Roads Rivers and Trails

Dream. Plan. Live.

Tag Archives: SOBO


Return of the SLOBO: Fear is the Mind Killer

In less than a week, yours truly, Goatman, will step back onto the Appalachian Trail to finish the last 969 miles of a thru-hike that began in 2013 with a 1200+ mile trek. The time for planning, prepping, training, and ruminating is over. And good riddance.

I know this may come as no surprise to many of you that know me, but you may as well stamp “Type B Personality” on my forehead. Making lists upon lists, worrying about details, lusting after improvement: not my style. Luckily for me, the AT isn’t an expedition. Nor is it a race, or a chore, or a job. And that’s what makes it so great. The AT is an adventure. Look that up in the dictionary.

Having read the other installments of the Return of the SLOBO series, you may think I really have everything together. Surely, a man conceited enough to presume to tell you how go on a very personal, very emotional adventure should himself be a shining example of the Fully Prepared Backpacker. Welcome to reality: I have no idea what is coming. Having hiked long-distance before, I know only one thing to be true: the trail teaches what needs knowing and nothing but putting feet to dirt is going to help you in the end.

cloud1

Disconcerting? For some, I suppose. We are raised with the idea in mind that knowledge is inherently important to a task. I would argue that wisdom trumps knowledge a majority of the time. Knowing that you have 17.8 miles until you camp for the night and that water is 5.2 into the hike tells you very little about how your day is going to go. The elevation charts in the guide books are convenient fantasies and often misleading. It never rains for days on paper.

Am I saying to throw the guidebook off a cliff, sell your bag to a bear, and head off into the Great Unknown with only your cunning and sturdy stick to keep you safe? Or course not (okay, sometimes I get in a mood and say exactly that, but don’t listen to me all of the time. It’s bad for you.) I still stand by everything I said in the early articles concerning physical and mental training, buying gear that keeps your safe, happy, and moving, etc. All good ideas. Unfortunately, they are only that. Ideas. So you read the articles with good intentions in your heart, but now it’s go time and you didn’t hike as much as you wanted before setting out, your legs aren’t in the best shape they could be, you took some last minute things and now your pack is heavier than you wanted, and your mind is scattered and racing worrying about all of the “What Ifs”. Now what? Do you cancel your plans? Do you say, “Maybe next year”? Do you justify an existence in which your dreams are not manifested into reality?

Hell no.

goat2You hit the trail. And you hike. And you get stronger and smarter and more wise everyday. Suddenly, you’re hiking the AT and you’ve done a week and you’re still scared, more tired than you’ve ever been, and still not so sure you’re ready for all of this. And then you hike for another week and realize that you are as strong as you want to be, that exhaustion is uplifting if related to a purpose, and that no one is ready for this! And then you hike for another week.

Excuses make terrible hiking partners.

In the end, trails are for hiking, not analyzing.  I cannot wait to shut my silly mouth, strap up, and go. The next time you hear from me, I’ll have some good stories for you, I’m sure, and I’ll be sharing some here if I can.

See you out there.

-Goatman

Previous   More Return of the SLOBO?

Return of the SLOBO: You are the Mountain

Read the first article in the Return of the SLOBO series, 799 Zero Days Later

“Whatcha wanna do today? Go on a hike? I know this great trail.”

We would joke like this in the morning as I filtered water from a stream and Jubilee broke down our tent.

And sometimes it was funny. Sometimes it was a painful reminder that there was nothing else to do, that we had no choice but to hike. We lived on the Appalachian Trail. Hiking was not only our sole mode of transportation, but also our entertainment, our defining sense of purpose, and the task at hand. You either hike or you go home. This is what makes long distance hiking so difficult. Not the sore feet, empty belly, cold rain, or looks of derision while stinking up a laundry mat. It remains true to my experience that the easiest way to lose the joy in something is day in, day out repetition of said thing. Anything can be exciting when new.

It is a hard lesson to learn: perseverance and happiness do not walk hand in hand. You don’t wake up and hike another 20 miles because it makes you happy that day. You wake up and hike because that is what you set out to do and there is happiness in following through with your dreams. Thinking that thru-hiking is months of endless fun is like thinking that working at an amusement park is fun. Trust me: it’s not. You get to see a lot of people having fun, yes, but you are there after the rides close, dealing with the reality behind the illusion.

A heavy start to a blog, I must admit, and not usually my style, but the time has come to get down to it. Mental preparation for the Appalachian Trail is anything but frivolous and it begins the second you decide to take on the trail. In the spirit of the thing, we’ll start heavy and lighten the load as we go. So let’s look at what you can do to strengthen your resolve before you even put shoe to dirt.

Verbally Commit

So you’re going to hike over 2,000 miles on foot through the oldest mountains on Earth, experience iconic towns, beautiful mountain summits, rivers and lakes galore, live with everything you need on your back, and make lasting relationships with people from across the world. Excited? Oh yeah, you’re excited! You are going to do it and its going to be the trip of a lifetime. So tell people! Tell your friends and family, tell your co-workers, tell people on the street. Tell them when you’re going and why you’re going. Talk it up. Make people associate you with your hike.

You’re not just talking because you’re excited and love talking about backpacking; you are turning on the social pressure machine. Thinking about going home after a couple of hard days on the trail? It will happen, but are you ready to explain to everyone back home that you are a quitter and that your will is weak? Sounds like a lot of fun, right?

We are social animals, for better or worse. Many people spend their entire lives worrying about what society thinks of their actions and appearance. For some of us, this is a nuisance of which we would gladly be rid. In this case, however, the best thing to do is to make sure to use it to your advantage. Don’t want your older sister making fun of you for quitting the AT? Then don’t go hiking with quitting on your mind. I believe that we are what we do, not what we plan to do or have done in the past, and the only one that can act in the present is you, now.

But boy can people gossiping about your business put a fire under you. It’s up to you whether you let the fire burn you up or you turn it into rocket boots.

Physical Training is Mental Training

So you’ve toldgoatjub 131 people that you’re going on the trail and you’re hitting the local parks with a pack on your back to strengthen up your legs for the mountains. What can you be doing mentally to train while you are training physically? The good news is that you’re already doing it. Your mind and your body do not work as separate entities. If you got out of bed early to put in some miles before work or spent your Saturday with your pack on, outside and moving, you are participating in mental training. Every time you could be sitting at home, staring at a screen and giggling as you eat cheese-o’s, and decide instead to hit the trail with a pack on to put in some miles, you are winning the mental challenge game.

Now we start to combine methods: Your friend invites you to a BBQ in the afternoon. You tell him that you’re going to be hiking to prep for the AT. He sends you a picture of steaks, cold beer, and an empty hammock. You send him a picture of Katahdin. Then you skip the BBQ and hike even farther than you were planning originally. So now your friend knows what you are doing, sees that you are serious enough to skip out a good time, and talks about why you aren’t there with others. Meanwhile, you put in the miles that you need to put in, pushing yourself both physically and mentally.

The toughest day on the AT for many people comes when leaving town and going back into the hills after a relaxing zero day, back away from all-you-can-eat buffets, air conditioning, and clean beds. Practice choosing the trail over convenient distractions. You’re going to be doing it a lot and you might as well practice.

You are the Mountain

Your friends all know about your trip, your family is excited and anxious for you, you’re as fit as you’re going to get and the date of your departure is coming up fast. You even think you know the first few shelters you’re going to stay at and your gear is all laid out, ready to go.

Now sit down and shut up.goatman 063

You’ve been busy. Now is the time to learn to be un-busy. Some would even called it bored. It’s an uneasy truth, but true nonetheless. Hiking everyday can be boring. You are going to be alone a lot. I say this having hiked with a partner. Yes, there’s conversation and camaraderie at times during the day, but not all of the day. Not even most of the day. Most of the day, you are staring at your ever moving feet, completely in your own head.

There are modern “cures” for this: You can listen to music. You can listen to audio books, podcasts, or recordings of cats falling off of things and meowing. You can do all of this and still be bored. Call me a Luddite, but I believe that entertainment technology is but a band-aid on a wound that will never close if you keep messing with it.

Music can take you out of your head, yes. It is good at that. But isn’t it better to be comfortable where your mind dwells without the need for distraction?

Spend time in your mind before leaving for the AT. The best way I know of is meditation. You don’t need incense and chimes. You don’t need an esoteric mantra or expensive cushion. You don’t need to prescribe to anything in particular at all. All you need to do is sit down for 20 or 30 minutes with a straight spine, breath slowly and methodically, and let your mind settle. And don’t move, no matter what you do. Boredom is what we call the transitional phase between activity and non-activity. If you’re interacting with outside stimuli all day and suddenly give your mind nothing to grab onto, it will panic and tell you that you are bored, that you need something other than what you have. Meditating is a good way to let your mind know that it doesn’t need anything outside of itself.

Everyone is different and I don’t mean to speak for anyone but myself. Meditation works for me, but there are other ways to slow down and let your mind get comfortable being alone for a while. Only you know what works for you and what doesn’t. But whatever method you find, make sure to stick with it, especially when it becomes inconvenient and difficult. The more inconvenient and difficult the better, to tell you the truth.

Are you ready to be ready?

Overwhelmed? Sorry about that. Talking about mental preparation for a thru-hike isn’t the most light hearted topic and I refuse to sugar coat things. You’re going to be tired, hungry, and ready to go home. What you do next is what will decide how your hike goes. I want to disabuse you of the notion that the AT involves months of skipping through the woods with a flower in your hand, singing Kumbaya, and smiling every step.

You only do that on Tuesdays.

332Seriously though, there are days when your spirits are higher than the mountains and love is the law of the land. These are the days that will keep you going. And they are more numerous than I can emphasize. But no one needs to prepare for being happy and free. That will come naturally.

However, if you get good at navigating in the darkness, you won’t miss the light so much. So be tough on yourself, but be hopeful. Be optimistic while practicing your bad days and you’ll realize that the difference between a bad day and a good day has little to do with everything else and a lot to do with you, yourself, here and now.

I could tell you to look for the silver lining around every storm cloud, but cliches are of little help when the rain starts falling so instead I’ll leave you with this thought:

The only clouds inside your mind are the ones you put there.

 

Previous     More Return of the SLOBO?     Next

Return of the SLOBO: Really Good at Walking

Read the first article in the Return of the SLOBO series, 799 Zero Days Later

I think that I cannot preserve my health and spirits unless I spend four hours a day at least…sauntering through the woods and over the hills and fields absolutely free from all worldy engagements.” – Henry David Thoreau, Walking

When people ask me “What was it like hiking the Appalachian Trail?”, I normally space out for a few minutes, stare into the ever-deepening hole of my memory and watch as fleeting images pass of those free days in the hills, drinking fresh spring water, laughing with new friends around a rustic shelter at night, and sitting on a mountain summit, spirit emboldened, knowing that the day would bring only more beauty.

And then my brain kicks sentiment out on its butt and I recall the reality of chronically sore knees, swollen feet, cracked toenails, ravenous hunger, blood, sweat, mud, rain, rain, rain, and waking up in my own filth once again, knowing that the day would bring only more pain.

When I come out of my trance, if the person is still there, I answer with a smile and something like, “Well, I got really good at walking.”

It sounds snarky, but it’s true. When you start out to do a long distance hike, no matter what trailbald you are setting out on or how much past experience you have, your mind cannot help but to romanticize the prospect of spending all day, everyday trekking through the woods. It just sounds so peaceful, doesn’t it? As if blue birds should be greeting you every morning upon waking with a song and a pancake breakfast. On the other hand, when you are deep into it, caught up in making miles and pushing yourself to your limit, you might forget to stop and take in the view or to appreciate a gang of frogs burping out a back country symphony as you’re trying to sleep. There is, as in all things, a balance to be struck and despite hardship and despite joy, at the end of every day, there is one thing that is always true on a hike: You get really good at walking.

Walking all day, over rocks and roots, up and down mountains, through streams and over fields, is not a simple as it sounds. Unless you already live in a rugged area, most of us don’t spend our days staring at our feet, watching every step, and varying our gait to match the lay of the land, avoiding slippery roots and sharp rock edges. Most of us walk on nice even floors, convenient sidewalks, and maybe even nicely groomed trails in the local park and never have to think about where our feet are going to land. You can count your steps-per-day in the city, but this will not translate to steps on the AT. Not really. Not without a pack on your back, sweat in your eyes, sore feet, exhausted muscles, and no prospect of a clean bed for days.

I learned this the hard wamainey. In late 2012, knowing that I was to leave for the trail in 6 months, I began to train (without actually researching what training I should be doing.) So I started trail-running, climbing steps, doing squats and push-ups, and tried to walk everywhere I went. I went on shake-down hikes and made sure that my bag fit properly and that I had everything I needed (and more, it turned out.) When the time came to fly to Maine, I was feeling better than I had in years. I had lost some weight, gained some muscle, and saw my endurance more than double. When people noticed, I always told them, with pride in my voice, that I was training for the AT.

Skip to June and see me at Thoreau Springs, just having climbed to the tableland of Mt. Katahdin, only a short 4 miles in, with over a mile left to the summit and 5 more back to camp after that, sitting on a rock, waiting for my legs to start working again, hoping that they would come around before the lightning storms rolled in. As a south-bounder, you don’t technically start the AT until you reach the summit of Katahdin. I was beat and I was still on the approach hike.

Had I not trained hard enough? No doubt that I hadn’t. Did I know what I was getting myself into? Of course not. Was my body ready for the test of climbing mountains everyday? No. Not yet. Then came the most important moment on the trail for me: I snacked, I rested, I hydracrawlerted, and I got to my feet and I walked (slowly) the last mile to the summit. My lovely partner, Jubilee, was there waiting for me, having passed me up at some point. We took our customary summit photos, looked off into the wilderness below that was to be our new home, and started hiking back to camp before the weather turned. This would be the first of many of these moments – moments where I felt drained, out of my element, and daunted by the task ahead. Call it stubbornness or call it willpower, but there is something inside that does not listen to the aching of our bodies and ignores the cries of our emotions. This is what we must train, I have decided.

You’ll hear this “secret” spoken of in any reliable AT prep article, but it bears repeating: there is no true way to prepare for hiking everyday except for hiking everyday. For most of us, this is not easy to accomplish in our modern lives. However, the truth of the statement stands. This time around, I’m taking this advice to heart. And it won’t be easy, but neither is hiking the AT.

As I write this, I once again have 6 months until I leave for the trail to complete the final leg that I failed to hike the first time around: Shenandoah Nat’l Park, VA to Springer Mountain, GA. The time has come once again to get these bones ready for a long ramble. And I’m going to do it by hiking. I believe that one cannot truly learn by any method but doing, especially in the realm of the physical. This past weekend, I strapped on my pack, loaded in more weight than I will be carrying on the AT, headed out into the snow and frigid winds, and climbed some ridges at Red River Gorge. Not many, but it was a start. I felt the old, familiar pains and groans and with it came a sense of peace. It was like my body welcomed back the burden of the pack and my legs started to strengthen just bit at the mere hint of going back out on the trail.

So as I finish the longshotlast 900 odd miles of the AT, my goal is to hike 100 miles a week after the first few reconditioning weeks. For now, at home, I will start even slower to build up to this goal. I will hike, with my pack at or above trail weight, 30 miles per week, whether it be over a couple of long days or a series of short hikes, on top of the squats and exercises that are my routine. When this becomes easy, I will add miles.  And so on. At some point this summer, I will take 5 days and head off into the mountains to see the state of my legs.

From here on out, when I have the opportunity and the time, instead of settling for anything less, I will have my pack on and I will be moving. Let this be a warning to my friends: if you want to see me on my days off for the next few months, you might want to check out the local trails.

The time has come to get really good at walking again.

 

 

 

Previous Article     RETURN OF THE SLOBO    Next Article

Return of the SLOBO: 799 Zero Days Later

Call me Goatman. In 2013, I flew to Maine with a friend and a backpack to attempt a southbound thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail.

And failed.

We walked for 4 months through the mountains and across rivers, hitchhiked into town for food, slept in the woods most nights, and were beholden to no schedule but our own. When we got to Virginia, we were told that Shenandoah National Park was closed due to a government shutdown and that hikers found within the park were to be fined hundreds of dollars and escorted out. We didn’t have hundreds of dollars. In fact, we barely had any money left at all. So we came home. Got jobs. Got soft. Became norms again.

But the trail, she don’t stop calling.      roads

It’s 2016 and time for the Goat to return to the hills.

And I want you along for the journey this time. The whole journey. And that journey doesn’t start when my bag is all packed up and I see my first white blaze on a tree in the distance. The journey starts now.

This blog series, Return of the SLOBO*, will be an inside look at how I, a thru-hike hopeful turned LASHer (Long A$$ Section Hiker) gears up and prepares for three more months on the AT. Each section of the blog series will have a unique focus, ending with actual trip reports from the trail as I hike it.

When I flew to Maine to begin this journey, I was green to backpacking. I had been out for a few nights here and there, but had never spent a significant time in the wilderness unsupported by modern convenience. I loved hiking, but who doesn’t love hiking when you have a warm bed waiting for you at the end of a couple of days roughing it?rivers

This time will be different. I have done my homework. I have lived the life and have been anointed with the sweaty sword of destiny and dubbed Hiker Trash Extraordinaire, Knight of the Dirt. For the past two years, I have also been working at Roads, Rivers and Trails, studying gear innovations, talking to other long distance hikers from all over, and even helping hopeful AT thru-hikers prepare for their time on the trail. I’ve come a long way, you could say, on the trail and off.

In this blog, I will talk about training. I will talk about gear. I will talk about hopes and fears, food and sweat and feet and mud. Overall, I will talk about backpacking and the joy of hoofing it over hundreds of miles with everything you need on your back.

The series will be broken down into sections. Links to other articles in the series will be added at the bottom of the articles as they are written.

So please, join me as it all goes down and do feel free to comment below with any questions, concerns, or rambling diatribes on how I’m “going the wrong way.”

*An explanation of the term SLOBO: short for “slow south-bounder”. Even in the backwoods of Maine, one may not be able to avoid being categorized. My hiking partner, Jubilee, and I were known for three thingrockingouts at the start of our journey: “heavy” (40+ lb.) packs, sleeping until after sunrise (which was around 5 AM that far north in the summer), and taking afternoon swim breaks when we came to a beautiful lake. Such a lackadaisical attitude towards pushing miles was apparently frowned upon by other more Type A hikers.  Fortunately for us, we found fellow souls on the same pace that shared a similar philosophy concerning long distance hiking (a shout out to Phoenix, Blue Tick, Ado, and the Bartender. SLOBOs for life!) As it were, our packs got lighter, our legs got stronger, and we started to catch up to a lot of the hikers that had left us behind in Maine. I’m not sure who coined the term, but invariably we began to hear, “I never thought I’d see you SLOBOs again.” The name stuck, even when we started passing people who had burned out early. At this point, we’ve taken it as a name for our hiking tribe and proclaim it boldly, with honor.

 

RETURN OF THE SLOBO     Next Article

Southbound: episode 21

February 25th  2007
Written by: Bryan Wolf and Joe White

Our 1st day out of Franklin was cold and the trail was covered with a fresh dusting of snow. Parts of the trail were still pretty icy too. Ice Man took a bad fall on some ice and bumped his head. He had a bad earache for a while. I hadn’t seen him take a fall like that since Maine. At the shelter that night, we stayed with a north-bounder named “Music Man”. It warmed up a little bit the following day as we crossed into Georgia. The trail dramatically changed as we crossed the border to Georgia, a lot smoother.

Over the next couple days the weather jumped to the 60s. We were lucky to dodge the rain and thunderstorms that were supposed to hit. We had some of the most beautiful weather in a long time. I even cut the sleeves off my shirt. We finally made it down to Neel’s Gap. Its about 30 miles from Springer and the trail runs next to an outfitter and hiker bunkhouse. This is the spot most North-bound thru-hikers decide that the trail isn’t for them and go home. We stayed the night and resupplied there for our last day and a half. The outfitter treated us to a free pint of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, delicious.

We had 23 miles to do before our next shelter, but that didn’t stop us from taking a 3 hour break to enjoy our last great overlook. The sun was blasting all day without a cloud in the sky. 459There was a nice breeze going on though. It couldn’t have been better. Ice Man thinks I am crazy, but I could swear I could smell the ocean even though we were far from it. While we were enjoying the overlook a couple out on a day hike stopped to enjoy the same view. They treated us to some wine and good conversation, nice trail magic. We passed more than a dozen north-bounders and we sat down to talk with a few for an hour or so. Some are so excited to be there and others are already doubting themselves. They have great journeys ahead of them. We hiked into the sunset and a couple hours into the night. As the sun was setting, we could see the skyscrapers of Atlanta in the horizon. The stars were out in full force, what a great way to finish up the trip.

We thought we wouldn’t be able to sleep, being our last night in the shelter, but it ended up being like any other night. After hot chocolate, we were out. We were up at sunrise and bidding farewell to the other hikers at the shelter. It was a weird, yet exciting feeling as we put each step behind us, getting us that much closer to Springer. It was a beautiful hike along Stover Creek, which was surrounded by virgin hemlocks and rhododendron. The trail was smooth and the climb was nothing compared to Katahdin. They shouldn’t even be related. Some of our family met us a mile before the summit and joined us for the last mile. It was great to share the experience with them. We even had the opportunity to show them the shelter on top of springer. I have never felt so accomplished and whole as I did when I touched the last white blaze. I have never been so proud of anyone as I am of Ice Man. The family jokes of me helping him get here, but I couldn’t have done it without him.

It was a mile back to the cars and a long road home, haha long… not for a car and my brother behind the wheel. Once back to Cincinnati, we warmed up our cars and headed out to Skyline for 3-ways and cheese coneys. What a treat. Before the night was over, I stopped up at Mt. Adams to see the city. That makes it final…. The boys are back in town.  Thanks to everyone for all their support along the way.

Ice Man and Tundra WookieThis exert was originally published on atwishhikers.com. It’s content has not been edited from the original post.

 

Epilogue:
by: Bryan Wolf

There may never again be such a great sense of accomplishment and meaning. The trail above all else teaches you patience, confidence, and resilience. There are many great adventures in life but there was one great adventure that gave us the courage to go after all others. What gave us the courage to chase this dream? In retrospect I think it was blind ambition, but in the process you can learn a great deal of not just yourself but also of this world. I’ve said it already but the people and personality of this trail are unreal and unlike anything you would expect or imagine. The experience  became one of personal but also cultural enlightenment exposing us to the heart of America.

The Appalachian Trail is in large responsible for us being who we are. As an outfitter we are here to carry on the kindness of our trail angels and be trail angels ourselves. Even if we are in Cincinnati we have found that we can make a big impact and help a great deal with people’s lives through experiences with the AT and other trails. The trail lives on in us both, through presentations, shop conversations, and countless revisits of the trail itself.  The only question left unanswered is the one most asked; “Would you do it again?”.

There are many more adventures in our future, with many places and people to experience it with. That being said, we all get “Springer Fever”….

 

Thanks for following, and a special thanks to all those that helped us along the way. A special thank you to our parents and biggest supporters in all life endeavors, love you!

Southbound: episode 19

February 4th 2007
Written by: Bryan Wolf and Joe White

Our first night out of Damascus brought us into Tennessee, the 12th state of the trail. We didn’t leave town till 2 in the afternoon, but we made sure we left with full stomachs. Our first impression of the trail in Tennessee was awesome, very smooth nice hiking. The following day was a nice 22 mile ridge walk with a lot of amazing views of snow capped ridges in the distance. There wasn’t enough snow on the ground to pose a problem, but the snow bothered us later on. The shelter was too wide to hang our tarp over the opening, so the wind kept blowing snow onto everything.378

We cleaned the snow off all our gear and hit the trail. It was a cold and snowy morning, but it cleared up as the day went on. We could look down on Watauga Lake as we climbed down to the dam. It was a beautiful walk around the massive lake. On the way down to Laurel Fork Gorge, I slipped and busted my left knee. Nothing too serious, just a little blood and a mild limp. Laurel Fork Gorge and Falls were incredible. Probably the most spectacular falls of the trip. Just a little ways farther and we made it to Kincora Hostel nestled between the mountains. The hostel is run by Bob Peoples and his wife. He has pretty much dedicated his life to helping hikers and volunteering on the trail. Since he started taking in hikers over a decade ago, 13,000 hikers had stayed at his place. He is a very inspirational man. The walls and ceiling of the hostel were covered in pictures from hikers that finished the trail. Once we send him our picture, we will be the first of 2007 to go up.   380
In the morning, he ran us into town to resupply and pick up our package from the post office. “Sky Watcher” met us at the hostel to join us for a few more days. Luckily, his brother was able to drop him off on his way to the coast. He was excited to break in his new boots. The climb out of Kincora gave us our first glimpse of Roan Mtn and the surrounding highlands. Sky Watcher’s 2nd day was a long 18 miler over some nice terrain. We also passed by the highest falls on the AT, Jones Falls. There wasn’t much water gushing over the falls, but there was a lot of ice built up all over it.

We thought the following day would be simple, only doing 8 miles, but we were wrong. The deep snow slowed us down and the -10 degree wind chill over the balds cut right through us. To top it off, the shelter was a nightmare. It is an old barn that was given to the trail to use as a shelter, it sleeps like 40 people, the views are great, and its well ventilated. Basically, it is perfect for summertime, not during a wind and snowstorm. The snow blew in from every direction and every crack. We tried hanging both of our tarps to block the snow, but it didn’t help. We ended up wrapping ourselves in the sleeping bags with the tarp, but the snow still managed to pile on our faces. Needless to say, we didn’t sleep to well. The thermometer read zero degrees when we crawled out of bed. It was hard to get moving.397

We climbed up to the Roan Mtn highlands and were greeted with spectacular 360 degree views. We haven’t seen such breathtaking views since the White Mtns. When we crossed over Carvers Gap, we met up with Ice Man’s cousin Karma and the wonderful Miss Janet who was nice enough to shuttle her up to the trail. Since our sleeping bags got wet the night before, Miss Janet threw them in her car and cranked up the heat to dry them out. We are so lucky. After a nice lunch break, we finished the climb up to Roan Mtn Shelter, the highest shelter on the AT over 6000ft. The trail was like an endless white alley all the way to the top. We were fortunate to have a fully enclosed shelter with no wind finding its way in.AT Winter Hike
It still got really cold inside and Karma had a rough night’s sleep. She woke up with a bad headache and a sore neck, so instead of pushing out big miles, it was smarter just to climb back down to Carver’s Gap and head into Erwin to rest up. We continued on in the deep snow, half-skiing down the mountains. We met Karma at the next road crossing and she took us back to Miss Janet’s hostel in Erwin. While we cleaned up, Karma spoiled us by cooking an excellent dinner. In the morning, we had a great big breakfast and bid farewell to Sky Watcher once again. Since we had Karma’s car, a day off, and a need for warm weather, we drove down to Savannah, GA to visit a friend from back home. We were lucky to see both the moonrise and sunrise over the ocean. It was an amazing feeling to be at sea level just hours after being at 5000 ft covered in snow. We didn’t stay long, but we wish we could have. When we made it back to Tennessee, three of my brothers came down to visit. We got to enjoy the company while playing cards, eating pizza, and sitting down to watch a movie before bed.

The following morning Karma bid us good luck and headed home. The rest of us boys drove up to Carver’s Gap and hiked up onto Roan Mtn Highlands where we had been just a few days before. The views were just as immaculate as they were when we first crossed over the highlands. I was glad we were able to take my brothers up to see the things that keep us moving. That night Ice Man and my brother cooked a huge Mexican style feast. It was awesome. When they headed home in the morning, we picked up from where we left off. We brought Miss Janet’s dog, Fabian, with us on our hike since she was going to meet us at another road in 19 miles. He was fun to hike with. Supposedly he has over 5000 miles under his collar.Joe with AT Dog Fabian
Today Miss Janet dropped us off at another point and we hiked 25 miles back to town again. We came across a couple more balds with views on all sides as well as some great overlooks near the Nolichucky River. It was a real workout to hike through the deep snow, but once we dropped in elevation it cleared up quite a bit. After 9 hours of straight hiking, we were ready for a foot long sandwich, a shower, and a good night’s sleep. Tomorrow we will be at the hostel working off our stay for the past few days. We were lucky enough that Miss Janet opened her doors to use since she isn’t open for another 10 days.

This exert was originally published on atwishhikers.com. It’s content has not been edited from the original post.

 

Epilogue:
by: Bryan Wolf

Today the memories and impressions left from this section of trail are as loud as ever and present in everyday life. Through our second hike with Sky Watcher we got to know him a little better and would go on to have amazing Alaskan adventures with him years later. We instilled a sense of adventure in Joe’s brother Vince who came to visit and now has over 700 AT miles under his belt.  Miss Janet has become one of the most infamous of Trail Angels and helped us not just with hiking the trail but also with supporting our lives away from the trail. It was Miss Janet’s hospitality that really provided the space needed for a bigger relationship to spark.

I won’t get into a sappy love story on you, but Karma (my cousin) and TW hit it off pretty well. Soon after the trail they found themselves married and years later from then we all three found ourselves opening RRT.  I can tell you that I didn’t and couldn’t of ever seen all of this coming.  That is the magic of the trail to spawn long lasting and meaningful relationships and life lessons.

The trail itself was beautiful in this entire section from Damascus to Kincora. The balds that we passed and ridge walking leaves plenty of room for views along the way. The weather turned on us a little bit but that’s what we signed up for.  I will give you a fair warning, the barn shelter is not good for winter hikes and snow storms.  Joe and I had wrapped our tarp around our bags trying to keep them “dry” but it wasn’t going to work. To date it may be the worst sleep I got on trail as I shivered the majority of the night. There are plenty of road intersections here and this area would be perfect if you are looking for a 3+ day trip on the AT.

The morning after the barn was the day we were meeting Emily (Karma) at the road. I hustled and covered 3 miles in sometimes deep snow in little more than an hour. I was part excited, part cold, and in part just didn’t want to leave her alone roadside wondering where the heck she was.  The whole time with family members and the side trip to Savannah really didn’t set us off pace and all happened fast. However, it was really rejuvenating especially for Joe who couldn’t think of much else.

Southbound: episode 18

  January 23rd 2007
Written by: Bryan Wolf and Joe White

Our first day out of Pearisburg wasn’t too bad. We started going through the “green tunnel”, which is where the trail passes through dense rhododendron thickets. I love it when the stream flows next to the tunnel and its all misty. It makes me feel like we are in the rain forest at the zoo. The tunnel continued the following day, which led us down a side trail to Dismal Falls. They were so sweet, but we couldn’t stay there forever. We were pushing out 26 miles to meet up with my friend Marc. We only had to hike 30 minutes into the night, but we were worn out. The last mile was along the road, and as we were hiking, two hound dogs came out of the woods and stayed by our side until we met with Marc. It was fun, but we had to keep yelling at them to get out of traffic.Rhododenderan Forest

We stayed in town with Marc that night and we went over the plans for while he was here. He brought us our mail drop and some new trekking poles to try out. It was tough to switch out our sticks for the trekking poles, but they ended up working really well. The hitch out of town the next day took forever. It wasn’t until we just started walking back to the trail, when someone picked us up. The first half of the day went smooth, a good break in for “sky watcher”. It didn’t last though. We had problems crossing rivers and bush whacking back to the trail. The second half of the day was miserable. To top it off, I had a mouse run across my face that night. It was gross.

We took a lunch break on the edge of some cliffs on top of Garden Mountain. The views were great, but it was a little windy. When I started to get cold, I reached for my jacket and it had been blown off the cliff. I couldn’t believe it. Luckily, it didn’t land in a tree because I was able to find a way to climb down. The weather started to turn that afternoon and night. We stayed in a sweet fully enclosed shelter on top of Chestnut Ridge. The following morning there was snow on the ground and ice on all the grass in the fields. It was cold, but a pretty sight. That night was a long one. It got down to 15 degrees. We had to sleep with everything. It was colder than what we were expecting to get.Silhouettes on the AT

We stayed in Atkins the next night to get warm and dry out. On the way in, we watched the sunset over the fields. The shelter was the most exciting part of the following day. It sat behind the Mt. Rogers Visitors Center and we could have pizza delivered to the parking lot and buy sodas for the vending machine. It was suppose to be in the 20s overnight, but the enclosed loft of the shelter kept us above freezing. It makes such a difference. In the morning, we were sad to see sky watcher calling for a ride to get back to his car. We completely understand his reasons and know now the weather didn’t get any better.

The hike to the next shelter was nothing to scream about, but we were in for a treat. It was a stone shelter with a fireplace between the bunks and someone had stocked up the shelter with dry firewood. We hung a tarp over the front of the shelter to block the wind and built a fire. We kept it going all night and it kept us really warm. Even though it was 17 outside, it was 40 inside, perfect. We pushed 25 miles over Pine Mountain and the Highlands around Mt. Rogers. We were mostly exposed above 5000ft for most of the hike, so the views were incredible. We got to see lots of wild ponies on the Highlands. Its amazing they can withstand the winters up there. The night hike took forever, but that’s mostly because I couldn’t stop looking at the moon and stars.Pony on Mt. Rogers

We woke up to a dusting of snow and freezing rain. Within a few minutes crossing the open fields, we were covered in ice and so was the trail. Luckily, those silly trekking poles have a removable boot with a spike underneath to help in icy conditions. Once we were below tree line, the winds weren’t so bad, but the trail kept going out into open fields. For the first 8 miles we were fighting 60 mph winds, freezing rain and an icy trail. With windchill, it was below zero easy in those exposed areas. We just kept pushing for treeline and lower elevations. We finally climbed down to 3000ft and the trail improved, but ice chunks kept raining from tree branches. We were able to remove the sheets of ice from our packs and clothing. We cut the day short when we made it to the shelter.

Yesterday morning wasn’t so bad getting into town. Most of it was hiking along on old railroad bed that followed a stream all the way into town. The trail goes right through town. Subway was only a few hundred feet away. We stayed at the Lazy Fox Inn last night, and gorged on some pizza. Mrs. Adams, an 82 yr old woman takes care of the place, and she made us a humongous breakfast this morning. There was eggs, grits, hash browns, apple turnovers, pancakes, bacon, sausage, cinnamon apple slices, and fruit plate. We had to lay down for 2 hours afterwards. Now were are finishing up here at the library and in a little while, we will be crossing over into Tennessee, the 12th state. We are getting so close.

This exert was originally published on atwishhikers.com. It’s content has not been edited from the original post.

 

Epilogue:
by: Bryan Wolf

Between some severe weather and blistered feet Marc had to take a break but we’ll meet up with him later on again. This section is my absolute favorite section of the southern half. I’ve been back to Mt. Rogers area now several times to hike with the ponies. Marc’s surprise gift of trekking poles was an awesome one and our wood sticks had convinced us enough of their purpose. That was the real moment when we realized the difference and appreciated how much a trekking pole helps, especially on with a handle, metal tip, sized height, and durable build.

Leaving the shelter on Mt. Rogers and backpacking some of the balds in the area was probably the closest we had come to white out conditions. as always this made things exciting for us but challenging as well. The snow covered trail and blazes meant that we really needed to have that second sense about where we were going.  There was but one mistake, and of course Joe didn’t mention it in the above post. Along one of the balds we had lost the path and it seemed nearly any direction could work.  We begin to descend and Joe pointed me down a steeper trench. He didn’t follow too close and I noticed that when I was about 20 feet down the mountain side he was staying up top. I turned back and had him help pull me back up concluding that that was for sure not the trail we were looking for. I’m not convinced that he wasn’t trying to kill me…

We revisit Damascus, one of the more notorious trail towns, often for trail days; an AT celebration. The town is fantastic and of course hiker friendly. That was to date still the largest and best breakfast ever!

Southbound: episode 17

January 11th 2007
Written by: Bryan Wolf and Joe White

We made it to Pearisburg, VA, about 100 miles farther. The weather has been all over the place. Its been hot, cold, rainy, snowy, and windy. The first day out of Daleville wasn’t much to scream about. The rain wasn’t too bad, it was the dense fog that gave us problems. We spent more than a half hour going back and forth on the trail trying to find the shelter. When we finally found it, we were surprised to find Early Bird all snug in his sleeping bag. You may remember us writing about hiking with him back in Connecticut and New York around veteran’s day. Well, he caught up to us and now he is actually a day in front of us. I’m sure we’ll meet again.Dragons Tooth on the AT

The following day was absolutely gorgeous and we took advantage of it. When we came across Tinker Cliffs and McAfee Knob, we took our time to soak in the views. The numerous mountains and ridges just fill the landscape, its amazing. Next, was a climb up to Dragon’s Tooth. It was a tough climb with little room for error, but I sure am glad we didn’t have to climb down it or in the rain. The rain hit us that night, but no bother really. We stayed dry, but it did start cooling down.

The day before last, we were hit with wind and snow storm. It wasn’t bad in the valley, but when we climbed up on the ridge, it was bitter. There was probably 3 or 4 inches of snow, just enough to completely hide the trail. We had to push on 3 hours into the night to make it to the shelter and what an experience that was. Most of the white blazes on the trees were disguised by a dusting of snow, so we had to pay close attention to everything. The wind was terrible and it kept blowing snow into the shelter. We ate our dinner and drank our hot cider and didn’t get out of the sleeping bags until the next morning. So, yesterday, we pushed out 24 miles into town, so we could dry out the gear overnight. It was rough, but much of the snow was starting to melt along the trail and the wind died off. We made it in sometime around 8 or so last night, just in time to hear the presidential address and all of the critics. Its nice not to have to always hear about the news while on the trail, but then again, we have to remember that we can’t always block out what’s happening in the world.

We are heading out in a few hours, and moving south towards Tennessee. It looks like it is going to warm up a little the next couple days, but after that who knows. We will work with what we get and hope for the best. In just a few days, Marc, a former scout leader and friend of mine, will be joining us on the trail for 2 weeks. We are very excited to have him join us.Bryan at Tinker Cliffs

This exert was originally published on atwishhikers.com. It’s content has not been edited from the original post.

Epilogue:
by: Bryan Wolf

Planning mileage and days around the weather started to come all too natural, suddenly it seemed as if things just didn’t bother us as much. This section had me feeling in good health, including my foot that had the previous pains while hiking. I was still feeling energized by the duo getting back together too. We had a second sense on the trail now more than ever. That kinda of thing happens gradually I suppose. Same as starting a new job; you pick up some skills as you go, but mostly confidence for that which you already knew.  This section has plenty of highlights and postcard picture moments.  The one I’m surprised we did not mention is the Audie Murphy Memorial, the most decorated war veteran has a memorial along the trail.

 

Southbound: episode 13

December 8th 2006
Written by: Bryan Wolf and Joe White

  Here we are in Harpers Ferry , West Virginia . There is only 4 miles in WV, so we will be in Virginia as soon as we leave here. Virginia will be our 10th state and will also be the longest state, about 545 miles. Since leaving Duncannon , PA 7 days ago, we have gone another 124 miles without any real problems. We are impressed with ourselves and happy to see that we can still have 20 mile hiking days despite the short hours of sunlight. It has been pretty cold though. We have been taking extra care to ensure our water bottles and filter don’t freeze at night, which isn’t hard, just have to put in the sleeping bag. Today it was so cold that our mustaches started to ice over while hiking, so to keep the water from freezing, we had to keep the bottles inside our jackets as we hiked. The wind chill brought the temperature down into the teens.ATCTundra Wookie

As you can see in the pictures, we have come to quite a few nice views looking out over Pennsylvania , Maryland , and West Virginia , but they should be even better in Virginia . We passed the half way point marker (now outdated) and took a step past into the southern half of the trail. We are more than happy to be done with Pennsylvania , and Maryland only lasted two days. The trail took us through another small family cemetery from the 1800s. It was nice to see someone still keeping it fairly cleaned up. We also past by the first monument dedicated to George Washington, as well as several other civil war memorials. We have enjoyed not only the scenery but also the walk through time and history.Blast Iron Furnace

In the last entry, we told you about Little Engine and Ellipse and how they would be hiking with us for awhile. Well, that didn’t last long, actually, we never got to hike with them. They left town a little before we did and Ellipse hit the ground running and we can’t catch him. Little Engine must have gotten off the trail for one reason or another because we didn’t pass him on the trail and he certainly isn’t in front of us.

Overall, we are feeling really good, just have to get back in the grove for cold weather. It is hard to believe that 3 months has already gone by, exactly 92 days and 1165.2 miles behind us. Our mountains await us, above 3000 feet we go again.

This exert was originally published on atwishhikers.com. It’s content has not been edited from the original post.

Epilogue:
by: Bryan Wolf

You know when you just don’t want to get out of bed? You’re buried in the covers and you feel so warm, all you want is to turn over and sleep just one more hour? Now imagine you are outside and it is a cool 15 degrees outside of your sleeping bag! I did not want to get ready the morning that we hiked into Harpers Ferry but of course town food has its persuasions.  First, if you were not already sleeping with your clothes to keep them warm you grab them and warm them in your sleeping bag.  After putting on my hat and gloves I would sit up against the shelter and put on every top layer I had. Next I would put on every bottom layer I had while still in the sleeping bag. I would try to move fast and I had this routine down pretty well. Jumping out of the bag, throwing on boots, packing my entire pack, having breakfast, brushing my teeth, and pumping water while trying to maintain all my body heat.

I wasn’t about to get rid of any layers yet though. If you have a hiking buddy you know that one of you most likely gets ready faster than the other. I had a few more minutes to wonder around camp and check my gear before hitting the trail so I kept everything on till I was sure we were moving.  By the time we got going my toes and fingers were already numb and my body couldn’t hold it’s temperature any more, it is time to move! One at a time we would shed layers to keep comfortable. Hike, Rest, Repeat.

The walk into Harpers Ferry was awesome, after a steep down hill of switchbacks we hit the old canal tow path. It was easy walking and beautiful. At Harpers we registered with the ATC and had our pictures taken to mark our passing. The town isn’t super hiker friendly on pricing or lodging but there is little eateries and a camp store. Of course there is also plenty of sight seeing and historical education to be enjoyed around town.  The untold story was me getting sick in the trail clubs backyard from drinking too much red wine but you don’t need to hear about that. We’ll just say we were very lucky and thankful to be invited to their annual Christmas Party. Here we would also meet Melanie who we’ll see later in the trail; just another example of the trail working it’s magic and intertwining lives in wonderful ways.

Southbound: episode 11

November 23rd 2006
Written by: Bryan Wolf and Joe White

Well, we are about 40 miles farther into Pennsylvania , so far so good. Our climb out of Delaware Water Gap had a lot of great views looking back into the gap and over New Jersey . It has pretty much been a ridge walk with little elevation change since, but the rocky terrain makes up for that. The ridge before Lehigh Gap was completely destroyed. We thought a fire might have swept through a while back, but apparently Palmerton used to have some Zinc factories and the air pollution killed off all the vegetation on the ridge. The factories have been shutdown and they are supposedly trying to cultivate the land again.Lehigh Gap

The climb down into Lehigh Gap was probably the hardest and most dangerous descent we have had since leaving New Hampshire . We spent last night in the old jailhouse in Palmerton , PA. Unfortunately they had tore out the old cells, but it was pretty sweet. We got to play some basketball in the gym upstairs. Its so hard to play in boots.

We were picked up by Ice Man’s parents this morning and were treated to a delicious thanksgiving dinner at the Cracker Barrel (thanks for being open). They brought fresh clothes and shoes from our closets, so we could feel like we were home. We now have a new set of boots, new socks, and a new water filter, ahh so nice. We will be hanging out here at the Hilton (a really nice shelter) all night playing games, watching football, and chilling in the hot tub.American Flag on AT

This exert was originally published on atwishhikers.com. It’s content has not been edited from the original post.

Epilogue:
by: Bryan Wolf

Boots or no boots, I’m just not that good at basketball.  This section flew by for me as I couldn’t stop thinking about a big Thanksgiving dinner, warm bed, hot shower, and seeing my parents for the first time in a few months.  We were getting a resupply which is always exciting but with the new updated gear it gave us a feeling that we would embark on a new trip.  When you stare down at the same scuffed up boots for a while you can start to feel the same way that they do.  Funny thing is the boots were structurally sound and could of kept pounding out some miles, same with the water filter.  We had pre-bought these items before leaving though so there was no use in not putting them to good use.  I knew the shine on those boots would not last long but we felt a lot better that we wouldn’t have any gear breakdown surprises later on.

Seeing my parents and giving them big hugs felt sooo good! At the hotel we all hung out in the lobby playing cards and watching the traditional Lions vs. Packers football game. It was nice to relax but difficult to concentrate on the moment. I knew we were heading back out the next day and I knew it would be difficult. I think both Joe and I were worried about our trail mentality after seeing loved ones. Feelings and memories from home can be persuasive reasons for going home. We did of course hit the trail the next day, and for the first mile or so my parents hiked up with us. The trail was steep and the light was fading so we had to part ways shortly before hitting the shelter. they handed over the pumpkin pie they had carried for us and we devoured later that night. After hugging them good bye and turning around I had to fight tears and try to ignore the gut wrenching feeling of walking away from them. I hated it so much, it was even worse than leaving for the trail the first time. the first time I had to only jump in a car and start a road trip to Maine, it didn’t seem so distant. This time was real, I was walking away, and hundreds more mile further before seeing them again.

But these Pennsylvania rock would not kill these new boots, so we hiked on.