After being off of the trail since last fall he's now back on the trail and ready to set off on adventure into the Maine wilderness. Recovered from the injuries and not getting any younger the decision was to go for one more section of the trail. No cell or calls on the first night....so watch for updates in the next day or so when he can get cell signal.
Archived from last year........
April 12, 2016...NOTE FROM LINDA...sorry to report that after 502 miles Dave's left knee gave out and on Monday he found that even with a knee brace, several alieve and a whole lot of heart that he could no longer continue. He tried to give it a break this past weekend, however after 4-5 miles on Monday he knew he wasn't able to continue so called for a shuttle and made plans for his return to Nettles Island. He's heading up to Harper's Ferry, WV this morning to catch a train into DC and then on Amtrak to West Palm later today. That will put him back to Nettles Island on Wednesday evening. His Welcome Home Party will be Thursday evening starting at 4:30 for anyone still down in Florida that wants to come by and give him a warm welcome home. He's pretty bummed right now so anyone that wants to send him a text or give him a call while he's sitting on the train please do so! 616-293-0600 He's a HERO in my eyes and I certainly look forward to his return!
April 9, 2016...Too much wind, snow and cold...this is getting to be a pattern! So remember when I was checking out the redbuds in bloom and thoughts of springtime? Woke up to snow coming down like crazy this morning and freezing my xxxx off. Last night the wind was howling and coming right into the shelter so I came up with an improvised wind screen by tipping over the picnic table. Later was joined by a boy scout group out hiking and they had those wonderful blue tarps to hang over the opening so that worked pretty well. They built up a warm campfire that we enjoyed, but all of that was forgotten this morning when climbing out of the sleeping bag. It was COLD!!! Snow was coming down heavy and trail was treacherous so when I crossed along the parkway I took to the road to hike for better footing and happy that I did. Short time later I was greeted by Mike in his van and he wondered if I wanted to join him at his hostel in town for the night. I didn't even take a second to make a decision on that one! Spending the afternoon getting caught up with laundry, drying out my socks(oh yes, got them rather wet the other day while looking for a spring for water, ...found it when I stepped on some leaves and sunk in...the other pair was still wet from hanging out to dry and having the rain soak them), keeping the woodstove going by adding the wood and watching the Masters. Taking my hero Mike, from the Terrapin Station Hostel out to dinner tonight. They are calling for more snow, temperatures down to 16 tonight and high winds so think this was a great decision. He's off picking up a gal that called from one of the earlier shelters I stayed in, apparently she was harassed by a bear last night trying to get to her food sack and join her in her tent...he's taking her to her car and she's headed home, another one won't be to the end. Happy to say I haven't seen or heard from the bears out on the trail and hoping to keep it that way!
"Things the trail has taught me in 34 days"
...here's a few thoughts that I've put to pen after being out on the trail for a little over a month. There are those that have asked whether I'll write a book...that's not likely, however I want to take some time now to just give you insight into my thoughts at this time.
First off, let me say this is the most physically and mentally demanding event I have ever taken on. In my life I have faced both physical and mental demands on a daily basis that truly have tested my resolve, but nothing for an extended period of time as this journey. It's amazing to me how the mind separates the physical pain of my body from the peace and tranquility of the moment. I ride along on this journey, traveling in a 72 year old body that by all reckoning should be enjoying another day of fishing on Lake Michigan or a remote lake in Canada.
At times I find myself in a "rhythm of the sticks" which is almost like an out-of-body experience. The pace, the stride, the forward motion all in a harmonious synchronization of form and motion. I feel it, hear it, see it from within and a seemingly distant view from afar comes to my mind. At other times each step requires all of my focus, energy and concentration for the pain is a constant reminder that we are just one step from ending the journey if we are not careful.
Once while in the zone of "the rhythm of the sticks" I felt myself cruising along at a 2.5 mph speed on a fairly flat trail when the left side of my brain saw a black hose on the ground before me. A split second later the right side of my brain screamed "SNAKE"! Well I can tell you friends if you are skilled at all in levitation, now would be a great time to demonstrate your skills. My left foot was still forward and suspended in mid-air about ready to step right onto that 3' long black snake. My right foot screamed stop as it immediately began a toe stand worthy of a ballet dancer. TOO LATE! The left foot came down on the back 8" of the snake and the dance was underway. The snake immediately turned toward me with his head coiled in an offensive striking position and motion. My left foot jumped in perfect coordination of the most beautiful Moscow Ballet maneuvers ever performed. My trekking poles immediately became my Star Wars lazer swords and swung into action. The snake started rolling over on his side with laughter as my body ricocheted off the trees in an effort to put a safe distance between us and the snake. Lesson here....the rhythm of the sticks can cause a ballet to break out if you're not careful!
In all seriousness, time on the trail is also time for your mind to be free of the trail. Eight to ten hours a day you are given the opportunity of uninterrupted moments, minutes and hours of reflections upon your life. Remembering family and friends who are no longer with us. Reflecting upon past adventures and life experiences that can be recalled from the depths of our gray matter hard drives. Thinking about our families and friends and our communities we live in and how important they are to our piece of the life puzzle. As God grants us precious time on this earth we should strive to understand his desire for our life. there is very little that stands between us and God when you are priviledged to stand before him on the top of the mountain This journey, although difficult and tough, I suspect, is going to be one of the most interesting self imposed trials I've ever laid upon myself. "Hike your own hike" they say; my hike is my journey but I carry along with me the love, hopes and spirit of many friends and family members. Love is most powerful! Thank you for the love...AT Wheeler
April 7, 2016...So it's been snow flurries and rain just to make things interesting. Woke up the other morning to frozen water bottle so guess I'm back to keeping it in my sleeping bag with me. I can think of a lot of other things I'd rather be sleeping with than a cold bottle. 2 nights ago we had 13 people in the hut, and of those the ones to mention were the group of 7 that were previous thru-hikers that had returned to join up with others for a reunion hike. They were well stocked on food and a substantial supply of Wild Turkey. I took advantage of picking up a few cooking tips from them and enjoyed the food, but found myself passing on the Wild Turkey. They didn't seem to mind that and managed to put down a fair amount themselves. Made things interesting later that night as the snoring picked up and I found myself thinking I was in the middle of a motorcycle race. Last night I was back to just having 2 gals and a much quieter night for sleeping until the rain cut loose on us and pounded the roof. A couple of CC's, but no FFD's to report (close calls vs falling face down) Tonight it looks like I get to use a Bear Box for the food and not have to hang it in a tree. Wonder if that means they are a regular around here. No one else has shown up yet as I complete this update so will kick back, get out of the wet clothes, and then think about cooking up another trail dinner....YMMMM.
April 5, 2016...Time to catch everyone up on the last few days. Beginning with a big hug and thanks to Steve and Cynthia as they earned their Trail Angel Wings this past weekend pampering me with love and care! ...along with some great food, beer, and more food! Otis and Gracie (the dogs) thought my scent was right up their alley and I'm thinking they were wondering what delightful spot in the woods I had been rolling around in. Gracie wasn't nearly as excited to see me after I showered and I'm thinking she thought that soap had ruined a great scent. Sunday morning I was back on the trail with some tasty trail cookies sent to me by favorite baker...my daughter. It was a chilly start and I kept on a few extra layers to stay warm even though I had loaded up the backpack with extra food and had that pack up to about 50 pounds. Spent the night in Calf Mountain Shelter and then on to Blackrock Hut on Monday. Monday was one of those long days of over 13.5 miles and plenty of going up and going down. It was somewhere along that trail that the feet decided to stop, but apparently forgot to communicate that to the top half of my body as I found myself suddenly in that feeling of knowing I was going down....yep, my second FFD (falling face down). The pack lurched up over my head and pinned my head down in what luckily was a path of pine needles and not rocks. The first thing I discovered was that my hands were still pinned underneath me and held there by the pole straps. With a bit of contortionism I managed to finally free the hands, roll to the side, and then get back upright and standing. Took a little longer to pull the pine needles from my beard and eyebrows. Gracie would have loved me then! Luckily the glasses were not on at the time and survived by being in my pocket. Got to the hut to sit down to an appetizer of Aleve and then dinner of Spanish Rice and Sausage, and dessert of cookies. Those Peeps that Linda sent have disappeared somewhere along the trail. Did I mention that I lost almost 24 pounds last month? OK, so I'll keep eating cookies and Peeps and enjoy every bite! Enjoyed the company of 3 hikers in the shelter Monday night so the trail is coming alive with hikers getting out to enjoy the beauty around me.
April 1, 2016....Some days you just want the opportunity to go back and start over...I fell down, broke an ankle, lost my glasses, and while dragging myself to a road crossing I was attacked by a bear. April Fools! But actually Wednesday was one of those days...got up early and got to see a wonderful sunrise at the mountain top and Linda even thinks I'm getting better at taking selfies. Plan was to hike into the town of Montebello, VA and that meant leaving Cow Camp Shelter and hiking 14 miles to "Spy Rock Road", and then 3 miles into town. Let me say that those 3 miles were nothing short of torture...it's round rocks, downhill, and killers to my feet and ankles. Once into town I discovered that the options for lodging were closed up and not available, food was just about as limited so found 4 pkgs of ramen noodles and a package of crackers and thought I would last until some good food from Cynthia and Steve Deupree on the weekend. Now I still needed to solve the dilemma of getting back to the trail and finding a spot for the night. One thing for sure ...I was not going back up that baton march to death that they called a road. It was the sweet gal, Kathy Monahan with her red ford pickup "Big Red" that came to my rescue. She became a trail angel that day as she agreed to drive me up to the Blue Ridge Parkway to pick up the trail. Once on the trail I walked to the shelter and arrived at 7pm as one hungry, tired puppy with feet barking, and ankles swollen and knees that no longer wanted to bend. What a surprise I was to the 2 gals already set up camp there that night! But I was once again treated by ANGELS, Sunshine Girl and Cherokee, as they cooked up dinner and fed me well! They even decided that they had too much food with them for their shorter hike so they passed along an entire bag of food! I'm eating well again! We were even joined that night by a group of boy scouts out on a training hike with their scout leader so 20 more joined in around the campfires and what I thought was going to be a miserable day turned into a great day and probably the best night on the trail! Thursday was back to the normal day of hiking and finding joys in all of the wilderness around me and spending the night with John and Drew at Paul Wolfe Shelter. (2 days and I covered 46 miles on the trail..that's too much) Today is my short hike to Rockfish Gap and await my rescue team of Steve and Cynthia as they pick me up and I take a day off the trail to enjoy friends from Michigan and relax! As I sit eating breakfast at the Cracker Barrel with my shelter partners from last night I've discovered that not only have my pants gotten too big for me, but there's no backside to them and I probably have embarrassed the waitress and those around me with that rip in the backside. That's what happens when you leave civilization for a month....who knows how long they've been in that condition. Maybe that's why the gal with Big Red offered me the ride and invited me to spend the night. (now that goes back to scenes from the movie...) Here's my parting thought for you to ponder today...."of all the paths you take in life, make sure at least a few of them are dirt"...Have a great day!
March 29th, 2016...that's one month on the trail, 31 days, 744 hours, 339 miles...but whose counting! Pulling into Cow Camp Shelter tonight after a stay at Punchbowl Shelter last night. Weather has been hot and sunny so perhaps we are in for that early summer and hot dry stuff they've been predicting. Saw smoke off in the valley and know that forest fires can be a bit of a problem so I'll add that to my thoughts of what will I do if surrounded by a forest fire on top of this mountain. Didn't read about that in "A Walk in the Woods". I know that something is making my pants stretch out and they seem to be getting bigger and bigger. May have to break down this weekend and find some that will stay on a little better than these. Had a real first on the trail yesterday! I actually passed another hiker that was going slower than me!!!! What a shock to actually go around someone on the trail and leave them in the dust. They did catch up later at the shelter so enjoyed the evening with chatter. Met one SOBO (south bounder) the other night and I think he gave me directions to 154 hamburger places between our shelter and Mt. Katahdin. He likes his cokes I discovered as he puts one in the stream to chill down and then has one for breakfast. A diet of cokes and hamburgers seems to fit him well. Last bit of news for today is a bit of Civil War history for you. Stopped for lunch at Brown Mountain Shelter in the creek valley and read about the community of freed slaves that built their settlement here in 1918. Apparently a former slave was able to purchase the land and then share-cropped with other freed slaves as a means to provide a new start for these men and women. You can actually wander around and see rock foundations from the original cabins and think back to how life must have been in 1918...hmmmm wonder what they had for lunch compared to my lunch? After a 5 mile uphill climb after lunch I'd forgot whatever it was that I had supposedly eaten that was going to give me the energy to make that climb. Thank goodness tomorrow doesn't have one of those climbs!
March 26, 2016...Saturday. Landed at Thunder Hill Shelter and have officially completed 300 MILES!!!! Where is the bottle of Yuengling Beer to celebrate?...for that matter, where is anybody???...it's been quiet and no hikers to share huts for the last 3 nights. I'm guessing those of you reading this are probably starting to get bored, after all I haven't been chased by a bear, haven't been mugged and beaten by some maniac hiding out in the mountains and haven't fallen and broken both legs, 5 ribs and 2 arms. Instead I've hiked 300 miles, gone up over 40 mountain summits, camped in 24 shelters, cooked up 26 breakfasts of oatmeal, and gotten really good at fixing up dinner meals in a pot by throwing together dried tomatoes, knorr dried meals, and beef sausage or jerky. Now doesn't that sound like an exciting adventure? Hiked up over Apple Orchard Mountain and through the Guillotine today and left behind one of the best shelters of the trail, Bryant Ridge Shelter. Built from timbers it probably could sleep about 20 people, too bad it was only me, but I made the best of it! Spring is definitely here with all of the trees and shrubs coming into bloom and green is replacing the brown shades across the landscape. Photo ops abound these days...except for the rain. Hiked 2 1/2 hours in the rain yesterday, but it stopped by lunch and cleared for the afternoon hike. Breaking in the new shoes and the blister count seems to have stabilized and hopefully keeping them from getting any worse.
March 23, 2016...Wednesday. Started my day with the most unbelievable breakfast with the meat lovers omelette and got the clean plate award on that one! Pack is loaded with a fresh start of food from the friendly folks in Daleville...and I even pulled off getting a ride back to the hotel from the grocery store. Of course the husband had turned me down, but when the wife came out she offered and ignored the grumblings of the husband. Linda always said that I could charm the ladies! The first pair of hiking boots are going out on UPS today to Florida ..duct tape and all and I'm trying out a newly acquired pair from the outfitter here in town. After loading up with Fig Newtons, peanut butter and jelly, and beef sausages that pack on my pack seems heavy again! Fullhardt Knob Shelter here we come ready or not!...Warm, dry and safe.
March 22, 2016 ...Tuesday. From hail and sleet we've moved back to springtime and things are greening up, the redbuds are popping and I even found crabapple trees in full bloom! What a change from Saturday and the unbelievable hike over Dragon's Tooth to Monday's hike up to McAfee Knob. I can now say I've completed Virginia's Triple Crown having climbed over Dragon's Tooth, on to McAfee Knob and then finishing with Tinker Cliffs. Had great photo ops on McAfee Knob and happy to say that another AT hiker arrived in perfect time to take the pictures. (if you ever watch the movie "A Walk in the Woods", you'll know what I mean when I call her Mary Ellen)...but all part of the fun experiencing the folks along the trail. The numbers are certainly increasing and no longer do I go days singing to myself or talking to the trees, rather now it's saying to myself "wow, that guy is really strange, or gee I've got granddaughters older than you". Made my way into the town of Daleville, VA today and walked into the Motel 6 and asked for the rate for the AARP, Senior citizen AT hiker, tired and dirty, best rate they could offer and I guess they took one look at me and gave me a super deal. Once I took a look at myself in the mirror in my bathroom I decided it was time to at least trim up the mustache before looking for food and supplies. Got laundry done and found when I unrolled the sleeping pad and ground cover that I was carrying the largest big old spider you can ever imagine....guess that was God reminding me of the little episode I pulled off this morning in Lamberts Meadow Shelter. Seems we had a crazy guy that was out sleeping in his tent(he'd fried his brain on meth and was out to clear his head), and then had 2 gals formerly serving in the army, not hiking together, but both landing in the shelter the same night with me. This morning as we are all still in our sleeping bags and starting to wake up I merely made the comment of "wow, look at the size of that spider"....before I knew it the 2 gals were standing as though they were saluting a 4 star general while still in their bags. I got my chuckle and they will probably remember AT Wheeler to tell their grandkids someday. Speaking of grandkids it was truly special to get the call from one of my granddaughters, Julia, today and spend time sharing with her and listening to her talk about anything at all. Those calls keep me going and I find myself repeating the conversation along the trail in the days ahead. ...and happy to catch up on those emails and notes that have come in from those of you following!
March 20, 2016...Sunday. As the old postman used to say...through rain and snow, hail, sleet and ice...AT Wheeler must go on! Must say that I had them all in just the last 3 days and feel like I also competed in the AT version of the Olympics climbing over Dragon's Tooth. In my case I thought I was in the Senior Olympics and competing with the Special Olympic team. This involved climbing via metal handlebars mounted on the side of the rock and hoping you could reach the next one without sliding back down and starting over. Those white blazes they generally have painted on the side of a tree to mark the trail were simply white lines on a rock face pointing up! I counted 38 times when I stopped and looked at one of those crazy lines and said "NO WAY!"...but sure enough that was how you got up along rocks, crevices, and the occasional steel handhold. So after that update, let me also give you an update on the rest of those past few days when they leave you out in the wilderness with no cell coverage and St. Pat's day came and went and much to my disappointment not a single one of my horseshoe buddies was there to bring me a cold green beer! Boy, I really was looking for any cold beer on that day!..That was the last of the warm weather, then the bottom fell out and we went back to that crazy cold. Saturday (March 19th), I got up early to a cold frosty morning and took off by 7:30 to generate some heat to warm up. Kept walking and didn't take a break because I didn't want to get chilled and as a result got into the next shelter by 1:30 and immediately started shaking from the cold. Whipped up a couple Lipton Soups to warm up and after that didn't work I resorted to crawling into the sleeping bag. Hour later and still shaking it was time to heat up some of that tasty Knorr dinner in a bag and finally warmed up. Back to the sleeping bag for hiker midnight (1/2 hour after sunset) and woke up to hazy, sleet, and ice over all the trees. Looked beautiful!
March 16, 2016...Still Wednesday, but got a chance to take a break after another one of those uphill battles. Decided I needed to change shirts to dry out a bit and give the feet a chance to dry out as well. No it's not from rain that has me soaked...it's hot out here today and my thermometer says it's 72 degrees! Met up with a couple of guys headed the opposite direction ..south bounders, who made sure to tell me about the bear that harassed them last night...seems the old boy was hungry after a long winter spell. Kept a close watch for him as I walked past that point along the trail and glad I didn't still have that bacon scented air freshener that Ruth and Max thought I might need to keep me moving. I kept moving all by myself! Singing Happy Trails to You with my own rendition ...Appalachian Trails to you, the ankles never mend, Appalachian Trails, keep it up and your knees will never bend....I think I'm on to another famous Wheeler poem before the day is over. Eating tasty winterberries that are showing up along the trail. Speaking of trail, not sure how they call this jumble of rocks a trail with no flat spot and nothing but piles of rocks to constantly call out to you " fall here and you'll break something". Last three miles today will all be on a steep downhill into War Spur Shelter and it will mean that I've gotten to 196 miles and will pass the 200 mile point on Thursday! Whoopee! Of course 3 miles steep downhill means I start out tomorrow with 3 miles of steep uphill, but I don't look ahead to tomorrow, instead enjoy today. Happy Trails to you...
March 16, 2016...Wednesday, Had a great thunderstorm and lightning show while sitting in Rice Field Shelter on Monday night and what a show it was! Just was happy to be sitting under a shelter with a couple of day hikers and cooking up my ramen noodle dinner. One of the other hikers had collected up some old nuts along the trail and was planning to roast them up to eat tonight like a regular Euell Gibbons, although he was probably too young to even know who he was. I think I'll pass on the nuts and stay with my ramen. Tuesday I made the hike to Pine Swamp Branch Shelter and that puts me at 183 miles completed!!!! Cell signal week so will update further when I can get a stronger connection. Thanks to all for the followings and it's good to know you're all thinking about me along the way.
March 14, 2016...Starting week 3 and can say that the experiences over the past days have been memorable and a walk on the wild side. As expected I got into Woodshole Hostel on Saturday by 10:30am after the extra "stroll" on Friday. That provided time to soak the feet and share stories with the couple running the hostel...and what stories they had. She did her once a day meditation and we listened to music that can't say I've ever heard before (not my country tunes!) Everyone pitches in for cooking, clean-up and general stuff around the cabin and being the only hiker staying at that time made chores fairly easy. From there I headed out Sunday morning and did the usual hike up the mountain where it proceeded to start raining. Initially it felt nice so didn't bother with rain gear, however later in the day it started to cool off so decided it best to get out rain jacket and cover the pack. Passed some spectacular lookout points but not able to capture too many pictures due to the rain and hazy conditions. After hiking for a fairly lengthy time on the uphill side I hit the downhill descent into Narrows and things got interesting! 3 miles of steep downhill on what some crazy person refers to as a trail...rocks and drop-offs all slippery and wet. Can't tell you how many times I would stop and look down and say right out loud..."Gee Wheeler, how are you going to get down that?"...or "Wheeler, whatever you do, don't fall and break a leg because you won't see another soul for days and it won't be any fun" At one point I found myself sliding over the edge of the mountain and quickly grabbed at whatever I could grab and thankfully stayed on top and didn't go over the edge. Finally made it down to the bottom and into town and being covered in mud, wet and tired I called up the folks at MacArthur Inn for a rescue pick-up and happy to say they were there in 3 min. and I ordered a big pizza for dinner! Drying things out and doing laundry, stocking up on a weeks worth of food and readying myself for the next week of climbing mountains. Chatted with Linda before heading to sleep, only to learn that this hotel is famous for being haunted so guess I'll have visitors tonight!
March 11, 2016. "Where am I???"....that was my thought after hiking the trail for hours after being dropped along the trail by the friendly folks from Trent's Groceries. Sweat was literally dripping off me from the big climb and the day was coming to a close so I simply chose a flat area amongst rhododendrons the size of large trees. So here's the rest of the story... Left Jenny Knob this morning, hiked into Trent's and enjoyed a nice cold Gatoraide that I'd been craving the last couple of days. Drank one right in the store and picked up another one to take with me. Sat enjoying the rest when the store owner's son offered to take me back up the mountain to an old logging road that would intersect the trail beyond one of the mountains and save me one climb...hmmm sounded like a great idea. He dropped me off and I headed down the dirt road looking to pick up the trail...and yes, found the trail and headed off in search of Wapiti Shelter that was supposed to be only a short way up the trail and set up for the night. Two hours later and after another major climb it was apparent that I wasn't going to find the shelter and had better make other plans. Called Linda to give her the update and say that I was along the trail, but had no clue where I was....thanks to unbelievable technology she simply pulled up her app Life360 and said "I know exactly where you are and can see where you are on the trail" she then sent me a text with map location and mystery is solved. Not only did she locate me along the AT trail, she could see how much battery life was left on my phone. Now that is amazing! Never did find Wapiti Shelter, but I'm about 3 miles past it now and on to Woodshole Hostel tomorrow.
March 10, 2016, 122.6 miles along the trail and signs of spring continue to pop up around me. Made it to Helveys Mill Shelter last night which meant stretching my normal pace to an additional 5 miles making it a 15.5 mile day. Lesson learned...too much, too soon and paying the price with the addition of blisters on my feet. Will be doctoring up the toes and planning to give the feet a break tomorrow. Only came across one person on this day...a local fellow coming out to train his young hound to respond to his calls to come. Chatted hunting with dogs for awhile and enjoyed the company of his stories, and after heading along the trail I chuckled as the sounds echoing through the mountains for the next 45 mins was his voice calling out for the dog that obviously wasn't interested in coming back and thought to myself that his training wasn't going so well on that day. Left out of Helvey Mill Shelter this morning to sunshine and haze on the mountains. On to Jenny Knob Shelter with only 10 miles to cover today. Walking along in short sleeves and enjoying the warm weather..what a difference a week makes! Thankfully the trail was just the usual climbs and downhill and the feet kept along on it's regular pace and kept talking to me over and over just saying to me "so what ever happened to us just driving the car"...Arrived to find the wonderful shelter and the spring flowing so able to filter and build up my water reserves. Dinner tonight was a tasty meal of Spicy Thai Tuna with dried tomatoes and couscous....thanks Max for that wonderful treat of home dried tomatoes!
March 8, 2016, Hard to believe, but I've covered over 100 miles and who knows how many steps, but given I've got plenty of time to think I'll probably have that calculated out before the day is over. They say you take this trail to enjoy the wonderful views but I find myself today looking the entire time at my feet and carefully picking out a spot to put the next step. I thought last night as I looked at the map that today was simply going to be little ups and downs and no real climbs...What I've learned is all of those little bumps are rock boulders to climb over...no path, just rocks. SLOW going today! Made it up to Chestnut Knob Shelter last night and had it to myself as the young pups continued on their merry way to get in another 20 miles. Beautiful views on top and stayed in an old stone hut built for the original watch tower attendant that was up here looking out for forest fires.
March 6, 2016, It's Sunday and I've been officially on the trail for a WEEK!..and what a week that has been! Spent last 2 nights in 2 different towns, Marion on the 4th and last night in an even smaller town of Atkins. Had planned to stop at the Chatfield Shelter but it was on the downhill side of the mountain and I had so much steam and speed built up that I just kept rolling right into town. Of course found it interesting that I had to make a stop out in the wilderness to allow a train to pass and then hopped the tracks and continued on my way. Felt a little bit like a hobo, and when I looked down at myself I'm sure anyone on the train looking at me would have assumed the same. Good news is that I've had burgers 2 nights in a row and a bed...although the one last night seemed to have a significant dip in the middle making it seem like I was sleeping in a bowl. The folks at the Red Barn have fed us well! Keeping up with Indiana Jones and Yoda, the 2 from VT although I haven't seen the guitar pulled out yet so he must be saving it for warmer weather. Speaking of which the snow is melting, the trail is muddy, the Skunk Cabbage is popping up, and I've seen signs of green and warmer weather is predicted for this week! Yippee, the nutella has thawed out and so have I!
March 4, 2016...Made it through all the cold and into the small town of Marion, VA...Spending the night at the Travel Inn, in what they call a hiker friendly spot. Having the chance to turn on a heater and have warm air blowing into the room and a bed to sleep in seems like pure luxury! For all of those that have been wondering how the first week is going I can say I've found ways to stay warm, the candy bars from Kathy K were a life saver, the Nutella hasn't been touched because it's been frozen solid all week and I've survived my first FFD (that's AT lingo for Fall Face Down). Yep, did the old face plant just when I was thinking to myself that I've navigated all these mountains of rocks and ice and snow, only to trip on a stick and have a 35 pound backpack smashing me to the ground. Seems my knee found the only rock on that portion of the trail so it's now bruised and swollen, but hiked today without pain so all is well. Update to past stop included getting to the Trimpi Shelter by 2:30 on March 3 and was joined by 2 additional thru-hikers that were up from Springer Mtn, having started back in January. Interesting to note that one of these fellows was carrying a full fledged camera and all of the HEAVY lenses to be assured of getting some great shots, and get this...he's also got along his guitar! So carrying 60 pounds must not be a problem when you're college age 20's. Weather is looking up for next week so here's hoping for sunshine and temperatures about 30! Til the next update, thanks again to all for prayers and encouragement..it keeps me going.
Day 5, March 3,2016....no contact. Weather reports show temperatures still down in the low 20's and wind and snow in the mountains.
Day 4...Phone re-charged and able to make a phone call to check-in. Made it to Hurricane Shelter...11 miles under my belt today thru wind and white out conditions with times where one could only see about 30 yds ahead and challenge to follow the trail. The thrill the last 2 days has been the visits by the wild ponies and seeing the legendary "Fabio" Pony. Actually had 2 hikers drop in on the shelter last night. J-Walker (from Kentucky) and G Bear(from Ireland) my first visitors along the trail, and they actually started back in January from Springer Mtn. They are averaging 20-30 miles a day so probably the last I'll see from them. Keeping water to drink and not frozen has been a challenge. Temperatures last night were below 20 and at 4:00pm today it's only 19. That means sleeping with my water in the sleeping bag, and additionally, hiking with it inside my coat. Wore the rain jacket over the down coat to keep things dry and keep out some of the wind...had to get creative and wear my headlamp to keep the jacket hood on my head in this crazy wind. Found a rope at the last shelter so I'm a happy hiker with a rope again. Tried to hang up a few items items of clothes to dry only to have the wind blow them away and I had to go find one of my socks. It of course was frozen so solid there was no way to put it on. The underwear fell into a puddle, I wrung those out and attempted to dry and found myself putting on really cold underwear this morning. Sorry for no pictures of the past 2 days as the phone not great in this cold and signals weak...hopefully more pictures to follow.
Day 3...Got out one update...made it into Wise Shelter at 3:30pm. Weather to be the biggest factor with 55mph winds predicted, temps down in the 20's and snow moving in. "Batten down the hatches" ...33 miles down the trail.
Day 2...Found cell signal enough to get out a few pictures and provide an update. Made it as far as Lost Mtn. Shelter on Day 1 (16 miles)...longer than planned for the first day but good news is other than the delightful leg cramps in the middle of the night I don't feel too bad. No sighting of any folks along this stretch of the trail yet so keep talking to myself. Got onto the trail at 8:30 this morning and the temperature was a brisk 36 degrees. Planned to make it to Thomas Knob Shelter for tonight, but after 8 hours and 8 miles I changed plans and set up camp at Elk Garden. Got up over the top of White Mtn. and the trail is treacherous with ice still covering stretches of the trail. Flexibility in where I stop will probably be the key to making it to the end. Only casualty was losing my ROPE..(to hang the food bag). A man without his rope ...hmm...will be looking to replace that at the next opportunity. Certainly not walking back to find it! Dry, safe and trying to stay warm.
end of day 1...no word..he's in the hollows.
Day 1...YES!!!! Can't believe all those hours pouring over books, blogs, and trail guides is coming to an end and the start of the Journey is beginning. I give Linda that last hug til we meet up again on the trail and turn to start north on the trail. Will update as the cell signals allow....and Linda will keep you all updated. February 28th, Damascus, VA...9:00am sunny blue skies, and 48 degrees. Warm, Safe and Dry....
T-minus one...We've arrived to Damascus and spent the day wandering the outfitters and picking up a few more items to keep me warm. Gee, there's still snow on the ground up in the mountains and the night temp's are down in the 20's so decided to err on the safe side of staying warm. Joined by long-time friends, Bruce and Judy and enjoyed hanging with them and going to a great restaurant up in Abingdon, VA..The Tavern. Wonderful town, and wonderful people. I was the first to sign-in on their trail journal at one of the outfitters and only about 10th on the other so there are certainly not many out in front of me at this time.
T-minus three...HMMM...as my dad would say "BUTCH" is ready to go. Nothing more to say other than the fact that the barber said I wouldn't need a hair cut for at least 3 months.
T-minus four....Now that we are past the "Bacon Scented" air fresheners episode.... I've learned that it is really not in my best interest to display this on my pack. The smell of bacon frying could attract unwelcomed guests. I really don't have enough food with me to feed a bunch of hungry mountain men, so no sense teasing them. Linda and I are heading out on Friday to deliver my trail shoes (with me in them) to Damascus, Va. We will hang out together Saturday checking out the local flavor before I hit the trail Sunday morning. When we "good-by" I will head north with the intention of hiking to Mt. Katadin, Me., a mere 1718 miles away. I am excited about the journey obviously, but also excited that so many friends want to follow me through the magic of the internet. I will try to find enough energy to "report in" daily so Linda can update this blog, thus keeping all who are interested also informed. "I've planned for the worst and now hope for the best!" See you down the trail.
T-minus 12...Done with the pack/repack thing. The trail will determine the next set of necessary adjustments needed. I sense a great deal of excitement (or perhaps uneasiness) from our circle of friends regarding the up coming launch date. One of my friends has gifted me with a pair of "BACON SCENTED" air fresheners to hang on my pack. Claims it will give me magical powers that will "get me to getting" down the trail. Received an e-mail from a friend in Michigan who is totally envious of my planned adventure. To quote him, "Where the hell did this idea come from?" I can tell he is thinking what a great idea! Anyway, as with many of us old guys, we continue to move forward with delusions of awesomeness. Time stands still for no one, however a "moment in time" can last a lifetime. See you down the trail!
T-minus 18...Continuing to pack, unpack, repack, unpack, repack....food is included and the pack weight is around 35 pounds so decisions on what to include or not include. Trail names are a tradition and after trial runs on several names I think I've landed on AT Wheeler. (say that fast 5 times)
T-minus 25....It's been snowing along the trail and not a good time to get started, but my pack is ready, the trail food bought and now it's just wait for the end of February to head north and get started. Somehow I'm guessing that these hikes that I'm doing on smooth sidewalks and 75 degrees will not be the same once I hit the trail!
It's now February and the groundhog didn't see his shadow...that means that spring is coming early and I'm ready to begin this adventure!
I can just hear those feet screaming..."NO NOT THOSE BOOTS AGAIN"
Here's where I'm starting...
I'll be singing "on the trail again, just can't wait to get on the trail again"....
It's time to throw that pack on my back and head up the trail...