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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.

 

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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 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 16

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

   Its been 2 weeks since we left Waynesboro and we have been having an awesome time. It so nice to be back in the mountains. The views have been absolutely amazing. The day after leaving Waynesboro , we spent an entire day hanging out in the shelter because it rained for like 30 hours straight. During the cold rainstorm, we entertained ourselves with Yahtzee and Uno. The following day wasn’t much to scream about, it was a clear and cold day. However, we did share the shelter/camp with an older couple and two goats that packed her gear, it made for an interesting conversation.

In the morning, we hiked over the Three Ridges, the sun was out and it was near sixty degrees! It was all too grand, the continuous views captured our attention and we all agreed to go about half the distance planned. We hiked over to “Chimney Rocks” where we sat for the rest of the afternoon admiring the view, watching vultures fly over their domain.Backpacking the AT

So then it was Christmas. It could of been better to be honest. We hiked up and over “The Priest”, our first 4000 foot mountain since New Hampshire ! The cold rain kept us from enjoying it though. We cut the day short to avoid getting sick, as we were all drenched and shivering. We built a Christmas tree out of water bottles and just enjoyed getting warm and dry. The following day we decided to treat each other to a Christmas present. We hiked a few miles to a old dirt road, and just another mile and a half down to Montebello and the Dutch Haus Bed and Breakfast. We were pampered with great meals, showers, a warm fire, and The Chipmunks Great Adventure on VHS.

Our weather improved for a few days, and we sure did enjoy it! Great view from the grassy top of Cold Mountain , Bluff Mountain , and on down to the James River . We hitched into the small town of Glasgow for resupply, it took a while to get in, but the town was friendly and it was quick getting out. Then we crossed the James River footbridge, the longest on the AT, at 642 feet. From there it was just a quick creek side walk to the shelter. Most of the shelters in Virginia have had mice, some an army of mice. This shelter however had a rat, he lived in the privy (outhouse).River along the trail

Happy New Years! Like every other holiday, it rained New Years Eve. It was not as cold so we still pushed out our planned thirteen miles. At the shelter that night we finally enjoyed the two heavy bottles of wine Ice Man was carrying. It was only Arbor Mist, but the celebration was priceless! The next morning we played Uno until the rain stopped, and the most beautiful blue skies followed. We crossed Apple Orchard Mountain , a gorgeous grassy bald, the way down kept our attention with cliff side views and short trails to overlooks.

The next few days would have us following and crossing the Blueridge Parkway . It was nice cause they had the trail cross at overlooks. We went later into the night a few times, but enjoyed the sunsets, and the light of the full moon. We stopped at one point to admire the moon framed between the forest limbs and the mountain horizon behind. We feel so fortunate to capture whats “behind the scenes”. The night before last, our shelter was perched above the city lights of Roanoke , magnificent.Balds

We hiked into Daleville yesterday morning, where we met Ginger Snap’s brother and close friend. They spent the night with us at a hotel just off the trail. They were nice enough to shuttle us around for food and resupply. We shared many laughs and we decided Chinese buffets should have microwaves too. Oh, and coconut ice cream is disgusting. The three of them are leaving today to road trip down along the Gulf Coast and Texas . We wish we could tag along, but that just wouldn’t be right.Hiking the AT

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Epilogue:
by: Bryan Wolf

This section brings back some great trail hiking and remains one of my favorite areas.  Between the ridge walking and the balds we had some incredible views.  If we had been on this section with bad weather it may be a different story seeing as we were exposed quite often. The bad weather did come back around but in the worst way. The temperatures dropped to high 30s while we dropped to the valley and then started climbing the Priest.  I think all together I went up the mountain relativity fast but it didn’t seem that way. I found my self stopping often trying to keep with the group a little more. At one point I stopped for what seemed like a half hour and still didn’t see anyone coming up the trail.

This was only bad because I consequently lost most of my heat. for the rest of the day I struggled to feel good about the hiking and was constantly cold. Now i really wanted to meet up with TW and Ginger so we can make a group decision to maybe stop at the next shelter.  By the time I got to the top my body and mentality was shot and I wanted nothing more than to jump in my sleeping bag. After a few false summits I made it to the side trail. I made a little arrow on the ground using sticks to mark my detour for the rest of the group. Not long after getting in the shelter I stripped off my wet clothes and hurried into my bag. The constant rain had soaked through most everything and it took a good hour of shivering in my zero degree bag until I felt normal again. At that point the rain turned to ice and seemed to come down pretty hard making me concerned for TW and Ginger. If I was trucking up the mountain and didn’t stay warm how were they doing?

They arrived soon after and were definitely happy to stop for the night.  Merry Christmas to us! This was for sure the closest I’ve come to having  hypothermia.  Our New Years was also the most effort I’ve ever put into having a midnight toast.  By the end of it all it was back to just TW and I, which I think we were both ready for.  It was time to get back to our old pace.

Southbound: episode 15

December 21st 2006
Written by: Bryan Wolf and Joe White

The roller coaster wasn’t much to scream about, nor was it long enough to wear us out. We should have been more tired after 23 miles. The next morning, we went into Linden to pick up our maildrop and food. We were so excited to be sleeping less than a mile from the beginning of the Shenadoah National Park . In the morning, we registered for our permit for camping in the park and started strolling down some of the nicest trails we have seen yet. The weather was beautiful and so were the views. The views were better than any since Vermont and Massachusetts . It is nice being above 3000ft again.

After 23 miles, all we wanted was a good nights sleep, but there were a couple of mice that kept us up most of the night. In the morning, we hitched into Luray for mail, resupply, and a bucket of chicken from KFC. We were told that it was illegal to hitch in Virginia , but so far its been the easiest place to get a ride in and out of town. The rest of the day was still filled with great views and nice trails. We stayed the night with a couple out for the weekend. The one guy was in the Navy at Norfolk , and he was planning a thru-hike once he finishes his service. We shared a lot of stories from different adventures we have had as the campfire slowly burnt out.Hogback Overlook

The following day we hiked 21 miles until we hit rt33, which passes through the park, so we could be picked up by a trail angel named Melanie. Before we made it there, we bumped into a thru-hiker named “super dave” and he was also from Cincinnati . He started in WV and hiked north to Maine , then went to Georgia and was on his way to WV. We were all so excited to meet each other, because we had met his friend in New Hampshire and we were told to look out for him. He actually knew who we were before we introduced ourselves. He should be finishing up his journey in the next couple of days. Congrats Super Dave and we wish you the best.Shenandoah

We finally made it to the road and Melanie picked us up and took us in for the night. We met her in Harpers Ferry at the trail club dinner, its funny how everything falls together. She cooked us dinner, let us shower, and do laundry. She had an awesome music collection. In the morning, she took us to the store to pick up enough food to get us to Waynesboro and then back to the trail. Thanks Melanie.

In the Shenadoah National Park , skyline drives runs parallel to the AT and follows the ridgline all the way, so the mileage is pretty much the same. We had to hike along the road for both that day and the following, about 45 miles. The reason: Around thanksgiving, the southern section of the park was hit with a devastating ice storm leaving the trail and road covered with trees, branches, and tree tops. The AT was closed and was recommended to skip, but we instead walked the closed skyline drive.

The road walk hurt and it seem to go on forever. There were a few good things though. We could listen to our transistor radio while we walked, we still had great overlooks, and we didn’t have to stare at our feet to make sure we weren’t going to trip. Our last shelter in the park had a big rat living there that was rumored to eat holes in backpacks. We hung our food and packs outside the shelter, but we still caught a glimpse of the nasty beast. The last 20 miles out of the park was miserable. We were hurting so bad and we looked funny as we were limping along. We made it though, and we were fortunate to know another trail angel that picked us up and dropped us off at the Quality Inn.

Some of my family came down that night and stayed with us. We ate some Papa John’s pizza while watching our first Bengals game. It was a depressing game though. The next morning 8 of our friends from home dropped in to visit. The rest of my family came down later in the evening. By the end of the night, there was 18 of us, it was like being at home. We spent the day tossing Frisbee and football. They even brought down the corn hole set. That night we all went down to the bowling ally, what a great time. The fun lasted until 3 or 4 in the morning, way past our bedtime.Shenandoah Sunset

Yesterday, they all went home after we all went out to lunch together. It was sad to see them go, but it was a reminder of all the great people we can’t wait to get home and see once again. Someone did get left behind though, by choice, her name is Ginger Snap, formerly known as Barbara. She is going to hike with us for a week and a half or so. Last night we just kicked back and relaxed and tried to re-cooperate. Today we are just doing the usual in town resupply and journal update before we hit the trail. We will hike out of town here in a little bit to the first shelter 5 miles away. We hope to be about 135 miles farther in about 8-10 days where we can update you once again. Thank you to all of those that came to visit. Merry Christmas to everyone. We miss and love you all.

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Epilogue:
by: Bryan Wolf

This was a big post, both in time, miles, and events. Like most of our other posts the most interesting moments are not about the physical trail but more about the characters that help shape it.  We introduced and met back up with several new characters in this post.  The first was Melanie; we first met Melanie back in Harpers Ferry at the Potomac Trail Clubs Christmas Party.  She offered us a place to stay down the road and we were happy to make the call.  Melanie refueled us for our adventure and I’d like to think that we fueled her adventurous spirit too. After dinner Joe and I helped her start planning an epic trip around the country. Not long after finishing the trail we would meet her again in Cincinnati; a detour on her epic life changing adventure!! I think this is a good time to maybe reconnect again.

Hiking into Waynesboro was hard for me too enjoy. Some things were in our favor, we had an easy road walk due to the trail shattering ice storm and amazing views, however the anticipation of meeting family and friends seemed to draw things out a while. To make matters worse I secretly was feeling the worse I had felt yet. The top of my right foot had a stinging pain with each step. I found my self stopping often trying to readjust my boot to no avail. I think the road walking, although flat, was also rough on my feet and put a lot of stress on them. I hobbled into town and put ice on the slightly swollen foot. I didn’t want to blow it out of proportion and especially worry any of our friends that had traveled so far to see us, but secretly I was concerned that it would not heal.

One car load at a time our friends and family piled in. As you can imagine this was a great few days enjoying every creature comfort you could want and laughing again with those you miss.  It meant so much to us that they all came down and I will forever be grateful to each one of them for taking the journey. As all good things do, the time went all too fast, the cornhole boards, cards, Frisbee, beer, and pizza was packed up and drove away making it home hundreds of miles away in the time it takes us to travel less than a half dozen miles. The one who stayed behind, Ginger Snap, was Joe’s friend from Alaska who was going to hike with us a while.

I was excited to have someone else around for a while at this point (but that did not last). When we hiked out I found that my foot had still not healed and the miles were slow. Despite the miles moving slow, I was still way out in front of the two of them and suddenly felt very alone. Ginger snap had a tough go at the first few miles despite being a backpacker (The AT has that affect on people) and we stopped 5 miles in. I took a few “Vitamin I” (Ibuprofen)  pills and just wanted to go back asleep. Tundra, or as I called him, “TW” and Ginger played games and I just wrote and slept. The next day I still wasn’t feeling well and it started to become quite concerning, luckily my partners in crime were fine staying in so we did another shelter zero (5 miles from a real town I may add!). My best guess was that it was a stress fracture and I needed to stay off it.  At least we packed out some Beef and Cheddars.

Southbound: episode 14

December 11 2006
Written by: Bryan Wolf and Joe White

In order to do the trail, you have to accept that things don’t always go as planned. It’s not that what happened is bad, it’s actually kind of funny that its the opposite of what we wanted to do. We are at the Bear’s Den Hostel, just 20 miles south of Harpers Ferry which is the funny part. We made it to Harpers Ferry 3 days ago, granted one day was an off day, but what we did in one day last week, we did in 2 days. The terrain is not to blame, nor the weather. The Potomac Appalachian Trail Club has been very hospitable. We bumped into the trail club in Hapers Ferry and the invited us over for dinner both Friday and Saturday night. It was a great time and we really enjoyed hanging out with all the people that are not just building and maintaining the trail, but also working to protect the wilderness around it.Roller coaster

They talked us into stopping by the Blackburn Trail Center last night, which is just off the trail, to stay the night and have dinner with the caretakers. We also celebrated the caretakers birthday with cake and ice cream. Of course, we still had to stop by here to do laundry and grab some more food to get us to the next town. Pizza, ice cream, internet, electric, hot shower, and a bed? OK, we’ll stay, but tomorrow we are doing 23 miles. Tomorrow we hit what they call the “roller coaster”, a long series of quick ups and downs, sounds like fun.

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Epilogue:
by: Bryan Wolf

To be clear, we were laughing at the fact that immediately following a 26 mile day we managed just 20 miles in the three days to follow. We speed up and slow down over and over again on the trail; each time for a different reason.  At the Blackburn Center was our first time considering a later life move to the trail and looking into a lifestyle of support and trail work on the AT.  The young couple that were caretakers there at the time were amazing and seemed to have fun doing it.  Even after getting home we would talk about running a hostel or trail crew. More than a year after the trail we called the Blackburn Center to check on job details and availability. It is all proof of the lasting impact that the trail had and the desire to pass it forward and live more of a life surrounded by 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.

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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

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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.