Thursday, June 20, 2013

Third Appalachian Trail Blog... from Danny

After leaving Shenandoah National Park for a quick trip to Texas for the funeral of one of my cousins, we traveled to the southern start of the Appalachian Trail (AT). The AT almost has two trailheads: The Approach Trail that begins at Amicalola Falls State Park that I did and the Official Trailhead. Some hikers feel that you aren’t a real AT hiker unless you do the Approach Trail while others feel that it is a nice hike but not part of the AT.

The trail goes up these stairs to the top the falls and continues on to the Official Trailhead

Throughout much of the Georgia section I hiked with Byron and Evelyn Morris with Shirley shuttling us to the daily trailhead and picking us up at the end of each day’s hike.  Byron and Evelyn are cyclists that I have known since the 1980’s who live near the southern terminus of the AT. We stayed at Byron and Evelyn’s house for about a week. Aside from being cyclists they are Returned Peace Corps Volunteers from Mauritania. Their stories about Africa inspired me to join Peace Corps. (
Thirty miles from the southern terminus the AT passes through Neel’s Gap, the home of Mountain Crossings, which sell all kinds of supplies for backpacking. I bought a pair of trail runners to replace the Keen sandals that I had hiked in for over two hundred miles. They did a wonderful job of ensuring that the shoes fit. I really craved ice cream, but I was a little early as their new ice cream freezer was still waiting to be uncrated. 
There is no shortage of oddities 

These guys even carried folding chairs. It was amazing what people carried and others left in shelters after they decided that their loads were just too heavy.

In Georgia trail signs like this were common.

This was my first camp

Much of the AT passes along tops of ridges. Views like this was both awesome and common.
In this area you could almost lose the trail in the leaves.
This through hiker is eighty.

Although the shelter had an electric socket it lacked electricity. I am sure that this socket has provided hikers with lots of hours of something to talk about.
After three or four nights of camping I reached Fontana Dam, which was the beginning of Great Smokey Mountains National Park. Just outside of the Park is the Hike Inn, which is a motel just for hikers. I resupplied there and spent the night. In the photo are two other hikers.
I ran into these fellows several times during my hike. I made it, the younger of the two, was on his second attempt to do the trail. He was even a later riser than me and often got into camp like a phantom at dark. The other was Old New York. He had just retired. We seemed to end up in the same shelter either for lunch or overnight.
I had just spent a cold rainy night alone in this shelter when this group came in the shelter. I was sure glad to see them. I had become a little too cold the day before helping a hiker who was suffering from hypothermia while waiting for paramedics to arrive and take him off the trail. I was having trouble staying warm myself even though it was one day later. I helped Sunshine and Kenny, the two standing, get their gloves off and I made the group hot tea. ET is the hiker sitting above the other two. From that time each time I ran into either one of them they told whoever was around that I saved them. As soon as the rain had stopped for a while I left the shelter. Walked on to Newfound Gap. Where I hitched a ride into Gatlinburg to spend a couple of days.
This was a typical Shelter scene in Great Smokey Mountain National Park. The shelters were crowded as every one was required to say in a shelter or camp near a shelter. The large number of people was fun and importantly made the shelter warmer.
The fellow on the right is Jason. He had yet to acquire a trail name. He had just retired from the Army and was looking for what was next in his life. I suggested Peace Corps. He seemed to have the right temperament for it. Maybe he will consider it further. I met several veterans who had either just retired or they had finished several years in the service and decided to leave. All that I met were using the AT as a transition point between the service and what ever is next.
This is Little Janie from Greenville, Texas. This is her third AT attempt over a period of several years. Her determination was unbelievable.
While Shirley traveled to Canada for twelve days I grew a beard. Shaving wasn’t practical. It felt good, but as soon as Shirley got back and I got to a motel I shaved off the beard. 
A fellow hiker said that finishing the AT without getting hurt is like winning the lottery: A lot depends on chance. In Great Smokey Mountains National Park I saw hoof prints of a horse that was brought in to take out a hiker who had a stress fracture in her leg and could not longer walk. I met several hikers who had to leave the trail due to damaged knees. One went out with strained ankles. A close trail friend who looked like an awesome athlete had a heart attack and died. The accumulation of too many poorly placed steps on pointed rocks caused my left foot to become bruised and swollen. After a few days of rest I decided to leave the trail before it became worse or my altered gait hurt my knees and/or ankles.
Photo is by “Bert Chopper” Allen, who is another trail friend, of George “Highlander” Grant. Highlander had already hiked the Pacific Crest Trail and was 81. He was an awesome hiker and trail friend. He was from Scotland but lived in Australia. He passed away while coming into town to resupply about the time I left the trail.

I had a wonderful trip: I hiked 450 miles in beautiful country; met so many interesting and awesome hikers; lost seven or eight pounds; and visited with many friends who lived near the trail. Shirley drove a phenomenal amount of miles ferrying me back and forth and she too met some wonderful people. She became well know on the trail as people started to look for her at various pick up points and took great delight in teasing her when they met her. Currently, I am back to bicycling. Cycling is so much easier on the body and I enjoy it as much as hiking, if not more.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

While I was gone ...

Can you imagine the back and forth that occurred while I was away in Canada for 10 days and Danny was backpacking in the Great smokey Mountains National Park? I wish I could. Unfortunately the cell coverage was almost nonexistent except when he got off the trail and went into town for supplies and R&R (read that to mean laundry, hot shower, and a good nights sleep in a wonderful bed!) Spot worked well and gave me much reassurance as I watched his progress, when I had internet coverage. Tethering doesn't work very well (read SLOW) when your cell service doesn't have 3G, 4G or even LTE, just extended service and only 2 bars at that.

I had a great trip to Canada to be a part of my nephews graduation from university.

What a wonderful milestone that was.
 Yes that is snow in the background

 We weren't sure if we would be able to travel when we woke to this.
We ran into snow and cold temperatures in Saskatchewan but the actual graduation day was sunny, clear skies and warm. Perfect for the day. Roads were clear for the most part all across.
 The visiting family
L to R: me, Don, Shauna, Cory, mom, dad, and G'ma Margaret

Along the way we stopped at a museum in Saskatchewan. Very interesting and I 
 found my Hummer!!!!!

I left Edmonton in the sunshine, landed in Minneapolis in very cold, rain and then landed in Charlotte in cold temperatures, the rain having stopped earlier in the evening. The next morning was cloudy, cold, windy but no rain as I drove to meet up with Danny once again on the trail.

Oh the stories I heard once we connected. My mind is filled to overload and they are hard to piece together and remember. I only hope that Danny can and does when he writes.

The Smokies - they are beautiful (Can't wait to see Danny's photos.) and the mountains make their own weather as seen yesterday when I picked him up. On top of the mountain (the Bald) the wind was hurricane gales mixed with rain/sleet and lots of fog. The cold penetrated through everything, especially if you were at all damp. Stories later came about big men being blown over by the gales as they attempted to cross over the mountain. We can only hope that all that were on the trail hunkered down and kept warm for the night and next day rather than trying to continuing on.

The People/fellow hikers - here the stories are wonderful but in fact, when repeated without knowledge, lose much of the significance and wonder. The receptionist in the hotel, last night said that the most thru-hikers ever are on the trail this year. Another hiker whom we had breakfast with this morning, indicated that so far, there are ~1800 thru-hikers on the trail NOBO. You can well imagine the stories that are here. So far Danny hasn't run into any RPCVs (returned PC  volunteers) but lots of retired military people. Hikers from all over the world but an abundance of Germans - they had a film produced and shown on TV in Germany which has led to many of them coming over to do the hike. And then of course, first thing this morning, at breakfast, I met some of the ones that I had met and gotten to know while sitting at the pick-up points.

The foliage is now out in all it's full glory. The greens are fantastic as you drive down the roads. Gone is the brown and beiges, all replaced by new green grasses and leaves.

Of course, the colors were heightened by the fact of the rain and mist. The roads are just a twisting and turning as I remember and I am once again back into 1st and 2nd gear mode.

And look at what I returned to ... can't leave him alone for a day and he goes and does something totally out of character.

 Not sure if I like it or not, but will reserve judgement as after a few days I am sure it will become second nature. We shall see.

He saw a black bear mommy with 2 cubs ... the deer are almost tame when around hikers. One hiker said it is because they can smell the salt on the dirty, smelly bodies and need it themselves. He hiked and camped in all manner of weather, excepting snow. Shelter life was rank and often raunchy. And always the people ...

more to come ... photos to be added ... but do give me a couple of days!