Thursday, March 27, 2014

Into the Sccccchhhmokys....

I left Fontana Dam yesterday morn, it was a beautiful morning down at that elevation. Amazing sunshine and awesome cloud cover, the Great Smoky Mountains were just calling my name. I was ready for some new challenges; like hiking up to Rocky Top, the inspiration for the song 'Rocky Top' by the Avett Brothers. And also climbing to the highest point on the AT, Clingmans Dome at 6643 ft elevation (less than half of that on the PCT, Forrester Pass @ 13320). Man, was I in for some challenges. About a mile up I hit the snow that had fallen the night before, and about the time I reached Shuckstack Mt, I was completely boxed in by the storm still lingering at the top of the mountains. Before long it was blizzard like conditions, freezing cold winds, sideways snow, not quite whiteout, but testing enough. Instead of making my 16 mile goal, I settled on the 10 mile attraction of just making it to Mollies Ridge Shelter. I made it by 1:30, after starting around 10:00 and hiking pretty much straight uphill, I was about frozen solid. I quickly shed all my wet clothes and jumped into the warm stuff I had and slumbered in my down quilt there alone in the shelter, warming back up as fast as I could, units other hikers started to filter in. As they went through the same routine I had just finished, I got up and collected wood and started a fire to help warm us up, but more for my own mental boost, since it was pretty much miserable conditions at this point outside the shelter. It was a fun crew of hikers at that night and it ended up being an not so bad, despite being a blizzard outside with temps dropping well below 20°f. 
I got up this morning, and the sky had opened up, no clouds, but still blistering winds. The hiking was on, and I hiked all day through snow, varying from a couple inches deep, and sometimes up to nearly a foot deep. Rocky Top was awesome even though I couldn't take pictures because my phone was too cold to turn on. I ended up making it almost 18 miles in 8 hours and am feeling really good despite the soaking wet shoes and being onto my last pair of dry socks! Luckily tomorrow is town day, I'll roll into Gatlinburg, after the 9 mile climb up to Clingmans in the morning! I'll resupply for the 2 days until Hot Springs and also have a chance to dry out my stuff. 
What a testing two days it's been. Cold, snowy, slushy, windy. I love the feeling of blood rushing in my veins. This trail may have a lot of support, towns, and people, but the weather and mental toughness has trumped that of the PCT this far. I've now officially hiked on about 20x more snow on the AT than the entire time on the PCT. Good times.


Monday, March 24, 2014

rain again... Sunday March 23rd.

Well I did fifteen more miles today in the rain and mist and freezing cold and ice and it was just fantastic. (just a bit of sarcasm there) The sun has returned this evening with an hour of daylight or so left... I'm hoping all my wet clothes will dry a little. While hiking today I was trying to think of my most favorite things, and where it is that has the most of my favorite stuff. I should probably relocate to that spot, post hike.

Beer. Almost all places have beer. The south has crazy rules about it, and the West Coast, as I was recently reminded by a Southern man, lacks morals. So I guess I'll be staying west coast. I like 'em hop heavy. Favorite beers: Sierra Nevada Pale Ale(Chico) Lagunitas IPA(Petaluma) Stone Brewery Ruination IPA(San Diego).

Music. I'll find a scene anywhere. But my favorites in the last few years have been solid. G.Love(philly, PA) The Mother Hips(Chico) The Devil Makes Three(Santa Cruz) The Black Keys (Akron, OH) Avett Brothers(North Carolina) Old Crow Medicine Show (Southern USA)

Mother Nature. I have a hard time choosing between mountains and ocean. So naturally, I need a place that has both. West Coast Best Coast. I've been dreaming of Astoria OR lately. That has music, ocean, beer, mountains....hmm...Astoria.

Culture. Eclectic, diverse, art-filled, Bohemia with history. Non racist, open minded, creative places always seem to make me happy. The towns that I think of are Homer, AK. Truckee, CA, Santa Fe NM, Seattle WA, San Francisco, CA.

• Women. Real women. Sexy,
beautiful confident women who know their worth, talents, and strengths, yet always striving to be better. A woman who can bring the quickest smile to your face, and also keep you on your toes. Women that make you a better person, but are also capable of cutting us men some slack when can sorta start being shit-heads from time to time. 

Haha. I miss the west coast women already.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

random 5

• I haven't had ANY aspartame since my last post. I can't promise that I'm done for good, but I am trying to cut back...

• Getting into towns are great, leaving towns to get back in the woods is even better. I seem to clump up with other hikers when town is close, but am able to escape towns and get out on my own relatively easy. There are a lot of people out here and it sort of takes away from the independent, out on your own feeling. I am trying to find a balance between the two. Luckily I am getting ahead of the slower crowd and have found a few awesome people that I can relate to, who have thousands of miles under their belts as well, but still this is a HUGE herd of hikers. 

• I miss the PCT. Thru hiking is definitely a lifestyle, but each trail seems to have it's own culture. The PCT is mores style. Very fortunate to be a west-coast boy. I know why the early settlers went West, to get away from the crazies! (and to steal everything from the natives)

• I am about this (><) close to stopping off at an animal shelter and picking a pup that looks worthy of a thru hike. I miss hiking with a dog, and I should have been training one for the last six months to do this with me. The shared connection with a dog is stronger than the one I have with most humans. Y'all know what I mean.

• I say "Y'all" in just about every sentence  now. And I've even caught myself asking "y'all fixin' to...." a few times. It would take me about a month living in the south to sound about as backwoods as some of my extended family. (no offense intended, I love my crazy family) 

    mad thanks to all firefighters.

    beard freezing to my face in the cold and rain...

me and chipmunk. she hiked the entire AT last year, at the age of 14, solo. Her parents supported her along the way to make sure she was always kickin-ass and taking names!! 

not the 'Perfect Year' this thru-hike...

When I hiked the Pacific Crest Trail, it was deemed the perfect year. Low snow levels, almost NO rain in 5+ months, only one really hot spell in Northern California, almost all conditions were too good to be true.
It is absolutely not that way on the Appalachian Trail. Having been on the trail for 9 days I've experienced more cold, wet, windy and treacherous weather than all my months on the PCT combined. I love it. It makes this whole new trail that much more of a mental challenge. I am so thankful for the experiences and learning I did while hiking the PCT, because I feel light years ahead of most of the thru-hikers out here on the AT. This is their first thru, most have 20+lbs more gear than they need, and putting up with the conditions as well as a pack that you absolutely dread throwing on your back is an issue I don't have to worry about. I'm trying to let these folks with huge packs HYOH, but am also trying to give them some pointers to reduce pack weight. They say you carry your fears on your back. That can mean anything from way too many extra clothes, to pounds and pounds of extra food, first aid supplies, I even saw a girl pull out almost 2lbs of fire starter material. Yikes. My base weight (no food or water, just pack and gear) is about 12lbs. I've seen some people with 45+lb base weight. It's gonna be a long summer for them! 

It's crazy nuts out here in the South. The hospitality is Georgia was unreal. And Franklin NC was an awesome town I hope to be back through someday! I am currently at the Nantahal Outdoor  Center, an awesome ropes course, kayaking/wwr site, zip lining, the works. It's where River Rats and Hiker Trash combine for one awesome time. 
I am about 2 days away from entering the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, and reaching Klingman's Dome (AT Highpoint 6643ft) later this week, then into Gatlinburg for a quick resupply before making it to Hot Springs NC. So I will be crossing into Tennessee while in the Smokys and then back into NC before heading into Virgina.

Super thanks to Lindsey and Ron at Outdoor76 and Becky, Anthony, and Jesse at Mulligans for being so kind and showing me a good time! Can't wait to come back! 

Saturday, March 15, 2014

My five thoughts after my first 5 days on the AT

Here are my five thoughts for the day inspired by the uplifting Ali Munzer's daily posts...

• aspartame, snot rockets, wright socks, goose down, carbs (my favorite things on the trail)

• I had my first intensely emotional "moment" of the trip. That type that always seems to happen while on a long hike, where tears of happiness and sadness equally come to the surface because you finally have time to sort of process what's happening, at a natures pace and stripped of all

the other distractions and interferences.

• Although I am not religious at all, I have a heavy spiritual induced existential awareness. However, sitting in a circle with five church-group grown men, laying down a very touching and moving prayer in my honor, because of my way of going about life and my philosophies was certainly moving enough to bring me to tears a second time for the day. 

• East coast winter can be over now. Cali~ sorry, indian summer is finally over, welcome to real summer, it's all you get now.

• Out of Georgia, on to North Carolina tomorrow. Georgia, you've been real; real cold, real hospitable, real beautiful. 

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

letting my over-confidence and excitement lead to near disaster on the PCT....

It happens a lot when you are hiking, especially a trail that is thousands of miles in length. You are on top of a ridge or saddle, and you are about to descend to the next road crossing. You can SEE where the trail and road meet right below you. It feels as if it is only a few hundred yards away, yet the trail still winds along for a mile or two, or maybe even a handful miles until you will reach the destination. You find yourself wondering (and sometimes cursing) what the hell the trail makers were thinking here. There MUST be a shorter, more wise route to take nowadays (as opposed to when the trail was initially trodden.) And I'll be damned, but I am gonna cut off the perfectly worn trail that may take an hour, and I'll
make my own trail down in probably half the time.....

Well, I'll be damned is about right. When I was on the PCT in 2012, I'd already heard the stories of the past, like the couple on Mt San Jacinto, who wandered off on a day hike, further and further down a box canyon, to a point where they could no longer go back the way they came, or go any further down. That couple was sort of lucky.  Well, luckier than the hiker they came across, who had been stuck in that same spot for over a year, and when they found him, he had perished a long time before their arrival. They used his gear to start a fire in order to prompt fire crews to come to the area, and therefore find them and rescue them. (in which they did get in trouble for starting the fire, but also didn't die there on the mountainside)
I had also heard the story of a trail-legend, BillyGoat, being in the same sort of scenario in the high sierras, being trapped in a box canyon and luckily having cell reception enough to get a 911 call out, and to be rescued by helicopter, sans all hiking gear. Now I am not sure on the merit or truth of that story, but nonetheless, I knew the risks of going down a canyon or mountainside, and there being a point where it is impossible to go any further in either direction, up or down.

So there I am, over 1000 miles into my hike on the PCT, feeling really good about myself. I am gonna meet up with one of my best friends in the world today!! My buddy Matt, and his brother Joe and father Jerry are gonna be on a fishing trip at the northern Kennedy Meadows for the weekend and I am going to meet them to join in the fishing, while fueling up on meat and beer during our little reunion. At this point of my adventure, I haven't seen a single person from my 'real life' at home since I had started the trail a couple months before. I had lost 45 pounds, and was routinely hiking over 25 miles in a day now.  All I had to do was get to Sonora Pass and hitch down the 10 miles to the camp ground to meet them! This should be no problem, and I just can't wait. I am pretty pumped up. That is until I am about 2 miles from the Hw 108 crossing at Sonora Pass. I am looking down at the parking lot. It is right below me, but according to the maps and halfmile way-points, I know I have 2 more miles of hiking on the silly PCT trail, but I can SWEAR there is a faster route, and if I can just cut down this little hillside, across that little snow field, blah blah blah (I rationalized it many ways) I would be even closer to my weekend plans!  Eventually, I went for it. Immediately I knew that the hardest part would be right here at the top. It was loose shale, crumbling beneath my feet as slid down the slope that was much steeper than the 15 degree incline that i was used to and the PCT maxes out at. I was only about 100 yards maybe off the PCT now, but I was looking over a cliff edge, and I knew that I could not go much further without being in a sticky situation. I knew my group was shortly behind me, Quest,  Rapunzel, LB and ZzZ were all gonna be passing where i went off of the PCT within the hour, but where I was, no one could hear me if I had to call for help to them, even then, what could they do?? They couldn't come down after me, and PCT hikers don't carry rope or any tools that may be able to assist me. I was at a point where I knew, if I went even 5 more meters, there may be no chance at getting out of here without some serious assistance and rescue efforts. I sat there for about five minutes, panicked, wondering if I had already went too far, and doubting that I could even make it back up to the trail. The least I could do was try.
Luckily, this story ends with me getting back up to the trail safely and on my own, successfully scrambling up the shale and loose granite. It took some effort, I was completely winded, and wasn't sure I could make it up until the point I pulled myself back up onto the PCT. It was a humbling lesson. Just stay on the trail man. There is a reason the trail winds way around this cliff face.Why do I think I am smarter than the trail builders who have poured over the topography of the area, and made a route that is safest and most likely to not leave you stranded.
That one ended alright, but it was one of my scariest moments on the PCT.

Sonora Pass Area (picture taken from Google Images)