Sunday, May 2, 2010

No Coincidences

The Appalachian Trail has an energy, a magic about it. Perhaps that’s why so many people are drawn to it, or perhaps it is the Trail itself that draws a certain type of person. Regardless, it is this energy that provides the foundation for the Trail community.

Although it is true that thru-hikers share a special bond, we all also share the knowledge that the hiker community spreads way beyond the thru-hikers themselves. In fact, initiation to this community doesn’t take much, just a hike (short or long), or an act of kindness (trail magic, a free ride) along the Appalachian Trail. It is the hostel owners, restaurant workers, and town’s people through which the trail traverses. To become a part of this community means to get a glimpse of the magic of the universe, and to the knowledge that everything in life, on and off the trail, is unfolding for reason. You just have to be aware enough to see it and open enough to accept it. To sum up the words of Dick Ludwick, the former mayor of Unionville, NY and current AT hostel caretaker, members within this community just have a way of making the oddest coincidences in life unfold. Yet we within the hiking community know there are no coincidences, rather, the unexpected current moment is a collection of every past moment, and is completely intentional.

I was reminded of this today, when Grommet and I found ourselves at Newfound Gap located in Great Smokey Mountains National Park. We were at the park for the weekend to partake in the annual Wildflower Pilgrimage. After an early morning breakfast in Gatlinburg, TN we made our way into the park. Our original intention was to stop at the visitors center on our way in and take the dogs on a 4 mile hike near the visitor center and then head up the mountain to Newfound Gap where the AT passes through. However, the weather was gorgeous and the forecast called for potential showers later in the afternoon. Grommet really wanted to get some good views up at Newfound Gap, so we altered our plans and made the 15-mile drive up to the gap first. When we arrived we did the usual tourist activities; taking each others pictures at the North Carolina/Tennessee border, at the AT trail head sign that gives mileage to Katadhin, ME, and of the surrounding vistas.

As we wrapped up our photo montage we noticed a few current AT thru-hikers mingling around another car that was providing trail magic. Remembering how awful my experience was at Newfound gap as a thru-hiker we decided to see if any of the hikers needed a free ride into town. As we introduced ourselves to the hikers Grommet began exchanging words with an older gentleman. It only took a minute for each to realize that in fact they not only knew each other but they had hiked together several years before. The hikers name was Bill, and he was currently section hiking the Great Smokey Mountains. He was soaking wet from the previous nights down-pour and ready to get into some warm dry clothes. He graciously took us up on our offer to drive him into town. While Grommet and Bill played catch-up over the next 20 minutes I sat there listening, completely grateful to be witness to another trail “coincidence.”

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Thru-Hiking the Foothills Trail

Sunday, March 7, 2010

I woke up this morning at 7am, wide-eyed and ready to go. Before I was even siting up in bed my mind was reviewing my mental checklist of last minute tasks. Pack my food bag, check to make sure the bear rope is long enough, double check my first-aide kit, etc. After a moment of thinking about it, I hopped up and took care of the normal morning chores then turned all my attention to what I really wanted to be focused on; my backpack. First, I packed up all my essentials, minus food and water then ran upstairs to the scale. I weighed myself with my pack on then weighed myself without my pack on. Repeat then repeated again. Final base weight 13.5 pounds, a pound and a half more then I was aiming for but still a respectable start. Next, I ran down stairs, packed up my food bag, grabbed a liter of water then repacked and organized my backpack for the last time. When I was done, I pulled the now noticeably heavier bag over my shoulders and ran upstairs. Again, I weighed myself with the pack on, then weighed myself with the pack off. Repeat then repeated again. Final total pack weight, 24 pounds. Success.

When I was done, I helped Grommet with any last minute details, one of which was checking the weather forecast. The verdict: rain showers during the middle of the week. I have rain gear that's treated me well in the past. I'm trying to stay optimistic. I repeat to myself, "it's not going to rain the whole time, it's not going to rain the whole time....." Experience tells me that the forecast rarely seems to match reality. Right now the sun is shinning. I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

Tonight we're camping in the campground at Oconee State Park. Dinner and evening entertainment; veggie fajita's and star gazing. The temperature is dropping rapidly as the moon rises. It's going to be a cold night. We've also discussed potential ground rules for this week, well really only one ground rule: no night hiking. I hate night hiking. If I was meant to hike at night then I would have built in night vision. Other then that, anything is fair game. Grom is in full agreement. Done.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Sunny. Cool in the morning, warm in the afternoon. No rain.

Today's Hike:
Oconee State Park Campground to Riversite Campsite - 15.0 miles

It was cold last night. I was having flashbacks to my first week on the Appalachian Trail, although this time I had the proper sleeping bag; a major plus.

We were up with sun, and got dressed and packed only to head into the campground bathroom. We discovered this modern cave of heaven last night when searching for an outlet to charge Grom's phone. Why is a campground bathroom so heavenly? Because it has a heater and it's currently 40 degrees outside. Go ahead and judge. I didn't see you out there. We quickly made our cups of coffee outside on the picnic table then headed into the bathroom and took up residence on the bench. We finished our coffee and brushed our teeth then headed out into the chilly morning air. The sun was shinning. It was a beautiful day.

It was about a half a mile walk from the campground to the trailhead. I swore the distance seemed longer the night before when Grom's sister drove us to the trailhead so we knew where it was. I was cursing the distance, however, this morning the distance seemed rather negligible.

After a photo session we stepped onto the trail. For the first time since I've stepped off Katadhin 6.5 months ago I was back into the woods, following white blazes once more. It felt like I was stepping into the house of an old friend. I was home. I was at ease. The morning flew by. The terrain was easy, relatively flat with no strenuous climbs. The bare trees of winter allowed for some good views of the piedmont region, but no views that were unobstructed.

After lunch, the trail dropped down to the Chattooga River, and we continued to parallel the rolling rapids on and off for the rest of the afternoon. We stopped for lunch by a small stream. I was starving. I took out two tortilla's and slapped peanut putter and apple maple jelly on both. I rolled them up and devoured the first. I was already full. I still had one more to go. I tried to stuff it down but I couldn't. My hiker appetite has definitely changed. What had I been thinking? I knew I wouldn't be as hungry as I use to be but I had thought I could have eaten more then this. I mean, I eat more then this at home. What's going on?!!? I placed the uneaten PB&J wrap in a ziplock and shoved it back into my food bag, then promptly rolled over and enjoyed the sounds of rushing water, and a few cracking branches.

The rest of the afternoon was beautiful. After passing up some amazing riverside campsites, we finally called it a day when the sun started casting it's 90 degree shadows of slender hardwoods across the footpath. Not wanting to feel like we missed out on anything great, we walked until we came across another great riverside campsite. By dusk the tent was pitched and the dinner stoves where set to boil water. Tonight's dinner; pasta, my favorite food both on and off the trail. Grom and I split half a box pasta. Again, I found myself choking the rest of it down. So upsetting. Why can't I have this limited appetite at home?

It's just after dark and I'm exhausted. Tomorrow will be a longer day. I hope I can keep up the endurance.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Sunny. Cool in the morning, warm in the afternoon. Evening rain.

Today's Hike:
Riverside Campsite to Duke Energy Sign/Riverside Campsite - 16.0 miles

This morning was colder then yesterday morning by about ten degrees. I started out in long johns and my Mont Bell UL jacket, but quickly shed my layers after the first two miles.

We passed our first hiker this morning. It was nice to see a friendly face. Unfortunately, the meeting was quick and I didn't get a name. It seemed like he had a great stretch of good weather for his hike though. I hope we're just as lucky.

We passed our first waterfall just before lunch this afternoon. This one doesn't seem to have a name but was about 20 feet high. Beautiful. Just up the trail was another falls, much shorter but wider. Its view was obstructed by the trees but visible enough from the trail.

We took lunch at a picnic area along SC State Rd 107, a road we would cross over several times before reaching Table Rock State Park. We stayed here for an hour and discussed the immense amount of extra food we were carrying. I could have easily shed a few pounds had we decided to share more dinners. As we began to pack up and head back out to the trail clouds began to roll in and the temperature dropped. I put on my long-sleeve shirt and headed back out.

Not long after lunch we crossed into North Carolina. In a need to celebrate a milestone we took a sarcastic photo session at the state line. We laughed at ourselves and reminisced about what it use to feel like when we were able to add another state to our list of accomplishments during our thru-hike of the AT; 2 states down 12 to go...... but somehow the accomplishment of one state was electrifying. This state accomplishment, not so much. At least not yet.

We had some excellent views of Lake Jocassee tonight. The lake is the result of the construction of a hydro-electric dam funded by the state of South Carolina in partnership with Duke Energy in 1973. Several rivers flow into the dam, most of which the Foothills Trail follows or crosses.

After getting a birds-eye view of the lake and the surrounding piedmont region we headed down the mountain to Upper Whitewater River and Falls. The trail itself does not take you directly by the falls, a big bummer. You have to take a spur trail to the upper parking lot to get a good view. The guidebook and mini maps produced by the Foothills Trail Conference does a poor job at explaining this to hikers. Rather, we stayed on the main trail. We did however, catch a distant view of the falls, and I now have this on my list of places to revisit. This section of the trail also appeared to have been recently rerouted. The mileage was off (by about a mile) from the the spur trail to whitewater river.

We're camping alone again this evening by the river. No stars. I hope the clouds pass and tomorrow presents us with more great hiking weather.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Overcast and cool.

Today's Hike:
Duke Energy Sign/Riverside Campsite to Bad Creek Access - 17.5 miles

The moment I made a weather wish last night the pitter-patter of rain began on the tent fly. Well, better at night then during the day. I woke up sometime during the night to go to the bathroom and noticed the stars were out again. I went back to bed once again hopeful of reawakening to a beautiful brand new day. My wish was somewhat granted, I awoke to an overcast, cool morning.

If I had to sum up today's hike in a single word I would have to say obstacles. I originally thought dreary because of the weather, then blow-down. It was Grom who came up with obstacles. I like it. This morning when we passed the Duke Energy sign we also entered into a stretch of trail that is "maintained" by Duke Energy. There must have been a blow-down about every mile. Not just one logger blow-downs, but huge masses of trees. Good-times.

About an hour into our hike we came across a bird wing on the side of the trail. I'm not to sure what kind of bird it belonged to, but it was obviously a bird of prey. The wing's vertical wing-span was about 1.5 - 2.0 feet. Incredible.

Most of today's hike followed old logging roads and road beds. This made for gradual climbs with a few exceptions. There were steep climbs up from Thompson and Horse Pasture River(s), which mostly involved climbing stairs.

We also were near streams and rivers most of the day, and the rare Oconee Bell was abundant along trail sides.

Holding true to our pact of no night-hiking we made it into camp tonight at dusk with 20 minutes to spare. Excellent. We are once again camping alone at the edge of Lake Jocassee, adjacent to the outflow of the Toxaway River.

Today was our longest day yet, and everyday I physically feel better. However, today we really didn't take any breaks except for lunch. I'm pretty sure my feet will be screaming at me in the morning.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Rain all day.

Today's Hike:
Bad Creek Access to Chimney Top Campsite - 15.0 miles

Today sucked. I'm not even going to try and sugar coat it. It was horrible. I was wet and cold all day. I can't remember ever being this wet or cold on the trail. Ever.

The highlight of my day, an awesome Northern Red Salamander (at least I'm fairly certain that's what it was). This little guy (gal?) was about three inches long, and loving the rain. I tried to be more like him the rest of the day. It worked for awhile until the rain came down harder and I started to shiver. Then, it was game over.

Shortly after the salamander discovery we passed Laurel Fork Falls. Similar to past experiences, the trail does not cross directly by it, but you can get a pretty good winter view of the falls from the trail.

We decided that eating a warm lunch would be better for our bodies then the planned PB&J, but we would have to eat fast. The longer we stayed still the colder we would get. We found a large tree blown down and huddled under. Grom pulled the tent fly over the tree to help form a barrier and provided a temporary dry place to sit. There are no shelters along the Foothills Trail. A definite downfall (no pun intended). By the time we were done I was getting way too cold. I started shivering so I got up and started moving. I needed to warm up fast or we would be setting up camp early so I could get warm. Hypothermia was the last thing I needed. It took about 15 minutes but I stopped shivering.

We reached camp before night fall and got changed immediately. My contractor bag (pack liner) did a good job at keeping my stuff inside my pack dry. I had also doubled bagged my sleeping bag as a backup plan. Aside from being damp from the humidity, the bag allowed me to warm up quickly.

I passed out while Grom made us a wonderful dinner of Spanish Rice and cheese. I woke up long enough to scarf it down and drink some hot chocolate. My appetite was growing a little, but nothing drastic. Once my belly was full of warm good stuff I was out like a light. Rain was still falling.

Friday, March 12, 2009


Today's Hike:
Chimney Top Campsite to Table Rock State Park - 14.0 miles

After yesterday's rechid downpour it was a unanimous decision to get up early and get to Table Rock State Park. We were awake with sunrise, somewhere around 6am (yes, I was still not wearing a watch). When I opened the tent fly, the stars were sparkling in the sky and a half crescent moon was visible through the naked forest. What a beautiful and unexpected site to wake up to. According to Grom's Blackberry, it was suppose to be cloudy and rain should start again somewhere around noon. Maybe, just maybe, the weather channel was wrong. Still, I made sure that all my rain gear was accessible.

We were packed up and on the trail within the hour. As soon as we went over the ridge we were surrounded by clouds. Maybe the weather channel was right after all. Total bummer. As we made our way up Sassafras Mountain, the highest point in South Carolina (3,554 ft.), the rain began to fall. It was 10am (Grom made the announcement). Ugh!!!! This was no longer fun. I wanted off the mountain. Luckily, the rain stayed light, and unlike yesterday the rain was not constant. Rather, periodic breaks in the rain would occur, just long enough to make the hike tolerable. We reached the summit of Sassafras about 15 minutes after the rain started, and of course, the only view was fog. Another bummer.

We made our way down Sassafras only to head up Pinnacle Mountain, South Carolina's second tallest peak (3,425 ft.) along the trail and our last climb. The Foothills Trail does not actually traverse the summit of Pinnacle Mountain, rather, the trail terminates/begins (depending on your direction of travel) .2 miles short of the summit. However, there is a spur trail that extends to the top. Given the weather, we didn't take it. Instead we began our 4 mile descent down Pinnacle Mountain. About a half a mile into our descent we crossed an enormous rocky outcrop that would have provided some spectacular views of the Piedmont. For us, we got nothing but more clouds. In fact, the sky seemed to be darkening.

Thunder began rolling in about two miles before we had reached the end of our journey. The last hour became a race against the weather. We reached the end of the trail, took a few photos and hopped into Cori's "truck of awesomeness" as lightening began crashing around us. We made our way over to the campground within Table Rock State Park to take showers. As soon as we walked into the bathroom the sky let loose. We had just missed the thunderstorm. Major score.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Springer Fever

Its been nearly five months since I have returned from my Appalachian Trail thru-hike, and as spring time draws near, every part of me yearns to return to the life I had once lived. Given that another thru-hike isn't feasible (at least not yet) a short-term trip will have to tame the inner urge. The solution? The Foothills Trail.

The Foothills Trail is located in western South Carolina, and stretches 76 miles from Table Rock State Park to Oconee State Park. I first heard of the Foothills Trail while hiking the AT. The trail reportedly takes you by or near several waterfalls, alongside historic and scenic waterways and over the highest point in South Carolina (Sassafras Mountain, 3400 ft.).

In preparation of the hike, I have re-vamped my hiking gear in an effort to lighten my load and make the trip easier on my knees. My goal; a base weight of 10-12 lbs. I'm not sure yet if I'm actually going to make my goal but I'm off to a good start. My first two major steps:
  • I have replaced my old Osprey Ariel 65 (4lbs. 15oz.) with an Osprey Talon 44 (2lbs. 5oz.).
  • I have replaced my Thermarest Prolite 3 (1 lbs. 4 oz.) with a Thermarest Z-Rest (10 oz).
As the start date grows near I will get my bag packed and re-evaluate my needs.

I'll be leaving March 7, with my favorite hiking companion, Grommet, to head down to Oconee State Park. The hardest portion of the trail is over Sassafras Mountain, located in Table Rock State Park, however the first 30 miles of the trail from Oconee State Park is relatively flat. Therefore, both Grommet and I have decided to start in Oconee State Park thereby carrying the heaviest load over the easy terrain and have our packs near base-weight when climbing over the hardest section of trail. The entire trail should take five days to complete, however, anyone whose read my AT journal knows nothing ever seems to go as planned. Time will tell.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Living a Dream

What is the Appalachian Trail?
The Appalachian Trail (AT) is a long-distance hiking trail that stretches 2,175 miles from Springer Mountain in Northern Georgia to Mt. Katahdhin in Central Maine. Some just hike pieces of the trail on a day or a weekend (day-hikers). Others go out for several weeks at a time completing different sections of the AT (section hikers) and others attempt to hike all 2,175 miles in a single calendar year (thru-hikers).

Why hike the Appalachian Trail?

Because I wanted to; because I needed to. The answer seems simple and ungratifying to most who asked me why I would want to thru-hike the AT. Others just thought I was crazy. A thru-hiker once stated that the desire to hike the AT is something that you can feel deep within yourself, but can not find the words to express. I could not agree more.

I first heard of the AT in my early teens. My younger cousin Ryan, talked about the trail and his dreams of hiking the trail one day. I remember thinking, "sounds neat, maybe I'd like to do that to."

Time went on and I had long forgotten about the AT until I was 15 years old and went on my first official backpacking trip in Joyce Kilmer Wilderness, North Carolina. I was in love, and the thought of one day through hiking the Appalachian Trail resurfaced. The dream continued to linger on in the background of my mind as I made my way through the mandatory and mundane process of high school and college. I would announce on occasion that I would one day like to hike the AT, but had no idea when or how to tackle the planning of undergoing such a huge expedition.

It wasn't until the summer of 2006 that my dream of attempting a thru-hike of the AT began to manifest into a possible reality. A close companion of mine, Cindi, had also had a life long dream of thru-hiking the AT. She had an opportunity to move in with family in an attempt to save money for a thru-hike in 2008 and asked if I was interested. The timing was perfect. I was scheduled to be done with graduate school in the fall of 2007, so leaving in the Spring of 2008 seemed feasible. My dream was in motion.

As 2008 neared both Cindi and I were in constant conversation of our plans to thru-hike. After awhile it became very clear that neither one of us would have the money to start in 2008. So, we both decided to postpone the hike until 2009.

From March 2, 2009 - September 19, 2009 I lived out my dream. How was it? Life changing. You can read about my journey at