Brawny's Appalachian Trail Journal

On March 12th, 2002, I began my northbound Appalachian Trail thru hike on Springer Mountain, in Georgia. On August 14th of that same summer, I reached Mt.Katahdin, in Baxter State Park, Maine.

It was an unforgetable journey, meeting many new friends, encountering rattlesnakes, bears, wild animals and tame deer. There was pain, and suffering, incredible joy in the freedom of the trail, and introspection that comes with much time alone. You can read the entire account in the book My Journey to Freedom and Ultralight Backpacking.

TrailQuest / My Homepage
Springer, GA to Damascus
Damascus to Waynesboro
Waynesboro to Harper's Ferry
Harper's Ferry, WV - Duncannon, PA
Duncannon,PA to Kent,CT
Kent, Conn. to Mass. 2
Mass.2 to Maine Border
Stepping Into Maine

If I knew then what I know now, I dont know if I would play. -- from My Story, by Michael Jordon

Michael also said "I can't accept not trying." That's what this is all about. There are no guarentees. But when a person puts all their energy and soul into their goal, anything is possible.

Gear List and Itinerary

Springer, GA to Damascus

March 12-
It started raining last night, but still I felt it was time to begin. Rainmaker drove me up to the Springer trailhead, via Forest Service Road 42. This is a 15-mile gravel road, and it saved me the 7-mile approach trail. He hiked with me up through the mud, and mist to the plaque, and took photos. Reality began setting in. We hiked back to the parking lot. "I'll see you Saturday night, I'll call you from Neels Gap," I told my life partner. Rainmaker took a last photo, as I set off into the woods. I couldn't look back.

My goal was Hawk Mountain shelter, 7.6 miles away. In the rain, there was no sense stopping, just kept a steady pace. My sandaled feet were muddy and wet, sliding at times, gripping the trail with my hiking poles. Yet, they were warm and happy. Last fall's injury on the PCT was nearly forgotten.

Reached the shelter by 5:30, which was packed. Large colorful tents filled the area. I found a small spot and set up my Tacoma tent.

March 13-
On trail by 7 a.m. after packing up in a light drizzle. I slept warm, even with the constant rain and considerable condensation. The price is paid for a single wall ultra light silnylon tent. One can’t always stay dry, but they can still be warm. A camp towel wipes up the moisture.

Ate lunch at the new Gooch Gap shelter. I hiked in, and thought at first I was seeing some fancy weather station cables, and satellite dishes. Strange, out here at this place. Met two young men, on spring break. Enjoyed conversing with them. On the way out, I realized....Bear Cables! Not weather station apparatus!

My left knee had begun hurting this morning, and progressively worsened. It felt good on the uphill so I took advantage of that to make time. Passed Woody Gap, the chance to get out at the little town of Suches. By evening however body negotiations were in progress. "If you will just get us to a campsite, I will give you a massage...The only way to get out of this mess is to Hike. Com’on, we are a Team! Lets work together." As I neared the gap before Woods Hole, voices were heard. Two guys and a woman were enjoying the clearing skies, and setting up their tents. "Plenty of room!" Spitz called, and I was home for the night. About 15.5 miles. Enjoyed the evening chatting with my new friends Stray Cat, Spitz and Matt.

March 14-
On trail by 6:40, determined to call home by noon. 8 miles to Neels Gap. Immediately my left knee began to hurt. Now the uphills hurt as well. The sun rose as I climbed up to Slaughter Gap. A gorgeous morning, the kind that pays back a thousand times the previous days miseries.

Some how, no matter how slow I went, or how much care I took, nothing but keeping my left knee absolutely straight would stop the excruciating pain. It became agonizing climbing Blood Mountain. I knew I must change something. I could not go on like this. A new concern held my attention. Would I even be able to hike down? If I could at least get to Neels Gap, it would give me a chance to go home, get healed, and resume the hike. Arrived about 11:45. Talked to Rain on the phone, and we are pretty sure these sandals are not working for me. I will take a week to 10 days off to repair this ligament, get new trail runners. The season is early, and there is time. Again, the trail gods ask me “How much do you really want this?” And I answer them, “I know this is my time, and my season”.

Found and kept: fleece gloves, plastic garbage bag (new but wet) 3 pennies, a short cinch strap with buckle.

Found but left: home knit cap, unopened can of Corned Beef hash, two bottles of water, gripping gloves, some plastic clueless thing with retractable rope.

Wednesday, March 27-
Rainmaker dropped me off at Neels Gap around 10:30. I was very uncertain as to how my knees would respond to the trail. Hiking slow and deliberately, a few people passed me. My intention was to camp just north of Hog Pen Gap. Arriving there just after 4p.m. and feeling fine, I hiked on. The sun began to set, the moon rose on my right as I walked a crest. The wind turned cold and I decided to forego night hiking and camped. Very windy, but slept well. 10 miles. Respectable.

March 28-
Early rising became a habit soloing last year. Seems I am right back at it. Packed up and on trail by 7 a.m. Arrived at Low Gap amongst a virtual city of tents, dogs, weekenders and thru hikers. Picked up water there, headed out. Yesterday at Neels I met AT Rookie and Part Time. They are a neat couple who swapped a gear show-and-tell with me as they did laundry there. Anyways, they waved as I passed this morning. Fast hikers, they passed me meandering along, saying “See you at Tray”.

Originally planned to do these 36 miles in 4 days, taking the time to let my knees readjust. But, feeling strong, and meeting up with Robin, Alan, and Lambkins, that very fine hiking mode set in. Miles flew by as we chatted about transcontinental biking, gear weights, and designs. Lunched at Blue Mountain Shelter, and pressed on.

As I rounded Rocky Mountain, groups of fire fighters, clad in helmets and bright yellow jackets were sitting on logs. One man stood talking on his cell phone "Yeah, I‘m on some mountain in Georgia”. A group of six stopped me as I hiked past alone. “Where you heading?” one asked. “To Maine,” I replied. Mouths fell open. “Hunh? Can I take your picture?” I enjoyed a conversation with them, telling them, much to their surprise, that they were sitting on the Appalachian Trail. “Yeah, I heard about that on Dateline,” one nodded to his friend seated next to him.

Gauging progress, I headed onward. Tray Mountain is a spectacular site. Several roads lead near it, accessible by truck. The wind blows nonstop there, rising up over the cliff. I pulled in to shouts of recognition."Brawny! You made it” So wonderful to hear your name called by new friends. I set up the tent, changed, got water, cooked, and went for a chat in the shelter. Darkness put us to bed, as a sweet full moon rose. A solid 15.5 miles today. Not too shabby.

March 29-
On trail before sunrise, trekking for Dicks Creek Gap. One whole day ahead of schedule, AT Rookie promised to call Rain and ask him to pick me up there for resupplies and a couple days off. The day proved warm, and shedding clothes trailside takes finesse. Find a sheltered spot…well, as good as possible. Look both ways. Look some more as one sheds socks, shoes etc. Oopsey, here comes two men in total camo. A big, long gun. “You men out on maneuvers? “ I ask. He whispers some response. “Pardon me?” I reply. Another whispered answer. “Excuse me?” I still don’t catch it. “We are turkey hunting!” he says aloud. The man and his son walk past. “Ya hear any gobbling?” “No Sir,” I respectfully reply. Whew…finish swapping out clothes and back on trail.

Lunched at Deep Gap. I will pull into Dicks Creek by 2:30. This gives me time to chat with other hikers as they pass by, go to hitch into Hiawassee, and meet an older gentleman who hands me his card. He is a trail angel. Definitely. Stays to chat while I worry aloud that Rain didn’t get the message and I will have to spend the night there. But he offers the consolation he will help me whatever way he can. All worrying fades as Rain drives up. Having hiked the AT in 1992, he knows all about thru hikers. Two cold sodas await. Pizza Hut and AYCE salad bar in Clayton. Hiked 11 miles today.

March 30-31–
Spent washing clothes, making minor modifications to gear, resupplying.

April 1-
Dicks Creek Gap to Bly Gap is Rainmaker’s Trail District for the GATC. I maintain the last section, beginning .7 mile before Bly. Having hiked this section so many times, it brought a sense of nostalgia, belonging, and familiarity. I knew where the water was, and how far till Bly. I silently named off each section maintainer while walking through their section. Every loose rock and twig on the trail was a personal affront, and so removed them. Reached Bly by 3 p.m. so decided to go for Muskrat Creek Shelter.

No one had prepared me for the serious climb out of there. Blood Mountain is no comparison. Up, with a vengeance. But, so lovely once there, and the effort repaid. Met Badger, a fellow thru hiking from Virgina. He is renown for having the heaviest pack at Neels Gap. Weighing in at 87 pounds, and reportedly giving stuff away on the approach trail, he hauled a reputed 100 pounds from home. He sent over 40 pounds home from Neels, he told me.

Arriving at the shelter, and picking up water, we elected to hike a bit further. The shelter was full of guys, in camo, and no flat ground remained. 11. 6 miles. Feeling strong, ready.

April 2-
On trail by 6: 30 and witnessed a lovely sunrise. Hiked through forests of rhododendron and then open sections of the horseshoe that is Standing Indian. Went up to the Standing Indian Shelter, to sign in, read the register, and get a privacy break. There I met Chilly Willy, vacationing from Florida. She is a member of the Women's Hiking List. We traded pleasantries, caught up on list news, and enjoyed some girl time. It’s rare to see a woman right now. It’s a different kind of chat, and precious.

Many groups of south bounding youth groups passed this afternoon. I stand to one side as they pass, and feel the scrutiny, and a bit of wonder from the teenagers. They use external frame packs, usually appearing very heavy. I am all in black, and have many times been mistaken for a bear, or not seen at all.

Hiked to Carter Gap Shelter, where the old shelter stands on the left side of the trail(and the water is there, to the right of that old shelter). Then a bit farther up is the new, much larger one. A deck has been built beneath it to harbor hikers in need. Many hikers were there, all men, everyone a gentleman, and friendly. I am the only ultralighter here, and my homemade gear receives a lot of attention. My pack is passed around for a test lift, and exclamations of various sorts follow. They go to look at my Tacoma Tent. Hiked 12 miles until 4 p.m, We have plenty of time to relax and enjoy the evening. I stretch, and the soreness in my knees seems to dissipate. We watch each other cook on the table, and trade stories. This comradeship is marvelous.

April 3-
Rain and I had set a date for tonight, at 4 p.m. at Rock Gap, so of course I rise with first light and am on trail by 6:20. The trail is beautiful, smooth, and well graded. Feeling terrific, my pace begins to return. The synchronized motion of polling and stepping is invigorating. How I love it! Reached Albert Mountain within 3 hours. A two mph pace. Sweet. There I have promised myself a Type 4 Break.

Breaks may be classified as:
Type 1= a pee break (may or may not remove pack)
Type 2= pee break, drink water, and eat a snack (may or may not remove pack)
Type 3= remove pack, sit down, remove shoes, eat, drink, and pee (about 15-20 minutes)
Type 4= all of type 3, over the course of an hour, many take this time to air dry tents, sleeping bags, and socks.
Type 5=involves sleep, and all of the above

As I hike alone, and near Albert’s Mountain, the bladder begins demanding a Type 1.

The knees chime in “Excuse me, we could use a 3, at the Very Least!”

"Hello? Who do you think have pounded the dirt for 3 hours straight? We demand a Type 4!” the feet have made themselves heard.

“Ok, ok, everyone shut up, and when we hit that mountaintop, there’s a privy and Serious Type 4 coming! Work with me on this!!” I guess that came from the brain, which many times knows nothing at all.
If you ever see a soloist break out laughing, that’s probably what went on. Totally uncivilized, and reverting back to Trail animal. It’s not civilized to allow body parts to negotiate privately, and I will have no part of it. Talk to me, now.

Arrived at Rock Gap by 1:30 p.m. Snacked, and had show- and- tell with the youth group there waiting for their shuttle to be completed and start their hike. The homemade pack is a dead give away, and I take great pleasure in mouths gaping when demonstrating the mittens sewn on the rain jacket, and the “tool kit” that has two photons, a razor knife, can opener, and watch, weighing just 40 grams, or about an ounce and a half. I pull out the cook set that nests so neatly in my pot. They marvel and pass around the soda can stove, remarking “how tight” this is. The new jargon. How Tight. Yeah.
Hiked an easy 12 miles.

April 5-
Yesterday was a very restful zero day at home. Arrived at Rock Gap parking lot by 9 a.m. and hiked until evening. It began to get quite chilly, and so with the couple I met descending from Wayah Bald pressed on until we found a little sheltered cove. 15 miles.

Almost everyone I meet is having some knee problems, wearing a brace, or taking the down hills slow. Several have bought hiking poles, and are learning the ways they can benefit.

I want to give special thanks to Rainmaker, who helped me rehabilitate my knees after the injury at the beginning of my thru hike. He taught me so many knee saving strategies for hiking, as well as exercises and proper body mechanics. He played a major roll in saving my hike this year. (To see a page showing his hiking mechanics click here ) .

April 6-
Left the tent door open much of the night to help reduce condensation, but after midnight it became so bitterly cold I closed it. At daybreak, made coffee, ate a cold breakfast of granola and packed up. Shaking the frost out of my tent, and hiked off into a beautiful sunrise. The wind blew icy cold gusts through the gaps and ridges, so I kept on nearly all my clothes, including the silnyon rain suit. It has proved to be a lifesaver so many times.

Met Go Back, and some day hikers later that day. With a Wesser Burger and call home as incentive, I kept hiking, with few breaks. Got into NOC before 4. It was opening season weekend, and the place was alive with kayakers, fancy trucks, hikers and tourists. On top the switchbacks looking down, the same feelings encountered on the PCT returned; overwhelming stimuli and apprehension. On the edge of “town” I found a phone, called home, and crossed the bridge. “Brawny!!” a woman sitting behind the Backpacker Magazine information table called my name. I looked, startled. It was Amy, and her husband Brent, who were on a countrywide tour for Backpacker's “Get Out More” Campaign. We hugged, thrilled to see each other. Last year, we had hiked the Pacific Crest Trail together. An incredible adventure shared with these two precious friends, and here they were! We caught up on hiker news, friends from last year, and what they were each up to. Other AT hiker friends Charlie Foxtrot, Rich, and Fletch were in town, and came over to chat. And to think I worried about this confusion! Spent the night in a bunk, inside with Amy and Brent, with a great supper at the fancy restaurant on the hill. Great evening.

And yes, the Wesser Burger and fries are a definite for all who pass that way. Absolutely wonderful. I had no trouble eating it all, shortly after arriving. Had to get some coffee, and save room for supper. The hiker hunger has struck last night. 16 miles.

April 7-
We turned the clocks ahead last night, for Daylight Savings Time. It really means nothing at all to long distance hikers, except what time the clock says it will get dark. Now I have until 8 p.m. to reach my destination, Brown Fork Gap Shelter. Another 16 miles.

On trail by 7, walked along munching on an apple and snickers bar, just enjoying the morning briskness. Climbing out of that river valley, up to Cheoah Bald took all morning. Then, of course, I had met friends Gutsy and Dan along the way. We stopped and chatted a while. Up comes Lone Ranger, our first time meeting. Had lunch with him at Sassafras Gap shelter. Pressed on to the Bald, at over 5,000 feet. Rich sat eating his lunch, and Three-Day. This trail is a social event, no doubt. Crossing Sweetwater Creek Road, I met a lively bunch of teenagers. Actually, they lay taking in some sunshine, but when I got down to the grassy area, we had time to talk and enjoy their enthusiasm. A man, their leader, gave me water, and extended an invitation to stay for their cookout. It was so tempting, these Jolly Rangers were so kind, but I felt the 14 miles before Monday afternoon would have been too challenging. So, regretfully I pressed on, and made the shelter. The climb out of that Stecoah Gap is nothing to sneeze at. A number of daunting climbs and desents come within those last 2.5 miles. Caught up to Smurf, and met Hawkeye (I would love to just call him the Leprecon Man)

Only three of us at that shelter, and no mice that I could see. Corncob made us a wonderful little campfire, Three–Day hung his 19 pounds of food for Hot Springs, and we read and wrote in the register. Lights out at 8:30. Slept great.

April 8-
Corncob and I are early risers. We cooked and ate breakfast while Three-Day continued to snooze. Headed out by just after 7, and determined to make Hwy 28 by 2 p.m. Rainmaker knows me so well; he knows I always hike like crazy when he comes to meet me, or when I can call home. Still, several serious steep hills await, but sections of gentle trail also. Made the Cable Gap shelter by 10, and met Samaratin. There is "A-Privy-With-A-Door" there. Very nice! Strider pulled in. Then Moosewood and Salamander. It’s like reunion time. Then we headed up the hill, bound for town, with all of its contrivances and luxuries. Clouds and rain threatened all day, and the thunderstorms are predicted for tomorrow. Once again, my zero day will be a rainy one, and I laugh with satisfaction thinking of the little rain I have seen trail wise thus far. 11.6 miles.

Reaching Hwy 28, I promptly sit down beside the road, and begin making coffee as I wait for Rain. Some hikers begin hitching to town; others head towards the “Hilton” a huge shelter just before the dam. Ah, but that will wait, as I head home for a day of rest. Rainmaker pulls up, and this one Spoiled Hiker hops in the car, to speed off for pizza, and black liquorish.

April 10-
Yesterday was a zero day. Today I, started at Hwy 28, near Fontana Dam, crossed below to the parking lot at the marina, and picked up my Smokies National Park permit. There, many friends had just gotten off the van, which shuttles from Fontana Village. I, the spoiled rotten hiker had spent the zero day at home. Greetings exchanged with hiking friends, and we were off again, up the hill, past the “Hilton” and onto the road leading up to the dam.

Hiking with Corncob, Wonder and Charlie Foxtrot. The rare heat and sunshine make this day seem hard. I complain about my pack weight. Something just doesn’t feel right. Charlie threatens to trade with me. I give a good loud hearty laugh. Oh sure. I don’t think I could get his off the ground. We leap frogged along, arriving at Birch Spring Gap. There the shelter has been dismantled, but tent sites remain. We go down for water, the last we will find for 5 miles.

Passed Mollies Ridge Shelter, and looked in. It was my first glimpse of a Smokies Shelter. My goodness! A stone three sided shelter, with a chain link fence reaching the roof making the forth side. Inside, an aged double decker shelving, with slats nailed on to make individual spaces, reminded me of the Amistad slave ship. No, don’t get me wrong. This is Bad Bear territory, and I will definitely want a slot. A dirt floor inside, in front of the fence, and fireplace at one end, completed the shelter. Outside are a fire ring, logs for sitting, and grassy area big enough for many tents. Signs pointed the path to water, and the path in the opposite direction to the toilet area. Wow. As we hiked on, I had plenty to think about. 2.5 to Russell Field Shelter. Do I want a top bunk? Or a bottom? No way will I sleep next to a stone wall, whose crevices make mouse condos.

We arrived about 5:30, and claimed a top bunk. Poptart, and Geek are already there. After eating, our food bags were hung on the cables 30 feet off the ground. Everything else was brought inside the shelter. Packs were hung on the inside of the fence. Our water bottles were set around inside the fortress. The southbounder had a 6-liter platypus, which he hung outside on the fence, about 5 feet from the ground. Smurf told us all a bedtime story once we settled down. Off to dream land. About 11 p.m. it started raining; a steady drenching rain. A couple hours later it lulled, and I head a big Whoosh, and thought, “Who is tenting out there, dumping the water off his fly?” Then there was some banging around. Quietness again, and back to sleep.

It’s not always easy getting out and dressed with a shelter full of hikers, especially when they are all male! I learn how to change inside my sleeping bag, then stuff the mass which is my gear into my silpack, and go outside to eat breakfast. As I eat, the southbounder comes out to get some water from his platypus.

“What in the Hell?” he exclaims. His water bag is empty. It still hangs on the fence, but a large nearly perfect hole, about 7 inches in diameter, has appeared. All that remains are teeth marks. “I paid $18 for this thing! A bear bit a hole in my bag!” He shows us, and rehangs it. Then he leaves to get more water, and I go over and pick up a chunk of ragged plastic off the ground.

“That must have been the water being dumped you heard last night, Brawny” Charlie says.

I guess a bag is a bag, and if it’s hanging on a chain link fence, it’s liable to be taken for a food bag, fair game to camp-taught bears. “Momma said this was the cafeteria and where I can eat,” perhaps the bear is thinking “Lunch!” And a drenching was all he got.

This morning, I put the bulk of my food in the bottom of my pack, just leaving snack food on top. The food is the heavy stuff. Oh yeah, as I put on my pack things are right again. I hardly feel the weight. The cool morning makes trekking easy, and I am feeling great. On trail by 7:20.

Met Malice at Derrick Knob Shelter. He has some very interesting stories, listens well, and laughs readily. We hiked out together, chatting. I think that’s what made the 5.5 miles to Siler’s Bald Shelter go so fast. Arriving at 3:20, we had plenty of time to relax, tease other friends pulling in later, and get a good night’s rest. The shelter was plenty full, with about 12 people.

Smurf again gave us our bedtime story, a mixture of hilarity, self-reflection, good-natured picking, and red neck humor. 14.7 miles today.

April 12-
First out of the shelter, and on trail, hiking for Newfound Gap and my trail angel, Rainmaker. Mist and light rain fell all day, and I was determined to get up and over Clingmans Dome. At 6643 feet, the highest point on the AT, before the thunder began to roll.

Arrived around 1:30, ate lunch in the bathroom, washing up with the hand sanitizer in dispensers on the wall. 12 .5 miles. How sweet to have a 6 stall, flush toilet, and 5 sinks with running water all to myself. Putting on my dry fleece, I felt down right respectable. Combed the hair. Nice. I don’t think the groups of tourist ladies who came in later, felt that way, as they gave me sideways glances, and I felt a little cornered. Is that normal?

Rainmaker knows me so well, that in spite of the 5 p.m. time agreed on, he is there at 3 p.m. I had put a string on the wall outside the lady’s bathroom, where I had holed up during the rain, and he knew I had arrived. A good long hug, kisses, and we are off in the Blue Rocket for an AYCE salad bar and resupply.

April 14-
Resumed the trail this morning after a zero day yesterday. It’s really hard leaving a warm dry car and heading out into the rain and mud. It was already 9 a.m. and with no place to stop for a decent break (Peck’s Corner shelter is half a mile off trail) so I just hiked non-stop. Some south bounding weekenders told me they had passed 10 thru hikers already. Surely one of them was a friend! By early afternoon I had passed the shelter and met a very nice young ranger. We talked a bit, and I offered to show him my permit. For some reason, rangers just never care about seeing my permits. He declined, and the mist made that nice, since I didn’t have to dig it out of my pocket.

Arrived at Tri Corner Knob Shelter just a bit after 4. Corncob, Wanderer, Sidewinder, all friends, stayed there too. Some section hikers were already there, and one named Eric gave me some hot hazelnut coffee. Now, that hits the spot. We cooked where we could and settled down for a nice dry night in spite of the pounding rain on the roof. This shelter has water very near, and a privy. Plusses, if you can choose your shelter. 15.6 miles.

April 15-
Packed and on trail first again, in light mist. It’s cool, but favorable for good hiking. I have decided to do cold breakfast because it’s just so much more efficient. Seems everyone is heading to Mountain Mommas today, one and a half miles off trail, just past the Davenport Shelter. One thing certain, we are all enjoying the National Park, but glad to be out of it, with its permits and cages. After an early lunch at Cosby Shelter, I met Corncob and Wanderer lunching trailside. We all were feeling great, and decided to trek long today, passing Davenport, but not going to Mommas. None of us wanted to walk down the gravel road that cars don’t travel. No sense hitchhiking when no traffic passes.

Someone had read about a new hostel, out of their Thru-Hiker's Companion book last night. So, with that memory in mind, Corncob and I hiked on. It was hot, and we were sweating freely. Crossed under I-40, then up that hill nestled between the curves of Waterville School Road. There, at the northern crossing was a rock with painted signs. Yes. We had arrived. 200 yards east. A red pick up truck is coming; we flagged him down, and importuned a ride those last 200 yards. A rotwiler greets us, barking threateningly, as we drop down out of the bed of the truck. No worries, Corncob is just so glad to be here, with promise of showers, bunks, and who knows, maybe some food. We paid $12 for the wooden bunk beds, showers and laundry. A phone and Internet access is available. Tonight, Marie decides to cook, so its AYCE spaghetti, garlic bread, ice cold beverages and strawberry shortcake for $7 . We hikers do justice to her superb cooking. We eat at the wrap around porch, on real plates, drinking out of real full size glasses. I use a fork. Then a spoon for desert. Nice. Very Nice.

Met a lot of young people whose entries in the registers I had been reading, including Arrow, Elvis, Gator Girl, Girl Next Door, Scooby, Condiments, Strongbird.

18.1 miles. Hey, that last tenth of a mile was hard, and I am recording it!

April 16-
All last night I worried about falling off that top bunk. And the night had its humor, as two hikers did the “cross-cut saw” duet, snoring in such harmony, when one took a breath, the other filled the void. At one point a cook pot fell from a top bunk. All noise ceased for five minutes. Then normality set in once again. Corncob also had a top bunk, and as he tossed and turned, he spoke in his sleep. Not all of it is repeatable for mixed company.

At last dawn broke, and with it the packing and eating and getting back on trail. With several decent climbs ahead, and a warm day promising, I got an early start. Passed two couples who were camped, picked up water and continued climbing. It steadily became hotter. Took a break at Ground Hawk Creek Shelter and decided to go for the next shelter, Roaring Fork.

The data sheets don’t show it, so we were concerned about water after that Brown Gap Road crossing. Good heavens, once you get to the south side (Max Patch Road) there is plenty of water to be had, as one crosses stream after stream, first just before the summit, and then afterwards heading to the shelter. Max Patch is a marvel. You can see it a couple miles ahead, this grassy bald extending for I suppose, thousands of acres. One must follow the fence posts, now marked with white blazes as you climb, then cross and descend that mountain. Views are 360 degrees, and the marvelous Blue Mountains, which are now home, take one's breath away. But, one dark thundercloud looms straight overhead, and not wanting to be struck by lightning, I continue on. One foreign couple is dining on top, wine bottle and all. They are amazed anyone would be walking so long. Van supported, they insist, looking at the size of my pack. I assure them no.

As I descend, and hike on, the thunder begins. A few rain drops. Roaring Fork shelter, Where Are You? Hike hike hike. Finally, a glimpse across the gap. Yes, and a privy. No signs of humans. I arrive before 5, happy and pleased with this clean, well-planned shelter with a skylight, and “table”. I read the register, spreading out my gear to cook. A newspaper, the New York Times, April 3rd, is there. A good read. Hey didja know that Michael Jordon was out for the season with a knee injury?

An hour later Corncob comes rolling in with a whoop. We chat, wondering about Wanderer. Sure enough, just before dark, he comes strolling in. I laugh at their banter, and settle down for a warm night's sleep. 18.5 miles. Satisfying.

April 17-
Well, here I am, a day ahead of schedule. With Hot Springs just 15.2 miles away, I figure to get in early, call my Rainmaker, and see if he can drive up today. I have earned two zero days, and I would just as soon enjoy them at home, one last time. Then it will be time to get serious.

To say I hurried would do injustice to the inner struggle to enjoy the scenery, preserve perspective and avoid killing my knees. The dogwoods are gorgeous against the dark firs, the blue mountains and bright spring leaves. The trail rolls up, over and around these hills, yet always descending to the valley at just over 1300 feet. The humidity increases, and anticipation of air conditioning quickens the step. As I pass the side trail into the last shelter, Deer Park Mountain, I notice a smaller trail to the left. In a tiny clearing is a ring of rocks, and two head stones. I go in, and read them. A couple, names now forgotten, lay buried there. “Absent not Dead” reads one. “Absent not Forgotten” reads the other. There is something here, and it speaks to the inner being. We reassure each other that we will not be forgotten, and will never forget. Let no one pass through our world and not be mourned upon their departure.

Three miles remain to Hot Springs, a slow teasing descent as one can view the town now.This town is way bigger than I thought. I arrive, hike down the road following the blazes just above the sidewalk. I find a phone, call home while I yet wear my pack. Ah yes! My life partner will be here in a few hours. Time to check out the town, stop in the thrift store and barter awhile, have a cold soda, do the post office. Life is good. Freedom is fine. But love’s what its all about.

April 18 & 19 were spent at home.

April 20-
Left Hot Springs about 11:30 in spite of the festival there. It is always hard saying good bye to my life partner, Rainmaker, and perhaps more so today because I won't be home until I finish this trail. Now, "home " is where my pack is, and every night a new place.

Hiked 11 miles up to Spring Mountain Shelter, where I met Milkshake, her husband Cheeseburger, and friend Greyhound. Preston, their dog, was very friendly, and loved the notion of so many chipmunks just waiting to be chased. We all survived the Night Of The Mouse, extra frisky in this shelter. Preston nestled up close to my shoulder, like old friends.

April 21-
We all are early risers, but Milkshake and Cheeseburger didn't expect too many miles today, so Greyhound and I hiked almost the entire day together. He is a philosopher and basketball player, which gives you a clue of my day. We snacked while we hiked, chatting about various things. Before long, 21.2 miles had passed, and we elected to camp, albeit early at Flint Mountain Shelter. Only 3:30. That shelter was the best I had seen in many days, and it was great to enjoy the little rabbit hopping around near the fire ring. Long hair lay in piles there. Ah, the register explains all. One girl elected to have her head shaved.

April 22-
It poured a lot during the night and there was much thunder. We packed up as ususal though, and hiked off into the light rain. Cooler than normal, and windy, but at least the climbs were easier. Hiked down to Hogback Ridge Shelter, where we had an early break. Then we passed over Big Bald. I nearly was blown off, and it was cold as well. At Bald Mountain Shelter, we took a break, and signed the registers. There Greyhound sprung his idea, how about going for No Buisness Shelter. Hunh? thats 10.3 more miles. I am not supposed to arrive in Erwin until Wednesday morning. But, again, it was early, so with all my gear, why not? I can camp whenever. We hiked, climbing, chatting, munching, until Spivey Gap. Only 4.7 to go, so although I saw other campers off in that grassy meadow, thought, yeah, why not. Just about 7:15 we got to the shelter. Friends of Greyhound made room for us. Very sweet, 29.6 miles.

April 23-
Hiked the 6 miles into town, saw Charlie Foxtrot just before he pulled out, and got into the hostel at Miss Janets. Will have this day and next to rest, resupply and plan my next section. Feeling very strong, and ready. A huge thanks to my dear friend, Splash, for the phone card that allowed me to call home today. She is truely knowlegeable about hiker needs. She has always been a wonderful support person, last year as well as this year.

Unfortunately, there is a "town-war" going on between Johnny and Ms. Jannet. Some hikers have wisely just resupplied and headed back out, some stayed at the Holiday Inn, and others staying at one place or another became the pawns in a "turf war".

April 24 was spent resting and resupplying in Erwin, TN.

April 25 –
Left the gorge and hiked 16.2 miles up to Cherry Gap Shelter. It’s amazingly cold tonight and I am nervous because I have swapped out my 20 degree bag for my summer system. Thank goodness I still have my fleece pants!

Hiking through Unaka Mtn. Pine Forest was very sweet, but a little difficult navigating, though. Pine needles carpeted the area evenly and the trail was faint.

April 26 -
It was a very cold night last night. I swapped out my sleep systems. The tarp probably made all the difference (even with condensation forming, I was warm). By early morning I could feel the moisture seeping through my fleece. By 6:30 I was on trail. The shelter being full, I packed quickly. After a couple of miles on trail, I began to fear I’d left stuff at the shelter. In my pack, nothing was where it was supposed to be. My data book, tent stakes, bandana were all “missing”. It was a very lousy start and I chided myself a hundred times for being so hasty. I left without breakfast, just throwing stuff in the pack so I could get warm hiking. I found my stakes, and later when I went to my food bag, there was my data book! Tonight I found my bandana! All is well. As an ultralighter, these things are dearly missed, and next time I will take more care.

The hike up and over Roan Mountain, was so very cold. There was ice on trail, along with 15 inch long icicles hanging from rocks. I got to “The Barn” (Overland Mtn. Shelter). A wonderful bunch of young men are here, and they are so friendly. I have the loft to myself. They are downstairs. Did 21.6 miles. Note: Granola cooked with powdered milk and extra sugar make a fine hot supper!

April 27 -
Hiked over The Humps. They were just gorgeous, but I almost lost my pack cover due to the wind. We hiked through cow pastures and it was very windy. I read the registers, hoping to catch up to my friends, clouds threaten, and we get some sprinkles, but I am bound for Laurel Creek Lodge, hot food, a bunk and friends. There is another hostel, but it has no food. This one is fantastic. Greyhound is here, along with Panama, Milkshake and Cheeseburger. Runaway pulls in at 9:00, doing 20 miles after an AYCE breakfast in Elk Park. Saw 3 deer. Hiked 28.3 miles.

April 28 –
Greyhound, Panama and I left around 8:00, in spite of weather forecasts of tornadoes and golf ball-size hail. It was hot and humid and frankly the few sprinkles were very welcome. 50 miles remain to Damascus and we plan to hike it in 3 days. The trail started today with a murderous climb out of Denison (not sure of spelling here) Cove, then topped out. Then there was a lovely descent toward Watauga Lake Shelter. Why people slack this southbound is beyond me. We picked up water at the nearly dried up spring because there is no water at Vandeveter Shelter. Hiking fast to beat the impending storm and to insure a safe spot inside, we arrived about 4:00 after hiking 17.8 miles. The lightning flashed and clouds passed on either side of our ridge shelter. Then there was a steady downpour. Other hikers pulled in, hanging their packs and setting up tents and a hammock. The shelter was already overfilled, and the guys only cared that their packs were dry.

April 29 -
Got up early and headed out because it turned cold during the night. Had a Snickers bar for breakfast. Had a determination to hike slower, whatever the day would bring. A huge crow sat in the grass, yelling at me as I hiked by. Girls still asleep in the first shelter 7 miles away. Camping AT hikers brushing their teeth. The wind was chilly and made for fast hiking. Greyhound had passed me early on, and I saw Panama at lunch at the Double Spring Shelter. There we talked about Damascus and what awaited. Why not make a try for Damascus? Got to the Abeyton (not sure of spelling) Shelter and there sat Greyhound. I said I was going in to Damascus, and he said he’d try it, too. We waited for Panama and did the fastest 10 miles ever for a 33 mile day. Pizza and soda! A warm bunk at “The Place”! Thank God for trail angels.

April 30 & May 1 were spent resting and resupplying in nearby Abington, VA.

Damascus to Waynesboro

May 2 -
Hiked nearly 15.8 miles. This is one of the sweetest parts of the trail so far. It smelled like perfume and there were many fast flowing streams to cross. The grade was easy and pleasant. Stopped at Lost Mountain Shelter. It is a large one, built in 1995. There are 7 hikers in the shelter, and tents outside.

May 3 -
On trail by 6:15. It’s cold and foggy and we have a 23 mile day planned. The trail is so well graded that the 2,000 ft. ascent up to White Top was very reasonable. Too bad visibility was poor. Hiked up to Grayson Highlands Park where the wild ponies dwell. We saw two that were a bit off the trail nuzzling each other. They refused all our beckonings. As we continued, suddenly a snorting and a mane-tossing pony came toward me. A small colt and its mother and several others were mulling around, but this one was so bold that he came over, licked my hand, then gently bit me. So, hauling out the camera and some Fritos, Greyhound and I took photos of each other feeding the fellow. As I packed up, he started digging his nose into my pack. Pushing him away, I finished packing and hiked on. What possessed us I do not know; perhaps the cold blustery day, the longing for our life partners or just an insensible trail mood, but we elected to hike on to Raccoon Branch Shelter, a 34.9 mile day. Got there just before 8 p.m. Four other hikers were already in bed. It is so cold.

May 4 -
Needing to hike gently and alone, I started early and in the rain. Pondering the meaning of this thru-hike, I must slow down to feel the trail experience I seek. There is something here and so far it’s escaping me. Arrived at Partnership Shelter. Cooked a hot meal with the stuff found in a hiker box. Thermometer read 40 degrees. I met Real, a thru-hiker who seems to have the right idea. Hiked to the Village Motel, got a room and caught up with Charlie. Did 25.3 miles.

May 5 -
Hiked 18 miles. This must be the roughest section of Virginia. Camped by Lick’s Creek. A fine footbridge and many campsites mark the spot, not recorded in the data sheet. Met Dave from Boston, whom I met last year when we were both hiking the PCT, sitting on the side of the trail.

May 6 -
This part of Virginia was so different. The trail was rocky, lots of blowdowns. The Chestnut Knob Shelter was amazing, with cement block construction and door. A full size picnic table was inside. Had lunch at Jenkins Shelter. My energy is low, but hiked further. Laurel Creek snaked across the trail; finally decided to just wade straight through. Did 20.5 miles.

May 7 -
Met all sorts of southbounding northbounders who were hiking into Damascus for Trail Days next week. I am very tired, I guess doing 132 miles in 6 days is the reason. Pulled into Jerry Knob Shelter at 2 p.m. and took a nap. Feel better after eating some sugary snacks. Did 19 miles.

May 8 -
Hiked 20 miles to stay at Woodshole Hostel. Tillie is 90, and she still cooks breakfast for the first 8 hungry hikers to sign up, each morning.( I was number 9, so happily just bought 3 snickers and left at day break next morning.) She’s fun to talk with and knows so much about the trail and its people. This hostel is half a mile off the trail, but well worth the effort it takes to get here.

Hill Climbing Stratgies For Mega Hills
(Over 1,500 ft. elevation gain)

1. Empty bladder before climbing; never haul those extra 8 – 12 ounces up the hill.

2. Take breaks in the shade or an upgrade, as needed.

3. Do not chew gum. It hinders breathing.

4. Stop and rest if your leg is about to fall off.

5. Think erotic thoughts.

6. Before passing another hiker, give adequate notice, if they don’t acknowledge, be sure that they are still alive.

May 9 -
Got on the trail early and was in a motel doing laundry by 10 a.m. On the way, as a soloist, I saw 4 deer, 1 crow the size of Manhattan, 2 goats (one with a large bell). Did 10 miles, and I’m taking the rest of the day off to resupply in Pearisburg, VA.

Charlie and Lost-and-Found arrived around noon, and we shared a tiny room at the Rondevous Motel. Went for salad at Pizza hut, and met a couple thru hiking with their dog. They also had spent the night at Woodshole. On the way into town, they also saw the two goats. Their dog, Alice decided it would make a great chase. As Vagabond called and called for her to return, the goat took measures of its own. Over the cliff of Angel's Rest and into the air it sailed. The dog followed, into the fog and over the cliff. The goat knew of a ledge out of sight just below. The dog didn't. She fell 30 feet, trashing her pack. Her owner found a tree wedged into the rocks, and used it to decend and lift her back to the trail. With that done, they finished hiking into town. She was limping when we met them, but otherwise appeared subdued, and ok.

May 10 -
Hiked 19 miles to the Pine Swamp Branch Shelter. I saw some very beautiful terrain and 4 deer. The apple blossoms smell terrific, spring is here. Met Grey Owl. He made a campfire at the shelter, and I decided to stay here for the night. He carries an expresso maker, but I left too early next morning to check that out.

May 11 -
Hiked to Sarver Hollow Shelter; a 25 mile day. This is a beautiful shelter, although it is a very steep 1/4 mile hike downhill to get to it. I will hate myself in the morning when I have to make the climb out! Great company with 4 weekenders and Balu, a guy I first met at Neels Gap in GA just before I got off the trail with my knee injury. There are some “spirits” here, so everyone is very mellow, good trail stories being told. Very glad for my new Marmot Hydrogen down bag. It still gets cool at night. When hiking alone and “gently”, I think deeper thoughts, and bad memories from the past resurface and can be dealt with. One by one, I hope to ponder them thoroughly til the effects are gone.

May 12 -
That is one steep climb out of Sarver Hollow Shelter. The hike today was wonderful. I saw 5 deer and 2 goats. We climbed Dragon’s Tooth and it was way harder than I had imagined it would be. The climb down was difficult, with steel rods implanted in the rocks. I am now at Four Pines Hostel, just .3 east on Virginia 624 (65 miles from Pearisburg). The cots are taken, so I have my tent as a ground cloth, spread over 3 hay bales. I have my pad on the hay bales, with my bag on top of the pad. I am realizing our mortality as so many hikers are injured and recouping from ankle injuries and shin splints. Our host let us use his truck to go pick up pizzas and sub sandwhiches. Sweet. Did 22 miles today.

This is dedicated to Rainmaker (realizing how lucky I am):

Now I finally see
There’s more to being free
Than having time or space
It’s the things you can erase
All those memories and fears
And now having someone dear
Sharing dreams and philosophy
Allowing me to be me -

May 13 -
That same compulsion overtook me today – only 25.5 miles to town; why not? I just needed to talk to Rainmaker, and I’m feeling strong. This morning, the sky darkened and then the thunder and lightning started. We crossed the Tinker Cliffs and more bad weather rolled in. The rocks were exposed and slippery. The weather had been warm, but the temperature cooled off by afternoon. However, I was tired and the crossing of Tinker Ridge was exhausting. The rain had abated, but then resumed just as I got into town. Greyhound and I are sharing a room at the Best Western, and it is a truly beautiful room; massive. I had a Chinese AYCE buffet dinner, and Grey and I discussed why we can’t seem to slow down our hiking pace. “Nothing in the world is accomplished without passion”, reads my fortune cookie. Seems appropriate. Hammock Hanger has a small sticker that she occasionally leaves on shelter register pages, it says, “It is good to journey towards an end, but in the end it is the journey that matters”. I ponder these thoughts tonight.

May 14-
Left town carrying pizza and garlic sticks. Hiked up to Wilson Creek Shelter, where two section hikers and three thru hikers were already eating and preparing for bed. The thru hikers were bundled up, and not very friendly. I hadn’t met them before, and perhaps they were nervous about their shelter space. However, the section hikers were very friendly, and made room. 11.2 miles.

May 15-
Suddenly this morning one section hiker woke up realizing he had left the shuttle truck’s keys in the vehicle back in town. He elected to back trail, while I hiked on with the other one. We had to do 16.9 miles to meet up with his partner again, which was a reasonable number of miles for me also. Dancing Man and I hiked together all day, enjoying conversation, sharing snacks and lunch. By evening, his partner had moved the truck up to Jenny's Creek Road, and hiked in to meet us. We went out for dinner, I grabbed enough food to make it into Waynesboro at the foot mart. We camped there at the river.

May 16-
Heading out early, I decided to do a big day. The weather was good, and parts of the trail very conducive to this decision. Virginia blues starting to really get to me, not sure why. They say its not the state being so big, as the 6-8 weeks away from home taking its toll, with the longing for loved ones.
Hiked to Mat's Creek Shelter, 26.4 miles. Lots of people at the shelter, but the weekenders have so graciously given us thru hikers priority, and set up their tents outside. Met Papa Geezer and Troll.

May 17-
Hiked up to Brown Mountain Creek Shelter. It’s small and 4 overnighters and two thru hikers have it claimed. With threatening storms and cold, we are disappointedly setting up our tents and tarps. One girl has not set up her tarp before. There are 6 of us here close to the creek. As a consolation, the weekenders have given each of us a cold beer. I take it, wondering if I will like it. Makes me feel very mellow. 21.5 miles today. Again, met a lot of new hikers.

May 18-
The hard steady rain began about 3 a.m. I was very concerned about my down bag, and the condensation sprinkling on it. The thought of spending tonight in the record cold in a wet bag made me so cautious that I put on all my clothes, and stuffed my bag about 5 a.m., waiting for daylight so that I could hike out. Hiked 15.5 miles, arriving at the shelter by 12:30 p.m. As hikers pulled in, and the sun shown periodically, we dried out gear, cooked, shivered, and told stories. I feel discouraged, and have serious doubts about continuing. Seems I don't have any more hills left in me.

May 19-
We have heard about the dreaded ascent to The Priest, down to the Tye River and then back up 3,000 feet to Hanging Rock Overlook. It’s 30 degrees, and the grass is frosted. It makes for quick stepping, however, and by 11:00 we have descended to the river. The climb isn't nearly as bad as I had heard; graded, and beautiful. Once again I remind myself not to give into the "Fear- Brokers" who sometimes hike the trails. By pelting us with their fears they justify their own.
5 of us make it to the Maupin Field Shelter by 3 p.m. It’s so blasted cold, though. I manage to scrounge enough wood from these well picked campsites, and make a fire. Feels so good, and one hiker says it’s the first time he's felt warm all day. 20.5 miles.

May 20-
I am feeling rejuvenated, and the weather, although cool, is perfect for fast miles. Again, there is frost on the grass. By 2 p.m. I am in town, camped by the YMCA. So amazing, last night I had read Lightingbolt's entry in the register "Where's Brawny?" He had passed me yesterday, as I sat huddled in that cold shelter. But, as I crossed the bridge at Rockfish Gap, who calls my name, but my dear friend, Dave, (Lightingbolt) the man himself. He had just gotten out of a car from Waynesboro, and we ran to greet each other, with a big hug. Made my day. So good. 21.1 miles.

Somehow this section has been harder for me. I am not sure why, so I simply celebrate the fact that I have made it this far. I look forward to the section coming, the Shenandoahs, and Harper’s Ferry. The wet and unexpected cold has taken a toll, and I am ready to get my winter gear back! We hike north with spring, and occasionally with winter, I guess. One good thing; looks like we have beaten the summer heat!

Waynesboro to Harper's Ferry

May 21-
Took a zero day, and got bored. Ready to move.

May 22-
Took a taxi with Smudge, Radio Flyer, and Joe to Rockfish Gap. Hiked 20 miles to Black Rock Hut. There are many folks camping here; section hikers, and thru hikers. Everyone has seen several deer, which show no fear. The weather is so perfect and we are anticipating the hot meals in the Shenandoahs. Feeling strong and ready to do big miles. The weather forecast looks great and I am so glad to be on the trail thru-hiking. I miss Rainmaker like crazy, but its only 1,306 miles to go.

May 23--

Only intending to do a 27 mile day, we got on trail early. Breaking cobwebs, I saw many deer. Then suddenly a big black bear crashed across the trail. She stood just in the brush a few yards to the right. I yelled "You're going to have to go farther than that!" Then I clicked my hiking sticks together. Then she ran off, her cub behind her. While hiking this afternoon I suddenly looked to my left and there stood a bear on a grassy hill about 30 feet away, regarding me. I called" Hello! Hey, I need to come by here." The bear ran uphill and stopped, sizing me up. To the right, crashing downhill, I presumed was another. The stand off resumed til I realized the left bear wanted to cross the trail and join the right bear. I backed up several feet and he turned and ran north, dropped onto the trail and turned to watch me again. "Hey, I need to come through here. What do you want me to do??" I called, clicking my sticks together again, and finally after a few minutes, he ran off. Saw two more bears that evening. Hiked 33 miles to Bear Fence Shelter. Seriously, that’s the name of it. The shelter is full of thru hikers. But in true thru-hiker tradition, they make room for one more.

May 24-
Took an easy day to hike into Big Meadows Campstore & Restuarant. The .1 off the trail didn't happen (everyone missed the turn off), and all the hikers did the one mile "nature" trail from the Lodge turn off. Not really worth it, except to call home and talk to my life love, Rainmaker. The food was good but they were very busy, and service was poor. Contrary to info, they do take credit cards. Camped at Rock Spring Hut. Only 12.5 today.

May 25-
Hiked 28 miles to Gravel Spring Hut. This is our last night in the Shenandoahs, and we are glad. The Elk Wallow wayside was easy to find, and the best stop in the Park. We were able to resupply to Harper’s Ferry. The trail between Thornton Gap and Elk Wallow was the easiest I have encountered so far. A real treat. The toe box on my 704 New Balance shoes have an over abundance of leather on top that is trashing a toe on my right foot. The top of the shoe will not flex when I step. I have cut away some leather from the shoe, and I’m using hydrogen peroxide to treat the raw area it has caused on my toe.

May 26-
Hiked an easy 18.7 to Jim & Molly Denton Shelter. A palace, with front deck, benches, pavilion, cold spring, and shower . About an hour after arriving, it started thundering and pouring, so we're glad to be warm and dry here. It’s hard getting to a shelter early and not eating up my entire food supply. My main physical problem remains my toe, all the extra leather is cut away. Hope it heals soon.

May 27-
18.9 trail miles, and .1 off mile down to the taxidermist snack shop. Bought nearly 10 bucks worth of candy and treats. It's a tad expensive, but at this point, who cares. Dumped trash and called home. When someone asked Radio Flyer how we do 28 mile days, he replied in his Tennessee accent, "You get up early and haul ass all day". Smudge's English humor and accent are such a delight. He was telling us of and incident where "the parents smeared peanut butter on the child's arm so the bear would lick it off and they would get a good photo. But, they neglected to discuss the plan with the bear, who ate the arm." Good trail and we are looking forward to Harper's Ferry and the ice cream challenge at Pine Grove Furnace State Park, the actual half way point of the trail.

May 28-
From Rod Hollow Shelter to David Lesser Memorial Shelter, a 21.3 mile day, over the Roller Coaster. A group of boys belonging to a special school are here also, so it’s quite lively. They gave us the leftover spaghetti they had tonight, plus cookies and dried pineapple. Finally, I’m full. The water source is an indecent .3 down, down, down.

May 29-
Hiked the 8.6 into Harper's Ferry, stopping by the ATC for photos and signing in. I am thru hiker number 148 this year. The folks there are the greatest. It's so nice talking to people who love the Appalachian Trail. Sharing a room at the Comfort Inn with Radio Flyer and Smudge, two other hikers. This is all very comfortable; not sure how long we're staying here.

Harper's Ferry, WV - Duncannon, PA

May 30 -
Hiked 17.9 miles after leaving the ATC Headquarters in Harper’s Ferry to Dahlgren Backpack Campground. Met Pinecone, Flying Kitty and Glacier. Flying Kitty hiked part of this last year; so he knows where all the soda machines are. This campground has hot showers, flush toilets and picnic tables. We are camped on wonderfully thick, green grass that has been mowed to perfection. Three girls walked in later, while the others were gone for sodas (but ended up with beers) .2 miles by the road. “Are you girls thru-hiking?” I asked. . Their reply was, “Yes, we are definitely through for the day”. Additional discussion indicated that they were doing section hiking on the AT.

May 31 -
Actually slept in, but still did 27.9 miles to Deer Lick Shelters in Pennsylvania! Yeah! The last 3 miles of Maryland were a rocky send off. Crossed the Mason-Dixon Line. Mainframe said that he was entering “enemy territory”. Saw a Black snake, Bobcat, and lots of deer and day hikers. All the stone “fences” we passed today makes me think of the movie “Gettysburg”, and all the lives that were wasted during the Civil War. There is a foursome from Massacusetts here: Devin, Molly, Jeff, and Andy. They are all very kind, and friendly thru hikers who definitly have that wild look I love.

June 1 -
Saw my first AT rattlesnake today while I was climbing over rocks. I had been forewarned by a youth group and their leader, but the snake had apparently moved from where they had seen it. Just as I was descending a large boulder, suddenly to my left the snake’s head (with tongue flicking in and out) came slithering out over the rock, only about 10 inches from my left eye. I jumped down and forward very quickly, then turned to regard it and started laughing. Had a burger and ice cream cone at a swimming pool concession stand at Caledonia State Park, which was an unexpected treat. Staying the night at Birch Run Shelters, a 23.2 mile day over some nice trail.

June 2 -
Pennsylvania must really get rough later, otherwise why would anyone complain about this trail? Did 17 miles to James Fry Shelter, which is absolutely beautiful. There’s lots of pegs for hanging up stuff, 4 large bunks plus a lot of space in the main area. Shelter could easily sleep 20 in a pinch (thru-hikers). I opted to watch the ½ gallon ice cream challenge at Pine Grove Furnace State Park, getting a hot dog with onions, relish and also some microwave popcorn instead. After the participants were all good and sick, I got an ice cream cone, then a second one on the way out past the concession stand. There is way too much easy food on this trail.

June 3 -
26.5 miles today. A lot on the agenda, so got on the trail at sunrise. Ate a wonderful pizza in Boiling Springs and hauled half of it up for supper to Darlington Shelter. The walk from Boiling Springs to here was mostly level, through pastures, woods and fields, then a short uphill. We have been so fortunate concerning the coolness and mild temperatures. I am greatly entertained by all the small creatures who, well hidden on one side of the trail, feel compelled to make a mad dash to the opposite side just as I approach.

June 4 -
Hiked 11.6 miles into Duncannon. Got a room at the Doyle Hotel, and paid $15.90. I may be the only hiker to say so, but the place seems sleazy, but I guess I’m just tired. I am on the fourth floor. There are 3 bathrooms, and loads of people here to share them. The fourth floor shower drips into the third floor shower. An old fashion tub was fun, though. A bat huddles in the corner of the fourth floor bathroom. But, I think, hikers need a place to rent, and it could be much worse. Trail experiences are meant to be memorable. I will remember this One for a long time. Shuttle arrives at 3:00 p.m. to take me to a large grocery store to resupply. Heading out tomorrow morning.

Duncannon,PA to Kent, CT

June 5 -
Ate a wonderful breakfast across the street at Jodi's and left the Doyle Hotel, hiking out with a young couple who is section hiking. They are enjoying the trail, every creature and each other. It was a pleasure to hike slowly with them. The rocks are very slick with humidity and condensation. Got to Peter's Mountain Shelter, a lovely multi-level “Hilton”. The shelters and water are spaced so oddly, either a medium day of 17 miles or a mega-mile day of 28 miles is needed from here to Delaware Water Gap. No fun. Did 11.2 miles.

June 6 -
Hiked only 17.5 miles to Raush Gap Shelter. Its either rained or just drizzled all day, which has cooled things off. Saw a Black snake and a large turkey. There are 9 hikers piled in, and its a shame we can't fit more, some have elected to tarp instead of squeezing in.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *
Games soloists play:

Gorp According To Blazes - Daily allotment of gorp in sandwich baggie placed in pocket. Eat a small bite. Chew slowly. Swallow. Pass 3 blazes before you take another hand full.

Hiker Factor - Time how long between human sightings. Some days, it’s about every 3 hours. Sometimes it’s only once a day.

No Thought Game – Time how long you can go between thoughts. No thinking. Each soloist must set their own parameters here. “When is the last time I saw a blaze?” counts as a thought for me. Your brain is just supposed to register blazes without thinking.

Plan Next Resupply – Plan both for ounces and calories. Obtain these figures then divide by days and multiply by miles. Subtract from your age. Add to your IQ. Start over.

While playing my new game “How Long Does It Take To Pass 100 Blazes?” I was counting 34, we have 34,34 and going on 35, we have thirty- fi . . . . and suddenly along the narrow, bramble-bordered trail, comes a southbound Black bear. We both stop. We eye each other. I go into scare-the-bear mode, clanking my hiking poles together. He is not impressed. Time for a new tactic. I tell him, “I need to come this way”. He turns his head, takes a bite of grass and brambles. He is probably thinking, “Is that it, girl? Is that all you got?” I tell him, “Hey, bear, I need to use the trail, but I know you do, too”. The bear looks at me; then shakes his head. I note the tagged right ear, and fight back thoughts of “Bad-Ass Bear”. Taking several steps back, talking, clicking my poles, the bear starts walking towards me. My god, do I jump in the weeds quickly, hoping he passes by like a day hiker? The gut rebels at this horrid thought, and I start yelling, “Alright! No more Mr. Nice Guy, do you want me to rock you? Get out of here!!” I stop and pick up a rock, all I can find is one that weighs about 5 pound-size. Where are all the rocks in Pennsylvania when you really need one?? I see the bear jump off into the weeds to the left and I decide that’s good enough. " Attaboy!" I yell “I believe in peaceful co-existence, just like you!” I keep talking as I pass and I keep looking sideways. He gets back on the trail. But the passage of two beings was done without bloodshed.

Later, the trail was rerouted around a bridge that is being painted today. Hiked at least 18 miles to the wonderful 501 Shelter. We plan to order pizza tonight, there is a phone next door. Lots of bunks in a regular building, with plenty of good reading material, a big table, and shower outside. Hikers pull in late.

June 8 -
Hiked 23.7 miles and then .5 to the pavilion in Port Clinton. The trail definitely is rocky past 501 Shelter. The outfitter’s store is just .3 off the trail, and has food, gear, ice cream and apparently the only phone available to thru-hikers in Port Clinton. There are no pay phones anywhere. I feel a bit “whooped”, but still hope to get to Delaware Water Gap in 4 days. The outfitter weighs my pack with 4 days of food at 14 pounds. He is impressed and realizes no easy sales here.

June 9 -
Saw 2 rattlesnakes today; one was huge. However, it saw me before I saw it, and thankfully it began rattling like nuts. I hadn’t seen it, even though it was only 10 feet in front of me. My attention was gained, and then I saw the second one. I bushwhacked around both of them. Did 32.6 miles to Bake Oven Shelter. It was built in 1937. It is small, but other than the lone deer eating and nosing around, I seem to have it all to myself. This trail, up and through cliff rocks, is not funny. I slid into a tree and scraped my elbow clear down to my wrist. It’s bleeding, and I count myself lucky to have survived in good shape.

June 10 -
Hiked 23.5 miles to Leroy Smith Shelter. Met Squaw and Blackhawk, and enjoy a good break chatting with them. The water is scarce and I hate to think what it will be like for those who follow. This area really needs some rain. The rock scramble out of Palmerton was maddening and very dangerous. Not all hikers are 6’ 2”. If it had been raining, or my pack had been heavy, I don’t know that I would have been able to make it.

June 11 -
Hiked the last 20.4 miles of Pennsylvania, into Delaware Water Gap. I left at 5 a.m and arrived ten minutes past noon. Not really sure how I did that, but the post office had just closed for its lunch break, so I went to the motel and got a room. Rainmaker sent my ultralight radio here, and Mother Nature sent some candy. So fine! Spending the night at the Ramada Inn. Went out to dinner with Squaw and Blackhawk, thru hiker friends I met yesterday.

June 12 -
Stayed in Delaware Water Gap until after 11 a.m., dreading leaving my friends, saying good-bye to Rainmaker on the phone and then heading out once again into the unknown. My radio works great (Rainmaker sent it to me) and I love it, but it began to rain, so I had to put it away. I’m nervous about the bears, but didn’t see a one. The trail is indeed rocky. Staying tonight at the Mohican Outdoor Center. It is way better than the Doyle Hotel in Duncannon. Food and snacks are available. Paid $12 for a bunk in a large, carpeted cabin. A phone (called home), plenty of bathrooms and showers are also available, plus the use of a real kitchen with coffee maker. Did 10.3 miles.

June 13 -
Hiked 21 miles to Glen Anderson Shelter. Thankful to have made enough noise in the rain and fog to have seen no bears. Had a cheeseburger at the tavern that is just 3 miles from the shelter, and only .2 off trail down the highway. Met Christopher Robin and Stout, 2 other thru-hikers. It has improved my morale to have someone of like mind to camp with. Did some sewing on my shoes and hope they last until I get to Kent, CT, which is 140 miles away.

June 14 -
Hiked 18 miles and caught up to Hammock Hanger, who was taking a zero day. Great time! Love chatting girl / hiker talk. It poured rain absolutely all day long.

June 15 -
Resupplied at Unionville. Unfortunately, the diner was closed, so I continued hiking all day. Past Vernon (.1 mile off the trail) is a great little pastry and fruit stand. Determined not to leave the shop til I was stuffed, I ate 3 pastries, two bananas, 24 ounces of hot coffee and a great ice cream waffle cone. Great Snack! Hiked 19 miles to Wawayanda Shelter. Spent the night with the New Jersey ridge runner.

June 16 -
Awoke to drenching rain. This is the fifth day of it, and I have 3 choices. I can either do 12 miles to a shelter, do 20 miles and hitch to Arden, or do a 26 mile day to another shelter. I think I will opt for the short day and insure sleeping dry tonight. I’m tired and a short day will help after past maniac-mile days. Later: Saw a Black snake, several deer and a loud, mouthy crow. I made it through NJ without a bear sighting. Yeah! The radio had a weather alert, reports of tornado sighting and various other warnings as the thunder rolled. Take cover, they said. I looked at the boulders and trees. Sure. The white blazes take us over Pinnacle and Cat Rocks. After a measly 12 miles, my right knee is killing me after hauling myself up and over to remain a purist. The blue-blaze trail at the base of these boulders make more sense, but I try to remain a purist and this choice defines my hike. I slipped badly at one point. The register reports the same for many others. Trail routers take note: We are not 5 year old boys out on a lark!

June 17 -
The trail from Wildcat Shelter to NY 17 (Arden) is 10 miles worth of hills and ravines graded for mountain goats. It really wore me out. Because of recent rains, water has been plentiful. The second 10 miles were pleasant, grassy and well graded. Did a total of 20 miles to William Brien Memorial Shelter.

Some young men, over nighters, are there and they greet me kindly. Other long distance hikers pull in, and we five enjoy a campfire.

A Poem, Commemorating this night:

The Night the Hikers Hung

---on that fateful night, June 17, 2002

One by one we stopped there
On a sultry afternoon
An assortment of AT hikers
That day in early June

Thru hiker, sectioners, overnighters
Had a bonfire and evening chatter
Some cooked, some drank, some horsed around
It really did not matter

I’m early to bed, early to rise
Asleep before the others
As smoke from the fire filled the shelter
I prayed we would not smother

Drifting in and out of consciousness
There on that wooden bunk
Benumbed from too much Advil
Wasted like some street drunk

Then, This scraping, crawling, scratching
Upon the roof was heard
Too organized to be the wind
Too loud to be a bird

Exhaustion and darkness claimed me
I could but lay and hope
Whatever had taken up residence
Was within the human scope

The sun sought the horizon
I awoke to meet the beast
As I stuffed my gear together
I saw this ungodly feast

Cookies, Chips and Salsa
Tuna Surprise left in a pot
All lay spread on the shelter floor
Overnighters sure hauled in a lot!

Then down from the roof they clamored
And their heroics must be sung
Instead of hanging their leftover food
They themselves were hung.

Surprized that the overnighters are spending the night on the roof of the shelter, until I rise early next morning and prepare to leave. There at the floor of the shelter are the remains of their supper: an open bag of taco chips, partical box of chocolate chip cookies and a half pot of noodle supreme. Sure can't be any bears in this area! So much for hanging their food, they simply elected to "hang" themselves up on the roof. I laughed when one told me he kept sliding down the slanted roof all night, until he discovered if he hung his head off the edge that he would stay put. Hummm, creative!

June 18 -
Hiked 15.4 miles today to the Greymor Friary Ball Park Shelter, which is not nearly enough, but the next shelter is 18.8 miles away. Planned to meet friends here, hope they catch up. There is a cold shower, sink and soap, so I washed out my clothes and myself. Very nice. A privy is also available, apparently rare at NY shelters. Had lunch at the Bear Mtn. Inn, which opens at 11:30. Had a very tasty steak sandwich, fries, slaw and about 8 cups of coffee for $11. I think it’s reasonable. Great service and quite posh.

June 19 – Hiked 18.8 miles to the Horton Rd. RPH Shelter. Hiked all day with Don Quixote. The terrain has smoothed some and the weather is good. So many mosquitoes last night made for little sleep, so tonight I’ll be turning in early.

June 20 – Hiked 25.5 miles. The trail has smoothed, and blooming Mountain Laurel is in profusion. I thought I smelled perfumed soap all day. As I rounded the west side of Nuclear Lake, many very loud rounds of gunshot were heard. Since I was near the lake, I was nervous and ran / hiked as fast as possible. Maybe that’s why my right calf muscle started aching. Will take plenty of Vitamin I tonight and hope for the best. Met Potato Man, Dead Man (AT ’96) and Brooklyn today. Camped at Wiley Shelter.

Kent, Conn. to Mass. 2 (4 miles from the Vermont border)

June 21 - Hiked to Kent, CT and resupplied.

This is the first day of summer, the traditional Hike Naked Day. Regretfully, and fortunately, no one is participating that I have seen. Hiked 22.9 trail miles, and 2 more miles into Kent and back to resupply. Met Buck 30 and Piper in town. Camped at Silver Hill Campsite, a pavilion, tables, porch swing, deck and privy are here. Pretty sweet. Plenty of company: 6 weekenders, and 3 other thru hikers. The pump is broken, and we carried water up the hill.

June 22-
Hiked 26.6 miles to Riga shelter. It started to rain about 3:45, and unintentionally this turned into a bigger day when I started the descent into Limestone Spring Trail. No way would I do that to my knees, down the .5, steeply into the Pit, and then back up in the morning. So, figuring I would be camping anyways, might as well get some miles in. Hiked in drenching rain, madly through Salisbury outskirts, hung out in the privy at the parking area, adjusted my pack, and pulled in around 6:30. Four guys scooted over, letting me share the shelter. We discussed ultralight gear as I unpacked and dried off. I laughed when they concluded I knew every trick. Enjoyable evening.

June 23-
Hiked 24.4 miles to the Tom Leonard Lean-To. You have to laugh at that word “lean-to”. This is one of the largest shelters with 2 sets of bunks, an upper loft and full floor. Could probably sleep 20 people comfortably, or 35 thru-hikers in storms. Lots of steep climb and descents today, marvelous views into clouds. Met several youth groups. I chuckled when the young teenage girls gasped and groaned when they learned how long I had been out. “Don’t you ever get tired of walking?” one asked. “Yes, I do!” I answered emphatically. Some straight ground through pines and fields helped later, but this is definitely a 6 Vitamin I night.
Stitching my shoes together at the shelter, just want them to give me 65 more miles (total of 1,123 on this pair, bought in Damascus). These 704’s fit into the Circle-Of–Life category: As soon as they’re really feeling good they start falling apart.

June 24-
21.1 miles to the Upper Goose Pond Cabin. The caretakers are here, and the pancakes for breakfast will be a reality. For a $3 donation, I have a bed, and breakfast. Penny gave me fresh homemade bread and butter, and hot coffee when I arrive. Fantastic. The trail was soft and mellow today. I counted 38 orange salamanders this morning. From the tiniest to a normal 3-inch fellow, it was simply amazing to see so many of these creatures.
Caught up to a section hiker named Trapper, who warned me of “trouble ahead”: boy scouts. I laughed and told him I would catch them, and get to the cabin before them. He said, nope, they are at least an hour and a half ahead of me. Oh Yeah. That’s what I like to hear…tell me I can’t do it. I had already done 10 miles that morning. Caught them about a half mile before the turn off. The weather was fabulous, with light breezes, and around 70 degrees. Great night at the cabin, talking with the boy scouts, their leaders, and Mike and Penny the caretakers. Met Dale America and Amtrak too, thru hikers I had been following for weeks.
Lost the bottom section of my hiking pole in the mud somewhere…seemed awfully short all of a sudden, looking down I was shocked to see the mud had eaten the bottom 4 inches (where the tip inserts).

June 25-
Hiked 21.3 miles into Dalton, where trail angel Rob lets hikers stay for free at his house. You go to the Shell station, meet him, and he gives you directions to his house. Washed my hair with Real Shampoo and used conditioner, first time since Delaware Water Gap. Washed all our clothes (shared a load with Dale and Amtrak) first time using a machine since Harpers Ferry. I know Self-Imposed-Deprivation. Dalton is right on trail. Great stop. Hiked all day with Dale and it was a treat. He’s from Georgia also and Rain’s age. Just really pleasant, swapping stories and enjoying the company.

June 26-
Only hiked 14.5 miles today. Had a wonderful veggie supreme pizza at Christina’s in Cheshire. Dale America had the best ham sub on the trail, he claimed. That says a lot. Baltimore Jack is exactly right when he said not to haul too much food out of town. This is a serious climb of 1800 feet in the heat and humidity to the Mark Noepel Lean-To. Thunder and lighting tonight, and lots of porcupine knawings on the wood surfaces all around.

June 27-
Hiked 9.6 to Mass. Hwy 2, and hitched into North Adams. At the Greylock Bascom Lodge you can get bunks for $26, hot meals from 10-4, snacks, trail mixes, and light gear. Dale bought an orange pack cover.
Dangerous storms threaten, so Dale and I agree to split a room at the Holiday Inn. Tomorrow we part ways, as I take advantage of my “accumulated banked zeros” (none taken since Waynesboro) and good mileage to drive home in a rented car. I will return with Rainmaker in a week.
North Adams /Williamstown has an extensive bus system, lots of good eating places, stores, culture and all those things hikers sometimes crave. It is expensive, though.

June 28-
Caught the "B" bus to Pittsfield to get my rental car. Yesterday’s terrific storms and lightning are over, and it is cool. I already feel weird, and keep reminding myself I am not leaving the trail, simply taking a short rest at home, and will drive back revived and powered to finish in August. So strange, almost a love-hate relationship with this trail life. There are its miseries, and there are its pleasures. The total freedom to walk when and where we will. And the total submissions. We submit to the rain, heat, cold, the white blazes,and the physical needs of hunger and thirst. We get up in the morning, and face what ever comes our way. A daily adventure, of our choosing. The freedom and submission.
I talk to the bus driver as he brags on the area's culture, music and art. All I can think of is my home in the Georgia mountains, and the peace and beauty of the forests. No way would I trade for this bus driver’s complications. Another hiker flags down the bus, and is treated disrespectfully. Yes, he is somewhat dirty, and disoriented. The driver takes $2 from him, and misleads him into riding 5 miles in the wrong direction. But, neither understands each other. I try to help, reading directions from the Companion that the hiker carries. The bus driver sums up the experience “What is happening here is the urban life is clashing with you who have just left the woods” Yeah. Right.
My lesson here is to keep my contact and resupplies as simple as possible, complete with all directions.
I get my rental car (lesson: always bring a non-debit/money credit card. A regular credit card is all a rental agency will accept, mine had to be mailed to me) and drive nearly 500 miles, getting a room at Days Inn, just 80 miles north of Roanoke, Virginia. Fond memories return when I see the place names of Pine Grove Furnace State Park, Harper’s Ferry, Front Royal, and Waynesboro. Rainmaker told me it would be this way. The N. Carolina Mountains loom ahead. Almost home, to Georgia, Rainmaker, and the zero days.

June 29-
After the continental breakfast, on the road by 6:30, and this driving is such a change. I miss the trail, and know the last 591 miles that await will be so fine.

You know you need a “break”, especially as a soloist when:

You are willing to listen to static for hours at a time on your ultralight radio.
You have a personal conversation with each of the 38 orange salamanders.
Refusal to do any “mileage stats” or play any soloist games.
Nothing tastes good anymore.
Your heart is aching for your Significant Other, and there is no other remedy.

Signs on the road that caused concern:

In Pennsylvania:
Aggressive Driver, High Crash Area
Do not tail gate
Passengers with arms extended out their window, giving everyone the bird……
In Virginia:
Truck Runaway Ramp
Speed Limit Enforced by Aircraft (visions of being shot off the road by low flying craft)

My conclusions to all this “You can take the girl off the Trail, but you can’t take the Trail out of the girl.”

June 30 - July 8 resting, finishing up business, getting new shoes.

Mass.2 to Maine Border

July 8-9
We left home by 9 a.m. and spent these two days getting the Blue Rocket (my Geo) up to trail friend Ben Curtis’s house. He let me park it there, even though he was hiking the CDT. A very special thanks to him for his kindness.

Returning to the Trail

July 10-
Arrived at Williamstown around 4 p.m. after riding on the Vermont Transit all day. Met Restless Spirit getting off the trail. He was sick of it and ready for something else. Got a ride to the intersection of Mass. 2 and the AT. Hiked to the Sherman Brook Campsite, 1.8 miles. Had my first experience with rigging up a non-freestanding tent on a platform, using whatever rope etc. necessary.

July 11-
Our relaxed hiking style permits coffee and breakfast in the morning. We pack up and enjoy a morning break, lunch break, and afternoon break. Crossed into Vermont today, marking the actual beginning of Rainmaker's trail, the Long Trail. Hiked 12 miles to Congdon Camp, and was very surprised to see Charlie Foxtrot pull in. He is going home to Kansas to a job of his dreams, and will be unable to finish the AT this year.

July 12-
Hiked up to Goddard Shelter 14 miles. We went up over Glastenbury Lookout. The trail seems wilder now, perhaps because of the dense vegetation and many roots snaking across the trail. Lots of folks camped in and around, including the Poet, Stud and Dr. Bug, Hoosier, and section hikers. Good spring water after miles of none.

July 13-
Hiked 9 miles to Story Spring Shelter where we camped on perhaps the only level spot. Some other Long Trailers pulled in. Found and used some 9% deet, found and kept some navy hiking shorts.

July 14-
Hiked over Stratton Mountain by lunch, where many groups were headed also, especially southbound. I have to hand it to the young teenage girls who manage to end up with a daypack while the guys mule in some enormous loads. Stealth camped by the Winhall River. We chuckled as hikers passed us without seeing us, asking one another “Is this the river?”. Did 12 miles.

July 15-
Hiked 8 miles to Vt. 11 where we hitched into Manchester Center. All morning we could hear the highway as it paralleled the trail which was taking us ever farther from the town we must resupply in. By noon we were scouting the town. The grocery store is huge, with lots of treats. We ate at the pizza place, after deciding not to brave the overcrowded sauna of the town’s laundromat. Some things just aren’t worth dying for, and clean clothes are definitely in that category. Greenbean’s parents took us back to the trail. This is a woman I have only met twice, and chatted with briefly, but have always wanted to hike with. Her parents had driven up to meet her, and recognizing us for what we were, talked with us. Then she pulled in, we chatted a bit. Perhaps our paths will cross again. Having done the Manchester resupply, we hiked out to the Bromley Tenting area, just ¾ mile. The thunderstorms came up as predicted. ATR camped with us, along with a few others.

July 16-
Hiked 10 miles up to the Griffin Lake area. We were both tired, and set up the tent before realizing it was a fee area. We waited that evening, no caretaker showing up. Next morning, we took down the tent, and had no plans to pay anyone showing up demanding six bucks per person. Mosquitoes are bad now, in Vermont.

July 17-
Hiked 10 miles up to Little Rock Pond Shelter, where we camped just north. Rainmaker found us a sweet little stealth site near the river with a bridge. We watched as other hikers crossed that bridge, never knowing we were there.
July 18-
Crossed over the rock climbs that forewarn of northern sections to come. Camped at Clarendon shelter, after a day of early rain. Monkey and Bearded Monkey camped here as well, and we enjoy chatting about past trail. Did 12 miles. Originally planning an easy sleep in the shelter, the appetites of the mosquitoes caused us to set up our tent in the dark by Photon, and get a good night's sleep.

July 19-
Hiked up over Killington Peak, passing the rundown, road accessed Governor Clement Shelter. That shelter sees little thru hiker use because of the local harassment. Stayed in the Cooper Lodge after a 10-mile day. Rain began just after arriving, a weekender pulled in, then the Ridge Runner. The weekender had a map showing the new AT, along with the old, now called the Pico Trail. Because I am a purist, I will take the new route, which will add an additional 2 miles of trail, plus necessitate a side trail of half a mile down to the Inn of the Long Trail. Most supposedly have elected to do the Historic AT route. I grouch about it, but will do the new.

July 20-
I left Cooper Lodge at 5 a.m. and hiked 8.1 miles, doing the new AT route. Taking the Sherburne Spur Trail then down to the Inn at the Long Trail. I then walked 1.2 miles down to the Post Office at Killington to get our solo tents and mail back our Cobra tent, my cell phone, journal and a few other personal things. We got a room for $59, which includes breakfast in the morning. The meals there were reasonably priced, and it was a delight to find live music provided that evening. Rainmaker and I had a very romantic evening, and I tried not to think of our parting of trails the next morning. Pinecone, Glacier, Transient, Rollercoaster, and Chili pepper pulled in.

July 21-
Had a great breakfast. Rainmaker and I parted at the intersection of the AT and Sherburne Trail. Hiked 18 miles to the Wintturi Shelter. There were lots of steep ups and downs. I feel out of shape, and none of the other hikers made it. I am alone at the shelter, eating the brownies and sodas left by trail angels, reading the register. Because of south bounders entries telling of the Panarchy Frat house free beds for hikers, I determine to head to Hanover tomorrow.

July 22-
It is 26.1 miles to Hanover, and I haven’t done a 20 miler for weeks. I am a bit unsure if I will make it. Ate lunch while passing through the tiny town of West Hartford where the little diner / convenience store was a fantastic stop. Hiked into Hanover by 5 p.m, arriving to find Geek, ATR, the Bearded Monkey and Monkey were already there. Moose, a south bounder, gave us great details of the upcoming White Mountains. Hot and sweaty when I arrived, I threw my pack on a mattress, and then went upstairs to the bathroom, taking a cold shower with my clothes on. Feeling so strong and ready.

July 23-
Left Hanover at daybreak, hiking through the town while it slept. It is well blazed on the telephone poles. Some south bounders told me they had camped with Greenbean at the Moose Mountain shelter. I calculated that she would do a 20, which would mean the Hexacuba Shelter. Who knows, maybe tonight I will catch her, and have someone fun to hike with.

Hot and humid weather is draining. Looking into the skies, the haze just seems to taunt me. Please rain, please just rain and cool off. Met a group of little girls with a couple adults hiking up to Holts Ledge. They warned me of scant water ahead. Please rain, I silently begged the trail gods. Just as I crossed Lyme Dorchester Road, the thunder began to roll, the wind picked up. Climbing Smarts Mountain was cool in the rain. The open rock faces were a bit scary in the lightning, but no longer did I struggle in the heat. I ducked into the shelter on top, and read that Hoosier and Cheddar had just left, lunching there. Only 5 more miles to Hexacuba. Met Phoenix, Greenbean, Hoosier and Cheddar. How sweet to have thru hikers to share such a beautiful shelter with. The privy was an insulting .2 uphill. Take a snack and water bottle on your way. 28.7 miles today.

July 24-
Hiked 15 miles into Glencliff and ate lunch at a great little café called Calamity Jane’s, in the nearby town of Warren. Resupplied from the rare post office drop, which included an extra few clothes for the Whites. We are only taking 4 days of food due to consistent reports by south bounders of the abundance of food found at the huts in the Whites. Hiked another mile to Jeffers Shelter and enjoyed the evening with Phoenix, Geek, Giggles, and Highwater.

July 25
From Jeffers Mt. Shelter to Eliza Brook Shelter, the last of the free shelters in the Whites. Signs have warned us of no camping and $8 a night for what we used to do for free. Hiked with Phoenix all day, over very rugged but beautiful trail. Lots of thru hikers pulled in tonight, including ATR who serenaded us with his guitar tonight. So fine. The camp is full. 15.9 miles.

July 26-
The first hut proved the rumors true. For $1 we ate all the breakfast and coffee we wanted. Apple-blueberry crisp, left from last night, was available as well. They let us take a wedge of homemade bread with us for lunch too. Hiked to a stealth camp about 2 miles south of the Garfield Campsite. Wonderful day of views over Little Haystack Mt, Mt Lincoln, and Mt Lafayette. 16.5 miles. Camped with Greenbean and Phoenix.

July 27-
Camped at Ethan Pond Campsite after a 17-mile day. The last from Zealand Hut was smooth and fast. We caught up to Papa Geezer, paid our $8 each to camp and shared an old shelter.

We had packed up in the fog this early morning, hiked to Galehead Hut and ate breakfast for $2. The coffee was hot, and the blueberry coffee cake, scrambled eggs and oatmeal was satisfying. When we hit Zealand Hut we scored the last 3 bowls of soup, with pie and cake for dessert. This hot food is welcome addition to our food supplies. By packing light, Phoenix and I are on Food Prowl Patrol, enjoying light packs. Greenbean elected to carry 6 days of food, but still enjoys the fresh food at the huts.

July 28-
Left Ethan Pond Campsite before 6 a.m. Found trail magic doughnuts, soda and peanut brittle. Ate pancakes and coffee at Mizpah Hut for $1. The crew there was mopping and cleaning, so gave us a pan of pancakes, gallon of syrup, and pitcher of coffee to enjoy in the fresh air. They donned aprons over their butt naked bodies, turned up the music and had one helluva good time. I love to see the enthusiasm of young folks just having way too good of a time. Phoenix and I want a work-for-stay at the Lake of the Clouds Hut, so we kept our steady pace, arriving after our 14-mile day by 12:30. We scored it, and shall begin duties around three.

This place is crowded with people of good finances. Bright colors, perfumes, and fancy gear crowd the walls. Hikers of every destination pull in. Later, we are put to work, us thru hikers who don’t want to pay $8 to sleep in The Dungeon, and could use a good hot supper. We fill the condiments; help set the table, wash dishes. Finally we eat with the crew, getting a taste of the stuffed pasta, but no veggies, save the two pots of bean soup. Hummm, all the veggies and salad are history but we are okay with soup. No crackers or bread, but some fantastic poppy seed cake with a buttery frosting. At 9:30 the final guests are ushered out of our “bedroom”, the tables they have eaten on. We hikers spread out pads, bags, and get to bed much later than normal. Lights out.

July 29-

Determined to eat with our friends, Phoenix and I set table, pack everything, and just file in at meal call. The weather report is not good:winds 50 mph and gusting, visibility 30 feet. It is lightly raining at times. Because of the wind it feels like sleet, but the temps they tell us are in the 50s. Papa Geezer has been up here many times. He is somber, and tells us of the bad weather route, the Golf Slide Trail, that goes to Madison Hut. The official white blazes go up to Washington Summit. I am determined to do the white blazes. I have hiked alone, I say, in worse.

Papa Geezer leads with his wooden staff, I follow, Greenbean is next, then Phoenix. At first I am perplexed by the seriousness on Papa’s face. We start hiking; he waits for every one of us three to catch up. The tread is nothing but boulders, and there are very few blazes, some of them yellow. As we head up the mountain, it worsens remarkably. I am knocked sideways, and struggle to stay on my feet. Our pack covers threaten to fly away, and we stop to tie them on, hooking them to the pack, and around. “Everyone ok?” Papa Geezer asks. An affirmative nod of our heads. We continue hiking, the visibility worsens, and Papa stops to analyze each cairn we pass. Phoenix is afflicted with several bouts of diarrhea, and we wait for him. The more we gain in elevation, the more concerned I become about doing this alone. There are so many intersecting trails, and the AT is poorly marked, if at all. After 45 minutes, we reach the trail junction with the AT and the Golf Slide Trail.

“Its decision time” Papa Geezer tells us, as we huddle close to hear him above the wind. We are all purists, and strong hikers. We look up the mountain. “It will get worse, stronger winds, less visibility. I don’t think its safe, but if you want to go, I will go” Papa says in a dead serious tone.

“I can’t call it” I tell them, and turn my face aside. I know if I go, they all will go. Greenbean begins swearing ferociously, Phoenix looks really worried. None of us have taken any alternate trails, no bad weather, and no high water. We have hiked hard and strong. We stood together now, all old enough to recognize our mortality. Fighting back tears of frustration and disappointment I say, “If there ever was a need for a bad weather trail it’s now, today”. We realized we were already at our limits now and to tempt the half-mile up another 500 feet was not reasonable. We swear, vent our frustration, and decide to press on to Madison Hut on the Golf Slide Trail.

The wind picks up, buffets us as we inch our way those 7 miles. We stop a moment to get our breaths, and start to see some others from the Madison Hut making their way to Lake of the Clouds. We exchange reports with them, realizing it doesn’t get any better. A sign reports we have come but 3.2 miles. Then another reports in the last half hour we made only .2. This upsets me, but Papa Geezer smiles and says “There are too many signs on this trail, Brawny, don’t think of the numbers.” How he is finding this trail over rocks and boulders, cairn to cairn, I don’t know. I can barely see him ahead of me.

Finally we reach Madison Hut around 12:30. We have struggled nearly 5 hours and come in to find a happy young cook with a huge pot of bean curry soup, chocolate cake, fresh bread, and pumpkin cake, hot coffee and hot cocoa. May the trail gods bless all such cooks, and their lives be long and merry. We eat our fill and hear the reports that it is sunny and warm below. Our goal is Pinkham Notch, where there are bunks, hot showers, AYCE supper and breakfast for $50. Papa Geezer’s wife is meeting him, and they have reservations. Just one mile down, into the trees and things get much better, we are told.

Back in the howling winds, up the half-mile to the summit of Mt. Madison. The climbing is reduced to hand over hand, ducking down between boulders, hanging on in the gusts of nearly 70 mph. I shorten my poles, snagging the straps on my left hand, and crawl, hands and knees. On the top, I feel overwhelmed, and sympathize with the fly on the windshield of a car hurling down the highway at 70 mph. It ain't gonna get better till you get down, you gotta move, reverberates in my head. Greenbean is slender and tall, her pack catching the wind, falling, struggling. Phoenix blown several feet off trail. Picked up like some toy soldier. And all the while, Papa Geezer leading us, waiting, struggling too, but it seems to me he was the sanity of a Moses through the wilderness.

By 3 p.m. we finally get into the trees, with only 5 miles to Pinkham Notch. We arrive there at 6:30, book a room, and go for supper. We are late, but the cook sends out food for us, family style. It is gourmet, and we marvel at the other thru hikers there who come over to exchange reports. They had hiked out earlier this morning, arriving at the Washington summit, and were stranded. There they had waited for hours and finally hitched rides down with tourists who were happy for the extra weight in the car. Tomorrow they will make a decision to go back up, or wait out yet another day of storm. A woman had broken her leg and had to be carried out to the top, where she could be transported down. 14.4 miles today.

July 30-
Hiked a mere 13 miles to Imp Campsite Shelter. I will be glad to quit paying $8 a night for a shelter spot. Lots of steep ascents and descents. We left this morning in the rain, and the other thru hikers holed up at Pinkham Notch elected to take a zero day. Wildcat Mountains offer some great views and challenging terrain. Knees are still sensitive from the Whites, but this is common to all who pass this way.

July 31-
Hiked a fast 8 miles to New Hampshire 16, hitched into Gorham where we resupplied and called Rainmaker’s cell phone, leaving voice mail. I listened to his message to me, and miss him incredibly. He is doing well on the Long Trail, and we will be together soon. Had a good meal and headed back out, our foursome still intact. Hiked to Tri Col Campsite, for a 15-mile day.

Stepping Into Maine

August 1-
Crossed into Maine this morning. Phoenix and I stopped a moment to take photos. Tired and hurting after only a 14.6 miles today. I hope to finish by August 15th, but it looks nearly impossible now. Maine is indeed a rugged state, but I am told it evens out after 80 miles.

August 2-
Hiked through the Mahoosuc Notch, which is a mile, and then up the Mahoosuc Arm this morning. It took us 2 hours to get through that one mile of trail, climbing, weaving, ducking through narrow holes. For those over 6 feet tall, with a light pack it could be fun. We then went up over Baldpate Mountain to reach Frye Notch Lean-to, a 15.5 mile day. Papa Geezer and Greenbean didn’t make it in, and I am a little worried.

August 3-
A 23.3-mile day. Every muscle hurts, but I sleep sound at night after a long day. There were two substantial climbs today. Made it to Bemis Mountain Lean-to.

August 4-
Arrived in Rangeley with an easy hitch. Phoenix and I went to the laundromat, after buying food, where we did the laundry, ate our sub sandwhiches and repackaged the foodstuff. He had to find fuel and I waited. He picked up some carburetor cleaner fluid, which although it says flammable, burns sooty and reluctantly. A 19.5-day to Piazza Rock lean-to.

August 5-
Hiked 20 miles over the Saddlebacks, Lone Mountain and Spaulding. We elected to go the half-mile up to the Sugarloaf Mt. Ski Shelter. This marvelous place has windows all around, offering a 360-degree view of the surrounding mountains. We slept on the picnic tables inside. A microwave is plugged in, so we heat water and ate happily. Water is found on the way up, in a little box protecting the spring. While crossing the Saddlebacks, I pulled a muscle in my right thigh, and every step causes excruciating pain. It is not my knee, but Phoenix insists I wear his knee brace. I am taking 2 Ibroprophen every 3 hours, and it doesn’t touch the pain.

August 6-
Only 15 miles, and my thigh muscle is aching incredibly. The 3,000 ft. ascent this morning, in spite of a Vitamin I tablet every 2 hours, has reactivated the agony. But a thru hike is about pain. We stopped early, just before the rains began. In the shelter at Horns Pond Lean-to, I give Phoenix back his knee brace. Papa Geezer pulls in, and a south bounding section hiker who is determined to get out at Andover tomorow.

August 7-
From Horns Pond Lean-to, up and over Little Bigelow. My thigh felt good until I started rushing to catch up with Phoenix. It is time for us to part company. I am a soloist, and slowly but surely we are getting on each other’s nerves. Our agendas differ, and I resolve to run over the trail no longer. I met some great section hikers who chat with me awhile, encouraging me with news of good trail along the lake just north. An exceptionally pleasant day of solo hiking with beautiful lakeside views to Pierce Pond Lean-to. 27. 3 miles.