with him in her mouth. Jeremiah took baby mousie in one hand, and with the other scaled a wall the rest of us couldn't climb with two, and put baby mousie in the rafters. Mouse family came out and squeaked. Then mama came and picked up baby and took him back to the nest. (I know you're thinking they ate him, but they could have done that where he fell. Maybe they ate him, maybe they snuggled him. But in any case, he was no longer squeaking and lonely. Problem solved. Jeremiah the Hero.)

-In Franklin, the laundry owners told Jeremiah and me to put our backpacks outside because they were smelling up the place. We did as they wanted, but we knew the smell was really coming from our selves. Smelly packs are later in the game.

-On top of Tray Mountain, we could see town lights below in the night. We could also see bright points in the hills from the many campfires out there.

-I started throwing a knife for fun. I hit the blue blaze target on the tree and chipped the blue paint off. Cool Breeze started calling me "Barfight Brittany" out of irony, but the rest of the group picked it up when glimmers of badassery such as this started showing up.

-More than one hiking group considers itself to be a Fellowship. When they split up, they take on individual identities. Aragorn seems to be popular. I consider myself a Sam or Pippin, honestly.

-I don't know what my trail name is yet. It would be Barfight if the others have anything to say about it, but I don't want to be mistaken as pretentious. I tried to take on Tiger Lily after an exchange in a hostel ("Tell us a bedtime story." "[rolls eyes] I don't know any stories.") started me thinking of Peter Pan, but it seems not to have stuck.

-One time I woke up feeling something tugging on my hair, and then I heard the skittering of tiny feet. I think the mousies wanted my hair for the nest. Who wouldn't? Honest mistake.

So the plan is to go to graduation today, leave for Trail Days with Daniel tomorrow, pick up Jeremiah there, and be dropped off at Fontana early next week. Will the Smokies kick my butt? We'll see. And the camera is charged this time around. See you on the trail, hopefully with more frequent updates.

From SCA and AT 2009

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

A New Hope

So here I am, Brittany, trying again. Daniel may be inspired to continue to post about his past adventure, so unless he backdates his posts we may be seeing some 2008 info mixed in here in the future. Other than that, I think it's my story now. :)

To review: I hiked for two weeks last year, probably got a stress fracture, and hiked another week on said fracture. Daniel did not fully appreciate the badassery of my pain tolerance, and I did not fully appreciate my own stupidity. I said I was going to train and build bone hardness before I started again...but that flopped a little flop. Weight training in the fall was awesome, and January running was likewise, but I seem to have trouble with keeping interested in a single thing long term. Hm, 6-month hike...?

My plan for the near future: I will leave Monday, April 20. It was to be earlier, but I would have needed different gear. I'll be taking it RIDICULOUSLY easy to begin with, 5-7 miles a day the first week. Which means no 8-mile approach trail the first day. We'll drive to the summit and I'll backtrack to Springer Mountain to "start." I've already sworn not to become attached to hikers I meet early on, because I WILL NOT attempt to keep up. I will go at my RIDICULOUSLY slow pace. All attempts to trail-name me "Turtle" or "Escargot" will be countered with voodoo and bear-attractant spray. I'll take regular zero days to rest and heal, and I'll stop when I feel like I need to. I'll trust myself on this, and be liberal about it. Assuming I'm still good after three weeks, I'll be picked up to attend my department's spring graduation ceremony. I have a master's degree, darn it, and I need to make sure my "Younger Self" realizes it by attending this ritual. That break will take about a week since I depend on others for transport. Then, supposing all is well, it's back to the AT.

I realize I am statistically unlikely to complete a thru-hike. Something less than ten percent of those who attempt it complete it. So I'm not going to focus on that too much, and get bummed. Rather, this hike, however long it lasts, is about me. I have money and time to spare, and I'm going to have a good time. And it's about the time, not the distance or the places seen. I'll always be able to take a week off and see a magnificent peak, but I won't always be able to trudge along through the woods and enjoy myself with no commitments. In fact, I really need to get a job once this is over. A thru would be cool, and maybe it will happen, but it's not the goal anymore.

So wish me well, why don't you?

Monday, January 26, 2009

AT Inn Wranglers: Eric and Mary

My days in Troutville Virginia were lazy days. I stayed up watching some oh so coveted television and eating the oh so coveted fruits and vegetables. Wanda treated me one last time at the home cooking restaurant down the road and then she dropped me off at the trail intersection. After saying our goodbyes, I did what I ritually did before leaving town, I called the family. I remember talking to my dad but I don't remember what we talked about much. He wished me a safe journey and I was on my way again.

Over the next couple of days, I got to meet some really great people. First off I met Eric and Mary. Both of them were West Point grads and both had been to Iraq which offered up perspective on our Middle East matters. Largely they were huge in letting me know what was actually going on over there with the surge, Iraqi culture, and the attitudes of the natives towards the US and their personal attitudes towards the war having experienced it first hand. Often times Eric would be telling me about his experiences and I was a bit embaressed when I had to ask questions or when he would ask me questions and I would be completely lost. The complexities of alliances, factions, places and events was like being in APUS history with Mr. Baker. No matter how hard I tried to concentrate on what Eric was telling me, it was just as confusing as our own history.

My reflection on these conversations just now tells me how much I was wrapped up in my own existence and personal goals for the first eight months of 2008. I knew about the primaries for the November election but didn't care, I heard about the surge, but didn't know the details or importance of it, then I worked day after day after day sometimes putting in 14 hours between three jobs. I worked harder than I ever have worked before and saved more than I have ever saved before and soon enough, four months had passed and it was May 5.

Eric and Mary really were wonderful people. Eric was 6' 4" 250lbs thinning on top of the skull and a full blooded Texan. Mary was about 5' 4", athletic build, short hair and wore a damn Carolina Blue shirt. I met them on my second night out of Troutville. I had pulled a 20 something miler and rolled into quite possibly the biggest damn shelter ever right at the edge of dark. They had just finished dinner and were hanging out. Eric was tuning the set to the channel of AT TV. After a while, a fire was going and we were all chit chatting trail talk, the same trail talk that everyone has. It follows loose guidelines of who you know, where you've been, something wacky thats happened in town and who you used to be.

For the next stretch into Waynesboro, I hiked with Eric and Mary farily consistently. It was more or less me crossing paths with them since their section from Troutville to Waynesboro was probablly about as hardcore as it gets. The first two nights they set up in shelters along the trail. After that, it was nothing but feather hard beds and showers for th next five nights. I don't know how they pulled it off but they managed pretty good under those harsh conditions comparable to an arctic winter.

how they wrangled 5 nights at Inns on the trail
My week off in Waynesboro
Wear a sheet, lose some sleep
AT reunion with Lonestar